Stories: My Spiritual Experiences - Norm Tong
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|My Spiritual Experiences in Japan - Submitted by Norm Tong
My story is unusual in that I labored in the Mission Home office as Mission Clerk for about 2/3 of my time in Japan, after 8 months in Hiroshima where my companions and I saw one sweet sister enter the waters of baptism there after we had taught her the gospel.
While serving in secretarial duties in the mission office, I had the opportunity on occasion to do missionary work in the Shibuya and Yokohama Branches and my companions and I were privileged to teach a young girl in Tokyo and a young man in Yokohama before they joined the Church. Those were special and joyous events, which made us feel that our time and effort was well worth the joy of witnessing the Spirit working in their lives to grant them faith and testimonies of their own.
However, I also strongly felt the Spirit of the Lord guiding and helping me while I was doing office work for President Andrus. He asked me to put in order all of the membership records of every branch in the mission, which at the time of assignment were frustratingly inaccurate, therefore making it difficult to know the true situation in each of the 32 branches of Okinawa, Korea, and Japan. There were membership records misplaced, unprocessed, forgotten in odd places, or pending in the branches where Elders had left them when transferred, etc. In the mission office itself, there had also been a steady stream of missionaries who had worked on records for a while and then been transferred out to the field, leaving much unfinished business here and there. There was no up-to-date office manual giving instructions on how to keep accurate records, where to place them, how to process a new membership record, etc.
As my work began in earnest, I was guided time and again to find missing records and to use the evidences which came to light to place people in the right branches and to get information regarding each member. It took months of follow-up and gentle coercion of the Elders then serving as Branch Presidents to give me missing information and records, etc. Sometimes, after doing all that could be done up to a point, I had to lay some things aside, and then, voila, something would either come in or evidence would be found to finally connect missing links to finish the work on a record. There were so many minute little details which the Lord helped me to surrendipitously unearth to put the branches' and mission's records in order. Although it was a huge project which took months, not to mention the usual typing of correspondence for President Andrus and just keeping all the other office work purring along, I loved keeping the records and doing this work. And I was grateful for the constant inspiration I received from Heavenly Father and recognized the myriads of ways his guiding hand was manifest in getting this work done.
Then after all the records were in order, President Andrus requested me to write an office procedures manual to which anyone could refer to continue the flow of office work so that order could be maintained. It was a great pleasure to do this work. Later, it was also a privilege to type and do a little art work for the new lesson plans which came from Salt Lake which replaced our old ones.
Occasionally I wondered why I couldn’t be out proselyting fulltime, but I knew that the recordkeeping I was doing was commanded of the Lord and a very important part of building the Kingdom (D & C 127:9), so I was comforted and had faith that this was where the Lord wanted me to serve. When I first arrived and proselyted in Japan, I’m certain that people thought I was retarded because I couldn’t understand them nor could I converse very well for the first several months. Time to learn and use nihongo itself was limited somewhat in the Mission Office as well, so were I to return to labor in Japan today, I would likely again be deemed retarded!
Serving in the Mission Office gave me the privilege of knowing most of the missionaries and vicarously enjoying their successes in the whole mission (Japan, Korea, & Okinawa), of feeling the pulse of the work, of witnessing a bit of the great challenge President and Sister Andrus faced in their stewardship. This was a special perspective that gave strength to me over the years for which I am grateful. And I am thankful also for the special comraderie and friendships I developed with those missionaries who served in our mission. There is a special warmth and closeness which the Northern Far East Missionaries have forged from their experiences in this mission which continues to be felt in our reunions. How grand and heartwarming it will be to renew ties in the next life for all of us, missionaries and converts as well, who endure faithfully!
It was my privilege also to become acquainted with many of the faithful members in Tokyo when they came to the Mission Office: Masao Watabe, Tatsui Sato, Makoto Fukuda, Kazuo Imai, Shozo Suzuki, Kan Watanabe, Kenji Tanaka among a few, some who became Bishops, Stake Presidents, Regional Representatives, Patriarchs, and strong leaders in Japan in the ensuing decades. Brother Watabe translated my family records and helped me prepare pedigree and family group sheets of my ancestors so that they were ready for submission when the Church later requested the four-generation records from all members.
In retrospect, I know that the Lord needed my work in the mission office and I acknowledge that it was spiritually very satisfying to feel his hand over the work. It was a great privilege to serve with President and Sister Andrus; I learned much from President Andrus' example, not only as a Mission President, but also as a brother in the gospel. His orderliness, keen mind, honesty, and forthrightness taught me much at my young impressionable age, and the experience I gained in secretarial work served me well through the years.
On a humorous note, one Easter, Sister Andrus asked me to get up just a little earlier than usual to hide Easter eggs in the yard of the mission home before gospel study time. She told me later that her oldest son Vaun had peeked out the window and had seen me. He reported to her in alarm that "Sister Yonemori is out there and she is stealing the Easter eggs!" So she was forced to tell him the truth about the "Easter Bunny". He looked at me with a knowing smile at morning prayers.
My testimony of the gospel continues to grow and the ensuing years since my mission have taught me precious truths which have come during times of trial. I married Elder Norman Tong three years after our missions and raised six children, all actively serving in the Church, five having served missions (two in Japan). Our current calling in the Provo MTC is a highlight in our lives as we serve in a Mandarin Branch presidency. Our cup of blessings runneth over and I am so grateful to the Lord for his kindness and mercy.
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