Wednesday, November 28, 2012

You've Got Mail

One of the daily tasks of a mission secretary is to forward the mail. I have to determine where that particular missionary is, find the stamp in a drawer with 50 stamps in it, and stamp a label, which I stick on over the mission address.  The next day that letter goes out to the missionary and usually arrives a day or two later. 

Now you would think that doing this job daily would get old and boring.  But knowing how missionaries, even missionaries who get nice long emails from their family every week, live for, love, and even cherish getting letters, this job is a joy for me.  I love doing it. I find it interesting. I wouldn’t want to turn this job over to anyone else.

Nearly all mail to missionaries in the mission comes directly to the mission home.  The reason for this is the frequent transfers.  There have been a few times when I have had a letter handed to me by some missionary with the explanation that he found it in his apartment.  It is addressed to another missionary and has apparently been sitting on some desk in the apartment for six months or so. I don’t know who is being transferred where until the day before the transfers happen.  So I sometimes send letters out on Monday that arrive after that missionary has moved.  I try to be very careful, but it happens.

There is occasional detective work involved. For instance, we sometimes get mail for missionaries who are actually in other missions in Japan.  I email all the other mission secretaries to find out who will claim the letter.  There is some faithful letter writer who has been writing a couple times a week to an elder in the Tokyo mission for about 8 months now. They send it faithfully to the Nagoya Mission.  Perhaps I should send them a letter and let them know that they’ve got the wrong address, but it’s not that hard to put the Tokyo mission stamp on it and send it along.  One day I received a letter to an elder I had never heard of.  But I recognized the return address as one of our missionary’s parents.  I looked to see who his companion was, and his last name started with the same letter as this last name.  I called this elder, and his companion had a birthday coming up, so we decided that his parents were sending a gift to their son’s companion and just got the last name a little wrong.  How thoughtful of them, and the elders will have a fun laugh over the name change.  And we have two sets of elders with the same last name.  Its fine until I get letters addressed to “Elder Baker,” or “Elder Gish.”  Then I get to call one of the elders and see if he knows the person who sent the letter.

Another thing that makes me smile is the packages we receive.  For instance, today we got a package for an elder that listed two items inside, for a total value of $3.98.  The small box cost $11.65 to send.  That is not uncommon.  It almost makes me cry to see the love and sacrifice of  parents who take the time and spend the money to send packages. 

And I can't resist sharing how one young lady, somewhere in the world, addresses her letters to one of our elders.  She puts several words between "Elder" and his last name.  I won't use his name, and I honestly don't remember what any of the phrases were, but here is an example of what I mean:  Elder Work Harder Every Day McGillicutty.  Or,  Elder How Is The Weather McGillicutty.  Or, Elder I Wrote You Twice in One Month McGillicutty.  It's so creative and cute.

Sadly, there is one part of being involved with letters to missionaries that breaks my heart.  There are some missionaries who get very little mail.  I know who they are, and they don’t complain. They act as if it doesn’t matter and they valiantly continue on. But when mail is being passed out, I see the hope in their eyes.  I see the disappointment when there is nothing for them…again and again and again.  If you are a parent and reading this, make sure you send letters to your missionary, even if you email him each week. You might even consider asking your missionary if he/she has a companion who doesn’t get much mail.  Maybe you could share some love with them.

But I suspect that any parent reading this blog is a regular letter writer, both email and snail mail.  Thank you for your love and sacrifice while your child serves the Lord.  Thank you for raising such an amazingly valiant child, so that I can work here in the mission home and have the privilege of knowing him or her.  Being a mission secretary is such a great joy!

Dendo with President Baird!

Written by Elder Jose Romero

We were so surprised one day, September the fifteenth I believe it was, when we got a call from Elder Ito. We were right in the middle of companionship study, when the phone rang. Elder Ito proceeded to inform us that we would be spending the following Tuesday working together with our beloved Mission President! Not to be redundant, but we were extremely surprised. This was something that neither of us had expected to happen. I (Elder Romero) was in the middle of my third transfer, and Elder Rocha in his thirteenth. And up to that point, neither had done a day's missionary work together with President Baird. We were told we would meet President Baird at the Ina Branch building at ten in the morning. And he was to work alongside us until five in the afternoon.

As we talked together after finishing the phone call, we were still quite shocked. But as we looked at our plans, and discussed, an excitement began to replace the shock. This opportunity probably wasn't going to come again. Therefore, who would be best to visit? Who could benefit most from a visit from the Mission President himself? With questions such as those in mind, we planned. And we prayed.

The day soon came. We had our usual morning routine, and left the apartment to meet with President Baird. As we had been preparing for this day, we had had many questions about how it was going to work. We were informed that he was bringing along his bicycle, and would ride alongside us. As we peddled to the church, excitement, and a little nervousness bubbled within us. We turned into the parking lot, and there was President Baird, bicycle out, helmet in hand, ready to go. We offered a prayer, and began our day's labor.

The day began by our going to the main hospital here in Ina. It's a large building, with opportunities to see, meet, and talk with multitudes of people. This particular day, we had been focusing on finding a new, possibly more than one, investigator. That being our goal, we needed to do our part, and talk with everyone.

Now when President Baird says to talk with everyone, he's not messing around. He talks to EVERYONE. Well, except we can't directly contact a female, but everyone else was stopped, and talked to.

President Baird as a hospital volunteer.
I learned a great lesson during that trip to the hospital. Not everyone is going to talk to us very long. Not everyone wants to talk to us at all. But everyone that we talked to on that ride was perfectly willing to give us directions to the hospital, even though both Elder Rocha and I knew how to get there. And not only were they willing to direct us, but it usually opened up a conversation. They would ask why we were going there or something to that effect. We could explain about who we are and what we are doing in Japan. We passed out around seven pamphlets into the hands of those that knew not God. In time, we reached our destination. We registered President Baird to do service with us, put on our aprons, and went to work.

Our hospital service usually consists of helping people who need wheelchairs, assisting with carrying heavy bags or other items, and just being friendly. Many appreciate our help and will engage us in small conversation. On this particular day, Elder Rocha and President Baird talked to a man who spoke English fairly well. As they talked about why they were in Japan, he suddenly had to leave. They attempted to obtain his contact information, but he left too quickly. They did what they could.

Elder Romero and President Baird
Service time ended, and we once again took to the road on our bicycles. We had planned to stop by a potential investigator’s house, who lives close to our apartment. We play badminton with our Branch President and many others, every Monday. We wanted to invite her, as she had come before. But she wasn't home. We were about to return to our apartment, but first decided to knock on the next-door neighbor's home. I had met a very lively and kind woman who lived there a few weeks earlier. So we knocked.

A man answered on the speaker box. I was slightly surprised, not having known she was married. We introduced ourselves and expressed our desire to meet all our neighbors. The man said OK and came to the door to speak to us face to face. It was a pleasant interaction. We told him why we were in Japan, asked about his family, and gave him a Proclamation to the World pamphlet. He was very kind, accepted the pamphlet, and said it was OK if we stopped by again. We then returned to our apartment for lunch.

After lunch, we had an appointment with a less-active member, a Brazilian named Mateus Fujihara. He is an extremely nice and friendly man, who slightly struggled with the Japanese church vocabulary. He has had many difficult trials in his life, and we believed a visit from President Baird would help him build his already quite strong testimony.

Elder Rocha and President Baird
The lesson went very well. We hadn't told him President Baird was coming to his home. We told him a special visitor would be there, but we didn't say who. Needless to say, he was very surprised to discover the Mission President knocking on his door. It was a day he still talks about often, and none of us will ever forget. 

We began (after the prayer) by watching the Restoration video. It was something to really invite the Spirit into his home, to help us teach, and enlighten us all. We read from the scriptures together (even President Baird. The whole lesson was in Portuguese!), and testified of what we had seen and heard. Mateus bore his own testimony, and President Baird then asked a few questions. He then gave Mateus a challenge. Up to this point, Mateus had been a bearer of the Aaronic Preisthood. President Baird issued the challenge that he prepare himself to receive the higher, Melchizedek Priesthood. He suggested that together with the missionaries, he prepare his mind, his heart, and his soul for this honor. He accepted. And I am happy to say that he has prepared. He was done everything that has been asked of him, and he is ready to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood, November 18th, 2012. We concluded with a prayer, and it was time to be at our next appointment.

Our next appointment was in the home of another Brazilian family.  This is a couple, who had recently been baptized on the 26th of August, Anderson and Erica Kataok, together with their now one year old daughter, Naomi. This day we had planned our first Family Home Evening with them, (once again, almost all in Portuguese). We were very excited, as President Baird was present for their baptism and already knew them on a personal level. This visit was planned with the hope to strengthen their faith personally, and as a family. 

We had a great time! Singing hymns and playing the game with the cups and balloons was great! And afterwards, we shared a small spiritual message about how the Lord has prepared so many ways to strengthen families and feel His love more in our homes. We testified of the divinity of the family organization. This, of course, brought the Spirit into their home. But what touched that family most was when the parents, Anderson and Erica, expressed their own feelings and testimonies of how they have seen this gospel already bless their lives. We closed with another hymn and prayer and left, leaving a portion of the Spirit to reside in their home.

As we left their home, it was time for President Baird to leave Ina, and for us to continue our work for the day. President Baird told us many things, and counseled us on the subject of finding the faith to find, as written in Preach My Gospel. We took a few pictures, and parted ways.

Elder Rocha and I pondered much about our experiences with President Baird, and each learned different things about how we can improve our own missionary work. It can often be as simple as asking directions.

I am very grateful for the opportunity I had to work alongside President Baird. I know he has been called of God and holds the keys to direct the work here in Japan, even in little Ina. He cares for each of his missionaries, and those they teach and interact with. And if you don't know how to approach someone, ask for directions. People are inherently good.