Canon Laverty here. Welcome to my Mission Blog. My goal here is to put down on paper
some lingering memories of my Tokyo South mission that never made it into my mission journal. I
plan to start out the blog by writing down a detailed account of day-to-day life as best I can
remember it from the MTC through to the first week of my mission in Japan (entries #1-7). Once
I've laid out the basic missionary activities and schedule for a week, I hope to pick up the pace,
focusing less on a day-by-day account and more on specific events and experiences. I'll do my best
to correctly pinpoint times, locations, and people, but now that I've been home for 5 years,
accuracy may occasionally give way to guessing and approximation.
Also, please be aware that my number 1 target audience is myself. If the details
occasionally seem tedious or the memories seem pointless, I apologize. I know that some of what I
write will only be interesting to myself, but I'll do my best to try and keep it informative for
anyone with an interest in missionary life in Japan, or missionary life in general.
Lastly- I've been meaning to do this ever since I got home from my mission. I want to thank my
little brother Jesse for finally giving me the motivation to actually do it. He's serving in the
Tampa, FL mission right now, and telling him stories about my own mission is what motivated me to
start writing. So Thanks, Jesse.
||Mission Map and
For reference purposes, I thought it'd be handy to have a timeline and map of my mission. The
timeline shows how long I was in each of my areas and each of my companionships. The map of the
Tokyo South Mission (as of 2002) shows each of the 4 areas where I served and the mission home.
(Click on the pictures to embiggen them.)
||#1:Introduction to the
AUGUST 9, 2000 – FIRST 3 WEEKS
I still remember going into the MTC for the first time with my family. I don’t remember the welcome
video or talks at all, but I do remember the moment when it was time to say goodbye to my family
for 2 years. And I remember it didn’t bother me at all. I guess my friends meant more to me than my
family at that age, and while I was certainly anxious about leaving society as I knew it for 2
years, there were no tears for my part, and I was eager to move on to whatever was next rather than
linger with crying parents.
Meeting the district. There were 10 elders in my district: Elders Ziegler and Stowell, Elders Lemon
and Rodgers, Elders Gardiner and Dastrup, Elders Croft and Abegglen, and me and Elder Gillman.
Since the dorms only held 8 people each, Elders Gardiner and Dastrup lived with the other district
nextdoor. Poor guys always felt left out. But it was Elders Croft and Abegglen who couldn’t stand
each other. Those two were at each other’s throats for the entire 10 weeks. They absolutely hated
each other. Funny thing, though: by the end of the 2 year mission (they were both in Tokyo South
too), I heard that those two became the best of friends and even hung out with each other after the
mission. Funny. As for other trivia: Elder Ziegler was the tall Chili’s chef from St. George, Elder
Stowell was very soft-spoken, Elder Gardiner reminded me of Dane, and Elder Dastrup and I ended up
having a history class together at BYU years later. Elder Gillman was a great companion. Neither of
us ever had any problems with the other. Elder Gillman was the district leader and as a soldier-in
-training attending West Point, he had no problems with leadership. That was fine with me as he
almost never needed my help. Also, Elder Gillman would entertain the district with stories of
military life at West Point before bed some nights.
It didn’t take long to get used to the routine in the MTC, as every day was basically like every
other day. We would go to class and study Japanese all day, but we would never feel like we quite
grasped whatever grammar lesson was being taught so we’d all set goals to review the grammar lesson
later. But since every day brought new grammar or other language exercises, naturally there was no
time later to study what we had attempted to learn earlier. After a couple weeks of this, I
realized that there was no point in making a list of the language aspects that I needed to review,
because I simply needed to review all of them! For a while, I’d try to get up an hour early
everyday to catch up on whatever study I felt like I needed to do. It was nice to have some extra
quiet time in the mornings, and I was exhausted during classes whether I got up earlier or not, so
that didn’t really matter.
My impressions on the MTC dorms: I remember feeling very disappointed with dorm life at the MTC at
first. I can’t complain at all about my dorm itself. The Japanese elders lived in the new dorm
building. It was really nice and well-lit, and it just had a new feeling about it. Unlike the dark
and generally dirty feeling about some of the other, older dorms I saw at the MTC. I wonder if they
give those dorms to the English-speaking elders since they’re only there for 3 weeks. In any case,
we loved our dorm building. But I was very disappointed with how so many elders treated their stay
at the MTC like it was EFY or something. A lot of guys would get all rowdy in the evenings,
wrestling in the hallways and whatnot. I guess you should expect that from 100 nineteen-year-olds
living together, but I remember wishing some folks in particular would act more like missionaries
and less like a college fraternity. One evening while I was in my room getting ready for bed, I
heard a bunch of noise out in the hallway. When I poked my head out the door, I saw that a bunch of
elders a few doors down had pulled one or two of their bed mattresses out into the hallway and were
all taking turns publicly body-slamming each other. I probably just rolled my eyes and went to bed.
Then there was the “Matrix photos” phase that our dorm went through. In the Common Area in the
center of our dorm floor there were ironing boards built into the walls that you could pull down.
Well, somebody discovered that if you lay flat on your back on the ironing board with your feet up
against the wall, and then put your trench coat on around yourself and the ironing board, it looks
like you’re standing sideways on the wall with no support. Then just put a pair of sunglasses on
and it looks like you’re someone straight out of The Matrix movie. As soon as that became common
knowledge, suddenly everyone wanted a Matrix picture of themselves walking on the walls. I have to
admit, it did look pretty cool. So while I never got a Matrix picture of myself, I didn’t complain
about it much either. I think that only lasted a week or two before the Branch President heard
about it and asked everyone to stop, though.
I just flipped through my journal entries from my first 3 weeks. I forgot just how well my district
got along. I forgot what good friends Elder Ziegler and I had become and how he’d always make fun
of me for working at Aerojet and supposedly being a rocket scientist. And how we’d all laugh about
our “orange juice problem” (passing gas) during class. And how we all joked with each other so
much. Wow, we really had a good time together. Sometimes I think we had a little too much fun. But
it was really good for district togetherness, which I discovered to be extremely important after
Elder’s Croft and Abegglen started going at each other. Anyway, that was my first three weeks.
I don’t have much advice to offer from my first three weeks. So let me tell you my thoughts on
- Keep a journal!! In the MTC I always had plenty of time to write, and I probably averaged at
least 4 entries/week. Unfortunately, MTC memories aren’t what I value most now that my mission is
done. Once out in the field, I probably averaged only 1 or 2 per week. And in reality that meant I
wrote faithfully for a month, and then I’d stop for a month, and then I’d pick it back up, etc. I
know this is obvious, but try to write as much as you can. Basically, you can count on forgetting
every mission experience you ever have (yes, even those amazing ones that right now you call
“unforgettable”) if you don’t write them down.
- Write about the people!! When I was in the MTC, one of my teachers gave me this same advice, but
I didn’t really listen. Now I’m passing it on to you. The thing you’ll want to remember most after
your mission is over is the people. It’s nice to look back at what so-and-so talked about during
Zone Meeting, or how the humidity made you sweat so much, but a few years from now, what you’ll
really wonder is who you were teaching during your first month in the field. Or you’ll vaguely
remember the face of some church member who was always really nice to you, and you’ll wish you’d
written even just a little bit about that person. AND THE SAME GOES FOR PICTURE-TAKING. Sure, you’
ll want to remember what the neighborhood around your first apartment looked like, but you’ll much
rather have a picture of the ward missionaries that you went on splits with every week. And don’t
forget the Elders that you work with. I remember my most inspirational Zone Leader, Elder Danshita,
but I don’t have any pictures of him.
- One last note. One of my companions had a normal-sized wall calendar that he would write small
notes on. Keeping a daily journal is top priority, but I thought having a month-by-month overview
of your mission was a good idea too. He’d note when Elder’s came or left our apartment, or he’d
write funny messages like “Cicada attack!!” on the day that a giant cicada tried to kill him. But,
again, anything you really want to remember, you need to detail in your journal. I just thought the
monthly calendar idea was a good one even though I never did it.
||#2: The MTC in Detail
4th WEEK – 2.5 MONTHS
It’s time to wrap up my MTC memoirs. Let’s start with the daily routine.
A typical day at the MTC started when one or two or three of the elders’ alarm clocks would
all go off at 6:00am. Someone would jump out of their bed, step around a random assortment of
items that lie on the floor around the light switch, and then turn on the lights. I still remember
that feeling of waking up groggy to florescent white lights, in a bed that’s not mine, in an
entirely non-descript room that seemed to belong to no one. A kinda surreal feeling every morning.
Then we’d all put on our P-day clothes and head to the gym. Other than walking to and from the
gym or the soccer field, being with your companion wasn’t really enforced during exercise time, so
everyone was free to do what they wanted. Mostly I just ran around the indoor track that went
around the perimeter of the second floor. Then it was back to the dorms by 6:50, showered and
dressed by 7:30, and off to breakfast as a district.
Eating was a general free-for-all. We’d try to get our whole district at the same table each meal.
Popular breakfast items were cereal, oatmeal, and French toast sticks. And plenty of orange
juice, of course. After breakfast we’d head over to our classroom for personal study time. Then
one of our three teachers would show up and we’d have some lesson on Japanese grammar, or a
Japanese task (e.g. Say a prayer in Japanese, or Get a referral in Japanese), or a study of the
Japanese in the discussions. After an hour or two of that, we’d have an hour or two on the
computers. It was called the TALL program (teaching assisted language something or something), and
we’d use this special MTC language software to review vocabulary or grammar, or listen to
pronunciation. I guess it was a pretty good program, I don’t remember ever not liking it. We’d
all put our headsets on with these mouth pieces and pretend like we were air traffic controllers or
whatever, and then make fun of the Japanese voices on the software and imitate them all day just to
get some laughs. I think our making fun of the software ended up helping us learn Japanese that
much faster. Next it was off to lunch.
Lunch played out pretty much the same as breakfast. But before lunch ended, Elder Gillman and I
were responsible to pick up the mail since he was the district leader. That was always exciting.
Especially if someone got a package. We’d hand out the mail in the classroom after lunch. But
since opening and reading mail in the classroom was against the rules, everyone checked to see who
the mail was from, and then painfully put it in their bags to open later. Then it was time for
post-lunch classes. Logistically, these were pretty much the same as the morning classes. One
important difference, though: no one could stay awake or focus at all by about 2pm. The afternoon
teacher was always very patient with our droopy eyes. Sometimes we’d take a walk outside as a
refresher, but 3pm in the classroom was no easier than 2pm. Sometimes a well-timed “orange juice
problem” would get us laughing and help wake us up, but getting on the computers after our
afternoon lessons would put us back to sleep. Dinnertime was an enormous relief.
The cafeteria at dinner was the same madhouse as always. The MTC cafeteria seemed to rotate
through the same meals every week. But there was a wide enough selection that no one seemed to
complain. If you didn’t like any of the main courses on a particular day, there was always the
salad bar and the cereal bar. And once every couple weeks the MTC would have an ice cream bar and
pizza night. Things got really exciting on those nights. Then it was back to class. We had the
same classroom for all of our instructor-led classes, and the same computer lab for all our
computer time. So we got pretty attached to our classrooms. We’d leave all our stuff in there
during meals, etc. Anyway, the evening classes were also more of the same, but for some reason
they were the most fun. There was just something cool about the windows getting all dark. Plus,
everyone seemed to have the most study-energy in the evenings. That made the learning more
effective and more enjoyable. The evening classes always went the fastest.
Class ended at 9:30pm and we’d walk back to the dorms as a district. After getting changed,
brushing teeth, etc., we had about a half hour to unwind before lights-out at 10:30. This was when
some elders would go crazy in the halls. I mostly just hung out and chatted with the other elders
in my dorm room. Other common activities at that time included reviewing Japanese lessons, writing
in journals, and stopping by other dorm rooms to meet Japanese-bound elders in other districts.
Then by 10:30 everyone was in their beds. Elder Gillman and I had the first bunk on the right by
the door, and by 10:30 no one wanted to get up to hit the light switch. So everyone would watch as
Elder Gillman would throw whatever he had on his bed at the light switch from his top bunk. Socks,
notebook, shoe, pen, whatever. So by the time we got the lights out, there was always a random
assortment of Elder Gillman’s stuff on the floor around the light switch.
Here are some other common variations on this general MTC lifestyle description. Tuesday mornings
we had Large Group Meetings where about half the MTC would come together for some talk or
something. And Tuesday nights were the devotionals where the whole MTC would get together.
Wednesday was P-day, but I called it P-“4 hours” because we’d spend the whole morning doing service
(cleaning bathrooms) and attending the temple, and in the evenings we had classes as usual. So the
only free time was between lunch and dinner, most of which was spent doing laundry. Thursday
afternoon was TRC where we taught Japanese volunteers who were pretending to be investigators (some
actually were), and the conversations were recorded so our teacher could review how we did
afterwards. Those TRC visits were the pinnacle of our stress at the MTC. Oh, how we’d freak out.
Saturday night was TE, similar to TRC but longer and just as stressful. And Sunday was meetings
here and there, and letter-writing in between.
Now for some specific stories. One night probably about a month after I’d gotten to the MTC we all
went to bed as usual at 10:30pm. And we all woke up to the harsh fire alarm ringing throughout our
building at about 2am. Boy, that was a strange moment. Everyone in our room was disoriented,
thinking somebody’s alarm clock was going off and wishing they’d shut it off. Finally someone had
enough wits to turn on the lights, and eventually everyone realized what was going on. So we all
jumped out of bed and marched outside in our pajamas. By the time we got to the parking lot behind
our dorm we were all pretty awake. So we stood out there chatting and waiting. Finally someone
turned off the fire alarm. No fire trucks came. Eventually we were told it was a false alarm and
we were sent back to bed. We never did find out what happened officially, but while we were
standing out in the parking lot, we noticed a few elders all dressed, pulling their suitcases
behind them and smiling at us. Apparently there was a group of elders leaving for the airport
right then, and so everyone figured one of those elders thought it’d be funny if the entire MTC
woke up to see them off. We didn’t think it was very funny.
One night a few weeks after that fire alarm incident we all went to bed as usual again. Around
11pm we woke up to the fire alarm again. This time we were a lot faster to figure out what was
going on, maybe because we’d been through it once before and maybe because some of us hadn’t even
fallen asleep yet. But whatever the reason, we were out in the parking lot much faster this time.
And this time our dorm building actually smelled of smoke as we were heading outside. So the whole
MTC had to stand outside again as fire trucks came and checked out our building. At least the fire
trucks made everything more exciting. My district was standing near one of them just chatting
when, what to my surprise, Glenn Fox came trotting over to see me! He was in the MTC at the same
time as me, but in a different dorm building. I guess he figured there’d be no better time to come
find me and shoot the breeze than at 11:30 at night while all the MTC missionaries are just milling
about. It was so funny, he even brought his camera so we took some pictures in front of the fire
trucks. Eventually we were let back inside. The story that got around was that somebody
overcooked some popcorn in a microwave on our dorm floor. When they realized that they’d burnt it,
they just tossed it right in the garbage. Apparently the garbage then caught on fire. An elder
who had been trained as a firefighter before his mission then walked by and saw the flames and
relied on his firefighter instincts which were: pull fire alarm first, extinguish fire second. I
have no idea why someone was burning popcorn in our dorm at 11pm, though.
As the district leader companionship, Elder Gillman and I had the responsibility of assigning one
elder each week to give the lesson in our Sunday school class. I remember Sunday school was never
taken too seriously in the MTC. Since it was just our district in a small classroom for 45
minutes, and since we were all so comfortable with each other, the lessons usually weren’t too
serious and mostly just ended up being an open discussion. But whoever was teaching the lesson was
still supposed to have some lesson or other, and have some plans for directing the discussions.
Well, one week Elder Gillman and I completely forgot to assign someone the lesson and only realized
it before bed Saturday night. The topic was the Resurrection, and we figured we’d just have to
come up with something together. I knew that we’d never actually sit down and prepare anything,
and in the end we’d have no real lesson plan. For some reason I decided that I wanted to do a
really good job of this lesson even if I didn’t have much time to prepare it. So I got up at 5am
that Sunday morning and spent an hour in the hallway reading about the Resurrection before everyone
else got up (some elders who wanted some extra Japanese study time would get up early and study in
the hall like that everyday – I did it for a couple weeks). I put together some notes for the
lesson, and did my best to add to them throughout the morning before Sunday school. Then it was
time for Sunday school. I don’t remember anything that we talked about in that class, but I
remember being so proud of my lesson and how well it turned out. I also remember bearing my
testimony of the Resurrection at the end, and for the first time that I could remember in my life,
I felt the overwhelming burning confirmation of the Spirit. As a teenager, even in the MTC, I was
really confused about how the Spirit worked. I remember feeling very disappointed in myself
throughout most of my MTC stay because I wasn’t feeling the Spirit as I understood it. Seminary
and Sunday school teach that feeling the Spirit means the “burning bosom” feeling, but I’ve since
realized that the Spirit manifests itself much more often through a person’s mood or by refining a
person’s personality. I discovered that those body-tingling, heartwarming experiences are more
like the Spirit shouting, and that they are extremely rare. I’d say that even now, I can count the
number of those “bosom-burning” experiences I’ve had in my whole life on one hand. Maybe two. And
most of those were on my mission. Anyway, feeling that Spirit in that Sunday school class what a
huge testimony-builder for me both in regards to the Resurrection, and in how the Spirit works.
Since I’m on topic, I’ll tell you another story of my being disappointed with myself in the MTC.
Like I said, throughout the MTC I was frustrated that I wasn’t feeling the Spirit like a crazy. As
a result, I felt like I must be lacking something spiritually and came down kinda hard on myself
for it. I knew that I was doing relatively okay with my Japanese, and I even knew that my
spiritual background was relatively pretty good too (I was surprised to find out that some elders
hadn’t even ready the Book of Mormon all the way through once before becoming missionaries). But I
guess I was holding myself up to some impossible standard with unrealistic expectations. Then one
night after we finished up in the computer lab and right before we headed back to the dorms, our
evening teacher Sister Miyamoto said she didn’t know why, but she felt like she should share a
scripture with us. She read Mosiah 4:27 that says, “…it is not requisite that a man should run
faster than he has strength. And again, it is expedient that he should be diligent, that thereby he
might win the prize; therefore, all things must be done in order.” I felt like she was reading
that right to me, and I realized then that I was pushing myself too hard. I decided to just keep
doing what I was doing, but not be so disappointed in myself. I suddenly felt like I was doing my
best, and that was enough for the Lord.
And now for a sampling of other MTC stories.
Elder Stowell was a really nice, quiet kid. He seemed to be the only elder in our district with a
serious homesickness problem. He told us how he and his mom were really close, and for some reason
he worried about his mom a lot. Finally after a month or two, he chose to go home. Poor Elder
Stowell. Elder Ziegler joined Elders Lemon and Rogers in a threesome after that.
Elder Lemon received the most packages from home. His mom always sent him all this candy and food
and stuff. He was good about sharing with the district, and after a while we started a food stash
in the back of our dorm room. Anyone could add to it or eat from it, but since the MTC cafeteria
fed us enough, the stash hardly ever when down. We decided that we’d throw a big party on our last
night in the MTC and try to eat all the food then. I’ll write about our last night and the trip to
Japan in my next entry.
In my closet where I hung all my shirts and ties, there was this little wire sticking out from one
of the walls. After just a week, I had already got a couple of my ties caught on that wire while I
was pulling them out of the closet. It was starting to make me mad. Well, one of the odd things
that Elder Lemon received in his first package was a bag of marshmallows. I don’t think anyone
ended up eating any of the marshmallows, but I took one of them and stuck it on the end of that
loose wire. So I had a stale marshmallow in my closet protecting my ties for a couple months.
The best advice I can offer this week is don’t try holding yourself to unrealistic expectations.
Everyone learns and grows at their own pace, and the fastest way to tear yourself down is by being
disappointed that you’re not progressing at someone else’s speed. Learn from others, but just be
happy being you. And be proud of your own accomplishments once in a while.
||#3: US to Japan
2.5 MONTHS – 3 MONTHS
Now for the transition from the MTC to Japan.
I still remember all the excitement surrounding our getting ready to leave for Japan in the
MTC. All during that last week everyone was getting so antsy and eager and nervous and excited and
scared at the same time. We were just these walking buckets of mixed emotions. The most vivid
conflicting feelings were in the struggle between desperately wanting to get out of the MTC, and
feeling completely unready to go to Japan. Everyone’s Japanese had improved a lot of course, but
imagining real live conversations with real live Japanese people was just overwhelming.
Some time during the last week, a couple Elders decided they wanted to have a Japanese Book
of Mormon on hand for the airplane flight to Japan in case they sat next to someone Japanese.
Suddenly all the Japan-bound missionaries wanted their own Japanese Books of Mormon, so there was a
rush on the MTC bookstore’s Japanese Book of Mormon supply. There weren’t a lot of books at the
bookstore, so they sold out pretty quick. The missionaries who did get their hands on one were so
proud of themselves, thinking that they were now ready to convert somebody on the airplane. In
retrospect, it was all pretty ridiculous of course. We all paid $4 for a book that we would have
limitless supplies of once we got to Japan. And, most missionaries ended up sitting next to other
missionaries on the flight over so it was all fairly pointless anyway. It all seems so funny to me
now, though. That feeling of pride turning to foolishness as you walk into your new missionary
apartment and see bookshelves full of Japanese Books of Mormon. But hey, you can’t blame a guy for
being excited to share the gospel!
Another rush during the last week was to get everyone to sign your journal like it was a
yearbook or something. That’s also funny to me now, but I definitely encourage that one. I
remember I only had a few of the Elders I was closest to at the MTC sign my journal. And for some
reason I only had one teacher sign it. Now I wish I’d passed it along to a few more people. But
no big deal. I wish more that I’d passed my journal around more in Japan. It seems like you form
much stronger bonds with the guys you work with in the field, where you only live with one or maybe
three other Elders, and where the work is real rather than just sitting in classrooms together.
Having messages from them will mean more to you. But anyway, I’m glad I have these short messages
from Elder Lemon and Zeigler and whoever else in my journal now.
Our flight to Japan left the morning of Tuesday, October 24, 2000. The evening before, we
were given some time to pack up and get ready to leave. But I remember we weren’t given a lot of
time because we ended up packing until past midnight. Or maybe we were all so excited that we
couldn’t focus on packing. Anyway, I remember we wanted to have a going-away party for ourselves
that last night. So we pulled out Elder Lemon’s overflowing communal candy box thinking we’d eat
candy and pack and laugh all night (we figured that as long as packing was involved, then we were
justified in staying up past 10:30pm). We did end up packing and laughing until late, but almost
nobody ate any of the food. I think everyone was too nervous to be hungry. And in the end, I
think Elder Lemon handed his food box over to some of the MTC new-arrivals before we left for the
Our plane departure time was that morning around 7am I think. So our buses left the MTC
around 4am. It was pouring rain, and we were groggy and chilly as we pulled our recently-packed
luggage to the buses. But we all woke up pretty fast as the excitement took hold of us again.
Feelings really came to a head that dark morning as everyone was jittering with anticipation. But
all we could do was sit and wait for our destination. A lot of Elders got so excited that they
promptly fell right back asleep on the bus. I may have been one of them, I don’t remember. But I
do remember marching across the Salt Lake airport with about 50 other missionaries, wishing that
I’d packed lighter suitcases. I had my two big, heavy pieces of luggage that I was pulling behind
me and a big duffle bag that felt like it weighed more than it could possibly hold. Plus I was
also juggling my scripture case which was loaded with letter-writing material for the airplane. I
could barely keep everything moving in the right direction, but I figured it was no big deal cause
once I made it to the luggage check-in counters, my luggage worries would be over. If only that
were true—my heavy luggage was destined to give me one more painful adventure a couple days later.
But in the meantime, I was happy to be rid of the heavy bags. After checking our luggage
in, we marched on to the terminal where a lot of missionaries met up with their families and
friends for one last goodbye at the airport. I wasn’t too bummed about having no one visit me in
Salt Lake cause I knew my family would meet up with me for my layover in San Francisco. But it was
still a little weird sitting off to the side while a lot of Elders were chatting with family there.
Then, all of a sudden, Aunt Jan came up to me and gave me a big hug. What a surprise! We just
chatted for a few minutes, but I was really grateful that she came all the way to the airport just
to see me off. That was really nice. Then it was on to San Francisco. It was fun to see my
family at the San Francisco airport, and to see Dane again for the first time (and last time) in 2
years. I seem to remember sitting with them and eating lunch on the terminal floor. As good a way
as any to spend a final hour with them, I guess. It was really fun to hang out with them there.
And finally, it was time to board the last plane.
I sat between my MTC companion Elder Gillman and an elder from a different district Elder
Moyes (there were probably 3 or 4 districts heading to Japan together that day). I didn’t know
Elder Moyes at all then, but as fate would have it, I would become his district leader a year and a
half later. The plane ride somehow went faster than I imagined 12 hours on a plane would go,
because by the end, I remember I had only written two or three letters when I was planning on
writing ten or more. Actually, I don’t think the time went by that fast, I think I just had a hard
time concentrating on anything that required brain power. So I ended up dozing or just imagining
what Japan would be like, mostly.
Finally, the fateful moment came when we landed and disembarked. I still have this vivid
memory of standing on the tarmac, the sun had already gone down but it was still very light out,
thinking to myself that I was now getting my very first glimpse of this whole new country. Of
course, a Japanese tarmac looks just like any other tarmac, so I wasn’t too impressed yet. Then we
walked through the Narita airport and got our first laughs at seeing the signs for the bathrooms in
Japanese. While we were waiting for our luggage at the carousels, the mission president and his
wife showed up. After we got all our bags, we followed President Suzuki through the rest of the
airport. Before we left, he took us all to eat at a Japanese restaurant in the airport. And that
was our first experience with authentic Japanese food. Good thing they have the plastic models of
all their food to chose from cause I don’t think any of us were up to attempting to read a Japanese
menu at that point. From there it was out to the mission van and off to the Tokyo South Mission
It was dark by the time we (there were probably 8 or 9 of us missionaries) got in the van
and left the airport. I remember trying so hard to see out the windows as we drove through Tokyo.
But we were all fighting not to fall asleep, and President Suzuki tried his best to keep us awake.
I think he was trying to help us overcome the jetlag. But his attempts at leading us in a round of
Called to Serve in Japanese just came off as annoying since we were all dying to just sleep. The
president was really nice, though, and started asking us whatever questions came to mind to keep
any conversation going. As we drove through Tokyo in the dark, I saw so many huge and odd-shaped
buildings. We also passed the biggest ferris wheel I’d ever seen, and the whole thing was lit up
with colored florescent lights that blinked on and off making all these crazy designs (you can see
what I mean HERE ). That was one of the
most surreal moments, when I felt like I was definitely in another country. I’ve never seen those
lights again because I’ve never driven to or from the airport at night since then. We also stopped
to get gas on the way to the mission home (strangely enough, that’s the only time I’ve ever gone to
a gas station in a car in Japan, too), and once again I felt far from home as I watched the station
attendants fill the car up. No self-serve gas in Japan. Finally, we made it to the mission home.
I still remember my 2.5 day stay at the mission home feeling so psychologically
uncomfortable. After entering this new country with my whole life packed away in three bags, I was
desperately looking for some sense of stability. I just wanted a place to unpack and call home.
But every minute spent at the mission home felt so transitory. Not that I didn’t feel welcome
there. But I had this enormous feeling of being a visitor with nowhere to go home to—I was
borrowing a bed, borrowing their bathroom, and living out of my small (but heavy) duffle bag. I
vividly remember that feeling of disorientation most when I woke up that first morning in the
mission home. It took me a few seconds to even remember where I was. Then I stood up and looked
out the window of the second-story bedroom to get my very first glimpse and hear my first sounds of
the streets of Japan in the morning light. Weird. This was my new world.
Most of our two days at the mission home were spent receiving explanations of everything.
I remember purchasing and being introduced to my new Liahona bicycle, I remember being told about
the mission and its zones in general, I remember having our first interviews with the president,
and I remember watching a bicycle safety video. They had us do “service” every morning which meant
cleaning outside around the mission home. Anything to keep us busy, and I guess that was a good
thing. One afternoon we met the APs (assistants to the president) and a couple other elders who
lived on the first floor of the mission home and worked in that area. They took us brand new
missionaries out for a couple hours that afternoon to give us our first taste of street contacting.
I don’t remember who I worked with, but I remember he was really nice and understanding of my
anxiety. He let me mostly just tag along and watch as he did the streeting (not that I could’ve
done much even if he asked me to). And before we went back to the mission home, he took me to a
convenience store where I got my very first experience with Japanese convenience store snacks. He
bought me an onigiri (rice ball wrapped in seaweed) and a Calpis drink. That was really nice.
Then on the morning of the third day it was time for us to meet our trainers (our first
companions). Around 10 or 11am elders from all over our mission started arriving at the mission
home. President Suzuki had everyone gather in the mission home living room which was then full of
about 9 beans (greenies) and 8 trainers. Apparently, one trainer was late, but we went ahead and
got started anyway. First, we sang a couple songs, and then we had a testimony meeting. All of
the beans were looking around the room trying to guess which of the older missionaries was going to
be their trainer. About half-way through the testimony meeting the last, late trainer showed up
with a big, embarrassed smile. We finished going around the circle doing testimonies, and then it
was time to announce who was partnering with whom. President Suzuki handed out envelopes, one at a
time, to the beans, who would then open them and read aloud their new area and companion. When I
got mine, I read “Shizuoka, Elder Lewis”. My trainer was the elder who showed up late. And I was
about to find out why he was late. Shizuoka was the furthest zone from the mission home, and our
area was one of the furthest in that zone.
Once all the envelopes had been handed out, we were up with our luggage and on our way out the door
remarkably fast. And now it was time for my last great struggle with my overweight bags. We were
taking the local trains all the way from the mission home in Kichijoji to Shizuoka city. That
meant getting on some trains during rush hour, it meant transferring from one train to another 5 or
6 times, and that all added up to about a five-hour trip. Almost entirely standing up. All of
that with my heavy bags that were so hard to maneuver. Elder Lewis helped, of course, but he had
received a package from home when he was at the mission office so he had to carry that too. And
that wasn’t even the worst of the trip! The mission home tries to choose apartments for
missionaries that are near train stations so that even without bikes, missionaries can access the
trains reasonable easily. Well, such was not the case with the missionary apartment in Shizuoka.
From the Shizuoka train station to the missionary apartment was another hour walk at least. It was
like the Salt Lake City airport all over again, but 10 times longer, and mostly rough or
nonexistent sidewalks instead of tiled floors. I felt so bad for Elder Lewis, making him pull one
of my suitcases. By the time we finally made it to the missionary apartment, our hands and arms
and shoulders and feet were so sore. Fortunately, I never had to do that again throughout the
remainder of my mission. Everyone used shipping companies to move their stuff from one apartment
to another during transfers.
Despite the exhaustion, I was so happy to finally have a place to call home. But Elder Lewis and I
hardly had time to set my luggage down in the apartment before we jumped on bikes and headed to an
appointment. I was so excited to unpack my bags, but it would have to wait. We were already late
to my first real missionary experience in Japan.
I think I’ll end here. I’ll explain all about my new apartment, companion, district, and
area in the next few entries.
I don’t really have any advice to offer from these experiences. But here’s some news that I just
discovered. They closed my mission a couple months ago! Tokyo South Mission doesn’t exist
anymore. Apparently they combined Tokyo North and Tokyo South into just the Tokyo Mission, and
they reopened Dane’s Kobe Mission. How sad for me to lose my old mission boundaries. Oh well.
Tokyo South is still the best!
||#4: First Days in
October 27-28, 2000
My First Area
My last post ended with me dropping all my luggage off at my new Shizuoka apartment, and heading
out the door to my first missionary appointment. So I’ll pick up from there.
After dumping all my bags in the study room of my new apartment, Elder Lewis and I headed outside
to jump on our bikes and ride to our appointment. It must’ve been about 7pm at that time, and the
sun had long since gone down. I bought my Liahona bike while I was at the mission home a day or
two earlier, and the mission home had it delivered to my new area, but it obviously hadn’t arrived
yet. So I had to use Elder Lewis’s previous companion’s bicycle. Elder Lewis’s previous companion
(Elder Drummond) had just gone home and had left his bike there in Shizuoka. Despite it being two
years old, extremely worn, and its trouble shifting gears, I guess I was really lucky to have it.
Otherwise, I would’ve spent my first week in the mission field walking everywhere.
Anyway, so I hopped on Elder Drummond’s old bike, and followed Elder Lewis into the night. This
was my first real trek across a Japanese town, and I just couldn’t take in my surroundings fast
enough. Homes built so close to one another, narrow streets, no street names, the way the houses
were built right up against the road with virtually no front yards, cars driving on the left… Our
appointment was a good 20 or 25 minutes away, which gave me quite some time to absorb the
surrealness of it all. Though in reality, that surrealness would continue for weeks. I remember
on the way to that appointment, we passed by a construction zone. I don’t think there were any
construction workers out, but the construction signs and cones were there. They were all glowing
or flashing or blinking in some way or other, and somehow passing by them just made me feel like I
was in another world (see HERE or HERE to get an idea). That first bike
ride took us through the lighter suburbs of Shizuoka and eventually up into the surrounding hills
where things got really dark.
Things were all so new and strange to me that my brain just switched into this “I have no idea
where I’m going or what I’m doing so I’m just gonna stop thinking and follow you” mode. It was a
unique feeling. A sense of putting absolute, 100% trust in someone because alone you would feel
entirely lost and helpless. I was so lucky to have Elder Lewis as my first companion, but I
wouldn’t fully realize it until much later.
Suddenly we arrived. We were visiting the Ohmura family. They were an inactive family who,
perhaps a year or two earlier, had been offended by some other family or person in the ward, and
had stopped going to church. I think the mother and daughter were still interested in attending
but the father wasn’t so keen, and the son had no interest at all. But the Ohmura’s were some of
the nicest people I ever met in Shizuoka. The father had an uncharacteristically great sense of
humor for a Japanese man, and even through my nerves and exhaustion he made me laugh on that first
visit. And every subsequent visit. They had been inviting the Elders to visit them weekly for
some time, and always welcomed us in wholeheartedly. The father had learned a few buzz phrases in
English that he would shout out at just the right moment that would then send me rolling with
laughter. The only one I remember now was one time when I accidentally knocked something off the
coffee table that we were all sitting around and the thing rolled away across the floor. Suddenly
in English the father exclaimed, “The great escape!” If you were to guess what four or five
phrases a beginning English speaker knows, that sure wouldn’t be one of them!
Most of the conversation was in Japanese of course, and except for a few words here and there, it
was all over my head. So I sat politely and spent most of my energy just trying not to fall asleep
(that’s how I would spend most of my lessons for the next few months). The appointment with the
Ohmura family turned out to be the perfect first visit for a brand new elder. The family had no
doubt seen their share of young missionaries and so they knew what to expect from me, the
atmosphere was very casual and relaxed, and since we weren’t teaching a discussion, there was no
heavy pressure on me to teach in my broken Japanese. Eventually, the appointment ended and we rode
back to the apartment. My head had been full long before the visit with the Ohmura’s, and now it
was just swimming with the day’s events. And that was after just two hours of missionary work. I
figured it would be a miracle if I didn’t drown in the oncoming flood of new experiences.
We returned to the apartment that evening and I finally got a proper tour of my new home. After
stepping in the apartment door, there was a narrow hallway. On the left were the shower/laundry
room and the tiny (almost airplane-sized) bathroom, and on the right was the empty bedroom that we
never used. The empty bedroom had a terrible mold problem. There was so much mold crawling up one
of the walls and the ceiling that we figured just being in that room was a biohazard so we tried
not to go in there. The end of the hallway did a quick left-right into the other bedroom, and a
quick right-left into the kitchen, the two of which were separated by a sliding wall which we
usually kept open. So most of our life in the apartment was spent in that bedroom and kitchen.
The bedroom had only our futons in it. (I should mention that real Japanese futons are not like
American futons. Real futons are like a really really heavy, thick blanket that you sleep on, and
then fold up and put in the corner in the morning.) In the kitchen we had a couch along one wall
and a table that was pushed into a corner and hardly ever used. Most all of our studying, eating,
and chatting was done on that couch. Later I would learn that most apartments had a proper desk
for each elder to study on, and to organize their books or whatever else in. But until I moved out
of Shizuoka, I figured living out of my suitcase was the norm. I guess the mold-room is where we
were supposed to study and unload our suitcases, but we never risked using it. And morning studies
on the kitchen couch worked well enough.
Following my first night in my new Shizuoka apartment was my first full day of missionary work.
That Saturday morning we had district meeting. So Elder Lewis and I rode our bikes to the train
station, jumped on the train, and headed south to Yaizu where the district leader worked. But
before I talk about the other elders in the district, I should talk about my companion Elder Lewis.
Elder Nicholas Lewis was young, probably recently-turned 20 when we became companions, and the poor
guy had already lost most of his hair. But what was really amazing was how young he still was as a
missionary. He had only been in the mission field for 6 months—it was almost unprecedented for
someone so young to become a trainer. His Japanese was excellent for having only been in Japan
half a year. And he was the most upbeat kind of guy you could ever meet. The kind of guy who
could easily have been my best friend before my mission. I don’t remember ever seeing him mad or
frustrated, and he and I could shoot the breeze all day if we had the opportunity. Since he was my
first companion, I didn’t appreciate just how great it was that we got along so well. I remember
getting letters from home asking me about my companion. I probably just wrote, “he’s good”, or
something like that, not realizing that he would be one of the best companions on my mission.
Here are a couple of fun facts about Elder Lewis. He’s from Fresno, I think it was. Maybe his
being a fellow Californian had something to do with our getting along. He loved sunflower seeds.
Whenever he got a package from home, it was full of packs of sunflower seeds. He also liked
crossword puzzles that would occasionally arrive in letters. Through one of those weird small-
world connections, I found out that one of Elder Lewis’s best friends was Brandon Fox, Glenn’s
cousin. He went to BYU for a year before his mission like me, and we actually both lived in
Deseret Towers, Q Hall at the same time for one semester. We laughed at the idea that we probably
rode in the elevator together several times without any clue that we’d be companions in the future.
Neither of us remembered ever seeing the other, though. Also, three or four years later, Elder
Lewis and I would coincidentally sign up for the same Japanese conversation class at BYU. And sure
enough, we sat next to each other and laughed all through those classes. Elder Lewis was just an
all-around fun guy. He loved to joke and laugh, and he was always so patient with my adjusting to
this new missionary life.
As we rode the train to my first district meeting that Saturday morning, I got my first look at
Shizuoka in full daylight. Now, my proselyting area was Shizuoka City, which is the capitol of
Shizuoka Prefecture. Shizuoka Prefecture itself was split into two zones—everything from my area
south was the Shizuoka South Zone. So in other words, my proselyting area was called Shizuoka,
which was one of 4 proselyting areas in the Shizuoka South Zone. Both the Shizuoka North and South
zones were very rural compared to the rest of the mission, so going there was like going out to the
boonies. It just had a different vibe, so much so that everyone in the mission just called it The
Ken. “ken” in Japanese means prefecture, and while there were several prefectures in the mission,
everyone just called Shizuoka “The Ken”. And the long-standing image was that once you’re sent to
The Ken, you won’t be leaving for a long time, which in turn gave the impression that the mission
home tends to forget about everyone it sends to The Ken. That wasn’t true of course, but you
really felt separate and isolated down there. The rumor that elders get stuck in that prefecture
did seem to have some weight to it, though. Elder Lewis ended up spending most of his mission down
there, along with a few others. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just the way it was.
But another image of The Ken was that once you left it, you’d never go back. And that turned out
to be true in my case, too.
That covers the logistics of my zone. As for my area, Shizuoka City was the most urbanized part of
The Ken, so I never really felt like I was working entirely in the boonies. But I understood why
my zone had such a rural image once I started seeing some of the other areas in it. One great
feature about Shizuoka City was that it was so flat. It was surrounded by hills that we’d
occasionally go up into, but mostly we got to ride our bikes around on flat streets. That was
something I took for granted until my second area. Shizuoka City is set next to the ocean, but for
whatever reason, we almost never saw it. Also, Mt. Fuji is visible from Shizuoka which made for
some nice scenery. And one last fun fact: Shizuoka is famous for its mikans (mandarin oranges) and
green tea. The mikans were great, and while the famous Shizuoka green tea didn’t help our
missionary work at all, the long green rows of bushes also made for some nice scenery.
Now, back to my trip to district meeting. So as I was riding the train that morning, I got to see
from downtown Shizuoka to the suburbs, out to the rural nothingness that surrounded our city.
Elder Scott, who was our District and Zone Leader, lived in the most rural town of all called
Yaizu. Their church building was this sad, small two-story structure that was basically one room
downstairs and one room upstairs with the metal stairs outside. The downstairs room that was used
for their sacrament meetings probably only held about 20 chairs, but from what I heard, that was
twice as many chairs as they needed each week. When Elder Lewis and I arrived, we headed directly
upstairs to the slightly smaller room. That’s where I met the ZL Elder Scott. He was a kinda big
guy, built like a swimmer cause that’s what he was. His companion, the assistant zone leader, was
Elder Kay. Elder Kay had a know-it-all sort of attitude, but not in a rude or arrogant way at all.
In fact, he was a really friendly, smiley kind of guy. Elder Cameron was in the other
companionship in Yaizu. I hardly remember anything about him except that he was from Hawaii, but
you couldn’t tell from his pale skin and white hair, and that he got migraines so bad that he
eventually had to go home early. And then there was Elder Cameron’s companion Elder Arington.
Elder Arington was a wiry brunette with a look that would’ve been perfect for a caped villain in a
melodrama. I think he was from Alaska. Once I got to know him, I just felt awful for Elder
Cameron. He was the kind of guy who does his own thing, who’s not at all embarrassed about his own
annoying demeanor and comments, and who acts rudely whenever rudeness is more convenient than
propriety. He made his past companions cry, and seemed almost proud of it.
I have no memory of what we talked about at that first meeting, but after a couple hours, Elder
Lewis and I hopped back on the train and went back to our area. On the way to our apartment to eat
lunch, we stopped by some small supermarket or other just to pick up one or two necessary food
items. Normally, shopping was prohibited on any day except P-day. But Elder Lewis had spent the
entirety of the previous day (P-day) traveling, picking me up from the mission home, and traveling
back again so he had bought no food for the week (and of course I didn’t have any either). He
figured this week would be a good opportunity to clean out the cupboards of whatever random
assortment of old food was lying around so that we wouldn’t have to go shopping, and so that we
could start with fresh cupboards the following week. I remember it turned into a bit of a struggle
coming up with meals by the end of that first week, but that just made the challenge of living off
the kitchen’s secret stores all the more exciting. And Elder Lewis and I both laughed at the humor
of it all. Since any food was fair game, I took to crawling around in the dark cabinets to see
what I could find. We finished off the spaghetti we found after a couple days. Then we had to get
more creative. I found the hugest can of mandarin orange slices I’d ever seen on top of the
fridge, and I think that ended up being my breakfast for most of the week. In the backyard I found
entire crates of canned creamed corn soup stacked up. Elder Lewis figured it was some sort of 1-
year food storage or something, and I figured that we qualified to eat it. So that turned into a
couple of our dinners. There must’ve been a Top Ramen or two sitting around, and who knows what
else we ended up eating. But by the end of the week, we had pretty well cleaned out the kitchen
cupboards, and were proud of it. What a funny time that was. Elder Lewis was such a great
That’s about it for now. Maybe next time I’ll get more into missionary experiences. But to tell
the truth, I don’t think I can accurately chronologically place most of the rest of my Shizuoka
memories. So what comes up next time may be a random smattering of events and people in Shizuoka.
Just one: I wish I had taken a picture or two of the inside of each of my apartments. You spend
so much time in there, but it never occurred to me to take a picture of it.
||#5: Shizuoka, A Closer
October 29, 2000
The day after our district meeting was a Sunday. I had been in Shizuoka all of two days, and Japan
for less than a week. I struggled to get up that morning. Was it because of jetlag? Or was it
exhaustion from the stress of the past week? Or was it because the sun was no longer up before
6:30am? I blamed it on jetlag, but after a few weeks of fighting to get out of bed, I would start
to think that maybe it was just a result of the tiresome missionary lifestyle. And after two years
of it, I would finally catch on that I’m just not a morning person.
Up by 6:30am, showered and shaved by 7. Beyond that, I had to keep asking Elder Lewis what I was
supposed to be doing. But the morning schedule was more or less the same throughout the mission,
so after a couple weeks it became second nature. 7 to 7:30 was Book of Mormon study. I loved that
half-hour. You feel fresh and awake from the shower, and the early wake-up time hasn’t caught up
with you yet. It’s perhaps the most focused you’ll feel all day. 7:30 to 8 was breakfast. Or was
it until 8:30? I don’t remember. Breakfast in Shizuoka was fun; but I guess what that really
means is—chatting with Elder Lewis was fun. After breakfast was personal study time, but I won’t
get into that yet because, since it was Sunday, we had to cut our morning studies short and head
over to the church.
Church in Shizuoka started at 10am. Missionaries generally arrived at church each week an hour
early for missionary correlation meeting and to meet any investigators before Sacrament meeting
started. Correlation meetings in the Shizuoka ward were a sad affair. It was just us two
missionaries and the ward mission leader, Brother Shibahara. Brother Shibahara was great; he was a
quiet and cheerful guy. Even through my nervousness with my first church experience, I felt happy
to have such a friendly ward mission leader. Since my Japanese language ability was still so
undeveloped, I don’t think in all my months there I ever understood what was going on in those
correlation meetings. But I don’t remember anything particularly valuable coming from them. I
think that was due both to our lacking investigator pool and to the ward’s lacking resources. In
other words, there were hardly enough active members in the ward from which to recruit ward
missionaries, and at the same time, us missionaries hardly had enough work to do that constituted
asking for member help. Basically, in those correlation meetings Elder Lewis would update Brother
Shibahara on any progress we had made that week, and Brother Shibahara would update us on any
upcoming ward activities. That was about all we could do, but even still, it was important for us
to have that connection to the ward through our ward mission leader. I wouldn’t really say we were
squandering that resource since Elder Lewis really was doing his best to make those meetings
useful. But I would learn about squandering member resources in my next area.
Correlation meeting ended before 10am, so Elder Lewis and I could stand in the church entryway and
greet members as they came in. My nerves acted up again as I found myself in a situation where I
would have to meet a lot of new people and fumble my way through conversation after conversation.
But I somehow managed through it using my newly-learned phrase, “I just came to Japan last week”
over and over. Everyone was friendly of course, so they usually didn’t push me for much more
information than where I was from, and Elder Lewis would help me out if one of the members did try
for an extended conversation. I knew when I got my mission call that there would be several very
difficult aspects to serving in a foreign country such as the language or the food. But it wasn’t
until I was greeting people that Sunday morning at church that I suddenly realized a more
unexpected challenge: learning people’s names. The fact of the matter was that the members were
coming in and introducing themselves to me with names as common as “Brown” or “Johnson”, but to me,
each name was as meaningless as the next. By the time Sacrament meeting started, I couldn’t
remember a single name. I suddenly felt discouraged as I realized that I was going to have to
learn hundreds of Japanese first names and last names, and that each name might as well be another
unknown word on my already-lengthy vocabulary lists.
There were not a lot of active members in the Shizuoka ward. Maybe 40 or so attended weekly. But
that was the largest congregation in my zone and the only ward. All the other congregations were
branches. On top of that, I think the Shizuoka Ward was the only area to have a real church
building. Everywhere else used buildings that were not originally meant to be churches. One area
used an old preschool, I think Shimizu, the area next to Shizuoka, used an old fire station, and as
I said before, Yaizu used a tiny two-story structure for its small meetings. So we were really
lucky to have such a nice church in Shizuoka. The church had a good-sized parking lot on one side
and was even surrounded by a little landscaping with flowers.
Anyway, Sacrament meeting finally started. If I stayed awake during that first meeting, it would’
ve only been thanks to my nervousness and excitement over my very first church experience in Japan.
As I was learning a new language, I found that the more difficult a meeting was to understand and
the bigger the audience, the harder it was to stay awake. That meant that Sacrament meetings were
instant snoozers. The classes after Sacrament meeting were just as difficult to follow, but since
there were only 5 to 10 people in those classes, at least they were a little easier to stay awake
in. Even still, the three hour church block never seemed as long as it did those first few months
of my mission.
After church Elder Lewis and I headed back to the apartment. Lunchtime was a nice, relaxing break.
As I mentioned in the previous entry, Elder Lewis and I spent our first week together trying to
clear out all our cupboards of old food. So for that Sunday’s lunch we were probably working our
way through a long-forgotten spaghetti supply. During our whole time together as companions, Elder
Lewis did almost all the cooking. Even if it was something as simple as spaghetti, I really
appreciated him doing that. Shopping and cooking in a foreign country seemed enormously
intimidating to me, so his taking care of that was a huge help in my transition to life in Japan.
Plus, watching what Elder Lewis bought and made gave me a basis for meal ideas for the next two
years. After we finished eating, we lounged around for a half-hour or so. Elder Lewis and I were
pretty good about keeping our meals to around an hour. Then it was back to work.
Now it’s time to address the question: What did we do with our time in Shizuoka if we didn’t have
any appointments? Although housing and street contacting (streeting) may be the most common
proselyting activities for missionaries, Elder Lewis and I rarely ever did that. During my time in
Shizuoka, the mission home was pushing the idea that housing and streeting are the most ineffective
ways of finding new investigators. The concept was that it is far easier to get someone who has
already heard of the church to agree to a discussion than someone you just randomly meet on the
street. Along these lines, in the apartment Elder Lewis had collected and compiled lists of
potential people we could visit rather than going streeting or housing. The lists consisted mostly
of previous investigators and English conversation class students. Add to that our endless list of
inactive members and we were set. The way our unscheduled afternoon panned out, then, was like so:
Before we left the apartment, Elder Lewis would choose somewhere in Shizuoka to go and locate
several people in that area for us to visit. He would grab his map and the addresses, and we’d be
off. It probably took us 30 minutes to get to wherever we were headed, and then it would take
anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours to locate the first target address. In the worst cases
we could spend an entire afternoon looking for a single address, and when we finally find it, no
one is home. In the best cases we could knock on a few of our target addresses before dinner and
maybe one or two of those people would actually be home. After dinner that Sunday night was more
of the same house-hunting, except in the dark. That made finding addresses even more tedious, but
folks were more often at home in the evenings.
This style of missionary work was great for a timid new missionary like me. It involved mostly
just riding my bike and watching Elder Lewis scratch his head over his map for hours each day.
Also, it meant not going tracting which I was still terrified of. But as I grew up as a missionary
over the next months and years, I would look back and see the ineffectiveness of what we were
doing. Sure, I still agree with the mission home that basic tracting may not be the most effective
way of finding new investigators, but riding your bike for hours not talking to anybody shouldn’t
be considered tracting at all. To our credit throughout those months, though, at least Elder Lewis
and I were sincere about what we were doing. We sincerely believed that we would find more success
through these methods as the mission home had suggested, and we certainly weren’t riding our bikes
around all day intentionally wasting time. And to this day I still believe that sincerity in
missionary work is actually more important than your methods. Some missionaries will spend years
constantly looking for better or more creative ways to find investigators, which is great. But as
long as you are sincerely working hard and sincerely trying to find people to teach, none of your
efforts are really wasted.
Anyway, those house-hunting activities brought us to the end of that Sunday. We were back in our
apartment before our 9:30pm curfew, and I was thrilled to have survived another day of real
missionary work. My legs were feeling a little sore from not being used to riding a bike, which
made me all the more happy to relax on our couch in the kitchen. Fortunately, it only took a
couple days to grow accustomed to riding. Elder Lewis took care of our evening responsibilities
which included checking the schedule for the next day, calling to confirm any of our next-day
appointments, and taking a call from our district leader, Elder Scott, who was required to check in
with us each night.
That’s the end of Sunday, October 29, 2000. Next time we’ll take a look at (surprise!) Monday,
October 30. But once I get all this fundamental stuff down, I should be able to move a lot faster
through the chronology. Otherwise, at a pace of one day a month, I won’t finish this blog until
I’m 86! Well, let’s keep truckin’.
||#6: Shizuoka, A Closer Look (2)
Monday, October 30, 2000
My mini alarm clock went off at 6:30am, and I rolled out of my futon feeling amazed at how quickly
the night passed again. It was so dark in the morning, and that day wouldn’t get much lighter
since it was overcast once again.
The first half of the morning schedule was the same as the day before. This time, though, since we
didn’t have church meetings to rush off to, we made it through most of our studies as usual. That
is, showering from 6:30am to 7, Book of Mormon study from 7 to 7:30, and breakfast from 7:30 to 8.
After breakfast was personal gospel study time for a half-hour. That time could be spent studying
pretty much anything that we missionaries were allowed to have: The scriptures, the Missionary
Guide, the five books in the missionary reference library (Jesus The Christ, Gospel
Principles/Truth Restored, Articles of Faith, A Marvelous Work and a Wonder, and Our Search for
Happiness--in my mission, these were the only books missionaries were allowed to have), the
discussions, and a topical study guide we received from the MTC. I don’t remember ever feeling
restricted by this selection. Seeing as the scriptures alone offer a lifetime of study material,
there was plenty to read for two years.
From 8:30 to 9:30 was companionship study. We were encouraged to read the Missionary Guide
together during this time, but really any study or preparation was fine as long as it was done as a
companionship. Elder Lewis always started companion study out by reviewing our schedule for the
day. We would discuss what we were going to teach during our lessons that day and decide how to
spend our unscheduled time. It was really nice to spend some time reviewing and planning our day
each morning because, even though I hardly played a part in the planning, at least I felt somewhat
involved. After looking at the schedule, we would review our teaching pool of investigators and
consider if there was anything we could do for any of them that day. This was also a good time for
Elder Lewis to tell me a little about each of them.
When I arrived in Shizuoka a few days earlier, Elder Lewis briefly went over our teaching pool with
me. I was absolutely amazed to hear that we had seven people in our teaching pool. Seven! While
in the MTC, I got the impression that missionary work in Japan was really slow, and I imagined
being lucky to have two or three investigators. But now here I was, working in The Ken, already
with seven whole investigators! As Elder Lewis went through each of our investigator’s names and
described their situations to me that Monday morning, I could picture their eager faces in my head.
Each one of them, eager for the gospel in their lives. Eager to meet with us and learn about the
church. I was going to have a more successful mission than I ever imagined in the MTC! Reviewing
our teaching pool with Elder Lewis sure got me excited.
After we finished going over the schedule and our teaching pool, Elder Lewis and I started reading
through the Missionary Guide together. The Missionary Guide was a dull-pink-colored, spiral-bound
book maybe 500 pages thick. It was a missionary’s only source of training on how to be a teacher.
Each section would introduce some important principle such as Building Relationships of Trust,
Resolving Concerns, or Following Up, and then give example situations for you and your companion to
discuss. Some of the examples were goofy enough to become mission-wide inside jokes, but I really
grew to love that book.
In addition to reading the Missionary Guide, Elder Lewis and I would also spend some of our
companionship study time reading scriptures together. Reading two verses each, we’d alternate our
way through a chapter and then discuss what we read. I wasn’t really the type of person who
enjoyed discussing my feelings on scriptures with other people, but Elder Lewis really made it fun
and not weird.
Companionship study ended at 9:30am. After that was language study. In general, language study
time ran from 9:30 to 10am, but new missionaries were given extra time to study Japanese.
Normally, that extra time meant an extra half hour, but when I arrived in Japan, the mission
president was testing out a new program. He was encouraging new missionaries to spend not one, but
three hours on studying Japanese. So for the first two months of my mission, my language study ran
from 9:30am to 12:30pm. At first, I was very excited about this program. I figured more time
could only be helpful; after all, I still had so many Japanese grammar principles and tasks from
the MTC that I never had time to properly absorb. And on top of that, the extended morning study
meant that we didn’t need to fill our unscheduled morning hours with seemingly pointless
activities. It sounded like a win-win to me. Elder Lewis decided that we would be far more
effective doing hours of language study at the church on proper tables and chairs rather than on
our couch in the apartment. So at 9:30am that Monday morning we headed over to the church. We
were only able to spend a couple minutes studying Japanese, though, because Monday and Wednesday
mornings in Shizuoka were when we did our service activity.
Missionaries in the Tokyo South Mission were expected to do 4 hours of service each week. The
service activities could be anything; when you transfer to a new area, the activities are usually
already in place. In Shizuoka our service activity was to hold a morning English conversation
class for housewives. But as I discovered that morning, it was less like a class and more like 3
or 4 ladies who enjoyed getting together to chat in Japanese while glancing at English textbooks.
Elder Lewis tried to maintain some sort of lesson schedule with these ladies, but his lessons were
usually overridden by the ladies suddenly bursting into Japanese conversations amongst themselves
about random local gossip. All in all, we felt that if the ladies were enjoying their morning,
then we were fulfilling our service responsibilities, so we didn’t try very hard to keep them
focused. This English class activity was only for an hour every Monday and Wednesday morning which
meant we were only doing 2 hours of service a week. Since the mission home wasn’t too strict about
the 4 hours of service a week rule, we didn’t bother looking for another official service activity,
After our morning service ended at 11am, Elder Lewis and I got back to my morning Japanese study.
This was my first time since coming to Japan that I was able to do some language study. Elder
Lewis was good about working with me and studying together rather than just leaving me on my own.
We would read through the Japanese discussions together, he’d quiz me on vocabulary, or he’d make
up English sentences for me to translate to test my grammar. I was really happy for the extra
language study time and that morning passed quickly.
At 12:30pm Elder Lewis and I finished our Japanese study and headed outside to our bikes. Since it
was so overcast that day, we both were carrying umbrellas. A couple days earlier when I left the
apartment with an umbrella for the first time, Elder Lewis cautioned me to always stick my umbrella
in my missionary bag or tuck it between my bag strap and my chest when I’m riding my bike. Or
course, I promptly forgot this advice, so as Elder Lewis and I were riding back to our apartment
for lunch that Monday afternoon, I hung my umbrella on my bike handlebar. Everything was fine
until I made my first turn. Suddenly my swinging umbrella got caught between my front wheel spokes
and the front fork. The spokes tore all the fabric off the umbrella and made a lot of noise so
Elder Lewis looked back at me. He just laughed at my surprised and guilty look and pointed out
that I was lucky that the umbrella didn’t jam into the spokes and flip my bike over. Anyway,
suffice it to say that I never hung an umbrella from my handlebars again.
After lunch Elder Lewis and I headed over to the shiyakusho – the city office building. By law I
had to fill out some application to get my alien registration card within my first week or so of
arriving in the country. With Elder Lewis’s help, I somehow managed to fill out the entirely-
Japanese application form. I submitted the paperwork, and they told me I’d be receiving my card in
the mail in a week or two.
After that, Elder Lewis told me that a couple of our investigators lived nearby and that we ought
to go visit them and introduce me to them. That was fine with me. Sure I was a little nervous,
but as I said before, listening to my companion review each of our investigators that morning got
me excited to meet these wonderful people. We rode our bikes a short way from the city office
building and parked at the bottom of a tall, narrow apartment building. We were still in
Shizuoka’s downtown area where the buildings were taller than they were wide. Coming from the
Sacramento suburbs, I didn’t have much experience with tall urban buildings, let alone Japan-style
tall buildings. I remember how surprised I felt that afternoon when, as we were walking up the
stairs of this particular building, I noticed that there were only 3 apartment units per floor.
But we kept climbing higher, to the fifth floor, the sixth floor, the seventh floor… I think that
building had 9 floors, but only 3 units per floor. I was getting my first up-close look at the
Japan style of building up and not out. That turned into another one of those surreal moments
where I realized how far from home I was.
Anyway, Elder Lewis and I reached a door near the top of the building where our investigator lived.
Finally I would meet one of the eager people in our teaching pool! Elder Lewis knocked. Nothing.
Maybe they weren’t home. Elder Lewis knocked again. Then he motioned for me to look at the
peephole. I could see a bright speck of light that came from inside the apartment. Suddenly the
speck darkened for a moment, and then it was bright again. It didn’t take long to dawn on me what
was going on. Our investigator was home. They looked at us through the peephole. And they chose
not to answer. I was shocked. What happened to the investigator that I had imagined? What
happened to the person who was so desperate for the gospel in their life, the person who looked
forward to hearing our message each week? We rode a short distance from there to visit another
investigator. Same thing. Suddenly our enormous teaching pool of 7 didn’t seem as robust as
before. That’s when I learned the reality that not everyone who hears a first discussion is
suddenly dying to get baptized. In fact, I would later learn that, according to mission statistics,
90% of investigators would never go on to lesson 2.
That day ended with us doing what we typically did when we had unfilled time in our schedule:
searching for addresses and visiting people who were usually not home.
||#7: One Week Down
Tuesday, October 31, 2000
Tuesday was my first full day of nothing but missionary work—no service activity, no church
meetings, no missionary meetings, etc. This meant that that Tuesday morning was my first time to
have a solid, uninterrupted 3 hours of Japanese study. I was so excited. Elder Lewis and I headed
over to the church again, and we sat in the chilly Sunday school room where we would spend most of
our mornings over the next two months. The cold air in that room was nice because it helped me
stay awake. But not for long. After about an hour, my attention started to wander. After 2 hours
I was fighting to just stay awake. And after 3 hours, I was thrilled to be done. Before that
morning, I thought there was no such thing as too much Japanese study time. But after a few days
of solid 3 hour study blocks, I was feeling much less excited about this program. I started
thinking that listening to my companion do real live street contacting or listening to any real
Japanese conversation would be much more effective for my language learning than reciting useless
phrases like, “Please turn up the thermostat.” Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure those hours of
studying were helpful. But after going through this experimental program, I really felt that the
typical one hour of language study for new missionaries was enough since the best language learning
happens during normal missionary activities anyway. Fortunately, I rarely actually did the full 3
hours of studying because every Monday and Wednesday we had our service activity, every Thursday
was P-Day, Saturday was District Meeting, and Sunday was church.
That Tuesday evening was my first experience with teaching a discussion. Elder Lewis told me that
this investigator, Yukihiro Tate, was one of our strongest. I liked him from the moment
I met him.
He was a college student, maybe 19ish at the time, and he lived in a single tenant apartment.
Single tenant apartments (hitorigurashi) are very common in Japan, especially near colleges. This
was my first experience with one. They are tiny places to live, usually comprising a narrow hallway
off of which is a little bathroom and a two-burner stove that’s called the kitchen. This narrow
hallway leads to a single room maybe 12’x14’ sometimes with a loft up above to sleep on. I thought
it looked like a cool place to live. Tiny, but no roommates to be bothered by.
Elder Lewis and I were invited in, and the three of us sat on the hardwood floor. I did my
introduction in Japanese as best I could, and I tried really hard to follow whatever Tate was
saying. Tate was a very soft-spoken, friendly, almost shy person. He listened intently during the
discussion, and he seemed to politely accept whatever we were teaching. He was actually very
unique as an investigator, but I wouldn’t realize that until after a few months of teaching normal
folks. See, your average investigator is only half interested in what you are teaching, they don’t
immediately accept everything you say even though they listen politely, and they are not thrilled
about making life-changing commitments. Tate, on the other hand, paid careful attention to the
discussion and accepted much of what we taught on pure faith. He asked questions, but they were
never derogatory. He was just so polite and respectful.
As for my involvement in the discussion, it was remarkably short. I guess that is to be expected
from a missionary who arrived in the country less than a week earlier, but I couldn’t help but feel
a little disappointed in myself. I wanted to teach more. Unfortunately, that night we were
teaching discussion #5, and in the MTC we only learned the Japanese through the first 2
discussions. So without a great understanding of either the discussion itself or the Japanese in
it, I could do little more than just read straight from the booklet. In the end, I think I only
read a single paragraph; Elder Lewis did the rest. Although I was eager to get more involved, for
the first couple weeks of my mission I was happy to be a quiet observer. Anyway, Elder Lewis did a
good job with the lesson, and Tate committed to pay tithing if he got baptized. He still didn’t
have a baptismal date set, but he had been to church several times and was definitely moving in the
After the lesson it was about 8:15pm. This was an awkward time of night because it was too late to
go tracting or make any house visits, but it was still too early to head home. My companion told
me he had a great way to spend this time, so we hopped on our bikes and I followed him to the big
Shizuoka train station. At first, I got super nervous because I thought Elder Lewis was going to
give me my first street contacting experience (something I was definitely not eager to try yet).
But after we parked our bikes, Elder Lewis pulled out a huge stack of flyers from his bag and gave
me half. He explained that the flyers were advertisements for the free English conversation class
that we held every Thursday night. Handing out flyers was our only form of advertising, so we did
quite a bit of it. I suddenly felt thrilled. Compared to street contacting, this would be a
cinch! Just handing out pieces of paper to people heading home from work sounded like something
even I could handle. And it was. We even got to stand in a wide underground hallway where it was
much warmer than outside. If there was anything to complain about, it wasn’t nerves or anxiety,
but boredom. But that first night of passing out flyers was a lot of fun for me. By about 9:10pm
we headed back to our bike and went home.
The following day, Wednesday, November 1, was very similar to Tuesday. After holding our morning
English class service like on Monday and finishing up my morning Japanese study, the afternoon was
spent once again hunting for addresses of less-actives or people with potential interest. That
evening, though, I got to meet our other strongest investigator: 22 year old Masahiro Sato
Hiro was very interested in the church and had been to church a couple times just like Tate, but in
personality he was completely different. While Tate treated us with a sort of dignity, Hiro
treated Elder Lewis that Wednesday night like a best friend. He and my companion greeted each
other loudly with lots of laughing and joking. They clearly really were best buddies. And Hiro
was no less friendly to me. I could immediately tell that he was a really fun guy, and the light
atmosphere really helped me to relax despite it being only my second teaching appointment. As we
got to teaching whatever discussion it was that we were teaching, I was glad to see that Hiro was
sincerely interested in the church and not just interested in hanging out with a couple of
Americans (as some overly-friendly “investigators” are). The topic of conversation during our
discussion did seem to stray a lot more than our discussion with Tate, but even when Elder Lewis
wasn’t teaching from the discussion booklet, the conversation still stayed on church-related
topics. It was fun teaching someone so involved and interactive.
Thursday, November 2, was my first preparation-day. I remember feeling so excited for P-day,
partly because I was completely overloaded with new experiences from that first week of missionary
work, and partly because it would be my first break of longer than 4 hours since I left on my
mission 3 months earlier (because MTC “P-day” was only about 4 hours long). Granted, we still had
to do morning studies till 10am, and we had our English class that we passed out flyers for the
other day that evening, but between those we had a solid 8 hours of P-Day afternoon. And I was
determined to not let a minute of it go to waste.
After finishing morning studies at 10am on P-Day, most elders like to get shopping and laundry out
of the way right away. Elder Lewis and I were no exception. So we jumped on our bikes at 10:01,
and Elder Lewis showed me the way to the nearest supermarket. This was my first real shopping
experience in Japan. Elder Lewis offered to do all the shopping for both of us which was fortunate
because I would’ve had no idea where to begin. I had a hard enough time just trying to count up my
yen so that I could pay for half of the groceries. It would take months for me to get used to the
local currency. Anyway, by the time we left, we had a couple of bags full of things that I
recognized (milk, eggs, etc.), and a couple bags of things that I’d never seen in my life.
Back at the apartment, we got our laundry going in the ancient, primitive washing machine that we
had. After a load of laundry was done in the wash cycle, you actually had to take it out and jam
it into an attached centrifuge that was the spin cycle. From there you had to hang all the wet
clothes all over the apartment for them to dry because we had no dryer. Most people in Japan don’t
have dryers (I don’t know why; it’s not like they don’t have the technology). I think there were
only about 4 or 5 missionary apartments throughout the roughly 40 apartments in our mission that
were lucky enough to have a dryer.
While the laundry was running, and for the rest of the day, I just spread myself out on the floor
and started writing letters. I had been very disappointed with my lack of mail during my first
week. I don’t think I received a single letter. Of course, that’s to be expected as it takes the
post office about a week to deliver to Japan, and it’s unlikely that anyone would’ve sent me a
letter to Japan before I arrived there. But all the same, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of
irrational bitterness for surviving my first week and not getting any mail as a reward. But that
aside, I still wrote feverishly to my family and friends all throughout that P-Day. Unfortunately,
I am a remarkably slow writer—a fact that remains something of a mystery to me to this day. I
could scribble away for two hours and finally finish a single, modest-length letter in the time
that it took my companion to pump out 3 or 4 letters. Elder Lewis would be putting away his
letter-writing material and pulling out his crossword puzzle while I was just getting started. It
was enormously frustrating, but there wasn’t much I could do about it; I was still so fresh to the
mission field and eager to talk to and hear from all my friends.
The day wore on unusually quickly, and my pile of finished letters was hardly stacking up.
Finally, it was time to wrap up. Elder Lewis and I ate a quick dinner, and then headed over to the
church where we would prepare to teach English class. Now, this Thursday night
English class was
very different from our Monday/Wednesday morning service activity. The Thursday night class was a
mission-wide program that was supposed to be formal and professional, and somewhat standardized
across all of Tokyo South. At 7:00pm we, along with every other missionary in the mission, were
welcoming our attendees to class, had an opening prayer, and then went over any general
announcements. After that, everyone would split up based on skill level and go to smaller
classrooms. In areas with only two missionaries, like Shizuoka was at that time, we obviously only
had two classes (upper-level and lower-level). Elder Lewis had me teach the upper-level class
since I wouldn’t need to use any Japanese in there. Despite not needing to speak Japanese, I was
pretty nervous that night as I had no idea what to expect. Missionaries teaching the lower level
classes were supposed to use real textbooks that the mission home provided and try to keep a
regular schedule of teaching one lesson from the textbook per week. In the highest level class (my
class) the teacher was encouraged to use the Gospel Principles book as a basis for lessons.
However, since I wasn’t supposed to teach religion during English class, I was told to just get
conversation ideas from Gospel Principles. This meant that the actual class format was still
completely up to me. With no guidelines at all, I was kind of excited and definitely nervous.
Somehow or other, I managed to fill up that hour of class time (probably with a long self-
introduction and some Q&A about myself). After the individual classes ended around 8:15, the two
classes would get back together in one room where we would have about 30-45 minutes of activity
time. The activities we played each week were completely up to the missionaries’ imaginations.
The only rule was that we keep them English-related. Common choices were Pictionary or Charades.
During activity time, it was a lot of fun to watch so many quiet Japanese folks open up and, going
way beyond their comfort zone, talk to and play games with people they’d never met before. By 9pm,
we would wrap up the game, thank everyone for coming, and have a closing prayer. After seeing
everyone out to the parking lot, we’d clean up and head home.
That’s how the English class normally ran. But the purpose of the class, of course, was to find
people willing to listen to the discussions. The way that was done was through teacher-student
interviews. In a 4-missionary area, during activity time, 2 of the elders would run the game while
the 2 other elders would pull people aside for interviews. The interviews were straight-forward
enough. We would ask 3 questions: What do you like most about English class? What would you like
to change about English class? And, would you like to learn more about our church and finding
happiness (or some variation there)? The feedback on the English class wasn’t just filler; it was
actually pretty useful information. And I was surprised at how effective the interviews were at
finding people interested in learning more about the church. Granted, most people said no. But
even if only 10% of the people said yes, from a group of 20 people (about the number that attended
in Shizuoka), that was 2 new investigators right there. The problem we had, though, was that there
weren’t 4 elders in Shizuoka at the time. And since as companions we weren’t really supposed to
split up during the activity, without a couple of member joints, we couldn’t do the interviews.
The Ward Mission Leader tried to help get members to attend English class, but it was tough in such
a small ward. More often than not, we simply couldn’t do the interviews.
That wraps up my first week in the mission field. Now that you understand the basic weekly layout
including things like our weekly service activity, the morning schedule, the Thursday night English
class, District meeting, and other activities like handing out English class flyers and how we
spent our tracting time, describing the remaining 93 weeks of my mission in Japan should go a bit
faster. There are still plenty of activities to talk about and stories to share, but at least now
we have the basics out of the way. Maybe now I can focus more on personal experiences and less on
missionary activities in general. We’ll see where things go from here.
||#8: One Month Down
The mornings continued to get darker, and the days were often overcast. We had to carry our umbrellas
around regularly, and I was grateful that my mom sent me to Japan with such a good rain suit. Winter was
on its way. It wouldn’t be long before I was wearing my thermal underwear – another life-saving piece of
clothing every bike-riding missionary in Japan ought to have. I rarely needed my thermal tops because it
was easy to dress in layers on top: shirt, sweater, jacket, overcoat… But there aren’t many options for
layering on the bottom, which makes thermal underwear an absolute necessity when riding a bike around in
frozen sleet. I was surprised to hear that snow in Shizuoka was rare because, by the end of November, the
air always felt freezing to me.
I had been in Japan for a couple weeks now, and Elder Lewis and I were still getting along great. We were
still teaching a couple lessons a week, but not making much headway in finding new investigators. Hiro and
Tate, our two strongest investigators, were still meeting with us regularly and moving in the right
direction. Our unscheduled afternoon and evening hours were still spent searching for addresses that
housed the faces that matched the names that Elder Lewis jotted down each morning. Day passed by day as I
was slowly settling into this new lifestyle.
After two or three weeks in Shizuoka, I still had received only one or two pieces of mail. I was getting a
little bummed about not hearing from my friends as much as I had in the MTC. Then one day Elder Lewis
checked the mail as we were returning from our morning Japanese study to eat lunch. Inside there was a
notice from the post office saying they had attempted a delivery for me, and that we would have to come
pick it up at the post office. Wow, a package for me! I was excited. Elder Lewis pointed out that it
must be fairly big if it didn’t fit in our mailbox. My imagination was running as I suggested that this
package might be too big for us to carry on our bikes. Elder Lewis pointed out that our investigator Hiro
was going to give us a ride somewhere in his car in a couple days, and that we could have him swing by the
post office for us. So for the next two days I was left to just imagine who would’ve been so considerate
to send me a care package, and what could possibly be in it. Finally, the day came for Hiro to pick us up
(I can’t remember where we were going), and we stopped by the post office. With delivery notice in hand, I
walked up to the teller and eagerly said I was there to pick up a package. The teller took the notice and
disappeared into the back for a minute. When he returned, he handed me the smallest envelope I’d ever
seen. This is my package?? What could possibly be in here that would require me to come all the way to
the post office? It was my alien registration card. How anti-climatic. Oh well. At least it gave Elder
Lewis and me something to laugh about for a while. And after another week or so, I did start to get
regular mail from family and friends, so no big deal.
In my mission the first Monday of each month was Cleaning Day. We were supposed to schedule a few hours
for us to clean up the apartment. I loved Cleaning Day; it just felt great to live in a clean place. And
with only two of us in the apartment, and with most of my stuff still packed away in my suitcases, it was
really easy to go through the apartment and identify and throw away any ownerless junk. We dug around in
closets, bathroom cupboards, and even the bio-hazardous second bedroom to get rid of any junk left behind
by past missionaries. In the process, I found a couple things that I decided to hang onto. One was a
hideously red-colored t-shirt that had a picture of Japan on it. Elder Lewis had never seen it before, so
neither of us had any idea where it came from, but it looked unworn and I decided I could use another t-
shirt to wear around the apartment, so I kept it. I ended up wearing it occasionally throughout my mission
(to the dismay of my companions, I’m sure). The other thing I found, crammed into a back corner of the
bedroom closet, was an overcoat. But this was not just any coat; it was a soft, furry coat. It was light
brown with a dark brown, soft, furry collar. And wearing it felt like you were wearing a blanket. It was
so warm and soft. The only problem was, it looked slightly feminine. Elder Lewis just laughed at me when
I told him I wanted to keep it. He called it a women’s fur coat, but I insisted it was a men’s “furry”
coat. We had some good laughs debating whether I could wear that thing in public or not. In the end,
Elder Lewis came up with the perfect solution: The mission president would be coming down to do interviews
the following week, so we’d bring the coat to the interviews and ask the president’s wife whether it was a
women’s coat or not.
Interviews with the president were a monthly event. President Suzuki spent a week each month traveling to
all the zones and meeting with each missionary individually. President Suzuki was absolutely amazing in
his sincerity toward each missionary. Talking to him, you really felt like he knew you personally, and he
really wanted to know how you were doing. During the interview, he would ask about how you’re coping with
the new lifestyle, how the language is coming, and how you and your companion are getting along. It was
always nice to talk with President Suzuki.
After Elder Lewis and I finished with our interviews, I put the furry coat on and we marched over to Sister
Suzuki. We explained to her our debate over the coat and asked her what she thought. She looked at it and
said something like, “It might be a men’s coat. I guess a guy could wear it.” A distinctly inconclusive
kind of response. So on the train ride back to our area (interviews were held at the church in the Zone
Leader’s area), we debated what Sister Suzuki’s answer really meant. In the end I must’ve won the debate
because I remember wearing that overcoat a lot that winter. It was just so warm and soft and furry.
Another week went by, and Elder Lewis continued each morning to compile lists of people we could search for
each afternoon. The book of inactives we could visit was endless, but the lists of past investigators and
old English Class students weren’t. And I could tell Elder Lewis was quickly reaching the end. Once we
ran out of those, we would have no way to avoid old-fashioned tracting as our only means of finding new
investigators. With still almost no tracting experience, I was definitely not eager to give housing a try,
and even less eager about streeting. Evidently, Elder Lewis wanted to avoid tracting as much as I did
(whether out of fear, like me, or out of a true commitment to more effective methods, I wasn’t sure)
because one morning he started digging around in the moldy old bedroom in a last attempt to find more
people who had already been contacted by missionaries some time in the past. Suddenly, I heard him
shouting excitedly. And sure enough, he had found an ancient, heavy book filled with English class student
records from years earlier. He had hit the mother lode! We were all set to avoid any real tracting for
weeks to come, now. We were both beaming all morning. But as I said in a previous entry, I kind of shake
my head and chuckle as I think back on this now. Since the mission home was encouraging this general type
of finding at that time, I can’t really criticize what we were doing; but all those hours spent quietly
searching for addresses day after day couldn’t have been all that effective.
As we continued on in this way, trying to find new people to teach, I was definitely thinking about some
different finding methods. Like I said, I wasn’t about to suggest we do more housing, but I was still
fresh from the MTC, and I had all those lessons about using members to find new investigators ringing in my
head. I finally brought it up with Elder Lewis one night, and I asked him if he had much experience in
getting member referrals. He said he knew member work was important, but I could tell he was feeling the
same way I was: it just seemed like such a challenge. You have to choose a family to work with, talk to
them at church, try to invite yourself over for a dinner/lesson, then prepare some lesson about missionary
work to share with them, eat dinner and give the lesson (all in Japanese, of course), and finally – the
dreaded moment – ask for a referral! At least, that was how both of us envisioned member work, (by the end
of my mission, I’d finally realize it doesn’t have to be anything like that) so neither of us were eager to
start such an involved process. Especially when compared with the simplicity of riding around looking for
addresses. But all the same, we both knew that we really should get more involved with the members.
So each night for a couple days we discussed how we should approach member work. In all honesty, our
conversations were getting us nowhere. It felt like we were just stalling. So finally we decided that at
church that next Sunday, we would just grit our teeth, walk up to one of the ward members, and ask if we
could visit with their family some night. Elder Lewis decided we’d ask Brother Imaizumi, the second
counselor in the bishopric. As soon as sacrament meeting ended, we walked up to him and asked if we could
stop by his house and share a message some time that week. “That might be possible,” he said, and
immediately walked away. We felt so defeated! We had mustered so much effort just to ask that question,
and then we got shot down. Later that week Elder Lewis called Brother Imaizumi one evening to try again to
set up an appointment. He got the same cold shoulder. It felt good knowing that we gave member work our
best effort, and it was very tempting at that point to just say we tried, and give up. But we knew,
despite all the planning and work this was going to take, that we needed to try again (we made this into
such a big deal! It makes me laugh, now).
Next we decided to talk to Brother Matsunaga, a member with a very active, large family. We approached him
at church the following week, and he was much more receptive. He suggested that we join them for Family
Home Evening the next night, and we were thrilled. So that Sunday evening Elder Lewis and I wracked our
brains trying to figure out the best way to ask them for a referral. In the end, we decided that a
conversation where we ease our way up to the question would be the best approach. So the game plan was for
us to go in, sit down and chat with them for a little while, I would do a little self-introduction, then
I’d talk about when I was a ward missionary, then Elder Lewis would talk about member missionary work, then
we’d ask them if they had any member missionary experiences, and finally – wham! – we’d hit them up for a
referral. And that’s exactly how it went. Almost. We did get invited in, we did chat with them, and we
did move the conversation along. But just as we finished talking about member missionary work, and just
seconds away from Elder Lewis popping the big question, Brother Matsunaga jumped off the couch and shouted,
“Who wants refreshments!” Suddenly, the entire family headed out to the kitchen, leaving me and Elder
Lewis to look at each other, both shocked at this awful timing. Could Brother Matsunaga have sensed what
was coming? Or was it really just coincidence? As we rode our bikes home that night (after finishing FHE
by eating American pears and playing ping pong), Elder Lewis and I figured Brother Matsunaga probably
didn’t intentionally dodge our referral request. If anything, our indirect, meandering conversation may
have come off sounding like we simply didn’t prepare a lesson, and that we were just shooting the breeze to
pass the time. So to give Brother Matsunaga the benefit of the doubt, we assumed he was just ending what
he saw as an awkward, directionless chat.
And that was pretty much the end of our attempts at doing member work. We talked about trying again
several times, but nothing ever came of it. It’s too bad I didn’t realize at the time how simple it
actually is to ask members for a referral. It’s only as big a deal as you make it. But it would be over a
year before I learned that, and a year and a half before I put together my casual referral request training
as a District Leader.
And that is the end of November in Shizuoka.
||#9: Housing and Streeting
I had now been in the field for 5 weeks, and the last day of November brought me to my first Transfer Day.
The morning hours of a missionary’s schedule are generally a quiet, peaceful time in an otherwise hectic
day, but that’s not the case on Transfer Day. All throughout the morning schedule your nerves are on high
alert as you wait on pins and needles for the phone to ring. The mission president calls each missionary
apartment between 7am and 10am to announce any companionship changes. The minutes and hours spent waiting
for that phone call are an emotional mixture of excitement, anxiety, and curiosity as the outcome of that
call may well turn your entire world upside down. Despite reassurances from my companion that new elders
rarely get moved around after one month, I couldn’t help but play out all the different scenarios in my
head: What if I get transferred to a new area… and what if I don’t like my new companion… or what if Elder
Lewis gets transferred and I get a new companion here… and then I’ll be responsible for managing all our
investigators… and I’ll be in charge of showing the new guy around… but I don’t even know my own way around
Shizuoka! I can barely ride to the church and back, let alone pick up my new companion from the train
station! What if I get lost! And how will I introduce my new companion to everyone in Shizuoka when I
can’t even speak Japanese?!… And so I was left to stew all morning, just me, my thoughts, and the open
scriptures in front of me that my eyes weren’t even pretending to scan.
Finally, the phone rings. Elder Lewis picks it up, “moshi moshi, senkyoushi no apaato desu. Oh, hi
President Suzuki…” After a brief conversation he hands the phone over to me. The conversation is quick,
but the president’s words are not casual. I can hear care and assurance in his words, and I detect that his
decision, as simple as it sounds, was not lightly made. “You will continue to work with Elder Lewis in
Shizuoka for another month. There will be no changes at this time.” And that was it. No change. Coming
from anyone else, it would’ve sounded off-handed, inconsequential, obvious. But from President Suzuki’s
voice I could feel it was a carefully planned decision. An intentional, inspired decision. And so I
finally relaxed, and Elder Lewis and I celebrated getting another month together.
I was glad to be staying in Shizuoka because, even after a month there, I still felt terribly inexperienced
as a missionary. Any change of scenery now would just place untimely readjustments in my way. I felt like
I already had more than enough on my plate to stress over. Even after 5 weeks, I was barely getting myself
oriented around town, I had finally memorized a few of the ward members’ names, I was just getting to know
our investigators, and I felt like I had hardly progressed in my language abilities at all. This last
point caused me more than a little concern. I had assumed that after a month in Japan, I would see a
noticeable improvement in my speaking or comprehension skills, or both. But as things were, I felt like I
was no better than the day I stepped off the airplane. And I came down hard on myself for it. I knew
there was nothing I could do except to keep working, and try to keep a positive attitude. But underneath
it all, I was starting to feel more and more alarmed, discouraged.
My companion Elder Lewis was still as upbeat as ever, though. He continued to take the lead while smiling
and laughing, and making me laugh too. At least I was getting the daily routine down. I knew what to
expect when we left the apartment each day and, though I’m ashamed to admit it now, I was pleased with how
little I was expected to actually do. Elder Lewis planned out all our activities for the day each morning,
Elder Lewis did 99% of the talking during our discussion and inactive member visits, and Elder Lewis made
all the phone calls each evening to set up and confirm appointments. My companion’s approach was to let me
slowly ease my way into missionary life. I often considered whether this was really the best thing for me,
but since I was terrified of taking on any real responsibility or having my Japanese skills placed on the
spot, I never voiced any of the thoughts. Frankly, I loved my companion for letting me take the easy road.
A perfect example of all this took place one day early in December. Whether Elder Lewis was finally facing
the facts that our current finding methods were ineffective, or whether we had simply reached the end of
our lists of people to visit, I don’t recall. But one day, out of the blue, Elder Lewis reluctantly
declared, “Well, I guess it’s about time we do some housing.” My heart suddenly plunged into my stomach.
As I mentioned in previous posts, up until this point we had avoided any real proselyting by hunting down
old investigators or ex-English class students and trying to drum up interest in these folks who were
already familiar with us. And as I was in no rush to try my hand at housing or streeting (heck, just
shooting the breeze with members on Sunday still made my stomach turn), I admit I was shaking in my shoes
as Elder Lewis began glancing at apartments, looking for a good place to start.
My companion ultimately decided on a small, two-story apartment building on the outskirts of town. If I
wasn’t so nervous, I could’ve enjoyed the rural scenery with the steps of green tea hedges climbing the
hillside nearby and the good-sized plots of gardens filling in the unusually large spaces between
residences. We hopped off our bikes and made our way up the outdoor, metal stairway to the second floor.
My mind was racing. My thoughts were winding their way back to the MTC, back to the stories my teachers
had told of sadistic elders… Elders who would take their green-bean companions tracting, knock on the
first door, and just as the door starts to open, turn to their sweaty-browed trainee and say, “this one’s
all you, greenie.” I wasn’t ready to be put on the spot like that! I figured if Elder Lewis did anything
like that, then I’d just explode into a puff of smoke. Or a shower of tears. But I should’ve known I had
nothing to fear. In classic, fatherly Elder Lewis fashion, he knocked on the first door and did all the
talking. The second door was the same, and the third. And on and on; I was never expected to do or say
anything. After that experience Elder Lewis started sprinkling occasional periods of housing among our
typical address-hunting activities, and each time was pretty much the same. A couple weeks into this, I
started feeling guilty about Elder Lewis doing all the work. But my guilt never quite outweighed my
anxiety, so I never asked Elder Lewis to let me try. Perhaps I should’ve been more forward, or perhaps
Elder Lewis should’ve put a little bit of pressure on me; but all that aside, I couldn’t have been more
grateful for a trainer who let me take my time.
In contrast to my first housing experience, my first time street contacting was no walk in the park. Okay,
so literally it was a walk in the park, but it wasn’t a stress-free one. Once a month districts are
encouraged to get together for a couple hours of District Proselyting. District Proselyting can be
anything as imaginative as singing Christmas carols in front of a train station down to something more
mundane like handing out English class flyers together. But in its most common form, District Proselyting
just means getting everyone in the district together at a train station or some other busy location,
switching up companionships for an hour, doing a bit of street contacting, and then getting back together
at the end. And that’s just what we did. The four missionaries from Yaizu, Elders Scott, Kay, Cameron,
and Arrington, met Elder Lewis and me at the Shizuoka main station. From there it was a short walk over to
a nice park in central Shizuoka. The park is more like a long, narrow cobblestone strip that cuts straight
away from the City Office Building, through the center of town. Perhaps only 25 yards across and several
hundred long, it was flanked on either side by roads running parallel, and was lined with trees and
decorated with occasional fountains and sculptures. A nice place for an afternoon stroll, or a terrifying
place for a first-time contacting experience.
Once the six of us arrived, we shuffled ourselves up and headed out with new companions for 30 minutes or
an hour. Each new pair headed off in a different direction, looking for folks to stop down the main
stretch, or down side streets, or we’d just hang out in front of the City Office Building waiting for
people to walk by. At this point I was teamed up with the district/zone leader Elder Scott. He was a nice
enough fellow, but I could tell that he took his streeting seriously as he started scanning for potential
targets to stop. I didn’t have the nerve to tell him that I’d never done this before, partly because I
didn’t want him putting pressure on my companion to make me do more tracting. So I did my best to keep up
with him, to follow what he was saying, and to learn from his technique. But at the same time, I was
nervously anticipating the inevitable. And sure enough, after a couple minutes he turned to me and said,
“how about you stop the next person?” All in all, things went all right. I let a few folks walk by as I
mustered up my courage, and then finally, through my nerves, I managed to stick my hand out toward the next
oncoming pedestrian and say, “sumimasen, chotto ii desu ka?” (excuse me, do you have a minute?). As usual,
the person barely gave me a side glance before plowing on past us. Most people would consider that a
failed attempt, but I was elated. I spoke to someone, all on my own! Like I was a real missionary or
something! Elder Scott applauded my attempt, and we moved on. He had me try a few more times, each time
with the same outcome. And each time I gave myself a bigger mental pat on the back. Hey, this is easy!
Then it happened: “chotto ii desu ka?”, but this time the guy actually stopped. Oh no! Now what do I do?!
For a split second, I drew a complete blank and started to freak out. But Elder Scott jumped in and took
over for me. The conversation ended quickly and the man moved on. Again, my temporary companion
complimented my stopping the guy, and I felt a little less sheepish. I eventually realized that Elder
Scott never intended for me to do more than just stop people. So that helped me relax again.
It was about time to head back and meet up with the other elders again. On the way I figured I’d try to
stop one more person. So at the next person coming our way I stuck my hand out, dropped my one-liner, and
to my surprise, they stopped. I waited for Elder Scott to jump in over my shoulder, but no support came.
Just as the silence was getting awkward, I glanced back to see my zone leader looking stunned and slightly
bewildered at the young lady I had stopped. He only missed a beat before he regained his composure and was
tossing his best pitch for the Church. After the girl figured out who we were, she quickly ended the
conversation and moved on like everyone else we stopped that evening. But just as she moved out of
earshot, Elder Scott started roaring with laughter. “We’re not supposed to stop women!” he declared,
trying to hold back his amusement. Yeah, well you might’ve mentioned that sooner, I thought to myself as a
tinge of moodiness came over me from this minor humiliation. Elder Scott’s relaying of the story to the
rest of the district a minute later did nothing to help my spirits.
As much as I had learned from that brief time with Elder Scott, I was eager for this streeting business to
be over. Even just the act of calling out to people walking by required an enormous amount of courage on
my part, and the fear that I might actually have to start improvising with my Japanese at some point just
added to my uncomfortable anxiety. So you can imagine I was none too thrilled to hear that district
proselyting was only half over, and that we’d be doing one more companionship shuffle and one more hour-
long round of streeting. And to add to the misery, I got paired up with Elder Arrington. The only
encounters I had had with Elder Arrington (or any of the Yaizu elders) up to this point had been at a
couple of weekly district meetings. I could tell from our few meetings that he was not the kind of guy you
want to be stuck with. He was just so… rude. Even by American standards. I could only imagine how his
rough, in-your-face demeanor appeared in the eyes of the ever-prudent Japanese. It was very uncomfortable
watching him work. He would often take a kind of, “hey, I’m your buddy” approach, especially with the
younger crowd. But even with my amateur Japanese, I could tell that he was being inappropriately informal
in his language. On top of that, every word from his mouth just felt fake. He was not naturally a
friendly person, so these showy displays of sudden affection for people on the street just came off as…
uncomfortable. And to top it all off, he was just a few months from the end of his mission so he didn’t
even have inexperience as an excuse. It was as though he knew he was a poor missionary and yet he didn’t
care. I somehow managed my way through that second hour and was glad to see those elders off at the end of
Unfortunately, that was not the last time I was to work with Elder Arrington. In addition to District
Proselyting, the mission home encouraged Zone Leaders to do companionship exchanges with each elder in
their zone each month. This practice was rarely ever followed as it wasn’t very practical time-wise for
Zone Leaders to travel all over their zones several times a week. And since the mission home didn’t put
much emphasis on it, it was often pushed aside as a forgotten activity. Our zone was no exception until
after transfers. As I already pointed out, we Shizuoka elders were left unchanged by this round of
transfers, but that wasn’t the case for the Yaizu elders. One elder from each of their companionships was
transferred out, leaving only two missionaries in the Yaizu apartment. The two remaining were Elder Scott
(still DL/ZL) and his new companion Elder Arrington. Suddenly companionship exchanges with the zone leader
became a regular event. More than once a month, if I recall correctly. I couldn’t really blame him for
wanting a break from his new companion, but what drove me crazy was that Elder Scott always went on splits
with my companion, leaving me with Elder Arrington. And these exchanges were not like the two hour
District Proselyting that we did; these were day-long events, the first of which took place a week or two
into the month of December.
But as I’ve already let this post drag on, that story will have to wait for next time…
||#10: Companion Exchanges
I had a sinking feeling for days leading up to our first scheduled all-day companionship exchange. I could
barely stand Elder Arrington at our weekly 3-hour district meetings, let alone a whole day of proselyting
together. I remember one district meeting several weeks previous where I was teamed up with Elder
Arrington for a role-play training. We were to take turns practicing stopping each other as we would
someone on the street, and I just remember him being unnecessarily difficult with me. It was so
frustrating; I just couldn’t fathom why a missionary would intentionally give his companion or other
fellow-missionaries a hard time. Being as young as I was, and having still had only one companion in the
field, I didn’t appreciate that uncooperative companions were not limited to our district only.
Anyway, the day finally came. Elder Lewis and I wrapped up our morning studies early so we could catch the
train and make it to Yaizu before 10am. It was a chilly morning, but the sky was clear and the sun seemed
unusually bright after the recent weeks of overcast. We arrived at the Yaizu station and walked over to
the church building where we met Elders Scott and Arrington. The switch was quick, and moments later Elder
Arrington and I were alone together. He proceeded to run through the day’s schedule of events with the
tone of someone describing a bad taste in their mouth. We had two teaching appointments that day. I
wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but given the fact that I already knew how
uncomfortable proselyting with Elder Arrington was from District Proselyting a few weeks back, I
optimistically hoped that teaching with him would somehow be a fine alternative to streeting.
Wishful thinking. Our first teaching appointment started that morning at 10am, so it was only a few
moments before a not-quite-middle-aged man, soft-spoken and with a gentle face came into the church. He
seemed surprisingly comfortable as we led him into the next room. I figured he was either a really new
investigator who had yet to be offended by my crude companion, or he was a really old investigator who had
just gotten used to Elder Arrington. I realized it was the latter as the discussion progressed and I saw
this man barely flinch at Elder Arrington’s in-your-face teaching style that had me slouching lower and
lower in my chair (Elder Arrington’s Japanese was sadly unrefined for someone about to head home, so even I
could understand most of what he said). In fact, the kind man was so unphased that he stayed fairly
involved in the conversation. I don’t remember much of that discussion beyond one odd tangent in the
conversation: the investigator went off on how the Lamanites’ darker skin was only logical since they
weren’t as civilized as the Nephites, and thus would’ve spent more time in the sun outdoors. From that I
gathered that this fellow must be an intellectual, likely interested in the Book of Mormon from a historic,
sociological aspect. His strange resilience to Elder Arrington’s rudeness also fits that description; the
other intellectual investigators I ran across throughout my mission also seemed far less interested in the
particular elders at hand, and more interested in just having a stimulating conversation with people
willing to discuss whatever might be on their mind. In any case, I was just happy that this fellow was
willing to put up with my temporary companion’s crude Japanese and haughty attitude. That made the hour
moderately more bearable for me.
After the discussion, Elder Arrington and I rode home to the Yaizu apartment so I could drop my evening bag
off and so we could grab a quick lunch. Then it was off to an afternoon of housing. At first I wasn’t at
all happy about the idea of four hours of housing with Elder Arrington. After all, I already knew how
painful just one hour of proselyting with him was from District Proselyting the week before. Plus, I
wasn’t a fan of housing even when I was with my good buddy Elder Lewis. So I figured a whole afternoon of
housing with Elder Arrington could not add up to anything good. But once we got started, I quickly
realized that this was going to be the simplest part of the day. It only took a couple minutes to discover
that Yaizu was just like any other city in Japan: no one is home in the afternoon. So while the boredom of
knocking on apartment after empty apartment would be one of the most stressful aspects of missionary work
over the upcoming 20 months, on that particular day I enjoyed every minute of it. And on top of that, I
got to enjoy the sunny, clear day and rustic Japanese landscapes of Yaizu, the most rural area of the Tokyo
After a (thankfully) uneventful afternoon, we grabbed some dinner and then back to housing. We had another
discussion scheduled for 7:30pm, this time at the investigator’s house, but that was still a couple hours
away. In the meantime, I was now facing proselyting with Elder Arrington during the prime evening hours
when folks would actually answer. Now in Japan, people rarely come to the door. Nearly all houses and
apartments are equipped with intercoms that you ring, so even when people are home, you still spend most of
your housing time just talking to little microphones. And since people generally hang up on you a few
seconds into the conversation regardless of what you say, most of the evening with Elder Arrington passed
somewhat tolerably. But on the occasion that someone would skip the intercom and actually open the door,
Elder Arrington would, true to my imagination, make things as awkward as possible. In part it was his odd
belief that just shooting the breeze with people was the best strategy for a door approach. It would go
something like this:
Resident: Hi, what is it?
E. Arrington: Oh hi, I’m Elder Arrington. But you can just call me Ari. I’m from America. Have you ever
been to America?
Resident: …what do you want?
E. Arrington: This is a nice neighborhood. Have you lived here long?
Resident: Um…… excuse me, I’m busy. Bye.
I mean, what did he expect these people to say?? But worst of all was his approach to younger people. If
a college-aged person answered the door, he’d suddenly act all young and buddy-buddy with them. If they
would turn him away, he’d put on a fake dejected look and in a grumpy, distinctly unmissionary-like way
say, “aw, well that just sucks.” After one of these unsuccessful exchanges, as we walked away from the
door he told me that last line is a great way to hook the young crowd because a lot of times when they hear
you using this casual, youthful language, they suddenly become interested in you. He even made sure to
teach me the Japanese word so I could say it too. His whole approach was, at best, ineffective, and at
worst, misleading and inappropriate on so many levels.
Finally it was time for our appointment. I knew that if I could just make it through this one last lesson,
the day would be pretty much over. It turned out to be an ordeal, though. The investigator was an older
woman living alone in her house. We were there to teach a first discussion, and it did not go well. I
guess I should have been grateful that Elder Arrington took care of most of the talking that evening. But
on the other hand, once the discussion began, I couldn’t help wondering if I could do a better job. His
improper Japanese, his way of carelessly brushing investigator concerns aside, his general lack of manners…
Even the way he’d “glance” at his watch by flinging his entire arm up to his face and giving a great big
yawn, right in the middle of this old woman’s sharing her beliefs with us, I mean, had this guy really been
a missionary for 23 months now?? Suffice it to say, it all just added up to one big unpleasant experience.
It was a quarter to 9pm by the time we finished up and were out the door. I was elated! The cool night
air just added to the refreshing feeling that I had made it through the day. Now, missionaries are
expected to work until 9:30 each day, but I figured surely with a 20 minute bike ride back to the apartment
there was no way Elder Arrington would try to squeeze in anything else that night. But when we jumped on
our bikes he said “follow me”, and I had a sinking feeling as he headed off in a direction different from
the way we came. We rode for a few minutes and I tried to imagine what he could possibly have in mind now
that it was too late for housing, and with no decent streeting areas in such a rural town. He stopped his
bike on a deserted, dark side-street flanked on one side by seemingly unoccupied homes and on the other by
a 10-foot cinder block wall that ran the length of the short street. He leaned his bike against the wall
and motioned for me to follow. He walked a couple yards, keeping one hand on the wall when, next thing I
know, he starts climbing the shear face. As I look closely, hidden in the shadows are hand and foot holds
-- a ladder of sorts -- built into the wall. I follow him up and over, and I’m surprised to find a river
on the other side. Well, more like an urban canal with cement banks, but it was a good 50 yards across.
The far side was lined with a similar wall making the whole place very secluded. We stood on that narrow
edge just talking about whatever and watching the moon reflected on the water for about 20 minutes. It was
an odd moment for me because, as a young missionary, I wasn’t used to the idea of missionaries stopping to
relax during normal working hours. Still full of the MTC’s gung-ho imagery of young men working feverishly
on the Lord’s errand day-in and day-out, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of guilt as we stood there. But
over the coming months and years I would learn to appreciate moments like that, opportunities to step out
of the proselyting rush for a few minutes and talk about the reality of where you are. Or what you’re
doing. Or where you came from. Or just take a moment to connect with your companion on a level beyond
lounging around in the apartment together. Discussions during those times could wander from commentary on
missionary work to personal thoughts on the gospel to more mundane topics like the first thing you’re dying
to eat when you get home. I don’t remember what Elder Arrington and I talked about that night, but it was
a nice way to end an otherwise difficult day.
That moment by the river aside, I was still inexpressibly happy to be putting Elder Arrington behind me the
following morning. We rode the train back to the Shizuoka station where Elders Lewis and Scott were
waiting for us. Elders Scott and Arrington headed back to the platform and, just as they passed out of
sight, I turned to Elder Lewis and gave him a huge hug and told him how happy I was to have him as my
trainer. He was caught a little off guard, but then he just started laughing. He would look back on that
moment over the following weeks and make fun of me for it, regularly joking about how frightened I looked
coming back from Yaizu with my tail between my legs. And I’d laugh right along with him. That is, until
my next exchange with Elder Arrington a month later.
But enough about that. It’s time to sum up the remainder of my time with Elder Lewis. We’ll see if we can
cover an assortment of random memories with Elder Lewis next time, and then move on to companion #2.
||#11: Shizuoka's (Potential)
Over the weeks spent with my trainer Elder Lewis, investigators came and investigators went. Not many,
mind you, but a few. Most of our potential investigators came from our weekly English Conversation Class,
or Eikaiwa (see description back here). We taught a couple of first discussions to
a handful of students who were willing to listen, but none continued on. Despite that, I ended up making
some good friends while teaching that class.
First, there was that older fellow who was very quiet during class but was always very friendly to us
missionaries. Elder Lewis and I dropped by his home one evening to see if he would be interested in
learning about the church. Unlike many who are less than thrilled to see the missionaries at their door,
this man was pleasantly surprised and invited us right in. Even before we could explain to him what we
were doing there, he insisted on show us his collection of… artwork? Or was it sculptures, or old family
heirlooms? Frankly, I can’t remember. But after that he showed us into the sitting room where we sat and
chatted for an hour while he had his wife cook us samples of all sorts of very ethnic Japanese food. The
more “foreign,” the better. Little dried fish, seaweed seasoning, huge shiitake mushrooms, sticky mountain
potatoes… It was all just awful for my western taste, but he thought it was hilarious watching us try all
that food for the first time. In the end he never did agree to the discussions, but that evening turned
out to be one of the more memorable of my first area.
Then there was a couple in their 40’s who attended Eikaiwa together every week. They were both unusually
bubbly for being Japanese. They would shoot off English sentences here and there without making the least
amount of sense. They were especially good for a laugh during activity time. Anyway, they ran a bike
repair shop from their home, and they agreed to have us over for a first discussion. The lesson went all
right, but we never got a second invite; not for a discussion, anyway. They were more than happy to have
us stop by anytime for complimentary bike repairs or just to shoot the breeze. But the one lasting memory
that the wife left for me was the message she wrote on the night I transferred out of Shizuoka. That night
someone passed farewell cards for Elder Lewis and me around the class for all the students to sign. As I
read the card before going to bed that night, I was bewildered at her goodbye message: “Every night in my
dreams I see you, I feel you.” I showed my companion and we just cracked up laughing. It would be years
before I realized it was from the Titanic song. In the meantime, I just chalked it up to her goofy
Finally, there was my favorite Eikaiwa student of all, Susumu Ohishi. Mr. Ohishi was an intellectual type
in his 30’s, and his English was easily on par with our native English. He had at least one Ph.D., maybe
more, and he was a professional researcher. Clearly, his motive for coming was not to improve his English;
he was looking for an exchange of profound ideas. Or rather, he was looking for someone who would listen
to his profound ideas. Mr. Ohishi would arrive 20 minutes early each week to take advantage of some one-
on-one time with whatever unlucky Elder he happened to run into. His esoteric monologues during our brief
pre-class prep time drove nearly every missionary in Shizuoka crazy. Except me. I absolutely loved it.
And when he heard I was majoring in Astrophysics, that just guaranteed me as the target of his intellectual
bombardments each week. He would come in and talk about the human brain, or how babies learn language
different from adults, or how humans evolved over the millennia. Maybe I enjoyed listening to the
cutting-edge anthropological ideas of the day, or maybe I was just thrilled to be developing a real
relationship with a Japanese fellow, but in any case I enjoyed getting an earful from him each week. The
only problem was when he tried to bring up his advanced knowledge in my English class, like the time he
started discussing the aberration of starlight in the middle of my lesson on nature. But those incidents
aside (and there were a few of them), we became good friends over the months in Shizuoka. And though he
never accepted to learn about the church, he ultimately became one of the only people I kept a
correspondence with during and after my mission. Mr. Ohishi and I exchanged one or two letters a year for
a few years following my mission.
Beyond those English class folks, there weren’t a lot of prospects for finding investigators. Elder Lewis
and I were teaching our two solid investigators, Hiro and Tate, a couple times a week, but without any
success in finding, our teaching pool never really grew beyond two. There was one rare occasion I remember
where my companion and I were housing and actually got invited in. An overweight man living alone in a
darkened apartment waved us in, but didn’t seem very welcoming. As we sat down on the floor around his low
coffee table, Elder Lewis started to teach the first discussion. But it quickly became evident that this
fellow was more interested in expressing his own ideas and issues with Christianity than in listening to
our message. Naturally, I couldn’t understand a word he said, so as was typical for me during any
discussion, I spent most of the time flipping through my dictionary trying to pick up words here and there.
But this time it seemed Elder Lewis was struggling too because every couple minutes, in the middle of deep
conversation with this guy, he’d whisper a Japanese word in my direction. I understood that to mean he
needed me to look it up. So what was normally a casual perusal of my dictionary became a furious race for
me to find words for my companion to keep the discussion going. That meeting ended up mostly as a chance
for this fellow to vent all his frustrations with what he perceived as Christianity’s endless
contradictions (which we figured out after I identified the word “contradiction”), and even though we never
met that man again, it felt great to actually get invited inside someone’s home.
As for our successes-- Like I said a minute ago, Hiro and Tate were our two strong investigators (I
introduced them a couple entries back: Tate here, and Hiro here).
I’m hesitant to talk about their journeys here as I can’t do their stories justice in such a brief and
scattered forum as a blog. I know that if I attempt to fill in details, I’ll never be satisfied with my
depictions; my stories won’t include how we’d just chat as friends before each lesson, or the unannounced
doorstep visits, or the joy we felt each time they accepted a new commitment, or their interactions with
the members at church, or the random activities we did with them like FHE at members’ houses and the trip
to the strawberry farm and New Year’s day at the park, etc… I won’t get all those details down, partly
because I don’t have the capacity to write it all, and partly because I simply can’t remember. But my
memoirs would be horribly incomplete if I don’t finish their stories. So rather than a mediocre attempt to
recall detail after detail, I’m going with an intentionally scant overview of what happened.
Tate continued to meet with us weekly, he was always so meek and accepting. In November he started coming
to church almost every week. One day at church after Sacrament meeting the bishop approached Tate and
said, “you’re an investigator? So, what’s keeping you from getting baptized?” We had talked about baptism
with him during our meetings of course, but Tate was sort of in a wait-and-see mode at that point. He was
surprised at the bishop’s forward question (we all were!), but he answered honestly that nothing in
particular was stopping him. To which the bishop said, “Great! What do you say to getting baptized on
Christmas?!” Tate’s reply: “Umm, okay.” That was the only time on my mission that the bishop, and not the
missionaries, helped the investigator set a date. Tate still had one major concern before getting
baptized, though. He was nervous about asking his parents for permission. In Japan coming-of-age happens
at age 20, so the church requires any investigators under 20 to have their parents’ consent. Tate was 18
or 19 at the time, and his parents lived far away on the northern island of Hokkaido. After a good deal of
urging from us missionaries, he finally did tell his folks about the church, and they ultimately were okay
with it. Overall, the whole process from teaching to baptism went fairly smoothly for Tate. He was
baptized on December 24, 2000 -- my first time witnessing a baptism as a missionary, and it was wonderful.
Hiro’s story wasn’t finished at this point, but I’ll go ahead and tell it here anyway. Hiro’s conversion
process wasn’t nearly as smooth as Tate’s. He loved learning about the church, and he fit right in with
the members whether it was church on Sunday or ward activities. He especially loved hanging out with us
elders; he’d stop by our apartment occasionally just to chat, and we’d get together regularly in addition
to our teaching discussions at the church. It was a lot of fun for Elder Lewis and me, too, because as
missionaries we’re generally not supposed to be hanging out at the beach, or spending the afternoon at the
park or in McDonald’s, but for the purpose of building solid relationships with investigators, it was
perfectly fine. And Hiro, being such a fun guy to relax with, and ever eager to show us some new corner of
the city, the three of us truly grew to be best friends. On one such outing Hiro became curious about what
we do when we’re not with him, so we told him about proselyting. He said he wanted to try it with us. …
what?? You want to stop random people on the street and tell them about the gospel of Christ? And you’ve
yet to join the church yourself? But sure enough, he wanted to be a missionary before even becoming a
member. So we took him. It turned out to be a funny evening.
Surely someone like this, so close to the missionaries and to the members, and so deeply interested in the
gospel, would have a quick transition into the church, right? Actually, Hiro was terrified of making the
commitment. When I first met him, he was interested in baptism, but when asked about setting a timeline, a
goal, he put his target date 5 years in the future. Understand that for missionaries, having an
investigator target 6 months out for baptism is unbearably too long. Ideally, we want to see people commit
to getting baptized in one or two months if they have a testimony of the church. But 5 years?? It was
even stranger considering there was virtually nothing in his lifestyle that needed changing before joining
the church. But he was a very emotional guy, and wanted to feel right about the whole commitment (who can
blame him?). Lessons with him would sometimes involve emotional tears, something very unusual for a
Japanese investigator. Once he even invited us to his house, up to his room, where we discussed his
feelings on the gospel, and where he requested we take turns praying aloud to help him gain a testimony. A
few weeks, and a few deep discussions later, he agreed to move his target baptism date up to “just” a year
out. But Hiro’s final push came when he attended Tate’s baptism that December. That Christmas Eve he
stopped by our apartment to tell us he was so impressed at the baptismal ceremony that he wanted to join
the church the following month, and he was so committed that he had already told his parents. Elder Lewis
and I were elated. And to make a long story short (too late!), that’s exactly what happened. He got
baptized in what would be one of the most emotionally powerful moments of my mission. After all, this was
my best friend joining the church.
But that’s not the end of Hiro’s story. Two or three times throughout the rest of my mission Hiro figured
out what area I was serving in and gave me a ring. What a surprise! An even bigger surprise was seeing
him on the last day of my mission; he stopped by the mission home 6 hours away to say goodbye. But even
that wasn’t the end. He moved to LA a few years back (after completing his own mission), and I’ve met up
with him twice during my business trips down there. As an investigator, in his broken English, he used to
call Elder Lewis and me “Friends Forever”. Clearly he meant it.
That nearly covers the first two months of my mission. There are a couple of random stories, just odds and
ends, that I’d like to get down before I move on. I’ll do that in a short post hereafter. Then it’ll be
on to month 3. I promise!
||#12: Odds and Ends at 2 Months
My trainer (first companion) Elder Lewis was a fun guy, one of the easiest people to get along with I’ve
ever met. When thinking back on our time serving together, there are a couple stories that immediately
come to mind. They’re not stories about teaching the gospel or finding investigators or attending
missionary conferences, which is why I haven’t told them yet. They’re just stories about the quirky things
that happen when a couple of 19-year-olds spend too much time together. So here you go.
One evening Elder Lewis and I visited a small apartment complex a short ways from our own apartment. The
place must’ve been 4 or 5 stories high, but only a couple of units wide. It was a fairly nice place, a
little landscaping and pavers out front, and clean walls and floors inside. We were there to visit
someone, a member I think. After a brief chat on the doorstep, the lady gave us a box of big Nilla Wafer-
type biscuits as thanks for stopping by. That was nice. Since we were there, we figured we’d knock on
some doors before heading out, so we headed to the top floor to get started. After knocking on the first
door and waiting, I turned around and looked out over the balcony to see the suburbs of Shizuoka spread
around us. Then I looked further out and saw Mt. Fuji rising above the clouds off in the distance. As my
mind wandered, I said to my companion, “Hey Elder Lewis. Is Mt. Fuji an active volcano?” Almost
absentmindedly, he replied, “I don’t think so. I haven’t seen it at church lately.” ……aah! Funny, Elder
Lewis. Very funny.
After we finished housing out the building, we headed outside to our bikes carrying the box of wafers that
the lady had given us. Elder Lewis remarked what a hassle it was going to be carrying the box of crackers
around on his bike all day and mulled swinging by the apartment to drop them off first. That’s when an
idea struck me. Surrounding the apartment building among the landscaping and walkways there were circular
planters spaced at intervals, each with a large shrub in it. “Hey Elder Lewis, wouldn’t it be funny if we
just stashed the box inside one of these bushes?” A huge grin broke across my companion’s face. “Then
we’d have an emergency snack anytime we’re in the neighborhood,” he mused. The only problem was with the
box getting wet. But Elder Lewis pointed out that the Japanese are notorious for individually plastic-
wrapping every little snack they make. We opened the box and, sure enough, the wafers had been wrapped in
pairs inside the box. We took that as a sign and immediately started looking for an out-of-the-way planter
with a big, bushy shrub that we could jam this box down inside. We found the ideal planter and, looking
over our shoulders, we tucked the box neatly under the bush’s thick branches and ran back to our bikes
laughing. We chuckled to ourselves over that for the entire time we were together. I think we actually
did go back and eat some crackers a time or two in the weeks following.
This next story took place a few weeks after I’d been in Japan, as Elder Lewis and I were relaxing and
chatting one night while getting ready for bed. It was a pretty typical night; I was so exhausted mentally
and physically at the end of each day that I rarely could muster the will to write in my journal or study
Japanese or anything else. I would just flop down on the couch and close my eyes while my companion made
evening phone calls to investigators, the District leader, etc. Then we’d chat or laugh about whatever
before turning the lights out and going to bed. Well, on this particular night as we were both laying in
our futons, we were talking about how exhausted we were (a common topic). Elder Lewis started telling me a
story that went something like this:
“I remember some nights before my mission when I’d be so tired that I’d just come home, fall on my bed, and
go to sleep just like that—with my shoes still on, and with the lights still on. Then I’d wake up in the
middle of the night thinking, ‘Whoa, I’ve been sleeping with the lights on! That’s not normal!!’ I’d get
this weird, kinda cool feeling, like ‘whoa, I’m not supposed to be doing this!’ It’s like that exciting
feeling you get when you know you’re doing something that’s totally against the norm, but you’re cool
enough to do it anyway. You know what I mean, Elder Laverty?"
I stared at Elder Lewis for a few seconds, and then exploded in laughter. I wanted to call him crazy, but
I had to admit I kinda understood what he was talking about. I told him what a random, funny story that
was, then rolled over to sleep. …“hey Elder Laverty, you wanna sleep with the lights on tonight?” What is
my companion talking about?? I sat up again and this time, smiling at his absurd suggestion, I did call
him crazy. But through his own laughing, I could tell he was kinda serious. Which, when I realized, just
made me laugh all the harder. “Come on Elder Laverty, wouldn’t it be cool to sleep with the lights on, and
then wake up in the middle of the night and be, like, ‘whoa! What’s going on!?’” Now I started to wonder
if this was some kind of hazing, what with me being a newbie and all. Or was my companion really just
crazy? I laughed, told Elder Lewis one more time that he was out of his mind, and then turned the light
out and went to sleep.
For the next couple weeks I would regularly make fun of my companion for being a freak who wanted to sleep
with the lights on. And he would keep pushing the idea now and again with that sincere Elder Lewis grin of
his. Near the end of our second month together, figuring we wouldn’t be comps much longer, Elder Lewis
brought up the light thing one more time. I finally consented. He must’ve convinced me that this was just
too hilarious an idea to pass up. Er something. So there we were, two weirdos, laying in our futons under
the circular florescent light overhead at 10:30pm. Falling asleep was no problem; I could nod off anywhere
at any time those days. But it was about the worst sleep I ever had. I did wake up a couple times during
the night, but I didn’t think, “how cool is this!?” Far from it. I just thought how annoying that light
was, and how I didn’t want to let the cold air in my warm futon by turning it off. The following morning
Elder Lewis thought it was the funniest thing ever that we slept with the light on all night. He
apparently had no problem sleeping through it. I, on the other hand, was miserably tired all that day.
For the next year we had together in the Tokyo South Mission, any time we crossed paths at, say, the
mission home or a Zone Conference, we would inevitably bring up that incident and tell each other’s
companions how crazy their comp is for sleeping with the lights on.
That’s about it for my time as companions with Elder Lewis. I really just wanted to get these last two
stories down before moving on. There are a handful of other stories with Elder Lewis I would like to tell,
like dressing up as Santa for the ward Christmas party, or spending New Years day with ward members at the
beach and the park, or our Brazilian investigator Alberto. But it’s really about time I move on. I spent
the last ten posts on my first two months in Japan, and I never meant to drag it on like that. So next
time I’ll talk about transfers and my second companion. I promise. Maybe.
||#13: New Year, New People
For years now I’ve been considering telling the people of my mission about these memoirs I’m writing.
Despite being eager for more readers, I never did for several reasons. First, I haven’t been real
consistent with my entry updates and I didn’t want to notify dozens of people about a blog that I may or
may not continue to write. Second, and more importantly, I didn’t want my depictions of people and events
to be influenced by my audience. I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to tell the truth about the
people I met on my mission and my experiences with them if I knew they were reading. However my desire for
more readers eventually overcame, and six months ago I sent out an invitation to read my blog to some 30
people –- former companions, Japanese members, other friends I made in Japan, elders I taught in the MTC,
and a number of my close friends here in the States who I thought might just have a general interest. The
response: Nothing. No one wanted to be added to my new-post notifications, no one replied at all. Between
that enormous de-motivation and having a new baby, I haven’t bothered putting pen to metaphorical paper in
some time. But I’m slowly working up the will to give this another go, so here we go.
I woke up one morning shortly after the new year with that momentary disorientation you feel after a
particularly deep sleep in an unfamiliar bed. I was in Yaizu, on splits once again with the dreaded Elder
Arrington. I had somehow survived another brutal day proselyting with him while my companion Elder Lewis
worked with the district/zone leader Elder Scott, and now I just had to endure his unsolicited suggestions
and feigned manners through breakfast before I could escape back to my Shizuoka home. My nerves were even
more on edge that morning, though, as it was time for the highly anticipated (for better or for worse)
transfer calls. Transfers came every five weeks, which meant I had been in Japan for just over two months
now. Even when a transfer is unlikely, such as one month after a missionary has just been moved, nerves
still run high with the anticipation that anything can happen. But in my case, I had now been in my Bean
area for two months, and it was common knowledge that President Suzuki rarely left new elders in their
first areas for more than two months. I suspect the reasoning for that was that a new elder will always be
treated as a greenie for as long as he’s in his first area so it’s good to get that missionary into a new
environment with higher expectations as soon as possible. That said, I was looking at a very high
probability of being moved out of my new home Shizuoka and away from my new best friend Elder Lewis. And
waiting for the phone to ring that morning, I had no willing listener to share all my anxieties, fears, and
After pushing through the most unproductive morning studies and a quick breakfast, the phone finally rang.
Elder Arrington answered, and after a quick exchange with the president, he handed the phone off to me with
a drab, “Looks like I’m stuck here till I go home next month.” Heart racing, I couldn’t wait another
second to find out what was to become of me. With 200 missionaries to talk to in the space of three hours,
I expected President Suzuki to sound hurried, or to sound bored after having made nearly 100 calls already,
but that wasn’t the case at all. Our conversation was indeed brief, but it wasn’t rushed. His voice was
full of consideration and caring; it felt as if mine was the only call he made that morning. “Elder
Laverty, you will be staying in Shizuoka for another month, but you will have a new companion, Elder
Turcsanski. Your companion Elder Lewis will also be staying in Shizuoka, and he will be training another
new missionary from the MTC. Shizuoka will become a four-person area.” My mind was whirling so fast to
receive this new information that I barely eked out an, “Okay President, thanks,” and that was it. So what
did this mean? I wasn’t leaving Shizuoka yet! That’s good! With Hiro’s baptism scheduled for just a
couple weeks away, I was desperate to stay another month. And Elder Lewis will still be here! That’s good
too! This way, regardless of who this Elder Turcsanski turns out to be, at least I know I have a friend in
the apartment. And Elder Lewis is training another bean! It’ll be fun to have someone younger than me in
the apartment! All in all, this was shaping up to be pretty good news.
I met Elder Lewis at the train station shortly thereafter as I happily exchanged Elder Arrington back for
my own companion (though, I did note reluctantly that this would not be my last time working with Elder
Arrington). Elder Lewis and I discussed the news of the transfers during the whole train ride back to
Shizuoka. First, I asked Elder Lewis about the dynamic of a four-person apartment. He explained that for
the most part it was a good thing having four elders around. It means double the daily activity, and
double the random conversations. It gives you someone else to talk about your day to, or to bounce
missionary ideas off of. And having four elders is especially helpful if you’re not getting along well
with your companion. Then, he said, you’ll be enormously grateful for an extra human buffer in the
Next I asked about how transfers work, logistically. Elder Lewis told me that as soon as the mission
president finishes making all the phone calls that morning, each transferring missionary will spend the day
packing, while at the mission home the APs (Assistants to the President) spend the entire day mapping out
how each missionary will reach his or her destination without ever being alone. This takes an enormous
amount of coordination to get each elder and sister on the right trains, and meeting the right people at
the right places inside some very maze-like train and subway stations. The theory behind the transfers is
you start with one wave of missionaries around Tokorozawa at the very top of the mission heading south, and
another wave of missionaries in Hamamatsu at the bottom of the mission heading north. Each of these waves
sweeps up and drops off missionaries along their way until everyone is at their new homes. Once the APs
have figured all these logistics out, they call every transferring missionary that night to give them
instructions for the next day. Elder Lewis also pointed out that since Shizuoka is just about the furthest
area south in our mission, we will likely be starting out the southern transfer wave, and it’ll start very
early in the morning. “But neither of us is transferring, right? Why do we need to move?” Elder Lewis
reminded me that he would need to pick up his new greenie companion from the mission home just like he did
with me two months earlier, so he’d be traveling all day long. “Yeah, but I’m not going anywhere, right?”
My companion pointed out that I couldn’t very well spend the day companionless. Oh yeah, duh. Plus, he
said, there’s another reason why missionaries who don’t transfer still need to travel on transfer day. The
transfer wave from the north that my new companion will be riding will likely peter out before reaching
Shizuoka so I’ll need to pick him up from wherever he runs out of companions. That makes sense.
“Speaking of companions,” Elder Lewis continued, “who’s your new comp?” When I told him it was someone
named Elder Turcsanski he shouted “Elder Turk??” and immediately burst out laughing and rolled his eyes.
Turns out, Elder Lewis and Turk were in the same district in the MTC so they knew each other really well.
I was happy to think that my new companion would quickly feel comfortable in his new area since he already
has a friend here, and that our new foursome apartment would quickly become a tight-knit group. But I
asked Elder Lewis why he thought Elder Turk was so funny. He told me that Elder Turk was just a goofy guy,
and a good guy too. Was it my imagination or did I catch a subtle hesitation there, as if I wasn’t getting
the whole story. Something didn’t quite sit right with me; maybe it was just my anxiety about the whole
switch-up in general. Elder Lewis reassured me that I’d be fine with my new companion, and not to worry.
He spent the rest of our train ride back to Shizuoka telling me stories about Elder Turk in the MTC.
As we left the train and headed for our parked bikes which were some distance away (there’s a fee to park
your bike in the station bike racks so we’d just find somewhere a little ways away), I changed the subject
to Elder Lewis’s new companion. I mulled over how fun it would be to have another bean in the apartment,
and I was excited to not be the youngest anymore. Plus, Elder Lewis was a fantastic trainer for me so I
was glad that he’d be training another young elder again.
Since neither of us was moving anywhere for transfers, we didn’t need to pack so it was just a normal
working day for us. We hopped on our bikes and spent that morning as we did every morning, at the church
for my extended Japanese study program. This would be my last time to enjoy the luxury of a 3-hour private
language period as President Suzuki had set up that program for new missionaries to use during their first
two months only. Actually, that was the last day any missionary in my mission would have that luxury since
the following day President cut that extra study time down mission-wide from 3 hours to 30 minutes.
Perhaps the feedback he got from it wasn’t as positive as he had hoped, and I had to agree. 3 hours was
overkill. So for the rest of my mission the standard was an hour of language study for new missionaries,
and 30 minutes for everyone else. Anyway, after that morning’s study period and lunch, Elder Lewis and I
spent our last day proselyting together. Then we headed home for the night to call our prime investigator
Hiro (who was desperately praying that neither of us get transferred) and tell him the good news, and to
receive instructions from the APs.
We got the call from one of the Assistants, and just as Elder Lewis had guessed, we had to be on the first
train out of Shizuoka for my companion to make it to the mission home on time. That meant leaving the
apartment around 5am. My instructions were to meet some elders in the Fujii area (a couple areas north of
Shizuoka) and spend the day with them until my new companion could meet me there. So that’s what we did.
I parted with Elder Lewis at the Fujii station, he to continue on riding the avalanche of transferring
missionaries northward and me to spend a lazy afternoon waiting in Fujii. Transfer day was also
preparation day so I had nothing to do but write letters in their apartment. And yet, even with no
responsibilities to fulfill, I remember feeling so out of place, so uncomfortable for that half-day. It’s
an odd feeling, having your life tossed up in the air, shuffled, and rearranged, all within a matter of 24
hours. And this transfer was a relatively mild shake-up considering I wasn’t moving to a new area and my
old companion would still be around. I think what makes transfers an especially jarring experience is its
contrast to the utter repetitiveness of normal missionary life.
Anyway, the time came late that afternoon and I was escorted back to the Fujii train station. There
arrived my new companion Elder Turcsanski. He was about my same height and size, and he greeted me with a
polite smile and a serious handshake. He was certainly friendly enough, but there was an air of propriety
to it all. It’s hard to explain; his manners weren’t fake like Elder Arrington’s (far from it), but he had
a hint of social formality as compared to my entirely casual first meeting with Elder Lewis, like our union
was just as much business as it was pleasure. Don’t get me wrong-- he wasn’t an outwardly stern person; he
offered plenty of smiles and seemed friendly enough. And he certainly had a sense of humor, but it wasn’t
quite as carefree and relaxed as Elder Lewis’s. It was a bit more quirky, a bit odd. For example, in the
coming weeks he would love to mimic over and over the irritating McDonald’s jingle that played outside
their store just to see you get annoyed. Or, when we were relaxing in the apartment, he got a kick out of
suddenly jabbing you in the chest with his finger and saying, “is this your nipple?!” like some kind of
game. Hey, I told you he was a bit odd.
Anyway, where did I leave off? …right, back at the train station. So, Elder Turk and I set off on the
next train headed to Shizuoka for the first time as new companions. We spent the ride getting to know each
other, exchanging pre-mission stories and discussing likes and dislikes, etc. I don’t remember much of
that conversation other than that Elder Turk was from somewhere in Utah. By the time we arrived at the
Shizuoka station I still didn’t feel like we had hit it off the way I did with my trainer, but I was
feeling much more optimistic about my new companion.
Exiting the train that early evening, we now had a glaringly empty couple of hours between us and bedtime.
And since missionaries send their bike and all their luggage via delivery service to their new area when
transferring, we didn’t even have “dropping off luggage” as an excuse to head over to the apartment early.
So like the good missionaries that we were, we started knocking on doors. But before long, Elder Turk
said, “Hey, there’s a Mr. Donuts shop over there. How about some donuts, my treat!” I quietly tagged
along, but I was immediately suspicious. Was this just some not-so-subtle way of avoiding anymore housing
for the evening? And ‘his treat’? That sounds rather like empty generosity seeing as we both get the same
monthly allowance and what difference does a couple bucks make? I was awfully critical of my new
companion, but before long I would regret those unspoken accusations. Elder Turk picked up a couple donuts
for us and we sat down at a table. My companion struck up the conversation, asking me more about myself,
and I quickly realized that he was sincerely interested in becoming my friend. We talked back and forth
over those donuts for a good hour or so, and the conversation seemed much less stiff than our little get-
to-know-you on the train ride. I really appreciated that time that Elder Turk had deliberately sought out
for us to continue building our relationship, and it occurred to me how valuable it was for us to “be on
the same team” from day one. It occurred to me, too, that his offer to pay for our food had nothing to do
with money and everything to do with showing thoughtfulness to someone he’d only just met. I noted what a
boost this random act of kindness was to our newly-formed companionship, and I vowed to do something
similar whenever I became a senior companion. (I made good on that promise. Several times.)
We kept up the trivial conversation during the long walk back to the apartment (Elder Turk had no bike, so
walking was our only option). Elder Lewis and his new bean companion Elder Andrade were already there when
we got back. Elder Andrade was a short Hawaiian guy, and looked it every bit with his dark-tanned skin,
easygoing smile, and his stories of hunting wild boars. He also had that expected “fish out of water” look
that I experienced barely two months earlier. But it wouldn’t take long for his nerves to settle and his
typical Islander lax attitude to emerge.
And that pretty much covers it from transfer calls to the end of transfer day. Now we have a month of
working and living with Elders Turk, Lewis, and Andrade to look forward to before the next round of
P.S. Japan Fun Fact: Donuts are not considered a breakfast food in Japan. They’re an afternoon or evening
snack, and suggesting eating donuts for breakfast will get you some surprised looks. And ‘Mr. Donuts’ is
the name of the largest national donut chain in Japan.
||#14: Growth Spurt
January 6, 2001
It was the morning after transfers, and I was adapting to the morning studies routine with a new companion.
All of the personal study time remained unchanged of course, but Elder Turk and I did need to work out our
new approach to companionship study time. But that was trivial compared to some of the other changes we as
an apartment would need to make in transitioning from a single companionship to two. Over breakfast the
four of us, Elders Lewis, Turk, Andrade, and I sat down to hammer out a few necessary adjustments. Elder
Andrade had been in the field for less than 24 hours at this point, so he understandably sat back and just
took in the conversation. I didn’t contribute much either as I had no experience with a four-man
apartment. So we listened as Elder Lewis and Elder Turk laid out some points needing consideration.
First up for the more superficial issues—sleeping arrangements. The night before, everyone was so
exhausted from a full day of traveling that our new arrivals just found something soft to lie on and
crashed for the night. Now Elder Lewis and Elder Turk were explaining to us younger two that four-people
apartments have the option of everyone sleeping in the same room or dividing companionships up into
separate rooms. The pros for everyone sharing a room were that there’s a lot more cross-companionship
chatter and bonding, and a lot more story-telling and laughing at bedtime. The obvious con, though, is
that more chatting means less sleeping. But given our housing situation, this whole debate was a non-
issue. Our second bedroom was infested with (allegedly) toxic mold so we were all fine with being
contained in a single bedroom. Sort of. There were only three futons in our apartment (remember, Japanese
futons are just really thick, heavy blankets you lay on the floor and sleep on) so someone was to be
assigned to the kitchen couch (with the sliding paper doors open, the kitchen was just an extension of the
bedroom, so that worked). We decided it would only be fair to have us rotate weekly for who sleeps on the
couch. But ultimately, I took the first couch shift and liked it so much that I slept on the couch that
The next item to discuss was meals. The configurations to choose from were: every man for himself,
companionships cook/eat together, or all four share a single meal. Since coordinating lunch and dinner
times between two companionships with two different schedules could be a problem, missionaries rarely did
foursome lunches or dinners. So we just had to decide on breakfast. The pros of everyone sharing a
breakfast were it meant only one person in the kitchen instead of four bumping into each other, it was
generally cheaper, and it was more fun eating at the same time. The cons were it meant one person had to
cook for everyone, the cook had to choose the meals a week in advance so as to shop for all the right stuff
on P-day, oh, and everyone had to know how to cook. But breakfasts are simple enough, so we decided to go
with the foursome breakfasts. As for meals… Cereal is not a common breakfast in Japan and it’s not
particularly cheap there, so that encouraged a bit more variety at breakfast. But for the sake of
convenience and time, meals were still kept simple. Fortunately, pancake batter is common in Japan,
oatmeal can be bought by the burlap bag, eggs are cheap, and very few missionaries object to spaghetti (or
any other dinner) for breakfast. So we made it work. I even tried making crepes a couple times, and
scones too (though, one time my scones came out cream-filled, or I should say “batter-filled”). For
lunches and dinners, Elder Turk and I decided to do our own thing.
Finally, we came to the most salient topic of all: how to divvy up the investigators. Okay, to be honest,
the existing Shizuoka teaching pool was pretty meager. There was Hiro of course, but beyond him I think we
just had two or three potential investigators and a small number of contacts to follow up on. Not hardly
enough to even split up, really. Or, that’s how Elder Lewis put it as he proposed that he and his bean
companion absorb it all. “But that would leave us with nothing at all!” I pointed out. “Fine,” Elder
Lewis replied. “You guys can have the weekly visits with the inactive Ohmura family.” Had it been anyone
else, I would’ve considered the idea of the other companionship taking everything a wholly selfish move.
But I knew Elder Lewis too well, and I knew he was right. There was barely anything there worth fighting
over, and compared to Elder Lewis I had virtually zero relationship with the few flimsy contacts we had.
So it really would be in the investigators’ best interest to keep them connected to Elder Lewis. So there
it was: Elder Turk and I were to start from absolute scratch in our proselyting.
After breakfast and morning studies finished, Elder Turk and I had to wait in the apartment for the
delivery company to bring his luggage and bike, which showed up a little later that morning. Then it was
time to head out for some Finding with my new companion. But now I was faced with another difficult
reality: the whole junior-companion-leads-senior-companion situation. Every companionship has a junior and
a senior companion. I don’t recall the responsibilities for each level ever being spelled out; I think it
was all rather vague. But it was generally assumed that the senior companion is in charge of choosing
daily activities and leading discussions while the junior companion’s job is to follow along and be
supportive. That sounded good to me; the only problem was that my companion didn’t know how to get from
point A to point anywhere in this town, nor did he know any of the good housing or streeting locations. So
that put me in the awkward position of suggesting places to go and sort of taking the lead as the junior
companion for a week or two. I was still so timid and uncertain of myself as a missionary, and I really
would have preferred to just follow behind Elder Turk like I had been mindlessly following Elder Lewis
around for the past two months. But in the next 48 hours that uncertainty of mine was about to get an
As I was about to set out with my new companion that morning for our first real stretch of proselyting
together, I reflected on my personal position. Working with Elder Lewis over the past two months was fun
and educational, but most of all, it was easy. My trainer took the lead on everything from housing to
teaching to socializing; he did everything, and he let me just watch. As a terrified new missionary in a
foreign country, I loved it. I had built these big expectations for myself when I was in the MTC, but once
I actually got to Japan, I was more than happy to sit back and ride Elder Lewis’s generosity for as long as
I could. However, after about a month of my non-involvement, my conscience really started gnawing at me.
Visions of the powerhouse missionary I had dreamed of becoming in the MTC started coming to mind more and
more regularly as weeks would pass and I knew I was being too passive. By the time Elder Turk showed up, I
was downright disappointed in myself—in my weak Japanese language skills and in my lack of missionary
involvement. But that guilt was never strong enough to actually rouse me to action; I was just too
uncertain of myself to actually knock on that door or call out to that person. So now, as Elder Turk and I
were parking our bikes, getting ready to house out a large apartment complex, I knew this was the moment
that our companionship dynamic would be molded. I knew this was a chance for me to remake my missionary
image, to take a step toward that model missionary I had dreamed for myself. All I had to do was show
Elder Turk that, even as junior companion, I had every intention of stepping up and matching his efforts
But I didn’t. I simply couldn’t muster the courage to speak out. And as door after door passed, it became
increasingly clear that Elder Turk would generously allow me to hide in his shadow just like Elder Lewis
had done. I saw myself falling back into the mold I had created under my trainer, and as much as I hated
myself for it, I was simply letting it happen. But wait... Did you hear what Elder Turk just said to that
lady? That was odd; he totally used the wrong Japanese grammar there. Oh wow, and did you hear that? He
completely butchered the pronunciation of that word… What’s going on here? If Elder Turk and Elder Lewis
were in the same MTC district, that means they’ve been in Japan for the same amount of time… then why isn’t
Elder Turk’s Japanese as good as Elder Lewis’s? In fact, his vocabulary is so simple that I can understand
every word he’s saying. Hmmm… I could say everything he’s saying right now, but I could do it without the
grammar and pronunciation slip-ups. In fact, I’m pretty darn sure I could be doing these door approaches
better than my companion! …if I could only find the courage to open my mouth…
And then it happened. “Hey Elder Turk, can I try the next door?” The words I’d been begging myself to say
for a month now finally just fell out of my mouth. After knocking on a bunch of empty apartments, someone
finally opened for me. And as I opened my mouth, I was pleased to discover that I was right. I used Elder
Turk’s approach and was shocked at how naturally I was able to form the Japanese sounds, words, and
sentences. I was speaking Japanese! Not those rehearsed self-introductions or prayers I’d been practicing
for months, but real freeform conversation! Hold on, don’t get ahead of yourself, Canon. Door approaches
are hardly freeform conversations. You’re just using the same lines over and over at each door, and it’s
all material you’ve heard from Elder Turk and Elder Lewis. Maybe your language skills aren’t as magically
stellar as you’re making them out to be… I won’t be convinced until I see you maneuver more than a three-
line back-and-forth with someone on a doorstep.
And the opportunity to test my linguistic mettle came sooner than I expected. That evening after Elder
Turk and I grabbed some dinner at the apartment, we headed out to meet the inactive Ohmura family that
Elder Lewis had so kindly bargained away to us that morning. Actually, I enjoyed the weekly visits with
the Ohmura’s over the past months; I rarely said much but it was a low-pressure environment for me to
absorb some good Japanese conversation. Tonight was going to be an entirely different story, however. As
I tried desperately to remember the way to their house in the fading evening light, I worked out a mental
plan for keeping any speaking pressure off myself that night. I would just march into their home,
immediately introduce Elder Turk, and then I’d drop the conversation entirely in my senior companion’s lap.
But something unexpected happened. I introduced my new companion, and as he fumbled through an awkward
greeting and then quickly ran out of things to say, I thought, “I should tell them about how Elder Lewis is
still in Shizuoka, and about his new companion.” So I did. And we discussed it for a few minutes. Then I
thought, “I should thank them for the Christmas dinner they made us the prior week.” So I did. And we
discussed Christmas and New Years for a few minutes. Then I thought, “I should ask them how their son is
doing at boarding school.” So I did. And the next thing I knew, I was carrying the entire conversation!
There was barely a chance for Elder Turk to get a word in even if he wanted to, and honestly, he didn’t
seem to want to. If Elder Lewis could see me now, he wouldn’t even recognize me! In less than two days I
had broken the trainee mold that I feared would be my prison. I was now convinced of my own potential and
ability beyond any doubt.
My ability to truly speak Japanese started that day. Of course, understanding people was still an enormous
challenge for me, and I was still light-years away from being able to say whatever I wanted. Rather, it
felt as though I was suddenly granted the ability to apply all the language principles I had studied thus
far -- it was as if someone had shaken my brain and the cluttered mess of Japanese grammar and vocabulary,
names and conjugations all fell into nice organized stacks. I attribute a good deal of my overnight
transformation to my new companion (ironically, it was his poor language skills and weak missionary
approaches that bolstered my confidence). But there’s no doubt in my mind that it was the Lord’s Spirit
that filled my heart with courage and my mind with understanding that day. It was a sudden and
overwhelming answer to weeks of prayer. During the remainder of my mission, I related that experience to
other Elders as the day the Lord turned the light on in my head. And I still wholeheartedly believe that.
Of course I still had plenty of language struggles after that experience. I had up days and down days just
like anyone else. I got tongue-tied, drew blanks, and had word slips just like everyone. But on some
basic level I was suddenly able to communicate. And for the remainder of my time with Elder Turk, I was
able to keep up with him in all the conversations we had, whether it was a formal discussion, a street
contact, or a casual chat with members. In fact, I felt that at just 2 months out, I pretty well matched
his 8-month skills one-to-one. I don’t mean to come off sounding so harsh on Elder Turk’s Japanese; I’m
just trying to tell it like it was. Plus, I guess in those two months as a trainee I took for granted how
phenomenal Elder Lewis’s Japanese was. So it was a real surprise for me when I first heard my new
companion speak. But Elder Turk’s sub-par skills had more than one advantage. In addition to my new-found
confidence, our comparable speaking abilities also meant we could work much more as a team than Elder Lewis
and I did. During discussions we were able to hand the teaching parts back and forth, and while tracting
we could take turns talking to people. Plus, I felt like my comparable skills gave me more clout to get
involved in planning our daily activities.
I had been with Elder Turk less than 48 hours and already things were changing in a big way. But along
with the personal improvement, this companionship change brought on new personal trials and challenges too.
But we’ll save that for next time.
||#15: Turk, Tomo, and Time
Companions come in three flavors: First, there are the guys who you love working with and who you can
easily imagine being best friends with even after the mission. Second, there are the guys who you work
okay with, but personality-wise you just aren’t best-friend material for each other. And third, there are
those missionaries who actually seem intent on undermining the Work, and who you really want nothing to do
with but throttle their necks. My first companion Elder Lewis was a category one companion with flying
colors. My new companion Elder Turk fell squarely in the second category.
Elder Turk was earnest enough in his proselyting, and his heart was mostly in the right place, but we never
really hit it off great. As I mentioned before, I was underwhelmed by his language skills, but that is an
excusable flaw. There was something more subtle in his manner toward missionary work that I was even less
impressed by. As an illustration, take Elder Turk’s door approaches while housing. He would use the exact
same words, the exact same sentences verbatim at each door. Now that alone may not be a crime, but a
robotic attitude while going door-to-door tends to be a symptom of a robotic approach to missionary work in
general. There’s a sense of going through the motions, and a mindset that says, “as long as my motions are
right, then I’m fulfilling my responsibility as a missionary”. Elder Turk certainly was a hard-working
Elder, and full credit to him for that. There just seemed to be something, some small thing in his drive
and in his attitude, that was missing. And whatever that small thing was, it seemed to be missing from our
personal connection too.
Elder Turk was an interesting mix of easy-going and moody. Oftentimes he would be smiling or laughing, and
a fun (if not occasionally awkward) addition to the group discussion. Then there were times he’d be
crabby. Like he was when I accidentally polished his shoes the wrong shade of black, and he reamed me for
it. But to be fair, we were mostly pleasant to each other.
To elaborate on another point where we didn’t see eye to eye, I need to change the subject and introduce a
new central character to my Shizuoka memoir. His name is Tomohiko Sato. I had never heard of him until
one Sunday shortly after I’d been paired up with Elder Turk. At church that morning a member told us that
a missionary from the Shizuoka ward serving in Japan’s northern Hokkaido area would be temporarily coming
home for medical reasons. The member said this Elder Sato would likely want to work with us while he was
in town to keep himself in the missionary groove. Great, so now we’re going to have to accommodate a
sickly young Japanese Elder into our daily schedule? How much time is he wanting to stick with us?
Threesome companionships can be a real challenge; isn’t this guy just going to step on our toes? Not to
mention all the time spent picking him up and dropping him off from who knows where… My imagination
explored all the worst scenarios, but my bitterness was likely just a cover for the anxiety I felt at the
prospect of needing to speak a lot more Japanese. It didn’t matter; my imagination could not have been
We finally met up with this Elder Sato at the church building a couple days later, and I was shocked. The
character standing before me was neither “young” nor “sickly”. I have never met any person in Japan more
energetic and bubbly to this day. Elder Sato was like a Japanese Guy Smiley. He was fun, he was
personable, and he was practically fluent in English. Now my imagination was wondering if I could trade
Elder Turk for this guy. His story went like this: He had joined the church just a few years earlier. He
was so passionate about the church and sharing the gospel that he was determined to serve a mission. Only
problem was, he was in his late 20’s. I want to say 29. The church’s absolute upper age limit for serving
is 25, but somehow he managed to get permission, and off he went. Then after a year into his mission, he
started having serious insomnia problems. He didn’t go into details, but he just said that he was hoping
to improve the problem over the next week or two and then head back to Hokkaido. He also assured us that
most of the time he was fully healthy and ready to work with us. And, somehow he got permission to drive
by himself so escorting him was never an issue. It was great: we suddenly had a joint at every discussion,
an extra hand at our weekly English class, and a new friend constantly at the church building just waiting
to help. And if that weren’t enough, he could cut hair too. So he gave all of us haircuts at the church
(shoulder massage included).
It was only a couple days later that Elder Sato told us he was feeling less optimistic about returning to
his own mission, and a couple more that he announced he would not be going back. It was sad, it must have
been a hard time for him. But he barely let it show as he got even more involved with us Elders. And
frankly, we were elated to have him around. From that day onward, he insisted that we call him by his
casual nickname Tomo. That just added to his air of friendliness. It was no time at all before he became
best friends with our investigator Hiro. He instilled a whole new energy into the handful of young single
adults in the ward, putting together activities to excite both members and investigators. In a matter of
weeks he arranged separate outings to the beach, to some cultural festival held at the local Buddhist
temple, and to an all-you-can-eat strawberry farm. Plus there were just the casual YSA get-togethers at
members’ houses that he’d spontaneously hold here and there. And of course we Elders were invited to
everything. And with zero investigators and zero potential investigators, Elder Turk and I were more than
happy to focus on member fellowshipping (especially if food and festivals were involved).
Now no doubt there could be some debate over the effectiveness of our “missionary work” at these
gatherings. And while I was normally against flagrant time-wasting of missionaries, I didn’t (and don’t)
regret joining in on those activities. After all, Elder Turk and I were filling most of our daily schedule
with Finding (housing & streeting), and a change of scene here and there is good to keep a missionary sane.
But more importantly, those activities become opportunities to develop your relationship with the ward
members. And no, I’m not using “building relationships” as a transparent excuse to go party, as some
Elders do. Those connections truly become valuable when you ask one of them later on to be a joint at your
next discussion, or when you introduce your new investigators to them at church on Sunday.
But let me explore this topic for just a bit longer. When it comes to participating in fun activities as a
missionary, what’s the difference between a “good” Elder and a “bad” Elder? We like to imagine it’s black
and white: one missionary is playing to avoid knocking on doors while the other is playing in preparation
for seeking member referrals. This may be true for the extreme missionaries, but I’d say in most cases
it’s much more of a dance around The Line. I may say to myself, “this beach trip will be a great chance to
get to know the YSAs better even though I’m not bringing an investigator.” And when I get there, maybe I
start out by really striking up conversations with these guys. But a few minutes later I’m running around
playing games in the sand. Have I crossed the line yet? Probably not. Nothing wrong with having some
fun. Now I’m standing a ways off chatting with my companion. That’s okay. Now we’ve been chatting by
ourselves for over an hour. Still okay? …maybe. But the moment I look around and think, “wait, what am I
doing here?” is probably when I’ve crossed the line. The trouble with The Line is that it’s so dependent
on focus and motivation, two entirely subjective matters. All in all, I’m not heavily critical of
missionaries who join in fun activities here and there. After all, it’s so difficult to read their true
motivation. So I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt unless I have reason not to.
Now with that said, I can tell about one “fun” activity that Elder Turk and I did that absolutely and
blatantly crossed the line from productive to lazy. One morning, before heading out the door to search for
new investigators, we got a phone call from Tomo. He asked if we had time to stop by his house that
afternoon and help him write a letter in English. We happily agreed since hanging out with Tomo beat
knocking doors any day. So we headed over there right after lunch. It was the first time we’d been to his
house. He led us up to his room where he sat down at a small desk; we Elders sat on the floor. Tomo
explained to us that a generous family in Utah was helping fund his mission, and that he wanted to write a
letter of apology/thanks now that his mission had ended. This would be my first experience with
translation, and I would soon learn that it is not as straightforward a process as I had imagined. Some
word combinations or phrases just don’t work in English like they do in Japanese, so then you have to come
up with adequate replacements. And the fact that Tomo spoke such good English may have slowed the process
down because we needed to explain in detail why we translated it the way we did. Suffice it to say, it
took a couple hours to finish. But it was mostly fun and I didn’t feel like the time was wasted at all.
Then Tomo asked us to stay and rest for a bit longer since that translation exercise was so mentally
exhausting. We gladly did. Tomo brought up snacks and we chatted about whatever. After a half hour or
so, it was getting on toward 4pm and I thought it was about time we headed out. I felt like we were
approaching that line between fun member fellowshipping and avoiding productive work. But Elder Turk gave
no inclination that he felt the same, and Tomo seemed to want us to just stay all day. After another long
half hour of lounging I was really stewing, and I realized that Elder Turk was going to take advantage of
this as long as Tomo would allow. Tomo was full of stories, missionary or otherwise, so all it took was a
simple question to get the conversation rolling for another good while.
He told us fascinating stories about how he joined the Japanese Mafia as a teenager, about playing drums in
a band, and how the Mafia gave him an expensive crystal drum set as a gift. He told us about his decision
to leave the Mafia a couple years later. And how the punishment for leaving is that the Mafia cuts off
your little finger, so you can always tell ex-Mafia members because they only have nine fingers. But Tomo
had all his fingers, so he told us how he was given the choice to have all of his fingernails torn off
instead of losing a finger, so that’s what he did. Really, some amazing stories. He also told us the
reason for the early return from his mission. Apparently, he just overworked himself to the point of
exhaustion. He told us how he believed that a mission represented a tithe on a young man’s time, which is
why 20 year olds give up 2 years. But since he was nearly 30, he felt a desire to give the Lord even more.
So as a missionary he would stay awake for hours after his companions slept and dig through old
investigator records, or just contemplate an effective plan for the next day. But a year’s worth of
minimal sleep finally caught up with him, and he had some sort of clinical exhaustion that made it hard for
him to sleep normally again.
Tomo went on and on about his life. But all the while, I still felt it was time for us to go. I mentally
debated back and forth whether I should press my senior companion, or whether I should loyally follow as
junior companion. Ultimately, I decided to drop hints to Elder Turk that we probably ought to get going.
After he ignored a few of my hints, it seemed clear that he was actively choosing to stay. So despite
disagreeing with him, I felt it my duty to support his decision. I quit worrying about the clock. And
whether it was right or not, I appreciated Tomo’s warm bedroom and I appreciated not knocking on doors in
the freezing weather. We didn’t get out of there until past 5pm, some 4 hours after we arrived. And then
we headed straight home for dinner and another hour of down time.
This was my first experience of blatant disagreement with a companion’s decision so it felt very odd, very
uncomfortable for me. And over the next couple weeks, Elder Turk would find another excuse or two to visit
Tomo again. And each visit was the same as that first one: hour after hour of us sprawled out, relaxing on
his bedroom floor. The concept of actively doing nothing didn’t get any easier for me. But at least with
all the freezing and wet weather going on at that time, I was grateful that this lazy “proselyting” and my
emotional frustration was so physically comfortable.
Ok, that’s all for now. More stories of Shizuoka, Elder Turk, and the new bean Elder Andrade coming