I met Marlena in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) on my first day as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. She was one of my assigned companions and she greeted me with a huge smiley, “Hi, Sister Ho!” I loved her immediately.
We loved our hilarious MTC class of elders, wet our green missionary feet in Colorado Springs where we awaited visas to Taiwan (one day we tracted into a Catholic church!), and even lived in the same house with our trainers when we first arrived in Taiwan.
During our first six weeks on island, a road sign hit her in the face during a typhoon, she ate McDonald’s soft serve almost everyday, and our house of sisters chased down an enormous rat and trapped it under a shelf with plastic bags. After I was transferred, I only saw her a few more times in the next year and a half, but the work only brought us closer. When our missions ended, we commiserated by eating an entire box of Ferrero Rocher chocolates.
My mission strengthened my testimony of the gospel and built the foundation of the person I am and the disciple I am trying to become. I had amazing companions, close-knit districts and inspiring wards.
After our mission, we talked on the phone almost everyday. She moved from Seattle to the Bay Area and now we live a few blocks from each other. Our kids were born a few months apart and Carter asks to play with her son, Matthew – Carter calls him Massi – everyday. He also calls Marlena “Jie Mei Ayi” (Sister Aunt) – because even though we’ve been home from the mission for over ten years, we still call each other Jie Mei. Carter is kind of obsessed with her husband, Uncle Mike.
Last weekend, our little families went to Yosemite together. We hiked down to see giant sequoias in the Tuolomne Grove. We waded in Tenaya Lake and cliff jumped into May Lake. We taught our boys to high five each other. It was lovely.
Who knew that the funny girl I met that morning in the MTC would continue to walk with me through life’s challenging and beautiful adventures?
In Marlena I found the sister I never had but always wanted. And I will be eternally grateful.