Moving

This was quite an eventful week. On Wednesday afternoon, I was informed that I would move. I packed on Wednesday night, simply dumping my clothing and numerous study materials back into my suitcases and finishing within an hour.

Brother Lin, a Taidong member, uses a self-devised assemblage to fabricate me a ring from a quarter.

Last picture with the Taidong district. I was supposed to wear a blue tie.

On Thursday morning, we rode bikes to the beach to pay our last brief respects to Taidong.

Elders Boyd and Taulepa approach the waves.

Standing on the beach.

The beloved Elder Stephens.

Our bicycles in front of the Taidong mountains.

Then, after studies, I lugged my suitcases, one of which weighed over 150 lbs, to the Taidong train station, rode the train for eight hours, and reached Taipei at night.

Friday morning was our transfer meeting. I moved to…

Wearing hats from people on the street.

Tucheng, in New Taipei City, to be companions with Elder Huntsman as leaders of the West Zone!

It’s awesome to be here. Elder Huntsman came to Taiwan at the same time as me, and we were friends in the MTC. He is an outstanding missionary, and he and I get along really well. Our area is also fantastic, with one of the most rapidly-growing wards in the whole mission. I actually miss the city a lot after spending so much time in the rural expanses of Taidong. It’s good to be back.

After eating together and returning to our area on Friday, we contacted on the busy Taipei streets for two hours. The number of people on the street was shocking after spending so long on the deserted crossroads of the east coast. We saw a good deal of success as we talked with the bustling passerby, including several America-obsessed teens with DIY tattoos. They said they’d come to church with us, although they were strangely absent at the commencement of the Sunday meeting.

There are many differences between Taipei and Taidong, which have only become apparent after spending time in both areas. Taipei is way more convenient. There are probably more restaurants, supermarkets, and convenience stores within a three-minute walk of our apartment than there are in all of Taidong. The people are also a lot busier.

Saturday consisted of a lot of finding. We walked everywhere, because the people on the streets are so dense that it’s more convenient to contact on foot. We found some awesome new investigators, including a cool guy named Dennis who we contacted near our apartment. We ended up meeting with him on Sunday as well and extending a baptismal invite for the 15th of August, which he accepted.

Elder Huntsman is a great missionary and leader because he’s loving. He always compliments people on what they do well. I know I have much to learn from him. Together, we can accomplish a lot in our area and zone.

Our time is very scarce because we are always calling and taking phone calls from missionaries in our zone. It’s been an interesting adjustment. Three times a week, all missionaries in our zone report their key indicators (numerical progress indicators) to us via text message. We then compile these numbers, writing and totaling by hand; analyze them and take notes; and fax relevant documents upward to the mission president’s assistants. Once a week, we call the district leaders in our zone and discuss with them the progress and needs of their district. We then call and report to the assistants.

This entire process, including waiting for everyone to send a lengthy key indicator report to us, must take place within an hour. It’s very tight.

To make matters worse, our old, reliable phone broke and was replaced with a new model, a gimmicky touchscreen "dummy phone" which can only display about ten English characters at a time on the screen. Reporting is very painful. I still need to find some ways to streamline the process.

Sunday was great as well. I met many of our ward members, who all love the missionaries and are very willing to help us. We went to visit our ward mission leader, one of the nicest members I’ve ever met. His kids served us some lemonade they made themselves. It was unnervingly warm and salty, and very dilute, but we kept on taking sips to be polite. They kept pouring our gigantic mugs full as soon as we neared the bottom. It was hilarious seeing my companion struggling to swallow the vile liquid with a straight face. Oh well; I suppose it’s the thought that counts.

All in all, this has been a great week. I’m looking forward to continuing to serve in Tucheng with Elder Huntsman.

Love,
Elder Elliott

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At last, it happened: the Hualian stake was established yesterday. Everyone’s efforts have paid off. Taidong’s three branches will become wards.

From President Day’s email:

Under the direction of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Gong and Elder Guan of the Seventy traveled to Hualien and organized the Hualien Stake. President Tsai Wen Fang was called as Stake President, and his two counselors are President Kim Saunders (1st counselor in the Taiwan Taipei Mission Presidency) and President Hou Xin-Yu (President of the Taidong 3rd Branch).

As part of setting apart President Tsai, Elder Gong conferred “the keys of the kingdom” related to the Hualien Stake upon President Tsai. He now sits as the presiding high priest in that area of God’s kingdom and will assist in further building the that kingdom on the earth.

On behalf of myself and Sister Day, as well as all of the Saints in the new Hualien Stake, we thank every single missionary who played any part, no matter how great or small, in helping this historical event to take place.

On June 21, 2015—a day never to be forgotten in the Taiwan Taipei Mission—the last member district became a Stake of Zion. The Saints there now have a “refuge from the storm” with all necessary priesthood keys. They now have a High Priest Quorum with functioning high priests to further bless the lives of the Saints. Upon approval from the Quorum of the Twelve, they will have a patriarch who can bless the Saints through patriarchal blessings. What a major event in the history of Taiwan.

Elder Stephens and I rode the train from Taidong to Hualian on Saturday morning. We attended a meeting at 6:00 PM and a cultural celebration from 7:00-9:00 PM. Many of the members of the newly-established Hualian stake sang, acted, and danced, many wearing the traditional clothing of various aboriginal tribes. We missionaries sang, along with all returned missionaries from the congregation. I met and talked with one of my father’s friends, Brother Staten, who once served in Taidong. He flew over from America to attend this special event.

After staying the night in Hualian, we attended the Sunday stake-establishment meeting. We listened to the testimonies of many members who had labored long for the creation of this stake. President Day also spoke. This will be his last week in Taiwan. He was very grateful to be able to witness the realization of this great and long-awaited milestone.

My companion and I also saw great results in our personal missionary endeavors this week. Brother Gao, our young 12-year-old investigator, is doing great, and is well-prepared for baptism. Brother Zhou, another 11-year-old young man who is also a member’s grandson, has also been progressing excellently, and will almost definitely be baptized on the 4th of July. Chances are that I won’t be able to see their baptisms personally. Nevertheless, it is great to know that I have played a role in their conversion.

On Monday, we went with the other Taidong elders to Tasty, an expensive (for missionaries) steak restaurant, to celebrate the imminent departure of Elder Boyd. Today is his last P-day in Taiwan.

The food was pretty good, and included everyone’s favorite bloody hunk of cow. It was one of those restaurants where you choose one of several options for all eight courses of a meal and the price is fixed. The price tag was pretty high, enough that I was almost dissuaded at first. When we sat down, however, we realized that President Lai of the first branch was on a date with his wife in the next booth over! Surprisingly enough, he was very happy to see us. Without telling us, he payed for half of our fee when he left. Then, Elder Boyd used some of the cash he accumulated over his mission to pay for a proportion of the remaining charge, so we ended up only having to pay $250 NTD per person (about $8.25 USD). So, it ended up being a pretty good deal.

Fancy food.

Then, today, our district president and new stake president, President Cai, invited all of us missionaries to eat at the fanciest restaurant in Taidong. It’s actually in a nice hotel.

The hotel lobby. Those sculptures are really expensive, too; they cost about $1M USD.

Sitting in the nice hotel.

The interior decoration was pretty good. That blocky sculpture on the table costs $500K USD.

Interior decoration.

The restaurant was all-you-can-eat, with hotpot and many types of exotic seafood, including pickled jellyfish, mashed squid paste, and salmon-skin jelly. There were also a ton of desserts, which we sampled liberally, despite my resolution to avoid sweets. Oh well. I heard that the cost exceeded $50 USD per person, so I figured I might as well make it worth the price.

Standing outside the restaurant.

All of us with President and Sister Cai.

It’s been a great week of finding, fine dining, and miracles. I may or may not move to a different place this week. It’s great to have been here in Taidong!

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Silicates and silicates

Elder Chand takes a picture of us and the sisters at the 蔡 family’s house.

This was a nice week, though not particularly eventful. On P-day, I seized the opportunity to clean our kitchen, meticulously scrubbing the refrigerator inside and out and scouring most of the surfaces in the room, most of which were coated with everyone’s favorite sticky film of dust and atomized grease. Our living quarters are quite clean, especially compared to most missionary apartments, but the kitchen gets dirty quickly because we use it every day and rarely have time to thoroughly clean it.

On Wednesday, I went on exchanges again with the zone leaders. During our studies, the zone leaders’ landlord arrived to inspect their unusually noisy air conditioning units and complain about the living habits of past missionaries along the way. She basically told them to fix the apartment on their own or she’ll let the lease expire rather than pay the minimal repair costs. Her advice was not to use the AC at all. “It’s not that hot anyway,” she said.

Once again, we went to the hospital, this time for Elder Taulepa’s sinusitis. While we waited for the very, very slow queue to advance, we visited an investigator in the sick bay and ate our lunch.

Back at the hospital, the doctor stuck four long wooden Q-tips alarmingly deep into Elder Taulepa’s nose, two in each nostril. It looked quite painful, but apparently helped a lot.

Our mostly-nonfunctional washing machine finally went the way of all flesh on Tuesday, filling with a pool of fetid water and refusing to drain no matter how many times we started the spin cycle. I tried all of the usual clothes-hanger tricks, but to no avail. Now, we’re using a laundromat until the mission office replaces the fickle appliance.

On Friday, I translated for pretty much all of our zone conference. It was my first time translating for an entire long meeting. It went great, except that talking nonstop from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM was super taxing on my voice. I was pretty hoarse by the end.

Among the more interesting parts of the day’s training were the insights President Day offered about the process of bringing in our new mission president, President Jergensen, who will be coming in about three weeks. There will be only two hours of overlap between their times in Taiwan. It will be a completely fresh start, the end of the great Day dynasty (范朝) and the dawn of a new era (江朝). It will be hard to see President and Sister Day leave, but I am excited to see the new direction and insights that President Jergensen will bring to the mission.

President and Sister Day, after acting out a training about effective planning and teaching.

My companion and I saw many miracles this week. At first, I was close to discouragement when it seemed that all of our finding time was yielding no fruit. We knocked on doors and street contacted day after day, but it seemed to me that our results were not in proportion to our effort. After spending two hours knocking doors in a relatively small village with little success, we at last ran into an older man, Brother Zeng, willing to let us in. He accepted our teachings and a return appointment. Now, he has a baptismal date, came to church, and has met with us three times.

I also saw miracles as we planned daily. My companion and I had been unable to contact a member referral for some time, but we made sure to plan for this referral during our weekly and daily planning. When we managed to make contact, we arranged a time, visited him with a member, taught him the Restoration, and gave him a baptismal date and planner. He is actually 11 years old, and is the grandson of one of our branch members. He is totally committed to his baptismal date for the 4th of July.
Our young Brother Gao has also been doing well. When I called his mom’s phone to invite him to church on Saturday, she said he couldn’t come, but we decided to ride the long distance to his house on Sunday morning anyway. When we reached his house, he told us that he was eating breakfast and couldn’t come with us, but that he would ride on his own after we left. I grumbled internally, expecting his response to be an empty excuse, and we headed to church. It was a great surprise when, ten minutes later, he walked into the chapel on his own and joined us!

It’s hot in Taidong, and it’s going to get hotter. I’ve already become accustomed to sweating 24/7, something I was never prone to do before encountering Taiwanese heat and humidity. On the plus side, no Utah weather is ever going to seem hot again.

Love,
Elder Elliott

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Snails

A sunny day outside.

Some of this week’s interesting experiences included:

I. Weeding

"Pulling weeds" has different connotations in Taiwan than in the U.S. In Taiwan, when one is enlisted to help pull weeds, one must don heavy gloves, long protective clothing, and bring an ax, machete, or other large cutting implement. We missionaries are very willing to serve, but nothing can strike fear into the heart of a Taiwanese missionary like the phrase "pull weeds."

On Tuesday, our Taidong districts banded together to help a local widow tidy her property by "pulling weeds." Before long, I found myself crawling through six-foot deep vegetation overrun with spiders and cockroaches, hacking at the pernicious sapling-size sprouts with a great serrated blade. We were all wearing our short-sleeved exercise shirts. The widow was furious at us for not bringing proper clothing, even though nobody had told us what to wear!

"Those short sleeves won’t protect you against snakes," she shouted.

I had my doubts about whether the sleeves would make any difference. Nevertheless, I was very quick to heed her advice and continuously beat at the foliage in front of me with a stick to drive any snakes away. After cutting through the dense and woody "weeds," which grew in tight clusters thicker than a man’s thigh, we used a hoe to dig up the deep roots. In three hours, we managed to carve a path most of the way through the thickets. Throughout the process, we spotted several huge scorpion-shaped spiders the size of my hand, which ran very quickly and wriggled into cracks between rocks. The widow said that their bites would kill a man, but I’m pretty sure they are actually harmless.

II. Failed snail experiment

During the weeding process, we also ran into many more benign invertebrates, including many of Taiwan’s giant snails. My companion and I both enjoy eating snails, so he picked up all of the snails we ran across and detained them in a handy wire snail cage. By the end of the day, we collected a good harvest of the hard-shelled specimens.

In order for the snails to taste good, you can’t kill them immediately, or the varied contents of their guts will taint their flavor. Instead, you must feed them a specific diet of greens for a week while they are captive.

We put the cage out on the apartment balcony. I had planned to call one of our members, Brother Zhou, and ask him what to feed the snails, but I couldn’t get in touch with him. In the meantime, we decided to just put a bunch of grass in the cage to keep the snails alive. Unfortunately, when we checked on the snails the next day, they were all dead. The chewy delicacy was withheld from us this time.

III. Eating 1000-year-old eggs

I ate two of them this week. When I ate the first one, someone purchased it for me, and I was expecting it to be really gross. To my surprise, it wasn’t. They actually taste good, despite their repellent appearance. The white is like jello, and the soft dark green yolk tastes like regular egg yolk with a very slight hint of sulfur. Accompanied by soy sauce and tofu, they are very much tolerable. I actually bought the second one for myself at a later occasion.

IV. Visiting the hospital

I spent a lot of time in the hospital this week. Don’t worry, it wasn’t in conjunction with the eggs.

My companion and I were able to give several priesthood blessings to some of our members. One of our branch’s investigators got in a motorcycle accident, so we visited him in the hospital. Then, I had the opportunity to go on exchanges with our zone leaders, and we taught one of their investigators currently in the hospital. The next day, one of the sisters in our district had to go to the hospital for back pain, and I had to accompany them to translate the medical history form, which is all in Chinese. So, I became very familiar with the interior of our neighborhood McKay Memorial Hospital.

Recently, Elder Stephens and I have been doing our best to involve members in our work. We hope that, by doing so, we can increase the number of investigators who progress and accept baptism. So far, we’ve seen a lot of success. Bringing members with us to do missionary work is great because it gives them an idea of what the work is actually like. It gives them enthusiasm and a desire to participate.

It’s hard to believe that I have already been training Elder Stephens for seven weeks. Time goes by faster and faster!

Recently, I’ve been focusing my language study on memorizing the 3,000 most commonly-used characters in publicized Chinese works, simplified as well as traditional. I have also been reading the Chinese New Testament every day. I finished Luke this morning!

It’s been a great week. That’s about all for now!

Elder Stephens forging ahead through the rugged Taiwanese backcountry to preach the gospel.


Love,
Elder Elliott

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Domal Week

Our trainer-trainee meeting was scheduled for Wednesday in Taipei, and we accidentally bought tickets for the slowest, most antiquated train, so we spent pretty much all of Tuesday on a bumpy ride northward. When we arrived at about 8:00 PM, we were really tired and hungry. As we waited in the Jinhua chapel for the assistants, a woman approached with a ton of food in bags and rather abruptly started giving it to us and telling us to eat it. Being as hungry as we were, we gladly accepted. It seemed an odd assortment, and some of the food seemed a little stale, but I couldn’t have cared less. When we had eaten our fill, she handed the bags to us and told us to eat the rest for breakfast. She then left.

A few minutes later, some of the local Taipei missionaries came by. My companion told them about the unusual encounter. "Don’t eat the food," one of them immediately replied. "Oh no, did you already eat it?" My companion and I looked at each other.

It turns out that this eccentric member often feeds missionaries with food she gleans from the trash. I took another look at the food she had given us, and much of it was very suspect, to say the least. We promptly disposed of it.

The meeting on Wednesday morning was excellent. After several hours of training and discussion, and a lot of pizza for lunch, we returned aboard a faster train and made it back to Taidong by night.

Unfortunately, the next day, my companion was afflicted with some regrettable bowel complications. We’re not sure if these were due to the questionable food we ate on Tuesday night or the vast amount of pizza my companion consumed the next day. Regardless, the symptoms were alleviated after two days of Pepto-bismol.

New wine in old bottles: Yellow Emperor’s Internal Canon edition (seen in a less-active member’s home)

On Friday, we made our routine weekly Luye visit. Because my companion was still sick and lacking energy, and because my rear derailleur cable snapped, leaving my bicycle unable to shift gears, we spent more time than usual toiling up and down the hills in the heat. However, we had some great lessons and excellent opportunities to serve some members, which more than made up for the pain.

My companion reaching the top of the last hill. The fields in the background are pineapples.

Some mango trees. The mangoes are tied in bags to keep them from being eaten by insects or birds.

Our branch, together with the Taidong first and second branches, held a giant potluck dinner on Saturday evening. Every family brought one dish. The result was an abundance of food, a bustling feeding frenzy, and a crowded arrangement of chairs and tables that would make any fire warden nervous. It was a great event! Elder Juan, recently released as an Area Seventy, attended and gave a speech. Also, Brother Gao, our 12-year-old investigator, was able to come as well. I thought that he would be able to see the chapel and meet the members in a low-pressure environment, thus making him feel more comfortable coming to church on Sunday.

Standing in front of the food with Elder Stephens.

Two members performing a musical number.

All of the members belonging to the "Papaya Clan," a huge aboriginal family based in Luye and comprising at least half of our branch, performed several musical numbers and danced together.

Sure enough, Brother Gao was able to come on Sunday! We rode our bikes with him all the way. He’s a really cool kid. He and I like talking about Minecraft together. Pray that he’ll be able to get baptized!

Brother Gao’s mug shot.

This has been a good week. Even though my bag soaked through in the rain, my bike is stuck in 8th gear, and our washer and dryer are still broken, I’m still feeling pretty happy. My companion and I saw a lot of success this past week, despite having less time to work than usual because of the meeting. Here’s hoping this week will go even better!

Love,
Elder Elliott

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