I never thought about Sarah joining the Church. It didn't really cross my mind when I first met her. She was my waitress at a restaurant and I just wanted to be her friend.
I was walking through an alley of shops with my friend Tahir trying to decide what to eat. We saw two Chinese restaurants. The one on the left was vibrant and packed with people. The one on the right was deserted with no customers. We chose to eat at the one on the right. At the time, I didn’t really know why I chose to eat at that particular restaurant. Now, I can understand why.
We were greeted by Sarah, our waitress, who I found out later wasn’t even supposed to be working that night. When I spoke to her in Mandarin, her eyes widened with shock and the she exclaimed, “hen bang!” which means “awesome!” Her eyes glistened and her smile was huge. I loved her immediately.
Sarah and I became friends and she started asking questions. Just like so many people in China, Sarah had never heard of Jesus Christ. She didn’t even know there was a God. The more I got to know Sarah, the more I wanted to share my happiness with her.
I served my mission in Hong Kong. It wasn’t an easy mission.
There's nothing worse than starting a conversation with someone and wearing a dumb expression when they respond because you don’t know what they are saying. I learnt quickly to just smile and nod, or to flick through the Book of Mormon for a scripture when an investigator started crying about something because you don’t know what in the world they are crying about. There were some nights I cried myself, often uncontrollably because I felt useless not being able to communicate with Chinese people. There were also moments I questioned my call and why I wasn’t just sent to an English-speaking country instead. And always, at the back of my mind, I was envious of my companion who become a fluent Mandarin speaker in only four months. At four months I was still trying to get the tones for “ni hao” right.
But something happened to me in Hong Kong. Something I can’t quite explain. As human beings, I don’t think we could ever comprehend the sense of what it really means to love and to be loved. We feel love for our family (well most of us do) and for our spouse and friends and maybe for a few more people in our lives.
Human love is so limited. But the love I felt for people I met in Hong Kong had no limits. It transcended above any love I’ve ever felt in my entire life.
When I finished my mission, my mum whisked me off to the hairdresser almost immediately because my hair hadn’t been cut in 18 months and to quote my mum, “it was a mess”. I remember walking through the shopping mall, a little petrified, because I was still an awkward missionary, but I was also amazed. I could hear Mandarin within earshot of almost every store I went to.
In fact, everywhere I went, I was confronted with the language that I spent months crying over. My hairdresser, shop keeper, neighbour, friend of friends and people I walked past on the street were speaking Mandarin and the amazing thing was, I understood. I couldn’t believe what was happening. There was a lot of gasps, and offers of free food from my new friends, but it also meant opportunities to share something so precious to me with the people and culture that changed my life. In that moment, I realised, my mission never really ended. It was only just beginning.
And that’s when the miracles started happening. The greatest miracle being Sarah. A light turned on when she met the missionaries. I watched her go from someone who couldn't grasp the concept of believing in something you cant see, to a disciple of Christ who saw God in the blessings that began pouring into her life every day. And even though Sarah was shivering from the cold water after her baptism, her face was beaming. I'll never forget the look on her face when she came out of the water and exclaimed, “hen bang!”
After Sarah’s baptism, we drove home. It was dark outside, but the ambience in the car was filled with light. Sarah, who’s usually quite animated and giggly, was suddenly very serious.
“Shilo,' she said quietly. 'I don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t met you and this gospel.”
I too don’t know where I would be if I hadn’t met Sarah, or the Chinese people in Hong Kong, or this gospel.
But I understand now why I served in Hong Kong. Not to change the lives of people. But to allow my life to be changed.
I came to understand the gift and talents God gave me had nothing to do with the language. Heavenly Father didn’t give me the gift of tongues on my mission in the way I wanted or at least expected. He gave me something much, much greater. He blessed me with the ability to love His children.
And that love I felt in Hong Kong never went away. It is what ultimately connected me to Sarah.
It is a gift that transformed my missionary experience from ordinary to extraordinary. A gift that allowed me to see into the souls of people I had barely met, and to love them unconditionally. I saw past their rudeness, tiredness, anger, impatience and every other human emotion and weakness. And isn’t that how Heavenly Father sees us? Despite the mistakes we make, or our many weaknesses, He loves us. He sees us as something much greater than we can comprehend. His love is free. It’s simple. It has no bounds. And it's always there. He simply loves us.
I now understand Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ’s perfect love a little better. His love saved my mission. It saved my life. And I watched His love save my friend Sarah. For that I am grateful.