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, February 24, 2013

Sweets and Sorrows

The past two weeks have been filled with many happy and busy minutes, along with moments of reflection on death, that bittersweet event that is part of our eternal progression. While we acknowledge that we're in the "associates are dying" stage of life, we certainly feel we have sent a greater number of condolences during our time as missionaries. Neighbors have lost parents; in the past month nieces Laura and Michele have both lost a parent-in-law, Tom's mother and Dave's father. One of our missionaries lost his mother unexpectedly this week! A week ago yesterday, our former bishop, George Wall, was particularly on our mind. Then the next day we learned by email that he passed away after weeks of hospice ending a valiant fight against pancreatic cancer. We remember vividly the ward fast over two years ago in which Bishop Rapp led the ward prayer and pronounced that Bishop Wall would be healed despite the 2-week to 2-month prognosis physicians gave when the cancer was diagnosed at an aggressive Stage 4. Several months later, Bishop Wall bore testimony of pure faith and witness from the Lord that he would survive. There was no doubt that he trusted fully in the Lord. We're not certain we have ever witnessed a greater example of personal humility and pure faith. A year later, he had amazed the experts at Huntsman Cancer with a miracle remission. The year allowed him to prepare his home and family for future possibilities. He even had the energy to travel and see grandchildren enter the world. The cancer was surfacing again as we prepared to leave for our mission. He blessed our Orchard 6th Ward family so much with his example!  Ray was so grateful to have been home teacher to the Walls for several years, to share in their highs and lows, to spend a few hours each week with neighbor Gary Thorne helping at the Wall home before we left for Georgia. Our shared knowledge of the plan of salvation has helped our ward family back home rejoice in faith and lessons learned, and it has made comfort available along with immense gratitude for knowing this great man.

We had an excited fourteen missionaries arrive on February 12, and Sister Sanders returned after her long medical release! Only three missionaries went home this month - two by schedule and one with a bit of sorrow again. Next month we have 18 scheduled to arrive and only five going home. Our numbers are climbing, and Elder and Sister Hall and our local service couple, the Tewalts, have been busy working on new apartments and furnishings to help us grow. Then sweet surprise, just this weekend the Church announced 58 new missions to accommodate the increase in missionaries! One of those missions includes the reopening of the Georgia Macon Mission. Time will tell what that will mean for the Georgia Atlanta North Mission. Another big change for us is that Elder Hanny, the 1st Assistant to the President, was transferred to Athens after six months in Lilburn. We learned so much from him, but it's a blessing that he can spend his last months free to preach full-time. Elder Chugg is the new 2nd assistant along with Elder Edmunds. We surely love our assistants and missionaries!

Last week included a Valentine's surprise  It was to be a simple day for us because it was a busy week. However, about mid-day on February 14 a young mother and two sweet young sons walked into the Mission Office. She introduced herself as Natalie Ormond, Mike and Wendy's dear friend from the Yonker's Branch in New York. Her husband is in residency at Emory in Atlanta, and she came bearing roses and candy to wish us Happy Valentine's! What a sweet and happy expression of Christ-like love. Then we had a carrot cake surprise in the office and elders singing Feliz Cumpleanos for Sister Connors birthday. Later flowers came from the Clarks after attending a somewhat cold evening double overtime winning soccer game with them for granddaughter Maddie. More gifts arrived by FedEx from our children. Sweet February!

On Sunday we drove to Cornelia and attended Church with the Lundgrens.  They will be released in April. This is their fourth mission, one as mission president in Norway. Elder Lundgren is 82 years young!  We stayed and joined Sister Lundgren as she led choir practice and watched Elder Lundgren, the skilled CES instructor, lead Gospel Principles class. We toured the tiny town a bit, and enjoyed dinner together. It was a surprisingly cold day in Georgia (frozen fountains are rare), and a great Sunday. 

We worked in the Mission Office on the President's Day holiday to help with the mission audit and then left a bit early with Elder and Sister Atkins. We drove to Kennesaw to visit the Southern Civil War and Locomotive Museum. It's great satellite museum under the Smithsonian's oversight. The jewel of the museum is the General, whose factual story was told by Disney in The Great Locomotive Chase. The visitor's center at the Kennesaw Nat'l Battlefield was closed after our hour at the nearby locomotive museum, so we decided to return there another day. A light dinner killed some rush hour traffic delay time and ended a nice day.

Yesterday we attended a baptism in Roswell. We love Elder Astel and Elder Sarniguet and promised to visit them there before Elder Astel is released. They taught and baptized two Haitian families and five individuals after two months in the area. The Joseph family simply walked into the building one Sunday morning looking for a Church after the family had joined Dad who was already living in Georgia. Young Finley, a member for only a month, bore powerful testimony. Yesterday, the Pierre family (grandma and grandpa, 86 and 83, and in the US only two months) joined their daughter and two grandchildren in a truly "sweet" baptismal ceremony. Sister Connors enjoyed visiting with them a bit; they were pleased to meet someone who had been in their homeland. It was a time I wished I could remember my college French; but only words here and there surface. So many people in Georgia speak two languages that we often feel inadequate; hopefully as Utah becomes more diverse, the general population (and not just return-missionaries) will be bi-lingual. Wouldn't that be great?!

After the baptism we found our way to view the historic Morgan Falls Dam that backs up the Chattahoochee River as it approaches Atlanta.

Busy days, heavy rain, sun, and wind filled our week. Daffodils and a few pink blossoms hint that spring is on its way. Like life, our mission is web and flow, pace fast and slow, emotions sweet and sorrowful. All provide good and blessed gifts from our loving Savior. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Warm Hearts

Utah has experienced its coldest January in 65 years. The Northeast US was hit by Hurricane Sandy and now a strong nor'east-er dubbed Nemo buried them this weekend. After a sunny Saturday, it's a "rainy night in Georgia," and Atlanta expects 4-5 inches of rain in the next two days. Our lives and hearts, however, are warm with the love we receive and give each day.

As our day-to-day office assignments continue to keep us busy, we relish those moments of spiritual uplift.  Now that we have several senior missionaries in the office when the work day begins, we have been blessed as we offer a group prayer to start off our day. It brings calm and direction. Just three days ago, our prayers were very specific and answered quickly. Here is the setting: On Wednesday we helped again with preparing , serving, and cleaning up the meal served as part of the Trainer Followup meeting. New missionaries are assigned a trainer, and both the new arrival and trainer follow a Church published "learning" curriculum for 12 weeks. Four to five weeks into the program, they come together for a day of debriefing and additional training with the Mission President. A nice luncheon is prepared (Sister Weiler, our stake president's wife, helps us with the luncheon). Sister Wolfert uses the luncheon as an opportunity to teach the missionaries a bit about etiquette and manners, giving tips that are helpful to many missionaries. So we set up a complete table service, serve and clear the courses, and help Sister Weiler clean up. Sister Hall woke this Thursday morning to realize she had left her wedding rings and bracelets in the ward kitchen after the luncheon. When she checked there upon arriving at the office, the rings were gone. Prayers and phone calls helped us quickly learn they had been found the evening before by the adjacent ward and were in a bishop's office; safe. Tears of gratitude were shed. 

Last Monday evening, Len and Darlene Holladay (originally from Pocatello, ID but Georgians for nearly 20 years) invited the three office couples and several other friends to their home for dinner. The feeling around them is like that with lifelong friends from home. Holladay, UT, is named after Len's family. They just celebrated 80th birthdays. and their family gave them a cruise to the Yucatan as a gift for their 60th anniversary, on February 13 - their "lucky" day. Their home is filled with their own original art, and they can tell stories that will keep a group laughing for hours. They have the most generous and warm hearts. The elders in the Centerville Ward are bike only, and the Holladays are their primary chauffeurs, dinner providers, and helpers. They are marvelous examples of living life to the fullest, in simplicity and generosity. The same characteristics we admire in the Holladays can be found in so many of the friends we have made here.

A week ago we traveled to Jonesboro to have lunch with Elder and Sister Stowell and Elder Chambers (Woods Cross, UT) and Elder Miller. After lunch, we went to the local D&G Mens Store. It's a cross between Mr. Mac and Ross. Elder Connors found an affordable suit to fill in the gap between the one that's too small, the one that fits, and the one that's too large. Elder Chambers started looking (his buttons are so stretched to the limit on his shirt and jacket). It was sweet to see Sister Stowell coach him like a mother. The group dynamics helped Elder Chambers commit to something he had been putting off for weeks. His request for a 42R turned into a good-looking and affordable 46L. Physical growth doesn't stop on a mission! Again, our hearts were warmed by the love the six of us shared in those brief two hours.

Yesterday we were blessed to spend our Preparation Day by attending a training session led by Elder Ulisses Soares, newly called as one of the presidents of the Seventies and the area authority over the Southeast Area. The meeting was in Atlanta, and only about 30 of the elders from the GA Atlanta North mission were able to attend with the many Atlanta Mission missionaries. We are grateful that President Wolfert included the office couples in his list of invitations. We have four Brazilian elders in our mission. Elders Gomes, Moraes, Santos, and Freitas were so elated to be instructed by a fellow Brazilian.

Elder Soares spoke with positive love and energy, counseling about many things. Four of his insights stood out:
  1. Our callings are from God; we are where he wants us to be.
  2. We are representatives of Jesus Christ, as if we carry his power of attorney. Is what we do each day truly represent Him? 
  3. Using God's perfect example as he "created all things" in spirit before He created them on earth, we, too, should plan and work every hour of every day, and also prepare back up and contingency plans.
  4. Be obedient; the Lord always keeps His promises. The work will be hard; but obedience brings blessings. The missionary handbook holds 150 years of experience! 
Another heart-warming outcome of the day was to know that Elder Soares is the long-time friend of Don Clark. In fact, he is Don's protege. Don and Zaza are close friends with Elder and Sister Soares, and when Don heard where we were going, he told us their story. Don convinced Elder Soares to leave the private sector (after joining the Church) and trained him up in Temporal Affairs work. As we helped the Brazilian elders take a photo with Elder Soares, he asked us to tell the Clarks that he would call them at 9 p.m. Although he would have liked to meet them in person, he didn't have enough time for a face to face visit during this, his first, visit to Atlanta in his new assignment.

Now, we saved the best for last in this entry. We participated in another sweet baptism today. Sister Florence Okoku was baptized. She admired the work of the Church when she lived in Ghana and had several online chats on Mormon.org when she arrived in the U.S. She works at night at Walmart with Obiri Boateng, who was baptized about two months ago. He invited her to meet with Elders Hanny and Edmunds, and she quickly recognized intellectually the truth of the Gospel. As she bore her testimony after her baptism, Florence described how the Spirit bore witness to her as she came out of the waters of baptism. She now knows truth in mind and spirit. Sister Connors was sitting next to another investigator, Lila Andriamaromanana (from Madagascar). Tears were flowing down her cheeks as she listened to the talk on baptism given by Brother Matthews. He is another convert from Ghana and a new member of the Lilburn Ward. He has such a strong and articulate testimony. Baptized as a youth in Ghana 21 years ago, he was just received his US Citizenship a week ago. Lila has family we'd love to convert along with her. They will be in our prayers.

Warm hearts today, indeed!  The Gospel of Jesus Christ blesses us in so many ways.