Friday, July 11, 2014

On our way home and reunions afterward

The last days flew by: going through everything in our apartment, cleaning and preparing for someone else to live where we had called home for the last 18 months.   We came with two suitcases and a carry on and went home with the same; leaving much of what we purchased behind for the next Senior couple to enjoy.  It was nostalgic, but exciting.
 The night before we left we were invited to the farewell missionary dinner at the mission home.  Elder Regis was completing his mission as well as Elders Jamison and Dorman.  We had our last catered Trini dinner and a wonderful farewell testimony meeting.  A very tender farewell prayer was offered by President Mehr at the conclusion of the evening in which he prayed for each of the returning missionaries by name.  Very special........
 We will miss President and Sister Mehr.  They are both amazing, kind-hearted, incredibly talented and full of the Spirit.  It has been soooo fun to be her twin!  Everywhere we went people confused me for her and vice versa.  Many people also called Elder Monson, President Mehr.  It might have something to do with the fact that we are both comparable heights and Sister Mehr and I both let our naturally curly hair go its own way while in the mission field.  We both straighten our hair at home!
 We love these wonderful APs!  Elders Anderson and Hatch - great young men!
 Here we all were at the airport in Trinidad getting ready to take the last flight home!
 The Church was very kind to work with us on our returning home tickets.  We had a layover in Houston which is where our son, Ben, and his family live, so we requested to stay over night there and go into Saint George the next day.  We got to see this adorable little boy, Redek, one of three who joined our family while we were on our mission.
 This is the big sister, Reagan, and we got to spend the evening and morning with them in their gorgeous home. I have to say, after having lived in Trinidad and among people who we loved that had so little, we were a little shell-shocked to see their home.  It was an adjustment.
 The final plane ride to Saint George.   It was very emotional to realize we were going to have to remove our name tags in the near future.  I had been praying for just a few more missionary experiences before that dreaded moment came, and as we were waiting three hours in the Salt Lake airport for the flight to Saint George that miracle came.  As we walked into the gate area, we saw a young missionary sitting by himself on a row. I sat down next to him and asked where he had been and where he was going.  He was going back to his mission in Tucson AZ.  His mission president had called him four days earlier and told him his father was in critical condition in Las Vegas.  He was given the choice to go home to see his Dad.  He is the only member of the Church in his family.  He had joined ten years earlier because of the influence of some close friends, but none of his family had joined.  He felt impressed to go home, but only for three days.  He was able to see his dad for two hours before he died.  He said, with tears in his eyes, that his sisters and his mom had begged him to stay.  He had been on his mission for ten months and said it was really hard to go back to his mission.  He was struggling and had been praying for someone to talk to, to support him in his desire to return. I was able to tell him how courageous he was, how grateful he will be all his life that he returned.  Praying fervently to be guided by the Spirit, I promised him that he would feel the comfort of his father and that his father would be influenced to listen to the gospel beyond the veil, because of his faithfulness in completing his mission.  They called his flight, and he gave me his name to write to him in the mission field and thanked me for being the answer to his prayer and an angel to him as he struggled with his decision.  How sweet it was to feel that The Lord used me to answer his prayer.  How thankful I am for how close the Spirit is to missionaries.  Nothing sweeter, nothing better!  How am I going to go back to normal life???
 Dear dear Connie came to the Saint George airport with balloons and a smile as big as ever!  Our grandchildren brought their parents and my mother came to welcome us home!  So thankful!..............We began the adjustment, going through our house, cleaning up the rental house, reconnecting with our old life.  We have a good life in Saint George and are so very thankful.  We gave our homecoming talks that very Sunday.
 Seldom enjoyed pleasures - attending our granddaughters piano recital.  How sweet to have family nearby now.
 Reuniting with old friends that we love and have missed.
 Another of our brand new baby boys born while on our mission came to visit with his parents for the homecoming!  The family that bathes together, stays together, we always say!
 Delightful graduation from pre-school!  Ours is the one leading the music!
 Seeing great new additions to Saint George!  A beautiful children's museum with our adored grandchildren.
 The royal court waiting to pass judgement on the peasants......
 A few weeks after returning, we traveled with a few of our grandchildren, to our family reunion in Kauai with all our children and their families.  We were sooooo excited to see everybody again!
 Just some of the people we love......
 Two of the boys born while we were gone......Ezra (6 mos.) and Eli (4 mos.)
 So thankful for all these wonderful people we love!
 And just a few of their posterity..........and ours!
 We all hiked down to a gorgeous, rope-swing waterfall and spent a glorious few hours!
 One of the really special events of our trip!  Thais was baptized at the LDS church right across the street from our condo.  It was a beautiful meeting and so wonderful that we could all be there!
 Jordan's family.....and our special new member of the church!
 Ben's family and the first of the three new boys, Redek (18 mos. born right after we left)
 Getting to know one of our new boys with Papa time!
 Two little cousins sitting in a box...........
 We each had our own unit, but gathered in ours for dinner, adult time each evening and FHE.  Each day we went on outings, or played in the lawn, pool, shuffleboard and barbecue areas.  It was so sweet to be all together!
 Garrett teaching the FHE lesson .........Gracie......ummmmmm.......slightly distracted..........
Our newest little boy, Eli!  Soooo adorable!
 One of the outing sites......
 So much fun!
 Cousins having a blast in the ocean!
 Look what came to visit!
Beautiful!  It was everything we dreamed it would be.  We were so thankful to be with all of our family again to create such a perfect memory.  

It has been said that a missionary is someone who leaves those he loves for a time, so their family can eventually be together forever.  We are thankful for the opportunity we had to serve our mission in the West Indies.  We love all the friends we made there and hope to live our lives to see them again - if not in this life, then in the next.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Home Stretch

The last few weeks of our mission were bitter-sweet.  After nearly eighteen months of loving, working with, and dedicating all our time to the West Indies Mission, it was hard to make last visits to many of the nine units in Trinidad.  We were asked to speak in Point Fortin, Siparia, San Fernando, and bore our testimonies the last Sunday in Sangre Grande.  Standing at the pulpit;  one last attempt to strengthen the Saints and express our love to them, was an emotional experience.  We knew it was likely we would never return.  So many memories came flooding back to us.  There were lots of lasts................
 We spent a day helping the Batemans move into their new apartment.  The matching shirts were given to us by Bro. Kotiah after the Steel Pan Band preliminary competitions.  The matchey match wasn't planned!  Elders Ray and Monson came out in the morning to go to work and voila!  The shirts are a great reminder of going to the steel pan band preliminaries with Bro. and Sister Kotiah.  They are stalwarts of the church in Trinidad who have had more than their share of really hard challenges, but have remained strong and faithful.  He repaired the church cars for us; Sister Kotiah was the CES administrative assistant, and coordinator, and both of them did so many kind things for the Senior missionaries.  They also did catering for many of the YSA and youth activities.  Bro. Kotiah would take us around to see sights of the country to make sure we were safe and inform us on the inside places to visit. In the last week of our mission, he knew that we wanted a steel pan and he made one himself for us, as a surprise, before we left.  We were so touched by his thoughtfulness.  They are amazing people, and we will miss them greatly.
 We had final district meetings with our two zones, plus final apartment inspections and final awards! We love every one of these stalwart young missionaries!  We loved attending their district meetings and feeling of their great spirits and leadership capabilities.  It was hard to have the last meetings with them as one of our favorite parts of our mission was acting as their mission, "parents!" The Church is in good hands, at least with the young missionaries we knew and loved.
 Last time to wake up at 5:00 am to make sweet rolls for the awards in district meeting.  This was a really fun thing.  After apartment inspections, we would take a picture of the winning companionships and immediately email it to their mothers.  We got some really excited email responses from mothers who were very proud of this notable accomplishment!  The winners kept their apartments very clean!!  At least once a transfer!  The competition was stiff!
 Elder Peterson had worked really hard to win - and just missed it two times!!  He won this last time!
Such great and noble missionaries!
 Elder Monson was responsible for the cars for a period of time.  He also counseled with returning local missionaries about employment and resume preparation.  We worked together on our youth and YSA initiatives and on Celebration 2015.

This picture represents a huge part of my mission experience.   I was able to send out, prepare and record in the mission journaling tradition amazing spiritual experiences that changed young missionaries for life . Training my replacement, Sister Turner, to take over and then seeing our picture on the board for the last transfer before we left, was a very weird experience.  Sister Turner was only in Trinidad for a few weeks before they left for their assignment in Martinique, but was quickly trained in RHWH and CTS.  The plan was that she would do the work remotely and send it in for Sister Ray to put up on the boards in the office.   It worked like a charm. A couple notable excerpts from local missionaries while I was responsible, I include here, answering the question posed to them,  "Share one of the spiritual experiences of your mission?

"It was either to stay or to leave my mission. I wanted to leave, and the senior couple did not help at all; they wanted to change me by forcing me to change my clothing. I refused and they called the mission president, who said if I did not listen to them, I could no longer be a missionary. I decided to go home, but the mission President told the zone leader to interview me first. He just told me to pray about it; whether to stay or not. I knelt and started to pray. As I prayed I started to cry. I did not know why - I don’t usually cry. Then I felt the spirit and it was the strongest feeling I had ever felt. I felt the Savior’s love for me and His appreciation. I got a strong assurance that the church is true and I should stay and finish my mission. I did stay and started loving it, because of the constant help I received from the Lord, the love of my parents and my mission President.

"One of my spiritual experiences happened as I was serving with Elder __________ in New Amsterdam. I remember that particular day was so hot, and it seemed as though we were just going through heavy mud and nothing was happening. Things just keep falling through, and we were finding and calling at gates and no one wanted to listen to us, not to mention
the sun was so hot. I got depressed and was just ready to give up. As I was riding, I waved to this lady and she waved back with a smile. I kept riding and like 30 seconds down the road, I heard a voice as clear as day. “Elder ___________, do you think you can pay for her sins? Do you think you want her blood upon your shoulders?” Immediately, I turned around on my bike and headed back to her.  Low and behold, she was prepared! She was so prepared that she got baptized three weeks later.  I am so grateful that I was able and prepared to act as the Lord spoke to me. It’s just amazing and I know that we are simply the vessels that the Lord uses in his work. This is his work for sure!"
The Senior couple, pictured here, arrived right after we left; she is the sister of our across-the-street neighbor, Gloria Pope, and their assignment is in Guyana.  Small world in the church!  We wish we could have worked together!
 One of many goodbyes!  This is Lisa, our nurse friend, that we invited to a YSA activity and then found out she was 59!  She became a wonderful friend. She is a dear, and we will miss her.  We will never forget her wonderful pumpkin drink, getting honey for us from her friend so we didn't have to pay the "complexion tax" price, and just brightening our day every time we ran into her on our morning walks.  Here we were at dinner at our apartment.
This was taken at her lovely home when she invited us for dinner with the famous pumpkin drink!  Lisa is single, and we are so impressed at her hard work in providing this lovely home for herself.  She was just finishing two apartments above her home that she will rent to pay for her retirement.  She was divorced, young, and unlike so many other women in Trinidad, got her nursing degree and worked to provide for herself.

We also went to lunch with "Mother Teresa" and her friend; kind friendly neighbors that we visited with on our daily walks. As the days wound down and we were leaving soon; Teresa invited us to her lovely home.  She invited her walking partner; we got to meet her husband, and we had a wonderful meal together.  Unfortunately, we didn't bring the camera!
 All the Trinidad Senior missionaries took us out to lunch at the Valpark Chinese restaurant where we met Etta; our waitress friend that came to Celebration!  Sweet goodbyes!

President and Sister Mehr also went to lunch with us there on another day before we left.  We were so blessed to be in their mission - both wonderful people - we will always love!

We had planned and were excited to have one more YSA activity to say goodbye to all our friends, but the activity was cancelled because of Stake budget constraints.  We were sad because it was a huge beach treasure hunt that we had already prepared for and was our last chance to be with all the YSA's from all units in Trinidad one more time. We heard the news while we were in Grenada.  Sad!  Since we had seen them every month for our whole mission at YSA activities, it shocked us to realize we really were ending our mission and wouldn't see many of them this life!
 Our last visit to Sangre Grande and Sister Christopher's Roti shop; the best in Trinidad!  We love all the youth, YSA's, members and young missionaries in Sangre Grande!
 This young man, Jovan, has his papers in to serve a mission.  A great future leader in Sangre Grande.  At this special farewell, he came up to Elder Monson and said he would like to give him his favorite tie as a special gift.  Elder Monson was very touched and gave him his tie and asked him to promise to give it to a future missionary that we would train when he was on his mission.  Elder Monson will wear Jovan's tie with sweet memories of a great young man!
 The wonderful youth in Sangre Grande!  The last Sunday School class taught on our mission.
Sister Christopher is the bishop's wife in Sangre Grande.  We love them both, but this woman amazes us.  She is truly one of my personal heroines!  She worked for a woman for years making her own, (not her bosses) recipe of Roti, then she realized that with their meagre income from her husband's security job, she had to get some more money to help her son get glasses and prepare for his mission.  She went to the owner of the Roti shop and told her she was going to have to quit to open her own shop.  The woman was abusive, threatening and terrifying.  Sister Christopher is courageous, hard-working, and faithful.  She went forward despite incredible odds, and now has her own Roti shop and is helping her family get ahead.  We truly love this dear-hearted woman.  She inspires us to remain faithful to eternally associate with such noble people!
This adorable girl and her family were a very important part of our mission.  As Senior missionaries, we were given specific assignments (which we loved) but there is not a lot of opportunity to teach people the Gospel.  Elder Hatch told us about this couple and their daughter and invited us to go visit them.  We were able to visit many times before their baptism, share in both their amazing journeys towards becoming members of the Church and love them dearly.  As the days came closer that we were to depart, we called and asked to come visit one last time.  It was a sweet goodbye.  We love and admire them so much.  They will be an amazing force for good in the Port of Spain ward and in building the Lord's kingdom.
Visiting in their lovely home
Wishing them a sweet farewell.......until we meet again.  We really hope they come to visit us someday in the United States.  Sherwin, Ann Marie, and Shermarie will not be forgotten.
We had a farewell party for the Celebration cast the week before we left.  We had the DVD's of the show for all the contestants.  Our hearts were so full as we bid farewell to the wonderful people we have loved and worked so closely with.  The Warners and the Cummings.  So many memories of their hard work to learn their parts, get beautiful costumes and perform at their best!
Jason and Peaches, pregnant with their first child, married soon after we arrived and are pretty much rock stars in Trinidad for their faithfulness and example.  Great people!
Keri, with whom we worked so closely and love so much!  She is a brave, single young woman who joined the church (the only member from her Hindu family) talented and beautiful.  We prayed for her and will continue to.  She has chosen a noble path, not for the faint of heart, but we trust in her capacity to be strong and faithful to spiritual impressions that led her to the Church.  Collan Moore, who we were so happy to see, having just been released from the hospital, was able to make it to bid farewell.
Nicholas Victor, with whom we worked closely on the Celebration Committee.
Sister Donnalee, a very recent convert, who wrote and performed a beautiful poem about Relief Society for Celebration.
Kurt, who joined the Church while we were on our mission.  A fantastically talented young man from Guyana, preparing for a mission.  We love him!
 President and Sister Danzell and their new baby boy.  This amazing couple was such a big part of our mission!  She is remarkably talented; teaches dance, is articulate, a leader in every way, (currently serving in the Young Women's presidency) is the choir director, directed the Stake production of Savior Of The World, a friend to all and very important to the Church in Trinidad.  President Danzell is first counselor in the Stake Presidency, a wonderful man, gifted speaker, talented actor, and wonderful father and husband.  We loved working with him.  His conversion story is amazing.  He was visiting his Sister's house and noticed a book sitting on the table.  She had previously been visited by the missionaries, and they had left a Book of Mormon at her home which she hadn't glanced at and had no interest in.  He had passed by it several times and not paid any attention, but one time, he felt a strong impression to pick it up, opened it and felt an immediate warm Spirit come over him as he read just one page.  He had first come in contact with the church by playing basketball, but whenever the missionaries approached him, he would not even talk to them.  He also had a pretty strong aversion to white people, in general.  So he called his friend, a member of the Church, with whom he had been playing basketball and told him about his experience and asked what he should do about it?  His friend told him that typically when one had an experience with the Spirit, they would meet with the missionaries, be taught the Gospel, and be baptized.  So that is what he did, parking his prejudices, and after being taught the Gospel, he knew he needed to join the Church.  Within two years, he was serving a mission in the West Indies and living with white missionaries.  He and his wife are now a powerful force for good in building the Lord's kingdom in Trinidad.
Some of the best strong priesthood leadership in Trinidad.  Wonderful men, all! Jason, Collan, Nicholas, Kurt and Davon.  Each one we love and so enjoyed working with.  Davon, on the far right, was a missionary in our mission.  After his return, he reactivated several young single adults, strengthened the youth in Sangre Grande and as Young Men's President had a powerful impact in getting many of the young men prepared to serve missions.  

At the end of this post, I wanted to record a testimony Sister Mehr shared at one of our zone conferences that we will never forget!
  "As a young missionary in France, we rode bikes.  I was following my companion too closely; she stopped abruptly, and I went flying over her bike.  My leg was badly scraped up from the knee to the ankle.  My companion insisted that we go to the Doctor.  At that time, under President Benson, the missionaries were flooding the earth with the Book of Mormon, so when we went to the Doctors', we offered him a Book of Mormon.  He said he was not interested, but that his sister was interested in Christian things and she might want to read it.  He took it and said he would give it to her.  I had a total of four appointments with this doctor.  The next visit, we asked if he had given it to his sister.  He said that he had; she was happy to receive it and was interested in reading it.  The next visit, we asked him how his sister liked it, he said she did, had read quite a bit of it, and was really enjoying it.  We were really excited and asked him if we could go see her and talk to her about it.  He said, "No, I am sorry, but I cannot give you any information, that is private."  We were devastated, but as we left we said to each other, well, God knows where she lives and if he wants us to find her, we will.  The very next day, they got up and rode their bikes to an area they had not previously tracked.  At the second house they knocked, a woman opened the door and as they held up the Book of Mormon, the woman said, "Oh, I have that book, I have!  I have read the whole thing!"  I quietly said, "Oh really, where did you get it?"  She excitedly replied, "My brother gave it to me, he is a doctor!"  
The Lord directs His work and is aware of each of His children!