Mission medication mayhem and Jell-O

Andrea J James

Sister Berry with Mission President

Sister Berry was called on her mission to Hong Kong, reporting to the Provo Missionary Training Centre (MTC) on August 28th, 2018 where she spent nine weeks studying and learning to speak the nine-toned language of Cantonese.

She found her time in the MTC exciting and spiritual, working with brilliant MTC teachers and leaders. Every week she had the opportunity to hear from members of the Seventy, and every three weeks, the missionaries would listen to an Apostle.

During her time at the MTC, she was also lucky enough to sing in the October 2018 General Conference’s missionary choir.

She said, “It was astonishing and brought me to tears. I really felt the Spirit when we were singing the hymn Hope of Israel. It felt like an army of angels were singing with us.”

However, all was not going to go as planned because precisely one week before preparing to fly to Hong Kong, Sister Berry began to experience lower back pain. She tried to shrug it off, expecting it to heal on its own. Then, a couple of days later, after a volleyball game, she noticed the pain grew to the point where it was difficult to walk.

She was immediately seen by the MTC Doctor and was horrified to be told that she would not be able to fly out for her mission but would need to return home to England to have surgery.

She was utterly devastated but determined to find a way to stay on track. She was fortunate enough to be seen by a surgeon in the USA who specialised in the surgery she needed. So, Sister Berry remained in the MTC for an extra three weeks, waving goodbye to her MTC group as she waited.

Luckily within that time, the cysts on her spine had receded and drained naturally enough, which helped the surgery process for which she was waiting.

Following her surgery, the recovery programme would take longer than six weeks, and so it was decided she would return home to England to recover, but she went back with the mindset that she would not stay for long, and that her suitcase would remain packed!

Sister Berry with flower in hair

To keep herself in the missionary frame of mind, she kept to her daily missionary routine reading her scriptures and studying the mission language. She also met with her MTC teacher online to practise the language.

She said, “I did not give myself the option even to consider staying home. My mind was firmly set that this as just temporary”.

Finally on March 4th, 2019, now stronger, she flew from England to Hong Kong, ready to meet with her mission president and his wife, President and Sister Phillips, from the USA (now living in Salt Lake City).

Sister Berry enthused about her Hong Kong mission saying, “Serving in Hong Kong was one of the best experiences and held a special place in my heart. I loved every part: the people, food, culture, members, companions, and mission. I was always amazed by the beautiful Hong Kong scenery and weather.”

Soon after arriving in Hong Kong, civil protests began, but the Mission understood the importance of the work at hand and, with hopeful hearts, “soldiered on and worked hard.”

China wanted to bring Hong Kong under Chinese law, rather than the democracy it had inherited from British rule. The Hong Kong people were protesting that they would be brought under Chinese rules and regulations when it came to types of crime and sentencing.

Sister Berry recalls, “We learnt to simply adapt and change our schedules to fit curfews, and our approach to ensure it would still allow us to share the gospel and bring happiness to those around us. We loved and trusted our mission president and his wife dearly; we knew that they were inspired, and as long as we were obedient to their word, we were safe and protected.” She explained, “As a Mission, we came together, and during that gathering, our Mission President presented a plan, reminding us that it is necessary to be prepared within Church culture.”

“The plan was to cover us in the case of an evacuation, or a need to stay within our apartments for a few days, or to report to a particular area if Hong Kong went into social unrest.

“We stocked up on food, were given individual telephone SIM cards, directions on how an evacuation would occur and, most importantly, a unique code word that only our missionaries and our Mission President knew: 'Jell-O-nation'.

Sister Berry next to church sign

“This code word was put in place to be used only if the evacuation was to occur, and we would know that it was not a false alarm or a disturbance from an outsider at the time. The protests continued, resulting in us missionaries having to spend certain days indoors spring cleaning or randomly heading to the nearest sister or elder missionary apartments, when instructed, to spend the night while it calmed down. It was decided that no new missionaries were to report to the Hong Kong mission until it had calmed down. We had around 80 missionaries in the field, and this figure was capped at 100 for about three transfers.

“Although we were short on missionaries, we were never short on blessings and miracles, and continued to help even more people learn of the gospel and our Saviour Jesus Christ. We truly felt the love, support and encouragement from our leaders and members during the process.

“During that time, we had a Zone Conference with half the missionaries, where we were astonished and delighted to be told that we were teaching more than ever, and finding souls and introducing baptism to just as many as in the years before, when there were twice as many missionaries.

“President Phillips loved to set us challenges and always encouraged us to enhance and strengthen our testimonies, such as by prayerfully studying the Book of Mormon front to back in 80 days, following the Spirit and setting a minimum of ten ‘Windows of Heaven’ each week. We loved it.

“The ‘Windows of Heaven’, or we liked to call them Windows, were a unique finding technique that we loved to do.

“In Hong Kong, we were limited when it came to the traditional door knocking. People lived in apartments with guards who knew the missionaries very well and could keep us away. Most parks had rangers that would keep an eye on us in case we were handing out flyers. So, we would just have to ‘hit’ the streets every day and do Windows.

“Besides regular finding or district finding with other groups of missionaries, we would take some time each week to pray as a companionship, specifically about a time and place that we feel we should go to find someone ready to hear the gospel. We would look at our planners and the map of our area and just listen to the Spirit. Once we figured out the time and place, we would slot it into our diaries, which was considered an appointment with God. We would have to show up around 15 minutes early, pray to open the Window and talk to everyone we could find. The idea of Windows was to promise to God that you would go to the place you felt the Spirit told you to go, and that He would guide someone ready to hear the gospel to find you.

Hong Kong Mission photo

“When we did come across someone interested, we were to find a spot and teach them about the gospel there and then for 10-15 minutes or even longer. Each Window was usually an hour or hour and a half long, and we would try our hardest to speak with everyone. We would have around two of these each day and made them priority above all appointments because that was an appointment with God.”

Almost a year into her mission, Sister Berry was transferred to Macau island, which had eight missionaries serving there at a time.

The protests had calmed down, and the work continued and progressed as new missionaries were finally arriving. However, after one transfer, the Mission received direction from President Phillips, who felt it was best to remain inside until further notice and leave only for food shopping and exercise, and work within our apartments, due to a virus outbreak.

After staying in for around ten days, Macau’s missionaries received a phone call from President Phillips to pack up like it was transfer day and head back to Hong Kong.

President and Sister Phillips warmly greeted all eight of the missionaries and then helped move them into a temporary apartment for the night.

The following morning, all the missionaries within the China Hong Kong Mission received a text message from President and Sister Phillips with the codeword 'Jell-O-nation' and expressing their love. He explained all the missionaries would sadly need to evacuate Hong Kong that night.

The missionaries were initially perplexed, as they thought the evacuation plan put in place seven months previously was to help assist in case of social unrest. It became clear that the plan was preparing the Mission for a more significant storm ahead, the Covid-19 outbreak.

The entire Mission headed to the Mission office that night and said goodbyes to their cherished Mission President and companions. Each group headed off to the airport in coaches, ready to fly to their home countries to continue their missionary service.

Due to the 'Jell-O-nation' plan, over 100 missionaries evacuated Hong Kong and returned home safely within under 24 hours.

Sister Berry said, “I arrived home February 6th, 2019, and had to self-isolate for two weeks, but with the same mindset as before, with my suitcase remaining packed! Then I joyfully headed out to serve in the England Leeds Mission. When I arrived, I was greeted with such a warm welcome by the England Leeds Mission President and his wife, President and Sister Green, that I knew the work would continue”

However, after one month of service came an instruction from her inspired Leeds Mission President! He gave the direction that the missionaries should stock up on food and remain inside if feeling unwell.

Sister Berry holding a painting

Then just a couple of days later, they were instructed to remain inside until further notice. Later that month, the UK went into lockdown because of Covid-19.

Sister Berry concludes, “For the remainder of my mission, which was just over 100 days, we worked inside our apartments only leaving for necessities and exercise. But I was happy that missionary work continued, and the joy of the gospel prevailed! The strength and dedication shown by my fellow companions and other missionaries were what truly inspired me, along with the unconditional love and encouragement from our Mission President and his wife.

“We saw the gospel go worldwide, allowing missionaries to take over social media and reach people from our humble apartments. When completing my mission, I was overwhelmingly filled with joy by the miracles and experiences my mission offered me. I will always cherish the friendships, examples, and memories that I gained by serving.

“On my last day, I travelled from my apartment to the nearby train station and journeyed two hours to the home of my family in London. This was to be my third and last arrival home. I had told them I would be home on a date three weeks later and was thrilled to be able to surprise them!

“My mission taught me that our Heavenly Father is always preparing us for things that are sometimes much bigger than what we expect, or for something completely different to what we have prepared for. But most importantly, to trust that there is always a plan and to have the faith to follow it, as we should never put limits on an unlimited God.

“I will forever be grateful for my mission. I honestly loved every moment as it allowed me to draw closer to my Heavenly Father and Saviour. It has enlightened me with the kind of joy I want to continue to have through the act of service and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“I encourage all those who have considered serving to prayerfully ponder and seek how you can best do so. Heavenly Father never falls short of miracles for his beloved children. This is my testimony.”