All Mormon missionaries live and travel in pairs. Missionary couples, also known as “companions,” are typically together for three to six months and are required to stay together, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Each month, a percentage of the mission is moved, and new companionships created. Normally, missionaries knew when a move was going to occur. On the evening of “call-outs,” all missionaries, from Yuen Long in the New Territories, to Aberdeen on Hong Kong Island, positioned themselves near the apartment’s telephone, anxiously waiting to learn if they would move or be paired with someone new.
Brig was six months into his mission and had not yet moved. He was still living at the apartment on Castle Peak Road in the mid-levels of Central. His “Dad,” Elder Jensen, had moved on to the Wong Tai Sin district several months ago to give birth to yet another new missionary. Jensen had been visibly disappointed to learn that he would not become an Assistant to the President, and though nothing was said, Brig sensed that Jensen somehow blamed him for not getting the promotion. Brig’s current companion was Elder Craig, a sharp-witted, easy-going young man from Boston, Massachusetts. It was Elder Craig who had given Brig his nickname, “The Prophet.”
On a hot and humid Sunday evening, Brig was sitting at his desk studying Cantonese when the telephone rang. Elder Craig answered the phone as the two other Elders, whom they shared the apartment with, wandered into the living room wearing only their garments.
“Domino’s Pizza. Can I take your order?” Elder Craig answered the phone in a high-pitched, Bostonian accent.
After a long pause, Elder Firth, one of the APs, responded, “Hilarious Elder.”
“I had you goin’ there for a second, didn’t I? Admit it!”
“You did. You got me. Well done Elder. Now if you could only speak Cantonese, you might make a decent missionary.”
Elder Craig held his fist high above his head, then pulled it down sharply to his waist in a victory celebration that only his roommates could appreciate. “So is anybody from our happy family moving?”
“Elders Johnson and Campbell will stay put. Elder Chang will be your new companion.”
“A bundeih? Well, that’ll be fun.” “Bundeih” was the Cantonese term for a local. In 2001 there were approximately twenty bundeih missionaries. The native missionaries were characteristically more zealous and more effective than their English-speaking counterparts. Elder Craig was facetious when he suggested that being Elder Chang’s companion would be fun.
“What about Elder Young?” Craig asked.
“Elder Young is being sent out to the country to serve with ‘the Buddha.’”
“Interesting! Now THAT is a fun bundeih. Hang on a second.” Elder Craig pulled the phone away from his face and gave his roommates the news. Brig had never heard of “the Buddha,” and was too new to appreciate the significance of the update. Brig was moving, and he was excited and nervous. Would he like his new companion? Why was he called “the Buddha”? Would his new companion be an ass, like Jensen, or more laid back like Elder Craig? Would his new apartment be nice, or rat infested like the apartment in Causeway Bay? These were the thoughts that went through Brig’s mind as Elder Craig finished his conversation with Elder Firth. Johnson and Campbell stood in the doorway waiting for Craig to hang up and share the mission gossip.
Elder Craig placed the phone back in its cradle and stared at Brig with a smug smile on his face. The other two missionaries looked on, curious as to what Craig was up to. Craig continued to stare until Brig broke the silence.
“What? Who’s the Buddha?”
“‘The Prophet’ and ‘the Buddha.’ A power couple like ‘Bennifer’ and ‘Brangelina.’ I like it. I like it a lot,” Elder Craig opined. “Well played Mr. President. Well played.”
Brig’s next companion, Elder Wong Wai Man, had been nicknamed “The Laughing Buddha” long before he had become a missionary, or even before he had become a Latter-Day Saint. Elder Wong was the embodiment of the beloved Buddhist Deity. He was short, stout, and when he wasn’t smiling, he was laughing. His laugh was infectious and he was a friend to everyone.
“Elder you are too lucky. The Buddha is the man!” declared Craig.
“Seriously?” Brig responded. “I can’t tell if you guys are being sarcastic or not.”
“Honest Injun…or Lamanite. I’ll accept either reference. Cross my heart and hope to die. Stick a needle in my fetching eye.” Craig could see Brig remained unconvinced. “Ask these numbskulls.” Craig jerked his thumb toward Elder Campbell for confirmation.
“He’s right. Elder Wong is one of the good ones,” Campbell agreed.
“Great guy, and a baptizing machine,” Elder Johnson added.
“Right or wrong. Good or bad. You’ll find out tomorrow. The van will be here at 7 a.m, so get packed.”