Monday, August 24, 2015

Learning to Forgive

Hello beloved family, I have another few minutes so I will tell you about another experience I had this week while doing splits with the Elders in Kofu. 

We sat down with this new member named H and started teaching him but the lesson was going nowhere. We could tell that he wasn't feeling the Spirit. We were letting him talk, bearing testimony, reading scriptures (a lot of them) and I was praying...HARD! I was feeling the Spirit, but I couldn't figure out why he wasn't. After awhile we started getting somewhere, but we had only set aside an hour to teach him, so I was about to end the lesson when I could feel the Spirit saying "No, don't end the lesson". We decided to continue, and from there the lesson took a meandering stroll through various subjects until the missionary that I was on splits with got a phone call from a member. He ignored it, but H asked him who it was. My companion told him and H scowled. From there he replayed a story to us of how he had let that specific member down. He used the word uragiri, which means backstab. He told us how he had tried to apologize and make it right, but still had an awful feeling. That feeling was causing him to stop wanting to come to church. He felt like he couldn't please the members, couldn't become friends with them, and certainly couldn't love or be loved by them. We talked to him for a long time. Through the Spirit we were able to determine that the hinderance he felt was not forgiveness from the member. It was H's personal forgiveness. H could not complete repentance because he could not forgive himself and therefore could not forsake his sin. He couldn't forgive himself because he hated himself. When I realized this I remembered an experience I had. I too had hated myself and I couldn't forgive. I couldn't love those around me because I couldn't love myself. I was able to relate that experience to him, tell him what had helped me to finally love myself enough to forgive myself. I was able to bear a testimony that I didn't know I had because the Spirit helped me to remember specific experiences. I have a testimony of repentance and the ability it gives us to learn how to love ourselves, even though imperfect, which in turn gives us the ability to love others. I have a testimony that one of the purposes of the atonement is to allow us to have faith to repent

15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.

To allow us to love orpurselves again and so allow us to love others. I have seen that happen in my life. I wasn't a very loving person before the mission, in fact there were very few who I could bring myself to love, but I have been blessed to change and to love the people here.

By the way, good luck in school Gremlin (he means Grace)!! Can't believe it's your senior year!!

Love ya!
Elder Sterling Siebach

Peace Be Unto Thy Soul

Hello my beloved family! 
Riding a Japanese-sized bike

This week has been great! We have been all over the place! On Wednesday I went and got my tooth fixed in Tokyo and afterwards we had to go to an area called Kofu (which is on the opposite end of our mission) on splits! Kofu is by far the biggest area in our mission. It is made up of the entirety of Yamanashi-ken, which is the Japanese equivalent of a state. It actually makes up close to 50 percent of the geographical area of our mission, but only has a small percentage of the mission's total population. It takes a two hour train ride to get to the church from Hachioji and we will be going up there once a week for district meetings. While I was there on splits with the district leader, we taught two lessons he and his companion had set up for us. One was a with a recent convert and the other was a man that has not yet been baptized. He is a refugee from Iran. If he were to receive baptism and then return to Iran he would very likely be tortured and killed. Because of that he will not be baptized until he knows for sure that he won't have to go back. 

While we were with him I was trying to get to know him and figure out what kind of scripture I should share. He started talking about the challenges he faces here in Japan. He spoke about racial prejudice, difficulty with the language, his divorce, the government, and a lot of other things that are making his life difficult. I had been planning to read a chapter with him from Mosiah that is about the trials that Alma and his people faced and how they overcame them through patience and trust in the Lord. It really is a truly inspiring account, but I felt that I should share something else instead. I remembered some scriptures in the Doctrine and Covenants that had comforted me through hard times before. They tell of a time when Joseph Smith was stuck in Liberty Jail while his family and members of the church are being persecuted, some even murdered, and driven away. He feels hopeless, as if the Lord has abandoned him and his people. Here is what the Lord says to him:

D&C 121:7-8 -- My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

I asked him to read it and watched as the Spirit carried these precious scriptures to his heart. There are a lot of people in this world that aren't very comfortable. There are a lot of people that are worried, scared, sick, hopeless, and discouraged. It can be due to the actions of others, our actions, weakness, nature, really anything. But no matter what the situation is, no matter how low we are, how dirty we feel, how hopeless we are, we are the children of God. Not a cold God or an uncaring God, not a cruel God or an absent God, but a God that loves, a God that lifts, a God that blesses, and a God that strengthens. I have seen him reach out to many; I know He is always reaching out. We are His children after all. The man we were teaching was visibly moved. He thanked us, and then got on his knees and thanked God. It was a beautiful experience. 

I love you all and hope you have a wonderful week!

Elder Siebach

Monday, August 17, 2015

How to Soften a Heart

Hello everyone! 
With Baba-san
This past week was pretty great. Elder Matsumoto, Elder Richardson, and I partied in Kanagawa for a few days. We taught a bunch of lessons because all of our investigators wanted to say goodbye before I left. It was awesome. Then I hopped on a train and had a nice smooth transfer to Hachioji! Got here and my companion and I hit the streets pretty hard. We have been pretty busy with district meetings to attend, lessons, baptismal interviews, conference calls, and the like. That keeps us pretty busy! We still haven't been able to complete all of the planning that we desperately need to plan for this transfer!

One special thing about being in this zone is that one of the districts is the Kofu Area, which consists of Yamanashi Ken in its entirety, which is comparable to a state in the U.S. Geographically the area is massive and a two and a half hour train ride from my area. We will try to go there every week, which will take a long time and extra money, but all those hours on the train will give us an opportunity to teach a lot of lessons to people who aren't going anywhere--haha!

This week I decided to study how hearts are softened. I have come across quite a few hard hearts in Japan, and I want to see what is required to soften them. I haven't finished studying this yet, but I came across a few scriptures that stick out to me...

2 Nephi 2:16 -- Nephi is trying to understand and accept the words of his father as the word of God.

16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers.

I love that, despite being young and inexperienced, if you have a desire to know and to cry unto the Lord then you can receive. In this case his heart was softened so that he could believe his father's words. A couple verses later he's sad about his brothers' disobedience and prays for them, after which the Lord talks to him and promises him many things.

Another scripture that I liked was Alma 24:8. Here the king of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis is speaking.

8 And behold, I thank my great God that he has given us a portion of his Spirit to soften our hearts, that we have opened a correspondence with these brethren, the Nephites.

The Lamanites, a people who for hundreds of years had hated the Nephites and had tried to kill them and had, despite constant efforts from the Nephites, never had an interest in the things of God, finally received the gospel. It was because God granted a portion of his Spirit to soften their hearts.

I love these scriptures, and I love that Heavenly Father softens our hearts so that we can receive Him. I know that He is softening the hearts of some of these wonderful Japanese people that they may receive this perfect gospel. I pray that He may continue to do so and that He will soften my heart as well.

Elder Siebach

Monday, August 10, 2015

Transfer 'Flash in the Pan'!

Dear Family,

I have no time, but I have news!

I am getting transferred again! Another two transfer flash in the pan and I'm gone! I will be companions with Elder Cook. I don't really know him, although he seems like a great guy! Bonus: I will be getting a bike from a very tall missionary that just went home! It is a lot bigger and nicer and American! Yay--I'm excited!

This weekend we had a baptism! Brother Baba! He is going to be an incredible member! I'm so grateful I got to teach him and be a part of his journey toward Christ! I will send you a picture of him next email!

I'm sorry that this is so short! I really love all of you!

Elder Siebach

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sifting Through the Clutter

31 Flavors!
Hello family! 

Thank you for the emails! It sounds like y'all have had quite the adventures these past few weeks and everything has all turned out!

There isn't a ton of news from this side of the world. Just same old same old. A lot of people that I talk to have kindly informed me that this is the hottest summer in 140 years and that I am a hard worker for being out in it doing what I am doing. That's nice of them. I have found that I am actually pretty well informed out here with regards to news and weather and things of that nature. A lot of Japanese people spend the vast majority of their free time on their phones or on TV. So when I talk to them then they often blurt out whatever is dancing around on the surface of their mind, which is usually what they were looking at most recently on their phones. No wonder, when I ask, they usually tell me that they have never thought about God or the purpose of life or some of the deeper topics of discussion. There is so much clutter on the surface that there is no time to focus on what's under it. I have learned a lot from the Japanese people. 

I am so grateful for the part of my mission where I come out changed. I think that there are many aspects to a mission and one of them is the part where you change others, or help them change themselves. There is also another part where you (I) change. I am grateful for both, but right now I want to talk about one of the ways that I have changed. I have learned to ponder. As I said earlier there is a lot of clutter in this world, lots of notifications and tweets and posts and newsflashes and popups and latests and disasters and jobs and friends... All of which are good (well, ok...disasters aren't good), but they aren't always good. Before I came on a mission I was really into my phone, the Internet, TV the point that I would just spend all of my free time focusing on those and I couldn't truly ponder. It was as if my mind was itching for the latest text message, Facebook post, tweet, anything to think about. On my mission that has changed. I can be still and think and hear the voice of the Spirit in my life. That is something that I have learned here. So many of the people that I have tried to talk to have been too engrossed in their phones or music or something to listen to what I have to say. I realized that I was the same way. I feel like our Heavenly Father is always trying to talk to us, always trying to send us revelation, and it's up to us to just be quiet and still for long enough to receive and recognize it.

One of the elders in my apartment will be transferring to the mission office as an office elder this Tuesday so my companion and I will absorb his old companion and be a threesome for the next week and a half until transfers! That's exciting because now we are taking on the work load of two very busy areas. It will be a challenge to balance that out. On Monday we now have seven lessons planned! That might be a record for me! We also have a baptism this coming Saturday for a great man named Baba-san. We are pumped for that! He is wonderful and will be a really strong member and missionary. He already invites all his friends to hear the lessons!

This week we did a lot of finding and a lot of teaching as your typical missionary will do. We saw a lot of miracles and got to teach a lot of people on the front step of their houses. One of the people we found and taught we had to turn over to the sisters in our area and she already has a baptismal date scheduled! She was incredibly prepared. She will be baptized sometime next month.

Kanagawa District
This past week I came across a lot of great scriptures in my studies. One that I loved was in Mosiah 9. This is actually the record of Zeniff who went to claim the Nephite's lands of inheritance. He and his people are fighting the Lamanites and, although outnumbered, manage to kill 3000 Lamanites with a loss of only 280 Nephites. The scripture that I love talks about the most important part of their preparation for battle.

17 Yea, in the strength of the Lord did we go forth to battle against the Lamanites; for I and my people did cry mightily to the Lord that he would deliver us out of the hands of our enemies, for we were awakened to a remembrance of the deliverance of our fathers.

I am learning that it is absolutely necessary to cry mightily to the Lord. One other thing that I have learned on my mission is that it is rare for God to change our situation. Of course he can and does remove barriers and hinderances from our path, but he leaves a lot more of them right where they are. If you think about it, what do we gain or learn if all of the hard things in life just disappear? Rather, he gives us the strength to overcome or change our circumstances and in so doing allows us to learn and grow. He gives us the strength to lift our burdens. I have learned that on my mission. I have had opposition, a lot of it, and instead of seeing it go away when I pray, it has stayed. It took a long time for me to realize that after you pray and cry mightily to the Lord, then you just man up and face your problems and do everything you can do to overcome them. Then you watch as He provides the strength, after yours is exhausted, that gets you over the hill. I have literally been helped over real hills (Yokohama is full of them and we live on top of a huge one) when I am exhausted and feel as if I only have strength left to pray for help. Then, oh how great is your joy when you realize that you--with the help of the Lord--overcame all that stood in front of you! I have a testimony that He is there waiting to strengthen us. We may be disappointed when we open our eyes after praying and behold the mountains still in front of us, but I just have to remember that it is for my benefit, and there is nothing that we are asked to do that we can't do without the Lord's help.

Love y'all!

Elder Siebach