Dear family and friends,
I thought I better get some sort of email out or you might forget who we are. It has been almost seven weeks since we left the USA. These past seven weeks have been seven weeks we will never forget. I’m not sure where to start or end. I might just ramble so hang on!
In the past 44 days we have traveled our mission area twice. The first time to meet all the missionaries and expose them to my sweet wife whom they all adore, and then this last time to hold our first round of Zone Conferences. We have been on a plane 10 times and stayed in hotel rooms for fifteen days. We love it when we can sleep in our own bed. Our days start sometimes as early as 5:45 and we have been to bed twice before 10:30. We have broken the mission rules a few times not getting to bed until around midnight. We already love every single missionary! It seems that they lift our spirits, when we should be lifting theirs. They are absolutely incredible and we feel it an honor to serve with them. They love the Lord, as do we and they work so hard to do their very best. We have 105 missionaries; five senior couples, 21 sister missionaries, 78 elders, with 33 Japanese missionaries. We are no longer the “beans” (new missionaries) of the mission, as we had 6 new missionaries come this last transfer.
We have spoken twelve times in church since we arrived. (You know how much we enjoy this experience) We have been to two District Conferences and then we have also spoken in several branch conferences. Other than our first Sunday here, we have spoken every weekend. In the District Conferences that is twice on Saturday and then Sunday as well. We have had to have translation for our talks, however the Lord has blessed us with wonderful help with this and we have felt the Spirit each meeting we have been in. The Japanese members are truly amazing. They have to travel long distances in most cases. They sacrifice to be members of the church in ways that we have never had to. They are so kind and loving to us. It is almost embarrassing how well they treat us and would do anything to help us. We feel honored to be among them and love them as our friends. We have commented how we want to be with people like this in the Celestial Kingdom.
The missionary work here continues to go on. For the past 10 years on average the baptisms for Japan have been around 800. It hasn’t changed much in all these years. There are seven missions in Japan, so we average about 115-120 baptisms per mission per year. We have 4 stakes and 3 Districts in our mission. One of the Districts is a military district in Okinawa. When I was a missionary I think there were only a couple of Stakes in all of Japan. Now there are well over 50. So, the work continues to move forward, however not on the scale of some of the other places throughout the world. President Eyring prophesied in October of 1998 in a talk given to the missionaries at the Tokyo Temple that in the future “….the Lord will establish the church here in Japan in a dramatic way. For many years it has looked like the progress in Japan had completely halted. Actually, the Lord was preparing a foundation. From that foundation miracles will spring forth. The church will become prominent and distinguished; people will want to know more about the church. People who are interested in the church will come to us.” He said many other wonderful things and so we will work hard to lay the foundation of what lies ahead for these wonderful people. Only about 1% of the Japanese are Christian. And only a small percent of the 1% are Latter-Day Saints.
On a lighter side we have had some unique experiences. As to driving: The steering wheel is on the right side of the car and they drive on the opposite side of the road. I have been on the wrong side of the road twice. I avoided an accident because I noticed early enough to get in the correct lane. I was coming home from the church and decided to try to find my way home by myself versus using the GPS. I ended up going down a one way street the wrong way. I realized it about half way down the road. At the end of the street was a policeman that waved me over. He started talking to me in Japanese and I had no clue what he was saying. I told him I was American and couldn’t speak much Japanese. He asked for my license and told me to come in the office. I apologized, why he checked out my license. He asked me where I lived. I told him I didn’t know. I hadn’t memorized our address yet. I told him that we lived by the Mormon Temple. He said OK I know where that is. He told me to be careful and let me go. I’m sure that he and his fellow officers had a good laugh about the dumb American and his driving. We had another experience just last week at a District Conference in Kagoshima. It is four hours away from the Mission Home. So we took the assistants with us Thursday night and stayed in a hotel and had Zone Conference with the missionaries on Friday. I finished interviews at about 9:30pm and headed back to the hotel, dropped the assistants off to stay with the Zone Leaders in their apartment and made it to the hotel OK. I told them I could find the church the next day Saturday. I had a 2:00 meeting with the District Presidency and then Priesthood meeting at 4:00 and Adult Conference Session at 7:00. The church was about 20 minutes away from our hotel. We left at 1:00 so we would be sure to get there on time. Well we had the assistants program the GPS because it is in Japanese. That morning when we left it wouldn’t work. To make a long story short we finally had to call for help. Someone met us at a store and we followed them to the church and arrived at 4:00 just as the meeting was starting. 3 hours to get what should have taken us 20 minutes. It is difficult to be in a foreign country and not know how to read the “Kanji” Japanese characters. The streets are small and we don’t know where we are going yet.
We have done pretty well as to the food. We are careful and stay with the safe stuff. I did have some sushi (raw fish) the other day and survived. I think my Japanese improved that day! It is hard to know for sure what you are buying at the store because it is all in Japanese. Sometimes we don’t have much of an appetite. I have lost about 12 pounds in the last 44 days. (As you know I can’t afford to lose much more weight!) We have had help shopping; however we need to get to the point where we are more independent. It is hard to find the time to get around and just get comfortable with our surroundings, because we have been on the road so much. When we get home we get caught up on paper work and such and then we are on the road again. We have a Mission Presidents Seminar in Seoul Korea August 15th through August 18th. Then a Stake Conference when we get back. We have 9 new missionaries coming in on September 1st and then we start Zone Conference again. The end of September looks like it might slow down a little bit.
We have had are hard days when we weren’t sure if we would make it. All we could do is get on our knees and ask for help. The Lord has always been there to help us. We have had to rely on the Lord so much for help in communicating, answering questions, counseling missionaries and just dealing with things that we have never experienced before. He has always been there for us. We know the work is true and we are doing our very best to do our part. We appreciate this special opportunity, even though we feel inadequate and overwhelmed at times.
We haven’t watched TV since we have been here. It is interesting to think of the hours we would spend back home watching TV and now we don’t even think about it. We can’t read a newspaper, so we rely on the internet for our news. We understand that there were some earthquakes in Tokyo a few days ago. We did not feel them down in Fukuoka. The weather is very hot and humid this time of year. I don’t think I have worn a short sleeve white shirt since my mission. I am a big fan of them now. I understand that the winters can be fairly cold. I’m actually looking forward to that day. Of course I will complain that it is too cold then and will be wishing summer were here.
We appreciate so much all of you back home. We miss you all so very much and look forward to being there again in 3 years. We are grateful for your love and support and concern for us. We thank you for your prayers. We have needed every one of them some days. We are trying to be the best missionaries we can possibly be. We realize we represent the Lord and the church and also our family and friends back home. We are doing are best not to “muff it” here. We are very humble right now and have had to rely on the Lord and each other more than at any time in our life. We have felt His help and assurance many times. We have had experiences that we will remember all our lives. We know God lives. We know we have a Savior. The church is true. We love all of you.
Sherm and Sherry