I love it here! Heavenly Father really knows what he's doing when he sends missionaries to certain areas. I couldn't think of a better place to end my mission than in Puli. It's so beautiful. Sorry I didn't bring my pictures today, but I'll send some to you in a bit.
I also really miss my old area Zhanghua. I really miss the bishop, the ward. As I've served I've just felt more and more love for the members of the church in Taiwan. I don't think I'll ever in my whole life be half as amazing as some of these people. Almost all of them are converts, part member family. And many of those have family members very opposed to them joining the church. I also miss my old companion, Elder Petters. His biggest strength was accountability. He was very strict with himself, set very realistic goals that could help us work harder, and then was personally accountable to them all. It was something I really needed to learn. I seem to fall more under the category of setting really high unrealistic goals, having a lot of faith, not really hitting them, and then saying, "oh well, at least I worked hard." I know Elder Petters and Elder Boud will do well in Zhanghua as zone leaders.
I got a little taste of what it would be like to go home when I dropped from zone leader to a regular companionship. I got home at night, finished planning, and then realized I didn't have to call and do follow-ups with any missionaries. It was weird. I felt like I should be doing something to help the zone, but I couldn't really. I think it will be like that when I go home. Just feel like there's a hundred things I should be doing, but can't, and it just feels weird and uncomfortable. Oh well.
I was soon able to channel all my focus on this wonderful area, and now I feel like we know what the Lord wants us to do here.
Alright, so now I'll talk about my new area.
1st the companion.
I'm more impressed by Elder Stark every day. He's amazing. I can't find one thing to complain about, and I'm pretty picky about companions. It's only his third transfer, but his characters are almost as good as mine. He speaks well too. He loves the people, is obedient and works hard.
2nd the place.
I'm finally serving in what I thought taiwan would look like before I came here. I'll admit I was a little depressed when I ended up serving in big dirty cities when I thought I would be riding through green rice fields and palm trees. But puli is beautiful. The palm trees are actually betelnut trees. I wish I could take burn down all the binlang trees in the whole place. Gross.
There are a lot of aboriginal taiwanese people here. It's kind of fun to try and tell which people are original taiwanese, and which ones came over from China. The Native Taiwanese are all christian, all drink and smoke and eat betelnut, and don't speak taiwanese. There's a rich culture here in Puli.
3rd the Branch
I'm still getting used to saying branch, I'm so used to saying ward.
I'm so impressed by the members of this branch. They have a lot of faith. Even though there are a LOT of less actives, that used to be active, there are still some really strong members.
We met with the Branch President, President Tang. he's amazing. Turns out his family was one of the very first baptized in Taiwan. He also loves to sing! I told him I loved to play violin, and he invited me to play in sacrament meeting. So I asked him what his favorite hymn was, and he asked if I could play "Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd."
We asked which less actives we could go try to go and focus on, he said the first counselor of the branch presidency... Haha. Hopefully we'll get him back soon. We're working with a lot of less actives that have the Melchizedek Priesthood, even that have been endowed before. It's in a way easier because they know it's true, they're just not coming for some reason.
Part member families are a gold mine here.
This saturday, the little grandson of one of our best members is getting baptized. He's only 8 and really cute.
A less active young man named Chen Jing Sheng who reminds me a lot of Andrew started coming to our weekly YM YW activity. His Dad was really opposed to the church originally, but somehow when missionaries came to their house a few weeks ago, he felt like he should let them in and listen. As he began to pray he felt the spirit, and now he is extremely willing. He's trying to quit smoking, tea, and binlang now to hit his baptismal goal of the 18th of February. Haha, When we were helping him make a "quit chewing betelnut" plan, He said he would cut it down to only spending a couple hundred dollars on betelnut that week. My companion thought he said that he was going to cut it down to eating a couple hundred, so he said "how do you eat so much binlang!?"
The best part is that this man looks and talks exactly like a pirate. I feel like he just jumped out of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I can't stop laughing every time we meet with him. Haha.
Me and my companion have two big goals right now. Baptize a family. and Strengthen the members. If anybody has any ideas of how to strengthen small branches, or how to really get members fired up about helping each other and doing missionary work, I would LOVE to hear them!
I find that the sweetest moments come when I take time to really get to know the members, and love them. When they know the missionaries, it feels more like we're all on the same team.
I was really touched by a couple things.
Our second counselor helped us peike the whole friday night, and we knew he probably hadn't eaten yet, so we bought a little KFC snack box and brought it to him. I could tell he was really excited to eat it. Then at the last house we visited, this poor less active woman. Her husband not a member, her entire family really sick, but she lost her job, and couldn't stop coughing, and didn't have enough money for the doctor, (that means she really didn't have money, because doctors here are uber cheap). I couldn't really help in any other way, so we played a hymn for her on my violin, and she seemed to be in better spirits afterward. Then Zhou Dixiong, our second counselor gave his KFC box to one of the little girls, and for some reason It just really touched me, I know that many members in Taiwan are doing all they can to help other members, and be christlike.
Another thing I've learned on my mission is what kind of a member I want to be. I ran into a missionary who returned to taiwan after a couple years, and was so surprised and sad to see that almost all of his recent converts were gone, the less actives brought back gone, and that some other people had gone less active. He told me that if I ever wanted to do less active work, you don't have to go far. The most effective way is to get them before they leave. It's a lot easier than going to find them a couple years later when they've already been away from the influence of the spirit for that long. I think it's really true. There are many different types of members.
There are Disappeared members, just names on the ward list. There are Less active members that don't want to come back, there are Partly active people that want to come back, but only make it like once a month. Then there are Hollow Members. People that come to church, and look active on the outside, but are already going less active in their hearts and mind. Then they miss one sunday, and realize nothing that bad happened. Miss a couple more and realize nobody even cares, and then they're gone. We definitely have some of those here in Puli. I think there are some in every ward.
Then there are the average active members who come every week and do their calling, but not much else. Then there are proactive members who do their callings really well and help others, and then there are Radioactive members, who are involved. Do missionary work. Everybody they come in contact to feels their testimony and wants to be around them, and come to church with them.
I want to always be a radioactive mebmer when I go home.
Well, my time's up. Goodbye, more next week!
Love, Elder Vernon