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AҐ鋳t[From Returned Missionaries



Editor's Note: We are grateful that Norman Shumway who has written an autobiography has kindly agreed to share the chapter about his first mission along with pictures for a nine-part series which will run every other week. This is the second segment..

Since his first mission, Norman and wonderful wife, Luana, have served in Japan two more times. From 1996-99, Norman was president of the Okayama Mission for two years and the Hiroshima Mission for one when the Okayama Mission was closed. They have also served as the public affairs missionaries in Japan. Recently they completed another public affairs mission at the United Nations.  

Memories of my First Mission

Norman Shumway Part 5


            Street meetings were almost a daily part of our activity. Sometimes it was difficult to get anyone to stop and listen, apparently because of timidity at being seen by others. On one cold, wintry day we preached for several minutes without capturing the interest of a single passerby. Elder Austin, who had a gap between his front teeth and could whistle in several different ways, had an idea. We put one of our hats on the pavement, then gathered around it as though we were in a football huddle. Elder Austin began to make all kinds of bird sounds while we stared intently at the hat. Very quickly people gathered to see what it was we were looking at, and surmised that we had trapped a bird of some sort under the hat. One old man, dressed in a kimono, took one look and grunted, gTaishita monf da na!h which can be interpreted as gThis is something very great!h After more than a dozen people were clamoring to get a view, we lifted the hat - and began a discourse on faith, pointing out that they had believed in something they could not see. We did not get any converts from that meeting, but at least we had a crowd for several minutes. (Picture above shows children in a cart which could be pulled or pushed by hand or pulled by a motorcycle.)

            Another street meeting proved to be much more fruitful. It was conducted by only my companion and me. When one of us was not speaking, he walked around through the crowd and tried to make contacts. One young lady I spoke to seemed to be listening intently, but was too shy to respond to my greeting. I gave her a little map of the Church location and invited her to come. To my surprise, she appeared the following Sunday.

            I became acquainted with Michiko Miyagi, a student at a Sendai technical school. She began a series of cottage meetings which were held at the Church. Because I had made the initial contact, she was deemed to be my investigator and I did all of the teaching (as was the custom at the time). After several such meetings, I was given a new senior companion - an elder who was about to go home and was more interested in buying souvenirs and visiting museums than he was in teaching the gospel. The months I spent with him were a trial for me.

            Miyagi san was an excellent investigator. She studied, prayed, read the Book of Mormon and attended Church often. Before long she introduced us to her older sister, Akiko Miyagi, who likewise became my investigator and progressed very quickly. At the end of one meeting with Michiko Miyagi, I gave her a pamphlet in Japanese entitled gThe Plan of Salvation.h A few days later, when we met again, I asked at the outset if she had any questions about her study. (The Miyagi family is pictured just below.)

            She asked a question about the pamphlet, and I had my mouth open to answer - but my new companion intervened and supplied the answer. This same thing happened maybe three more times. I became very provoked. I nudged him with my elbow and scornfully asked, gWhofs teaching this meeting - you or I?h He apologized and said, gShefs your investigator. You go ahead.h

            I turned to Miyagi san and waited for her next question.  She spoke it to me, but I was not able to understand a single word. Sensing that I was not grasping her words, she repeated the question, very slowly. However, I could not discern any of what she said. Although for the past several months I had easily  communicated in Japanese, my ability to comprehend was suddenly and totally lost! In my mind, instead of a carefully arranged knowledge of Japanese, I felt only a dark void. I will never forget the utter despair and isolation of that moment. I quickly realized that the Spirit had left me because of my pride and the anger I felt toward my companion.

            In desperation I uttered a silent prayer, asking the Lord to forgive me and to restore the gift I had been blessed with. In a few moments I felt His merciful response, and knew that He would pardon my misconduct. Very meekly I resumed the meeting. Miyagi san asked her questions again, and I understood and responded without any difficulty.

            This experience taught me lessons that I would never forget. I now realized that I had succeeded in learning Japanese because of heavenly help, not through my own resources. I knew that I had to rely upon the Lord for continued aid. I had a fervent testimony of the scriptural injunction: g(I)f ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teachh (D&C 42:14).

            On 23 May 1956 I baptized both of the Miyagi sisters in the Hirose River. (See picture above right.) Both remained faithful in the Church and served in many positions. They married in the temple, raised good families and sent sons on missions. They later brought another sister into the Church. Their conversion was one of the high points of my mission, and all of it started with just a simple street meeting!

            During the Christmas season of 1955, each of us received a few extra dollars. My mail brought small checks from friends, my eldersf quorum, aunts and uncles, and even Grandpa Owens who occasionally sent me a one dollar bill. We decided to pool our bounty and use it to provide gifts for the poorer members of our branch. One of those was President Watabe who had a large family and lived on the outskirts of the city. We bought some large, frozen fish, blankets, canned goods, crates of mikan (Mandarin Oranges as pictured left) and other produce - and loaded all of these things on the rear racks of our bicycles. After almost an hour of pedaling, we arrived at the Watabe house. He greeted us in the genkan (entryway). When he realized why we had come and beheld the gifts we placed upon his threshold, he summoned his entire family. He was so overwhelmed with gratitude that he prostrated himself on the floor and thanked us repeatedly. Tears flowed freely in both directions. The feelings that prevailed there made for an unusually memorable holiday. It was indeed better to give than to receive.

            I was involved in several bicycle accidents which tore holes in my clothing and produced injuries. During snowy weather, I ran into a parked truck and badly sprained my thumb. On another occasion my bike slipped on the ice, throwing me into a ditch at the side of the road. On yet another day, my pedal snapped off as I was pushing down it after stopping at a traffic light. I was thrown in front of a streetcar which applied its brakes and narrowly missed hitting me. In addition to these mishaps, we had the usual share of flat tires, broken chains, etc.

            President and Sister Robertson were released and went home in late October 1955. In spite of his usual gruff exterior, I saw him as a caring, loving man. I will always remember traveling to Tokyo in order to renew a passport at the embassy. When we visited the mission home, President Robertson said that our shoes needed shined, and indeed they did! He personally brought a brush and some wax and spruced up our shoes while we looked on in amazement. The Robertsons were replaced by Paul C. Andrus and his wife, Frances, a much younger couple with two small children.

            On 23 May (the day the Miyagi sisters were baptized) I left Sendai for a new assignment in the Tokyo mission home. The branch members feted me a farewell party. Brother Watabe offered a toast to me, saying the things I would be remembered for were (1) my musical ability, (2) my love of things Japanese, and (3) my instructive sacrament meeting talks. They gave me many gifts, and about 30 of them accompanied me to the train station where they sang gGod Be with You Till We Meet Againh as the train pulled away from the platform and moved into the night. My eyes were filled with tears as I left those dear Saints. I would be forever grateful for their love, the things they taught me and the experiences they provided for me. (Above picture of shows a typical rural train station in Japan.)