Sunday, December 27, 2015

Happy New Year!

A waterfall

Sisters in her district at Christmas conference

The adorable Riggle family on Christmas Eve




Hello, hello!

Merry Christmas/Happy New Year/Happy Anniversary Parents/Happy Birthday Morgan (and all other festive events)!  This week has been wonderful.  I just love being a missionary and I love Christmas.  However I thought that combining those two things wouldn't be so great.  I had pretty low expectations for Christmas here, but it turned out so, so amazing!  I am so grateful for nice people that went out of their way to make sure that the missionaries were taken care of. 

Last Monday we went to this huge, gorgeous park and took pictures and had fun.  Then we went to a carolling party at the Jones (the super musical family with six kids from America).  They had some non-member friends there that were so, so nice.  We got their number and gave them a pamphlet so that was exciting.  But it was just so fun to sing and sing for almost two hours there.  We sounded good!  They had a bunch of songs from the Readers Digest Christmas book that we have so we got to sing all of those great songs. 

Tuesday we visited Maureen.  She is doing pretty well and was excited to come to church (but then she got sick on Sunday which was sad).  But then in the afternoon we all gathered and our Taranaki Zone went to Hamilton.  We have the best zone EVER!  It is just so good and so fun and so unified.  I love spending time with good friends.  So the car ride was long and really fun.  We spent most of it memorizing our mission haka.  This older Maori guy that is an expert on the gospel combined with Maori culture wrote it for us.  He's so cool.  But we were supposed to memorize it so we could learn the actions when we got there.  It is like a full page (kind of) of Maori so it took me like 4 hours to learn, but I finally got it.  That night we stopped in Tekuiti, Sheep Shearing Capital of the World (I know, exciting) to eat.  Then we got to Hamilton and say the Christmas lights at the temple and some Visitor Center sisters took us through the little tour.  That was so fun!  That night we stayed in the hotel in Hamilton.  We got right to the edge of Hamilton East area and I was so excited.  I wished that we could go visit all my favorite Hamilton Easterners, but that's ok. 

Wednesday we got up early so our zone could beat the Gisborn Zone to McDonalds for breakfast.  Then we went to the Christmas Conference.  It was just great to see all the other missionaries.  I just felt so much excitement and purpose and power from all of us together.  We ran to meet each other and Sister Urgel and I gave each other the biggest hug!  She is so sweet and she is doing really well.  Sister Aldridge is also great and Sister Namariel has a really great companion and is speaking more and more English.  I just rushed around talking to everyone.  Then they split us into groups and we had rotation workshops all day.  Some of my favorite were a jeopardy game of how well we know President and Sister Rudd and a workshop about the history of the church in New Zealand.  It is so cool.  The Maori people are descendants of Lehi and the people here were so, so prepared to here the gospel when it first arrived in New Zealand. We also did the Haka altogether after learning it and they made a fancy video of it!

At the closing devotional at the Conference I sang "Oh Holy Night".  I was more nervous than I thought I'd be but it went really well and everyone told me how good it was so that was really nice!  I had fun.  Then we came home, exhausted.  And since the Stratford and Hawera missionaries lived even farther, they (the sisters) got to stay the night at our flat.  So the six of us laid in a row on the floor.  We didn't have nearly enough bedding though so it was a really cold night for me.  But it was so fun to have companion study and all share our experiences.  I just love being with faithful, wonderful missionaries!  That night, Christmas Eve, the Riggles (this adorable young family from Utah) had us over for dinner and gingerbread house making, which was so fun!  She gave us each a little present to open on Christmas.  It just felt like we belonged and it felt like Christmas so I loved that.  Christmas day we rushed around singing and wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.  An investigator and a less active member family fed us and we ate heaps!  We also went to the beach and walked around and I got the bottom of my skirt wet in my exuberance.  We also sang in a really echo-y tunnel!

The next day, I skyped my family!  Gosh I love them so, so much!!!!  Before their camera worked I could hear their voices and I was just so, so excited!  We had a wonderful time even though the time FLEW by!  It felt like only 15 minutes.

To close, I want to share a little Christmas Eve experience.  After planning, we were getting ready for bed and I told Sister Pantoja that we were going to have a mini Christmas Eve devotional/program.  She said ok so we took our blankets down to the living room and we sat by our little Christmas tree.  We turned off all the other lights, played the Manheim Steamroller Silent Night (that I'd put on my ipod before I left just for this purpose) and read the Christmas story in Luke 2, switching off every verse.  We felt the spirit so strongly and we just sat silently when it was over, not wanting to break the spell.  It just made me so glad that we have Jesus Christ and that we know about his gospel.  At the temple lights, they showed us this Mormon Message video about a world without a Savior.  I'm so glad we have a world WITH a Savior!  It is a glorious place to be if we center our lives on Christ.  It made me realize that no matter where you are or what your circumstances are, God loves us so much and that the Savior lived and died and lived again for ALL of us!  The shepherds and all of us were told to "Fear Not!"  because the tidings of great joy aren't just for some of us, but for all people!  I pray that God will lead me to the people that I need to tell this to during the next year.  What a great time to be a missionary!!!!!

Arohanui,

Sister Clarissa Johnson

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Merry Christmas!




Hello world,

 

Guess what?  It's Christmas in four days.  I'm pretty sure I'm about 20 million times more excited to Skype my family than anyone has ever been for anything . . . Well that may be an exaggeration, but really.  So this week has been good.  Sometimes I feel sorry for myself and think that I miss the snow and that we don't have enough investigators, but really, life is good.  We just had some unfortunate experiences this week.  I feel so much sorrow for the sins of the world.  There are so many sad people with hard lives.  And we spend all our time working so hard to help them and they just don't realize that it will help.  We tell people that the gospel will change their lives, but so often they don't make it a priority.  This week a really cranky lady chased us down the street and told us to never go back to #30, which is our investigator Jill who is set for baptism.  She said we are harassing her.  So we called her and asked if she wanted to still meet with us and she said no and wouldn't say why.  So that was really sad.

 

But we have been tracting a lot to find new investigators and no one seems to like us very much.  But we keep at it!  Our program in sacrament meeting was so fun!  The choir sang and Sister Jones had me sing the middle verse of Oh Holy Night as a solo.  I just love music, especially Christmas music!  We had so much fun hiking the mountain with the Bellblock Sisters.  We got about half way up, but that was an accomplishment.  It's a big mountain! 

 

I'm so grateful for good examples!  All the other missionaries here are just wonderful!  We had a district service project, spreading mulch and we had the best time.  I am getting so excited for the missionary Christmas Conference.  I'm a little nervous to sing for all of them, but I'm really glad I get to.  We have a Christmas tree, which is wonderful!  We found it under the stairs in our flat!  This week I've been studying and thinking about the reality of Christ.  Even though sometimes people don't obey him, or forget about him, or reject him doesn't mean he's not real.  Someday we all stand before him.  Even when the wicked world turns away from him and say that they don't like Christmas or that religion doesn't matter, Christ was still born and religion still matters.  I'm so grateful for my testimony of Christ that keeps me grounded!  I'm grateful for his never-ending love and his perfect example.  I'm grateful that I can spend every day serving him and working to become more like him!  I love him and I know that he is real!  Having a testimony is such a blessing!!!  I love being engaged in the work of salvation even when it's hard.  Hard things make us stretch and grow. 

 

Sorry this is so short.  I spent too much time sending pictures!

 

Love,

 

Sister Clarissa Johnson

 








This is a close-up of Clarissa's carpet. Isn't it something?



Hiking Mt. Taranaki


Monday, December 14, 2015

Hello World!

Hello world,

So the absolute worst thing about New Plymouth is the emailing facilities.  I guess previous sisters printed too much stuff and caused problems so we aren't allowed to email at the chapel.  We come to this library but we have to do it thirty minute increments and when your time runs out you have to scan your card again and then wait 5 or 10 or 20 minutes until your next 30 minute session.  It's the worst. But other than that, life is pretty good.  I'm still kind of adjusting to everything here but this week has made a world of difference.  I really feel like I'm in Taranaki for a reason. 

First of all, I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my companion!  We call each other "Soa" which means Sister in Samoan.  I don't know.  It's like the cool thing to do in this mission.  But we just really click and are super good friends.  We tease each other a lot but we have so much fun and I just love that she wants to work hard!  I hate not knowing the area.  I know almost all the people, but I am so bad at directions.  Having the ocean helps because if you go that way too far, you just reach the water and you know you're not right.  But it's good.  And we have this fun GPS with a voice named Serena with the funniest sounding, almost fake Kiwi accent.  It's an adventure. 

But I feel like we've made really good progress with our investigators.  There are so many people who have just been visited or had a lesson or two, but never really been committed to do anything.  I met two investigators for the first time and we had really good, spiritual lessons and then I invited them to be baptized and they said yes!  We have four investigators set for baptism which is so exciting.  I really love especially this funny old lady named Ngarie.  She's been meeting with missionaries for AGES but she agreed to be baptized.  The very hardest thing for everyone is getting to church.  Even if you don't really have commandment or doctrinal concerns, if you don't come to church, you won't progress.  Sacrament meeting and church on Sunday really is such a super important part of following Jesus Christ.  We FINALLY got the Conference Ensign last week.  It only took 14 years.  But I've been devouring it.  I love those prophets we have.  I got to watch the First Presidency devotional too last night. 

But anyway, we got to help decorate and set up chairs and things for an eight year old baptism in our ward.  We also sang and harmonized "I Feel My Savior's Love" at the baptism and I played the piano.  Her name is Sam and she lives with her grandparents, the Malilis.  They are this wonderful Samoan couple.  I think I mentioned them last week.  But they are so cute and good.  We don't get too many dinner appointments here, but they feed us or the Elders every Sunday.  Yesterday Sister Malili played the guitar and the two of them sang us Samoan songs.  They made me cry.  I just could feel the love they have for each other.  They are both do heaps of missionary work and fulfil their callings.  They aren't very rich and they probably don't think they are anything special, but I could feel the spirit in their home so strongly.  Sister Malili started talking to a Samoan girl who was her cashier at Countdown last week.  Well it turns out that this girl was looking for a church to attend because she just moved from Wellington.  So the Malilis had her over for dinner and brought her to church and everything!  And she is super golden!  Fellowship and member missionary work is just so important.  Brother Malili is pretty hard to understand because his accent is so thick, but he gave us a spiritual thought about always doing your best and trusting the Lord even when people don't accept you.  I want to be like them when I grow up. 

So yesterday was a crazy, busy day at church!  For a week and a half we've been practicing this song for sacrament meeting.  I had the sheet music.  It's "I Will Lead You Home" by Amy Grant.  Well, Sister Pantoja and I sang and one of the Zone Leaders, Elder Lingwall, played the piano.  We mostly practiced so much for him because he couldn't play it very well.  I was impressed he learned it.  But our harmony sounded really good.  We just sing and I harmonize above or below the melody all the time.  It's so, so fun.  I also spoke in sacrament meeting.  I talked about the Light of Christ and being a light to the world. Then after church we had ward choir (or excuse me, branch choir) practice.  Sister Jones was gone so I got to direct, and it was SO fun.  I didn't realize how much I miss doing that.  We are singing a bunch of good songs like the Star of Bethlehem and Angels we Have Heard on High with this really high descant on the last verse that some of us do while we join with the congregation.  I really love it. 

There was this new young couple at church yesterday.  They have that "really cool" vibe but they are super nice.  The girl is SUPER beautiful and I talked to her and she's only 19.  She's younger than me and she is from Alpine, Utah.  She knows some people that I knew at BYU and she is super nice.  She was really happy that I was there and that we could bond over that.  She married a Kiwi and is new here.  She just stays home and doesn't know anyone.  How crazy is that?  I'm going to be her friend.

But I am getting all ready to sing at the Christmas Conference next Tuesday!  I'm so, so excited for that. It will be the entire mission all together at Camp Tuikaramia (or however it's spelled).  But I sure hope I sound good because that's a lot of missionaries! 

I'm excited for Christmas but if I think too much about Christmas I get homesick.  It just really doesn't even feel like Christmas because it's hot and sunny and it's just different in New Zealand.  But it's really wonderful to be preaching the gospel of Christ!  Our little missionary team is so, so good right now and we are going to get the work moving here!

Also, this week we had Zone Conference.  It was really, really good.  All the missionaries in Taranaki are just awesome.  I am humbled to be here.  It's still so, so gorgeous and I don't think I'll ever get used to the view!  We are going to attempt to hike the mountain today with the Waitera sisters.  Hopefully I don't die.  It's a pretty steep mountain.  But I'm excited!


Keep doing missionary work!  Pray that our investigators will come to church and let your light shine!

LOVE,

Sister Clarissa Johnson

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Taradise (Because Taranaki is Paradise!)

Kia Ora Whanau,

So much has happened this week I don't even know where to begin!  Like I said last week I got transferred!  Tuesday and Wednesday were CRAZY with saying goodbye to everyone.  Gosh it was rough.  I so struggle with change.  I just love those Hamilton Easterners so, so much.  Wednesday I cried a lot saying goodbye to people.  Auntie Kei made me a "light snack" that was really a huge meal.  Sam, Ripeka, and Auntie Kei all gave me tons of presents.  Auntie Kei gave me a little book called "Finding Mr. Right" that may or may not be part of the missionary library.  What can you do?  Also, this pink jewelery box and earrings.  Sam gave me this beautiful turquoise bracelet.  They all wrote me letters that made me cry again.  It was so humbling for me to see just how much a difference everyone said I made in their lives.  They are all just lying probably because they made a way bigger impact on me.  It was also super hard to say goodbye to Maddy, Tiana, Patiana's family, Margaret's family, the Potters, the Sykes, Brother Tichborne, and of course Sister Urgel.  I told them all to email and write me.  I just have to go back and visit them.

Transfers were great . . . and crazy.  Packing was a lot bigger mission than I was expecting.  I have so much stuff!  The poor Zone Leaders (Glenview and Taranaki) that had to move it in and out for me!  But it was so, so fun to see all the missionaries at transfers.  The APs asked me play prelude music for transfers so that was scary but it worked out.  Sister Rudd plays for the actual meeting.  She's just with the new missionaries and trainers beforehand.  But I LOVE the Taranaki missionaries.  They are all just so, so good . . . like every one. :)  I got to see Sister Aldridge (my trainer) at transfers and I was just so excited.  She told me that the spirit is stronger in Taranaki. I don't know if that's true yet, but we'll see. 

But then the Taranaki caravan pulled out and away we went.  I got to drive and I loved the trip!  It was about four hours and it was absolutely gorgeous.  I couldn't even handle it at all.  I have no words to describe this country.  I've been in the city the whole time and have only seen the road between Auckland and Hamilton (which is amazing, but this was way better).  I was with Sister Katene from Aussie in the car and we had the best time together!  She's a convert and has a great story. 

Then we got here.  And I screamed when I saw the ocean!!!!!!!  If there's any message this email should get across, it is that Taranaki is beautiful.  And I promise I will have pictures next week.  I feel like I have stepped back in time.  All the buildings are old.  There are all these super old, stone churches and cemeteries and museums and stuff.  There are less people and it just feels like life is simpler.  Our flat is clean and good, just super old.  The sinks are the worst though.  They have two separate metal spouts.  One is super hot and the other is cold but you can't mix them.  It's just silly.  And the shower head is about at my shoulder height which is also the worst.  However, our car is beautiful.  It's the prettiest shade of blue and really nice, so that makes up for it. :) 

Now to my new companion:  Sister Pantoja (is actually how you spell it . . . I was wrong last week) is amazing.  She's also from the Philippines.  She is 23 and she goes home in June.  She is so pretty and her English is really good even though she doesn't think so. Sister Pantoja asked President for a companion with energy and enthusiasm . . . Sister Johnson to the rescue.  She was so excited when she heard she was getting me but she was intimidated because she heard I was Sister Rudd's cousin and had trained so fast.  I don't know how she heard that.  Isn't that crazy?  We quickly realized how amazing our companionship is going to be because . . . I'm going to help her be confident in her English and teaching skills and be super bold and she's going to help me be more responsible and lose weight.  She's a TOTAL health nut!  We got up at six to go running on the "coastal walkway" by the ocean!  I got up for the ocean, not the running . . . even though I did run.  I was so excited to touch the water.  There were all these big boulders and I had to walk down the steep hill to the water.  I crouched down to touch the water and then this huge wave came and really, really drenched me.  So I definitely touched the water.  It was funny.  But we bought like only meat and bread and milk and vegetables.  She says she will cook and teach me to cook healthy.  I'm a little stressed about it all, especially because I guess we don't get too many dinner appointments here, but really it's what I need.  It will be good for me.  But we are so good together.  I love having a really even companionship.

So New Plymouth is the biggest branch in Taranaki, but I was not prepared for how small it would be.  I didn't count the people.  Like it's not tiny, but it's like 75 people or something.  We had a district (instead of stake) Christmas party Saturday night which was fun.  We got help set up for it.  And we did have a dinner appointment on Sunday.  The Malilis are this adorable old Samoan couple.  I ask every couple at dinner appointments how they met.  They had the FUNNIEST story.  So that was great.

The branch is good.  There's just a lot of crazy drama.  I don't even really know it all, but it isn't the most unified branch ever.  And apparently the branch in general likes the Elders more than the Sisters because of past sisters or something.  I thought that was weird.  But I am just so keen to work really hard.  I am going to love these people and we are not going to waste time.  The ward mission leader is a little, old man that talks really slow.  MCM is right before church and the Elders were late because they were inviting all their investigators.  I suggested that maybe we move MCM to a different time of the week so we can all focus on getting our investigators to church.  The Elders and Sister Pantoja were all happy about that so hopefully that will work out. 

But one thing that I'm really excited about is the music here!  There is a ward choir!  There is this lady, Holy Jones.  She has (I think) six kids and they are American and super, super musical.  She is the branch music person/pianist/choir director and she has asked me to help her with choir.  I'm so, so excited.  And the Elders sings really well.  We (the four of us missionaries in New Plymouth) are planning to sing together at the Christmas Conference.  I'm so excited for that. Sister Pantoja is a great singer.  We sing together a lot.

So, even though things are different and I wish Brother Tichborne was here, I am excited!  I know that God put me here for a reason.  I am here to learn and I am here to serve.  I really want to make a difference and see miracles in this branch.  Our area is big and there is so, so, so much potential.  We have a lot of new investigators and potential investigators.  The Lord knows what they need.   I love you all so much! 

LOVE,

Sister Clarissa Johnson