This week's letter might be a little long. We've had a really great week here in Hibarigaoka.
I had a great birthday on Tuesday. I guess I'm 21 now. I felt kind of selfish, receiving lots of wonderful birthday wishes and gifts. A bunch of missionaries called throughout the day and there were a few treats and other nice things given to us from various people. Also, as having just moved into this apartment, the gas bill information hadn't been put into the mission home computer yet and the bill for December didn't get paid. A lady stopped by just before lunch that day to turn the gas off. Ha ha. And it's taken a long time for the mission home to get it all sorted out, so we're still living without hot water or gas to cook, but we're told it'll hopefully be back on tomorrow! We took some time that day to make the pretzel rolo treat things (I'll attach a picture), and we've been giving them to investigators and members throughout the week. That night we had dinner with the Asada couple. We had a great time.
The next morning (Wednesday)'s shower was absolutely freezing without gas - possibly the coldest of my life. But it did a pretty good job of making sure we were awake. Later that night we taught eikaiwa and my class was just really interested in hearing about why I'm serving a mission and not going to school or doing other things. The spirit's guidance was very strong as I helped them to understand. Basically, I loved my life before my mission. It was pretty much perfect, there wasn't anything major that I was missing or wanting. My family was healthy and happy. I had good friends. I had a good job. I lived in an amazingly beautiful place. I could go to school on Maui for free if I wanted to. I was able to work out and go to the beach pretty much every day. It was great! And the real reason why it was so great, something that I've come to realize so much more through my mission, is because of Jesus Christ's Gospel and Jesus Christ's Church. The reason why my family was happy, and the reason why I was happy, was all because of that. So through being a missionary I can share that! This is great!! Sharing happiness is happiness!
This past Friday we had district meeting in Kichijoji. After the meeting a bunch of missionaries went to lunch at a pizza buffet place called Shakey's. Liu, a Chinese girl, and Ochiru, a Mongolian guy, ended up sitting next to us and we were able to become really good friends with them. We had a great time talking with them and eating a lot of pizza (Maybe not the best thing, but I've actually become kind of known throughout the mission for being from Hawai'i and eating a lot. I don't know if I'm losing weight, but I'm still getting skinnier. Anyway, 36 small slices at Shakey's that day!) It was really fun, and after eating we were able to take them over to the Kichijoji church (which is the stake center) for a tour of the church. Liu seemed to especially have a lot of interest. When we walked into the chapel, she said, “I feel like an angel. It feels so good!" We gave her a Chinese copy of the Book of Mormon and the Hibarigaoka Sisters have her phone number and will continue trying to work with her.
Later that day Elder Call and I walked around talking to people on the streets and were able to make a few new friends. One of them, Dimitri, is from Greece and actually used to be a member. He's now probably in his late twenties and was a member of the church from age 16 to 20 and even attended a year of school at BYU-Provo, but has unfortunately since seperated himself from the church. We were able to talk with him for a while and hopefully rekindle some of the joy and peace that he felt at the time of his inital conversion. I was able to bear pure and heartfelt testimony to him and it felt really nice. We will work hard to get him back on the path! I know that Heavenly Father loves him so much.
The next day Elder Call and I were handing out English Class flyers at the station and we met a young high school girl named Mio. She's a 2nd year high school student so I guess about the same age as a high school junior in the states. Anyway, we were passing out flyers and she walked past me saying, No, thank you. in English. I called out to her saying that she had good English and she turned around. She said she lived in America for a year, I asked where, she said Utah, and I told her that Elder Call was from Utah. She got really excited, then saw that we were missionaries and got even more excited. She lived in Brigham City, UT for a year as a foreign-exchange student. Her host family were members and she attended church with them every week! She told us that she really wants to go to church again!
This past Sunday Elder Call and I were walking from the church to the station after the Sunday meetings were over, talking to everyone along the way, and we met a man named Michiro Endo. He's probably in his late 50's, it was about 1:45 in the afternoon, and he was drinking a can of beer. After starting a conversation he told us," Look I'm already drinking alcohol in the middle of the day, I can't receive salvation." We talked to him about overcoming anything through Christ, and he wants to come to church with us this next Sunday. He said he doesn't have much more time to live and he wants to learn.
Later that day we met a man named Sano at a really cool park we found filled with a bunch of people playing a bunch of different sports. Sano-san was on a BMX bike practicing some tricks next to a bunch of people in a roller skate park. After stopping to watch him for a minutes we were able to start a conversation. He looks like he's a college student, but we came to find out that he's almost 40 and has four kids. He's was converted to Christianity when he was 17 years old. He felt like he had sin, read the bible, and believed Christ to be his Savior. We spent about 35 minutes teaching him the Restoration and giving him a copy of the Book of Mormon.
Later on that afternoon we met another really cool guy, named Shouhei. He's 18 and a high school student. He lives in a dormitory near the station. We'll try to go out for Ramen with him this next weekend. Then that night we were able to visit some less-active members. We were finally able to meet an 18 year-old less-active member named Isamu. Hopefully we can go out bowling or something fun with him sometime soon.
Ok, then comes one of the harder, and most spiritual, experiences I've had on my mission. It's an experience that I will remember and treasure for the rest of my life. I feel like it might help some of you so I'll share it briefly. I hope you can understand it. We met a man named Yasuda on Monday. He's 28. We were walking with our bikes from our apartment to the church when we passed him and said hi. After passing him, I turned back and called out to him again. We introduced ourselves as missionaries and came to find out that he had met missionaries about five years ago, had a lesson, and received a Book of Mormon. He read it. We talked to him for a good while about God and life. We explained the extreme importance of knowing whether or not the Book of Mormon is true. We talked a lot about life after death, even teaching deeply about the different kingdoms of glory and eternal families. He said that he wanted to marry and start a family, so we talked to him about why he wanted to do that. It was basically a really deep conversation on true happiness. He asked very good questions. It was very apparent that he had thought about them before. I bore extremely heartfelt testimony many, many times possibly the strongest testimony I've ever shared. The spirit was present and he seemed to be touched and impressed. I felt so much love for him. We had just met him but I could feel God's immense, immense love for him! The spirit was so strong! And I just wanted him to grow in the gospel so badly. I know he felt the spirit, it's presence was undeniable, but in the end he didn't want to meet again. I asked him to read Alma 26 in the Book of Mormon and to visit mormon.org/jpn. After walking away I just cried. I couldn't hold back the tears. God loves him so much, and I felt it. I felt it stronger than I ever have before. Never have I walked away from a street contact and cried. My heart was going to burst. We are children of such a loving Heavenly Father. Oh how I just want everyone to feel that and to accept Christ's Gospel!! My motivation to share the gospel has really changed to that of pure love. I just want these people to be happy, eternally happy!! Anyway, Alma 26 is a great chapter if you would take some time to study it. I rejoice in the knowledge that in and through Jesus Christ I can one day return to my loving Heavenly Father! One day I can be with Him with my family! I know that He loves me. I know that He loves you.
These will make this email even longer, but there are two stories I wanted to send, both from books written by John H. Groberg. I read them this past week and want to share them with you. They aren't my own experiences, but they're missionary experiences nonetheless. The first is from a book called Eye of the Storm and the second is from a book called The Fire of Faith.
The other experience happened as we were tracting. It was my turn to speak. A middle-aged man opened his door and asked what we wanted. I said, "We're ministers of the gospel, and we have a message for you."
He replied, "Come on in. I'm Reverend Miller. I've just been selected as the minister for a new church to be built in Beverly Hills. A group of investors are building a beautiful chapel, and they have been listening to various preachers in the area, and they picked me! They'll give me a certain percentage of the collections. If I say the things those people want to hear, I'm sure I can do pretty well. Isn't that great? By the way, how much do you fellows make?"
This was the first time I had personally talked to someone who had chosen preaching as a good way to make money and I was shocked. The thought of altering teachings to bring in more money had never occurred to me. I thought how grateful we should be to have correct doctrines for people to measure up to rather than measuring our doctrine to the whims of people!
I asked, "What is the name of your church?" "Oh, they haven't decided that yet, but I'm sure they'll come up with a good one. They're sharp men, smart investors." I was fascinated, as the concept was new to me. "And they pay you for preaching?" I blurted out.
"Of course," he said incredulously. "Why else would you preach? You've got to make a living. By the way, you never answered my question. How much do you get paid, and what church do you work for?"
I told him we didn't get paid and we were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "Never heard of such a thing," he said. "Where are you located?" I said, "Maybe you have heard us called Mormons." "Oh, you're Mormon missionaries?"
I saw a gleam come over his face like a cat ready to devour two hapless mice. For the next half hour that's just about what happened. He opened the scriptures and took us up one road and down another. We could hardly answer anything.
He finally closed his book, stood up, and said, "Oh, fellas, this is no fun; you don't know anything."
I nearly agreed with him. Then suddenly a feeling came over me, and I said, "Mr. Miller, I admit we don't know the Bible very well compared to you, but there's one thing I know that you don't."
He looked at me with a somewhat contemptuous smile and said, "What do you know that I don't?"
"I know the church I belong to, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the true church of God on earth and that it has the authority of His priesthood. I know Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God. And I know we have a living prophet today. You don't know that."
Joseph Smith was a false prophet," he retorted. "You don't know that," I said. He replied. "I just told you."
I responded, "You said it in words, but you don't know it. I know he was a true prophet, and you can't deny it." The only way I could have said this was by the Spirit of the Lord, because I didn't have the courage to do it on my own. I continued, "I bear my testimony that I know the church I belong to is true and that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God." "Now, I challenge you to bear testimony that you know your church is true and that the founder of your church is a true prophet of God."
He stood there for a little while and looked at us. He still had his Bible in his hand. He looked at it, looked at the floor, and looked back at us, sort of shaking his head. He looked at the Bible again and then said, "Ah, c'mon, fellas, this is no fun. Good-bye."
As we went out of the door, I said gently, "See, you can't do it, can you? You can't testify that you know your church is true." I don't suppose we made many points as far as he was concerned, but it was a great testimony to me.
I should mention that some of the best people I know are preachers in other churches. Most of them are very sincere and give their all to teach the truth. I have deep respect for them, but this man's attitude was new to me and his philosophy struck me as very strange.
I learned that one of the things that brings strength to a missionary is bearing testimony of the divine mission of Joseph Smith. When we find ourselves in places and situations in which we're not sure what to do, we can bear testimony of Joseph Smith. The very act of sincerely bearing that testimony seems to set in motion eternal processes that allow us to come up with the right words, the right feelings, and the right actions appropriate for the occasion.
In Tonga, obedience was understood to be a prerequisite for a mission. As I watched the missionaries, I realized that honest obedience is actually the ultimate expression of faithfulness, for you can’t have one without the other.
I was in a store one morning when the store owner looked at a large clock over the door and saw it had stopped during the night. He called to his clerk in the back room and said: "Bill, what time is it? The big clock stopped last night and I need to reset it."
I looked at my watch, but before I could give him the time and before his clerk called back, he suddenly said: "Oh, never mind, Bill, its nine o’clock. I can see the Mormon missionaries leaving their fale (hut)."
I looked at my watch. It was nine o’clock straight up. I turned to the owner as he was setting the large clock on the wall and asked, "You can set your clock by when the Mormon missionaries leave their house?"
Of course, he replied. They always leave at nine oclock sharp, never a minute before or after. It’s one of the things we rely on around here.
I thanked him, completed my business, and then drove a few blocks away to wait for the missionaries to come by. When they arrived, I got out of the car, gave them each a big hug, and thanked them for being so obedient. I said: "You may not know it, but this village sets their clocks by your departure time. Thanks for doing what is right."
They looked at me a little puzzled, almost as if to say, Well, what did you expect? The mission rule is to be out working at nine oclock, so of course that is exactly when we leave. As I drove home I wondered how many people set their clocks (both physically and spiritually) by the actions of the missionaries. I have learned from long experience with missionaries all over the world that they will rise or sink to whatever level of obedience we establish for them. This obedience cannot be in words only, but must have honest expectations that are met and reinforced.
Once every three or four months on the main island, we had a transfer meeting. All the missionaries laboring on Tongatapu came to Nukualofa with all their possessions. Each missionary carried his or her own mat into which they rolled their pillow, sheet, towels, clothes, and personal effects. They also had a hand-woven basket into which they put their scriptures, other teaching supplies, and occasionally a loaf of bread or a green coconut to drink. They seldom wore shoes and they slept on the floor in members' homes, and since they ate with the members, they didn’t need to carry pots and pants or other bulky items. They normally had about three changes of clothes, which usually lasted them throughout their mission. (They used very little money except for a few bus and boat fares that either we or the members gave them.) Thus, from the transfer meeting they were prepared to either return with the same companion to the same location or be assigned to a new area or a new companion or both. There were usually in excess of a hundred young men and women at these meetings.
Beforehand, I met with my counselors, the missionary assistances, and others and got their feelings about transfers. After receiving their input, I spent most of the day in fasting and prayer, reviewing the missionaries' individual reports and making a list of changes that I felt the Lord approved of. The vast majority of the changes that I felt should be made were in line with the recommendations I had received. It was a testimony to me that the Spirit gives the self-same message to those who are humble and desire to do what is right. However, there were inevitably a few changes that I felt should be made which were different from the recommendations I had received. Sometimes I tended to fight with the Spirit, as certain impressions I had didn’t seem to make any sense.
One such occasion involved a certain Elder Vai, a wonderfully successful zone leader who had only four months left on his mission. He had joined the Church while attending school at Liahona and was the only member in his family. His father was a preacher in another church and was very unhappy when his son became a Latter-day Saint. The father was confident, however, that his son would come back to their church. You can imagine the father's frustration when his son announced that he wanted to go on a mission. His father told him not to go and said he would not help him in any way, and in fact, would do everything possible to stop him from being a Mormon missionary. But Elder Vai was converted to the truth, and threats could not keep him from doing what he knew was God's will. Even when he was a new missionary, his sparkling eyes, happy countenance, and determined spirit told me that he would be a strong missionary.
In our initial interview he mentioned his father’s anger and stated that under the circumstances, it would probably be best for him not to be assigned to his hometown. Since nearly all of our missionaries were local Tongans, and since Tonga is a fairly small country, basically everyone knew everyone else, and close relatives were literally everywhere. Still, we generally avoided sending young men and women back to the villages they grew up in, this policy being based on the Lord's statement, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country and in his own house (Matthew 13:57).
During his mission Elder Vai had fulfilled every expectation I had of him, but now, with four months of his mission remaining, I was feeling that he should spend those four months in his hometown! But that’s crazy, I kept saying to myself. I knew he would do whatever I asked of him, but I also knew this would strain his faith almost to the breaking point. What to do? I went to the Lord time and time again desiring a different answer, but each time the only thing I felt good about was to assign him to his home village for his last four months. This was against all reason, against the recommendation of my trusted counselors, against my own thinking, against our policy, but for some reason it seemed to be in accordance with the Lord's will.
I kept struggling all day. Why, I wondered, was there such a conflict in my feelings? If it was right, I should just do it. However, I wondered what part common sense and reason should play. It is very difficult to be a leader in Tonga because whatever you ask the members to do, they do it. You simply must not make a mistake. I finally decided to announce the transfers in a particular order and leave Elder Vai and his companion till near the end, secretly hoping that the Spirit might in the meantime direct things differently. The meeting began with a power that defies description. No one has heard real missionary singing until they have heard one hundred-plus Tongan missionaries praising the Lord with all their hearts and souls and voices. It brought goose bumps to every person present.
After a wonderful meeting and an appropriate feast provided by the Relief Society, we reassembled for the transfer portion of the meeting. Everyone sat with the present companion until his or her new companion was announced.
We went down the list, taking time for each change to be well noted by all and the new companions seated next to each other. As we reached the last ten missionaries and the last five areas yet to be assigned, a hush came over the missionaries. Everyone knew that neither Elder Vai nor his home village had yet been assigned. You could feel the tension. It increased as the unassigned missionaries dropped to eight, then six, and the unassigned areas dropped to four, then three. I announced the next set of missionaries and their area. Now there were only four missionaries and two areas left.
I looked at Elder Vai. He had his head buried in his hands. I looked at the other missionaries. I sensed a strong plea: Oh, President, please don’t. He is such a good elder. Don’t do this to him! The tide of feelings from those gathered missionaries was sweeping over me. I had to make the announcement. What should it be? Should I respond to a clear feeling of preference from the missionaries or should I ask yet again for assurance from God as to His will, which I knew had not changed?
Not wanting to suffer this questioning any longer, I stood and announced the next two missionaries to serve together. This left only Elder Vai and one other elder who would obviously be his companion. Now I needed to announce where the first two would serve. I hesitated as I felt two hundred-plus eyes burning towards me and powerfully beaming the same message, Please don’t, President. Please don’t send Elder Vai to his hometown.
I took one more deep breath. I knew what I had to say: Elder X and Elder Y will serve in Mua. This meant that Elder Vai and his companion would be going to the only area left, his home village! Almost immediately there was an incredulous universal gasp.
Tears of joy and sorrow were shed during both the closing song and the prayer, but eventually the missionaries, two by two, gathered their rolled mats and baskets and with their new companions left for their new areas. Elder Vai's new junior companion sat silently, not knowing for sure what to do. Finally, when only the two of them were left, I went over to talk to them. I could see pooled tears in Elder Vai's eyes. His only comment was, "President, just assure me once more that this is God’s will."
"It is, I replied. I know it is."
"Fine, then, we’ll be on our way. Pray for me."
"I will, and so will hundreds of others." Since his home village was not too far away, I asked him to come in each Sunday evening and personally report to me how things were going.
They departed, and I was left alone to ponder on what I had done. Or had I done it? It had to be God's will; no one else would do it. I knew He would bless and justify that decision. He had to, I thought. We had been obedient, both Elder Vai and myself now we needed His blessings and His fulfillment. Oh, how I pleaded with God for both!
It is hard to know how messages in Tonga get transmitted at times. Even before Elder Vai and his companion arrived at their new area, word had reached his family about his new assignment.
The next day in church, Elder Vai's father stood before his congregation and announced what everyone already knew; that his son had disappointed him by becoming a Mormon, had then added insult to injury by becoming a missionary, and now was showing the ultimate disrespect by actually coming to his own town to try and convert his own people to his newfound religion.
I know these Mormons, though, the father said. If none of you listen to my son, and if no one lets him in their home or even smiles at him and never helps him in any way, and if you all ask your neighbors to do the same, he will soon be gone, for these missionaries want results.
The people did as he asked. The first week went by and Elder Vai reported that they had not gotten into a single nonmember home nor given a single standard discussion. We knelt in prayer and asked for the Lord's guidance. At the end of the prayer, we felt they should continue trying for another week.
The father, in the meantime, congratulated his congregation on their fine work and assured them that while his boy might come back for another week, he surely would not stay long if they continued to snub him.
The next weekly report was equally as dismal, but after prayer Elder Vai and his companion returned again. The father assured his congregation that the end had come or was very near, but the next morning sharply at 9:00 a.m., Elder Vai and his companion began their fruitless effort to find someone to teach. There was another small village close by which was in their area and where they made a few contacts, but most of them quickly faded away.
At the end of the third week, I could sense that Elder Vai’s spirit was starting to drag. He had been so used to success that this situation gave him a new and uncomfortable feeling. We talked a lot and he assured me how determined his father was. I asked him if he was still willing to do whatever the Lord willed. He said he was, and after prayer, I gave him a big hug and said, Elder, I don’t know why, but I feel you should go back to your area. He and his companion returned without looking back.
The fourth Sunday, the father was less vehement in his denunciation of his son, but still congratulated the people on their shunning him and assured them this whole chapter was now over. When the fourth Monday dawned, however, and Elder Vai and his companion started tracting, there were a lot of raised eyebrows and whispered questions. But still there was no change in the policy of no contact.
Unbeknown to Elder Vai, this was the first Sunday his father had not said a word to his congregation about his son. His silence on the subject was noted by all. They wondered if a transfer had already been made and the battle was over. But Monday morning promptly at nine oclock, Elder Vai and his companion emerged from their home and began walking down the street looking for someone to teach.
As they turned the corner, they saw a man waving at them and motioning for them to come to his house. Elder Vai couldn't believe his eyes. That was his house! That was his father!
The two missionaries went over to the house. The father wanted to know what gave his son the determination to keep coming back even though he was rejected on every side. His son assured him that truth always prevails and, since he knew that he had the truth, time was on his side. He explained: As long as I know I am doing the Lord's will, other problems don't really bother me much.
Intense discussions followed, and within a short time, Elder Vai’s mother and father and some other family members were ready for baptism.
On the appointed day Elder Vai suggested that they wait until evening and then quietly slip unnoticed to the beach. It was now the father's turn to teach his son. "Son, I thank you for bringing me and your mother and our family the truth. I know it is true and I am not ashamed of it. Your mother and I will dress in white clothes in our home and promptly at noon tomorrow, we will walk the entire length of the village to the seashore, where we would be pleased to meet you dressed in white to baptize us. We want the whole village to see."
That, of course, is what happened, except that Elder Vai, rather than meeting them at the seashore, came to their home and walked along with them.
Elder Vai finished his mission in his hometown, and before he left, more than forty souls had joined the Church. In an exit interview, I asked him how he felt.
"President, when we are obedient, the Lord blesses us, and when we continue to be obedient despite all obstacles, He fulfills all of His promises. I know it is so. I hope I can remember it my whole life."
"I hope I can, too," I replied.
I love you all so much! Thank you for your love and support. You are
always in my thoughts and prayers. Take care and have a great week!
Making the Rolo treats. Everyone loves them!
Elder Call and I with Iyori-chan, a recent-convert's three year-old daughter
Me - I'm looking more and more Japanese as time goes on