Place: Ise, Mie
Companion: Elder Brown
This week we had the grandest of adventures.
We decided about a week in advance that we would set aside Thursday as our "Adventure Day." You see, Ise is one of the larger areas in the mission and there a few less actives that live clear down on the very southern edge. The populated part of the area is in the north, where we live. I don't know if anyone has ever attempted to scout out the southern tip of Ise but decided to have a go of it.
We set off first thing in the morning and went to Isuzugawa, the closest train station. There we took the front wheels off of our bikes and put the whole thing into a bike bag and carried it with us onto the train. We went north to Matsusaka (ever heard of Matsusaka beef?) which was a station that would give us our connection from Kintetsu Rail to JR. There we boarded what I like to think of as a "real inaka" train, which means it's really old, really loud and is diesel powered because they don't run standard electric train lines that far out. So we got on our special "limited rapid express" (it had some really long name that made us think it was going to be really fancy and fast when we looked it up). It ended up being quite a nice train, meant for long distance travel, but still was not quite as fast as some of the electric express trains we get so spoiled with in Nagoya.
So we stowed our bikes and tied them up so they wouldn't fall all over the place and then sat down, intending to study, but soon discovered that that would be nearly impossible. The train had great big windows which provided an excellent view of the breathtaking views as we popped in and out of mountain tunnels to see little pockets of old Japanese fishing towns nestled in between the sharp green mountains, huddled up against the ocean. It was incredible! But there were so many mountains that we spent a significant amount of time in tunnels.
After we came out of the mountain range, we were faced by a long, flat shoreline that stretched all the way to the bottom of the peninsula. We got off in Kumanoshi, the last major station within our area that the express train would stop at, right on the edge of the mountains. We had two less active addresses there and one more just a little way south so we put our bikes back together and set off in search of our addresses. Specific location are nearly impossible to find in Japan but thankfully everyone knows everyone else in a small town so after asking a neighbor we were able to find our first place quickly. He wasn't home but we were able to confirm his address so that was a success.
We went out to the other less active and found a house with the correct last name,Okazaki, but that's it. No one was home and the phone number we had was wrong. So we headed a few kilometers south along the shoreline and found our third less active's house. We think that it was probably the wrong guy though and our less active no longer exists. These records are really, really, REALLY old I might mention. So then we bagged our bikes again and hopped on the next local train ( they come every hour and a half or so out there so if you miss one it pretty much ruins all your plans) and headed down to Udono, the farthest south you can go in the Japan Nagoya Mission. By then we had gone a good 150 kilometers that day. We got off and realized that we hadn't eaten anything so we found a conbini (Convenient store) and got some food. Then we found an awesome park, pretty much right on the border of the mission, with a really cool roller slide. We ate there and, out of pure childish impulsiveness, rode the big slide (of course). The slide, instead of being slick metal, was a track with a bunch of metal rollers so I thought it would be fast. But instead, all it did was try to munch my pants and was NOT fast. Also it ripped my last good pair of pants :( #oldmissionaryprobs.
We found both of the less active addresses we were looking for. One of them kekkoed us and the other wasn't home but the miracle was that WE FOUND THEM. Then we caught the next train headed north and went up along the coastline all the way back to Kumanoshi, unpacked our bikes and visited our less actives up there one more time because we had an hour before the next fast train would come through. Turns out, we went to the wrong house looking for Okazaki! A kind neighbor showed us. We actually got to meet her and she told us her story. She was converted when she was 20 years old, back in Tsu. She was only active for about a year or so and then moved all the way out to Kumanoshi. She hadn't been contacted by missionaries in 40 years! She was really nice but had reverted back to the traditions of her fathers and asked us to remove her records from the church. Darn. But at least we found her. The likelyhood of a couple of clueless gaijin finding this lady in a tiny blue shack tucked away behind a bunch of other buildings and a mountain and stuff, 100 kilometers away from Ise and after 40 yrs of no church contact is not very likely. I know that the hand of God lead us to her house.
We successfully took apart our bikes and got packed up in time for the next fast train, the last one that would be coming through that day, at about 6:45pm. We got on the train and we're just congratulating each other on an extremely successful day of confirming nearly every address we had gone looking for, when it happened. There was a loud sound of impact, the train shook and the lights flickered. It was as if the rails of the track had sunken and the entire diesel train had just fallen an inch. They immediately hit the emergency breaks and we came to an emergency stop. At first I thought we had hit a deer or something but the impact it made on the heavy diesel train was much too large to have been an animal. We were stopped inside one of those long mountain tunnels and the train crew frantically ran back and forth trying to figure out what was going on. The train passengers just whispered to each other in confusion and we sat there in the train tunnel for about another hour. They finally decided to move the train out of the tunnel so we could get some cell reception and tell the world that we were still alive and that we would be getting home very very late. We sat there for another two hours or so and then they announced that this train would stop at Owase and then we would have to get on the next train.
We were sitting in engine one, which is the one that broke, so they pushed the train from behind with he back engine. We limped along at a crawl for a long time and finally pulled into the next train station. Everyone got off the train and we hopped on the next local train (the last train for the night was scheduled and hour ago but we backed up the whole line). So we got on the emergency local train and 30 stops later, finally got off in Matsusaka. We took the last train scheduled out of Matsusaka (11:06pm) and finally rolled into our station at midnight.
I've never been more exhausted in my life! It's taken a bit of recovering to get over that Adventure but man it was so fun! It was just another crazy day in the awesome experience of a mission.
On Sunday we had a couple of visitors from the Stake! A couple of my favorite people in the world, Brother and Sister Ray from Inuyama, as well as Sister Hibino from Ichinomiya came and spoke to us!! It was awesome! Then we watched the Elder Holland Broadcast for Sunday school. He talked of how God is invested in fixing broken things. Our little tiny branch here is Ise, living in the shadow of the great Jingu, has a lot of broken that needs to be fixed. Elder Holland gave a promise of healing that our little band of members needs so desperately. Many tears were shed during the conference. I hope everyone was lifted and given courage and faith from this Sunday.
Afterwards we a shokujikai. Everyone brought out plates of food and we started eating. Then the Dejis showed up! They brought us amazing sea food! One of the perks of living out here surrounded by ocean ;). It was awesome!
I'm not gonna lie, I was pretty down for a good part of this week. There's a mountain of things that need to be done as a branch president and as a missionary and sometimes I feel a little lost. But I felt comforted after a lot of prayer with a quote from a good friend of mine, Elder Coleman. "God doesn't ask for 110%. Just 100%." That helped me a lot. Also the words of Elder Holland, promising healing to this broken nation through the power of the Atonement, helped lift my spirits and gave me hope for our little band of members out here.
I know that God has a plan and a purpose for each and every one of us. Even the sheep who live far away from the rest of the fold are important in the eyes of the Master.
I love this Gospel. It works. It actually makes people truly happy. I'm grateful for a God that is invested in healing broken minds, broken relationships, broken hearts and broken dreams.