We knew that the pizza had been delivered and was waiting in the gymnasium because we could smell it. It was maddening.
I was a missionary serving in a coastal area of Taiwan, and I was at “Zone Conference.”
Zone conference happened every 6 weeks. The mission president would fly down, and all the missionaries from the surrounding areas would gather together for a day of instruction, encouragement, and, yes, pizza for lunch. At every zone conference each pair of missionaries was given a pizza to share, either pepperoni or cheese only. Western food of any kind was a luxurious treat that we always looked forward to.
At this point in the meetings, the mission president could tell we were all getting restless at the thought of the cheese congealing on our pizzas, so he suggested we take a break and have a bite. Just as my companion and I were exiting the meeting to go to lunch, a member of the local congregation arrived with a question for us. We stepped aside with him, my companion whimpering slightly with hunger, and took care of whatever it was that needed to be done.
Finally, last to arrive, we went to the gym and snatched the final pizza box. We sat down with all our friends, who were already halfway through their pizzas, and flipped open the lid.
And we were assaulted by the stench of seaweed and teriyaki.
We found ourselves staring at some monstrosity, some glitch, some horror of “Japanese style” pizza. It was a pizza crust, topped with teriyaki sauce, and sprinkled with flakes of seaweed. This was not the circle of saucy, cheesy, American bliss that we had been promised. This was an affront against nature.
I think we looked around the room like “this is a joke, right? Ha ha? Right?”
But no. The assistant to the mission president saw and said “Sorry, guys. I thought for sure we ordered pepperoni and cheese only. The pizza place must have messed up.” He shrugged and walked away, leaving behind his typical “toughen up” attitude.
My companion and I each tried to eat it. I managed two bites before I could handle no more. I think my companion had a bite which he spit out.
I knew full well that it was just pizza and not the end of the world. I told myself that there was nothing to get upset about. I tried to be strong and simply sit stoically in a room full of dozens of people eating food that I’d been craving for weeks as if I didn’t feel a little bit left out. I knew that after the meetings were over my companion and I would simply ride down the street and get a nice big bowl of noodles, and I tried to console myself with that. We could deal with a little bit of hunger between now and then.
From the perspective of 10 years, I look back and chuckle. “Silly missionary. Didn’t get his pizza. This is not a story worth telling. You’ll get over it.” And really, if that were the end of the story I’d not think it was a horrible hardship. Even at the time I thought “Well, sometimes things don’t work out. You just get over it.” No big deal.
A couple minutes went by, then the miracle happened. (You probably won’t think this is a miracle, but I sure do – perhaps more so now than at the time.)
One of the missionaries at the table with us said, “What is that, seaweed pizza?! Oh, man! I’ve always wanted to try seaweed pizza! Can I trade you a slice of mine for a slice of yours?”
I don’t figure some things out very fast. I thought he was serious. I handed him a piece of horror, and he handed me a piece of his pepperoni pizza. He placed the seaweed pizza in his box and then ignored it.
Another missionary at the table figured it out. “Oh, hey, I’d sure like to try that as well. Can I trade too?”
“I want to trade!” said another.
“I never pass on a slice of seaweed pizza!” said a third.
And within seconds our pizza had been dismantled and replaced with the donated slices of our brothers’ pizzas.
I think that’s a story worth telling.
This small and simple act taught me about being a disciple, and about how each of us can lift just a little – to make a tiny difference – and all together we can make a big difference in the lives of others. That helping attitude that these kind missionaries displayed reminded me of a section in the Book of Mormon:
as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;
9 Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have life—
10 Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against beingbaptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?
11 And now when the people had heard these words, they clapped their hands for joy, and exclaimed: This is the desire of our hearts.
I’ve gained a new appreciation for these verses in recent days. I find that I really do want to be a part of a community which has the same attitudes that these missionaries displayed – kindness and generosity and self-sacrifice. A community where we take care of each other, and help out in both large ways and small.
To me, this is what Mormonism is all about. Creating that community, lifting, strengthening, and helping each other; even if it’s just swapping out slices of a pizza for a hungry missionary.