|A few of the characters who made this last chapter possible: |
From the left: Sister Melanie Parkinson, Jamin, Sterling, me, Sister Blickenstaff, Sister Chen, President Blickenstaff
Sixteen years ago, I did something I never had before. Not only was I leaving to a foreign country to serve as a missionary for the first time, but it was the first time I’d boarded an international flight without my viola. Now, I’ve repeated this experience many times since, travelling to far reaches of the globe without it. But at the time this felt quite strange. For over ten years prior to my mission, I had essentially been tied at the hip to my instrument, even while travelling to Europe and Israel, but when my mission president felt uncertain of the effects of a hot and humid climate on a handmade instrument, I was ultimately instructed to leave it behind. Though disappointed by the lost opportunity to do missionary work with my music, I willingly accepted this fate, and saw the wisdom in it when my missionary work did require much more of my time, body, and energy than I could have ever humanly guessed.
Truth be told, at the time there was very little interest on the island in classical music. I did have one memorable experience with a woman who was teaching piano and violin to her daughters. She was thrilled to hear me play both instruments, and later painted me a beautiful picture of two birds, hand delivering it to me in my next area. She never did agree to hear the missionary discussions, but the feeling of loving camaraderie with her was tangible.
One can only imagine, then how surprised I was to see how much Taiwan had changed in its love of classical music. It’s not just big there now, it’s huge! Along with all the other influences from the west that Taiwan is embracing, it has become fascinated by this discipline, and I was shocked to see so many posters and billboards advertising classical music concerts.
The younger generation is learning to play instruments as well. When we arrived in YuanLin, I was shocked to not only see coming string musicians come and go from our housing complex (a extraordinarily talented violinist lived two doors down from us), but also that hundreds of students in the Ciao Sin elementary school were taking violin lessons with the same older gentleman who maintained a music studio and violin choir just around the corner from the school. I took the kids over one day to show them what these kids were up to, and even played a tune or two with all of them. :)
|This is Li MeiLian, the mother of the two talented violinists mentioned below. She was the assistant to the older gentleman music teacher.|
I was so impressed, and almost jealous that these children were receiving such a wonderful opportunity to learn and enjoy beautiful music together.
Then, a few days later we had a visit from the sister missionaries serving in YuanLin, Sister Chen and Sister Mandrano. They were both from Provo, both daughters of immigrant parents who were converts to the church. Sister Chen’s parents had both met the church while in Taiwan, and later met and were married when attending Brigham Young University. Though her parents were both Taiwanese, she was never raised speaking Mandarin until she was called to Taiwan as a missionary, (something that is often the case amongst ABC children, whose parents want to focus on them learning English well). She and her four other siblings did learn classical music, however, and Sister Chen was a star student of Irene Peery-Fox, the piano performance professor at BYU, who has produced an innumerable group of fine pianists for years. Leaving behind her musical studies to serve a mission was a remarkable sacrifice, and one that I understood quite well.
It was at this point that my wheels started to turn . . .
What if we were to put on a concert? A musical fireside? What if we were able to invite all the incredible people in YuanLin that had been so amazing to us, share our love for Christ and our love for them by sharing our talents with them? They had been so kind and so loving to us, and we wanted to share some meaningful way to thank them.
Certainly we had all the necessary pieces to make that work – a phenomenal pianist, a violist (me), a cellist (Dad), and other violinists could likely be found in YuanLin. Jamin had a lovely voice, as did another sister missionary in the neighboring ward. Could we put together a truly great concert for the community? When I suggested this, Sister Chen was jazzed, and so was I. The fruits of the spirit were definitely tangible as we discussed the possibilities. We felt joyfully exuberant.
Over the next few weeks, we started to mobilize all the moving pieces. Having Dad send me pdf copies of music, finding violinists to perform “O Divine Redeemer” for string quartet and piano with us, locating instruments for me and Dad, deciding upon a proper program, communicating with missionaries, getting invitations and programs graphic designed by a local member, figuring out translations for the hymns written and printed, writing out a proper narration and seeing it translated into Chinese . . .
The list seemed to go on and on, and ultimately seemed like it wasn’t going to happen when it seemed like the missionaries and mission president didn’t quite catch the vision of what we wanted to do—especially when it appeared Sister Chen would be transferred to another area before we held our concert . . . Sigh. This was so discouraging at times. I knew that these lovely, educated, and classy people we had come to know during our time in Taiwan were people that had by and large never stepped foot into an LDS chapel, and would likely never allow missionaries to tract into their homes—but they would come to a beautiful concert. I knew this was a glorious opportunity to share what meant the most to us—the sacred message of Christ and His plan for us.
Throughout this time, I prayed fervently, and when it seemed like everything would fall apart unless I was able to speak with the mission president directly, I squared with Heavenly Father. “Lord, this is my offering to You. If you want us to do this concert, please help it come to pass by placing the mission president in my path. If you don’t want it to happen, that’s fine. I have no problem with that. In fact, that would make my time here much, much more simple. But, I just want to offer this piece of my heart and myself willingly.”
When I did not see the mission president that next day close to the mission headquarters, (the day I met up with my close friend, Melissa) I felt almost relief at the fact that I was, in a sense, “off the hook.” However, the next day at church I was struck by the sister missionaries’ news: the president had surprised all of them that morning by calling to say he would be at the YuanLin chapel that evening for meetings . . . It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
And so it went with all our different obstacles. Whenever it seemed there was something preventing us from moving forward, I would turn it over to the Lord again, and He would resolve things in his quiet and powerful way, often surprising me by how much better He could transform circumstances than I could (Elder Ran of the Seventy ended up presiding for the meeting as a result of many wonderful twists and turns, and became excited by the possibility of using Sister Chen’s talents more meaningfully in the future).
My favorite example of the Lord’s hand in the preparation of this experience was with regard to Sister Chen’s family. Though she was serving as a missionary in the Taichung mission, Sister Chen was not able to see her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in Taipei. (This was hard for them to understand the reasoning behind this since none of them are members of the LDS faith.) I’ll never forget hearing Sister Chen rehearse one of her solos in the chapel, and I was overcome with emotion at the emotive beauty of her playing. It was exquisite. Knowing that her extended family had not yet ever heard her speak Mandarin, I was struck with another singular question. “Sister Chen, have your grandparents ever heard you play the piano in person?” The answer: though her grandfather had flown to the United States to hear her solo with a symphony orchestra, her grandmother had never heard her directly play, nor had most of her extended family. To me, this felt almost criminal, and I breached the subject of inviting them to the concert to hear their beloved granddaughter. Again, this felt impossible to her as she felt she couldn’t possibly ask her mission president for permission. When I called Sister Chen’s mother, she was concerned by the same thing . . . But I couldn’t let go of the intense feeling that somehow Sister Chen’s family needed to be there.
Then another miracle happened. On the weekend that hubby and I went to Taipei to visit those from my mission, we ended our visit there by going to the temple. We ended up going much later than we had originally anticipated, and ended up only being able do initiatories, rather than a full session. This was one of the most significant experiences I have ever had in the Lord’s house. I cannot write about it publicly as it was so sacred and meaningful for me. However, directly afterwards as I dressed and turned to leave, who did I almost literally run into? Sister Blickenstaff, the Taichung Mission President’s wife who had just finished a session. As it turned out, she and President and several missionaries were there at the temple that day. Though it took me several moments to process that uncanny serendipity, I told our taxi to stay put while I sprinted to find the Blickenstaffs before it was too late. I related the circumstances regarding Sister Chen’s family in Taipei needing to be invited to the concert, and Sister Blickenstaff immediately agreed with me. Of course they should go! Were it not for the fact that she is a rather stern woman, I would have hugged and kissed her. I was just that in that moment of the Lord’s obvious intervention, I felt giddy to consider just how much the Lord loves us and is aware of us. I felt so grateful to witness a part of it.
Eventually, after all the hours of planning, coordinating, convincing of certain parties that certain details were actually necessary, and a lot of late nights (most of which unfortunately took place during our 11-day excursion around the island), the day of the concert, and our final Sunday in Taiwan finally arrived.
|The LDS chapel in YuanLin, where the concert was held.|
|One of the many posters advertising the concert. The brother who helped us with the graphic design on this and the program did a lovely job!|
Sterling and I took the kids to church, and then left early to pick up Sister Chen and her new companion in Taichung, in order to allow us to effectively rehearse. There were still a couple of numbers we had yet to effectively rehearse, and others we needed to brush up on with other musicians. As we set up chairs in the overflow, a local bishop commented that he didn’t think we would need so many chairs, but we begged to differ. We knew the chapel would be filled and then some. We knew that so many people we loved, and others the missionaries had invited would come. More than anything, we knew God had set His hand over this concert, and that it would be wonderful.
We weren’t disappointed. Things went beautifully! From the moment when Elder Ran of the Seventy arrived, there were hoards of people arriving, and they seemed to keep coming and coming. It was an electric, wonderful feeling, especially considering that so few of them had ever set foot in an LDS chapel before. I was most especially excited to know that Ama had come.
I was beyond ecstatic to see Sister Chen’s adorable grandparents and extended family there! She hadn’t thought her grandmother’s health would allow this visit, but much to all our surprise, she was there with bouquets and beaming pride for her remarkable granddaughter. Thrilled at their presence amongst us, I was also somewhat amused at their lack of understanding regarding the etiquette in an LDS chapel. Sister Chen had seated her grandparents up on the stand behind her, and during the prayer they began taking pictures of her. This was something to be repeated during the performance as well, but out of respect for who they were, no one dared to correct them. We all figured that in that moment, it was the spirit of what was going on that mattered most. :)
|Sister Chen and her maternal grandmother. Isn't she adorable?|
Though at first the stake president seemed a bit taken aback by the large crowd in front of him, (it seemed to have been a major struggle to get him properly notified weeks ahead of time about this event), from the moment that Sister Qiu got up to narrate the program, the feeling of love and goodwill in the room was tangible. The music flowed smoothly, and overall the program maintained a dignity and elegance that everyone seemed to just inhale. I loved it! It brought me so much satisfaction to share this part of ourselves with all these wonderful people, to look down at their faces, and to see them smile with pleasure. Sister Chen’s numbers, in particular, were remarkable, and I relished in the realization of what had been a small dream now coming to pass with the Lord’s help.
In the end, the mood in that chapel was exultant. Our friends and Taiwanese “family” (i.e. local friends and also ward members) clamored to take photographs with us and our instruments, and it felt so bittersweet to share our last moments with many of them in this way. Sister Blickenstaff ushered everyone down to the lobby, insisting on more photographs with she and the president, ourselves, and any of the missionaries involved in the event. Between checking on where my children were, and passing out classical music CDs as parting gifts, it was beyond chaotic, but extraordinarily happy.
|The two darling teenage sisters who played with us for "O Divine Redeemer"|
|Some of the performers and most of the members of Sister Chen's family that came. I seriously think her grandparents are just darling!|
|The missionary force in YuanLin, as well as President Chen on the right.|
|With Brother and Sister Qiu, our elegant emcee for the night.|
Because of all the many details connected to successfully pulling off an event like this one, I was also touched to personally witness the personal sacrifice and dedication exhibited by the local members of the church in Taiwan. These people, out of no self-interest, but rather out of a love for their Heavenly Father, gave many last-minute hours to rehearsing, translating, and preparing for this event. Women, who had full-time jobs and family responsibilities dropped everything to ensure that things went off successfully. It humbled me to my core, and filled me with a deep love for their dedication and unselfishness.
After our short-lived, but meaningful time spent with them, anything I could give back was well worth any effort on my part. I loved these people and shuddered to think just how much I would miss them. As a result, the comment that meant the most to me afterwards actually came from LiZhen (Li-ling's sister), who said that she was thrilled with the concert, feeling that in that moment of beauty and solidarity, she felt they received more "face," a greater sense that they are people to be loved and respected. Now, if that was the only thing that came out of that final Sunday evening, then that alone would be worth it to me.
I miss you, YuanLin 2nd Ward, and wish that all of God's choicest blessings may be showered down upon your heads.