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.