Sunday, January 26, 2014

Who we meet with

Again, another week has come and gone - it's crazy how fast time is flying!  And because we are so busy all day, every day, the time is flying even faster.  Before we know it, it'll be summer.

But until then, we are doing all we can to help this area grow.  As I told you a few weeks back, our city does not have a church and we are given the privilege to be the first missionaries here to teach the gospel and help establish a branch in this city.  Right now, the plan is to start the branch here next month.  But, in order to do that, we need enough people to attend.  Therefore, we need to do one thing:  Baptize.

Easy enough, right?  So I thought I could spend this week's email informing you about all of our investigators that we are meeting with on a weekly basis.  My entire mission, I haven't really written home about any of our investigators.  Why?  Well, if you were an investigator, would you want a missionary to be telling everyone about your situations and posting all about your situation online?  Haha, probably not.  So I've chosen to respect my investigators instead of blabber all about them this whole time.  However, this decision has also been a source of complaint for my family - they want to hear all the details.  So fine, I will give them, but I won't include names - deal, mother?

Hilarious Genius:  This is one of my favorite investigators and we meet with him every week two or three times.  He is 45 years old, works at Hyundai Steel, has a wonderful family, is perfect at English, and knows so many random facts about the entire world.  He LOVES to talk to us about anything and everything and LOVES to load us with facts and information about the world (he's like my spirit twin).  His intention to meet with us started off as English interest only, but his desires have begun to change and he is becoming very interested in the gospel.  The cool thing is this - 25 years ago, he attended Dixie State College in St George, UT, so he has a really cool (and random) connection with Utah and the church.  Hopefully we can continue to help his desire in the gospel grow over these next coming weeks!

Hard Working Mom:  She has two loud kids, a one room house (kitchen, bedroom, everything - one room), a husband that works all day, and lots of stress.  She loves meeting with us and really finds peace in our messages but accepting them as truth has been really difficult for her.  She has lots of other religion's missionaries coming to her too (Asian Bible Belt, remember?) and so she is just mostly confused with what to do.  However, we KNOW that this church would help her and her family's situation, so we're trying to do all we can to help her see that.

The Newlywed:  He saw us one day on the street and was blown away that there are fluent Korean speaking missionaries in this little town that teach free English.  He immediately expressed his desire to meet with us and has since introduced us to his wife and all of his friends.  He loves meeting with us, but more importantly, loves his wife that he married just a few months ago.  The two of them are expecting a baby right now as well.  Elder Otterson and I see this as a perfect time for them as a newly married couple to find the gospel and raise their future family in it - we're super excited for them as they continue to learn about our message.

The Prince William Lover:  Oh, this one is a riot - we meet with her about once a week.  She loves the church and everything and would love to be baptized, but her dad won't let her because the church he attends says our church is a cult.  Yet, we still continue to meet with her to strengthen her faith until the day comes when she can make her own decision to join or not.  And meeting with her is hilarious because she has an OBSESSION with Prince William - she wants to marry him.  "But Prince William is marries to Kate!", I say.  "And Kate is wonderful!" To which she protests that she is far better than Kate Middleton.... haha, it's really funny.

The Applicant:  Getting into universities is really hard here in Korea - especially the big ones.  Students literally are at school until 3 in the morning in order to study - I'm not kidding.  This investigator is 18 years old and is currently awaiting to see if he got into Seoul University, Korea's most prestigious establishment.  During his application and testing period, he had no time to meet with us, but now that he is just awaiting, we have begun to teach him.  He is very smart and lots of fun and really looks up to us for guidance.  He loves our message and expresses his desire to join our church, but says that he can't make any decisions until he knows if he got into Seoul University or not.  So until then, we're waiting.

Well, that's only a third of our investigators - but I'm out of time!  Now at least you have a little bit of a better idea who we are meeting with and what type of situations we are dealing with.  Pray for all of them if you want - haha, use their code names.

Until next week!
Elder Graf

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Baptism

Before my mission, I had no idea what the religious scene was like over here in Korea.  When I first landed at the airport in Incheon and was on the 2 hour bus ride to the Mission Home in Daejeon, I noticed a few things while I looked at the window.  Lots of apartment buildings, lots of trees, and lots of crosses.  Even now as I look out the window from the cafe where I am typing this, I can see 5 different crosses sticking out above the buildings on the horizon.

Korea is the Asian Bible Belt.  There are more church buildings in the cities here than there are in Utah - I'm not kidding.  There is not a single place in Korea that you can go without a church in sight.  The only difference is, they are all for different churches.  Some are Catholic, some are Methodist, some are Presbyterian, and some are Korean-exclusive Christian churches.  Long story short, mainstream Christianity is huge here - Mormonism is not.  Therefore, missionary work is hard.  Some missionaries get four, five, or even six baptisms in their whole mission here in Korea.  But, at the same time, many missionaries go home with none.  As far as my mission goes, I have had none.  We've taught plenty of people and had wonderful experiences doing so, but joining the church has just been too hard of a thing for all of my investigators to do.  That is, until yesterday.

Yesterday, Elder Otterson and I had the wonderful experience to see Diane (Her Korean name is pronounced Dah Een) be baptized and confirmed a member of the church by her father.  Diane's brother, Dom (Korean name: Dah Oom), also received the Aaronic Priesthood yesterday as well.  When we first met the family a little over a month ago, they wanted nothing to do with the church.  But then, after we visited them a few more times and they started to come out, we could see their hearts start to change.  The father became enthusiastic about the gospel again, the mom felt the love from the members, their son, Dom, started to have faith in god and a desire to serve a mission, and Diane expressed her desire to be baptized.  We started to teach them as a family and yesterday it all came together with smiles, tears, and a wonderful experience for all.  We are so happy for their family and their new-found love for the church and the gospel!

So there's my update this week.  Maybe missionary work in Korea is hard.  Maybe I won't be getting the 20+ baptisms that other missionaries are getting in other places in the world.  But at least I am seeing the blessing that the church can be in people's lives.  I know that Diane and her family will be happier and stronger with the gospel in their lives and I am so happy that I was able to help them in the process.

That's all!  Until Next week!
Elder Graf

PS - I PROMISE they are happy.  It's just Korean culture to not smile in pictures.  The second the picture ended, they were hugging and smiling and all.  

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What Korea is Like

This whole time, I've just week-after-week written funny stories and experiences that I've had.  It wasn't until during the skype conversation at Christmas that I realized that my family really has no idea what Korea is like because, well, I haven't really described it that well.  My bad.  So this week, I will try to give you a glimpse of what Korea is really like and what I do and see on a day to day basis.

First off, Korean cities are exactly that - cities.  Each and every city, no matter how small it is, functions as if it is a large urban center.  There is a downtown area with big name stores (Nike, H&M, K2, etc), a large public transportation system (buses, taxis, trains) with hookups to high speed trains that can take you anywhere in Korea, hundreds of 15-20 story apartment buildings scattered all over the city, and a large city market with street vendors selling anything and everything you would ever need (clothes, food, etc).  Unless they work, go to school, or have friends or family outside of the city, there is no reason for Koreans to leave the town.  Anything and everything they need is here within a small 2-3 mile radius.  Of course there are cars, but they use cars much less than we do in America.  Simply walking or using public transportation is much more convenient and accessible for most Koreans.  Even the smallest of cities function this way.  Right now, I'm in a countryside town - and it's complete countryside once you step outside of the urban center, but within the city portion, it's a stronger urban core than Salt Lake City.  Density is Korea's best friend.  There is no such thing as the suburbs over here.

The coolest thing about it is that even though it's a modern city, it still feels ancient and old.  The streets are narrow and wind up and down the hills.  There are tanks of fish and cages of live animals along the sidewalks, waiting for people to buy them and take them home.  In the middle of the busy streets, there are old grandmas and grandpas with giant carts that they pull around, either selling items (food, clothes, etc) or collecting cardboard or other recyclable materials in order to sell them and make money.  Inside restaurants, they bring raw meat out to you and you cook it yourself on the stove in the middle of the table.  There are old Buddhist temples and other ancient style buildings that the Koreans have preserved and just built their city around.  All in all, it's an ancient society that they have not replaced, but instead integrated into the new westernized culture.

So that's what the city is like.  Large, big, loud, and full of shops, restaurants, stores, and excitement.  However, the very second you leave the city, everything changes.

The countryside is beautiful.  There are tree covered mountains everywhere.  Where there aren't mountains, there are farming fields.  Where there aren't farming fields, there are old farming houses.  I guess my point is, even though it's the countryside, there still isn't an inch wasted.  Everywhere you look, there is something to look at.  In the mountains, you can see clearings in the trees where there are shrines and ancient burial plots (think Mulan and her ancestor's tomb).  Where the land is flat, there are countless amounts of rice fields.  Every now and then, there's the occasional other crop, but it's mostly all just rice.  The farming houses are ancient and look as if they come right out of any Asian movie you can think of.  All of the homes and other buildings are connected by narrow, twisty roads that weave in and out of the farming fields.  Whenever we go out into the countryside, I love trying to catch the chickens or stray cats for fun, but then I get barked at by the massive dogs and fear my life when they break out of their chains and start chasing after me with their rabies infested mouths (don't worry, I'm good at killing dogs).  The best part about the country side is the people.  They are the hardest workers I have ever seen.  There are old 70-80 year old ladies walking up and down the farming roads balancing rice bags on their heads and old men working out in the fields for hours on end all day long.  In America, these people would be in rest homes.  But out here in Korea, they are still hard at work all day long.

The weather is actually really cool.  There are four very distinct seasons.  The summer is hot and humid, the fall is cool and beautiful, and the winter is freezing and dry.  One of my favorite experiences with the weather was when I was in my greenie area and a sunny day decided to become a torrential downpour.  We were in the middle of an old narrow alleyway and water was pouring off of the buildings down into the alley way like we were in a slot canyon during a flash flood.  Often times, the air quality will be really bad (from China's factories) and so the sun will appear red later in the day.  While it might because the air is dirty, it actually looks amazing and really adds to the mystic feel of the land.  The weather right now is freezing, but it's really not that different from a Utah winter - we just are outside all day as missionaries and therefore get the exposure to it.

Well, I'm out of time now - maybe another week I'll write about the food and other things I see on a daily basis.  But I think I at least helped to paint a better picture of what I see every day for now.  As far as missionary work this week goes, we're just helping our recently activated family prepare for their daughters baptism and son's ordination to the priesthood this Sunday.  We're super excited and so are they!

Until next week!
Elder Graf

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Less active miracles and the Year of My Mission

For those of you who have been reading this blog, you might have noticed a common problem during my mission:  People here just simply don't care to hear about the gospel.  Of course, plenty do, but I haven't had any investigators my whole mission that have truly converted and expressed their desire to join the church.  Instead, we've been doing all we can to help our investigators change their minds and come to want the church

...yeah, sort of a hard thing to do...

Anyway, this week, that all changed - allow me to explain.  Before Christmas, Elder Otterson and I were doing everything we could to invite everyone to the Branch Christmas Party.  Among the people we visited to invite, we found a less active family that lived far out in the countryside.  Because they live so far away, they have literally gone unnoticed by missionaries, members, and anything church related for nearly 10 years of inactivity.  We decided to give them a visit, invite them to the Christmas party, and told them about our goals for not only the area, but for their family to become active again.  They expressed to us that they no longer believed in God, but they would "think about attending the party".

Well, we tried.  

Then, on the day of the party, we, from out of nowhere, got a call from them asking for the address of the church.  Cool, huh!?  The whole family made the hour plus drive and came out to the party.  The members welcomed them with open arms and it was a really good experience for everyone.  In fact, it was such a good experience that the family ended up coming to all three hours of church the very next day.

Fast forward to yesterday, Fast Sunday, the whole family attended again.  The son bore his testimony about his growing faith and belief in God.  Then, the mom bore her testimony as well.  After church, we taught the first lesson to the family, and the daughter (who still hasn't been baptized) committed to be baptized on January 19th.  Just two weeks ago, the family had no thought of church on their mind, and now they are embracing it with all of their hearts and making a 360 change.

Miracle!  How awesome is that?  Here we've been working so hard with all of our investigators, and this wonderful family just needed a simple visit out of love and support.  Now, we're in the process of reactivating the whole family and baptizing their daughter.  I can already feel that this year is going to be much better than the last as far as missionary work and success goes....

...Which brings me to my next point.  I am dubbing 2014 as the "Year of My Mission."  2013 was wonderful.  It was full of many new, growing, trying, difficult, strengthening, and learning experiences.  Through all those experiences, I came to a better understanding about who I am and the goals that I have for the rest of my time here and afterwards.  Now, as I enter 2014, I am much more prepared to go forward with those goals in mind.  I now can speak more Korean, I've become a senior companion, and I'm ready to really just transform my mission and the whole year of 2014 into something, well, incredible.  So onward to 2014 - the year of my mission!

Elder Graf