Monday, July 13, 2015

Real Mission Stories: Operation Rescue Captain Kirk

Well, to be honest, I was anticipating the last post to be the last post on this blog for a while. But I had a thought the other day that missionaries don't really talk about REAL stories. Of course we talk about real people and miracles, but often skim over the flops, the floods, or the small but significant things that happened on a daily basis either because we took them for granted or because we didn't want our families to get the wrong idea about what we were doing.

The white missionary handbook, known as the "white bible" in our mission, explains that letters home should be positive and not contain any negative or sensitive information about the area or people where we're serving. Which is a really good rule. But I'm going to talk about some of my own personal flops and since I'm not a missionary anymore, I can look back on some of the embarrassing moments with a better perspective, and those moments that once frustrated me are now hilarious.

I should add a disclaimer that serving a mission was probably the greatest decision I've ever made, and I love Thailand with all my heart.

But some crazy stuff went down, and some days all we could do was laugh at how badly things went.

This is Kirk. He's a teddy bear. I was that kid who had at least a dozen stuffed animals from my infancy all the way through college (and I still do) and while I couldn't bring all of them with me to Thailand, I knew I wanted to bring a small teddy bear. My mom bought him for me the day before I flew out and I fell in love. I named him Kirk because I grew up watching Star Trek and Captain James T Kirk was one of the most fearless characters I could think of, and the prospect of going on a mission was still pretty scary to me. I slept curled up with him every night of my mission.

Except for one night.

I was on a switchoff in Bangkhae, an area in Bangkok about two hours away from my home area in Pakkret. I went to Bangkhae and my companion stayed in Pakkret while we switched companions for 24 hours and worked in a different area. Pretty normal stuff. I packed my scriptures, study stuff, a change of clothes, and of course Kirk.

It was an incredible switchoff. I served with a brand-new missionary named Sister Belnap and she was just amazing. It blew my mind. She was already so good at the language and we had some miracle lessons. The Spirit was really powerful and I learned a lot. At the end of the day, my companion and her companion came back to switch back, and my companion and I took a taxi back to our area. It wasn't until we pulled into the parking lot of our apartment complex that I realized I had forgotten my overnight bag -- with my study materials, towel, and Kirk -- in Bangkhae two hours away.

We called the sisters there to let them know and realized that the bag was safely locked in the church there. I was almost convinced we should take a taxi and go back that night to pick it up but my companion pointed out that it was already past 10:30 and we needed to go to bed.

That was a hard night of sleep. By that point in the mission, I'd emotionally adopted Kirk and the idea that he was sitting in a bag in the dark in a church building made me feel horribly guilty, like I'd abandoned my own child or family member. The next morning, I felt sick. I couldn't focus on studies and I didn't think I was going to be able to work. I called my mission President to tell him about the situation. It was an awkward phone call. Basically, I had to admit that I was totally emotionally dependent on a stuffed animal. I wasn't sure what he would say, if he would let us go back and get it the following P day or make us wait for another opportunity. I could get by without all of those things, even my scriptures and Preach My Gospel (we had extras in the apartment). But his response surprised me.

President: "So Sister Z, you're telling me that you left Kirk, your Preach My Gospel and your scriptures in Bangkhae?"
Me: [apologetically] "Yeah..."
President: "Well Sister, you definitely need all three of those things. Why don't you go back and get them this morning during studies?"

My mission president is the coolest.

We took a boat there because it was cheaper than a taxi. My native-companion was a Bangkok native so weren't worried about not knowing where we were supposed to go, but as time went on (three hours later) we realized that we were getting lost. We spent a lot of time walking, wandering around, and asking people for directions. You can always tell how lost you are in Thailand by the way people laugh at you when you ask where a place is. So we hopped on a bus for another hour and finally passed the point where we would meet up with the other sisters.

I was reunited with Kirk and my study materials, and my companion and I, exhausted from our adventure, took a taxi back to our area. By the time it was all said and done, we spent the better part of that day getting my teddy bear back, but I can honestly say it was worth the peace of mind and my ability to focus on the work. I'm pretty sure neither my companion or the other sisters understood why it was so important to me to get my teddy bear back. I am so grateful that I had a mission president and a loving Heavenly Father who understood my personal needs better than anyone else. In a lot of ways, this experience built my testimony of our Heavenly Father, a perfect father who truly does know us better than we know ourselves.

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