What's New?

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, 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.