It’s already May 9th!! How does it go so fast and yet it seems like we've been here for a year. It’s truly an enigma!
Let me share a couple highlights from this week. Monday is always Family Home Evening at the church. We generally have about 25 to 30 kids attend. When we first arrived here in January there were two FHE groups going with the Chinese having their own group. After talking to Dixon, a Chinese Brit who has taken responsibility for the Chinese, he felt there was beginning to be separation between the Chinese and the rest of the ward. We advised our ward to do away with the two groups and combine them into one FHE. It took a while to get the Chinese kids comfortable but it’s moving along. I love having them there with us.
This past Monday one of our Chinese young women gave the lesson. Her name is Meggie (they all take American names because their Chinese names are too difficult for the rest of us to say or remember). She’s beautiful, tall and speaks English well enough to communicate. She had gone to a lot of work, getting a Chinese video on YouTube (with American subtitles) about how love overcomes estrangement between a son and his father. Then Meggie shared the differences in our cultures, backed up with pictures online. She expressed how family means everything to the Chinese. She bore her testimony that it was the principle of family that opened her heart to listen to the missionaries when they first approached her 6 months before.
The most precious part came at the end of her lesson when she, in tears, shared how her parents were divorced when she was 10. In China when a man and woman marry, the wife leaves her family and goes to live in his home with his extended family. If a husband divorces his wife, she loses not only the benefits of marriage and security but also her place in his family and his home. She is completely cut off to make it on her own with no support. It’s almost unheard of for a divorced Chinese woman to ever marry again. This is what happened to Meggie’s mother. In an amazing display of vulnerability, ESPECIALLY FOR THE CHINESE, Meggie, crying, shared how their lives had been full of loneliness and hardship. She witnessed her gratitude for the hope she had found in the gospel of Jesus Christ; that families can be eternal. She witnessed that was her greatest desire!
No one stirred in the room. This was so unusual and so sacred. When she was done your father and I were able to bear witness of what our family meant to us, that EVERYTHING this world could offer, career, position, money, possessions, paled in comparison to what we found in a home where the gospel was evident and where love and respect resided. I testified that the greatest decision I ever made was the decision to be home as a full time mom. We recognized that it might not be possible for some, but where it was possible we told them to not let the world deceive them into thinking it was somehow less than. Other YSA added precious comments that were so sweet and appropriate and then we closed our meeting.
Most the YSA went upstairs to play volleyball, but the Chinese YSA stayed down in the basement. We ended up talking to just them for another 2 hours. I can’t begin to express the tender feelings of that experience. We found that a young man, one of the happiest boys I've ever met, had the same experience as Meggie. It was just he and his mom. He cried telling us how she was so alone with him here in London. Another young woman came from a home where the father physically abused her mother every day after work. She would beg her dad to divorce so her mother wouldn't have to be beat, but it continued for years. When she asked her mother why she stayed the mom answered that she stayed because of her two children. Can you imagine the guilt and heavy load that this young woman took on shoulders? We talked long about agency and personal responsibility; which neither was hers to carry and how she could begin to put it down.
We shared with them our experience with Ashlee visiting China. At the time I went I remember thinking how random it was that we went to China, of all places in the world. Now I see!!! It was so part of the Lord’s plan for us. We shared how clear back then we fell in love with the people of China and often wondered how the Lord would open the doors to allow the gospel in. Now we see what President Hinckley said coming to pass. He stated that it would quietly go forth throughout the country and a foundation would be in place ready to receive the missionaries when the doors finally open. That is happening right now! I told them I was looking at the pioneers that were going to be part of that modern day miracle. Each one of them are bright, capable, mighty spirits. On it went and when we were done there was such a feeling of love. It was a personal witness to both Jim and I of why we are here in this place at this time!
Tuesday night was once again Institute here at our flat. Last week was on the Second Coming. This week was on the Millennium! I was a bit concerned it would be a lot of me telling and them listening because there is so much to learn. But I shouldn't have worried. There were so many questions!!!! I realize that this is a subject that is not discussed in depth near enough in the church. It ended up being a fabulous evening full of learning and discussion. Instead of the kids leaving here with dread, they left excited with what their part could be in getting ready for the greatest events in all the creation. A couple days after class, one of our Chinese students posted, “Sister Phillips I’m preparing right now for his coming!” Can’t ask for better result than that.
Thursday was our dinner which I’m getting so much better at; not stressing near as much this second time around. And I’m getting lots more involvement in the kitchen. It so reminds me of home, everyone always gathered around the island talking. That’s what is happening here. Great conversations!
Thursday was also significant because after dinner we had our meeting with the Stake Presidency on our Re-activation Plan. We went with our two stake YSA Reps; Tom and Jade, who we adore. We were anxious to get their response and their O.K. We shouldn't have worried. It went amazing. They loved it and its simplicity. They gave us their full support. We will begin in our ward tomorrow then present it to the rest of the stake at a Stake Bishops training meeting in two weeks. So grateful for their support!
Friday we took a P-Day!!! Hurrah!!! We went to the Tower of London!!! What a sight! First of all it’s HUGE. It sits on 8 acres of land right on the Thames River with several towers and layers and layers of walls and a moat. It’s spectacular. Right next to it is an area called by Londoners “The City”. It’s the financial center of London. It contained huge modern buildings where most the banking and business is conducted. The City is contained in about one square mile. Picture this! The 1,000 year old rock walled prison superimposed on extreme modern glass and steel buildings that tower over it. The sight is a little mind-boggling.
Tours are given by what is known here as “The Meateaters”. They are the keepers of the tower, dressed in bizarre original uniforms. They give you the tower’s history and all the best stories and mysteries. They are hilarious and so well-informed. They aren't sure where the name “Meateater” comes from. They believe it was in given when those that guarded the tower were given no money to work there but were paid with meat to eat, a rare commodity in those days. Whereever the name came from we were just glad they were there. It added so much fun to the tour. It really is astounding the age of things here. We can’t comprehend it coming from America. It was a fun date with my sweetheart!
One last thing; tomorrow I start a Marriage Prep class that runs for 4 weeks. It’s the information off of John Lund's tapes that I feel is so vital for kids getting married. We have 4 engaged couples and 1 couple ready to get engaged that are coming. I’m excited. I love his stuff and really feel it’s beneficial (especially this first one on Content Communication!) Every couple should be required to take this class before they get married!!!
You will all be so proud of your dad. He has just handed me the first installment of his personal family history!!!! Yes he’s agreed to do this!!! He has so many AMAZING stories to share. What better time than when I’m keeping the blog for him to start writing his stories down. (Be sure to comment on his blog. We need to encourage him so he will continue.) This is NO SMALL THING for him. You’re going to love it!
“The Salt of the Earth” by Elder James K. Phillips
Sister Mary Botham Salt changed my life when I was on my mission. I was a Zone Leader serving in Newcastle and working with one of my district leaders on splits that day. In the England Central Mission we tracked and tracked and tracked and this day was no different. I was trying to teach my district leader how to have success on the doors, given it was such a key to success in our mission. It was my door and as it opened a little old lady was revealed. She was cheerful and full of life and engaged with me immediately. I felt something special from her and asked if we could come in and share a message about Jesus Christ and explain why we had come to England for two years. She said she was a good member of the Church of England and very active. I don’t remember what I said that got us in the door but I remember feeling the Spirit touching her enough to trust us to come in. For a little old English lady to let two young men into her house was very unusual.
I bore testimony of the Restoration and how much it had changed my life. I told her that I was a Catholic but knew that Heavenly Father had once again spoken to a modern day prophet. I testified that Jesus set up his original Church with Apostles and Prophets and he’d done it again in our time through Joseph Smith. This prophet was given a book called the Book of Mormon and I asked her to read it to discover for herself if it was truly a book from God. She said she would and I knew she meant it. We said our good byes and I felt strongly that she would join the Church. We set an appointment to have our district leaders continue to teach her.
I walk away from that house with a spiritual witness and a closeness to this wonderful sister that I can’t explain. I told my district leader that I wanted him to report directly to me on her progress every week. They taught her most of the discussion but then contacted me to tell me they had decided she wouldn't be worth teaching anymore because she wasn't progressing. When I received that message on call-ins I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I told the district leader that we’d take her and continue teaching. I bore my testimony to this elder that Heavenly Father was going to teach him a great lesson about whose work this really was and that until he learned it he wouldn't be successful.
We taught this grand lady. It became one of my most cherished experiences on my mission. The Elder that wrote Sister Salt off was at her baptism as I laid this precious sister gently down in the waters of baptism. She was in her late 70’s when she was baptized. It was a baptism I would never forget. I loved this sister.
I was transferred out of Newcastle and into the Mission Home in Birmingham soon after her baptism where I became immersed in the work there. One day I received a phone call from her nonmember daughter. Her daughter told me that the last year had been the happiest year of her mother’s long life. She informed me that her mother had died the day before. The reason for her call was to honor her mother's last request that I speak at her funeral that was to be held in Newcastle. I was overwhelmed with sorrow that my friend had passed on. I also knew what I was being asked to do. I began fasting and praying for the direction the Lord wanted me to take, given who would be attending that funeral. Sister Salt was not only the salt of the earth but also a beloved leader and friend to hundreds of people from her former Church of England congregation.
I received permission to go and deliver that funeral address from President Reed L. Reeve, my mission president. When we drove up to the Newcastle Chapel parking lot we found it filled to overflowing. I walked into that Chapel and saw a congregation of non-members sitting alongside the ward members who had also fallen in love with Sister Salt.
I gave an address that God gave me that day. He gave it to me because of His great love for Sister Salt. The spirit of the Lord was so strong and his message powerful to everyone in that room, witnessing that what Sister Salt had believed was true.
The missionaries baptized for months after her passing from those touched by the spirit at her funeral. Best of all was how the very missionary that had written her off became one of the most successful missionaries in our mission; all because of the example of one little old lady; Sister Mary Botham Salt.