I know I haven’t finished posting about the 10 day vacation but I wanted to write about the crazy adventure of today.
I’ve been stressed all week long about contacting the branch president here so I could get the ecclesiastical endorsement signed for the Jerusalem Center application. No one was responding to any of my emails, I tried calling the branch president and the line was always busy… I’m going to Nanjing next weekend and Beijing the weekend after that which is when the application opens for two weeks and I would have to go on the waiting list if I missed it. Katie, Dayna, and I went on a last minute trip this weekend to Suzhou and Zhouzhuang and decided to see if we could find the branch in Suzhou while we were there. We found an address on lds.org but someone had said that the branch location and time were changing—but we decided we would see if we could find it anyway.
At the bus station, we tried asking the customer service desk to write the address in Chinese characters but they could only write the street name in characters not the full address. But we met the cutest Chinese girl at our hostel. She helped us find the area where the church was located in Suzhou on the map and that bus. No. 2 would get us to the road we had written in character. I don’t know what we would have done without her help and the name of the bus station and stop in Chinese character. Church started at 9:30 am and we checked out of our hostel at 8 am. The bus station was supposed to be right up the street. We knew we were supposed to turn down one street we just didn’t which one. The first street we went down a guy told us to get a taxi, which was completely unhelpful. So we went down another street and found a hotel guard who pointed back the way we came then pointed both left and right. We weren’t sure how to interpret that. Then we asked someone at a bus stop who spoke a little English. They pointed back the way we came and said something about a bridge. It was around 8:30 at this point and we knew the bus ride was supposed to be around 40 minutes long. We were getting frustrated and were about to just give up and go to the train station to go home when a girl came up to us and asked if she could help us. She led us down the street and after she asked a few more Chinese people directions we finally found this tiny bus stop in a middle of this huge construction zone. The bridge was a construction bridge. We would never have found it without her help. She was so worried about us that she walked us to the bus stop and made sure that the bus stopped at the stop we needed.
The bus was very, very crowded but I was able to work my way to a seat by the bus driver so I could show him the Chinese characters again for the stop we needed and he could direct us off. The girl next to me saw the paper and she and the bus driver made sure we got off at the right stop. We knew we would probably have to wander around trying to find the address and it was 9:25. This cute Chinese family pointed us down the right road. There were guards standing at the gate of this big apartment complex and we knew the “church” was in an apartment complex. When they looked at the address and nodded their heads yes we were so happy that we were screaming and laughing and dancing all at once. I don’t think any of us have ever been so happy to hear “Be Still my Soul” as we were when the door opened and we saw that little room of LDS members. I felt like I wanted to cry and laugh at the same time for the entire three hours. I loved that we had to walk to the front of the room because we were late to sacrament meeting, that babies were crying, that everyone stopped listening during the youth speaker’s talk, that the chorister used a little white stick—it was just like going to church at home, just the mini version. The women in Relief Society told us about making chocolate chip cookies in a toaster oven (which we’ll have to try before we leave). They were holding a baby shower for someone in the ward. It was so familiar. The first speaker talked about how happy we looked when we first walked in. But I don’t think anyone understood the awe that we were feeling that we actually had made it-- all of us knew that some hand besides our own had taken us to that church and put all those people in our path to help us. I guess we needed to be at church today.
After church, I was able to get the ecclesiastical endorsement signed. Even now it seems impossible that there is a signature on that dotted line! We had to wait for “branch council” to be over (that sounds so weird) and so I got to hold this young couples’ 5-week old baby while we waited. He was so tiny! It was fun to compare travel stories with fellow—Mormons. There were two girls from Mapleton and one girl from Springville. The Mapleton girls knew a couple of my friends from BYU, which made the world seem really small. It’s been hard being away from church for two months. I’ve missed singing the hymns, taking the sacrament, even visiting teaching…..maybe haha. I’ve missed feeling like you belong in a ward and that people need you. I hope we will have a chance to go back, especially around Christmas time.