Tuesday, February 7, 2012

An Old Friend

I went to the genealogy library this afternoon and met an old friend. I was standing near the elevator having a snack and I saw a man who looked at me and with wide eyes and a big smile said, "Hello..." I looked at him for a second and said, "Bitner?" He looked at me and looked like he was searching for my name but couldn't find it so I told him. He looked relieved I told him. We had a nice conversation about having served our missions together in Taiwan. He said, "Can you believe it has been 30 years?" We both acknowledged how much time had passed and how long it had been since we served. I asked him how his Chinese was and he said it was "non-existent." I told him that mine had also been non-existent and I went back to school and received a degree in Mandarin two years ago. I could relate to the troubles of trying to keep up with our mission language. I told him I have a goal to read my Chinese Book of Mormon for 15 minutes a day, five times a week. I find if I do that, I can hang onto my Chinese. A couple of times a week I also try to listen to General Conference on an old DVD while exercising. I get the English subtitles going underneath while listening to the Mandarin on my headphones with a slight hint of English dubbed underneath. That also works well.

I appreciated seeing this friend. No matter how much time has passed, fond memories are just a second away. We both had a time in our lives where we put aside everything else to serve the Lord. No matter where our lives have taken us all these years later, looking back on that service especially with a friend who served at the same time is a sweet blessing.

Here is part of an entry from my journal from February 4, 1982, 30 years ago:

"Well, I'm here, it's hard to believe but I am here in Taiwan. I have so many feelings I'm not sure what they are. Our plane was an hour late but our luggage made it OK. We went through customs in about a minute without any problem. President Baker was waiting for us with his two assistants and welcomed us. Then we came to Kaohsiung where there are about ten other sisters because there is a sisters conference. The apartment has the bare necessities. The humidity just hit us in the face and there's a funny smell in the air like "soot." I just kind of looked around but wasn't sure what to think, I was too tired to think. ...We were woken up by what sounded like 15 roosters that crowed for what seemed to be a half an hour." The next day I wrote, "I still can't put my finger on the smell in the air. It is a cross between grease, soot, and popcorn. I have a feeling I'm going to get used to it and that's scary." Well, I did get very used to it very quickly after that.

I wrote so much more than that, in great detail. One last thing I wrote the second day I was there is noteworthy: "I know I'm going to come to love this, I told myself I would love this, it will just take some time."

I grew to love it very, very much, not because of the smell in the air or the food that took me forever to get used to but because of the people. I grew to love the Chinese people and I grew to love the other missionaries I served with. That's what makes a mission. That's why today, 30 years later, I delighted to see an old friend. He was concerned about his gray hair. I told him I was a grandmother. We both laughed. A little later as I was walking along I saw him sitting at his computer with a big smile on his face. How could we both help but smile...
This is what the humidity did to my hair. Ugh. This was a transfer day across the city. We just strapped everything onto my bike and my companion's bike and off we went.
At a baptism with one of my companions.
In front of the chapel in Taichung.
With another companion at the 
groundbreaking ceremony for the Taiwan Temple.
And last but not least,
my favorite friend and companion of all...

1 comment:

  1. Elder Bitner! How wonderful! I remember that first day so well. The crushing fatigue. The feeling that I "wasn't in Kansas anymore." What a wonderful time in our lives. 30 years. Can you believe it? I love you!