Saturday, October 6, 2012

zhong qiu jie kuaile! September 30, 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, 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, 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

September 23rd, 2012

DAJIA HAOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wow...have I been in Taiwan for 6 weeks already?? How is this possible? It ISN'T!!!!!!!!!! The time seriously flies by, yet it feels like I have seen and done so much more than I would have in regular life in that amount of time. I'm loving Taiwan. This week I'm going to work on a new top 10 list in honor of the start of a new transfer (every 6 weeks is a new transfer but you don't always move around). I'm so glad I am staying in my first area for at least another 6 weeks. There is so much to do and so many people to talk to!!!!!!

The main thing I wanted to share with you this week is the tremendous experience I had on Saturday of having one of our investigators get baptized!!!! It was so incredible! She is a single woman.  She works in a factory. She is very humble. She actually met my companion on the road before I arrived here. That day my companion was doing a lot of contacting but wasn’t having much success. She and her companion at the time stopped and prayed that they could have the Spirit guide them. Right after that, they met this woman. They invited her to church.  She said she would come, but would not give them her phone number. She just kept saying "No no no I will come to church." Usually when that happens, people DON'T come to church.  You never see them again, and never have another chance to share this beautiful message and how it can help and bless their lives. My trainer and her companion kind of forgot about this woman, but lo and behold, she showed up at church the next Sunday! And that just so happened to be my very first Sunday in this area!!! I have been with this woman since the beginning of her journey. It has been so powerful for me to see her come unto Christ and develop her relationship with God. There were a couple of weeks when we didn't meet with her at all, and we were worried that she would stop meeting with us and stop progressing, but then everything kind of just fell into place.

She showed up early for her baptism and became increasingly delighted with the prospect of it all. She rode her tiny little bicycle (it really is ridiculously the size a 6-year-old would ride) to the church in a skirt. She was blown away by how many people showed up to support her and was so grateful. The elders in our ward also had 2 investigators get baptized that same night, but she didn't seem to mind sharing the spotlight. After she was baptized, I asked her how she felt.  She said "comfortable". She was so happy and couldn't seem to stop smiling. As we walked back into the main room where everyone was waiting for her, she had a little bounce in her step and already seemed to literally be walking in a newness of life as she went to greet her brothers and sisters in Christ.

She shared her testimony which was very simple but so sweet and pure. I can't believe how miraculous it is that she found the missionaries....out of thousands of people and hundreds of streets she could have been on, they were at the same stoplight at the same time.  God had very clearly been preparing her to receive our message. My companion made cards for the people who got baptized so that everyone could sign the cards and wish them well. This sister was so surprised to see how many people wrote in her card and asked us if she could keep it. We told her she could and then she kissed it and held it to her heart! It was such a beautiful experience. She kept expressing that she hoped she could keep learning more and know as much as we did. I reassured her that I really didn't know that much, and that we all get to keep learning together.

She got confirmed the next day at church. Sometimes people don't show up for their confirmation which is a stressful experience but she was there early, and she brought me and my companion treats!!! Little sweet rolls from a bakery. Then she got to share her testimony again, and this time shared a scripture...she's going to be a great asset to this ward. It's so wonderful that she already has sure faith in God and a testimony of the Book of Mormon...that faith will really help her continue to grow and develop her own relationship with Heavenly Father.

Being able to see this woman's conversion to Christ from the first meeting to helping her get baptized and on the path of God and enduring to the end strengthened my testimony of the work I am doing. This gospel of Jesus Christ really does change lives. It can bring greater happiness and peace than we have ever known. I'm so blessed to be a part of it.

Dang it, that wasn't nearly as eloquent as I was hoping it would never is I guess haha. Just one more thing I wanted to share from Elder David F. Evans in his April 2012 conference talk "Was It Worth It?" He talks about sharing the gospel with people and establishing the pattern of talking, rejoicing, preaching, prophesying, and writing of Christ in our homes. He says, "We can write of Christ by writing letters to those who are away. Missionaries serving, sons or daughters in the military, and those we love are all blessed by letters we write. Letters from home are not just quick emails. Real letters provide something tangible that can be held, thought about, and cherished." So for all of you who have forgotten is not too late to repent and change your ways!!! :) I love you and miss you and am anxious to still be involved in your lives while simultaneously focusing on the work I am doing here. I think I can handle both ;)

Love always,
Ke JieMei
Sister Coco Mack!

sun shiney greetings from your favorite sweaty faced missionary in the smoke filled billiard parlor September 17th, 2012

Dajia Wu'an!

Today our regular email place was closed, so we are in this super junky internet cafe attached to a billiard hall.  The stench of cigarette smoke is surely stenching our clothes so that, while we might leave this place and look like disciples of the Savior, the way we smell might not match what is coming out of our mouths.....

Also because this place is so....basic...there will be no pictures this week :( I had a lot to send you, but this computer is way too slow, and I'm kind of thinking meiyou banfa (not have possible). Sit tight for next week though!!!

Ok just in case she reads is a birthday shout out to one of my favorite, goofiest love ducks, RJD!!!! Happy 21st! A birthday letter will find its way to you in about...3 weeks :) Also congratulations to my beloved KB on getting married! So exciting and so wonderful!! I wish I could have been there.

So last week we had sister exchanges which meant 2 crucial things: 1. I got to go to a new part of Taiwan and have an adventure with a new companion. 2. I saw my cherished MTC companion who I love with all my heart! All the sisters met at the train station, and so I saw her there twice, at the beginning and end of transfers. It was glorious to see her.  She looked incredible and happy. There was too much we wanted to express to each other and not nearly enough time, but I was grateful for the tender mercy of being able to see her and give her several huge hugs. It was like seeing family. We also saw each other at this meeting for trainers/trainees...and two of our MTC Elders were there too! What a week.

On my exchange I had a marvelous time with a totally amazing sister who is from Taiwan. Earlier in her mission, there was a death in her family. She got permission to go home, but after a couple of days she called the mission president and told him she needed to come back out on her mission. She told me that being at the funeral made her realize the vital importance of the plan of salvation, and she desperately wanted to share that with people. She has seen a lot of miracles on her mission.  Her incredible faith inspired me and gave me so much strength. The area I visited is enormous.  It is a lot more rural than my area, so that was a big change for me. The traffic was pretty skimpy.  There were a lot of fields.  Here in my area, it is buildings stretched out everywhere as far as the eye can see, and the only time the streets might be empty is if it's pouring rain, but even then the traffic is pretty steady. The area I visited still has its fair share of pollution, though.  My contacts were very dry by the end of the day.

While I was on exchange, we went to visit a former investigator who was Buddhist. The teaching record mentioned how this woman always gave the missionaries TONS of food every time they went to visit her, so we thought "How interesting" and went to see her, having no idea how accurate the previous missionaries' phrase "she fed us her entire fridge" was. In fact, this generous woman was so concerned about giving us food, we were completely unable to give the message we had prepared. It was a little discouraging. We spent a lot of time thinking, praying, and preparing to share a spiritual message with her.  While she really admired us for being missionaries and making the sacrifice to be on missions, she wasn't really willing to pause for a minute and listen. She was really kind and friendly, and EXTREMELY giving, sending us on our way with two bags full of food....including some food that she ran out and bought on the street in the middle of our visit. After visiting her I thought a lot about how I can prepare and fast and pray to share this message with other people, but in the end it completely comes down to their agency. THEY have to choose to listen. They have to choose to let the Spirit bring truth into their hearts, or they can let the Spirit bring the truth UNTO their hearts, but not let it in. It is a somewhat frustrating but very beautiful principle. Heavenly Father will always let us choose for ourselves and in His mercy, He will give us countless chances to choose Him our entire lives, and even in the life to come! He truly loves us.

Ok two funny things I need to point out: 1. My chopstick skills are still not improving that much. Apparently it's really obvious, because one of the less active sisters we visit pretty frequently gave me a training pair of chopsticks the last time we went to her house. It's like the kind that little kids use when they are first learning how. The chopsticks are connected at the top by this rubber figurine of a little girl. It's hilarious. I actually think they are harder to use....

2. My Chinese skills are also chugging along kind of slowly. There are some days when I can hear my strong American accent every time I speak, and I realize that my tones are ALL OVER THE PLACE. The other day I invited this couple to church, then the light changed. I was about to speed off on my bike, and I turned around to say one last power sentence, perhaps to promise them some fantastic blessings, or say something inspiring to them that would make them want to meet with the missionaries.  A whole jumble of sounds came out. Not Chinese, not English. They really were just a bunch of strange sounds strung together. I smiled big and sped away, murmuring, "Oooookkk...THAT'S not Chinese." Almost every day I have to remind myself to be patient and that with time....apparently MUCH more time....this language will come to me. In the meantime, I'm having some really hilarious experiences.

Time for my spiritual share of the week. On Sunday during sacrament I was flipping my scriptures open to read 3 Nephi 11, but accidentally turned to chapter 16 instead. I LOVE verses 2 & 3:

"For they of whom I speak are they who have not as yet heard my voice [...] But [...] I shall go unto them, and they shall hear my voice, and shall be numbered among my sheep, that there may be one fold and one shepherd [...]." This Sunday we had 2 really incredible investigators come to church. They are both such fabulous women who have really different backgrounds, challenges, struggles, and needs, but they have kind of become friends.  One helped the other figure out what to do, because she came last week and therefore knows the ropes ;)   As I read this scripture in 3 Nephi, I thought about these wonderful friends who were sitting in the congregation with me.  I realized how glorious it is that I am able to witness them as they hear and recognize the voice of their Master and Savior for the first time in their lives. I reflected on how at certain points in my life, I have been a lost sheep.  Through the mercy of God I was able to find my way back and start the process of true and lasting conversion to Christ and His teachings.  I'm serving a MISSION now...and I get to help other people recognize their Savior's voice beckoning them, and help them come unto Him. What a supernal privilege it is to be a missionary!! I have never felt this joy before....and I love the women I get to work with so much.

One woman has been meeting with us nearly every day for the past week and a half. She is progressing rapidly. I think I mentioned she has been keeping a gratitude journal and the entries are in English. She has had so many challenges and has gone through so many dark periods in her life...even a time when she completely lost her will to keep living because she was so miserable. Now that she has started to taste of the great light of the gospel, she clings to it and hungers more and more for it. She started wearing skirts when she meets with us :) We invited her to a baptism last week, and she started crying. I asked her why she was crying and she said she was so moved. She realized how special baptism is and how holy it is. She desperately wants to be baptized but because of some decisions in her past, she thinks she is unworthy and is afraid to make something that is so holy, dirty. We are working on building her self confidence.  It is amazing to see how much the gospel has changed her life already. Yesterday at church she showed me her gratitude journal entry from Saturday. She wrote about how she had had a dream in which she joined the church and everyone in her family was mocking her and making fun of her. She wrote "I actually bravely tell them, yelled, 'Yes! I joined the church! Him is good!" She is totally amazing. This gospel really can heal us, it really is for everyone.

"Press forward, saints, with steadfast faith in Christ, [...] thus saith our God, Ye have eternal life"! Continue to spread good and be publishers of peace, wherever you are.
I love you all so much.
Ke JieMei
Sister Coco Mack


Dajia hao! Another miraculous week has come and gone on la isla formosa!!!! (old Portuguese name for Taiwan. Google it.)

There can be miracles when you BELIEVE (Prince of Egypt!!!!!). This is such a true statement. This month my mission president wants us to study the Christlike attribute of faith. In his email to the missionaries he said, " Remember, faith is a decision, a desire or hope to believe. Make that decision and exercise and strengthen your faith." When we choose to have faith instead of doubting and being full of fear, when we choose to believe in the power of an almighty God, we can see that His miracles are all around us!!

Lately my companion and I have been working really hard to find new investigators and to talk to more people. Last week we had a really long day, a couple of no-shows to appointments, and no one wanted to talk to us. It was blazingly hot, and the sun was beating down on us all day, so we were sweating like crazy. In the evening we biked over to a less active lady's house hoping to surprise her with a little faith-building lesson. We parked our bikes and walked up to where she supposedly lived. The bottom part was a restaurant and we were kind of looking around not knowing what to do next. I think my companion called the phone number we had for her, but no one answered. Suddenly this other girl came up and started talking to us. She knew the person who we were trying to find and said she wasn't around. We started talking and shared a little bit of our message with this other woman, then invited her to come to English. She was very friendly and a little blunt, which is pretty unusual for most Taiwanese people.

So, this girl we met when looking for someone else showed up to English on Wednesday and was willing to meet with us after class. My companion went to teach another lesson, so I taught her by myself. We didn't want to keep her long because she had already been in English class for an hour and a half.  I just wanted to teach her about how we are all God's children, and that He loves us so much, and that we can communicate with Him through prayer. It was really simple.  The woman offered a prayer, then my companion came back and joined us. All of the sudden, this woman started to open up to us. She's had some challenging circumstances in her life that have led her to a point of really low self worth. She told us about some of her experiences and started to cry because they were so painful to her. Then she told us she didn't know what real love was. My heart was so full for her. We promised her that as she continued to study the gospel, she would feel of God's love for her, His true, pure, real love. I was so struck by how much she needs the message we have.

We met with this woman 4 times this last week, and she came to Church on Sunday. She is very open to learning but has a mind of her own and uses it to decide if she wants to accept the things we teach her or to act on the invitations we give her. She's an incredible person, and I love her so much!!! She truly is a miracle. At church she shared her testimony in Relief Society, saying that while listening to one of the testimonies in sacrament meeting, she felt like she got an answer to her prayers. She also keeps a gratitude journal (an assignment from one of the other missionaries who taught her English class). Her English is far from perfect, but the entries are so sincere, and she always lets us read them. She often mentions my companion and me as people she is grateful for. Yesterday she wrote that she is grateful for our friendship and that it fills her heart with so much happiness!!! I am so amazed at the transformations I get to see firsthand when the truths of the gospel work in other people. It strengthens my faith in my purpose as a missionary, and especially my faith that God is with me in this work. This woman's story is so deep and rich, and I have barely known her a week. As Ammon says in Alma 26, "I cannot say the smallest part which I feel.”

 I love being a missionary. I love it so so much. I'm grateful for the reminders I receive everyday that it's not me who helps people to believe the message of the restored gospel, or to know that God loves them—they believe and know through the power of the Holy Ghost. I'm so grateful that I have this chance to be a minister of the joy and peace the gospel brings to all kinds of people of different ages, backgrounds, personalities, and beliefs. I really believe that every person can be blessed by the teachings of Christ when they seek to understand and live them.

Thank you for your sacrifices, for your prayers, for being the incredible people you all are. I am who I am because of your influence, love, friendship, and example in my life. Keep letting your light shine!!!

This week I was reading in Alma 24 and 25 and was so moved by the story of the Anti-Nephi-Lehis who chose to "[bury] their weapons of peace, or they buried the weapons of war, for peace." I think I still carry a lot of weapons of war with me even though I tried to leave them at the MTC. I want to invite all of you to read these chapters and think about the things that are holding you back from completely loving other people, from feeling God's presence in your life, and just get rid of them!!! I know God gives us a strength beyond our own as we do so, and our lives can be filled with great peace.

I love you all so much!! Keep being wonderful you.
Coco/Sister Mack/Ke JieMei

PS this week we have sister exchanges and I get to go work in another area....yay adventures!!! :)