Golden Week and Boys Day
This past week was called "Golden Week." I am not sure of all the details but last weekend was a three day holiday weekend (Monday was a holiday commemorating past emporor Showa). Then Thursday was Constitution Day, Friday was Greenery Day (dedicated to environment and nature) and Saturday was Boys Day. So basically it is a big holiday week (actually 10 days) where many businesses and schools close. It was kind of sad because everyone was so excited about it and then it RAINED like crazy most of the actual holidays. We had three straight days of pouring rain and then yesterday and today we had partly cloudy skies and then a LOT of rain in the afternoon and evening. However, the malls and stores are packed with people and everyone was excited to rest and relax a bit. Here are some of our Boys Day pictures (they fly carp kites in honor of the boys).
Relief Society Hymn
In Relief Society today we sang a hymn I have NEVER sung before. This is not a complaint, just a cultural observation, I guess. This hymn is in the Japanese hymnbook. The title is written at the top of the page in Japanese and then beneath it is the English translation:
"Oh, I Had Such a Pretty Dream, Mama"
I have been tempted to write about the plethora of convenience stores in Japan (7-11, Lawson, Sun R Us, Family Mart). Here they are called "combini" (if you say it out loud it sounds like "convenience" without the s sound) and there are TONS of them everywhere. And there are always quite a few cars and people at these convenience stores. I never knew what the draw was to these stores (just like out 7-11's at home) but today I think I figured it out.
We were talking in Relief Society and in the lesson it talked about how in Brigham Young's day the sisters were counseled to "reform their eating and housekeeping patterns." Suddenly the ladies in Relief Society began talking about the "combinis" and laughing. Apparently the combinis are like our fast food places! People go to them for a quick bite to eat (bentos--meals with rice and meat) or a quick breakfast. They have fruit, pastries, drinks, hot dogs, and other easy-to-eat food. On the other hand, except for 2 McDonalds in Ishinomaki, there are NO fast food places.
When we were called to this mission we were called as "member-leadership support" missionaries. I always thought that meant that we were to support the members and leadership of the Church in our area. But then one night last week it hit me. We were trying to be a support to the members and leadership in our branch BUT the members and leadership in turn were supporting us! We have been inundated with food, invitations to restaurants, people finding and taking us to service projects, people taking us to less active members' homes, the branch president inviting us to eat in his home, being invited to leadership meetings, making sure we are invited and know about every activity, and just being friendly and kind to us. I realized that in order for the Church to grow and progress that member-leadership support had to go both ways.
Sewing--It Follows Me Around!
From the first week we were here, the sisters have begged me to come up with some sewing/craft projects that we can do. Then a few weeks ago the branch president asked the Relief Society to hem some drapes in the front of the chapel that were about four inches too long. Thanks to a member's Bernina sewing machine, that was done in record time (it helped that I worked at a drapery workroom!). Then today the branch president asked if we could make a small curtain for a storage room. So we did it again--made a curtain in record time for that small window. THEN in two weeks we have a project that the stake sent to us: make divider-type curtains as a service project for the temporary housing units. The sisters are so excited that I sew! They keep saying, we will iron, cut, and mark where to sew, you just do the sewing!
A couple of weeks ago we met one of the men in charge of welfare services here in Japan. He asked if there was anything he could help us with (he shouldn't have asked!). Anyway, I said I had been trying to think of things the sisters in our branch could do as sewing projects and wondered if we could crochet around fleece blankets and give them to the temporary housing units as a service. The ladies here are so wanting to learn a skill and help others. They could also use some cheering up and things to take their minds off of all the hardships around here. Anyway, after Elder Halvorson heard what I had to say he said, no problem, just submit the plan to him and he would make sure we were funded! So I have been trying to sew a few things to show the sisters in two weeks as ideas of what we can do (we also have 3 large boxes of fabric at the Church!). Here are a few of the things I have done:
It's going to take a little work to get the granny squares into a small afghan and I have a few more ideas on the back burner but I have discovered that you use whatever you have EVER done in
your life when you are on a mission! I am convinced that nothing is a coincidence. Things are planned ahead even when we are not planning.
Our Investigator Introduces us to Yogurt!
We have been teaching a really great man for the past several weeks. He is very interested in joining the Church and is just an all-around great person. This past week he surprised us by giving us and the other member that usually joins us for the lessons with two kinds of yogurt for each of us: a drinkable yogurt and a semi sweet yogurt. Both of those things are sold in a store where he works. THEY ARE INCREDIBLE AND DELICIOUS! The drinkable is lightly sweetened and so good. The semi sweet yogurt has a taste but I can't really tell what it is but is the closest thing to Greek yogurt I have found in Japan. I think he has made a believer out of me!
Ups and Downs
We have been here for four months now. It seems like we have been here forever but at the same time it seems like the days go by faster than I want them to. Calvin and I were talking about our experiences here and the ups and downs we have had.
As for Calvin, he said he felt his hardest times were when we were first here. After one day in Japan, we were dropped off at this apartment with two keys: one to the car and one to the apartment. That evening we met with the branch president and hardly could understand him. Then on Sunday (four days later) we met in a branch presidency meeting and Calvin didn't understand a word of what was being said (of course neither did I). It was reality slapping us in the face. But Calvin said his most unexpected blessing has been the love and support of the members. They always look after us and support us. We have become life-long friends. The worst thing that we have both encountered is the affect the earthquake and tsunami has had on the people. We cannot imagine the horrors they saw and felt. They all lost loved ones. It is a greater tragedy than I could have ever thought of. Everyone has been affected to such a huge degree it is unexplainable.
For me, I have had the hardest time feeling comfortable with the language. I have spent many hours in tears trying to figure out how to become more fluent in the language. I felt like I was a failure. Then today (it was fast Sunday so I went fasting) when we were at Church I decided I would do a test to see how much I really understood. To my surprise, I did understand a fair amount of what was being said. In addition, I was talking to some ladies and one of the ladies who speaks some English was translating for me, and another sister interrupted and said, "you don't need to interpret, she understands." She was right I did understand. It was such an eye-opener for me. For the past month or so it has been the joke that Calvin can SPEAK Japanese but I can UNDERSTAND better than he can. I still struggle speaking but I have realized that I do understand and I am trying a new plan to get my vocabulary better!
One of the best things that has happened on our mission is that I have had time to actually study the gospel and read the Book of Mormon, Church magazines, and other scriptures. I have loved going to institute (scripture study) and studying for the classes in advance. I feel so much more grounded in what I should do in my life.
Elder Kim's Story
I almost forgot one more thing: Elder Kim's story. Elder Kim is a new elder in our district. He told us this story at district meeting. He and his companion were handing out English class flyers at the entrance to a mall. An older lady (in her 80's and seeming pretty old) came up to them. At first Elder Kim kind of rolled his eyes and thought nothing would come of talking to her. Then she began to tell him her story (Elder Kim is from California but his Japanese is incredible!). Thirty-four years ago she lived in Ishinomaki (where we live) and she was taking the missionary discussions from the elders. Their names were Elder Howard and Elder Woodward. She took the lessons for four months and then decided not to join. She moved to Sendai and had been looking for those elders for 34 years! She had had a change of heart and wanted to hear more. Elder Kim explained that he and his companion had the same message and would be glad to talk to her. She was very excited and set up an appointment to hear them!!
The younger elders cannot go on the internet except to email home so I volunteered to try to find out about the two elders this lady was talking about. When we got home, I found a site for the Sendai Mission Alumni. It was so easy to find those two elders! One was actually Elder Howells and sure enough he was companion with Elder Woodward and they were in Ishinomaki together. I called Elder Kim to tell him the news and he was elated!
We never know how something we do will affect the lives of others even years from now.