It has definitely been a while since I've written, and a heck lot of stuff has happened within that time that I am so excited to share! So expect some more blog entries to actually come in the near future after this one.
I recently served a mini mission here in Canberra, and it was one of the best experiences I've had :)
It might not be the longest post, because some moments were really special to me, but I'll share what I can!
My Mini Mission started on the 24th of April, 2015. I was quite nervous, to be honest, when I was invited by my past YW Leaders to become a mini missionary for the weekend and to get a small glimpse of what the missionaries do every day. They know (Probably everybody knows at this point) that I've been very eager to serve a mission, and have done a lot of preparation for it but have still been hesitant and anxious about taking that initial step towards actually putting in my papers, so this opportunity really was a make-or-break-it moment for me in terms of pushing me over that line of self doubt.
My mum and my auntie, Hao, were superb helps in getting me ready for this weekend. They were the ones most cuddly and telling me how much they would miss me even though I was still technically in Canberra but unable to be in contact with for just two nights. The preparation was so intense I even bought my very first pair of Sister Missionary Shoes because all my other flats are useless and give some of the worst blisters after only moments of movement, so these flats were a miracle on my high-arched-highly-sensitive feet.
I couldn't also resist taking a few quick selfies of me in my missionary badge that I still carry around with me from my first Missionary Conference that let us be missionaries for a few hours. (And yes, if you couldn't obviously tell, my two favourite colours to wear are royal blue and black together. IT'S NOT WEIRD I JUST HAVE FAVOURITE COLOURS)
I arrived with my friend, Mon, at the chapel in our missionary attire and him carrying only a backpack while I was dragging behind me a suitcase I could probably have fit in if I truly tried hard enough. We begun the best way possible: With an insane amount of Pizza to quench our physical hunger, we were then led on to be called to our missions and meet our new companions. Most of the Mini Missionaries were assigned to only one companion, but I was blessed to be assigned to Sister Krzymowski and Sister Kurita. After being fed physically, it was time for us to be fed spiritually. We began what was an accelerated MTC, with us racing between classes taught by the missionaries, and learning different aspects taken from Preach My Gospel, such as how to teach people by the Spirit and Companion Unity.
At the mention of a possible chance of Roleplaying with our companions, I started to get Vietnam flashbacks of all the previous Roleplays that I've done that have always gone wrong and made me despise roleplays with such ferocious passion. I'll be the first to say that I'm not the best with being spontaneous and just going with the flow. I freak out, I think 'oh goSH I'M GOING TO HAVE TO GET UP AND DO SOMETHING AND EMBARRASS MYSELF', and my anxiety just sky rockets in 2 seconds flat. I remember the only thing that really helped me to push myself, to get out of my own head and focus outwards, was a comment given by one of the leaders - "Be flexible and do hard things!" - I keep repeating that to myself as we went to each class, and they'd announce we'd be playing a game and I was praying in my head with that one sentence over and over to remind myself. It was actually surprising when you focus on something else that you are able to be much more flexible and not taking yourself so seriously when something goes wrong or just embarrassing (Let's just say it involves a zipper and a sweet merciful Sister bringing it to my attention)
It was a late night when we finally finished, having been set apart as a missionary for the weekend and getting our assigned companions. The night finished with the Sisters and their weekly planning, me writing in my journal, and a companion prayer before sleep in which I collapsed in a much shorter time than it normally takes me to fall asleep.
I awoke to the sound of Sister Krzymowski and Sister Kurita's phone alarm going off on the dot of 6:00am. They bounced into their prayer positions and I dragged myself off my mattress and plummeted to the cold hard ground as I started to pray in gibberish and a puddle of my own drool and bed-hair. It normally takes me hours to finally click into my day self that is alert and bubbly, but the mission was already blessing me as I brightened up within minutes of waking up. It was a chilly Canberra morning and I ate breakfast while the Sisters showered and got themselves ready for the day. We began our personal studies, and then our companion studies. Few times have I ever studied the scriptures for more then 2 and a half hours, but this one time was an exception and my gosh, it's interesting what the Spirit can teach you in that time. With no distractions of a phone, or a computer, or even sleep, my mind was able to wholly focus on the scriptures and what I was reading in 2 Nephi 9 and the first lesson in Preach My Gospel. It reminded me of the times back when I was first joined the church and devoured the scriptures and soaked in everything that I could spiritually. Not even a day in and I was gaining a greater perspective ;)
After all our studies, and preparations for the day, even with the extra hour of study for Sister Kurita who was 2 days brand new on her mission, we started out to go and visit some people who were potentially interested in receiving lessons and learning more. It was Anzac Weekend, so Canberra was quiet and fairly desolate for everybody had gone for travels and a small holiday. At the start it didn't look very promising with people either not answering their phones, or not being home, or the list of Potentials pooling smaller and smaller. Many of the visits that turned out to be successful were the ones that we would come across and would pop into our minds as we'd come across their area. It was such a strange feeling, but once I was set a part there was a difference in the way I was able to connect to other people. No more was I thinking, 'oh gosh I hope this person likes me I bet they think I'm weird trying to talk about the gospel and my conversion story oh gosh they are yawning they hate me' but now it was more focused on them. Missionary work isn't just about teaching people the gospel of Jesus Christ and trying to baptise everyone, it's about giving service in a way that people can recognise as what the Saviour did in the Scriptures. He visited people; the old, the sick, the lonely, the ones who needed to know that there was a better way. I was so worried that I would go out on a mission and just miss home way too much and everybody there, but it was surprising how little I thought of home when I was so focused on the people I was helping teach and listening to. The time and entire day passed so fast because you're so focused on the work and on the people. I won't share the specific experiences that I had, or the people that I met and that I had a spiritual experiences with, because to me they were special and particular to what I needed :) Two FUNNY experiences though that I had was where we went to a family's home, and the woman had to ask Sister Kurita and myself what nationality of asian were we because their dog, a large German Shepherd that I probably could have put a saddle on and used as my noble steed, didn't like Chinese people. If the dog saw a Chinese person, it would start to bark and snarl at them. So Sister Kurita and I were on edge as the dog walked straight into the lounge, sniffing around and glaring at us, and the woman was telling her husband to keep an eye on the dog. Never before have I been so scared to be asian. It got worse when the husband handed Sister Kurita and I dog biscuits to feed the dog, and while I was scared I tested it out and the dog loved me, but Sister Kurita was so terrified she threw the dog biscuit to me to give to the dog instead of her.
On the inside I was laughing. On the outside I was probably sweating and eyes larger than dinner plates and pupils the size of a mustard seed.
The second funny story was during the first few lessons, Sister Krzymowski was on it (Being the Senior Sister, of course) while Sister Kurita and I would sit there and watch and listen, giving comments here and there, but sometimes when Sister Krzymowski would start to turn the tables over to us, Sister Kurita and I would tap each other back and forth saying -
"No! You're the sister missionary."
"You're the mini missionary!"
and it'd just make me laugh that we were in the same boat of feeling awkward in teaching.
Let's just say that by the end of the day I honestly knew, deep in my heart and in my Spirit, that a mission would be one of the hardest things I might go through but that I wanted to do it with everything that I had. It wasn't even very hard to picture myself doing missionary work and being called 'Sister Klenka' serving wherever I am called in the world.
By the second day, I was already getting into routine with the Sisters. I really loved the personal and companion study, especially the insights that the Sisters could share during theirs and hearing different takes on something I've probably read hundreds of times. We did a roleplay, and it was actually quite fun for the first time, even though I was still really awkward because for the first time people were taking it seriously and not backing away when they didn't know what to say. Sister Krzymowski and I learnt more about the Plan of Salvation together, and discussed ways that as a convert what questions I might have had or how I could answer some of the questions the Sisters have been asked concerning it. She even got me to put the entire Plan of Salvation pictures in order and to explain each bit simply. It was pressurised fun! Yay! <3
We then departed for Church, and it's been a while since I've visited another ward in my Stake's Sacrament meeting. First things first, I need to state that I'm quite an awkward person at times. It's not bad, like I just stand there staring at you while you don't know what to talk about 'cos I'm not saying anything type of awkward, but it's just the awkward where I can't do small talk very well because I just don't care for it. Who wants to talk about the weather when you could talk about each other's darkest fears or what you'd imagine heaven or death to be like?
Some people don't like that, and it's made it so that I don't really approach people first or I'm very shut off from other people until I am led to believe that they're going to give effort into getting to know me and actually holding a conversation with me (I know, how dodgy is that? Something I'm working on, but still!)
but! The missionary calling did something very strange. We got to the chapel, and earlier than most arrive, so the Sisters and I stood at the front and welcomed people inside. Sometimes, when I really have to be a more outgoing version of myself, I like to say that I can channel my inner 'Beyonce' where I act like a much more outgoing, bubbly, friendly, funny, and talkative version of myself. It's like Ashleigh 2.0 if you will. That's exactly what I did while we stood there, welcoming the members and giving them hugs/shaking their hands, and making small talk with them. It was actually such an enjoyable experience and for once in my life, I really felt outgoing and like I was just one of the Sisters. It was such a highlight for me on the entire day.
I cried so much throughout the day. I cried during the Sacrament Meeting when a Brother in that ward gave a wonderful talk about Missionary Work and how it's not up to us who we get to choose to share the gospel with, we have to share it with everyone and then leave it to the Lord. I was tearing up back at the apartment while I was journaling, I teared up while sharing my conversion story with less-actives that we went to visit. I was a hot mess of tears ALL day. Absolutely all day.
When we went back to the chapel for the Fireside, it was absolutely packed with people. My mum, Mike and his fiancee Megan, Cloe, and Elyse with her brother Cameron came to it and I was trying so hard not to cry when I saw them. The support and encouragement that they gave me just flooded me with how much I missed them and I miss their constant guidance. This whole experience was just an outpouring of love for everyone that I met, even if it was just a quick handshake or hug with someone that I met. A literal outpouring of love.
At the fireside portion of the night, we had wonderful musical items (That made me tear up) and a beautiful talk given by President O'Grady (That made me tear up) and finally it was time for the testimony part where the Mini Missionaries could share their experiences and to share their testimony. I definitely felt the pressure from all the eyes watching me as the testimonies started, but luckily I had plenty of time when my friend, Mon, went first and then I trudged up behind him. To say it was my teariest testimony ever would be putting it lightly. I weeped on the stand. It was the very first time I actually went to grab tissues that they place on the podium area. It was a huge emotional drain on me when the testimony finished, I sat back down and sobbed through the rest of the testimonies. After the Fireside finished, we went to take pictures, where you can obviously tell from the picture of Cloe and I hugging that I was teary-eyed....again.
Sister Krzymowski, Sister Kurita...when you happen to finish your missions and find this blog post on my facebook timeline months down the track...don't forget to comment of how amazing I was as a companion ;)