Thursday, October 10, 2013

Week 67, in which I'm not in Hung Shui Kiu, and in which I move YET AGAIN, and in which I've rung hundreds of doorbells and sneezed hundreds of times.

So yeah, I'm not in Hung Shui Kiu. But that shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone, I mean really. Expect the unexpected. That's the moral of this week. But wow am I happy! I love my new area, love my apartment, love my companion, love the sisters I'm living with, love the investigators we have. Need I say more? Well, I will anyways.

So last Monday night, the zone leaders called me. Here's how the conversation went:
Elder L: So President Hawks just wanted me to tell you that you will be leaving on Wednesday morning after all.
Me: Okay, I figured. Thanks for letting me know. Anything else?
Elder L: No, I think that's it.
Me: Haha, are you sure? Any surprise changes? Last minute moves?
Elder L: Oh, yeah. Well you're going to a different area. With a different companion.
Me: Oh, that might be worth mentioning.
Elder L: Yeah, maybe.
So now I'm in Tm with Sister M! I love it here, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, New Territories. The mountains here remind me of Provo in April, so rugged and green. Although mosquitoes are more abundant here, and the bees are HUGE. I've only seen one. Unfortunately, it was flying around our study for about 10 minutes, and I kept swinging one of my dresses at it for about 8 minutes until I realized that it was a GIANT, VICIOUS BEE. Then I turned off the light and ran out of the room. It left eventually.
I got to my apartment on Wednesday night (after lugging my suitcases around Hong Kong for a couple of hours) and started to unpack when I realized that the apartment didn't have any extra hangers. It's a brand new apartment, in a complex called Uptown. And it fit the name perfectly--there's a chandelier in the bathroom. And then on Saturday night, the assistants called us to tell us that Sister M and I were moving. AGAIN. Due to my fortunate lack of hangers, I'd been living out of my suitcases for a few days, so the move didn't affect me that much. But now we're in a slightly less fancy apartment and I'm living with Sister P, who I'd lived with in Macau. So I feel much more at home.
I love Sister M, we get along really great. I really hope this is my last move and my last companion, although I'd naturally do whatever they needed me to do.
When I moved into the first apartment, Sister M and Sister C(the sisters we were living with) were speaking straight Chinese, and Sister C (American-born Chinese) pretended that she was from China and didn't know any English. I'd already been told that she was ABC, but I went along with it for a while, pretending like I believed it. That night they said, "Sister Cutler, we have something we need to tell you..." "Sister C knows English already." "What? You knew? AW MAN!" It was so funny. "AW MAN!" is one of the catchphrases in our zone, the second one being, "I'm so sorry about that." They say it all the time.
One thing that has taken a little adjusting: going from teaching 20 lessons a week to doing 20 hours of finding a week. But it's good for me. We went proselyting for a great 6 hours on Saturday, and wow did I need to go to the bathroom. We were knocking doors in a small village which didn't have any public bathrooms. But that's life, I guess. Anyways, these buildings are about three or four stories high; all of the doorbells are at the outside door at the ground floor, and I'm pretty sure 90 percent of them were broken. Of the remaining 10 percent, about half had ridiculous doorbell tones, Jingle Bells being one of the more popular ones. My favorite thing is when we ring a doorbell and then hear a voice from three stories up yell, "WHO IS IT?!" I yell back, "Church missionaries! We have a very important message to tell--" "NO INTEREST, GO AWAY!" It really feels like I'm doing real missionary work. I think we rung a good 150 doorbells.

I'd inherited a cold from Sister L right before I left Macau, and during our finding session I was sneezing up a storm. I think my longest sneeze fit was seven in a row. But here's the miracle: I only got the cold on Tuesday, but it was completely gone as soon as we got home from finding. Now that's what I like to call a tender mercy of the Lord.
We actually do have a couple of investigators, and we found a new one on Friday! We were on the trolley headed back to the church when Sister J asked if she could attend our church! For a while, I was kind of worried that she was crazy. She acted normal--she's really nice actually. I just thought, "Wow, SHE asked US if she could come. She MUST be crazy." But hey, God told me off a little about that. I mean yeah, a lot of people aren't interested, but there are prepared people out there too. I've been praying really hard recently for more people to teach, especially families, and Sister J said that once her husband's health improves, she'll be bringing him to meet us! Such a miracle. God really is taking care of us.
I've learned a lot recently about what kind of person I want to be for the rest of my life. Moving to this new area for the last two months of my mission has really helped me to set a good tone for this last move, to change the things that I want to change. I mean, I could change at any time, but it's easier to make small changes when a big changes happens too. I thought I'd be really distraught or stressed out in my last couple of months, but so far I'm just really happy. I don't want it to be a stressful time, so it's not going to be. I've already decided.

Week 66, in which we have a surprise guest at District Meeting, and in which I might have actually crossed the line from 'normal missionary exhaustion' to 'excessively ridiculous--but don't worry, Mom--exhaustion.'

The girl next to me is watching an Indonesian soap opera on Youtube. It's kind of distracting.

Anyways, yet another crazy week in Macau! But before I get to that part, it's time for t-shirt of the week! And this week has been great. Here's the first one: "Terrorist pug. Make a noise." And it had this really cute (or ugly? I can never tell with pugs...) pug on the front with its tongue hanging out of its mouth. The next one: "Shop after brunch." I completely agree, the only thing better than brunch is when you go shopping afterwards. The last one: "Love a fair." Clever. I do love a good fair.

So here's the scoop on my week in Macau. The craziness all started in the midst of district meeting. I had a rather unfortunate lunch, which led to quite an uncomfortable stomach ache. So I was going back and forth to the bathroom between trainings, hoping to just get sick and have it over with. But it didn't happen, so I just went back into the room, looking rather pale-faced and pathetic. And to my alarm, President Hawks was there. Fantastic. Now don't get me wrong, I love President Hawks, but he doesn't just show up in Macau for no reason. Well, turns out he was there for an interview with one of the other missionaries, but he said, "Well, since I'm here, I might as well announce that Sister Cutler, you're moving out of Macau on Friday (in three days) and Sister L, you're switching back to International." I couldn't really understand what was going on at first (I was pretty out of it), but my tear-ducts realized what had happened before my brain did, so tears started just coming out without my permission. President Hawks said, "There is wisdom in this," and mysteriously walked out of the room. He's so good at making an exit. I hope that I can exit Macau the same way he exited the room at that moment. So classy.

Well, let me tell you folks, I always knew I loved Macau, but I never knew how much until I was told I had to leave. I literally had no time to pack everything, see everyone, write all the records I'd slacked on, and process what was going on in my mind. Seriously, I felt like I was being sent home from my mission early. This time in Macau has been like a mission within a mission, and how strange for it to come to a close so quickly! At first, all I could think was, "But Sister J's baptism is on Sunday! And Sister D and Brother R are coming back Friday afternoon! And Sister T is just starting to make real progress!" But then I realized that this kind of mindset was not healthy, so I cut it out and quickly realized that I'm really excited to go back to Chinese work. I'll be going to Hung Shui Kiu, which is in the New Territories, basically the boonies of Hong Kong. It's beautiful out there and the people apparently are wonderful. I'm excited to get my Chinese improving even faster (although it has improved a lot here in international too!) and I'm excited to get to know a new area. 

Saying goodbye to all these people was so hard, but it was so so rewarding. Sometimes you get down on yourself, thinking that you haven't made a difference. But this week I really found that yes, I have made a difference for some of these people. And wow have they made a difference for me. I have learned so much from them, and I sure do love them.

So on Thursday night, right as I finished packing, I received a telephone call... "Sister Cutler, you won't be moving until October 7th." By that point, I was so incredibly exhausted that I just sat down laughing hysterically, not knowing if I was happy or sad or what. Eventually I figured out that I was happy, so so happy! Except for the fact that I'll have to live out of a suitcase for a while haha. So I saw Sister D and Brother R and baby A the next day! And they really are just the most beautiful family. I sure do love them. 

And on Sunday, Sister J got baptized! It was a rough journey for her. Her relatives gave her a hard time about becoming Mormon, but she's pushed through it and was so happy at her baptism. Our last lesson with her before her baptism was about Lehi's Dream in 1 Nephi 8. We drew it on the board, and had the most fun discussing ways that we can keep holding onto the iron rod. Sister J is so sweet, and it was so hard telling her that I'd have to leave before her baptism, but I'm glad I managed to stay. Such a blessing. 

And then today, all the missionaries went to MGM for one final buffet before I leave and before Elder L finishes his mission. It was so great. There's something about serving in Macau that brings everyone together. No hard feelings, no problems. These are some great missionaries, and I'll sure miss them. We had a great time talking about our favorite childhood memories and turns out we were all pretty awkward kids. I shared about some of my more ridiculous Halloween costumes growing up (what a weird kid I was) and it was just great. Oh, and the food was delicious, of course. I love eating, especially eating with friends.

But wait! The turmoil isn't over! We got a call from President Hawks this morning, and he said that I might be leaving on Wednesday instead of on the 7th! So we'll see what happens. Luckily I haven't unpacked yet. And either way, I'll be in Hung Shui Kiu for my next email. It didn't even faze me (is that how you spell 'faze?'), I'm just used to having my fate up in the air I suppose.

The mission just keeps getting better and better. Sometimes I think, "Gee, what was wrong with me at the beginning of my mission, why didn't I just feel like this the whole time?" But then I realized that it's not a problem with me, it's just the way life works. If the best was here already, life would be super lame. But it'll just keep going, getting better and better. That's how the gospel works. The best is always yet to come. Leaving here is hard, and leaving my mission will be hard. 

But I feel like I've learned to be more like Paul. He really is my hero, and in the past few days, this verse has become my motto: "But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content." 1 Timothy 6:6-8. I have great food (especially today) and I have plenty of clothes (although I'm kind of sick of all of them, but that's life as a sister missionary I suppose). I'm good with where I am (in an email place, by a nice Indonesian girl, trying to not watch Indonesian soap operas). And in a week, I'll be good with where I am (in Hung Shui Kiu with Sister C, pretending I'm Chinese). And in 6 months, I'll be good with where I am too (somewhere in Provo as an awkward RM, pretending that I know what my plan for life is). It's a good feeling, loving where you are, no matter how much time you have left in that place. 

Sometimes I might feel like Frodo: "I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened." But I'm slowly learning to become more like Gandalf: "So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." I think if everyone were more like Gandalf, the world would be a better place. Actually, President Hawks kind of reminds me of Gandalf. Tall and mysterious, stern if necessary, but kind, sometimes even jolly, when speaking to sister missionaries, Hobbits, or small children. And I'm certain he has a hidden stash of fireworks somewhere in the mission office. I'll let you know when I find them.

And on that note, I'll sign off. Goodbye Macau! Hello Hung Shui Kiu!

Week 65, in which I head over to the good old Hong Kong to celebrate one year in the field, and in which I enjoy the pleasure of participating in yet another harmonica duet.

Well, this was an interesting week. The mission goes through phases--I think C.S. Lewis called it the undulation cycle. You're up and happy and everything goes right. And then you're down and struggling to keep optimistic. And Sister Wilson (the visiting General Authority's wife) told us something very wise. She said, in effect, "Life naturally goes through cycles. These cycles aren't caused by our personal error. They are very natural. But Satan will tell us differently. When we are up, he will tell us that this is the way it should always be. If we believe him, we start to wonder what is wrong with us when we pass through the up phase and head for the down phase. And when we're at the down phase, he tells us that it will always be this way, that it will never get better. If we expect these ups and downs, then when we experience them, we can deal with them better and become a more balanced and steady person." It's so true, I've seen it on my mission. In the past, I've not dealt very well with the down times. I've been frustrated with myself because I thought that they were my fault and that I was being silly. But as my mission has progressed, I've learned to rely on the Lord through those hard times, and when I relied on him, yeah, those times were still hard. But I got out of them. And I didn't beat myself up the entire time either, which I think is important to avoid.

Anyways, the point is that I think my life is just in one of those down swings at the moment, but I'm learning so much from it! I was studying grace this morning, and I've studied it many times before, but it seems like every time I study it, I realize that I'd forgotten how essential and powerful grace really is. Grace is the power that comes from Jesus Christ. It enables us to make and maintain positive changes in our lives. Ether 12:36 has made me think a lot: "I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity." I need that grace so that I can maintain the charity that I feel here in the mission. Sometimes I have these great spurts of love and desire to serve, and then it kind of fades a little, and then it comes again in another great spurt. I don't want to be a spurty missionary--I want to be consistent! So that's what I've been working on recently, consistency.

In other news, Tuesday was my 'one-year-in-the-field' mark! And I celebrated by going to Hong Kong for a leadership meeting with Elder Wilson (in the Asia Area General Presidency). All the missionaries that I served in the MTC with were there! It was so great to see them all again, to see how we've all changed! One of the changes: we love each other so much more now than we did back then haha. 

Elder Wilson is just an awesome man, I learned so much from that leadership meeting and from his trip to Macau that he made on Saturday. He's the first General Authority with whom I've had any sort of real extensive interaction. Here's how our first conversation went down:

EW: And where are you from?
Me: Yorktown, Virginia.
EW: Where is that?
Me: Do you know where Williamsburg is?
EW: Yes, I've been there before.
Me: We're very close to there. I worked at Busch Gardens before.
EW: Really? I've ridden on Apollo's Chariot.
Me: I love that one! You should try The Griffin: 90 degrees straight down.
EW: Not really my style. But Apollos was really good. Very smooth.
Me: Did you hear about the opening ride of Apollo's, when that male model got hit in the face with a flying duck?
EW: Yes, I seem to recall hearing something about that.
Me: But yes, Apollo's is usually very smooth.

Yeah. I felt a little silly afterwards. But he was really nice, so wise and inspiring. I really appreciated what they taught about, especially their focus on the relationship between the Fall and the Atonement. He's really good at making people want to be better while not making them feel bad about where they are right now. That's a talent that I really want to develop.

Today we visited M M, an  lady in the Chinese branch, and after lunch we played harmonica together for about 20 minutes! It was so fun! I had to play as fast as I could to keep up with her, it was just hilarious. I sure do love the people here, they are just a blast.

We've been working a lot with that sister that I talked about last week. She is really struggling, and I think this week she hit rock bottom. At least, I hope it's rock bottom. We got a call one morning and found out that this member was in the hospital. During the night, she'd drunk so much alcohol that she was dangerously intoxicated. Her blood pressure was so high and she was a wreck. After I hung up the phone, I did all I could to keep from just plunging into despair. That sounds very dramatic. But it's true! We'd just talked to her the night before on the phone; we prayed with her, sung a hymn, read the scriptures, gave her the best pep talk I could give. And I felt like I'd failed. But then this little voice came into my head and said, "NO. I do not give you permission to take responsibility for this. You stop feeling sorry for yourself right now. Self-pity will not change anything, so just buck up and deal with the situation! Also... I love you. Thanks for what you're doing for my daughter. She's going to be okay." Yeah. I'm not exaggerating, that's really what I heard. So then I said a little prayer and just waited to hear about what was happening. One of our members took this sister back home, took care of her, and now two sweet, sweet sisters are staying over at her house to just to help her feel like she's not alone. She has made a huge transformation in the past few days. She has finally realized how EVIL alcohol is and she doesn't want anything to do with it. And because she hit that rock bottom point, now she realizes that she has to do everything she can to rely on God, because no one else is able to fix the situation she's in. It has been a miracle, really. The love of these members have saved a life. I hope that throughout my life the Lord will bless me with opportunities to serve the way those two angels have served. And I hope that I'll be paying attention and I'll be prepared. She's still not out of it yet, and there's a long road to go. But there is light and hope and it's all because of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I can't find the words to express my love and gratitude for him.