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Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Last Word From Korea

Well, this blog's been sitting unfinished for a decent while, bothering me to no end. And to finish it, I'm just going to put up here the most direct account of the events as they transpired: the last few pages of my mission journal.

10 July 2010

It's quarter past five in the morning, the day I go home from my mission.

It feels frantic and lively--I can't sleep, my shoulders are killing me (gosh-blamed mattress for the first time in a year).

LATER . . .

So here's what happened.

We made it to Seoul Station only to be greeted by the indomitable Pak twins--Pak Sera and Pak Sung Hee, both dressed in knee-length skirts and normal clothes. Much squealing was indulged in--big news is that Pak Sung Hee is coming to America in September and staying until January to help out and babysit during her older sister's pregnancy. Yaaaay! She called us a van taxi, which transported all the bags, all the elders, and Pak Sera, and we four chameis took a separate taxi to the temple.

Even the taxi driver was blown away when he saw it. You're on a big street in Seoul, right past Hyundai department store, and you take a typical little side street up a hill behind a big, square, more-ominous-than-uplifting Presbyterian church, then veer up a steep little driveway, and the temple just unfolds in front of you like a flower, white and gold and clean and bright. The Seoul temple.

President Ii of the Pusan stake, and his daughter Long-Haired-Sister-Ii's-Little-Sister, were there. As we'd arrived with not enough time to make the 1:30 session, President Ii took us to lunch at a member's bulgogi restaurant around the corner. (Good bulgogi. I ate a lot of kimchi. I was craving it.)

The meal left us with enough time to not quite make the 2:30 session, so we hustled in there like blazes (long pause for checking cameras), got our clothes, changed, dashed into the endowment room, then Sister Kim the temple matron brought it to my attention that my dress was, in fact, on backwards. Shuffle out, switch the dress, shuffle back in. Then I realized we had to pick up translators, so I did the whole thing again. And then there weren't enough translators, so I surrendered mine to Sis. Linford and watched the mea culpa late-starting session in Korean.

Oops, we're almost to the airport. More later.

LATER . . .

In airport. To continue.

So after the session, we were all standing 'round in the celestial room when we were asked to be daughters in some proxy sealings. That was pretty cool. Elder Anderson was witness, and I got to do my batch of names with Pres. Yang Yong Suk and his wife. None of the names we did were names. The father was always XXX, the mother (with one exception) was XXX's Wife, and the daughter was Miss X. Centuries upon centuries, thousands upon thousands of women whose names have vanished into the void so that only their relationships tether them to our reality. And, one by one, they are being wholly and completely saved in the Seoul Korea Temple.

So we didn't get out of our session 'till about five, after which photos and debating were indulged in. I really wanted to have some time to just relax, so I opted to wait at the temple with Sis. Musser, whose brother Woody (really) was coming to meet her. That was a big help, that break time. Kim Yoon Ha, Musser's trainer, turned up while we were waiting (all the returned sisters know the door code for the sisters' dormitory . . . they lived there while at the KMTC) and together we ventured out into the insanity of Seoul. Just to make my travels in Korea complete, we ran for a subway train whose doors were closing, the doors popped back open for us, Kim Yoon Ha stopped dead in the doorway and I got stuck in the door. Awkward, but not painful. And at least I didn't get dragged to death like almost happened to that kid on the bus that one time.

So we made it to a tourists-only market, where we met up with Woody and battle-buddy Josh and all grabbed dinner. Real Korean food, thank you very much. Nengmyeon for me.

We made it back to the temple a smidge after our 9:30 mark--I as afraid we'd miss Sister Copeland, but her stuff was still there and she herself was not yet there. However, there was short-haired Sister Ii (Ii Kyeong Un) from the MTC! Whoa, blast from the past. So we chatted with her until the one and only Sis. Copeland herself showed up, exhausted as usual, her voice a half-octave higher than I remember, like she'd been sucking on a helium balloon.

I managed a decent chunk of sleep until five, when hey! up and no hope of going back to sleep. I padded across to the bathroom, pajamaed and barefoot . . . only to run into most of the sisters of Bangeojin, AND Ii Yeong Hwa, getting ready for the 6 a.m. session. Nothin' like a good impression. :-/ So exercise, shower, dressed and braided, all by 6:30. Sis. Musser and I foraged breakfast at the GS25 around the corner, I got a big (heavy) box from the temple prez to take to his son in Salt Lake, I fretted a bit over whether Jin Mok Hwan were coming or what, and then Sis. Musser and I participated in the 8:00 session. It was so much more sedate, spiritual, uplifting and enjoyable than yesterday's. I had a translation doohickey this time, so I listened to some in English, some in Korean, and some in French. And in the Celestial room, I meditated upon the inlay of a table and thought of something new. Before the mission, I was a table. Over the mission, I got a lot of gauges cut into me. They HURT. But they've been filled with mother-of-pearl--little streaks of divinity, of perfection, swirled into my otherwise-unremarkable self. Not wholly perfect; that would be ostentatious. Just little bits of perfection are perfectly appropriate right now. Really just a plain white table still . . . but worthy to stand in the temple of our God.

When we finished the session, I looked around for Jin Mok Hwan . . . nothin'. Sis. Pak Sung Hee's temple clothes were still in the locker, so I guessed they weren't in a session. We headed back to the chapel and the res, but instead of going straight into the res I just felt like making an appearance around the wooden screen, where lots of people were waiting around in the lobby . . . and there on the sofa were Pak Sung Hee, Jin Mok Hwan, and Jang Shin Yeong (Bishop Pyeon Jang Gi's wife), all there waiting for me.

Sister Jin Mok Hwan received her endowment today. And as I sat with her, she said, "You know I'm here because of you, right? I t was because of what you said. I was so worried I wouldn't get to see you; I kept calling Sister Pak Sung Hee and asking 'What day will she be there? What time?' You made me want to make it here." Or something to that effect. And I just thought, this is a fairy tale. This is a bit from a movie. These things don't happen where I, personally, can watch them. But it did. And after hugs, and laughs, and showering with presents, and pictures, and debates about whether 'heppi en ding' is a Korean or an English expression, Jang Shin Yeong led Jin Mok Hwan into the temple so they could start getting ready for initiatories, and they went behind the wooden screen and I saw them no more.

Sister Jin Mok Hwan is safe inside the temple. And my service was one of the things that helped her get there.

That they be not wasted . . . the people we teach, the months that we give. Gather them to the temple. There can be no sweeter reward for a missionary than to spend Saturday morning outside the temple, watching the saints come in. Sister Han Mal Suk is attending again; we met her. We also met a sister who was a Pusan mission mom back in the day. And to everyone we saw, the tag was a badge of honor. This is a returning missionary, a servant of the Lord, who has worked and wept these eighteen months to bring people here. From every corner, I heard the sweetest of all praise: "You worked hard, Sister Missionary. You worked hard. You took many pains."

Being a returning missionary hanging around the Seoul temple of a Saturday morning is the closest thing to heaven I've ever experienced.

And on the last day of my mission. Heavenly Father can't be beat for dramatic timing.

The time, as it always does, grew short. Elder Anderson having rendezvoused with his parents and Elder Oxborrow departed alone for an earlier flight, we were down to five. Some helpful youth assisted in the lugging of the bags to the Hyundai department store bus stop. And a bus ride later, we're back on old familiar turf: airports. Incheon International Airport. Where you have to reply in Korean to English questions to get people to speak to you in Korean . . . where your one precious skill is nice and quite impressive, but certainly not necessary to your survival like it was this morning.

And now I'm on an airplane, wearing little paper slippers, my stomach full of bibimbap (Korean Air gochujang is 100% un-spicy), four hours left to go in our rather bumpy trans-Pacific flight to Los Angeles.

Oh, and I let my passport slip out of my hand at the ticket counter, and if the gentleman at the next counter hadn't called my attention to it, I would've had a real short trip.



  1. Welcome home, Sister Missionary! You worked hard. You took many pains.

    We love you.

  2. Ah, made my cry.

    When I got to go back to Korea again I think I ran into somebody I knew every time I went to the temple. I loved that.

    수고하셨어요! 고생 많이 하셨어요!