Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Epilogue

Major love from my group.

Hello to all of you faithful blog readers! (I had no idea there were so many of you until just recently...and I was absolutely astonished.)

You thought I was done writing about my mission, didn't you?

Well, surprise! I'm not. I don't think I'll ever be done talking about my mission. These are the stories I will tell for the rest of my life.

My last week in the mission field was full of miracles. Perhaps that is the greatest lesson I learned on my mission - God is a God of Miracles.

Monday night I left Udon on a bus and traveled all night to Bangkok. I had my last interview with President Senior on Tuesday afternoon. We spent some time in the mission office talking with the other missionaries who were interviewing and going home, as well. It was fun to reconnect with the sisters in my MTC group. I had the opportunity to serve around a few of them, but for the most part, I didn't really get to see many people from my group during my mission.

My interview was sweet. I will not go into great detail about it; I don't know how other mission presidents do their exit interviews, but I don't want to ruin it for anyone who is going on a mission. It's a very personal interview.

After my interview, Sister Packard and I left the office and went to Saphaan Suung, my greenie area. It was the best thing in the entire world to go back. After almost 10 months of being gone, I was sure that pretty much everyone would have forgotten me. But I was wrong. It was the best homecoming I have ever had. So many people that I knew and loved were at the church that evening. I got to see Ploy, Bam, Wan, Pa Samran and Pa Gua, Bishop Supachai and Sister Gaew, Sister Tia and her two daugthers, and countless others. Bam hugged me for 10 minutes straight and wouldn't let go.

A huge group of members had gone to the temple together from the Saphaan Suung ward, and many of the recent converts that I worked with had gone for the first time, including Ploy. I cried when Ploy showed me pictures of her in front of the Hong Kong temple. It's fine. I can think of no better way to end my mission than being in my greenie area, hearing stories of the people I love going to the temple.

That night we stayed with the Saphaan Suung sisters. My old house. It was amazing to see how much had changed...and how much was still the same. Sister Slaugh, who served her last transfer there, brought out an old piece of cardboard that Sister Weed and I had used to keep track of our investigators. She pointed to a name that I immediately recognized. Tong Dee.

This woman was the younger sister of a member. She had been an on-and-off investigator for about 9 years. She was my first investigator on my mission and for some reason this last transfer, she would randomly pop into my head a lot. She was my one loose end from my greenie area. I hated having to drop her from our teaching pool and I have always wondered what happened to her and her sweet family.

I asked Sister Slaugh what had happened to her and her children. "Tong Dee and her son got baptized two weeks ago." My jaw almost hit the floor. I feel like practically everything had come full circle.

I spent Wednesday in downtown Bangkok with the other missionaries going home. It was our official P-Day. A small group of us went to Wad Phra Gaew, or the Royal Palace. It was BEAUTIFUL. It was so fun to explore. It was full of light and colorful mirrored tiles and gold. That night, after dinner and some reorganizing of luggage, Sister Packard and I went to Pakkret, another one of my old areas.

The next day, Thursday, was transfers. I got up early that morning and felt a little sick to my stomach knowing that I would watch all of the changes be made in our mission but not be a part of them. I pulled out my scriptures and started reading in Mormon 9.

Reading Mormon chapter 9 was maybe the most tender mercy of all tender mercies. That day, I felt like the scripture that paralleled my life so perfectly was verse 11. "But behold, I will show unto you a God of miracles..." I wanted to stand on the roof of the apartment complex I was in and shout it to the world, to tell everyone that God is a God of miracles.

I continued reading. I stopped at verse 21. I have always loved this verse - "Behold, I say unto you that whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the Father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him; and this promise is unto all, even unto the ends of the earth." In the margins I had carefully written the date of when this scripture changed my mission and my life; when I decided to let myself truly believe that God would make miracles happen. The date was October 30, 2013 - exactly one year ago to the day.

I stopped and thought about all the miracles I had seen on my mission. The countless lives that I had the privilege to pop into for a brief moment of time; the countless lives that had been altered for eternity because of the message I was called to share. Because these people chose to believe and accepted the challenge to find out if God was real and if Jesus was the Christ. These people found the truth - the absolute truth. Not just a piece of it. They were searching for a sunbeam to light their path and in turn they found the entire sun that illuminated every facet of their lives. And I got to watch it happen over and over and over.

I remember praying for miracles for myself, too. Praying desperately to be the missionary that God needed me to be and that He would make me into the person that He has always intended for me to become. At the end of my 18 months, I think I can look back and say that He made this happen. I am still in the process of becoming. That is a process that will never end. But I know that I am much closer than I was before my mission to the person that God knows I can ultimately be.

I thought about my time in Saphaan Suung just the night before. I thought of all the miracles I had seen in just a few hours. I saw Ploy and Jeep receive their patriarchal blessings. Ploy went to the temple. A group of over 60 members went to the temple. Tong Dee and her son, Arm, were baptized.

There is no doubt in my mind that God is a God of Miracles.

Transfers was exciting. We got to sit on the big red couches - where the missionaries going home get to sit. We watched where all of our friends were sent. Elder Pyne went to Sisaket (it's perfect, maybe I teared up a little when he got sent there, it's fine), Sister Packard and Sister Hatch are now companions in Udon, Elder Hartman was called to Laos where he will spend the last 10 months of his mission, and lots of other awesome things happened.

I got to see my BookBeak, and then we all piled in a van with Elder Clarke, who drove us back to the mission office (hats off to Elder Clarke for driving a 15 person van in Bangkok traffic, everyone). We had dinner with the Seniors at a really fancy restaurant and spent the rest of the evening at their home. We had a final testimony meeting and a timtam slam all together. We finished the organizing of our luggage and spent a total of 2 hours in our hotel rooms before going to the airport at 4 am. Oops. 

I was shocked by how many members from Bangkok had come to the airport to see us all off. There was a whirlwind of hugs and photos and little Bam crying on my shoulder and Ploy holding my hand to security and suddenly, that was it. I was in the terminal walking towards my airplane. 

I'm pretty sure everyone cried on our flight from Bangkok to Tokyo. It was so hard to leave my people. But I keep in mind always Elder Uchtdorf's quote:

"In light of what we know about our eternal destiny, is it any wonder that whenever we face the bitter endings of life, they seem unacceptable to us? There seems to be something inside of us that resists endings.

Why is this? Because we are made of the stuff of eternity. We are eternal beings, children of the Almighty God, whose name is Endless and who promises eternal blessings without number. Endings are not our destiny...

How grateful I am to my Heavenly Father that in His plan there are no true endings, only everlasting beginnings." 

From Tokyo I traveled with Elder Clarke to Los Angeles where I got to watch from the sidelines as he was reunited with his family. Haha. It turned out that we have a mutual family friend who was at the airport, so in LA I got to hug someone, too. :) Tender mercies. 

From there I flew by myself to Oakland where I met my family. It was a surreal moment, hugging the people that I love the most and being with them again. I can honestly say that there is nothing like being home with your family. Nothing like a good family hug, family dinner, family prayer. The most wonderful thing in the entire world is being part of a family. 

So now I am home. I get to spend the holidays with my family. In January I will start school again at BYU Provo. I'm adjusting to doing regular human things again. And it's all just a part of the adventure. It's another new beginning, and because there is no ending, my mission is not over.

When I was leaving the MTC to go to Thailand, Elder Astle gave me a blessing. In it, I was told, "Your purpose as a missionary [inviting others to come unto Christ] is your purpose for the rest of your life". I think Thailand was just the beginning of my mission. I'll be sure to keep you updated from time to time on my life as a returned missionary. 

I love my mission. I love my family. I love my Savior and my Heavenly Father and their Gospel. I'm excited to keep spreading that love.

(Sister) Sydney Hughes

Leaving Udon

I love the heck outta the Browns

Sister Tia and her girls. Look how big they have gotten!!

Elder Cosper and I with the Bruso family


I love my Ploy :)


Bangkok, man.

Sister Stevenson, Sister Ference, me, Sister Muller, and Sister Hatch (who is hiding behind my head whoops)

Wat Phra Gaew!

Pearl inlay on the doors. Pretty incredible.

Just some favorites. Haha.

The Original Unit. Sister Phelps and Sister Slaugh :)

Sitting on the red couches. So weird.

Maybe one of my favorite photos from my mission...Elders Xiong, Cosper, Johnson, and Kettavong.

Ok...I lied. THIS is my favorite photo from my mission. #selfieswiththepresident #winning

The whole group at the Seniors. L to R: Elder Clarke, Elder Cosper, Sister Senior, President Senior, Elder Johnson, Elder Kettavong, Elder Xiong. Sister Speas, Sister Muller, Sister Narayanan, Sister Stevenson, Sister du Plessis, Sister Phelps, me, and Sister Slaugh.


At the airport :) Me, Bam, Ged, and Nan.

Wan, Me, Ged, and Plang



Monday, October 27, 2014

Eyewitness to His Majesty

Thailand Isaan misisonaries.
These sweet women gave us six referrals this week.

Dearest Family Family Dearest,

I wish I had the words to describe how I feel at this exact moment. There are too many feelings and thoughts to pinpoint exactly one emotion, but I think there is an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Gratitude to my God for all that He has given me. He has been so good to me in giving me the opportunity to serve in the Thailand Bangkok Mission for 18 months of my life.

This week was such a good week. Sister Packard and I saw many miracles. We found a family. We miraculously happened upon the house of a less active couple who haven't been to church in years and were just waiting for an invitation to come back. We received more referrals this week than I've seen in my entire mission. I've laughed more and loved more than I thought was possible, even when so much of what we worked for kept falling through on us. I have seen the Lord working miracles and teaching me very specific lessons this week, for which I will be always be grateful. 

This week I sat down each night after planning and started listing out some of the things I have learned from my mission. I love this verse of scripture: "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." 1 Corinthians 2:9. I testify that this is true. I have seen and learned so many things I will never forget. I never could have imagined all that has happened to me and my family because of my mission. Here is my list, in no particular order. (I tried to cut it down and keep it short. But I couldn't. I just couldn't do it.)

I have learned how to kill cockroaches. I have learned that Windex will get rid of ants if you don't have any bug spray. I have learned how to eat food I don't like with a smile on my face and say it's good (Did I learn how to lie on my mission? Oops...) I have learned how to use a squatter toilet. I have learned how to ride my bike against traffic. Oops. I have learned how to ride my bike with no hands (sorry, President...I've repented). I have learned how to catch a tuukae. I have learned that I can tan (mission blessings are real). 

I have learned what true faith is from the examples of countless missionaries, members, investigators, and especially President and Sister Senior.

I have seen miracles. Countless miracles in the lives of so many people, in this mission, and in my own life. It is hard for me to wrap my head around how good God is to us.

I have learned how to work hard until I feel like my body is going to give out on me. I wish there were no restrictions on our bodies so I could do all that my soul wants to do without getting tired.

I have seen that everyone will break on their missions. I truly believe that it's a part of our calling—we have to experience a piece of what Christ experienced. We get broken so that we can be shaped into what God needs us to be.

I've learned that God always places us exactly where we need to be. There are no coincidences in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I have learned to love myself in spite of and because of my flaws. I've learned how to use the Lord to help me change and become. I am learning how to become the person that God has always intended for me to be.

My will and my desires are not always God's will and desire for me. And when I look back, I always see that God's way is the best way. 

Sometimes the people we are called to serve are simply our fellow missionaries.

I have learned that love heals.

I have learned that love is the most important thing that we can share as missionaries. When we love as the Savior and our Heavenly Father love, those we work with can better understand who their Savior and their Heavenly Father actually are.

I have learned that we are forever family with the people we love and serve, even if we are not actually related.

I learned that I have the ability to choose for myself. Sometimes God won't answer all our questions, because He wants us to learn and grow and exercise our agency. 

I have learned how God works. He is a God of Miracles and a God of Surprise who would do anything for His children.

I have learned how to listen to the Spirit and recognize the many different ways He works with me. I've learned how to help others recognize this as well.

I have learned how to be a good decision maker. (Okay. I'm still working on this one.) But I have started to overcome my indecisiveness.

I have learned how to trust the Lord and how to trust myself.

I have learned that all of the work I have consecrated to the Lord is not for naught. All of my work has resulted in miracles, though they are not necessarily for me or my companionship or my district, zone, or even my mission. Though I feel like sometimes I am seeing no results, God is making miracles happen through my efforts; miracles that He needs the most; miracles that have been years in the making.

I have gained such an appreciation for my family. I have always known that I am so very blessed to have the family that I have. I have always loved them and I have always been grateful. But that appreciation and love has grown infinitely larger on my mission. 

I have seen how immensely my family has been blessed. If I were to talk about these blessings, I might start crying and I'm saving the crying for later. The Lord has been so good to my family.

I have seen that my mission is just as much for me as for the people I am serving. I always thought that the people here needed me, probably because I was a little self-centered. I'm human. And while I did help people, I feel like they helped me more than I did anything for them. Because of my people, my eternities have been changed forever.

I have learned what D&C 18: 15-16 really means. There is joy in bringing souls unto Christ. This is not, however, limited to people who get baptized. This joy is with every single person I have ever worked with, be it an investigator, convert, less active, or active member. My joy is with all of these people. It's with my fellow missionaries. Together we have built eternal friendships and one day we will celebrate together with our Father in Heaven. We will all be in each others' arms, facing all of eternity, knowing nothing but pure joy and love.

I have learned why missionaries are so happy all the time. In our call letter, it states that there is more joy waiting for us in the mission field than we have ever known. That joy is a direct result of testifying of our Savior. I am the happiest I have ever been; these have been the best 18 months of my life because I have spent all of my time and efforts inviting others to come unto Him.

The most important truth I have learned is actually something I already knew. God is our loving Heavenly Father. His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior and Redeemer. He is the light and the life of the world. Christ's true church was restored through the prophet Joseph Smith. We have a living prophet on the earth today. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. As a representative of Jesus Christ I testify and promise that these things are true and will change our lives forever.  

Thank you. Thank you for your love, letters, packages, and especially your prayers. Thailand has been a land of miracles. This is the work of God. It is all truth. If nothing else, I have been an eyewitness to His majesty as I have served in Thailand. I love my mission. I love being a missionary with all of my soul. I love my people. I love my God. I feel like I am the most blessed person in the entire world. I am forever grateful to have been a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Thailand Bangkok Mission. 

I love you, family. I can't wait to hug you on Friday.

Sister Hughes
Brother Broken and Sister Sombat. We miraculously found their house
and the first thing they brought out was the photo of their baptism.
Sister Porn made us fried somtam. That stuff is delicious.
Here is a pomeranian with drawn-on eyebrows.
This is our sweet family. Please pray for Meow, Nan, and Ae.
This is our coordination meeting with the Branch Mission Leader ...
he made us do Thai alphabet worksheets before we could talk about anything else. Hahah.
Last family dinner at the Browns.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Connecting with Heaven

Our district in Udon (plus Laos ... we adopted them for the weekend)

Dearest Family Family Dearest,

This week has been wonderfully INSANE. We had rice harvesting and switch-offs and traveling and hotels and announcements and all sorts of CRAZYYYYY things! Read on for more detail :)
(Sorry in advance for the length of this letter.)

First an unfortunate truth: my memory card got corrupted. The Elders assure me that the files are recoverable, but they said to do it in the States. So you may have to wait a few weeks to see some more photos of that hike. Luckily everything else was backed up on my hard drive. (Getting a hard drive was THE best decision I ever made; every missionary should have one to back their photos up on...)

Second, the greatest miracle of this last week: Ploy, who was baptized while I was in my very first area, went to the temple. In Hong Kong. And nothing could bring me more joy than that. I wish I could explain the feelings in my heart, but there are no words that I can think of (in English, at least). All I can say is that God is good. 

The beginning of the week started out fairly normal. Tuesday and Wednesday were the normal working/serving/teaching days...and then Thursday morning Sister Porn called us and said, "Sisters! My rice is ready to harvest! Come and help me!!" So we heeded the call and I got to wear these AWESOME green boots that someone had left behind in our house forever ago and we worked in the fields harvesting rice. And I learned that the comparisons made by the Lord of harvesting and missionary work are spot on.

Harvesting rice is hard work. You are hot and sweaty and tired and your back hurts. And you feel like as you are working, you are not doing much. The mud you are standing in smells and there are spiders that can swim in it. (That is not a joke; I did not know spiders could swim and it's terrifying.) But somehow, it is the most fun work in the world. I loved the sweat and the mud and the sunshine and listening to Sister Porn tell us stories as we worked. This is a manual labor that is so satisfying. Looking back and seeing all the rice we gathered, the sweat and the spiders were all worth it. 

 1 Now behold, a marvelous work is about to come forth among the children of men.
 2 Therefore, O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day.
 3 Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work;
 4 For behold the field is white already to harvest; and lo, he that thrusteth in his sickle with his might, the same layeth up in store that he perisheth not, but bringeth salvation to his soul;
 5 And faith, hope, charity and love, with an eye single to the glory of God, qualify him for the work.
 6 Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence.
 7 Ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Amen.

The parallels with missionary work are endless. This is my favorite: God is the sickle. When harvesting rice, we first gather it with our sickle and then we grab it with our hands. You never grab the rice first, (or else you'll cut off your pinky finger—or so I was told). After gathering, you then cut the rice with the sickle. There is an order to it. God prepares the people we find; He prepares the people that find us. We grab a hold of them. He does the rest. And that's how it works. It was probably the best personal study I've ever had on my mission, finding as many parallels as I could. And the result? A marvelous work and a wonder. Food for a month. A spiritual feast for a lifetime. More joy than you ever thought was possible.

Friday was spent making brownies. For the huge tri-district conference this weekend, we needed to have over 1,200 brownies. We were asked to make 300...so we spent a whole afternoon baking at the Brown's house with our RCs. Yes, we taught Brother SriThai how to make brownies. Was it the most fun thing ever? It was. 

Saturday we got on a bus with the members to go to Khon Kaen for the weekend. I love bus rides with members. I am convinced that everyone's true personalities come out on bus rides. And here in Thailand, no car ride is complete without sticky rice. Sister Porn passed out sticky rice and later told us that it was the rice we had harvested days earlier. :) There was singing and all manner of mayhem on that bus. So good.

In Khon Kaen, the church had rented a convention hall. Saturday was the Celebration of the Isaan (Northeastern Thailand). We all got to wear some traditional Isaan clothing and there were lots of performances and there was lots of food. The best part though, was the people. Everyone from Sisaket was there. My heart was so full of joy and love for all my people, from Sisaket and Udon. It is incredible how much your heart can hold as a missionary, but equally as incredible is the ability of the people to love you. There is a lot of love in Thailand.

Sunday was just as wonderful. We had church in a ballroom of a hotel. The grand announcement...The Khon Kaen district was dissolved to create two larger districts in the Isaan—Udon and Ubon. This is to help us prepare to have a 3rd stake in Thailand by the end of the year. We are so close to having a temple here in this wonderful country. I cannot wait for the day that I hear the prophet announce the Bangkok, Thailand temple in General Conference. 

We spent Sunday afternoon and evening together as missionaries. We had the most special meetings. We had dinner all together with President and Sister Senior and Elder and Sister Gong. We then had a fireside all about the sacrament. It was so special to focus in on what the sacrament truly means to me and how I can be changed by Christ through partaking of it. 

After our devotional, we had the most amazing meeting in the world. Elder Gong received special permission from Elder Holland to hold a sacrament meeting with us. It was just the missionaries, Elder and Sister Gong, and President and Sister Senior. We were all focused on ourselves during the sacrament—remembering the covenant we made when we were baptized, recognizing the Savior’s sacrifice and the hope because of it. And I don't remember the last time I was able to do that, especially as a missionary. I can't remember the last time I was able to prepare myself for the sacrament in this way. I try to be ready for the sacrament each week, but I always seem to get lost—I get caught up in my investigators. I get caught up in who is sitting with whom, and who doesn't have a friend yet, and who hasn't made it to the church yet. I get caught up in focusing on everyone around me, and I don't think that is a bad thing, but I think I realized that I haven't taken the sacrament specifically for me in almost 18 months. It's funny. I feel the closest to God that I have ever been in my life while I have been on my mission. I have never felt to understand Him more clearly. But at the same time, I have felt far and sometimes distracted, especially on Sundays, for all the aforementioned reasons. I felt that for the first time, in a long time, I truly connected with heaven during a sacrament meeting.

Monday we spent in trainings with President and Sister Senior and Elder and Sister Gong. This Mission Tour meeting was incredible. We learned about the importance of the family, stakes, high priests, and temples. We learned all about the Restoration through the prophet Joseph Smith. And we learned about being one through Christ. It was perfect.

We spent the rest of the day traveling back to Udon. And here I am! My last P-day in Udon. Next week, I will email you on Monday, but I will have my P-day on Wednesday in Bangkok. How strange to be at this point. I don't think about it too much, though. There is too much to do. I am so grateful for the weekend I had that gave me a huge boost to get out on the streets and work my hardest to the very last second. I love you all!!

Sister Full.

(A favorite joke of members..."Eat more! Your name is Sister Hungry!" To which I respond, "No, now I am Sister Full.")

I met Elder Angkham's parents. They are the cutest people in the entire world. 
Brother Somsak and Sister Tan. So good to see them again. 
Me and little Chompoo! My favorite little girl. She screamed when she saw me. : )
Me and PREM!!!!!!!
Me and my Sisaket girls before their AMAZING performance.
Me and my little girls. Ney, Em, Cat, and Aom.
After Ribbon's performance.
Remember Sister Cartoon from Sisaket who said, "I choose God" and was baptized?
Her mother and brother have been baptized since I left, and her father is now learning as well. <3
Me and my คู่!! (companion) Sister Packard
I loved the hotel because there was no durian allowed. Haha.
Missonaries from all three Isaan zones—Udon, Ubon and Khon Kaen.