Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Final Week in the MTC

Ni Hao

This week has been good. Our travel plans came -- it is pretty crazy to think I am actually going to leave, that a week from now I'll be on the opposite side of the planet. The plan is to leave Salt Lake at 11:30 next Tuesday, have a five hour layover at LAX, then a 14-15 hour flight that gets us to Taipei about 29 hours later, by Taiwan's time. If I get to call in an airport, it will probably be from Salt Lake between 8:30 and 10, or in LA between 2-6 (mountain time). So I guess maybe be available at those time, I don't know, they don't really tell us anything.
Super excited. It is going to be great to actually be doing what I am supposed to be doing, instead of sitting in classrooms and stuff.
I don't have too much to say. Thanks for the ukulele, if I can fit it in my suitcase I really will try to learn it over the next two years. It really probably would be a good street contacting tool. Right now I still don't really know how to play, but I'm working on it. Also, I would love it if you sent me crochet stuff, as long as you also provided instructions, because I don't know how. You're right, that would probably be a good conversation starter on the plane.
Thanks for everything. Still learning a lot. I'm not going to quit this last week, I feel like there is still a lot of improving I can do while at the MTC. I have loved my time here, you can learn so much if you are just willing to try. Attitude is everything in this place, or anywhere I guess.
Love you all! Next time I write I should have more to say.

Elder Braithwaite


Elders Braithwaite and Reynolds



Tuesday, August 23, 2011

2 WEEKS TILL TAIWAN

Ni hao
Hey so I have two weeks left. Super excited now. Have you gotten a letter from my mission president or anything? Because a lot of the other moms have written and said they have. So ya just wondering.
Don't worry about me missing the MTC, as great at this place is. That wasn't meant to be sarcastic. I feel like a lot of missionaries like being here less and less as time goes on, but I think it really has grown on me with each week, which is kind of backwards. So it might actually be slightly sad to leave, except not really because I will go to Taiwan. But just in case, I took an empty box of grape nuts from the cafeteria and made it into a scripture case for my Moermenjing, so I will always have a little bit of the MTC with me.
One elder in my district got unexpected early travel plans and left yesterday (going to Leeds England, speaking chinese), so his companion, Elder Griffith, is now with Elder Reynolds and me. So the tripanionship has been fun so far, a nice change of pace.
I got to sing in church with a few other elders, I like singing in Chinese a lot more than English, just more interesting. We sang "Lord I would Follow Thee." It has been fun to slowly convert more of the things I do and say into another language. I can't wait to be forced to go completely without English.

Everything else is going fine. I think one of the greatest blessings of being a missionary (at least, so far) is just how much time I get every day to study the scriptures and words of the prophets. Even though we have hours every day set aside for this purpose, I still feel like I never have enough time to read everything I would like to. It is so great to really learn and connect different ideas and feel strengthened by the scriptures. They really do bring a power into my life.

Next week I should be able to write home about travel plans, assuming everythng goes according to schedule. Until then, I really intend to push myself harder than I have been. I really want to hit the ground running when I get there.
Thanks for everything you do, I really appreciate all the support everyone has given me. Oh and sorry, I promise I will pick a scripture for my plaque sometime. Still trying to narrow it down.

 Okay that is all I can think of, I love you all and am really glad to hear from you so often! Thanks for everything.
Elder Braithwaite

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

FORD VP'S VISIT MTC

Ni hao,
I hope everything is still going well at home. It sounds like you guys are having a lot of fun. I am really jealous of all the hiking/enjoying the outdoors in general. I think that is probably what I miss the most so far. Besides family, right?
This week has been slightly more eventful. Earlier this week I got called down to the mysterious A-hall rooms in building 1M, which are all the administration offices. This man from the church's PR department had to tell me about something they wanted to do with my district. Every year, the church buys thousands of cars from Ford for missionaries, so I guess every once in a while some executives from Ford come visit Salt Lake and renegotiate contracts and see what this church could be doing with so many new cars. Anyways, these guys got a tour around SL with Elder Holland and Elder Scott, then went and ate lunch with Cecil Samuelson at BYU, then got sent to go visit our district at the MTC. It makes sense to someone I guess. But apparently they (church pr) chose our district out of all 2600 missionaries at the MTC to represent the church's missionary force because they heard we were the best. So that was really cool, made me feel good.
So these executives came and visited us and asked us some questions and we demonstrated some Chinese (a member of the 70 was supposed to come too but he had to go out of town at the last minute). I loved hearing their reactions. They thought it was so cool when they found out that we weren't paid, that we had been waiting to go on missions for years, that we were willing to give up school and everything else, that we didn't choose to go to Taiwan but believed we were called by a prophet, etc. But the best part was what they had said after they left (one of the church guys came back and told us later). My companion had been asked to bear his testimony to them (in Chinese), and they said that even though they had no idea what he said they could feel something, and they could tell that whatever he was saying meant everything to him. So cool. One man also commented that he saw his 20 year old son smile about once a month if that, and would give anything to see him as happy as we all were. And that made me realize, I can do so much proselyting simply by being happy and letting people see that. These men didn't know what we said (and we technically weren't even allowed to proselyte to them) but they were still able to notice how much our faith meant to us and how happy it made us, and they specifically said they wish they could have that. It reminds me of that St. Francis quote, preach the gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words. Anyways, just gave me a new perspective.
So the church people said they were really happy with the example we set, that we really helped them negotiate the contract. The true motive's revealed.  I know that success as a missionary isn't measured by baptisms, but now, even if I don't baptize anyone, I can still feel successful because at least I helped save the church money on car insurance or something.
Other than that, nothing much is new, still just working hard. We had a cool devotional about missionary work (surprise!), and how all the great missionaries in the scriptures frequently use the word "perhaps", like "perhaps we could bring some soul to repentance" or "perhaps we could be an instrument in the hands of God." Even though these people gave their entire lives to the Lord and his work and did eveything they should, they understood that there was no guarantee of success because it is based on the agency of others. In Jacob 5, the Lord himself even does everything he can to help his olive trees that "perhaps" they may bring forth fruit. Even he doesn't have a formula for success in this work. We can do our best, but there is no way to ensure results of your efforts. The point is that you give everything and expect nothing in return, kind of contradictory but also how it has to be.
And I think this makes sense in every area of life too, that we should do everything we can to serve the Lord and others, and never really expect to be loved by men for our efforts or to receive blessings or anything like that. The real definition of "success" is knowing that our efforts are making Heavenly Father proud, and that knowledge should always be enough.
Anyways, sorry if this week's letter was kind of long. It is weird actually having a story to tell for once, I don't know what I'll do in a few weeks. I love you all, thanks for everything. Oh, they took our picture with the Ford guys, I'll send it home sometime.
I love you all, keep me updated on life!
Bai Zhanglao

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

MTC - WEEK SEVEN

Ni hao,
I feel really bad but I still have nothing new to say. I still love being here and I still feel like I am learning a lot. But I honestly can't think of anything new to tell you that I haven't already said.
Still love all the devotionals. We really are so lucky to hear from so many great speakers. I think this will be one of the things I will really miss when I'm in the field.
My companion and I have been trying to use chopsticks to eat pretty much everything, which has been difficult but usually makes our meals more entertaining. We carry them around in our shirt pockets so everyone knows we are the most Asian white guys here.
I started trying to teach myself characters, which has been really fun. It may not be the most necessary thing right now, but I am super excited to be able to learn to read so I wanted to get a head start. Chinese is so pretty.
The younger generation of elders came in this week. It is a little weird to see them and think that, hardly over a month ago, I was that awkward and confused about everything that was going on. Sometimes it feels like I am barely making any progress at all, and this makes it really easy to get frustrated and discouraged. I'm think I'm starting to realize how much patience it is going to take to learn a language. But the new elders coming in made me think about how far I've come in the last 7 weeks. Even though I barely know any Chinese, I do know significantly more than I did 2 months ago. I think it really is almost impossible to see yourself grow, not only in a language ability, but in anything. Just like when, as a kid, you don't notice when you grow taller because it occurs so gradually. So even though my growth has been small, it is nice to be reminded that there has been some.
Anyway, sorry this letter is so lame. Next week maybe I'll type up my notes from a devotional or something. But there just isn't anything to report. Our schedule is monotonous but effective (I hope). I know the Lord is helping me and every other missionary (as well as everyone else) become what he intends for us to become, as long as we are willing to work. Work is the power that makes God's blessings operative.
Thanks for all the love and support. I pray for you all daily and I love you so much. And I promise I will have more to say when I get to Taiwan.
Wo ai nimen,
Elder Braithwaite

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

PONCHOS

Ni Hao,
Nothing new to report. Everything is fine, I really love being here. I really learn so much every single day.
This week our ponchos finally came. My companion and I asked his mom to send us some a while ago. We wear them in the cafeteria, we were sick of occasionally spilling something on our shirts. And not only do they protect us from our inability to eat in sunday clothes, but they make us look super cool too! Most people can't help but feel envious (or confused). When your schedule gets so predictable, you find ways to make little things more enjoyable I guess.
Since I really don't have anything to say, I guess I could write something I learned. I was reading that talk by President Packer called "Candle of the Lord", and even though I have read it before I was really impressed with this comment:
"The skeptic will say that to bear testimony when you may not know you possess one is to condition yourself; that the response is manufactured. Well, one thing for sure, the skeptic will never know... Can you not see that that is where testimony is hidden, protected perfectly from the insincere, from the intellectual, from the mere experimenter, the arrogant, the faithless, the proud? It will not come to them.
The Spirit and testimony of Christ will come to you for the most part when, and remain with you only if, you share it. In that process is the very essense of the gospel.
Is not this a perfect demonstration of Christianity? You cannot find it, nor keep it, nor enlarge it unless and until you are willing to share it. It is by giving it away freely that it becomes yours."

I don't know why this was such a revelation for me, but it was. And I think that this really doesn't only apply to developing testimony either, but developing anything.This really is the core of our message, when you think about it, and it is such a beautiful thought, the idea that what you give away is what becomes yours, and what you keep for yourself is what you never truly have. We shouldn't only share our testimony, but our time, our energy, our love, and really our entire lives with God and with others. I think Christ himself really summarized this idea most clearly in Matt. 16:25: "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." And of course, His life was the perfect example of this principle. I guess I just realized I can be giving so much more of myself to the Lord and to his work than I currently am.
I think the real thing I learn here is how much I still have to learn, and I know that sounds kind of cliche but it is true. And I'm sure I still have no idea how little I really know, it will probably be a pretty big shock once I get off the plane in Taiwan. But I guess if I can be sure I'm doing everything I can to live this principle, then the Lord will be proud, and that really goes for everyone, not just missionaries.

I love you all so much. I love learning this language and trying to be a missionary. Thanks for everything!
Elder Braithwaite