Tag Archives: Charlie Choro

Sayonara, Japan…

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snow on lanternsThis is it. Charlie’s last week in Japan. He leaves us with a few parting words, thoughts on what he’ll miss the most, a heartfelt invitation to share the gospel, and of course…one last funny story.

I feel like this last full week of my mission is going to be much like Frodo’s last stretch up to Mount Doom, or Luke Skywalker’s last duel with Vader, or Superman’s final brawl with Zod. It’s going to be intense. We’ve got a lot to do and a lot of people that we’ve been finding to get ready for progression and eventually baptism. No slacking for me!

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So, funny story from this week…we were in Matsuyama and I was translating into Japanese for the meeting for all the Nihonjin [native Japanese]. Then our Nihonjin zone leader Elder Miyagi got up to speak. For a solid minute or so, he spoke to everyone and I translated for him. But I forgot that he was speaking Japanese and not English, so I just repeated every word that he was saying without even realizing it! Then he gave me a funny look and I realized what had happened and then stopped the translation and said, “eh?…oh…” And the entire zone burst out laughing. Quite an embarrassing moment. I don’t even know what’s Japanese and what’s English anymore. You’re going to have one mixed up kid to deal with next week. 


And now for a few parting thoughts on the mission, from his favorite memories to what he’ll miss most, and what he’s most looking forward to upon his return:

What memory will you cherish most from your mission?

There are so many! I don’t know if I can pick just one! But definitely, baptisms are great. It’s great to see people come unto Christ and choose for themselves to enter God’s church. There’s no greater feeling than knowing you helped them or that you found them.

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With Fukumitsu Shimai, March 2014

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With Shota Yamamoto, October 2014

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With Masaki-san, June 2015

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With Kitazoe-san, December 2015

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?

The most valuable lesson I learned was the power of example. The best teacher is not our words, but our actions. I’ve experienced so many times the principle of showing someone the way, not just telling them the way. Whenever I just told someone to do something without explaining the why or first being the exemplar for what I was trying to teach, it never worked. But when I did, it became a powerful way to testify of Jesus Christ.

Where was your favorite city?

I loved all the places I served and can’t pick! Some were harder than others, but you grow to love wherever you are, and the people you serve there.
What will you miss about Japan the most?
I will miss the amazing Japanese people and getting to speak Japanese all day long!
(Don’t you worry, Charlie. Grandma Seiko can’t wait to speak to you in Japanese! And correct all your grammatical mistakes…)
What one thing do you wish you could bring back to the U.S. with you?
I want to bring home a Japanese baby.
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Cutest pre-schoolers. EVER.

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My cousin’s little baby, Nobuto. Those cheeks!

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Random adorable Japanese baby boy.

(Who wouldn’t? But those are tricky to get through customs.) 
What Japanese food will you miss the most?
Definitely the delicious raw fish and squid.
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(Hmm…but why?)

What food can’t you wait to eat back at home?
Probably pumpkin pie. That doesn’t exist here.
(We can arrange that.)
What can you not wait to do when you get home?
SLEEP. And hang out with my wonderful family. And go to the temple.
And finally, Charlie, how has this mission changed you the most?
I’ve gained about 20 pounds. Does that count for anything? Haha. Besides that my faith has grown from a young sapling to a massive tree. I have no doubt that Christ is our Savior, and that this church and this gospel are true.
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The mission has been the craziest, most joyful, most painful, most tiring, adventurous, spiritual, and blessed years of my life. It went by way too fast. I invite all everywhere who are worthy and of age to make the sacrifice and serve the Lord. It will change your life. It will shape you and make you better in ways you never thought possible. As I finish my mission, I just want to end with my last testimony as a full time representative of Jesus Christ that He lives. He lives. If you follow him, love him, and give all to him, you will receive so much more in return. You could never possibly imagine now what’s in store. He will guide and help those in need through any hardship or any trial in life because he loves you.

See you soon.15.12.02 in kobe

 

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Enduring to the end…

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The end is nigh. The end of Charlie’s mission, that is, not the end of the world.  (Then again… maybe that’s coming, too.) But he still has a few stories to tell and experiences to share, including an interesting baptism, a blessing in the park, and taking a 170-kilometer bike ride across the island, which gives new meaning to the expression “endure to the end…”

This week as we were on the way back from an investigator’s house we found Brother Mori, the recent convert, in a park sitting down by himself. He has been feeling way sick lately with all kinds of random things. But he wasn’t able to come to church last week because it is too far for him from his house. We talked to him in the park and as he explained his situation, we offered to give him a priesthood blessing and he accepted. We sat him down on a park bench, and Matsumoto Choro gave him a beautiful blessing in Japanese.  After the blessing he bounced up immediately with 100 times the energy he had before and said “Genki ni narimashita!” [I’ve become well!] He came to church this week happy as ever. The power of the priesthood is amazing!

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Matsumoto Choro, Brother Mori, and Charlie in the park.

It looks as though Charlie’s eyebrows have recovered from Matsumoto Choro’s grooming experiment. So sorry if you had hopes of catching a glimpse of that awkwardness. (Although it looks as though someone else has been borrowing his fine-hair trimmer–and it’s not Brother Mori!)

This week the sisters also had a baptism. I was given the honor of performing the ordinance. Kitazoe San is 85-years-old and is the sweetest old lady ever. She has a hard time walking, though, let alone getting up steps. And in Kochi, there is no font–just a rubber gray inflatable that comes up to about waist high.

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This is their font before they inflate it and fill it with water.

We could not figure out how to get her in the water.  All the members tried all kinds of crazy ideas with chairs and tables to help her be able to get up over the edge of the pool. We started the meeting a half hour late, still with no idea how we were going to help this woman get in the water. She even suggested we just do it in a river nearby. That might have been the best option. But with faith, another priesthood holder and I gave her a blessing next to the font so that she could have enough strength to get up and over the edge of the pool. Then, with the help of members and the other elders, we helped her up the step ladder, had her sit on a podium, then hoisted her over down another step ladder into the pool and she was in the water in about two minutes or less. It was a miracle! I know the Lord blesses those who use the priesthood worthily, and will give anyone the strength they need to get into the waters of baptism to make covenants with him. Kitazoe San said that her legs truly felt lighter as she pushed with all her might to get herself into that font. Her faith helped her be baptized, both spiritually and physically!

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The sister missionaries and Charlie with Kitazoe San at her baptism.


 

In last week’s letter, Charlie told us he woke up at 4:00 a.m. on their preparation day because the elders were planning on biking that day from Kochi to Muroto, a famous look-out point on the island of Shikoku. Apparently only the most stalwart of Kochi missionaries will make this 170-km (105-mile) trek before they leave. Well, that was all that needed to be said for Charlie to rise to the challenge:

The bike ride was awesome. And it was about a total of 170 kilometers round trip, which is… imagine a trip from Tucson to Phoenix. It was a long one! But the next day, I wasn’t even one bit sore. Which sounds crazy, but I’ve been biking for probably 20 kilometers a day on average for two years, so I’m used to the feel of a bike and my muscles don’t get sore from that kind of exercise anymore. But the next day I was absolutely dead tired. Not sore, but there was just no energy in my body! But I will send lots of pictures and videos. The trip was beautiful. We have now become legends. We saw tons of cool stuff along the way. We learned a lot about the gospel, too–mainly about enduring to the end, patience, and the power of prayer. It was a great day.

Enduring to the end, patience, and the power of prayer: tools that can come in handy in many situations in life, but particularly on a 105-mile bike ride in the rain! (However, they did become legends, so of course it was totally worth it.) Here are a few photos from the ride:

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The elder on the left points to where they started from, Kochi, and Charlie points to their destination, Muroto.


But anyway, Matsumoto Choro and I are working ridiculously hard and pulled off 25 lessons this last week. We’ve got a lot of potential with some people that we’ve found in our teaching pool, some people that can definitely be baptized within the next couple of transfers. We have been working really hard to see a baptism from our investigators, and it doesn’t look like anyone will pull through this transfer, but as long as Matsumoto Choro stays here in Kochi for the next little while I’m sure that he’ll be able to maintain what we’ve done here. We’ve been doing a lot of housing lately – that seems to be the key here in Kochi. We find people to teach literally every time we go knocking on doors. A lot of people have a negative attitude about tracting, but here’s what I’ve found:  if the people are prepared, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, because they will hear the message. They will. Whether it’s on the street, at a door, at English class, with a member friend–the way they are contacted doesn’t really matter. As long as you’re following the Spirit, no matter what type of proselyting you are doing, it will be effective. Matsumoto Choro and I have been praying about areas to house and buildings to knock doors on, and we have been finding two to three new investigators a week basically all from that. You just have to pray and do what the Lord wants you to do!

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fall in japan

Life Lessons from Charlie

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The clock is ticking and Charlie has less than six weeks left on his mission! That has us here at home elated to see him again–we feel like he’s been gone forever!–but Charlie is feeling quite ambivalent about leaving Japan and the mission. Here are a few life lessons he’s learned in the last little while from which we can all benefit:
So first thing first–transfer announcement! Matsumoto Choro and I are staying together for my last transfer on the mission. I kind of wanted to train again since it would be my last chance, but I couldn’t ask for a better companion to spend my last six weeks on the mission with.
This morning we had a lot of fun. We woke up at 3:30 and studied, and then at 4:30 I ran with Matsumoto Choro to the church where we met up with the rest of the district and our ward mission leader and we ran up a mountain. Actually, I ran up the mountain and everyone else biked, because I am a beast. Actually, my bike is just broken right now so I had no choice but to run, but it was way fun. We went and saw the sunrise and it was beautiful! I have tons of great pictures from the top of Mount Godai, or Godaisan.
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O-hayou gozaimasu from the land of the rising sun!

Life Lesson: Don’t let life’s little obstacles stop you from enjoying the sunrise! (Or: When your bike is broken, just run!)


 I want to tell you about a man here in the Kochi branch who was just baptized a few months ago. His name is Mitsuei Mori and he is one of the most inspiring people I’ve met on my mission. His conversion story is so cool.  Mori Kyoudai is 75 years old and has an apartment full of the craziest antique collection I have ever seen. Paintings, wood carvings, statues of all shapes, sizes, and forms, framed puzzles, mosaics, swords, rugs – you name it, he has it. Every time I go in his apartment I find something I have never seen before. He has been a Bible reader and a church goer from the time he was very young. The missionaries from about a year ago found him in a park, doing – guess what? Reading the Bible! They gave him a Book of Mormon and he immediately was hooked on the stories and the amazing doctrine written in it. He’s only been baptized for about 5 months, and even though he doesn’t have very good eyes anymore, he diligently reads the Book of Mormon every day. And it’s not just a page or two, a chapter, or a couple verses–he reads for 4 hours every day. He’s almost completed his fifth time through since being baptized. He’s a man who has experienced the power of the Book of Mormon and it has brought him closer to God. I’ll send some pictures of him at his baptism and him with his very first copy of the Bible, which he still has. It’s falling apart! 
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Brother Mori with his tattered but much-loved copy of the Bible.

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At his baptism!

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Charlie visiting with Brother Mori, a man who truly loves his Book of Mormon!

Life Lesson: The Book of Mormon changes people. It brings them closer to God. (And: If you ever wonder if you’re reading your scriptures enough, don’t compare yourself to Brother Mori!)


Matsumoto Choro is doing really well. I’ve got some pretty funny stories to tell about him this week. I showed him my fine-hair trimmer this week and immediately he was curious, so he asked if he could try it on me and clean around my eyebrows. So I let him give it a try. The whole time he was messing with it I was kind of feeling like he was cutting too much, but I just let him keep going until he stopped and said “かっこいい!” [“Handsome!”] I looked into the mirror, surprised to find half my eyebrows gone, and in place of them, little stubbles that were about as long as dad’s beard after not shaving for 2 days or so. I spent the next half an hour plucking the stubs with tweezers, cursing myself for letting a Nihonjin [native Japanese] use American toys. Good thing my eyebrows are pretty thick… Good ‘ole Matsumoto.
 [Yikes! We’re hoping they’ve grown back by the time he gets home…]
with Matsumoto Choro

(This picture was obviously taken pre-eyebrow trim.)

Life Lesson: Don’t let someone else do your personal grooming for you (especially your Japanese companion).


Another time this week we were walking on the street and found a deaf lady. I tried to communicate, but I don’t know sign language in English, let alone Japanese. When she was about to walk away, Matsumoto Choro all of a sudden busted out Japanese sign language like a beast, to which she replied, “OK!” and took the pamphlet I was trying to give her and then left. I turned to my companion and said “I didn’t know you knew sign language!” He replied, “I don’t. I only know that one sentence.” “What did you say?” “I said, ‘Will you be baptized?'” I laughed all the way back to our bikes. I’ve never known another Nihonjin quite like Matsumoto Choro.

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Life Lesson: Don’t let your inadequacies keep you from sharing the gospel!


Superman for Halloween, of course!

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s . . . Bahr Choro!

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Halloween isn’t really celebrated in Japan, but who doesn’t like to dress up in costume and hang out with the missionaries?


This week was pretty good. I wanted to get my last transfer started off right, so Matsumoto Choro and I had a detailed planning session on Tuesday and set some goals to help keep me focused and powering strong until the end. That’s one of the most fundamental principles for success in life. If you have no goals, you have no purpose. If you have a goal and you are working toward it, you are progressing. If not, life loses its meaning. That’s why the gospel is so fundamental in our lives. It gives us the goal to live with our Father in Heaven again. And God made it so easy for us that he already gave us the action plan we need to follow to achieve this goal. And he even gave us the Savior to help us when we make mistakes along the way. All we have to do is make the choice between right and wrong. So what’s it going to be?15.11.05 waterfall

Life Lesson: Set goals. Aim high. And remember you have a Savior to help pick you up when you fall.


This week we had to go up to Matsuyama for zone conference, and I had to give my final testimony because it would be my last zone conference. That was a scary feeling. I was more nervous for that than I was to give a talk a few weeks ago in Japanese in church. じゃ、これから生活を日本語でしよう!英語とか要らんわ。 “So from now on I’ll live life in Japanese! I don’t really need English.”  [Hmm…actually Charlie, yes you do.]
It was a really emotional meeting for me. I almost start to cry every time I think about my mission ending. I feel like it’s too early for that! It doesn’t seem like that long ago that I was new here, and I remember one of the elders who was getting ready to go home soon. I felt so sorry for him, that his mission was ending. I was so glad that wasn’t me. But in just a few weeks, that will be me. And that seems crazy!
Here’s my scripture for the week:  “Yea, and from that time even until now, I have labored without ceasing, that I might bring souls unto repentance; that I might bring them to taste of the exceeding joy of which I did taste; that they might also be born of God, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” (Alma 36:24)
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At Charlie’s last zone conference in Matsuyama (sniff, sniff…)

Life Lesson: When you dedicate your heart, might, mind and strength to serving the Lord, it makes it difficult to leave and come home. But there is no better way to serve. That’s the only way to serve. And it will all be worth it.
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A Testimony of the Book of Mormon

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Missions change people. They make them stand a little taller, reach a little higher, work a lot harder. They strengthen their testimonies, deepen their understanding of the gospel, and open their eyes to different cultures and experiences. Sometimes they even make it difficult to come home, and do things like…speak English again!

Hello from Kochi! We had a great week, we’ve been teaching lots of lessons and working with lots of less actives. I know there are all kinds of good things going on but it’s hard to…what’s the English word…思いつく? come up with? I think that’s right… Dang, English is so hard! We are working really hard with the branch right now. We just hit 50 people this week in Sacrament meeting. The branch president was really excited. I’d take pictures of the primary kids for you, but there are no primary kids. I’m dead serious. The only one just turned twelve. There are two nursery children. 

That poor Primary President…

Here are a few pictures of Charlie with his district:

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“Here’s the Kochi district at sushi. I have an awesome district!”

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Waiting at the bus stop while wearing matching ties–now that’s district unity!

As I approach these last two months, I’ve been realizing that I don’t have a lot of time to dendo* left. Which scares me. So every day I’ve been working like a maniac. The dendo is struggling a little bit here in Kochi. A lot of the people we have found are doing well, but the thing is with Japanese people, they’re  just too busy. A lot of the cool finding stories I have sadly end up with them being too busy to meet, even though they want to learn. More than Buddhism, for sure, Japanese schools and workplaces are the enemy of missionary work. So many good people who would learn just don’t have enough time to meet a lot. It’s so frustrating! So we’ve been finding a lot of new people, but we’re having a hard time getting them to stick. But basically, my goal for Kochi is to make a ward here. That’s what we’re working for right now!

*dendo–missionary work; to proselyte

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“Here’s the Kochi church building. It used to be a bar I think. And there is a house on top of it. I’ve always wanted to talk to those people, but I have never gotten the chance!”

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In front of the statue of Sakamoto Ryoma, a swordsman and hero from Kochi, whose efforts helped overthrow the Tokugawa Shogunate. (And now you’re wondering what the Tokugawa Shogunate was…)

Well, setting the depressing discussions of reality aside, it was a truly amazing conference we had this weekend. The apostles and prophets are awesome. Were they always this good? I don’t remember conference being this good when I was a kid. But it probably was always the same, and now I’m just way more in tune with the spirit.

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There’s Charlie, reaching a little higher…

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A P-day trip with the greenie and ice cream at Kochi Castle!

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Autumn in Japan is breathtaking!

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Book of Mormon lately and its power to bring the children of men unto Christ. Every person I’ve seen get baptized on my mission has had a strong testimony of the Book of Mormon and has spent some serious time reading and pondering the truths which are contained in that sacred record. Here in Kochi right now we are working with a less active named Uno Kenjirou, a very funny old man, who really has never had a testimony ever since he joined the church. But we started meeting with him every week. At first we tried to teach him the lessons again, but he wasn’t really progressing that way. Then we changed our approach. We started reading the Book of Mormon with him every time we go. We started in 1st Nephi, Chapter 1, and every time we have gone back since we have read with him. We are on chapter 6 with him now. We haven’t gotten super far, but he has already changed and has started to ask more questions and talk about more gospel related things when we meet with him as he has read and pondered with us about the examples of people like Lehi and Nephi. He’s starting to reconvert to the gospel of Christ with the Book of Mormon. I’ve seen other people like him change their lives and feel true happiness through study of the Book of Mormon. The biggest change I have seen is within myself. I know that that book is true. That book has power. When I’ve had questions or doubts, even about my own faith, I can always go back to the foundational testimony that I have that the Book of Mormon is true. If you know that the book is true, all doubts in life or about the faith or anything at all just seem to melt. What greater expression of God’s love could there be than this testament we have of the Savior Jesus Christ? I know of none.

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A tiny jizo statue deep in thought, probably pondering the truths contained in the Book of Mormon.

The End of September

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With less than three months left on his mission, Charlie is starting to feel that mix of emotions so common at this point: ambivalence, excitement, pressure, and disbelief. So much to do, and so little time! But he loves his area, loves his companion, loves his mission–he loves it all. No wonder he feels uncertainty about leaving in a few months. (But we try not to bring that up. Here is how he reacts to that topic:)
I can’t believe it’s the end of September already. I counted the days to the end of my mission today for the first time in my mission. I only have 86 days left, I think. That’s less than 3 months! こわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわいこわい*
*it says in Japanese: “scary, scary, scary…” (and now it’s even less than 86 days. He must be truly frightened by this point.)
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This was the CRAZIEST WEEK EVER.
The conference up in Kobe was awesome. The craziest part was, I had been either companions with or had been the zone leader or district leader for over half the missionaries who were there as district leaders now. It made me feel… like a really old missionary. But it was way good. I got to see all my old MTC pals – Barr, Weir, and Goldhamer. It was the first time we had reunited all together since we first got to Japan. President Welch always nails training meetings like the stud he is. I also had interviews with him this week as well, which was way fun. He said he plans on keeping me here in Kochi until the end of my mission, which is good, because I love it here!  
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A reunion for Charlie and Goldhamer Choro (center), his former MTC companion.

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An early morning view of Kobe from the peak where the elders hiked.

Well, we had transfer announcements today and it looks like I’ll get to stay another transfer with the beloved Matsumoto Choro. バプテスマを見ましょう![Let’s see a baptism!] We have a goal to find someone to baptize before the next transfer. We know it’s not just about the numbers, but we always have a goal to find someone whose life we can help change. In any of my companionships, the only ones I’ve seen baptisms with were the ones where we stayed together for more than one transfer, so let’s DO THIS!!! 

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The dynamic duo: Charlie and Matsumoto Choro hitch a ride with members.

Matsumoto Choro and I have got really good unity in teaching going now and we’re starting to see some miracles happen. Just last night, we prepared really hard for our lesson with a progressing investigator named Noguchi. He’s an interesting man, and a very good person, and wants to follow Jesus Christ now. Before, when I first got here, he didn’t even want to believe in God or pray, but now he prays every day. We’ve seen a complete change in this investigator. Last night we boldly invited him to be baptized and he accepted a date for the 31st of October. Then right after that we found a new guy who has a ton of interest and wants to meet and read the Book of Mormon together! And we’re meeting another really solid investigator tonight who we’re planning on inviting to baptism as well.

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We had a great district meeting this week and we focused on the power of prayer. It was a great meeting and we all prayed together and got revelation for our investigators in the district. It was probably my best district meeting yet. The power of prayer is real!

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In each of our letters to Charlie, we try to include a mystery scripture in which we quote the verse but not the reference, and he has to tell us where it’s found. We’ve only stumped him a few times (it’s always when we quote Proverbs or Psalms, or some obscure reference in Leviticus). Then Charlie does the same for us. This is the verse he ended his last letter with:

Here’s mine:

“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father.”
I, too, testify that he lives!
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On family, flat tires, and finding people

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The rugged and beautiful coastline of Shikoku.

This week’s letter home bore the happy news of yet another visit to see our Takeda family in Shimanto, and a chance to reconnect with cousin Tsutomu and his family, who were out of town on Charlie’s last visit. He came bearing gifts this time:

Well the highlight of the week was definitely going to visit the Takedas again on Saturday. Last time I didn’t get to meet with Tsutomu or Mami and their kids, but this time they were all there, except Haruto, who was at baseball practice until late at night. But they are all doing well, and I was able to give Mami, Tsutomu, and Haruki all copies of the Book of Mormon with my testimony written in the front cover, wrapped in Japanese cloth wrapping that they use for bento boxes, which probably has some fancy name in Japanese that I have yet to learn. Anyway, it was way good! I’ll send pictures. Little Nobu is already four and looks totally different! He is so cute!

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Wrapping gifts for the Takeda family on the train ride from Kochi to Shimanto.

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The cloth-wrapped copies of the Book of Mormon.

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With little Nobu, his four-year-old cousin, who was just a baby the last time Charlie saw him.

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Having lunch with the Takeda family!

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“Aunt Chiyoko had a little trouble with the technology (the ipad), so the picture is mostly of the ground, but here we all are at the Takeda family home!”

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Charlie takes a selfie with Uncle Haruki and Aunt Chiyoko.

Other things seem to pale in comparison to news like that (how can you beat sharing the Book of Mormon with your own family on your mission to their homeland?!), but stories of meeting strangers because of what first seemed like unfortunate circumstances are pretty worthwhile, too.

We decided we wanted to focus some more on former investigators so we set off to another kind of faraway place on our bikes to go visit them. While we were biking through kind of an inaka [country] area, I took a 3-inch screw to my rear tire which left a hole big enough to expel all the air from my tube in a matter of seconds. We had no choice but to walk around and try to find a bike shop, which was nowhere to be found where we were, out in the middle of the rice fields. In the midst of this war of mosquitoes and tumult of muddy tanbos [rice fields], I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who will be here to help us; or, is there anyone even here at all? If anyone be here, where are they, and how shall I know it? (Haha recognize that quote?) As we were walking around, a lady who was walking home asked us if we needed any help. We asked her where a bike shop was, and she said she knew, but it was kind of far away from where we were. She kindly offered to walk us there, and we accepted. Kitamura san was very nice and after we got to talking about who we were and what we do, she seemed very interested. While we waited at the small bike shop for the only man there (who had to be over 90) to replace my punctured tube, we talked about our message with Kitamura san and invited her to meet with us and hear the message. Now on Wednesday we are meeting her AND her friend who she invited to come! We’re way excited. God always prepares the way for the gospel message to be shared with those who are prepared. Sometimes that “small and simple means” might mean a lost screw in the middle of a road. Who knows. All we can do is choose to have a positive attitude through our trials!

15.08.37 flat tire

The dastardly (yet divinely placed) screw.


I’ve been thinking a lot about the gospel’s power to change people this week, and have been reflecting particularly about how it’s changed me. But obviously, just by coming to church, speed-reading over a page of scripture, and saying a 10-second prayer before bed every day won’t really change your heart inside. One thing I’ve learned during my mission is where desire comes from. Human desire. It comes from understanding. I understand that if I don’t eat every day, I’m going to starve. So I eat. I understand that if I don’t study Japanese, I won’t be able to talk with anyone, so I study. I understand that if I go to school and work hard and get good grades, I’ll provide myself with a more successful headstart in life, so I go to school and work. The same thing applies to the gospel. We might look at people who go less active, youth who struggle, and people who don’t keep the commandments and wonder–why? The why is that they simply don’t understand the gospel. They don’t understand the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. When you think about that, it really helps us to understand what our role is as teachers. It’s not just to get through the Sunday School lessons and hope that everyone paid attention. It’s about addressing each individual’s needs and seeking through revelation what we can do to help them to understand the gospel–not just hear it. We have to teach in a way that they can all understand the message. 

 

15.09.08 bridge

The famous “sinking” bridge in Shimanto, which disappears into the river when the water rises.

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Feeling proud of his homemade chocolate chip cookies!

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Joy that the long-awaited birthday package finally arrived! (Why it was postmarked from “Miami, FL” we’ll never know…)

15.08.39 yukatas

Charlie and Matsumoto Choro don yukatas (summer kimonos).

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Fireflies light up at dusk in the village of Shimanto.

 

 

 

I love Kochi! (or: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for you!)

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kochi beach

The beautiful beach at Katsurahama.

A lot has happened in the past month! Charlie had a birthday and turned 20 (what the?!), got a new companion, nearly drowned when it rained for a week straight (okay, not really, but he did get very wet), and was able to see the famous Kochi Yosakoi Matsuri, a huge dance festival that takes place every August as part of the Obon Holiday (more on that later). Read on!

This week was the craziest week of my life! SO much random stuff happened… I don’t even know where to begin. It rained Monday through Friday on us over here and every day it caught us by surprise and we got soaked. You think we’d learn our lesson, but on Tuesday we said “No, it won’t rain today, it rained a ton yesterday.” Wednesday: “No way, it rained two days in a row really hard, it’s gotta clear up today. There’s no way we need rain coats.” Thursday was “Four days in a row? Impossible. ” Friday was: “By now we’re just used to gettin wet, so whatevs.” 日本へようこそ! [Welcome to Japan!]

KOCHI, JAPAN - OCTOBER 23: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) Commuters walk in the rain on October 23, 2013 in Kochi, Japan. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)

Welcome to the rainy season in Japan!

But this week we also had some pretty cool experiences and I got to see how the Lord’s hand guides us even when we make mistakes! My companion and I had taken the train to go to some towns east of Kochi-shi to visit a few less actives. Travel took longer than we expected, and later in the evening we missed our train back to Kochi, meaning we would be late going home and we wouldn’t make our curfew. We felt pretty bad about that, especially because we would just be sitting at the station for another hour or so waiting for the next train to come. There was only one other man in the station at the time, quietly sitting in the corner reading a manga [comic book]. I went up to him and asked him to help us buy the right train tickets back (which isn’t that hard to do, but I figured it would be an easy way to start a conversation). We started talking to him and it turns out that he had met missionaries before, and was willing to hear a lesson on the Book of Mormon right then! We taught him and set up an appointment to meet the next day. Even in times of inconvenience, if we reach out a hand to the people around us, the Lord will bless us for it.

15.07.13 view of kochi

The city of Kochi and the surrounding coastline behind Charlie–what a great view!


The Yosakoi festival takes place every year in August during the Obon Holiday, when Buddhists believe the spirits of their ancestors return to their hometowns for a visit–it sounds spooky and ghostly, but it’s more religious and happy. While most Obon festivals include traditional Japanese dance, the Kochi Yosakoi is renowned for its contemporary and energetic dancing, colorful costumes, and wooden hand clappers. People travel to Kochi from the far corners of Japan to watch over 20,000 dancers take to the streets, and Charlie was thrilled to be right in the middle of it all. His enthusiastic review of the Yosakoi had us laughing!

Yosakoi was the coolest matsuri [festival] I have ever seen! Not that I have been to that many matsuris in my life, but this one was way cool. I will send lots of pictures and videos because I took a lot. I could go on and on about how cool it is, but I’ll just end here because you just gotta see it. It’s like feeling the Holy Ghost, right? You can tell someone til their ears are sore about how awesome the Holy Ghost is, but until they pray and actually feel it on their own they’ll never know! Ok, I’ll finally end this paragraph now and just send the videos and pics already.

15.08.21 yosakoi kids

15.08.31 yosakoi stage

yosakoi dancers

What a fun time for Charlie to be in the city of Kochi! Pictures just don’t do it justice. If you really want to feel the whole spirit of Yosakoi, watch the video below. (Like he says, you just gotta see it.)

[note: if no video appears on your screen, open this page in another browser by clicking on the title “I love Kochi!” in blue letters at the top of the page.]

Moving on.

My new nihonjin dode [Japanese companion] Matsumoto Choro is awesome. We already get along like two peas in a pod! He speaks really funny English and usually makes me laugh and then we both give up and just start using Japanese instead. It’s way fun. We’re going to see miracles this transfer. We’ve already found some good people these past couple days and we’re going to find more. I hope I get to keep this companion until the end of my mission. We’ll see!

 

15.08.27 selfies

Charlie and Matsumoto Choro having a swell time.

It’s fun to get to experience a different culture, being here in Japan, and being with a Japanese companion. I love the Japanese people more and more the longer I am here in Japan. Like any culture, it’s not perfect. It’s made up of imperfect people everywhere. I believe that the key to bringing cultures and different races and people together is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel is the power to fill the holes in our lives and in the societies and cultures we live in. I know that no matter who you are, where you are, what your background is, how old you are, or how much or how little hope you may have, the gospel of Jesus Christ is for you. It will make “weak things become strong.”

 And finally, a few more pictures of some of Charlie’s adventures over the past month:
15.08.29 anpanman statue

With a statue of one of his childhood superheroes: Anpanman! (Beancake Man. Yes, he is a real superhero in Japan, a symbol of justice and a sweet snack cake all wrapped up into one.)

15.08.19 cake

Whoever treated Charlie to this lovely little birthday cake is my new favorite person.

15.08.15 selfie

At Katsurahama, a scenic beach about 30 minutes south of Kochi.

15.08.10 katsurahama

This photo pretty much sums up how Charlie feels about Japan, being a missionary, and life in general.

A Family Reunion!

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15.07.19 takeda kazoku

Top, L-R: Uncle Haruki, Cousin Junko, Aunt Chiyoko (Haruki’s wife), Aunt Tomie. Bottom, L-R: Cousin Kumiko, Great-Grandma Kameno, Charlie, Elder Howe.

We hoped and prayed that this day might come and it finally has! Charlie was able to visit our Takeda family in the town of Shimanto-shi, about an hour from Kochi where he is currently assigned. He and his companion boarded a train last Thursday and traveled south, where he was met at the station by family members, and then they went to visit his great-grandma Takeda. Charlie last saw all of them in 2012, when our family visited Japan. He was a 16-year-old boy then who could only say a few words in Japanese. This is the first time they’ve seen him as a missionary, and what’s more, he is the first Mormon missionary they’ve ever seen. (There is no LDS church in their village, so missionaries don’t make it out there too often.) None of the Takedas–besides Charlie’s grandmother Seiko–are members of our church; they had a lot of questions for him, and he had a lot of answers. They were thrilled to have him come visit and hear him speak Japanese. What an exciting day for everyone!

Well this week was great! I got to go visit the Takedas and everyone is doing great! It was one of the happiest days of my mission. They’re doing really well and they were really excited to see me. I even met someone I hadn’t met before – Haruki and Chiyoko’s daughter Kumiko, who’s been living in other parts of Japan every time we visited so I never got to meet her. She moved back to Kochi recently. Sadly, and ironically, Tsutomu* and his family were all up in Kochi-shi for the day for a baseball game so I missed them! I’ll have to go again. In other news, Yoshihiro* has moved back from Sapporo to Kochi, I don’t know if you knew that. And, another surprise was that Haruki and Chiyoko’s daughter Keiko* had passed away about a year ago from cancer, I don’t know if you all knew or not. But despite that everyone seems to be doing really well, and Obaachan [grandma] is still alive at 102! She is so sweet. Of course, when I got there she had no idea who I was, and I think was also a little surprised to hear that she had great-grandchildren. [She gets a little confused sometimes!] When I talked to her she really seemed to miss Baba [Charlie’s grandma Seiko] and said that she wants to meet her again.

It was the first time any of them had seen a missionary, and they all seemed to be a little confused at why I had to bring along a white guy that they didn’t know and why I could only spend one day and why I couldn’t ride alone in the car with Junko. But it was a really good opportunity to explain what I was doing and why I became a missionary. Next time I visit I’m definitely going to share about eternal families.

*Tsutomu–the son of Uncle Haruki and Aunt Chiyoko

*Yoshihiro–our uncle, brother to Haruki and Seiko

*Keiko–the daughter of Uncle Haruki and Aunt Chiyoko, who was only in her 40s and was married with two teenage daughters.

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From our visit in 2012. Uncle Yoshihiro is in orange in the front; cousin Keiko (who recently passed away) is standing on the back row, 2nd from the right, wearing a cap, glasses, and mustard shirt. Her two daughters are just to the left of her. Cousin Tsutomu is on the front, far right, holding his baby boy.

We were heartbroken to hear of the passing of our sweet cousin, Keiko, and wonder why they hadn’t let us know. Perhaps it was too difficult to talk about. But we find comfort in the thought that we were able to see her on our last visit, and that with the restored gospel, we have the blessings and the sealing power of the temple here on earth. We plan on doing the temple work for her very soon. We are sure she is waiting for it!

15.07.15 obaasan

Charlie with his great-grandmother. Doesn’t she look fabulous for 102?! (Aunt Chiyoko is peering over her shoulder.)

15.07.20 nakamura

15.07.21 at the eki

Cousin Junko, Aunt Chiyoko, and Cousin Kumiko wave good-bye from the station.

We can’t help marvelling at the fact that of the seven missions in Japan, Charlie was called to the very one where he had family living. And that his Mission President finally sent him to serve in the very area where they are, after a year and a half. And that none of our Takeda family are members of this faith, nor have ever seen a proselyting Mormon missionary while they’ve been living there. Of course they know that his grandmother Seiko is a member, and of course we’ve told them about the Church when we’ve had the chance, but we have respected their faith and they have respected ours. Yet still we marvel at the Lord’s inspiration, His timing, and the blessings of this gospel, and missionary work, and eternal families. The Lord knows where to send His missionaries!

 To cap off his incredible week, Charlie also had a soul-searching experience that taught him a lot about personal testimony:
This last week I reached a point where I questioned a part of my own testimony, but as a result my testimony was strengthened. We met a lady on the street one night who was Buddhist who gave us a beat down for being Christians for about ten minutes before I just decided to stop listening and walked away. Luckily my companion didn’t understand any of what she said. She said some very demeaning things that no one should ever have to hear. I wondered afterward what could make her have so much conviction that her obviously wrong religion was right. And then I wondered to myself, how can I say that she’s wrong if I have never really learned about what her beliefs are? In addition to the outward criticism, she did add a ‘testimony’ of the experience she had of changing her heart through Hotokesama [Buddha]. How can I say that she didn’t? If I were to criticize her for having that experience, it would just make me a hypocrite for sharing my experiences with the Atonement. I never questioned the fact that I had experienced the Holy Ghost or the power of the Atonement, but I did wonder how she could have experienced the same thing we are striving for without either the Holy Ghost or the Atonement. I prayed and studied the Book of Mormon and the Bible. I felt prompted to visit a certain place in Isaiah which gave me comfort and strengthened my testimony that the Holy Ghost can speak through the scriptures. And the answer to my questions came clear as day when I turned and testified to my companion at a needed time this week. There are a lot of ways people change themselves, for bad and for good in this world. But no matter what else is out there, the only thing that can cleanse us from sin and qualify us for the Kingdom of Heaven is the power of the Atonement accessed through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. No other person, object, or power can do that. I know that to be true from the bottom of my heart. In addition to sharing our testimony about what we know to be true, we have to be courteous of others and be careful not to condemn others when we testify and teach about the gospel. The way of Christ was always forigiveness – not condemnation or criticism.
15.07.16 shikoku

A view of a village in Shikoku.

rice paddy

The rice paddies that frequently dot the landscape of Shikoku.

15.07.14 kids

Charlie with children from troubled homes that he serves and plays with each week.

A Farewell to Osaka…

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Dotonbori

This week has been a good week for Charlie. Make that a great week. Two exciting events happened in the same week: a baptism AND a transfer. Let’s start with the baptism, shall we?

Ok, big news, big news!! Anyway here we go. Yes, Masaki was baptized! The baptismal service was awesome! Masaki was a great investigator and friend. I’ll remember him forever. I feel so blessed to finally get to participate in the baptism of another person here in Japan. Senri has been a long, hard battle. It’s been rough and tiring and taxing on my mind and my body. There were many weeks where I felt forgotten in this little patch of the vineyard. I prayed and prayed so hard every night to be able to find someone who we could baptize here. Sometimes my hopes weren’t even that high–I just wanted someone to teach! What I can say I gained here in Senri is a testimony that God will answer our prayers and that He will on his own time. He always will. There’s never a loss of hope if your hope is in God and Jesus Christ. He will always pull through. Believing that is true faith.

Here are Charlie and Kodama Choro filling the font. Wow, are they ever excited. (Don’t drop the camera!)

15.06.19 in the font

And here they are with the newest member of the Senri ward, Masaki-san (second from left):

15.06.20 masaki

Now let’s get to the transfer. But first off, a little recap of the past six months and the significance of this transfer. It’s been a year and a half that Charlie has been in Japan, and he’s pretty much spent all of that time in and around the big cities of Osaka and Kobe. The last six months have been spent in Senri, just outside of Osaka, and it’s been a challenging area for him. But the Kobe mission also encompasses the island of Shikoku to the south, the smallest of Japan’s four major islands, and also where his grandmother was born. Her family still lives there in Shimanto and the Kochi area.

shikoku map

Can you spot Kochi? It’s on the south central coast of this island. 

Charlie has been hoping and praying that he’d have the chance to go there, but in his last interview with the President he was told that would be unlikely. Kochi was probably becoming a sisters-only area, the President said, so it was best for him to put it out of his mind. Well, transfer calls came on Monday this week. And guess what?

In other news, (you can probably tell already from the way I talked about what I learned in
Senri)–I’m being transferred. This will probably be my last area. And I can’t express to you how excited I am for this one. Because this time, for real, I am going to Kochi! My mission president pulled through!!! I’M GOING TO KOCHI!!!! We gotta arrange to meet up with the Takedas [grandma’s family]. We have to! As soon as possible!! I was so surprised this morning because I was told I wasn’t going to get the chance to go down there. Kochi didn’t even go through my mind this morning as I was wondering about transfers. I just never thought it would happen!

It looks like the Lord had something else in store! So sayonara, Osaka:

osakacity

Hello, Shikoku!

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shikoku road

Much of Shikoku is rural, filled with rice paddies and green rolling hills. It is overwhelmingly beautiful. Below is a picture of Jane overlooking the Takeda family home in Shimanto from our trip in 2012.

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And here is a picture of Charlie’s sweet great-grandmother, Kameno Takeda, who is now 102 and still thriving:

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I think she’s been waiting for him to come say good-bye to her before she passes on. (Then again, she might be around for years. We don’t really know what she’s waiting for. Neither does she!)

How does Charlie feel about this?

It's a good day in Japan!

Stay tuned! The next few months are bound to be an adventure for Charlie.

mossy statue

“Being a missionary has definitely changed me…”

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red lanterns

We’ve seen a lot of changes in Charlie while he’s been on his mission. We’ve watched him embrace the language, culture, and people of Japan; learn to eat anything and everything (including raw squid sushi); stand a little taller; even start to look a little more Japanese himself. But the most gratifying thing we’ve witnessed is the growth of his testimony as he’s learned to rely completely on the Savior.

Things are going well. The Lord has been helping me to grow every single day in so many ways. I will ever be grateful to him for all the blessings he’s given me and the blessings I’ve seen on my mission. There have been a lot of miracles. Not all miracles are mindblowing, biblical ones, but the miracles that are really life-changing are the ones that are small. The ones that are every day things we do, and the ones that are gradual.

15.06.09 waterfall

Charlie, Kodama Choro, and a friend enjoy a waterfall at a nearby park.

We had a big zone conference recently. I can’t believe how much my stamina for meetings has grown on the mission. Three hours of church doesn’t feel like anything anymore. Anyway, we talked a lot about how we need to let our purpose as missionaries change our hearts. This one and a half to two years is super special and it’s the only time in our whole lives that we’ll ever get to spend like this. If we don’t let this change our hearts and help us draw closer to Christ, what a waste! Being a missionary has definitely changed me. You can probably tell. Being a full-time teacher of the gospel can only do one thing for a young man–teach HIM the gospel. The true meaning of the gospel. It’s not something that can be learned in seminary or in Sunday school, but only by experience and faith.

15.06.05 big zone

At their recent zone conference. President and Sister Welch are front and center. (Charlie is on the back row, 5th from right.)

Charlie and his companion have been teaching a young man named Masaki, and are witnessing the dramatic change in him that the gospel brings:

Masaki is progressing really well. He even came to clean the church with us on Saturday. When I call him on the phone and ask him what he’s doing, he’s always reading the Book of Mormon! It’s awesome. I really appreciate your prayers. They really do help and the results are visible. We got to go on a car ride this week with Masaki and talk to him a little bit more outside of a lesson context and it was really cool to see how the gospel is changing him. He no longer has the desire to smoke or drink. He has had a pretty rough past as well, and hasn’t made some of the best choices. But during the car ride he talked about how he felt like everything in his life was changing, and that his family has noticed changes in him as well. We’re going to try to meet with his family soon and see if we can share the gospel with them.

I’ve really come to love the people here, not just in my area, but everyone I meet. Japan truly does have an amazing culture and has a lot of really good qualities that I think the U.S. needs to work on a little bit. It’s cool to be able to really immerse myself in a language and culture of another country so deeply that when I see a “gaijin” [foreigner] on the street, I forget that I am actually a gaijin, too.

15.05.10 bros

Can you spot the ‘gaijin’? It’s hard to tell!

The mission has brought me closer to Christ in so many ways. My patience has been tested and tried in so many ways, and so has my ability to love other people. There have been so many countless blessings that I’ve had from serving a mission so far, but probably the biggest one is just that my capacity to love and not judge has grown. My ability to listen has grown and my patience has as well. I know that as we truly seek to put upon ourselves the attributes of Christ, our lives really do improve in every single way. The trials and hardships of every day life don’t get us down as much, and we live life with an energy that could only come from having the Holy Ghost in our hearts. The gospel is true!

15.06.07 dodes

And now for a few glimpses into the lighter side of Charlie’s missionary life:

15.05.06 tabeniku

Grilling your meat Japanese style.

15.06.10 in no out

You can go in, but you can’t go out. Hmm…something ain’t right.

15.06.08 whoa saru

Charlie makes friends with a Japanese macaque!

15.05.17 concert

An impromptu concert in the park draws a cute crowd.

15.06.13 nice text

Best post-lesson text message ever!

15.05.16 super charlie

Look what all that biking has done to Charlie’s legs: he’s so strong, he dented the bike rack.

15.06.04 osaka in hand

He’s got the whole world in his hands! (Okay, maybe just Osaka.)

Thanks for keeping up with Charlie Choro! Yoroshiku onegai shimasu!