Monday, January 24, 2011

Thoughts On Saying Goodbye

Ian never did e-mail today. I'm sure there is a good explanation why he didn't write but I suppose I'll just have to wait a day or two  to find out.

I finished a book this afternoon that I have been reading. River Town by Peter Hessler is a very good book about Peter's life as a Peace Corps volunteer in a small river town on the Yangtze River in Fuling, China. I have read two of his other books and he does a great job of writing about Chinese life. I especially liked his book Country Driving. The last few pages of the book I just finished were about the way the people said goodbye to him when he left the town he taught in for two years. The way he described acquaintances faces when he said goodbye to them was very touching. It reminded me of saying goodbye to Taiwan and the people I grew to love when my missionary service was over.

I distinctly remember saying goodbye to one woman we taught the gospel to. Her name was Mrs. Hé (pronounced like 'huh') and she lived in the small rural town of Heng Chun. From my understanding, Heng Chun is not small any more but it was when I was there and it was extremely rural.

My Chinese name is 何佳莉, Hé Jiālì, (pronounced like 'huh jyah lee'). Hé is my Chinese surname, Jiālì is the first name. It was given to me by my instructor in the MTC. It is as much a part of me as my own English name. Jiā means "good and beautiful" and "lì" means jasmine flower. Many females have a flower reference as the ending of their first name.

Several years ago I went to a  Mormon Tabernacle Choir Music and the Spoken Word concert on Temple Square. After a typical concert, many sister missionaries stand with a sign indicating which language they speak. People who visit from other countries can visit with the sisters in their own language.
That day, I happened to go up and talk to the sister holding the sign from Taiwan. At that time, I had little ability to say anything in Chinese as I had lost my Mandarin over the years. But I could say my name and that I had forgotten my Chinese. Well this sister who I had never met before jumped up and down very excitedly when I told her my name. She said over and over again with astonishment in her voice and an astonished look in her eyes, "You're Hé Jiālì, you're Hé Jiālì!" Finally she calmed down enough to tell me that the woman who was instrumental in teaching her the gospel was someone I taught as a missionary. This woman apparently told her all about "Hé Jiālì" and how with dogged persistence, I continued to teach her for a long time until she understood the deep message we had for her. That woman later became a Relief Society President and this is how this missionary knew her. She was the Relief Society President who worked with her as a new investigator. It was an extremely humbling experience for me to have my missionary efforts come full circle like that. I will never forget that experience or the joy with which that missionary said my name, "You're "Hé Jiālì." I will also never forget the respect she showed me having never met me before.

Hé is a common Chinese surname. Mrs. Hé in Heng Chun had the same last name as me. She lived a very modest, simple life. She was married and had one child. She took the missionary lessons from us every week for several weeks when we visited her town. She changed because of the message we taught her. She wanted to be baptized but at that time, her husband wouldn't let her. She hung on every word we told her. She was a wonderful woman.

This is from my mission journal about my last goodbye with her one week before I left Taiwan and the last time I left her town:

"We went to Heng Chun yesterday, my last time. I visited Mrs. Hé, our investigator who wants to get baptized but can't because her husband won't let her. We said goodbye and ran down to get the bus and missed it. She came down again to say goodbye (she's never done that before). Then it started to rain and she had to leave. I knew it was hard for her to say goodbye. She said she'll miss me. The last scene I remember was as we were driving away in the taxi and she was halfway up her path standing in the rain, both she and her daughter, both waving to me as I was waving to them. It was touching as I may never see her again and we both knew it but I couldn't help but think what a different person I left than than the one I found and all because of the gospel."

I have thought of her many times over the years. Sometimes if I close my eyes, I can still see her face. I can only wonder what happened to her. She left her footprints on my heart.

Reading the end of River Town reminded me of Mrs. Hé again. I hope someday I find out whatever happened to her. She will always remember me as Hé Jiěmèi ( 何姐妹), that's the way you say "Sister Hé" in Chinese. I often think of myself as both Hé Jiěmèi and Hé Jiālì. That's just part of who I am.


  1. Oh Liz, what a beautiful story. The Gospel changes ALL of our lives...I'm so grateful.

  2. What a beautiful story. I too served in Heng Chun, and although I don't remember her (I don't remember many of the names over the years), I do remember that beautiful little town. We were the first elders there in many years and it was truly the highlight of my mission.