Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Eternal Beginnings

Thank you Annandale Stake youth for all the wonderful cards!
Tokushima is the most beautiful place on the entire planet and I love it so much and I never want to leave.
And that is the synopsis of my feelings for this week. The ward members here are so amazing, and a lot of them have just become some of my best friends. I think my favorite is when I say really weird stuff in Japanese that doesn't make sense and they just laugh and laugh with me and then we eventually figure out how to say what I am thinking. Usually, I just open my mouth and speak, and then if there are confused facial expressions I ask if what I said was weird - this is my favorite part because in Japanese, "hen" means weird, and then they laugh at my question and teach me how to speak Japanese correctly. I guess the big thing is, I have finally realized - or honestly, I have finally implemented - the idea that I can be completely comfortable and have my normal personality even when I can't really say what I want to say perfectly. Language is not a barrier to friendship. Or to showing love. :)

Some other things that were amazing this week!

About two months ago Payne Shimai and I went hiking on preparation day, early in the morning. We met this man at the top of a mountain, and invited him to Eikaiwa. We then invited him to church. We then taught him a first lesson and passed him to the Elders. Ever since then he has come every single Sunday and has progressed like none other. He LOVES the Book of Mormon. He LOVES the gospel. He is probably one of the most observant people ever, and he was so ready to change his life. He was baptized this Friday night and confirmed on Sunday, and I have never seen anyone so happy! He was so grateful. When we talked to him before his baptism he expressed so much gratitude. He told us how he never could have imagined that from meeting on the top of a mountain, his life would change so much. He marveled at how our paths had been brought to together by the Lord. He was so humble and so excited to be baptized. He also looked incredibly steki on Sunday at church in his new shirt and tie that the Elders gave him. It was a great moment.

Also on Friday, our amazing investigator from the Congo was baptized! We had the baptismal kai with the Elders and it was one of the most powerful experiences ever. The ward was so excited to have two baptisms on the same day, I have never seen people so full of energy. Hearing this girl bear her testimony was one of the best moments of my entire life. I basically just cried through the entire thing. She expressed so much gratitude and desire to learn. She has so much faith in Christ. I love her SO MUCH! She is willing to sacrifice anything and everything because she knows this gospel is true. Her pure and simple testimony is so beautiful. It just fills my heart with so much joy!

The joy of seeing these two people progress is something that is really difficult to explain. At the baptism I was thinking about the joy I was feeling, and I had a thought. The joy at the actual baptism was different from any joy I feel anywhere else in the world. It is different than the joy of a much anticipated trip to an amusement park, or the joy of a delicious ice cream cone...or even the joy of eating american peanut butter, which sometimes I miss in high voltage. The joy of watching them have all of their mistakes washed away was the joy of eternal progression. The joy that comes from enduring to the end! The joy that comes from having a goal to return to live with our Father in Heaven. The joy that comes from the gospel is a joy that does not end. There is no deflated feeling after a baptism - only the joy from a beautiful new beginning. There was a quote from President Uchtdorf in the April 2014 General Conference that I just really love and I think that it sums up the entire gospel into a nice little nutshell: "In light of what we know about our eternal destiny, is it any wonder that whenever we face the bitter endings of life, they seem unacceptable to us? There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings. Why is this? Because we are made of the stuff of eternity. We are eternal beings, children of the Almighty God, whose name is Endless and who promises eternal blessings without number. Endings are not our destiny. The more we learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ, the more we realize that endings here in mortality are not endings at all. They are merely interruptions—temporary pauses that one day will seem small compared to the eternal joy awaiting the faithful. How grateful I am to my Heavenly Father that in His plan there are no true endings, only everlasting beginnings." The gospel is about beginnings, the gospel is about growing, changing and improving. The gospel is all about becoming more like the Savior. As missionaries, we preach the gospel. We preach to invite people to Jesus Christ. We proclaim that He is our living Savior and Redeemer. And then we invite. We invite people to come unto Him. And we invite people to be baptized. But our purpose is not to help people to be baptized only to increase the membership in the area where we serve. Our purpose is to increase the membership of the Celestial Kingdom. To bring people back to Eternal Glory! To bring them to the greatest happiness that they could ever have. I love it so much. That is why I feel so much joy here. The joy I feel does not come from beginning in Japan, and eating sushi, biking six billion miles a week, and learning Japanese and trying weird food...although I really do love all of those things a whole lot.....the joy that I feel here comes from my Savior, Jesus Christ! And the light that I see come into the lives of those I teach. The gospel of Jesus Christ is universal....and it doesn't matter where in the world we are, this truth will always apply to us. This truth will always bring those around us more joy than we can imagine. The invitation? Try it. Try it and see. You will never know the joy that you can feel unless you stick a foot into the darkness and see what joy this message has for you.
Baptisms of 2 very wonderful people!
In other news, we had some super awesome experiences working with members this week and finding. Our mission president also came to our branch on Sunday to introduce himself and stuff. Everyone loved him and they were super impressed with his Japanese. He gave this amazing talk, and in it he talked about a family from the Congo that joined the church when he was in a branch in Tokyo, and how amazing they were. And then their son served a mission and they were just way solid members, and I think it got everyone even more excited about our amazing Congan (is that how you spell that, I don't know....) recent convert. She also really liked it because our mission president knew some words in the congan language and so he said them to her and she felt really loved. Slash, there was an 8 year old girl also baptized in our ward this week and she is the cutest little girl ever and seeing her family so excited was one of my favorite things ever. (Her dad is a convert of about ten years, and he was basically glowing.  He was so nervous baptizing her and kept forgetting the words, and then at the end he was just all emotional about his daughter being baptized and I loved it so much. Families in the church are my favorite. I love seeing them together. Especially Japanese families. They are just amazing and I love them with all of my heart and soul, basically).

Oh, we also had this guy show up at church that we met on the street. He walked in halfway through sacrament meeting. At first he seemed a little crazy, but then he wanted a Book of Mormon and a Gospel Principles book because he was just so curious and he left the church building with quite a lot of material to study. It is crazy to see how the Lord has just been handing us people to teach recently. We have hardly had to do anything but leave our apartment. Tokushima is amazing. And Payne Shimai is amazing. And transfers are next week and it will be interesting to see what happens.

And if any of you ever get the chance to travel to Japan, I would highly recommend Tokushima.

Grundvig Shimai

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