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» Hatrack River Forum » Archives » Landmark Threads » My Days As A Missionary, A Landmark.

   
Author Topic: My Days As A Missionary, A Landmark.
BlackBlade
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With the recent posts on missionaries and proselyting, I felt it would be a good topic for my next landmark. I initially thought I would make a landmark post every 1000 posts, but I wonder if that is not too frequent. I suppose thats a question only I can really answer, but for better or worse I am writing one today. (I am still in the midst of writing it but it appears this is going to be a very long entry, if you can't commit alot of time, you might want to wait on reading this).

It would be hard for me to overstate how much my missionary days impacted my life. At 19 years old I was pretty sure my church was true, and I had had spiritual experiences indicating that truth, but I was not certain. But having grown up in my church I was too embarrassed to rock the boat by saying I was not ready to leave. A mistake on my part to be sure, I should have either put more effort into knowing, or else delayed my application. All I did was make an internal pact that if I was not certain that my religion was correct by the time my training was over I would not go. I knew it was not the way I should do things, but its the course I decided on.

I filled out my application, sat down for the interviews, and then waited anxiously for the decision as to where I would be going. A month passed and on a Monday morning I was in a good mood. A Typhoon had shut down schools for the day so I was relaxing at home. The phone rang and my stake president (a tier higher then a bishop, a bishop being over a few hundred people) informed me that in the mail pouch from Salt Lake City my mission call had come. My mom wanted me to drive down to the church, get the envelope, and then wait for my father to get home from work so that I could open it with all my family there. I would have none of it so I grabbed a cell phone, hoped in the car and drove to church. The drive is usually 30 minutes or so but with rains and winds raging, the streets had alot of traffic. I almost yelled in frustration when a huge vehicle with a sign on the back stating, "Slow Vehicle" pulled in front of me. Finally I got to the church house and bolted upstairs to the offices. The secretary informed the stake president that I was there and was told that he was speaking with a woman and would get to me as soon as he could. The door to the office was open and I could hear the muffled conversation, but more importantly I could see my mission call sitting there on the table within the office! I tried to stay cool and occupy my thoughts with other things. After about 10 minutes I was still rocking back and forth on my chair dying with anticipation. Another 10 minutes passed and the secretary who had been bemusedly observing my behavior walked into the office and said, "President, I think Brother BlackBlade (obviously not my real name) is about to give up the ghost."

My call in hand, I was given a private room to open it. I sat down aware that I was alone. I prayed that I would be able to accept wherever I was called to, and that I would accept it as the right place for me. Though not in bold or italics upon opening the call my eyes leapt to the middle of a paragraph where the words "Taiwan, Taichung Mission," burned into my mind.

After a few moments of letting it sink in I called my mother. I challenged her to guess where I had been called to and she responded simply and plainly, "You are going to Taiwan." I asked her what prompted her to guess there and she said, "Because I got a witness from God that thats where you were supposed to go." I was floored. I called my father and tried the same experiment, he guessed wrong 5 times, and was completely clueless as to where I was going. It was mildly humorous.

A few months later, after working in Hong Kong as as a teachers assistant, and moping around Utah the date of my processing came. It was a precarious time, I entered the MTC (Missionary Training Center) on September 12th 2001, just one day after the horrific events of 9/11. After orientation I bid my teary eyed parents goodbye, too excited to feel sorrow. They threw me right into the thick of things. As missionaries always work in pairs I got my first companion, and began Chinese classes that day. Within 24 hours everyone in our class knew how to offer a basic prayer entirely in Mandarin. Which was probably a good thing because I did alot of praying on my mission, its an incredibly sobering experience.

I tried hard to be a good missionary. I kept all the rules as best I could, I studied my scriptures determined to know of their truthfulness. I worked hard during Chinese class. I read the Book of Mormon from start to finish all the way through for the first time at the MTC and it took me 2 weeks. Though the book touched me as never before as I read it I was still waiting for a spiritual confirmation of its truthfulness. The day I finished it I prayed for 2 maybe 3 hours asking for the confirmation that had been promised in the book. I grew frustrated and confused, why was my prayer going unanswered. As general conference was the next day it occurred to me that perhaps something could be said that might help me understand what God was doing to me. I asked God to inspire one of the general authorities of the church to say something that could provide me with direction, and ended my prayer.

As I watched the conference broadcast I admit that I grew bored with one of the speakers and began doodling in my notebook. As the apostle Elder Richard G Scott was speaking I still was inattentive. For some reason of which I am not sure my attention suddenly snapped back to him as he said,

"The Lord will hear your prayers in time of need. He will invariably answer them. However, His answers will generally not come while you are on your knees praying, even when you may plead for an immediate response. There is a pattern that must be followed. You are asked to look for an answer to your prayers, then confirm that it is correct. Obey His counsel to “study it out in your mind.” Often you will think of a solution. Then seek confirmation that your answer is right. This help can come from prayer and from pondering the scriptures, at times by the intervention of others, or from your own capacity, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

I took the council to heart and started rereading the Book of Mormon, while continuing to study Chinese. Two weeks later I got the answer I was looking for at a time where I was not expecting it. I read voraciously, any book I could get my hands on I read it. Missionary life is very vigorous and full of rules and guidelines. I found reading to be extraordinarily soothing and invigorating. Though my library was limited to the scriptures and gospel related books, I read them whenever I could get my hands on them. I could feel my understanding of the gospel deepening and it was wonderful. I was set to go on my mission.

What was not wonderful was a deepening enmity I was building for my first companion. I really could not understand it, I get along with most people quite easily. But for whatever reason whenever my companion did anything, it bugged me. I am not sure if it was because he grew up on a farm and I grew up in a city. Maybe it was his extremely nasal voice coupled with the fact he loved singing that bugged me. Perhaps it was his laugh that worked on the basis of inhaling instead of exhaling. Whatever the reason I was always greatly annoyed with him, and he sensed it.

We tried talking about it, and that would temporarily stave off ill feelings, but neither of us liked the other. One of the fears of missionary work I had growing up was "What if I really don't like my companion? Then what?" It seemed like that fear wasted little time in becoming a reality. This went on for weeks, we were not uncivil to each other, but neither of us really tried to attack the problem. We met with our district leaders, our teachers, all in order to work this out, nothing seemed to work. Finally about 10 days before we were slated to leave for Taiwan, I got over myself. Thats all I can really say to describe it. My companions idiosyncrasies just didn't bother me anymore. I found we had plenty in common, and we could even enjoy doing things together.

The days passed and it was time to go to Taiwan. I was ready to go. I greatly enjoyed my time at the MTC, but something about every building being made out of brick and having that pattern everywhere just made me ready to go insane. After having not ridden in a vehicle for almost 3 months the feeling of inertia as the bus sped up was startling. In the MTC they stress total focus on your missionary duties, I felt mildly guilty reading the billboards that littered the side of the road as the bus drove up the freeway. I felt just alittle more guilty when I purchased a soda from an airport store and intentionally glanced at the television screen as CNN blasted through the news of post 9/11 America. I had a deep interest in current events and after 3 months of almost total media lock down, (they try to keep the outside world out of the MTC as much as reasonably possible) I could not keep up with all the writing on the TV screen and what the reporter was saying.

To this day if something important happened between the years of 2001 and 2003 there is a good chance I do not even know about it.

We landed in Taiwan and once again they threw us into the thick of things. The missionaries that met us at the airport asked us to talk to people there in the airport! They planted a member of the church who acted like an investigator when I talked to him and for a moment I was convinced that everyone in Taiwan was amazingly ready for the gospel as this man agreed with everything I was saying. Upon realization that the guy was not who he seemed to be I felt rather foolish. The Assistants to the President, APES (they are sort of like head missionaries that fill that role for about 3-6 months) opened the windows to the van when we reached stop signs, and demanded we talk to the people in cars and on scooters as they waited at the red lights.

The first 2 days I spent in Taipei doing orientation. Then, we were loaded into a van and driven down to Taichung. There, at the trainers meeting, we were assigned to our trainer, (trainers are an experienced missionary who is supposed to acclimatize you to the work).

My trainer was very surprised I grew up in Hong Kong yet I was an American. I surprised him further by explaining that my Chinese was only marginally better then the other trainees, and that I was not a fan of Chinese food. We went to McDonalds for our first meal together.

As I had not purchased a bicycle for myself, (The chief mode of transportation in Taiwan missions.) I was loaded onto an old missionaries bike who must have been barely 5 feet tall as my 6 foot 4 frame looked silly trying to peddle around on that thing. I carried a shoulder satchel and it banged into my knees as I peddled. My trainer took me to a night market for my very first real proselyting experience. A night market in Taiwan is a lively affair. There are carnival rides all over, and table shops everywhere. The people hawking their wares all had megaphones which they yelled into, yelling to patrons to browse their wares. Not having a megaphone of my own and not feeling particularly dignified in screaming I was at a complete disadvantage when my trainer explained to me briefly that we would be proselyting here and then concluded with, "ok...GO!"

Go? What did he mean go? He couldn't possibly mean for me to just up and go proselyte with these people? Could he?

It became obvious that he did and my confidence slumped. To my credit, the people there understood me just fine, and I didn't have to raise my voice to a screaming pitch. Unfortunately they took my relatively well spoken Chinese as an indicator that I was fluent, and bombarded me with long sentences of which I could comprehend nothing.

That hour seemed like torture as it really bothered me that I could understand almost nothing. A perfectly interested person could be trying to setup an appointment and I would just stare at them clueless.

It was late and time to go home. I mounted my creaky small bicycle and shouldered my still knee banging satchel and head for home. The only thing going through my mind was, "I cannot handle 2 years of this." Subsequent events would prove me wrong.

Time went by at a near constant brisk pace. Weeks felt like 4-5 days instead of 7. But every day was a struggle. Struggle to communicate, struggle to say the right thing besides communicating, struggle to bike up that steep uphill, struggle to keep all the mission rules, struggle to remain humble when my trainer critiqued my performance.

My pride was taking a pretty solid beating, but it fought back on occasion, much to my dismay. I found myself liking the Taiwanese people quite easily. At first their habit of not saying anything negative but instead lying through their teeth to avoid offending people fooled me. But once I realized they all did it I sorta resented it. But as time went by I found myself learning to enjoy it along with everything else.

BREAK------------

It would seem my shift at work has ended and I will have to finish this post at home, or at work tomorrow. Stay tuned til then I suppose. My Apologies I thought I could type this massive post in a concise and quick manner, shows you how much I know about myself.

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Earendil18
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After my thread on missionaries, this is very interesting to read. Please post more! It's good to get some first hand stories. [Smile]
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MightyCow
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Very cool. I'm also interested in hearing more about your story.
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Scott R
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quote:
Though not in bold or italics upon opening the call my eyes leapt to the middle of a paragraph where the words "Taiwan, Taichung Mission," burned into my mind.

Ha! I had to read the letter, like, 5 times to see the words 'Italy, Milan Mission.'
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Survivor
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Missionary stories, huh?

Ummm...one time I stopped my Eddings-fanboy companion from looting a temple (technically I think it was just a shrine, but still). It probably wasn't the only good I did, but it's something I remember without feeling too alienated and weird.

Then again, I'm supposed to be alienated and weird, desho?

I'm still curious about recent events, if anyone knows what I'm talking about. But I suppose it's all pretty irrelevent now...particularly to this thread. I'm up for some non-sanatized but still happy mission stories, so I'll thank you for the update now in case I can't be bothered to login and post later.

By the way, even though every explicable indicator I've got points to an activation date at least a few years hence, I still feel like things might go down soon. So...um, don't feel bad if things happen a bit quicker than anyone expected.

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Euripides
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I find a lot of things in this story disturbing. Especially:

quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:

In the MTC they stress total focus on your missionary duties, I felt mildly guilty reading the billboards that littered the side of the road as the bus drove up the freeway. I felt just alittle more guilty when I purchased a soda from an airport store and intentionally glanced at the television screen as CNN blasted through the news of post 9/11 America. I had a deep interest in current events and after 3 months of almost total media lock down, (they try to keep the outside world out of the MTC as much as reasonably possible) I could not keep up with all the writing on the TV screen and what the reporter was saying.

To this day if something important happened between the years of 2001 and 2003 there is a good chance I do not even know about it.

---

Congratulations on your 3000th post BlackBlade!

[ January 25, 2007, 07:25 AM: Message edited by: Euripides ]

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ClaudiaTherese
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I'm glad to be reading about your missionary time, BlackBlade. This is fascinating.
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katharina
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I found out about the deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Theresa from "doorstop news" - as we knocked on doors, sometimes there'd be a paper open.

My year of media blackout was basically 1998, which I think was a very good year for it. I missed the craze over Titanic and the entire Monica Lewinsky debacle.

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SenojRetep
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quote:
Originally posted by katharina:
My year of media blackout was basically 1998, which I think was a very good year for it. I missed the craze over Titanic and the entire Monica Lewinsky debacle.

Ditto. The first I heard about Lewinsky was from a member at a dinner appointment. I'd heard vaguely that there was some sex scandal involving the President, but that was all. Since my Dutch vocabulary was primarily focused on gospel topics and idioms, listening to our host (a 70-year-old Dutch man) hold forth (in some degree of specificity) about Clinton's indiscretions was fairly surreal. I was constantly wondering if he said what I thought he said, because I wasn't exactly sure of all the words he was using to describe the, uh, acts.

All I knew about Titanic was it was playing at local theaters and people seemed to like it. I don't think I heard Kate Winslet's name until after I was home, and Leonardo DiCaprio was still just that kid from "What's Eating Gilbert Grape." Ahh, the good ol' days.

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BlackBlade
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An here is part 2,

As I said my pride was taking a beating, but it didn't seem to want to go out quietly, though I certainly became more humble and open to suggestion as my mission time progressed.

In my first area (tan tze for those interested) was probably the hardest part of my entire mission experience. I lacked the know how of a missionary and my Chinese was still rocky. After a month or so, out of the blue, my performance as a missionary plummeted. Missionaries keep track of an assortment of statistics as a means to gauge performance. There is an epic long fought battle over whether its right to use those statistics as a means for coordinating the work, or whether using them causes missionaries to focus on the numbers too intensely and forget they are there to serve actual people. One of these numbers is called an OYM, "Open Your Mouth." It, in essences, is the number of times you greet a passerby and invite them to hear your message. In the true spirit of the statistics you cannot just run up, introduce yourself, and throw the invitation out there, though some missionaries do that to pad their statistics. It has to be a reasonable invitation based on perceived need. Regardless of whether the invitation is accepted it counts for an OYM. If the invitation is accepted it becomes a "setup," (another stat). If the setup actually materializes into a visit and a basic introduction to the gospel is taught it becomes a, "First discussion." Repeat visits with succesful lessons become "Second discussions, third discussions, etc, and on through 6". If the person has kept commitments and has truly embraced the gospel, they set a "baptismal goal" which hopefully becomes an actual, "baptism." Missionaries also keep track of where their appointments come from as a means to gauge whether they are focusing on their own efforts or using the members of the church. How many investigators attend church, hours of service performed, hours working with members who are no longer active in the church, all of it is carefully documented.

But like I said my performance as a missionary had plummeted. My OYMs were just fine, but I was not setting up anybody. Obviously if nobody sets up the rest of the stats drop. Our companionship was in my view operating on 50% efficiency as I was not finding people willing to meet with us. At first I just toughed it out and kept trying as best I could and yet this sudden stop in setups persisted. This went on for about 2 weeks and by the end of those 2 weeks I was completely fed up. I felt that God was trying to tell me something. My decision to go on a mission without being totally converted myself haunted me and I gave way to depression. In retrospect part of the problem was that my trainer was not selecting the best locations in the city to proselyte. There are no loitering laws in Taiwan, and as such we can approach anybody anywhere and attempt to engage them in conversation besides going door to door. At the morning market I had endured another fruitless hour of nobody setting up and I could not take it anymore. I found an alley between buildings and went about 15 feet into it. Technically this was not allowed as I was no longer within eye contact or an ear shot of my companion, (a pretty steep offense as far as missionaries are concerned.) I saw down on a sort of cement block and prayed. I told God I was sick of this, and that I was going to approach one more family, and if they did not setup I would take the hint and request passage back home. I left the alley sauntered up to a dad and his two children. I attempted my best OYM I could offer and wonder of wonders, the man setup a time to meet with us. That night I apologized to God for trying to dictate how my service as a missionary would be offered as I had covenanted 2 years to him. I never gave way to depression or got upset with periods of lesser performance. I accepted them for what they were and strove to do better. I never had any problems setting people up in the future.

I found people opened up to me more readily then my companion, which was a sort of mixed blessing and curse. My companion would get jealous that people seemed to talked to me instead of him, and what made it worse is I did not always understand what they had said, and so had to rely on him to translate. I completely understand his jealousy. What I did not appreciate was that in mid sentence he would interject corrections to my tone and pronunciation as I was speaking to people. I suppose it was how he maintained a feeling of superiority over me. But in a strange way it was extremely useful. I learned to bury offended or upset feelings well beneath my grinning, calm exterior.

This proved invaluable in my door to door work. After you have knocked on over a hundred doors in a day and the responses have been at best indifferent and at worst out and out offensive, (Being spat at in the face is never pleasant, Life of Brian notwithstanding.) I had companions that did not deal with the rejection as well as others. Occasionally they would explode and say something to the effect of, "When Jesus comes again and you are burning in hell I hope you remember my name."

Because I grew up in Hong Kong I had developed a good deal of empathy for the Chinese way of doing things, and I have always had a pretty strong response when I see people abusing others verbally or otherwise.

On the other hand I could empathize with my fellow missionaries suffering in the often thankless task of trying to bring light to others. But I could not let such acute misrepresentation of Jesus, who we are supposed to be emissaries for, simply pass. Companions who had that disposition often found ways to suppress it after working with me just a few weeks.

I must confess in myself I could find feelings of resentment build after days of rejection. I had learned from my trainer to bury untoward feelings and verbalize them when appropriate, but I also had another weapon. Whenever a person refused to speak with us I would find a way to compliment them in spite of their behavior. If they loudly exclaimed their Buddhist sentiment and told us to get lost I would think or utter, "At least they are strong in their convictions." If I was told, "Look I'm sorry I am just not interested in your message." I would say, "At least they are honest."

It drove some of my companions nuts, but I needed it to keep myself positive.

Missionary work is pretty harsh but the successes more then compensate for any trials or tribulations we might experience. Those who were truly converted would call us, "angels sent from God" when around others, and would encourage us to keep going outside day after day. I loved them, and they loved me. Its such a sweet experience to successfully share such an important message with another and find that it frees them from so much misery. Taiwan is far from a low converting mission. They baptized almost 2000 people in just one of the three missions the year I got there.

Missionaries have another age old debate that still rages to this day. Do we focus on baptizing converts or do we spread our efforts out into the realms of retaining new converts and helping them grow in confidence towards their new found faith. Additionally how much time do we expend seeking for "lost sheep" and searching for members who find it hard to keep up with their gospel commitments?

Missions vary, but in my own the word "Baptize" was hammered into our conscious and subconscious thoughts. A missionary that obtains thousands of OYM's and hundreds of setups, tens of discussions weekly, but does not baptize is considered a "non performing" missionary. We were promised that if we did all we could to follow the rules and be effective as missionaries we would consistently baptize 2 people, "souls" every month. Needless to say if you didn't make two it was pretty easy to feel lousy, (part of the argument against focusing on statistics in the first place.)

Early on as a missionary I obviously let statistics govern how I saw my work, as an older missionary I let statistics provide evidence for what I could possibly be working on, but I looked at the anecdotal evidence more.

I continued to study the scriptures and the language furiously, especially the language. All new missionaries are required to, "certify" which basically means they must memorize all 6 missionary lessons in their entirety in Chinese. You first recite the entire discussion to your district leader, and then you must do it again with a Zone leader. Upon doing this 6 times you are given a certification examination date at the monthly "Mission Conference." There, the APES randomly pick a discussion, and you are required to recite it completely. In addition you must competently role play a concern scenario where the APES voice a typical concern an investigator might have, and you must resolve it, all in Chinese of course.

Memorization is not something I am particularly good at, nor bad at. There is a huge amount of stress to "certify" as soon as possible. Missionaries arrive in groups and groups keep tight tabs on who has certified and who has not. Typically a missionary, in my day, went to bed at 10:30 and woke up at 6:00-6:30. If you have not certified you have to set aside extra time to memorize and so I found myself physically unable to wake up at 6:30 and make time, so I had to get up at 5:00. On the day of a discussion recitation I would wake up at 4:00am so that the discussion would be in my short and long term memory, thus doubling my chances of passing. I was one of the later certifiers, but I'd bet donuts to dollars I had a better grasp of the language then many a certified missionary. When I finally certified I could literally feel a HUGE weight lift off my shoulders, getting 8 hours of sleep consistently helped too.

--------

This post is huge and so with apologies I will post this and continue the rest on another post. I honestly hope I can wrap this up in an interesting and effective manner.

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BlackBlade
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Final Part! And of course the longest yet.

After 4.5 months of being in Tan Ze I was reassigned to a place called Nan Tou. Nan Tou was the epicenter of the huge earthquake that rocked Taiwan on September 21st 2000. There were still very distinct scars from the earth quake clearly visible. In fact, not only had real estate prices in Nan Tou plummeted, which allowed me to stay in a quite luxerious apt (it had air conditioning!) there was a HUGE crack scaling one of the buildings from top to about midway. It was in Nan Tou that I finally got over my dislike of Chinese food and became firmly converted to a few dishes. In retrospect it kills me that it took me so long to embrace Taiwan cuisine, IMO its simply amazing.

Being in a huge city as opposed to a tiny one was quite a nice change. There were more places to proselyte and so many people it was impossible to run into all of them. Nan Tou has a rich history and its urban parts are relatively small with plenty of the population out in the suberbs/rural areas. On the downside, some of our appointments truly lived out in the boonies which can be a hazard on your time.

It is most unfortunate that many people in Taiwan if they do not know where a place is will give you directions anyway. "Go down 3 lights and turn left, then go down 2 lights and turn right, it will be right there." I must have lost hours of proselyting time being lost as the address scheme in Taiwan is a sort of quasi ordered chaos. I lie to you not that in an apt complex I came across there was an address plate above a door with a certain street, road, alley, floor, # and next door not 5 feet from that plate was another which listed an entirely different street. I had no idea people could live next door in an apartment complex and be on different streets until I moved to Taiwan.

Even missionaries need time to unwind, the vigorous proselyting schedule can be pretty vigorous, wait I already said that. Anyway, missionaries are given mondays from 9:30am-6:00pm as "preparation time." The time is used to run errands, write letters, and often to just have fun, who'd of thunk it? Still it should be noted that after a week of hard work if you need to move to a new area or a new apt or somebody has to go to the hospital, if the errand takes all your "preparation time," thats tough cookies, there's always next week.

There was an occasion where the missionaries at the district next door called our district up requesting help in moving all their belongings and furniture to a new apt. It took us almost the entire day moving all that crap with just bicycles and one pick up truck. The next week we felt they owed us a game of ultimate frisbee as payment for using all our time in addition to theirs, they felt otherwise and blew us off. I was not too happy about that, but meh, people are people, even missionaries!

In Nan Tou I baptized my oldest convert, a 66 year old man we will call, Brother Liu. Brother Liu enjoyed our company and our message but his wife REALLY didn't. Its hard to spend an hour teaching somebody the gospel, only to have their spouse spend the next 48 hours until your next appointment trying to undo all your work. Sister Liu was not interested in our message but that didn't mean we couldn't be friends, as much as Sister Liu resented our teaching her husband, protocol dictated that since we had visited a few times she had to invite us over to dinner.

Taiwanese people are so gracious once they let you in. Some of them are hard as granite but once you are their friend they will run the extra mile just because they'd feel bad not doing so. Sister Liu enjoyed our conversation and the fact we wolfed down here delicious cooking. At the end of dinner she declared, "Well I suppose its better that Brother Liu is interested in any religion, he never paid much attention to Buddhism." In English that was the equivalent of, "Hey you guys are all right, please come back!"

Brother Liu was pretty old and his eye sight was not so good, so reading the scriptures was a real challenge for him. But he kept commitments and that to me was more important than a speedy read of the Book of Mormon. I did worry about his comprehension of the material, and I did not want him to get baptized because he felt he owed it to our friendship. He completed his lessons, and was still strongly committed to baptism. I still had my doubts, but I was willing to let the prebaptismal interview dispel them.

Converts before they can get baptized have to sit for an interview with the missionary zone leader where he/she is asked rudimentary questions about the gospel, his/her commitments, and whether there is anything he/she has done in the past or is currently doing that might warrant resolving before baptism can take place.

We don't sit with the convert during the interview but we do meet them at the church to support them, interviews are a bit unnerving to some. Brother Liu was late for his appointment and his wife insisted that he had left for the interview. As an experienced missionary I had experienced plenty of people get, "cold feet" before an important step this far along in the whole process. I feared the worst that perhaps Brother Liu had concerns he had not told us, or that he was reconsidering getting baptized at all.

After 2 hours the Zone Leader insisted that he had to leave for his own proselyting work and that we would have to reschedule with him, he chastised us a bit for not being more aware of our investigators feelings on this matter. Suddenly in through the front gate walked Brother Liu with his scooter. Apparently on his way to the interview his scooter had broken down and he had walked it for 2 hours in the sweltering heat to get to the interview. Brother Liu was one of the sweetest human beings I ever met. It was an honor and a privilege to meet him and have the opportunity to teach him the gospel.

After living in Nan Tou for 6 months I was promoted to senior companion and district leader! I then moved to my third area Hou Long (Part of Miao Li). Hou Long was almost as close to podunkville as you could get in Taiwan. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE in the town had spoken with the missionaries at the least once, often multiple times. My own father had served in this area 30 years ago, and as my family has an unusual memorable Chinese surname I was asked if I was related to that missionary of 30 years ago on occasion. It was surreal when people asked me if I was related to my father because I looked similar to him. If I didn't know my father was an amazing man already, the fact people could remember him for 3 decades would certainly convince me. I found traditional proselyting in Hou Long to be completely uneffective and I started taking the train every other day to the outreaches of my area. Hou Long was my area, but I was also responsible for at least 4-5 neighboring towns, some were much larger then Hou Long and were about 2 hours by car to reach.

As a district leader I had many additional responsibilities. I had to make sure every companionship was performing efficiently, I had to make sure they got home OK every evening and hear their reports of their labors. I had to conduct District Training Meetings where I would teach and be taught by members of my district gospel principles and practices that would make our missionary work go better. Lastly I had to report all of that to my zone leader. Its usually unwise to accept a persons own account about their leadership abilities and actions, but I felt I was a good district leader. I had a wonderful district to manage of course but we had our challenges. The sister companionship that had operated before I was stationed there had not been too enthusiastic about missionary work and the mission told me and their replacements up front they were closing the companionship in 6 weeks. Sister Davis (the replacement sister missionary) confided in me that she felt it was pointless trying if they were going to just leave any investigators they did happen to find.

I knew Miao Li was a magical place, my father had raised me with stories of how wonderful it was, I felt partially responsible as his son (not to mention being the district leader) to do all I could to make it a better place. Most of my friends, my senior year in high school were girls, and with 3 sisters I had learned to a good extent how to communicate with women. Within at least MY mission sisters had a sort of stigma for being uncooperative, prideful, and unorthodox in their methods. This is probably the result of male missionaries typically being 19 when they go on their missions and females being 21 at the youngest. Men at that age have some dumb ideas, and females in their 20's typically don't want to do them. Not that women are infallible in their acts, but I can understand the reluctance to cooperate sometimes.

All I can say is that within my district I had a marvelous time working with Sister Davis, and in 6 weeks she had done so well in her work they decided to keep the companionship open. Miao Li has some of the oldest and most faithful members in all of Taiwan, it's an amazing place. I found my excursions to the outskirts of my mission were quite effective. Though people in those areas would have had to drive 1 hour+ to church, we encountered lots of people who had never met missionaries before and were interested to see what we were all about. We even encountered members who were now inactive who were impressed we would go so far to meet with them.

It was there we met a wonderful woman named Sister Li. She had never met missionaries before but she loved our message when she heard it. She had kept a bible hidden in her house for years as her husband who was abusive would surely beat her up if he found it, (It was probably more because he was an alcoholic then a buddhist.) She was a spiritual powerhouse, as well as a beautiful human being. I was concerned with teaching her the gospel and baptizing her behind her husbands back however and went to the mission president for advice. He told me to proceed, as Sister Li was an adult and should have the opportunity to choose what she wanted to do. Sister Li was terrified her husband would find out about her activities and nearly backed out of her baptismal service. She mustered the courage to come and the next day and gave a beautiful testimony about the truth of the gospel. I was so proud of her.

And then I never saw her again,

From what I can gather from her, and neighbors is that her husband found out she had been baptized and beat her so badly he broke her leg. Her husband then asked his mother to come live with them so that he will know whatever she does during the day. He burned her Book of Mormon but he didn't find her Bible. She told me she hoped I would understand that she could not attend church anymore, but she would continue reading her Bible and hoped I would continue to pray for her. I took it pretty hard.

It was that time my zone leader forbade me to continue taking the train to the outskirts of my area as it was a, "waste of time and money." I was asked to stay in Hou Long and do my work, I tried hard but I had far more success reactivating members then finding new converts, the place had just been worked over for too long and it was just to damn small. I could bike across the place in less then 5 minutes. My performance suffered and as a district leader that is doubly hard to endure, I had to explain the drop in my performance and I certainly could not blame it on the area. The strict rules of missionary conduct began to weigh on me, and my resolve to follow them exactly started slacking.

In a moment of weakness I made a terrible mistake. It was not anything serious, it did not effect anybody but myself, but it was in a category that most mission officials have no patience for when it comes to missionaries.

During the next move call, (move calls are every 6 weeks, you find out if you are moving) It was a bittersweet moment. I was assigned as a "junior companion." (an obvious punishment) and assigned to my first and favorite area of my mission Tan Tze! So it was with mixed feelings that I packed my bags for what would be my final area.

I thought about my plight frequently. Missionaries read the move call sheets religiously to see who has been advanced to a leadership position, or who has been called as the new Assistant to the President, or even demotions, as in my case. I concluded that I could worry about what the other missionaries were surely saying about me, and be resentful that I was now a fallen district leader now junior companion. Or I could use my experience and skills to make my companionship as effective as possible.

I am sure my senior companion was surprised to have a junior companion who knew the geography of the entire city, the locations of all the members and former investigators. Who was already well liked by the ward, and could speak Chinese and teach just as well as he could.

I confess however that at this point of my mission I had run out of patience for footwork. I much preferred to reactivate members, tract door to door, and get referrals from members. I admit that in retrospect I could have worked a bit harder when we went to post offices and spoke to everyone walking in, I just found myself not trying as hard anymore. I know that annoyed my companion, not to mention the Lord I was serving.

But I was not lazy, the members I had baptized on my first run through Tan Tze were thrilled that I was back and I greatly enjoyed their company. I was amazed to see how fast they were growing in the gospel. As I had had good relations with the members when I first lived in Tan Tze I wasted no time in meeting with those who had gone inactive and doing what I could to help them. A Mrs Liu (no relations to the Nan Tou Lius) needed us to clear her yard of weeds and banana trees so she could plant some other vegetables. Have you ever seen in a movie where a person cuts through something so fast that it just sits there a moment and then slides apart? Mrs. Liu gave me a newly sharpened machete and I had at it with the banana trees, that seriously happened, it was so much fun.

My senior companions took my lack of enthusiasm for footwork to indicate that I was not "urgent" in my missionary work. My mission president agreed and month after month held me back as a junior companion. I admit that although most of the time I was at peace with his decision, but sometimes I resented it.

My time in Tan Tze passed like a dream, a long wonderful dream. I found wonderful converts, brought back some wonderful inactive members, and helped a few people work through their problems.

As strange as this sounds, growing up I had a strong fear for mentally handicapped people. Just being around them makes me uneasy, I still retain a small portion of that fear, but once a week I would go to the special school and help the teachers serve their children lunch. Its pretty hard to eat with chopsticks at first, its doubly so when you have to feed somebody else who cannot control all their movements. But I grew to look forward to this service, I am glad that I am mostly free from a completely irrational fear.

My time in Tan Zi in total ended up being 1 year exactly, and that is quite unusual for a missionary to spend that much time in an area either consecutively or at one time. But my last 3 months held one last surprise. My last companion was the same missionary who had been my companion in the MTC way back in September of 2001. This time I was thrilled to be his companion and he ended up being my favorite companion of my entire mission, I am not exaggerating. We enjoyed each others company immensely, and though he had some views of the Chinese people I did not share, we still got along very well.

The time came for me to go home. I confess, the thought of going home had never long left my thoughts, but it still felt unreal when that day actually approached and finally came. My family while I was a missionary had moved from Hong Kong to Utah as my father had lost his job. He found a job for a Utah bank and it looked like they were all settled, and that I would be living with them my first semester in college. I was very excited. A month before I was to return home my dad was offered a job for a bank in Tokyo, Japan and he had accepted it. They were going to move to Japan August 24th, three days after I returned home. My brother had turned 19 while I was gone and received his mission call, coincidentally also to Taiwan, but a different mission. He was slated to leave August 23rd, a mere 2 days after I returned home, I was floored.

The final days of my mission felt surreal. My last mission conference became my last Zone conference, and then my last district conference, my last preparation day, my last day at church in Taiwan, my last companionship study. Eventually it was my last day out the door, my last discussion, my last setup, my last OYM. I felt a mixture of sadness and excitement every time a "last time Ill..." came up.

The members made sure I had a meal to eat every meal of the day for my last week, Chinese New Year is alot like that, which reminds me.

Chinese New Year is the worst week of the year for missionaries in Taiwan. As a boy I got a week off of school and so I loved it, as a missionary I got a week of complete helplessness. The 3 days of Chinese New Year proper, we cannot tract as we do not wish to offend families who are observing the holiday. But everyone goes to visit family, so nobody you talk to is from around your area. People are so busy they have no time to meet with you. But on the plus side I literally forgot what it felt like to be hungry as the members would organize our schedules for the entire week so that we were eating, breakfast-dinner at a different house everyday of the week.

As I boarded the airplane for home, my mind was all over the place. Should I grab the Time, Newsweek, and The Economist magazines and start playing catch up on the world? Can I watch the inflight movies as a missionary? I ended up deciding that people seeing a missionary reading Time magazine might get the wrong idea, but nobody could tell if I was watching the inflight movie, lucky for me "The Core" was our inflight movie, I realized cinema was still just as hit or miss as when I left on my mission, Lord of The Rings notwithstanding.

My family met me at the Salt Lake City airport with huge enthusiasm, if you ever want to see the full spectrum of human emotion, that airport is a good place. You can see people fuming that their flights were canceled and you can see people reunited with their loved ones after 2 years of absence. But I did not get to spend much time with my family. The next few days I spent getting brand new clothes for school, getting settled in my apt, signing up for classes, and learning where everything was in Orem/Provo.

I was an emotional mess. I cried every single night because I didn't know what to do. My family who I had not seen for 2 years was leaving as soon as I landed, my brother was leaving just 2 days after I got home for his own mission and so I would not really see him for 4 years. I did not have the direction a mission offered, and I did not know what to do with myself. My parents seeing a 21 year old cry himself to sleep every night were distraught leaving me.

Oddly enough once they were gone I felt ALOT better, it felt similar to being a missionary again, but believe me I did not get the "return missionary denial syndrome" that many come home with. Many missionaries try make their post mission environment as MUCH like their mission as they can. Having acclimatized to missionary work and finding so much joy in it, many do not know what to do with themselves when they get home and do not have their missions to cling to anymore.

I came back from my mission totally converted to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I had a new found appreciation for humanity, and how hard it is to believe something that contradicts a lifetime of belief. I learned that it is so important to have empathy and respect for others and their beliefs, that there is rationale for almost anything human beings pose as true, even the most outrageous ideas.

I learned that I was not nearly as smart as I had supposed I was, not only that, there were people who were much more clever then I was. That most ideas I could propose had already been suggested and mulled over many times before. That I should keep enthusiastically learning and striving to gain knowledge. I learned that righteous living brings true happiness, while iniquity brings misery. And though I have not always acted true to these lessons, many times I do, and I strive to move forward instead of backwards.

I left out alot about my mission that was important to me, as I felt it was literally impossible to realistically lay out the entire thing. Such a thing is more suited to book form then thread form. I left out the week I lost 16 lbs, bled out my rectum constantly and had to go to the hospital 3 times. The Ji Tongs who literally become posessed with evil spirits and mutilate their bodies. The night I carried a sister missionary in my arms to the hospital, only to find out she was having a reaction to having not taken her mineral supplementary pills. But perhaps its best I left out some stories, as they can be used when the appropriate thread is created.

I say this every time but I really am sorry this is so long. Rarely can people be expected to read something as enthusiastically as it was written. I tried to balance between being unnecessarily long and excessively concise. Its hard avoid trivializing and to pay due attention to something as important as my mission, yet just as hard to do it an injustice by talking about unimportant aspects of it instead of that worth mentioning. I hope you all enjoyed it.

It was 2 years later that I finally got around to reading Enders Game on an airplane to Japan to visit my family, that summer I started lurking on the forums, and last the summer of 2005 that I finally stopped just reading the books, and lurking, and actually joined the community. I try to add to it rather then worsen it.

As I increase in knowledge and understanding (a huge part of that effort is spent learning from all of you wonderful people,) I hope to share that with all of you. I have enjoyed my time on hatrack immensely. No forum have I found as enjoyable to participate in as this one. Thank you so much for being a wonderful place to visit, the world can surely use more such places.

Til my next landmark, probably beyond 4k posts, thank you,

BlackBlade

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Earendil18
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quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
Occasionally they would explode and say something to the effect of, "When Jesus comes again and you are burning in hell I hope you remember my name."

This is something, I've recently realized, that has been an issue for me. I experienced something like that first hand, and as someone who thought he was part of something equally light-bringing, it hurt a lot to hear that. That incident has governed my response to missionwork in general.

I'm glad you posted this, although you're quite right, it's long. [Wink] Thank you for sharing, it helped to humanize and clarify.

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Euripides
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Thanks for the fascinating read BlackBlade.
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Earendil18:
quote:
Originally posted by BlackBlade:
Occasionally they would explode and say something to the effect of, "When Jesus comes again and you are burning in hell I hope you remember my name."

This is something, I've recently realized, that has been an issue for me. I experienced something like that first hand, and as someone who thought he was part of something equally light-bringing, it hurt a lot to hear that. That incident has governed my response to missionwork in general.

I'm glad you posted this, although you're quite right, it's long. [Wink] Thank you for sharing, it helped to humanize and clarify.

Please remember that though there are varying degrees of empathy to be found amongst missionaries, the VAST majority would never say something like that. Missionaries with tempers became pretty infamous around the mission, and the general consensus was that anger had very little place in our work.
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MightyCow
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Very enlightening read. Thanks [Smile]
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Scott R
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Wow. You seem like you survived a mission with some poor leadership (your Zone Leader in Miao Li, especially stands out).

I was blessed to work only with enthusiastic or (at least) uninterested Zone Leaders. The enthusastic ones were great to be with because they encouraged and supported you-- the disinterested ones at least didn't get in my way.

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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Scott R:
Wow. You seem like you survived a mission with some poor leadership (your Zone Leader in Miao Li, especially stands out).

I was blessed to work only with enthusiastic or (at least) uninterested Zone Leaders. The enthusastic ones were great to be with because they encouraged and supported you-- the disinterested ones at least didn't get in my way.

Well again this is not a complete account. TBH the Miao Li Zone leader was simply relaying orders from the APES, and he was actually one of my best friends my entire mission. We still correspond to this day.
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Storm Saxon
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Very interesting and enlightening read, Blackblade. Explains a lot.
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Scott R
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APES... I did have a couple of those that I felt that the only reason they were where they were was so the President could keep an eye on them...

[Smile]

Still-- my reaction would have been the same, even if the President had said it.

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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by Scott R:
APES... I did have a couple of those that I felt that the only reason they were where they were was so the President could keep an eye on them...

[Smile]

Still-- my reaction would have been the same, even if the President had said it.

Well yeah, my reaction was, "This is not a good idea." but obviously its important to be subordinate to your leaders even if you do not agree with them. Missionary work is not a democracy by any stretch of the word.
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DaisyMae
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Thanks for sharing BlackBlade. I read every word.
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Tatiana
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I enjoyed that immensely, BlackBlade! Thanks for sharing it. It was powerful and inspiring.
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Survivor
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I know I said I'd already said my thank yous for this...but I didn't say enough of them.

Honestly, I'm grateful both for the mission you served and for how you opened your mouth here. I usually find the BFFaC forum too much of a cesspool to even consider coming here, but I'm glad I made an exception for this last couple of weeks. I'm even glad for the recent trolling of our forum, since investigating that was my reason for coming this time around. Okay, that, and the trolling was fun, even if it was disappointingly weak [Wink]

I...I've done the best I can to put my own missionary experience behind me. I don't think I'll share it here, or anywhere else. But I'm glad that you shared this with us, and with me. It's hard to express how it touched me.

So once more, I'll just say thank you.

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BlackBlade
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Well thank you all for enjoying it as much as you did, and thank you to those who perhaps did not enjoy it but decided against saying so.

It was considerably difficult for me to write the sorrowful moments in my mission. I feel I am partially responsible for Sister Li's broken leg, and broken spirits.

But I felt it was important to neither present my mission as all peaches and cream, nor as a prison sentence, as I have heard missions recounted as both extremes.

I feel overall my account is a bit much on the sad side, but then again, it wouldn't be honest of me to try and craft it exactly 50/50, my mission was not like that.

But again, I am glad you could perhaps understand Mormon missionaries and their missions a bit better from my landmark. We honestly want to serve humanity and the Lord who sent us, but we are human beings, full of weakness and vice, yet capable of great things. I consider my mission experiences to be a great accomplishment, and yet I can just as easily mourn the moments I became a stumbling block for somebody else because of my behavior.

Its a weird paradox I suppose, but thats how it is.

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Dragon
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Thank you so much for writing so extensively about your mission - I read the whole thing (though I should have been reading about Han Chinese interactions with their "barbaric" neighbors) and it's definately a glimpse into a world I never would have experienced otherwise.

I met my first missionaries a few months ago here in St Paul, and if I hadn't been about to get on a bus I would have loved to talk to them. Though I have to say, their dress pants tucked into their socks so they didn't get caught in their bikes made them look a bit comical. [Smile]

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Lyrhawn
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This is perhaps the most fascinating thing I've read in months. I'm glad you shared with us BB.
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