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, April 28, 2013

A Treat for the Senses

It's spring in the Southeast. Sunshine, rushing wind and pattering rain, along with fragrant, beautiful flowering trees and shrubs have filled our senses. We've been told that every plant in Georgia flowers openly and abundantly.

A film of pollen continues to coat our cars each day. And then every few days the quiet is punctuated with thunderstorms and heavy rain. Tornado warnings have sent our missionaries to "shelter" three times in the past month. Several weeks ago we had driven to Alpharetta to take Elder Jackman to his apartment. He had just returned from Utah after knee surgery. When we arrived, we picked up Elder Sarniguet and Elder Astel and took the three to dinner (Elder Jackman had been all day without food). While in a wings' restaurant, we saw the sky change color; then flashing warnings popped up on the restaurant's flat screens and Elder Sarniguet (Zone Leader) received a "take shelter" text from President Wolfert. He began texting the missionaries in the zone to take shelter immediately. Pouring rain and thunder stormed for nearly an hour, but fortunately we had no hail where we were. Several zones in our mission saw hail, and areas outside our mission experienced serious tornado damage. It's a quiet Sunday afternoon today. After fixing dinner for Sister Ferguson who had fallen and injured herself (must have been those very high heels this tiny, ex-military single sister wears), extreme weather warnings are out again. We see only steady rain here in Lilburn; hope all is well elsewhere.

It was nice to be back to six weeks between transfers; it was a breather and catch-up for Sister Connors. Elder Connors, however, had a half-dozen fender bender reports from our missionaries. Most of them were not the missionaries' fault, but the paperwork and repair hassle is the same for him. The Halls, Tewalts, and Assistants have been very busy preparing five new apartments for the 20 missionaries that are joining our ranks on Tuesday. Twelve are sisters, and until our proportions change, there will be multiple sister trios and "twins" for training as we absorb these wonderful boon of sister missionaries.

Last Sunday we drove to Athens for Church. Elders Hanny, Vandertoolen, Brown, and Owens had baptisms - Chris Burton and Ewart Leslie. Brother Leslie had family travel all the way from Brooklyn to support him. The Gospel Principles class was moved to the Relief Society Room to accommodate everyone. What a wonderful problem!  Upon returning home we visited the Chase family. Brother Chase is doing relatively well. His speech is back, but he is still having trouble getting his arm to work. We're optimistic that his determination will get him back to productivity soon. We were comforted to see a greater calm in the home and especially with his wife, Ariel. She has been blessed through her conversion and faith and her more calm influence will bless her family. Today we were delighted to see Lila back in Church after her travel. AND, her husband attended Sacrament Meeting with her! That is so promising. Brother Boateng and Sister Okuko are at Church every Sunday, tired from their long night shift at Walmart, but dedicated. The elders are now teaching Brother Boateng's girlfriend and another co-worker that Elder Connors and Elder Atkin split with the Assistants on Friday to teach. Brother Boateng may bring his entire Walmart stocking team into the Church! These dear people have spiritual eyes and gifts that are such blessings to those around them.

Yesterday we accompanied the Halls and Atkins on an outing back up to Cornelia where we picked up Elders Bowers and Yellowplume. They had permission to visit a Yonah Mountain Cherokee pow wow near Cleveland, GA. Elder Yellowplume is from the Washakie reservation outside Green River, Wyoming. He was optimistic that they could make some teaching contacts at the pow wow. And they did successfully schedule three return appointments. He was also excited to eat a Navajo taco again!  Unfortunately, it was a drizzly, muddy day, and the turnout was small. We visited the craft booths and watched four dances, but gave up into the 4th hour.

Since we were only three miles from Helen, we drove there for a short visit before heading home. This Bavarian inspired community is a tourist hot spot in northern Georgia. The cool weather made it the perfect day to visit. The rain had stopped so we senior office couples strolled the shops as the young elders contacted for about an hour.

From Helen we headed back to Cornelia for dinner. We had an interesting conversation over dinner with Elder Yellowplume. He is Sioux and Arapaho; his family joined the Church through his great-grandfather, Chief Red Cloud. Brigham Young and a companion sought out the chief to warn him of military troops coming to massacre the tribe. The stories passed down say that once the Chief received the priesthood he felt his duty was to lead his tribe in the Lord's way, and most of the tribe was baptized. Because of his heritage, Elder Yellowplume had to choose between the opportunity to become medicine man in his tribe or go on a mission. He testified that after pondering and prayerfully studying the Book of Mormon, he found the scripture holds the same truths that his people tell in legend. Elder Yellowplume felt the Spirit tell him to follow in his grandfather's example. That's why he is in Georgia, to share his testimony of the commonality and consistency of native cultural tradition with the eternal truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He shared many feelings and observations that we have not heard before because we've never had an in-depth gospel conversation with a Native American.

After dinner, we stopped by to visit with the Barksdales, Ruth and Glen. They are new senior couple in Cornelia, and friends of the Halls. They were not able to go to pow wow for the longer day with us. Wonderful people!  This is their fifth mission, but the other missions were CES callings. They find Member Leader Support very challenging! We encouraged them to be patient. They've been in Georgia only two weeks (and one Sunday was Stake Conference).  They'll find their niche as promised, we're sure. (And they did, both as fellowshippers and for Elder Barksdale's skilled teaching in the ward.)  We were so glad we spent a rainy day getting to know yet again two wonderful young missionaries and another dedicated couple. Yesterday was another memorable treat for our natural and spiritual senses.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Learn, Step, Crunch....and Pray

We will miss watching General Conference with the group of missionaries serving in the Lilburn and Centerville Wards in Gwinnett County, Georgia. Last weekend was our last opportunity to enjoy the setting, and it was a spiritual feast as we listened, took notes, and felt the spirit.  The dynamics were the same - principally missionaries in attendance on Saturday and a few additional members on Sunday. We served Publix subs to the missionaries during the Saturday break. Florence Okuku and Obiri Boateng attended on Sunday; that was happy news.  The investigators that we had hoped would attend did or could not. The Conference messages were powerful and testified of truth. Sister Weiler bore her testimony in Sacrament Meeting today. She and her husband, who is the president of the Lilburn Stake, attended Conference in Salt Lake at the Conference Center. She indicated that the spirit was no stronger there than when their family sits on the front row of our darkened chapel for other General Conference sessions. That's because the Spirit is the teacher. We, too, testify that the spirit was strong and spoke of truth with our small congregation. Can't wait for the Ensign to come out so we can study and learn more!

The mission office couples prepared lunch for all of the missionaries between sessions on Saturday. After our short meal, the young elders and sisters eagerly traveled to nearby Mountain Park Park and came back with several viable contacts! They have only Sunday to complete and report their weekly goal of 70 meaningful contacts per week (10 a day). Zaza had a few tough days after her shoulder surgery. Her daughter-in-law, Laura, came from Austin for several days to help out, and it was a big boost. Don was able to go to Priesthood Session with Ray. Held from 8-10 p.m., it feels very late. Linda finished filing income taxes to end her day. Zaza is doing much better and is able to get out a bit, but must be very careful. She won't begin physical therapy for 8 weeks.

In the past two weeks we've kept busy at the mission office. Two days of leadership training for nearly 40 missionaries brought them to the mission office before and after meetings. New vehicles arrived to complement the increased number of missionaries, but a few weeks earlier than we would like to have received them. It's kept Elder Connors pretty busy. We need to fit them with hitch mount bicycle racks and Tiwi monitoring devices, so they will be ready for the next group of missionaries coming on April 30. Two missionaries had to leave for home for medical treatments. Elder Kampton Youd (Orem, UT, and son of my Aunt Merle's home teacher) re-injured his knee and moved his release up three weeks. He's a great elder who will be missed. Elder Poole hurt his elbow and will return in about 8 weeks after surgery. Another emergency departure got Elder Connors and Elder Atkin up at 4:30 a.m. to get that missionary to the airport. The Halls and Tewalts are busy trying to get six new apartments leased and furnished before next transfers. The paperwork and database work continues to expand with the increasing number of missionaries. We've had lots of phone calls to the mission nurse (especially with extreme pollen counts in Georgia this year - 3rd highest in history). And now it's bicycle mania for Elder Atkin (and his trainer Elder Connors) as they pick up new bicycles in Duluth (usually a 2-hour round trip) and find places to store them. Sweetly there is no rest for the mission office couples.

Well - almost no rest.  Yesterday we finally realized a goal we made to have all the senior couples go on a P-day outing. We picked Tullalah Falls State Park, northeast of Cornelia, as the destination. The ten of us took photos and hiked the rim trails. A few of us walked the 320 stairs down to the suspension bridge and then back up. We couldn't go across the bridge because the south rim was closed for kayakers only so they could transport their kayaks down to the river. A water release is scheduled periodically into the canyon to accommodate kayak sporting, and we fortunately had hit the lucky day. It made for wonderful sounds and photos. The extreme river scenes in Deliverance and several other movies have been shot at Tallulah Gorge.

The Stowells, Lees, Connors, Atkins, and Halls
After our Gorge adventure, we enjoyed a picnic along the gentle upper stream and then drove about an hour to an artist and tourist studio near Clarkesville called Mark of the Potter. There we snooped around the old mill nestled on the banks of the Soque River, watched potters, and shopped. A restaurant dinner was followed by a peaceful two hour ride home on a beautiful evening after a beautiful spring day. The exercise, conversation, and camaraderie were good for our spirits and souls. However, the stair stepping made it a bit more difficult for some of us to get up and down at Church meetings today!  We love and admire our senior missionaries so much!

The crunch from two reports of car damage today followed another expensive repair last week. And why is the damage always to the new cars!?  Two accidents involved rear end bumps, and were fortunately not our missionaries' fault. More fortunately, there were no injuries. Today an unsecured lawn mower rolled off a utility trailer onto one of our missionary cars. It's always something. We're heard that Georgia has some of the highest accident rates in the country. Sounds right to us!

Our prayers this week will include our increased supplications for Brother Tyler Chase. We love the Chases, one of our recent convert families.They have so many challenges, and now Brother Chase had a stroke this past week. He was in our hearts during our fast today. Victoria (the 11-year old) bore a sweet testimony of prayer in our Fast and Testimony meeting today. She got a big hug from Sister Connors after the meeting. The Chase's home teachers and the RS President have really shepherded this family. We are grateful and will add our prayers now and help once visitors are allowed.

Monday, April 1, 2013

March Concludes with a Wonderful Easter

The last day of March ended in a beautiful way - with a lovely Easter Day.  We had a wonderful Sacrament Meeting to start the day (despite our early 8:30 a.m. start time for 2013). Sister Connie Hutchins talked about the hope provided through the Atonement and Resurrection. Brother Karl Brandau shared insights into how the Passover and other Jewish traditions occurred on the same calendar days as events in the Savior's life and acted as types of things to come. The ward choir sang a simple version of He Is Risen that was so joyful, particularly because of the skilled and powerful accompaniment of Sister Merrill.  The highlight for us, however, was the confirmation of Lila Andriamaromanana (yes, we can pronounce the last name). More on that later on.

After Church we returned home to finish preparing a nice Easter dinner with the Clarks and Obers. We enjoyed turkey, ham, and all the accompaniments. After dinner, Ray helped Don and David Paulikalitis give Zaza a blessing. She is having rotator cuff surgery in the morning. Ray then gave Don a blessing; he's had a bronchial infection for weeks that just won't go away. We enjoyed laughing with the Ober girls, Maddie, Izzie, and the Cami as they shared distorted photos of us all on Don's I-pad with their Instagram application.  After two busy weeks and a heavy, happy meal, we took a long nap. We then had another highlight with a family phone call. We so much enjoy talking with the grandkids. They are happy and busy. It's great to talk to Faith about her observations on life; she's such a grown up. Hailey is always so positive, and they are both busy studying for AP exams (9th and 11th grades). Noah proudly reported that he found nearly $40 in his Easter egg hunt and is reading at 9th grade level (in 4th grade). He takes after his sisters, and it was good to hear that he's more interested in school now. Ammon is always happy. They always make us happy.  It was a great way to end the day.

What else has the past two weeks included?  Let's go backwards a bit now. We enjoyed a slightly chilly 90 minutes watching Izzy Ober's last season soccer game at Parkview High. The high school is adjacent to the Church property and is one of three schools we pass during busy school bus hours when we make our afternoon post office runs. Seniors, Elder and Sister Lundgren, were released. They plan to travel about on the Eastern Seaboard visiting family before heading home. Another group of 8 sisters and 8 elders arrived on March 19. As always, they were happy and tired after arising early at the MTC, traveling, and then riding the MARTA for their first chance to approach strangers in the real mission world.

We have several missionary trios teamed up as we work to train enough sister trainers to welcome in all of the new sisters arriving through summer. Our farewell fireside honored five departing missionaries. There was an exceptionally sweet and reverent spirit in this particular fireside. We'll miss them all, especially Elder Astel, a former Assistant to the President who has such a strong testimony, is a baptizer, and delights us with his child-like personality. The only sister leaving was Sister Bulouniwasa from Fiji. We volunteered to take her to the airport since her flight left 6 hours after the other departing missionaries' flights. She would have 22 hours of airport/airplane time before she arrived home. She is a strong and mature sister, but she knows she is returning to a home country with little opportunity. She was pretty tearful. She actually lives with her uncle and aunt and has little parental support. She was on our minds all night; in fact, we tossed and turned thinking about her. On Friday morning I arrived at the office to hear a tearful voice mail from her. She was stranded in the LA airport; her connecting flight out of Phoenix arrived late and she missed her connecting flight to Fiji. We were so relieved when we heard from her in person a few hours later. Our prayer and prediction that the airlines would provide her with comfortable lodging was realized. I gave her the LA Mission Office phone number. She sent an email a few days later to let us know all was well. The mission staff in Los Angeles took care of her for the two days she had to wait there until another flight departed for Suva. We love Sister "B" and pray only the best for her. Perhaps we'll have to visit Fiji sometime!

The Friday night after transfers we joined the elders when they met with Lila and conducted her baptismal interview. We feel such a special connection with her; it began the first day she attended Church. She and her family had moved into the Atlanta area several months ago and live only a few blocks from the Stake Center. She self-referred herself to the missionaries. Her first day in Relief Society the lesson was about temples, and I sat next to her and tried to clarify a few things. Mormon jargon can really mystify investigators! After working in France for three years, the Andriamaromananas moved their three daughters (one in high school, Yari, who is twelve, and Tiki, who is 8) to Atlanta. Yari and Tiki have attended and love YW and Primary, but right now dad won't give permission for their baptism. Lila struggled for several weeks with her baptism decision because she didn't want to split the family. She and I had a short conversation in which I reassured her that as missionaries we have no desire to break up families and that she should continue to study and pray and the spirit would guide her. We were happy to see Yari and Tiki at her baptism. They enjoyed the service. Lila had asked me (Linda) to give the baptism talk. I was very honored. There was a special reverence (even others noted that), and Lila bore an amazing testimony as a new convert.

A week later, Lila again asked me to join with the elders as they met with her to discuss the confirmation and the gift of the Holy Ghost. There is such a sweet spirit as these young missionaries explain principles and bear testimonies with confidence and simplicity. The best moments during any mission!  Ray was privileged to stand in the circle when Elder Chugg confirmed her. Lila is so anxious to continue learning; again we told her that will be a lifelong pursuit. Unfortunately no family attended on Easter when she was confirmed; the girls were at Church with their father. Lila will be in Toronto for two weeks on business and asked for information about where to attend and how to watch General Conference. She has been a highlight in our spring, and we look forward to getting to know her and her family better.

We finished up our two shorter 5-week transfer periods. Now we're back on regular 6-week cycles. That will give us a bit of breathing room. With warmer weather and longer days, we hope to have less office time and more energy to get out and about to spend more time with our recent converts and investigators. Today is Monday, and we just enjoyed another pleasant senior missionary couple FHE. We brought soup and salads. Elder and Sister Lundgren will be released this week.  At age 84 and wrapping up their 5th mission, they are amazing examples to us. They exude happiness and energy.  Zaza's shoulder surgery today was pretty complex, but the prognosis is good.  We're grateful for that and for every wonderful minute.