Dear Friends and Family:
It has been a while. Let me catch you up.
Over the past six months, the Japan Kobe Mission has gone from having eighty-plus missionaries to 250. In theory, they’re not supposed to send us any more young missionaries because we’re pretty much inundated. A culture of youth, excitement, faith, and trepidation has swept over Japan and pretty much the rest of the world as the missionary force swells and God’s army blitzes Babylon with boldness and bravery. It’s an inspiring time to be a missionary.
As for me, President Zinke has me pulling double duty. I am still a Zone Leader in the Kobe-Akashi Zone, while simultaneously training my second brand-new missionary. Young missionaries are very funny. It takes some time for them to adapt to mission culture and procedure, and even more time to learn basic skills and begin speaking the language with any level of proficiency. Yet they are pillars of faith and trust in the Lord – inspiring example to battle-hardened veterans who sometimes forget that we can:t do this work without the power of The Lord.
I know what you all want to hear is stories and experiences, so I’ll share this one from this last week. There is an investigator who has been sitting in our investigator pool for months. We’ve had only occasional contact with him which has revealed that he has a desire to continue his investigation of the gospel but circumstances prevent him from doing that regularly.
As part of training the mission, President Zinke and the Assistants have been touring the mission, presenting training on, among other things, how to use the Book of Mormon to more effectively build the faith and testimonies of investigators and how to help them have positive, spiritual experiences on their own. Desiring to be obedient and to maximize our application of these tools, my companion Adams-Choro and I knelt down and prayed for revelation for what this investigator needed. We had nothing to rely on other than revelation. The information in the area book was of little help, especially since it was at least four months old. Neither of us had actually taught the investigator, so we weren’t really sure where he was at or what we needed to do to help him.
The answer to our prayers was not what we expected. The Lord seemed to want us to teach him about commandments. Having been around the block once or twice I can tell you that no sane missionary would ever approach an investigator who has spent four months in the “valley of death” (missionary lingo for the spiritual dry spells that occur between missionary lessons) by telling him about all of the things he won:t be allowed to do after he gets baptized. After carefully preparing a lesson plan, we prayed again wondering if this was REALLY what The Lord wanted us to do. The impression we received seemed to tell us, “I know what I’m doing. Trust me.” Knowing that the Lord knows our investigators better than we do, we trusted in the promptings.
Not long after preparing this lesson, we got a call from the investigator. “I’ve been reading your book and I have some questions,” he said. We set up a time to meet.
In addition to the lesson we spent time creating a Book of Mormon homework assignment. A good homework assignment begins with a question. In Japan, this question is typically NOT “is the Book of Mormon true?” or “Was Joseph Smith a true prophet,” because most people here don:t really care or know why they should care about such a question. Rather, these are questions of the soul that we think an investigator might be deeply concerned about. By praying for understanding, reading passages we assign with their question in mind, writing thoughts and impressions, praying for deeper understanding, reading again, writing again, and then praying to know if what they wrote is true, investigators spend meaningful time in their own private spiritual oasis receiving specific, personal guidance relative to problems in their lives about which they deeply care.
When it came time for our lesson, we weren’t sure what to expect but we prayed to know what to say and how to respond to his questions. We found out that this investigator had been spending lots of time in detailed study of the Book of Mormon, comparing that with his understanding of his own beliefs and praying earnestly to know what was right. Over-analysis had been driving him crazy and he wanted to know what to do.
It turns out that we did not deliver the message that we had prepared, but most of his questions involved commandments, and our preparation had been necessary to answer his questions in a satisfactory manner. Contrary to my expectations, he was surprised and even puzzled by the leniency of our commandments. He almost couldn’t comprehend that the ONLY substances forbidden by the Word of Wisdom were alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee.
“And heroine,” I reminded him.
“Oh shoot,” he said with a chuckle. “There goes my weekends.” (He was kidding. Heroine is virtually inaccessible in Japan).
But his biggest questions seemed to focus on how he could know the truth for himself. Wouldn’t you know, this was exactly the question we had prepared for his homework assignment. He had already been reading the Book of Mormon, but he had been going about it in a mechanical way that was yielding minimal spiritual results. We gave him a study journal we had prepared to help him receive this vital spiritual communication. Inside were the steps to effective Book of Mormon study I mentioned earlier, and a reading checklist of every chapter of the Book of Mormon, with our favorite chapters highlighted. I told him that because of his remarkable faith and sincerity (which was very remarkable indeed), if he would study in this way, he could expect meaningful inspiration from The Lord about what he should do.
It turns out that his schedule would not allow us to meet with him again as soon as we would like, so we will not be there to help him as he continues his search. But now he has the tools to conduct this search himself in a meaningful way. Is it possible that The Lord knew his schedule, and knew that we would only get one chance to help this man come unto Christ in a meaningful way? Is it any surprise that this lesson was so precisely guided?
I learned several lessons from this experience. First and foremost, I learned anew that The Lord knows his sheep. I also learned that when we are on the Lord:s errand, we are entitled to his help. I learned what it means to be a tool in the hands of the Lord – namely that it is not requisite that we know the end from the beginning. We do the best with what we have and seek guidance for what we cannot hope to figure out ourselves. We gratefully accept what guidance we do receive through diligent seeking, asking, and knocking (however much or little The Lord decides to grant), and then we move forward with faith, trusting totally that whatever guidance or strength we still lack will be given in exactly the moment we need it.
This is the Lord’s work, and it must be done His way. He will make that way known to his servants through their leaders and through personal communication. I urge you all to believe in this kind of inspired guidance and help and to rely on it as you seek to do the will of the Lord in whatever station or situation you find yourself.
I love you all. I’m sorry this message went longer than I intended. Many of you won:t get personal responses to your emails this week because of it. But know that I care about you and am praying for you individually every day. Trust the Lord, do good, build the kingdom, and punch Satan in the face.
Dear Friends and Family:
The Japan Kobe Mission has reached critical mass. We are now the largest mission in the Asia North Area, by a fair bit. The new missionaries have COMPLETELY overrun us, and the dynamic of the mission has changed 100%. This is a make it or break it time for the mission. My hope and prayer is that we, together, as True Disciples, One and All, can rise to a higher vision of the work and accomplish miracles in the gathering of the elect.
For several transfers, President Zinke has been doing everything he can to avoid making the Zone Leaders train. But the time has come. In President Zinke’s own words, “I’m assigning trainers less out of revelation and more out of desperation.”
And thus, this transfer, I’m training. They’re splitting the Zone Leader companionship’s and making each Zone Leader train. That’s…nuts. It’s exciting and…a pain in the butt. But my fellow Zone Leader will be my man Shinohara-Choro. He’s legit. I won’t know who my companion is until Friday. I’ll let you know what happens.
The last week has been a test of patience. But The Lord has had his hand in all of our comings and goings and we expect great miracles to continue in this area. We baptized our other friend yesterday. It was a good end to a crazy week.
More updates as they come. I send my love.
Dear Friends and Family:
Transfer calls came in this morning. I will be saying goodbye to my beloved Yonago and moving to Akashi. I will be the Zone Leader over the zone I was in when working in Ako. In fact, Ako just saw their fourth baptism this month, all of them directly or indirectly resulting from miracles The Lord blessed me with when I was there. It’s doing so well that in addition to the elders there, the area will be receiving no fewer than four sisters as well! This is an exciting time to be a missionary.
My companion will be Elder Miller – my own Doki! He is Hawaiian, and possibly as crazy as my last Hawaiian companion. We are going to tear it apart and baptize the elect.
I cannot express deeply enough the love and gratitude I feel for the people in Yonago. Never in my whole mission have I wanted to transfer out of my area. Each has been challenging in its own ways and each has been blessed in its own ways. Every transfer is a bittersweet experience, and extra bitter because it serves as a marker for how little time I have left to do The Lord:s work here. But there is a little time left in my mission and a little breath left in me, and the elect aren’t fully gathered yet. So it’s time to shift gears again and work some miracles. I need all the prayers and all the faith that can be divided unto me. Do not concern your prayers with my safety. The Lord will see to that. But what I long for more than anything is to save souls. Please pray that I can do that.
I love you all and I’m so grateful for the love and support I have felt from you so far. I will tell you of more news as it comes.
Dear Friends and Family:
Greetings from Yonago. I know it’s been a while. I finally managed to find a few minutes and let you know a little bit about what’s been going on. Thank you all for being so patient.
Let’s start with the bad news. My beloved companion since Wakayama, my dear, sweet bicycle Anabelle rolled her last mile. She was a good bike, and if there had been an Asahi Bicycle shop in Yonago she would have survived. A spoke came loose, causing a horrible bend in the rim. Fixing a spoke is usually easy, but given the nature of the wheel, doing it would require deconstructing the entire gear box, which is beyond the capability of any bike shop in Yonago. The wobble in the wheel caused the axel to come apart. She limped her way across the river to the Aeon mall, where she will remain forevermore. Well done, thou good and faithful cycle. Enter now into the rest of the Aeon.
On the bright side, I am now riding Roxy, the bicycle which Allen-Choro left in Yonago when he went home. What I didn’t find out until this week is that he inherited Roxy from the legendary Lystrop-Choro, former Assistant to the President and universal Dendo Hero of all who knew him. He went home even before I arrived in the mission, but I have heard the stories. Before he was an AP he was a Zone Leader in Wakayama, as well. I seem to be living in his shadow.
By way of miracles, I will quote from my journal from my journal from Saturday, June 29, Sunday, June 30 and Tuesday, July 2:
29日6月2013年 – Saturday
Spent the whole day in Interviews with [Zinke]-Kaicho. He gave a good question-and-answer-based training. I translated again. It was hard. My head hurt. ぼうとした。
In my interview I got a serious beatdown on faith and giving 100%. I love beatdowns from Kaicho. They cut, but I always walk away from them feeling optimistic and hopeful. I know what to improve on, how to improve on it, and what it will look like when I do it. I would be a much better leader if I cold do that.
But I’m done holding back. I’m tired of fear. I want to believe. I want to work exclusively in the blue room, not hop in and out of the blue door from time to time. I want to baptize thousands and build Zion here in Japan! I want to save souls and rebuke the devil. Ammon did it; why can’t I?!
My faith is centered on the Almighty. With God, all things are possible. I’m ready. Let’s do this!
30日６月２０１３年 – Sunday
Sunday can often be one of the most stressful days for a missionary, but today was a day of miracles! Go figure; Saturday; beatdown on faith, Sunday; Miracle after miracle. The Lord has a profound interest in this work. I suppose that should not surprise anyone; He died to bring this work to pass. There is no work with more profound and far-reaching consequences than the work of salvation.
At Church four investigators showed up. We prepared several assignments for everybody to do in Sacrament Meeting because it is the most sacred and spiritual time and place in Yonago – therefore investigators are especially susceptible to answers to their prayers, etc. Well, every investigator did their assignment, and every one experienced a miraculous result. M-Kyodai focused in Church for the first time ever. As a result he opened up to the ward a bit more. He also agreed to keep the word of wisdom.
We had D-kyodai prepare a list of questions he wanted answered in his next meeting. Not only did he come up with some really good questions, but he finally agreed to start meeting us on a regular basis at the church. Up until now the only way to get lessons with him has been to conspire with his wife and then drop in “uninvited.” He:s really stubborn. But we’re gonna get him. You can only resist the Spirit for so long.
Best of all, O-Kyodai prayed to know if God was pleased that he came to church. He got an answer. All the trouble he’s been having with faith and with feeling the Spirit and with his testimony disappeared in one miraculous hour. Now he’s going to be baptized and complete another family in the church. (Wong-Choro and I already baptized his wife and three kids several transfers ago.)
Today we got to watch the worldwide leadership broadcast called “The Work of Salvation.” It outlined a fuller vision for member-missionary relations. It was powerful! It was personal! It was specific! It was detailed! It painted the picture a lot clearer and outlined roles a lot better. The timing of this couldn’t have been better! All of the new missionaries are just starting to arrive. There were something like a hundred and fifty some-odd mission presidents in attendance, which alone is spectacular, but the kicker is that they were all NEW mission presidents, all being trained in the MTC. That has never happened in this or probably in any other dispensation! And the missionaries! There must have been a thousand in the choir alone! It was downright moving.
This might be my favorite miracle from today. After the broadcast got out I got to talk with Sugimoto Ayaka-chan and her mother. Ayakachan was a yakusokusha [an investigator with a baptismal date] in Kurayoshi [the sisters area] when I first transferred to Yonago. Her mother was skeptical – borderline hantai. So to see what was up with this whole baptism thing, she attended one of Ayaka’s lessons. She left the lesson with a baptismal date – for Mothers Day. When Ayaka-chan was baptized, she wrote her testimony on a card and gave it to her mother. On Mothers Day, her mother was baptized, and on that occasion she wrote her testimony on a card and gave it to Ayaka-chan. The mother was the last of the original elect in the first-gathered sheep-number revelations. It was the following Sunday that the sister-missionaries Kubo-shimai (my Doki) and Tojo-shimai (her first transfer companion) fasted and prayed for a new revelation. On their first attempt, because of the depth of their humility and the strength of their faith they both received the same revelation, indicating how many of the Lord:s elect were prepared to receive them in Kurayoshi, “right now.”
That is the background of the Sugimoto Ayaka-chan conversion story. I told you all that background because I wanted you to understand the intensity of my reaction when Ayaka-chan announced to me after the broadcast that she is putting in her papers and intends to go on a mission! In a really embarrassing display of joy and astonishment I grasped and even started to cry a little. I didn’t mean to – certainly not in front of her. I couldn’t help it. Even now the thought makes me a little choked up. I can’t wait to tell Wong-Choro and Kubo-shimai at Mission Leader Council on Tuesday! I am way too excited for her! She’s a goofball, but she’ll make a great missionary! She had some good examples! Some AMAZING examples, even!
After the meting, a member dropped a referral on us. Another husband of a less-active member. Let this be a lesson to you all, the success of the missionary work in Yonago has come largely from the ward’s focus on families and building Zion in the homes first – including homes of part-member families and less-active members.
We had a few minutes to chat with the bishop after the broadcast. Up until now in this ward, the dendo fire has been strong, but has lacked a united vision and a strong direction. A big need has been the number of ward missionaries. Well, we asked the bishop, “What did you think of the broadcast?”
He responded: “Okay, here’s what I’m thinking. the ward needs to dendo. So I’m gonna call like a thousand ward missionaries, and you’re going to go out with them once a week and do community service. Then they can take over the less-active and recent convert work so you can focus on finding us some new people. How’s that?”
Miracle, miracle, and miracle.
Last of all, we were on our way to go follow-up with another Yakusokusha when we ran into this kid on his bike. He looked like he was about 18. We stopped him and started talking about God. The words came really naturally. We invited him to hear message and he was down, but he wasn’t sure where the church was and almost started a panic attack about being able to find it. We calmed hims down and suggested that we just ride over and show him right then. so we did. Built some relationship of trust on the way over and showed him where the church was. We asked if he had time for us to show him around inside. He did. We tied a guided tour into a powerful “setting the table” lesson we’ve been preparing and the result was what an old companion Wycoff-Choro once called a “spiritual headshot.” He revealed to us some of the deeper desires of his heart and we easily connected these to the promise of Eternal Life. By the time we got around to connecting baptism to Eternal life, he was practically begging for a date. So we invited him to baptism on September First, but we’ll probably move that up sooner. We’re meeting him again tomorrow. We’ll probably teach him how to pray. He likes prayer.
I also gave a beatdown on accountability to my district leader and he has improved about 1000% since then.
Yep. I think I want to work in the blue room from now on. Every day should be full of miracles like this.
2日７月２０１３年 – Tuesday
Today we had a Mission Leadership Council all day. They used to call it Zone Leader Council, but now in addition to Zone Leaders, the new Sister Training Leaders also participate. Most of it consisted of a good, old-fashioned beatdown on faith, faithfulness, and relying on the Lord. I feel a great need to stretch, to change, to conquer, to face impossible odds and overcome.
Today was especially miraculous because of some news I received. Right now Miller-Choro is the zone leader in Akashi. In the MTC he was out of control. In the mission field he is out of control in the best possible way. He was on a companion exchange in Ako, my old stomping grounds, and one of the to-do-list items was to get permission for a teenage girl to be baptized. The mom was okay but Grandpa would not let the mom give permission. They all live together but as of yet nobody had ever been able to meet with the grandfather. Well Miller-choro went over to the house to get this taken care of. He met the mom and did some good BRT, but I guess she couldn’t talk for long, so Miller-Choro called George-Choro in Akashi and said, “We’re extending this Kokan. I’m not coming home yet, man.”
Well they went back the next day and rang the doorbell. Nobody answered. They rang again and knocked. Nothing. Miller-Choro peeked through the post box cover and could clearly see the grandpa was just sitting in the chair watching TV. Well, following a spiritual prompting as irrational as Nephi’s command to slay Laban, and summoning up enough courage to do the unthinkable, he opened the front door and walked into the genkan.
The grandfather was furious, naturally, and came running and yelling and screaming. But Miller-Choro held his ground. He wouldn’t back down until he had been heard out. When he had, the grandfather was still yelling and screaming, and they exited the house.
Still not willing to give up, they sat down and waited for the mom to come home. When she did, they just told her what was up. They told her what baptism is and why it’s important and why this girl needs it. Well the grandfather came out again and started yelling and screaming and they left, feeling like they had done everything possible (not everything reasonable, but everything possible). The next day Miller-Choro got a call from the Ako elders. The mom had signed the papers. Miller-Choro is never allowed back in Osaki-cho ever again, but the girl now had permission to be baptized.
I chose to include this second-hand experience because seven months ago I was in Ako. I was the one who found that girl. A former investigator brought her to us at Eikaiwa and told us to teach her about God. It was Eikaiwa time so we just taught her English instead, but we got Nana-shimai (the convert that Wycoff-choro and I had just taught and baptized) involved in fellowshipping her. Despite being thirty-years older, these sisters became good friends, having both had some dysfunctional relationships and other hardships, they bonded pretty fast.
Now, not only is she getting baptized, but two of her friends and another older investigator I found with Wycoff-choro.
My thoughts and prayers have been upon them lately. I also had Wong-Choro and Murakami-Choro follow up with my first investigator ever who is still investigating in Sennan. We need some more miracles like this and get her baptized too.
I hope you all are catching the excitement for the work that I was feeling when I penned these words. When I sat down to email today, the mission weekly email showed that Ako had a baptism this week. That’s a baptismal photo that I want a copy of. Apparently the work has been going so well over there that the Branch Presidnet has asked for four additional missionary companionship to be sent there. And last I heard, President Zinke is seriously considering sending them. I love it! I don’t want to leave this hemisphere until we have a temple in the Kansai region!
In other news, the mission has turned to Isaiah to teach us how to teach the gospel “Second Grade Simple.” President Zinke released a training plan which has us structuring our lessons chiastically. Chiasmus is a style of Hebrew poetry utilizing a unique form of parallelism in ideas which repeat themselves backwards. Look up Chiasmus on LDS.org if you want to know more about it. It’s pretty cool, and probably the single most indisputable internal evidence of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Well, it turns out, it is also the best way to help an investigator’s mind glide seamlessly from one idea to another, connect the dots, and grasp the importance of each principle (all notoriously difficult in Japan). The teaching model looks like this:
2. Commitment Followup
3. Testimony Development Review
4. 30-second doctrinal statement (Intro)
5. Heartfelt Testimony/Experiences
6. Main Content (doctrine, principle, scriptures, connections, invitations)
5′. Heartfelt Testimony/Experiences
4′. 30-second doctrinal statement (Conclusion)
3′. Review Invitations
2′. Review Homework
We’ve had a lot of chances to implement this and it’s worked miracles in our investigators understanding and progression. Go figure. Revelation works. Even some of our stubbornest investigators have begun to progress, due largely to a huge increase in their understanding. As Joseph Smith taught, is it impossible for any man to exercise faith without a correct doctrinal understanding of the principle in which he is exercising faith.
Speaking of Isaiah, we’ve been teaching a Bible Class as a finding tool. It hasn’t been great for finding yet, but one of our yakusokusha has been coming and we’ve been using it to sneak extra doctrinal teaching moments in between lessons. For example, we just talked about Jacob’s ladder and used it as a tool to introduce the concept of the degrees of glory. She’s got a baptismal interview coming up on Friday. Prayers onegaishimasu!
In Kurayoshi right now, we have two second-transfer missionaries. There aren’t enough sisters in the mission to be trainers, so their trainers are PMG, the Book of Mormon, and The Lord. We’re helping them out as best we can, but in truth it is a little bit redundant because…they’re just awesome. It’s incredible! They’re nearly leading the entire zone! I called it from the very beginning; The Lord is going to use Kurayoshi as a model to teach the rest of the mission once and for all that you don’t need skills or experience to be a successful missionary. You just have to be humble, love the people, have faith in Christ, live worthily, and rely on the Atonement. No one can doubt that anymore.
In closing, I would like to relate one more experience. A while ago there were two little girls we were trying to teach and baptize, but it was difficult working around their father’s schedule. Well, there were some problems with truancy at school and maybe some other legal problems, and the long and short of it is that Dad sent them to a special boarding school/group home/juvenile delinquency correctional facility. He said it was way hard, but the place is way good and he thinks it will do them some good. I told him how impressed I was with him. He really is a good father, despite the somewhat dysfunctional situation. He expressed some doubt in my analasys, given the situation with the girls. I took the opportunity to explain about moral agency, and how no matter how good of a parent you are, the children will always have the freedom to stray from good paths. As I did so, I experienced a fullness of the gift of tongues unparalleled by any other experience thus far on my mission, and for the first time I was able to communicate fluently in my mission language. I testified with all my heart based on my own experiences. When I strayed from the path, it was only the prayers and faith of my father that brought me back into the light. In some way or another, I think everyone feels like the parable of the prodigal son relates to them somehow. He expressed some desire to emulate the faith of my father, and perhaps re-look his outlook and views on life. I readily informed him that that’s all we do as missionaries. Now we plan on teaching him the gospel and helping him to find the only way to peace in the home – and that is to live life like the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ.
And that is my closing testimony. The miracles I have been able to participate in on my mission are all attributable only to the Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, my Savior. I love him, and I love this work. In His name I testify that He lives, even the name of Jesus Christ, amen.