Parthian shot

I stepped out the door of the office, and it felt like I’d stepped back into Utah. The blustery wind was frigid in a way that I hadn’t felt in a long time. There were little flecks blowing down from the dark sky. One of them landed on Elder Xiao’s jacket, and I saw that it was solid.

It was snow.

That night, several centimeters of fluffy white precipitation landed in Taipei, an unheard-of event in this semi-tropical climate. Our Da’an district escaped the wintry blast, so I didn’t see any flakes besides the few that landed on my companion, but there was a dusting of snow left on the buildings and roads of some other districts.

This week was also momentous for another reason: Elder Xiao moved away, and Elder Ure and I handled the first new-style transfer of the Taipei mission. Basically, a transfer cycle in the mission is six weeks. Every six weeks, a large number of missionaries will move to new areas with new companions. With rare exceptions, all missionaries stay in areas for whole numbers of transfers (e.g. 1, 2, 3…). This means that there’s a lot of work for us to do every six weeks, and it comes all at once.

In the past, missionaries would all come to a central location (the mission office) before being assigned their new area and companion. They would then travel to the new area. Now, to save time and help missionaries stay in their areas for longer, we started having people move directly to their area. There were a lot of logistical problems we had to solve in implementing this system the first time.

Coordinating the movements of missionaries from the Taipei main station.

Basically, this is how we worked it out:

Once we received President Jergensen’s instruction as to who would be moving where, we created a data sheet containing the information for all moving missionaries. For every one of the 30+ missionaries who were moving, we typed a text document listing the new companion, new area, new phone number, new address, and directions on how to get there. We had to coordinate all the train timing, from the west coast of Taiwan to the south-easternmost areas in Taidong, so that everyone would have a companion accompanying them except for when they were on some form of public transportation. This was insanely complex, because every missionary’s arrival and departure time can create dependencies for ten or more other missionaries. A new companion must arrive before the old one can depart, or another companionship can provide temporary accompaniment.

Because the tickets for trains were all already booked out by the time President Jergensen’s decisions came out, I had to work by different means. I communicated with one of our connections who works at a train station, who helped us book tickets from the inside. I then texted all the booking information to individual companionships, who payed for and withdrew tickets using local convenience-store machines.

After typing all of these files, we exported them to PDFs and uploaded them to a cloud storage site which an online-shopping machine in any 7-11 convenience store can access. I organized the resulting pin numbers, and we texted each pin number to the corresponding companionship. They went to the nearest 7-11, printed the file off, and began to move according to the instructions thereon.

Because there’s only one phone per companionship, the missionaries would have no easy way to communicate with us between companions, so the timing had to be just right. One train was late by an hour and a half, but thankfully the end of its dependency chain was a member whose time was flexible. We stationed ourselves at the Taipei Main station, where we directed missionary traffic. At a preset time, I handed tickets for the east coast off to missionaries coming up from the west coast. As the day went on, companionships checked in one by one, until everyone was accounted for. Not one person was lost. It was a miracle.

Then came the bicycles and luggage.

Loading bikes onto one of the shipping company trucks.

Elder Ure was responsible for bikes. In every instruction file, we included a label that missionaries could stick on their bikes, with the next location and phone number written on it. They dropped off their bikes at a pre-arranged dropoff point in their neighborhood, and a shipping company came to transport the bicycles.

As for the luggage, Elder Xiao prepared a database of all the agencies of a container-shipping company, matching each missionary’s area with the closest location. Each instruction file provided directions for contacting the local shipping branch.

At the same time, we had to provide meals and housing for the new missionaries coming in for the airport. Because of the lack of advance time, I woke up really early to call some restaurants and order food so they could prepare it in time for breakfast.

After a long day, everyone finally reached their new companion and area, including Elder Xiao, who left for Zhubei. Elder Ure and I were exhausted. We finished updating all of the mission’s phone-number and location information. We finally walked home, and grabbed our favorite 焿麵 and 魯肉飯 for dinner past 9:00 PM.

This week, I also signed my first contract solo, without Elder Xiao to accompany me. It went really smoothly, surprisingly! The landlord was a bit unpredictable, and she suddenly had a problem with our payment scenario after we’d already signed the contract and shaken hands. After a bunch of haggling, we went back, changed the relevant sections of the contract, and re-stamped it.

I used a bunch of regex to format chapter headings in the text of the Old Testament. It was pretty fun, especially when I used 150 capturing groups to replace all of the Arabic-numeral chapter headings with Chinese characters.

This morning, we drove the last two remaining sisters from our MTC district to the airport in 桃園 [Taoyuan].

It was a pretty awesome week. I’m going to miss Elder Xiao a lot, but it’s also cool to start fulfilling these responsibilities on my own.

Love,
Elder Elliott

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One thought on “Parthian shot

  1. Joseph Ballantyne says:

    David: what a huge job you did. When I was a missionary in Switzerland in 1956 there was no such thing as a set transfer time. Transfers were done one at a time on any convenient date, and each missionary was responsible to make his own transportation arrangements. There was also no obligation to always have a companion while traveling. We packed our bags, got and paid for our own train tickets and took our bags and bike on the train with us. Nobody ever got lost. Long ago times were simpler and less complicated. On my last assignment I stayed in the same place for a year. Love, Grandpa.

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