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