Secret tunnel

In an hour, Elder Smith and I will fly on an airplane down to 花蓮 [Hualian] to help President Jergensen set up and translate for the 花蓮 [Hualian] and 台東 [Taidong] zone conference. I never thought I’d go back to the East coast on my mission. Neither did I think I’d ever fly on a plane for these two years. It’s happening now, though!

Elder Smith and I will stay overnight in 花蓮 [Hualian] and spend all of our P-day tomorrow there. We’re going to go hike in 太魯閣 [Taroko gorge] and probably hang out at the beach too. I’m super-excited to go to Taroko, a place I’ve always wanted to see in Taiwan but never got the chance.

This past week went really fast. I made some breakthroughs on the language program, and the first books were printed this week. Here’s a preview (but this is still on the hush in the mission, since we haven’t announced it yet):

This is the overview chart thingy I thought up with Elder Smith and illustrated on the computer. This is how missionaries track their language progress.

The cover of Book A, which contains the basic Chinese for teaching people.

A preview: the first page of Book A.

So, that’s basically what I’ve been working on every spare minute this week.

For P-day, we went to a big bookstore and looked around. I bought a bunch of Chinese books for me to bring home and read after the mission. I’ve been trying to improve my Chinese character reading speed recently by reading the Liahona and the Gospel Principles book in Chinese. I bookmarked my current reading speed at about 360 characters per minute (6 cps), which is pretty OK (an average Chinese native reads at 386 characters per minute), but my goal is 450 characters per minute.

There were also some cool miracles this week. First, we found and rented a new apartment for the 三峽 [Sanxia] elders, even though the first one cancelled at the last second because the landlord didn’t want to report taxes. Second, we received a referral from my old stake president in the West stake who has a lot of potential to be baptized. Third, a missionary’s parents were traveling around in Taibei and they referred their driver to us. He’s really cool, and super-prepared to receive our teachings. So, those were some good highlights.

Anyway, this email’s going to be short because I have to get on a plane in an hour and a half. It’s been a great week, and I’m looking forward to the next! I’ll hopefully have a lot of Hualian pics to send.


Elder Elliott


Charging ahead

Two of the elders in our mission filmed and produced a commercial for our free English class:

This was a painstaking and time-consuming endeavor involving a lot of staging, filming, and editing. It turned out really well, if I say so myself. We helped by driving them around and around the 中正紀念堂 [Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall] so they could get the last shot of them riding their bikes on the street.

One of the highlights of this week was traveling with President Jergensen to the various zone conferences so Elder Smith and I could translate. Yesterday morning, we woke up extra-early to drive down to 竹北 [Zhubei], near the west coast of Taiwan. The assistants were loading the car up and preparing to drive, and Elder Smith and I were printing out handouts in the office. My phone buzzed, and I picked up the assistants’ call. They were at the gas station next door.

"Do you know what number of gas to put in the van?" Elder Liston asked. "Is it 92, 95, or 98?"

I remembered us adding diesel to the van many times, but I couldn’t remember seeing any number. "Uh, I think it’s 95," I guessed. "OK," Elder Liston said, and he hung up.

A few minutes later, President and Sister Jergensen dashed down from their house, and we took off. "Good thing we woke up early," Elder Roe said as President drove along. "The tank was almost empty, but we filled it all the way up!"

"Wow, thanks!" Sister Jergensen said. "It’s always a pain to fill up the van, because you have to drive all the way to Bade Road."

We looked confused. "We just went next door," the APs said.

"Wait, did you add diesel, or gas?" President interjected.

"Gas," Elder Roe replied, and we suddenly realized the problem. The van can’t run on gasoline at all, but the assistants had filled the tank all the way up! I was aghast! "You told us it was 95!" the assistants cried. I protested that I had assumed they were adding diesel, and I didn’t know that diesel had no octane rating.

President quickly turned the van around and started driving back to the garage. "We’ll just park it here and have a mechanic siphon the gas later," he said. "We can split up and drive two cars to the meeting for now." We pulled into the parking garage and transferred all the supplies to President’s car, and he sped off to make the meeting. We drove the Ford with the remaining supplies. We made the hour-long drive to 竹北 [Zhubei] with minutes to spare. The van’s still sitting in the garage full of gasoline. This series of events was comical in retrospect.

For P-day, we walked to the 龍舟賽 [Dragon-boat races] that were being held in a stagnant canal for 端午節 [Dragon-boat festival]. It was cool, I guess, although the velocity of the boats was not exactly breakneck. There was even an English-speaking announcer, whose English was very fluent save for an overuse of the word "charging." She repeated it several times each match, regardless of whether the boats were indeed charging or not. Rowing the boats obviously required much coordination and endurance; many of the teams had trained for many months to compete in the races.

The members took a plethora of photographs with their phones.

My lack of coordination manifests itself in a game of ring toss for prizes! Elder Smith won two bottles of Martinelli’s and several other carbonated beverages. I won a little plastic robot worth $0.01.

All together with the members.

When we’d watched enough of the races, we went charging back to the office, where I talked to a member from 土城 [Tucheng] about audio editing software for the remaining hour of P-day. Elder Smith lay down beneath his desk, exhausted.

Recently, the zone leaders in our ward have been helping the members provide their own referrals by using a tract we printed which outlines progressive, gradual steps to share the gospel with friends and eventually invite them to meet with missionaries. Our ward members are awesome, but the ward has an unfortunate reputation for being uninvolved towards missionary work and especially convert retention, which we’re trying to reverse.

That’s about all for this week. Hope you have a great day!

Elder Elliott


H to K (Hie to Kolob)

Elder Smith and I decided to walk over to 中正紀念堂 [Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall] for P-day. We explored the building and watched the changing of the guard. The memorial itself bears a striking resemblance to the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC.

The soldiers marching around during the changing of the guard.

The sun was really bright outside.

The view of the plaza from the entrance to the memorial.

We explored the park, which was dotted with unusually garish reindeer-themed modern art.

We observed some gruff old men playing Chinese chess. Most of them had retired years ago and played for hours every day since. They were loud and coarse, grumbling obscenities when they lost and bursting into raucous laughter upon victory. After watching several games, Elder Smith challenged them to a match! One of their most seasoned players accepted the challenge. All the other men took Elder Smith’s side, though, giving him constant tips and even moving the pieces for him! They wanted to see their friend get beat by a foreigner so bad. Elder Smith’s elderly opponent was not pleased. "Stop helping him," he complained. "This the Sino-American war!"

Elder Smith lost the first game and tied the second. We shook hands with the men and headed back to the office.

This week, we drove back to my and Elder Smith’s first area, 中和 [Zhonghe], twice. First we delivered some mattresses to the elders, then we brought a bike for the sisters. Walking up to the elders’ apartment at night and letting myself in brought back tons of memories. The outside of the building was completely unchanged, and I heard the same bustling and clanging of pans from the lighted windows by the entrance gate. At the inside door, I used the same bent coat hanger to reach inside and unlock the door, just like I did every day during training. It’s crazy that almost two years have gone by now.

We stopped by our favorite boxed-meal restaurant, which I used to go to almost every day with Elder Montierth. Sure enough, the staff were all the same, and the food was still as good as we remembered.

​It was a pretty cool experience to go back to my first area.

The other day, one of the elders in my generation told me, "See you in five weeks!" Only then did it really hit me how short the time is that I have left. I’m both excited and a little stressed because there’s so much I have to finish before then. I’ve been praying every day that I can get done everything I need to before my time’s up.

Elder Elliott


Transfer Week: Lost Passport Edition

Having thoroughly exhausted the entertainment potential of central Taipei, we decided to visit some geothermal points of interest in 北投 [Beitou] for our P-day.

We rode the elevated MRT out into the boonies, and disembarked at the 新北投 [New Beitou] station. We walked through a grassy park, our path paralleling the thermal stream running down the valley. It was blazing hot, but there were still many old people soaking in the steaming hot springs.

We passed the Beitou library, an aesthetic structure reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic style of architecture. Elder Smith and I walked around and explored the interior, which was quiet and air-conditioned.

I had intended to go up to the thermal valley at the top of the park, but a zealous guard forbade us entrance, telling us the scenic point was closed. We walked back through the park, and scrambled over some rocks down to the side of the river. I stuck my hand in the flowing water. It was hot and smelled vaguely sulfurous.

Another building in the park was structured in a classic European style.

We tried out some Taiwanese exercise equipment in the park.

This leg-swinging apparatus is a favorite of the elderly.

We took the MRT back to Taipei to start working on transfers in the afternoon.

Transfers went well for the most part. Elder Smith finished filling the spreadsheet in on Tuesday night, so we generated and uploaded the instructions files according to schedule on Wednesday morning. Several departing missionaries’ parents came to pick them up, but the arrangements quickly complicated when a torrential downpour caused the airport terminal to flood with thousands of gallons of muddy water!

One elder’s parents had planned to arrive at the office at 8:30 that night, but we couldn’t get in contact with them and the member who was going to pick them up at the airport couldn’t find them anywhere. Their phone was turned off, and the member had arrived half an hour late to the airport. After nearly an hour of searching the flooded and chaotic airport, the member finally located the elder’s parents, who we contacted over Skype. They finally reached the office at about 10:20 PM, and were reunited with their son.

The next morning, we walked into the mission office and found everyone on a desperate hunt for a returning missionary’s lost passport. After taking the passport from the office safe the night before, she couldn’t find it when she started boarding procedures at the airport! I called the bus driver, who thoroughly searched every inch of the bus that had delivered the missionaries. President Jergensen scoured the temple housing where the missionaries had stayed and, failing to find the lost passport, dug through all the returning missionaries’ bedding in the laundry room. Meanwhile, Elder Smith and I turned the office upside down, frantically sifting through filing cabinets in our search for the priceless document. The plane was departing in an hour, and the chances of the sister making it on board seemed impossibly slim. The police at the airport started screening everyone entering and leaving for a stolen American passport.

At last, President received a call from the Vatchers at the airport. Elder Vatcher had said a prayer and had a prompting to search the sister’s handbag again. He found the passport in the handbag, where it had been all along.

Like all transfers, it was stressful, but everything worked out OK in the end. It was great to meet the new missionaries coming to Taiwan and to see the old missionaries returning home after their service. It’s hard to imagine that my generation of missionaries is now the oldest in the mission.

Elder Elliott