I was asked today if I could help the missionaries visit somebody in Appleton, so I asked them to join us for dinner first and then we’d go. What an international event this evening was! Based on the name, can you guess where Elder Lokboj is from? At first glance I thought it was a Hmong name, but “k” is not a tone marker at the end of syllables, so that wasn’t right. Got your guess? Hint: When properly pronounced, his name sounds almost Serbian or Russian to my ears. Well, that wasn’t a helpful hint.
Answer: He’s from the Marshall Islands and speaks Marshallese, English, and Hmong. Yes, he’s a Hmong-speaking elder here in Appleton. His companion is Elder Bonilla from Mexico City. Elder Bonilla speaks English, Spanish, Hmong, German, and Mandarin Chinese. An amazing intellect. These are both two of the finest, kindest, smartest, and most spiritual missionaries you’ll meet. I’ve seen them in action a number of times and have complete respect and admiration for them.
Our visit tonight would be to a home of recent immigrants from China. I was mostly needed to be a third person to help them teach a single woman, but they were hoping that my Chinese would help a bit, too. I’ve taken a couple of years of Mandarin and study it regularly using Chinesepod.com and books, but haven’t used it to teach a real discussion and couldn’t say a lot of things right, but it was a wonderful experience and it really motivated me to beef up my study. This was my first real discussion in Mandarin (mix of Mandarin and English, to be fair) and my first prayer in Chinese. Our new Chinese friends managed to be exceptionally polite about the experience.
What made the international flavor of the night all the more memorable was a call that came during dinner with the missionaries. For the first time in several years, I heard the voice of my beloved old friend from China (calling while on a visit to the United States), a now-retired professor from one of their top few universities who is the man who long ago did much to stir my interest in China. Right after my mission, I had a brief job, courtesy of my uncle, Professor Daniel Miles, in the Chemistry Department at the University of Utah (long deceased, sadly – such a wonderful man). I did simple lab work in a lab frequented by a visiting scholar from China, who was a truly kind and gracious man. He introduced me to his other friends from China and invite me and my girlfriend (now wife) to exotic dinners that they prepared. When I later went to BYU and took Chinese their, they came up to Provo and prepared an exotic meal for my whole class one day.
Now, on this unusual night where China was to be a focus for the evening, he chose to call and renew our ties. This is also the day on which I received email from my son in Taiwan telling of wonderful joy in seeing a choice investigator be baptized. And now more joy in making friends tonight with some choice and spiritual people anxious to know more about God and Jesus Christ. There’s something special about the people of China and Taiwan.
One of the things I really like about the Church is the international scope, including the diverse mix of its missionaries, the many languages and cultures that its returned missionaries are exposed to, and the experiences it provides to its members to love and serve those of many tongues and nations.