Preaching the Gospel in Taiwan

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Where ever you find love...

Dear Mom, Dad, Eric, and Belle,

"The sun is setting, the lamplighters are at work, it is Christmas Eve for certain."  Growing up I often contemplated the words to the popular carol, "I'll be home for Christmas," and lamented over the unfortunate men and women who don't get to be near their loved ones at such a lovely time of year.  It brings new revelation and enlightenment, knowing that I am now one of those people who although they wish with all their might to be as near as possible to the ones who bring them the most joy, cannot for a period of time.  I miss the fires, the hot chocolate, the snow, the lights, the excitement, the music (in English), the laughter, the food, the love.  This Christmas I expect, however, to be the sweetest of all.  The spirit of Christmas is within us all "wherever [we] find love."   Heavenly Father "is mindful of every people, whatsoever land they may be in; yea, he numbereth his people, and his bowels of mercy are over all the earth."  I'll miss you, but I'll be alright.

My new companion's name is Elder Magnuson and he's a hoot.  I think you all would get a kick out of him.  He loves to talk and talks non-stop about everything that comes into his head.  He loves the gospel and overcame a lot to come out.  He loves telling, re-telling, and telling again about his personal miracles and stories.  I ADORE Elder Magnuson.  He works hard and has such pure desires. We're going to get along great. This is his fourth move-call in Taiwan (compare to my being on my seventh) and his Chinese and Taiwanese are great.  He works really hard all of the time to improve it whenever he can.  I see a lot of success in his future. He's very intelligent and is an avid student of the scriptures, well versed in all volumes.  He loves basketball too.

We also had the Christmas Activity where I got to talk to Elder Erickson (who is now in my Zone!), Elder Taylor (Matt), and Elder Haag (my trainer now assistant), and others until I was blue in the face.  They are such wonderful examples of diligent efforts and hard work.  I really respect how great of missionaries they are.  We went to a massive Buddhist temple in Mingjian to take a huge photo of everyone and a video which you will receive from President Bishop shortly.  We then visited some Western-esque village and tourist attraction, but I pretty much talked to Elder Haag the entire time.  We then ate at an all you can eat Steak and Stir-Fry (Timpanyaki) with all of the missionaries in the mission.  Then everyone went to Taizhong for a Christmas devotional.  It was so much fun to see EVERYONE in the mission.  It's a unique opportunity that I will only have once more.  Oh yes, at the activity, we discovered that our release dates have all been moved back.  I am now released on January 21st.  All sisters were pushed back three weeks.  I'm not sure how I feel about that just yet.  We received a gift from President Bishop that had part of Helaman 5:12 written on a cool-looking rock in Chinese.

I didn't do hardly anything on my birthday.  I restaurant gave me free dinner which was cool.  I began opening the two presents that weren't marked as Christmas.  Today, me, Elder Magnuson, Elder Erickson, our Zone Leaders, and some other missionaries went to the Gaoxiong 85.  An 85-story building here in Gaoxiong.  It was really great and I'll show you all some pictures tomorrow through SKYPE.  You'll love it.  What a fun trip.  We ate together and then came here.  I don't have a lot of time left before I need to begin proselyting actually.

I want to see you all tomorrow.  I want to see Belle, and I want to see your favorite present!

It's tragic about Connecticut and sad about Lance Armstrong. 

I don't know what all I want to hear about tomorrow, just how everything is going.  I want to maybe touch on schooling and please prepare questions for me.  Any questions.  Do you want to hear some Chinese?  Tomorrow would be the time to ask.  You didn't ask in May much to my surprise.

I'm still in Nanzi.

I know I'm missing a lot somehow.  "I'll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams."  I love you all, and I will talk to you all tomorrow.

- Elder Woolsey

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Highest of HIGHS The Lowest of lows.

Dear Mom, Dad, Eric, and Belle,

What a week.  As of today, it's a new move call (Elder Taylor is now senior companion by the way!): a fresh six-weeks to set goals, make plans, improve, and change.  My trainer Elder Haag wrote me this week. He is a wise Elder.  I'm grateful that he got to train me.

Speaking of Elder Haag, he has been made the new Assistant of the Taiwan Taizhong Mission.  And, I would like to say that I'm surprised, but what a wonderful selection!  I can't think of a better qualified Elder for the job of assisting the President in supervising and preparing training and other things for the mission.  He is a dedicated, consecrated, servant of the Lord who desires more than anything else to do his very best for our Master and King.  What a wonderful example!  And he was MY trainer!  I would like to share an experience with you.  On the day that we were meeting our trainers, the trainers randomly selected a new missionary to sit with.  Well, of course I figured out it was random, but I still sat with Elder Haag.  I thought that he was a wonderful Elder as I sat with him, but thought that I didn't really want to be his companion.  Then, as we were sitting together casually listening to President Bishop, I had a prompting that I should want to be his companion.  An incredibly strange prompting, I'm aware.  I then said a prayer and asked Heavenly Father if he would allow us to be companions.  Well, much to my surprise (but I suppose not really) my prayer was answered a few moments later when we opened red envelopes containing our Trainer's name in it. I know that being with Elder Haag was set up by God.  Heavenly Father rewarded me grandly with a wonderful kick-start to my mission that I'm still grateful for.  And now the entire mission gets an opportunity to taste what I got to experience.  I hope his parents read this in a way, because I think the world of Elder Haag.

With regards to the Christmas Call:  I will call you Christmas Morning 10:35 a.m. in TAIWAN which should be Christmas Eve Evening at about 7:35 if I'm not mistaken.  I will be using SKYPE so prepare whatever is necessary so everyone is there and visible at that time.  I need to know the username for your SKYPE account NEXT MONDAY or I won't know what to do (I'll likely just call first if that is the case).  Please prepare that for next week's email so that we can have an efficient, but happy and pleasant conversation.  Also, please prepare questions, thoughts, visuals, etc. prior to the call so that we don't waste any time and we can say what we want (not that I think we could ever run out of things to say.  Our call will last for 40 minutes only.  It's short, but sadly it's the way it is.  I can't wait to see you all at that time.  The cameras and internet work much better here so I'm excited for the call.

I've heard some stories here that I had questions about:

1.  A terrifying massacre in Connecticut

2.  Lance Armstrong being stripped of privileges and defamed for drug use

These things have reached this end of the world and I'm curious what all has happened.

So President Bishop announced something very interesting in his email today.  He said that because of the massive influx of missionaries, the stay for Mandarin-speaking Elders has been reduced to 9 weeks (they were doing the pilot program right after I left but I didn't know what it meant at the time) permanently.  This has resulted in a three-week-long disturbance in that ALL return dates for missionaries currently in the field who return home after MARCH 2013 (so of course me) will be shifted forward or backward by three weeks.  I don't know what the entails for me, but I thought it was worth mentioning.  All missionaries in the mission field will receive new release dates soon which we will be notified.  I will inform you of what it is at that time.

I 100% forgot about my birthday until I saw Eric's email.  I can't believe it either.  I had to look at my watch and check the date I was so surprised that it was this week.  I don't know how to react.  I'm no longer a teenager.  It will likely pass without anything special happening.  I don't think I'll do anything that day.  The Christmas Activity, however, is this Thursday.  I will send tons of pictures after that.  It should be phenomenally fun.  Elder Haag says it's supposed to be EPIC.  As of this morning, no packages.  I'm sure they're coming soon enough.  Don't fret.  They may have come today for all I know.

I am a little homesick at this time of year to be honest.  I miss the food, the decorations, the snow, the fun, the movies, the love, the charity, the Christ story (which we still hold on to a bit), fireplaces, anticipation, the music, the laughter, wrapping presents, etc.  It's hard to be away from loved ones at this time.  My birthday and Thanksgiving I didn't notice.  Christmas is definitely taking a little bit of a toll.  I don't know.  My time is so short here in Taiwan.  I get 15-16 move calls.  I have been here for 6 and am now on 7.  I have less than ten full move-calls left.  My time is so short, I don't know how to explain it.  I don't want to go home any time soon.  The new clothes store sounds really fun.  You'll have to show me.  The new washer sounds nice as well.  The house won't be the same!  That cake sounds DELICIOUS.  I want a picture next time you get the chance.

I'm so happy for Jordan.  What a wonderful accomplishment!  He is such a great person with so much to offer!  I hope that he has "heaps" of success as he pursues a degree in JOURNALISM.

Keep up the hard work in cycling, Dad.  It sounds like you're really working to hit your goal.  I'm impressed.  The goal is just a wish unless it's written down and plans are made to hit it.

I don't really want to think about coming back for schooling yet, but I will need some serious help with regards to setting it all up.  That process will begin very soon I would imagine.  Only five or so months away before those steps need to be planned and carried out. 

We had a great church turn out this week.  We also taught an incredible lesson to a less active member and saw a miracle.  The first is that we met this less active on the street who later met with us that told his he thought his life was a failure.  He told us that he doesn't feel answers to his prayers and he doesn't know how to improve his life.  I told him many experiences of how my prayers had been answered including the one I'm about to share with you and after that he thought for a long time and said, "really?  is it true?"  When I confirmed that it was he said that he was willing to give everything up to have that kind of happiness and relationship with God ("I will give up all my sins to know thee.")  The spirit was so strong.  We knelt in prayer and he offered the most sincere prayer.  I expect great things from him soon. He knows the meaning of real intent.

That morning I was on an exchange with my Zone Leader.  He and I had a rather unexpected lesson with a woman set up (you must understand that we need another man in order to meet with women).  We didn't know what to do so we said a prayer and asked for the Lord's help. I felt the impression that we should go anyway and trust the Lord (1 Nephi 4:6-7).  We arrived there and there was a utility truck outside.  After we scoured the building, we found the utility man and it turns out that he was a member!  He was able to accompany us.  After this miracle, the investigator turned out to be a member who felt unwelcomed at church and therefore never returned.  She still reads and prays daily however.  She mentioned two friends that she had in the ward, but it wasn't enough so she joined the Jehovah's Witnesses.  Then as we discussed, that very friend we were talking about pulled up with another sister in the ward and invited her to tons of activities including a family home evening tonight which we will be going to as well.  Another miracle!  Then, the best part happened the night before...when she called us.  She told us that we had called her and as far as we knew, we hadn't.  We checked our records and call-back in the phone and we hadn't called that number.  It was incredible.  Definitely set up by the LORD.  He is a God of miracles.

We had a mission wide service activity two days ago.  Our Zone went to an old-folks home (exactly like Crosslands, but all in Chinese) and shared the spirit of Christmas with music, a story, and other activities.  It was really great.

I love you all, and I appreciate your sweet thoughts and prayers for me.  Please write next week even though I will talk to you the next day.  I still want to hear about the week and get that out of the way for the call.  I miss and love you.  Keep doing your best and remember to serve this Christmas.  I know as you do this Christmas will be even sweeter.

- Elder Woolsey

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Give me mountains to climb"

Dear Mom, Dad, Eric, and Belle,

Elder Eyring is a very wise man.  In the April, 2012 session of General Conference, he gave an inspired message about a former President of the church who would often ask the Lord to "give [him] mountains to climb," because he knew that when he overcame them, he would be strengthened in faith and ability.  Elder Eyring proceeded to share an experience from his youth when he followed that prophet's example to ask for mountains and was forthright humbled to the dust.  He also shared a touching moment regarding his mother who in the twilight moments of her life struggled with cancer; it being said that she "needed a little polishing" before meeting her Maker and that such trials have the aforementioned effect.  Needless to say, his talk ended with a warning with regards to asking for trials and challenges.  Feeling as though I had the faith, power, and ability of someone who could handle such a trial and inspired by the words of President Eyring, I asked Heavenly Father frequently to send me mountains to climb, contingent upon my faith to overcome them.  Having not recognized an answer to this prayer, I assumed my faith wasn't prepared yet.  As I knelt in prayer (having not asked for some time), I received a confirmation from the Lord that the last five weeks have been my mountain.  Mom, Dad, and Eric, this period of time has been, admittedly, very difficult for me.  I have fasted and prayed more than I have ever fasted and prayed in my entire life.  Later that night, during my prayer, I received that confirmation and I felt peace.  I felt things were going to be better and that I had received a confirmation to my earlier prayer.  In times of difficulty, the Lord came through for me.  Mom, Dad, and Eric, I hope you all realize that the Lord answers prayers.  He loves you.  He knows you.  He watches over you.  I'm reminded of the poem about an individual who sees two sets of foot-prints in the sands of his lifetime (recognizing that one set belonged to him and one set to the Lord), but during his difficulties, he only sees one set.  As he asks the Lord why, the Lord replies, "that was when I carried you."  That's what I realized last night.

Thank you all for constantly being so support of me.  Thank you for understanding that this gospel is so important and that at the end of the day, an eternal family is the end goal.  You all are so great and I love you all so very much.  Thank you, Dad, for driving all the way to work, just to send me an email.  I hope you realize how important these emails are to a missionary.  I rarely receive mail.  I can't wait to see you all at Christmas.  I'm incredibly excited.  I cannot believe, however, that you sent five packages!  Do you understand how much that costs?!  That's ridiculous!  I don't need all of those things!  I don't know what it all is, but I know I don't need it all!

I'm so happy for Elder Jensen.  I imagine that he is tearing it up in Russia.  I have a lot of confidence in his ability.  He has always been an example to me in his diligence, purity, and leadership.  He is an incredible member of this church and when he left on his mission, he was more than prepared.  We began teaching two new families and we're hoping to get them in the waters of baptism soon. Success is coming soon!

I'm happy that you fed the missionaries!  I can't wait to go home and help them out in any way I can.  It's funny that there are only one set of missionaries for the whole stake.  That's Utah for you though.  Here, it's at least one set of missionaries per ward or branch.  Obviously the church is much, much, smaller, but regardless, it's funny to me now.  

I know that coming home will be a crazy experience.  I want to come home and start school immediately, no down time, but I also want to serve two full years, not 18 days shy of two years.  I'm seeking an extension.  I asked Elder Wilson for one, and haven't had the opportunity to ask President Bishop yet (our interview was a blur), but I'm avidly seeking one.  Apparently those in this mission have one naturally, so getting another extension will be even more difficult.  I just love being here.
I can't believe that it's almost Christmas again.  I'm almost to the point where a year ago, I wasn't even at BYU.  A month and a week from now, I can say that a year ago, I was doing the same thing that I'm doing now.  It's strange.  It has gone so fast!  I don't want it to end.  I wonder how I will feel after another challenging, but eternally rewarding year of missionary service.  

I want you all to know that I love this work.  I know that Heavenly Father is there, he is nearer than we think.  The veil is thin.  He answers prayers.  He wants us to know that we are His children.  He sent His son to die for us so that we could be happy forever.  This is His work and His glory, to help us.

I apologize that this email is so short, but I love you all. 

Love you all, Elder Woolsey

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

There's so much to be thankful for.

Dear Mom, Dad, Eric, and Belle,

Well, to be honest, the last few weeks have been rather difficult for me.  Training is a lot more than it is cracked up to be, but it runs much deeper than that.  I honestly love the training part even though it is difficult.  It's exciting to see another missionary grow so quickly.  It tries your patience, your endurance, your faith, your commitment, your obedience, etc.  A trainer's example sets the standard for the rest of the missionary's entire mission.  This is what they should expect.  This is what they should be doing.  This is missionary work. 

 I had the opportunity to interview with President Bishop.  This happens once every other move call and it's a wonderful opportunity to have some short face time with an inspired man of God.  I adore President Bishop.  I have faith that he has been called of God and receives specific revelation, not only for this mission and the people on the southern half of the Taiwanese island, but that he receives revelation for me.  He knows how I'm doing through that inspiration and blesses me life as a worthy instrument in the hands of God.  In the interview we discussed the goals we set during the Mission Tour with Elder Wilson of the 70.  President Bishop helped me to take those goals and ensure that they have plans associated with them, that they're not just vain wishes.  We discussed Nanzi, progressing investigators, and what can be done to further the work.  The interview was very brief to be perfectly honest, but great regardless.  Sister Bishop made cookies (something you can't seem to find in Taiwan unless made my an American).  Oatmeal and chocolate chip.  Oh boy they were good.  She took my picture and sent it to you as well.  To be honest, it's an awful picture of me in my opinion, but oh well. I don't need to impress people (beyond looking like a servant of God) for another year.  We received training on Follow-Ups, which was wonderful because it's exactly what I've needed to improve on recently.  It's sad to think that he only has six months or so left.

I have a couple of other questions:

1.  What are some quick and easy recipes (like super quick and super easy)?

2.  What are some ideas for a Christmas party (the ward has asked us because we're Americans and they don't really celebrate Christmas very much in Taiwan)?

Also, there was a tender mercy on Sunday.  We were teaching a less-active member who Elder Forbes, Elder Cutler, the Spirit, and I completely returned to full activity.  She even has a calling now!  The point is, we were teaching her (finishing up the basic lessons) and at the end she asked for a blessing.  I was fortunate enough to give that blessing.  I honestly had many feelings as I did it and was prompted to say the things that I did.  When I finished, she was in tears.  It was a tender  mercy amid some trial recently.  Elder Cutler and I also met a family who wants the gospel to help his son.  We're more than willing to share, to say the least.

On to your email:

With regards to missionaries getting half-calls to China, I've heard it here too.  Apparently it's a big rumor in the MTC.  No one can show facts however.  I'm pretty sure that the church would announce it if it were true.

 I like the pictures, they're fun. Please continually send pictures!  I love seeing you all.  I haven't seen Eric in quite some time ( I don't think creepy zombie Halloween Eric really counts either).

We do not get to see the Christmas Devotional unfortunately.  I wish we did, but such is the way of a missionary I suppose.  If you could send copies of the talks in the Christmas package, that would be fantastic!  I don't plan on opening any of those things until the appropriate day.  I love what you said about Thomas S. Monson being a prophet, Dad.  For that, he surely is.  I remember when Gordon B. Hinckley passed away.  It was a difficult transition for me, because he was all I knew.  Even after Thomas S. Monson was President for some time, there wasn't much of an attachment.  Coming here, I have read many of his words and articles about his life.  I know that he is a Prophet of God without a shadow of a doubt.  I would deeply, deeply, encourage you all to pick up a copy of "On The Lord's Errand" (of which I recently picked up a copy myself).  It is incredibly inspiring and gives a lot of great background into the life of our current Prophet.  It's only 60 minutes, but thoroughly enjoyable.

With regards to earthquakes: yes.  Often?  I don't know what counts as often.  There was a pretty big one that I felt very distinctly one night when I was at the church house.  Everything shook and the doors to the baptismal font made quite the ruckus.  Supposedly there was one at around midnight a few nights ago, but I didn't notice.

It's getting cold here.  I think they're taking the cold of Utah and depositing it here in Taiwan.  I'm not used to this damp cold.  It's very penetrating. 

It's strange to think that I'm almost twenty years old, no longer a teenager.  It's not a thought I much care to think about, but not thinking about it doesn't make it any less strange.  It's odd to think that you all don't really know everything that has happened for an entire year of my life aside from what I tell you.  Thank you all so much for blessing me throughout my entire life.  I've never been as thankful as I should have been.  I have had incredibly patient, kind, loving parents for twenty long years.  If that's not consistency, I don't know what is.  Thank you all for your examples and kindness.  I hope this week goes well for you all.

- Elder Woolsey