I can’t believe the year mark has arrived. This is it! The 2nd half of my mission! It’s been all build up until this point. Time to hit the pavement harder than ever before. Elder Weckesser is my new companion. He’s from Alberta, Canada. He loves running, oatmeal, maple syrup, and the feeling of your eyelashes and nosehairs freezing. He’s very Canadian. I feel very Arizonan around him because I’m always cold.
We ended up having dinner at a ward member’s house that night. We enjoyed the dinner, and they invited Shota [a recently baptized member] as well. It was really fun until we started the spiritual message. We shared a message from the Book of Mormon and then invited everyone to read it as a family. And they said no! They said no to reading the Book of Mormon as a family! We got shot down.
This week was tough on the zone and our area. We tried really hard to follow revelation and follow the spirit. But I feel like no matter how hard I try, things just don’t happen. But then we had a great leadership meeting on Friday and it really helped me to understand the bigger picture, and helped me to understand that God is working with ALL of his children. He’s working with ALL of them. It helped me to realize that every person I talk to was guided there by God. There are no coincidences, and God really is the one doing the work here in Nishinomiya, and in Japan, and in the whole world. He knows where the prepared people are. They aren’t lost to him. He’s trying to lead us to them all the time.
So on Saturday we experienced that a little bit. We were filled with the desire to find someone and the faith that we would. We felt prompted after praying to go walk by the college campus by the church and the first person we talked to was an old guy who said he had just come from listening to “kirisuto kyou no hanashi” [a talk on Christianity]. Coincidence? Obviously not! We told him that the church was really close and he said “Ikou ka?” [Shall we go?]. So we went and sat down in the chapel and taught him about the Restoration. Really cool, testimony-building experience.
Two nights ago I was praying, which is nothing out of the ordinary, I pray long and hard every night. But I finished my prayer and plopped down into my futon and was trying to go to sleep but then a thought came that I should read my patriarchal blessing. I thought no . . . I’m too tired. But then I couldn’t escape the thought that I should read my patriarchal blessing right then. So I got up and turned on my flashlight and pulled it out of my scriptures and began to read. I came to the part where it talks about the House of Israel. I remembered a passage I had just been reading for part of the Book of Mormon challenge in Jacob 5. I turned there. Verse 27 says “But behold, the servant said unto him: Let us prune it, and dig about it, and nourish it a little longer, that perhaps it may bring forth good fruit unto thee, that thou canst lay it up against the season.”I was thinking what did this mean? What do I need to spare a little longer? The transfer just started, and my mission is only half over. I’ll be sparing it more than a little while. But as I was thinking, I realized that I had given up on the ward here. We’ve put in so much effort into building relationships with members and trying to help them do missionary work and had seen nothing out of it that I thought there was nothing more we could do. I was satisfied with continuing to teach and uplift members, but taking care of the work myself until they were ready. Here it was, Heavenly Father taught me something I didn’t even ask for but needed to know. I didn’t know quite how to apply it yet, but I went back to bed feeling the spirit. Then the next morning in church, one sister bore her testimony about how Elder Novak and I had given her a challenge to give two copies of the Book of Mormon to friends. She did it, and apparently she got really good responses from her friends, who were really grateful for the books. It was way cool to hear, and I realized that the ward members were making much more progress than I thought they were. And I need to have faith as much as they do! I need to wait just a little while longer here and continue to work with them, and that is what I will do.
Christmas is not widely celebrated in Japan, as it’s not a Christian country, and is thought of more as a celebration of happiness and less of a religious holiday. Schools and businesses are still open on December 25, and Christmas Eve resembles Valentine’s Day more than anything–it’s a night for couples to go out, eat KFC and “Christmas cake”–a sponge cake decorated with whipped cream and strawberries–and see the lights. (Clearly some of those traditions did not come from the west!) The city of Kobe has one of the largest light festivals not just in Japan, but in the world. The festival actually commemorates the devastating Kobe earthquake of 1995, which killed thousands and left many in darkness for weeks. The lights, which are illuminated every December, are considered a symbol of hope and recovery. How perfectly coincidental that they occur during the Christmas season! (Or is it? Remember what Charlie said: there are no coincidences!)
Merry Christmas from Kobe, Japan, home of the Kobe Luminarie Festival! Wishing you and yours peace, joy, hope, and the blessings that come from the source of all light, our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ.