Saturday, June 20, 2015

A-5 Returns from Japan: Christ, Covenants, & Gethsemanes

A-5 and Missionary Service in Japan
This is a companion piece to A-6's Missionary Farewell Address as A-6 gave his Homecoming Address in the same Sacrament Meeting:

皆さん, おはようございます! Recently, I returned from the Japan Nagoya Mission. I had the wonderful privilege to serve alongside amazing people. I am grateful today for the opportunity to speak and share some of my experiences. As I speak, I hope that the Spirit will be able to enter your hearts and share with you the message you need.

Before receiving my mission call, late one night at BYU, as I imagined where I would be called to serve, I remember thinking to myself, “I hope I don’t get called to speak Chinese. That would be impossible to learn.” Then I got my call to Japan. I was very surprised. Then quickly came the first day of the MTC. First, I received a name tag that had what looked like hieroglyphics that the Book of Mormon was originally written in. Then I went to my class where my sensei spoke nothing but Japanese to us. I felt like Chris Farley in the SNL skit where he is on a Japanese Game Show.

After being perhaps the worst in my MTC group at Japanese, I received the blessing of having a Japanese trainer, and a total of five Japanese companions on my mission. For me, my second companion, Elder Yoshizawa, was a great blessing, as he would often say, “I hate English.” But, he did improve. By the end of our three transfers together, he would tell me, “I strongly dislike English.” At times communication was difficult; sometimes we had to patiently use our electronic dictionaries to understand each other. But eventually, I learned the language. Interesting enough, embracing aspects of the culture, such as always taking my shoes off upon entering a house, separating my garbage and recycling into twenty different bags, doing the bow, eating with chopsticks, eating sushi and raw eggs and other Japanese things also seemed to help contribute to my ability to learn the language. But of course, the most important was from God. On my mission I saw this promise from God to be able to learn Japanese and many other promises fulfilled.

A sacred promise with God is called a covenant. The Chinese characters that they use in Japanese for the word covenant literally means sacred and promise. In a covenant, we promise to follow a commandment, and God promises us blessings. God promises in the scriptures that each nation will hear the Gospel in its own language. Therefore, I was also called to teach in Japanese. I was promised that by the power of the Holy Ghost, my tongue would be loosed so that as I minister the gospel to others, they will believe it as I do. I found this promise to be true. As I lived worthy of the Holy Ghost, remembered my purpose as a missionary, and kept love as the motive, God helped me to speak Japanese, but more important that just speaking Japanese, with the Holy Ghost I was also able to teach the gospel in Japanese.

Adam spoke on the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which consists of saving ordinances, the first being baptism. When we are baptized, we promise to follow God, and God promises us blessings. Specifically, we promise to be willing to take upon us the name of Christ, always remember Jesus Christ, and keep the commands which Jesus taught us. If we keep our part of the covenant, God promises us the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. This covenant is renewed each week as we partake of the sacrament.

My mission experience was harder than I expected, but better than I anticipated. During the first winter on my mission, I was serving in the city of Ueda in the Nagano Prefecture, near where they held the 1998 Winter Olympics. It was very cold. I had been in the area for what seemed to be an eternity and felt like I was seeing no success. I thought I was a failure. Then one day, it snowed a meter, or three feet for those of who you aren’t converted to the metric system yet. In the midst of all of this, I fell into depression deeper than I had ever experienced before in my life. I was very confused. “I am obedient, yet why am I experiencing such difficulty and seeing no success?” I often thought to myself at this time. As I spoke with my beloved mission president, President Yamashita, he promised me that my spring would come. In my difficulty, I did not find all my answers. I studied the “Adjusting to Missionary Life” handbook, which is an absolutely wonderful resource that the Church has provided for missionaries to learn to deal with stresses and challenges of missionary work. In that book, I realized that perhaps I should try to learn to be grateful in any circumstance. In my daily planner, I began to use my to-do list to write down at least five things I was grateful for each day. My focus began to change. I began to find where I could turn for peace. Though I had felt very alone, I found the fulfillment of my baptismal covenant as I choose to be grateful, and began to remember Christ more fully in my life.

Eventually spring came, and I was transferred to a new area with a great companion. As I left the snowy Japanese Alps of Nagano Prefecture, I had a very strong impression come upon me. My suffering was to help me feel more empathy towards others, as Christ does for us. Later on, in a letter from a friend, I received a quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland which gave me some further understanding. The following is what Elder Holland said.

(quote)“Anyone who does any kind of missionary work will have the occasion to ask, Why is this so hard? Why doesn’t it go better? Why can’t our success be more rapid? Why aren’t there more people joining the Church? It is the truth. We believe in angels. We trust in miracles. Why don’t people just flock to the font? Why isn’t the only risk in missionary work that of pneumonia from being soaking wet all day and all night in the baptismal font?

You will have occasion to ask those questions. I have thought about this a great deal. I offer this as my personal feeling. I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? It seems to me that missionaries and mission leaders have to spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane. Missionaries and mission leaders have to take a step or two toward the summit of Calvary.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about anything anywhere near what Christ experienced. That would be presumptuous and sacrilegious. But I believe that missionaries and investigators, to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to know something of this price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same price.” (end quote)

When Elder M. Russell Ballard visited our mission, he challenged us to cast our minds to Gethsemane. I will admit, when I came out on my mission, I thought I knew Christ really well. But on my mission, I realized that there is still a great deal that I do not know. I am grateful for my opportunity to devote two years and come a little bit closer in understanding the boundless love Christ has for us and the meaning of that great sacrifice called the Atonement.

So going back to that new area, Inuyama, when I arrived we had an investigator with a baptismal date. Her name is Yingzi, she is Chinese and went to college in Japan, so we were able to teach her in Japanese. Later on we realized that she is also rather fluent in English, but anyways, I had the opportunity to teach her the commandments and perform the ordinance of confirmation for her. It was an amazing experience for me to see someone receive baptism. It had taken nearly a year of my mission to get to that point. At that time I learned that missionaries do not ‘get baptisms.’ I received baptism when I was eight years old. That is the only baptism that is mine. I also learned that it truly is people, not numbers that matter. As missionaries and members, we often view success as numbers. But that is not the Lord’s way. The most important things in life can’t be counted or measured.

Heavenly Father has a plan for each of His children to receive this Gospel and make the sacred covenants of baptism and those of the temple. Speaking of the temple brings me again back to BYU where my stake president held a missionary themed fireside. He told us that we need to remember that the temple is not just a thing we do on the way to our missions, but that in fact the mission is a result of the covenants we make in the temple.

Again, going back to the week of Yingzi’s baptism, I would like to share the beginning of one of the most transformative and informative spiritual experiences I have had in my life.

It was a pouring rain on a Tuesday afternoon and all of our appointments were cancelled. We usually do our weekly planning session on Wednesday, but we decided to just do it then, which left Wednesday afternoon completely free. My companion, Elder Benzon, and I decided that because Yingzi would be baptized soon, we needed to find 3 new investigators to start teaching at that time. As a mission we had a goal of finding one new investigator a day, but honestly, I was pretty happy when we found at least one a week. Anyways, Elder Benzon and I had a very inspired conversation which guided us to where we needed to go. We hadn’t ever been to a city called Konan in our area, and so we figured it would be a good place to go. On Wednesday at about 1PM, we rode the train to Konan. From the train station, we walked for about three minutes before Elder Benzon choose an apartment to knock on. We started from the top of that small three-story two-rooms-per-floor apartment. Top floor, no one home, then on the second floor, someone answered. She was excited to see us and said we could come back anytime, so we made an appointment for the following Wednesday. I was surprised! Never had it been so easy to find a new investigator. At that point, I knew that God will guide His missionaries as they work together in a spirit of unity and love.

The next week, I became a senior companion and trainer. We went to visit Okada san, the new investigator, but she was sick, so we said we would come back the next week with a member. The next week came and had a lesson at the door. As we began to share our ‘how to begin teaching’ points, she suddenly asked, “when is church?” “Sunday” we answered. “Perfect! That’s my husband’s day off. We will come.” I was flabbergasted. Never had I experienced anything like that on my mission. They showed up to church halfway through sacrament meeting, but were touched enough that the husband called up his religion when he got home and quit his membership.

We continued teaching the parents and 14 year old daughter, and on July 13th, 2014, Brother and Sister Okada received baptism. It was a miracle to see them overcome their problems, but then the unexpected happened. Sister Okada, struggled with drinking for over twenty years. She was able to stop and worthily receive baptism, but that didn’t stop the effects of her past transgressions. She was hospitalized with liver failure. We went to the hospital and gave her a blessing. Unfortunately, I was soon transferred out of the area to Takayama, and unable to help Honoka chan, their daughter, receive baptism at that time.

In Takayama, I spent another cold winter next to the Japanese Alps. But this time, I was on the snowier side of the mountain. I guess President Yamashita thought that because I am from Utah I like snow. Not true. But this time, I was more prepared. In an interview, I asked President Yamashita if I could transfer out before the snow started to fall, but he encouraged me that 4, 5 or 6 transfers would be better. With the thought of spending the whole winter in Takayama in mind, I just went to work. It was amazing to see the difference within myself between these two winters. I saw relatively the same amount of success in regards to statistics, but I was able to persevere through the entire winter. Christ was my support. Also during that time, I had a privilege to teach an eleven year old boy whose family are all members, but he has Asperger’s Syndrome, so the parents wanted to wait until he was more prepared and not afraid of water before having him receive baptism. Though I wasn’t able to attend the baptismal service, last week on May 16th Casey received baptized from his Uncle. That was a testimony builder for me, to see that through continuing to do good, despite no immediate outward effect, eventually the good does and always will be brought about.

After one transfer of autumn and four of winter in Takayama, I received an unexpected phone call. It was right before my last transfer, and I thought I would just finish up in Takayama, but the call came and I was told I was returning to Inuyama. So for me, two times on my mission I experienced an Inuyama Spring, and these past two months were filled with miracles.

The first night back in Inuyama, I called the Okada family. I had received a letter back in February from Sister Okada where she asked me to come see her children when they get baptized. I thought the Elders there were teaching them, but the children were still living in foster care due to Sister Okada being frequently in and out of the hospital. But just four days before I came back, the children had come home to live together as a family. I made an appointment with Honoka chan to start reviewing the lessons so that she could receive baptism. When I showed up to their house, I was confused when an 11 year old boy answered the door. I knew the family really well from teaching them the previous year. They have the 5 year old I-chan who is just adorable and hilarious, you’ve got Hyouga, the 7 year old who loves video games, there is Honoka who is 14 and loves English, animals and music, and their half-brother who is older and not really connected with them. But this 11 year old, I had completely forgotten about him. He was living with a foster family last year when I was teaching the parents. His name is Motonari. That night, we began teaching both of them. Oh how amazing an experience it was! I love teaching young children the gospel. Their receptiveness and willingness amazed me. Throughout my mission, it was hard for people keep the simple commitments, pray, read, go to church, but these kids were golden. Motonari kun and Honoka chan received baptism on May 3rd, this month. After we taught them the final lesson about temples and missionary work, they were talking with each other about what it would be like to serve a mission. I loved what Motonari kun said. “Missions seem like a lot of happiness.”  They really are. Yesterday, May 23rd, was Hyouga’s 8th birthday. Before ending my mission, I was also privileged to teach him the missionary lessons. It is a little trickier to teach a 7 year old, especially when the 5 year old decided to participate, but it was so much fun! In fact, today, well yesterday in Japan time, my companion Elder Yuki baptized Hyouga.

Though that family still has its struggles, I know that they will be okay. Sister Okada told me in one of our final meetings that her desire in life is to stick with the Church until she dies, and for her children to do the same. Honestly, she still doesn’t know a great deal of doctrine, but she knows what is important. She knows that Christ lives. She knows that because He lives, we will too. She knows that the temple is important and has a goal to go by the end of the year. Though she may not be in a physical condition to go, she has that desire, and that is important. She believed in Christ before we found her, but she didn’t really know Christ. But she even told me after my companion and I taught a lesson in Relief Society about missionary work, which was one of the scariest things I did on my mission, that she was going to make an effort to tell others about the Church. And again, she and Brother Okada both told us when they saw their children receive baptism; they remembered the good feelings they had had when they made their own personal covenants with God at baptism.

 Testimony in Japanese.

So in the end, one of the biggest personal takeaways from my mission is the deepened testimony of Christ and His gospel. I worried too much before my mission. Perhaps I worried a bit too much on my mission, but I feel so much more peace in my life. Of course I am still adjusting to America and English and such, but I know for certain that Jesus Christ lives. The Holy Ghost has testified to me of that. I felt that my personal conversion really began in seminary, as I began to read the Book of Mormon by myself. That book is true and I love it. I also love the other scriptures that we have. Joseph Smith truly saw God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. I have prayed about it, and always receive an answer in the affirmative.

For those of you who are considering whether or not you should go on a mission, I encourage you to review either the most recent or the 2012 Fall General Conference. In that session of General Conference, our beloved prophet, Thomas S. Monson announced the change of age for missionary service. For me that conference was what pushed me to prepare. I am so grateful for those talks; I still carry many of them in my heart.

Senior couples, if you can, you should serve. Senior couples are amazing. They greatly strengthen the wards or branches they serve. Also, your rules aren’t as strict as the younger missionaries, as in you can do some more sightseeing, watch TV, and other fun stuff. The senior couples in my mission would help nearly twice as many people receive baptism as would normal missionaries. You have great spiritual power as a couple serving.

Thank you family, friends, teachers, leaders

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