Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Oh We're Halfway There, Oh Living on a Prayer


This upcoming week will be my halfway point here at the MTC. I'm so excited! Also, we get to watch the fireworks this Saturday for the 4th of July and that is going to be awesome.

What happened this week? Well 28 new Kohai showed up and it has been chaos. 700 missionaries reported last Wednesday as well as 171 mission presidents, who were coming for the New Mission President seminar. Due to the Seminar, all of 1M (the building with the cafeteria and the administrative stuff) was closed and everything was shuffled around. Therefore, the whole MTC was slightly chaotic as the huge wave of new missionaries came in and all of us "old" missionaries had their schedules moved around. It's all good though, we are back to normal. Now we just have to handle 28 Kohai. It's kind of fun having them here because I get to give them advice and help them navigate the MTC. They are going through the same ups and downs that I went through when I first got here.

Other benefits of having Kohai: 1. More people to play volleyball with 2. More people to talk to at meals 3. More people to sing in sacrament meeting

4 of the new sisters moved into Hill Shimai and I's room this week. They are the sweetest! Sisters Pratt (Redmond, WA), McFarlane (Colorado), Perkins (Marysville, WA), and Freed (Salt Lake City) are the best and they are not afraid to ask us questions whenever they have them. While I miss the quiet room we had before, I am so glad that we got these four amazing sisters. They are all so excited and their excitement rubs off on me a bit.

Also, surprise, I got to go into the outside world! For Sunday lunch, all the missionaries got to walk to the Morris Center at BYU for lunch. It was so fun to walk outside. Lots of people honked at us as we walked and that was pretty funny too. They gave us steak and potatoes which were okay, but the salad bar was to die for. I wanted to go back for more, but the line was so long. It was so nice to be back on campus though, even if it was just for a few hours. I love BYU and I can't wait to go back there after my mission.

Japanese update: I now know all of Hiragana including combinations, ten tens, and the little circles. I've also started memorizing the First Vision in Japanese and it is tough. There are a lot of words I don't know yet, but I'm learning them as I go. One word is kagayaite (super fun to say) and it means to shine or to sparkle.

Also, Stratford Sensei's last day was yesterday so we took a picture with him. He was one of my favorite teachers and I will miss him! He made learning Japanese so much fun. He also told us a lot of stories about his mission and his family. Last week, on the way to the temple we actually got to meet his wife and his son, Carter. They were so cute!

Last little funny story. There is an Elder going to the Tokyo South mission who is in the classroom down the hall. His name is Elder Silva, he's from Brazil, and he is so funny. Well, during the New Mission President Seminar, we were told not to approach any of the General Authorities, but if they approached us we could shake their hand. Elder Silva doesn't understand much English so I don't think he realized that. On Friday, Elder Oaks walked past Elder Silva and was shaking hands with some of the other missionaries. Elder Silva didn't realize it was one of the Quorum of the 12, so he gave him a fist bump. I almost died when I heard that! He gave an apostle a fist bump!

I never saw any apostles, sadly, but there was a difference here at the MTC due to their presence. Despite how many confused people there were, there was also a calm over the whole MTC. It really was an honor to have them here.

Hill Shimai and I have had a goal this week to bring the Spirit to every lesson we taught (and we taught a lot this week).

We started out with TRC where one of the members we taught was from Redmond. He told us he could feel the Spirit when we shared some experiences about serving others, even though he didn't really know what we were saying. :)

In almost every one of the lessons we taught to our investigators we felt the Spirit. It was so great! We would go in with a plan and a word bank of Japanese words we thought we would use and then the Spirit would guide us away from the plan, to say exactly what the investigator needed. I want every one of my lessons to feel like that, where the Spirit guides me to understand the investigator's needs and help them.

We also taught Relief Society on Sunday. The topic was Recognizing the Holy Ghost and once again the Spirit led us to ask questions and call on people and share thoughts that made the Spirit so strong. We didn't want the lesson to end! As a missionary, the Spirit is your best friend. I know that I always want him there to help guide me in everything I do. We've had lessons this week where we weren't able to feel the spirit and they were not nearly as good. Hopefully this week we will be able to bring the Spirit to every lesson.

Lastly, this week we had some amazing devotionals. We had Mervyn B. Arnold of the Quorum of the 70 come yesterday and one thing that really stood out to be was when he said that God knew each of us personally before we came here. In fact, he knew us so well that he was able to pick the exact time and place to send us that would help us grow the most. It's comforting to me to know that He knew me that well, to send me to this time, this place, this family, because he knew it would be what was best for me.

This week has been amazing (every week has). I feel like I've learned so much. Honestly, the number one thing I've learned is that the church doesn't create robot missionaries. They don't tell you how to teach, or how to convince people to be baptized. Missionaries are people. The MTC is a place were we get to figure our how we will be missionaries. We are all unique and we each bring our own experiences and knowledge to missionary work. So, be nice to your missionaries!!! They are real people!

You are all amazing! Thank you for reading my email and for emailing me too!

Have a great week!

Sister Black

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Am I Nihongen?


This week has been so crazy, I don't even think I can remember it all for you guys.

I guess I'll start with my district. We've been together for 3 weeks now and we have gotten so close. We tell stories all the time and the Elders like to tell a lot of jokes, especially Paskett Choro. Stratford Sensei (one of our teachers) had Paskett Choro teach us one of the verb forms this week while Stratford Sensei pretended to be a student and it was so funny. They both played their roles so perfectly. Paskett Choro had us repeat things over and over and he would pretend to not see Stratford Sensei's raised hand. We were all dying laughing. Stratford Sensei is one of my favorite teachers because he tells us stories about his mission all the time. Sadly, he is leaving the MTC next week, so I'll have to take advantage of the last few classes I have with him.

Another thing is that today my zone is going to grow tremendously. A zone is made of districts, each of which has about 10 missionaries all serving in the same area. My district has 8 missionaries going to Tokyo and 2 going to Sendai. Today, 700 missionaries are coming in and 28 of those missionaries are joining my zone. That's 3 whole districts! There are 8 sisters and 20 elders coming in, mostly from America, but 1 is from Australia and 2 from Brazil. We are so excited for them! We finally get to be Senpai! Four of the sisters are moving into Hill Shimai and I's room so this week we've been moving and cleaning. I was taking up 3 closets and I had to move everything into 1, but it all works! I can't wait to meet them!

Speaking of Senpai, our Senpai (the district that was 6 weeks older than us) left for the mission field on Monday morning. It was both sad and happy to see them go. We will miss them, but at the same time, they are finally starting the real work and that is so exciting.

In addition to the 700 new missionaries coming today, 171 new mission presidents are coming for the New Mission President Seminar. This also means that almost all of the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency of the church will be here. They've been turning the cafeteria into a stage area all week (which made meals a little chaotic) and starting today, the main building with the cafeteria and administrative areas is blocked off to missionaries. With all of that happening, I'm sure today will be quite crazy, but it's all good. It'll be so cool to have all those mission presidents and the leaders of our church all together in the same area that I am. While we aren't allowed to approach any of the Apostles or the Prophet, we can wave and smile, and I am sure that we will be able to feel their Spirit.

With all the new missionaries coming in, Barton Shimai (one of our Sister Training Leaders) is trying to get Atkinson Shimai to stop scaring the rest of us. Atkinson Shimai has a tendency to hide and try to scare the rest of us. This week, she hid behind my room door while I was taking a shower. I came back into the room and was just about to ask my companion what food she was eating when Atkinson Shimai scared me so badly that I screamed loud enough for people in the bathroom to hear. Erickson Shimai came in and asked if we were all okay! I'm amazed I didn't fall down or drop anything or have a heart attack. One of these days I'll get her back, as for now I am safe because Atkinson Shimai promised not to scare anyone when the Kohai (the new missionaries) get here.

Japanese is getting a lot better. I am constantly surprising myself with how much I know. This week we were getting a little bored while studying so some of us in the district started playing friendly, competitive Hiragana and Katakana games (Hiragana and Katakana are 2 of the Japanese alphabets). We played matching games and had competitions to see who could write the character fastest and it was so much fun. I can now read the majority of the hymns in Japanese so I think that means the studying is working. My companion and I are also trying to teach our lessons by preparing the sentences we want to say in English and creating a word bank of Japanese words we don't know, but want to use. In the lessons we then create the sentences on the spot instead of reading from a script. It makes it a lot easier to go off script and we are able to feel the Spirit more. It's helped my speaking improve so much too.

Now to explain my title. Since I arrived at the MTC, I have had 3 teachers who served in Japan ask me if I am Nihongen (Japanese). Then yesterday Budge Sensei told us how he always had half-Asian companions so the Japanese would talk to them not him, and one of those half-Asian companions was Thai. Therefore, I am scared that the Japanese people will either think I am Japanese, and expect me to speak really good Japanese, or automatically talk to me just because I look part Asian. I guess that just means I need to work harder over the next few weeks. Good news though (I guess it's not quite good), when I tell them that I'm not Japanese they try to guess something else like Chinese and I get to be like "Nope, I'm Thai" and they always think that's so cool.

If you made it past all that, I want to share two little spiritual thoughts.

Sister Black in her natural habitat, teaching the rest of the district.
First, my companion and I were really struggling with what to teach one of our investigators and so we decided that we just wanted her to feel the Spirit so we wanted to show a video. We ended up showing her my favorite video "Because of Him." Please watch it! The message is great, but the music makes it perfect. It makes me feel the Spirit every time I watch it because it explains the Atonement so well and it really makes me feel the Savior's love for each of us. As I watched our investigator watch the video, I felt so much love for her and a desire for her to learn more and accept the gospel. I've watched this video every day this week and it has brought me so much joy. I love the simplicity of the message, but at the same time it is so powerful.

Second, our speaker yesterday was Elder Neilson of the Quorum of the Seventy and he said something that hit me so hard: "Your success [as a missionary] isn't just measured in the 18 or 24 months you serve. It extends past that." He was talking to us about what success for a missionary is. Success isn't baptisms, it is the commitment to invite others to Christ. Hopefully I will be able to send you a video of me saying the Missionary Purpose in Japanese and English, however here it is in writing: My purpose is to invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end. The focus is on the invitation to others. I hope that throughout my mission I will be able to invite and help others to receive the gospel. Even if they aren't converted by me, they will have seeds planted that may help them later on in life. There is so much that can happen outside of the short 18 months I will be serving.

I just want to leave you all with one last quote that I heard this week: "You don't have to be perfect. You just have to be perfect in trying." We all make mistakes, but if we are constantly trying, we will be rewarded. I don't have to speak perfect Japanese, but if I try every day to learn more I will improve. I don't have to baptize a million people, but I can still try and invite others to Christ.

This has been a really fun and spiritual week and I can't wait for 6 more weeks here. Talk to you all in a week when I've gotten to know 28 new missionaries!

Arigatou gozaimasu!

Sister Black

We decorated our Kohai's door just like our doors were decorated. 
I folded that Salt Lake Temple using the Mormon Origami book we got from Deseret Book. 
Doesn't it look real? It only took me 3 tries this morning :)

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

I Missionary Am...I Yoda Am


Good news! My Japanese is getting a lot better. I can now form simple phrases off the top of my head. Slightly less good news? We are starting to look at Japanese grammar which is really hard. In English, we construct our sentences Subject, Verb, Object but in Japanese it goes Subject, Object, Verb. So instead of "I am a missionary" it becomes "I missionary am." You can imagine how complicated longer sentences get. It sounds a little Yoda-like.  It's all good though, because we practice all the time.

This week was honestly just full of good news, so it was a great week!

On P-Day (our personal day on Wednesday), my district was able to go to the temple and it was so amazing. It was the first time I felt calm all week. The MTC is stressful because you are constantly learning, preparing lessons, getting ready for the next activity, and you always try to be on time. The temple was so calm because we had tons of time to enjoy the peace it brings and I was able to feel the Spirit help to calm me down from the hectic week.

The next day we had Companion Exchanges. For those of you who don't know, missionaries have a companion that they are with 24/7, mine is Hill Shimai. On a companion exchange, you switch companions for a day. Usually companion exchanges only happen in the field, not in the MTC, but the MTC likes to use my district as Guinea pigs, so we tried out having companion exchanges. My new companion for the day was Jones Shimai, one of our Senpai (she's in the older district). The companion exchange caused me a lot of stress initially because I would be teaching both of Jones Shimai's investigators and she knows Japanese a lot better than me since she's been at the MTC 6 more weeks than me. However, when we actually did the exchanges, it was the best. It was really nice to see how someone with more experience than me prepares for lessons and teaches. It gave Hill Shimai and I a lot of good ideas on how to improve our own lessons. Overall, it was a great learning experience, and I hope that other districts get to try it out too.

As I mentioned before, my district is the MTC's Guinea pig. My mission is an iPad mission, so when we get to Japan we each get an iPad that we can use to help teach lessons. Well, apparently the MTC is trying out something new-ish where they give us iPads to use in the MTC. I'm so excited because this week we got our iPads!!! At first it was kind of weird to use an electronic device again, but it's so much fun. The Church has so many great resources for us on the iPads and I am super excited to start teaching with it.

Along with new iPads we have a new teacher. Remember Kuwahara-San who was our investigator that we were teaching? Well, she's actually Lewis Shimai and she is our new teacher. She is so sweet and helps us a lot with both the spiritual side of missionary work and the Japanese. Because she is now our teacher and not our investigator, we have 2 new investigators. We will start teaching them later this week, so I'll let you know how that goes.

The last good thing is also kind of bad. Because our Senpai leave in a week, they were all released from their assignments and my district was given assignments. On June 22nd, we are supposed to be getting 2 new districts, so we were all given roles to help lead them and make the MTC run smoothly. Hill Shimai and I are the music coordinators, which is perfect for me, but Hill Shimai thinks it's hilarious since she thinks she has no musical talent whatsoever. I beg to differ, since she sits next to me in choir and she can sing really well. Anyways, I wasn't too surprised by the calling since I played the piano last Sunday. So don't worry mom! I'm still using my piano skills here! I have yet to have a calling that does not involve the piano.

Now for some some funny moments for the week. I already told you all about how clumsy I'm getting at the MTC. The Elders keep making fun of me because I bonk into things all the time. They like to see how long it takes me to run into something every day. It's pretty funny. Well, this week they found something new to joke with me about. Apparently, I eat ice cream in a really funny way? My teeth are super sensitive to the cold so I kind of wrap my lips around my teeth to bite into ice cream bars and stuff. Well, we had some ice cream bars this week and so my whole district saw how I eat ice cream. A few of them have tried to eat it like me, but they can't. It's pretty funny to watch them so I can imagine how funny it is for them to watch me. Ice cream probably isn't the funniest thing out there, but here at the MTC we spend over 16 hours a day with each other, so we find all sorts of weird things funny.

Now for my final thoughts. On Sunday, Brother Lusvardi (Director of Public Programs for the Missionary Department) talked to us. One thing that really stood out to me from his talk was that he said "the best time to recover from a bad time is right after." I have definitely felt this in my life here at the MTC. The first few days were rough, but I tried to make an immediate course correction and as a restful, this week has been much more successful. I adjusted my mindset to be more positive and focused on my own growth and within the past 7 days I have seen my language abilities skyrocket. It's amazing to me that I've only been here 2 weeks, and yet I know so much Japanese already. When I came in, I had the mindset that I would be fluent in Japanese right away. I forgot that it took me 6 years of Spanish to become decently good at that. 2 weeks in, and I'm already amazed.

I read once that some officials from the U.S. Government once came to the MTC to try and figure out how missionaries learn languages so fast. They tried to implement the same practices with their people, but the results weren't the same. Why? Because as missionaries we understand how important the Spirit is and we rely wholly on the Spirit to help us in everything we do.

Thank you so much for all of you emails! They really brighten my day. Also, now that I have an iPad, feel free to email me whenever you want. I can read emails whenever I have extra time throughout the week, but I can only respond on my P-day. I would love to hear from all of you!

Sister Black

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Subarashii! I made it through my first week!


I made it through one full week of being a missionary! Subarashii (Awesome)! 
The very first day I only had 10 min to write to you, so I'll start out by telling you what happened on the first day. 

When I arrived at the MTC, they just start shuffling you around the campus to get your books, drop off your luggage, and arrive in your classroom. Since I'm learning Japanese, the moment I entered the classroom the teachers were speaking only Japanese and it was terrifying. My teachers are Stratford Kyoudai (Brother Stratford) and Haderlie Shimai (Sister Haderlie) and they are amazing! 

That first class we just introduced ourselves in Japanese and looked at each other in confusion, which was great. We got to take a break for dinner where they had BYU ice cream, a nice surprise after all the insanity we'd been through in the morning. After dinner, all the new missionaries (there were 500 of us) split up into rooms where, in groups of 100 or so, we got to teach an "investigator." I'm so glad they had us do that on the first day, in English because it got me so excited for my mission. I felt so much love for these people that I barely knew and I just wanted to share the gospel with them so badly! I try to keep that feeling in mind whenever I struggle with Japanese. 

Now, for my companion and district. My companion is Hill Shimai (Sister Hill) from Sandy, Utah. She is the best! When I first saw her name on our dorm door I got so excited! We met once when a bunch of the sisters going to Tokyo had lunch at BYU back in April, so I already knew her a bit. She has such a strong testimony and she is really good about reminding me that I need to take breaks sometimes. In our room, we have 6 beds, but there are only 2 of us so the first day I thought "Oh the top bunk will be so fun!" Well, the next morning, the ladder was so shaky that I was afraid to get off the bed. I am now sleeping on the bottom bunk, where the only danger I face is constantly hitting my head on the top bunk. I swear, I have gotten more clumsy here at the MTC.

In my district we have 4 elders (2 Tokyo, 2 Sendai) and 6 sisters (all going to Tokyo). Erickson Shimai (Sister Erickson) is from Kent, WA so we talk about WA a lot. Pierre Shimai is from Brazil so she is learning both English and Japanese right now, and she is doing so well. Atkinson and Barton Shimai are the other companionship and they are so funny. Our Elders though, they are hilarious. They make jokes all the time and it makes class so much more interesting. Just yesterday, they spent 2 hours of our 4 hour study time creating an acapella barber shop quartet version of "Brightly Beams Our Father's Mercy" and it was amazing. All the sisters didn't really believe them when they said they were going to form that quartet, but it's honestly so good. They even learned the 3rd verse in Japanese and are trying to audition to be in a devotional next week.

Honda Shimai (Sister Honda) is not in my district, but she is across the hall so I see her all the time. I knew Honda Shimai 10 years ago when we both lived in Minnesota. The funny thing is, 5 seconds after I arrived at the MTC, I was telling my host my name (Sister Black) and this guy comes running up to me. Turns out it was Riley Preator, another of Honda Shimai and I's friends from Minnesota. I couldn't believe that he remembered me! We are trying to get a picture together before he leaves in 2 weeks for Lyon, France.

After the first day, we started learning Japanese for 3 hours a day, not including personal study time. Many of the elders and sisters in my district already know some Japanese, but Hill Shimai and I didn't so we really struggled over the first few days. We were getting so discouraged, so we talked to two of the older missionaries (Oka and Jones Shimai) and they just kept reminding us to not compare ourselves to others. Over the last two days, we have really tried to focus on our own Japanese and as a result, our ability to speak has increased dramatically.

My other problem with Japanese is that every time I try to think of a word or sentence I don't know in Japanese, I think of it in Spanish and it is so bad! I keep thinking in Spanish which is not the language I need to be focusing on. Oh goodness...

Along with all the language learning and district bonding, on Friday (just our 3rd day in the MTC) we had to teach our first investigator a lesson...IN JAPANESE. It was so hard, and we were just reading from our Japanese Preach My Gospel books and our Ninjas (Japanese phrase books). Since then we have taught our investigator (her name is Kuwahara-san) two more times and we have another lesson tonight. With each lesson, our understanding and ability to speak increases and that gives me a lot of hope for the next 8 weeks. 

Each day at the MTC is packed with classes and study time, so you don't get much time to just relax. We end up sitting at desks for most of the day, but we do have about an hour of exercise time a day and my district plays some intense volleyball. We are obsessed with it. On Monday we even started playing continuous volleyball (no serving) and I was so out of breath. It was so much fun though!

Also, family, I met an Elder from Japan who is going to the Seattle Washington Mission so keep an eye out for Elder Fukuoka (or Fukuoda, I can't remember how to spell it exactly). He is so awesome and every time we see him, we get to practice our Japanese with a native speaker.

Lastly, last night we had a special speaker at our Tuesday Devotional. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the 12 came and not only gave an amazing talk, he also premiered his new song "One by One" and I was a part of the choir that sang it. Elder Bednar talked about how Christ knows each of us one by one and it was an amazing talk. I would encourage all of you to read Luke 15 and think about Christ's example and how he cares for each of us individually. One of the impressions I had during the meeting was that God loves me individually and he makes time for me. I have done a lot of praying over the last week to overcome my weaknesses and be able to feel the Spirit. Because of my struggles with Japanese, I have often felt more discouraged than spiritual and I want it to be the other way around. Since Sunday, I have definitely felt a change come over me as I focus on not comparing myself to others and I know that Heavenly Father is answering my prayers. 

I just want you all to know that I love it here at the MTC. I'm excited to see the new missionaries today, with their orange dots, and tell them "Welcome to the MTC." It truly is a spiritual place and I am learning so much. It's hard, but my companion and district are so supportive and I am so glad that we were all called at this time to be with each other here in the MTC.

Please send me notes through Dear Elder (the information is on my blog)! We get mail every night and Dear Elder prints out your messages and I get them at night. It would be so nice to get some mail from all of you at the end of a long day.

Until next week!

(Also, sorry for all the Japanese, just know that Shimai=sister and Choro=elder and it is really hard for me to remember to say Sister Hill or Elder Nathan instead of Hill Shimai and Nathan Choro)

Saturday, June 4, 2016

June 1, 2016 - And so the adventure begins...

Hello from the MTC in Provo, Utah! For those of you who don't know, the MTC is my new home for the next 9 weeks where I will be learning Japanese and how to teach the gospel.

Let me tell you, they do not waste time. I entered the MTC, got my giant bag of books (it literally weighs like 20 lbs) and dropped my stuff off in my room. Within an hour of entering the MTC I was in a classroom and they only spoke Japanese! For the following 2 hours or so I was so confused but by the end I could pick out some words which is great! My companion is Sister Hill (Hill Shimai) who is amazing! Neither of us know much Japanese, but we have plans to learn so much in the next few weeks.

There isn't nearly enough time for me to tell you everything that has happened today. It feels like a week has already passed, but its only been a day.

My P-day is Wednesdays, so look forward to another email next week, hopefully longer than this one. I only have 10 min today!