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