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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/

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.

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