Without purse or scrip

​Going to a fantastic Christmas zone conference and stuffing my face with American Christmas food: good.

Talking with my family over Skype: good.

Losing my wallet on Christmas day: bad!

My wallet must have fallen from my pocket as I was riding my bike. By the time I realized it was gone, I was left, sans my ARC card, mission debit card, personal debit card, American driver’s license, and a wad of cash, to curse whoever thought putting so many important things in one place was a good idea.

As soon as we had time, my companions and I spent our lunch hour combing the route we had biked. We rode back and forth, but the distance was great and two days had already passed. It was pouring rain, and the road was covered with pools of murky water and assorted garbage. The billfold which I so desperately sought was nowhere to be found.

No matter, though; the work must go on! I’m in the process of replacing the documents I lost. The loss of my moneybag should prove but a small inconvenience. Lack I anything? Nothing.

This last was a challenging week by all means. Some of our most reliably progressing investigators stopped meeting with us. An innumerable number of our pigeons were released into the open sky. Our key indicators dropped to critical levels. Nevertheless, we’ve persisted, and I can only hope that this week will be better.

On the bright side, we took a lot of light-saber pictures.

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Yours truly.
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Jedi Master Montierth.
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Jedi Master Clark with his unique Easy Cheese hilt.

Sincerely,
Elder Elliott

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The Great Deluge

Notable events of this week:

On Monday, we were walking up a stairwell to one of our recent converts’ apartments when Elder Clark noticed a gigantic spider on the wall. It was the size of my hand. It was also very fast. It started running all over the concrete walls, then suddenly dropped several feet onto the stairs in front of us! Elder Montierth dashed up and stomped on it. It took several hits to kill it.

We had the privilege of hosting a baptismal service on Saturday for one of our investigators, Sister Xu, and one of the sisters’ investigators, Sister Chen.

Sister Chen.

Sister Xu.

Elders Clark, Montierth, and I arrived early to start the flow of hot water to the font. After several minutes of troubleshooting and lugging around some huge propane tanks for the heater, we were finally rewarded by a successful ignition and rush of flame within the heaters. We thought we had figured everything out.

We hadn’t.

After teaching several lessons in the interim, we checked the level of water in the font again. Despite having filled for half an hour, it was barely 1/8 full, and the baptismal service was in another 30 minutes! Our original plan had been to fill the font in advance with nothing but hot water so it would still be hot after the introductory service, but we decided to open the cold water valve as well to sacrifice some warmth for greater volume. We also resolved to leave the water flowing during the opening song and talks so as to ensure adequate water depth at the time of baptism.

We began the service confident that we had solved all of the remaining pre-baptismal problems. After sitting through fifteen minutes of the opening talks, a disturbing thought occurred to me: we hadn’t checked on the water level and had no idea how full the font was. I reassured myself that, if worst came to worst, the font was surely equipped with an overflow drain. Besides, it would be rude to suddenly abscond from the service to check.

Five minutes later, Brother Lu jumped up from his seat by the door of the chapel. "Water!"

We ran to the chapel door. Water was flowing from the hallway under the door onto the carpet. Elder Clark swung the door open, and a terrifying scene confronted us: water was rushing into the hallway from beneath the restroom doors and quickly spreading across its entire length. We splashed to the restroom and shoved the door open, and a flood of chill water spilled forth into the hallway. The entire bathroom was under six inches of water! We frantically dashed to the overflowing font and closed the valves.

By this time, the hall had completely filled with water, and everyone from the chapel was now aware of the desperate situation at hand. All of the little kids from within ran out and started splashing in the water. Some members grabbed buckets, dustpans, and mops, and we hastily began bailing out the chapel, filling buckets and pouring them into sinks and toilets already overflowing with gallons of swirling water. The church became a scene of absolute chaos. Members piled stuff on top of tables to keep it from getting wet.

After about half an hour of work, we finally managed to clean up the church with the help of several dozen members. The floor was still damp, but a member installed a fan to speed the drying process. We decided to proceed with the baptisms.

The water was frigid because the water heaters had automatically shut off after 20 minutes. Nevertheless, we helped our investigators into the bracing font and carried out the baptisms as planned. Elder Clark baptized Sister Xu, and I baptized Sister Chen. I hoped that the chaotic circumstances would not detract from the spirit of the ordinance.

After the baptismal service, we attended/participated in the Shuanghe 1st ward’s Christmas dinner and program. Our whole district sang Christmas hymns together:

A sonorous septuplet.

Other than that, it’s been a great and mostly uneventful week. We’ve been toasting marshmallows over our space heaters in remembrance of the Christmas season.

Elders Montierth and Clark at a Zhonghe intersection.

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Corner Benders

As a tripanionship, Elder Clark, Elder Montierth, and I are entitled to all of the inherent rights and privileges thereof–including the exclusive ability to bend corners without breaking mission-mandated sight and sound contact with each other.

On Monday, we took the MRT to Songshan with the sisters in our district and ate Mexican food in the neighborhood of Taipei 101. At first, Elder Clark and I thought the restaurant closed at 2:00, so we were super stressed. We ran through the rain like madmen, dashing up and down every side street until we finally found the one-of-a-kind restaurant. Thankfully, it was open until 3:00. It was awesome to at last partake of some Western fare.

Afterwards, we went to a local T-shirt store on a street near our apartment. Elder Clark sha’d the jia (haggled) for us, and I bought the following two gems:

Figure 1.0: A manly item of garb: "Dominated Power Game for Guys"

Figure 1.1: Sporting raiment states: "Bike is a very good exercise"

Tuesday: our schedule was packed with lessons. We had the opportunity to shang ke with some of our most outstanding investigators. Brother Xie is progressing steadily due to his willingness to read the Book of Mormon and pray concerning its truthfulness. We taught him the Word of Wisdom, a difficult obstacle for many Taiwanese investigators. Although he was concerned about the necessity of giving up his daily cup of coffee, he was willing to obey the commandment.

We finished teaching Sister Xu all of the commandments. We expect her to accept baptism next week.

Two of our other investigators have been taught every lesson and attended church the requisite three times, but are waiting for parental permission.

A disappointment: Brother Tang dropped off of the map. He hasn’t answered any of our calls. Member friends have been unable to contact him. From our limited information, it seems that family opposition led him to break his correspondence with us. All we can do is hope, pray, and keep calling.

The Church recently started a new missionary operation to aid missionaries in our proselyting efforts: we’ve been given cards that contain a URL and QR code that link to the Church-produced "He is the Gift" Christmas video. We’ve also been instructed to give the card to passerby and convince them to immediately watch the video on their internet-capable devices. It can be quite awkward, but we do it anyway because we’ve been told it will work and we have faith that it will. Anyway, people can’t think we’re much crazier than they already do.

Because of our recent over-abundance of lessons, we’ve been spending a disproportionate amount of time in the vicinity of the chapel. Thankfully, there are some good restaurants nearby where we can escape for a quick dinner, including several Thai places and an exceptional biandang store. One of the advantages of eating here so frequently is that I’ve accrued a sizable collection of biandang-box rubber bands to keep my Phase 3 flashcards organized.

Elder Clark with crispy avian friends at our favorite biandang store.

Other than that, not that much has been happening around the Shuanghe hood. We have Facebook now, which I’ve never used before in my life. In what little free time we have during meals, Elders Clark, Montierth, and I vigorously discuss fascinating topics such as Paul Revere’s role in secretly orchestrating the Revolutionary War to fund his underground arms company and how Johnny Appleseed was really John the Beloved. Elder Montierth did an interview for his re-entry to the Air Force Academy over a semi-functional Skype connection. It’s cold, but bearable. Things are good.

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Boanerges

The Sons of Thunder: James and John, the sons of Zebedee; and a third personage, briefly noted only in the Septuagint, most likely a scriptural rendering of a type or shadow of the Holy Ghost.

On Tuesday, we finalized the combination of our area with the Shuanghe 2nd sisters’ area. This combination gave us responsibility over the densest portion of Yonghe in addition to Zhonghe, effectively quintupling the size of our area. The sisters are responsible for teaching women in the area; we are responsible for men. I couldn’t wait to find and teach the inhabitants of our newly-acquired territory. Little did I know exactly how much our territory would soon expand.

Elder Gibson’s exit interview was on Wednesday. During his interview, I passed off the Phase 2 test with the Assistants. Now, I’m onto the hard part: Phase 3, consisting of 2,533 characters, organized by their frequency in the Book of Mormon, which I must learn to read and write. I’ve began chewing my way slowly through the accompanying bushel of flashcards, memorizing each character and its pronunciation.

The English party went quite smoothly as well. I taught people how to make snowflakes by radially folding a piece of paper and using scissors to excise various shapes from the resulting triangle’s edges. After the games, we conducted a white elephant gift exchange. Finally, we four elders sang a selection of Christmas hymns in our signature quartet.

Our ward mission leader gave Elder Gibson a parting gift (and gave me one as well, to avoid engendering envy): a tube of White Man toothpaste. He said he was going to get us the Black Man stuff, but decided against it to avoid racism. I’m trying to decide whether I trust it enough to actually use it.

Whitemen: Guardian of Tooth.

On Elder Gibson’s last day, he and I went to the recycling plant to serve together one last time. We unscrewed bottle caps and cut the seals off, just like the first time, but this time we were provided with food as well! A woman offered me a plate of amoeba-like blobs of gel. Elder Gibson refused, saying that he was allergic, but assured me that the unidentified substance did not violate the Word of Wisdom. In the interest of politeness, I accepted, and the woman used tongs to place the gelatinous substance into my mouth so as to allow me to keep my hands free. It was sweet, and quite excellent to the taste. Later, Elder Gibson told me it was xiancao (grass jelly) dipped in peanut powder.

We took a last photograph of our roommates, anticipating the impending departure of Elders Gibson and Cheung.

Then, on Friday, Elder Gibson left. My new companions were revealed. Both of them.

New companions: Elder Montierth and Elder Clark.

Areas: Shuanghe 2nd and Shuanghe 1st.

Elders Clark and Montierth are great. They’re probably the 2nd and 3rd nerdiest elders in our mission, respectively. Elder Clark is dual-majoring in physics and philosophy at BYU; Elder Montierth is majoring in computer science at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Together, we can opine at length on a wide variety of interesting topics.

We’re now in a very complicated situation, responsible for two wards–and two areas–at once. We cover 3/4 of our entire district’s terrain; only one companionship remains outside of our domain. We devised a very complex Sunday schedule, involving multiple exchanges with ward members, to allow us to study and avoid staying in church meetings for six straight hours. We report two sets of numbers and set two sets of goals, one for the first ward and one for the second. Hence, my already-convoluted planner system of number tracking and reporting became even more abstruse:

54 numbers to write daily.

Despite the additional complications posed by this very unique situation, it’s also proven to be one of the most fun times of my mission so far. Contacting is awesome: three crazy white guys speed around on bicycles and accost innocent Taiwanese bystanders. We’re always busy because of the sheer number of investigators and members we need to coordinate.

Also, I bought a really cool ripoff Mickey Mouse notebook to practice my characters in:

Front.

Back.

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Birthweek

Shuanghe district.

​Nonfunctional self-timer edition.

This past Friday marked the completion of my 19th full solar circuit.

Last week was also my final full week with Elder Gibson. I’m assigned a new companion on Friday; he’s returning home on Saturday. He’s been the best trainer I could ask for.

Some things I’ll miss when he leaves:

I’ll miss having an ultra-convenient, portable, context-aware Chinese dictionary and pronunciation guide always by my side.

I’ll miss the resonance of our apartment’s harmonious quartet hymn performances, with which we always begin our companion studies. Chances are that Elder Gibson’s and Elder Cheung’s successors will not be graced with their same musical proclivity.

I’ll miss being able to discuss ketones and aldehydes with my companion.

Even though I’ll regret the loss of these things, I’m looking forward to meeting my new companion. Whoever he is, he’ll bring new skills, ideas, and qualities I can learn from. I’m super excited for transfer meeting on Friday.

Now, for the other occurrences of the week:

On P-day, everyone was really tired and only wanted to play board games and “zhua yang” (one of Elder Cheung’s self-made expressions, meaning “to scratch one’s self.” Literally: “scratch/grab itch.”). I averred, to some extent. After finishing e-mailing and shopping, I spent my time listening to music, studying Chinese, and practicing sketching in the apartment.

On Tuesday, most of our time was spent teaching lessons. All of the people we’ve taught this week are outstanding, with the notable exception of an exceptionally creepy fellow we taught on Tuesday who was convinced that he was a prophet. Brother Xie is doing great, mostly due to his willingness to read the Book of Mormon and pray with a sincere heart and real intent. Sister Zhu and her whole family came to our stake conference on Sunday, including her husband. It was awesome to see them there.

Wednesday: another day of recycling service! We were tasked with disassembling a variety of electronic appliances, including telephones, keyboards, USB devices, and a sketchy Taiwanese high-voltage magneto-therapy device. Using a screwdriver and hammer, I separated plastic, ferrous components, wires, and circuit boards, all the while reminiscing on my past robotics days.

Once again, we elders were also enlisted in the tossing of second-hand clothing into trucks. This would be an enjoyable task were it not for the accompanying odors and other unpleasant discoveries. This week, we found a jacket swarming with thousands of small arachnids (termites?).

On a similar note, our apartment this week was overrun by fruit flies, most likely spontaneously generated by the decomposition of banana peels left in our trash bags.

Because this was Elder Gibson’s last full week in Taiwan, many members invited us to eat with them.

Eating food as a district.

Eating some more food, at our outstanding bishop’s request. Featuring: one of our investigators, Sister Zhu, and Sister Xie (our bishop’s wife)

The eating of food continues: chidaobao huoguo.

One of our English-class students brought us to an all-you-can-eat hot pot restaurant on Friday, which just so happened to be my birthday as well. It was a very fitting celebration. Eating at this two-story restaurant is like being given free rein to raid a grocery store. There’s an insane amount of food, all stocked on shelves that run along the buffet section of the restaurant. I filled my pot several times over with cabbage, other vegetables, shuijiao, beef, pork, pig blood, duck blood, tofu, duck intestine, cow stomach, and chicken heart. It was delicious. To top it off, I ate several bowls of ice cream, which they had a special machine to extrude from pre-packaged cups.

It’s been a great time. Our investigators are progressing; our finding efforts are bringing forth some fruits; we’re not sick; Taiwan is awesome.

Bye!

Love,
Elder Elliott

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