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!