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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/

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Daily Footsteps of Faith

Here we are in mid-May, realizing that our 18 months is winding down.  One summer, only four months remain, and we realize how much we yet want to accomplish. Each day finds us with tired feet yet wishing we had energy to do more. The weather has dried, and we've mowed the lawn a few times. It feels good to get out and work outdoors. Temperatures, however, have been pleasant. Friday we felt the first hint of the sweltering summer days that lie ahead. We feel better acclimated, however. Today is Sunday, and we were wakened at 6 a.m. by thunder and flashing lightning. Heavy rains brought the torrents of rain sheeting across the lawns and overflowing gushes in the flood control ditch outside our bedroom window. It goes from a trickle to a 3-ft. deep and 6-ft. wide gush in about 15 minutes; then back again to a small flow quickly as the rain ends. A spring cold has hit the mission office, and we've passed the runny nose and cough around. Ray's having a hard time kicking the cough; still miserable after three weeks. We've had to slow our footsteps a bit as we try to get the bug out of our systems. However, considering all of the missionaries we interact with, it's surprising we've all stayed as healthy as we have. Last Sunday was Mother's Day. Jackie Ober invited us to brunch after Church with her mom and dad (Zaza and Don). We enjoyed wonderful calls with our family. We are so grateful for the Lord's blessings and care for them as we've been away. Of course, He is the greatest caregiver, and we trust Him in all things. As we learned on Friday of the passing of Sister Monson, we know President Monson is in His care in a most intimate and special way.

Two weeks ago we handled our largest group ever of arriving missionaries - twenty-two.  We have 50-55 more scheduled to arrive by July 23. Subtract only 28 going home by that month, the 70+ will net us nearly 50 additional missionaries! It's wonderful. These missionaries seem so willing, ready, and capable to walk in faith and knock on doors. We read and learn about the many tender mercies and miracles that are helping Church administrators deal with the missionary surge. It's likely we will lose some of our missionaries in July as they realign Georgia to re-open the Macon mission. Even with that change, our numbers will exceed our December levels. Obviously, the transport,  paperwork, orientation, departing fireside, and support efforts for the missionaries both coming and going have kept us very busy. We've picked up 25 new cars that we will transition into the fleet.

Elder Connors and I worked an extra seven hours at the office last Saturday to stay on top of the paperwork. In the evening, we traveled to the Monroe Ward to attend a Ward luau planned and executed by the Loganville, Monroe, and Social Circle missionaries. Sister Iketau (Spanish Fork) and Sister Markowitz (Hawaii) sang and danced and conducted the program that included other island members who also shared their singing and dancing talents. The entire ward family participated (a luxury of a smaller congregation). The food was great. The ward loves their black bishop, islander counselor (who also is a Church FM employee), and tons of kids (something we don't usually see in the wards in Georgia). It was a great evening that ended with a beautiful sunset ride home.

This week has been highlighted with some soccer thrills and some wonderful meetings of the Saints. Maddie and Izzie Ober play on the Parkview High School soccer team. Tuesday evening we took a few hours to watch them play in the state soccer semi-finals.  Since the playoffs began, their team has held 3 opponents to only one goal and won handily. Tuesday's game was defensively tough on both sides, ending with a 2-1 victory for Parkview. The championship game was held last night. We weren't there because we attended the Lilburn Stake Conference evening session. Good news! Parkview won the 1-1 game in penalty kicks after two overtimes. They ended up with a 20-3 season. It's been an exciting soccer year for the Obers and for Grandma and Grandpa Clark.

We did squeeze in a trip to Gainesville yesterday to take four elders to lunch and deliver a package. It was Elder Tarver's birthday, and we used the occasion as the focal point. Of course, we took the long way home through the back roads of the Georgian hills. We drove through some of the most humble areas we've seen in Georgia. Our GPS had a hard time finding our location, and we got turned around a couple of times with the winding roads. But we no longer worry about getting lost; we feel confident that we'll eventually see a name or road we recognize. Unfortunately with narrow, winding roads, traffic, and light rain, we weren't able to stop or pull over to capture many snapshots. The rural images will have to stay in memory.

Elder Stanley Ellis of the Seventy was the visiting General Authority for Stake Conference. A new stake president was chosen, President Thomas Frost. President Frost lives in the Lilburn Ward and is a wonderful example of living charity. We worked side by side with him and Sister Frost in cleaning up a tree he felled for a member. We also love and highly respect outgoing President Weiler and his sweet family. Sister Weiler helps us with some of the mission meals. She is spiritual and down to earth and full of humor. President Samuelson, one of the new counselors in the Stake presidency, is a black brother who has been president of one of the two Spanish branches in the stake. Both the Saturday evening and Sunday sessions were filled with strong spirit and inspired instruction. We accepted the assignment of driving the two 12-passenger mission vans as shuttles from the overflow parking at Parkview High School back to the Stake Center Annex for the Sunday general session. Many of the members walked the three blocks, but we helped transport dozens of faithful Lilburn Stake members. With record turnout, it was a fun service to provide; Ray driving one van, Linda the other.

Elder and Sister Ellis were in Lilburn for more than Stake Conference. We feel like friends with them since they also completed a 4-day Mission Tour this week, and we've spent time with them each day. On Tuesday they spent 3 hours in the Mission Office, visiting with each of us and interviewing the assistants and enjoying lunch with us. Then we had a Marietta/Roswell zone conference Wednesday (Linda stayed in the mission office that day), Athens/Sugar Hill on Thursday (we both attended), and Lilburn/Conyers on Friday.  Elder Ellis repeated some of his mission tour themes in the Stake Conference meetings. We will work to internalize and remember much of his counsel.  We felt the power of his allusion to the Savior in his directive to accept change and assignments as did the Savior. Raising his hand, he said, "Here I am, I'll do it!  Send me!"  In our staff meetings, Elder Ellis said that senior couples, especially, are examples of that willingness since their call does not come by assignment or priesthood responsibility. We saw work that needs to be done and stepped up. That's how our efforts should always be, and especially now as all Church members will need to step up and open their mouths to help these surging new missionaries stay busy.

Elder Ellis reminded us over and over in many ways that this is the Lord's work and that He will fill in the blanks in our work after we do our very best.  Moroni 6:4: "...relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith." At each meeting he talked about how we exercise faith and prepare, participate, and learn through the Spirit when we meet together (such as zone conference and stake conference). D&C 44:2:  "And it shall to pass, that inasmuch as they are faithful, and exercise faith in me, I will pour out my Spirit upon them in the day that they assemble themselves together."  Elder Ellis emphasized the "pour" and talked about ways in which the Spirit teaches, reveals, comforts, guides, helps us remember, warns, and purifies us.

He mentioned three rules for accomplishment:  1) If you've done it before, you can do it again.  2)  If they've done it, we (I) can do it.  3) With God, all things are possible. Thinking of goals in short terms; not ten baptisms per mission; not one per month, but one per week can help us increase the number of baptisms. But more importantly, we can better help the Lord harvest the elect. Like calls from the Lord in the past for sacrifice and action (e.g., the Mormon pioneer sojourn to the West), this surge in missionary work is a call for today, an urgent call to share the Gospel and build the Kingdom. We will discover all of the "hows" (many miracles have already occurred) as we engage and get to work.

We closed our zone conference sessions by singing Faith in Every Footstep. We've found most of our mission days require willingness, faith, and problem solving. Ray daily recommits despite frequent functional challenges with his hands and stamina. Yes, our mission has required faith, but we see it only as blessing and joy. The Lord helps and directs us each day. This week has been special as a servant of the Lord helped us better recognize the eternal principles that underlie our daily footsteps of faith. When we exercise faith, He does pour out his spirit, and we see Him make up the difference when we fall short.

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