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