The Kobe Stake held its stake conference today and yesterday. Both Rika and I spoke last night in the adult session and today in the main session as well.
In my talk today I shared a story about President Monson when he served as a mission president in Canada many years ago. He was asked to visited and speak in a small branch in his mission. It only had 9 people and consisted of two families. They met in the basement of a rented building. After the meeting the branch president told President Monson he wanted to build a chapel for his branch. He then showed him a picture of a beautiful big building. President Monson told him he would need 300 or more members attending before he could build such a big building. The branch president said they would do it. He said he planned to share the gospel with everyone in his city. He then asked President Monson if he would send them 6 elders to help in the work. He did so. As the story goes, after the missionaries arrived the branch president knelt and prayed with the missionaries and told them this was the day they would start building their new chapel. The missionaries told him that is great, but we do not have anyone to teach yet. Then this wonderful branch president said if we are going to build a chapel then we need an architect. So he reached up to the bookshelf and took the phonebook down and turned to the business listings and started calling the names of architects out of the phone book. He did the same for doctors, lawyers and many others. He invited them to his home and introduced them to the missionaries and shared the gospel with them. President Monson testified that at the end of his 3 year mission they built that chapel and they had over 400 people in attendance. The secret to their miracle was their faith, enthusiasm, attitude and action.
Well, that story was part of my remarks today. I then told them that I was not sure if we could build a chapel, but I had felt a strong impression we should send missionaries to the small branch of Sumoto on Awaji Island. Coincidentally they have about 9 members attending made up of a couple families. The stake president had told me that the branch had set a goal this year of one baptism for their branch. They have not had missionaries there or a convert baptism for several years (perhaps 10 years). I told the stake president a few weeks ago that if they would raise their goal to 5 and work with us to reactivate 5 more I would send missionaries. Well I had not heard back yet on any revised goals, but we moved forward anyway and are in the process of renting an apartment near the rented church there in Sumoto. At the end of the meeting, a sobbing branch president came to me on the stand and embraced me (which is not common in this culture) and expressed words of gratitude. It was President Kasai of the Sumoto Branch. He then showed me a long list of people. He said we have friends and know people that we want to share the gospel with. He also had a list of less active families he wanted help to visit. Both lists were impressive. I was becoming overwhelmed with emotions myself. I told him I would send him two of my best missionaries and together we would build his branch back up. This ranks as one the most special experiences of my mission so far. My words here probably do not do it justice. The work goes forward and there are members here that are ready to move it forward. We will work to double the attendance in that branch by the end of the year!
We have a kind of similar situation in the Kyoto Stake. The good stake president there came to me and said we want to build a chapel in Omihachiman. There is ward there with about 70 people attending. It is a rather rural area. He said if we can get the average up to 80 people we can put in a request to build a small chapel. It would be the only chapel in that prefecture (state) in Japan. He asked me to send more missionaries to serve in that ward. We have two there now and he asked for two more. I said you show me your ward mission plan and we will help you achieve it. They did and it is a great plan and the whole ward is behind it. The ward is very spread out geographically and the missionaries cannot ride their bikes to all the areas and members’ homes in a reasonable amount of time. They tried once and after a 3 hour bike ride one way determined there must be a better way. The train is helpful, but only if members and investigators live near the train stations. The cost of train tickets is also a burden for the missionaries. The missionaries suggested we get special bikes that can fold up so they could take them on the train to the various areas in the ward, then ride them to their destinations once they get off the train. When I shared this idea with the stake president he said not to worry the stake would buy two bikes and help finance train fare. To make a long story short, we now have a plan to increase by two missionaries, and get them new bikes so they can work better with the ward and help them build a new chapel in Omihachiman. The past several months we have been focusing on becoming more unified with the members. The growth we saw as a mission last year was largely through the missionaries’ increased efforts in street contacting and housing. To see the work progress faster and beyond the levels we are at now, we must get the members more involved. It is happening and it is giving me great hope for the future of the work here.After conference today we held a baptism for Brother Aritoshi of the Ako Branch. He was taught and baptized by Elders Nishio and Novak. This was a special service as Elder Nishio's parents and his older brother were in attendance. Elder Nishio is from Tsuyama in the Hiroshima Mission and his father was transferred here and then called as bishop of one of the wards in the Kobe Stake. His brother has been called to Fukuoka and will report in March. It is a special and unique thing to get a picture of a baptism with your family on your mission. To add to the irony, his home ward, Tsuyama, will become part of this mission in July as well with the consolidation of Hiroshima. Not sure where to transfer him going forward!Sister McIntyre made heart cookies for Valentine's Day for Rosario, one of our converts from last year, and her family. They all attended stake conference.
Speaking of Stake Conferences, last week was the Osaka Stake Conference and a new Stake Presidency was organized by Elder Aoyagi and Elder Ishii of the Seventy. This is a picture of the outgoing presidency and the incoming presidency. The new stake president is President Suita from the Nara Branch. Sister McIntyre and I had speaking assignments on both Saturday and Sunday in this conference as well. It was a wonderful conference and the Spirit was strong. We have great expectations for Osaka going forward.