Well things continue to get better and better out in Busan! It is sure been quite the adjustment to being a missionary and serving in Korea but every day I can see myself improving and can see the hand and of the Lord in my life! For this email I want to share more about what being a missionary in 과안 is like!
First of all, our area is great. We are in 과안 (gwangan) which is located in the city of Busan itself. The beach is pretty near to our church building (which we sadly arent aloud to go to during the day), we are right next to the rich part of Busan 해운대 which houses Shinsegae the world’s largest department store (I went to it last P day, see the pics), we have one of the few costco’s in Korea (which of course means costco muffins, free samples, and lunch on P-day – check out the pics from the visit), and live in a very urban area with lots of high rise apartments, busy roads, and subways. Our church building, which is 2 floors and includes classrooms, a small gym with a ping pong table, and a big room for sacrament meeting, is about a 20 minute walk away from our apartment. We travel through winding streets filled with old lady’s selling random Korean fruits and vegetables, convenience stores, a park full of skateboarding kids who yell things like “HELLO, I AM JOHN, YOU ARE A HANDSOME BOY, NICE TO MEET YOU,” stray cats, weird smells, and lots of chances to bow and say 안녕하십닉까. Definitely Korea, or at least 과안, is a fascinating mix of rich suburban people in Mercedes and sky scrapers, and humble people living simple, content lives. It’s a great place and I already love it.
The language is definitely something that is totally overwhelming. I feel like I actually learned a lot in the MTC but have found that almost all of my communication skills are limited to talking about the gospel. I guess as a missionary, things could be worse, but whether I like it or not, all of my conversations shift toward religion. I can teach a lesson well with my companion and have good discussion about the Book of Mormon, or my testimony, but if someone says “do you like movies?” I am completely lost. This is always kind of funny because when we go to teach a lesson we usually start with some small talk about their family or their work or something and I can never say anything. Maybe it is the gift of tongues or something, but as soon as we switch over to the lesson we prepared, I am able to speak confidently and coherently, albeit simply. This is a huge blessings. It is nice to know that, when it counts I can get by. It also helps that people are always just so impressed that a foreigner goes to the trouble to learn, and they consequently shower me with “wow, your Korean is amazing,” which I am far from believing haha. As I’ve learned Korean I’ve gone through phases of feeling like I could hear better than I can speak, and like I can speak better than I can hear. Not that I can speak particularly well, but for now, I can speak more than I understand. A lot of times I will ask a question, which I can work out how to do decently, but after getting it out, have no idea what their response is. People speak so fast and the Busan accent is something to get used to as well. Luckily, I have a great trainer who translates for me, especially when people tell him “tell your companion what i said!”
Not gonna lie, the weather here is pretty miserable. It is coming to a close but I think we are in the hottest and most humid part of the year. There were a few decent days, but especially as it has been raining pretty heavily as of late, EVERYTHING IS WET. I thought florida was bad, but this is worse. It is not much hotter than Seattle, but walking around searching for less actives and hiking up stairs and hills to our apartment is sweaty work. Our apartment has air conditioning and fans which help, but even my books and papers feel wet and slimy. Definitely an adjustment but not too bad.
The food is really really good too. We eat lots and lots of rice and eggs and of course, kim chi. A lot of times I just eat whatever people put in front of me with an open mind and it always turns out okay. One thing that is different than the US is that Korea’s trash and food waste system is so much more effecient. Because trash is so expensive to dispose of, people compost, recycle, and buy/cook their food carefully. Due to this, when someone gives you a plate of food you are expected to eat it. At restaurants they sometimes even charge a little extra if you leave too much. This really isnt that much of an issue because I like most of what I eat, but when we go visit a member, they always heap me up with a mountain of food. Because I cant really talk to them I just sit there, let my companion talk, and try to eat as much as I can. I find that if I ask a few questions, say “this is delicious” or “i will eat well” and then eat everything they give me, people like me. It’s not a bad system so far. I guess it is universal that members always want to be nice to the missionaries because they always load us up with delicious food and watermelon and give us extra to take home.
That’s one thing that I love here in 과안, the members. Our ward has about 50 people who attend regularly including lots of strong families, ward leaders, and individuals. I especially love our ward mission leader 송동석 형재님. He gives us lots of great advice, coordinates our efforts with the ward, comes to some of our lessons, and had us over for dinner this week. His wife makes absolutely delicious food, and his daughter, who is adorable (her name is 하랑, an acronym of 하난님의 살앙 meaning God’s love), always comes and talks to me in English that she learns at school. This week we’ve been able to meet with a lot of the ward, get to know them, sometimes eat meals with them, and share messages. I really love the people here, especially because they are so patient and kind to me.
Along with meeting with the ward, less actives, recent converts, preparing for stake conference, proselyting and teaching our investigators a few fun things this week were doing service and teaching English class. On Thursday we went to a community center in 과안 where we have a weekly service activity we call pop song (approved by the mission president of course). Basically we go to this center and for a few hours work with some other volunteers to teach blind people how to sing old American pop songs. Although it sounds weird, it’s a great time. This week we learned Annie’s Song by John Denver (I never recognize any of the musicians, Mom? Dad?). We taught the pronunciation of the words, talked about the meanings, listened to the recording, and then sang it several times with a guitar. Some of the people’s ability is amazing. Although it’s not in their language, and they cant even read, several of them play the guitar and pick it up really fast. It’s way cool. Also this week I taught my first English class on my own! Again, it is sometimes baffling how good many Koreans are at English. Koreans are taught English all through school and often have great vocabulary and cultural understanding, but come to our class to practice conversation. We do lots of contacting to spread the word of our class and it has become pretty big. Several of our investigators were found through this class. I taught the advanced students because it requires the least Korean, and taught about hobbies. We discussed everything from the pros and cons of gardening and organic foods to the differences in fishing laws between Korea and America. I really learn a lot about Korea, Korean culture, and how to be a good teacher. Some of the words people throw out off the top of their heads like “pesticides” and “wriggling fish” or idioms like “bookworm” or “right up my alley” is mind boggling. The hardest thing is to get everyone to participate but I feel like I will get better and better with practice.
Well I should probably wrap things up, I’ve probably written way to much but want to share a spiritual thought. In many of our lessons to our investigators I have really seen and come to appreciate the basics and simple truths of the gospel. Because there are so many churches in Korea and there is a heavy Buddhist culture, many basic things I take for granted people do not know. Through my teaching and study I have reaffirmed my testimony that God is our heavenly father and he loves us. Prayer is 2 WAY communication with God, we can pray all the time, he wants to hear from us, and he will always answer us if we pray faithfully. We can recieve guidance and personal revelation through the Book of Mormon and it is God’s word. I know that these things are true and am just trying to help everyone around me to know the same!
I’ll have to fill in more about all of our investigators and whatever adventures come up next week! I know that the church is true and even though it is hard am loving this next experience and serving God and everyone around me!