Sunday, September 27, 2015

Becoming a Pro at Changing Your Heart

Hello wonderful family! 

It sounds like all is well on the western front. I can tell you right now we are seeing a lot of miracles here on the eastern front!

I talked a little bit about a couple that we found here while on splits. They are awesome! We have taught them about God and gotten them praying regularly now which is fantastic. They both are feeling God's love and wanting to improve. Next comes the rest of lesson one! The girlfriend is going especially quickly and teaching herself by looking at all of the church websites! She sent me a bunch of inspirational pictures that the church posts and told me she thinks it is awesome. She also asked me if she had to learn Hebrew in order to pray to God in a language that he can understand. I laughed and promised her that he will understand her no matter what language she uses! It was very funny!

This week I also was called in to the headquarters to go on splits with some youth. Potential missionaries from all over this area of Japan gathered and got paired up with missionaries to go out and do finding for a couple hours. I got paired with a 16 year old and I fear I might have walked him to death (see photo below for evidence!) There was a testimony meeting immediately following the finding time, during all of which he was asleep... But we had some pretty neat experiences together!

Recently I have been learning a lot about changes of the heart. Changes of the heart are really what it is all about! In repentance if the heart doesn't change then repentance has not been done correctly. Repentance is really just the process through which we slowly but surely turn ourselves from the "natural man" to align ourselves with God. Our natures, our very being, has to change for that to happen. 

Alma says:

And the Lord said unto me: Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people, must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters;26 And thus they become new creatures; and unless they do this, they can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.

That scripture says that all mankind has to change, all mankind has to become new creatures, if they want to inherit the kingdom of heaven. I have a testimony that the Spirit and the power of the atonement can change our very natures if we let it. It can change our thoughts, desires, appetites, instincts, and weaknesses, if we let it. I have taught (poorly) people about the commandments and watched as they tried to cram the natural man with all of its imperfections into the mold of one of these "new creatures". I have watched them do their best to clean the outer vessel with the inner vessel still filthy, and so I have seen them fail and forsake the God that they were just coming to know. It turns out that their efforts didn't sink deeper than the surface. They were merely cosmetic changes to put up the facade of deeper change. I have done the same thing. I have done my best to look the part of a saint while having the inside of a natural man. I have felt the frustration and impossibility of the task. I have cried and wanted to give up. But I have seen some people change. I have seen some people cry mightily unto God. I have seen some sacrifice their pride, their desire to do it alone, and reach out to their Father in Heaven. For them, fitting the mold of a saint is easy because they have become saints or they are becoming. I can't say that I am there. I can say that I have changed a lot, though not nearly enough. My inside is still a work in progress. But I believe it can be done. I believe that through the assistance of our Savior a mighty change can be wrought, one that is infinitely greater than anything we could do on our own. I have seen it done! Someday I hope to become a pro at changing my heart!

Love you all!

Elder Siebach

Monday, September 21, 2015

Talking to Everyone!

Hello beloved family! 

Boy did we have a good week this week! I went on splits three times with three different people in three different areas! It was great! We talked to a ton of great people, taught a lot of great lessons, and were able to teach and learn from each other! Here are some pictures of our adventures:

This week my testimony of the importance of talking to everyone was reinforced! When you have the Spirit and testify, it will change people's hearts. I have learned a lot about fearing no man as well. When I think back I am amazed at how timid I was at the beginning of my mission. I held back talking to everyone because I was afraid of what they might think and of being rejected. I have changed so much. Sometimes I still get scared, but the fear is a lot less. My testimony has grown a lot stronger since I started bearing it every chance I can.

Sorry I don't have much time today. I love y'all!

Elder Siebach

PS- Dad it actually is realistic to read the Book of Mormon in Japanese as a missionary! I have read it once and just barely started again. Reading is definitely doable, but understanding is another story. If I stopped to look up all of the weird words or grammar patterns that I didn't understand, it would take a lot longer. I would probably still be wandering aimlessly in the Isaiah chapters! I just read when I can and my fluency and understanding increase with every chapter :)

Monday, September 14, 2015

What is the State of Your Heart?

Hello family! 

Someone took a shot of us "dendoing" (street contacting)!
This past week has been great! We had a lot of adventures. On Saturday we had a pretty big earthquake. That was pretty cool. It happened at about 5:50 in the morning and woke all of the missionaries in the mission. Elder Cook and I were actually already outside getting our bikes ready so that we could go to a stake meeting. We felt the ground shake and then looked up at our building and watched as it swayed. It was pretty cool to watch! We also went on splits twice. Once with the APs and once with some missionaries in our zone. It was really fun. I got a little taste of what it is like to be an office elder. Seems like a lot of time cooped up writing emails and planning. Certainly not the life for me! I would rather be talking to people outside than stuck in there! We only had about 30 minutes to go finding, but in that thirty minutes we taught two lessons on the street! It was pretty great. There are some companion sets that can go weeks without teaching a single lesson (my first transfer). We were very blessed.

Another fun part of the week was yesterday. One of our investigators didn't show up to church. Haha--that doesn't sound very fun, right, so we went and tracked him down. Found him sitting near the train station and so we called him to repentance! It was awesome! He knows exactly what he has to do to come unto Christ. He wants to come unto Christ, but sometimes he can't bring himself to actually act. Reminds me of myself in a big way. I (and probably a lot of other people) sometimes have the same problem. What I have come to realize is that faith in yourself is important. You can believe the gospel all you want; you can even know it's true. You can desire to follow it all you want, but unless you believe in yourself--believe you can do it--then you will never be able to use the atonement in your life.

The fact that he lacks that belief in himself tells me that there are some very basic facts about God that have not sunk in yet. Number one, that God is his Father. It goes to follow that he is God's son. When this man is tempted to not go to church, or pray, or read the scriptures he fails and succumbs. He needs to remember his divine nature and the fact that God doesn't give us commandments without a way to accomplish them.

We had a lesson with a different investigator earlier in the week were we also taught him about his divine nature and his relationship to God. We sang I am a Child of God in Japanese (listen to it here) and then testified to him. It was awesome!

I noticed something in my studies this week that I want to share. I love the story in the Book of Mormon of the prophet Enos, and I was reading actually in Jacob 7. In he final part of the chapter, Jacob says something along the lines of "I know I'm going to die soon so I am going to give my son Enos all of these records and command him to continue writing and protect them and stuff."

When I read that section it kind of hit me. This is a big moment for Enos. He suddenly has a lot more responsibility on his shoulders. If I were to go through that in my life I would certainly have a lot to think about. I might feel un worthy, unclean, un prepared, in sufficient, etc... It is no wonder that the first thing that Enos writes is that while he was in the woods he was thinking really hard, and the Spirit carried the words of his deceased father (see verse 1 where he talks about him in past tense) home to his heart. The words had a lot to do with happy things: joy and eternal life, and stuff, and these caused him to "hunger" for them. He wanted them. The setting, his feelings of pressure and responsibility, along with the Spirit bringing words to his remembrance, created the perfect situation for him to kneel before his Almighty Maker and pour out his soul in "mighty prayer and supplication". In other words they created in him the perfect heart for effective repentance. That repentance led to him being forgiven and changed. In verse 26 it says that he was "wrought upon by the power of God that [he] must preach and prophesy". Then we see that he got what he hungered for when we read the beautiful words in his final verse.

27 And I soon go to the place of my rest, which is with my Redeemer; for I know that in him I shall rest. And I rejoice in the day when my mortal shall put on immortality, and shall stand before him; then shall I see his face with pleasure, and he will say unto me: Come unto me, ye blessed, there is a place prepared for you in the mansions of
my Father. Amen.

I love this verse, I love this chapter! The story of Enos can be very easily applied to our lives. Often, at least for me, my repentance isn't very fruitful until God calls upon me to grow, to come closer to Him. When that happens, when I am uncomfortable like that, I notice the disparity between what I am and what I am expected to/should be. In other words I see my weakness. That feeling automatically generates humility, which leads to sincere repentance, to real change, and to real strengthening. The Book of Enos is an application of Christ's words found later on in the book of Ether:

27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them (Ether 12:27).

I know that God is calling us to Him. I know that coming unto Him can be a hard road. I know that it can cause a lot of introspection and sometimes disappointment in yourself. I have felt that feeling on and off for the entire span of my mission. I know that though it is tough, there is no more rewarding road than the one that leads to our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ. I know that He loves us and helps us. I know that He gives us challenges and hard things to experience so that we can grow. I have grown a lot on my mission. I love you all!

Elder Siebach

Monday, September 7, 2015

From Deep in Enemy Territory

My dearly beloved family,

Thank you so much for the emails! Reading them made me so happy! Please know that I pray for y'all every night! Man I can't believe Grace is 18!!!!!!! She was 16 when I left! Dang! It's crazy how time flies! Happy Birthday Grem!

So this week has been pretty good. Some of the highlights are that we went to the temple on Tuesday, and to MLC (Mission Leadership Council) on Thursday. Then starting that night and lasting through the rest of Friday I went on splits with one of our District Leader's, Elder Brown. He's awesome! He came to Japan the same time I did, but I haven't really gotten to see him at all until this transfer. We found a lot of people and taught some pretty good lessons. In one of them we invited an  investigator to get baptized and he said no... That was a bummer, but of course we will continue working him.

I would say that the best part of my week was also the most trying part of my week. Before I get into it I want to say that I think that we all have a capacity for sympathizing with hard things. That capacity can grow and shrink and be different depending on the person, but when we focus on ourselves and worry about what is making us uncomfortable we start to fill up that capacity to the point where we can't try to help other people because we can't see past our own struggles. That said, on the other hand we can stop focussing on ourselves or forget our sorrows altogether and focus entirely on helping others despite our own problems. If we are focusing on ourselves then we limit the capacity that we give to the Lord. The Lord will only give us what we can handle. For a lot of my mission I have had pretty rough headaches. Sometimes if it is bright outside I have to cover my eyes or else the pain grows exponentially. For a long time it was hard to think about anyone else's problems, much less try to help them to overcome them. Over the course of the last year+ the Lord has blessed me to slowly start forgetting my pains and problems and think about others. I am certainly not perfect at it or even good at it. I often find myself wallowing in self pity, and thus rendered impotent in the effort to bring about the Lord's work. Ok, I will tell my story now.

Elder Cook and I were riding the train home from MLC, and, of course, we were trying to talk to people. We were coming off of a solid hour where we were led to three people that are now investigators, teaching the Restoration to one of them(Jackson). Needless to say, we were pretty pumped up because three investigators in an hour is pretty rare. We got on the train and I fastened my eyes(Acts 3:4) on a small 60-something-year-old Japanese man, I knew I had to talk to him. The trains were pretty packed so it took a few minutes and train stops for the crush of the crowd to convey me to where he was. I ended up right next to him, greeted him and then began to chat him up. Turns out that he lives near Hachioji in an old area of mine, so I knew the place well, and that gave me an in. We were able to talk for a long time and using incredibly awkward but prying questions I was able to learn quite a bit about him. He is living alone now, but has a a wife and two kids that live far away. His kids are old and out of the house but his wife is still alive(not necessarily something you can assume here in Japan). Holding to my true nature I asked if he was divorced, no. Asked him if they were separated, no. At this point I am a little confused so I ask him why he is living away from his family. He then proceeded to tell me that he felt like he needed a better job for his family, so he moved away to find a job in the big city and promised to send them money. He fell into sin and infidelity while in that big city(Babylon) and decided that he would live there for a while longer. So he stayed. It has now been over 15 years since he left and has no plans or even desires to return home to his family. Continuing with my bold questions I asked him if that was because he felt too ashamed to see them. At that point he started tearing up and answered yes. There was a longer more I depth discussion following that. I asked more specifically about his religious beliefs and things like that and then wound up as missionaries always should. I bore my testimony to him more heartfelt than I ever have before I promised him that through Christ he can change, improve, return, love. I will be honest that I began to tear up for the first time on my mission. I could feel so strongly his self hatred, but I could also feel, even more strongly, the depth of his heavenly Fathers love for him. I invited him to pray right there in the middle of a somewhat less packed than before train. He told me it was too embarrassing. I invited him to pray at home. He told me he didn't feel worthy. I told him that God loves him and you are never too unworthy to pray. I invited him to pray on his own. He said maybe. I invited him to meet with me again. He said that if fate will have us meet again we would. I testified that instead of fate it is the will of God, I told him that God wanted us to meet that night and that he shouldn't waste this chance, he held out. I promised him that if it were the will of God we or some other missionary would meet again and made him promise to listen to my message when that time comes. He promised, I gave him my email(he wouldn't give me his) and then he got off the train.

That was one of the most spiritual experiences of my mission. I have never felt such guidance from the spirit nor such resistance from the devil. I know that that man's life has gone from deep in enemy territory to right on the brink. I have prayed for him, and I am pretty sure that there will be a missionary or a member, whether it is
me or not I don't know, but he will be given another chance. He will be given an opportunity to come to Christ.

I know that this experience wouldn't have happened if I was caught up thinking about my headache which I had that night. I know that God is preparing me, and you, to focus on others, to turn outward, and to forget ourselves. I urge y'all to forget yourselves and go to work. I love y'all so much. Y'all are the best family ever! Grace have a wonderful birthday! I will send a video next week probably! Sorry!

Love you!!!
Elder Siebach

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Throwin Down Testimony

Hello beloved family! 

I forgot to let y'all know that I was going to the temple this week!
This past week was pretty dang good! We have been busy with a lot of investigators and a lot of splits! One of the people we are working with is Chinese and he has the same name as one of the Book of Mormon prophets we are studying with him. (They both use the same Chinese characters too...which is rare considering how many different characters could be used in different combinations and yet end up with the same sound!)  That certainly makes likening the scriptures with him pretty easy! He is struggling a lot with believing that God is real. Elder Cook and I feel like that is his biggest obstacle. Once he overcomes that he will start progressing more!

Elder Cook and I held Zone conference on Tuesday and it turned out really well! Leading up to it we kept planning to set aside time to prepare what we were going to teach during the meeting, but every time the time came we always felt like we needed to go do other things. Because of that, when it came time to give our training, we didn't have anything but the theme and some scriptures planned out. That may sound like enough preparation to a lot of you, but to me, being the awful public speaker that I am, I did not feel nearly as prepared as I would have liked! Fortunately, when the time came to give our training the Spirit took over and Elder Cook and I were able to give and speak the words that God would have had us say. The theme we planned to teach on was "Faith as a principle of action". What it became was "Fear and doubt: the opposition to faith". I was so grateful for the incredible help we received. I now have a much stronger testimony that when we give our all in order to do what God would have us do, He will make up the lack. We focused on following the Spirit instead of doing the things we thought we needed to do and that helped us get a lot more things done! It was awesome!

This week I went on splits with an Elder Tolen and Elder Ishikawa(石川). They were both great splits and I learned a lot! The missionaries in this zone are all incredibly hard workers and really want to improve! I have been able to learn so much from their example. Yesterday Elder Ishikawa and I stopped a man on the street who is a young father suffering from a pretty severe illness (I didn't understand which illness it was, but it was a pretty bad type of cancer). We got to know him a little bit when we stopped him. While we were talking I looked at his hand and did the only natural thing someone that has spent a year at BYU would do and did a ring check:). I saw that he had one so I asked him about his family. He told me a little about them and I was able to testify to him about how the Gospel blesses families. I felt directed to show him the picture of y'all--the one where we are all sitting in the middle of the train tracks! He loved it and commented on how we all seemed so happy. I told him that y'all were far away. I talked about how hard it is to be away from you, but how through the teachings of the gospel I know that no matter what happens, if we all keep the commandments, we will be with each other again. I promised him the same thing. After that Elder Ishikawa threw down a testimony of prayer and Heavenly Father and tied it to my family testimony perfectly. I felt like we were Alma and Amulek testifying to the Zoramites!! We plan on teaching that man again this week!

This past week was great! There were some tight situations, some heart wrenching moments and some frustrating experiences, but I felt a lot of guidance and influence from the Spirit of the Lord, and that made everything better. This zone leader thing is really fun, primarily because I get to spend so much time with a lot of different, awesome, amazing missionaries--and my companion is a pretty amazing missionary as well. I feel like I learn a lot more from the missionaries I serve then they probably learn from me!

Anyways, love y'all! I got a call from the mission office saying that I have a package! I haven't seen it yet but thank you!

Elder Siebach