Monday, August 25, 2014

I'm All Shook Up

Getting ready to head out to work
Holy cow! We are starting the fifth week of my first transfer! Holy cow!!!! That's so crazy!!!! I only get 16 of those transfers! In three days (the 28th) I will have been on my mission for 3 months. That is 1/8th over. That's crazy. That's scary. Time moves so quickly here! 

So this past week has been pretty good. It certainly helps to start it with the temple! I got to talk to a lot of people about religion and the church and had some really spiritual experiences. One guy, his name is Elvis, he's from Ghana, and he's super cool. We have talked to him a couple times. He really wants to learn Japanese and he really wants to go to church because he hasn't found one here in Japan yet. Naturally I invited him and was able to get his contact info! I'm super excited to finally have an investigator coming to church! We will have to translate a lot for him but I think he will like it, and then eventually we will have to turn him over to an English ward, but that's ok. Thank goodness for Elvis! We talk and talk with so many people, have a great time with them, we feel the spirit, they feel the spirit, and when you ask if you can meet up with them again, or offer a Book of Mormon, or ask for contact information, so often they will clam up and leave. It's amazing how difficult it can be! Just gotta keep trying, keep planting seeds, and pray that somewhere down the road something in their heart will changeThat may be the biggest trial of my faith so far. It's so hard to watch people walk away and think that I've done what I can and just have to leave it in the Lords hands.

I was thinking about a scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants during my personal study time the other day:
Therefore, let the morrow take thought for the things of itself. Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man. (D&C 84:84-85)

We heard this scripture a lot in the MTC as we talked about the importance of scriptures and 'treasuring them up in your mind". I think about that scripture often, especially during study time. So naturally I was thinking about it, when I was suddenly reminded of another scripture about knowledge:

...It is given unto many to know the mysteries of God; nevertheless they are laid under a strict command that they shall not impart only according to the portion of his word which he doth grant unto the children of men, according to the heed and diligence which they give unto him. And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. (Alma 12:9-10)

I get from this that I need to really read and study scriptures as much as I can. Then, when I get opportunities to teach or "mete" out the gospel, the words I need to say will come to my memory

I can find at least two take aways from these scriptures. Number one is obvious: study the scriptures and the gospel and "treasure up" the words so I can teach. And since I have been blessed to have the gospel in my life, I also have a responsibility to teach it. The second take away is that if I want to receive more knowledge I have to give more "heed" and "diligence" to God, so that is my plan.

New Facebook profile pic
I love you all and hope you are doing well! I love to get your emails--they are such a strength to me! 
- Siebach 長老

P.s. I get to have a temple p-day once a transfer!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Being an Example of the Believers

Hello hello hello!

I am so sorry that I am late sending this! Last week I forgot to mention that we had temple p-day this week and I would be emailing late! I am sorry if I caused any worry (Mom, don't you fret ;)).

Here's what an "empty" train looks like!
Home sweet home! (our old neighborhood train stop)
So this last week has been pretty great! We got a lot of good contacts and a lot of good potential investigators. We still don't have any real investigators, but a couple who are close! I tell you what! It is so hard to return to the apartment with what seems like very little to show for our day. Contacting/finding is fun because we get to talk to a lot of people but so very few (none so far) turn into anything more than a conversation or two. It's tough but it will get better. Even now we are beginning to see some of the seeds we have planted grow. Last week 5 separate people walked up to me while I was passing out 英会話 fliers (English class). They had no interest in the class (they all spoke pretty good English) but were interested in what I was doing. They said something along the lines of "I see you here a lot passing out fliers, and even though most people aren't very interested, you are always happy and smiling. Why?" I was able to tell them about my purpose as a missionary and why I'm even here in Japan. It gave me an opportunity to testify a little bit. They were all really neat experiences and reminded me of the
importance of being an example at all times. People really are watching you. Whether you think you blend in or not, they notice. I have noticed in my short life ;) that when I do my best to be a disciple of Christ, people see that I am different and want to know more. It's so important to be an "example of the believers".

Let's see.... What else can I tell you about this week... Church was really fun. I don't understand a word that they say, but somehow it's still fun (haha!).  The members are so friendly and always help the missionaries in any way that they can. Plus, I get to play with the babies and Japanese babies are the cutest in the world!

Tokyo temple with chapel
annex in the foreground
Today we went to the Tokyo temple, which is annexed to the chapel where I was baptized way back in 2003! Awesome right? The temple was a super cool experience. It was all in Japanese with an option to have a headset with English running through it. I grabbed one but ended up not using it most of the time. It was really neat to hear everything in Japanese, and even though most of it was over my head I could guess at what was being said. After the temple session I read through my patriarchal blessing. It was such an amazing experience to read it in such a holy place. I noticed parts of my blessing that I had never noticed before, I was able to gain insight on how it relates to my life now, as a missionary in a foreign land. It helped me remember promises that were given. I could really feel the Lord's love for me, as well as for the 40 other missionaries packed into that room! Fantastic experience!

Since coming to Japan I have seen and felt how much the Lord loves all of his children. Because of that love he has given us so very much. He has given is the opportunity to come to this earth and learn so much. He has given us the opportunity to have families, and for those families to be eternal. He has given us temples. He's given us the gospel. He's given us the scriptures. There are so many more blessings too. He truly does love us! That's just something that I have been thinking about today!

Anyways, I love you guys and hope you're doing well!

- Siebach 長老

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Am Not Ashamed

After a long, hard bike ride to this gorgeous park
Wow! I am so sorry but I have very little time today! Our p-day seems to be more packed than our usual days! (Ha!--not really!). 

So today was really cool! Last Monday, a week ago today, I met a man named Andy. He is 66 years old, loves tennis and skiing, and speaks some English. We set up a time to go play some tennis today! So he reserved an indoor court. When we showed up, we (all of us, including Andy and his brother--more on him later) were surprised to see that the court was about half the width of a normal court. That was a little bit of a disappointment, but no problem. We met his brother there for the first time. He is 83 years old and really good at tennis! We played for about an hour. I was on Andy's brother's team and my companion was with Andy. It was super fun and we had a great time! Afterwards Andy and his brother invited us to go get coffee with them at the eki (train station). We said we
would love to go and on the way there shared with them what we believe about coffee and the word of wisdom. We chatted for a while. Got to know each other and shared some of our beliefs with them and they shared some of theirs. We were able to find common ground in a lot of things. In all I think we were able to build a strong relationship of trust and strengthen bridges towards sharing more of the gospel with them! I am still just shocked that an 83 year old Nihon-jin was whaling on those tennis balls so well! Incredible!

Street scene in Machida
Something that I have noticed since coming here, and remember from when we lived here, is that the Japanese culture is very closed, very private, and very polite. The people seem so hard to get to know. This is all a product of the extremely close proximity in which they live. There is so little privacy here that they make their own privacy by drawing in on themselves. It is so very different to the culture in America. But when you get through that shell, the Japanese people are the most wonderful, kind, and thoughtful people ever! The Spirit is perfect for getting through that shell. If we have the Spirit with us when we are speaking to people we will always be able to get through to them. No matter the walls they have put up or the culture they come from. It is so important! And all of us can have that Spirit, and we get it by being worthy of it. We study the scriptures and pray a lot. We go to church and listen to the little urgings of the Spirit. That's when I have the spirit with me, and only then can I share this good news.

Posing with my comp, my zone leader, Sato-san, and my district leader
I am so grateful to be here and to serve these wonderful people and to have come to know these truths for myself. All my life people have told me it is important to read, pray, and go to church. I am only now realizing the truth in those words. So I challenge you to try it. Try it for a week or a month and see the difference it can make in your life. My mission president likes to talk about levels of consecration, and doing those things more will certainly raise you up. I believe that's true!

Nice old orange Porsche for Dad:)
Ok my spiritual thought comes from Paul! What a wonderful man. He was so amazing and I just love reading his words. He has such faith. He says in Romans:

"...I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth..."

I love that! He is not ashamed! For me it is easy to think "Well same here. I'm not ashamed of the gospel. Here I am proclaiming it 24/7!" And I don't think that I ashamed, but sometimes I might act like I am. Sometimes I let that man pass me without sharing something with him. I rationalize my way out of talking to him about the gospel: "Oh he is
turned away from me slightly," "He doesn't look like the church-y type," "He's walking quickly so he's in a hurry"... Things like this go through my mind and have been going through my mind in relation to my friends and acquaintances for years now. There always seems to be an excuse. Turns out I am regularly ashamed of the gospel. Or at least I act like I am. I want to be like Paul. I want to be like Moroni and Ammon and Alma. I want to be bold in the way I proclaim the gospel. If I truly believe in it, and that it is infinitely important to everyone, my
reservations should never come in the way of their salvation. That's just something that I have realized recently and something that I plan to improve on. 

Anyways, my companion is beckoning at the door--gotta go! I love you all! Have a wonderful week!

-Siebach 長老

Monday, August 4, 2014

I'm in Japan!! Thank Heavens the Sun Sets Too...

Wow.... So much to say! I think today I will go chronologically from the phone call Monday morning! So as soon as I hung up I got right on the plane to Portland. That was a good flight.... We all slept.... Not super exciting... We waited there at the airport for 2 hours, I got my last American burger (delicious), and then embarked on a journey to the
Land of the Rising Sun. I didn't sleep at all on the plane which I think was super helpful. I have not been very jet lagged at all! On the plane I did my best to study Nihongo and the scriptures. I couldn't get much done, so I just played the dot game with the Elder sitting next to me--haha! I won every single time! Remember we always used to play that on long flights to Japan?!? 

I'm just going to skip to when we landed. That is when it gets good! On the approach we could see buildings and buildings and buildings.... The sheer number of buildings is amazing! Tokyo is so big--I had forgotten! When we got off the plane we were greeted by a sweltering wall of humidity. Imagine Texas but worse. Way worse. You step outside of the air conditioned buildings and a few minutes later you're sweating buckets. Especially wearing a suit! It's rough! So we got off the plane and got into the air-conditioned airport (which was a relief), and went through customs. Picked up our bags and went out to meet the Wadas and the APs! They were all so nice. We changed some money and then got on a two hour bus ride to the hombu (mission home). During the ride we got the low down on what was going on. I'm sure we must have looked like a bunch of exhausted, bleary-eyed gaijin because we were!. They told us all about the mission and the individual areas and a short introduction to the Wada family. It was really nice.... I think... I fell asleep about half way through. At least once:) By that point we had gone over 24 hours with no sleep! 
With President and Sister Wada
When we arrived at the hombu we got some dinner and then went straight to bed! We all slept on futons in the church building next door. The second my head hit my buckwheat pillow I was out! That was probably the most restful night sleep that I have had since leaving home! It was so nice! We woke up at 6, got our running shoes on and went for a jog with President Wada down to a beautiful park around a lake about 5 minutes away from the hombu, right in the middle of Kichijoji. After that we all met up in a clearing and did radio taiso (a stretching dance/exercise) with about a hundred ancient Ninhon-jin. One of them started talking to me and told me that she was 88 years old. She guessed that I was 25. That made me happy. It is no wonder that Japanese people live so long! They are so fit even in their late 80s! That entire experience was so strange to me. It really brought into sharp clarity the stark contrast between our culture and theirs. I love things like that! 

All of the newly arrived missionaries with their trainers

Other differences are how polite they are. In the week that I have been here I have seen this multiple times. Two men meet each other on a train and they talk and then one has to get off. They will bow to each other a few times getting progressively lower and lower and then the guy that has to get off will back off the train and the two will continue to bow to each other, through the glass, until the train leaves. It's incredible. That would never happen in the U.S.... Super strange but sooo cool!

Anyways, back to where I was. We spent that entire day and half of the next day at the hombu. We learned more about the mission: mission rules, bikes, iPads, Facebook, Japanese laws, how to teach, how to contact...... The best part was on Wednesday, we went out and did our first street contacting. I was paired up with a missionary that was
just about to leave and one of my buddies from the MTC. We went out to talk to people and invite them to Eikaiwa (English class) later that night. We got a few contacts in before we were told to come back inside. None of them showed up later that night but hey, planting seeds right? The hope is that even if they don't turn into
investigators, they will have positive, good experiences with the church and somewhere down the road be willing to take further steps towards the church. 

Ok I have to move on because I am almost out of time (I'm writing this all on an iPad without a keyboard so it is taking forever!)
Sterling with Elder Sawyer
The next day we got our iPads and our trainers. My new companion is Elder Sawyer. He is from Washington state and has been out here for 7 transfers (10 months approx.). He's a really good guy! I think we will have a lot of fun
together, spreading the joy of the gospel. We were sent to the Machida area. It is actually a pretty small area relative to the other areas in the mission....which is a really small mission... But it is amazing! There are tons of people here and I love it! A lot of them Speak English too which is awesome. We went to find me some new wheels and this was the only one in the entire shop big enough for me!

New wheels--with the seat raised as high as it will go!
Within the next week I will be cleared for Facebook. I will get to create a new missionary profile so I can communicate with members and investigators here in Japan, but I will not be allowed to talk to you over Facebook. Just email--got it?! :)

So Machida has been an area for a really long time so we aren't white washing (starting from nothing) but we are a new, additional companionship in this area, so we didn't inherit any investigators or anything. So I guess we kind of are white washing. love it here! It's super hot and humid so I'm always wet but that's ok! We don't have any investigators, but we have made a lot of good contacts and have invited a bunch of people to Eikaiwa and hopefully somebody will turn into someone we can teach:) Please pray for us as we seek to find junbi sareta hito (people that are ready to listen).
Machida Stake Center
I was reading the other day in Alma the other day and found a great verse that says:
O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever. (Alma 37:46)

That scripture really struck me. Easiness of the way? How can it be easy? But as I thought about it I began to see that it really is easy. Repentance is hard to do and it takes a long time, but once you get on to the straight and narrow it really is easy. The atonement relieves us of the guilt and chains of sin that bind us down. We are freed and
allowed to progress and become better. For me it is easy to see how hard it is. Especially as a missionary. I have to learn a language and I have to talk to people in that language and I have to talk about Jesus Christ with them, something that is so close and personal to me. There are a lot of really hard things that we go through in our lives. It gets way harder if we maintain the short-sighted perspective that tells us life is hard and "the way" is hard. It is so easy to have that perspective. But I promise if you really try to see the good in your life, your family, your job, the gospel, etc, we can gain a perspective of the joy of the gospel, the enabling power of the atonement, and the eternal, glorious hope that comes from the plan of salvation. If we try to see all that, I think we will be amazed by how easy all of the little things in life can be. 

I love you all and I pray for you all! Please be safe and have a wonderful week!

Siebach 長老


P.S. The rule here in the mission is that I can read emails from people whenever I want. I just have to wait until P-day (Mondays) to write back. So if you are just itching to write or there is something you want to tell me, feel free to send an email anytime you like and I should see it within a day or so (depends on when I get wifi (which is at least always at the church). You can also send me pictures and stuff whenever you want!