One word for the population of British Columbia’s lower mainland? Diverse. You taste it in the food, hear it in the conversations and see it in the faces, everyday, all around. Each face reveals the fact that at some point, someone, somewhere decided that Canada meant home. For Vilynta Soram that someone was The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The call to serve a full-time mission brought Sister Soram to Canada from the tiny island of Tonoas, one of the nearly 200 Chuuk Islands of Micronesia. Her face could not relay the uniqueness of her situation, not in Canada.
This story begins, not in her native island, but at the Vancouver International Airport the day Sister Soram departed Canada for home. Sister Soram, like the 25 other missionaries heading home that day, tumbled out of the hotel shuttle in the early morning hours. Just the day before, these young missionaries exhibited strength and exuberance, joy and nostalgia, success and satisfaction. Today, in the early morning cold they trembled, not for cold alone. These missionaries were “dying”. That’s what they call leaving their missions— “dying”. For them, missionary work equals life. Going home is the end of that life—dying as it were.
After much juggling and effort, a new, challenging itinerary had Sister Soram booked on the only seat left on the soon departing Tokyo flight. She would travel alone from Canada to Tokyo, then change, not just planes, but airlines in one of the busiest airports in the world, from there to Guam for a seven-hour layover and then to Chuuk before boarding a boat for the tiny island of Tonas. The stipulation that accompanied it—she could not leave the security area of the airport in Guam. “So I can’t see my sister?” Her tears began again. “And how will my parents know about the change?” she asked. “We’ll call them,” Elder Hunter assured her. “They don’t have a phone and don’t speak English,” She explained. “We will find a way,” Elder Hunter promised. “We’ll contact the Mission President and we’ll find a way.” We gathered Sister Soram and her three heavy bags and hurried to the weighing station. The attendant at the station noticed the total weight and shot a questioning glance at the sympathetic ticket agent. With tears in her eyes, the agent waved the overweight charge and sent us on to the gate. Sister Soram had only the Canadian money allotted from the Mission office. Time lacking, Elder Hunter exchanged her Canadian money for the U.S. dollars he’d felt impressed to put in his pocket that morning, allowing her to purchase food on her layovers in Tokyo and Guam.
Moved by her plight, Elder Hunter phoned Salt Lake City again and stressed the necessity of getting word to all persons affected by this change. They confirmed the request. We followed her progress through the night and into the next day and night. We finally received word from Church headquarters that the zone leaders in Chuurk met her at the airport and took her to a chapel where her Mission President released her from her honorable mission via Skype. A senior missionary couple serving on an island near her later reported that, “After being notified of her change of plans, all her family traveled by boat to meet Sister Soram on her return. Together they made the hour boat ride back to their island. When she arrived she still had $40 which had been given to her by an “insightful leader”. She gave her father the $40, the exact amount of the cost of fuel for a round trip from her island and back.”
Despite her limitations, Sister Soram and her companions were instrumental in 18 investigator baptisms. She left a trail of goodness not limited to her companions and investigators. Office senior missionary relates the following experience. “At Christmas she couldn’t make connections with her parents who had traveled to a neighbour’s to use a phone. After many failed attempts she called the mission office. Elder Burns and I tried to help. We suggested various area codes, all to no avail. I called Chuuk from the mission phone, but because the family spoke no English they kept hanging up. Finally, I called Sister Soram on my cell phone and then dialed the mission phone to connect with the island. I held the two phones together for a half hour so they could talk. At one-point Sister Soram and her companion, Sister Holbook sang primary songs into the phone. I don’t understand Chuukese, Sister Soram’s native language, and I couldn’t tell what they said, but there was an unmistakable, overwhelming feeling of love and happiness. Elder Burns and I had tears in our eyes as we listened to these loving people talk for the first time in six months. It’s one of the highlights of my mission.”