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We witness tender mercies and mini-miracles every day as we find joy in pressing forward. We are immensely grateful for our time of service as missionaries in the Georgia Atlanta North Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Life and opportunities continue. See our missionary and life story in pictures by clicking here: http://rayc.shutterfly.com/

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas 2012: Merry, Bright, and Joyous

Merry Christmas!  It's a quiet, rainy Christmas afternoon.  We'll be preparing dinner for some elders later, so will take the opportunity now to catch up on events. We have been so busy the past few weeks. This quiet morning is allowing us to enjoy some peaceful reflection on our blessings and the birth and life Christmas celebrates.

    Thanksgiving Morning at Stone Mountain Lake

To begin, we'll share our Christmas greeting sent by email and letter to friends and family:

Sing the Song of Redeeming Love…       
The Christmas season draws our hearts and minds to our Savior and to the remarkable events that foretold and announced His birth. The songs of Christmas describe a humble birth, unnoticed by a sleeping world. But to those who were seeking, the alleluias of the heavenly hosts rang out in joyous refrain, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.” Do you ever feel like you have been in those choirs? Do you aspire to be? The heavens have shouted for joy many times. The morning stars sang together at the foundation of the earth. The Prophet Joseph Smith acclaimed the restored gospel in psalm:
Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud, and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven. (D&C 128:23)
Our experiences as missionaries for Christ’s restored church have deepened our understanding and gratitude for His birth, His life, and His atonement. Countless numbers of Heavenly Father’s children are still slumbering, unaware of the joyous news. We are grateful for our opportunity to help spread the word throughout the world. What better time than Christmas to invite us all to (again) come unto Christ, to experience a change of heart, and to sing the song of redeeming love. (See Alma 5:26)
May He bless you and yours this Christmas and in the year ahead. 

                                                                                                        Elder and Sister Connors

We can only describe the past weeks as joyful and busy. We'll recount in reverse from our Christmas greeting to the events preceding. We've enjoyed visiting some of our convert and investigator families the past few days, sharing with them a Christmas message and a "whenever" breakfast goody bag. The Chases, the Howards, Sister Roca (who has returned), and a special visit last night that we will remember for a long time. Several others we want to see are working draining holiday jobs, and we will catch up to them when they can recover. One, Ibiri Boateng, was baptized on December 16. Unfortunately, he had to postpone his December 23 confirmation because he was working for 36 straight hours - Walmart's gift to their stocking employees!  Born in Ghana, Obi (as he's known) has been in the U.S. for 14 years. With most of his family in DC, he's been in Georgia for about 2 years. He immediately recognized the truth when Elders Hanny and Edmunds taught him and totally turned away from old habits to new. We enjoyed having dinner with him at the Lilburn Ward Christmas Party. He speaks French and is delighted that Sister Paepaetaata from Tahiti is now serving in the ward and he can speak his favorite language with her! We feel blessed that we'll be able to continue working with and getting to know him better.

We had a bittersweet visit last night with Mercy and Malyssa Ansah last night. Merci is from Ghana, too. A single parent and member, she's been delaying the baptism for her 9-year old daughter, Malyssa. Malyssa is a cutie with lots of energy who charms everyone she meets. We called ahead and arranged a 7 p.m. visit. A secret Santa from the ward had dropped off a large box of gifts to the mission office for us to deliver along with our goodies.  As Mercy invited us in, we noticed the pile of boxes and the unassembled bed frame in the living room of the tiny apartment.  The stack of boxes have been there since Sister Connors first met them. With no storage, they can only keep their extras in the boxes. However, the borrowed sofa they were using previously had been returned to its owner, so there was only one computer chair to sit on, a sofa table, a small desk and a television. There were only those items, and a sad Malyssa wrapped up in blankets on the floor. Sick with the stomach flu, she had little desire to do more than say "hello" and "thank you."  There was (by mom's choice) no tree, no decorations. This little girl who is usually ready with a big smile and hug and curiosity about what you have to offer was having a sad Christmas. We had to hold back the tears until we closed the door behind as we left.  It will be an image we'll keep in our hearts and minds. We hope another visit from Sister Allen and Paepaetaata who were arriving at 8 p.m. helped to cheer them, too. Our Christmas Eve ended with prayers for this beautiful child and struggling mother, and a commitment to find them a small sofa or chairs. It was a blessed  humility experience for our Christmas Eve. We know the Lord knows and is aware and will work the experience to their benefit.

Today, Christmas Day, we learned about a mission vehicle with a vandalized windshield. The incident reports can come at any time of any day. We are helping to filter some other disobedience distractions that may end in more early missionary departures (the 2nd time this month). Satan works so hard to tempt these missionaries into disobedience. We can't tell the story; it breaks our hearts when we hear and even more when we are the sounding board. But we have to recognize the challenging realities that exist in a mission right along with the joys.

Our son, David, texted us the week before Christmas to ask when was our Preparation Day. He surprised us with a one day visit as our Christmas gift. He flew in on Friday evening. We picked him up at the airport and spent a chilled windy Saturday with him, going to see the view from atop Stone Mountain (didn't stay long) and then to downtown Atlanta to visit the World of Coca-Cola and Olympic Park.

Then it was tacos at Los Hermanos, that favorite local taqueria, and a nice visit with Don and Zaza Clark. Sunday morning he picked up a rental car, rendezvoused with a former Alaska missionary friend, and then drove 560 miles to Mobile, AL where he is picking up a car to drive it back to Utah for friend Darren Webster. We so enjoyed a relaxed low-key day with him. He looks good, is eating healthier, and recovering well from some major dental surgery. It gave us great joy and peace of mind to spend time with him. We love him and are proud of the person he is. His Christmas gift to himself was to be another "solo" trip on the road. Last year he celebrated by hiking to Delicate Arch on Christmas morning to watch the sunrise after we shared family Christmas on Christmas Eve. He's celebrated the holiday in Panama, Alaska, and elsewhere. The life of a bachelor. He's now driven every state except Hawaii. However, his Christmas Day driving plans have been foiled. FedEx didn't get the purchase check to the dealer, so he's held up in Mobile until Wednesday. He'll make a discovery somewhere today, we're sure.

Speaking of FedEx, we still have about 50 missionary Christmas boxes in the mission office that arrived on Monday.  We couldn't get the USPS boxes and 100 cards and letters re-addressed before the Post Office closed. We will probably get more on Wednesday, so it will be another all-day mail marathon and multiple trips to the Post Office. We have the best mail carriers. One day we received four deliveries, one of them with nothing in the truck but our missionaries' boxes!  No, you can't wait until a week before Christmas to get a package to a missionary!  But many loved ones tried!  After Thanksgiving we started storing  all packages in the mission office, leapfrogging the older packages back into delivery once we were assured we would have at least once package for each missionary for our Mission Christmas party. We ended up with hundreds of packages of all sizes saved at the Mission Office and hundreds more forwarded on. Packages everywhere! Why didn't we take a photo of all those gifts!? Too busy!  Mail and packages have been the primary focus of the month, along with helping our new couple, Elder and Sister Hall, learn and adapt into the mission office routine. Some days we felt like we were sinking and have some catch up to do to be totally afloat again. However, it has brought great joy to bring these wonderful missionaries happiness.

We had our mission party on Wednesday, December 19, at the Stake Annex next to the Mission Office. It's the only time of year that all of the missionaries get together. We had a great catered turkey and stuffing dinner. The Halls helped us provide and put together little candy bags and a summarized bookmark of Elder Ballard's talk about Be Anxiously Engaged. A bee theme in the talk led to the Bee Merry and Bright greeting tag and Bits of Honey mixed with other candy. We saw a wonderful slide show of life in the mission for 2012. We we had an amazing talent show:  Sister Paepaetaata performed island dances; Elders Dennie, Boman, MacDonald, Hemsley, and McConnehey created a happy rhythm and rap "I Get No Mail for Chistmas" parody; Sister Waterworth played her flute; Elder McConnehey gave an amazing jazz piano improv rendition of "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission"; Elder Rallison juggled; Elder McAllister balanced everything from a music stand to a full size banquet table on his chin (and got down and up on the floor while balancing); senior Elder Lee shared some favorite country songs; Elder Beenfield created a movie trailer sound effect number; senior Sister Lundgren sang The Lord's Prayer; Elder Fetuli played his ukulele as he sang "How Can I Become Like Him?", a touching reflection about dozens of Book of Mormon prophets and the Savior. It brought tears to our eyes. Elder Campbell concluded with a reverent and beautiful "The First Noel" vocal solo. The program ended as President and Sister Wolfert expressed their love, and it was time to finally find and open the many gift(s) we had transported from the mission office. It was a wonderful four hours!  Unfortunately our camera battery went dead and our few photos of the event are lost in action!

Other December highlights include:
  • Welcoming Sister Kathleen and Elder Richard Hall from Orem, UT.  They replace Mike and Rosemary Bolt as the Finance Secretary and Housing Coordinator. We already love them so much!
  • Soccer playoffs on Preparation Day with the Obers and Clarks and our first visit to a Chick-fil-a Dwarf House
  • The Lilburn Ward Christmas Party; it was your typical Ward Christmas Party, but very enjoyable.
  • A great empty-nester Family Home Evening. Len and Darlene Holladay (yes, Holladay, Utah is named after his family) shared their infamous and great hand-drawn and wonderfully told recitation of "The Grinch That Stole Christmas." They started the tradition with their family in the 1960's, after seeing the book in the Spokane newspaper (before its mass publication).
  • A lovely senior missionary dinner at a local Italian restaurant. 
  • A visit to one of two well-known Nativity Celebrations in the Atlanta Area. We attended the event in Roswell with the Halls. Another was held the week before in Gainesville. It was a great community missionary event that draws thousands to see nearly a thousand amazing nativity displays and enjoy musical numbers from local talent. It was beautiful and spiritual.   

  • Catching the amazing nutcracker collection window display in tiny, downtown Lilburn.
  • Shopping for sub-for-Santa events.
  • Helping Zaza and her granddaughters decorate the Christmas tree.
  • Attending the Sugar Hill Choir Christmas Concert. It was another wonderful community event and tugged at our hearts already missing being part of the Orchard Stake Concert at home.
  • Working two preparations days: one driving to Jonesboro to get a totaled car out of impound; another deep cleaning and organizing the mission office in preparation for another new couple (mission nurse and husband) who will arrive in January. That effort is still in progress. So much to do!
  • Helping the Halls transition into their jobs.
  • Improvising with copy and fax machines down and installing a totally new phone system and hardware two days ago.
  • AND...notifications of new missionaries are arrive at an amazing rate, so comes the handling all of the correspondence, paperwork, and logistics that come with it. January arrivals will be a fairly standard seven.  February?  Seventeen and counting (mostly sisters).  March?  Thirteen and counting; they will be among the first group to enter the mission field after only 10 days in the MTC. April? Eight and counting. Our collective minds are spinning thinking about what it will be mean in terms of expansion as we may gain 100 additional missionaries in our ranks. It will be an especially busy time for the Housing Coordinator. Furniture donations have started and every week we have people dropping housing items off to the office of the storage unit. How many new areas will we open? Everyone needs to bring a bike. Where will we store the bikes until their owners arrive? How will we find 12-week trainers for 30 sisters when we only have twelve sisters right now?  It's exciting, and there couldn't be a better Christmas and New Year gift.
The Halls are cooking dinner for the sister missionaries.  It's time for us to cook dinner for some hungry elders.  Then we'll call the "kids" for our family Christmas. They sent us wonderful gifts, and we are so grateful the Lord has them in his gracious and bounteous care. 

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, one and all.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Day in Time

So little time; so much to do.  It's been a very, very busy two weeks and no time to write about it just now. Holiday events, new office couples, equipment failures, Christmas preparations, Stake Conference - all have filled our minutes and hours. We'll catch up soon. But it is a special date - 12/12/12.  Something similar won't happen again in this century, so it seems appropriate to post something just for today.

Also, congratulations, Sister Aubree Scott, on your marriage today to Joshua Browning.  Denying until the day she left the mission in August that she would marry quickly, we all knew better. And she managed to reserve the special date for a joyous day. 

Only 87 years and 20 days until 1/1/1!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

For Thy Bounteous Blessings

We love Thanksgiving and the stately cadence of many of our thanksgiving hymns. A favorite is the Primary round For Thy Bounteous Blessings:
(1) For thy bounteous blessings,
(2) For thy wondrous word,
(3) For thy loving kindness,
(4) We give thanks, O Lord.

The words of this round pretty much summarize our deep gratitude for our many blessings and for the grace and teachings of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We just finished Thanksgiving Week, and we have much to be grateful for.  Among the most important are our testimonies, our mission, each other, ours sons, Michael and David, our daughter-in-law, Wendy, and our grandchildren, Faith, Hailey, Noah, Ammon, and Elizabeth (Lizzie).  Then we can continue on to brothers, Ron, Thyce, Kenneth, Michael, and Jeffrey, parents, aunts; all of the extended family. Add our dear converts and investigators and friends here in Georgia and back home in Utah. We can't leave out our health, this country, and the beauties of nature. The list goes on and on, and it includes scriptures, prophets, revelation, temples; again, on and on our blessings go. All of them come to us through a loving Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our blessings and activities the past two weeks have been many and varied. Each and every day in the mission office is a blessing. We love serving the elders and sisters. We've had a big baptism month, and we experienced a slight change in the schedules for Transfer Week. Because of Thanksgiving, the released elders went home on Tuesday morning, the same day we picked up a new group of elders in the afternoon.  That meant two trips to the airport with the cargo trailer behind us. We were fortunate to avoid the heavy holiday traffic which seemed to jam in the opposite directions we traveled through downtown Atlanta during the day. Elder Williams, one of the Assistants, was among those departing. We look forward to working with Elder Edmunds (from Ogden, UT) who will now work with Elder Hanny. More changes lie ahead this week. Elder and Sister Bolt, our volunteer missionaries from Lilburn, who have been the Finance and Housing coordinators, will be released at the end of November (after extending for 7 months!)  Elder and Sister Hall from Orem arrived in Georgia on Friday. They are a delightful couple, and we know we will enjoy working with them. There will be training this week, and then we'll bid the Bolts farewell. We will miss their talents and Elder Bolt's "tales."  But since the Bolts live in the Lilburn Ward, we will continue to enjoy their good company. We hope they can slow down a bit and will be able to now spend weekdays at their ranch in South Carolina and weekends at their primary home with their ward family (it's been the opposite during the mission and very tiring for them.)

We took the Halls to dinner on Friday evening to Dos Hermanos, our favorite authentic Mexican food restaurant, and helped them settle in a bit. On Saturday we introduced them to their assignments as we met a U-Haul truck at the Mission Office. It was filled with furnishings for missionary apartments donated by the Collins Hill Ward, about 15 miles east. We escorted the truck to the mission's commercial storage sheds and helped with the unloading. The three storage units are pretty much filled, and we are accepting donations from five stakes over the next five Saturdays and anytime donations from the Lilburn Stake as they arrive. Why all the donations?  President Wolfert has been working with the six stake presidents in the mission on strategies for integrating 70-100 additional missionaries in the next 6 months. Potentials include 70 new sisters; we now have only 14. What does a potential 60% increase in missionaries mean? Lots of new apartments and furnishing and supplies for them, additional vehicles, increased correspondence, paperwork, and mail, creation of new mission areas, nearly every missionary becoming a trainer, and logistics for leaders at ward, stake, mission, area, and Church levels to anticipate and administer. It's going to be great fun! As of today, however, our January arrivals are at normal levels.  Where do we store all the "stuff" in the meantime?  When will we know for a certainty how many, who, and when? We smile as we ask these questions and look forward to 2013 with anticipation and a commitment to work together.

Lisa Kotter, the Ward Relief Society president invited several investigators and new converts who did not have other family plans to her home for Thanksgiving dinner. Many of their children are friends, and it was a great fit for the families. (Lisa is the daughter of Elder Cornish of the Seventy.) The Clarks headed with the Obers to Texas for dinner with their son's family. After talking to the Stowells, a wonderful senior couple serving in Jonesboro, we decided to invite them to share Thanksgiving Day with us. They, too, couldn't find a good "we'll cook dinner for you fit", and had hit that point where a change of view felt welcome to them. So they became our Thanksgiving project. Rather than cook a meal, we spent the morning at Stone Mountain Park.

The park was not as crowded as it may have been on an earlier fall weekend, allowing us to enjoy a few highlights, some photos, and the tram ride to the top of Stone Mountain. We definitely need to take one of our Saturday exercise outings to take the hike to the top! We then joined the senior Kotter family (all 35 of them) for dinner. It was a full house, but the feeling was relaxed and informal. We then parted to our various apartments to connect with family by phone. Mike and Wendy and the kids were enjoying dinner in Arizona with Wendy's sister's (Jacque) family. Dave didn't return our voice message until Friday. He spent Thanksgiving alone at home - resting and giving thanks and finally posting online some enriched comments and pictures for what I'll explain next about Canguro Racing's November achievement.

I'll use David's words to tell the history of Canguro Racing: Canguro Racing formed somewhere in the mountains of Northern Utah. Or maybe amongst the saguaros of Baja, Mexico. It might just have happened on the slickrock mesas of Moab. The truth is that there is no exact date when Canguro Racing was created. Ten years ago the six of us were complete strangers. Through a shared love of the venerable Toyota Land Cruiser we all became friends. Each of us has been active in the off-roading community for over 15 years, traveled thousands of dusty, washboard miles and have served in local and national leadership positions for various volunteer organizations. Sometime over the past 18 months the timing finally worked out so we could join together for our Baja 1000 adventure. We’re excited for what lies ahead of us and are grateful to all our friends, family, and supporters, without which this would never happen.

Dave and our mutual friends, Ryan Davis, Darren Webster, Kurt Williams, Marc VanTassell, and Dave Helm (sitting in for original team member, Will Carroll) completed their goal to run and cross the finish line in the 2012 Baja 1000. The race:  Started about 1:30 p.m. Pacific Time on Thursday, November 15; about 200 miles for each driver; 1100 miles in all; 42 total hours; one broken power steering belt and voltage regulator; rough track conditions from rain and hurricane damage; sheer joy in their faces in the photos on the grandstand. Only one in three starting cars finished the race - the longest off road event in the world. We watched (when we could) by checking in periodically on the internet to see the marker for car #1404 (Mathilda) move along the tracker application's map route. The GPS updated their location about every two minutes. We held our breath when they stopped at places other than check points; we cheered after check point stops and as they changed drivers and continued on. And we did all this while we slept and did our mission work. Somehow in our periodic checking we hit the highlights of their movement even though we missed hours at a time.

We were at a soccer game with the Clarks (Izzie's last game of the season) on Saturday morning. We watched Mathilda jump to the finish line on our cell phone's browser about 8 a.m. The Clarks were mildly appreciative; they were much more engaged in the soccer game. But we knew what a big deal this was; a difficult challenge physically, mentally, and financially. It was the culmination of the hard work of dozens of friends. And these men are our friends, too. They finished - safely and successfully! It was cold and windy at the soccer game; Linda lingered in the backseat of the car after the others stepped out to watch the game. They thought I was hiding from the wind; I was actually crying a prayer of gratitude for the accomplishment and for the competitors and their families that I love. Our prayer (many prayers) for their safety and success were answered.  There will be much online chatter and pictures about their adventure. We'll miss most of it; but hopefully we'll be able to catch up when we get home (or watch them do it again another year!)

The satisfaction in David's voice was tangible as we talked to him after Thanksgiving. Our feelings of gratitude for the race success was stronger than we expected. It was not what we anticipated would be a 2012 thanksgiving highlight. But it is. It's more than pride in achievement; there is something noble about the friendship, and sacrifice, and determination that was part of the effort. Like the sacrifice and dedication our son, Michael, gives and receives in his role as husband and father, it is evidence of God's gifts to his righteous sons. Good comes in many forms; we see and hear of God's love every day. It's important that we acknowledge, both privately and publicly, our "bounteous" blessings.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Lord is Ever With Us

Thanksgiving is just a few days away and there is much to be thankful for, including the Lord's watchful care over the past two weeks. Let's start at the ending.

Aeriel Chase, Matthew, and Victoria were confirmed today, two weeks later than expected. Unexpected illnesses led to emergency room visits and sidetracked them on two Sundays. After their baptism they moved into a rental home near the Lilburn building, but it was exhausting for them. First mom, then Matthew and then Dad all fell ill. We learned today talking to Mom that Matthew (extremely dehydrated and not able to walk while in the ER), was telling everyone he was a Mormon and sharing his disappointment that he was supposed to receive the Holy Ghost rather than be in the hospital. He is a natural child-missionary! The entire family was so happy today. In Gospel Principles class, Brother Chase testified about the blessings that have come to the family since they committed to the Savior and His church. And Sister Chase was laughing with a happy smile when she explained that they had to get ready for Church at grandma's house because their septic system backed up yesterday. You can see the joy of the gospel  in their faces and understand why Elder Williams felt so happy at their baptism. We're excited to be able to continue to get to know and help them more. We're already thinking about a way to enjoy a family experience with them during the holidays ahead. The other happy event from today was to turn around in the hall after Sacrament Meeting and see Dana Roca, our beloved convert who left Georgia in an urgent situation, leaving no contact information. We wondered months ago if we would ever see her again. She's back, doing well, and attended Church while in New York. What joy filled our hearts. No one in the ward knew she was back until she appeared today! The Lord has been with her. Today was a joyful end to a busy week.

The week before last, Ray had a bout with the flu. Halloween came and went quietly (we shared our candy with the Clarks so they could give it out). Hurricane Sandy hit the upper Atlantic Seaboard; we donned our Helping Hands t-shirts and helped several dozen Lilburn Stake members at the Tucker Bishop's Storehouse to pack food boxes for relief efforts. It's wonderful how willing hands work so quickly to help the Church to be ready in advance. The hurricane was so devastating, and yet a sense of resilience and determination surfaced, too. On Saturday morning, we learned that two elders had been in a serious accident about 9 p.m. on Friday night. A woman, DUI, collided with them nearly head on; both vehicles were traveling nearly 50 mph. Another set of elders were traveling in the next lane and witnessed the accident. The woman's car went airborne after the initial contact, rolled on its side, and ended upside down. The four elders got back to their apartments about 4 a.m. after Elder Jones was checked out in the ER. Fortunately he was okay. It was a miracle the elders were not more seriously hurt. The Lord was with them.

We began our Saturday morning with housework, raking leaves and mowing the lawn (exercise felt so good). We then enjoyed an hour watching Cami Ober play soccer, and we got to know her father, Blaine Ober. Blaine came home for a week from Dubai (happens about once a year). Jackie and the girls were so happy to have him home. It was good to see them all together, even Alex flew home from BYU to spend time with them. After the soccer game we drove down to Jonesboro to see Elder Jones and Gisseman.  President Wolfert was at their apartment when we arrived; letting the elders call their parents to assure them they were okay. After a prayer of gratitude for the missionaries' protection and a plea for blessings for the reckless driver, the president left and we took the elders to dinner. They looked tired but were excited for a good meal. Unfortunately, Elder Jones, the driver, was on some medications and had to take most of his dinner home. It was only 7:30 p.m.l when we dropped them off, but we assured them it would be okay to go to bed after an exceptional 24 hours. We saw the elders on Tuesday at Zone Conference, and they are doing well. What a blessing!

The first of three Zone Conferences was held in Lilburn on Tuesday - election day.  It rained much of the morning, making car inspections fun. We experienced the same rain and colder air on Wednesday in Marietta. Ray followed the Assistants to the Stake Center in Marietta; they leave about 6:30 a.m. to be there by 8 a.m. Without traffic, it's a 45 minute drive; but there is always traffic in Atlanta. Thursday was a beautiful, but cold day for the last conference at the Sugar Hill Stake Center in Suwanee. We scraped serious frost from our car windows in the morning; a first for us in Georgia!  Ray enjoys the associations and messages at Zone Conference and also speaks during a session. The Bolts made presentations, too, so Linda was left alone at the Mission Office until they returned about 4 p.m. each day. On Tuesday evening we subbed for Don and Zaza and taught Mission Prep class.

We averaged more than 10 hour days at the office the past week. So when Saturday arrived, we did a quick housecleaning and started a loop through Cleveland, Helen, and the mountains to do some shopping for some locally produced gift items. We realized that Christmas is around the corner. We learned Cleveland is the home to Cabbage Patch, so we figured it was time to visit the Cabbage Patch Hospital to pick up a newborn for our granddaughter, Lizzie.

The fall leaves had peaked, but we did catch one breathtaking moment as we rounded a corner on the winding road to see brilliant red and yellow leaves glittering in the sun and gently dancing in the breeze like a soft veil along our path.  The Lord was blessing us in those few seconds.  It was a nice afternoon drive and we missed the crowds that clogged the roads the weekends before. We have now traveled the beginning of the Appalachian trail and highway.

Ray's hands have been getting worse, and the discomfort and frustration is wearing him out. The fear that he was having additional problems with his neck keeps nagging at him. He's back to doing his computer work with one finger typing. He felt impressed to again call Dr. Smalley, the Area Medical Advisor, to seek counsel. Dr. Smalley is an orthopedic physician and we met him at Zone Conference. We obtained a copy of Ray's pre-cervical fusion MRI from Utah. It was good to hear from Dr. Smalley after he looked at the MRI. He feels surgery is not needed and is convinced something other than pinched disks may be causing the tremors and weakness. In the short term, Ray is trying medications for muscle spasms, and in the one day he's taken them, they seem to help. He's also going to schedule another nerve conductivity test. The Lord is helping us stay here in the mission; he is with us!

The 2012 Presidential elections have been both intriguing and exhausting. Georgians like to talk politics - conservative politics. As missionaries we try to keep our conversations neutral and short, but it was hard to avoid talking about the events. Often it was a conversation starter about the Church; but so much of the talk felt like doomsday, either, or. As a precaution, mission presidents were counseled to sequester or move missionaries in areas that could be prone to possible rioting if election results caused controversy. We moved a few of our missionaries and asked the others to stay in their apartments for the night. Throughout this political year, we stated and prayed with faith that the Lord would direct the election outcomes in His wisdom for what we, as a nation, need to receive and learn. Who should we trust more than the Lord?  We will come to learn and see His hand by looking back in the future. We certainly came to respect the Romneys as individuals, even more than candidate and family. They showed such great fortitude and character in the cause.

There is much talk of the "Mormon Moment" in the press. Will the momentum continue?  Has it peaked?  The SE Area Mission Presidents were recently counseled by Elder Rasband. He affirmed that the Lord is in charge of His work and will move it forward.  We have been told to expect a 50% increase in our missionaries by mid-year 2013.  Missionary applications increased ten-fold in the weeks following the General Conference announcement that elders can now serve at age 18 and sisters at age 19. We are excited to do our part to prepare for, welcome, and build up those missionaries. Elder Rasband explained that sometimes we simply need to get out of the way. The words spoken by Joseph Smith - the Standard of Truth - say it all. The same knowledge and determination should be ours, because the Lord is and will ever be with us and directing His work.

"The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”

Sunday, October 28, 2012

What a Treat

It's Sunday evening, and we find ourselves very tired. It's been a very busy two weeks - all part of the blessings of missionary service. A rare quiet afternoon has allowed us to finally get the balance of our missionary photos quickly labeled and a link for them placed on this blog page. That's a treat! In looking back at Transfer Week, we realized it really was a big month. We had our first experience towing the utility trailer and driving the 12-passenger van to the airport to pick up missionaries. It was delightful. The ride on MARTA for a first contacting experience in Georgia usually takes the Assistants and new missionaries 1-2 hours. Elder Bolt convinced us to stop in downtown Atlanta for a quick lunch at the landmark Varsity in the 12-passenger van with the tow trailer behind. The Varsity is an indoor fast food franchise with drive-in atmosphere of long time renown. We can now say we've had our experience with the Varsity hot dog and hamburger. Sorry Georgians, the atmosphere was great, the food was school lunch quality. It was another Atlanta experience checked off. We then drove to the Doraville Station to pick up our load of missionaries, just in the nick of time.We're going to love this new assignment, and the driving is no problem.  It will be a treat!

Another new task for Sister Connors is to edit the photos that we take of the new missionaries at the mission home on arrival night. We print them and post them on a large board in the Mission Office. It's a favorite stop for all visiting missionaries to see the faces that go with the names of missionaries they hear about but rarely or never meet. The editing process was a bit stressful since I'm not an expert and had to learn new software, but next time will be easier. After editing the photos, I then take down, add, and re-arrange all the photos on the board in alphabetical order. Followed by that, I add the photos and baptisms into the Southern Star newsletter, publish it, mail it, and email it. The final step with the photos is to print two passport size photos of each new missionary and create index-sized magnetic transfer cards for each missionary to go on the transfer boards at the mission office and mission home.

Last Sunday was the baptism of Aeriel Chase and 11-year old Victoria and 9-year old Matthew. Dad, Tyler, prepared his worthiness to do the baptisms. Mom and dad were nervous, but there were few corrections and all went well.  Elder Casey Williams gave a talk before the baptism and did a great job. He bears a strong, yet quiet testimony in a confident and assured way. You could tell that this family had really touched him. His mission will be over in November.  "I've never been happier than I am at this moment," he said. And he was sincere. He had us in tears.

The Chases bore their testimonies after the baptism. Victoria read scripture with confidence, and from her words and spirit we know she reads daily. Matthew was grateful for the Book of Mormon; that God gave us another testament of Christ. Mom is sweet (probably experiencing the biggest life change). And Dad, from Brooklyn, is a talker who retold the following story Matthew had shared with us during our car ride the week before. Matthew had recognized the spirit when he heard the missionaries, and told the family who had struggled finding a Church that worked. "I think God is giving us one last chance."  I was so touched by the spirit of the baptism that I actually posted Matthew's observation on Facebook. If we look at it personally, or as a society, Matthew listens to the spirit as we all should.  He is the most amazing young man.  Typical is most ways, he is blessed with a special spiritual awareness and curiosity. The family just moved from an apartment to a rental home this week. It puts them closer to the meeting house, which is good. They struggle, as do many, with finances in today's world. They will need our support. Mom was ill today so they could not be confirmed. We plan to visit them this week and share a Primary CD as a baptism memento.

We enjoyed another spiritual treat connected with the spreading of the Gospel today. With the Presidential election now just 9 days away, the Mormon Moment continues to gain momentum. We get invitations to talk about politics everywhere we turn. We politely listen but hold back engaged opinion (we are missionaries), but it is everywhere. My Visiting Teacher is a Public Affairs Coordinator for the Southeast Region. She has been very busy helping the Priesthood Leaders to organize public affairs callings over the area, train leaders, and screen requests. In just the past two years, the Public Affairs assignment has grown from a newly created calling to become a major responsibility and opportunity. 

The Bolts had a family vacation planned for early October because they thought they would be released, so we held down the office solo that week. Sister Connors has a big spike in tasks and correspondence associated with the week of transfer and the week after. We added some new assignments, had a routine medical screening, flu shots, and much more!  Last week we had four new cars to pick up and more fun with vehicles and bicycles. Elder Connors phone rings constantly. We drove to Athens last Saturday to deliver a new bicycle to a missionary.We were treated to the most beautiful week of fall weather. Temperatures are in the 70's, with clear skies, and colorful, falling leaves. Friday night we enjoyed the Lilburn Ward and Stone Mountain Spanish Branch (Halloween) dinner and trunk or treat. It was great fun and a well-attended traditional event!  And for a change, my chili was a big hit; it was an on-the-fly recipe I'll need to save.
Yesterday we attended the BYU / Georgia Tech game in downtown Atlanta with the Clarks. We saw many ward members there and a large contingency of BYU fans. BYU played well, winning 41-17, and it was a fun experience. We're glad we agreed to buy the tickets and go along. On the streets and in the top rows of the stadium we saw several dozen missionaries from the GA Atlanta Mission. They were definitely noticed by the fans, and they represented their role and the Church well to the crowd. We went incognito of sorts, a senior missionary preparation day exception with our president's encouragement.
Tomorrow we'll return to a more normal routine in the office. The weather has cooled significantly. In missionary life, not-normal is the normal. Love it!  May the Lord treat any and all who read this blog with His love.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Holy Ghost Testifies

We enjoyed wonderful General Conference meetings last week. Like that weekend we arrived in Georgia, we enjoyed the meetings along with the other missionaries meeting in our building and several members and President Weiler's family (stake president). On Saturday just a handful of members were there; on Sunday more members attended the early session; fewer in the afternoon. The conference messages were memorable. As missionaries we will remember with a smile Elder Nelson's invitation, "Need ........(name the need)? Ask the missionaries!" Elder Ballard's honey bee object lesson was great, and Elder Holland again was a master in "likening the scriptures to ourselves" as he opened our eyes and hearts to those experiences of the first apostles and invited us to consider how we would answer the Lord's question, "Lovest thou me?"  We really felt the spirit as we watched and listened in that quiet chapel. Truly, it was a much greater spiritual experience than we have watching from home. 

As we sat in the Saturday morning session along with the two Lilburn Ward elders, the Centerville Ward elders (one just recently arrived from Brazil), the YSA elders, and the Spanish Branch elders, Sister Connor's conscience ringed "Why didn't you prepare a lunch for us to share between the a.m. and p.m. sessions?" So we did the expedient thing, ran to the nearby Little Caesar and grocery and bought pizza and salad. The visit and food hit the spot. After the lunch, the missionaries had a bit of time for calls and missionary followup. Another image we will remember from this conference weekend is sitting behind a group of elders. Elders Amaro (from Mexico City) and Elder Evans (Idaho), both small in stature, were sitting on either side of Elder Hokafonu. He could put both of them inside the broad shoulders of his suit coat. It was a sight to remember, especially because we love these young men so much.

On Monday evening, we attended an empty nester Family Home Evening hosted at the Kotter's home. We accepted the invitation to join the monthly event. For this first FHE, we enjoyed time with Eulala and Doyle Kotter (he is now stake patriarch), Don and Zaza Clark, Darlene and Len Holladay, Ann and Elmer Baumgart, Susan and Scott Foster, Pat Montana, and Don Wood.

This Tuesday, we had eleven new missionaries arrive. Finalizing transfer plans in IMOS (the Church's mission software) was a challenge as two additional missionaries we expected were not  able to enter the field after the President and Assistants had already communicated transfer information. Elder and Sister Bolt are preparing to be released, so we will now take their place in driving the mission van and trailer to pick the new missionaries up at the airport. Elder Bolt was our guide this week. President and Sister Wolfert are inside the airport to meet the arriving elders and sisters; they bring them out to the curb so we can pick up the missionaries' luggage; then the Assistants give each new missionary a handful of Book of Mormons and pamphlets and take them on the MARTA train for a first contacting experience.

We drive the van and trailer north from the airport through downtown Atlanta and pick the missionaries up at the Doraville MARTA Station about 2 hours later. It was heartwarming to see and hear the new missionaries enthusiasm after the experience! They then spend the evening at the Mission Home. Wednesday morning begins with three hours of orientation starting at 8 a.m. with our presentations about mission office and vehicle support, followed by the Finance and Housing Coordinators, and then instruction from the President. After a very stimulating first day and in a new time zone, the new missionaries are usually very quiet on orientation morning. By 11 a.m., they are ready to meet their new companions. It is a busy day at the office with many missionaries coming and going to their new areas. Many of the exchanges happen at other buildings in the mission to cut down on travel and lost missionary time, but it's always a happy zoo on Transfer Day at the Mission Office. On Wednesday evening we had another fireside for four departing missionaries. Two sang (Sister Hinckley from Delta, CO and Elder Decker from Prescott, AZ, his new home; he left from Nampa, ID), and all of them bore testimony (Elder Rogers from Mapleton, UT and Sister Charlotte Smith from Boise, ID). The spirit was very strong in that meeting, and the testimonies were pure and confident. 

Friday night brought the baptism of Michael Dentyi. He received special permission for the Friday baptism and font-side confirmation as he flew to Utah for employment on Saturday. From Kenya, Michael recognized truth quickly and literally "immersed" himself with scripture and testimony. Elder Hanny and Elder Williams were so grateful to have taught and baptized him. We also enjoyed our first real interaction with the Chase family. We helped transport 9-yr old Matthew and 11-year old Victoria to observe the baptism. They will be baptized next Sunday with their mother, Ariel. Dad was preparing to go to work at his security job, so only the children could attend. Brother Chase is a convert from Brooklyn who had slipped away from activity. One day he saw the elders on the street in front of their apartment and sent Matthew out to give them a bottle of water. The Chases appear to be another "golden" family; the spirit quickly testified to them of truth. The children are so open and clear about what they have seen. Sister Chase feels something good and special. What a blessing it is to see how the spirit operates with those who have childlike faith, regardless of age. As we drove the children home, we were able to talk with mom and dad just as Tyler was leaving for work. He is leading the family with faith and renewed testimony of truth. It occurred to us how important the role of priesthood and fathers are in leading their families. Conversions seem to proceed so much more directly when the father leads the family in righteous pursuits. That was the case with the Howard family as well.

We spent our preparation day with the Howard family, minus Dad who had to work last minute. With permission to use the mission van, we traveled to Dahlonega to check on a damaged mission car and then took the drive west to Ellijay. We stopped at Amicalola Falls for sandwiches and a hike to the falls. We patiently followed the stop and go traffic that started about 5 miles outside the popular u-pick apple farms in northern Georgia and eventually picked a farm for our hour of over-priced apple picking. We then headed home. It was an enjoyable 7-hour excursion. The Howards live on a tight budget with an unreliable car; it was a fun service experience to help them have a day out in the mountains (which reminded them of their home in Tennessee.) 

As Linda considered the spiritual experiences of the week during the sacrament today, she thought about the wonder of the gift of the Holy Ghost. Whether to apostle, prophet, missionary, or child, the Holy Spirit testifies of truth when hearts are open and worthy. And no matter how articulate or sophisticated the words, bearing testimony of truth is pure and true; it is a blessing and gift both from and to our Heavenly Father. Both Ray and Linda, Elder and Sister Connors, bore testimony at this Fast and Testimony meeting. Linda shared her impressions about the spirit. Similar feelings were shared in Bishop Baron's testimony as he conducted the meeting. He pondered Elder Holland's conference talk and the uncertainty the twelve felt about their next steps after the crucifixion of the Savior. Many disciples decided to return to their labors. How could that be? In his consideration, Bishop Baron recognized that they had not yet received the gift of the Holy Ghost. After they received the gift they rose to their callings, even unto death.

As worthy members of Christ's church today, we have been graced with the companionship of the Holy Ghost. We should have no question about our next step. It's our invitation live the gospel and to let the spirit speak to us and through us. The sure witness comes through the Holy Spirit. It testifies of truth. We show our love and appreciation to the Savior when we, too, testify of what we know to be true.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Hint of Autumn

It's another Sunday for catching up on our mission blogging. We took a couple of hours to venture out on new roads yesterday morning. Unfortunately  freeway construction pushed us off the I-285 north perimeter. We tried to rely on an overview map and found ourselves quite disoriented and heading back east rather than west as we had planned. That doesn't happen to us often, but in suburban Georgia with no vistas and snaking roads, it's easy to do. Once back on track, we took a short loop to see Lake Allatoona. It's an older reservoir; the shoreline is bordered with older homes, including many molding, derelict mobile homes. Unfortunately with traffic and a narrow, winding road, we couldn't snap a photo - some residences were right out of a "scary" movie. We also couldn't snap a picture of our latest favorite Church marquee quote:  "Eat of the bread of life, or you're toast."  We're cheered nearly every day in Georgia by a clever catch phrase. Once at Red Top Mountain State Park on the lake, we saw a lovely deciduous forest with its natural floor blanketed in leaves and ferns. It was a contrast to residential forests which have become choked with attractive, but invasive weeds and vines.

September has not felt much like autumn.  The days have cooled a bit, to be sure, and we've enjoyed lovely days with little rain and temperatures in the 80's. There has been some reddening and falling of tree leaves. The yellows will surely follow, and we expect it to be quite spectacular. Sister Connors enjoyed Women's Conference last night. It really feels like fall now. It was a wonderful meeting.  I took Sister Howard (other investigators were unable to commit to the long evening that ran from 6 to 10 p.m.). We enjoyed a Relief Society dinner, half hour local program, and then the televised conference at 8 p.m. Members had tried to explain to Marcy what a general conference meeting would be like, but she really didn't understand until she participated first hand. She really enjoyed it and mentioned that she could feel the strength of the prayers lifted up by such large numbers of women around the world. As we sang hymns, I had to remind myself again to sing melody and not my usual alto. There's so much for converts to take in all at once, they should at least be able to hear the melodies of our hymns! We are looking forward to enjoying next Sunday's General Conference meetings at the Stake Center as we did last April just after we arrived. Where has the time gone?!

Last weekend was busy. We traveled to Roswell Friday evening and attended the Festival of Nations hosted by the Cumorah Spanish Branch. All of the Elders from the Zone (and a few from the Marietta Zone) were there. Members served generous servings of yummy ethnic food from six Latin countries; loud music and mariachi dancing provided great energy and happiness. Nearly two dozen GANM elders stood on stage and sang Joseph Smith' First Prayer, alternating English and Spanish. They spent the night greeting, visiting, hosting, and eating! So glad we made the effort to attend.

We really enjoyed our outing to Stone Mountain with our senior friends. Stone Mountain is the most visited place in Georgia, and we now understand why. In addition to the recreation offered there, thousands attend the laser light shows that run nightly during summer and Saturday nights in spring and fall. The carvings on mountain come alive with a half hour or more of patriotic, popular, and Georgian cultural music and images, along with lasers and fireworks. Georgians love the American flag, and as the show reunited the North and South into a single flag mid show, the crowd roared. Like the many families and dating couples there, we carried in lawn chairs and blankets and ate our picnic before the show. We could see hikers atop the mountain, and they looked like specs at the top of the 1000 foot wall.

We definitely will get back to make the one-mile hike to the top and see the viewpoint from that perspective. It was interesting to compare the carvings of the Confederate leaders to Mt. Rushmore (especially since creator Borglund started the Stone Mountain project and relief before moving on to the Rushmore area). Stone Mountain's relief is about 50% higher than the figures at Rushmore but broader in scope. It was hard to believe when we heard that a man could stand inside the forward horse's nostril. Next time we visit, we'll get closer to appreciate it more.

Sister Sanders had to return home to recuperate from an aggravated leg and foot; she is determined to return as soon as possible.

So for now, the Lilburn Ward is without sister missionaries. I've helped the elders with teaching and reaching out to Cerus Martin so she can continue to have a female friend. She is from Liberia and is a home seamstress with a middle-of-the-night part-time job. She is very curious, but has so many questions. We will need to be patient so as to not overwhelm her. We enjoyed taking Elder Frietas (Brazil) and Elder Goodman (Mesa, AZ) to lunch during the week.  Elder Freitas is learning English and doing a great job. Elder Goodman is an English speaking missionary who made the effort to learn a bit of Portuguese when he was housed with Portuguese speaking elders. He will leave the mission speaking Portuguese and training a Portuguese elder. They are blessing each other and have such a great attitude. Elder Freitas is learning English so quickly and is so enthused. We are so impressed with our missionaries who dedicate themselves and stay so happy. We had four elders to dinner last Sunday, the Young Single Adult branch missionaries and those from the Stone Mountain Spanish Branch. Elder Amaro is from Mexico. We invited Don and Zaza "down" to dinner to join us, and the elders enjoyed so much speaking in Spanish with them. The Clarks plan to have Elder Freitas to dinner soon and nurture him with some Brazilian conversation. 

The missionary highlight from the past weeks was the baptism of Jim Grayless. Brother Grayless has serious health issues due to diabetes and will be transitioning to assisted living soon. His legs are tenderly wrapped, and he can't bear slacks or shoes. Elders Hanny, Astel, and now Williams have taught and served him with devotion, helping him dress and get to Church where he sits in his wheelchair with a blanket over his bared lower legs. He was baptized on September 23. A member of the ward who is a nurse carefully wrapped his legs in plastic wrap. Prior to the baptism, Brother Grayless bore his testimony that he recognized truth when the elders explained he needed to be baptized with the proper authority. The program was short, ending with the baptism itself. Using a chair in the font and many helpers to help him into the font, it was a sweet moment and humbling for the young elders who assisted him. Brother Hoskinson, Jim's neighbor, performed the baptism last week and also confirmed him today. Elder Connors has been able to help teach, transport, and fellowship Brother Grayless and was honored to be a witness at the baptism. 

It's so important for these young elders and sisters to have these missionary paychecks. We know the Lord has blessed us with a calling to "support" the young missionaries as they grow in skill and testimony. We see them acquiring the skills and experiences that will serve them as future leaders of quorums and auxiliaries and congregations. It all works for good. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Six Month Milestone

Tomorrow is September 17th, six months since we entered the MTC. The frequent counsel that time will fly by once you are settled into your mission is certainly true. How blessed we have been. We can now remember the names of most of the Lilburn Ward members and have made good friends here. Next Saturday night we are going to attend the Stone Mountain light show with Eulalia and Doyle Kotter and some other seniors (our first visit to the park premises). We love the Kotters and will enjoy meeting with their monthy empty nester group. The mission depends so much on the members' generous support. Our Gospel Principles class is typically filled more with missionaries (elders, sisters, office couple(s), and often President and Sister Wolfert, and ward missionaries) than with new converts and investigators. The spirit is always sweet. Today Sister Martin and Mark, both new investigators, joined us. The Howards are regulars, and they just received their first ward calling (choir coordinators).

In addition to learning our jobs at the mission office over the past six months, we have explored a bit of Georgia and are learning the shortcuts and fastest routes to various destinations. Best of all, we can pretty much recognize and greet every one of the 150 missionaries by name without reading their name badges.

Elder Astel, who had been serving as Assistant to the President, was transferred to Roswell, so now we will enjoy getting to know Elder Williams better. He's a humble and quietly dedicated leader. We miss Elder Astel's boy-next-door personality, but know he loves having more time to preach the gospel and less time to "move" missionaries. The President is closing all of the 4-missionary (2 companionship) apartments as quickly as possible, so the Assistants and the Bolts (Finance and Housing missionaries) have been on the road a lot. Several of our Brazilian missionaries have succeeded in securing driver's licenses, and that is helping since we're always short of drivers for one reason or another. The Bolts have started sharing tips to their work with us since they will be released in October and their replacements are not yet confirmed. Seems we always stay busy!  The bi-monthly Leadership Training was held this past Thursday and Friday. Sister Connors was able to incorporate some of the materials she used in corporate training to spent 45 minutes discussing accountability.  It was a nice change from the office routines and the feedback was positive. In her preparations she found several choice quotes that we'll paste into the bottom of this post.  

We continue to work with Mercy and Malyssa. Last week, Lora Knudsen and her husband, Jonathan, attended meetings (their children were with their birth father). I turned around in Relief Society to see Lora when I heard her say "hi."  I was so surprised to see her since in our past meeting(s) she hinted she would never attend the Lilburn Ward again. Her daughter, Tori, was baptized (hurray!) a few months ago along with her cousins in their prior ward which the family usually attends with their extended family. Jonathan is healing slowly and is still in therapy three days a week. I was sorry I didn't get to meet him on Sunday. Our RS lesson was on faith, and I told Lora she had been a great example of humble faith to me. She blogged so openly about the mini-miracles and challenges when Jonathan was in his coma and early recovery. I know her faith was an active part in his healing. Their new baby is due next month. We definitely will make a visit again.

We have a date with the Howards to take the family of six to the Georgia Hills for a Saturday of apple picking. It should be enjoyable. Jim Grayless is scheduled for baptism next week. He has serious leg problems due to diabetes, so the elders are working on strategies to assist him in what will be a challenging, but wonderful baptism. I enjoyed a teaching appointment with the sisters to visit Sara Martin from Liberia. She's a real delight. After our several opportunities to work with investigators from western African nations, we're learning a pattern of interest in learning about the restored gospel but a slowness to commit. Perhaps we can learn the best approach to accelerate the process.

Love is the best tool for teaching, and we're grateful for the spirit of unity we feel with our missionaries and the Lilburn ward family as we share the Savior's love for our brother and sisters who want to learn more about His gospel.

Thoughts on Accountability:

David A. Bednar, April 2008 - Ask in Faith
Action alone is not faith in the Savior, but acting in accordance with correct principles is a central component of faith. Thus, “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20).  The Prophet Joseph further explained that “faith is not only the principle of action, but of power also, in all intelligent beings, whether in heaven or on earth” (Lectures on Faith, 3). Thus, faith in Christ leads to righteous action, which increases our spiritual capacity and power. Understanding that faith is a principle of action and of power inspires us to exercise our moral agency in compliance with gospel truth, invites the redeeming and strengthening powers of the Savior’s Atonement into our lives, and enlarges the power within us whereby we are agents unto ourselves (see D&C 58:28).

Dean L. Larsen, April 1980 - Self Accountability and Human Progress
When we understand what is right and what is wrong, we are in a position to exercise our freedom in making choices. In so doing, we must stand accountable for our decisions, and we cannot escape the inevitable consequences of these choices. Such freedom to exercise moral agency is essential in an environment where people have the highest prospects for progress and development.
By our very endowment as children of an Eternal Father, we have had implanted within our souls the urgency to be free. It is natural for us to want to be accountable for our own fates, because there is a whispering within us confirming that this accountability is absolutely essential to the attainment of our eternal destiny.

Teachings of John A. Taylor:
We are God’s people, and he is bound by everything that is calculated to bind either man or God. He is bound to take care of his people, if they take care of themselves; if they honour their calling and priesthood; if they magnify and do credit to the power and authority that is conferred upon them; if they do not deviate from correct principles, God is bound to fulfill all things according to the obligations that he is under; one of which is to provide for his Saints. … Who has ever known God to depart from correct principles? … I never have, and I am well satisfied that you never did.

Romans:  14: 12-13
12   So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
13   Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Where Did the Days of August Go?

Where did August go? We can't believe it's September. It's been a long hot summer across the U.S.  We enjoyed some thunderstorms and cooler weather the past two weeks with temperatures in the 80's. School started in Gwinnett County, Georgia on August 6, so in social sense it does feel like fall is beginning. However, for those of us accustomed to the weather in the Mountain West, we'll not experience cool nights and days for many weeks yet. We are anxious to see the fall colors in Georgia and plan to take one of our Saturday prep days to travel into the mountain foothills in northern Georgia.

The replacement of six vehicles in the mission has found us traveling back and forth to car dealerships and detail shops to get the new vehicles picked up and set up with Tiwi (parental control) boxes along with having the old cars detailed for sale. The Church insists on making sure mission cars are in good shape, even when selling. We love working with our new friend, Brad White, at White's Detailing. His shop is a 20-minute drive from the mission office, and we go there often. Elder Connors gets a chance to see some expensive, nice cars from time to time and he loves it. Fender bender reports continue. Several missionaries are getting their first lessons in waxing out scratches as we try to help them avoid accident reports that end up in lost driving privileges because of minor damage.

Another six weeks have passed, and all of the office tasks associated with new arrivals and Transfer Day have filled our days as well. We are excited as we anticipate our total number of missionaries bumping up a bit since we've been down missionaries for the past two months. We also enjoyed another quarterly Family Home Evening with the six senior couples in the mission. Elder and Sister Stowell (from Idaho and Oregon) joined the mission in early August and are a great addition as they work in the Jonesboro area. They had our same office roles when they served in the Baltimore Maryland mission and are really enjoying the new assignment. Elder Lundgren is our "senior" senior at age 82. A former CES employee and mission president in Norway, he and Sister Lundgren accounted for three recent baptisms recently.

August has been a Month of Consecration in the Georgia Atlanta North Mission, with a charge for full, faithful obedience to mission rules. Missionaries have been busy; we've seen and heard less from them because they are studying, teaching, and opening their mouths to ten meaningful contacts a day. Baptisms nearly doubled this month and missionaries throughout the mission have recognized the blessings of obedience. A sweet spirit has filled each day.

We have been blessed in other ways as well. Elder Connors has started to experience neck pain and hand problems. An x-ray and then MRI showed irregularities with the discs above and below the fusion he had last October. The potential of additional fusions loomed; many prayers and a priesthood blessing were offered in his behalf. After consultation with several doctors here and at home we are hopeful that wearing a neck brace and some stretching will get him by for the next year until we are released. Perhaps an epidural injection may be in the future, but the acute flareup has already eased a bit the past week. We feel very blessed and recognize the Lord's hand. We just can no longer put off the exercise - despite long days, rain, and mosquitoes. In fact, today we spent six hours helping the Clarks finish up some landscaping projects. It was the kind of grubby sweat that invigorates!  A great way to spend our prep day.

We haven't had as many opportunities to team up with the sisters and elders for teaching the past few weeks. New assignments have kept them busy, which is great! We've enjoyed meeting with Mercy and 9-year old Malyssa. Mercy has been a member about a year. Originally from Ghana, she's been in the US for about 11 years and in our area for four months. Malyssa loves to sing the Primary songs she is learning, so we asked our sweet grandkids to send a CD with Primary music. Sure enough, it arrived. We found a small CD player and Malyssa is thrilled. Mercy can't find work and life is a challenge, but good ward family and missionaries are pulling together to help them out. Recent convert, Dana, moved out of state on short notice. Addiction problems continue to make marriage to her fiancee impossible, so she's taken the children to safe harbor. We may never see her again, but our prayers are with her. We pray Church members and good people will reach out and support her she goes. We are grateful she has her testimony of the Savior to sustain her; her faith and recognition of the spirit have been a tremendous example to us.

Presidential elections are in full swing. We exercised our liberties as senior missionaries to watch some of the Republican Convention coverage. Georgians, for the most part, are conservative and many have mentioned to us how impressed they have been in learning more about the character and religious service of Mitt Romney. Ann Romney wowed them. We again, are grateful for opportunities to discuss, not politics, but Mormon beliefs with the mailman, store clerks, and others. We are prayerful that this great nation will be worthy of the Lord's hand in the decision making and in our united future.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Baptism Times Six

We are entering our 5th month in Georgia. It seems just yesterday we were approaching four months. The past two weeks have been highlighted with some happy and spiritual moments. And, of course, our work in the office continues to keep us busy. After a year in publication limbo, Sister Connors was able to revive the mission newsletter, the Southern Star. The first issue went out the last of July and was well-received. Missionaries love to see photos and records of baptisms, and we hope the effort will unite and reward our hard-working missionaries. In addition, August has been set apart in the Georgia Atlanta North Mission as a month of Consecration - 30 days of exact obedience. In addition to highlighting President Wolfert's challenge in the newsletter, we sent small versions of the consecration goals to each missionary to keep with his or her Daily Planner. Our missionaries picked up their efforts to observe the tasks and set goals immediately, and we are noticing more referrals and dedication already. Today the entire mission fasted in unity for the work, along with fasting for other personal or ward needs. We can hardly wait to see what results we'll see over time.

Another great achievement this month was the 100th birthday of Ray's Aunt Marcella. We called last Sunday to congratulate her and were happy to hear her cute voice and the sound of nieces and nephews in the background who were gathered for a celebration in her home. We pray the Lord's continued blessings to all three of our aunts, the last of their generation in our families.

We celebrated our 47th wedding anniversary on July 30 in two ways. On Saturday, we traveled about an hour north to visit Amicalola Falls State Park. A steady group of visitors were there to take the short hike to the base of the cascade. Linda continued up the 175 stairs to the base of the full waterfall.

We then drove the winding, steep road to the lodge parking lot at the top of the falls. There we met some of the families who hiked the additional 250 stairs to the top. Maybe we'll try it next spring when the falls are roaring, and we're in better walking shape. Coming down would be harder at our age of stamina and balance. We have let our daily exercise go a bit as we stay busy in the evenings with other activities. We returned home from our outing to mow lawns, and we woke the next day with stiff legs, but feeling energized. On Monday evening, we invited Don and Zaza to go out to dinner with us. They recently celebrated their 52nd anniversary.

Our most joyful celebrations of the past weeks, however, have been for the Howard family - Dad, Jerry, Mom, Marcy, children Dale, Miriam, Nicholas, and Autumn Rain, ages 13 to 9.  The elders have been teaching them for several months. I remember sitting by Marcy the first week she attended Relief Society. She was nervous but curious. Since that time, we have come to love the family dearly. We have visited their home, and even weathered some entertaining bumps in our relationship. Two weeks ago we invited them to celebrate the 24th of July with a picnic at the park. On Sunday we talked about the time and place. After calling several times on the 24th to let them know where we would meet them and not getting a call back, I called the teaching elders to confirm the Howard's phone number. I had a wrong digit, so called again with the right number. With still no reply, we went to the park and waited at the location we had communicated on our voice message. The Howards didn't show up. After waiting 30 minutes, we drove around the park for another 20 minutes, never finding them. We prayed and hoped we had not "stood" them up. Perhaps Jerry had to work late unexpectedly (happens frequently) and their phone was not working. Upon arriving home an hour after our agreed upon meeting time, Marcy called. They had arrived a bit late and could not find us! We had been tailing one another around the park but never connecting. We also found out that the elders had again given us a not-completely correct phone number. Our many voice messages had been left on a stranger's phone. The Howards graciously agreed to try again on Tuesday. With relief and renewed connection that day, we spent a delightful two hours eating and visiting on our second try. The Howards are truly an earnest and humble family who quickly recognized the truth as it was taught by the elders. Mom is strong; Dad is committed and truly loves his family and takes his leadership and provider responsibilities seriously. The kids are curious and energized by new friends and discovery. After our meal, we explained a bit about the pioneers and why the holiday is celebrated in Utah and gave them a Legacy video and a Tabernacle Choir CD we had intended to give them at their upcoming baptism. Instant friends!

While the Howards still have much to learn and Jerry has a tobacco challenge to totally put behind him, it was no surprise that the room was jammed with ward members on July 29 when the family was baptized after Church services. (Wards and branches within our mission have baptisms on both Saturdays and Sundays. In the Lilburn Stake, baptisms are on Sundays, with the confirmation in Sacrament Meeting the following Sunday.) Mom and Dad watched so intently as each child was baptized; the children were excited to watch their parents' baptisms.

The service was sweet. Elder Connors offered a prayer; Sister Connors led music as has been her privilege in previous baptisms. We are so grateful to have shared this special time with the Howards. That day Marcy mentioned they had been ending each day and preparing for sleep by listening to the CD we gave them. The Spirit had prompted us correctly to give it to them early. After the baptism, we invited another investigator, Richard, to have dinner with us before we gave him a ride home.  He attended the baptism - the first time in his life he had witnessed baptism by immersion. It was such a wonderful day!

Yesterday, the Saturday after their baptism, the Howards all showed up to assist with the Lilburn Stake Clothing Fest. It's an annual event in which the Stake Relief Society donates and collects clothes, organizes them, and opens the Stake Annex to the public for an exchange or pick up of "free" clothing. The Howards helped collect clothes and serve during a busy morning. Elder Connors and I arrived at the end of the event to help clean up. The young elders and sisters had been there during the visitor hours to meet potential investigators.  Marcy and Jerry and family stayed until the last minute of cleanup. Marcy mentioned that she had never in her life imagined herself participating in such a large service effort. It's amazing how the witness of the Spirit changes lives and puts people in situations that bless them.

Today the members of the Howard family were confirmed. They invited the missionaries and ward members who had taught and mentored them to do the confirmations. Elder Connors had the privilege of confirming the youngest, Autumn, in turn after Elders Astel and Hanny, Bishop Baron, Brother Elison, and Brother Adam Kotter. It was quite a wonderful way to begin a Fast and Testimony meeting. The significance of the gift the Howards received today was emphasized with the times-six confirmation. The spirit was strong again. There will still be challenges for the Howards. We're grateful we can continue to fellowship the family for another year. We have invited them to prepare for the temple. The Lilburn Ward family has been touched by the family as well, and we pray for their continued learning and spiritual growth. They have such great membership and eternal potential.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Each Day Brings a New Experience

It's been just two weeks since we posted, and another holiday is on the horizon.  However, the 24th of July in Georgia will be a full working day. To celebrate, we hope to take the Howard family on a picnic after the office closes (if the thunderstorms don't spoil it.) We will explain the reason we celebrate the holiday in Utah and continue to fellowship them. The family has a 6-person baptism scheduled for July 29.  Both Elder and Sister Connors joined the Assistants in a teaching appointment a week ago. Jerry and Marcy are great spiritual leaders for their children (age 8-14), and we are so excited to have them join the Lilburn Ward and Church family. Jerry's father has some "preacher" background, and Marcy was the one actively looking for a new congregation when Elder Hanny and Elder Astel met them. They are learning and accepting the gospel in word and in spirit. After the lesson we reaffirmed the invitation to be baptized and challenged the Howards to join us in the Atlanta Temple in a year. The same evening we also met with Richard. He is from Guinea in Africa and has been in the U.S. for about 12 years. He's been a member of the Catholic Church since the 1950's and is cautiously proceeding. We really enjoy his happy, gentleman-like personality and enjoyed picking him up for Church last week. We feel he will continue to attend and learn and feel the spirit with continued support.

Richard with Elder Astel at the Howard Baptism
The evening of those appointments was the end of a rainy day, and we got soaked running from car to front doors. We've had a lot of rain in the past two weeks. After a dry spring and record setting heat, we seem now to have rain every day or night. Last night around midnight, we had a lightening and thunderstorm that roared for about 40 minutes. Storms move faster in Utah. We laid in bed and watched and felt the room-lightening jolts until after 1 a.m.

This (preparation day) morning was dedicated to housecleaning. We vacuumed and cleaned; then Ray walked back into the living room to repair a loose bolt and watched dry wall tape slowly peel itself off the ceiling. Somewhere water has been coming in, and the saturated drywall could take no more. We helped Don open a relief hole and clean up; he called a friend who has helped him in the past to come and check it out. Unfortunately, we can't locate the source easily; it's raining lightly again tonight, so no repair can be made until the leak is sealed and the ceiling dries. Fortunately, the forecast is promising a drier week ahead. We have lawns to mow, additional fixes to the flooding runoff water, and now a ceiling repair to assist with. 

I'm typing on a new laptop and having a hard time keeping my thumb off the pad, so the cursor frequently skips around. (Hopefully the resulting typos have been corrected with after-mission edits.) Son Dave was good enough to find and set up a new laptop for us; an expensive battery was dying on our old laptop so it was time to replace the entire system. As we have time, we'll put photos on the internet now and include a link to them from the blog.

There will be no more teaching appointments with Sister Scott. She returned home this week along with nine other of our missionaries. We surely love these missionaries (Elders Anderson, Caplin, Maughan, Ryan Smith, Wasden, Sisters Scott, Coleman, Taylor, and Williams). As Sister Scott prepared to leave for Arizona, I called her "mi teacher." She showed Sister Connors what preaching the gospel is all about. The Assistants are showing Elder Connors, and we really look forward to teaming up with them. We have come to know Sister Taylor better in the past few weeks due to a change in assignment and will miss her a lot, too. She wants to study Human Resources at Utah State, so I hope we will stay in touch. Last Saturday Sister Connors drove Sister Bulouniwasa (from Fiji), Sister Scott, and Sister Taylor back to Monroe for a baptism. Nine missionaries who have been involved in teaching Sister Reusmann or others in her family who have joined the Church were at the service. Patience is required for conversation; nine missionaries equates to a lot of transfers with change of companions. New member Brittany is a new mother; her dad who is also a convert said they were targeting her husband next. The spirit was very strong and sweet.

In addition to the evening fireside and busy duties in the office associated with transfer week, we substituted for the Clarks this week in teaching their Stake Missionary Prep class so they could take their daughter Jackie to the airport. She is off to Dubai to spend ten days with her husband. Her daughters were at girls' camp. A week ago Friday, Jackie, Cami, Maddie, and Izzie stuck their heads in the mission office and invited us to go to Chick-Fil-A with them for dinner. "Sure," we said; then learned we were going dressed as cows for free dinner on Cow Appreciation Day at Chick-Fil-A. The girls provided us with a white t-shirt, blotched with black spray paint and cow ears. We saw dozens of ward members at the restaurant, along with hundreds of other cows.  It;s hard to imagine the cost of the thousands of free $7 dinners given throughout Georgia with fun and cheerfulness. We're impressed with the management of Chick-Fil-A. All that success and they are not open on Sundays!  And for us, it was a fun and memorable "new" experience for sure!

On Thursday, the Wolferts invited the Bolts and us to meet them at Kurt's Bistro, their favorite German restaurant, for a "thank you" dinner. We enjoyed amazing red cabbage and a re-introduction to authentic German food. We laughed and shared mission stories and decompressed a bit. President Wolfert has a great sense of humor. We'll long remember his recounting the story of having to keep his head face down on the table in front of elite general authorities at the MTC because of eye surgery. It was great to get better acquainted with these eternal friends, several of many our Stake President promised we would make while on our mission.

Preaching the gospel, helping new and seasoned missionaries to be successful, serving where and whom we can, and discovering more in the roadways of Georgia, we're anxious to see what new experiences await us in the weeks ahead.