Monday, February 24, 2014

For the Win

Transfer calls are in and.....

the Gongju Jameh Foursome will live to see another transfer! YAYAY. Gongju Foursome for the win.

In other news...I think it's almost springtime! No, but really, while my companion and I were walking to email today we saw little, tiny flowers growing among the usual dead leaves and garbage that litter the sidewalk. There may be life in this city yet! I've never been so excited for spring.

And you know what spring means?
GENERAL CONFERENCE. Only...53 more days! Or something like that. It's actually slightly concerning just how obsessed I've become with General Conference talks. I read them all.the.time. When I wake up and am supposed to be taking a shower, before I go to bed while I'm supposed to be writing in my journal...I may have an addiction. But they're so good. Last October's Conference especially. If you haven't re-read Conference yet, I implore you to stop reading this lame and confusing email and instead go read the words of our apostles and prophet. Like, now. Nothing I say will ever be as good.   

There's really not too much to say about this week. It actually wasn't that great--no appointments, unprogressing investigators, guilt and shame at my inability to talk to strangers and my ever-growing rice face. But luckily, I email you all right after I look through the wave of love and encouragement that comes through your emails and that always has a way of cheering me right up. I usually say this at the end, but I'll say it again now--I love you!

And even though the majority of this week was a little lack-luster, I've been trying really hard lately to appreciate the small miracles and happy moments that I experience each day. I saw one yesterday when KiniKini and I discovered just how much more wonderful the "Let It Go" song becomes when you sing it in a crappy Australian accent. I saw another this morning when KimSuHyun spontaneously hugged me, squealing with joy because we were staying another transfer in Gongju. I see them every day, in the kindness that my sweet companion shows me as we labor together in two different areas, going back and forth between our two cities like confused nomads.

I saw an especially incredible miracle yesterday when I sat down to practice teaching the first lesson to my companion. It started out like any other role-play--a little stilted and awkward, me frequently stopping to ask her for a word I wanted to use or a suggestion on how I can explain things better. But then I got to the part where I needed to recite the First Vision and even though I knew that she wasn't a real investigator and this wasn't a real lesson, just my companion helping me practice, as I recited the words of the prophet Joseph Smith, I had this overwhelming spiritual confirmation that these words were true. And it didn't matter that they were in Korean. It didn't matter that  people, then and today, reject his words as a lie. I know that they are true. I know Joseph Smith was prophet. He humbly asked to know the truth and he saw God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. I know that through the power of God and with the guidance of the Angel Moroni, he obtained and translated the Book of Mormon. I know the Book of Mormon is true. It is the word of God and the people and prophets who compiled and painstakingly recorded its words were real people. They lived and they died in order to preserve the record of their people and the words of the Savior and I am so grateful to them for their words and their sacrifice. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and I dare anyone to tell me it's false without first sincerely reading and praying about it. I love this book as I love the Old and New Testaments and it is a privilege for me to study the words of the scriptures every day of my mission.

I love this gospel. I love my Heavenly Father. I love my Savior.
And one day, someday soon, all the bad days won't matter and all the disappointing weeks will be a long-forgotten memory because I know that this is the work of God. And I am honored to be a part of it.

Sister Arvanitas.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Temptation and Understanding

First of all, thank you so much to the Karatassos family and Aunt Lori for the packages this week! I've never been so popular on Valentine's Day. I've written you each much longer notes expressing my undying gratitude, but let me say one more time, THANK YOU I LOVE YOU. 

This email is brought to you in four parts.

But I Can't "Let It Go."

So, I don't know how it is in America, but here in Korea everyone is obsessed with the new Disney movie Frozen, especially the song "Let It Go." It blares from every storefronts, it plays as every cell phone ringtone, and it's all our investigators want to sing while we're trying to teach them English. It's like this entire country is taunting me with the one movie I want to see, but obviously can't. In fact, one of our members even invited us to watch it with them for Family Home Evening and it took us a full day of considering calling our mission president and asking before we finally decided that it probably wasn't okay. Ah, temptation...Though we did agree to teach our little investigators the English words to all the songs, so thanks for the lyrics Madds! :)

More Singing

Remember Gaie? The lady who wouldn't stop singing? Well, we met her again this week and had a great experience reading out-loud from the hymnbook and singing some of the hymns together. The only ones she recognized were "How Great Thou Art," "Battle Hymn of the Republic," and the Christmas hymns, so we sang those and then taught her "Be Still My Soul," which she really liked! I never realized it before my mission, but the hymnbook is really awesome! Last Monday, I bought a hymnbook in English specifically so we could sing together with Gaie and ever since then I've had so much fun reading the words of the hymns and looking up the corresponding scriptures. It's added a new level of learning and spirit to my daily personal study and I can't believe I didn't realize how much we can learn from it sooner. Go hymnbook!

I Understood Some Korean!

I had two cool experiences understanding Korean this week. The first was during the English half of our lesson with the kids we teach in Sejong. Since it's four nine year-olds who don't actually speak English and have a really hard time focusing, English time is usually just non-gospel Korean time, with a few English vocab words thrown in. This particular day we asked them each to relate the plot-line of their favorite episode of Spongebob (as you can tell, we're terribly sophisticated in our English-teaching) and as HyunJi (our investigator who comes to church with us every week) began on this long and detailed description of this particular episode, my companion clearly had no idea what she was talking about. But I did! Ha. It was probably one of my most exciting missionary moments as I listened to little HyunJi and knew exactly which Spongebob episode was her favorite. (For those who are wondering, it was the one where Spongebob thinks he's killed the health inspector and he has to go and bury him outside of town.)(my children are so cultured in knowing each Spongebob episode)

My more significant and spiritual experience understanding English happened yesterday when a man in our ward asked me to translate for him and explain to his Filipino sister-in-law just why the Word of Wisdom was so important to him. I had never actually translated for anyone before, so it was really cool to be the one to explain to another person the foreign words that were being spoken to her. I loved watching this investigator's face light up in understanding and agreement as I conveyed to her her brother-in-law's testimony of the blessings and power that come from living the Word of Wisdom.

The Weirdest Day of My Mission

Since I'm almost out of time and since it's an incredibly long story, I'll tell you the whole thing in a year or so. But to help you remember it involves some children, a man from Seoul, being stranded in literally the  middle-of-nowhere, and a very kind village who took us in and fed us dinner. (nothing like a cliffhanger)

I know that this gospel is true and that the Lord truly is with us, "withersoever thou goest."

Till we meet again in one week's time,
Sister Abba.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Weird Days

So many things, but I've got no time. Also, I have absolutely no plan for this email so this is probably going to be the worst, most scattered one I've ever written. I'm sorry.

This week we had some weird days. Weird days are the best because they're the days that the bus always comes on time and new investigators pop up out of nowhere and all of our failed plans somehow transform themselves into even better ones.

First of all...
We finally met our Not-Dead Grandma again! She paid her gas bill, so that's a relief. We were just walking across the parking lot on our way to an appointment when she suddenly appeared out of nowhere, grabbed both me and my companion by the wrist, and said, "You're coming to my house. Let's go." She's honestly one of the funniest, albeit slightly senile, Korean grandmas I've ever met. And I've met a lot of Korean grandmas. She tells me I look like her Parisian granddaughter which makes me feel all swiggly and happy inside and she always hugs me and kisses me on the cheek when we part ways, just like my real grandmas do. Her name is 이마리아, which is hilarious, and she has a Chinese roommate who she suspects is a North Korean spy. [Side note: Don't worry. Her roommate is not a spy. Just a really sweet lady in her 40s who selflessly takes care of 이마리아 and likes learning different languages. When we met her, I helped her with her English and now she's our new investigator!]

And also...
Our nine-year old investigator, 현지 is still doing great. Though we had a bit of an awful moment with her this week when we had to cancel English class with her because the other nine-year old, her friend, was asleep and so we couldn't teach in her mom's pig foot shop. Confusing, I know. Anyway, 현지 called her mom to ask if we could teach English at her house, but her mom said no. And then, worst of the worst, 현지 started crying. Like really crying. And all I could think was, "They did not prepare me for this in the MTC." Luckily, my companion is great with children, so she consoled 현지, talked to her mom, and before we knew it, the three of us were gathered around a sticky plastic table in the nearest fast food place, eating french fries and talking about the paintings of Christ in my companion's Gospel Artwork book. Three cheers for wonderful companions.

And finally...
Our new investigator Gaie (pronounced Gah-ee)! She's from the Philippines and is living with her sister here in Korea for a little while. She randomly showed up to sacrament meeting yesterday and since she only speaks English, I talked to her about the symbolism of the sacrament and shared with her my English copy of the Liahona the entire meeting. She's Catholic/Born-Again/Seven-Day-Adventist and she loves to sing. Like really, really loves to sing. Afterward sacrament meeting, Sister K.......and I talked with her and tried to get to know her better, but she just kept breaking out into song. It took everything Sister K....... and I had not to laugh. At one point, Gaie turned to Sister K....... and asked if she knew the song [insert name of random Christian rock song]. Sister K........, in an effort to be polite, was like, "Uhhhh...maybe. I think so..." And so Gaie replied with, "Oh Sister! You do! Please sing it for me!" I was pretty much dying inside because it looked like K........ was going to have to make up a song, but I decided to be merciful and instead we all sing a rousing verse of "Amazing Grace.

Anyway, we finally got Gaie to stop singing long enough for us to teach her the first lesson and it actually went really well. The Spirit was strong and I could feel how close Gaie was to the Truth that she was always singing about. I'm so excited to teach her again.

And...I'm really out of time now.
I love you all!!!!


Monday, February 3, 2014

Happy New Year!

Thank you to everyone again for the kind messages and letters of encouragement! I have read and re-read them and I have come to the conclusion that Cranberry Ward may just be the best ward in all the world. So, thank you. I love you all.

Happy New Year! Again!
This week was 설날! Or what the rest of the world calls "Chinese New Year." Only don't do that in Korea. While talking to my companion, I once referred to it as Chinese New Year and she just looked at me and said, "설날. I am not Chinese."
So now I know.

Since 설날 is pretty much the biggest holiday in Korea, the festivities lasting for a full three days, all the shops close down and there are no people on the streets.
Which means no people to whom to talk about the gospel.
Which makes missionary work a bit...difficult.

So, to handle this slightly problematic situation, our mission president assigned all the missionaries meet in their districts for the first and last days of 설날 and share advice about investigators, plan for upcoming ward activities, and practice teach. So basically two full days of district meeting. It was actually really nice, kind of like summer vacation, and it was so good to just slow down for a bit and assess which problems we desperately needed to assess and which investigators most needed our attention.

The other day of 설날, the 31st, was P-day!
(Sadly, no, we didn't have two P-days in one week. Last Monday wasn't actually P-day. Just Email-Your-Family Day.)
The Korean sisters called their families, the four of us went for a walk by the river, and my companion and I even went to a fun history museum and learned all about what 공주 looked like in the 1950s. The rest of the time was spent with members, eating delicious food and participating in various 설날 activities.
It went a little something like this...

We ate...
떡국! Though I expect very few of you to know what that it is (but that's okay, you can Google it). It's looks and tastes like soup, but it's actually special New Year's soup. In Korea, the saying goes that when you eat 떡국 you "eat your age" or get a year older. Which means now I'm about...35. I've eaten alot of 떡국 these past four days.

We played...
this special New Year's game which I would love to tell you the name of, but I don't actually know it. I just called it the "새해 Game" or "that-one-game-where-you-throw-sticks-in-the-air."
Basically you have these four sticks and you toss them in the air and you move pieces on a board and there's Chinese characters involved know what, I don't think I can actually explain this game. It took me at least four rounds of playing it to figure it out. But in my defense, it was explained to me only in Korean by children and parents and grandparents who were all yelling over each other, disagreeing about the rules. Just know that it was really fun and we'll be playing it next year when I get back.

We did traditional stuff like...
bowing! But not just a normal bow. A special New Year's bow. All the older people sit in a line and the younger people bow to them. But like, a kneeling-on-the-floor, face-to-the-ground bow. I promise it wasn't as strange as it sounds, just a really beautiful and traditional part of the Korean culture that I was really grateful to take part in.

We wore... 
한복s! But just to church on Sunday. My companion's mom told her to "go rent 하복s for you and your companion and take a picture." So we did. You don't argue with Korean moms.
And it was wonderful! I felt like a Korean princess and it was the perfect way to end our missionary-summer-vacation, 설날 weekend.

As we spent a great deal of time this week celebrating the New Year with various families in our ward, it made me think about how important the family is Heavenly Father's plan of happiness. In fact, it is primarily through the family that we receive the blessings and joys of the gospel. Although I can't be with my family right now, I was especially grateful this week for all wonderful families here in Korea with whom I had the opportunity to spend this holiday . As I ate with them and played games with them and even bowed with them, I realized that we not only receive the blessings of the gospel within the unit of our own families, but also within the grand unit that is the human family. I'm so thankful, if only briefly, to be with and serve these families here on the other side of the world and I'll never forget the familiar feeling of love I felt for them as fellow children of God.

Sister Abba

All dressed up for church