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, June 30, 2013

Change and Testimony

Tomorrow will be July 1st, and Independence Day celebrations are scheduled on July 4.  Happy Birthday, America!  July 1st also marks the transfer of 31 of our young elders and sisters from the Georgia Atlanta North Mission to the Georgia Atlanta Mission. That transfer has kept us busy the past two weeks preparing for a farewell zone meeting, prepping database and paper files for transfer to the Atlanta Mission, and trying to spend a bit of quality time with these departing missionaries while we're able.

Last Saturday we drove to Jonesboro to take five elders to lunch. (Elders Sarniguet, Popp, Gunnerson, Beus,and Wadsworth). 

Yesterday, we drove back there again to take our boxed-up files to the Atlanta Mission Office staff.  On Thursday, a meeting was held at the Conyers Stake Center for the transferring missionaries. We even closed the mission office for the afternoon (we've never closed it before for more than an hour). The meeting included short messages from President and Sister Wolfert, testimonies from the missionaries, and a great lunch. There was a sense of reverence we've never seen at a group meeting as these marvelous young people contemplated their role, responsibilities, and opportunities in historic changes in mission work. Sister Connors felt impressed to share her testimony (along with the love all the office staff have for these young people). Some of the missionaries were anxious about the change. We reminded them that the Lord will bless them with the capacities and strength they need. The testimonies were sweet and strong, as was the spirit of love and commitment to serve where the Lord calls. The luncheon was happy and included lots of hugs and photographs with the seniors.

The Conyers Stake has been the anchor of our baptisms recently, so we will miss these missionaries, but we know they will bless their new complement of missionaries and investigators in the Atlanta Mission. The Atlanta Mission is the host mission for the new Macon mission, so the staff's tasks have included training the new office staff in Macon, letting go of two Stakes, and assuming one. We've been busy with just one stake and its missionaries leaving. We can only imagine how hard it's been for the Atlanta Mission staff. They've had to make use of young elders in the office on a regular basis. It's been a blessing for us to have enough senior power to keep our proselyting young missionaries doing that preaching work. Our housing couples, in particular, are challenged with opening seven apartments for the last new group and 14 for the upcoming July group. All in all, the increased numbers are increasing everyone's work.  Most office days now end at 7 p.m. We lost 31 missionaries in the Zone transfer and another three who had medical releases. Down goes our 200 missionary count, but it will zoom again to nearly 215 net missionaries by October. Truly we are seeing miracles.

Last Sunday night we enjoyed a world-wide broadcast for ward councils, missionaries, and members about missionary work. More changes are in the works as missionaries will soon spend part of their day/week using internet social tools to proselyte and fellowship. They will also give facility tours. We don't know all of the details yet, but hope we'll be able to learn and help implement this change before our September release date. An increased need for member assistance in missionary work was also emphasized by our leaders. We already see actions taken in the Lilburn Stake to increase member involvement. We had a baptism today for Chinesa (Sunshine) Mason. She's reactivated her less active mom. Her ultra soft, delicate voice befits her sweet spirit. Ward members gave the talks and performed the baptism. Exactly what we need! These new converts desperately need immediate ward friends and not just missionary friends who will be gone as is the nature of their call. This ward member willingness has probably already been there; it just took counsel from local and Church-wide leaders to help them step up to this critical challenge. With more involvement at the ward level and more missionaries serving in each ward and branch, amazing things are going to happen. We feel joy and humility as we find ourselves living and laboring in the fulfillment of prophetic promises about the Gospel spreading to all the world.

We've had some missionaries protected from harm in some serious car accidents the past week; others had to return home for medical care. We found ourselves back in Jonesboro again to get a damaged car out of compound for repair. On that P-day trip, we stopped by a small Confederate cemetery where we read the headstones reverently and admired the enormous magnolia tree that shaded the grounds.

Our son, David, surprised us with a text announcing a broken arm. His Facebook post of a lovely motorcycle ride with friend above our home in Bountiful was followed by our mutual gratitude that he was not hurt more seriously several minutes later. It sounds like the healing has not been fun for him, however.

Weather patterns this summer have brought rain nearly every day. Some days it's a few sprinkled raindrops; other days bring thunder, lightning, wind, and fury; all of it happening in a flash with sun re-appearing and then disappearing again. There are no extreme high temperatures yet, so life is bearable. On Friday evening, June 21, we enjoyed dinner with Elder and Sister Atkins and hiked part-way up Stone Mountain. However, our late getaway from the office and evening clouds hid most of our planned longest-day-of-the-year sunset. We gave our son, Michael, a call for his birthday from the mountain and crept down by moonlight. Ray found the footing difficult (signs of a diagnosis to follow when we returned home.) Granddaughter Faith's birthday falls on July 2. We'll see what we can do to give her a novel birthday call as well.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Lord is Hastening His Work

It's Father's Day. We're back in our apartment, resting after a long and busy week and hoping to hear soon from Mike and Wendy.  We enjoyed a nice phone visit with Dave a few hours ago. We also have a call in to Elder Tarver. His father was found dead on the couch this morning. Elder Tarver has not been close to his father, but despite his assurances to President Wolfert that he will move on without interruption because of the news, our hearts go out to him. He had to grow up so early, leaving home as a teenager. He calls us at least once a week to check on our health and well-being. We just love Elder Tarver and are happy to hear he is putting plans together to attend school in Utah and "date" a sister he met when they were both in the MTC. The Gospel can change lives and families and future generations!

We can't believe it's been a month since we made an entry. Where has the time gone?  It's been hastened as the Lord has hastened His work with the surge of missionaries that are flooding the world. We've just ended another transfer week, highlighted with the arrival of 24 missionaries that include Elder Poole returning from surgery, four short-notice Australia-visa waiters, 12 sisters and 8 elders. Our missionary count hit 200 for the first time!  It was a dry run for the 30+ who will arrive on July 23 and again on September 3.

Each group of missionaries that arrives amazes us with their resolve and competence. And somehow, all of the logistics work for the many of us teaming together to welcome them:
  • Arranging extra vans and drivers for the airport run
  • Having a stranger (a young woman chauffeur for the Walking Dead production team) with the right skills in the cell phone lot at the airport unlock one of the vans when poor Elder Tewalt closed the door unintentionally by taking off a car antenna and inserting it into the door lock; that meant we didn't have to leave new missionaries stranded at the airport waiting for transport
  • Finding a great price at a convenience Holiday Inn Express to lodge the new missionaries since we've over-run the capacity for sleeping in the Mission Home
  • Opening seven new apartments on short notice (they are hard to find and negotiate in short time periods)
  • Having wards and stakes happily help find and furnish the apartments
  • Feeling more confident that we can open and furnish fourteen new apartments for July and again in September
  • Coordinating the pickup, delivery and distribution of bicycles
  • Adding 14 new vehicles, hitches, and Tiwis to the mission fleet
  • Dealing with several "fender-bender" reports and repairs each week
  • Preparing letters and 100-page mission binders and the luncheons for the missionaries coming in and the eleven missionaries who returned home this week
  • Saying good-nights with love to our co-office couples when duties keep us in the office until summer twilight.
We see the Lord's hand in all that is happening. He is directing the efforts and the resources. Our capacities are stretched, yet it all comes together.

And, we also add "change" to the surge. On July 1st, the Macon Mission will re-open as one of the 58 new missions opening world-round. The Conyers Stake will move under the Georgia Atlanta Mission, and that mission will turn over two stakes to the Macon Mission. So we have a project with a June 30 deadline to complete and transfer database, paper records, and business requirements for the missionaries assigned to the Conyers Stake who will transfer in that change. Linda's become the project manager (recognizing more and more each day how the Lord blessed her with professional experience we need to fill in the technical gaps with our senior-only office team). We also have a luncheon to organize, a binder of memories to prepare, and other items for these 30+ transitioning missionaries that we need to squeeze into a very busy last two weeks of June. So we will have long days in the weeks ahead, but our collective energies will be motivated by love for these wonderful young missionaries who will leave our ranks a bit sooner than planned. We can feel the sense of urgency and are so grateful to be part of the team responding.

While there has been lots of joyful work, there have also been spiritual moments and fun times, too. Heather Strickland was baptized two weeks ago. Sister Connors was able to help the elders with some teaching sessions. In our first meeting with Heather, her acknowledged anxiety about life and coping was very evident. After her confirmation, she bore sure testimony of her trust in the Lord and the rightness of her decision. She does have a new sense of calm; her husband has been open to our short interactions and is letting the children attend church with her.  When investigators receive witness from the Spirit and act upon it, many tender mercies happen. The challenge now is to help them fully "convert" which is to change the lives to new patterns as they continue to grow in knowledge and faith. This is evidenced as new members no longer solely rely on "missionaries" but on their own testimony. Linda visit teaches a sister who continues to have problem after problem.  A recent widow and former foster parent, she recently fell and has not been able to work. She has only the resources to rent a "room" in a widow's home. It's not an ideal situation, but they make it work. However, the sister says she has difficulty trusting anyone except "missionaries."  Prayers are that she can feel the trust she needs to lean on ward members, too. Today we had no new converts or investigators in our Gospel Principles class. It was because of Father's Day, we suppose. Many of them come from non-supportive relationships; many work multiple jobs. However, some were at the Bishop's office door today, needing help from him.

Several investigators we've worked with were at the fireside for the departing missionaries on Wednesday. It's a sweet one-hour meeting where the departing missionaries bear a final testimony, followed by refreshments. The guest missionaries invite investigators and recent converts; other missionaries are not allowed. The room was as crowded as a Sacrament meeting. The testimonies at this week's fireside were particularly insightful, mature, and poignant.  Three of the twelve, Elder Hanny, Elder Edmunds, and Elder Chugg, have been assistants to the president and we have worked closely with them. All twelve of the departees (also including Elders Cole, Owens, Phillips, Thompson, Rogers, Clark, Ball, Spear, and Sister Waterworth) are wonderful, and we are so grateful for our association as we humbly learned from them and served with them.

Now we need to do our part to insure those they taught become fully engaged in activity. Our goal as we wind up these next few months is to spend family home evenings and other opportunities with the converts in the Lilburn Ward to bear testimony and to encourage them to take another leap of faith and fully engage themselves in activity. Today started off on a spiritual note as we enjoyed some of the best talks we've had in Sacrament meeting here. All of the speakers introduced themselves as "poor speakers", but they were living examples of how the spirit fills mouths to teach and lift. They nailed it!

We've also enjoyed a couple of fun outings in the past month. We worked in the mission office for part of Memorial Day and then all of the office couples drove to Social Circle where we enjoyed dinner at the Blue Willow Inn with Sister Iketau and Sister Markowitz. It was the first trip there for the other seniors. They, too, enjoyed the intimate, historic feel of this small town.

We drove the long way home, circling south and east to Monticello and Greensboro. We now appreciate the huge boundaries of the Monroe Ward. We added two sets of missionaries in the area over the past two transfers.

Two weeks ago we took another long drive after a Saturday of mowing lawns, grocery shopping, and cleaning to see the Etowah Indian Mounds near Cartersville in northwest Georgia. We arrived shortly before closing, but fortunately had enough time to view the displays and learn the story, then walk out and climb to the top of the highest mound (a constructed, earthen flat-topped pyramid) and view the complex defensive trenches. The area conjured images of Book of Mormon stories. Like many sites in the Mississippian plains, a sophisticated culture thrived in the Etowah Valley for centuries before discovery by the Spanish explorers like Cortez in the 1500s that eventually led to disease and decline.

As we exited the state park, we checked out a lovely golf community and then spotted large cooling towers and smoke stacks a few miles away. We drove to Stilesboro to catch a photo. We checked the spot out online when we arrived home and discovered that it is Plant Bowen, the largest coal powered power plant in North America!

Last Saturday we loaded up the mission trailer with the Atkins and delivered mattresses to five apartments in a 200-mile loop so new missionaries arriving this week would have beds. Our highlight was lunch from the Subway at the Walmart in Jasper.

Yesterday?  It cooled a bit from very hot, humid temperatures earlier in the week, so after the lawn-mowing we took our the shoes and enjoyed hand-washing the car in our bare feet. The soaking was badly needed and helped both the car and our spirits.  It's good to be young-at-heart. Minor errands and house-cleaning wrapped up our preparation day. It was a busy day that fit right in with a busy week and month. And with our release date now on the horizon, we surely need to hasten our efforts. (We can't keep up with downloading, uploading photos from the camera, so someday I'll go back and add some photos to these entries.)