Thursday, December 27, 2012

Week 26: in which English class is even more awesome than usual, and in which a wonderous gift is given

MERRY CHRISTMAS! What a wonderful week (or rather, week and a half, since this email is several days late) this has been. I'll admit, ever since deciding to serve a mission, I was terrified of Christmas time. Basically, the Cutler-Hooper-Sumrak Christmas celebrations are hands-down my most special, tradition-filled, sacred memories. The Christmas-Eve Nativity, pajamas, family dinner to celebrate Rowan's birthday... and then Christmas Day in Smithfield, with the traditional Christmas socks, singing, eating, crying, yelling, wrestling, stories of years past... Hong Kong doesn't really celebrate Christmas very much. Few people actually celebrate, and some people who do celebrate do so without even knowing the story, the incredible miracle that started it all. So yes, I was rather terrified that my mission Christmas would be the worst Christmas ever. I was scared that I would be homesick, and that the homesickness would distract me from the work and just make me miserable. And I definitely didn't want my family to be a weakness, something that brought me down. I wanted them to be a light, to lift me up. So I prayed a lot, really hard, for a long time, asking that God would help me to keep a positive, grateful attitude, that my Christmas day telephone call home would fill me up, so to speak. And you know what? My prayer was answered. I've felt so happy all week, and talking to my family lifted me up, made me feel like I was ready to go for another 6 months or so until we can talk again!

We had a ward Christmas party last Saturday, and our elders, the Mandarin elders, and Sister Chan and I sang 'Angels We Have Heard on High' as part of the program. I sang the first verse in French, Sister Chan sang it again in Cantonese, and then all six of us sang the second verse in English. I was shaking up a storm I was so nervous! But it turned out alright. Actually, I didn't think I sounded particularly good, but Sister Chan sang so beautifully. Seriously, it sounded just like an angel. I was so proud of her, and she was even more terrified than I was. But the best part is what we found out later. One of the boys who was recently baptized, Tony, has had a challenging time feeling the Spirit. He really likes church, but often says he doesn't quite understand what it means to feel the Spirit. But after the party, he was talking with the elders, and he said, "How did the sisters sing like that?" And the elders asked what he meant, and he said, "I felt something, so warm and peaceful. How can they do that?" The elders explained that it was the Spirit, and that it was confirming the truth of the message of the song. When they told us what Tony said, I was so touched. So often, we don't know if what we're doing helps anyone, has any effect. I know that so many people have blessed my life, and they may never know that what they did had such an impact on me. Some days I come home and feel like I did nothing, like I helped no one. But I remind myself that God sent me all the way to Hong Kong to be an instrument in his hands, and that I just have to trust that he is using me. And I don't need to know. Honestly, I just want to help people, and I love to know when I am helping because it makes me feel good, but if I never know, that doesn't even matter.

Fortunately, the mission gives us plenty of opportunities to get over fear of singing in public. In addition to singing at the Christmas party, I also was obliged (forced) to sing a solo at the missionary Christmas party. And that was just plain bad haha. I don't know what happened, because at all the practices it was okay, but when I actually sang, it just sounded bad! Haha, but not nearly as bad as our Christmas Eve night caroling! Elder Goodrich, Elder Parry, Sister Chan, and I went caroling for a couple of hours, and by the end our voices were shot, we'd laughed more than we sang, and the parts where we did sing... well, let's just say it was rough haha. But it was such a fun experience, and I think we cheered up some people. We got a lot of smiles, that's for sure. People aren't really used to caroling over here, so even if you sound really bad, they'll still listen for a little bit because it's such a novelty!

Last week's English class was so funny! We taught them different medical words, like names of illnesses, remedies, etc. Then we played a game called, "What's Wrong With the Elders?" So the elders would go to the front of the room and pretend like they were sick or seriously injured, and the students would take turns diagnosing and prescribing. It was hilarious. I just sat in the corner crying tears (of laughter, obviously). And we taught the students two phrases: "Rub some dirt in it!" and "Put a bandaid on it!" And if the students said either of those, they'd get two extra points! The three (maybe four) people who know that inside joke can fully appreciate that. But for the rest of you, let me take you back to my childhood for a couple sentences. So in elementary school, we went to CCC lab every week. Sometimes we'd do really boring things, but sometimes they'd let us play Busy Town, the best, coolest game ever. Basically, you go around the town and help out the baker, the carpenter, the grocer, all sorts of people. And the best place to go? The doctor. The doctor was a giant, friendly lion. One by one, his patients would come in and say something like, "My knee hurts," "My head hurts," "My stomach hurts." And each time, Doctor Lion would say, "Put a bandaid on it!" (as though a bandaid would cure a headache.) And then you click and drag the bandaid to the correct body part! Pretty fun, huh? So ever since then, every time one of my family members complained of some sort of ailment, we would say, "put a bandaid on it!" And I taught it to friends at BYU. And now, I've spread that inside joke to people literally halfway across the world from home! So maybe this incredibly long-winded story didn't really make you laugh. Or even smile. But just trust me, it's really funny.

So that was a good English class. But yesterday's English class was the best one ever. Only three people came (none of them church members), a mother who speaks mostly Mandarin, a little Cantonese, and next to no English, and her two children, a 12-year-old girl and 6-year-old boy. It was the day after Christmas, so we decided that we'd just teach them the Christmas story in English. So we had each person draw pictures on the board of different parts of the Christmas story. So they learned words like 'shepherd,' 'stable,' 'manger,' 'wise men.' Then the elders told the Christmas story from start to finish. And then they all stood up and told the Christmas story using the pictures we drew. And it was so beautiful, to be there to witness someone learn about the Christmas story for the first time. Really, it's a gaaisik mhdou ge gingyihm (undescribable experience). And Sue, the daughter, who comes to English class pretty regularly, hardly ever talks. She's incredibly shy, and refuses to show emotion. The elders always ask her to do something, or ask if she likes and she'll say No every time. But we got her up there, she participated, and she even smiled! And then we showed them the five-minute Nativity movie that doesn't have any words, just music. I love that movie so much. And afterwards, we were all so quiet. Then Elder Parry asked Sue how she felt. And she thought for a second, then said, "Peaceful." Wow. She felt the Spirit. It was such a silent, sacred moment. I wish I could find the words to describe it, but I really can't. I don't know. I wish you could have been there.

So I've come up with the theme of my Christmas this year--this line from O Little Town of Bethlehem: "How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessing of his heaven." The joy of this Christmas didn't come from any big Christmas celebration. There wasn't any snow; in fact, it wasn't even cold! The memories of this Christmas in Hong Kong probably don't seem very significant to people who didn't experience them: a lack of homesickness; Tony's testimony of the Spirit; having fun despite our lack of singing talent; Sue's family learning the Christmas story. But these memories will always be really special to me. The best blessings often come silently, and if we're not looking out, we might miss them. I'm so grateful for this opportunity to serve, but really I'm receiving more blessings than I'll ever be able to pay back through my service. But isn't that the point of Christmas? Celebrating the biggest gift, one given to the whole world, one that we can never repay--the Savior's life.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Week 25: in which I shed tears of joy on more than one occasion, and in which gaining weight could be considered a blessing (I know, weird, right?)

Hello everyone! What a wonderful, happy, laughter-filled week! I got a new companion this week, Sister Chan, and she is an angel. Really. I've never been so happy as a missionary as I am with her. She leads by example, and serves others as often and as quietly as she can. She's from Hong Kong, and she just started learning English on her mission. When I first heard I would have a native companion, I was so nervous that we wouldn't be able to communicate well, but her English is improving constantly, as well as my Cantonese. I feel like my language skyrocketed this week, and I have no fear talking to people, whether they be ward members, investigators, or people on the MTR or bus! I just want to share this miraculous message with anyone who will listen, so if the first person won't, I'll just go on to the next! We've been so busy, and I feel so happy. Seriously, I've said so many thankful prayers in my head throughout this week. So many good things happen and I just want to share them with Heavenly Father. I've never felt so grateful before! It just keeps getting better, and it will keep getting better for eternity! Brothers and sisters, my fire is BACK and BETTER THAN EVER!

T-shirts of the week: First one: "RO SE, woule you say yES!" (That was their spelling error, not mine, by the way.) The second one confused me so much at first, because all it said was, "Rookie Dolphin." Yeah. Like they just became a dolphin, so right now they're not very good at it or something? But then I thought maybe it was talking about the football team? Which would make more sense. But it was still incredibly vague, and the person wearing it probably didn't know what it said anyways.

So one of the members in our ward, Sarah, is a miracle. She's 18 years old, and for most of her life has been in and out of the hospital because of various health problems. But her testimony is so powerful, so strong, and with each trial it just gets stronger! Her latest trial: she has to be on dialysis (I don't know what that is, but it's what she's on), and that has caused her to gain some weight. We've visited her a few times in the hospital, and her mom told us how hard the weight gain has been for Sarah. And what a blessing to be able to understand her trial. Really, it's weird, but it makes me kind of grateful to have this experience, because I can understand a little better how she feels. I can empathize with her a little better. And wow, to think that Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, also knows how we feel. Through his Atonement, he knows how it feels to gain weight, to feel bad about how you look. He's experienced that pain so that I don't have to! And it seems so trivial. At least I'm not starving or dying or alone. But he wanted to help me, so he took upon himself that experience so that he could know how I feel. So that he could know me perfectly.

So Elder Parry and Elder Goodrich (the elders in our ward) showed us the results of a particularly productive companion study: March Madness, Prophet edition. Basically, they listed a bunch of prophets and ranked them based on how awesome they are. Each one was given a different number of points, based on their rank, and then they played each other. So for example, Moses got 9 points, so 9 coins, and they'd flip each coin and count how many landed flower-side up. That's how many points he'd get for that round. And so they played all the prophets and Joseph Smith won! But there were some pretty crazy upsets, and John the Baptist got way further than expected! It was hilarious.

I've had O Holy Night stuck in my head all week (Sister Chan and I hum it whenever we're walking anywhere), and these lyrics have been on my mind: "Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother." I love that. Each person I meet is my brother or sister, and Christ has suffered and died for them, so that they can be freed from the chains of sin and death. But so many people here don't know that; in fact, they don't even know who Jesus Christ is. And that's where we come in! We have to share what we know to anyone who will listen, because they are our family members! They are our brothers and sisters! And we may not remember, but we lived with them before this life with our Heavenly Father, and we'll see them again after this life. My time here is so short, and I'm starting to really feel how short it is. I only have a year left! Time is flying. And Gandalf's line from Lord of the Rings keeps going through my head: "All that we can do is decide what to do with the time that is given us." I don't want to waste time being half-hearted, thinking about things that I've lost or that I'm missing out on. I'm all here!

I am so happy! I love you all so much!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Week 24: in which I saw Gandalf the Gray at least five times, and in which the people of Hong Kong become ever more Christlike (even if they don't know it yet!)

Hello everyone! How is life in the good ol' US of A? Hong Kong is as exciting as ever!

T-shirts of the week: The first one seemed really normal at first. But when I did a double-take, I realized that it had a huge UK flag on the front. And printed underneath: New York, New York. Yeah, I don't know. Whatever. The second t-shirt: "Now I will eat ice cream for breakfast." Yeah. I almost offered to buy it from her. But then I thought that'd be weird.

So I guess the Hobbit is coming out or something? Because I can't escape the posters of Bilbo, Gandalf, Galadriel, the dwarves (not that I'd want to escape anyways). Every time I see them, my heart is filled with joy and love and serenity. Kind of like reading the scriptures, but a little different.

So last week, we were in the elevator of our apartment building with a woman, and we started talking to her. Her name is Emmy, and we just greeted her and did some small talk (Have you eaten yet? Our equivalent of talking about the weather.) And then we left the building to walk to church. After a minute or two, we heard, "Hello! Hello!" And she was running to catch up to us! And she asked me, "Do you have a coat?" (It's not quite cold enough for me to wear one yet, but everyone here is already freezing cold haha. Utah trained me well!) And I told her I did, but she still offered to give me one. So we kept saying no thank you, and then she walked with us for a ways on her way to work. And that evening we came home around 9:30. And I had a giant bag on my desk! And the other sisters told us that Emmy had found our apartment (we have a picture of Jesus on the door, so it's pretty easy to find) and dropped off two coats for me! And they were NICE coats. So now I have a beautiful, black trenchcoat! I am so blown away by how charitable the people here are. They follow Christ without even knowing it.

Raven asked us a couple weeks ago to help her learn hymns so that she can participate more in sacrament meetings, so we started last week with Silent Night. And can I tell you, there are few things sweeter than teaching someone who is just learning what it means to be a Christian the words to one of the most sacred, precious songs about him. I felt the Spirit so strong. What a blessing to be here, to help people come to know Christ. Their Savior. Who knows them perfectly. What a blessing. I wish I could explain it more fully the feeling I have as I'm typing about this experience, but there aren't words in the English language (or Cantonese) to describe it.

I've been learning so much these past few weeks, and I feel like I'm coming up out of that emotional valley I was in for a while. It's hard climbing out of valleys, because it's all uphill. But when you get out, the view is so worth it and you learn so much more. I've struggled (and am still struggling) with a lot of negative thoughts: about my body, about my lack of ability or competence, about things that I miss or that I gave up to come on my mission. And I was wondering what was wrong with me, why I couldn't overcome this negative thoughts. Why did they affect me so much? Am I doing something wrong, am I weak? Why can't I just choose to not think those things? But then I read a quote from a note Rachel sent me in the MTC. Albus Dumbledore once said, "In the end, Harry, it mattered not that you could not close your mind. It was your heart that saved you." We all will struggle with those thoughts, and sometimes we can't always control what we think. But that doesn't matter. What matters is whether or not you push through those thoughts. What matters is your desires, your testimony. And when everything else was up in the air, when I couldn't stop the churning, frantic thoughts in my mind, the thing I held onto was my testimony of Jesus Christ. I don't know what to do or where to go, but I know Christ lives and that because he lives, I can live again with him. And I held onto that until the storm in my mind stopped. And the storms will always stop eventually. They will always stop, and when they do, the sun will shine through the clouds and you will see that you've made it to land, you've made it home.

I love you all! Thank you so much for your prayers, letters, and support!

Fwd: Week 23: in which I keep my chin up and learn a thing or two

Hello family and friends! I am so grateful that it is Monday! We are in Tai Po today, right near the borders of Mainland China! Pretty exciting, huh? After emailing, we'll venture into the rain to buy some fake jade and some cheap clothes. This is the life!

T shirt of the week: "I shoot people." It has a giant camera with a bullet coming out of it. I thought it was kind of clever actually!

This has been another challenging week, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, but do you want to know the miracle? I can honestly pray every night and thank the Lord for these experiences, because their role in my growth and progression as a missionary and a person are so readily evident. I feel stronger and braver than I've ever felt before! And I've never been so aware of my weaknesses either. I'm praying harder, crying harder, working harder, smiling harder, laughing harder, sleeping harder than I've ever done before, and I'm not even one-third of the way done with this mission thing! You won't even recognize me when I get home! And I'm not just saying that because of how much weight I'll have gained by then haha. (Just kidding. Kind of?)

So the other day I saw a sign advertising for the annual Cantonese Opera Festival. Of course, I immediately thought of last summer's wonderful opera experiences with Granny and Rebecca, especially singing La Donna Est Mobile and the Queen of the Night's song in the kitchen while washing dishes. And then I noticed one of the special events on the poster: Opera Sing Along. YES. They have a sing-along section at the festival. And if I weren't a missionary, I'd be there in a heartbeat haha.

Speaking of singing, turns out I have a solo in the mission Christmas program! Yes, that's right, I'll be hitting the big stage! The elder in charge of the choir just kind of told me (no, not asked, told) in the middle of rehearsal haha, so that was a lovely experience. I don't think my ears have ever turned so red before, but I did alright anyways.

Good news! We've been doing a lot of praying and thinking about Raven, and we talked to her the other day about her baptismal date. And we challenged her to get baptized before the end of the year, so we're planning on December 30th! We're praying so hard that everything will work out! She is so clearly prepared, and we just love her! She is a light!

We've had a lot of trouble finding new people to teach recently, which means we've been doing quite a bit of finding, and I'm actually starting to love it. Secretly. Don't tell Sister Taylor quite yet haha. I talked to a few school girls this week, and at first I got really nervous before talking to them, but turns out they usually are kind of in awe of these 20-something year old American girls, so really there's no reason to be nervous! It's all an adventure, and even the straight-up rejection by the old po-pos (old grandmas) can make it fun if you have a good attitude about it!

In English class, we were teaching a bunch of idioms, one of them being "Keep your chin up!" And Paul, our English class regular, asked, "So what does 'Keep your chin down' mean?" So now we've started saying that all the time haha.

I love this quote by Elder Maxwell: "Consecration is the only surrender that is also a victory." It's so true. When we truly consecrate our wills to Heavenly Father, that is when we truly succeed, truly find happiness. Sacrificing for this mission is the best choice I've ever made, and I love the trials, the challenges, and the small, daily victories. I love the people, I love the food (although maybe not what it does to me or my bowels haha), I love the work, I love the Lord. And I love all of you!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Week 22 email: in which I almost witness a death, but it was alright, and in which Frodo and Sam are reunited at last

Hello family and friends and acquaintances and enemies and strangers! Or as the crazy ward correlator would say, "Bonjour!" (He really loved French class. Like, really, really loved it. Like, he's considering starting his own French class even though he has the worst accent I've ever heard. It's hilarious.)

So first things first: have I mentioned how crazy Hong Kong transportation is? Well, it's crazy. I've never seen a car wreck, miraculously, but the buses and taxis and ridiculously expensive-looking cars weave in and out so quick, it's like they're being chased by a t-rex or something, and it's every man for himself! And what makes it even scarier are the pedestrians! Seriously, the Hong Kong people walk so slowly on the side walk, like they have all the time in the world. But when it comes to waiting at crossing lights... yeah, like they have time for that! They book it across these streets, standing in one lane while waiting for the bus to pass, hoping that the taxi doesn't try to use their lane to overtake it. It's just plain crazy! We gotta get these people baptized before they kill themselves! So yes, this brings up two adventures. Well the first adventure is a pretty common occurrence actually. I've been designated bus-runner. And you should see me run for buses in a skirt! (I know, I know, that is a very poorly worded, ambiguous sentence. Am I running in a skirt, or are the buses wearing the skirt? I apologize, but give me a break! I'm speaking Cantonese every day of my life!) Anyways, I'm pretty much a skirt-running pro now. Elders just don't understand. And the second transportation adventure involves that death I mentioned earlier. So here's what happened. A little boy was pushing his bike across the street when the very front of the bike got hit by a bus! And it totally messed up the bike and threw the boy on the road, but he survived! And the bus driver got out and freaked out at him, but the boy just stood up and ran away! It was a very startling way to start off the day.

T-shirt of the week: the strangest shade of orange I've ever seen with these words: I yam what I yam. Seriously, I wonder if the people here know what their shirts mean. A girl on the MTR (named Bread, by the way) was wearing a "I mustache you a question" t-shirt, and I asked her if she got the joke, and she had no idea what a mustache even was.

We've been doing a lot of finding recently, which is sometimes fun, and sometimes stressful, but always, guaranteed, no exceptions, AWKWARD. As one of our zone leaders says, "The mission is 90% awkward, 10% miracle." I've been thinking a lot about Jeremiah 16:16, where it talks about how some missionaries are like fishermen: you just pull up nets and nets of fish! And that reminded me a lot of Jesse's experiences in Africa. And then there are other missionaries that are like hunters, searching everywhere for that one person. And wow, do I feel like a hunter! We had such an awesome miracle a couple weeks ago, and her name is Lorna. So we'd been finding for about an hour, and no one wanted to listen. But then I saw a woman sitting on the side of the road, so we went up and talked to her. She was from the Philippines, so we asked her in English if she was waiting for the bus. She said, "No. Where's the nearest LDS church?" And we were shocked! So we told her, and turns out she was baptized 20 years ago in the Philippines, but hasn't been to church in a long time because she doesn't speak Cantonese and didn't know where to find our church! Wow, what a miracle. The Lord is so aware of his children, and I know he arranged our schedule so that we could go finding and so that we could bring back one of his lost sheep. Hers was the only phone number we got that day, and it was so incredibly worth it.

English class is always one of my favorite times of the week, but last week's was more special than most. One of the elders' investigators asked them to give him an English name (many Hong Kong students have them), so after much pondering and praying (or not), they named him Frodo. Yes, I about died. Frodo is hilarious, and not because he means to be. He showed up to church last Sunday 2 hours late... wearing fleece pajamas. Classic Frodo. And he can't speak a lick of English, but he comes to English class every week and tries his best haha. And this week a new kid showed up. He has perfect English. And his name? Samwise Gamgee. No joke. Actually, yes. Kind of a joke. His name is Sam though! We thought it was so funny, so we four missionaries were dying of laughter, and then everyone else thought it was so funny that we thought it was funny, so they laughed too. It was a good day.

Our Thanksgiving day was awesome! We had a zone Thanksgiving meal, including the most delicious turkey I've ever eaten, courtesy of Elder Christensen, our district leader. We four sisters make pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, which were incredible, of course. So we stuffed ourselves, rested, and then our elders and we went to the bishop's house for more Thanksgiving! We were so stuffed by the end, but it was such a good day.

This week has been hard. Really really hard. Not that any bad things happened, I'm just emotionally drained, and I feel Satan really trying to get me down on myself. I've learned a lot about forgiveness, particularly forgiving myself for my weaknesses. And I learned this week that weaknesses are NOT the same as sins. No duh, Sister Cutler. But really! But I know that the Lord is watching out for me and helping me grow, and I know that the task ahead of us is never greater than the power behind us. The Lord is in charge, and I love it!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Week 21: in which I explain what I said last week about Waitrose, and in which I find a lost sheep

Hello everyone! It's been an interesting week, that's for sure! Moments of joy, moments of sorrow, and then moments of joy caused by the realization that I was feeling that sorrow! This incredibly insightful conversation between Ron and Hermione just came to my mind: "A person can't feel all that at once... they'd explode!" "Just because you have the emotional range of a teaspoon doesn't mean everyone does!" Well, let me tell you, I've learned that I have the emotional range of one of those giant blue water drums we have stored in our garage! What are those for anyways? Are they actually filled with water? I never really thought about them before...

In other news, I bought myself The Testaments last week at the distribution center for 5US dollars! So that's what we'll be watching for the next few mealtimes at church! Happy birthday to me!

And another birthday surprise: Sister Fernelius and Sister Kelly made me chocolate chip pancakes!!!! They were amazing! And so are those sisters. Seriously, I love them to death. Speaking of death, Sister Kelly is actually "dying" in December, and we'll miss her so much! She has imparted so many words of wisdom, and has really helped me feel more comfortable being a baby. I love that woman.

T-shirt of the week: Brown. Huge. And it says, "Everything is make by me." Uhh, okay?

Sometimes it seems like people just take a dictionary, put it into a cannon, launch it, and then have a few five year olds run around, pick up the words, tape them together, and turn them into t-shirts. Seriously. Here's an example: "Eleven o'clock. Reception to the world or knowledge. I love to fun you are my heart too. See me." I think that might have been it. It's hard to remember the ones that don't make any sense.

So you know how I mentioned Waitrose last week and then didn't say anything else about it? Well, I apologize haha. So the other day, one of our investigators brought some crackers to our lesson and offered them to us. "These are Waitrose crackers," she said, "So you know they're good quality." So I took one, ate it, and thought it was delicious. Then I look over at Sister Taylor, and she was placing her half-eaten cracker in her lunch bag saying, "I'm full, but I'll save the rest for later!" And I figured maybe she had a stomach ache or something? So when offered, I took another... and another. And then when we got home, Sister Taylor said when she'd taken a bite of her cracker, a small herd of weevils poured out. (I don't think it's a 'herd' of weevils, but I can't think of anything better at the moment.) So yes. That was a nice experience haha. Oh well, I probably haven't eaten enough protein recently anyways.

Anyways, so Raven's baptism is definitely postponed, and one of our other investigators, Christy... well, we pretty much said goodbye to her a couple nights ago. She is such a sweet woman, and her life is super hard. Family, health, and work problems compound upon each other, and she just despairs. We've told her over and over again that she has the option. She can quit this job, she can come to church, she can be happy. She KNOWS this gospel makes her happy--she's said it herself over and over again. But she just chooses to not do the things that will bring her happiness. And we've done all we can. So we'll keep inviting her to things, we'll keep talking to her when she's really upset... But we can't be spending time teaching her when there are those out there who are ready to act on what we're inviting them to do. And as we were going home after meeting with her, I was so sad. And I realized that this sorrow wasn't originating from me. Just like the love I feel for Christy doesn't originate from me either. This love and sorrow is Christ's. I wanted so badly to help Christy. But our Savior wanted to help her infinity times more. He died to help her, that's how much he loves her. And it hurts me and hurts him to see her walk away from the only thing that can heal her: The Atonement of Christ.

But there were also times of rejoicing this week! On my birthday, one of our investigators, Teresa, called us out of the blue! We met her once, a month ago, and since then she's been too busy to schedule us. But she remembered my birthday! And she called and asked if we could celebrate together! So we met her at the church, and she brought a cake, a card, and the sweetest little wooden keychain of an angel with my name carved on the back of it. Wow. I was so incredibly touched. She is the sweetest thing. And while eating, we taught her about the Restoration of the Gospel, and she just sat there and nodded and smiled and was so agreeable! I mean, who knows if she believed a word we said haha, but she is definitely a light in my life, and made my birthday so very special.

And speaking of angels, I'll tell you about Sister Choih, who I've never actually met her in person, but I call her each week, listen to all of her problems, and then express how much we miss her and want to visit her. And she's always too busy (along with every person in all of Hong Kong!) but she always says to keep calling because our calls make her so happy. And this week she called me her angel. Wow, did that touch my heart. I feel so useless sometimes. Like I don't know what I'm doing. Awkward, as if I were some weird third arm coming out of someone's side, you know, like, "Gee, what do I do with this thing? I don't even have a sleeve to put it in!" (Does that make sense? Maybe not haha.) But one day I was feeling extra useless when this thought came to me: "Sister Cutler. Oh dear, silly Sister Cutler. Do you realize the effort that I put into convincing you to go on a mission? Do you understand how much effort it takes to teach you Cantonese and fly you halfway around the world? Do you realize the effort I invest in giving you the energy and conviction to wake up every morning and go out into a foreign country and smile and actually try to talk to people who may or may not understand you? I don't waste my time. I don't waste my breath. Why would I do all that and then just not use you? I use you every day, and sometimes you can realize it. But sometimes you don't need to know. Sometimes, you'll never know whose lives you touch. And that's faith. You staying here and pressing forward, trusting that I'll guide you. Just keep having faith, because I'm in charge and I need you to be who you are, where you are." I'm learning a lot about forgiving myself for my weaknesses. If the Lord needed my Cantonese to be perfect, it would be. I have no doubt. Read Jeremiah 1:1-6. I feel just like Jeremiah sometimes. But I know that it's not me doing the teaching anyways. It's the Spirit, and the Spirit speaks the language of the heart. And everyone is fluent.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Week 20: in which I discover that Waitrose is not to be trusted, and in which I become an amazing chef, and in which I learn to trust in the Lord just a little more than last week

Needless to say, a lot happened this week, and most of it will be too hard to explain. Plus, I only have 20 minutes left of email time. But here goes nothing!

Firstly, thank you for all the birthday wishes! I'm so excited to be 22! And tomorrow is going to be a busy day, which is a great present from the Lord! I have this new restlessness-- it hit me about a month ago, and I can't stand being still for too long. I want to teach and talk to people as much as I can! I'm also very excited to open my package, so thank you Mom and Dad! I hate to brag, but I have the best family in the world.

And since I'm in bragging mode, can I just say that I made the most incredibly delicious, well-seasoned, melt-in-your-mouth fish ever? It was hands-down the best seafood I've had in years. Yes. I've been in Hong Kong for two months now, and the best seafood I've eaten was made in my own, cramped, wonderful little kitchen. It brought tears of joy to my eyes.

T-shirt of the week: Worn by the sweetest looking little school girl, about 15 or so. It's black with white writing, and says, "READ. WRITE. EAT. KILL. SLEEP." Yeah, I don't know. Is she an author by day, vampire by night? Beats me. People here seem to have a thing for vampires. I saw another t-shirt that said, "Follow me to my coven." I was like, "Uhh, pass."

So Cantonese? It's awesome. I have been so blessed. Honestly, it can't be me, because I'm learning it far too fast for it to be me. I mean, French took me forever, and I'm already better in Cantonese than French. The fun thing about Cantonese is if you say the word with wrong tones, it has a completely different meaning. Like "Sataan" (both high tones) is "beach", but "Saatdaahn" (mid tone, low tone) is "Satan." So that's cool? And the word for "turkey" is "fogai:" "fo" means "fire" and "gai" means "chicken" haha. I love it! Speaking of French, French class is going so well, and I love teaching it. But it is so strange teaching French in Cantonese and English. Speaking three languages in one lesson just makes me a little crazy haha, but the miracle is that I can do it! And I love seeing the people who attend the class during the week, because they always say, "Bonjour! Comment ca va?" And it makes me so happy!

I had some really weird dreams this week, and some of them were actually really depressing, so I won't share those. The best dream: I was walking down one of the markets when I saw a huge instrument stand. And I bought a set of bagpipes for $400HK!!! Seriously!? Best deal ever. I was so happy that whole entire day.

So Raven won't be getting baptized this week, due to family problems. She was really sad, and so were we... For a minute or two. But then this wave of peace came over us, and we just knew that everything is going to be alright. God knows the desires of our hearts, and he is in control. He has our entire Plan of Salvation lined up for us, and as long as we just trust in him, everything will work out for the best. I love Philippians 4:&, which says, "And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." I love that. We always want to understand why things happen. Why do we have to be sick? Why did our loved one have to pass away? Why can't I find a job? Why are things unfair? Why do bad things happen to good people? But no level of understanding can bring to us the same comfort that can come from the love and peace that we can find from our Heavenly Father. Life is going to be tough, and sometimes we're going to wonder how long we have to wait before the miracle will come. But it will come. And in the mean time, we can find peace in knowing that we're on our way to the promised land. We left the land of our inheritance, just like Lehi and his family. We're wandering through the wilderness, and sometimes it's hard. But God has a promised land waiting for us, "And in this I do rejoice!" (1 Nephi 5:5). I'm so grateful for the peace that this gospel brings. It's true. It changes lives. It changes hearts.

I love you all! Thank you for the prayers and support! Family and friends, especially cousins in distant lands, you are my light!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Week 19: in which I eat enough food to keep the entire Hooper family happy for days, and in which I learn just a little more about patience

Hello everyone! It's November! The start of a MONTH OF MIRACLES. Sister Taylor and I were setting monthly goals last week, and we both got very quiet and were pondering what we wanted to happen this month. And we had a feeling that this month is going to be special. We're not quite sure why, but we both just know that we're going to be seeing miracles, and not just the usual the-bus-shows-up-right-when-we-need-it miracle, or even the I-can't-believe-God-helped-us-eat-this-much-food miracle. This month is going to be different. It will be miracle month. So we decided to write down daily miracles during each evening planning session, and we're going to make a big, beautiful poster of them to put on our wall. I'm so excited to see what will happen, because it's gonna be HUGE!

Our first miracle in progress is Raven, probably the sweetest, most adorably Christlike girl I've ever met. She's planning to get baptized later this month, and we are so excited! Her family isn't too thrilled with the idea, but she doesn't want to let that stop her from doing what she knows is right. Her older sister asked her the other day why she doesn't just take her time, and wait awhile before baptism; don't rush into anything. And Raven told her, "I've waited long enough already! Why put off what's right?" I told her that I loved her cardigan (a light, pastel yellow, and super warm), and then she went all the way to Mong Kok to pick one up for me! And she showed up to our next lesson and, with the sweetest little grin on her face, pulled it out with a flourish haha. It was such a surprise! And such a good deal too, under $5US. I think I might have to get another one sometime.

T-shirt of the week: Black with bold, white print, worn by the female version of a sumo wrestler: "Belle of the Brawl." I believed it.

So the week before last, Sister Taylor had a really bad virus, and I forced her to stay home to rest (which was a struggle--that girl does not keep still!). And that Sunday we'd had a member invite us over for dinner, the same member who fed us pig's feet. This woman is the most generous, loving person you'll ever meet. A little too generous sometimes. Her table is COVERED with food, and she expects it to be eaten. All of it. So I was really concerned for Sister Taylor's stomach. And that afternoon we were just considering calling to reschedule (we hesitated because we really didn't want to offend her) when she called us and, very apologetically, cancelled. It was a miracle of epic proportions, and we were overjoyed. But the miracles don't stop there! She rescheduled for this past Sunday, which just happened to be fast Sunday. Perfect! So we loosened our belts and prepared to fill every nook and cranny. Every time we've eaten with this sister so far, we've had to clear the table, and on this day, it just wasn't happening. My stomach must have shrunk because of the lack of food or something, but either way it wasn't going to happen. As I'm on the verge of tears (drama queen alert!), she just gets up and clears the table. Out of nowhere. It was incredible! And then she comes out with a couple persimmons which I was able to eat easily. It really was a miracle. And then the biggest miracle: she sent us home with a BEAUTIFUL bar of Swiss chocolate with almonds. Worth it. I thought a lot about Drew and Clayton during this meal, and prayed my heart out that God would help me eat as much as Drew (or Clayton) could eat. And I also thought about Jesse and all of his companions, and wished that I could just take that meal and Apparate it to Sierra Leone. They'd probably really appreciate it! But each mission comes with its own trials, and each mission is custom-made to fit the missionary's strengths and weaknesses. I'm so excited for the day when the Hooper missionaries are reunited! Hilarious stories will abound. Tears and laughter. It'll be like when Paul got to meet up with Titus and Apollo, or when Alma and the brothers of Mosiah ran into each other in the wilderness. And I CAN'T WAIT!

I've had to learn a lot about patience this week, especially patience with myself. Sometimes I get frustrated with myself because I'm not learning as quickly as I want to. But as I was studying the New Testament, I realized that Jesus Christ understands that feeling too! He came to this earth as a child, and learned line upon line, precept upon precept, grace by grace, just like I am right now. I was thinking about that last part: "Grace by grace." A grace note is the smallest little note you can play-- it's practically non-existent! But it's so incredible important, because it completely changes the feel of the song. It adds beauty, emotion. Sometimes it's a nice little surprise, breaking up the monotony of an otherwise calm piece. These little steps that I'm taking, grace by grace, are seemingly insignificant, but they're actually essential to my growth as a person and a missionary and a future mother, wife, teacher, and whatever else I may become! I'm so excited by all these little steps, because I know that each one is taking me (and everyone I'm teaching, meeting, working with) one step closer to our Heavenly Father! It's true! All of it! And I'm blessed to play a tiny, tiny role in the biggest, most important work of all! I love it, love the people of Hong Kong, love you all, and love the Lord!

Week 18: in which I slowly step ever closer to Mordor and in which I have a couple of pretty good ideas (if I do say so myself)

Hello everyone! Get ready for an awesome, and slightly scatter-brained email, because it's comin' atcha!

First off, t-shirt of the week! You thought I'd forgotten about this, didn't you? Well, you're right. So remember how I was talking about everyone's attempts to be philosophical? Well, here's yet another example of existentialism turned... well, I don't exactly know. So it was this hipster-esque character, you know, with the big, black-rimmed glasses and the skinny jeans. And the t-shirt was light gray with big print: "If the door isn't open, it must be closed." At first, I assumed it was yet another failed attempt at being deep and enigmatic. But then it occurred to me that maybe he's just trying to learn opposites in English, in which case, SUCCESS! See, that's something I've learned on the mish: never make assumptions, because although you're probably right, the alternative is kinder.

Oh, and before I forget, let me take this opportunity to publicly wish Uncle Tom a Happy Birthday! Or maybe it's Nick's birthday that's coming up? Well, I can't actually be sure, but it's someone's birthday and I hope it's happy and full of our world-famous, seven-layer, chocolate-frosted cake! Love you, mystery relative!

In other news, I ate the world's best muffin at Mrs. Field's the other day. Yeah, you know her. That pleasant old woman who lives in the vending machine and pops out okay-ish cookies when you pay a buck or two? Well, turns out her fresh stuff is incredible. And totally worth the $12 you pay for it (less than $2US, but you could also find a pair of Hong Kong jeans for that sort of money).

On Saturday I taught my first French class! And it was awesome! Really, I had so much fun, and the French came back so much more easily than I anticipated, thank goodness. We had about six or seven people come to the first class, so I thought that was pretty good! And they picked up so quickly-- I made them talk a lot more than was comfortable for them, a trick that I learned in the MTC, and they were awesome. And may I say that attempted French in a Chinese accent is so adorable.

Sister Taylor and I decided that we would put in a requisition order to the mission office for 1 LEMON YELLOW MOPED, EQUIPPED WITH 1 SIDECAR. It would be perfect. We'd get around so quick, and the one in the moped could be making all the calls while the other weaves gracefully through traffic at an alarming rate. Plus, we'd look just like they do in Aristocats, which is always a plus. That movie is classic.

Speaking of classic movies, I have been seriously pondering Lord of the Rings this week. Yes, that probably comes as a shock to those who know me best, but hear me out. So Frodo is the hero of the epic trilogy, but as he daily took his tiny steps closer and closer to Mordor, did he ever feel like an epic hero? Probably not. He probably felt dirty, small, lonely, and inadequate. Those days where he and Sam wandered around in the mist for hours (We've been here before!) probably seemed like a huge waste of time. But from the viewer's perspective, his adventure was epic. When he finished, he could see that yes, he succeeded. Yes, he actually accomplished something and made a difference. And my mission is the same way. Sometimes everyone will cancel last minute or a person we're teaching will take about ten steps backward in one lesson or I'll say something dumb or call someone the wrong name. And I'll feel like I haven't gone anywhere or done anything worthwhile. But big adventures consist of little steps. And every day, I manage to do something good. I do something worthwhile, however small. And that's enough. The Lord doesn't expect us to work huge miracles every day. Those little steps, those little good things, they turn into the big miracles. That's how life is supposed to be. We rarely do one big, amazing thing. It's the little steps that get us There And Back Again.

Something else that I've learned this week is that good things just keep on coming. When I was younger, every time I left Scotland to come back home, I cried because I didn't want that time to end. When I was getting ready to go to college, I cried because I was scared of that change. And choosing to leave on my mission was a very difficult decision because I gave up things to go. A period in my life ended, and it was a very happy, fun period of my life. I was scared that I'd never have that time back, and guess what. I was right. But it doesn't matter, because good things keep on coming. We can mourn things ending, but let's not forget to look forward to those new, exciting things. New people to love, new areas to serve, new things to learn, and new ways to become more like Jesus Christ. Miracles just keep happening!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Week 17: in which I cure insults with smiles and chocolate ice cream

Hello family and friends! It's p-day! And today was especially awesome. Want to know why? Because... we saw... the Terracotta Soldiers! Wow, what an incredible opportunity. I couldn't stop smiling the entire time! And wow, was that exhibit cool. They had this room with floor-to-ceiling projection screens where they explained the history of the tomb, how it was made, and various ways that it got partially destroyed. It had the most epic music--practically Lord of the Rings status--and it felt like you were actually there! There were about 20 of the actual figures, including warriors, musicians, acrobats, civil servants, and horses! I think it's amazing how no two figures were alike. The emperor (I think his name was Qin) seemed a little crazy. He was pretty obsessed with living forever--and by pretty obsessed, I mean he was practically on Voldemort's level. But he did some neat things, so it's all good.

We also went to a marketplace where I tried to buy some cardigans, but they wanted $55 for them! Which is like $7 US, but still! They were way overpriced. Just trying to rip off us little white girls, but we weren't letting them win! So we went somewhere else and did some Christmas shopping. So fun!

Speaking of shopping in Hong Kong, I bought a couple dresses a few weeks ago, and I thought they were pretty cute! I wore one to church on Sunday (I'm wearing it in the picture with Kai Jimuih--we match!). In the mornings, we missionaries stand in the doorway saying hello to everyone, and one of the the brothers comes in and I greet him as usual. Let me describe this brother really quick. He's great, I just love him. He reminds me a little of a Sunday School teacher I once had (Sarah, you'll know what I mean). So I say, "Jousahn!" And he looks at me, points at my stomach, and says, "Pregnant!" (Sarah, now do you know who I'm talking about?) And we four missionaries (the elders were there too) DIED. It was so funny. I mean, I suppose it was probably rude too, and in America that would be insulting, but Chinese culture is different. People comment on your appearance all the time, but this man does it especially often. He asked me a few weeks ago (after looking at my family picture) if I was adopted, and then proceeded to tell Sister Taylor that she "looks like James Bond's girlfriend" and me that I have "baby face... but don't worry, it's cute." So I just smile and laugh and agree, because it's just plain funny!

But don't worry, I got this brother back in Sunday School. He's the teacher (what a coincidence!) and he always asks people, even Chinese people, if they understand what he's saying. So yesterday he kept making eye contact with me and saying, "Mihngmhmihnbaahk?" (Understand?) To which I would always, very honestly and unashamedly say, "MHMIHNG." (Don't understand!) It was so funny, and it turned into a little game where he would try to embarrass me but it wouldn't work haha. And then one time I actually did understand! And I told him so! And then (for some reason that I didn't understand) he was drawing a cockroach on the board, and then when we missionaries asked what it was, he told us, "It's a crocodile!" And then we teased him so much for that! We tried to explain the difference between a cockroach and a crocodile... and then I asked him, "Mihngmhmihngbaahk?" And the whole class burst out laughing! It was so funny.

One of the talks from the Relief Society broadcast has been on my mind a lot lately, especially with some of the people we've been teaching. (In case you're curious, we definitely are teaching people haha, I just want to keep their lives private, so I don't really share much about them in these emails). Linda Reeves talked about Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, and how Christ showed his love for them. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha were heartbroken. Christ came several days later, and Mary and Martha ran to him, weeping. Now Jesus knew that he was going to heal Lazarus, that it would all be okay. He saw ahead, saw the timeline, and saw the purpose to their suffering. But how did he react? I'll tell you what he didn't do. He didn't say, "Hey, cheer up! It'll be okay!" He wept. He felt their sorrow, felt their pain, and hurt with them. Then he lifted their burden. He loved them so much that he let himself feel that exquisite sorrow even though it wasn't necessary. And he's like that with each of us. He knows our trials, their purposes, and their timelines. He knows they'll soon be over, but he still weeps with us. He weeps with the parents of the wandering child, he weeps with the child whose parents don't understand. He weeps with those who lose loved ones, those who feel alone or inadequate or forgotten. He knows how to help us and wants to help us and asks us every day to give our burdens to him. I know this because he's done it for me, and he continues to do it every day. I see him changing my life and the lives of those we're teaching, helping them come unto him.


Sister Cutler and Sister Taylor

                                                                        Zone Meeting  

                                             Member family who brings us food on Sundays!

                                                                     HONG KONG

                                      Some of our Young Women during General Conference


Week 16: In which I feel the happiest I've felt yet and in which I take a shower with the light on for the first time in 4 weeks

Yes! It's true! Our bathroom finally has a functioning light! We've been showering in the dark since I've been here, so it was nice to finally be able to tell the color of the shower tile: light green. Very pleasant. Let me tell you, shaving in the dark is hard. So basically, I also shaved for the first time in four weeks. Too much information? My bad. We missionaries are very open about things. Or maybe that's the Chinese culture? I don't know, but either way, just let me know if it makes you uncomfortable, and maybe I'll stop.

This tidbit of news will only excite about three, maybe four people who read this email, but I find it important enough to include it in this email, and as the second paragraph! Sister Clements (one of the other sisters in our apartment) has seen Dinotopia! And we spent a good hour discussing the implications of having a utopia where talking herbivores and vegetarian humans peacefully cohabitate. And then we pondered how they made their shoes, and we came to the conclusion that they either used some sort of hemp, or perhaps leather from carnivores. Also, why couldn't the carnivores talk? I can't even remember, but I'd really appreciate an answer if anyone knows. I'm completely serious.

So the other day during personal study, we were listening to Oh Holy Night (Yes, in October, don't judge. We have a very limited supply of music, and many hours of studying.) and at the same time I was reading Acts 3. And right when the choir sang, "Fall on your knees" I read the Acts 3:6, where the apostles heal the crippled man and command him to "Rise up and walk." And okay, you can think this is cheesy or whatever you want, but I got the biggest chill and just sat there for about five minutes, staring at the wall, pondering that juxtaposition, those seemingly contradicting messages. How often we are in that transition between kneeling and standing up. We kneel in prayer, and then get up and act. We're humbled as we realize how imperfect and incapable we are, and then we're lifted up as we realize that we aren't alone, and that with Christ we can do all things. We experience a trial, a valley, and then we're blessed, and we've finally reached the top of that mountain. It's always in the transition between kneeling and standing, or standing and kneeling, that we learn and grow. It's like lifting weights. If you just hold the dumbbells, you might get a little stronger? Maybe? I don't know. But it's as you do reps that you get stronger. And the more reps you do, the more you'll be able to do. It's as we go through difficult and uncomfortable changes in our lives that our spiritual muscles grow. Adjusting to mission life is definitely a challenge, but I feel like I'm growing so much more.

In other news, our Preparation Day is finally being changed to Monday! Which means I'll have another p-day in three days haha. This is the greatest week ever! But no, it really is. We finally got to watch General Conference this Sunday, and WOW was that a turning point for me. I learned so much. I loved Elder Uchtdorf, and how he reminded us not to be like "the boy who dipped his toe in the water and claimed he went swimming." This is really how I want to live my entire life. "Whate'er thou art, do well thy part." No matter where we are, we need to just embrace it. C.S. Lewis says to "rub our nose in the quiddity of it all." I don't want to just be in Hong Kong. I want to learn all there is to learn, do all there is to do, see all there is to see. I want to make the best of every day, because as it says in the good ol' Book of Mormon, "Men are that they might have joy!" Life is hard, but so, so good.

And that's a lesson I really want to help those that we teach understand. Because life in Hong Kong is really, really hard. They work all the time. They attend school all the time. It's so expensive to live here, and there are so many cultural expectations. Their definition of success conflicts with their ability to find happiness. They are constantly busy, too busy to listen, too busy to see what else is out there. I feel like I'm holding out this beautiful, delicious chocolate 7-layered cake with walnuts in the icing, and people are walking past saying, "Mouh sihgaan!" (No time!) Seriously. Just take a bite. Just try it. Your life will never be the same. Your life will have purpose. Your schedule can be filled day in and day out, but if you don't have a purpose, then you might as well just sit at home and do nothing. And I want to help. More importantly, Christ wants to help.

Something that I love about Hong Kong is the marketplace. It's crazy, hectic, loud! People yell at you and try to interest you in all sorts of strange meats, weird body parts, and all of it is raw, dangling strangely in the air, blowing gently in the breeze caused by the buses that speed recklessly by. Honestly, it's a miracle that the street isn't covered in corpses, because the drivers here are crazy! But I have yet to see even a fender-bender. I think we need more Chinese drivers in Virginia, because they'd probably really cut back on the number of car accidents, and I-64 would always be clear!

Today we went to a Korean barbeque and I ate ox tongue and fish eggs! And it wasn't that bad! I actually really liked the ox tongue, but I'd take a peanut butter sandwich over fish eggs any day.

Well, it's time to go, but I love you all! Thank you so much for your support and prayers! I am so happy, so content, so busy, so tired, so alive! I love Hong Kong, love the people, love my family (more than I ever have before), and LOVE my Savior!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Week 15: In which we see some miracles (as usual) and in which yet another person comments on my physical appearance... That's Hong Kong for you!

Hello everyone! Today has been an exciting week, of course. I bet if I read over all the emails I've ever sent, the majority of them have started with that exact same sentence. For my readers' sake, I will try to be more creative... next week.

First things first, t-shirts of the week! The first one is very simple. Big, black print saying these four words: "Whale. Oil. Beef. Hooked." Yeah, I don't know either, but it's weird! The other one was gray with a black kangaroo wearing a business suit and holding a sign that says, "March." If anyone has any idea what these mean, please let me know. I think there might be an existentialist phase going on here, because everyone wears either very deep or very meaningless clothing around here. Right now I still think it's a little weird, but no worries. By the time I come home, I'll be as wacky as the best of them! And please feel free to inform me of the fact. But don't expect me to do anything about it.

So that thing that I mentioned about people commenting on my appearance? I think it must just be a culture thing, a way to show affection or something. Either way, it doesn't bother me. It just cracks me up! Last week, one of the ward members told me that I look baby-faced. And since then, at least four other people have said the same exact thing! One of our new investigators asked me why I decided to serve a mission even though I'm so young! And of course, as every missionary knows, that is just the BEST question to have anyone ask you, because you can just bear testimony of the things that mean the most to you and hammer them with the Spirit. It was an awesome opportunity, and I just pray every time I talk to someone that they'll ask me that question.

So Sister Taylor and I have discovered that, as far as taste in tv shows is concerned, we're pretty much the same person: Dr Who, Agatha Christie mysteries, Doc Martin, Sherlock, to name a few. Weird, huh? It's like the Lord knew we'd get along or something. Oh wait...

We didn't get a chance to watch General Conference this week, so I am EXCITED BEYOND BELIEF for this Saturday and Sunday! Of course we heard about the changes to missionary age requirements, and I am beyond thrilled! It seems that the younger generations are prepared earlier, and the Lord needs more missionaries to spread this gospel! Really, there are so many people in Hong Kong alone that we can't even get to. There are just so many people, and so many need to hear this message and need to feel the love and change. I've already seen some of our friends progress just in these past few weeks, and it's incredible what the gospel has done for them. We've been teaching Wendy for four years now, and she brought a friend to this past lesson and basically spent the entire time testifying of everything we said. This change is incredible. She has suffered so many trials, but last night when we were teaching her and she shared with her friend about Christ, she was literally glowing. It was a miracle. That's the only thing that could have brought about this change, the work of God. I am so grateful to be able to witness these miracles. I don't know what I did to deserve such a blessing, but let me tell you, it's worth every trial. And there certainly are trials here! I've been feeling pretty sick this past week, ice cream prices are soaring, I only get mail once a week, I sometimes feel like I'm completely alone in the world (drama queen alert! permission to roll eyes granted). But I KNOW the Lord needs me here. I keep thinking about the fifth verse in 'How Firm a Foundation:' 
"If through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply. The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design, Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine." 
How beautiful. All the trials, all the times we've missed a bus or a meal or an appointment... all those refine us. They give us an opportunity to choose to be more Christlike, more patient, more holy, more dignified. I love it here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Week 14: in which I witness the Miracle of Love and in which my English degenerates at an alarming rate

Hello from the beautiful Hong Kong Island! The sun is shining, the bus horns are honking, and the radio is playing (to our amusement/chagrin) Soldier Boy... it's going to be a beautiful day! This morning I bought groceries, some glittery, water-proof shoes and 2 adorable dresses for under $300, so I'd say job well done. (Dad, no worries, that's Hong Kong dollars.) Curry for lunch, as well as leftover duck liver and lotus root patties, and a member's house for dinner. Yes, I unashamedly say that I have it MADE. This is the life! I'm already used to the variety of reactions people have when they see us. You get the old people who always comment on how beautiful you are. You get the people who say your Cantonese is great, and then the occasional grumpy one who says it smells bad. You get the people who look anywhere but at you (to whom you ALWAYS say, very cheerfully, "Jousahn!") and then the people who stare you down and don't look away even when you look at them (to whom you ALWAYS say, very cheerfully, "Jousahn!"). You get the people who hit you in the head with their umbrellas (which they always carry, especially when it's sunny). And the great thing about being a missionary in Hong Kong is that you love all of them! And it's not even hard!

T-shirts of the week: The first one isn't ever going to be as funny to you as it is to me, because you'll never know how funny it looked. This sweet, tiny, hunch-backed woman, with a slightly crazed look in her eye, hobbled past wearing a baby-pink t-shirt with big, bold, glittery lettering: NAUGHTY.

And the second one reminded me of last week's: an older woman at church on Sunday wearing a shirt saying, "God save the girl! Please." I think it's the punctuation that makes it worthy of mention.

And I still don't quite understand what this last one means: It's the Monday stupid. I've come up with two possibilities. But, as any thoughtful author would do, I'll just let the reader come to their own conclusions.

We pray at least 30 times a day, and always in Cantonese. Before and after each study session, every time we leave or return home, before every meal, before we go street contacting, before and after each lesson, and whenever we need or want or think about anything ever. However, one time when it was my turn to pray, I said, "Dear Heavenly Father--I mean... What?!" I started in English and it sounded SO. WEIRD. And of course we both started laughing for about 10 minutes. Seriously, my Cantonese isn't great or anything, but English kind of weirds me out. And whenever I see white people I think to myself, "What are you doing here? You don't belong!" And the other day we ate lunch at a member's house and they pulled out--get this--shepherd's pie. Yes. SO WEIRD. I mean, it was delicious and I loved it and it reminded me of British Christmas at home! But it was still weird. I kept expecting to pull out a fish bone or a piece of mystery meat. But it was so normal, which was weird.

Unfortunately, ice cream is super expensive here: $70 for a tiny box of Dreyers. Good for my body, bad for my soul. But I've found another dessert to fill the gaping hole in my heart where ice cream has always resided: gatjai behng. They're basically thick, delicious waffles covered with peanut butter and some other sauce and powdered sugar, and they're only about $9. Wow. Life-changers.

We discovered the entire collection of Richard Rich's Animated Bible videos in the church library. And they're in English! So can you guess what we've been doing during our lunch hour... that's right! The first one was A King is Born, which is the one we have at home. And I was able to sing almost the entire "Miracle of Love" song by memory! (Which, by the way, is almost the same tune as Far Longer Than Forever, no lie. Look it up! And it's not really a surprise, because Richard Rich also did The Swan Princess.)

We get to go to the temple every 6 weeks, and our zone goes next week! I'm so excited, because the temple here is beautiful.

Sister Taylor continues to be amazing, inspiring, and powerful. When we teach, she is so bold but so loving, and those we teach really feel that love. Love is the biggest motivator, and I'm learning a lot about love and selfless service from her. She is so sneaky too, she always grabs my dishes and washes them when I'm not looking. But I'm catching on, and I'm not letting her get all the service blessings of this companionship!

This week has been a tough week, but also a really good one. I'm learning a lot, especially about humility. I constantly feel humbled. Not because of any particular experience or embarrassing moment. It's just that I have next-to-no idea what I'm doing. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a pitch-black room, fumbling around, trying to find the light switch or the door or something, but I know there are all these valuable vases scattered haphazardly throughout the room. I try to be so careful, because I don't want to knock anything down, but I also really need to find this stinkin' light switch! Fortunately, I know that the Lord knows where each of these valuable vases are, and he's not going to let me run into them. I love the verse in Doctrine and Covenants 6:34: "Therefore, fear not, little flock; do good; let earth and hell combine against you, for if ye are built upon my rock, they cannot prevail." The Lord knows my weaknesses, he knows my strengthes, and he knows my potential. He knows how to take those weaknesses and make them strengths. He knows how to take my strengths and use them to further his work and serve his children. I've had moments of doubt, fear, and (the worst) homesickness. But I can completely honestly say with David, "God is my refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will I not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof." No matter what happens, I know my Heavenly Father loves me and is aware of me, just like he is for each of his children, no matter where they live, what language they speak, or how many unkind things they've said or done. My parents really, really want me to come back from Hong Kong one day. Well, the Lord wants us home infinitely more. He wants all of his children to come back to him, and he's shown them the way. And the way is Jesus Christ and his gospel. And what a blessing to be able to help his children home. I love it. I love it, and I miss home and my room and my cereal and my ice cream and English. But I'd never be anywhere else, no, not in a million, gazillion years. I'm doing the Lord's work, and that's all I want to focus on for the next 15ish months. I love you all!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Week 13: In which is crammed every stereotypical mission experience possible. Well, except a baptism.

Hello from the beautiful city of Kwun Tong! I have had one crazy week, that's for sure. I have so much to say that I'm having an impossible time even starting this email! So I'm reverting to list format, for my own convenience, as well as yours! Each item on the list will have a convenient heading; if you have no interest in that heading, you can just skip that part of the list! So you're welcome.

1. T-Shirt of the Week

I think I'll have to start a t-shirt of the week section of my email, because the t-shirts here are just too funny. This one was worn by a super tall, skinny, teenage boy with about ten piercings and a huge smile. It says, "God Bless the Teenagers of America." So don't worry, kids! People all over the world are praying for you!

2. Teaching English

We have Yingman baan (English class) every Wednesday night and Siupahngyauh Yingman baan (Children's English class) every Saturday morning. They are so fun! And after every class, we share a short, spiritual message. Last night's class was about family members, so naturally our message was about families! I especially loved siupahngyauh Yingman because the children here are absolutely adorable, it about kills me! And the children who come to our class are so well-behaved--true little ladies and gentlemen. Although, every now and then one of them will squeal or something, but even that is cute! We also do one-on-one tutoring with Dahng Jimuih's (Sister Dahng) children, which is quite an experience. Dahng Jimuih's husband is a member, and even though she isn't, she'll come with him to church every week. Let me tell you, that little boy has enough energy to power all of downtown for about 20 minutes! And he speaks about as fast as the MTR, so I can't ever understand what he's saying, regardless of the language he's speaking! But he is the most adorable thing, so I don't even mind haha.

Side note: A few of the members of our English class have expressed interest in learning, French, so I think I'll be starting a French class in a few weeks! I am excited out of my mind for this--my only problem is that every time I try to speak French, it comes out in Cantonese... So, we'll see what happens!

3. Cantonese

I think my language is improving a lot! I still understand less than half of what's going on; my new catchphrase is definitely 'Tengmhmihng.' It means, "I hear you, but I don't understand." Fortunately, most people here are really willing to help, especially the church members. My biggest language challenge so far has definitely been talking on the phone. I made my first phone call on my first night with Sister Taylor, and the only way I could get through it was just by laughing and apologizing and praying! I was inviting one of the girls we're teaching to an activity the following evening, and I wasn't sure if she understood that. But she showed up the next night, so it worked! On Monday night our apartment phone rang while Sister Taylor was in the shower. And the other companionship in our apartment (Sister Kelly and Sister Clements) didn't move. So I very timidly answered. (By the way, in Hong Kong, you always answer the phone saying, "Waih?" The first time I heard that, I thought it was so funny, because it sounds like you're asking them, "Why? Why are you calling me?" Well, maybe it's not that funny... Oh well.) And I think it was someone from the ward, but I still have no idea! We started out talking about attending church (I think), and then I said that I was excited to meet her and asked if she wanted to set an appointment (because I still have no idea who she is or why she called), but she said no. Then she asked me what I like to do, so I told her. And then she said some other things that might have been about church. So I told her I don't understand and we both laughed a lot. And then she said, "Bye-bye!" And that was it! And then I turn around, and Sister Taylor, Sister Clements, and Sister Kelly have all been listening the entire time haha. And they gave me a round of applause, congratulating me for surviving my first phone call!

Everyone has been really complimentary of my language. Well, except this one guy in the elevator who told Sister Taylor and me that our Cantonese smelled bad. I just smiled kindly at him. I know, very charitable, right? Well, I had no clue what he said haha, so it wasn't really charity as much as ignorance... But oh well!

4. Rain

HOLY COW! On Monday night we survived the craziest storm I've ever been in! The walk from our apartment to church is about 15 minutes, steep downhill and then steep uphill--slightly challenging with the best of weather. But this storm was incredible! My shoes were filled with water, the streets became rivers, and my umbrella was practically useless. We were soaked through by the time we got home, but it was so so so fun. The entire time I was grinning ear to ear, and thinking, "Wow. I am on a mission right now. I've imagined this for 21 years, and now I'm actually doing it. This is awesome."

5. Church

Church on Sunday was so great. I absolutely love our ward! They were so kind and welcoming. Sure, I had no idea what they were saying, but it all seemed like good things haha. I was asked to bear my testimony in sacrament meeting in front of everyone, and I was so nervous! But it wasn't nearly as hard as I expected. I just smiled, explained how much I loved them and wanted to serve them, and expressed my love for the Savior. The great thing about speaking Cantonese is that it makes me simplify my thoughts and helps me to really ponder what I'm saying and what I mean. After church, one of the members came up and told me that he knew I'd be a good missionary because I smiled all day! And turns out that's all I really need to do...

6. Today's awesome MTR experience

Today we took the MTR to the mission office. I always try to smile and make eye contact with as many people as possible, especially on the MTR. And I did this to one middle-aged man and he looked a little confused and then smiled back. Then I looked away and a little while later, I noticed he was watching me, so I smiled at him again. I got off at the next stop and thought nothing of it... Until I hear, "Hello, hello, hello, hello!" And after about the seventh or eighth hello, I realize he's talking to me! So I turn around and he says, "I want to meet with you. You seem very nice, and I need to talk to you. Can I meet with you later?" I was completely stunned, and then said, "Of course!" We gave him our number, and then he disappeared. So strange. But I know that they Lord put him in our path, and that something (The Spirit!!) urged him to talk to us.

7. In other news...

I ate pig's feet. I didn't know it at the time haha, but I did.

8. Yesterday

We taught 8 lessons in one day! Crazy!

9. I have such a testimony of missionary work.

This is the hardest, most emotionally exhausting thing I've ever done. Every day, I fight off feelings of inadequacy and frustration. But I also feel God's hand in my life. I feel so at peace, so right, so strong, like I can handle anything Hong Kong tries to throw at me. Wow, I love this. And want to be home. And wouldn't want to be anywhere else.

Well, my time is up, and I still haven't written about half the things I wanted to. I love you all so much. I miss you. I miss a lot of things, but God is helping me get through this, I just know it.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Weeks 11 and 12: In which one adventure ends and another begins

NOTE: I can only email immediate family members, so sorry to all those others who I'd love to email but can't! Email me, and I'll try to respond in letter format if I have time!
 (Katie's address is on right side of this page.)

NOTE: I ate an orange today. And I liked it. MIRACLE.

Leih hou! Hello from the exotic land of Hong Kong! I am sitting on a short stool in the back of a small, cramped grocery store, listening to several women chatting away in a language that might be Cantonese, but I can't be sure! It's not exactly the language they taught at the MTC, that's all I have to say haha. But wow, has this week been an experience. Last week, well it was my last week in the MTC. Exciting I suppose, but nothing compared to these past couple of days! So on Monday and Tuesday I flew 14 hours from LAX to Hong Kong, but to be honest I can't remember much of anything about that flight, apart from the fact that I felt faintly ill the entire time. Fortunately, I packed some Teddy Grahams, and their pleasant demeanor soothed my soul and my stomach.

When we finally got through customs and immigrations and we saw President and Sister Hawks and the assistants to the president (APs), I felt so relieved! They all had huge smiles, and Sister Hawks gave me a big hug. I love her already. She reminds me so much of Aunt Lanae-- warm, loving, calm, sweet-voiced. So they took us back to their apartment, which is right in the temple. And oh is that temple beautiful. It is clean and elegant, and it stands out in the best way possible. We ate dessert and got to know each other for a couple of hours before going to bed. The elders went across the street to the church building to spend the night, but since I didn't have a companion, I spent the night in the Hawks' spare room. I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to be inside a real home for a change! It was so comfortable and warm. I wish there was a better word to describe it; there are definitely some holes in the English vocabulary. I fell asleep immediately, and slept until 6:30 the next morning, a miracle! I thought I'd have more of a problem with jet lag.

Wednesday was a long, long day. We had some training, were shown around the mission office, and met some other missionaries. I spent the afternoon out finding with Sister Heaton and her companion Sister Kiene! It was such a great experience! We walked around one of the many parks here in Hong Kong and approached all sorts of people. There were quite a few who just waved us off or pointed at their watch and said, "Mhhou yisi, mouh sihgaan." But we had several really great experiences. I approached a husband and wife who were about to have a new baby, and they were the sweetest thing. Side note: can I even express to you the miracle that has hit me? I love these people. I look around and just love them, no matter who they are. And I know it's not love from myself; it's the Savior's love that I really feel channeled through me. I just want everyone I see to feel that love! It really is a miracle. Anyways, this small family was so sweet and kept saying how great my Cantonese is! Although I'm sure they were just being nice haha. We told them about the Plan of Happiness that God has for each one of his children, and how that plan is centered on families and explains why we have trials and how we can overcome them. They seemed really interested, and as we talked, I knew that the gospel is what their new, happy family needs. I've been praying that things will work out with them, because they are beautiful.

I'll be frank, finding was a little scary at first. You walk up to someone and say 'hello' and just hope that they'll make eye contact with you and want to listen to you. But I just put down my pride, boldened up (is that a word?), and went for it! Of course, the scariest part isn't saying 'leih hou ma?' The scariest part is the next part, where you have to actually have a conversation with them! There were many awkward pauses yesterday, but the people I spoke with were very patient with me as I tried to gather my wits, for which I was very grateful. The hardest part is just how much you want them to listen and understand, because you know how important this message is and how drastically it can change their lives. You just want them to try, just take the jump and hope that maybe this is something good, because as soon as they have that hope and act on it, they can see for themselves how Jesus Christ can help them, how the Book of Mormon can help them.

After finding, we ate dinner with chopsticks! It took me forever! But maybe it's good that I'm learning to eat slower haha. I can be a bit of a speed demon sometimes. After dinner, I helped teach a couple of lessons with Sister Heaton and Sister Kiene! I didn't really contribute as much as I maybe should have. It's hard to overcome the fear of messing things up, but I just have to learn to trust that, as long as I'm in tune with the Spirit, then those we teach will understand me even if my Cantonese isn't very clear. The first lesson we taught was with an older woman who had the biggest smile and the fewest teeth I've ever seen! She was the sweetest lady, and even though I understood almost nothing she said, I loved her so much. We taught her the most basic principles: God loves her and wants to communicate with her through prayer. We taught her how to pray and testified of why prayer is important. She was so funny and just kept talking and talking about her family. She said that we all seem so happy, and Sister Kiene (smart woman) asked her why she thought we looked so happy. And the woman told us that it was because we prayed and had a relationship with God. Ngaamge! (Right on!) So we told her she could also have this relationship, to which she humbly replied that God wouldn't want to hear from her because she was old and her life was older. God would want to hear from us because we were young and had a lot left to do in this life. We tried to convince her that God is her Father and loves her and wants to hear from her, and I hope she will at least try. She gave the closing prayer of the lesson and said she'd come to church on Sunday! So she is also in my prayers, that's for sure.

After that, we had a short lesson with one of the young women about the Strength of Youth pamphlet, which was really neat. At this point, however, the jet lag started to set in and I was next to useless haha. After that lesson, we had English class! And there were about 18 or 20 people who came! It was really fun; so many people at so many different levels of English proficiency, and all excited to be there. I mostly just observed and stifled yawns. Finally, I made it back to the Hawks' apartment and fell asleep in approximately two seconds. I managed to sleep until almost 6 am-- yet another miracle!

So this morning I met my companion, who is probably the sweetest, most wonderful thing in the world. Her name is Sister Taylor, and she is going to be the best trainer, I just know it. She's been in Hong Kong about 8 months, and her language is so good. She has such a beautiful testimony and smile and I can't wait to get to know her better. I know we're going to get along really well. We had some training with President Hawks this morning, and let me just say that President Hawks is awesome. He reminds me a lot of Dad-- it must be an engineering professor thing. He has so many wise insights and is so honest and straightforward. He is big on obedience, just like every mission president. He also emphasizes the importance of families. He encourages us to teach families as much as we can, which really excites me! After training, we took the metro to the government building to get my Hong Kong id, and then we got pretty lost trying to find the bus station on the way back, but it was a great adventure and we got a lot of walking in! I am so grateful to be able to do all this walking. I might get tired of it eventually, but for now I love it! I also love how convenient all this public transportation is. The metro, buses, taxis... so great. And all I have to do is swipe my little travel card and walk on through. And everywhere there are hundreds of people. And I need to talk to as many as possible! That's what I'll be doing for the next 15ish months, talking and teaching and loving people, and then inviting them to change their lives. It's awesome.

After we made it back to the mission home, we visited with the missionaries for a while, and I met a lot of new people, which was great. Then we traveled to our apartment! It's very small, and the hallways are super narrow, but I know it will feel like home in no time. We immediately started companion study, which went well. We did some practice teaching, and I practiced teaching Sister Taylor while she acted like one of the women that we'll be teaching sometime next week. I was a little nervous because I wanted to impress Sister Taylor and I wanted to do a good job, but I really didn't have much idea of what to say. But she was really kind and encouraging, so yihga, mouh mahntaih (now, no problems). And now we're here writing emails! Tonight we'll go shopping, eat dinner, and unpack. I'm looking forward to sleep because, let me tell you, I am exhausted! I feel like I'm listening so hard that my ears might fall off! But I'm picking out words that I know and I feel like my language will be able to improve so much quicker now that I'm here.

It's been a bit of a miracle, actually, how calm and at peace I have felt. I smile all the time, and it's not even a conscious effort. I'll just be standing there on the metro and all of a sudden realize that I have this (perhaps silly-looking) grin on my face. So that makes me smile even more! And I know if I didn't have the Spirit with me, I'd be stressed out of my mind. Because there are a lot of people here. It's a huge city with millions of people who are all speaking a language that I hardly understand. Their written language consists of complicated squiggles, and those foreign squiggles are everywhere, and I recognize about five of them. The air is full of smoke and is incredibly humid, which turns me into the biggest frizz-ball in the world! I did put make-up on this morning, I promise, but I'm pretty sure it melted off many hours ago. I'm walking around in a skirt and my feet probably smell pretty awful and it's only 4:30 in the afternoon but it feels like this day has lasted for weeks! But you know what? I am happy. I don't feel like crying! (Although I'm sure that will come at some point!) Things are going to get harder, but I have no doubt. I need to be here. There's something for me to do, something for me to learn.

President Hawks told us today that we're about to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. And then I had this weird flash-forward moment where I saw myself at the end of my mission, looking back with fondness at this first, overwhelming, confusing week. I'd better not waste this! I'd better not waste a moment! I sure do love this hazy, busy city. And I sure do love the Lord, who gave me this life-changing experience. And I sure do love all of you! I'll talk to you next Thursday!