Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Banana Bread of Life

The time is ticking.  Actually, not only is it ticking, but it's almost out.  I, after today, will only have 2 1/2 more weeks here in the mission field. 

WHAT HAPPENED?  How did it come so fast?  I thought I just got here!

But, no, the truth is, my mission is coming to its end, and I only have 19 more days here in Korea.  Now, sadness definitely sets in when I dwell on the thought of leaving this country and all of the beautiful things and people I have come to love here.  Yes, it will be nice to see my family and be a normal human being again, but Korea and the wonderful things that my mission taught me will be truly missed.  So, in order to combat the bitter side of the situation, I decided I wanted to bring a little sweetness into the equation.  That is, sweetness in the form of banana bread.

Apparently, I'm a cook.  Or chef, or baker.  Whatever you call it.  I had no idea, but somehow I mix things together and it turns out incredibly delicious.  It's a good thing too, because our house actually has a little toaster oven and I've been able to master my skills of creating the most wonderful, soft, moist, sweet, and perfect banana bread ever.  While it's a nice little thing for me to eat myself, making things is no fun without sharing it with others.

If you remember, I transferred to my current ward not very long ago.  All of the other missionaries there are very new to the ward as well.  We have good relationships with the members, yes, but nothing was really strong.  We definitely had some bonding that needed to be done before member missionary work could really commence (also, I'm a social bee and need to fill up my talking/friendly/social tank).  

First, I made one loaf of banana bread for Sister Jang because she was sick with a cold and had to leave church early.  When we went to her house and gave her the bread, we also shared John 6:35 "I am the bread of life" (we thought it was cute).  After we left that evening, she was so overly happy and thankful for it, she wouldn't stop texting us thank you messages all throughout the night.  Because it was so successful, we thought it would be great to give bread to other members too.

Before we knew it, we were buying 30+ bananas and bags of flour, sugar, and other ingredients.  During studies in the morning, the oven was hot and the bread was baking.  Then, all throughout extra time when we didn't have appointments throughout the day, we would be at members houses sharing with them John 6:35 and a warm loaf of banana bread to accompany it.  Everybody loved it so much and it was a perfect way to open the way for a better relationship to be formed with us and all of the ward members.  It definitely is going to be sad to say goodbye to all of them when I have to leave in the next few weeks.  However, until then, at least our time together will be wonderful.

Elder Graf

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Year of My Mission

When I said goodbye to 2013 and hello to the new year, I made the decision within myself that I would make 2014 the greatest year I possibly could.  In fact, I dubbed it "The Year of My Mission".  The setting of the situation was perfect.  I was in Korea, I was a senior missionary, I could speak Korean, I knew my personal method for missionary work, and I knew what I would need to do in order to make it the best experience possible.  So, I felt it was a perfect goal to set and remind myself about all year long.  And now as 2014 began to come to a close, and I'm was looking back on the entire experience as a whole, it sure proved to be quite wonderful.

I don't have much time to write about everything that I learned, and I definitely don't have time to post pictures of everything that I saw (I really want to do both though), so I'll instead just give a short summary and try my best to squeeze everything into it:

2014 was a year full of trials.  I had hard companions, I had difficult investigators.  I had sad times, and I went through many doubts myself.  Through all of these hardships - though I would never wish to go through them again - there were many lessons learned.  I discovered my flaws and how to improve them.  I found my true self and became a better version of it.  2014 was a year of experiences.  Culture festivals, new foods, trips to Buddhist temples, excursions to bath houses, and hikes to mountain peaks were only a few of the many things that I experienced all year long.  P-day, for me, stood for Party Day.  2014 was a year of people.  I met so many different types of people ranging from young to old, believer to non believer, Pakistan to England, and so on.  Not only did I meet with them, but I learned from them.  And I grew because of them.  The friends I have made here have been so kind to me, and our friendships will continue after the mission.  2014 was a year of lessons.  Never in my entire life have I needed so much patience, and never again will I be in another situation where I will have to put that patience to the test.  I've learned so many things about not only patience, but kindness, and true service, and friendship, and how to work with people, and - in the end - love.  2014 was the year of all of these things, and in the end, it was truly the Year of My Mission.

On the morning of January 1, 2015, I woke up at 5 AM.  The 4 of us put on our clothes and headed outside.  It was cold, but we dressed warm.  At 6 AM, we met the other missionaries at the base of Bomun Mountain where I had arranged for us all to meet.  We hike up to the top in the dark as the snow lightly fell upon us.  At the summit was the fortress, and the stars were still visible.  There we sat in the wind and cold, watching and waiting for the sun to rise.  The sky gradually brightened in the southeast over the horizon until finally, through the clouds, shone the new year.  Welcome 2015, I'm glad you finally made it.

Elder Graf

Sunday, January 4, 2015

A Merry Christmas

Sometimes, I become really busy and have no time to write an email.  IE - the last month.

But it's fine, I'm here now, and what better week to start up again than Christmas?  I know, I could'nt agree more.

Christmas in Korea, however, is....well.... as I've already hashed out before.... not really Christmas.  There might be a lit up tree or two in front of the Macy's-esque department store, and there might be Christmas songs playing on the streets, but the overall feel and ambiance is definitely not the same.  I'm sure as a normal person in Korea, you can watch holiday movies and decorate the tree and do all you can to bring the spirit in, but as a missionary, those opportunities are almost non-existent.  At first, the season was seeming to come and go without much fanfare and nothing we could do was going to stop it.....

So we got to work.

Step 1:  Decorate with what we can.  I whipped out the little one foot tall Christmas tree and miniature lights, garland, and ornaments that came with it and plopped it right on my desk surrounded by the pre-wrapped presents my wonderful mother sent me.  The other Elders in the house also made their makeshift decorations using things also sent to them from their families.

Step 2:  Sing Christmas songs only.  Each day when we start companionship study, we sing a hymn.  For the entire month of December, we sang only Christmas hymns.  Yes, the less than 10 songs provided in the Korean hymnbook got tiring - but we still sang them!

Step 3:  Get the band back together.  Elder Tischner (violin), Sister Jensen (beautiful vocals), and I (piano) once upon a time performed "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" at the stake talent show.  We slapped together our own arrangement and everybody loved it so much that the ward requested for us to perform again for the Christmas Party.  The song?  Oh Holy Night.  And the outcome?  Standing applause ;)  Oh, and Christmas Spirit.

Step 4:  Hold a zone caroling activity.  A new transfer comes new meetings, and we were required to hold our zone conference on Christmas Eve.  As horrible as it sounds, I did all I could to make both the meeting exciting, but also the post-meeting time as well.  Once it ended, all 24 of us missionaries went to the downtown shopping area and ate Christmas Eve Dinner (sushi) and then caroled the night away.  It was such a hit, that not only was everyone that passed by recording and taking pictures of us, but the Daejeon news also came with their big camera and reporter and blasted us onto the big screen in the shopping district (think times square).  It was crazy and tons of fun - and after we finished, a missionary turned to me and said "hey - it really isbeginning to look a lot like Christmas!"

Step 5:  Skype the family.  Christmas morning came, and while their wasn't anything special about the morning in Korea, the second the webcam turned on, I felt the season blast through the computer and pour out into the little room in the church I was skyping from.  While I had done all I could to brighten up the atmosphere over here in Daejeon, it became crystal clear to me that Christmas, simply, is family.  While we weren't together in reality, it was still wonderful to talk and see each other.  Best Christmas Present ever.

Step 6:  Share the joy with everyone else.  So the build up happened, Christmas came, the joy was high!  And it became time to spread that joy to everyone around us.  On the night of the 25th, we went from investigator house to member house to less active house to investigator house, caroling and sharing the true message, and gift, of the holiday.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son" is the story that sparked everything that Christmas is, was, and will always be.  A gift to the world - a gift of love, hope, and peace.  These are things that Christmas is truly about, and these are the things that my mission has revolved around.  Things might be hard, and unfair at times too, but with the concepts of love, hope, peace, service, kindness, friendship, family, and giving in our lives, life all of a sudden becomes more than worth living.  And Christmas, on both sides of the world, is a wonderful time to cherish these wonderful attributes and reasons to live for.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Elder Graf

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Week

What am I thankful for?  Food.  I'm thankful for food.

Never, ever, in my entire mission, have I had so many consecutive days of amazing food to eat.   I mean, we are often taken out, and fed at houses, and sometimes we even get creative and put together a makeshift feast of our own.  BUT, never have all of those happened day after day, meal after meal, all within one week before.  And it was just perfect that it all happened around Thanksgiving.

Monday, all of us Elders in Daejeon decided to get together for P-day and eat at a meat buffet.  "This week is Thanksgiving" we figured.  "We have to eat celebrate somehow".  And so we did.  It was delicious, wonderful, and filled us up with the Thanksgiving spirit.  Or so we thought.

Tuesday, we were all-of-the-sudden invited to a dinner appointment with our investigator and the APs.  And where did he take us?  To an amazing restaurant called All-that Barbecue - full American buffet.  We were in heaven.  And we were filled with the American Thanksgiving spirit - or at least our stomachs were.

Then, on Wednesday, I went on an exchange with an Elder in my Zone.  He's been going through a real rough time recently, so I figured I would cheer him up and pay for him at that one really nice burger restaurant I ate at on the Fourth of July.  $30 later, we were both geared up for the holiday to come.

On Thursday morning, the alarm went off.  "Happy Thanksgiving"  the four of us sleepily mumbled to each other, and we all went about getting ready for what was going to be just a normal day until right around 10 o'clock, we heard a knock on the door.  Sure enough, it was my Thanksgiving package from my wonderful mother, full of mashed potatoes mix, stuffing mix, jello, and all of the essentials you need for a Thanksgiving feast.  The only things missing were rolls and a turkey.  But alas!  I still had the rolls mix from last year my mom sent me, and this time around, my house had an oven!  And for the Turkey, right then and there, Elder Oliverson and I hit the streets and bought a chicken (no turkeys in Korea) but it looked the same as a turkey does, just a little smaller, and so we called it good.   Starting right then, we all worked together to make our meal, and the four of us ate a wonderful Thanksgiving lunch together.   Really, all I could feel the whole time during that was the overwhelming amount of appreciation I have for my family and everything they have always done for me - especially all the help they have sent me from the other side of the world during my mission.  The four of us all felt the spirit of Thanksgiving for sure!

Friday, our member spoiled us to another American buffet restaurant for Thanksgiving and on Saturday, we had a massive Thanksgiving party at the Colver's house for the English/American Branch here in Daejeon (with food made BY Americans, FOR Americans!).  Then, following that, we taught our weekly English class and, of course, the topic was Thanksgiving.

All in all, it was an amazing Thanksgiving week.  And my goodness, were we given so much to be thankful for.   But beyond the food, it was the time and care and love that we received that really mattered.  And At the same time, we also did our best all week as missionaries to continue to give to others as well.  Really, it was a great week of both.  A week of giving and getting, and a week of showing thanks, and being thankful.  There's so much I could say that I'm thankful for, and I really don't know where I would be able to stop if I were to start a list.  So I'll just be a cheater, but completely mean it when I say it:

What am I thankful for?  Everything.  Absolutely everything.  And I'm grateful to my mission for helping me see that.

Elder Graf

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Field Trip

Remember in Elementary School when you woke up one day, excited as ever, packed your sack lunch, went to school, and rode a bus with your teachers to the museum?  Or the forest?  Or wherever it was the buses took you?  

I do.

And boy, weren't those always among the greatest days of the school year?  Or at least, the most refreshing?  Well, we're not in elementary school anymore, but we're on a mission, so it's not too different, right?  So of course, a field trip was due to occur.

The day?  Today.  P-day.  
The bus?  Daejeon area tour buses - 2 of them.  
The teachers?  President and Sister Shin.
And the destination?  A museum, an ancient king's tomb, and a 1500 year old fortress.

Last week, I literally announced it to my zone as such.  "Next week," I beamed at our zone meeting, "We will be going on a field trip!!"  And wow, was it great or what!    I coordinated the venture with Elder Butterfield, one of the district leaders in the zone who had the connections with the bus people, and President Shin, of course. Before the day came, everybody was so excited to be going on a big activity.  And luckily, the company doing to tour was giving it all to us for free in order to promote tourism and advertise through us.  So, they were using us, but we were definitely using them - and I feel we got the better end of the stick.

Anyway, it was fantastic.  And many of the missionaries brought their investigators with them as well, so it was a great opportunity to still do missionary work even while having fun.  I wish I could send you all pictures of the trip, but I don't have a card reader right now.... so I guess it'll have to wait.  But just so you a get a picture in your mind, imagine 30 smiling missionaries in front of a massive Asian castle and you'll get the idea.

So other than that, the week went great!  I love my new comp and area.  While it's still Daejeon, it still is very different.  And being a zone leader thus far has been a great experience.  Hopefully this next week will just be a continuation of the good time I've already had.

Until then!
Elder Graf

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Last Area

Goodbye SeJong, hello Dunsan, oh....... hey Daejeon.....nice to see you again.

Now, to you people, you probably have no idea what that means really, so I'll explain.  For the last seven months, I have been living in the city Daejeon in the neighborhood of Yuseong.  That's like living in New York City, but on Staten Island.  I've been serving in Yuseong all that time, but also in the city of SeJong - which is about 30 minutes north.  It's been a very long time, but a very wonderful time as well.  In Yuseong/SeJong, I've made many friends, experienced many things, seen two of my investigators get baptized, and have truly come to love the area.

Transfer calls came and I knew I would be leaving.  "What new and foreign land will President be sending me to next!?" I wondered.  "Will it be the south?  The sprawling traditional country towns?  An ocean city again?  I sure hope I get an ocean city again.....".   Clearly, I was excited to see just how I was going to be spending the final stretch of my mission.  I mean, I love Daejeon - and it's been a great time - but I've already seen and done nearly everything there is to see and do here, and a new area is always nice

During my time leading up to when our calls would come in, I was busy saying goodbye to everyone and announced to them that I would be leaving soon.  "Where?"  they asked, and I would respond by telling them that it would most likely be somewhere far, far away.  I met with the military general one more time and he took us out to eat a delicious meal.  My English class in SeJong celebrated our last day together and each one of them gave me a going away gift.  I taught farewell lessons to each of my investigators and visited all of the member families that I had come to love so much.  It was actually really hard to say goodbye to everyone - Yuseong had literally become my home and all of the people here, my family.

But alas, the day came and I waited in patience for the call to come.  The phone ringed and I looked at caller ID - it wasn't the APs, but was my old companion Elder Skinner.  I answered.  "Dude did you get your call yet!?

Clearly he had gotten his.  "No, I didn't.... what's happening to you?"

"My comp and I are staying the same - but you need to get your call - you're gonna flip!"

My phone began ringing again - this time caller ID said the APs.  "They're calling right now - I gotta go!"

And oh boy, did I flip.  My new area is Dunsan.  It's still Daejeon - just the next neighborhood over from Yuseong.  Literally a step, not a stone throw, but a step away.  My new companion?  Elder Oliverson - he's from Castle Dale, Utah.  And our position together?  Daejeon Zone Leaders.

Stress.  Lots of stress.  Still staying in Daejeon - not getting that nice fresh start I was vying for.  Zone Leader too sounds great and all - but whenever you ask a Zone Leader whether or not they like it, they'll always hesitate for a while - definitely doing a little "should I tell him, should I not, should I tell him, should I not"  mental battle until they finally blurt out with a smile "it's always great to serve the Lord"

such saints.

Haha, anyway, I was definitely stressed all week long trying to build my mental strategy for how I will going about adjusting to the minute yet also drastic changes.  Thursday came and I said by to first SeJong, then Godfrey - my one and only greenie - and headed to the mission home.  And ever since then, I had no idea why I was stressing out so much.

Dunsan rocks! It's like the Manhattan of Daejeon - the big city center. All of the members are so nice too.  And, it is also designated as the ward in the Daejeon area that all of the English speaking foreigners who are living in Korea attend and so on my very first Sunday, the Bishop had me translate 2 of their talks into Korean during sacrament meeting so the rest of the ward could understand.  Talk about pressure for a good first impression.  "Hi ward members I don't know at all and I just met today - you all now get to see my Korean ability".  Luckily, it turned out great and all I got afterwards was compliments about how good my Korean was.  Success.  And being a Zone Leader....... I have always liked leadership positions.... ;)

So a great last 3 months it will be.

Elder Graf

Sunday, November 2, 2014

So. Many. Things.

This week was insane.  Actually, despite my very vague emails - every week is insane.  There is just always so much that goes on, it's almost too much to write about, so I simply just choose one story and focus on that.  But this week, I'll change it up a bit for you and just send pictures and little snippets about what we did.


For P-day, it was raining, but that didn't stop us from going to the National Cemetery to check out the changing leaves and beautiful landscape.  Monday night we met with our investigator and ate dinner with him at his house.  Afterwards, we reviewed the Plan of Salvation with him and invited him to our Halloween Party that was going to be on Saturday


We had a combined district meeting as a zone at the mission office.  The majority of the meeting was spent finalizing our Halloween Party that we had been planning for the last month.  President Shin sat in our district meeting and when it came to role-play, I was paired with him.  Year ago me would've been scared to death.  Today me was totally chill.  It was a fun time, President Shin is awesome.  Afterwards, we all went to a delicious and cheap restaurant together and it actually ended up being the same restaurant I ate with Elder Ward, my trainer, on my first day in Korea.  I hadn't been there since that day - it's really weird how fast the time has gone.


Wednesday was AMAZING!  Our English class in SeJong scheduled a private tour of the new government complex in SeJong a few weeks back and the day of the tour finally came.  We went through security, got our passes, met our tour guide, and entered the building.  For over 6 months, I've been walking around and under it, but I never thought I would actually get the opportunity to go inside, and my goodness, was it amazing or what.  Afterwards, we went up to the observation tower in the city and took pictures from the top - we have the coolest English class members ever!  We invited them to our Halloween Party as well.  Later in the day, Elder and Godfrey and I had other appointments as well including a member visit and a dinner with a famous Korean poet.


Not all, but nearly all day was spent making decorations for the Halloween Party on Saturday.  Many fun times were shared as we drew, cut, and colored as a district (family).  On our way home, we passed a street vendor selling live octopus.  Yes, we bought them, and yes, we ate them live.  Just whole octopus, squirming and slimy - beak, tentacles, head and all - straight into the mouth.  Delicious!  And dangerous too... the dang thing bit my hand as I was holding it.


A day with Brother Fastcar again.  He took us for an amazing stroll into the deep countryside and though the mountains in his car.  We ended up at a reservoir and just sat and talked about life and it's purposes with him as we stared off onto the beautiful lake.  Once evening came, Elder Godfrey and I hit up the city park to check out the flower festival that was going on there.  It was beautiful!  And the performances were amazing!  It was also perfect for street contacting as well - we talked to tons of people and got lots of numbers.


Finally, the big day came.  We woke up, did personal study as always, and then headed straight for the church to begin.  Hours of set up, hours of stress, and a break in the middle to teach our weekly English class later, we were finished and we opened the door to our American-style Halloween Party.  We had all sorts of activities.... fishing for candy, bobbing for apples, scary feeling game with eyeballs (skinned grapes) brains (spaghetti) and all, face painting, musical chairs, a costume contest, and last but DEFINITELY not least, a haunted house.  For the haunted house, we completely shut off and remodeled the basement to our church and turned it into a maze of black-lit funhouses, fuzzy analog-tv corridors, dark closets, and damp boiler rooms.  Of course, we had people dressed up and scare people throughout it as they walked through - it was a hit.

Before the party, our members were actually worried about the party.  They were hesitant to help us and didn't think the turnout would be that large....  Boy did we show them wrong!  TWENTY less actives and over FORTY investigators came, making that more than the sixty members that did!  It was huge!  And super successful!  And everybody had a wonderful time.


Two of our investigators came to church with us, as well as our recent convert.  However, despite their presence, I had the hardest time trying to stay awake during sacrament meeting!  Busy weeks and busy parties and busy lifestyles will do that to you.  It's okay, I'm sure they thought I was just praying or something..... I hope haha.

All in all, it was a great week full of great things.  However, it's actually really bitter sweet right now.  The leaves are changing, the rice is being harvested, and I'm watching the seasons change as my time here in Korea begins to near its end.  I'm actually devastated to see the rice go like that - it'll be the last time I will ever see it before I leave this country.  On top of all of that, this next week is actually my last week in this area before I transfer.... it's going to be so sad to say goodbye to all the people I have come to know so well.  But I can't do anything to change it, so I'm just trying to take it all in while I can.

Elder Graf