Sister Rounds

Sister Rounds
California Arcadia

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Echo and Stuff

See Echo.
Echo is with her family. Mostly.

Echo is the sweet little expectant mother in the baptismal clothes.  She has a wonderful and heart-wrenching story.  She is here at her baptism with her supportive, but non-member husband Steven, her very active 9-year-old son Thomas, and her sweet and energetic 4-year-old, Rebecca. Missing is 15-year-old Michelle.  They adopt English names, rather than using their own Chinese names, which are often times too difficult for Americans to pronounce.

Echo's baptism happened last Sunday.  But we were all wondering if it would.  The sister missionaries first ran into her in the grocery store one day very soon after the family had come to the U.S.  As a matter of fact, the first time we took them to church we picked them up from a hotel where they were living.  At first, just Echo and her children came.  Her husband was working hard for the family's survival.  Most responsive was Michelle, the 15-year-old daughter. Her story is coming up.

They speak no English, and Sister Thurgood and I spoke no Chinese.  But our hearts blended.  Especially little Michelle, when I showed her a picture of My Michelle and her family, the missionary sisters translated to her she had the same name as this other beautiful Michelle, who had FIVE CHILDREN!!!  They couldn't get over it!  So many!  She was so tickled and kept asking questions about My Michelle.  She began learning just enough English words to understand a little of what I would tell her.  Each time the sisters would go to Echo's to teach a lesson, they would ask if I was coming (these were my alone, pre-Sister Martin days). Though they couldn't understand me, and I couldn't understand them, our hearts were knit.  The closer Echo and Michelle got to baptism, the more Steven became intrigued.  He felt so deflated in his manhood that I was going the distance required to pick them up each Sunday to take them to church, and at first, didn't trust it. So then he wanted to see what it was all about and came.

After Echo and Michelle set a baptismal date, and Steven was still receiving lessons but still had many questions, they sent Michelle back to China to get some important documents required to their status in the U.S. They felt it would be less risky for their 15-year-old daughter to go, than for either parent, whom the government may not let return.  Echo is expecting their third child and she felt quite certain upon questioning, she would be mandated to abort the baby and stay in China.  It's all so undercover and tenuous and frightening and oppressive and... exhausting!  So Michelle went for the necessary documents.  However, upon her return, she was detained by the Chinese authorities at Customs and put into some type of Detention Facility because of suspicion about the family.  For several days, they didn't know where she was, and the authorities would not let her talk to her parents, so she was very frightened in this new country, where she was being held as a prisoner.  They finally let her talk to her dad briefly, but it was all unnerving for the family not to know where she was and being allowed minimal interaction with her, to know if she was all right.

This all happened right before Echo and Michelle were going to be baptized.  Michelle is still not home, but they now know where she is.  Because i'm only getting the story in fragments here and there, the little missionary sisters trying to help but so young in understanding of government regulations and legalities and such, I'm sure I don't have the full story.  Last Sunday was Echo's baptism date, and she was determined to carry on, though she had many anxieties, including worry about being laid back in the water while pregnant.  Steven is very supportive, and it looks as though he may also get baptized, and then baptize Thomas and Michelle, when she returns.

As I went to pick them up on her baptism day, the police were questioning them in their front yard where I could see, but not understand.  I wasn't sure what to do, but in the end, she still went through with her baptism.  It was very sweet, but a little bitter without Michelle there, who had been the initial catalyst for them all in sparking interest in hearing about the gospel in the first place.

This little family wants to be here bad enough that they live in one section of a garage converted into a basic living quarters for 5 of them.  They have a small table, 2 beds pushed together because that is the only way they fit into this space, a small cabinet, a soft swivel chair, and a small shower and toilet off to one side, encased in a small makeshift bathroom. They share all other amenities, like kitchen, etc. with all the other families living in the home.  Very primitive, but that's how desperate they are to be here.  I'm not sure of all the legalities of what is going on, being so limited in language and knowledge.  When Echo finally told the tearful story to the sisters, and they transferred it to me in bits and pieces, I suggested they contact the Branch President, who could meet with them and give them some comfort and contacts of who could help the family.  He could also give them blessings. I think they have appreciated his interest, guidance, and counsel.

Hopefully Michelle will be reunited soon.

Then, there were other events!  Bryce and Rachael made a great surprise visit and we HAD to try out a macademia nut waffles and pancake breakfast at the local Hawaiian Food Factory.  YUMM!
What a fun surprise they were!  Just what I needed right before I got my new companion, Sister

 Our Sunday Night Treat tradition still seems to hang on.  Last week we made seasoned, baked french fries, mostly so we could make some more space in our tiny freezer.  They were a total hit!

This is Sister Huang's last week.  This transfer has not been without its challenges for her, and I question whether she is leaving with positive feelings, after some discontent and major discord with this particular group, I'm afraid.  Long story.  But she is definitely leaving on positive, firm footing.  She is an amazing missionary and I will miss her so much. Being her last week, there are many events, dinners, etc. that people want to have with her, and since we tend to be the drivers, we just go along for the ride.  And eat lots.
 Menchy's frozen yogurt on some random night after English classes.

Sister Chan came back to visit with her family and we all went to a huge dinner at a very authentic Chinese restaurant with Brother and Sister Wu, the RS President in the branch and her husband.

And another family who invited us to dinner before Sister Huang's departure, Cola's family.

There's always gobs and lots of...stuff.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

A New Era to be a Friend and an Ensign

Now marks the beginning of a New Era of time in which a new companionship begins with Sister Martin.  It is time to begin as new Friends, while continuing to be an Ensign among people who are or aren't searching for the gospel.  There are many experiences and adventures that await this companionship of 18 months, so let the fun begin!

We began with en eventful week already!  The second day at the Center, a blind young man from Honduras came in, seeking for a job, and because of Sister Martin's skills and experience teaching the blind for many years, she was there to support this young man and determine his needs.  Though she was only beginning to learn what is involved in all the technical processes at the Center, she was the guide he needed for that day.  ERS hasn't seen a blind patron in more than 15 years, and as soon as someone comes who can help, there he was!
So that is one of the hallmark qualities of Sister Martin -- her professional experience with the blind and visually impaired, and special needs, overall.

She brought her car filled to the brim with all the necessities of life for the next 18 months, and it was used already when we went to pick up young sister missionaries with broken bikes from a distance too far for them to walk home.  We each took our cars and loaded the backs with bikes.  It was quite a sight, two cars in tandem, bikes hanging out the back, trunk lids only partially corded down. But we accomplished the car-turned-pickup feat -- even in time for English class!

Our next adventure manifested on our early-morning walk, about 2 miles from our apartment.  Sister Martin hit an uneven sidewalk, lost her balance, and face-planted into the sidewalk. We both tried to catch her before falling, but I'm afraid we were unsuccessful.  She hurt so badly, and I felt so bad!  Only her first week! It required another adventure that afternoon to the optometrist for new eyeglasses so she can see to do her mission! Here's poor Sister Martin with her war wounds that day:

We will definitely have to find friendlier terrain to walk!  That's another thing about her.  She likes to walk in the morning.
More news about this Friend:
She is the mother of 6 children, 24 grandchildren, she is from Arizona, by way of St. George, UT over the past year, and she likes to cook and sew.  She is a widow of many years.  She's very cheerful and an avid conversationalist with an assortment of topics and experiences to share.  She seems happy to be here on a mission, but like "other" missionaries here, tends to be a bit intimidated by the crowds, traffic, and congestion everywhere.

We've already enjoyed a "Welcome-Home-Sister-Martin" dinner and game night, just to make sure our new Friend and Ensign feels like an important part of this New Era.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Groupies

I've come to realize that a mission is an extreme adventure that includes each of the five senses multiple times daily.  It's a story of people and places and experiences.  Every person and place has their own story and inclusion of the senses.  I will never be able to recapture them all, but here are the most recent few.
Sister Chan was an awesome missionary, and I knew she only had a little while left when I came, but it was enough to come to appreciate so many wonderful things about her.  We all miss her so much, now that she has returned home to South Jordan, Utah.  She was Mother, Sister, Friend, and Organizer to the missionaries in Alhambra.  She will be back in one month with her family to have dinner in our very apartment and re-live old times.

Me, Sister Huang, Sister Thurgood, Sister Chan
 I'm also seeing that a mission is yet another series of "good-byes."  One right after another.

There are many groupie gathering times -- birthday parties, Sunday night treats and games, farewell meetings, baptism gatherings, ward and branch summer parties...

Sisters Only dinner.  We invited investigators, Rosa, her sister Maria, and Joy.

We had a combined birthday party for 2 elders, whose birthdays were a day apart.  Spaghetti was the menu choice, and it was slurped right down.

Sunday night treats and games is a great way to end a week and start the next.  Hopefully it's building groupie unity in the meantime.

There are the groupies at the Employment Resource Center also.  Effy had a birthday and MANY of her Spanish friends came and brought food... and more food... and more food... and cake.  Joel was there, of course, to direct the activity, and Effy was pleased.

She is quite an amazing woman.  A wonderful friend, respected leader among the Hispanic community, and blessing to the missionaries and patrons who come through the doors at ERS.

One of her responsibilities at the Center is directing those who seek self-employment.  This generally includes those who don't have a work permit in the US yet, who don't have a HS diploma, or are otherwise disadvantaged to find any kind of work.  She runs a craft class each Thursday, provides the  ideas and materials, and MANY come to make the crafts, then sell them at swap meets, fairs, and from their homes.  For some, this is their only source of income, so they really need these classes she provides.
One such story is that of Carlos.

As a young husband and father of 2 or 3 children, he was involved in construction work.  He did fine, until one day he fell from a high ladder.  He was lucky he didn't die, but it broke his back badly.  He's now, years later (almost 20 years) just limping around with a cane, always in pain.  Of course, he is unable to work, and it cost him his marriage.  He was depressed for years, feeling the pangs of being unable to provide for his family.  Effy found him and told him about these classes.  He comes and makes lovely things, even if his former wife makes fun of him for doing it.  He is a very warm person, always with a ready smile and greeting, though he speaks mostly Spanish.  I marvel at the courage of these people.  Their stories are incredible.

One of my recent groupies is Theresa Gilliam, a sister from the Alhambra English Ward.  She has lived here for decades, so knows a lot about LA.  We went one P-day Saturday to Olvera Street, the beginnings of LA.  It is a sweet little bricked street with vendors, shops, kiosks, restaurants, and entertainment.  We spent a very fun afternoon there, browsing Spanish shops and museums, eating authentic Spanish food, and filling up on awesome churros!
Here we are inside the old fire station.  This is when they had
horse-drawn wagons and big water barrels!

Here is a sampling of some of the
lovely items we saw on the street.
Many handmade items that I think grand-daughters
would love to see!

At a summer Valley Branch picnic, a brand-new experience to the Chinese Saints who know nothing of picnics, it was super well-attended.  Besides scads of food, we played routine American outdoor games that seem old and ho-hum to Americans but the Chinese loved them!
Sack races,

wheel-barrow races,
egg relays,
and an old-fashioned tug-of-war.
It was great fun!
Baptisms are events of themselves.  I have countless photos of Saints on their baptism days, but here is one of my nice friend, Judy, on her baptism day.  And a photo of President Lee and another bishop of a neighboring Chinese ward.

President Lee with the blue tie.  Besides being an awesome branch president, he's an engineer and professor at UCLA.

There's an assorted bunch of cool groupies that fill my life with blessings.
         Sister Gong,

     Sister Xia,

                                         And Sister Huang.  

Elder Fu, Elder Pao, Elder Asenjo, Sister Thurgood
An assortment of valiant missionaries, ever-ready for games at a ward picnic...                                                                    
One of the little mothers that came to stay temporarily until she had her baby was Lilly and her little girl, Ye-Ning.  Wht special groupies these became! Ye-Ning and I couldn't communicate, but we formed a sweet friendship, and each Sunday she brought me a picture she colored in Primary with my name on it.  After Lilly had her baby boy they returned to China.  But Ye-Ning's colored pictures adorn my bedroom wall and make me feel happy.

Another one of those never-ending "good-byes."
There are also other assorted groupies that add importance to my life.  Jezabel Weeks, another Alhambra English ward member, took us to a musical production.  Her daughter is returning home from a mission this next week, and she is very excited.

 And our Chinese branch mission leader, Doctor Lew, who had all the missionaries in his real-live home for a 4th of July celebration.  It was great fun to be in a beautiful, real home again.  We had a delicious meal and played some fun games.  Though his heritage is Chinese, he is American and speaks hardly a word of Chinese.  His wife speaks Mandarin Chinese, and what an enthusiastic groupie she is!!  They are both so awesome! They have been imported from a rather far-away stake to serve as ward mission leaders, so considering travel time alone, they are very dedicated to their calling and the branch is blessed by their service, week after week.

Group picture in the Lew's spacious family room

And then the p-day we went to a matinee showing of "7 Brides for 7 Brothers" that the stake presented.  I had to wonder how much these Chinese Saints actually got out of it, speaking limited English!  But they enjoyed the excitement, music, dancing.  Brand new experience for them.

These are our next-door neighbor groupies, the Carmona's.  Brother Carmona has been a single dad for many years, and is doing a large job and commendable work in raising 3 daughters.  The oldest (with the braid) just graduated from Seminary and would like to go to BYU-I.  They're a sweet family that I see most every day, in our comings and goings.

 And my dear friends, the Bunker's, who are the proud owners of Myrtle the Turtle and our apartment complex.  They are the youngest 90-something people I know!  They are some the the most fun people in my world to talk to, because of all they know from what they've learned over decades, and the stories and histories they tell from living in Alhambra for so many years.  Sister Bunker was mayor of Alhambra for at least 2 terms.  They are still very active in the care of our apartment complex.   They also have an amazing home with windows the size of all outdoors, that makes one feel like you are surrounded by nature while standing in their living room. Spunky little couple!

Here's my dear circle of groupies, the sister missionaries.
Sister Xia, Me, Sister Gong, Sister Chan, Sister Huang, Sister Huang (another one), and some little girl that stepped into the photo.???
Just for fun, here is the result of one p-day purchase by the elders that live in my complex.   They were excited and proud of their purchases.

And they are pretty awesome groupies, too.  The Elders, I mean.  And all the rest of the groupies of my LA Mission experience.