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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/

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Busy and Happily At Work in Georgia

We have arrived in Georgia, and things are going great.  Now that we again have internet, it's time to update the blog. So much has happened; this report will be very condensed. 

Our travel to Georgia was pleasant, other than the extreme windy weather leaving Utah on March 26 enroute to Denver. We made short visits on Wednesday morning to Liberty Jail and Independence after leaving Kansas City. As we sat down to dine at a Chili's in Mt. Vernon, Missouri that evening, we struck up a conversation with a young family across the aisle. We soon discovered the family of six Latter-day Saints was traveling to Florida for a medical school rotation. We then leapfrogged with them on the interstate and motel parking lots for the next half day as we both had a hard time finding a vacancy. As we traveled through Tennessee on Thursday we stopped in Murfreesboro for lunch with Elder Josh Pantelakis, son of our good friends. He is in his last weeks of service, but still so excited and dedicated. We had taken him to lunch when traveling through Tennessee in the summer of 2010. Another hour or two on Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga was a pleasant diversion. We arrived in Georgia on Thursday evening and spent the night in Kennesaw, GA. Our waitress that evening was the daughter of a former BYU student and thanked us for our service while pleasantly making it clear she was not a member. You get noticed with the missionary name tags and common connections are found everywhere. 

Friday morning, March 30, we met President Wolfert and the other office staff, Elder and Sister Coe (vehicles and mission secretary), and Elder and Sister Bolt (finance and housing) in the Mission Office which is attached to the Lilburn Meeting House.

After short introductions, President and Sister Wolfert took us to our apartment – in the basement of Brother Donald and Sister Zaza Clark’s  home. We were flabbergasted at our comfortable and large apartment. Two bedrooms, large kitchen and eating area, and a living, sitting room. The Clarks’ daughter and family had lived her for a while, and it has been rented to other senior missionaries. Sister Wolfert had already purchased some get-started groceries, and the list of urgent shopping needs was short. We were encouraged to take it easy and report to the office on Monday. But we have 18 months to get settled, so we quickly unpacked the basics and returned to the office on Friday afternoon to get better acquainted and start training. The Bolts and Coes invited us to go out to dinner with them that evening; it was great way to get acquainted with the former IBM Project Manager and nursing home staffer (the Bolts) and the retired military vet and school teacher (the Coes). Both couples live locally and have been serving part-time for a year (often full rather than part days). 

Our first Saturday we made the trip to the local Walmart for bedding and other items before attending General Conference sessions. Since then we’ve made several trips to the nearby Publix grocery store as we begin to stock the cupboards. We had just a bit of light housekeeping to do and picked up a vacuum from the mission storage area. As Lilburn is a suburban community only about a half hour from Stone Mountain, all our commercial services are conveniently in or near town. We have picked up a part for our Honda at the local dealer and drive to the post office every day as part of our duties. We found a co-op Credit Union next door to the Post Office so banking will be easy. Life is good. It’s Saturday, April 7 now, and we ate at Atlanta’s Best Wings for dinner on Friday evening. It's a "welcome to the mission" tradition for the young elders. Casual and yummy! 

The more impressive experiences involve the good nature, courtesy, and happiness of everyone in Georgia. You can’t help but feel happy and want to reflect the same friendliness. “Missy” a non-member checker at the beautiful Publix grocery store down the street immediately called me “Sister” and asked me if I was replacing Sister (Michelle) King. I thought to myself, only if I can earn her former Utah news anchor salary!  When a young teenager tried to read our name tags at the Kohls checkout today, his mother from Missouri welcomed our explanation ("Have you seen the billboards that say I'm a Mormon? That's us.") and said she loved the Mormon TV ads and we had the nicest missionaries. People know who we are. Really, we can take a lesson in Utah. People are friendly there, but so much more so in the South. Loving it! 

We attended General Conference Sessions our first weekend in Georgia at the Lilburn Meeting House. Like Utah, most members here in the Lilburn Stake (a fairly affluent suburb) watch Conference on BYU TV or cable, so other than the Stake President’s family, the sister and elder missionaries serving locally, it was a small group of participants. The Stake President can drive to church, but the family chooses to walk the mile to Church for each meeting. Sister Weiler (his wife) watched conference in her bare feet! We had bumped into their son at the MTC. The connecting threads keep appearing. (We would come to respect and love the Weilers deeply during our time in Georgia.)  We met a few new converts and single sisters at the broadcast, but attendance averaged about 30. There were a few more on Sunday morning. The mission has a YSA Branch, several Spanish branches, and a Portuguese branch.  Elder Connors enjoyed meeting other ward members at Priesthood Conference. Spring break week for Georgia began on March 30, so that contributed to lower attendance. We really enjoyed the Conference messages and the connection we made with those who attended the small  sessions. Getting to know people and our surroundings bit by bit is working well. 

Our days at the office have been full. We begin every day at 8 a.m. and lock the doors about 5 p.m.  President Wolfert pops in from time to time, but properly prioritizes spending time with the proselyting missionaries. He is articulate, enthusiastic, and down to earth. Sister Coe is very organized, and she and Linda have been working ahead on many tasks that are not due until May or June so that I can see the processes from beginning to end. She knows the missionaries and the information so well; I’m grateful she’ll be around for another week and several additional days through the month until we’ve experienced transfers and other major events. The tasks are pretty much like those associated with any small office – phones, correspondence, filing, equipment, jack-of-all trades.  The mail is a big item since all mail is sent to the mission office, and then I have to re-address it for forwarding to the specific apartments of each missionary.  We then drive boxes of forwarded items to the post office each afternoon.  It’s been Easter week, so we’ve been amazed at the volume of letters and packages coming and going out of the office. It's initiation at its best! Again, the people are so pleasant.  The mailman is cheerful and best-friendly. 

It was a big week for Ray, too. Vehicle records and reports are submitted and reported at the end of each month, so he started off learning the largest task of the month. Elder Coe is a real character, and he and Ray have a lot in common-cars and guns and stories. To add to the excitement, we picked up five new Corollas for the mission on Thursday morning. Zone Leaders and others returned five cars to switch out and preparations began to sell the replaced vehicles. Several other companionships also brought in cars to be fitted with the black box (Tiwi). There were lots of introductions and farewells (to the Coes) and activity with the vehicles in the Mission Office this week. We bought the elders pizza to keep them content while they waited for the boxes to be installed  The Atlanta North Mission is one of the pilot missions for the new black boxes (a type of parental monitoring device that is monitored at Church Headquarters).  Missionaries know they are being monitored with prompts from the box and calls to the President if thresholds are exceeded.  The possibility of losing driving privileges without an accident is real; the goal is to reduce citations and injury. The entire fleet is now fitted. In the past two weeks all of the companionships have received new cell phones and black boxes. We arrived at a busy time. It was good preparation for what will turn out to be a busy 18 months!

We met the Clarks last night. They had been in Salt Lake for General Conference. They are wonderful, warm people who have invited us to share Easter dinner with them and visiting friends from the Czech Republic. Zaza is originally from Czechoslovakia. She met Brother Clark in Iowa, and they spent their early married years in Brazil with her parents (Zaza's family relocated to Brazil as refugees from the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia). Don has been both a mission and MTC president there in Brazil. The couple just returned earlier this year after serving for a time in the temple presidency in Madrid. We're humbled by our generous living circumstances.

It’s been a busy ten days in the Georgia Atlanta North Mission! We feel like we’ve been here for weeks and have known these wonderful people and young missionaries for a long time. The Lord blesses us every day.  We’re looking forward to the days ahead. Today was Saturday, our Preparation Day, so we slept in a bit. We then reset some paving stones to make the path that lead to the backyard entrance to our apartment a bit safer and enjoyed a lovely spring day. We look forward to Easter tomorrow and to meeting the members of the Lilburn Ward. 

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