She met with Mormon missionaries and then what happened?

After she went to church, Taiwan Grandma started meeting with missionaries. Taiwan Mom had been asking her to meet with missionaries for forever, but Taiwan Grandma had never accepted the invitation until she came to church in September.

After a couple weeks of meeting with the missionaries, Taiwan Mom told me that Taiwan Grandma had decided to be baptized in December. I was surprised.

To be honest, I had been skeptical while Taiwan Grandma was meeting with the missionaries. From what I’d seen of her, she was an aloof person who liked to do her own thing. The people I’d taught and baptized on my mission were open and curious, excited to learn more about God and faith. When I’d gone to church with her, Taiwan Grandma hadn’t seemed very interested. So why was she getting baptized? I figured she was probably doing it to make Taiwan Mom happy.

So last weekend, Taiwan family and I drove down to Kaohsiung (where Taiwan Grandma lives) to see her baptism.

Turns out, I didn’t know the real Taiwan Grandma. At the baptism, she was bubbly, huggy, and super friendly to everyone who came. Taiwan Mom said she’d always been that way. I just hadn’t seen it because of the language and cultural barriers between us.

Her baptism was very cool. She said that she chose to be baptized so that she could be with her family for forever.

I think that people who aren’t familiar with Latter-day Saints assume that missionaries are basically salespeople taught how to give a sales pitch about joining the Mormon church.

But, in reality, the only way to be an effective missionary (or be an effective ANYTHING) is to be yourself and care about other people. I think in the past missionaries were pretty wooden, but nowadays, there’s a huge emphasis on being natural, really believing what you’re teaching, and listening to what people say. (To watch a cool documentary about what it’s like to be a Mormon missionary, click here.)

The missionaries who taught Taiwan Grandma were both Taiwanese, which is super cool since she speaks more Taiwanese (a dialect widely spoken here) than Mandarin.

What a good way to start out the New Year! Taiwan Grandma got baptized and I realized that even though I’m a “world traveler,” language and cultural barriers still prevent me from seeing some really cool things. I still have so much to learn, man!

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That’s me, Taiwan Brother (he baptized her), and Taiwan Grandma.

To read the Taiwan Grandma Saga, click here:

She told me I smell weird.

Let’s be Catholics.

MONKEYS GOT HATERS TOO

Bye, Grandma

 

Dear Future Russian Missionary

I remember when I got my call to serve as a Mormon missionary in Russia. My literal thought was, “Seriously? I’ll go, but I’m gonna die.”

When I submitted my mission papers, of course there were places I would have liked to serve — England, Australia, SPAIN (ugh, little brothers) — but I was okay serving anywhere. I didn’t have very many friends on missions, so I didn’t have to compare whether or not I was going some place “cool.” I was okay serving anywhere — EXCEPT Russia or Asia (which, ironically …). The cultures of those places didn’t interest me and the languages seemed impossible to learn (which, ironically …).

So when I got the call, I called my twin sister Meredith (who was graduated from college and married and pregnant and WE’RE NOT REALLY TWINS) and our conversation was basically, “Russia for two years … that sucks.”

But I knew the call was from God. The Russian people needed the gospel just like everyone else on the planet, even if they had a weird culture and language.

As I prepared to enter the MTC everyone had something to say about what life as a Russian missionary would be like:

“They don’t like Americans over there.”

“You’re going to see poverty like you’ve never seen before.”

“They don’t smile over there.”

“The people are hard to crack, but they’re real nice on the inside.”

“They’re all communists over there.”

“You’re going to be in the MTC for 12 weeks?!” — it’s 9 weeks now — “That’s torture!”

“You won’t get a whole lot of baptisms over there.”

Or my favorite from a lady who captured everything she knew about Russia in one sentence: “Cold Russian wind blowing through Red Square … Stalin!”

None of this really scared or surprised me since I already figured I might die. But the only piece of useful advice I got came from brother-in-law who’d actually served his mission in Russia. He told me to go without any preconceived assumptions. I didn’t know what it would be like to live outside the US or be a missionary, so it was better to figure my new life out as it happened than to expect the best or the worst.

And he was right! There was so much on my mission I saw and experienced that I would have overlooked if I had been expecting to see something else.

For example, on the bus from the airport to the US embassy, I saw real Russians walking down the street, laughing and smiling, holding hands and talking. These weren’t the tough-to-crack, communist drones I’d heard about. They were real people who laughed and smiled just like Americans. If I had only expected to see unsmiling faces and unhappy people, I wouldn’t have noticed their smiles.

Russia was a lot safer (although still crazy) than I expected it to be. My previous notion of dying on my mission had been based more on ignorance than bravery.

And when you get down to it, everybody who told me about Russia had never actually been there (everyone except my brother-in-law). Everything they knew about Russia, they’d learned from Cold War politics (which are still alive) and James Bond movies (which are also still alive). They knew as much about Russia as you do right now.

So prepare yourself by being willing to see what very few Americans will ever see or believe: that Russians are normal people.

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Rant #1 in the series Rants About Russia.

If you have any questions about serving in Russia (what to pack, etc.), hmu on my contacts page. I’ll be posting more about it too.

Faithful Muslims

“They’re gonna kill us!” I was shouting like a crazy person. I didn’t really believe they’d kill us, but I knew if they caught us, they’d hurt us.

It was the 4th of July and I was less than a month from finishing my mission in Russia. I’d managed to survive this long without getting beat up, which I attributed to street smarts and God loving me just a little bit more than other missionaries.

But I’d done something dumb: I’d “accidentally” punched some drunk dude who’d been holding my greenie comp’s arm and wouldn’t let go. Punching him hadn’t been smart, but the drunk had been getting angry (like drunks do) and I thought it’d be the easiest/fastest way to get rid of him. Anyone who’s actually ever been punched by me knows I hit like a girl, but this punch was more of a shove and was just enough for me to loosen his grip and pull my comp away.

But then we had to run. Running from a single drunk dude is pretty easy since he can barely walk in a straight line, but my hit-and-run had brought enough attention to us that a group of men from an outdoor bar were also chasing us. I guess they were only a bit buzzed because they were catching up to my companion who was behind me.

“They’re gonna kill us!” I kept shouting, hoping it would scare my companion enough to run faster. I was scared enough to run five miles, but he was tired.

I heard them tackle my companion to the ground as they caught him. I turned around, not thinking, knowing I had to somehow pull them off and get both of us out of there before they did too much damage.

It was actually only one guy who’d pulled my companion to the ground and he wasn’t hitting him yet. He was just asking (in Russian), “What happened? Why are you running?” In my head I was like, “Really? You tackled my companion only because you wanted to know why we were running?” (I still don’t understand that logic.) But what I said (in my scared, broken Russian) was, “We have to go! We have to go!” not knowing how to explain the situation quickly in Russian. But he wouldn’t let go, not satisfied with my answer. His friends from the bar were catching up and I didn’t want to be surrounded by a gang of semi-drunk Russians.

Just then more people caught up to us. It was a gang of brown dudes, not drunks from the bar. They made the drunk guy let go of my companion and asked in English what happened. I pointed and said, “You see that guy back there?” — by now the first drunk was a distant, stumbling figure across the road — “He wants to kill us and we have to go!” They actually didn’t understand English very well, but they understood enough to know we hadn’t done anything wrong. They stopped the other drunk Russians from getting to us and followed us halfway home to make sure we were safe.

Aside from a ripped shirt and scraped arm, my companion was fine. We laid on the apartment floor for ten minutes to recover from our run, then called the zone leaders to tell them our crazy story. They laughed and were like, “That’s it? You should try Saratov” (a city in our mission further south).

A couple weeks later, my companion and I ran into one of the brown dudes who saved us. He asked how we were and if we’d had any more trouble. We talked to him a bit. Found out he was a Muslim serving his mandatory military service in Togliatti (the city where we lived; all male Russian citizens have to serve in the army for a year or something). He was a real cool guy, just like almost every other Muslim I talked to during my two years in Russia.

Muslims were consistently some of the nicest people in my mission. They weren’t all nice, but none of them were dangerous. In fact, the safest city in the mission was a city that was predominantly Muslim.

I feel a connection to Muslims because of my mission. Every time I meet one, I say the typical Muslim greeting as-salamu alaykum (Allah’s peace be upon you), to which they respond, Wa-Alaikumus-Salaam (And upon you the peace).

I feel like very few of the people who blame terrorist attacks on the Muslim faith have ever met a Muslim. I can’t remember ever meeting a Muslim or even seeing a mosque in America, so I don’t blame them for not knowing a lot about the faith. But I want them to know:

  1. Muslims are our brothers and sisters in God even if they call him another name.

2. Whether terrorist attacks are carried out by militant Muslims or militant Mormons makes no difference to me. In either case, the attackers are not doing what their religion teaches.

3. On the 4th of July in Russia, I was saved by a group of Muslims.