Sunday, December 29, 2013

Things lost, things gained

As I'm typing this, I seriously can't believe how fast the time has gone.  2013 has been the fastest year I can remember, is it really already over?  The weird thing is yes, yes it is.  So, in order to end this year well, I figured I would make a classic list of pros and cons, or more specifically, things lost and things gained since I came on my mission.
Things Lost:
- A bed.  Since the very first night coming here, I have been sleeping on the floor and will continue to do so until I return home.

- My iPhone.  Oh my precious, wonderful iPhone.  The hardest thing for me to give up has been my constant access to information.  No, not information from the social world of Facebook and Twitter, but from the real world of news, history, science, and fact.  Too many times have we been lost, had a question, needed additional help, and had no solutions when I've made this comment to my companion: "Well.... you know.... if we had my iPhone...."

- Dairy.  Did you ever think there might be a world where you can go to the store and not be able to find butter, a block of cheese, or vanilla yogurt?  Well, that world exists.

- A car.  When I go back home, I'm not sure if I'll remember how to rive.  And if I do, I sure hope I won't have acquired any driving habits from the Koreans..... that would be a bad thing.

- Weather knowledge.  Gone are the days of forecasts.  As missionaries, we have no TV, internet, or radio.  Our knowledge about the weather is just as good as the pioneer's who lived 150 years ago.  And yes, we often times go out umbrella-less in the morning because it is perfectly clear and sunny and then come back home at night completely drenched because the weather decided to turn into a torrential downpour.

- Holidays.  I'm a sentimental person, I like sentimental things.  Holidays, however, are just simply not that big in Korea.  Christmas here felt just like Labor Day does in America.  Their independence day (the day the bomb was dropped on Japan) came and went without much fanfare.  Their two big holidays are huge for them, but as missionaries we can't really take part in the festivities.  I'm excited for when I'll be able to participate in holiday traditions again.

- Friends and Family.  Of course, this is the biggest and most important thing lost.  While it might be hard some days, and I might sometimes wonder what life at home with people I love is like, It's all worth it because.....

Things Gained:

- KOREA.  Every morning when I wake up, I'm still in awe that I'm on the other side of the world in such an incredible country.  The history is ancient, the culture is rich, the food is delicious, the people are wonderful, the land is beautiful, etc.  I love the fact that I've had the opportunity to come to such an amazing country and have this experience.  Normal 20 year olds in the world are just in school, at work, or doing other boring or possibly wasteful things.  Meanwhile, I'm here.  I'm so grateful that at my young age, I'm able to be spending my time towards something so productive.  I'm in a foreign country serving other people and learning along the way - it's simply the best thing I possibly could be doing right now.  How awesome is that!?

- New friends.  While I may have left friends and family behind, I've met so many wonderful people during my time here.  These people include (but are not limited to) other missionaries, members, investigators, English class attendees, regulars we see at the store/ post office/ bus station, and people we meet everywhere we go.  Through meeting and forming relationships with these people, I have come to understand so many different lifestyles, viewpoints, cultures, and beliefs.  I'm so excited to continue these friendships for the rest of my time as a missionary and afterwards.

- Myself.  I've always been a confident person, anyone who knows me understands that, haha.  However, since coming out on the mission, I have experienced highs and lows I never thought I was capable of experiencing.  However, through these experiences, I have come to understand who I truly am, what I truly believe, and what I need to do in order to find happiness and success in this life.  The mission is hard - harder than I EVER could have imagined (and for completely different reasons than I ever thought it would be), but I am SO GRATEFUL that I came here.  If it weren't for the mission, I never would've, well, grown up.  And I never would've come to understand who I truly am deep down.  So the mission has been a really good thing for me!

I'm out of time, so I have to go.  Of course, I can go on and on and on about all the wonderful things, but I think you can see that the pros (even though the list is shorter) are definitely greater than the cons.  Yay for 2013! Yay for the mission!  And onto another year!

Elder Graf

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Letters to Santa and a Butchered Head

Hello from week two in Dangjin!
This is tiny city, but it is more happening than any one my areas my whole mission.  My companion, Elder Otterson, has been doing everything he could to make this area grow over these past few transfers.  When I came in to join him last week, he had investigators all over the area, dates for people to be baptized, and an extremely popular English class.
So that brings us to English class, the definition of my missionary work here in Korea.
This week, I decided it would be fun to talk about an American Christmas.  Christmas is celebrated here in Korea, the town is slightly decorated (there's even a big christmas tree in the town's main roundabout), and Christmas music is playing everywhere, but it still isn't done the same way it's done in America.  So we talked about everything together from making snowmen to decorating gingerbread houses to going caroling to watching Christmas movies.  Then, we talked about something they don't really understand - Santa Claus.
After talking about who and what he is (they were very amused), I explained the whole concept of "naughty" and "nice" and how the children want Santa to know what they want for Christmas.  And so, I thought it would be fun for all of them to actually write letters to Santa.  They all wrote their letters, put them in envelopes I provided, and addressed them to the North Pole.  I then had them leave the letters behind so the "elves" would come and pick them up after class, deliver them to Santa, and then Santa would write them back in time for class next week....
Santa has had quite the fun time reading their letters and responding.
So that was fun!  And then, that night, I realized my hair was just simply getting too long.  It was time for a haircut.  However, instead of going to a hair shop (I hate the way they cut hair here), I decided to try out the new clipper my mom sent me and just cut my hair by myself.  Good idea, right?  Well, that's what I thought.
After I had buzzer half of the right side of my head, and the front space (and back about 3 inches) above my forehead, the clipper all of the sudden decided to stop working.  NOT GOOD.  I did all I could to fix the clipper, but nothing worked.  I had just chopped off half my head and had no solutions to fix it.
Obviously, I would just immediately go to a hairshop the next morning and get it fixed, right?  Yeah, well, remember that one time I told you we had tons of investigators all over town and that Dangjin has lots of missionary activity right now?  Yeah, well, because of all of those appointments, we had simply no time to go to a hairshop, and I had to go around town looking like a half sheared sheep for THREE straight days until we finally had a spare 30 minutes.
Haha, it was pretty funny.  I, of course, got laughing comments from everybody.  But it's okay, it was a funny experience.  And we set another baptismal date during that time.  So it's all good.
Well that's it for this week!  My hair is cut now, Christmas is coming, and things are going good!
Elder Graf

Sunday, December 8, 2013

New Everything!

Area? Changed!  Companion? Changed! Entire experience?  Completely changed! 
Hello from Dangjin!  -the smallest little city in our mission.  It's so small, there's not even a church in our city - or even whole area.  No church, no ward, no branch, no nothing.  We have to travel to the neighboring city, Seosan, to go to church on Sundays.  Right now, there's no organized branch in our city, but the goal is to start a branch here in the next coming year.  Now, the city is small, but the area (landwise) is HUGE.  And it's amazingly beautiful.  In the 4 days that I have been here, I've already been all over the area, seen the ocean, walked through the rice fields, gone on bumpy bus rides on narrow roads through the hills, and been surrounded by countryside Korea.  I loved it when I was in Gunsan, missed it when I was in Cheongju, and have now decided that I definitely love the countryside here in Korea so much more than the city.  Each and everyday is an adventure, you just can't find any of these experiences in America.
Last night, after an hour long bus ride to an investigator who lives out in the middle of nowhere (thus, the bus ride was accompanied with beautiful scenery), we knocked on his door.  When he opened it, his face was covered with a sign that he was holding up for me.  It said "Welcome to Korea! Welcome to Dangin!" in English.  Haha, he was really excited to meet me.  We had an asesome lesson with him and are again going to make the trek out to his house tonight, but this time with a member. 
Which reminds me.
The members here are INCREDIBLE.  There are only a few members that live in Dangjin, but they also make the weekly trek to Seosan to go to church.  They are extremely faithful and 100% involved in the missionary work to help their branch grow.  Right now, because there is no church in Dangjin, we meet investigators and teach English class in a backroom of a member's store instead of going to Seosan.  That member also gives us food constantly and always teaches investigators with us.  The sacrafices the Korean members make just blow me away every week.
So Dangjin is awesome.  My new comp, Elder Otterson, is awesome.  I'm overall just super excited to be here and have yet another incredible experience during my time in Korea.
Wish me luck! Oh, and Happy Holidays!  It doesn't feel like Christmas at all here, but I'm sure you're all having a grand time welcoming the season.  Have a jolly one!
Elder Graf 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Two months ago, one of the Elders in my apartment received a Thanksgiving package. Yes, it came very early, but what it contained was glorious. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy mix, jello, etc - everything you would need for a makeshift mission Thanksgiving meal for four in Korea. We stored it away in hopes of saving it for the holiday.


He was transferred. And when he left, the Thanksgiving box went with him. It was heartbreaking, we didn't know what we would do without with it- ....I mean, we missed him too. Anyway, then, a month ago, I heard that I had a similar package for me in the mail coming my way. Oh how exciting! American food! For the holiday!


November 28th came and the package did not... Was it lost? Was it ever sent? Did the office elders and APs just confiscate it before sending it to my apartment? I didn't know what to do. Thanksgiving is the third greatest holiday of the year (Behind Christmas and My Creation Day of course), so it was a big deal. What would we do without a Thanksgiving meal? "Oh well", we thought, and we started going about our normal day. Dinner time came, so we went back home and started thinking of alternative options to our hopeful Thanksgiving feast. Then, the buzzer rang. Somebody was at the door.

Score! The package arrived just after 5:00PM - random, huh? But PERFECT timing. I opened my Thanksgiving in a Box and saw the wonderful contents it contained that my lovely mother put together. Mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy mix, corn bread, pumpkin pie mix, crystal light drink mix - everything you would ever need for a Thanksgiving feast. I called the other Elders immediately and gave them the assignment to buy a turkey. Sadly, that's not possible in Korea, but they found a cooked chicken at the street market, so we called it good enough. I made all the other food, and we had a wonderful feast together.

You're the best, mom! Thanks a ton!

Also, it's transfer week - ALREADY. I haven't gotten my call yet, but I'll get it sometime today. By this time next week, I could be in a totally different city! I'll let you know!

Elder Graf