Tuesday, May 12, 2015

In the Guise of Sacrifice

Me and Sister Ratana, my first companion. I love her so much!
She was very patient. They called us the "monster and the mouse."

I read a post on Facebook the other day that disturbed me. It was a man responding to a post about the how he felt the LDS church stunts the growth of its youth by making them go on missions. He said "...in the guise of sacrifice...they stall their education, careers and lives by serving God when really they are just proselyting for more members to fill the churches coffers."

Helping a member deep fry grasshoppers and sell them. We
thought if the Americans helped her, she would sell more.
She did. Never refuse a bit a service, even if it includes a
morning or pulling the wings off insects.
I served a full-time mission from 1984-1986. No one MADE me do it. Contrary to this man's belief the church does not make anyone go on a mission. I never thought I would go. I thought by the time I was 21 or 22 I would be married. Most of my friends were. I was a junior at Southern Utah University at the time and I was just sick of school. At the same time I didn't want to stop my life by dropping out of school to work for minimum wage but I had been in school since I was 5 and I was burned out. I also needed some time to reevaluate my major. I decided that a mission might give me some time to refocus and it might divert my attention away from ME for a while. I also looked at it as a way to keep learning but NOT in a classroom.

It worked out well for me.

I submitted my application to serve and just one week later I received news that I would be serving in Bangkok, Thailand.
I did not choose to go to Thailand. I firmly believe that it was the place God chose for me to serve with my skill set. I was given a "language aptitude" test at the time (which they no longer do) and I guess I passed that with flying colors because learning Thai was like walking a tightrope in heels. I wanted to go somewhere Spanish speaking. I already spoke a lot of Spanish and I thought it would be cheaper for my parents to send me to a Spanish speaking country. Now days all missionaries pay the same each month, but in my day, you paid based on the cost of living in that area or country. My brother was serving in New York and my parents were already paying a fortune to keep him out. I needed to go to a mission that was next to free. No such luck. See, if you didn't know, missionaries aren't paid for their service - they or their families PAY for the opportunity.

In Thailand atee rice three times a day and killed cockroaches the length of your palm. I served as diligently as a person can who serves in the land of the Golden Buddha. I obeyed my mission rules and kept busy. I wrecked three bicycles while I was there, twice by my own stupidity and once I was hit by a motorcycle and thrown into a sewage canal. He didn't stop to help me out. I had a few hospital stays with dysentery and passed my first kidney stone while I was in Thailand. But it was the greatest adventure of my life.

Eventually I learned to speak Thai. I don't think I ever learned to speak it like a native, but there was a day, about 5 or 6 months in, that I knew I was reaching people with my Thai. I had so many blessing in learning that beast of a language.

I was living with my "companion" (another missionary serving in my area - my roommate and
Leaving Chiang Mai. I served in that incredible city for
6 months. I was so lucky. Amazing missionaries - all.
working partner) in Chiang Mai, Thailand way up North in the country when one morning, before I had a chance to put my tag on, the doorbell rang. Standing on our porch were two women that looked an awful lot like Mormon missionaries, but I didn't know them. One was a young Thai native and the other was an older German woman. They were wearing skirts, white shirts and name tags just like us...but not, somehow. The older German woman asked me if I was American and I said yes. Her English wasn't great, but her Thai was worse, so we went with English. I asked the Thai girl if she spoke English and she didn't. So we settled on Thai. The Thai girl's eyes got big and she said "are you from Thailand?" and I said "No. I'm from the United States. I've been here about 5 months." I explained that I was always asked if I was Thai or part-Thai because my black eyes and dark hair are very Thai. I noticed that she really took that in. She was looking at me as if I was some kind of freak. She said "your Thai is very good..." with a kind of question mark? "Are you CIA?" I did not understand that word see-aye-ehhhhh. I need to write that down for later, I thought. I said I was sorry I didn't know what see-aye-ehhhh was in phasaathay
(the Thai language). She explained "you know, cops shoot-em-up bad guys FBI." She has her finger stuck out in a gun position. "OH! CIA! THAT CIA. Hahaha! No sorry. We are missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." WHAT A LET DOWN! You have me confused with some 007 type that could crush you with her index finger. I pump a bicycle 40 miles a day. I have the thighs of a good kickboxer but that's about all. (I didn't say that last part.)

They were Jehovah's Witnesses I found out. Having never run into any people from this religion, I was fascinated that I had to come all the way to Thailand to meet the "JDubs" as I had heard them called. (I hope that nickname isn't offensive. I don't mean it to be.) We exchanged pleasantries and they asked me to buy their pamphlets, which I was happy to do. I went back into my room to find some change and gathered about 15 of the LDS pamphlets and handed them to German woman with the 50 baht that I owed for her pamphlets. The German woman said "Oh no, we can't afford your pamphlets, we are only volunteers," to which I replied "me too! But go ahead, they're free."

No caption needed.
It's very rare to meet other Christians in Thailand and I was smitten immediately and asked them to come back when we could sit down and talk. I thought that would be fun. (Ah youth is wasted on the stupid.) About a week later, the young Thai woman did return. But she was alone. We learned her name was Lai. We invited her in and she listened to me talk about the Mormons for a long time. At first I thought she just wanted to make sure we were real. But after a while, she relaxed and stopped asking me why I could speak Thai after only having been in the country 6 months. It was like a magic trick to her. It was the perfect opportunity to tell her about the Gifts of the Spirit. I explained that I had been given a blessing before I left for Thailand and another one just a few months later when I became a Senior companion that I would be blessed with the "gift of tongues." We read some scriptures that talked about it. I knew the power of that gift! It was as if someone had dumped a Thai dictionary into my head. I spoke without a problem. I understood what people were saying to me and anyone that knew how easily it came to me, was truly shocked. Did I study? Of course I did. Like I was on fire. But if I studied a certain group of vocabulary words that day, I noticed that I would "just happen" to hear those same words used in common conversation. I would connect them to their context and in this way, my inner vocabulary exploded daily.

This must have been early on because I was still wearing shoes.
I also noticed that when I got home from Thailand and went back to school to study theatre, I would merely have to pass over a script once or twice at the most and it was memorized. My mind had been expanded somehow. I was shocked at how my study habits had been clarified too. My college transcripts testify of a girl that struggled to get mediocre grades before her mission and then returned to sail through school afterwards. It was so much easier. I had really learned to focus but more importantly I had learned how to listen.

I left Chiang Mai shortly after we started teaching Lai. Not sure if she was ever baptized but I know she was lead to our door so we could introduce her to the Mormons.

I thought I would give Mr. Negative on Facebook a little list of the things I learned while I was
Rod Hinck as Santa. He had the suit made, then we stayed
up all night and made bags of popcorn and delivered them to
the polio wards and orphanages on Christmas day. Best
Christmas e.v.e.r.
"putting off my education." This "sacrifice" he calls it might be the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard and I'm sorry if he's reading this...because he might...but he needs to know how goofy he sounds to the thousands and thousands of us that have taken the incredible opportunity to serve a mission for our church.

Things I learned on my mission that I had not previously learned while in college:

  • I learned about several other beautiful world religions
  • I learned that it can rain so hard your skin crinkles up under your clothes
  • I learned that being fat is good everywhere but in the United States
  • I learned that everything can be eaten. Everything.
  • Women can have babies next to a rice paddy
  • I learned to appreciate world music
  • I learned that toilets can also be stood on
  • I learned that hospitals do not provide toilet paper
  • I learned that there is real hunger in the world
  • I learned that in some cultures people give away their children if they are born with disabilities
  • Polio ward.
  • I learned that you don't have to have stuff to be happy
The teachers in the refugee camp. This is the side wall of
one of the classrooms. What an amazing group
of people! They were always happy!
Happy people! I didn't meet a native
Elder that wasn't incredibly happy and
so positive to be around. 

No gears, basket, bell, seat on the back for passengers.
  • I rode and slept on a train many times overnight and I had never done that before. 
  • I learned to get up at the crack of dawn everyday at the same time to study and pray
  • I learned how to ride a bike in a dress and feel grateful for the transportation
  • I learned that if you have a wok, you need no other pan (I have three)
  • I learned how to get the best exchange rates for the American dollar
  • I learned to drink soda pop from a plastic bag...without ice.
  • I learned to wash clothes out on a rock
    Try to look happy while you eat
    crickets over rice. Mmmmm. Disgusting.
  • I learned to make spring rolls (believe me this is a valuable skill)
  • I learned that you can't ride a bicycle immediately after riding an elephant 
  • I learned that dysentery can be obtained for 40 cents and how to avoid it
  • I learned that there are 400 kinds of bananas (and I ate most of them)
  • I learned how to barter for better prices
  • I learned to make rice like a PRO!
  • I learned how to make khaawniawmamuang (yes - come over)
  • I learned how to make somtum and curry and amazing fried rice (yep - its true) 
  • I learned a thousand ways to use sweetened condensed milk
  • I found out you can survive a national water fight on a bike, wearing a dress
  • I learned to de-wing grasshoppers and fry them up in front of the movie house
  • I learned that rice is very powerful
Dysentary #1 (or 2). (There are 2 more
dysentary events....heehehe!)
  • I learned how to live and get along with another human being that is with you 24/7
  • I learned that deodorant is optional in some countries
  • I learned how to potty train orphans
  • I learned that polio still exists
  • I learned humility for myself and patience for all people
  • I learned that you must love even the people that are hard to love (the guard at the camp)
The greatest learning experience of my mission service was the time I spent as an English teacher in the Phanat Nikhom Transit Camp for Vietnamese and Cambodian Refugees. Those people had fled the oppressive governments of the North Vietnamese and Pol Pots ethnic cleansing regime. The Killing Fields. Remember that movie? Those were my students.

They were doctors and lawyers, students and moms. They got in big and little boats and crossed the Gulf of Thailand with nothing but their birth certificates and marriage licenses. Some of them walked into Thailand for refuge, carefully avoiding (or not) mine fields and open fighting. They were assigned to a series of United Nations refugee camps along the Laos and Vietnamese border. Once their paperwork was in order, they would come to our camp to await acceptance from another country - we were the "transit" camp. At our camp they learned to speak English from the Sisters of the Mormon church through the churches Welfare Services Unit for Refugees in Thailand. WSURT. I was one of four or five sister missionary teachers that continually served in that unit. I was there seven months. I was so blessed by this experience.

  • I learned how to love every kind of pepper that can be grown and I lost most of my taste buds in Thailand
  • I learned to look out for snakes in the grass literally and figuratively
  • I learned how to ride a bike with no gears while carrying an easel, a film projector and a bag of books
  • I learned how to fix a flat tire in the middle of nowhere
  • I learned how to deworm refugee children
  • I learned not to climb into a house that was on stilts (if the family still wanted to keep their house) Consequently I learned how to teach a gospel discussion in mud up to my knees
  • I learned to eat fruits that smell like stinky feet
  • I learned to eat all kinds of things I didn't know could be eaten...and then say "thank you!" (See dysentery above)
This pic should be flipped. "Quinn" was headed to Toronto.
I think. I wish with all my heart I was still in touch with
all my friends from the camp. They are literally all
over the world now, resettled in different countries. 
  • I LEARNED HOW TO TEACH! (I did NOT learn this in college.)
  • I learned rejection and how to crawl back from it
  • I learned true joy and how to reach for it
  • I learned how to study
  • I learned how to use a day planner
  • I learned how to write a letter and use a real post office
  • I became a better pianist (because I had to)
  • I learned get up from the floor with both legs completely asleep and pretend everything was fine
  • I learned to speak another language fluently (for my survival) 
  • I learned why organized religion is so crucial to the world
  • I learned how lucky I am to be alive and healthy
  • I learned that freedom is not free
    My class at the camp. Knees to back. Sitting on the hard
    cement. No desks, no complaints!
  • I learned that its not what you get out of life, its what you put into it that's important
  • I found out that what I believe is true
  • I set a path for the rest of my life based on opportunities I was exposed to while on my mission
  • I learned that there was so much more to learn - I now crave education
  • I found out that Jesus Christ has saved the world and me - literally, not figuratively
  • I found God
  • I learned to love someone else besides myself and consequently...
  • I found ME
And after I learned all that I was only 23 years old. I spent the next two years in college, and the next 26 years in a classroom - working and putting money into a pension that won't be enough and a social security system that looks iffy. Believe me, if I had it to do all over again, would I skip the mission
This is the Southeast Asia version of "knocking on doors"
This is a street board sign. It's meant to attract interested
people and give away books. If I had a nickle for every
hour I stood at a street board...
and rush into the work force at 21? GAH! NOOOOOOOOO! I wish I could have served for years and years. Living simply on meager means (missions cost approximately $450 a month), driven by the love of God, doing good continually because you can, studying scriptures and good books because you have time, making eternal friendships all over the world and feeding your brain at the same time?!?!?! Why wouldn't you take that opportunity?

So Mr. Negative, you said we serve "...in the guise of sacrifice..." and I say - if that's sacrifice then I want to keep doing it all my life. Initially I went in to the mission field to pay God back for what I owed him and all it did was make me more indebted. I can't wait to serve another mission with my husband; we are already saving for it. 

Dried squid anyone?
You also said "they stall their education, careers and lives by serving God..." Education doesn't only happen in a classroom! In fact most of it doesn't! Serving God?! Could you work for a better boss? When can a person learn another language fluently without spending time in the country? When can a person test their brain, their courage, their instincts and everything their parents taught them all at the same time over and over again for two years?

Finally you said "... when really they are just proselyting for more members to fill the churches coffers." O! if you only knew how many people in the world are sustained by the "coffers" of the church and don't fill it at all. If I could tell you what a blessing it is for me to give 10 measly percent of what I earn, back from whence it came...well that's another blog for another time. But if you are really in need of some blessings, give 10 percent of what you earn to a charity each month. You will be shocked at the kind of person you will become and the windows of heaven will open to you. I challenge you to try it. Karma may be a b@!*ch - but it goes the other way too.

Half way through my mission I was transferred to work in a refugee camp teaching English instead of the proselyting the gospel. I've already talked about my time in the refugee camp. There are Worse Things than Miscarriages LINK  Next to holding my tiny son before he died, it was the most precious time of my life.
Residences in the United Nations refugee camp in Thailand
I will never forget how it felt to share my language (we were not allowed to proselyte) with those amazing Vietnamese, Laos and Cambodian people while they waited to be accepted to another country. I felt the magnitude and miracle of the scripture in Jeremiah 3:14 "I will take you one of a city and two of a family and will bring you to Zion." I can't explain it, but every teenager should have to serve in a refugee camp in their lifetime just to learn the true meaning of gratitude. We are so blessed in these United States! We must remember the people that founded, fought and fight for what we have here. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are blessed beyond measure.

The classroom at the refugee camp
Every single day I walk into my classroom with its carpet, desks, endless whiteboards, video projector, computers (I have 34!), printer, podium, bulletin boards, etc.... I remember teaching English to 90 Vietnamese students at a time. They sat on banana mats if they had one, and if they didn't they pulled up a piece of the hard concrete floor. There was one whiteboard at the end of the "classroom" which was surrounded by woven bamboo mats with big holes in them for "air conditioning." They listened as if their life depended on it. Because it did. My student today only listen if I say the words "extra credit," or when the bell rings. Everybody hears that.

A "kitchen" in the refugee camp. Isn't she gorgeous?!
In the refugee camp we were able to teach the refugees about the customs and traditions that they would also have to go through in their new countries. We did an Easter egg hunt, a Halloween party, a Thanksgiving dinner complete with chicken, purple Thai yams and rice flour bread dressing (thanks to the cook at the American Embassy for letting us have a bottle of thyme and sage.) Everyone thought the idea of seasoned wet bread was terrible and I only have two things to say to that: "fish heads and chicken feet." So there. I learned to appreciate my traditions and my culture by learning and living theirs.

The constant thriving learning environment turned me into a teacher. It was because of that experience in the camp that I solidified my journey to become a certified teacher when I got back. It was because of that experience that I was able to focus so easily and stay on track when I returned from Thailand.

It is because of that experience that I cried like a baby when I heard the announcement about an LDS
Boot. She was a college student that we taught for a long
time. This was such a happy day! That's the Chiang Mai
branch president in the background (1986)

Temple being built in Thailand. There was not a conference that went by that I didn't pray like a crazy woman for a temple announcement and in April  - we got it! I've been praying for that event since 1986. I know it is because of the good members of the church in Thailand that they are finally going to get their own temple. I have seen on Facebook the burgeoning church meetings and heard from the missionaries that the church is rolling forth in Thailand just as the mission dedicatory prayer predicted it would.

We called this dog "Nuke." He hung around our house
(because I fed him). Yes, it's a dog.
I wasn't afraid to serve. I wasn't afraid of the people or the culture or even the food - though seeing a rack full of drying snakes makes you a little queasy at first. I wanted to see the world and selfishly, I was glad that I got called to see part of the world, this school teacher would never get to see (and has never been able to afford to go back). But in the end, I learned that its not where you go, because all of those things on my list can be learned in Idaho or Indonesia... but the greatest thing of all is that the Mormons have the truth about God and Jesus Christ and I learned that. We have the whole truth, we really do. Despite crazy stories about the church that may turn you against it, or incidences of offending remarks or actions made against you that made you leave  - it is true. I'm not even hoping for the truth - I know it. It's a sure foundation for me. It grounds me. It keeps me focused. This mission gave me the foundation that I have needed just to get through my crazy life. And contrary to what they say - life is not short - it's tricky and it comes one day at a time. We need all the help and knowledge we can get.
Planting and watering for a future harvest...

I'm proud to say that I was one of those missionaries that planted a lot of seeds back in the 80's and now I have the blessing of looking back to see the harvest. It's wild! A temple in Thailand! Who'da thought?! Can't wait to be there for the dedication!

Hmong siblings at the camp, always
taking care of each other.

My favorite service project! Every Wednesday we got to
go out and help with the babies at a huge orphanage in Udorn!

Durian. Elder Anun. I loved that guy!
He would eat anything!

Feeding babies...so many babies.

Leaving Udorn!

Udorn! I loved this branch! Incredible members. They even
had a keyboard. What is my hair? 1987.
Never underestimate the power of rice
in a refugee camp.

Phanat Nikhom across from our house. Rice fields everywhere.

Lesson #488: You don't have to have stuff to love life!
I thank God every day for this experience and for making me who I am today! What a blessing to have met and known so many amazing people. I highly recommend serving a mission! It will bless your life a thousand times more than
you can bless others through your service. You don't want to regret not having taken the opportunity to learn and grow through this kind of experience. If you are still thinking about whether or not to serve... what are you waiting for?