Sunday, March 30, 2014

Street Miracles

When Sydney and Nick were little, we lived in Japan.  I too loved the cherry blossoms that seemed to be everywhere.  If only Spring would come to Pittsburgh.  

So, I've decided I'm coming back to Korea every spring for the rest of my life. Everything is cherry blossoms and everything is beautiful.
Korean Fun Fact #3
Let's learn some Korean! One of my favorite things about the Korean language (but also one of the hardest things for me to figure out when I first got here) is that there are two very different ways to say the word, "no."
The first 아니 is used to answer questions of "yes or no." It literally means, "It is not."
The second (and my more favorite way) is 안되, literally, "It does not become." When we express this kind of "no" in English, it sounds more like, "Nooooooooooooo!"
For example, it's the difference between this...
"Luke, I am your father."
"No, you're not. I have no father."
And this...
"Luke, I am your father."
Much more dramatic.
This week saw lots of miracles. First of all, we found investigators while 전도ing (on the street) and that almost never happens. Secondly, the pretty investigator I talked about last week has a baptismal date for April 19th! YAYAYAY. In our last lesson we taught her the Word of Wisdom and she had no problems at all. Not even with coffee. It was quite miraculous. But even more miraculous was what she said after the lesson, "This is fun! That was my favorite lesson thus far. I like learning about the commandments!" Wow. Never heard that one before.
But back to the street miracles. I'll just tell a few because I'm kind of running out of time...
So we were riding this bus out into the middle-of-nowhere (in case you haven't noticed yet, we're frequenters of the middle-of-nowhere) and this older gentleman starts talking to my companion. I say gentleman because that's exactly what he was. He was wearing a tweed coat with elbow patches. I love Korea. Anyway, they start talking about religion and he tells her that he already attends a church, but he's really bothered by the way that the people there profess their religious beliefs at church on Sunday, but don't actually follow them the rest of the week. He adds that he's lonely and fed-up and more than a little depressed, so my companion quickly explains that we have a happy message that we're sharing and that, if he would like us to, we would love to share it with him too. And so wordlessly, this tired, sad, old man reaches into his tweed coat, pulls out his business card, and gives it to us. Just like that. Oh, how I wish that happened every time.
So we called him later and set up an appointment for Saturday. We half-expected him to bail on us, but miracle of miracles he actually showed up! We listened to his religious history, his problems, and his battle with depression and we went straight into the Plan of Salvation. And my favorite thing about this man was that, while I specifically was teaching him and telling him the things I knew to be true, he listened. He didn't care that I was American, he didn't try and correct my Korean, he just listened and nodded along as I told him what God needed him to know: God loves him. God knows him. His life has purpose.
But the street miracles don't end there!
Just yesterday, while I was waiting for my other three Gongju sisters to get off the bus, this Buddhist monk walked up to me and was like, "It's hard, isn't it?" And I was like, "Help! Help! I don't know Korean!" Ha. Actually I said something more along the lines of "Um, what?" because 1. what a vague way to start a conversation, 2. he was speaking with a country accent and I was more than a little confused, and 3. I was more than a little distracted by his exciting Buddhist monk outfit.
[Side-note about Buddhist monks: Okay so he was actually a monk yet. More like a monk-in-training. They all wear this fun outfit, kind of like gray pajamas, and usually have on a sort of bracelet made of giant wooden beads. Oh, and they're heads are always shaved. Then once they become a real monk, they get to wear the orange toga thing (like Aang from Avatar) over their gray pajamas and go live with the other monks I presume. And yes I did just make most of that up. Someone please send me some info on Buddhism, I'm so confused.]
Thankfully, my Korean sisters came and saved me. We learned that this Buddhist monk believed pretty much everything we believed, from prophets to tithing to the Great Apostasy. He had gotten so tired of the confusion and hypocrisy in Christianity that he had given up and became a Buddhist instead. The only piece he was missing was the piece we had--the Restoration. Sadly, he was also the sort who was more interested in listing his own beliefs that listening to other people explain theirs, but he did gladly accept our offered Book of Mormon and carried on his way with a bow and a vague, "May luck bring us together again." Hopefully he calls us.
And that's that. I love the Book of Mormon! I love this gospel! I love sharing it!
And I love you!
Have a happy Conference Weekend!
No spoilers!
Sister Abba.

Sunday, March 23, 2014


Fun Korean Fact #2: Feet.

Most everyone knows that, in Asia, one must always take off one's shoes before entering someone's home. Actually, that should just be a rule for everyone. Shoes are gross. But, fun fact, the practice of removing your shoes extends far beyond people homes. To name just a few I've similarly gone shoe-less in various restaurants, dressing rooms, hospitals, 하권s, shops, and even a few church buildings. Hooray for no shoes! However, in the reverse, every time one enters a bathroom in Korea, one must wear bathroom shoes. I could probably write a whole other paragraph about Korean bathrooms, but basically since there's never a shower curtain (and in some cases not even a shower, just a sort of hose attached to the sink) the bathroom floor is almost always wet. And since no one likes wet socks...voila! Bathroom shoes!

Now. Contrary to popular belief, (Nick) I do actually teach people in my mission. Right now we have twelve investigators all varying in age and interest in the gospel. The thing about teaching investigators is that after you've been teaching them for a while, they kind of become your children. Not that I've ever had children, but if I had I imagine it would feel similar. Some investigators are the kind of children that hang on your every word and willingly do whatever you ask them. [Side-note: I haven't come across too many of these. ㅠㅠ] Others are like the sassy teenagers that find you awkward and embarrassing and avoid you whenever they can. And still others are the grown children who patiently listen, but don't actually believe a word of what you're telling them. Yet they still put up with you because they know you really do love them.

As of now our investigators include the following:
[Note, these descriptions will be rather vague. I promise I know and love my investigators more than this.]

One little girl with big eyes and a cute name. She talks incredibly fast.
Two little boys who don't really listen, but are slowly learning how to pray.
One sassy ten year-old who acts more like snarky twenty-five year-old. I love her dearly.
One Chinese-Korean immigrant with tattooed-on eyebrows.
Two teenage girls who we've met only a couple times. I'm still not sure we can call them investigators, but they call us 언니 and make us feel loved.
One Korean-American who lives waaaaay out in the country. I still haven't figured out how we can arrange to come to her house without sounding creepy.
One Filipino who still won't stop singing.

And then there are my favorites (to preserve privacy and not give non-Korean readers a headache, I'll just give them nicknames: Modern-Day Mulan, the Pretty One, and Sunny. 

Modern-Day Mulan is still going strong. She's learning English, she's reading the Book of Mormon. She is humble, she is kind, and she is good. She knows God has happiness in store for her. I hope we can help lead her there.

I may have talked about "the Pretty One" before, but I can't quite remember. She's the investigator that showed up to church without us that day I was deathly ill (see: "Day of Puking"). For some reason, the members always have trouble remembering her name, so whenever they ask us about her they just say, "How are your investigators? What about...wait, what's her name? The pretty one..." Thus the nickname. She was a referral from the Busan Mission, but she attends college here in Gongju. Yesterday, we organized a young adult family home evening for the sole purpose of introducing her to some new friends in the ward. The funny thing is, it kind of reminded  me when my roommates and I would invite boys over to our apartment to eat and play games. Except this time, I was a missionary and everything was in Korean. Anyway, my awkward college flashbacks aside, it went really well. Our pretty investigator had a really great time and by the end of the night all the young single adults in our ward had her phone number!

Finally, Sunny. I've talked about her lots and lots before. She's the nine/ten year-old girl that my companion and I have been teaching since we came to Gongju. She's been coming out to church pretty regularly for a couple of months now and has had a baptismal date for even longer. It's pretty much a Timon/Pumba/Simba situation that we have going on. I still haven't figured out whether I'm Timon or Pumba in the relationship.(If you don't know this reference, you must go watch The Lion King)

The tricky thing was that in order for Sunny to be baptized, we needed permission from her parents. But, as life goes, once my companion and I finally worked up the courage to go talk to her parents, her mom had a baby (honestly, we should have seen that one coming) and we had to wait a few more weeks. But this week, we finally asked! And her mom said yes! Just one problem--Sunny doesn't want to be baptized till May 25th. Not because of any problems with worthiness or fear, but because it's her birthday and she wants the day to be more special. Of course we said yes. We weren't going to take away her joy of being baptized on her birthday, but so.far.away. Ah...children.

And I am very much out of time.
I love you!
Sister Abba.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I Planned This One, I Promise.

Okay, so I realize that my last few emails have been a little, well, lame. In case you couldn't tell, I'm not very good at writing under pressure. But this week will be different because I planned my email today. Are you excited? I am.

Fun Fact About Korea #1 - The Oldest Person Takes the First Bite.

Since Korea is a country all about respecting the elders, tradition states that at every meal no one else may eat until the oldest person starts eating. But since some Korean families follow this rule and some don't, there's always this incredibly awkward moment between the prayer and the eating in which I have no idea what to do. I fidget with my chopsticks. I cross and recross my legs. I stealthily look out of the corner of my eye to see if anyone else has begun to eat yet. Usually I just wait for my companion.Finally, someone takes the first bite and I let out a breath of relief. I cheerily say, "잘먹겠습니다!" ("I will eat well!") and dig in.

All the Asian Languages

This week, while we were teaching our investigator 홍춘영, she repaid us for teaching her English by teaching us some Chinese. If someone could remind me later (and if I ever get good at Korean), I think I want to learn Chinese! It's so fun! When we gave her the Book of Mormon and had her read a few passages out loud, I was absolutely mesmerized by just how cool it sounded. If I ever get the chance to learn another language, Mandarin is at the top of the list.

We also got to go to stake conference this week in Daejeon! Elder Aoyagi from the Seventy came and spoke and I'll admit that as soon as he began speaking, my heart dropped for about four seconds as I realized that I understood literally none of the words that he was saying. Then I realized he was speaking Japanese! It wasn't until the man standing next to him began to translate what he had said into Korean that I realized the ridiculousness of my mini panic attack. Ha. I'm happy to report that even though I don't quite understand Korean yet, I understand more Korean than I understand Japanese! I know that sounds like an obvious statement because I've been here six months now, but I promise that I couldn't say that even three months ago. Yay, progress. ^^

Miraculous Buses

But first, let me explain what it's like waiting for the bus.

First of all, you're out of breath because you've just run at least a full block in a desperate attempt to catch the bus that's rumbling up the road behind you. You think, "I can do it! Just keep running! The stop is right there. Almost...almost..."

It's gone.
It passes the stop without even slowing down, infuriatingly impassive to your freshly crushed hopes and dreams.
But it's okay. You can wait.
Besides, another bus should be along shortly.

But another bus doesn't come shortly. A few seconds turn into a few minutes. A few minutes turn into half an hour. A half an hour skips all other measurements of time and immediately becomes a million years. It's cold, it's dark, and there's no one else around--just you and your companion staring stone-faced, straight ahead. No conversing, no complaining, just silent contemplation of which will come first: the bus or the disintegration of the univesrse.

By the time it finally does arrive (the bus, not the end of the universe) you can't even be happy about it as your ability to feel emotion has long since withered and died. You just get one, sit down, and try to remember what it felt like to have a soul.

Okay, I know this is all a little over-dramatic, but believe me when I say that waiting for the bus has been one the hardest things for me to cope with on my mission. I'm not good at patience.

But I promise there's a purpose behind my dramatics. Now that you understand the soul-shriveling experience that is waiting for the bus, you can more fully understand why my Miracle of the Week was just so miraculous.

Every Wednesday and Friday, my companion and I leave Gongju for our secondary area, Sejong. To get from Gongju to Sejong it takes three buses (I know, right. Sejong Days are a bit of a stuggle for me). On a good day the entire journey takes a little over an hour. On a bad day, two and a half.

This past Friday night we had an appointment in Sejong with our investigator 홍춘영 (aka Modern-Day Mulan). The lesson took waaay longer than we expected (it went really well though! She wants to read the Book of Mormon!) and by the time we finally made it to the bus stop it was 9:20.

Not good.

My companion and I were obviously exhausted, but still living off the joy that comes only with preaching the gospel. We sat down to wait, talking about how great the lesson was.

Two seconds passed.
The bus! Out of the darkness, there it was, like a miracle driving toward us. We hopped on and had a friendly conversation with the bus driver. He said we were lucky because this was the last bus of the night. We knew it wasn't luck.

We sat down to wait for our next bus, sure that we would have to wait a while since it was five minutes past it's scheduled time of arrival. We figured we already missed it.
Two seconds passed.
The bus! Arriving five minutes behind schedule, it came in perfect timing for us. On the ride my companion and I both prayed in gratitude. I silently added, "Just one more. If we could have just one more miracle, Heavenly Father, that would be really awesome."We got off at the Gongju bus terminal and flat-out ran to our bus stop. It wasn't even because we saw the bus coming, we just felt like we should run. We arrived at the stop out of breath, but excited.

We waited two seconds.
Nothing happened.
We waited two more.
We practically dance our way on, we were so happy.

As we walked up the steps to our apartment building, we checked the time. 9:50. We had made in home in thirty mintues. A record. No, not a record. A miracle.

Sister Abba

Monday, March 10, 2014

Modern-Day Mulan

안녕하세요 여로분!~ ^^

(Fun fact: In Korea, there's a whole different way to use emoticons while texting, writing letters, or sending
 emails. It's something my trainer had to teach me my first transfer so I wouldn't embarrass myself while texting investigators. For example, instead of plain old :) or :(, ^^ means your smiling and ㅠㅠ means your crying. Fun, right? Try it and make your texts more culturally enriched!)

Thoughts on the New York Times Article

As my mission president said in our weekly conference call this morning: "Well, it could have been worse."
But, if you want to see what my mission looks like, watch the videos! That's my apartment! Those are the buses I ride! Those are the people I talk to! It's my life!(The New York Times went to Sydney's mission and then wrote this article.   I didn't think it was a great article and I don't think President Shin did either.)  

Gongju Ward's 30th Anniversary

It was yesterday and it was so fun! There was food and fun times and families who had moved from the ward years ago came to celebrate the ward's 30th birthday. Especially fun were all the pictures of the ward members from the past thirty years--more hair, more 80s, but still my beloved Gongju Ward.


She's the investigator I told you about a few weeks ago, the one who lives with the Not-Dead Grandma (who we haven't been able to see since, by the way. Oh, the inconsistency of missionary life). Anyway, we've met 홍춘영 twice since then, to teach her English, and good heavens, this woman is amazing. She grew up in China and moved to Korea just over a year ago, leaving her husband, son, and the rest of her family behind. When we asked her why, she said, with tears in her voice, that she had to move to Korea to help her family. She said that when she lived in China she was so happy, but "a difficult thing" happened with her family and she had to leave China to find work. Then she showed us her hands. Once they were perfect, smooth, and beautiful. Now, they are dirty, mottled, and worn from the long days working in construction. But 홍춘영 refuses to give up hope. She misses her family so much, but she is grateful to God for sending us, her "gifts from God" as she calls us. Our interest in her life, our help with her English--all have been just what she's needed to dispel the dark clouds of sorrow and loneliness that have surrounded her for the past year. Life is difficult now, but 홍춘영 trusts in God. She prays to Him morning and night. She promises to listen to what we have to say.

She was happy once before and 홍춘영 knows that she will be happy once again.
And know, that if she sincerely hears our message, she can be happy now and forever.

I love you.
Sister Abba

Sunday, March 2, 2014

God's love is for all

Syd's camera has scratches on the lens, so she didn't send any pictures again this week.  She received our Valentine's package and shared her root beer barrels and ring pops with the Koreans.  It's still winter here in Pittsburgh but it looks like Spring is coming to Korea.  

The sky is almost blue today!
Usually the Gongju sky is blanked in a solid white haze of pollution, but today the sun is winning the battle with the smog! Yes!
This week we had an interesting experience while 가가호호ing (the Korean word for "knocking on doors"). Normally when we knock, the person inside just yells through the door, "Yeah?" or "Who is it?" and then we say, "It's the sister missionaries!" and then they say, "What?!" and then we say, "We're teaching free English!" and then they say, "It does not become!" which is a Korean phrase frequently used to mean a myriad of things, but in this particular situation it means, "Go away. We don't want to talk to you."
But this week, someone not only opened their door, but they expectantly stood there, waiting for us to say something more than, "We're the sister missionaries." And I literally had no idea what to say. Usually, when we talk to people on the street, we walk beside them and have a normal conversation, gradually building up to our purpose as missionaries. But there is there is nothing normal about 가가호호ing except that it happens in Korea all the time because of how many different religions there are, so what do I say?! Really, I'm sincerely asking. And if you're wondering what happened with the lady who actually opened her door, it went a little something like this:
Lady: Hi. How can I help you?
Us: We're the sister missionaries.
*long awkward pause*
Companion: Do you have a special religion?
Lady: No.
*second long awkward pause*
Companion: Well, we teach English. Here's a flyer. Okay, bye.
And then we ran away.
In other news, our investigator ShinHyoJeong dropped us this week. I haven't emailed about her yet, so don't worry that you don't know who I'm talking about. Why I bring her up now is that it was honestly the best, most well-ended drop both my companion and I had ever experienced on our missions.
She was an English investigator and dropped us only because she had to go back to university. Her interest in the gospel was limited (she was Buddhist, but only because she liked the smell of incense) and her belief in God was pretty much non-existent. However, as we said goodbye to ShinHyoJeong on Friday, after being her English teachers and missionaries for only six short weeks, I again felt the love Heavenly Father has for all of HIs children, regardless of their belief in Him. I knew without a doubt that ShinHyoJeong had felt the power of the Spirit in our lessons and I hoped more than anything that some part of our message touched her and prepared her for future missionaries. And even though it was sad to see her go, sad that she didn't gain the interest or belief in God that we wanted for her, I was comforted by the fact that even though she wasn't certain of God's love, at least she was certain of our love. I know she felt our love not only in our missionary discussions, but in our careful preparation for her English lessons and the interest we showed in her everyday life. And hopefully, one day, ShinHyoJeong will remember the love we had for her and finally connect the undeniable dots, leading her to the knowledge of the love God has for her. Because surely it is the love of God that is "most joyous to the soul." (1 Nephi 11:23)
Sister Abba