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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/

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memories for Memorial Day

It's Memorial Day 2012 and a quiet day for us. Church Headquarters is closed so the Mission Office is closed as well. We took an hour's drive earlier in the day to see the Conyers Zone area of the Mission. It lies south of Lilburn and hooks a bit around towards the Atlanta Hartsfield Airport. For the most part, the landscape is much older, less hilly, and more rural than the other areas we have visited north of Lilburn. At some point, we'll drive to the outer reaches in Hartwell to have a Saturday lunch with the couple out there. We're told the Dahlonega and Helen areas are great tourists spots, so of course, we'll make visit there but not on Memorial Day Weekend. The atmosphere on Memorial Day felt strange to us - we don't know where all the people have gone. Maybe that's it. They're gone. We encountered uncrowded roads, and closed strip malls, even the parking lots at the grocery stores and major retailers and restaurants are quiet. There are few people out and about in the parks as well. Cemeteries here are associated with the Churches rather than municipalities and are most always filled with silk flowers. We noticed a few flags in subdivisions, but nary one car in the many cemeteries we passed. We missed taking flowers to the parents and grandparents graves, but their memories are in our hearts and minds today. Maybe holidays are nap times or escape times in Georgia. We'll have to learn more.

The greatest memory we will have for this weekend is that our sweet investigator, Dana Roca, who felt the spirit so strongly in an earlier meeting was baptized yesterday. Just two weeks ago she said she needed to defer possibly until July so she could make new living arrangements with her boyfriend and feel good about her baptism. Earlier last week she had a bit of a meltdown which led to many prayers and her taking up the courage to move housing and commit. She asked Elder Connors to baptize her. What a compliment. Her rambunctious daughter and friend, Sarai and JoJo, quieted right down after the baptism. The spirit caught their attention. Sweet Jasper (7 months) stayed contentedly with Sister Wolfert. Dana brought the children's father, Will, to Church and he is expressing interest in learning more. Dana also bore a very powerful and sure testimony of the truthfulness of the Church and a witness of the influence of the Holy Ghost. Sisters Scott, Harnish, and Thomas have taught her well. She is trying to find a place to live within the Lilburn Ward. That would be wonderful so we can continue to see and work with her.

We took the Assistants to lunch today and are doing some housecleaning. Our P-days have been busy with yard projects, and we've had long days (11 hours on Friday) at the mission office this month. There has been more teaching with the sisters, too. It was sweet to meet with the Knudsens again with them and learn that Johnathan is making slow but gradual improvement from his brain trauma.

This Saturday evening as we were learning how to ammonia soak the red Georgia clay stains out of our work shoes and clothes and relaxing after a grocery shopping trip, the Clarks invited us to a high school graduation open house in Alpharetta with their good friends. So off we went with them, finding new routes north into newer, upscale neighborhoods. When we arrived, we saw two bikes at the front door and predicted we'd meet missionaries inside. Sure enough. Elder Dalton and Elder Miller were there. It's wonderful how members invite the missionaries whenever they are having a party or social gathering. Life is very different here in the mission field, but the large group environment is great for the missionaries. We rarely invited missionaries to dinner in Utah because we knew the larger families were more enjoyable for them than a visit with empty nesters. We'll have to be more imaginative when we return and make it a "block" party! This afternoon we're attending a social for the empty nesters and Young Singles in the area at the Kotters. We'll finally learn what that trash can dinner is! (It turned out to be meat and veggies cooked over the coals in mini-aluminum trash cans. Yummy sides and great company, too!)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Thunderstorms and More

We spent our very first evening in Lilburn listening to rain noisily pattering down the rain gutters. We know now it will be a frequent experience. Even on days without rain in the forecast, evenings often are blessed with short spurts of rumbling thunder and light rain. The height thunderclouds reach to in the skies here is amazing! We'll no longer have our desert skins. Even when it doesn't rain, we often have to squeegee the dense dew from our car windows in the morning.

Last night we enjoyed a dinner and Family Home Evening with the other senior couples in the mission at the Mission Home. During the dinner, sunny, warm evening skies darkened instantly as a major cloudburst let loose. An hour later, the sun was shining. The climate here helps to explain the rolling hills that make up northern Georgia. Surely they were formed by centuries of rain falling, running, and eroding the clay around the granite dome that underlies the multi-state area.

The FHE's will be a quarterly event and will give all of us a chance for "adult" conversation as President and Sister Wolfert call it. We already love these seniors and look forward to deepening our friendships. One of the senior couples serving in a branch in the outer, rural perimeters of Georgia is completing their fifth mission. You can still hear the childhood accent that Elder Lundgren (from Twin Falls) brought with him from Norway when his family immigrated to the US. He was a mission president there, as well, with his first wife. Of the five couples here, only one other besides us is serving a first mission. We enjoyed getting to know the Christensens, the Lees, the Bolts, the Lundgrens, and the Wolferts on a personal basis. It was a evening of good food and good company, and a great thunderstorm, too!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Time Flies.....

Where have the last two weeks gone? The better question is, How have they gone?  Busy and wonderful are the answers. It wasn't long after experiencing our first Transfer Day that we were challenged by three consecutive days of Zone Conferences on Tuesday through Thursday, May 14-16. President Wolfert wanted Elder Connors to take a few minutes to talk with the missionaries about vehicles and safety at each conference and agreed to let me attend, too, to get a better feel for how the mission operates. All three days were great experiences: mingling with the missionaries that we had previously only talked to on the phone, hearing instructional and inspirational messages from President and Sister Wolfert, inspecting cars, and meeting Dr. and Sister Smalley, the Area Medical Advisors for this region of the Southeast (something like 19 missions!)  The agenda was pretty much the same each day.  We were able to deal with the vehicle inspections and still slip in and out and catch various pieces of the meetings and enjoy the wonderful meals prepared by various Stake Relief Societies for the events. The collective energy around missionary work feels so much greater here than back home. We are learning many lessons.

Our first Zone Conference was for the Marietta and Roswell Zones. We thought we had allowed adequate time for rush hour traffic and had driven up to Marietta the Saturday prior to be sure we knew the way.  We took the same I-85 to I-285 to I-75 route and arrived 45 minutes later than expected.  It took us nearly two hours for a 45 minute commute. Oops!  We have since learned the non-freeway route and will take that in August for the next Zone Conference. You don't want to hit the freeways at rush hour in greater Atlanta. Our return drive that afternoon again took nearly two hours after finally getting off the freeway where an accident had brought traffic to a halt. Fortunately, Elder Coe, the prior vehicle coordinator, drove in from Monroe to help show Elder Connors the vehicle inspection ropes for his first time. When informed that he would speak first, Elder Connors joined the meetings that started at 9 a.m. and never got out until nearly 11:30 a.m.  Thankfully Elder Coe and the 4 volunteers got the 14 inspections taken care of and all worked out well. We had prepared a certificate, a small Drive Carefully note, and two get-bonus-miles awards for the best in show cars and that went over well. Sister Connors watched the car inspection process for part of the time and that came in useful on day two.

It was here in Marietta that we got to visit with Sister Smalley and learn about the immense responsibilities for Dr. Smalley. The Church needs so many more of these medical support teams. He spends countless hours each day on the phone and on this day, he spent two hours on the phone and iPad in his car after his presentation to the missionaries. Then as the meetings ended, he and Sister Smalley were driving to the Atlanta airport where he would board an airplane to Samoa to accompany an elder leaving our mission for medical reasons. Out on Tuesday; he'll be back in Atlanta on Friday!  Dr. Smalley displays such amazing compassion and dedication. This was the second elder in two weeks to leave the mission unexpectedly. Again, our appreciation and respect grow everyday for President and Sister Wolfert and their love, dedication and skill with the multitude of challenges that befall a mission president.

The next Zone Conference was for the Athens and Sugar Hill Zones at the Suwanee Stake Center.  We knew the route and it was against commuter hours, so this time we arrived a half hour early. Elder Connors now knew he would speak about 11:30, well after inspections were finished, so we were able to greet the drivers and stage the cars as they arrived.  We had a hitch, however. None of the volunteers showed up, so we teamed up as a twosome to inspect 20 cars. It was a bright, sunny May morning in Georgia, and we were melting after two hours, sitting briefly in each car with the AC running to cool off before moving to the next car. Checking tire pressure, tread depth, body condition, interior condition, seat belts, lights, and paperwork took us at least 10 minutes per car. We returned to the building after inspections, wet from the humidity, and did our best to freshen up and look presentable.

Thursday, the Zone Conference for the Lilburn and Conyers Zones was held at the Lilburn building.  I resumed my work in the mission office to catch up. Three high priests from the Lilburn Ward came to assist, and the process hummed like clockwork. We're catching on. Our colleagues (Elder and Sister Bolt) have never attended a Zone Conference, so I encouraged Sister Bolt to attend the meetings while I stayed to answer phones. She really enjoyed them. I was so grateful she had covered non-deferrable things (mail and phones) while we went to the other two Zone Conferences. Zone Conferences are busy, but great.  We'll be at it again in August. I'm not sure how often I'll join Elder Connors, but we know so much more about the life of the young Elders and Sisters now. We also met the other Senior Couples who are serving in the small branches.  We're having a Senior Missionary Family Home Evening tomorrow at the the Mission Home.  We're looking forward to that quarterly meeting as well.

Other highlights of the past weeks include the baptism of Sister Maggie Hackett. She has such a sweet spirit. She's been in Georgia with her daughter and grandchildren but will be moving back to New York State in early June. She committed to be baptized before leaving. She was nervous about the "immersion" because of a fear of water, but did great and bore the sweetest testimony at her baptismal service. Sister Connors led the music and Elder Connors talked about baptism. I love giving Maggie a hug each Sunday, and we will certainly miss her. Dana, our young mom, is working on some lifestyle issues but is trying to be ready for baptism in early July.  She has felt the Holy Spirit and sincerely wants that constant companionship.  We love her, too. Each Sunday as we attend Gospel Principles with these new and returning members, we feel their spirit and earnest hunger for knowledge. It's wonderful.

Events for Elder Connors included two car wrecks. Not only the accident itself, but the taking of a car out of service is a significant distraction to the work. One car is totaled; we got the phone call on our Preparation Day. Sister Hinckley and Sister Teisina were so blessed to be safe after being broadsided. Elder Connors always wonders what is up when he answers the many phone calls each day. Yesterday it was two elders in a desperate panic because their new gas card would not work. They had not followed the instructions to activate it. We drove to the mission office to get them the phone number. We're learning to program lots of numbers into our phone. Vehicle problem calls come at odd times of days while we're in various places. We're grateful for our personal safety as we sometimes drive in the big 12-passenger mission van in unfamiliar territory. The Lord protects us, but He frequently allows us to get lost when the Tom Tom sends us on routes that defy our instincts. We're starting to learn the major thoroughfares of northern Georgia and their peculiarities. It will all come together.

We enjoyed great conversations with Michael and David for Mother's Day. Beautiful flowers brightened our apartment for a week. We took a short drive through downtown Atlanta and made our phone calls from the car (the cell reception in our apartment is marginal - trees, Stone Mountain, basement location are obstacles). Ward members invited us to come along with the Clarks to a Mother's Day dinner, and we enjoyed getting to know the Duffields, Nickersons, and Rollins (young professional) families better.  A few more ward names that will "stick" for sure. We have another invite with the Clarks for a Memorial Day "trash can" dinner at the Kotters. We're curious to see what that will be. Doyle and Eulalia Kotter have served several missions, so it will be great to talk and learn from them. We've completed more yard work with the Clarks and seem to have the runoff water pretty much contained now. Our hours helping them are few and far between. They were just given a Stake Young Single Adult assignment and are very busy, too.

Lastly, but certainly not the least important, we stopped by to take some produce to the Knudsens and check in. We missed them (they are rarely home), but have been encouraged that Brother Knudsen is beginning to respond to commands and trying to talk. We pray that Sister Knudsen will stay encouraged and strong.  We follow her posts on Facebook and our thoughts and prayers are with that sweet family.  Linda's brother, Thyce, should be released today after successful knee replacement surgery.  Life goes on, and the Lord is aware of us all each day.