A mission

​It was over two years ago when the packet came in the mail. I came home from school, and it was sitting on the living room table. My family gathered in a fervor of excitement. My heart was pounding as I sat down and picked up the letter. I tore it open. I silently read: "You are assigned to labor in the Taiwan Taipei mission."

I was elated. I didn’t know too much about Taiwan, except that it was an Asian country somewhere, and that one of the tallest buildings in the world was in Taipei. In fact, I didn’t even know that people in Taiwan spoke Mandarin (until I read to that part in the call letter, of course). Despite my geographic ignorance of Taiwan, I knew this was exactly where I should be going on my mission. Everything about it seemed fitting.

I remember getting more and more excited in the weeks preceding my departure date. I researched everything I could about Taiwan. I read the blogs of missionaries in the Taipei mission. My mom even started packing my bags for me.

Two years ago today, my parents drove me down to Provo on my reporting day. I ate at In-N-Out with Mom, Dad, and Daniel. We walked around the temple next to the MTC. They sang "God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again" in Chinese (my dad had painstakingly transcribed the Chinese pinyin into easily-pronounced Romanizations). I cried. Then, we drove to the training center’s entrance. I stepped out of the car, hugged my family, said goodbye, and walked off with my luggage.

Most missionaries say the time goes quickly. For me, I don’t think it went any faster than time normally goes. It seems brief in the moment. Looking backwards, it seems like an eternity.

Following visa issues, I awaited permission to come to Taiwan while proselyting in Tacoma, WA for three weeks. When my visa arrived, I was ecstatic. I boarded several planes, was reunited with my friends from the MTC, and touched down in Taiwan.

I was assigned to my first area in the bustling metropolis of 中和 [Zhonghe], where I was paired with the best-suited trainer I could imagine, Elder Gibson. Missionary work was much different than I’d expected, and much harder, but I kept on going. Elders Clark, Montierth, and I geeked out about science, Tolkien, and everything in between while juggling two areas in a tripanionship. Then, I spent another transfer with Elder Montierth in Zhonghe, learning dedication and discipline that would shape the rest of my mission.

President Day sent me down to 台東 [Taidong] with a mission: to prepare for the establishment of a stake on the East Coast. I had a blast working with Elder Illu, biking all over the jungle in this remote semi-tropical corner of the mission. I trained my son, Elder Stevens, and then witnessed the establishment of the 花蓮 [Hualian] stake in my last few days in the area.

When President Day left, I moved up to 土城 [Tucheng] to be zone leader with Elder Huntsman. It was the most ideal area and companion I could have imagined to help me take on this responsibility. Following Elder Huntsman’s becoming an assistant to President Jergensen, Elder Roe became my next companion. He helped me keep my faith and energy high, despite my stress and exhaustion, and we saw several great miracles, including the baptism of two of my favorite converts.

The last five transfers of my mission have been in the mission office, working as the mission Operations Assistant. I’ve had four companions, and I’ve seen four generations of assistants here. I programmed the reporting system and the referral system for our mission and compiled the three-column language study version of the Old Testament. I worked with my companion to create a new language study program for the mission, revamp and automate the way transfers are carried out, and rent over twenty new apartments. It’s been an amazingly productive time, and I’ve been privileged to work so closely with President Jergensen and to be paired with so many great companions.

Now, this is the last email I’ll send from Taiwan. I go home on Friday. So much has happened, it’s hard to imagine how it could fit in two years.

Elder Richards poses with that one really tall building.

How do I feel? (Everyone asks me this question now). The answer is, I feel pretty much the same I did before I started my mission: stoked. Am I sad to leave? Of course, just like I was sad to leave home two years ago. After living in Taiwan for so long, I feel so attached to this country and the people here that leaving will be painful no matter what. However, I’m excited for the next period of life. I’m excited to see my family and my friends again. I look forward to using everything I’ve learned on my mission to keep on improving and helping other people.

What plans do I have? I’m going to be studying electrical engineering at Caltech (in Pasadena, CA) beginning in late September. In the meantime, I’ll spend time with my family, hang out with friends, and catch up academically by re-learning everything I’ve forgotten on my mission.

Elder Smith and I above Taipei.

This email is long enough as is, so I’ll just close by saying how glad I am I came on a mission. It’s been tough. Looking back, though, I’m already starting to forget the pain and only remember the good stuff. I’ve seen a lot of miracles, and I’ve learned to be happy at all times: even when it’s pouring rain, I’m exhausted from hours of being rejected, and I’m stuck with an unbearable companion 24/7 (just kidding; all my companions have been awesome). I know God had me come on a mission for a reason, and I’m thankful for everything I’ve done and experienced here. I’ll always remember that packet sitting on the living room table. It changed my entire life.

Love,

Elder Elliott
利睿恆長老

Taiwan Taipei Mission
2014-2016

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Everything

This was an amazing week.

Early last Friday morning, Elder Smith and I flew in an airplane with President and Sister Jergensen down to 花蓮 [Hualian]. The clear air afforded us amazing views of 台北市 [Taipei city] and the mountain backbone of Taiwan as we flew over the Pacific off the east coast. Our propeller plane turned around over 玉里 [Yuli] and swung over a low range of jungle-carpeted mountains, then descended into the rift valley and coasted onto the runway in 花蓮 [Hualian]. The entire flight lasted 45 minutes.

Getting on the plane.

In flight.

View of Taipei from the air.

We helped President translate for the zone conference. He left to fly back to 台北 [Taipei] in the afternoon. We went out to proselyte and stayed in the apartment with the Hualian zone leaders that night. President said we could stay in Hualian for our P-day on Saturday and take a full day to explore the area. I wanted to explore Taroko Gorge. So, I talked with several local members, one of whom told us we could rent bikes at the top of the gorge, ride all the way down, and drop the bikes off at the train station.

We woke up really early the next morning and rode our bikes to the train station. We couldn’t find any buses going up that early, but a cruising taxi driver spotted us and honked his horn. We boarded his car, and he drove us up to the top of the gorge–at breakneck speed. I think he didn’t go below two times the speed limit the whole time. We whipped through tunnels and along the cliff edges so fast I could barely see the outside. We reached the top, and I located the hotel renting bicycles. We bade the driver farewell, and started riding our bikes down the empty roads.

Bridges in 天祥 [Tianxiang].

Going across the bridge.

It was the best P-day of my mission. We stopped and hiked all the hikes that were open along the way. I can’t describe how cool it was, so I’ll just show you these pictures:

This trail went through a pitch-black tunnel.

The light at the end of it.

It then loops around on a cliff above the road.

The cliff section.

Elder Smith and I wore our "White people can’t read this" shirts. Tons of people thought it was hilarious.

On a rope bridge

Bridge and narrow part of the gorge

This section of the road is super cool

Elder Smith surveys the scene

Riding through the gorge

There are many tunnels along the way. Some of them are super-long, too.

Biking along the winding road.

We explored this pedestrian bridge and tunnel.

Super-steep cliffs

We pulled over to look at the water below

This temple is really iconic.

Elder Smith near the base of the gorge

The temple

Trail goes through a tunnel

This hike went down by the super-clear water

Wading in the water

When we finished hiking Taroko gorge, it was only 1:00 PM, so we still had five hours until our train left. I decided to go to the beach. I asked someone on the road where the best beach was, and he told us it was a 20-minute bike ride up the road towards Taipei. So, we started biking, and we biked for nearly an hour, sweat dripping in the heat, until we reached the place he’d described. Unfortunately, it was only an overlook, so we rode back until we found a run-down shack by a broken wall that served as an access point to the shore.

View from the overlook.

We took off our shoes and plodded through the sand to where the waves broke on the beach. I stood on the wet sand, and the water splashed around my ankles as it slid over the shore in sheets.

We stayed there for over an hour looking over the ocean. I inspected the various rocks scattered on the dark sand: they were mostly greenish marble and streaked quartzite. I pocketed several interesting specimens.

The time came to head back. We replaced our shoes and socks and began the arduous bike ride back to Hualian City. We rode for over two hours along the side of the road. The gathering clouds suddenly burst, and rain poured down in unbelievable torrents. The road was running with water, and water sprayed up in sheets as we tore through deep puddles on our bicycles. We pedaled as fast as we could, anxious to change our clothes and make the departing train. At long last, we arrived at the Hualian elders’ apartment, took light-speed showers, changed into our shirts and ties, and rode to the train station just in time for the Taipei train. Upon sitting down inside the train car, I fell asleep almost immediately.

Other significant events this week:

The Old Testament. I prayed for weeks that the printing company wouldn’t bungle our order. 500 misprinted copies would be an absolute disaster. Tuesday morning, the doorbell rang, and the company said they were bringing in a shipment on the first floor. I ran out to the balcony, where I spotted a truck pulled up to the door and dozens of white packages being carried inside the entryway on pallets. Unable to wait, Elder Smith and I ran down to the first floor and tore one of the white paper packages open.

It was full of three-column Old Testaments. They were printed perfectly. We grabbed two of the hefty volumes, and we jumped for joy.

At long last, the three-column standard works are complete.

Packages of the Old Testament.

The ABC language study program. We printed Book A and Book B, and we unveiled the program at yesterday’s mission leadership council meeting. Elder Smith and I rehearsed many times in advance. It was a momentous occasion. The new materials were greeted with cheers and a fervor of excitement. Elder Smith and I conducted a Q&A session for an hour afterwards.

A new companion. Elder Richards will take Elder Smith’s place when I leave and Elder Smith replaces me. (It’s like electron flow in a conductor). Elder Richards has great Chinese and learns quickly, and I have great confidence in his ability to take over the office responsibilities with Elder Smith when I leave. For now, we’re in a tripanionship together.

That’s about all for this week. It was probably the most eventful week of my five transfers in the office.

Love,
Elder Elliott

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