Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday, December 30, 2013 - Week 51

Hey Mom and Dad,

It snowed about 15 inches or so over the course of Saturday and Sunday.  It makes getting around by bike wicked fun and a bit of a pain.  But it warmed up yesterday afternoon and it's sunny today, so at least the roads have enough clear space that we can ride in relative safety.  If I can, I'm going to try and find a pair of boots or something that I can wear.  I've stolen a pair of overshoes and a pair of bigger rain boots from the house here, but those look rather strange to wear if I'm not wearing my rain gear, and they also have the draw back of not keeping my feet very warm.  I was thinking if I could find some decent looking and decent priced boots that would keep things warm and dry it would be nice.  If I do find something, I'll purchase it with my debit card, just heads up.  If I don't find anything, then no worries.

I feel like I'm losing my mind.  Time is going so fast.  Another transfer has passed and in just a week it will mark one year from when I entered the MTC.  Elder Hoshino and I are both staying in Toyooka, as it were.  There are a few changes in the Zone with folks transferring out and in.

Yesterday I conducted Sacrament Meeting in Japanese.  It was definitely an interesting and fun experience.  I'm sure I'll be doing it quite often from here on out.  So that will be fun and it's definitely something I'm hoping to improve on.  The conductor of the meeting has quite an influence on creating a spiritual atmosphere in the meeting.  The tone of voice, level of formality (especially in the Japanese language), speed you talk, and the way you conduct yourself factors fairly heavily into whether an environment where answers to prayers and guidance from on high can be felt through the Holy Ghost is created.  Other than conducting sacrament meeting, another responsibility I have is to help with Dendo in the branch.  We don't have a Dendo Shunin (Mission Leader), and the Branch President is rather busy, so I play a supporting role there.

I wish to express my thanks for the Christmas cards from the family and neighbors.  I've gotten one from Alan and Brenda, Larry and Hattie, Craig and Whitney, the Teasdales, among others.  It makes me happy to see the pictures of everyone and getting the chance to see how everyone is growing.

I enjoyed the call.  It was nice to talk for a bit to everyone and hear how you're all doing.  I'm sure grateful that nobody has spontaneously combusted or anything like that.  It's nice to not have to worry much about home and family and be able to just dendo (do missionary work).  I've been meaning to send out some letters lately, by the way, and I hope to do so soon.

For whatever reason, as I'm drawing near the half-way point in my mission, I've been thinking a lot about belief.  In the Japanese language especially, there's a real difference between how they interpret "I know..." and "I believe...".  It's fascinating to me, but it's led me to realize a few things.  Life is good.  We have no reason to despair.  Either there's a God in heaven or there's not.  As I've chosen to test if there is a God and to follow what God has said, I have come to firmly believe that God exists.  He's always kept His promises, and even when it seems like there's no reason to trust Him, just following His way has never brought me regrets.  I've never seen Him, or heard His voice so I probably can't say that I know for sure He's there, but because of what I HAVE experienced, felt, and seen, I have no grounds to deny that He is not and I choose to believe that He is.  I don't know or understand everything, but I don't care to.  I know enough.  I believe He is there, I believe and trust in what He has said, and I'm not afraid to change what I am in order to fulfill what He wants.  I do believe He knows better than me about everything, so why on earth would I question His ways, character, and current or past works?  I believe that as a man I can't comprehend all that God has done or will do.  But I also firmly believe and have faith that trusting Him will only lead to good for me, for now and forever.  Sometimes believing has been really hard for me, even as a missionary.  But I've gotten comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling of taking the step into the dark, letting go of what my physical senses and brain tell me makes sense, and trusting in His ways.  I do believe His ways and thoughts are higher than ours.  What I believe to be God's way has only brought me joy and joy to those around me, so I aim to keep on going in His way.

Elder Kyle Hutchings

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013 - Week 50

Mom & Dad,

I sound like a broken record, I know, but it's really freaking me out how fast time seems to go.  I feel like I'm losing my mind sometimes the way things are going.

This last Saturday evening we got an e-mail from a member of the District Presidency who lives in our branch.  He said he was going to need to talk to us the next day during Dendo Chosei Shukai (Missionary Coordination meeting).  "Okay," I thought, "Probably just something to do with how the missionaries in the Zone can work better with the members."  Then we got another e-mail which said he'd be interviewing us one by one, I'd be first, and that he'd gotten some sort of OK from Zinke Kaicho.  My thoughts quickly turned to, "What's going on, eh?  This doesn't seem normal."  It certainly didn't stress me out or anything, but it definitely got me to thinking; yet despite all of the thinking, I could not come up with any particular reason such an interview would be necessary.  Sunday morning came and we were in DCS discussing our Progress Record and how things had been going for the week and such.  Then in pops the District Presidency member and motions for me to come.  We sat down in the Branch President's office and had our interview.  I don't feel it's all too necessary to go into the why, but I was extended the calling to be the second counselor in the Toyooka Branch Presidency.  I accepted the calling, and as such I have various responsibilities pertaining to it.  I was sustained in Sacrament Meeting and in this case I was set apart.

It's not so far fetched for a missionary to serve in a Branch Presidency, because I know of many cases where they serve as the Branch President, etc.  But never in a million years would I have thought that I would ever be in such a situation.  I'm a missionary, a Zone Leader, and now the Second Counselor in a Branch Presidency.  It's a really humbling thing, and it's really lead me to realize that the Lord trusts me.  That's a realization that carries with it some weight - knowing that the Lord trusts me implies that He expects a lot of me.  But I'm also filled with the peace of mind that I have the Lord's help and that He will prepare a way for me to fulfill the responsibilities He has given me.

As a side note, Elder Hoshino is now the Elder's Quorum President.  We've both got a bit more on our plates now.  But I have great confidence and a firm belief that it will only be for our benefit and for the benefit of God's children.

This last Saturday night our branch had the branch Christmas-kai.  It was loads of fun, and there was an excellent turn out from members' friends and family, and 2 of our investigators in Toyooka came too.  We've been practicing a couple of songs with the Sister missionaries and a few members over the past few weeks that we sang.  It went well and was a lot of fun.  I'll send some pictures if I can.

It's been a full week full of many other happenings which I wish I had the time to write about.  I am so happy and am finding an incredible and soul filling joy in the service of the Lord.  Thank you so much for all of your love and support.  I'm looking for ward to the call this week.

Elder Kyle Hutchings

PS.  I got the package by the way, thank you so much!  Elder Hoshino is way happy about the Snickers.

Christmas-kai.  I'm not going to lie, I think I had more fun here than at most ward Christmas parties.

I wore a santa hat at the Christmas party.  I also let my buddy Shoya kun (he's a potential investigator) have at things with my camera.  He took a lot of really funny pictures.

This is what I see in the train ride to District Meeting Friday mornings.
 Really pretty sunrises and clouds and stuff.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Monday, December 16, 2013 - Week 49

Mom and Dad,

Every night Hoshino Choro and I seem to have the same discussion - how on earth did we get here?  Didn't we just get out of our futons not just 30 seconds ago?  And now we're here again!  It's kind of spooky just how fast things are going.

So about the Christmas call.  Just like on Mother's day you'll need to call me because our phones can't make international calls.
You'll need to call me when it's Christmas for you.  It would be best if you could call at about 9:00 our time.  If I'm not mistaken that should be around 5:00 in the afternoon for you.  Or it could be 6, I don't remember how it goes with daylight savings time and all.  Again, 59 minutes maximum.

So an update on T.Kyoudai - he has a member record!  Yoshi!  We know he's been baptized, but we're not sure if he's been confirmed yet.  The mission office said that the record will be sent our way soon, so we're curious to find out a little more about him.  We're still meeting with him and working closely with the Branch on helping him out.  He is absolutely incredible.  He has so many awesome questions and he has such a sincere desire to learn and grow closer to God.

It's been hanging around 0-5C this last week and we finally got a good few whacks of snow.  It was snowing a little when we left our house to go visit some potential investigators (who live about 30 minutes away by bike) so luckily we wore our rain gear.  Nevertheless, wearing rain gear and biking almost always leads to sweat, and so when we got there and took our gear off, we froze.  The ride back wasn't much fun, either.  But we're going to be gearing up today and getting a few things to make working in the cold a wee bit less uncomfortable.  The snow hasn't been sticking around, but I'm sure that will change over the next few weeks.

So about money and stuff, I (so far as I know) don't have control over which account I pull out of when I got to an ATM here.  I had no idea that it was pulling out of savings.  In any event, I don't foresee any huge need to pull out cash in the near future, but I'll likely be making some debit purchases, just FYI.

Funny that you mention the light display in Osaka.  There have been a lot of advertisements for it in trains and such over the past few weeks.  Looks like it would be pretty cool.  Definitely nothing of that sort in Toyooka, but a few folks put Christmas lights on their houses.  Yoshi.

Yesterday we went to Fukuchiyama and the branches combined their church meetings.  There was an excellent shokujikai (food fest) afterwards, and then everyone watched the Christmas Devotional.  I would say that I absolutely loved the Christmas Devotional, but I actually didn't get to watch it.  Because we're Zone Leaders, Hoshino Choro and I ended up having a meeting with the District President during the time everyone else was watching the Devotional.  I caught the last few minutes of Elder Nelson's talk and the last song, it was nice.  Maybe I'll watch the Devotional someday, maybe not.

I love you.  Thank you so much for all of your love, concern and support.  I'll try and send some pictures if I can.

Elder Kyle Hutchings
Elder Hoshino and I may or may not have bought some way cool glasses at a recycle shop and then vainly took our photo in the reflection of a train.

Some way cool natural formations called the Genbudo caves.  Not too far from where our house is.

Last week we went to Mister Donuts.  They had Charlie Brown sweets.  Couldn't resist.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Monday, December 9, 2013 - Week 48

Mom and Dad,

This last week came and went in a flash.  It's been a full week.  I feel like I'm losing my mind sometimes because of how quickly everything is moving.

I got the envelope!  Thank you so much!  I love the hat!  It will be perfect to put in my bike basket and wear when I get to places.  I anxiously await the next package!  Please express my thanks to Grandma and Sister Shepherd for the money, it means so much to me to have their support.  I send my love - and somebody hug them for me (I can't hug them because I'm in Japan and also I can't hug females anyway, so onegaishimasu!)  It's been chilly and humid as usual here - I'm glad to hear things are frigid in good old Utah.  We haven't gotten any snow yet, but the way things are looking and feeling, it's an "any day now" kind of situation.

This last week we had an incredible experience.  For privacy purposes, I'm only going to refer to people by initials.  On Thursday we we received a phone call around 3:00 in the afternoon.  It was from a man who addressed himself as T. Kyodai (brother) who said he needed help.  He asked us if we could meet at the church at 6:00, and so we agreed.  Because of the kyodai thing, we figured he might be a less active and decided that it would probably be best to have a doseki there, so we called the incredible M. Kaicho and he graciously agreed to help us out.  We ended up going to the church at about 4:30 for some reason or another, and when we got there we received another phone call from T. Kyodai.  He asked us if we could meet right away instead of at 6:00, and we said, "Uh...sure.  That shouldn't be a problem.  Let us call our friend and make sure that's all right and we'll call you back."  After asking the M. Kaicho (branch president) if he could come right away (to which he responded yes, and in super-heroic fashion arrived at the church only a few minutes later) we reconfirmed things with T. Kyodai.

While we were waiting at the church, we filled in M. Kaicho on everything we knew to that point.  He went in and checked the membership records and we found nobody with the name T..  Shortly thereafter, T. Kyodai showed up to the church.  We sat down with him and simply started talking.  We started by expressing our love to him, and expressing how much we wanted to help him.  We pointed out just how awesome we thought it was that he had sought help, and started asking him some simple questions and he opened up and told us just about everything.  He's 54 years old right now and his life has been pretty stressful lately.  He's concerned about his job, his and his sister's health, and how his breath smells (legitimately, he was concerned).  In trying to find help he had sought out a lot of other churches and religions, but hadn't felt like it was helping him like he needed.  Somewhere along his searching, he remembered that he'd received help from Mormons in the past.  He also remembered that he had been baptized by Mormon missionaries about 30 years ago.  Because he remembered those things about Mormons, he decided to try and get a hold of them.  Somehow he got a hold of a missionary in Kobe, and they gave him our cell phone number.  He then called us (the call we received at 3:00).  Between calling us the first and the second time, he told us he had called a Protestant Bokushi.  But when he was talking to the preacher, something just felt wrong, and there was something different about us, and that's why he called again and wanted to meet right away.

After a little more discussion, we came to find out that after being baptized 30 years ago he moved around a lot, had plenty of hard times, and thought a lot about God and who God is.  He really just wanted to do what is right and grow closer to God.  He had been praying for all of those years, but he never had felt he was doing it right.  What he really wanted was for us to teach him how to pray.  Thinking through things, though, before we went guns blazing into how to pray, and thinking things through, we asked him more about God and his personal image of Him.  We explained how important it is to know who you're praying to, and then simply explained who God is, and what that means to us.  It was moving to see just how excited and right it seemed to him - to see his face and his eyes light up as he heard that God is His Heavenly Father.  After that, we taught him how to pray, and demonstrated to him how to pray.  He really clued in to the fact that you can use your own words, and that you're really just talking to God.

I could write more about that lesson and what went on, but I know you're busy and have a lot of letters to read.  I'll cut to the chase and write my take aways.  I feel like that  was one of the best lessons I feel that I've ever had the privilege of participating in.  The Spirit was so strong, and I feel like I learned so much about everything from that lesson.  As Hoshino Choro and I looked back at it, we realized that what made it so good was that we truly applied and followed the all of the training that we have been receiving from Zinke Kaicho.  We really followed what we've been learning - and what we receive from our Mission President is truly revelation and direction from God.  That's why that lesson went so well.  We really took time to listen and sympathize (something that M. Kaicho is incredible at, which is why I love him as a human being and as a doseki), and then read the air and allowed the Spirit to guide us as we asked him more questions and taught him Eternal truths.  We shared our feelings and experiences, and truly opened our hearts.  At the end of the lesson T. Kyodai said that what he felt and the help he received was 10 or 20 times that of what he was expecting from talking with church people.  He also said he never felt like he could talk so openly about his feelings.

As a side note with T. Kyodai, there is still no proof that he was baptized or confirmed a member of the church.  He remembered in detail where it happened and the names of the Elders back then, and we can't see any reason he would have to lie.  I asked the Recorder to do some digging, and we're awaiting any developments.  It's our thought, though, that if there is no record or proof that the ordinances were performed, that he be counted as an investigator.  We're waiting for the confirmation on that before we count him, but we're still going to meet with him and help him from here on out.

This last week we had a ZTM and it went quite well.  We went to MLC on Tuesday, and then had Zone Training Meeting on Friday.  It was a good chance to reinforce what was learned at Zone Conferences which we had recently and to do some good training on how we can all improve to move the Lord's work forward.  Something we really emphasized was True Discipleship.  Our mission has a theme of "True Disciples - One and All" and we are dedicated to becoming no less than followers of Jesus Christ in our heart of hearts.  At MLC we came to realize that True Discipleship hasn't been emphasized enough, so it was something we focused on in ZTM.  It was my responsibility to do the teaching on it, and I'll be honest, it was a bit of just me getting on a soap box and preaching, but I put my heart and kidneys into that "sermon".  I really focused on our intentions and if we're really serving because we love Him and I referenced Jeffery R. Holland's talk "The First and Great Commandment."  I shared my experiences and I feel like it was all impactful, but I guess the true measure of all of it will be to see how much it shows up in the results.  As a companionship, we intend to follow up heavily on what was discussed at ZTM and to really keep everyone focused on becoming True Disciples.

This last week came and went in a flash.  This is truly the Lord's work.  I'm grateful for all I am privileged to learn and do in His service.  All of the amazing people I meet, the True Disciples who help me and serve alongside me make impressions on me that will affect my life and others in ways that they don't know.  I am so tired.  But I am filled with a joy and a fire that swallows up any fatigue, hardship, or sorrow.

There's a lot more I wish I could tell you about this last week, but I fear that my time is running short for today.  I'll send some pictures if I can today or next week, and try and get in some of the other things I've learned.

Elder Hutchings

PS. Most of the story about T. Kyodai was copied from my letter to Zinke Kaicho - so if there's anything you don't understand or if I wrote something like "Kaicho, ..." then I'm sorry.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday, December 2, 2013 - Week 47

Mom and Dad,

It's December!  I don't understand what it means!  Time goes so fast!  

You know, as it were, if you hadn't said something about Thanksgiving in last week and this week's emails, I would have all but forgotten it exists.  We had nothing special for Thanksgiving, and I kind of forgot about it.  Anyway, we had a couple of snow flurries last week.  One hit when we were studying in the church.  It was rather cool because from the window we could see the snow start falling by the mountains afar off, and work it's way over the rice fields until it reached where we were.  Otherwise, it's definitely dropping in temperature, but it's not been too bad because most of the days have been sunny.  However, I did learn something this last week about the snow around here.  There's no powder.  It's very heavy and burdensome.  That's what one of our investigators and one of the members said, guess we'll see how it is when it starts falling more and sticking around.
This last Tuesday we had a Zone Conference at the Honbu (Mission home).  It was an excellent opportunity to hear from President Zinke and the Assistants.  It was also very fun to see and mingle with all of the people in the surrounding Zones as well.  Elder Hoshino and I were assigned to give one of the Ansho's for the beginning of the meeting.  We recited D&C section 4 in English and Japanese.  It went well and we didn't screw up.

This week I've been thinking a lot about receiving revelation and guidance.  Specifically, lately I've been thinking a lot about past experiences and fresh perspectives.  When I review past experiences and revelation when it comes to considering how to proceed, I've been found that taking time to think through what the Lord has already taught me yields solutions and opens doors for further light.  At the same time, sometimes taking a fresh look on things is one of the best ways for me to obtain guidance.  One of the best things I ever did in the MTC was purchase a small copy of the Book of Mormon.  It is without highlight, note, marking, or any such thing.  Because of that, when I search it's pages for guidance my mind isn't led to think one way and doesn't get distracted by past information.  I'm able to see things from a new perspective and my understanding is able to grow in a different direction than from where it's gone before.  The Spirit of the Lord communicates with and works with our minds and hearts in very fascinating ways.  I'm grateful that as a missionary I'm afforded such an opportunity to understand and learn more about how the Lord speaks to me.

To answer your questions about Hoshino Choro, he is from Japan from Iwate Ken.  Iwate Ken is in the Sendai mission I believe.  Elder Hoshino is the man!  We're getting along great and having tons of fun with dendo and being Zone Leaders.

I still haven't received anything package wise.  That might be because we've got MLC this Tuesday and I'll be going to the Honbu and they're just planning to give it to me when I go there, or it might be because it's just not here yet.  About the next package, if it's not too much to ask, I'd like to onegai (request) some Snickers for Elder Hoshino.  He seems to like them (gets one almost every time we go to a konbini (convenience store)).

Just a heads up, I'm probably going to be buying some more thermals, warmer socks, and a few odds and ends over the coming weeks.  I'll be using my personal funds for that, so I just wanted to let you know.

I love you.  I'm so grateful for all of you do and for all of your help and all you do to support me.

Elder Kyle Hutchings