This is it... the last week of my mission. In 5 days I'll be boarding an airplane bound for Salt Lake City. I never thought the day would come. As I look back on the last 2 years, the best word to describe my feelings is "gratitude." I'm filled with gratitude for the opportunity I've had to come on a mission, especially here to Taiwan to serve my brothers and sisters here on this wonderful island. I love Taiwan so much, especially the people here. I'm grateful and eternally indebted to my Savior Jesus Christ. I'm thankful for His love, His sacrifice, the sanctifying power of His atonement. I'm thankful for His life, His teachings, His example. My favorite scripture regarding missionary work is in Jacob 5:72 "And it came to pass that the servants did go and labor with their mights; and the Lord of the vineyard labored also with them; and they did obey the commandments of the Lord of the vineyard in all things." I know that this is truly His work. I've felt Him laboring with me every step of the way as long as I've been doing the work the way He wants me to do it. I'm thankful I could labor in His vineyard and see first-hand His gospel change the lives of those I've come to love. I'm thankful for the change His gospel has brought to my life in the last 2 years. I've been blessed with a lot of success and miracles on my mission, and I know that every slightest bit of good that has happened is all because of Him. I love my Savior. It has been a blessing and a privilege to represent Him.
This last week was absolutely amazing. I couldn't have asked for much more in a last full week on mission. I'm dead tired! I really feel like I don't have anything left. I literally feel like I've got about 5 days worth of energy left to give. This is definitely the most tired I've been my entire life, but it is all so worth it. This week we had a zone conference and I was thankfully asked to be the translator for the native missionaries. In the past when I've been asked to be the translator I haven't been too thrilled, but the reason I was thankful this time around was that I knew if I wasn't translating there would be no way I could stay awake in the meeting. It went well and a lot of the native missionaries really like me as the translator because I like to throw in a few "smarter" remarks to keep them on their toes and make sure they're awake.
Let me tell you about last Monday. Several of my converts from TaoYuan came and took me and my companion to an awesome little town in the mountains called Pingxi. We ate some good food and then we made sky lanterns? I think that's what they'd be called in English... like the things in the movie Tangled. It was super fun. You can write your wishes or whatever you want on the side and then send it to the sky. I'll send pictures. It was a great day. It was super good to see these recent converts now holding the Melchizedek priesthood, holding good callings in the ward and a couple of them are preparing for eternal marriage!!! So COOL!!! I loved spending time with them and today for P-day we're heading down to TaoYuan to have a big meal with all of my converts, some members, and some former investigators. It should be a lot of fun. I'm so grateful for every single area I've been able to serve in. I know I was exactly where the Lord wanted me, serving with who He wanted me to be with, and meeting those whom He'd prepared me to meet.
On a tangent... our mission has our "weekly announcements'' read in district meetings. The announcements are put together by the mission president, his wife, and some of the office elders. I've always had a dream of getting my catch phrase ("That's so PMG"... PMG meaning Preach My Gospel) in the announcements but no one has been bold enough to try to put it on. This week we got a new "recorder,'' the elder that is in the office and deals with the records. He's a good friend and he got it on the announcements. I can end my mission happily now. My catch phrase was in the announcements. Dreams do come true.
This week's miracles were so awesome. One of my favorites took place while I was on exchanges in our neighboring area. We were heading back to SanChong to exchange back when we hit a red light. I instinctively turned to contact the man on the scooter next to me at the light, when out the of corner of my eye I saw a man standing at the cross walk waiting. I felt a super strong impression I needed to talk to him so I rode my bike up onto the sidewalk and began talking to him. His name was Whitney. I was talking to Whitney a little bit about English and him name, when out of the blue he said "I'm a member of your church." It shocked me a bit and I found out he was baptized 20 years ago, was active for about 13 and then has been inactive for the last 7 years or so. I talked to him more and found out he really has a testimony and really does want to come back. I set up a time for the Elders in that area to visit him the very next day. They did and said it went well and they're going to keep working with him. It was a great miracle. I know that Whitney was who God wanted me to talk to at that intersection, and hopefully Whitney will come back to the fold. It was a great miracle.
Another great miracle this week was Chris. Last week we were coming home late one night and said hi to the man we passed. He replied with a "Yo, wassup?" which let me know that I would immediately be friends with him. We didn't have a lot of time but we introduced ourselves, invited him to our English class, and that was it. Then Wednesday at English class he came, and was super cool. After class he invited us to play basketball with him on Saturday. We weren't so sure if it would be the best use of time but we also recognized that Chris is a really good potential investigator. We prayed about it and decided to go play ball with Chris... it was the right decision. We found out Chris was married, and has a 2 year old son. We had no idea he has a family. We were able to share with him a lot about how the gospel blesses our family and we learned his family really needs this at this time in his life. I feel like he was someone who would have rejected us right away if the first time we met with him we just started sharing the gospel, but I know God had prepared Chris and had allowed us through English class and basketball to have an open door to share more with Chris and his family. By the time we were done Saturday Chris became our new investigator, committed to praying daily for his family, and said that after Chinese new year we can begin meeting with him and his wife and son!! We'd been praying to find families and we had no idea we'd find such an amazing young family through the guy that gave us a "Yo, wassup?" on the street. It was great miracle. Just one of so many.
Our investigator Brother Chen, a.k.a. "Kites" is still so amazing. He came to church again this week and prayed that he could get baptized. He's absolutely golden. We were able to get a lot of investigators at church this last week and we have a lot of people progressing to baptism. I'm really excited. We started with NOTHING 4 months ago when I arrived in SanChong with a trainee who didn't speak a lick of Chinese to open it up. Now we've been able to help a father, the last non-member of his family, to be baptized, get the priesthood and they're currently working for the temple. We've been able to reactivate several priesthood members, and I'm leaving the area with some great investigators. I wouldn't be surprised if SanChong had 4 baptisms next transfer. It definitely has been the hardest area of my mission. We started from scratch, and every time it felt like things were coming together or investigators were getting close to baptism something seemed to go wrong. It felt like for most my time in SanChong we were fighting an uphill battle. But I also feel like this is where God needed me to be. I feel like I've learned more these few months than I ever did during the times on my mission where we were baptizing every other week. I came to SanChong and it had a "reputation." As a matter of fact, it lived up to it's reputation. It's busy, dirty, ghetto, hard, there's a huge lack of priesthood in the ward, and I love it with all my heart. I'd be lying if I said it was my favorite area, but I do know that the lessons I learned here on the streets of SanChong are things I couldn't learn in any university or in any other way.
Saturday was one of my favorite days ever on my mission. After studies we went out to eat with a bunch of converts and members from TuCheng. They are all so great and they gave us amazing food. It was so great to spend time with them. After that they came to the chapel with us where Elder Davidson and I performed for them the song he wrote. Then we met with "Kites" and had an amazing, spiritual lesson. It was great, and the coolest part is my last convert in TuCheng stayed back and was the member present for our lesson. It was so great to see Andy, the eternal investigator who feared commitment and fully living the gospel share with my current investigator the blessings that have come into his life by living the gospel and being baptized. I was teary eyed during the lesson. After that we went and played basketball with Chris (see story above). then we had another free meal with a member at a sushi place. She gave us SO much sushi. My companion and I could barely get it all down. It was so good!!! Then we went back to the chapel and had another great lesson with an investigator I began teaching when I first got here. He had disappeared for a while but he came back and set a new baptismal date and then came to church the next day. It was one of the best days ever. Tons of great miracles, really spiritual, really fun... pretty much sums up my entire mission! I love being a missionary!
Overall my last full week in Taiwan was great. I wouldn't have had it any other way. I lot of the cliche things of Taiwan happened as well. My last week included meeting with a Buddhist monk and teaching him the gospel, eating lots of stinky tofu, problems with Taiwanese girls liking us white missionaries too much, rain rain and more rain, and miracles miracles and miracles.
This is my last e-mail from Taiwan. It's bittersweet. I cannot wait to see you Saturday. In my planner for this week I wrote: Saturday afternoon "hug my family." I'm so excited. At the same time I don't want my mission to end. This truly has been an amazing two years. I cannot adequately express how grateful I am for this mission. It means everything to me. Literally. I've given it my all, there's not much left to give. I've put in everything I've had to put it, and the Lord has done the rest. I love Him. I'm so thankful for Him. I can speak truthfully from my heart and say I have no regrets. That was the goal I had at the beginning of my mission, to be able to honestly say at the end that I have no regrets, and I don't. I love Taiwan, I love the gospel, and I love my Heavenly Father.
I love you all, and I will see you Saturday.