Editor's note: Jiemei means "Sister"
Wow, there is so much to tell you after just one week in California. There have already been miracles and just so much other stuff. I know this is horrible of me, but I forgot my camera, so you'll have to wait til next week for photos. So sorry about that! I hope the ones with Guo Jiemei will suffice. Let me first say thank you for all of the incredible letters and pictures from the past two weeks. I've loved them all and I can honestly say that my family is getting better-looking by the day. Missions really do bring blessings. People here actually use quite a bit of Chinglish, so I have to concentrate hard in case they whip out an English word that still sounds Chinese with their accent. Also, I have found out that not every Chinese person speaks alike. Some people are from Taiwan so their Chinese is pretty qingchu (clear) and that's nice. But then there's some that have very qingchu Chinese but speak really quickly, so I can't understand them too well. And then, there are some Taiwanese who just love to throw random oh and aaaaaa sounds and just kind of attach them at the ends of words for fun, so I can't understand them too well. And then the Mainland Accent is a whole otehr animal. It's crazy. It's very thick and lots of harsh shhhhh sounds and aaarrrr in-the-back-of-the-throat sounds which they just kind of attach them at the ends of words for fun, so I really can't understand them too well. But I absolutely love it. It is the best thing ever. I am absolutely in love with the Chinese language, its many accents, and the Chinese people. It's so much fun. And the best thing is, I will be here for two years. I asked Bo Huizhang (President Bowen), and told him that if I have a choice, I would love to stay with the Chinese for my entire time here. He said, "That's the plan." It looks like I'm here to stay!
Okay, I think I'll start from the beginning. I'm not sure how much time I have, because a lot of it was spent reading (not anyone's fault, and this is a good thing), but I'll try to keep it coherent. Oh, also, I'll try to answer questions that I got in previous emails in my story.
Like I said before, myself and Elder Wadsworth met President Bowen at the airport. He gave us a hug and was very excited for us to be there. He drove us to his home, where Sister Bowen and a few other sisters were preparing for a sisters conference. I think there are about 40 or so sisters in the mission, and at least half of them are Polynesian, so needless to say, it was a party. Although I didn't really participate, because I had woken up at 2:45 California time to pack and other things. So, Elder Wadsworth and myself ate lunch, were interviewed by President Bowen (he's so great, and really awesome about the Asian program that we have), and then took an hour nap so I wouldn't be useless for the rest of the day. I woke up to meet my new companions, Elder Bray and Elder Kim. There was another Chinese elder who suddenly went home, so there are only five Mandarin speakers out right now. Elder Bray and Elder Kim are both awesome. Elder Bray leaves in about two weeks, so Elder Kim is really my trainer, but it's awesome to be with both of them right now. Both of their Chinese is fluent, they really are really good. Also, they just seem to know everything about the Gospel and how to best teach people. They've been together for about eight months now, so they are really on top of it. Elder Kim leaves in July, I think, so I'll be with him until then. Also, more exciting news - there will be a missionary from Mainland China who will be arriving in May, so we'll be a trio for a little bit before Elder Kim leaves. I don't think this missionary speaks English, so my Chinese should improve pretty quickly when he comes, though it's already improving very quickly because Elders Bray and Kim are awesome about SYL. Their Chinese is very qingchu, so I can understand just about everything they say except for certain vocab words. I think it's hardest with natives that speak quickly with a thick accent and they tell a story so I have no background knowledge or anticipation about what they're talking about. My apartment is nice, a little crowded because there are only supposed to be two of us, but it's still great. The shower is probably my favorite part. Later that night, we went to the church to teach our weekly English class. The Korean elders help us do it and they are really funny about the whole thing. Actually, doing it helps me realize what a ridiculous language English is and how many different expressions we have. The weather is also awesome. A little chilly sometimes at night, but still great. Our area right now is the east half of the mission because there are two companionships in the branch, but we still go to the other half because Elders Kim and Bray are zone leaders. I don't know if that also means I'm a zone leader, but if it does, I'm wandan le (that's for Becca). The area is actually quite bigger than I expected, so we actually take quite some time to travel in the car (a nice pretty new Toyota Corrolla), which 2/3 of the mission has. Food is fun. We've actually been out to eat a few times at restaurants and I also bought some rice and other Chinese necessities at a Chinese supermarket. We've eaten at members' houses three times already, where it's a mix of American and Chinese food. Man, this is so all over the place, sorry. There's a lot to talk about. I also met President Byers, our branch president, on my first full day. He is awesome. He's the one in the picture who baptized Guo Jiemei. He's incredibly nice, immediately makes you feel welcome, and has got the funniest laugh in the world. He opens his mouth really wide, screws up his eyes, and lets out this pretty high pitched cackle. It is hilarious and I'm smiling just thinking about it. It was hard believing it was real when I first saw/heard it. Anyway, he along with the rest of the ward is really focused on missionary work. Seriously, at Branch Council yesterday, most of the meeting was focused on missionary work and making new investigators and new converts feel welcome.
I am seriously so lucky to come at this time. We've got baptisms lined up every Saturday for the next four weeks, and I already got to watch one on Saturday! So great. This place is chock full of prepared people, mostly because the people we teach have never even heard of our church or missionaries. I think I'll explain just one miracle I had on my first day and then I should probably get going. Well, first full day, we had contacted two referrals who turned out to be Cambodian and both cracked open their doors long enough to say that all churches were the same. So then we go to our third referral from an English missionary. It turned out to be a few 18 year-old girls that moved here from Mainland China to learn English and go to school. We taught two of them the first lesson and also about baptism. One of the girls knew about Jesus Christ, but one of them kept repeating His name like she had maybe heard it once before. We also taught them about prayer and one of the girls gave the first prayer she had ever said in her entire life. We invited them both to be baptized on the ninth of March and they both accepted. They also came to an activity later that night and Guo Jiemei's baptismal service and told the members that they really wanted to get baptized. It's incredible. I love it here. The field is so white and just waiting for me. I know what I teach is true, that it has the power to change lives, and that this is Jesus Christ's church. It's amazing. We have truth, and there is so much we can do to apply that truth.
I love you all so much, you're in my prayers every day.