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.