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