I was only nine years old. My father had just accepted a contract to work for three years in Singapore, and telling my best friend goodbye on the night before our departure was wrenching. It was a cold December night as we cried and hugged and exchanged promises that we’d keep in touch forever. Never mind that we fought like cats and competed fiercely since first grade.
Later that night my family of six traveled 45 minutes north from our home in Orem, Utah to Salt Lake City. We stayed in a hotel and arose early for one of the first flights out of the airport headed for Los Angeles. From there, it was a quick vacation in Hawaii, and then a stop in Hong Kong before finally arriving in Singapore.
I only remember a few things from Hong Kong. One was the sights and smells of Stanley Market, one was buying imitation “Izod” shirts for only a couple bucks on the streets, and one was an experience I never expected and have never forgotten. It was an incident which helped me see that while I might have been brought up in a sort of bubble, I could still feel right at home in a place that couldn’t be stranger to me.
It was daytime and we were walking down a busy city street. Hoards of people hurried by, and all seemed to have black hair. I must have stood out pretty seriously, because even at the young age of nine, I was already taller than most of the men, and my red hair flamed in the sunlight.
How unfamiliar it all was! How out of place I felt! What a strange experience for such a young girl. And then, from across the crowd of hundreds of Orientals, we spotted two young Caucasian men in white shirts and dark jackets. My father cupped his hands around his mouth and bellowed as loud as he could, “Elders!”
I am sure we startled a few locals that stood in the throngs nearby. I smiled at the lack of inhibition my father demonstrated though we were the visitors on “someone else’s turf.” Nevertheless, the two young men turned to us, and with countenances of joy they waved and shouted back across the crowd, “Mem-bers!”
(We each referred to each others’ apparent affiliation with the Mormon church)
I think back at how amusing that was to me; how the missionaries knew instantly that we shared the same beliefs. How pleased we were to see them, and how joyful they were to see us.
It was a wonderful reunion for strangers that had never met. The light in their eyes shone just as brightly as if each one of them were Alma, who “did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord.” (Alma 17:12)
We tried to repeat the experience when we visited Australia and saw two young men in suits. However, the ones we yelled at in Perth weren’t missionaries, they must have been businessmen. We laughed at our mistake, and have no idea what the men thought of us.
Instead, we found the camaraderie sought by attending a local ward (congregation) on Sunday. I have since felt just as at home in Indonesia, New York, and every other place I have attended church across the world.
I’m grateful that my experiences as a young child overseas taught me that I don’t have to be at home to feel at home. People who share similar beliefs and values of any background or culture can find that sense of “home” no matter where they are.