Well, we've got our work cut out for us.
I was disappointed when 16 of our active members didn't show up to church. We only had about 5 people there right at nine. We had to pass the sacrament because there weren't enough priesthood brethren there.
But we had 38 people to sacrament meeting, which isn't too bad. Not too good either, but it's not as bad as I thought it might be.
I had a wonderful interview with president Bishop this week. I asked him how I could focus till the end of my mission, and he encouraged me to set goals for what I want to accomplish while I am in Puli.
I've come up now with 3 main goals in Puli.
1. By the time I leave I want sacrament attendance to be averaging around 50
2. I want to help 3 less active Melchizedek Priesthood holders return to full activity.
3. Baptize a Family
I know that by focusing on and hitting these goals, not only will I stay focused on my mission, but I think these could really leave a lasting effect in the branch.
Some stories of who we've been working with lately.
Close to our home, there is a less active family, the Dad has the Melchizedek Priesthood. My companion said he was always unwilling. We went to visit him and my companion was right. Not willing to pray, Not willing to let us in or meet with us. We kind of just informed him that we would be visiting again later, and left at that. Then we visited again and it was the same. But this time I lost my patience with him. He threw out the excuse that "I'm spending all of my time taking care of my kid, that's all I care about, I don't have time to go to church or think about that stuff."
I told him rather sternly that "If you really cared about your kid, you would bring him to church! If you really cared about your kid, you wouldn't stunt his spiritual growth by not teaching him the gospel. You know the gospel blesses families, It's not fair to your child to not teach him the gospel." then we left.
On saturday we were riding to his house, and Elder Stark and I were trying to guess what excuse he would say when we knocked on the door. Imagine our surprise when he opens the door and the first words out of his mouth were "I'll be at church tomorrow, and I'm bringing my son." He was there earlier than we were!
One of the Less Active Former Branch Presidents came to church yesterday with his wife. They are such amazing people, I don't know how they ever decided to not come to church. He didn't just come, but he came and helped fellowsip less actives. During Fast and Testimony meeting there was a big lull, and then Sister Huang, (the wife) decided to go up and bear her testimony. She shared a beautiful testimony and expressed love for the branch and the gospel.
My favorite testimony on sunday though was our branch presidents. He bore a really powerful testimony of the gospel. He said "we can't leave all the teaching of our children on moral issues to the schools. There's no way they can do it. We have to bring our children to church, and also teach them ourselves."
Another little miracle was while the branch president and his wife were sharing their testimonies, My investigator turned to me, and said, "Hey! They were my English teachers 10 years ago!"
This investigator, Lin jun liang is an awesome kid. He's the same age as me, and he's waiting to go into the army right now. Some awesome Elder in the Taibei mission decided to ask him for his information right as he was boarding the train to come back to puli. and when we called him he was more than willing to set up and meet. He's searching for God's direction in his life. We are trying now to go meet his family because I hope his entire family can be as excited about the message as he is. Anyways, the Branch President, and Relief Society president were his english teachers when he was little, and they were also excited to see him and did a great job of fellowshipping him. Also a tender mercy was one of our members is working in the field he is studying, and was more than willing to talk to him about his future and what decisions to make about college and so forth.
After church he told me he felt like the gospel could bless him in every aspect of his life.
We had 3 investigators at church, one old man that can't really speak chinese that we found at the park. I don't know why he wants to come to church, but he had a desire. so he came dressed up.
And one other man who just got out of jail. He had been preached to in the jail by some minister, and now had a desire to change his life and become christian. I don't know why I had so many of these investigators in zhanghua. At one point we had 3 progressing investigators that had just gotten out of jail. I usually find that these investigators have a hard time keeping commitments. Usually as soon as they find work they aren't willing to meet anymore. But I hope this Wu dixiong can endure to the end.
We were really sad that our main investigator, brother Chen didn't come to church. Because his father in law passed away, they had to stay up all night watching over the dead body. Taiwanese funerals are very complicated and have a lot of interesting rituals. Anyways he stayed up all night, got home at 7:30 am and was planning on church at 9, but fell asleep. we called his kid, but the kid didn't dare wake him up. I wouldn't either. Waking up pirates is a bad idea.
Anyways, he's making great strides. He didn't believe he could quit binlang. Later he told us that for three days straight he his teeth just started hurting, and his stomach started hurting. He couldn't eat any betelnut without his stomach hurting worse, and his teeth hurt to chew it. So after not being able to eat it for 3 days he just decided he didn't need to eat it at all, and quit. Haha, I know that prayers can be answered.
His big three were betelnut, tea, and smoking. We're helping him with smoking right now. He smokes about 50 cigarettes a day on average. The plan went from 50, 40, 30, 20, 10, to 5 in 14 days. It's going to take a lot of faith! But I know he can do it if anybody can. Tea is going to be a struggle too. Even if he travels, he has to take tea leaves from Puli, because he says the other places' tea doesn't taste as good. haha.
we helped him do the math and if he quits these habits he'll save approximately 3,500 US dollars a year!
Right now our greatest hope is that the mother as well will be prepared for the gospel message, perhaps by the passing of her father.
Yesterday, Elder Stark got a feeling to go visit one of our Less Active former branch presidents (yeah, I don't think one of the former branch presidents is active). Turns out he had passed away last month at about the age of 85. His daughter (Less Active) and wife (not a member) had just returned home, and hadn't yet told anybody about his passing. As we met with them and shared the plan of salvation, I felt prompted to share what Elizabeth and Seth had just gone through, and paraphrased some of their beautiful testimonies. They were really touched.
That same day I was going through a huge pile of old records in our apartment and organizing it, and I stumbled across a record of missionary visits with this less active man over the years. It was so special to be able to read about missionaries visits with him, and somehow I felt close to this old member of the church whom I had never met. He would welcome missionaries over, show them his plants and garden that he was growing, but didn't really want to read scriptures or go to church or pray.
I wonder what happens when we pass away in that state. Will we still be able to change? What will it be like in the spirit world? For some reason I feel slow to judge him though, because only God knows his heart when he left this world. The feeling I got is that this old brother Wang is going to be on our team. And he can do a lot more for the branch of Puli in the Spirit world under the direction of the Holy Ghost than he could have here on earth.
We're all doing well. Elder Stark is the man. I appreciate him a lot and I'm sure we'll be great friends after our missions. We are both from Alpine anyways. Alpine's a good place! We've got a whole set of really good missionaries in this mission from Alpine.
He always teases me that I'll be married by the time he gets home. I just tease him that he'll probably get called to be an assistant and then go straight from assistant to mission president in China and marry some asian woman. He didn't think it was very funny.
Well, life goes on! Set goals and make plans,
I love you,
love, Elder Vernon