We just returned from making a Sunday afternoon visit to the Howard family. Marcy and Jerry will receive their endowments on August 17, and they will be sealed with Dale, Miriam, Nick, and Autumn on August 24. We are so excited and happy for them! It's been a challenge and goal they accepted early in their conversion process. Once they first experienced baptisms for the dead they became more motivated, and it's clear they are approaching the upcoming events with faith and obedience. We are grateful for their invitation to be there with them on both Saturdays. We're also happy that Elder Hanny and Elder Astel will return from Idaho to be there with them also. What fine young men and close friends they are. They were great assistants to the president.
Elder Hanny extended one month to spend time in several zones completing one-week assignments to mentor other missionaries in proselyting skills. He returned home on July 2 and is now in Idaho rising at 5 a.m. to help his father on the potato farms. He and several other of our missionaries will attend Utah State this fall. We plan to stay in touch.
Several other memories stick out from the past week. We take photos of each arriving missionary, and it is posted on a large magnetic board across from Sister Connors desk in the mission office. What a treat to look at the faces of these wonderful young people (and couples) every day! It's a favorite pastime of missionaries who visit the office as well. We give the missionaries their photo when they go home. We've had four missionaries here since last transfer who been waiting for their travel visa so they can fly off to the Australia Brisbane Mission. President Wolfert doesn't spend a lot of time in the mission office, working mostly from his home office and car. However, Friday afternoon he was there as we waited out yet another cloudburst so Elder Connors and I could give him a ride to pick up his car at the detail shop. Because he was taking the Australia-bound missionaries to the airport on Sunday, I took down their photos and gave them to him. While the rain poured, President Wolfert began looking at the photos as we exchanged casual conversation about the personalities of the various missionaries. Then in what to me was a very tender moment, he quietly re-positioned the photos of the ten missionaries who are going home on July 25 to a tidy little row at the bottom of the board. "What a great group of missionaries; we're really going to miss them," he said. While to him it was a simple conversation as he was passing time, I could feel the tender love and respect he has for our missionaries - the deep love of a mission president. I don't think either the President or Elder Connors noticed what I noticed, but it was a very sweet and telling moment for me.
President Wolfert has begun sharing portions of the weekly missionary letters with us in our Monday morning staff meetings. We often cry together over the tender mercies, faith, and testimony that evidence the Lord's hand and love for these young missionaries and those they meet and teach.
Speaking of rain - it started on July 1st and is still going on July 14. Many mornings we have fog. It rains every afternoon and evening. Last year we experienced record heat; this year it's record rain. On Wednesday, we attended the Lilburn Ward mingle at the stake bowery. It's a weekly event in the summer months. The ward provides the hot dogs; members bring pot luck for the rest. Fortunately, the bowery is large and secure so we could enjoy our conversation (what little we could hear of it) in a 40-minute thunderstorm. Children were out running and splashing in muddy puddles (despite the active lightning); nothing like warm rain to entice play. Yesterday we mowed a very long and wet lawn, laid out some of the pavers we picked up several weeks ago, and helped Don trim apple tree branches. It was a good four hours of hard work; it felt great!
Last Saturday we drove to Hartwell, GA (on the South Carolina border) to spend the afternoon with Elder (Larry) and Sister (Annette) Lee. They will be released on September 10 after two years serving in the Elberton Branch. Bloomfield (near Farmington), N.M. is their home; Elder Lee had been a bishop for just over a year when his Stake President called him in and told him he felt strongly impressed to release him and invite them to go on a mission. Now Elder Lee is in the Branch Presidency and Sister Lee is holding down the YW program for three young women. They are down to earth and delightful. We visited,, checked out a potential new apartment for sister missionaries in Hartwell, took a short ride to view a few area highlights like the Georgia Guidestones (a monument to conservation with inscriptions in eight languages) and Lake Hartwell (a Savannah River reservoir) and enjoyed dinner on Saturday afternoon.
On Sunday we drove to Elberton, the granite (monument) capitol of the world and attended Church in the small branch (again, we were there last June) with the 60 or so attendees. There are challenges and amazing dedication in branches within its 2600 square mile boundary, and the congregation is made up largely of retired people. We really enjoy seeing how faith and testimony work in the lives of people from varied backgrounds. It was really sweet to visit one-on-one with Katina, a young mother of three. She sat in her wheelchair, with IV and other support tools attached. She just moved closer to family after release from Shepherd, Atlanta's premiere spinal injury rehabilitation center. She was in a rollover accident in February and in a coma for weeks. She was taught and baptized during her recovery. A beautiful young woman both physically and spiritually, her emotions are very tender. The Gospel is very new to her, and she has many questions. The sisters in the branch are very sweet with her, and I received a call this past week the President Rowndy wanting to be sure her records are transferred to the Elberton Branch. I had to refer him to the Atlanta mission since she was baptized by elders there. She'll be in our prayers and thoughts as with so many others we have encountered while on our mission.
Thirty-three missionaries are arriving in July; 33 by September; 31 and counting in October. About 30 missionaries will go home in those three transfers. Our December 2012 total count of 155 missionaries with only 14 sisters will be 223 by October (despite losing 31 missionaries in the mission boundary change). By end of year we expect our sister count to be 90+. It's made us ponder about what needs (both now and in the future) the Lord is filling with this revitalized invitation to preach the gospel. The list of possibilities in our minds is growing:
- Of course, increase the number of invitations to come unto Christ and prepare for His second coming
- Prepare future generations by strengthening the future fathers and mothers of those generations
- Bring more citizens to Christ to refocus the course of America and other nations back to traditional values so that promised-land blessings may be preserved
- Strengthen sisters and families to enable the work of priesthood leaders and power around the world.