Greetings from Thailand!!
We have had some pretty amazing experiences since our last letter that we want to share. I apologize again for the “novels” each time but they also serve as our journal entries. I can’t imagine ever forgetting any of this or any of the missionaries or people we have come to love so much, but just in case. Hopefully you will enjoy them too.
We were able to attend a talent show at the Asoke Branch here in Bangkok on Saturday, the 29th of August. We were not disappointed. We had a front row seat and had the best time watching members we know performing.
We had a group of Thai sisters dancing a Hawaiian dance. We had a magician, some authentic Thai dancers with the beautiful hand movements and then a group that did a 50’s dance. We had a wonderful young adult group that came on stage wearing matching shirts that said I Am A Child Of God and the rest of the words to the song. They sang it together and then a recent convert of one week played the guitar with the same song and they livened it up a bit. It was really good. We enjoyed it a lot. They had a primary age group of girls do a fun dance number and a little boy jumped on stage and gave one of the girls a flower. His crush I think. It was adorable. We had one Young Adult Sister that can play anything on the piano. She is truly amazing. She would accompany people on the spot with only a few chords on her cell phone. We had 2 Thai sisters start singing a song in Thai and then switched into Phantom Of The Opera. They had a very strong Thai accent for the Phantom but it was great. One sister got up and sang “Flashlight” and she was right on. You wouldn’t have even know she was Thai. The highlight of the talent show was watching Dad get up in front of everyone and dance. There is no refusing when they come to get you, so I ended up taking a turn also. Pictures of us dancing were all over facebook right away. Truthfully we are not any better at dancing here than we were at home, but they loves us anyway.
We were able to visit the branch in Bang Khae Sunday. They have great missionaries there and a really strong branch presidency. The members are wonderful and get so excited when we show up at their branch. Dad and I had to speak in sacrament meeting and bear our testimonies. I used Elder Paxton (who reminds me of Ryan) to translate a little message and then bore my testimony in Thai. Dad does everything in Thai now. I am proud of him. He talks with all the members and they love it. I have cute members ask me questions that they know I can answer in Thai. How many children I have and grandchildren. How long we have been married and if I like Thai Food etc. I am working on increasing my vocabulary.
We left for The Mission President’s Seminar on Monday the 1st of September through the 5th. We met with the Area Presidency and Wives and all the Asia Mission Presidents and wives in Hong Kong, China. Elder Gong is the President of the Asia Area Presidency. It was amazing to sit in the sessions with people who understand exactly what you are going through and are dealing with the same pressures and joys of serving as Mission Presidents.
Hong Kong is pretty amazing. Tons of people and tons of buildings that reach to the sky, tons of traffic but a lot less of the chaos. Hong Kong was well planned out for expansion and increase in population. They also don’t allow street vendors to park carts on the sidewalks. And the biggest surprise was no motorcycles. In Thailand we are still trying to figure out where pedestrians are supposed to walk. The motorcycles drive on the sidewalks, create their own lanes of traffic and choose which direction they want to go regardless of the flow of traffic. “Flow” is being generous because nothing flows in Thailand it just abruptly merges everywhere.
We loved the seminars we went to every day. A highlight for me was when Elder Gong shared the talk and video of Elder Eyring’s talk on the Atonement. He used Handel’s Messiah as a parable. Handel’s Messiah was supposed to make Handel wealthy enough to pay all his debts and to provide a higher level of living. No one could believe when he used the proceeds of the composition to pay the debts of those who were locked up in a debtor’s prison. He knew the people who were imprisoned were good men, who were just down on their luck and owed a debt they could not pay. He compared it to the Savior paying a debt He did not owe because each of us have a debt we cannot pay therefore showing mercy and settling the demands of justice. I had actually seen the story on PBS at home before our mission and thought it was wonderful that Handel was so kind to his fellow debtors, he himself owing a debt. The video showed a man released from a long line of debtors who’s debts were paid by Handel. His name was called out loud from the prison list and then it had to be approved by repeating the name by the jailor. Most of the men ran upon release into the arms of their waiting families. One man ran to Handel and embraced him, calling him great Sir and thanking him for his mercy. Now that I can compare it to what the Savior did for me and for all of us my love for Him has grown. He knows each of us by name and atoned for each of us individually. He knows who we are, and is aware of our weaknesses, our sufferings and comes with mercy to our aid. It was a wonderful experience.
Another highlight for me was attending the Hong Kong Temple. While the bus was taking us to the temple we were able to listen to the Temple President. He shared with us why the Hong Kong Temple is the only temple in the world that is open on Sundays. He said he was so saddened by the number of people that wanted to attend the temple but were never able to fit in a session on the regular schedule. These people are from the Phillipines. The Temple President called them indentured servants. They work so hard for so little and are only allowed a few hours off one Sunday a quarter. The temple president said he was emailing a letter one day requesting that they would like to open the temple on a Sunday to accommodate these people. He wasn’t brave enough and couldn’t bring himself to push send. He had a couple come in to the temple office just then and tell him about several of these indentured servants and how badly they wanted to attend the temple and hadn’t been back to the temple since their first visit. They had family names just waiting to be done. The Temple President said he just wept and said, “don’t move, I will be right back,” then he walked over to his computer and pushed the send button. The answer he received from the First Presidency was open the temple on Sunday once a quarter and tell these saints that the Lord loves them and has brought the covenants of the temple closer to them BECAUSE He knows them and loves them. It was so wonderful to be in the temple. It was wonderful to know that at least two times a year while we are serving here that we get to attend a temple in Hong Kong or Taiwan and even more exciting to know that we can help prepare for a temple here in Thailand. Our Heavenly Father really does know and love each of His children and wants them to have every blessing and opportunity to return to Him.
We took a bus up to “The Peak” on Thursday evening. This is where Hong Kong was dedicated for missionary work in 1949. We are including pictures of the overlook from there. It is beautiful during the day and at night it is all lit up. It was a nail biter riding the bus up the long and narrow (way narrow) road, considering there were busses coming down at the same time. I could have tapped the shoulder of someone on the other bus it was so close. But they are amazingly courteous drivers and accommodate space for each other.
The church office building is a beautiful building in the heart of downtown Hong Kong. They have 3 chapels 3 homes for the Area Presidency to live and a visitor’s center on the bottom floor. It has other classrooms and offices because it is about 13 stories or more, which is tiny compared to everything around it. It was interesting that the hotel we stayed in had covered skywalks from the hotel to the church office building. You weren’t really even outside almost the whole way . A lot of places are built like that in Hong Kong which is why the foot traffic seems so much calmer than in Thailand. I am going to take a picture when I walk to our church office building and show you how challenging it is. The Elders tease and say a sure fire way to get the crowd to split and let you through is to hold up a pass-a-long card and flash your missionary badge. They scatter everytime they say. Ha!
We love having the missionaries in our home for dinner. We asked our Sister Missionaries in our close area to come Sunday night. The Assistants were trying to invite themselves to join and Sister Alley said, “No way are you crashing our night with President and Sister Johnson, they feed you all the time anyway”. They kept trying playing the “you realize that we don’t have a dinner appointment tonight right?” card. Sister Alley said, “So sorry but we do”. It was funny. I saved dessert for the Assistants for our meeting with them later that night. I honestly caught Elder Arne running his finger around the bowl of the spaghetti sauce I had cleared from the table. I was starting to feel bad but then the truth came out that they had begged dinner off of the Granges, our office couple. If I had offered I’m sure they would have turned around and eaten another whole meal. None of our missionaries are heavy in fact they are so skinny. Dad has lost a lot of weight. I went in to have 2 skirts made and they kept hovering over Dad saying your pants are too big, let us fix them or better yet you need a new suit. They told him they would make it right then and have him pick it up the next day. (He is going in when zone conferences are over.) Jace, dad told them he would bring you in when you come to visit and they will make you a suit while you are here.
The sister missionaries came to dinner and brought Sister Htwe (sounds like Tway) with them. She is from Myanmar and was leaving for the Provo MTC in the morning. Dad set her apart as a missionary and she just cried after. She has wanted to serve a mission so badly and she has such a beautiful testimony. She is the only member of the church in her family. Some of the missionaries here sacrifice everything to serve a mission. Some of them are cut off from their family if they join the church and give up Budhism. We have one missionary that told Dad he didn’t have a home to go to when he was released. His parents disowned him. Dad is helping him work through his situation. They are incredible missionaries because they are so faithful and know that the gospel is true.
We had the funniest dinner with these sisters. They loved the spaghetti and breadsticks and ate and ate. Then Sister Htwe started making faces when we were eating dessert. I made the “sinfully delicious chocolate cake with score bars on top. The other sisters were loving it but she looked like she was being forced to eat dirt. We asked her if she didn’t like it and she said it was too sweet. The Thai’s and Burmese don’t eat a lot of sweets. We told her she didn’t have to eat it. Soon after she whispered to Sister Sattathip. She told us that she said she was still hungry. We laughed and got her some fruit and more bread. She is 89 pounds and is so skinny. We found that she can eat a ton of food just not dessert. Sister Sattathip is so funny. She makes us laugh every time we see her. She used to refuse to speak any English and now she tries out everything the missionaries teach her on Kelly. The other day she came up to me and said Sister Johnson I have something to ask President but I don’t think I should. I said what is it? She said the Office Elders dared her to say “Hey good lookin what ya got cookin”. Then she buried her head in my shoulder. I told her that President Johnson just loved her and that she makes him happy when she jokes with him in English. So she did it and practically ran away after. The way she said it was hilarious. “Hey you good looking, what you have cooking?” The sisters have been teaching her things to get back at the Elders for teasing her all the time. At our last MLC she put her hand on Elder Arne’s head and said, “What is this?” He said I don’t know. She said, “It is a brain sucker and it is so starving.” It’s funnier if you picture a Thai sister saying it in broken English while laughing the whole time. She is darling. We love these missionaries, they make us so happy. She is a great example to the other Thai sisters. They are afraid to be companions with the American sisters because of culture and language. Sister Sattatip is in a trio with two American sisters and she loves them and loves working together. They are an amazing companionship.
Sister Alley ended up staying the night with Sister Htwe in our home. We had to be to the airport at 4:00 a.m. Sister Alley said they had to be in the same room so we made a bed on the floor for her out of all of our couch cushions and Sister Htwe, all 89 pounds of her, slept in the queen size bed. I was worried Sister Alley would fall through the middle of the cushions. She left me a note thanking me for dinner and a “way comfy” bed. I have never heard her complain about anything. She is an excellent teacher and I always feel the spirit when we are with investigators.
We were so glad that Bro. Wissan’s daughter, Wiw was also leaving for her mission and was on the same flight as Sister Htwe. Their whole family hugged and encouraged Sister Htwe. She has never been out of Myanmar and was really struggling. It was neat to see everyone wishing her the best. Bro. Wissan’s daughter was very confident and just took her under her wing. I am so glad they had each other. It is really hard sending these missionaries off. I am glad Sister Htwe will come back and serve here in Thailand. Wissan’s daughter will serve in Arizona.
We are busily trying to prepare for MLC tomorrow. We leave for the start of our first round of zone conferences on Thursday. We are excited to be with all the missionaries. We have to fly to every area so it will be a little crazy this month to get them all done. I have been saving all our flight tickets and will be interested to see how many miles we cover while serving here.
A young sister that was baptized last Sunday came into the office today and was waiting for the missionaries to come back from lunch and teach her. Dad was in his office and I was sitting in the foyer trying to figure out which missionaries had a birthday to celebrate at zone conference. When I looked up she was just sitting and looking at a book. I recognized her from her baptism on Sunday. I was going to talk to her and I said sister and she jumped up so fast and slid right in next to me on the bench I was sitting on. She started speaking in Thai lightning fast. When I could only recognize a little of what she said to answer she slowed down and started speaking in English and Thai. It was so funny. She would speak in English and then speed up and get so animated that she would speak Thai and English in whatever order. Kelly heard the conversation and came out of his office to see who it was. We all sat in the foyer just laughing and having a great conversation. She showed me a picture she drew of the Savior. She kept saying she loved His face because He looked so kind and loving and warm. Then she grabbed my hand and took me in the back office and started pointing at paintings on the wall and said, “you tell me about this painting”. The first one was of Abinidi with wicked King Noah.
We are looking forward to the next few weeks. It will be wonderful to be will all of the missionaries.
We love you all. You are in our prayers and thoughts every day.
Terri and Kelly