Monday, July 24, 2017

I Know That My Redeemer Lives: Nihon Week 72

This is it . . .  the last official email of Alyssa's mission.  I Can Not Believe It.  It is over and I have no words.  Tomorrow I board a plane to go to Japan to bring Alyssa home.  My heart is so full and I am filled with so many emotions.  I am so excited to meet so many of these amazing people that have changed Alyssa's life.  I feel so blessed for the opportunity and I am so grateful that Alyssa chose to serve a mission.  None of us will ever be the same again because of it.  I will just let Alyssa's words sum it up:
Minasan, konnichiwa! 
Well everyone...can't believe it is time to write another group email already and even harder to believe that this will be my last. Emotional wreck does not even begin to start to describe my current state of being haha. 
Monday night after P day we had the chance to meet with one of our investigators named Serika. She is a college student and is crazy busy, so being able to meet was a total blessing. She is way cute and doing well and I feel blessed to have known and taught her for the time I was in this area. I can't wait to hear what good things come from her and her progression. 
Tuesday morning we were up waaaaay early and got on a train to head to my last companion exchange down in Sennan, and I was blessed to work with the one and only Sister McGuire. One of the biggest blessings of my mission has been the chance to work with her for four transfers now, because she has truly become one of my best friends in the world. I am sure I knew her in the preexistence and I know we will be friends waaaay beyond this life, and so I am just grateful to have finally met her here! We had a super great and miraculous day, with probably the highlight being the chance we had to teach the Restoration together to a member. The Spirit was crazy strong and I was just SO moved and just became so much more grateful for Joseph Smith and the First Vision, because I know it is true with my whole heart and soul. I really felt it that day and it was a blessing to teach it like we were able to. 
Wednesday we ended the exchange and headed up to Sakai where we would be spending the next few days! That day after studies and planning and basically just figuring our lives out, we went out to go and visit tons of less actives and people to invite them to the upcoming ward party. It felt SO good to just get out and put in work in an area that I just love so much. God was so good by giving me this chance to serve in Sakai again. The evening was great because we had our classic Eikaiwa class, where this time I had to explain what "obstruction of justice" means as well as break up a fight between two students when one guy confessed he saw a man get shot when he was in New York. Well. Never a dull moment here haha. 
Thursday was another day in Sakai and it was actually pretty emotional if we are being honest. During personal study I was filling out this mission evaluation questionnaire thing that they make us do as cruel and unusual punishment, and in those moments of reflection it really hit me I was leaving. And then all the tears came and basically haven't stopped for like four days now haha but it's whatever. It was another awesome day where we had a bunch of plans, but God completely rearranged them but it ended up being miraculous and perfect. I got to teach an investigator named Hisako (the cute lady we found in the cafe) and she is still doing way great. Ahh missions are the best blessings, you make so many eternal friends and it was a blessing to be one of the first missionaries to contact and meet her. 
Friday we headed out to Hashimoto to have the last district Meeting of the transfer. Our district is sort of unique in literally half of us are going home this transfer, and so we had a great talk about goals and plans and dreams (related to the mission and not) and just how the gospel can help us achieve all of them. As I pondered that, I was just filled with so much gratitude! Every hope and dream I have has come because of this amazing gospel, and it has truly grounded me to be who I am. In the afternoon we taught the a Fukumitsu couple about Hope from PMG (this time I gave the right reading assignment haha, hurray), and then taught the Oonishi and Ueda families as usual. I love those families with my whole heart. They are so special to me and helping them come closer to Christ in even the smallest way has been such a blessing to my life. 
Saturday was insane haha. We were outside literally ALL day doing various service projects between cleaning this pond and then going and doing service in the yard of a member (which required me climbing a sketchy ladder and playing with a chainsaw, so that was fun), but it was great because I really just believe that service is the easiest and happiest way for us to feel the Spirit. It is a blessing to serve others. That evening we literally SPRINTED on and off of some trains to go BACK to Sakai where there was a Pioneer Day party and we got to help with some stuff and friendship investigators and whatnot. We met these three cute girls from Vietnam and they will start investigating in that area after coming to the party, so that was a cool and happy miracle as well! 
Sunday morning we headed back to Kawachinagano and this day was a doozy I tell you haha. As I kept having to make appointments and realize I wouldn't be there, or hug people good morning, or anything like that, it just hurt my heart. I love these people so so so much. This ward is amazing and has changed my life. I had the chance to give my last talk as a missionary about how my experiences here have brought me closer to God and my Savior, and that was emotional in and of itself for so many reasons. Lately I have been having so many crazy flashbacks of like my whole mission and everything I have learned, and I am just so crazy grateful for everything. In the evening we spent some time with the YSA and the family of the Bishop and I just love them all so much. Overall this week was just so solid. There were some hard and emotional parts to it, but also so many tender mercies. I can't count the number of times I would be sad and then receive a letter from a family member or my amazing trainer or just a small miracle from the work here. God is so good and is so so aware. 
Well folks...this is it. After 18.5 months, 14 companions, 4 areas, and millions of miracles...this Thursday I report to the mission home where I will meet my parents and be released as a full time missionary. I will spend about a week and a half here with my parents before returning to the United States on August 5th. 
It is nearly impossible to put my feelings about my mission into words, let alone try and explain it over a silly email. I have so many thoughts and emotions and things going every which way, but one thing that keeps coming to my head over and over is this quote I love by C.S. Lewis:
"We can say we believe in Christ as we believe in the sun at noonday, not that we can see it, but that by it, we can see everything else."
Of all of the miracles I have seen and people I have met and things I have experienced, the biggest testimony I can bear and the thing I am most grateful for is the chance I have had to come to see the Savior and His influence here in Japan every single day. I never saw Him personally, but I saw His light shine to touch souls shrouded in darkness, I saw His love change those who wished to repent, I saw His hope bring comfort to those with sorrow, I saw His peace soothe those in times of trouble, and I saw His doctrine and His beautiful and perfect atonement change lives again and again and again. I love my Savior Jesus Christ more than I can BEGIN to describe, and getting to know Him as His representative here has been an amazing blessing.
I know Jesus Christ lives! I know He is my Savior and I will glory in Him forever. I know He loves us infinitely and knows us personally and that His hand is ALWAYS outstretched towards us. I am so grateful for the chance I have to walk with Him here in Japan for these past 18 months and try and bring others along with me as well. 
I love you all so much and am so grateful for the prayers and support and letters and tears and everything you have all done on my behalf over the course of my mission, it means the world to me and more.
Thank you so much for everything, and I will see you all again soon, okay?? Aishiteimasu!! 
Sister Pickering 


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sakachinagano 2.0: Nihon Week 71

Alyssa and Ayaka
Excerpt from my letter:
Something I have been pondering lately is gratitude. Of all the crazy emotions of sad and happy and exhaustion and relief about my mission drawing to a close, the biggest emotion of all that I feel is just gratitude. I am so grateful to be here. I am so grateful God allowed me to serve a mission. I am so grateful you and Dad raised me and helped me to be here. I am so grateful for the areas I have served in and the people I have met. So grateful for the Japanese language and culture and country and people. I just have so much gratitude in my heart and despite the sorrow and occasional heartache the gratitude always wins out. Gratitude truly is a catalyst for other Christlike attributes and that is what I will be clinging to in these coming days. 
Thank you for helping me to be here and thanks for pushing me out the door. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, this mission has meant the world to me and more and I will never get over it. Seriously though, there is no way I could be here without you. So thank you. So much gratitude for you too :)
I too am full of gratitude.  Grateful to Alyssa and her example.  Grateful for wonderful members, companions,  Mission Presidents and the Japanese people for taking care of her this last year and a half.  Grateful for her safety and protection.  Grateful for all that she has learned and experienced.  Grateful for the blessings we have received as a family because of her service.  Grateful for the Savior and His plan and this Gospel.  And grateful that I get to hug my daughter soon.  Taking from Alyssa's constant words: "God is good"!

Minasan, konnichiwa! 
Okay so first of all to clear some stuff up, yes, last P day I lied to every single one of you, I apologize, my homecoming will actually be August 13th at 9 AM instead of the 9th because we don't have church on Wednesday as my Father so kindly brought to my observation haha. My baaaaaaad. 
I can't believe another week has come and gone already....time is just flying by and Heavenly Father is keeping me busy right until the end. Just happy to be here and pushing and working until I can happily collapse at the finish line tape (and then probably stay down and take a nap for like four days because I am actually really really tired haha, but it's whatever). This past week was wonderful though! 
Monday night after another P day of chilling and resting (nobody really wants to go out and do much in this heat anyways haha) we had a meal appointment with a member family named the Suzuki's, and their LA daughter and nonmember granddaughter. We had prepared a lesson based on what Suzuki Shimai had asked us to the day before and felt good about it, but it was interesting because while studying for the lesson I received what felt like some totally unrelated promptings and learnings, but it was good and I learned anyways so sort of just set it aside. We get to the appointment and find out that the LA daughter and nonmember granddaughter won't be able to attend...disappointing but also okay because I love the Suzuki family with my whole heart and soul. We had a great meal and then when it came time for the lesson we shared the lesson we had planned but were able to adjust it a little bit to meet needs and circumstance and it was actually way cool because the things I had learned that morning came flooding to my mind as I realized God had planned for this lesson change long before any of us knew it would be happening. It was very humbling and actually sort of sacred to have Suzuki Shimai look me in the eyes and thank me for being an answer to a prayer she had offered that day, and it made me SO grateful for the Spirit. The greatest privilege I have had out here is to act as an instrument for our Heavenly Father, and it is really one of the best feelings in the world. 
Tuesday morning we got up super super early to head out for an exchange we had that day with the Wakayama sisters! I was super blessed to work with Sister Miller, because she has become one of my best friends out here and I just love her to death. It was awesome to spend an entire day just working super hard as the two oldest sisters in the mission (ouch, that hurts to say) but also seeing tons of tender mercies and blessings from God. I think we ended up with like two new investigators that day and several way solid PI's, so it was awesome. It was also CRAZY hot and we both got completely fried haha, nothing like a summer in Kansai. 
Wednesday morning we left Wakayama to head to Sakai where we had planned to do a Zone blitz with all of the sisters, but then some craziness went down and due to one of our sisters having to go to Kobe for some health issues, there ended up being an emergency transfer that we ended up going and helping with as far as like packing and preparing the apartment...we found out that in the process, there would be no Sakai Sisters for two weeks and since that is super rough on an area and since we are the closest sisters and I know the area like the back of my was decided that my companion and I would spend the rest of my mission covering both the Kawachinagano AND Sakai areas! For those of you who remember, I actually have already done this two area deal twice already, and once was the Sakai and Kawachinagano areas back in December, so I guess you could say I have had more than a little practice haha. It is going to be absolutely insane for these next 10 days, but I am so excited to be back with two areas I absolutely love. Sakachinagano 2.0 here we go!! The other cool part about Wednesday was that I had my departing interview with President Smoot....holy cow emotions. I support that man fully as my priesthood leader, because there were things he told me and counsel he gave me that could only have come from my loving Father in Heaven. It meant everything to me to hear after eighteen months of my imperfect and yet heartfelt service that it was accepted of the Lord. Not a feeling or experience I will be able to forget. 
Thursday was a day filled with visiting lots of less actives and having those lessons super guided by the spirit which was just boss. Something kind of funny that happened is that I messed up in assigning a reading assignment (thanks Japanese) to the Fukumitsu couple we teach weekly and when they were supposed to read the section on "Hope" from PMG they accidentally read the "How do I better learn my mission language?" section and they took super diligent notes and got way into it and somehow Sister Gusman and I were able to pull it off as a real lesson for addiction recovery and act like nothing ever happened haha. The mission gives you valuable improvisation skills, that is for sure. 
Friday we had a super great district meeting in Kawachinagano, and it was way fun because the Sakai elders have been temporarily added to our district and they are just great. The meeting was based off of teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, and we were able to learn a lot about charity and how we need to let it drive our daily actions as missionaries and affect who we are seeking to share the gospel with. Super great, way strong spirit, learned a lot. The afternoon was spent visiting Teaching with some sisters in the ward (always a party, lots of old women talk to be heard and pudding to be eaten by all), before going to our weekly appointments with the kids we teach. The Oonishi girls are doing way great, we have been reviewing the Plan of Salvation with them and they just love it. I LOVE how accepting children are, it's so awesome. Then we visited the Ueda kids who are also doing has been a joy to work with them and help their mom slowly work towards activation which means helping the kids work towards baptism. Super super happy stuff! 
Saturday we received the news that one of our sisters who we thought would only be going to Kobe for medical treatment would actually having to be returning to America for further help, and so we spent the morning and all afternoon back in Sakai helping her pack all of her things and clean the apartment some more and then head to the hospital to get some stuff done for her. Lots of strength and bravery from that lady, I have learned so much from the sisters I have been blessed to serve with out here. In the evening when we got back to Kawachinagano, we went with the Minamimoto couple to go and visit a billion less actives and ended up meeting some new potential investigators in the process. Those two are such miracle workers, I swear. I love them with my whole heart. 
Sunday rolled around (way too fast as usual haha) and was just wonderful. Awesome meetings with lots of people that I just love so much, which led into a series of ward council type meetings. After that we decided to shake up our finding a little bit and head to this free Japanese Class that the community puts on for foreigners to help them learn Japanese and get accustomed to the country and language and whatnot, and so we followed the elders and decided to check it out and it ended up being SUPER effective. We ran into a former investigator we will be meeting next week, and found some new people to teach including one of the teachers and these three cute kids from Pakistan. Literally God is so good. The evening was spent with a member named Ikeuchi Shimai and we ate and had a quick lesson there. Kawachinagano is seriously heaven on earth. 
I have been studying about the Savior and His miracles a lot this week, and it has been cool how real and personal it has become to me through what I have read. One thing that really struck me is how Christ could have possibly healed and saved so many people when He was in a community with thousands and could He have done it all? Would people not have been forgotten? As I was pondering this and studying some more the very clear realization came to me that EVERY SINGLE PERSON that approached the Savior for healing and mercy received it...He never turned a single one of them away, and anyone who asked received. Is this not so true for us now? We live in a world with millions and millions and might sometimes have the natural man tendency to feel forgotten by our Savior, but I testify that every single one us that cry out to Jesus will receive whatever help and healing we need. Every. Single. Time. He knows us, He loves us, and He is simply waiting for us to even make the slightest movement towards Him, and in so doing He will run to us and catch us and bring us the rest of the way. 
I love my Savior Jesus Christ so so much. It is hard to put into words how I feel about my Savior and how I have come to know Him and love Him more over the course of my time here in Japan, but it can just be simply summarized in love and gratitude. I am thankful for His sacrifice for me, and I love Him and will love Him forever for it. I am so grateful to know Him and to love Him and to be here as His representative to the Japanese people. 
I hope you all have a wonderful week, and that you feel the love of the Savior in your individual lives. I pray for you all, and can't wait to see you all soon! This is my last full week in the mission field and so I am excited to see what blessings and miracles the Lord has in store for us in BOTH of my wonderful areas. Only time will tell! 
Love you all so so much! Aishiteimasu minasan! 
Sister Pickering 
P.S. Today for P day we went to Osaka to go to Harukas which is the tallest building in Osaka and the second tallest in Japan. Super super cool and the best was that my convert Ayaka came too. Just so much happiness today.