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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/

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.