Stories: A Special July Reunion
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|One of the first few days of March, 2000, I received a telephone call from some one who asked, "Are you President Heaton?" I could tell that the pretty female voice was Oriental, and I answered, "Yes, I am President Heaton." "Were you the first president of the Taiwan Mission," the voice asked? I responded, "No!". The voice asked, "Were you the first Mission President in China.?" I replied, "No, but I was the first Elder missionary called to China in 1949." The delightful, enthusiastic voice was beginning to sound confused. "Aren't you the first Mission President in Taiwan?" I replied, "Yes, I sent the first four missionaries to Taiwan in 1956." "Then you were the first president of the Taiwan Mission?" she asked. "No!" I replied, "I was the first president of the Southern Far East Mission." By now, I could tell that the confusion was being replaced by exasperation, so I explained. "I am President Heaton, the first President of the Southern Far East Mission. Sister Heaton and I were called to open up that area to missionary work in 1955. I had previously served in the Chinese Mission, 1949-52. My mission President was President Hilton A. Robertson. In a 1956, as president of the Southern Far East Mission, I sent four missionaries to Taiwan, so I was the first mission president to preside over Taiwan. But Taiwan was part of the Southern Far East Mission. The Taiwan Mission was not started until November, 1969, when the Southern Far East Mission was divided into two missions: the Hong Kong Mission and the Taiwan Mission. President Malan Jackson was the first mission president of the Taiwan Mission."
The simple response to this lengthy explanation was "Oh!" The voice then introduced herself to me as Grace Fisher. She also informed me that Bonnie Nielson had given her my telephone number. After some conversation, Grace asked me how my health was, and was I able to travel. I informed her that my health was good and I did travel. "You must be more than 90 years old," she responded. When I informed her that I was 70 years old, she thought I was kidding with her. "When were you a mission president," she asked. I replied that I had been mission president from 1955-1960. "How can you be just seventy?" She wanted to know. "Because I was called as a mission president when I was 25 years old, and it is now the year 2000 AD," I informed her.
After this, we had a long and delightful conversation. I knew all her questions were not answered, but she was more interested in telling me about a Taiwan Members reunion to be held in Los Angeles in July, and she enthusiastically explained all the preparations for this event, and that she was inviting Sister Heaton and me to attend the reunion. The more she talked, the more enthused she became. Her tone and conversation was so bubbly and contagious, that I became a little enthused myself.
She said she lived in Gig Harbor, Washington. I told her that I had started the first early morning Seminary in Gig Harbor when I was Seminary Coordinator for the Church in 1967. I also told her of the LDS Institute week end outings we held at a Baptist Retreat facility on Gig Harbor island. When she invited us to come to Gig Harbor and visit her anytime we wanted, I started to get more enthused about this new acquaintance.
During the conversation, I could detect that she did not understand the history of the mission work in Taiwan. I informed her that I had written a history of the Chinese and Southern Far East Mission, 1949-59, and she asked for a copy. We only printed enough copies of the book for missionaries who had served during this time, but there were some not yet sold, so I told her I would send her a copy of the book.
Just a few days later, after she received the book, Grace called again with even more enthusiasm and information about the upcoming reunion. She again extended an invitation to attend, and I told her we would give it serious consideration.
Once again, a few days later, she called to ask for an address list of the missionaries who had served while we were in the Southern Far East Mission. I sent her the list.
In mid-March, I had a serious fall, hitting my head on a rock and causing a concussion. The first consequence was that alarming. Sister Heaton told me that I had lost something that was "short term" but I couldn't remember what it was.
In the confusion of the next several weeks, this delightful conversation of the first of March was completely forgotten. With medical tests, medications, and all that goes with it, no more thought was given to this up coming event.
In early June, I received another telephone call from an Oriental lady with a delightful and enthusiastic voice. She started in to ask the same questions that Grace Fisher had asked me. I was still somewhat confused from my fall, and had a hard time responding to the questions. Sister Heaton talked to this voice, and found out that it was Sister Lien Hill, and she was calling to see if we would attend the reunion in July. At the time, my memory of the reunion described by Sister Fisher was still rather vague. We told Sister Hill that we would think about it. At this time, we were really not planning to go. Several things made it difficult for us to make plans for such a trip.
A few days later, Sister Hill called back, inquiring about addresses. I remembered that I had send addresses to Sister Fisher, so I supposed that they already had the addresses. Lien, also, asked if I had any pictures of the mission. She also implied that, if I was too old to travel, I could send the pictures to her and she would make a "poster" of the pictures. When I told her about the history book I had written about the Southern Far East Mission, she asked me if I would send a copy down to her for the reunion. I agreed to do this, with the promise that I would receive it back after the reunion.
Sister Hill's enthusiasm and bubbly description of the upcoming event brought back my memory of the earlier conversation I had had with Grace Fisher about the same event. With two such enthusiastic planners, I thought, this should really be a great event.
By the first of July, we really had not made the decision about going to the reunion. Just to be safe, our son reserved tickets for us to fly to Ontario, California on the 7th of July.
There was considerable E-mail exchanges between our home and the Fisher home in Gig Harbor, trying to unravel the directions to the website set up for the reunion, and the addresses of the events and the hotels, etc. Bill Fisher and his boys must have come to the conclusion that I was really a "computer idiot", but we finally got a good transmission through. It came the same day as an official invitation came in the mail, giving us all the information we had been seeking.
Even after the airline tickets had been purchased, we did not know for sure, whether we would go or not. Finally, about the 4th of July, we decided to make the "go" decision, and hope we could make the trip. That was one of the best decisions we have made so far this year.
The reunion was wonderful. Even though we did not know many of the members, we felt that they all were part of our mission family. It was good to see the two sons of brother Liang, Kent and Carl. I remember their father with great fondness. It was also good to see brother Lin, Tsun-Bin, who was also one of our faithful pioneers members in Taiwan. We had not seen Tom and Bonnie (President and Sister Thomas P. Nielson) since our school days together in Seattle during the 1960's. We also were glad to see Elder Gerald Walker, one of the early missionaries who served in Taiwan.
The social activities were wonderfully planned, the food was prepared and served with professional skill. The entertainment on Saturday evening was especially delightful. We have not had the joy of viewing some of these Chinese dances since our mission field days. Even though we have spent many years traveling throughout Mainland China, this evening with brothers and sisters in the Gospel had special meaning to us.
When Sister Hill placed her beautiful shawl up for bid to raise funds for the continuation of the reunion association, and when Sister Fisher quickly bid the winning price, we were reminded again, of the initial telephone conversations and the assurance of the dedication of these two faithful and lovely sisters to keeping the association among Chinese brothers and sisters together. Usually it has taken missionaries to initiate these activities. You, brothers and sisters are now the leaders of the Church among the Chinese. Missionaries are transients. You are the stability and the future.
As we were leaving the evening events on Saturday night, Sister Fisher caught up to us and handed this lovely shawl to Sister Heaton as a gift. It will be a treasured reminder of a very special event in our lives.
Of special significance was the early morning temple session in the Los Angeles temple. As we sat and looked over the group in attendance, and realizing that almost none of them had been members of the church when we left the mission, it was a wonderful feeling to realize that the seeds planted during those early years had sprouted and grown and multiplied. Not just in numbers, but in dedication to the Gospel and in the love of the Lord. It was a most happy and memorable occasion for us.
Our memory file is filled with many wonderful memories of the mission field and the events that have happened since that time. Nothing in this memory file is more appreciated and more beautiful than our memories of this event. We express special appreciation to Grace Fisher for opening up our eyes to the possibility, and to Sister Hill for following up and making sure we were wise enough to take advantage of this grand opportunity.
When we published our first missionary yearbook, in 1958, we wrote a message to the missionaries and members of the church. In re-reading that, it would appear that nothing needs changing in the message, except the time frame. With this marvelous reunion, now past, we can all look forward to the next one, and the joy of making more complete our love and understanding and appreciation of each other.
"Throughout life, we usually try to hold on to the valuable and pleasant experiences we have and discard the useless and unpleasant ones. In fact, the human mind, when properly stimulated, recalls only the pleasant and wholesome experiences and forgets those which have been the cause of sorrow and misery.
Also, throughout life, we try to bind to ourselves, friends whose association is pleasant and rewarding. We seek to mingle with those people who help stimulate us in higher ambition and more enjoyment of life. In both of these factors of life, we are dealing with the eternal associations of our existence. The experiences we gain here continue to be part of our life, and help to mold our character, and will be part of our knowledge even beyond the grave. Likewise, our friends are not just friends for this life. Through the Gospel, we have hope of an eternal friendship with those of our own faith and ideals.
Today, in our mortal life from day to day, it is difficult to comprehend the meaning of eternity and perfection. We can see and remember only a relatively short time and our daily faults make us fall very much short of perfection. However, if we will consider, for just one moment, the progress and advancement of the three years since the Mission was opened, and consider that these three years are only a "tiny minute" fraction of eternity, we will be able to understand in some small way the real meaning of perfection. If the progression which we have made in these three short years continues at the same rate throughout eternity, and if we continue to develop ourselves each year in the future, as we have been able to develop during each of these three years, we must then know that perfection is indeed a glorious possible achievement.
We pray that each of us who have been part of the mission work and activity during any part of these three years (and all of the years since) will use this time as a standard to our future lives.. Let us learn to cultivate good and wholesome friendships throughout our lives. If friends have the same ideals and goals as we have, our friendships will be more useful to us, because they will help us continue too attainment of our goals. Let us each use the experienced we have gained in the past, assist us in the future, and to give us determination to continue to store up more experiences which lead us toward our goal of perfection. And most important of all, let us hold on to the friendships we have gained here and keep a personal interest in this friendship. There is nothing more rewarding in all the world than true sincere friendships. Our friendship here is based on a common love of the Gospel and faith in a living God. Such friendships have bonds which are stronger than life itself. If we will cultivate these friendships and hold to them, they will become a common bond which will hold us together, and lend us strength to uphold the principles of the Gospel and retain our faith in God.
May God bless us at all times , and may we be worthy of receiving His blessings in the coming years. In some future time, when the work of God here has been completed, we will have the opportunity to meet in a glorious place where we can truly understand that perfection is not just an ideal, but is indeed an attainable goal.
H. Grant & Luana C. Heaton
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