Monday, January 27, 2014

We're all in this together

Wow. I tell you what, wow. Thank you for the veritable flood of emails this week! I haven't had time to read any of them, but it did take me a full fifteen minutes just to take pictures of them all! I'm so excited to read them, so just...thank you. You have no idea what your words mean to me.

Also, I'm happy to report that I'm feeling much better this week! Since I legitimately have never been so sick in my entire life, there was only room for improvement. I'm sorry for whatever I wrote in my letter last week. I was still a little loopy from my brush with death (okay, I know I'm being over dramatic) and I don't really remember what I wrote, but I can't imagine it was terribly coherent or profound...So, sorry about that.

This week...
All the good things happened on Sunday! Don't they always? :)
The rest of the week was actually pretty rough. I don't really remember the details, but I do remember there was quite a bit of crying. I blame the stress of a mission and the after-effects of sickness.
But anyway, Sunday. Also known as yesterday.

Yesterday, two of our investigators came to church (remember in Korea this almost never happens)--one of our Nepali 사람s (Raju) and the investigator about whom I wrote last week, the one who showed up to church before us (홍정혜). Fun fact--missionaries almost never know which, if any, of their investigators will actually show up to church, so Sunday is always a bit of a scramble trying to arrange lessons and fellow-shippers for the investigators who do decide to attend. This Sunday was no different. It was a busy day of sudden missionary-member splits, last minute arrivals, and lots and lots of good, old-fashioned teamwork. Our elders stepped in and taught our Nepali investigator the first lesson, one member translated all of sacrament meeting to someone's Filipino investigator, and another member sat with our other investigator and explained to her the gospel words she didn't understand, like "testimony" and "gift of the Holy Ghost."

Yesterday especially, I realized how incredibly important it is that members and missionaries work together in this wonderful cause we call "missionary work." I mean, missionaries could try doing it by themselves--finding the investigators, teaching the investigators, baptizing the investigators, making sure the investigators feel comfortable and are happy and understand everything.  
But it does not work.

In fact, I've personally witnessed all the ways it doesn't work.

We've tried finding investigators on our own, but the world is scary and no one wants to talk to strangers and sometimes miracles happen, but more often than not, it doesn't work.
We need members to prepare their friends and their neighbors, to introduce them to the gospel and then to introduce them to us.

We've tried teaching the lessons without our members, but the testimony of a member is so vitally important that usually without it an investigator doesn't progress and their desire to learn more disintegrates and it doesn't work.
We need members to teach with us. We have the name tags, but they have the important added witness that what we teach is true.

And we've tried fellow-shipping our investigators by ourselves. Really, we have. We run around like crazy people trying to ensure that every investigator understands the meeting and feels the Spirit and wants to come back next week. But it doesn't work.
We need members to invite investigators back to church and to help explain the gospel and really, just to spend time with them and be their friend.

And I know it's scary talking about the gospel to your friends and it's time-consuming helping the missionaries with their lessons and it's sometimes cringingly awkward trying to become acquainted with the random people who show up to church. But, we need you. As one little missionary to a whole bunch of friends and family and Church members--we need you so much.

And we don't need your food (though it is nice sometimes), but we do need your love and your support and your testimonies. We need you to help us share the gospel because we are struggling to do it on our own.

We need each other.
And I know that the Lord needs us to need each other. Because that's how we grow and progress and become better.
It's all just part of the plan.

I love you all immeasurably.
Thank you for everything you do.
Sister Abba.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Week of Miracles

Hello friends.

This week was good! I think. I don't actually remember much of it because on Friday night I decided to eat a questionable convenience store sandwich for dinner and then woke up at 4:00 the next morning and proceeded to continually throw up multiple times throughout the day. Twenty times, in fact. It was the worst and right now I'm not quite at my best, so I regret to inform you that this email shall be a short one.

But here are some miracles or something.

Miracle 1

Today marks the start of my fourth transfer on my mission and my companion, my roommates, and I are all staying together! I was particularly grateful for this on the aforementioned Saturday, as they took excellent care of me and ensured that my "Day of Puking" was spent as comfortably as could be reasonably achieved.

Miracle 2

Once upon a time, like four weeks ago, my companion and I met this random grandma in 세종 (Sejong, the other area I serve in) who said that her husband had just died and she was really lonely and she knew about the Mormons and she wanted to join our church.

[Sidenote: Things like this do not happen very often.]

Anyway, she wouldn't give us her name or her address, so we had very little hope of ever seeing her again until one day, the elders found her while knocking on doors! But, remember this all happened like, four weeks ago. Ever since then, we've stopped by her apartment every time we were in 세종, desperately trying to visit her. We've left messages, we've left hearts--nothing. She was never home.

And then this week, most horrifyingly, when we stopped at her apartment door, we saw the notice that she had missed paying her gas bill twice in a row and so the gas company was now turning off her gas. All I could think was, "Oh goodness, she's dead."

But, good news! While I was sick, a miracle happened! After weeks and weeks she finally called and she wants to meet us this week. Our grandma investigator isn't dead!

Miracle 3

Yesterday, as I was still exhausted, sore, and a bit queasy after throwing up all the day before, my companion and I decided that we would just attend sacrament meeting and the baptism after church and then call it a day. But of course, as life goes, yesterday just happened to be the day that two of our investigators decided to come to church (remember, in Korea, investigators coming to church is a big deal). In fact, one of our investigators got to church before we did! She called us and was like, "Um, hi. I'm at your church and I don't know anyone here so...where are you?" It was so sad/hilarious/horrible. I'm just grateful for our saintly members and fellow Gongju missionaries who took good care of her until we could get to church.

Miracle 4

As I've been reading through the New Testament these past few weeks, I came across this scripture in John that in my previous readings of the Gospel of John I've underlined in red and black, highlighted in yellow, and outlined in blue. It is, by far, one of my favorite scriptures in the entire New Testament and yet I always seem to forget about it. It's Christ speaking to His disciples. 

"These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

I hope you all had wonderful weeks and that nobody threw up.

Sister Abba

Monday, January 13, 2014


Thank you to more people for Christmas cards and lovely greetings. This week I received adorable cards from the Agles, the Longs, Uncle Jeff, and my own family! So exciting! Thank for your kind words and pretty faces. I loved them all.

This week I hit my six month mark! Crazy, right? 

Something I've realized the longer I've been here and the more I've read emails from my other friends who are on missions is how radically different each mission is. I mean, I kind of realized before my mission that of course things would be a little different as each country is unique and each culture has specific practices and characteristics. But, as I've read the emails of my fellow missionary friends, I sometimes find myself thinking, "My mission isnothing like this. Am I doing this wrong? I'm a failure! I suck!" And then I spiral into a terrible whirlpool of depression and panic and it's all just very bad really.

But don't worry. I'm okay now, I promise. Because when I take a step back and look at all the wonderful, and specific, blessings serving a mission in Korea has brought me, I realize that I was always meant to serve here, doing what I'm doing and learning the lessons that I'm learning because just as missions are all unique and different, so are people. And so am I. 

So, in order to help you all understand what it's like to serve a mission in Korea, I've compiled a list (yay! another list!) of all the "hows" of things as they currently are.

How We Sleep

All together on the floor! Since our apartment has only three rooms--a bathroom, a kitchen/living room, and a tiny cupboard-under-the-stairs like room where my companion and I keep our desks, there isn't much to choose from in terms of bed space. So the four of us sleep all together in a cuddly mess of blankets, pillows, and clothes that we're too lazy to put away. Also, heated bed mats. I don't know how I've survived all the winters of my existence thus far without them. Best.invention.ever.

How We Eat

We share! Sharing food is a huge part of Korean culture. Usually the only food item you get to eat individually is a bowl of rice. The rest is a mix of side-dishes and entrees served in little bowls that sit in the middle of the table. You just grab what you want with your chopsticks and eat it over your rice. It's really fun! And it's especially easy for missionaries because if there's something on the table you don't want to eat, you just avoid it. As long as you finish your little bowl of rice, the members stay happy and all is well.

The down-side of eating all this rice is...rice face. I'm not sure if this is a phrase that Koreans actually use or just something that sister missionaries serving in Korea made up one day, but rice face is what happens when foreigners who aren't used to eating so much rice, eat nothing but rice for a straight year and a half. I regret to report that the dreaded signs of rice face have already started to appear on my own face--bloated, puffy, and unnaturally stretchy. I just hope you all still love me when I return to America with a face that's as round and rotund as a little rice ball.

How We Speak

Always a mix of English and Korean. The thing about Korea is, most everyone wants to learn English and while each foreigner missionary has an hour to study Korean, each Korean missionary likewise has an hour to study English. All of our district meetings, zone conferences, and mission parties are also conducted half in Korean and half in English. I've realized, especially as I've helped my own companion improve her English, that it's such a wonderful way to foster understanding and love between the native and foreigner missionaries as we all teach each other and try to improve our abilities in a language that isn't our own.  

How We Understand

Surprise. I can't understand Korean yet. On a really good day I can understand about 20% of what people say. On a bad day, like 2%. The most frustrating thing is when I can read and recognize all of the words in a Korean sentence, but still be unable to understand what the sentence actually means because of the backwards, forwards, up-side-downess of Korean grammar.

However, I have become quite adept at pretending like I understand. The trick is to smile, nod, and say "Yes. I understand" a lot. By this point, I'm fairly certain I can make it look like I understand any language. 

How Many Missionaries

168 in the mission 
32 in my zone (my zone is Daejeon Zone and it's enormous)
8 in my district
6 in my ward

How Many Investigators

Seven! Two Nepalians, two 9-year olds, one 13-year old, 1 Korean-American, and one Chinese-American. We have a rather international group of investigators.

How Often We Teach

Not often. If you'll remember, a few emails ago I complained about how busy people in Korea always profess to be. The truth is, their excuses are often completely valid. As all the students have class from 8 to 4 (but most of them stay at school studying or taking extra classes until 10) and all of the adults have their own full-time jobs or businesses or farms to run, these people really do have no time. Of the seven investigators we have, we can usually meet each of them only once a week, if that. It actually rather heart-breaking to have such love for these people and yet only have the chance to meet with them so infrequently. 

But last week (the week our Nepalian friends came to church) was really good! For us anyway...

To illustrate, here are the stats...

investigators who attended church (I've never had this many investigators attend church my whole mission!)
1 member lesson
8 other lessons
3 referrals
3 new investigators!

And a grand total of 7 hours and 20 minutes of teaching. 
I mean, it may not seem like much, but for us that week was a big deal.

How We Spend Our Days

With so few teaching appointments, we do a lot of visiting members. Though they're pretty busy too, so usually we just put some hearts on their door and leave a cute, little message card. 

The rest is walking, talking to strangers, and knocking on apartment doors. We introduce our English program, we introduce the gospel. This past week, the missionaries in my ward even had an activity in which we gave out free hot chocolate and tried to get people to talk to us in the freezing cold. It was a good time.

How I Want to End This Email

As I was musing this week over these last six months I've spent as a missionary, four of which I've spent in Korea, I noticed how many people I've met and experiences I've had that have specifically helped me progress as a person. It's so interesting to see, as the time passes, the countless instances in which God is undoubtedly with us. As I have served in this country, I have witnessed miracles and overcome trials that I know, without a doubt, I could never have experienced anywhere else in the world. 

And during the bitter days and the difficult moments, when I feel that maybe I'd be of more use in a different mission, I remember that even if sometimes I feel like Korea doesn't need me, I most definitely need Korea.

I need these people who teach me the importance of respect, the sanctity of family, and the selfless act in sharing everything. I need these English investigators to help me become more patient, more giving, and more understanding. I need to learn that it's okay to be lost in the language and that, more often than not, it's not the words people say, but the Spirit with which they say them that really matter.

I needed Korea these past six months.
And I need it still for this next year.

Sister Abba

Sunday, January 5, 2014

"I Don't Know About You, But I'm Feeling 22..."

Surprise! Unbeknownst to any of my family or friends back home, I turned 22 this week! In Korea, the first nine months spent in the womb count as your first year of life, so on the day you're born, you're already a year old! And, instead of becoming a year older on your birthday, you gain another year of life every January 1st along with the new year! 신기하죠? So this entire time that I've been in Korea, I've actually been 21 (sorry I didn't tell you) and now with the start of 2014 I'm officially 22! I'm growing up so fast!
Now, onto the rest of the week...
Oh, but first! Thank-yous!
To the Logue Family: Thank you so much for the package you sent me. I was touched by your thoughtful kindness and I feel truly blessed to know you. THANK YOU.
To the Cummings Family: I got your Christmas card! It was adorable, as always. I loved reading all your little notes. I found Rachel's "Powerpuff Girls" drawing particularly hilarious.
This week...
1. Our Nepalian friends came to church! Surprise again, I have Nepalian friends. We met them on the street a couple of weeks ago, but haven't had the chance to really meet them again because they're so busy working to support their families back in Nepal. But finally, this week, after I boldly texted them with a, "Hi. How are you? Come to church!" they answered back with an, "Okay," And that was that.
During the second hour, we gathered together with them and our ward's other missionaries and their investigators and had perhaps the most wonderful and culturally diverse lesson ever--4 American missionaries, 2 Korean missionaries, 2 Nepalian men, 1 Korean man, 2 Filipino women, and 2 half Filipino, half Korean babies. We're thinking of starting our own little 공주 version of the UN pretty soon.
2. In other news concerning strange and wonderful happenings, this week my fellow 공주 sisters and I showed up to a member's house for dinner expecting to follow the usual routine for eating a meal in Korea--sitting on the floor, eating with chopsticks, rice, kimchi, etc. etc. However, to our never-ending surprise what we found instead was a full-sized table (with a tablecloth!), chairs (chairs!), and cheese quesadillas.
But wait, it gets better. In addition to this already incredibly wonderful meal, there was chili dip, tortilla chips, Costco chocolate-chip muffins, Reeses cups, and root beer floats. It was the single most unhealthy dinner I think I've ever consumed. And I'm the girl who once ate chocolate cereal with half&half instead of milk. And yet despite the meal's complete lack of nutritional value and regardless of the fact that it was less of a dinner and more of a strange hybrid of Halloween and a Superbowl Party, I was so touched that our wonderful members had thought about us enough to want to serve us some of the American foods we might be missing most.
And even though we still ate them with chopsticks, cheese quesadillas have never before been such an honest expression of love. :)
3. New Year's Eve was, as to be expected, pretty lame since we're still missionaries who have to go to bed by 10:30. But luckily, this was well made up for with New Year's Morning which we celebrated by meeting our ward at 7 in the morning and taking a refreshing hike through the mountains in order to watch together the first sunrise of the new year. Before the sun officially rose, we gathered together and said a prayer, reflecting on the past year's events and excitedly anticipating the ones we would experience in the year that was about to arrive. And then we waited, all standing on our tip-toes with our cameras at the ready, prepared to get the perfect picture of that very first sunrise.
And then, at last, there is was. The sun. And as that sun finally peeked over those Korean mountains it was, at least in my little corner of Asia, 2014.
It was almost indescribable, the feeling of that sunrise. It was love and joy and hope all compacted into one moment, as the first rays of the 2014 burst through the trees and lit up our faces.
I was so joyful then, and I'm still joyful now, at what that sunrise meant to me--an entire year stretching before me that I would spend, spent in the service of the Lord, here in this beautiful country, as a missionary.
I am so thankful for this new year.
아바 자매

 look at those pointed arches. :)

A couple weeks ago we went to get a closer look at Gongju's beautiful catholic church. This is my "i love gothic architecture" face.

me and k.......(One of the missionaries in her apartment)