Why Kai

While I was serving as a Mormon missionary in Germany, I was called to serve in a small town called Unna that lies a few miles east of the much larger city of Dortmund. I’d served about 6 months and was starting to feel comfortable with the German language although topics outside of church doctrine were still a challenge. But I loved tiny Unna and its friendly residents, great Bratwurst and cobblestone streets which wove through the town.

One afternoon, my companion and I walked into a tiny bookstore where we struck up a conversation with the bookkeeper. She invited us over to her home to meet her boyfriend; a guy named Kai. I remember the first visit well. Instead of presenting our prepared lessons about our church, Kai asked me to explain the rules of baseball. The four of us sat around a table while I took out a piece of paper and pen and began by drawing a baseball diamond and attempting, as best I could, to explain each position and its responsibilities. It wasn’t long before I asked to swap out my pen for a pencil because I was making a mess. I did the best I could explaining the basics of of the game and thought I was doing well until Kai asked me to explain the infield fly rule and what a balk is. I had about as much luck explaining the nuances of baseball as I did teaching them about my church.

We became good friends with Kai and Barbara over the few months I was assigned to Unna. We’d regularly stop by the bookstore to visit Barbara, and she would invite us over for dinner often. The only thing they asked of us was that we spend half the visit talking about our church and  and the other half discussing sports and music, Kai’s two favorite topics.

I didn’t exactly hit a home run with my baseball rules on a napkin diagram so we spent much of the visit listening to and discussing music, specifically Simon and Garfunkel which is Kai’s favorite. I’d heard a number of their songs by this time and began to like them a lot.

A mission is a strange thing. Although I was happy to be serving my church and making my family proud, I was often very lonely. Few people wanted to speak with me about the church which means most days were filled with rejection, slammed doors and a good dose of humility. Most Germans were very kind although the college age kids could be brutal and many harassed us every chance they had. As much as I wanted to jump off my bike and defend myself, doing so would earn me with a one-way ticket home. A mission is a two year exercise in restraint.

Meeting people as kind as Kai and Barbara was a treat for sure so I was bummed when I found out I’d be transferred to another city in less than a week. We spent a lot of time together during those few remaining days. During our last visit, I heard the song, “I Am A Rock” off Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits album. When I told Kai how much I enjoyed the song, he made a cassette tape I could take to my next town.

The day came to say goodbye and continue my service in a new area. Kai and Barbara took the day off to see me off at the train station. I had some rough days on my two year mission but this easily ranks near the top of crappy days. I said goodbye to my friends and boarded a train for Fulda. I sat down on the the squishy train seats with my headphones on listening to “I Am a Rock” watching my friends wave goodbye as tears streamed down my face. 

A winters day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island

Simon & Garfunkel – I Am A Rock

When Kim and I were discussing names for our soon to arrive baby boy  last fall, I told her how much I liked the name Kai, and was surprised when she didn’t veto it because she had done just that with another German named liked: Hans. We named our son Kai which is a tribute to my friend who came into my life at exactly the right time. I loved his positive attitude and joy for life, and I hope we can raise our son to have those same attributes.

9 thoughts on “Why Kai

  1. Kai is definitely a good name for our baby then because he is a friendly little guy. I have to chuckle. Every time Great Grandma Henke talks to me she asks me how to pronounce it.

    Not having been on a 2 year full time mission myself I can only guess at the range of emotions missionaries go through in foreign countries away from friends and families. I did have a similar feeling of aloneness when we first went to the Piute Branch as stake missionaries. The teenagers hated us with a passion, some of the elders ignored us totally, some were rude, and a few welcomed us. I found my peace with the children and we became very close.

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  2. That is kind of you to share that with us. It makes Kai’s name mean much more than it did. I always liked it, but now it has meaning to me. Thanks again for sharing.

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  3. What a great story! I thought the name Kai was really nice when I read that’s what you had named him, but now I love it! It’s so great to be able to give your children names that have meaning to you. What wonderful memories of your mission. Have you kept in touch with Kai and Barbara?

    I am starting to understand the difficult thing it can be to be transfered to a new area on your mission. My daughter’s boyfriend is serving in France right now and he just had his first transfer this week. Reading his email yesterday just broke my heart. He said leaving those people was about the hardest thing he’s ever done. There were many, many tears. I guess some of them have become like family to him, and he fears he will probably never see them again. That’s got to be tough.

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  4. I love Kai’s name and I love it even more because it means so much to you. It will be fun to be able to tell him where it came from when he is older.

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  5. Maryanna,

    Kai was able to fly over and stay with my family just a few weeks after I returned from my mission. He loved Utah and couldn’t quite understand how big the US is. One morning he wanted to drive to the Mississippi River and was shocked when I told him that would take days. He also wanted to ride a bike from Ogden to the Great Salt Lake. He’s now working as an engineer for Audi in northern Germany. I sure miss visiting with him.

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