Monday, January 6, 2014
Monday, January 6, 2014
On Monday, January 6, 2014 Sister Johnson wrote:
Boy, do I have A TON to write about this week!!! Wow, where to begin?? This has been one of the best weeks of my entire life, for many reasons! I have gotten to experience real Japanese culture in ways that I didn't know I could, and I've been so blessed by so many people here in Ishinomaki, and I have felt more love this week than I have in a while, at least here in Japan!
Wow, where do I even start?? I guess I will start with Monday! We had such a busy day last Monday that we didn't even get P-Day! It was so hectic! But we had a great lesson with Yuki San that I told you about, and then we had a dinner appointment with a member in our ward who is a professional opera singer! At dinner, him and I sang together in Japanese, and it was so much fun! I love listening to him sing, especially hymns. He has a wonderful voice, and I felt the love very much. After that, we had a family home evening appointment with a less-active woman in our branch. She is about 70 years old, and cannot walk. She lives on the fifth floor of an apartment building with no elevator, so she can never leave her house. Her husband is in a nursing home, and she lives with her son, who is mentally handicapped. She would love to come to church, but since she can't leave her house, she can't sit for long periods of time, and she can't stand, she can't come. It is a very sad situation, but she is one of the happiest, most genki people I have ever met! Her faith in the Lord is huge and she loves Him so much! She is a beautiful artist, too. She has drawn so many people, including President Monson and Christ. Her drawings are beautiful, and they look like real photographs. But, we got to go to her house and have family home evening with her, and with one other member. He is 31, and is a less-active member as well! But he takes time out of his day EVERYDAY to visit this woman and to talk to her and help her. He is a great example of Christlike service. We had a great lesson! We talked about testimonies, what they are, and how we can get one and then strengthen it. At the end, we went around the room and had everyone bear really simple testimony, and it was amazing to hear and feel the words that were spoken by those two, and by the Spirit. The Spirit was so strong in that room that night, and we all grew from that experience.
Tuesday was a fun day! We spent ALL DAY, literally 9 hours cleaning our apartment! There has never been a cleaner bathroom in the history of clean bathrooms, let me tell you that much! It was awesome, and I was so tired. That night was New Years Eve, and we had dinner with our Branch President and his family again. They had learned a while ago that I love and miss Mexican food, and so they made burritos! It was such a treat! I haven't had anything remotely resembling Mexican food the entire time I've been in Japan, and it was so nice! They even had tortillas! It was so nice of them, and I really felt the love. That night, Luk Shimai and I stayed up until midnight playing card games. Haha, that is probably not the best, but it was New Years!
That next day was one of the best days I've had my whole mission! We woke up and had normal personal study, but we had the special assignment from President Rasmussen to read all of third Nephi. I decided to read and watch for "new beginnings." It was amazing to see that even in the times of war and carnage leading up to the Savior's ministry on the American continent that there were still new beginnings for the Nephites. People were learning of Christ and receiving the ordinances of salvation, even among all the strife and hardship. It was great to read about New Beginnings surrounding the advent of the Savior, especially on New Years Day. It was a time of great new beginnings for me. For lunch, we ate at a members house and had traditional Oshogatsu (Japanese New Year) food. Oshogatsu is HUGE in Japan. It's the biggest holiday of the year! Everyone has New Years Eve through January 3rd off of work, and everyone returns to their hometown to be with their family. Japanese Oshogatsu is like American Christmas! Everything was closed and the streets were empty, and everything was quiet. But, like I said, we had traditional Oshogatsu food for lunch. It consisted of a fish soup that had Japanese daikon, negi, ninjin, and mochi. Mochi mochi mochi, EVERYTHING in Oshogatsu has mochi. Mochi is pounded rice that become super sticky and has the texture of playdoh. Haha, but the soup was actually really good! It had all kinds of fish paste, and the broth is made by soaking fish in water for hours and hours. It sounds gross, and it was at first, but then it got better and better. Then, we ate dried squid! It was actually really good. It tasted like smoked string cheese. Then, I ate nato with mochi! Nato is the fermented soy bean stuff that has a texture of snot. It was... interesting. It was really hard to eat with mochi. But then we had other kinds of mochi that was served with anko, sweet bean paste. I'm usually not a fan of anko, but this was really good! I was amazed at how much Heavenly Father blessed me in that meal to eat all of those things. It was a miracle.
After that lunch, we and the Elders, together with their investigator, Onodera San, and one of our Eikaiwa students, Shige San, made our way to the biggest shrine in Ishinomaki, Hiyoriyama Jinja. We walked from the church for about 45 minutes, up onto a mountain that is in the middle of town. You would not believe the traffic jam! There were SO many people and so many cars, it was crazy! When we finally got to the top of the mountain, I looked to my left and I got my first glimpse of the ocean in Japan! It was beautiful! But as I looked out, I observed the coastline. There was nothing there, just a grassy field that was full of Ohaka (Japanese grave stones). Shige San proceeded to tell me that this used to be one of the biggest neighborhoods in Ishinomaki, but when the tsunami came, every single house was destroyed. Hundreds of people died, and all the houses were swept away. No one has rebuilt there because it is a place of such deep sadness in the town. It made my soul feel very heavy, but I found one little ray of hope while looking down on that coastline. There is a very small sign posted by the fence where we were standing, and in both Japanese and English, the sign says, "May peace prevail on earth." I have seen other signs like this before, but it was a beautiful reminder to me that I am here in this country to publish peace, to bring good tidings to the meek, to lift up the hands that hang down, and to liberate the captives through the message and the name that I bear. Really terrible things happen in the world, things that I can't explain, but I know that through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, all that has been broken can be healed. All that is wrong can be made right. There is pure hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and I am so blessed to be here in this place sharing this message of hope with everyone I meet.
As I turned away from the ocean, I was able to look up and see the jinja, with the concourses of people lining up to pray. The Japanese custom on Oshogatsu is to go to a shrine, and deposit 5 or 10 yen. After you have done so, you ring the bell, then you bow twice. After that, you clap your hands twice, and then bow again with your hands in prayer position, and then offer a prayer in your heart. As I stood in line waiting for my turn at the jinja, I watched the numberless Japanese people before me give their offering, and then offer their prayers. I was watching one man in particular who after he prayed, lifted his eyes towards the heavens, and said something that I couldn't hear. My heart was flooded with the Spirit in that moment as I observed the beautiful customs of this wonderful country. I was so overwhelmed by the Spirit and by love that I had tears streaming down my face. The Spirit was so strong around me that it enveloped me, all sound ceased, and in that moment, I felt the presence of my Heavenly Parents and my Savior standing beside me, observing with me the beauty of the worship taking place around me. Eventually, I was snapped back into reality as Onodera San asked if I was okay, but I learned something so powerful in that moment. These people know God. They KNOW the divine. They just don't understand that part of that divine is one called Jesus Christ. I learned in that moment that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are VERY aware of the Japanese people, and that They love them with a love that I cannot comprehend. In that moment, that love filled my heart so fully that it felt like it might burst. Finally, as it came to be my turn at the jinja, I went and followed all the customs. As I offered my prayer in silence, my heart was filled with peace and with the brightest hope. I don't think I have ever felt more at home in any place in my life than I did at the top of that mountain in front of that shrine. It's amazing to me the things that we can learn when we do as the prophets of old have said and "get [ourselves] into a high place." That day on that mountain, I had an incredible revelatory experience that I don't think I will ever forget. I am amazed by the richness of the divine that thrives in the hearts of the Japanese people, and it is my hope that I will be able to add to the light that these wonderful people already have. What a beautiful experience that was for me.
The rest of the week was really great as well; we were fed for nearly every meal by loving members. I have never been so full in my life! Mochi is incredibly filling! But, I want to talk about three things that I did in particular!
1. I got to wear a traditional Japanese kimono!!! I mentioned to a member a few weeks ago that I would love to have a kimono. They are so beautiful. So, she called us on Thursday morning and invited me over to see her niece in her kimono for Japanese Coming-of-Age Day! So we headed over, and after her niece left, she said, "Johnson Shimai, I have another kimono, would you like to try it on?" So of course I said yes!!! I seriously felt like a princess! The kimono that I put on was worth over 1000 dollars, and was suuuuuper pretty. That was so fun, and I felt so much love from that member.
2. I ATE OYSTERS STRAIGHT OUT OF THEIR SHELL! Yes, that's right. ME! How crazy is that?! And the best part is that I (kind of) liked them! We went to a member's house and her husband is a fisherman. He had very recently caught all of these oysters, and wanted to share them with us. At first, I was terrified. The silent prayer I offered in my heart is probably one of the most fervent prayers I've ever said, haha! But Heavenly Father blessed me SO much, and I was able to eat oysters! It was so fun! Heavenly Father is really helping me achieve one of my goals, which is to learn to love seafood. I am already being blessed! And for that I am so grateful.
3. On Friday night, our branch mission leader took us our to dinner. Let me tell you a little bit about him! He is seriously the best. His name is Brother Nagahama. He is 28 and is from Kobe! He served a mission in Tokyo, and then got a degree in marketing from Utah State University. His English is SO good! It's crazy. But, he is also a gangster, and is hilarious. So, needless to say, dinner was hilarious and so much fun. He took us out to Yakiniku, which translated means "grilled meat." But yakiniku is special. It comes from the most delicious parts of the cow. Oh man. That was the best meal I have ever had in my life, hands down. It was so delicious, I can't even describe it. He definitely spoiled us that night, it was awesome.
But overall, this has been an amazing week. I have learned so much about real Japanese culture, and I have had some of the most beautiful and wonderful experiences I have ever had in my life. I am so grateful to be here in this beautiful country, serving these beautiful people, and taking part in this beautiful work. I know that my Savior lives, and I know that He is aware of every single person that has ever lived, who lives now, and who will yet live. I know that Christ knows the Japanese people and that He is preparing them to hear the Gospel. I know this from the very bottom of my heart.
It is my hope and prayer that as we begin this new year, that we will be able to find a new beginning in the Savior, Jesus Christ. That new beginning doesn't have to be just January first, but it can be each and every day as we turn to the Savior with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. We can achieve anything with the help of the Savior, according to His will. Let us press forward, feasting on the words of Him who is mighty to save. Let us turn to Him everyday, and even though this life can be incredibly challenging, let us have hope that the darkness with draw to a close and the sun will always rise, bringing peace and comfort of our souls. Christ is my Savior, and I am so thankful that I can find a new beginning everyday, and that new beginning comes because of Jesus Christ. Let us ever be faithful to Him who descended below all things so that we may be lifted up on high to receive all that the Father hath, is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Love, Shak Shimai