Monday, February 27, 2012

Hey
Sorry this is late. Been on trains/buses/subways for 9-10 hours. You guessed right, about time for another transfer! I am really excited about my new area. I am in Taoyuan, a city on the northwest coast, up by Taipei, in an area of the city called Nankan. It feels pretty much like any other big city I have seen in this country, just a ton of people and cars and tall buildings and concrete. I don't know why, but getting here I just felt really good about the area. It is super gray and rainy like I expected the north to be, and there isn't (as far as I know) anything super special about this city or my area. But I feel good here, like I can help someone who is here. Being in the city again feels good too, which is odd because I wouldn't think I would miss the business of it. But being constantly surrounded by people I can talk to is a blessing. 
 
Last picture from Taidong. Rainy day on the beach. Goodbye South.
 
Having said that, I am really going to miss Taidong. It was a special place, and I am super lucky to have been sent there. Being there for twelve weeks, I think I took for granted the fresh air and the big spaces and rice fields and stuff, getting back to Taibei was a sharp reminder that cities smell like pollution and cigarettes. I figure I should just be glad I got to spend any time at all down on the southeast coast, it was such a blessing. Now its time to get back to real work in the cold rain like the majority of the missionaries here.
 
Sorry I don't write too much about the investigators we have. This has a purpose: I feel like they all have these complicated backgrounds and situations and that trying to spend my short time explaining them would be boring for you and wouldn't really be able to explain them anyways. As a missionary, you spend all your time thinking about these people and talking to them and becoming their friend and just trying to understand who they are.  It isn't easy to communicate all that through a several paragraph email. I can give you a list of who I taught in Taidong, maybe a little about them: Li, a college student with physical disabilities who is great and I think will get baptized someday; Zhou, a real Buddhist kid who is super polite with extended relatives who are members; Zhuo, an English teacher who reads the Book of Mormon like nobody's business and tells me (and not my companion) about his girl problems; Zeng, a kid with depression who needs a lot of help but is so great underneath the tattoos and sad face; Wu, a college soccer player who we think gets made fun of by the other jocks in the dorm for meeting with us but likes us anyway; Gao, a 14 year old basketball star who loves to pray, and is going to be the next Jeremy Lin (yes they do love him here, too. they've all got the t shirts); a bunch more but I am already running out of time so that is enough for now.
 
The thing that happens on a mission is you really spend all your time focusing on these people and you have relationships with them that are unlike any other relationships, at least that I have ever had. There is something special when you are teaching a person something with the sole purpose of changing their life. I don't know how to write most of the stuff I think about or experience so usually I don't try and just tell you about the easy things like describing where I am or inspiration I have had or whatever. I will try to do better with this. The point is, I feel like I can't explain what I'm doing, if you want to get it come and try I guess, I don't think there is another suitable way to understand.
 
I am really psyched for the new area and the miracles we are going to see here. My companion is Elder Clifford, a kind of geeky white guy from Provo, as Mormon as they get and the first non-native Chinese speaker I have had since my trainer. The streak of Taiwanese had to end sometime. I am loving what I'm doing and I will try to write more next week.
I love  you all, thank you for everything you have done!
 
Elder Braithwaite

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hello,
 
I am glad to hear everything is still going well with everyone. It's a girl, yay! Congrats Ashley! And also, happy birthday! I hope you aren't too busy with moving and stuff to celebrate.
 
I did get the valentines package, very punctual. Thank you! I feel really bad, I have been super ineffective at answering people's letters and so I want to apologize. Everyone who sent me something in the past few months, I promise I will write you back, it just might take a while. I really do love hearing from people though, even if I don't answer promptly.
 
Things here are going well. We had a branch fireside meeting this week and I got to play piano! They asked us to do a musical performance. It was super weird because I really have almost not even touched one for months, but it was  fun to play again. Missionaries don't really have an appropriate time to go practice music, so it didn't go that smoothly but most Taiwanese people are not super musically inclined so they all thought it was really great.
 
We had a specialy training meeting up in Hualian this week, which meant another 6 hours of train rides back and forth. Most of the train ride is through the mountains, and I got to see snow! That's a pretty big deal for here, there aren't many places in Taiwan high enough to get snow, but one of the mountains we passed did. It is weird because you look to one side and there are mountains that tall but look to the other and the ocean is pretty much right there.
 
I was really happy to see some of our investigators this week that have been gone for about a month or so. Being in a place for more than one transfer gives you an oppotunity to build up good relationships with your investigators, members, etc. I feel like a lot of the people here are such good friends now, I really missed them while they were gone. One guy I found had a cool story over the break. Before he left we had only met with him once or twice and he seemed like he didn't have much interest. We weren't sure what to do and figured that since he was leaving for a month he would probably just lose interest by the time he came back. So we figured maybe we should just focus on the Book of Mormon and try to get him to read while he was gone. Basically, that is what he did, and it has had a big effect. When he came back we checked up and he has read everything we assigned him, marked it all up, showed us the verses he like, and applied them to his life. He has even been prarying and repenting and everything basically on his own, really just had this big transformation and feels like he has seen his prayers be answered. Super cool testimony that if people can really apply themselves to reading the book of mormon, it will change them, and will bring the spirit and the gospel into their lives.
 
I am grateful for all the blessings I have had so far on my mission. Thanks for all you do!
I love you!
 
Elder Braithwaite

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hello
Daniel is safe! Yay, I am really glad he made it. It is weird to see pictures of him with you guys and think that I saw him like two weeks ago. Sounds like he is doing great, I know he'll be fine because he is a smart guy. That's cool that he actually found a school and is living in Provo, I don't know how many of my Provo friends still read these letters, but if anyone can, you should find him and be his friend. About the hair; Taiwanese people typically get haircuts twice a week, and care about them a lot. One word for barber is the same as the word for "designer", which makes sense when you see a lot of the Asian haircuts. So be careful with that. I am glad he is doing so well. He can probably tell you a lot of secrets about me. He did make fun of me about the notes from the girls in church. That is another thing to be careful about in Taiwan, some members really don't understand that missionaries are off limits so you have to let them know that you absolutely aren't interested. Anyway, congratulations Drew! MIT is pretty good I guess. It sounds like everything is going really well, great to hear from you all.

It was a big week, overall things are great here. I thought that New Years was big, but this week the Yuanxiaojie festival thing (I think is lantern festival in English?) was even bigger. It is only really done in these more rural areas and there was an absolutely ridiculous amount of people. The streets were so packed you couldn't even move-- we had to stash our bikes and just walk around for once. Constant firecrackers for days without exaggeration, most streets were completely red from the garbage of them afterwards. You would see people whose clothes had a lot of holes burned in them from standing too close as they go off, all day. I did get to see the thing where they lift the mostly naked guy up and everyone in the crowd throws firecrackers at him. Then all day there were parades of people, probably a hundred of those trucks with the shrine/drummers on the back, all these guys dressed up in these super intricate costumes of various gods (some were about 15 feet tall) or with war paint on and doing these martial art fights in the street. Overall really interesting. No pictures, sorry.

We finally got an investigator to come to church! It has been a long time since that has happened for us, so that was exciting. School starts again, so our city will have college students again which means a lot of our investigators will come back this week, and also finding new investigators should be easier. I feel like things over the break were a little harder, so I am excited for everything to be back to normal. Still seeing good progress with people, no one close to baptism but over time I believe it will come. I am getting more and more happiness out of helping people make these little steps of preparation. 
 
I don't have a lot of time, this week the weather has been great and for p day we went to the beach, got some pretty cool pictures. I feel like I am serving in Hawaii or something, it is so beautiful here, the mountains just go straight into the ocean and it is all so green. I hope Utah is nice and warm too!  

Thanks for everything you do, I love you all!

Elder Braithwaite
Famous 8-arched bridge, symbol of Taidong

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Family,

I am glad that everything is going well. I'm also glad that you are not mad about me inviting Daniel to our house and I hope that he arrives safely (today?). He is a good guy and very eager to learn English. Also sorry about the plaque thing, go ahead and go with the Matt 5 one.

Things have gone well here. This week had an odd feeling overall, all sorts of weird things happened to us every day. I don't really know how to explain, but by the end of the week we were just laughing at how weird the week was. Plus there was this odd atmosphere, with the lantern festival going on. There are these people who get big trucks and build these colorful temples in the bed, then add about ten people with huge drums and gongs and drive around the city all day long and part of the night playing what sound like Indian war songs or something. Unfortunately we didn't get to watch them do the tradition where they throw firecrackers at the guy, but a lot of foreigners were in town to watch. Last night we went to go visit our investigator, this kid who lives up in an Aborignal village, but he couldn't meet because their society chief had just died and he had to gather all the young men to do some sort of ritual for the night. Just a lot of odd things have been happening, kind of a reminder that this place is really different from home.

We had some really good lessons this week, and then some really bad ones. At the beginning of this week we met with this college student who first met us last transfer when I had just come down to Taidong. At that time we weren't sure why he was meeting, he didn't seem to have any interest and we assumed he would just die out. He admitted to problems like cutting himself, hating life, his family, etc. We have met with him a bunch of times and haven't been able to get him to react to anything, he just didn't seem to care. We tried sharing all kinds of messages with him. But over time he has had a gradual change, has started becoming happier and trusting us more. This week he was willing  to accept a baptismal invitation and is excited about being able to have a new start on life. It is so cool to see someone really changing their life, and most of all becoming happier, because of the gospel.

The next day we met with a lady who was super willing to meet, but the spirit just wasn't in the lesson and it went pretty badly, and honestly she probably won't be willing to meet with us again. It is sad to feel like because we blew it she wasn't given a good opportunity to accept the gospel. It is so important to have the spirit in every lesson. That really is the difference between when things go well and when they go poorly as a missionary.

I am glad that I get to be here and get to work hard. Things are going well with the branch here, we have seen some great progress. It has been an interesting experience being in this branch. The members are great, but usually at most about 40 or 50 are in the meeting on Sunday including missionaries, our investigators, and children, and our priesthood meeting is usually about 8 including my companion and me, plus the bishopric and maybe one or two young men. So a different experience from Utah for sure. I am loving being here though, it is such privilege to be a missionary.

 I don't have much time this week. I love you, keep me updated on everything!

Elder Braithwaite