Saturday, December 15, 2012
Wo qinai de jiating he pengyou ZAO AN!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dearest friends dear gentlemen, listen to my song! I have so much to tell you and haven't the foggiest where I ought to begin so this, much like every other email, is going to be an explosion of words and y'all are just gonna go with it!!!! My new area is wonderful. Every day I love it more and more, it is soooo incredibly beautiful. I love the massive bridge we cross every day and the trickling stream they call a river, I love the giant cement cylinders we pass on the way to church, I love the rolling clouds and shafts of light that break through and remind me that I'm on a tiny little island. I love the little girls who wear their socks pulled up to their knees, and the people who scoot away from me when I try to talk to them at stop lights. I love the members of our ward who are so unique and glorious. I love my companion Sister T. more than anyone can know. This is the promised land, my friends, and it is very literally flowing with milk and honey, because one of our investigators is a family and they keep bees and gave us a jar of honey which I have slowly but surely been single-handedly consuming. Ok ok it's not all sunshine and daisies....to start this area is probably about 4 or 5 times bigger than my first area, so that is insane. I've been here barely a week, and I still only know a few roads. Also we don't have very many investigators, but we have lots of less actives and recent converts that we are working with, and each time we meet with them everything inside of me feels like it is physically shifting because I feel so full of the Spirit of God. I ache for these people to remember their testimonies and to grab back on to the rod of iron....sometimes we just forget how. It's really cool how everything happening in my life is reflected in my scripture study every day. I read Lehi's vision in 1 Nephi this week....I love in chapter 8 verses 14 and 23: "they stood as if they knew not whither they should go." "they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, and were lost." ok I don't love that. I guess it's more appropriate to say I was particularly struck by these verses as I met with lots of new people this week...it was just a spiritual thing for me to think about these people....all around me....the large majority are total strangers....I look at them as I ride past them on my bike or as I wobble over to them at stop lights. Sometimes they don't look lost, but sometimes they fit that description in verse 14 EXACTLY, they "[sit on their scooters] as if they knew not whither they should go". I'm not really sure where I am going with this, because my feelings and thoughts and ideas are still formulating. But the point is I love being a missionary. It's a marvelous thing to
be a missionary and to be removed from my old life where I just worry about ME. Now I open my eyes and see the people around me and pray desperately to know how I can reach them and help them remember the path they once commenced on, either in this life or the life before. It's very surreal and exquisite. I wanted to share one particularly poignant experience I had this week....Sister T. and I have lists of less active members that we have been asked to go through, trying to contact them, see if they've moved, etc. This week we went to a part of town that was a little sketchier than most to find a certain Guan JieMei. Neither of us really knew where we were going. When we got to what we thought was maybe her apartment building, Sister T. went and started asking this woman about it, and I was accosted by a man who was slovenly and drunk. I could only half understand what he was saying because he was slurring so much. He was very nice, though, and invited us out for coffee, which I politely declined. I tried to talk to him about church because he mentioned "moermenjiao" (Mormon church) but it was so sad to see that the Spirit could not work in him because of the physical and mental state he was in.
I finally just walked away and joined my companion who was trying to share our message with a woman wearing more makeup than clothes. Her eyes looked empty and sad. She got tired of listening to us, but let us in to Guan JieMei's building and helped us into the elevator. We went up to the 10th floor and walked down a long, narrow, and dark hallway and knocked on a door that we hoped would be hers. Guan JieMei's mother-in-law answered. She did not look happy to see us, but my companion is really amazing with people and so somehow, she let us in. In the front room there was an enormous wooden shrine painted red. It had all kinds of objects on it....so THAT'S probably why she was less-than-excited to let us in. Guan JieMei came out looking tired and confused. Her mother-in-law sat on a tiny chair in the corner occasionally speaking Taiwanese or murmuring in Chinese with her hand over her mouth so we couldn't understand her. Then she finally got up and left.
I nearly started crying as we continued to talk with this sweet sister...because the more we talked, the more I realized she has let go of all hope. "I don't care if my family is together forever or not, my husband would never come to church so why does it matter." My heart was aching and my eyes filled with tears as I shared what was in my heart. We read a scripture with her and said a quiet little prayer so mom wouldn't hear us. I think our visit strengthened her...she seemed relieved to be able to talk about everything. She told us we don't need to come back though. Before we left, Sister T. said "Guan JieMei we just wanted you to know that God has not forgotten you. He will never forget you." When she bore her testimony I was struck to my very center as I realized how true it was. It was a series of little miracles that we found her and that we decided to go and visit her that day, but God knew where she was, and He knew how we could find her. I almost started crying again when we left (a little emotionally fragile, are we? ummm. Yes.) because I am so undone at our Heavenly Father's love for us. We really have no idea how much He
loves us and how involved He is in every detail of our lives. And while we are on the subject of my fabulous companion....I can hardly begin to express how much I adore her, but I will try to count the ways. I realized this week that Sister T. reminds me of Aunt Sage. You should see the way she loves people, I am moved every single time. Something she and Sage both have in common is their genuine love for other people and their immediate ability to take a person where they are, be interested in them, and make them feel valued. I am going to learn SO much from her it's insane. One quick example....this week we went to visit a recent convert/less active, but we got to her house early. So we went to try to see someone the next street over who also wasn't there...but that's where we met Ahti. She's this darling girl from Indonesia who came to Taiwan to work and get money for her family. We started talking to her. She was using a wooden mallet to like hammer plastic things into metal poles...yeah I have no idea what it was for. Sister T. just said, "Can I try?" So we sat down on the ground and spoke really simple Chinese (ahh, my favorite :) ) and just served this girl and talked to her about God. We didn't add her as an investigator or get her number or even get to set up another time with her, but I think that is partially why I loved it so much....when we left, we just gave her a hug, and I told her my little sister lived in Indonesia once and loved it. Ahti just sighed and said "Really??? Oh, thank you thank you." and that was that. There are a lot of ways to minister to God's children. Sometimes they aren't ready to sit down and hear all the lessons and get baptized 3 weeks later....but they still need love, and they still need a reminder that God is mindful of them. I love doing that :) And I love that Sister T. radiates that in every single interaction. She's incredible. 1 Nephi 2:12 "they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them." I read this scripture earlier this week....it's referring to Laman and Lemuel. Sometimes I think it's easy for me to be like, Laman and Lemuel were such idiots how could they have disregarded all the signs and miracles they saw? But unfortunately I've come to realize I am a lot more like them than I think or care to admit. I am quick to forget and quick to feel sorry for myself in times of trial, and I am slow to turn outward and focus on Christ. A couple of questions I thought of while thinking about Laman and Lemuel: did you ask him to make it known? Do you have faith in His plans and timing? These are things I have been working on a lot lately and I am praying desperately that I can be more like Nephi, who was quick to turn to the Lord, quick to have faith and be obedient, which resulted in glorious answers to prayer. There's probably a lot more I want to say, but I think this is all for now. I love you and pray for you and am cheering for you :) love Sister Coco Ke JieMei
The subject of today's email is ban jia.....which means.....MOVE HOME!!!!!!! YES. the unthinkable has happened, and I have left my beautiful first area behind!!!!!!!!! We knew that we would find out for sure about the move call on Saturday night. My trainer Sister K. has been in the same district since April because she served in a neighboring district and then came here. We were so sure that she would move. Saturday was an extremely nerve-wracking day, and we did all we could to stay focused, but we were so nervous to get the phone call. The Elders finally called us at 9:45 p.m. and said, "the fax didn't print out very clearly so we can't read it too well but all we know is that Sister K. is staying here and Sister Mack is leaving." My heart was broken. I was so emotionally unprepared I literally sat there with my mouth hanging open for like 10 minutes because I didn't want to start packing. It was hard to leave and I felt like bawling my eyes out, but I was too stunned. I said a lot of prayers to feel more peace about it, because it is a really exciting adventure to move somewhere else, but my first area has been so precious to me...I honestly feel like I could serve my entire mission there, and I would love every second of it. Church on Sunday was rough...saying goodbye to everyone and giving like, a farewell testimony. It was great though, because so many of the members were like "Ni de zhongwen jinbule hen DUO!!!!" (my chinese improved a ton haha). One girl in particular, my friend Ling Mei, was bawling her eyes out and I felt so bad. But it really touched my heart, and I felt like my being there actually made a difference to at least one person. She's totally amazing.
SO I have moved 3 hours north of my first area to a great little district. It is in Taizhong and we are very close to the mission office and I'm pretty sure we also get to go to the Taipei temple one of these P-days so that will be sweet. My new companion is totally legit. Sister T. from Canada. She is a rugby star so I'd say we have a lot in common, but she's actually good at rugby...so...yeah. She's really really cool though. I feel great about being here and just know these next 6 weeks are going to be full of miracles and adventures that I could not even dream of.
The train ride up here was really fun. I was sitting with my MTC companion Sister G's trainer, and we just talked the whole time and watched the rice paddies go by. Not infrequently I become overjoyed with the realization that I AM LIVING IN TAIWAN and that the hour of my mission is every moment of my life....it's so cool, and I'm so happy to be here!! I am starting things off the right way in my new area....it'll be a few days before my bike and luggage get here, so I have to borrow the extra bicycle in the area. This afternoon two Elders were "ghost riding" said extra bike to our apartment, which means they are both on their own bikes and they drag the other bicycle along between them. We were sitting at our apartment waiting for it to come when one of the Elders called to apologize for the delay, but he had been HIT BY A CAR while ghost riding, and had to make a quick stop at the hospital!!!! When we finally met up with them, he had a fat lip and a bunch of cuts on his face. His pants and shirt were torn!! He had a big smile, though, and waved and yelled "Welcome, Sister Mack!!!!!!!" I was stunned. The moral of the story is, I get to work with some incredible people here in Taiwan...I am constantly undone by the goodness of the people around me. I love being able to see that light in others and feel it touch my heart.
Ok....I can't even remember what else I wanted to tell you because moving homes has made me a little dizzy, so I'm just going to tell a couple stories and then stop writing, because I'll just ramble horribly like I always do.
Monkey Mountain. Ok last Pday me, Sister K., and some otha sistahs went to Monkey Mountain....I take back that whole sentence I mentioned last week about it being a magical place because as it turns out, it's terrifying. The monkeys are wild, ferocious, and territorial. One of the sisters who came with us actually went the week before and had a horrible encounter with a pack of monkeys. She forgot that an innocent little bag of pretzels were laying hidden in the bottom of her bag. She noticed a monkey was looking at her. He cocked his head and then leaped at her and clung to her leg, tearing at her bag. "Throw your bag! Throw your bag!" her companion was screaming. Sister Smith threw her bag, and then a pack of monkeys flew out from the trees and emptied out the contents, fighting viciously for the pretzels!
This time, we made sure none of us brought food. One of the sisters had a waterbottle on the outside of her bag though, and a monkey flew at her, stole the waterbottle, and started EATING IT. Uhhhhh.......yeah. At first everything seemed fine, and we didn't see any mokeys. But as we got higher up the mountain, they started climbing out all over the path, picking bugs out of each other's fur....one patchy old white fellow was tearing his own hair out and eating it..it was vile. I grabbed onto my friend Sister S. (the one who survived the attack from the previous week) and said "I don't like this, I want to leave." I was afraid to even make eye contact with the monkeys cause they would start snarling. I got a little panicky and begged the other sisters to turn the flash off their cameras cause I was sure it would agitate the monkeys and that we'd all be killed. Somehow we made it out alive, though. I never want to go back there.
Halloween: Sister K. and I had a very special sort of Halloween celebration this week. There's an American guy living in the area who runs a buxi ban (cram school. they are all over Taiwan and kids go to do extra study after school). He is a less active and is kind of a lonely fellow. He wanted to have a special Halloween party for his English students and needed some help getting it set up, so Sister King and I called our investigator Yao JieMei to come with us. We blew up and tied like 200 little balloons..which left our fingers raw and chalky. Then we went around to all the little shops in the neighborhood asking if they would be willing to participate in trick-or-treating for which we provided the candy. Yao JieMei became our spokesperson and seemed quite proud of herself, marching down the street and explaining the activity perfectly in a way that Sister K. and I could never even dream of doing.
Missionary activity. On Saturday we had a special missionary activity for the youth in our stake. Sadly, only about 12 or 13 kids showed up, and only 2 of them were girls. One came with us, and we had a lesson with Yao JieMei. After that we were going to go contacting for families and Yao JieMei was like "Hey where are you going?? Can I come????" So we went out to an intersection where we had a few posters that said things like "Do you want a happier family?" and we handed out fliers with different quotes about the importance of families and how the gospel blesses families, along with the church address and website, and missionaries’ phone numbers (they were actually a huge pain to make, but it turned out great). Yao JieMei was a total rock star. She was nervous at first, and I patted her on the back and told her to say a prayer in her
heart. Then she marched out into the street and talked to tons of people. It was such a beautiful thing to see. At one point this group of teenagers like halfway crossed the street and were standing on a little island waiting for the light to change so they could keep crossing, and Yao JieMei was like, "I have to go talk to them!" So she headed towards them and then almost got hit by a car, so I grabbed her and was like heeeeey lady, don't sacrifice your safety. It was amazing to see her so determined and willing and happy to share this message with everyone she saw. I miss her so much already....did I tell you she bought me some truffles from Costco last week? I can't believe I was torn away from her and all the people I love so much in my first area. I have a lot of addresses to write to people and stuff, but I can't write very many characters yet....guess I better put the pedal to the metal.
Ether 12. Spiritual share.....Ether 12:39, 41
"I have seen Jesus, and [...] he hath talked with me face to face, and [...] he told me in plain humility, even as a man telleth another in mine own language concerning these things."
"I would commend you to seek this Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God the Father and also the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of them, may be and abide in you forever. Amen."
These verses really stirred my Spirit as I read them this week....the more I study the scriptures and apply them to my life and interactions with people on the street, investigators in lessons, teaching English class on Wednesday nights.....the more I feel as though I see my Savior face to face. I see Him face to face when I read these scriptures because through the power of the Holy Ghost it is in a language and manner of speaking that I can understand. Christ, Heavenly Father, and the Holy Ghost are real beings....this gospel is TRUE!!! I see Christ face to face when I tell Ling Mei I am leaving the area, and her eyes well with tears, and she hugs me as if she really loved me. I see Christ face to face when I meet with less active members of the Church, and they can trust me enough to confide in me and ask me if the gospel is really true and what can they do to find it again, and I can tell them with complete confidence that if they seek the guidance of their loving Heavenly Father through prayer, they will find their way. I can't believe how fast the time is flying by here....I am done being trained! HOW is that possible? I am in my second area and on to my third companion....I never could have dreamed this far into my mission and there was a long time I was afraid I'd never make it. But I'm here and I am living it and I am loving it.
I love you all. Pray for you every single day :)
love love love
Sister Coco Mack Ke JieMei
Wo qinai de jiating he pengyou....zao aaaaaan!!!!!!!!!
I have many stories to tell you, and I'm going to try to be fast cause we want to get out of here to go meet up with some other sisters to go to a magical place called monkey mountain....Sister Cai, a fabulous lady who we have been visiting lately who reminds me of Grandma Helen and Val Sperrer all rolled into one fabulous Taiwanese lady, might come with us too. She is a hoot. The other week we bumped into her on the road and she was riding her brand new electric bicycle which does not require any pedaling!!
So there's one story I started telling you like 3 weeks ago but keep forgetting to finish. It was in my list of top 10 when I was talking about dogs I think...a while ago we were teaching an invesitgator named Sister Qiu. We found her when we were calling through our dead stack (we have a huge box of contacting cards in our apartment...you give them to people and they fill out their information and then you call them because they supposedly have interest...so she probably met the missionaries once years ago and totally forgot about us) and we met her for the first time when she agreed to come to church one Sunday.
Sundays are always a little crazy because we are so anxious about the well being of our investigators and just frantically trying to explain everything to them, introduce them to members, get them to class, and help them have an uplifting experience. Sister Qiu showed up late and called during the sacramente (don't worry our phone was on silent!), so I ran out afterwards and tried to give her directions to the church (yikes). She finally got there, and at this point I was so panicked and stressed that I was not thinking very clearly...at all. Seriously, my brain went into a mode of hyper hysteria, and so I beg you not to judge me for what happened next, because no harm was done. In Sister Qiu's arms was clasped a funny little white dog. I looked at the dog and then I looked at her and she said "Is it going to be a problem if I bring him in?" I told her it would be better if she just left him outside. I said, “Won't he be ok for 2 hours?” She laughed and shook her head, then wiggled right past me into the church.
Before I knew it, the 3 of us were headed upstairs to the chapel. I was trying to explain the organization of our church meetings and she just kept telling me how pretty I was and how white my skin is.....she was not listening to me at all, and I didn't know what to do. The dog was in the purse at this point...and there were only about 20 minutes left of sacrament meeting. In my extremely deranged state of mind I thought "It's probably fine if the dog comes in, no one will even notice." So I swung the doors open and in we went,
down we sat, and out came the dog onto Sister Qiu's lap. Instead of reacting like a normal person and saying something like "Could you please stuff that thing back into your purse?" I frantically flipped through the hymn book so Sister Qiu could start singing and hopefully feel the spirit.
All the little kids started to notice this dog, and out of the corner of my eye I could see my companion looking over. I guess another sister made a really loud comment like "OH my GOSH someone brought a DOG in here" and so my companion, being wise and level-headed, came over and said the simplest sentence I could not seem to come up with "Bu hao yisi, yinggai bu xing" (sorry, this isn't really ok), and just like that we were back on our way out. I sat with Sister Qiu for a while outside the chapel talking to her and trying to figure out her background and tell her a little about the church, but she was just admiring me....it was all rather funny and later we tried to meet with her again (this time sans the dog) but she just kept being like "Are we almost done?" and then when she left, I went in to give her a hug but she wasn't ready and instead awkwardly patted my face, but her palm really just slid down my cheek. We haven't seen her since.
Lately I've been thinking about whether or not Heavenly Father and Jesus are pleased with the work I've been doing. I've been on my mission for over 5 months, and I keep thinking about how I've never wanted more to succeed and fulfill what is expected of me. I got several answers to prayer. One came from a quote in Preach My Gospel that says "You can feel certain that the Lord is pleased when you feel the Spirit working through you." I saw this happen in so many ways this week, but I'll just mention two.
Sometimes my companion and I play this game called red light green light. Basically it means one person sits at the corner at a 7-11 or something and calls phones (deadstack, investigators, less actives, etc) trying to set up appointments, and the other person just goes around the intersection talking to people. Every time the light changes you cross the street and talk to the people who are waiting at another red light. I was talking to a lot of people, and I was having very little success...people drive away from you, ignore you completely, sometimes you accidentally start contacting an active member of the church (that happened this week! haha. It's hard to recognize people cause they have huge helmets on and sometimes wear a mask over their nose and mouth...I even have a hard time sometimes telling if people are girls or boys!)
I finally said a prayer, desperately pleading with Heavenly Father to help me know what to say and to be able to communicate clearly. As I was biking to the next light, I saw a woman who was smoking and chewing bin lang at the same time (quick side note: bin lang is this weird plant that people chew and then they spit out red stuff in the street. It smells awful and apparently it actually cuts the inside of your mouth a little bit so some of the red stuff you spit out is your own blood) and I decided I would go talk to her. I didn't know what the game plan was, but as I scooted my bicycle up next to her, a question popped into my mind. I smiled at her and said hello. Then I said, "Qing wen, ni
shibushi kuaile?" (I want to ask you a question, are you happy?) The woman looked at me with tired eyes and told me no, she wasn't very happy at all. I started talking to her and learned she was divorced and had 2 adult children. I told her about Heavenly Father and how much He loves her and knows her perfectly. He wants to bless her and guide her and give her great happiness in this life. She was really interested and wrote down her information but then I was devastated to find out she doesn't live in our area!!! NOOOOOOO~~!!!!!!!!1 I told her I'd refer her to the sister missionaries in her area, and before she left, she said "You'll tell them to call me, right?" It was so cool.
When I told my companion, I almost started crying because I was so grateful Heavenly Father answered my prayer and that I was able to find Sister Chen, my sister who is wandering and looking for happiness. I might not ever know how her story ends in this life, but I'm grateful our paths could cross and that I could receive a witness of so many truths: the Spirit will tell us what to say when we are earnestly seeking to help bless and lift others, you cannot judge by the outward appearance: "in the quiet heart is hidden sorrows that the eye can't see,” and this gospel is for EVERYONE.
Another really cool experience I had this week happened when we went to visit Sister Xie, a less active member in our ward. In our past lessons with her, it has been really challenging for me and my companion to connect to her and help her be interested in the message we are trying to share. She always seems extremely bored and like she can't wait for us to leave. Earlier that morning, I had been desperately trying to think of something to do to shake it up, like some kind of awesome object lesson, but I couldn't come up with anything. Right before we left, I called another member in our ward who lives in the same building as Sister Xie and asked her to come with us. Then I grabbed this random treat out of our cupboard and put it in my pocket (one of my skirts has pockets. it's the greatest thing ever) thinking that I could somehow use it as an object lesson.
We talked to Sister Xie about a talk Elder Bednar gave in October 2010 General Conference about actively receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost. I accidentally dropped the treat on the ground as we were sitting there, then, very embarrassed, I folded it up in my skirt and tried to pay attention while simultaneously thinking of a way to integrate the sweet, deep fried noodle cluster with raisins into the lesson. Sister Lu, the member we had called very last minute, suddenly made the perfect comment that could help me seguey (segway. that's what I'm trying to spell. Go with it) into an object lesson. I whipped the treat out very excitedly, not thinking at all beforehand what I would say, so what I said was frightfully ineloquent. BUT the food caught Sister Xie's attention. Thankfully Sister Lu is amazing and served a mission before, so she explained it beautifully: "Receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost is kind of like the example Sister Ke (me) just made. It's like she handed you this treat and told you how delicious it was and how it would make you so happy, and then she gave it to you, but you never ate it..." and so on. Sister Xie was more involved than she ever has been, and I felt like my heart was on fire, and like I wanted to run all around because the flow of the Spirit and unity among
all of us was so tangible!! I don't know if we'll see any major changes in Sister Xie, but as we were leaving, we saw that she and Sister Lu (who is old enough to be her mom) were strolling around the courtyard of the apartment complex together. It was a beautiful sight :)
During one of my personal study sessions this week, I read Mormon 8....I have so much respect for Moroni. The circumstances in which he finds himself are pretty dire to say the least. He is alone, his father has been killed and he has no friends or family left. He does not know if the Lamanites will find him and kill him, but he has COMPLETE trust in the Lord's timing and plan for him. Moroni is so humble in that he has totally submitted to Heavenly Father's instructions to him....
"how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not."
"I [...] do finish the record of my father, [...] which things I have been commanded by my father."
He doesn't know the entire plan, but he knows enough. He knows what he has been called to do, that God will help him do it, and that at the end of it all (no matter how it ends on earth), if he is truly following Christ and faithfully striving to do what has been asked, he will find rest and be received by his caring Heavenly Father and loving Savior.
....This is what I want my perspective to be as a missionary. No matter where I go, no matter what happens, I choose God. I'll do all I can to do what He has asked of me because He has suffered me to come to this little island in the sea for a wise purpose in Him....to help my brothers and sisters understand and see how to find peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come!!! It is glorious to be a missionary :) I'm happy everyday even when I'm tired and it's hard and hot and things don't always go the way I think they will.
Love you all.
Sister Coco Mack
We had an amazing Zone Conference this week where I got to see tons of amazing missionaries including many dear friends from the MTC! It's such an uplifting and powerful experience to be united with so many great people in this cause for justice, peace, goodness, and love! We were asked to prepare a talk about hope, then 2 missionaries would be asked to share. I totally stressed over it, because my English is getting worse and worse. Then I wasn't even called on, but I figured someone might as well read it....so I'm going to copy it into this email :D yaaaaay.
A couple of weeks ago I received a letter from a friend serving in Taipei. Enclosed in the letter was a bookmark with a quote by Emily Dickinson printed on it that read,
"Hope is the thing with feathers--
That perches in the soul--
And sings the tune without the words--
And never stops--at all."
I love the idea of hope being a living entity that perches deep inside of us and when properly cared for and nourished has the capactiy to keep "singing", to continue radiating its power in our souls and strengthening and fortifying our hearts.
Before I came on a mission, I don't know if I ever thought of hope as something so powerful, I certainly didn't know it was a Christlike attribute. But over the past month as I've studied the topic of hope in the scriptures and thought about the role it has played over the course of my life, and especially in my life as a missionary, I've come to realize just how important and empowering an attribute it is.
I think in a lot of ways, my decision to serve a mission was rooted in hope. I was very unsure of myself and my abilities, but I had received a call from God, and so I came on a mission hoping that I could rise to the challenge, hoping that I could learn Chinese and hoping that I could be successful in fulfilling my purpose and doing the work of the Lord. In Moroni 7, Moroni quotes his father Mormon concerning faith. In verse 33 he says, "If ye will have faith in me ye shall have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in me", and then in verse 40: "How is it that ye can attain unto faith, save ye shall have hope?"
Faith and hope are inseparably connected, and as Mormon expressed, "without faith there is no hope" (v. 42). I'm so grateful Heavenly Father blessed me with a particle of hope, some combination of a desire to serve a mission and trusting God to help me make up for what I lacked, that opened my heart to strengthen my faith and give me the confidence and ability to do God's work. Being a missionary is the most challenging thing I've ever done, but I find that as I continue to build the faith of others, my own faith is strengthened, and that hope that I was called here at this time to fulfill God's purposes is alive in my soul. I find I've never been happier, my mind has never been clearer, and I've never felt closer to God. Stronger faith also helps me to have hope and love for my investigators. I know God has a plan for them, and it's such a tremendous blessing when I get to be part of His plan to bring them home.
I've also been thinking a lot about how the Savior Himself exemplified this attribute. My mind is drawn back to Elder Holland's most recent conference address about the Savior and some of His interactions with His 12 apostles. I think the account Elder Holland shared in conference about the Savior going back to find some of His apostles fishing after His crucifixion exemplifies Christ's hope in others. The Savior asks Peter 3 times, "lovest thou me?", and then commands him, "feed my sheep." At this point, Peter had denied knowing Christ 3 times, and after the Savior's death he kind of gave up on ministering in the gospel. Christ STILL comes back to him, encourages him, and calls him back to the work. I think it must be because Christ had hope in Peter's abilities. Christ had a perfect understanding of how His gospel should go forth, and we, the imperfect laborers, are called to go and do, hoping and relying on the power of our Savior to fulfill these our sacred callings.
I have great hope in the fact that the Lord's vision for me as His laborer in the vineyard greatly exceeds my own. He knows what I am meant to do and who I am divinely designed to become. I have great trust that as I continue to feed this hope within me through studying the scriptures, praying to be guided by the will of my Heavenly Father, and pressing forward acting in faith, my hope in the Savior and His power to make me an effective tool in His hands for publishing peace will become an "anchor to my soul" (Ether 12:4). Hope in Christ will continue to "sing" inside my soul, helping me to find joy in the journey and spiritual strength to help God's children come unto their Redeemer with full purpose of heart. If we have hope in the Savior, our faith will grow, we will not fear what man can do nor the snares the Adversary lays for us, because in the strength of God and in Christ, we can do ALL things they have asked us to do (Alma 26:12). I know Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are with us in this work. As we look for them and strive to remain under their influence each day, I know we can bring Taiwan the beautiful truth of the gospel in a powerful way that can touch and change each life for good.
soooooo....whaddya think?? Haha I know it's a little scatter brained. And I didn't share really any personal experiences. But I can share one right now!! Hmm let's see.....we have an investigator, Chen JieMei, she is about 54. We've been meeting with her for several weeks. When we first met her, she came to English class and we tried to meet with her after, but she was just like "do you have a book of mormon in English?" She was only really interested in studying English and so we kind of thought "oh well." But now we meet with her once or twice a week, and she is growing so much in her understanding of the gospel. We've been dying for her to come to church, which has been impossible cause her husband demands she stay at home. We keep inviting her though, and keep praying that she can make it. Yesterday she randomly showed up for the last two hours and with a sneaky look on her face said, "My husband went swimming." She loved it so much. I could tell it was a fantastic experience for her. God hears our prayers, He answers our prayers, the tricky part is just learning how to trust His timing, to trust Him enough to completely submit to His will and know that the things that happen in our lives and the challenges we face will be for our good.
Keep pressing forward with a perfect brightness of hope! It will give you great strength, I know it will.
love love love
Sister Coco Mack
My darling family, my heart is so glad I feel like it could burst out of my chest. We finally got to watch General Conference!!! My companion and I were basically counting down the days, we were so excited. It brought a very energetic spirit into our companionship I think :) hahaha. We had some hard things happen this week, but listening to the words of God's prophet and apostles and chosen leaders has given me increased strength and resolve...I can't wait to re-read those glorious talks. I felt like God was speaking so directly to me in each message...sometimes in big ways and sometimes just in little ways like things I can do to be a better missionary and to have a more joyful mission. We are so so blessed to have access to their teachings. In between sessions on Saturday my companion and I hopped on our bikes and zoomed over to the bread stand on the side of the road down the street from the church and bought some hot rolls--I got one with taro inside and one with red beans. As we were biking back to watch the next session I had a really big mixture of feelings....on the one hand I was thinking about how fantastic it was that I was experiencing conference like this....with a few other missionaries (and some Taiwanese people who are super into English) watching General Conference a week late on a little TV in a classroom at the church while everyone else watched it in Chinese in the chapel...it's just so great. I also felt really sad as I looked at all the people we passed by...they have no idea what they are missing. We handed out a bunch of fliers and invited so many people to come but we ended up only having one investigator come to like the last 30 minutes of the Saturday afternoon session. It made me sad to think that they were missing out on such a spiritually strengthening experience, but even when we tried to tell people, they weren't interested. I am so grateful for the blessing I have in my life to hear the prophet of God speak His will concerning us His children. May I be better at helping others understand the tremendous blessings that are readily accessible if they will only lay hold on them!!! I especially loved Elder Uchtdorf's talk about finding joy in the journey and looking at your life with your heart to find the person you were designed to become....I feel like my mission is helping me to do that! It's so amazing. Each day I see more and more how much the experiences I have here are preparing me for the rest of my life.
We had something really sad happen this week. One of our investigators, Zhou JieMei, was scheduled to be baptized this Saturday. She seemed to be super golden and loved the Book of Mormon and coming to church...but for whatever reason she decided it's not what she wants. We were expecting her to show up to conference on Sunday, but she didn't answer her phone. In between sessions we went to look for her, then a member from another ward (Zhou JieMei is this woman's kids' piano teacher) was like "Oh by the way, Zhou JieMei told me to tell you she doesn't want to meet with you anymore and she doesn't want to get baptized cause she got baptized in a different church a long time ago." Needless to say, we were shocked and devastated. Could this be the same woman who so eagerly shared with us the things she was studying every day in the Book of Mormon? Could this be the same woman who took us out last week on our Pday to a really nice restaurant and then walked around a lake with us talking about life?? It couldn't be!!!! I felt so sad, because she was so close, and I know that she knew it was
right. I felt bad that she felt like she couldn't tell us directly that she had some concerns, and that her current solution is to just cut off all contact with us. I feel bad because we don't really know what happened. It's so hard when you see people being changed by the gospel and how happy they are and then something comes up (it's usually a mystery to us because they cut off contact), and they choose to give it all up. I still have hope that Zhou JieMei will find her way back to the Church...I don't know when or how but I know God is mindful of His children and when the time is right and she is ready, it will all fall into place.
Yesterday after conference we met with Jiang JieMei, our recent convert. She LOVED conference and took pages and pages of notes!! She is so solid. I thought about her and Zhou JieMei this morning during personal study...especially while reading in 3 Nephi 7. Verse 21 says: "there were but few who were converted unto the Lord; but as many as were converted did truly signify unto the people that they had been visited by the power and Spirit of God, which was in Jesus Christ, in whom they believed." The more time I spend with Jiang JieMei, the more I see how converted she is to the Lord. It is so thrilling to see her become more and more deeply converted to living His gospel. Her mind continues to be enlightened by her diligent study. She just becomes a happier and more radiant person. I know that Zhou JieMei loves God, too. I know it is important for me not to get down on myself because she is exercising her agency to choose not to come unto God through the way which we taught her. I am so grateful for all the talks in conference that talked about true conversion. I think it takes a long time, it is something we have to seek for throughout our lives. It is not a destination, but a process. I can hardly express all the things I am feeling...but it is something along the lines of: I am so blessed to have seen the beginning of Jiang JieMei's process of conversion to the Lord and to her Heavenly Father and their restored Church. Even if I never see another baptism for the rest of my mission, I have seen this tremendous miracle of a lonely woman who was an honest-seeker of truth, prepared by the Lord and guided to receive the fullness of His truth. I pray that Zhou JieMei can find her way there too. Maybe I'll never know if she does, but I know God has a plan for her just as he does for each of His children. He loves us so so much...more than we can ever fathom. I am so grateful to know that. I am so grateful to be a missionary and for the chance I have to help people find this joy in their lives, even if they don't always choose to accept it. Shall we not press on in so great a cause? Of course we shall :)
I love you all dearly,
Sister Coco Mack
Dajia Wu'An!!! My heart is so full :) We haven't had a chance to watch conference yet (4.5 more days!!!) but of course we heard the very exciting news about the change in policy for missionaries going out (boys at 18 and girls at 19). I totally freaked out when the senior missionaries in our ward told us on Sunday. I remember 3 years ago when I received an answer to my prayers and had the strong spiritual impression that I needed to serve a mission and how I longed for the leaders of the Church to lower the age that girls could go from 21 down to 19. Looking back I am grateful for the experiences I had in the span of those 3 years. I wasn't quite ready to go then...honestly I wasn't as prepared as I could have been to leave at 21, either, but I had some self-confidence obstacles to overcome. There were people I needed to meet to build my faith. There were so many experiences I needed to have. One of the Elders jokingly said to me on Sunday "Just think Sister Mack, you would've been home by now if you could've gone on a mission when you were 19." I'm going to be honest, that comment would have been a little too tempting to ponder a few weeks ago when I still couldn't figure out which way was up (I'm still not completely sure...it's the part with the tops of buildings piercing the billowing clouds, right? Hmmm....I also don't usually know which way is north haha but it's ok!) I felt so insecure. I could feel the darkness closing in around me as the adversary tried to weasle his way into my heart and make me think that the task at hand was too big for me to ever take on. But I have sought diligently to press forward. God has blessed me and upheld me. He has answered my prayers and helped me to recognize the answers to my prayers.
So when that Elder said that to me on Sunday, it hardly fazed me. I even thought how sad I would be that my mission was over. Each day I'm so grateful to still be at the beginning though the time is flying by..in November I will hit my six month mark....!!! I've never been away from home for so long! But anyways, it just was a reaffirming experience for me that I am where I need to be WHEN I needed to be. It was terrible for me to think that if I had gone on my mission two years ago, I would not have met the incredible people I have known and loved here in my first area. I'm so thankful for the Lord's timing and that He knows the big picture...because that makes one of us. We know some major parts of the big picture, but we don't always need to know all the little details. We just need to trust God and be willing and prepared to follow Him in faith. He will guide us in His great orchestra--our lives are each a movement. Ok now I don't even know what I'm talking about. Let us move on...
Here are numbers 7-10 of my Top 10 for Taiwan (2nd move call edition :) ) 7. Me and my companion always go to the same bike shop to fill our tires, get lights, etc. It's
where I got my helmet upon first arriving AND where I got the piece to raise my handle bars (they were way too low. I didn't realize that I was completely hunching over like a 200-year-old woman/turtle. But it has helped my bike to have a whole new attitude--much more confidence AND the circulation in my right hand doesn't get cut off so much making my fingers fat and numb! I hope you all enjoy the dumb things I do all the time...they make me laugh and also slightly concerned). The people who work at the bike shop are so sweet to us. We've had to go there a lot recently because my companion was having some light problems. Whenever we go, the owner and his son quietly check our tires for air pressure and the oil on our chains while the owner's wife chatters away. We have come to greatly savor the small kindnesses and goodness of people in our daily lives. What is it with bike shop people that make them so down to earth and easy to get along with? No matter where you go, whether it's a small town by a lake in Austria or a tiny shop tucked inside a busy street in the south of Taiwan, the bike people are good to you!!!!
8. Ukulele club. Our ward has a ukulele club. It's all girls. The women will jam their ukuleles into their church bags every Sunday. It's so hilarious and cute to see them get so excited about it. Sometimes we try to get a member to join us in teaching an investigator after church and they're like "I can't! We have ukulele practice!!!!" duh. There's an older lady in our ward, she's probably about 70, and she is crazy about this ukulele class. She literally runs out of Relief Society the second we say the word "amen" for the closing prayer so she doesn't miss a single second. :)
9. We have become regulars at the roll stand on the side of the road near our church. They have one red bean roll and one taro roll ready and waiting in a bag before I even get off my bike. They always smile and laugh and make some kind of comment or ask us really random questions.
10. Zhou JieMei. Ohhhh ZHOU jiemei!!!! She is miraculous indeed. She is an investigator we have been teaching for a few weeks and is preparing to get baptized on October 20th! I am so excited for her. One day the Elders spent 2 hours contacting people in the street and Zhou JieMei chased them down in her car because she knew who they were and she wanted to go to church!! We started meeting with her and she told us about how as a young girl she was baptized in another Christian church but didn't really stay active because her parents so strongly objected. She continued to develop her relationship with God, though, and felt that He lived in her heart and gave her strength through the really sad and difficult challenges she faced in her life. She always wanted to find the right church, but never felt like the ones she visited were really right for her. Needless to say, she has been very clearly prepared by God to receive the message of the restored gospel. Everything just makes sense to her. I am confident it is because she trusts God so much and is exceptionally in tune with the Spirit. My companion and I feel like we are hardly teaching her. She loves the Book of Mormon and is thrilled when she recognizes the similarities between it and the Bible. Today she took us out to lunch and to this national park in our city. I
love being around her. She is very motherly and just has a way of making my heart feel at rest when we've had a hard day or a long week. She is so warm and so loving. She is always so happy to see us and learn with us. She gives us the best hugs ever and she always holds my hand when we walk out of the church at the end of our lessons. I feel like I can't fully explain it but she really is a bright beam of light in our lives. Yesterday in church she came early. I went to sit by her before sacrament meeting started, and she was praying. I'm so grateful for her preparedness, for the little things she does that help me to feel sure that she is converted to God and devoted to following Him. This gospel is going to bless and enrich her life so much. It's so thrilling for me to witness!!!
Ok one tender mercy and then I want to share something I thought about in my personal study time this week. Jiang JieMei (our recent convert who got baptized in September) introduced herself to Zhou JieMei on Sunday and threw her arms around her. Then she asked Zhou JieMei when her baptism was and wrote it in her planner! It was so cute and just filled my heart with joy because Jiang JieMei is continuing to progress and grow in the gospel. She really is a different person since her baptism, so full of light and she is just...happy all the time. She's so happy to be a part of the ward in our area and is excited to share what she believes with everyone around her. I love these women. Growing in faith and coming unto Christ with them have been some of the most enriching and spiritually uplifting experiences of my ENTIRE LIFE!!!!!!!! I was reading the end of Alma/starting Helaman in personal study this week and it tied in really well to some teaching experiences I had. My companion and I have been talking a lot lately about the commitments and invitations we extend to people on a daily basis, "Will you come to church?" "Will you pull over to the side of the road so we can share this message with you?" "Will you completely keep the Word of Wisdom including quitting smoking so that you can prepare to be baptized?" and we talk a lot about how it's hard sometimes to not get mad when people are stubborn or use their agency to reject you. I feel like a lot of similar ideas are presented in Helaman chapters 7-10. In Helaman 7:24, Nephi cries out to the people saying "(the Lamanites) are more righteous than you, for they have not sinned against that great knowledge which ye have received." I love the concept of being true to what you know. Ok and then in Helaman 8:24 Nephi goes on to say "ye have received all things, both things in heaven, and all things which are in the earth as a witness that (the testimonies of God's prophets) are true." I feel like God gives us so many opportunities to find and embrace the fullness of truth, but even when we have all these witnesses or we received the undeniable witness that it was true once (or many many times), people can still choose not to receive and retain these things in their hearts and minds, and are slow to remember God, even to "(forget our) God in the very day he has delivered [us]" (Helaman 7:20). People are free to choose to "look upon the Son of God with faith, having a contrite spirit" that they "might live, even unto that life which is eternal" (Helaman 8:15). It's so astonishing to me that people who have truly tasted and known the fullness of the gospel could choose to reject it...why would you choose anything less than the glorious and eternal blessings from an Almighty God? On the other hand I think about my own unsteadiness and how we are all "prone to wander" and "leave the God we love" because the adversary tries to keep us from overcoming the natural man inside us.
On the other hand we have extremely great examples of men and women of Christ like Nephi who choose every day to come unto Christ even when it is hard (maybe even especially then). I love the words God speaks to Nephi in Helaman 10. In verses 2 and 3 it says Nephi was "pondering upon the things which the Lord had shown unto him" when he heard the voice of God. I think that action of pondering is part of how Nephi chose God in every facet of his life. When he had spiritual experiences, he treasured them up and took time to ponder them. I think this showed God he recognized the sacredness and value of those experiences and prepared him to receive further light from God. We meet with less active members all the time who aren't ready or aren't willing to change. It makes me sad because I know they knew once that this was true but now they just can't muster courage unto faith. It's so important for us to remember the Lord and to remember God's hand in our lives because on our own we just can't overcome that "natural man" which would keep us from being true to the experiences God has given us. Interesting things to think about. I have 96 seconds left on the timer! Yikes!!! I love you all. Be strong and courageous. Be true to what you know. Treasure up the sacred experiences of your life and choose to remember God :)
Love love love Sister Coco Mack
PS When I use names for people, those are not their real names. Just trying to protect their privacy.
gewei de jiaren he pengyou ZAAAAAAOOOOOO AAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!!!!! (and now you all just say, zaaaaao, in response :D) first i need to apologize for the email last week.....i know it was awful. i was dead tired when i wrote it and i felt really bad about it after. first you thought i didn't write you at all, and then you got a surprise email that was totally lame. i'm making up for it this week though. i have some really great stories for you :) PLUSSSSS>.........the first half of my top 10 for my 3rd transfer on island! (yeah, YEAH!!!) ok this first small set of stories can probably collectively be entitled something along the lines of.....hmmmm...i dunno...."a host of wild animal attacks"? "sister mack suffers psychological damage from encounters with some of the most wretched creatures in existence, and other stories"? i'd think of more but i'm feeling lazy so just take your pick and get ready for some hilarity/gut wrenching stories!!! * a couple of weeks ago sister t. and i decided to take a little road neither of us had been down to get back from an appointment. it was right along the river, so we knew it would lead to the bridge we needed to cross to get home. the sun had already started to go down but the night was warmer than it has been lately. as we went further down the road, we started to see some bats flying around about 15 feet above us. we made some dumb jokes about bat sonar (what is that thing called that they have?? i can't remember anything about bats now except the song i learned in 2nd grade: "oh did you know did you know did you know that bats are mammals? they don't lay eggs they don't lay eggs and they have fur and they have fur!"). we made a few high pitched squeaking noises to try to communicate with them, which to our horror seemed to work, because the further down the road we went, the more bats were starting to flutter madly above us. then they started darting around right by our heads so that we both started screaming and pedaling as fast as we could. sister t. kept using her sonar thing, which seemed to
make them angrier, so i was yelling at her to stop. it was really funny but also scary cause they were going crazy. a couple rode past us on their scooter, and then when we got through the flock and storm, we were all at the same stoplight. sister tanner and i were panting and laughing ,and she just looked at the couple and said "there were a lot of bats back there..." and they ignored us and ran the red light. ok maybe i didn't do a very good job explaining this but just imagine if you were there! what if one had flown into my face and i had to go get a rabies shot??!?! we were both hunching down as low as we could on our bikes so we wouldn't get hit! * sister t. and i had a goal this week to go running every morning for 30 minutes, and we pretty much failed epically, mostly because it rained a lot this week (the taiwanese have told us not to go out in the rain for a long time with your head uncovered cause it'll make your hair fall out. apparently the rain is somewhat acidic in nature because of all the pollution). BUT on thursday we finally were able to go. i was sitting on the floor putting my shoes on when i saw a big, dark thing darting around under our shoes by the front door. i squealed and leaped up on my feet. it was an ENORMOUS cockroach, the biggest i've ever seen. now we couldn't leave without taking care of the problem, because he'd just go hide and then crawl on us when we slept or something else horrible, so sister t. grabbed a huge can of RAID and let him have a face full. i was swinging one of my shoes around wildly trying to smash him, but i was so afraid that it made my naturally horrible hand-eye coordination skills even WORSE. he made a run for it under the couch, which i swung out of place in one swift motion, allowing my companion to strike him with my tennis shoe. her hand was steady (cause she's an amazing rugby player), and the hit was deadly. then we went for a run. but when we came home we found another surprise waiting in our kitchen. an even bigger cockroach was sluggishly moving toward the door. we think the raid in the air from our first battle that morning lulled him out of hiding and weakened his senses. he was so heinous and ugly, i wanted to start crying. i was terrified, but we were laughing the whole time because we were both too scared to move. this time i moved in with the raid, which seemed to give him a strange burst of energy. he started to charge, and we were both screaming. thankfully sister t. is a fast thinker, and she moved in with the broom, managed to get our back door open, and swept him out. a few of our neighbors were standing outside staring at us. we just laughed and pointed at the beast, and all we could manage to say was
"it's so BIG!!!" they all just walked away. so basically wild animals have just made us look like total idiots in front of a bunch of taiwanese people. * the third and final attack happened one night when we were totally lost while trying to find this family who lived in a really twisty neighborhood (and by that i just mean tons of tiny little streets with really faded signs). my companion was asking a woman for directions. a cat (which as most of you know i HATE because they scare me and always seem to purposely startle me and upset my poor nerves) walked out of someone's house and sauntered over to us. it came over to me, and i just stared at it trying to stay calm. it was meowing really loudly and so i responded with some kind of clicky noise which i guess made it feel pretty comfortable, because the next thing i knew, it was standing on its hind legs stretching right up on me, claws extended. "Sister T.!!!!" I whispered with a strained voice. She didn't hear me, but then the cat got off my leg and was just kind of sitting there, so I started paying attention to the conversation. all of a sudden, that cat jumped up onto my hip and clung on, scaring me so badly that i wobbled and almost fell over as I cried out and then started laughing because i KNEW that cat was up to no good and that it was going to do something like that!!! why do they always do that to me?!??!?!! in case anyone is wondering....our raw diet went pretty well last week. that was the best i've ever done with a diet, though it wasn't perfect. i was especially proud of myself cause one night we were making no-bake cookies (to get rid of our nutella and peanut butter so we wouldn't be tempted to eat spoonfuls of it/to give to some of our investigators) and i didn't lick out the bowl, i didn't lick the spoon, and i didn't even lick off my fingers!!!! it was extremely hard, but i was so proud of myself while also somewhat hating myself because i really really wanted to do all those things and then some. i felt that it was very nearly exactly like that part in lord of the rings when frodo offers galadriel the ring. she almost takes it, then gets all scary and demon-like (being on a diet makes me somewhat agitated, i'll admit it) but then ultimately "passes the test and remains galadriel". however, we were forced to break down when we got invited over for dinner and this woman made us stinky tofu (which i LOVE). i also ate pig blood.....it was super weird. it wasn't like straight up blood...they make it in a little block with like weird rice....hmmm....
phew this email is gettin long. let's get on to the first 5 of our top 10 and wrap this puppy up (like a christmas present :D) 1. this week we taught one of our investigators, sister chang, about the plan of salvation. she's so adorable. she's like 22 and just graduated. she studied environmental science. also remember those crazy rainbow velcro sandals i got in thailand (i'm wearing them in like every picture that was taken of me there)? she has some too! she's so great. anyways we were talking to her about the spirit world, and we told her that there are missionaries there teaching the people who didn't receive the gospel while they were on the earth. then we asked her what she thought about the spirit world, and she said it sounded really amazing, then laughed and admitted that the first thing she thought of when we asked her that question was to ask us: "do the missionaries ride bicycles in the spirit world?" it was so cute :) i just love teaching her because we are friends, and she's so willing to try and to learn. she has a very open mind. 2. one of my favorite people in taiping is a member named sister liu. she has helped us peike (accompany lesson) a couple of times. on saturday sister t. and i had to split up to teach 2 different lessons. sister liu totally saved me (because my chinese is still chugging along slowly but surely!). i was chatting with her after the lesson. it just felt good to be able to talk to her and understand her. she's incredibly sweet. i just felt like i was talking with a friend. then she up and invited us over to her house for dinner on christmas eve, which made me want to cry, because it is so weird to be away from home--from everything i know...especially this time of year. but i know i could feel that sense of home with her. i already do. people are so good to us here! 3. we've met with a little girl, sister xu, a couple of times this week because she's getting baptized this friday!!! her mom is a member and actually sister xu got baptized before, but never got confirmed, so she needs to get re-baptized. the bishop asked us to meet with her. she is so prepared and amazing...it's incredible. it's one of those things where we feel like we literally did nothing but are being blessed and successful in establishing God's kingdom....i like to think that this tenderest of tender mercies (which came last week after a really hard day) is a result of our hard work with the other people we are trying to help. all our investigators and progressing pretty slowly....and we find lots of new ones every
week that then drop out before the week is through...sometimes it feels like we aren't succeeding. but then God does things to let you know He's proud of you and our efforts are noticed. ANYWAY we were asking sister xu what she thought about when she thought of Jesus. she's pretty shy, so first my companion and i answered the question and said like "love" or "kindness"....and this little 10 year old said when she thought of Jesus, she thought of forgiveness. it totally blew us away. she's an extraordinary child. we love her so much and are so happy we can help her finally get baptized (even though it really isn't us. at all.) 4. a couple weeks ago on the way home one night, i tried to contact this lady on her scooter. she wasn't really interested but as the light was changing, she reached down and pulled two yellow passion fruits out of her bag and was like "do you want some fruit?" i took one, totally in awe and so grateful and then she was like, "wait, take one for your friend." i loved that. i can never say enough about the generosity and the big hearts of the taiwanese people. they never stop giving, even if you don't know them. i like to think that this woman, who is already so Christlike, will just keep being prepared to hear the gospel someday. anyway...don't really know what else to say about it but it was just a nice little moment. 5. beautiful city: this area is so incredibly beautiful. not only is it much bigger than my last area....it's just more...open. i can see the sky stretching out above me much more than i could in gaoxiong. we're always crossing a lot of huge bridges and there's this one in a more rural (but not really rural) part of our area that we usually cross at night. but a while ago we happened to go during the day. it was just after a big rainstorm, and the sun was starting to set. i've never seen more glorious sunsets. it makes me so happy. and it also makes me think of that scripture in D&C that talks about anyone who has seen the creations of God on the earth have seen Him moving in His majesty....God is all around me!! it's so so beautiful. last thing: 2 Nephi 16:8. "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said: Here am I; send me." i've been reading the isaiah chapters lately and have had a really hard time grasping the full meaning, but every once in a while i find little gems like this, really little things that are plain to my level of understanding. i want this scripture to be true for me, that i could say this every time, with a pure
desire to serve God and sacrifice everything--personal convenience, desires, etc. sister t. and i have been talking a lot about sacrifice lately. i re-read that talk by elder oaks from april 2012 general conference. in it he quotes lectures on faith, and says that a religion that does not require its followers to sacrifice everything to come unto Christ cannot produce faith enough for salvation. or something along those lines. i love that. i think about my life and i realize i've never really give up very much. i am so prone to look for the easy way out, the simplest way to do things....how much have i really sacrificed? i just feel like bursting....my life has been so good...too good. it keeps getting richer and richer. i have so much more to give. i hope that spirit of giving can keep burning in me and in all of you...especially this month as we remember the birth of our Savior. i love you all so dearly. sister coco
My dear ones.... I'm sorry I am such a thoughtless fiend and completely forgot to tell you that I would be sending out the email a little later this week. We didn't have a normal P-day this week because our zone had a temple trip today (Wednesday). It was very exciting. Sister T. and I woke up this morning at 4:45, got ready as fast as we could, and sped across town to the mission home which is normally like a 30ish minute bike ride but a lot of the traffic lights were just flashing cause it was too early so we were just FLYIN'. Then we got on a huge bus with about like....20 other missionaries, and we made the trek to Taipei. It is the smallest temple I've ever been in, but was still so beautiful. While we were in the temple, I just kept thinking about the first time I went through to take out my endowments....just me and mom. It was one of the happiest days of my life and I felt like my soul was expanded beyond anything I ever knew it could....does that make sense? I love the temple. I miss going there every single week. It was so wonderful to be there with my dear Taiwanese brothers and sisters and...I don't know. It just made me so happy to be here with them. Lately I've been thinking a lot about why I was called here specifically to serve in Taiwan. I am still not totally sure, and maybe I'll never completely know why, but I am so glad that I love my mission the way I do. I love that Taiwan is a part of me. These people are a part of me even if they never fully understand how much I love them, how invested in them I am. Ok enough bumbling and not making any sense while trying to analyze and process my feelings and the things I am learning. STORY TIME. One of our recent converts is a really sweet hearing impaired lady named Sister Cai. Sister T. and I feel like she gets the shaft and kind of neglected by missionaries/ward members because well...how are they supposed to talk to her? Anyway we decided to go visit her, and before we went in, Sister T. said a prayer and just asked Heavenly Father to please help us to be able to communicate that He loves Sister Cai. We went in and decided to teach her the plan of salvation, and I had some little pictures so we could
lay them out on the table and point at them. She started to teach us Chinese sign language, and sometimes she would write stuff down to communicate when we couldn't understand. It was so fun, and the Spirit was so strong. By the end of the lesson, we could sign: "Heavenly Father loves you. We love you. You are our friend." It was so cool and a complete answer to prayer!! I love those teaching moments when you really are seeking out the one who other people might forget about, and God works through you to touch the hearts of His children because each one is so precious. 2 Thanksgiving dinners!!!!! Yeah. 2. On actual Thanksgiving DAY, Sister Tanner and I went to this little turkey rice place by the river. We had vegetables and some freaky bread from a Taiwanese bakery. I talked to her a little bit about James cause it was his birthday, and I had been thinking of him all day. Then we just kind of quietly ate and watched the traffic and the sun go down. It was strange and didn't feel like Thanksgiving, except that I got really full, but I was really happy. So happy to be in Taiwan and so happy to be with Sister T., my kindred spirit. THEN on Saturday we went to a less active member's house for a real Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and all. Plus some Taiwanese elements: duck, sushi, guava....also my companion and I made no-bake cookies to take with us. And we got sent home with an entire pumpkin pie and can of whipped cream, which we wanted to devour ourselves, but we ended up sharing up with the Elders in our district. It was a very interesting dinner......at the end we were sharing a little message about the Book of Mormon. Then the less active sister divulged everything about why she is less active....quite a bit of drama. It makes me so sad when people leave because they were offended. She was really hurt by what happened to her. I felt so sad that she let that get in the way of her choosing to use the Savior's Atonement to heal her...we love her so much, and you can tell it's hard on her husband because he tries so hard to be active with their kids......man I'm sorry, I am so tired so I am not being very eloquent. Just know I had the classic Thanksgiving: turkey, pie, family drama. You can find it anywhere you go ;) Last thing.......Sister T. and I have started this crazy diet. For one week we are only eating raw food. I am going crazy. My sweet tooth has been controlling my life for so long, but Sister T. helps me stay strong....it has been extremely hard though haha. BUT! I am determined to learn self-discipline in all areas of my life. There are just way too many tasty treats to eat here, and you can get them anywhere, anytime for not very
much money. But I have to start controlling myself now because Chinese New Year is not too far away, and my trainer said she ate so much last new year that she gained 4 pounds in one week!!!! WHAT!!!!!!!!!! That is just a little glimpse for you of how incredibly generous these Taiwanese people are. They are always giving giving giving. Sometimes it's hard to get them to take (food or the gospel) because they are so bu hao yisi, but God is softening the hearts of the people in this area every day :) I feel so strong even though my weaknesses are so clearly laid out before me. It's like that scripture in Corinthians....for when I am weak, then am I strong. Love Sister Coco
"As you wage such personal wars, obviously part of the strength to 'hang in there' comes from some glimpse, however faint and fleeting, of what the victory can be. It is as true as when Solomon said it that 'where there is no vision, the people perish' (Proverbs 29:18). [...] What if it is the fight of your life? Or more precisely what if it is the fight for your life, and your eternal life at that? What if [...] you really can see and hope for all the best and right things that God has to offer. Oh, it may be blurred a bit by the perspiration that keeps running riverlike into your eyes, and in a really difficult fight one of the eyes might even be closing a bit; but faintly, dimly, and ever so far away you can see the object of it all. Like Coriantumr, you will lean upon your sword to rest a while, then rise to fight again. (see Ether 15:24-30). --Elder Jeffrey R. Holland ("However Long and Hard the Road")
My dear ones....I am so full of joy I feel that I might burst. I am finally learning to really glory in tribulations. It's a topic Sister T. and I discuss a lot. I feel like it is too big for me to try and fully explain all the things I feel about it...this week we had some general authorities come through Taiwan for a mission tour. Elder Wilson's last stop was here in my area and Elder Walter F. Gonzalez was flying through from another assignment and decided to stop by! It was so incredible and I felt like I learned so much about myself....I got a lot of answers to prayers.
One of my favorite parts was getting to see Boden. He looked very handsome and happy, and I can tell he is just flourishing. My other favorite part was that after the meeting was over we had a special sisters-only meeting with President Bishop's wife and Sister Wilson. Sister Wilson talked about mistakes and being refined. She shared Zechariah 13:9 (a new favorite) which talks about how God refines us...we are His people, and He is our God. It was so beautiful. Then we had a chance to share something we've learned on our missions so far that has changed our lives forever.
I talked about how before I came on my mission, I felt so weak. I really, really wanted to come, but I didn't know what I was doing or how I would do it. I talked about how grateful I am that in the process of helping other people learn about God and Jesus Christ I have brought myself so much closer to them than I ever could have dreamed I could come. I'm so grateful that this mission was part of Heavenly Father's plan for me, that I have been snatched and can never be the same person I used to be. I can never leave God. I will never leave my Savior. I'm so grateful I am learning to rely on their grace, love, and power. Day by day I feel like my weaknesses have never been more prominent and
numerous, but somehow God can work through those to accomplish His wonders, and He can even turn them into strengths. I'm so overcome with joy to know that as I'm serving this mission, I'm really learning how to put God in the center of my life....the way I always knew it should be...but never quite had strength enough to do by setting aside my own selfishness.
It has been an extraordinary week. Sister T. and I are quite the kindred spirits....I love our long, deep talks. She teaches me so much and I feel like every day we explore the deep questions of our souls....it's a sublime experience.
A few other experiences from this week....
We went to go visit a less active Hu JieMei, but she wasn't home. Her dad came out to talk to us...he's extremely old and hard of hearing. His eyes are really small and his tan skin is folded and stretched across his face. He is always wearing the same old brown sweater when we go by. And my favorite thing about him is his fine, healthy, PURPLE HAIR. It's a very light shade, but it's definitely purple. We talked to him for a little on his doorstep and prayed with him. He rocked back and forth on his feet and told us he was so happy that we came to see him. I don't think I stopped smiling for the rest of the day. I love doing what Sister T. calls Ninja Missionary Work....the little things that no one ever knows about. I've spoiled this one though, cause now you all know. But our area is so huge, and there are so many people we are trying to work with who are moving so slowly that it feels like all the things we do are just so small.....but it is through small and simple things that great things are brought to pass. I love feeling that that is true.
We started teaching a family!!! One of our investigators, Wu JieMei, decided she wanted her husband to hear what we were teaching her, and he is an extremely prepared person. Poor Wu JieMei....she doesn't really have much interest, though she likes what we teach her, and we can see how much it has made a difference. She just isn't progressing very fast cause she won't act. Well, "man man lai" as we say (slow slow come). Her husband, Jiang Dixiong, is doing really well. He came to church this Sunday even though his wife was too tired to come. He felt bad that he can't come next week cause he and his wife booked this thing months ago that they already payed for, but said he was going to be careful never to do that again because he doesn't want to miss church. When I think about our lessons with him, I just feel like he is a shining example of the honest seeker of truth...he really wants to know if what we are teaching is true. He really wants to know if what Sister T. said about this gospel making him more happy is an actual feasible thing. I'm so excited to be teaching them. Hopefully their son will start meeting with us too.
I'm sorry...I feel at such a loss for what else to say. I'll just tell you that I am happier and more dead tired than I have ever been. Sister T. thinks we are so exhausted every night because we are so incredibly happy every day. This is a hard area, harder than my first area in a lot of ways. I just want you to know I love every second. I feel very strange that
my release date is exactly one year from today...how can that be? I love this country. There are mountains here, and they are covered in trees. Yesterday the mountains were hemmed with fog. I don't think I'll ever get over Taiwan...it is too beautiful. I still can't believe I'm really here that this is my life...living in Asia, doing small and simple things and usually not seeing the fruits of my efforts....it makes me think of another quote from Elder Holland....
"Blood, toil, tears, and sweat. The best things are always worth finishing. 'Know ye not that ye are the temple of God?' (1 Cor. 3:16). Most assuredly you are. As long and laborious as the effort may seem, please keep shaping and setting stones that will make your accomplishment 'a grand and imposing spectacle.' Take advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow. Dream dreams and see visions. Work toward their realization. Wait patiently when you have no other choice. Lean on your sword and rest a while, but get up and fight again. Perhaps you will not see the full meaning of your effort in your own lifetime. But your children will, or your children's children will, until finally you, with all of them, can give the Hosanna Shout."
We are all enlisted till the conflict is o'er. Happy are we! Happy are we!!
Open the gates and seize the day, my friends...know that I'm doing my best to do that myself all the way across the world.
Love love love
Saturday, October 6, 2012
AKA: happy mid-autumn festival!!!! Was it the best ever??? I'm actually still not entirely sure what this festival is celebrating . . . but it comes every year according to the lunar calendar and is supposedly when the moon is the fullest, which this year was September 30th. People eat tons of mooncakes, which are nothing extraordinary, but still quite tasty. They get to be pretty expensive, but because I'm a waiguoren (white person) and a missionary, AND Taiwanese people are extremely generous, I had more than my fair share of mooncakes without having to spend a single kuai! Mooncakes come in great variety, but typically have a flakey outside with something thick and scrumptious in the center. They are round, like the moon, so...you eat them during the mid-autumn festival. The best ones we had were homemade by one of my English students, Frank. They had sweet potato in the middle and were totally divine....they're probably so bad for you—but whatever, I will work it off from biking like a maniac all day every day! And I'll do it while wearing a SKIRT!!!! (Yes, I'm still so proud that I can do that. You'd be impressed too if you could see the traffic we are working with haha ;) ).
In addition to eating mooncakes, for reasons completely unbeknownst to me, people barbeque and light fireworks for the mid-autumn festival. It was kind of funny to hear them going off outside while we were in the middle of sacrament meeting, and two 16-year-old boys were being confirmed members of the Church and receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost . . . it probably just made the experience all the more memorable for them, though. The way people barbeque here is fantastic. They squat down in front of their houses, on street corners, and even IN the streets. They fit as much meat and vegetables as they can on a grill that is about 12 inches long and barely comes up off the ground. The grills are seriously so small! But somehow they cook a lot of meat to feed a lot of people. Sadly, no one in our ward was having any kind of kao rou (bbq) yesterday, or if they did, we were not invited. So I didn't get to fully participate, but it was fun to see everyone else gathering together to celebrate...life, being family and friends, and eating lots of food :) That's what most holidays are really about these days anyway, right? How often do you really think about Pilgrims and have a conversation about them at Thanksgiving (excluding elementary school children who usually have some sort of pilgrim pageantry)? You keep celebrating it because you don't have to go to school or work, you get to be with your family, and you eat great food! And that's fine with everyone!!!
ANYWAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Here is my new Top 10 for Taiwan (2nd move call edition)
1. bu hao yisi extremism: bu hao yisi is an expression people say when they are embarrassed or to express that they are sorry about something. It also describes an
attitude. People here are very generous, but they feel bad when other people give them things. They are too "bu hao yisi" to let you pay for their meal, or to accept a gift of any kind. One time we went to visit one of our investigators who we were having a hard time meeting with because her mom was very controlling of her schedule. We wanted to bring kind of a peace offering to help her mom see that we had good intentions. We went to a little fruit shop on the corner and bought some sliced pineapple and took it to the girl's house. We talked to her and her mom for a little at the front door and her mom was saying over and over "she's sick she can't meet! She's just too sick! She has to study!" and we were like "yeah okay well here is some fruit we got for you." It took us like 5 solid minutes to get this woman to take the fruit. She waved her hand in our faces and said "Ohhhh mei guanxi! Bu yong bu yong bu yong!" (ohh no relation, no need no need no need). People just say that over and over really fast so you can't get a word in edgewise. She insisted they weren't hungry, and besides, they had plenty of fruit. We were like, no seriously, we don't want it, we bought it specifically for you. IT WAS CRAZY! She finally took it. People get a little extreme when they are trying so hard to be polite. It's hard for us since this is not the culture we grew up with. You kind of feel like just throwing your gift on the ground and saying "FINE! DON'T TAKE IT!!!!" We have to remind ourselves that people are just being courteous and that we should not be annoyed by that. It's funny, because the person really might want the gift, but they can't let you know . . . gotta love it :) People also say bu hao yisi when we try to hand them fliers . . . but that might also be because they just really don't want our flyers, and they are trying to get away from us hahaha.
2. fitting everything on one scooter or in one rain jacket. You would be amazed at the amount of things people can transport on their scooters. I've seen people carry everything from their entire family, to bags and bags of groceries, to ladders, all on one motorcycle. I've also seen moms fit their children snugly in under their rain poncho, so there's just a bump where the child’s head is. Taiwanese people have perfected the system of being compact. I mean you really have to when thousands or millions of people are all living in such a small area.
3. fearless about bodily functions. People fart, burp, and pick their nose openly, and nobody bats an eyelash. One time an investigator farted in the middle of a lesson when I was teaching on my own (my companion and I often split up after church to teach investigators). It took all my self control not to burst out laughing. She just kept listening to me tell her about how we are commanded to keep the Sabbath day holy!!!! It was totally shocking and hilarious! Women also talk very openly about their periods to the point where you just think as a newcomer to the culture, "Did I really need to know that?" I admire their frank openness about these things. I realize how immature I am to always bust up laughing at such dumb things.
4. pet dogs are beloved. No one cares about the street dogs, but people are pretty close to worshipping their pet dogs. A few weeks ago, a less active church member took us to a huge mall. We saw this young couple pushing 2 long-haired wiener dogs around in a stroller! Their hair was so silky. The couple were rolling the stroller up to different dog toys in the 39 kuai store (equivalent of a dollar tree) to let the pups sniff out what they wanted!! People also ride their scooters around with their dogs sitting happily at their feet. The other day I saw a lady riding her scooter down the sidewalk yelling at her dog as it ran alongside her, barking. Then when she went into the street, she paused for a moment, the dog jumped on the scooter, and they sped off. People even bring dogs to CHURCH!!! You're gonna love this next one...
5. xiao pengyou. This means "little friends" and it is how people usually refer to children. I think it's so cute.
6. sweet potato mooncakes :) Thank you, Frank!!!
Ok we're actually almost out of time. I will give you 7-10 next week. I need some more time to ponder anyway ;)
I had an incredible experience reading Alma 55 yesterday. It’s about when Moroni and his army go to rescue some prisoners. It talks about how he cast in weapons of war over the walls into the city where the people are being held captive. I loved this image. It made me think about my missionary service and how I am striving to teach people how to arm themselves spiritually against the temptations and dark things that hold them captive in life. It is not enough for us to just try once, and then give up when people have a hard time figuring out how to use the weapons properly. We have got to be willing to do everything we can to enable people to defend themselves, even to the throwing of weapons over walls and barriers. I have the privilege to devote all my time to this as a missionary, but it is not exclusively the work of missionaries. Everyone is capable of doing this. I pray you will find ways to empower the people you come in contact with.
Are you excited for conference??? I'm SO EXCITED! But we have to wait an extra week to watch it. I hope you all will seize the glorious opportunity to be uplifted by the words of our living prophet and our leaders of the Church. Take notes, listen with a question, and I know you will receive personal revelation and that you will be spiritually armed to face whatever challenges come your way.
Sister Coco Mack