I found myself in China this weekend. Not the real real China, but the special administrative region of Macau. Macau is Hong Kong’s smaller, more Catholic little sister. It was a territory of Portugal for nearly 500 years but was returned to the People’s Republic of China along with Hong Kong in 1997. It is now a glittering little pearl – half Las Vegas, half Rome, on the coast of Guangdong.
While I’d love to take the next 3 hours of your life talking about the architecture and the food and what it’s like to attend a Catholic mass in Portuguese, the story I’ll limit myself to today is the story of what it’s like to attend the Macau 2nd Branch.
There are only two branches of the church in tiny Macau, and if you go in the morning you have to speak Cantonese. So I attended the meeting that started at 5:00 pm, and I left with some really interesting thoughts about what Zion really means.
The membership of the Macau 2nd Branch is about 90% female and about 90% Filipina. Those of you who have met Filipina women may agree with me that they are probably the friendliest people on the face of the planet. Before I could even sit down I think I had shaken hands with at least 30 people. “Hello, Sister! How are you Sister! Sister, are you new here? Is it your first time?” And then they asked me my name, and then I was being introduced back and forth: “This is Sister Opal! Sister Opal is here from . . . where are you from, Sister Opal? Sister Opal is here from America. She’s here for . . . how long are you here Sister Opal? Sister Opal is here just for the weekend but we’re so happy to have her here.”
Something that I’d noticed about Filipinas in my ward in Taiwan is that they refer to themselves as “Sister” plus their first name. I found it rather cute and endearing but hadn’t thought too much about it. And then I found myself introduced again (was there anyone left in the building who hadn’t met me yet?) in Relief Society. “We have some visitors here, Sisters. This is Sister Opal. Stand up, Sister Opal.” I then stood up, and the Relief Society president continued: “Sister Opal is the tallest sister in the room.” The sisters sitting around me agreed. “The tallest sister in the room,” they repeated.
“For the time being!” added a sister in the back. “Yes, for the time being,” the Relief Society president agreed. They then proceeded to introduce Sister Andrea, another visitor, who was subsequently proclaimed the youngest sister in the room.
“By far the youngest sister in the room!” added the same sister from the back. “How old are you anyway, Sister Andrea? I think you’re 12.”
“She’s 16! She can’t be more than 16.”
It was found that Sister Andrea was 31.
“I don’t believe it. She’s by far the youngest sister in the room.”
“For the time being!”
“No. No one will ever look younger.”
I was thinking about this friendly atmosphere and wondering how it compared to what a visitor to my home ward must feel. I don’t know that I’ve ever proclaimed a visitor the tallest sister in the room, but now that I think about it, how often am I even the one to ask the visiting sister her name? Do I go up to shake her hand? Do I tell her how happy I am to have her here?
And as we started sacrament meeting I noticed something I hadn’t thought of before. We sang the opening hymn, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet.” And there was a line that caught my attention this time. “Millions shall know Brother Joseph again.”
So it’s not just the Filipinas – the early members of the church seemed to share a similar air of familiarity and friendliness. Brother Joseph and Brother Brigham must have mingled with at least one Sister Opal. I wonder who was the tallest one in the room. I could picture the prophet welcoming his brothers and sisters – for that’s who they were – to a meeting, clapping them on the shoulders, calling them “Brother” and their first name. And what a beautiful association that would have been.
In America we’re admirers of all forms of laxity, but is our familiarity with each other out of friendliness and love or out of casualness? When you call your visiting teaching companion – “Hey Sarah, do you have time this Friday?” – are you feeling the love for your Sister Sarah that you could be feeling? When you see a member of your ward at the grocery store, do you think “Hey! That’s my brother!”? Or do you give the obligatory nod and keep looking for your Lucky Charms? Or do you avoid him because he drives you nuts / acts all better than you / always asks you to help with something?
To live in a Zion society we need to cultivate a brotherly and sisterly love for one another. We are supposed to consider the needs of our fellow men as our own, love them as we love our own families. When we enter the waters of baptism, we take upon ourselves a new name – we enter the family of Christ, and as members of Christ’s family we should be loving and treating each other as befits the members of a heavenly family. I’m grateful for Sister Anna May and Sister Gretchen and Sister Ruby of the Macau 2nd Branch for reminding me of that this weekend. And I hope I can do my part to be a better sister, for the time being, and from now on out.