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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Return of Brother Fastcar and Translating for the World

On Wednesday, Elder Williams (my district leader) decided it would be a good idea for us to go on a missionary exchange.  He took my companion, and I took his companion (who is also a greenie) and we switched areas for a day.

His greenie did a rather good job planning for the day, but there was a gap in the afternoon that was still left unfilled.  He said we could scan through the less actives and see if there was anyone we could visit.  "Why not" I thought, and we brought out the books.  Not before long, I found my victim.


"Yes, hi!  Is this Brother Park?"

"Yes, Hello Elder Williams!"

"Actually, this is Elder Graf, I stole Elder William's phone today - he and I switched places"

"Ahhh, I see"



"So, do you want a ride in my car?"

Did I ever!!   We met him at 3 pm and actually just talked with him about his life and all the hardships he has been going through recently.  Work has been a really big stress for him recently and he really just needed some advice and cheering up.  I whipped out a few scriptures that I thought would help him and we talked it through for quite some time.  Towards the end, he felt much better.  He may be an inactive member for 15 or so years, but he still is a very spiritual man and loves the assistance the missionaries have always given him.  Dinner came and he actually ended up taking us out to an amazing (and expensive) restaurant.

"Because you cured me, Elder Graf", he said "I will cure you" (meaning with the food).

And then again, after the amazing meal, he again repeated to me as a joke, "Because you cured me, Elder Graf, I again will cure you", this time implying an adrenaline-rush cure.

He then proceeded to take us out to the freeway (it was after rush hour this time, luckily) and we hit 240+ kmh once again.  Now I can say I've done that twice without dying, haha, and both times have been with him behind the wheel.

Other than the missionary exchange, the week was great!  On Friday, our investigator took us inside the government building in SeJong and there was a presentation/tour being held in front of a model of the building.  The presenter was explaining the plans for SeJong and the future growth of the city - the people she was speaking to were government officials from all over the world.  We just kind of snuck into the crowd and began to watch the presentation.  Of course, it was in Korean, and so for everyone to understand, there was a translator explaining everything in English, however, she wasn't doing a very good job.  After about 3 minutes of watching, and when she was struggling with a certain sentence, I just without even thinking took over and blurted out for her what she was trying to say.  All of the sudden, I had 30 pairs of eyes from the worlds' most powerful people straight on me - the translator and the presenter just looked stunned... Had the young American just translated Korean?  Who was he and what was he doing here anyway??

Haha, I just shrunk back into the group, but that didn't work very well because I'm a foot taller than everyone else.....   That was sure a funny moment.

So it was a good week!  We'll see what the next one brings

Elder Translator Graf

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Senior Week

Trainers do everything.

That's just the simple truth that comes with having a greenie as a companion.  As amazing as my companion is, in the end, I've still been here for 20 months and he has only been here for 2.


For the first little while, I just took the reins and helped him out the best I could.  He little by little learned, made some funny mistakes along the way, and became accustomed to the country.  Then, just as he started getting his feet underneath him - Senior Week came.  Senior Week is when the trainer acts as a junior, gives the cell phone to the greenie, and the greenie takes control of everything.  Directions, scheduling things, and teaching - it's all up to the greenie now.  And so this last week from Monday to Sunday - I became a junior companion all over again and Elder Godfrey took control.

Day 1 - We missed our Subway stop by 8 stops - that's a REALLY LONG TIME!  Hahaha, and we were late to our appointment because of it!  I just sat there, watched as our stop came and went, and kept quiet smiling to myself until Godfrey finally asked me "Wait, were we supposed to get off already?"  And I just replied "Uhhh, I dunno, were we?"

Day 2 - Got lost trying to find our church.  It's fine.

Days 3,4,5,6,7 - Things started going much smoother.  Missed a few more stops, forget to schedule and follow up with a few phone calls, and I had to step in a few times.  But overall, it was a great experience for both of us.  Elder Godfrey will be training in no time.

The week was also full of excitement too.  Friday night, there was a festival in SeJong and a famous K-pop band came.  We didn't attend the concert of course, but we heard and saw the fireworks from afar - it was the first time I've seen fireworks like that in a really long time - over 2 years actually.  Definitely brought a smile to my face.  Also, we met a new investigator this week and he LOVES US beyond belief.   He calls me Goostin, because he doesn't want to call me by my last name and when I said that my first name was Christian, he heard "Goostin" instead. Haha, it's not worth trying to correct.  ALSO, our teenage investigator who's Dad won't let be baptized is doing really great - it's actually looking like things might work out and his Dad could end up giving permission after all before I leave this area in 3 weeks.   That'd be awesome - it would be my third baptism in this area.

Things are going great, until next week!

Elder Graf

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Sister Mission

If I were a sister missionary, I would've started my mission back in March 2013 like I did....

I would've also come to Korea in May of last year and start off in the little Ocean city of Gunsan.

I would've had a wonderful time there, and upon leaving and moving to Cheongju, I would've been very sad but excited for the future.

I would've loved Cheongju, but I would've missed the small town feel for sure.

I would've jumped for joy when I found out I would move back to the coast in a small little country town called Dangjin.

I would've loved Dangjin with all of my heart, but loved the people there even more.  It would've been an amazing time there for sure, and when I would leave Dangjin and find out I would be going to the new capitol of Korea, I would've been counting all my little lucky blessings.

I would've loved SeJong even more than any area I've been in, and the time there would've gone by super fast.  I would've had a blast with my companions, had a great time with my investigators, and then as the months went on, I would've began to reminisce about the whole experience.

My time in Korea would've been coming to an end, but that would've been okay, because I would've been excited to go back home and see my family again and start my life with the mission behind me, but always with me still.

On my very last Sunday in Korea, I would've seen my investigator get baptized and how much his life has changed.  It would've been the perfect cherry on top of the icing on the cake.

There would've been many hugs and tears and last minute souvenir purchases before the trip up to Seoul and then home.  I would've watched the entire Korean peninsula disappear from my view as the plane ascended above the clouds and my trip home began.

If I was a sister missionary, I would be done.

BUT...................I'M NOT!  Haha, I'm an Elder!  And so even though I bid a ginormous farewell to each and every one of the sisters that began this Korean adventure with me in the Provo MTC on that slightly warm March day oh so long ago, they all left me, and I stayed behind.   Now, you might say..... "Hmmm, Elder Graf sure sounds like he wants to be home right now"... and I will tell you, that might be a good observation, but it's so not true!

Korea is amazing, I've established that enough.  This week alone we went to the foot spa with an investigator and attended this massive festival they are having to celebrate one of the ancient Korean dynasties.  But beyond Korea being amazing, this mission is amazing.  Yesterday I watched my recent convert give a talk in church talking about his conversion story.  Now, if I was a sister missionary, I would not have been able to witness the blessings the church has already brought him in one week's time.  So I am here, for at least a little while more, and I'm grateful for it.  And when the time comes for me to come home, it'll be because I was an Elder ;)

Elder Graf 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Stickers bring change

So I'm not big on the whole write-all-about-my-investigator's-life-and-share-personal-things-that-I-wouldn't-want-to-be-shared-about-me-if-I-were-an-investigator thing, as you know, so I haven't really told you about really any of my investigators..... sorry!  But now that there is good news to share, I'll go a little bit more in depth ;)

One night four months ago, Elder Skinner and I didn't have any appointments.  We didn't want to knock doors... We didn't want to just wander around the streets....  We didn't want to just visit a random member and get fed food.... So we chose to sticker board.   What is sticker boarding?  We have a poster that we made with four different questions on it:  Do you belong to a special belief or religion?  Do you think that there is a God?  Do you think, if there was a God, that we could be able to communicate with him?  And, If you see us again, will you say hi?   We set up the poster on the streets, give people passing by stickers, and have them put the stickers on the "yes" or "no" by each question.  It's a good way to see what people think and start a conversation without having it be too awkward.

So we were sticker boarding by the university and not having much success finding potentials when all of the sudden, a guy walked up to us and asked us what we were doing.  We had him answer the questions, but he was more interested in us than putting the stickers on the board.  If I remember correctly, he didn't even answer a single question, I don't think...  Anyway, we ended up telling him that we're missionaries and he expressed an interest to meet with us again, so we exchanged numbers.

The next week, we called him up and scheduled an appointment to meet at our church.  Right off the bat, he trusted us and our friendship began.  He told us that his life has really taken a downturn and expressed to us all of his hardships that he has gone through.  We just promised him that, in the end, all we wanted to do was be his friend and help him the best we could.  Over the next few months, we continued to meet with him, taught him the lessons, and be there for him whenever he needed it.  Still at the first, the whole church thing was a little hard for him, but overtime he got more used to it and he chose to give it a try one Sunday.

Since the first time, he hasn't missed a single week.  I can't even begin to describe the miraculous change we have seen in his life starting with that first time he came to church.  Little by little, he started forming new goals, making new dreams, and overall started to become a happier person.  It was amazing to watch as the time went on week after week.  Still when we brought up big things like the word of wisdom, tithing, and baptism, it was a little scary for him, but he also overtime came to understand those things as well.  He would text me throughout the week with a text that just said "I'm so excited to go to our church on Sunday!  Have a good night!" and really in the end, just did a complete transformation.  Finally, he was ready, and after we gave him the invitation, he accepted to be baptized this last week.

And yes, it was just as perfect as you would hope it to be.

Hope you all have a great week!
Elder Graf

Monday, September 15, 2014

A feast

As I've always said, one of the hardest things for me to give up coming on a mission was holidays.  Christmas, Fourth of July, St Patricks Day, you name it - are days that simply don't exist here.  For the first whole year, it was sad to see those days come and go on the calendar without even thinking or doing anything about it.  I mean, I always did my best to celebrate them still, but when you're the only person at the party,well.... there's kind of no party.  However, I little by little got over my original mindset (in all things American, not just holidays) and my interests and desires transitioned from American holidays and traditions to Korean ones.  For the last month or so, I've been getting more and more excited as the anticipation built up and finally, this last week, it was Choosuk, and this time, I wasn't the only one at the party.

What is Choosuk?  Well Koreans celebrate 2 major holidays each year:  Solar, and Choosuk.  Solar is the Lunar New Year and was in February this last year.  If you remember, I wrote you all about it. Choosuk comes a few months down the road and is always celebrated at the end of the harvest.  It's a three day long holiday in which they all travel back to their hometown with their families, give respect to their ancestors at their tombs with a special ceremony called Jehsah, and then eat traditional Choosuk food.  And when I say eat, I mean EAT.  There is a TON of food!  Basically, Thanksgiving to Americans is what Choosuk is to them.

It's a big deal, and because the one Korean sister missionary in my district wouldn't be able to be with her family for it and instead would be surrounded with Americans that don't understand about her holiday, I wanted to make it the best Choosuk for her as possible.   It actually lined up perfectly and was going to be on a P-day, so we had all day to spend it however we wanted.  Two weeks before the holiday, she and I made a massive shopping list of required food and supplies.  She would do all the shopping, we would all as a district pay for the food, and then when Choosuk came, we would gather together at the church and make ourselves a Choosuk feast, do Jehsah, and play traditional Korean games.  Sounds like a good plan, right?  The very next day, she called me.

 "So...... I went shopping"  she said in Korean.  I asked her what she bought and she listed off a few foods that were on the list.

"That's great!  It'll be delicious!"  I exclaimed.  "How much was it?"

(silence... no response...)

"Sister Park.... how much was the food...."  I jokingly asked

"$100- bye!"

And she hung up the phone.   Hahaha, what!?  I called her back and after she started apologizing, I told her it was totally fine.  This was her holiday, she could spend as much money on it as she wanted - heck, I'd pay for it all if I needed to.  As the days to Choosuk began to count down, the excitement really did start to build.  The stores were packed with shoppers frantic for food, children and family were wearing traditional Korean clothes, and it really felt like a holiday.  Like I'm not kidding, the holiday spirit was there - and there was not a single jingle bell or stocking in sight.  I mentioned something about the holiday feeling to Elder Godfrey and he replied back by saying "what are you talking about?"

"Don't you feel the holiday spirit?  The Choosuk excitement?  I feel like I won't be able to sleep all night!"  I beamed.

"ummmmmmm, you're too Korean, man"

I took it as a compliment.    Finally, the day of anticipation came and we all went to the church.  The next door district joined us as well and the Korean missionaries from the other district, Sister Park, Elder Kim, and Sister Park from my district got to skype their families (they don't do it on Christmas like I do, of course).  Once skype was over, the three Koreans and I dove ourselves into the kitchen and the preparation began.  We cooked, and we cooked, and we cooked, and we cooked.  And we partied, of course, while we did so.  It was tons of fun!  Learning how to make all of those Korean foods and just being with my three Asian buddies, haha.  No other American helped make the food, they all just sort of hung out in other rooms in the church and played games.  But like I promised Sister Park weeks before, this was their holiday, and I wanted to help them out the best I could.  I guess Elder Godfrey was right... haha, I've become Korean.

Finally, after hours of cooking, it was dinner time and we set the table.  My goodness, was it delicious or what!  And while we all just sat and talked, eating our food, the best feeling of "holiday"  was in the air.  I'm not sure if the other Americans could feel it, but for sure the three Koreans and I did.  I just thought to myself how funny the whole thing was.  Why do I love holidays so much?  Why do I love Christmas and the feeling that the season brings?  Really, it's because of the feeling of love, and happiness, and togetherness, and joy, and just overall all of the things that come when you are with family.  It dawned on me that Korea has really started to become my home, the Koreans have really become my friends, and other missionaries like Sister Park and Elder Kim have really become my family.  Now of course, I still have a family back at home in America, but Korea and the people here have joined the ranks.  And that's why it truly was a holiday to me.

So Choosuk was a success and the happiness that it brought continued throughout the week.  Many other amazing things happened, like a personal tour of a beautiful Buddhist temple by a monk, a ping pong competition with some church members, a picnic in SeJong with all of the members and our investigators at the lake, and our investigator FINALLY accepting to be baptized for sure.  Now it's just a matter of when, again.  But it's okay, we're happy about it.  Korea is amazing, things couldn't be better.

Elder Graf

Monday, September 8, 2014

I love my area

SeJong is seriously the most incredible area in the entire mission.  Hands down.   Now, I may say that about every area I've been in.... but still....  Let me walk you through my week and explain why I'm loving life right now.
Last week ended with an amazing time with all of our SeJong members.  Because there is no church in SeJong and all of the members have to travel to a nearby ward of their choice (there are 3 different ones all in opposite directions of each other up to an hour away), one of the members decided it would be a good idea on Sunday nights to start doing SeJong Family Home Evenings.  Basically, we're getting a head start to starting the branch in SeJong without a church building yet  On Sunday, we gathered all together - old members, new members, and less actives alike, ate a delicious meal, and Elder Godfrey and I taught the lesson to them all.  It was an amazing experience to see the faith and hope of these people, without a church building or any organization at all, coming together and being uplifted from each other like that.  I can't wait until all their devotion and hard work pays off and the branch is established here - they deserve it!

Throughout the week of meeting with the wide variety of our investigators (famous poets, genius atheists, successful colonels in the military, adorable children, and English learners), I just couldn't help but continue to fall more and more in love with the people each day.  They all have so many different opinions, backgrounds, dreams, plans, and purposes for meeting with us, but in the end they all share one common thing - they are all 100% equally important in the plan that God has for them.  Even though most of our investigators struggle to come to agree with what we try to teach them, I still love teaching it to them nonetheless.  Everybody I meet and come in contact with is important and worth my time as a missionary, even the English learners ;)   And SeJong, being the brand new under construction capitol of Korea where everyone is moving in from all walks of life all over the country, provides the perfect opportunity to meet with ALL different types of people and to learn with/from each of them.

Of course, training Elder Godfrey just adds to the experience.  He still loves Korea more than anything and is in awe every day as we walk around.  He also is the greatest greenie in the world when it comes to trying the language.  He's learning super fast, but he still makes his funny share of greenie mistakes.  Story time:  The other day when we were at a members house in Daejeon eating dinner, he asked our member if they had ever been to America before.  When they responded back and said "no", he was at first thrilled because it means that he asked the question right and they understood him.  Then, he decided to continue the conversation. 

The sentence he wanted to say:  "Do you hope to go?". 
The word for hope in Korean:  "Soh mahng"
The way to say that in Korean:  "Soh mang Eesoyo?"  (translates to "does hope exist?")
The word for death in Korean:  "SAH mahng"
What he said to the member in Korean:  "Sah mahng Eesoyo?"

What the whole conversation translated to: 

"Have you ever been to America?"

"No, I haven't"

"So.... Do you have death?"

Hahaha!  We all busted up laughing with Elder Godfrey just sitting there looking confused because he had no idea what he said.  So yes, training is fun.

The week was filled with many other exciting things.  Going on top of our recent convert's apartment tower with him and playing Phase 10 on the roof, me teaching the entire gospel doctrine class at our Daejeon Ward just winging it last minute but getting compliments out the ying yang from members afterwards, finding an ancient burial mound in the middle of SeJong at night and taking pictures on top of it, and setting a baptismal date again (this one is official) with our investigator for this next week.  I am 95% sure it will happen this time.  Anyway, as you can see, things are going amazing.  SeJong is BEAUTIFUL, and life couldn't be better.

Elder Graf

Monday, August 18, 2014

When the Pope comes to Korea

What.  A week.

From Monday last week to today, I have been to and done and seen so much.  First, Monday was spent going to an awesome Buddhist temple up in the mountains.  While there, we received the phone call from the APs telling us that Skinner would be leaving and I would be training.  Right then, we began texting and calling all of our investigators and members.

From Monday evening to Thursday morning, every single second was spent running around (what felt like) the entire country and meeting with everyone and their dog.  Skinner wanted to say goodbye to everybody, but it's better phrased that EVERYBODY wanted to say goodbye to Skinner.  On Wednesday, we had FIVE lunch/dinner meals with five different people and they were all MASSIVE.  I don't even know how we did that without throwing up...  somehow we managed.

Thursday came and Skinner and I made our way to the mission house.  Right as we got there and I, as a trainer, was taken away to the meeting for trainers and Skinner was ushered to meet his new comp and leave, the reality of the situation hit me.  "Wait... what's going on?  You mean Skinner and I can't be companions anymore?"  Haha, I had no idea how good of friends we had become until we weren't allowed to be friends anymore.... this whole split-up-from-companions-that-you-actually-get-along-with thing is no fun.  It's okay, we still have California and Caribbean cruises with our future wives awaiting us in the future.

I was taken to the church building where our greenies were all anxiously waiting for us in the upstairs chapel.  They had them all line up in a half circle by the doors to the chapel and then in one big movement, swung open the doors and us trainers flooded in to find our little babies.  The excitement was crazy as everyone met each other for the first time.  I found him (wasn't too hard, he's 6'6"), hugged, and our companionship began.

He's super cool!  His name is Elder Godfrey and he is from Calgary, Canada.  Right off the bat, he told me about how excited and thrilled and stoked he is to be a missionary and just wants this to be the most incredible and uplifting and amazing experience of his life.  I had just 5 words for him.

"Well then, Welcome to Sejong."

Oh, ever since Thursday, he's been just the greatest greenie anyone could ask for.  He is MORE than willing to try EVERYTHING.  Food, the language, street contacting - you name it - he has no fear.  When I was a greenie,  *spoiler alert* I dreaded the language and talking to people on the street.  But he literally has no fear.  What an amazing thing it has been, he's already helped so much in all of our lessons and will be a perfect partner for these next upcoming weeks.  Of course, there are hilarious face-palm things that he, as a greenie, does, but I'll save those for sharing after the mission ;)

To close off this email, as you all know (if you watch the news at least)  the Pope came to Korea last week.  It's a pretty big deal, the Pope doesn't just pick up and travel like that all the time.  He hasn't been to Korea, or Asia for that matter, in 30 years.  His visit brought millions from all over the continent and as the leader of 1/7 of the entire population of the world, he rightfully so is and important figure.  Of course, when I found out he was coming to Daejeon, I HAD to see him.  But not only that, I HAD to do it as a missionary ;).

Well, seeing him actually turned out to be impossible.  Apparently, you had to be someone either super famous and rich or super poor and a charity case in order to get a ticket.  So instead, on Friday morning, Elder Godfrey and I decided to let out our anger in the form of hanging up English advertisements all over the bus stations, subway stations, and streets surrounding the stadium he was speaking at DURING the event.  Bahahaha, it was hilarious.  No, we didn't do anything disrespectful and we were sure to keep our distance, but we did push some boundaries I guess....  Oh well! When in Korea!

As you can see, things are going great.  Our investigator didn't get baptized this last week because he wants Skinner to baptize him and Skinner wasn't able to come back up to Daejeon.  So we just rescheduled it and it's still going through.  Wish Elder Godfrey and I luck with everything else!  

Elder almost-saw-the-pope Graf

Monday, August 11, 2014

The last week of 18

This week was probably the fastest week in my entire mission, no joke.  Elder Skinner and I have now been companions for 3 transfers - that's a REALLY long time.  No problem though, we're best friends, so it's been nothing but good times, but now that we've been together for so long - we have our system down.  We know what each other will do and say in a lesson, we know how to plan together and set unified goals, we know each other's deepest thoughts...  we have it all down.  Therefore, the time has just for some reason begun to BLOW by.  This last week was week 5 of the transfer, our (potentially) last full week together, and boy were we busy.  I'll walk you through it.

Monday was sleep day.  I was tired, he was tired, we needed our rest before jumping into the new week.  Come Tuesday, our appointments began, and we were traveling all over our area from city to city to meet with our investigators.  The people we met with this week range from teenagers who look up to us like celebrities, old Korean men full of wisdom about the world and its spiritual aspects, only-interested-in-learning-English-from-us-by-lie-about-being-interested-in-the-gospel adults, and a wonderful miracle of a person we met on the street a few months back.  More on him later.

Half-way through the week, heaven came in the form of two packages from my family.  Honestly, those things mean everything to us missionaries.  I opened them up and was welcomed with candy, treats, needed supplies, and - last but not least - my long lost camera that broke a few months back in the subway station, was sent to America to be repaired, and then was sent back to me.  I almost cried from joy.   Ever since getting it, I've used it oh so diligently.  So much so, that the battery actually died today..... and then I realized that there was no battery charger sent in the package.....  so I once again have a problem....  to be continued.

Sunday came and so did two of our investigators (to church, that is).  One of them is the teenager who wants to be baptized but his dad won't let him, and the other is the wonderful miracle of a person we met on the street a few months back that I referred to a paragraph or two back.  When we first met him, he really liked us and wanted to meet, but didn't have much church interest.  But then, all of a sudden two weeks ago, he called us up and told us that he was sorry for not being better earlier, but now he wants to change.  He promised us that he will come to church every single week from now on no matter what.  This Sunday was the second week in a row that he came, actually, and afterwards, we taught him a little bit more about the plan of salvation and why the gospel of Jesus Christ plays a key role in it.  Long story short, he's getting baptized this next Sunday, the 17th.  Awesome, huh!?

So our week was great. We were busier than ever, we set a baptismal date, and we felt rather accomplished.  Our last week together closed, and we anxiously awaited for the transfer calls this morning........  drum roll please.....

I'M TRAINING!  Our mission FINALLY is getting greenies (we've been in a drought do to the age change and just waiting for everyone to graduate high school) and one is coming my way this Thursday.  Who?  I have no idea.  All I know is that Elder Skinner is leaving for the south of the country, and I'm staying here in Sejong to train.  I'm really excited - can't wait to put my skills to the test.

So, it's been a really good 3 transfers together.  18 weeks went by extremely fast, it's been a really good time serving with Elder Skinner.  Hopefully my next companion will be good as well, wish me and my greenie a good week!

Elder Graf