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
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.