"Yea, I know that I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things; yea, behold, many mighty miracles we have wrought in this land, for which we will praise his name forever." -Alma 26:12
To Whom it May Concern: (AKA, those who still read this thing! 😁)
It has been an amazing two years spent in the service of my Heavenly Father, and while it isn't over yet, this will be the last time I will be able to write to everyone as a missionary. I just wanted to thank all of you for your many prayers, your awesome examples, and for the super great people you all are. I can't imagine not having met any of you, and I especially wouldn't be the same without the wonderful family that I have been lucky enough to be born into!
So many amazing miracles have happened this week, and I have seen so many changes in both the area we are working in, and in myself while serving others. I guess not everything has changed though, because we still don't have much time today and I will have to be brief! As far as new developments, we were able to meet and get in contact with some really cool people last week. A man that we met two weeks ago, Miyoshi san, was able to come to church with us yesterday and he loved it! He developed some strong friendships with the other members, and he told us he would like to come back next week! He even called us later in the day and told us that he wants to take things step by step, but that he wants to learn more about the church. We also met a young family as well as a young guy our age that agreed to meet and hear kore of our message. Things are looking great in Uwajima, and we can tell that the Lord has awesome things in store for this place!
Since time is running short, I would just like to let you all know of the truths that I have learned these last two years. While we as missionaries have virtually no access to news or current events, we hear often from people about the evils in the world. There are more and more crimes committed, more people hurt and killed, and a constant decline of morals and standards. Music, movies and other entertainment portray increasingly inappropriate material as the normal, and even the ideal way of life. A spirit of service and selflessness have been replaced by selfishness and desires to put ourselves ahead of others.
As work, sports, entertainment etc. begin to take precedence in our lives, family relationships continue to weaken and decline. While this is becoming more common than rare, it does not mean that it has to be this way, nor does it mean that many are not still fighting for values that we have held for so long. Despite negative influences, I have been greatly encouraged and strengthened both by the examples of those great people, and by the promise and help that we receive from God that if we turn to Him, all other parts of our lives will fall into place. More than anything else, I am grateful that there is someone who understands each of us, our trials and pains, happiness and joys better than we can even understand them ourselves. That person is our Savior, Jesus Christ. I know that the way to learn of Him and bring His peace into our lives is through diligent service to help others in difficult situations, constant prayer and supplication for His divine help, and a devoted study of the scriptures, including the Bible and the Book of Mormon, that have been given to us by prophets called of God. If you desire to feel more of this heavenly help, if you wonder if God really is there, I invite you all to think and reflect upon the truths found in the Book of Mormon, and ask God in sincere prayer. Just as it is written within it's pages, I can promise that a man can come closer to God through the Book of Mormon than through any other book on Earth. I testify that Jospeh Smith was a prophet of God, and we are blessed to be guided by a modern prophet in President Monson. I love you all so much, and wish you the best week ever!
This week was another busy one, never a dull moment when serving the Lord! I can't believe how fast time is flying, and how it's been almost two years since I first left home and entered into the MTC. A lot has happened since then, and even though I still have much to learn and many more things to experience as a missionary, I am so thankful for the experiences that I have had, for the people I have met, and especially for the relationship I have been developing with my Heavenly Father as well as with my Savior, Jesus Christ. I've seen that growth comes more often through small decisions made consistently and correctly over a long course of time, rather than in one large,
do-or-die type scenario.
This week was no different, and through efforts to help and teach others, as well as strengthen our own faith personally, we were blessed abundantly by the Lord. The highlight of the week came as we
had a "blitz" in Imabari on Friday, followed by interviews with our mission president the next day.
The "blitz" involved 8 missionaries from various areas getting together in one area for the day to visit each and every member while sharing a short message to strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ, and along the way we tried to talk to as many people as possible to introduce them to the church and gospel of Jesus Christ. I won't bore you with too many details, but we met some awesome people and I felt a lot of excitement from all of the members and missionaries as well in sharing the teachings of Jesus Christ with friends and family. The next day's interviews were also really great, we were able
to meet President Smoot and his wife for the second time. President Smoot asked a lot of great questions that helped me to reflect on the things I have learned over the last two years, and shared some experiences that built upon and expounded the answers that I gave. He talked a lot about how missionaries often don't understand the impact they have had on many people's lives, even when we feel like we know the people we have met here pretty well. After sharing a story to illustrate his point, he asked a question that hit me pretty hard. He asked, "Elder Winegar, what would it have been like if you hadn't come on a mission?" I can't say I know the full impact of what I have done while in Japan, but I do know that I would be a much different person today if I had not decided to serve God for these two years. I know that God gives back much more in blessings than that which He requires of us in effort and sacrifice. While I have times where I wish I had been more devoted to the cause I am involved in now, I have never had a single regret for the choice I made to come on a mission, nor for the time that has been spent here. There is nowhere better than to be on the Lord's errand in helping bring happiness to other children of His.
While we all have different families, circumstances, opportunities and choices, we can all ask ourselves a similar question, "what if we had not done...?" If you find your answer to be one of gratitude and joy in the things you have been involved in, continue doing those things! If you find that your time could have been spent elsewhere on a more productive and meaningful activity, I invite you to change even just one thing NOW and do the best thing for you, or your family, at this time. If you have any question about where your priorities should lie, I would like to share one more word
of advice given by President Smoot. "Put God first. When you do so, all things will either fall into place, or they will fall out of your life."
I can promise that what he taught was true, and that when we put God first, the unimportant things in our lives will fall out of place, giving us an increased ability to do those things that really matter.
That's all for this week! Love from Japan,
How was everyone's 4th of July? The 4th of July is obviously not super celebrated in Japan, but we made sure to add our own tribute to America with some steaks prepared by one of the missionaries in
Okayama, Elder Stuart. We may have been far away from home, but it didn't stop us from showing a little American pride and taking some time to remember how much God has blessed us in allowing us to live in a free nation.
As you can tell, any week that starts of with steaks is a good one, and this week was no different. We were out of Uwajima for the first half of the week because of various meetings and companion exchanges, but it ended up being a good time. The best meeting of the week was getting to meet President Smoot and Sister Smoot, our new mission president and his wife. They taught us so much from the scriptures about growing in light and understanding through following the gospel path, it was incredible! They are certainly called of God to help this mission, I am already learning so much from them. After all the meetings ended, and we got back to Uwajima, we started seeing miracles all over the place. I still chalk it up to my companion's diligence in going out and looking for just one more person to teach, Elder Anderson is really good about that and I am learning lots from his example. I wish I had time to share all of the amazing things that happened as we were guided to find people to teach this past week, but I will do what I can to give a few simple examples.
After getting back on Thursday, we had an appointment with a man that we met last week, Minamoto san, and he was waiting for us with an open door as we pulled up. He had changed so much in how receptive he was to our message even in just one short week. He even committed to come to church again on Sunday, and came a few days later. The next day some of our plans got canceled, and finding
ourselves with some free time, we decided to bike out to a far part of our area. While out there, we met one couple that called us inside for some water while we introduced our message, and invited them to read the Book of Mormon. We also ran into an older lady that had met the missionaries in Salt Lake when she went over there for business. It was clear to see that there was a reason for our plans to be cancelled earlier in the day.
On Saturday, we tried to visit another lady that had met with the missionaries in the past, but when we rang the doorbell we were answered by her husband who told us she was not home and wouldn't come back until late at night. As we hopped back on our bikes, though, she pulled right into the driveway. We were then able to review with her what she learned from the past missionaries and testify about the prophet Joseph Smith, how he was called of God to restore the true gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth and build up God's kingdom here in the last days. She told us several times of the peace that she feels when she reads the Book of Mormon, and we know that it comes from the Spirit of God bearing witness of truth.
Finally, yesterday, we met a man while going door to door and talked about his life with him. He has had contact with missionaries often before, but was never able to decide to go to church, but since then he has decided that he would be open to going now. We are planning to go with a member this coming Sunday to pick him up and go to church.
We have seen the Lord's hand in our work every day, and we know that He is guiding us to find His children that know not where to find the true gospel; the only way by which we can live with our families forever, overcoming death and sin, as well as guilt and pain in this life. I love being able to share this message with all that we come in contact with, and I know that our Savior Jesus Christ has power to save all that turn to Him and rely on His mercy and grace. As taught by Sister Smoot last week in our meeting, we can rely on the Lord and His power through prayer, study of the scriptures from God's prophets, and through our own attempts to apply the things that we learn into
our lives. I can promise that anyone who attempts to rely on the Lord in these ways will find an added measure of peace and protection from temptation.
That's all I've got for now, lots of love from Japan!
Nice to see all your smiling faces! You're looking especially good today. Yeah, you. You know who you are. Anyways, it has been another awesome week spent in Uwajima, and now we find ourselves back in the same place we were last week, on a bus going to a far away place. We will stop in Imabari tonight and tomorrow to have companion exchanges with the missionaries there, and then continue up to Okayama again, this time to meet our new mission president, President Smoot!
I can't believe the Welch's are gone, they have had such an impact on me and so many others the past several years, and we will all miss them. In our last meeting with President Welch last week, he took us through 13 steps that if we followed faithfully throughout our lives, we would be disciple of Christ and never lose our testimony of the spiritual truths we have learned on our missions. If anyone wants to know those steps, the best thing to do would be to have come to Japan last week and participate in the meeting with all of us. If that isn't looking possible and you still want to know more of what President Welch taught us from what he learned in three years as a mission president, let me know and I'll do my best to tell you more! For now all I will say is that I love the Welch's so much for all they have done for us, and I will never be able to forget all the things I learned from them. My life has undoubtably been changed from knowing them.
We are super excited to meet the Smoot's this week as well, and I can't wait to see what we will learn from them.
I would just like to share one quick thought/experience from this last week, which is something that I learned in our church service on Sunday. Since it was the first Sunday of the month, any one who wanted to share their testimony of God and the Savior, Jesus Christ, were invited to do so. Many people bore their testimony, and I felt the Spirit present, confirming everyone's words to be true. But as the meeting was coming to a close, one Sister got up to bear her testimony. She talked very simply about how she hasn't been coming to church lately, but each time she comes back she is reminded of the thing that has gotten her through difficult years and trials- the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
This Atonement is so broad and so wide-reaching that it is hard to explain simply, and takes more than a lifetime to fully grasp, but it includes the suffering of Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross in Calvary in suffering for all the mistakes, sins, and misdeeds of all mankind. It also includes His resurrection three days later, breaking the bands of death for us all. Words cannot describe the pain that He experienced, nor the joy that He felt, in saving all of us from physical and spiritual death.
As this Sister shared her thoughts on the Atonement, I felt a special spirit and witness that what she said was true. I felt peace in my heart, and I know that only through relying on the infinite power and mercy of the Son of God that we will be able to find lasting happiness in a world full of despair and heartache. I feel so blessed to be a representative of that same Jesus Christ, and to teach the same everlasting principles and truths that He taught when He walked upon the earth two thousand years ago. I'd like to finish with a scripture, one found in the Book of Mormon taught by the prophet Jacob. If any of you wish to find more peace in life, more surety of things to come, and more stability for yourself and family, I can promise that a study of the life of Christ, followed by applying those principles within your own lives, will lead to that desired result.
"And now, beloved, marvel not that I tell you these things; for why not speak of the atonement of Christ, and attain to a perfect knowledge of him, as to attain to the knowledge of a resurrection and the world to come?"
As I write, my companion and I are on our way to Okayama (I don't expect all of you to know where that is, but just to paint a mental picture think far), and we will be having a final meeting with our mission president, President Welch. He goes home at the end of this week, it is so weird to think that he won't be here anymore. It has been so amazing to learn from him and his experiences, testimony and advice. Because of that meeting, and other plans for the week, it looks like we are going to stay pretty busy!
Last week was also full of fun and miracles, and they really helped to build my faith even more in the ability for the Spirit to guide us in our lives, and to change the hearts of people that are willing to listen and act.
Some of the best experiences of the week came in Matsuyama on companion exchanges with Elder Dahl. We committed ourselves to talk to everyone in our path while biking to an out-of-the-way part of the area. We talked to a lot of cool people, some with more interest than others, but weren't able to find anyone that wanted to learn more about God at this time. We decided to stop and go door to door talking to people, and we started to find more people that we could tell were in need of our message.
The first lady we met didn't have any interest in our church at first, and was ready to shut the door on us, but for some reason continued to talk with us. She told us how her whole family had passed away except for two daughters that had moved far away from her. She shared how lonely she was, but how she felt obligated to continue in her family's religious practices because she was the only one left to do so. We then were able to teach simply that God has a plan for her, and that through the mercy of Jesus Christ her family can be together again. In the end, she told us that she wouldn't be able to come to church, but we felt that we had given her some much-needed hope.
We then talked to a young man that told us straight up that he had no interest in church. Elder Dahl and I taught about our purpose in life and how we can become more through the help of our Savior, and we felt and saw a big change come over this young man. As we asked what he thought, he responded "I think I'd better come to church now." We exchanged numbers with him, and agreed to meet again.
The last miracle came as we talked to an older man, who told us that he had retired and only engaged in things he liked to do. As we began to introduce our church, he told us that he had read countless bible-like books, scriptures, and religious texts. He told us very certainly that all the religions are the same and that we couldn't do anything to change his mind. All we could do was to share our experience with the Book of Mormon, but as we did so, we knew he felt the truth of his words. Unable to stop himself, he reached out to take the Book of Mormon we offered him, muttering under his breath that he only wanted to see it because it peaked his interest. We also agreed to come back and meet him the next week.
I have seen over and over again the power that the Spirit has to change hearts, and I can guarantee beyond any shadow of doubt that anyone who seeks an answer and confirmation of truth from God will receive it through the Holy Ghost.
I hope you all have a wonderful, Spirit-filled week!
Love from Japan,
It's been a while since I last wrote, so I guess it is long overdue for a quick update! Transfer calls came and went, and my companion, Elder Anderson, and I will both be staying in Uwajima for another transfer! We are so blessed to be in this amazing place, and to continue interacting with the friends we have made here. This week has probably been the longest amount of time I have been in Uwajima without leaving the city for some type of missionary meeting or other, it has been super nice to stick around for a while.
Last Sunday we were able to participate in the baptism of one of our good friends, Joukou san. He has come a long ways thanks to the prayers of the members, and his own faith to live the commandments God has given to us through prophets. We then saw him confirmed as a member of the church yesterday in Sacrament meeting, and receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Not only has he learned a lot, his whole demeanor has changed as he experienced the happiness and friendship among members. He says that he never felt much happiness before in his life, but that all of the hard things have just melted away, to the point he can't even remember them.
We experienced joy and help from the Lord in many other ways this week, but I especially learned a lot from a comment made by Elder Anderson. We have been able to visit a few members that haven't come to church in a long time, and find out more about why they chose to stop coming. Their situations were all very different, but they all had one thing in common. Once they left their beliefs behind to follow small doubts, they never ended up happier for it. We could see that clearly, and felt frustrated that we couldn't get them to realize the same thing. No matter how hard we tried, they wouldn't accept even simple invitations to pray or read from the scriptures.
As we returned home each day, all I could think about was how strange it was that these people weren't willing to seek happiness, to do the things necessary to find joy again. But then Elder Anderson shared what he was thinking about, how each one of those people had their own difficult situation or circumstance. We have no way of knowing what they have been through in their lives that lead them to the position they are in now, and if we have no love for them and no sympathy for them, we will never learn what they really need help with. I realized that this is exactly what our Savior did for us in suffering for our sins in the Garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross. He first understood what each one of us were going through, our mistakes, our fears, our and our shortcomings, as well as our joy and happiness, then reached out to us in love so that we can overcome our stumbling blocks. We may never understand others' burdens on so deep or personal a level, but I know that I can make a greater effort to love and try to understand the people I come into contact with, and then do what I can to lend a hand.
I invite you all to do the same in lifting and loving your neighbor, a friend in need, or even a stranger. If we pray for an increase in love while we do so, we will learn a little more about how God feels for each of His children.
Hope you all have a service-filled week! Love from Japan,
Happy Monday everyone! (or Sunday, depending on where you are in the world)
I can't believe how fast this week has flown, there was just so much awesome stuff packed into a short time! On Tuesday we headed up to Matsuyama to spend the day with the zone leaders, Elder Dahl and Elder Nakamura. I was with Elder Nakamura, and we had a great time together studying, serving others, and teaching together.
On Wednesday and Thursday we met with some new friends, a young family that we found the week before, and Jouko san, and old man we have been meeting with lately. We shared a short message with the mother of the family, and were able to give her a Book of Mormon, inviting her to read it. She said she would, and we decided together that we would come back next week and meet her again to see what she learned. I'm excited to see how her family will be blessed through her faith!
Jouko san is incredible, he met with us a few times this week and even came to church by surprise! He originally told us he couldn't come because of a cleaning project going on at his apartment, but he told us on Sunday that he woke up really early to clean his portion of the project, and then left to come to church. His faith is so strong, and we will continue to meet with him and teach him about Jesus Christ. He tells us that although he had always believed in Buddhism, he is now Christian at heart! He is so awesome!
We concluded our week in the best way I could imagine, as we were blessed to hear from an Apostle of God, Elder Dallin Oaks, this past Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday we had a special meeting for the missionaries, and Sunday was a devotional to the entire country of Japan. We had been looking forward to this meeting for a few months now, and it didn't disappoint! I first heard about him coming when I was in Wakayama, though, and I got more than I bargained for when I transferred to Uwajima. Fun fact about Uwajima, it is one of the furthest areas away from the place where the meeting was held, and from the mission office as well. Thus, we spent a total of 18 hours traveling to and from the meeting.
Despite all the traveling, it was totally worth it! We learned so much about joy, and Elder Oaks taught us that if we are not finding joy in the gospel and teachings of Jesus Christ, even in our most difficult trials and circumstances, we need to re-evaluate our lives. I know that the purpose of all of God's teachings are to bring to pass the eternal life of man, and to help us to feel joy as we go through life. Elder Oaks also talked about how the world is becoming more and more dangerous, with wars and rumors of wars in every country. He then taught an important principle about peace. Peace is a commonly promised blessing throughout the scriptures as we follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, but people often think of peace as an absence of war or conflict. According to the words of Elder Oaks, there is a different kind of peace that we can have as a result of living a gospel-centered life. Amidst all the wars raging around us, and conflicts being started, the promise of the gospel is a continuous peace within our hearts. No matter what our situation is, or what we are called upon to do in the service of God, we can know that in the end our afflictions and pains will be for our good. This faith comes from knowing the character of our Father in Heaven, and knowing that He loves each of us and has a plan for each one of us.
I add my testimony to the words of Elder Oaks that the only way to lasting peace and happiness is through the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. As we continually look to Him and pattern our lives after the way He would live, we will know for ourselves that we are not forgotten by our Savior, and that we will return to live with our Heavenly Father and our families in peace and happiness. I love the opportunity to teach others of these simple truths, and I feel the truth of it in my heart as I do so! I pray for the same peace to come to each of you, and invite you to remember the example of Jesus Christ even as you go about your busy lives and schedules!
Love from Japan,