Friday, August 18, 2017

8/18/17 Unpredictability in the Ohio

August 17, 2017

Dear Loved Ones,

One thing that keeps this mission interesting is its unpredictability. We are just never sure what a new day is going to bring. I chose the word “interesting” rather than “fun” or “exciting” because that unpredictability is usually the result of something bad that has happened to or with one of our missionaries—like a severe allergic reaction, an eye injury, a broken hip, a kidney stone, or, in today’s case, a suicide attempt. I know, sadness! But, fortunately for all, the attempt was not successful. But, this is Sonja writing this week’s blog (Sorry! Kent’s writing is much more fun and interesting) because Kent, as I write, is on an airplane somewhere between Cincinnati and Salt Lake City accompanying our sweet elder home to his family where he can and, hopefully, will get the care he desperately needs. 
This is our poison ivy case for the week

We love this elder! For a short time we actually went to district meetings only because our YSA elders needed rides to district meeting. District meetings don’t have much application to senior missionaries. It actually was not even our district. We were adopted. The district leader actually invited us to come and talk to the district about companionship prayer and then he just kept inviting us back and we fell in love with the missionaries in that district so we kept coming until transfers happened and things changed and our YSA elders got a car for a short time. But I digress, this elder was in that district and he was a good missionary and he was sweet and we love him. We’re glad for that connection with him. Our hearts ache for the emotional pain he struggles with!

The morning began with a text from Sister Welch letting us know there was a problem, followed closely by a call from Pres. Welch who was driving to the elder’s apartment. He knew enough to know that an attempt had been made and diverted. He wanted Kent’s thoughts on whether there was any possible way that there was anything we could do other than send this young man home. Nope. In fact, Kent said he needed to be constantly watched AND accompanied home. Kent was the obvious one to do that. When we spoke with Missionary Mental Health the possibility of having a family member come here and accompany the elder home was brought up but it seemed better to deliver him tonight than wait for the family member to arrive tonight and take him home tomorrow.

In making the arrangements, we were on the phone with the IFR (In Field Rep—the liaison between the mission president and the GAs) and a guy from the church’s travel department. When the travel guy asked if Kent needed to be put up in a hotel overnight in SLC, he replied that he’d be staying with our son and his family in Orem. Lindsey, the IFR, said, “Oh good, I love it when these things work out well for families.” Seeing how onboard he was with Kent visiting children and grandchildren, I asked if perhaps this missionary should be accompanied by the TWO OF US.  :) Haha! He said not this time, maybe next time.   :-)

We get lots of questions like this:  "What bug bit me?"  It's usually hard to tell.

So, not only do I not get to see Taylor and Katie and family, but, I have to give Kent’s spiel at zone conference tomorrow on:
1.     Eclipse glasses—how and when to wear them.
2.     Flu shots—yes, you are required to get them unless you can convince us that there is a real medical reason you shouldn’t. Don’t be a waney! 
3.     SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder that we are believers in. Things get pretty gloomy here in the winter/spring. We get more rain than Seattle and, consequently, we have a lot of depressed missionaries during those months. This summer we have seen such a difference in the general happiness of our missionaries that we are now believers in SAD. Therefore, we/I will be showing them some HAPPY LIGHTS that their parents can order for them. These lights put out a certain amount of something (aren’t I going to be great?!) that if they use them to do their morning studies, we have hope it will help.
4.     Then I need to talk to them about time and how they need to wisely use every minute of their designated sacred teaching time in the work. It’s our job to do our best to keep them healthy so they and their companions can stay in the work. Kent illustrates this concept with the story of how in his last month of his mission, even though he was in the mission home and had lots of other responsibilities, he promised Heavenly Father that he would use every minute he could to search for people who were prepared to receive the gospel. If he and his companion finished their AP work and had 15 minutes left before they were supposed to be in for the night, they went out finding. They had 3 people baptized in that last month who were found in 15-minute chunks of time that they used instead of squandering.

Sister Davis and Elder Wiser trying out the patriotic eclipse glasses on our veranda

Fortunately, we had zone conference in Muncie yesterday and I was able to hear Kent deliver his spiel. I won’t be able to do it nearly as well as he does it. Honestly, they love him! They just get big smiles on their faces when he gets up. He cracks them up! But, he knows when to be serious with them also and he is always well received.

Our oldest granddaughter, Anna, turned 11 years old today. Happy birthday, Anna! We sure do love you! Eleven years ago we became grandparents. Now we have 13 grandchildren! We feel pretty great about those numbers! I wonder if we’ll have another 13 in the next 11 years? This grandparent gig is sure great! This morning we were skyping with Anna and family and asked them how they’d feel about a visit from Grandpa Kent tonight. They were all very enthusiastically onboard! Lucky Kent!

In keeping with my theme of unpredictability, I might mention that the weather here is unpredictably predictable. That is to say that you run a greater chance of suddenly going from sunny blue skies to lightning, thunder and downpour if you left your raincoat and/or umbrella at home. I often ask Siri if it’s going to rain today. I get two answers: “Yes, it’s going to rain today,” and, “It doesn’t look like it’s going to rain,” said in the most unsure voice that Siri can muster. So, today we left our apartment to head to the Welches to pick up the elder and drive to the airport. Either our minds were somewhere else or the weather totally looked fine as we left. We never considered the need for a raincoat or umbrella. The Welches live ten minutes away. In that ten minutes, it began to rain and, by the time we arrived, it was DUMPING!! We thought that if we waited a few minutes it would pass. Nope. Finally we decided we had to make a run for it from the driveway to their front door. They couldn’t get that door open fast enough for us. Kent backed our car up to the edge of their garage and the back of their car. With the use of umbrellas, he and President managed to load our elder’s suitcases into our car. Then President escorted each of us to our respective doors of the car. Last of all, President and Sister Welch came to our elder’s door and gave him a hug. Right then, BAM!!!! Lightning and thunder struck simultaneously, Sister Welch literally SCREAMED, and I think we all wondered if we had been struck! It was nuts! With that auspicious goodbye, we drove off to the airport!

Noah with his new sister, Hannah

Have we told you about a companionship of sister missionaries that had lice? I think so. Well, these poor girls have been through it! They have washed everything in their apartment and applied special prescription lice shampoo and combed out the nits not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES!!! When they showed up for the third time, Kent called a specialist in SLC to get some advice. He told Kent that there are lice-removal specialists who actually come out to lice infested homes and help people get rid of them. Sure enough, we located a service that would do that. They guarantee their work. A lady came out and met with our girls and showed them how to put olive oil in their hair and use a very special nit comb to comb out the nits. They were to repeat this process, I believe, three times in the first week and then every three or four days for three more weeks. Here’s hoping!

Last Friday we had a fun experience. We attended our first MLC—Mission Leadership Council. That was a meeting with the Welches, the assistants, the zone leaders and the sister training leaders. We were asked to come and talk to them about the eclipse and disperse all of the eclipse glasses. Beforehand we divided the glasses, instructions and monthly newsletters up by zone and district so they’d be all ready to go. It was a fun group to meet with—such excellent missionaries!

We got a call on Thursday from the first counselor in the Cincinnati Stake Presidency asking us if we would come on Saturday and talk to their stake bishop’s council about the YSA branch. Absolutely! That was a great meeting! We talked to them about the great miracle that is going on in the YSA branch and we exchanged thoughts about how we can work together and rescue some of our YSAs who have fallen through the cracks.

Sunday was our 6-month mark! Woohoo! Halfway! Time flies!

An Indiana sunset

I have probably mentioned this before but we have the best branch mission leader in the church! His name is Daniel Rellaford. Colby and Carter and families have met him—we had him over for dinner when they were in town so he could pick Colby’s brain about going to MBA school. He actually reminds me of Colby. Anyway, Daniel spoke in our sacrament meeting on Sunday on “Courage to Live the Gospel.” It was such a great talk! He began by talking about Alma the Elder and what a courageous move it was for him to stand up to wicked King Noah. Alma must have had a pretty comfortable life being one of King Noah’s priests. Alma was pricked by Abinadi’s words and knew they were true. Noah was angry with Abinadi and Alma plead with the King to let Abinadi depart in peace. Then King Noah was angry with Alma and cast him out and sent his servants after him to slay him. Of course, you know the story…Alma repented and began to build up the church. Here’s a quote from Daniel’s talk that illustrates the possible far reaching effects of Alma’s example on his posterity:

“Alma did what was right and let the consequence follow.  Alma taught and baptized 450 saints at the Waters of Mormon and later established seven churches in the land of Zarahemla. His son, Alma the Younger, became the first chief judge of the Nephites and high priest, preaching and bringing repentance to the Nephites all across the land.  Alma’s son Helaman led the 2,060 stripling warriors who said, “Our God is with us, and he will not suffer that we should fall; then let us go forth” (Alma 56:46).  Not one of these fell in battle.  Helaman’s son, Helaman, was a righteous leader in a time when corruption and secret combinations tainted the government. That Helaman’s sons, Nephi and Lehi, were the same to converse with angels in a pillar of fire in the Lamanite prison causing “the more part” of the Lamanites to become “a righteous people” (Helaman 6:1). And finally, Nephi’s son, Nephi, was present at the moment of Jesus’ condescension in the Americas and he “bowed himself before the Lord and did kiss his feet” (3 Nephi 11:19).
Talk about impact.  Talk about consequences of making the right choice.  The Lord said this to Alma the Elder near the end of his life, “Thou art my servant; and I covenant with thee that thou shalt have eternal life; and thou shalt serve me and go forth in my name, and shalt gather together my sheep” (Mos 26:20).
Every day, choose to have outward and inner courage.  I want to ask you to do a challenge with me:  Do something every day to have courage. Push the envelope of who you are.  Those are the decisions that will shape your life and the lives of those that follow.” 

In Wednesday’s zone conference, I love what one of our favorite missionaries, Elder Swainston, said in his departing testimony. He said, “A person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an opinion.” That is a missionary who has had a lot of “anti” thrown at him over the course of his mission.

Later, August 18, 2017

Well, I’ve got my husband back home now. It’s great to have him back. He is a little tired, though. He enjoyed his quick visit to Taylor’s family in Orem. I enjoyed zone conference today and managed to deliver the “spiel.”

We love serving this mission. We love the gospel of Jesus Christ. We love the Book of Mormon. And, we love all of you!

Your Ohio Missionaries 

Hannah--swallowing a fly?

Carter, Whitney, Noah, and Hannah

Two very photogenic girls

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

8/9/2017 Hannah Lee Davis and Dinosaurs in the Ark!

August 9, 2017
Dear Everyone:
            We apologize for being delinquent on this blog post, but we haven’t been slacking.  Or, perhaps I should say slacking too much. 
            The big news of the day is:  HANNAH LEE DAVIS!  She was born this morning, and she is beautiful.  Our prayers for safety for her and Whitney have been answered, and we cannot imagine being more thankful.  Whitney, and all of you mothers out there:  thank you so much for the sacrifices you have made and continue to make on our behalf.  You have tough jobs, and we are so blessed that our Davis mothers are all so wonderful.

Hannah Lee Davis, born August 9, 2017.  8 pounds 2 oz.

            We are happy to report that we have seen Noah’s Ark, and it wasn’t even raining.  Thanks to Carter and Whitney, we do have a family member named Noah, so perhaps we’ll be OK if the rain (perhaps I should say RAIN) begins again, which is unlikely scripturally speaking.  I’m sure you will all be surprised to learn that we didn’t see the original ark, but we did see a $102 million recreation of what the ark might possibly have looked like.  Or not.  Almost certainly not, for reasons I will share after a bit more background.

The Ark Encounter with a beautiful woman in front.

            Ark Encounter is an evangelical tourist attraction that is billed as a full-scale Noah’s ark that might perhaps be close to the size of the original:  510 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 51 feet high.  Perhaps those dimensions will mean more if I tell you that it is as high as a seven-story building and is over one-and-a-half football fields long.  The owner, Ken Ham, is a “young earth” or “young universe” creationist—the Bible is perfect, all creation was accomplished in seven of our days, and the earth and its universe has only existed for 6,000 years.  Plus seventeen.  (I threw that last bit in myself.)  There are a few interesting details that we were unaware of, such as:

1.     How did Noah fit two of every animal in the ark?  The Bible says animals of every kind, therefore two representatives of the dog kind, two from the ape kind, two from horses, etc.  After the waters receded, God used those animals as templates from which to create all extant species.  Gradually.  But quickly.
2.     The above system likely overestimates the number of kinds of animals on board.  But, even under the worst-case scenario, all those animals would have fit on the ark.
It was informative to know that Noah didn't need TOO many different types of dinosaurs on the ark.  Whew!

I enlarged part of the first photo

3.     Dinosaurs and the entire science of geology?  Easy--Noah brought dinosaurs on the ark.  And they all went extinct and God caused their bones to sink down through the earth and transform into rock.  Again, very quickly.  For some reason.  And, yes—humans used to coexist with dinosaurs.  Obviously.
The truth about fossils.  They do exist, but they're not old.
4.     Noah brought lots and lots of bats along with him.  I’m saying, LOTS.  This because God sent seven pairs of every kind of flying creature—not just the clean varieties and not just the birds.  It is quite possible that every bat is a member of the same kind, in which case only fourteen would have “boarded” the Ark. (I love that visual.)  But, without solid data to show that the various bat families can interbreed, they split them into 22 kinds, representing living and extinct families. Since the Ark had to house 14 of each kind of bat, then (again and always) using the worst-case scenario, there would have been 308 bats living on board. 
5.     Why did bats get such special treatment?  My question also.  It’s my theory that someone involved with the Ark Encounter just likes bats.  But that’s just a theory. 
6.     And where in the world did the term “solid data” enter this conversation?  Also puzzling.
One set of living quarters on the Ark.
7.     What did Noah and the family do on the ark?  They had a blacksmith shop, woodworking shop, library, sewing room, and individual bedchambers for each couple.  Duh. 
8.     They also had a garden, because they were vegetarians—at least until after the flood when God gave them permission to eat meat.
9.     Stylized, Disney-like books and toys about Noah's ark are bad.  Bad, bad, bad.  They trivialize the story, the Bible, all religion, and our Creator.
10.  They did lose a bit of credibility when we saw their elaborate display about Noah's sons' wives.  By name.  And personality, talents, dress, etc.  Nope, don't know any of that.  Perhaps now would be another good time to mention dinosaurs again.
Here you go!  Our ancestors.

         It was impressive, nonetheless.  And, despite my light-hearted approach, it does distress me that anybody is persecuted for their faith, which adherents to this brand of evangelical Christianity definitely are.
A flood on Mars

And, aliens also.  Go figure.

          We had to take a motorcoach from the parking lot out to the Ark, and I wondered if this was to make us feel like we were going back into time.  But, my ever-practical-and-analytical wife pointed out that it’s probably to make it more difficult to photograph from the road.  Excellent point.

         As I mentioned at the end of our last blog post, we went to Louisville to support Angel Pratt.  Angel attends the branch frequently, and also often comes to Institute.  She was thrilled that we would go to the temple with her, and we were particularly happy when we realized that she was there with just her escort.  Sonja roused me from a state of mental hibernation and suggested I accompany her up in the prayer circle.  It was wonderful.
The Louisville Temple--a photo proving that not all pictures taken from moving cars with cell phones turn out poorly.

Our friends from the MTC, the Breinholts
         Another benefit of being in Louisville was that we had lunch with the Breinholts, our teaching companions in the MTC.  Sister Breinholt is the mission nurse in the Kentucky Louisville Mission, and Elder B went along figuring this was really her mission.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Elder Breinholt is the mission vehicle coordinator, and he is really, really busy.  Sister B spends lots of time sitting at a desk in their mission office waiting for the phone to ring.  I might be tempted to pray for plagues to strike our missionaries if I were in her shoes. 

         The Church has a Big Brother system called a Tiwi installed in every car, which is marketed as a teen driver monitor.  So, the Church knows everything about how and where their cars are being driven.  He told a story of getting a call from headquarters because he had a car going 80 mph right then.  It turned out that the elders had parked illegally and gotten their car towed.  The car was, indeed, going 80 mph, but it was doing that on the bed of a tow truck.  Ha!  Gotta love it.  The really sweet thing was asking him how he likes it.  “This is the most fulfilling thing I have done in my entire life.”  Good for him. 

         Last Sunday we had an outstanding fireside at the home of the VanValkenbers—a high councilor advisor from the Cincinnati East Stake.  The speaker was Elder Stansbury, who is currently serving a LDS Family Services mission in the Addiction Recovery program.  He is an artist, and asked an interesting question:  what constitutes a work of art?  His answer was:  anything done well.  Therefore, our very lives can be a work of art.  Repentance is not the back-up plan, it IS the plan.  And, practice makes perfect, and it takes deliberate practice to become proficient.

         We were sad to teach our last Institute lesson for the semester, but we had a great turnout and a wonderful time.  We will start back up again on August 24th during the first week of fall semester.  We plan to teach another Institute cornerstone course called “Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel.”  It looks like basically New Testament, and it looks really wonderful.
Our Institute students wanted us in the photo.  Selfie experts we're not.

         My lesson was entitled “After the Trial of Faith,” and two of my favorite quotes are:
“You can learn to use faith more effectively by applying this principle taught by Moroni: ‘… ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith’ [Ether 12:6; emphasis added]. Thus, every time you try your faith, that is, act in worthiness on an impression, you will receive the confirming evidence of the Spirit” (Richard G. Scott, “The Sustaining Power of Faith in Times of Uncertainty and Testing,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2003, 76).

            I love this quote because I had pretty much associated a “trial of faith” as a hardship.  This is a sweet clarification by Elder Scott.  Now on to the 2nd:

“Exacting faith, mountain-moving faith, faith like that of the brother of Jared, precedes the miracle and the knowledge. He had to believe before God spoke. He had to act before the ability to complete that action was apparent. He had to commit to the complete experience in advance of even the first segment of its realization. Faith is to agree unconditionally—and in advance—to whatever conditions God may require in both the near and distant future” (Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [1997], 18–19).

And, my favorite quote from Sonja's lesson about "Faith, Hope, & Charity," is:

“The greater definition of ‘the pure love of Christ’ … is not what we as Christians try but largely fail to demonstrate toward others but rather what Christ totally succeeded in demonstrating toward us. True charity has been known only once. It is shown perfectly and purely in Christ’s unfailing, ultimate, and atoning love for us. … It is Christ’s love for us that ‘beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.’ It is as demonstrated in Christ that ‘charity never faileth.’ It is that charity—his pure love for us—without which we would be nothing, hopeless, of all men and women most miserable. Truly, those found possessed of the blessings of his love at the last day—the Atonement, the Resurrection, eternal life, eternal promise—surely it shall be well with them” (Christ and the New Covenant [1997], 336).

The Spirit was there, and we were happy to greet Him.  Next semester we will be able to start class at 7 PM rather than 5:30 PM, so we expect attendance to be even better.  

            August 1, 2017 was Simon Kent Davis’s 6th birthday, and this year did very well during his party.  For those few non-Davises, Simon’s response to birthday parties in the past has been guarded.  When he was living in an orphanage in Hong Kong, they would hold a party to welcome new adoptive parents and introduce them to their new child.  So, a party meant that one of the other children was going away forever.  It’s hard to even imagine what difficult times that child has lived through.  But, by now he’s more secure and able to enjoy himself.  He understands that he gets to stay with his family even after parties for him.  We sent him Play Doh and some tools to work with it. 

The really memorable part of our FaceTime conversation was when Taylor asked Simon if he was excited to come see us, which they are going to do in October.  The videophone image got a little scrambled about then because Taylor had to scramble out into the garage to retrieve Simon.  He had heard something about going to visit Grandma and Grandpa, so he headed out to the van right then.  We took it to mean that he will be happy when they come see us.  Grandma and Grandpa can hardly wait also. 

               I love the fact that small children don’t really understand time.  They are still rooted in the eternities, in which time is not measured.  When I see this, I always think of the quote by Neal A. Maxwell: 

If you want a little romantic relief, consider Jacob’s virtual unawareness of time as he worked seven years for Rachel, as recorded in Genesis 29:20.  “And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her.”  Beautiful!  We mortals are so trapped in this dimension of time.  It is not our natural element.  We wear it like an ill-fitting suit of clothes, and we wish to hasten its passage on occasion.  We also want to hold back the dawn on other occasions.  We are not at home with time because we belong to eternity.  In the moments when we are true and at our best, we have the experience of timelessness which Jacob had.” — Elder Neal A. Maxwell, an address given to CES Religious Educators, 16 August 1979

Our YSA branch is blessed by an influx of summer salesmen, also affectionately called our “bug boys.”  They can make a lot of money in a summer selling pest control.  Last Sunday one of our summer salesman brought an investigator to church.  The young lady was born when her mom was 17, and she wasn't interested in being a mom, so her grandparents raised her.  When he knocked on the door, her grandma told her just to sign--she's fluent in sign language.  Funny thing:  Joe is also fluent in sign language.  They talked for about 20 minutes, and he left and told a neighbor that he had just talked with the deaf neighbor.  He was told he had been played--so he went back!  He talked to her, extracted a verbal confession, and invited her to church.  She was struggling spiritually, had never been to church, and accepted.  She said she was really nervous, but said when she came in the door she felt tremendous peace.  We love this place.

We had a real treat last weekend when Brian and Leslie Carmack came to visit.  We initially drove out to Jungle Jim’s, but we realized nobody was paying any attention to the store because we were too busy visiting.  So, we went for a drive to Oxford while we caught up.  Brian had a meeting in Dayton on Saturday, so we took Leslie to Jungle Jim’s while he was tied up there.  We had dinner together, and then listened to the mission transfer conference call that night.  President Welch always cracks us up on conference calls when he says something like, “You are a beautiful sight,” or, “You all look great.”  These are voice-only calls.  Ha!  The Carmacks were a tad envious of the technology.  They couldn’t communicate with all of their missionaries in Tijuana, Mexico when Brian served as the mission president nine years ago.
With the Carmacks on our Ohio River cruise

Our visit to Miami University

An evening on the Ohio River

Sunday, we had 140 people in sacrament meeting.  It was wonderful to share the branch with Brian and Leslie.  After the block and the obligatory post-block visiting, we fed both sets of YSA missionaries dinner here at our apartment.  We are really, really sad to say good-bye to Elder Tanner, and we don’t know how we can survive without Sister Lee.  She has been here in the branch with us for our entire mission thus far.  Sending her home felt like sending a child on a mission again.  We just got some photos and a video of her welcome at the SLC airport.  It makes me want to cry all over again.

On Monday, our last day with Carmacks, we enjoyed lunch at a restaurant overlooking the Ohio River in Newport KY, took cruise on said river, and then headed to the Great American Ballpark (named after Great American Insurance) to watch the Cincinnati Reds play.  Bradi Banner, a girl in the branch who is blind, sang The Star-Spangled Banner. (Sonja here: I told Bradi that I thought it was cool that Bradi Banner was going to sing, “The Star Spangled Banner.” She laughed and said, “I know, and the first line says, “Oh say, can you see?” Bradi always makes blind jokes. And, she can get away with it!” Back to Kent.)  A good share of the branch came out to support her.  It was Special Olympics night, so we all had the opportunity to parade around the field before the game.  We elected to take photos from the grandstand.  We had no idea that Bradi could sing, but she knocked it out of the ball park and sounded amazingly great.  She is amazing.
At the Reds vs. Padres game with our YSA branch behind us

Bradi Banner singing the Star Spangled Banner

A perfect evening for baseball
Speaking of knocking it out of the ballpark, the Reds knocked four of the balls literally out of the ballpark, beating the Padres 11-3.  The really great one was in the bottom of the eighth, two outs, and the bases loaded.  We got to see a grand slam!  It was really, really fun.

Yesterday, Tuesday, August 9, 2017, was another busy day.  I got up really early, drove down to pick up our elders, and then returned home to pick up Sonja and our three new sisters.  We drove to Centerville, which is on the outskirts of Dayton, for transfer meeting.  We met and said hello to our 31 new missionaries, participated in a bit of training, and then got to see President Welch introduce them to their trainers.  They look like a solid group.  We then loaded up five returning missionaries, including our Sister Lee and Elder Tanner, and drove to the Columbus Temple.  There was a scheduling snafu, so although all 23 of our returning junior missionaries made it into the endowment session, the adults did sealings instead.  We finished in time to see them in the Celestial Room.  Then we drove back to the mission home, helped serve them dinner, enjoyed singing a verse or two from their favorite hymns, bade farewell, and left them to the Welches for their testimony meeting.  It was a wonderful day.
Our carload of returning missionaries.  Back row:  Elders Parker and Cusworth.  Front:  Sister Lee, and Elders Tanner & Tingey

Sister Lee and Evensen saying good-bye

The departing group of missionaries at the Columbus Temple

Elder Taylor & Tanner crammed in with Elder Tanner's luggage on the way to transfer meeting

Good-bye to Sister Lee at the mission home

And good-bye to Elder Tanner as well.

We love you all, and pray for you every day.  Thanks to all of you in turn for your prayers for us.  Help us by keeping praying for our YSA branch and missionaries!  The gospel is true, Christ leads this church, and He is truly the path to joy.

Much love from your Ohio missionaries      


Friday, July 28, 2017

7/28/2017 Miracles in the Ohio

July 28, 2017
            Hello again, all.  It’s been a truly spectacular week in which we have seen many miracles.  It is truly a privilege to be here representing Jesus Christ and working with so many Christ-like people.  We are so blessed to have a wonderful family and so many amazing friends.  We are thankful beyond words for all of your support, prayers, and faith.

            We called my parents last night, and it was wonderful to hear their voices.  Mom’s radiation therapy is going well, and her vision is at least stable.  Neither of them really talks very much about themselves, but when we asked about the latest on our family they lit up the airwaves.  I think of their great example of missionary work often.  I tried hard to pick their brains about what kind of things they did on their missions, and I learned much.  We’ve also learned that every mission is unique, and every missionary’s experience is unique.  But, we learn much from every present or past missionary.  For instance:

            Elder Taylor made the point during a discussion of the beatitudes that we all promised to take Christ's name upon us when we were baptized.  Taking the name of the Lord in vain might apply to us when we do something that He wouldn't do.

Daniel Rellaford, our most excellent branch mission leader, told us that his mission president taught that our purpose is to help others, not just baptize them.  If we help our brothers and sisters progress, even if it's not clear to and through baptism we have still succeeded.  I think I had the biggest epiphany of my mission.  When we are told that our purpose is to INVITE others to come unto Christ…, it's true!  Those are not just pleasant words to make missionaries feel good if they're failures. 

The strength in the gospel is in the simple truths.  The small details.  And, it's times in which I begin to truly believe, to feel the Spirit speak to the core of my being just how essential and true the core basics of the gospel really are, that makes it all worthwhile.  It is at times like these, and they are abundant, that I am reminded that this is God’s work and he will accomplish it.  It is our calling to be in tune and bring the Spirit into everything that we do.  If we …”receive not the Spirit [we] shall not [and cannot] teach.”[i] 

I taught an Institute lesson about the Coming of Christ, with the premise being that we should use the prophesies about the birth and death of Christ as a blueprint or type of things to come when our Savior returns to earth.  I read a talk about preparing for the second coming given by in 2013 Elder Holland in which he taught that:

" In short, apostasy and destruction of one kind or another was the ultimate fate of every general dispensation we have ever had down through time. But here’s my theory. My theory is that those great men and women, the leaders in those ages past, were able to keep going, to keep testifying, to keep trying to do their best, not because they knew that they would succeed but because they knew that you would…

One way or another, I think virtually all of the prophets and early apostles had their visionary moments of our time—a view that gave them courage in their own less-successful eras. Those early brethren knew an amazing amount about us. Prophets such as Moses, Nephi, and the brother of Jared saw the latter days in tremendously detailed vision. Some of what they saw wasn’t pleasing, but surely all those earlier generations took heart from knowing that there would finally be one dispensation that would not fail.
Ours, not theirs, was the day that gave them ‘heavenly and joyful anticipations’ and caused them to sing and prophesy of victory. Ours is the day, collectively speaking, toward which the prophets have been looking from the beginning of time, and those earlier brethren are over there still cheering us on! In a very real way, their chance to consider themselves fully successful depends on our faithfulness and our victory. I love the idea of going into the battle of the last days representing Alma and Abinadi and what they pled for and representing Peter and Paul and the sacrifices they made. If you can’t get excited about that kind of assignment in the drama of history, you can’t get excited![ii]

Our Institute class last night, July 27, 2017
             We had a treat last Friday.  We drove up to Muncie, Indiana to participate in our second new missionary training of this transfer.  Every moment we can spend with them is a pleasure.  After the training, we drove over to the local fair to check in with the Hogges, another senior couple.  They got some help from SLC, and put together a booth about family history.  They said about 80% of the people that pass by would stop and chat—they estimated between 20 and 30 people per hour.  But, it didn’t happen by itself—they worked hard.  With the help of a member or two, they were out in the aisle engaging people to come learn something about their own family history.  Sadly, that was the end of their mission.  They left just a day or two after the fair ended.  Every mission truly is unique.
Who can resist a fresh mango pineapple smoothie?  Especially to share with a beautiful girl!

This is what the Welches' ancestors may have looked like.  Minus the pig.  I'm sure he's not related.

The Hogges

            Saturday was another epic day.  We got up bright and early and drove out to the Liberty Building (35-45 minutes’ drive) for the baptism of Emmaline Russell.  She is a pint-sized little thing whose spirit seems about to burst out of her skin.  I was kind of afraid that I might step on her and squish her, but my fears were quelled when I heard that:  A.  She used to play football in high school (as a kicker, thankfully), and B.  She is going to Utah on a lacrosse scholarship for Westminster in SLC.  Now I'm worried she might squish me.

Her family is quite opposed to the Church, but she's been studying the gospel for years.  How that came about follows, but I'll have to rewind the clock a bit first to fill in the back story:

We attended the Cincinnati Stake missionary report beginning in April.  It is held the first Wednesday of each month.  That is where Sonja and I had the momentous meeting with Presidents Foister and Welch where we got the assignment to build a YSA infrastructure.  In May, we heard a high councilor named Rick Drogowski ask President Foister to give a missionary challenge to all in attendance.  President Foister didn't bite that time.

In the June meeting, I somehow was forward enough to tell the story of our family trip to San Diego for a cruise on the Mexican Riviera.  We decided as a family that we were going to be missionaries.  Many of our cab drivers, hotel clerks, port personnel, etc. got pass-along cards.  We were really licking our chops, figuratively speaking, for our first evening meal (and no, I didn’t plan that pun), because we knew Royal Caribbean assigned guests to the same table for the duration of the cruise.  We figured our waiter was a captive audience.  That first evening, when our waiter learned we were from Idaho, he mentioned that he had a missionary companion from Idaho.  What?!  How could this happen?  We were ready to lovingly pound our waiter with the gospel, and we got a member? 

His name was Hugo Bray, and he was from Chile.  We had a delightful cruise with him, but the real pay-off came the final evening.  He confided in us that he hadn't been reading his scriptures or saying his prayers like he should have.  But when he saw our family together and was reminded what is truly important in this life, he started doing it again.  And, it also turned out that Hugo's roommate on the ship was in the same situation, and he also had started studying and praying again.  Our missionary efforts were richly rewarded.  In an unconventional way.  Answers to prayers often happen that way, and once again we were reminded that this is God’s work. 

(As an aside:  Hugo was just back from Chile after spending 6 weeks with his family, and had packed garment bottoms but no tops, so he rather sheepishly asked if he could have mine.  No problem.  It made the story all that much more memorable.  But, back to Ohio.)      

When Brother Drogowski heard this story, he asked what motivated us to do it.  I have to admit that I kind of drew a blank on why we decided to do it, but fortunately I have a companion with a fully functional brain.  She immediately answered that we had four sons that we wanted to serve missions, and we wanted to give them a taste of missionary work.  That story really touched Brother Drogowski, particularly so because he has twin boys--one of whom is planning on a mission and the other is yet undecided.  He again asked President Foister for a missionary challenge, but on this occasion the time was right.  The President immediately challenged him to have the missionaries teach lessons in his home, and the challenge was accepted.  President Foister also accepted the same challenge.
Now, the story shifts back to Emmaline Russell.  She was in the habit of going over to the Drogowski home for FHE and to study her scriptures.  She was also good friends with the youth in the Liberty Ward because she would go to activities with the ward, but couldn't really attend church on Sunday.  She has wanted to get baptized for years, but it obviously couldn't happen.  She has been taught by several sets of missionaries over the years, but she was young and with the opposition from her family nobody had put her "on date" for baptism.  Finally, our Sisters Lee & Evensen received her as a hand-off from some other missionaries.  In that first lesson, they said that Emmaline told them that she knew the restored gospel was true, and that she wanted to be baptized and serve a mission.  Wow.  Not a typical first lesson.  They put her on date for July 22, and of course Emmaline joyfully accepted.  She is now 18-years-old and graduated from high school.  So, she could make her own decision.
Then a really great thought occurred to our two young miracle-worker sister missionaries.  They were at our apartment a few days after their first lesson with Emmaline and told us that Emmaline is really good friends with the Drogowski twins, so they were thinking about asking if they could teach Emmaline in the Drogowski home.  We shared our end of the story.  They texted Brother Drogowski and asked, and they quoted his reply:  "Get out of town!  Of course it is!"  Missionary challenge accepted and fulfilled. 

Now comes the next miracle.  President Welch has been teaching our missionaries that we all need to do what is best for our investigators—teach and baptize them in the unit that would be best for the investigator.  I don't remember him teaching that another factor to consider is what would be the best for the branch or ward, but that worked out also.  Sisters Lee and Evensen covered the lessons briefly, reviewed the commandments, and scheduled the baptism.  Then they realized that if Emmaline were to get baptized in the Liberty Ward, she would have lots and lots of support, so even though Emmaline wants to attend the YSA Branch our two Christ-like sisters passed her off to the two sister missionaries in the Liberty Ward.  Those two sisters hadn't yet had a baptism on their missions, and of course were overjoyed to get the phone call telling them that they had a baptism scheduled for Saturday morning. At 10 AM.  Wow.
Emmaline Russell and her friends

The Liberty Ward bishop and ward members were thrilled, and came out in mass to support her.  One of Brother Drogowski's sons baptized her and the other gave a talk at the baptismal service.  The Liberty Ward bishop and members were overjoyed and grateful for our Sisters' selflessness.  This is one sacrifice that is going to pay huge spiritual dividends.  I think that many more YSAs from the Liberty Ward are going to attend our branch, and I also suspect that missionary work in the Liberty Ward just got a huge shot of adrenalin.

            After Emmaline's baptism, we scurried around to get ready for Sunday.  We bought five boxes of frozen fruit bars for “linger longer” treats on Sunday, and 12 gallons of lemonade to wash down three of Sam's Club's biggest cookie platters for refreshments after our Sunday evening fireside.  We had to plan our purchases carefully so that the juice bars didn't melt and the lemonade go bad before we could stash them at the church.  This was made more challenging by temperatures in the 90's and humidity as high as 100%.  The juice bars didn't melt, but we nearly did. 

With that accomplished, it was time to head down into Kentucky for our second baptism of the day.  We collected our YSA Sisters and used them as a GPS to avoid the huge traffic delays crossing over the Ohio River into Kentucky.  Amazingly enough, when we were near to the church we found a McKenzie River Grill--a restaurant we like to go to in Idaho Falls.  We had no idea they had spread this far east.  We all ate dinner, and then headed to the church.  (We pretty much always order cowboy nachos with pulled pork, no jalapenos, extra avocado-sour cream drizzle, and an extra bowl of salsa.  Delicious.  It was a taste of home for us.  Their “Mack-lovin” dessert consists of a giant, piping hot chocolate chip cookie cooked in an iron skillet and topped with ice cream.  It’s also amazing, but we were out of time.  Dang.)
Sister Lee, left, goes home in 10 day.  We get to hold on to Sister Evensen for a while

Cowboy nachos.  I mean the food, not the missionaries.

Mackenzie River Grill

It’s time yet again to rewind the clock.  About a month ago, Chris Jackson had a falling out with his sister that he was living with and got booted out onto the street.  One of our senior missionary couples, the Morrisons, took him in, introduced him to the gospel, and had their Elders teach him.  As directed by President Welch, they brought Chris to church in our branch and he loved it.  But, he wanted to get baptized down in Kentucky, so Elder Cusworth, who goes home in two weeks, baptized him and Elder Morrison confirmed him in the YSA branch the next day.  Chris is a crack-up.  He did manage to scrounge up a white shirt and tie, but below that he wears jeans and beat-to-heck-and-back work boots.  He is definitely humble, and is really excited about the gospel.  And, we're happy to have him.
Chris Jackson in the middle

We had yet another marvelous event on Saturday in our beloved Ohio Cincinnati Mission.  Every three months or so we have a “social media split.”  Each unit finds members who are active on social media and signs up to follow missionaries around, take photos, and post them online with the appropriate hash tag.  We particularly wanted members who have lots of online followers.  The goal was to “share moments, not messages.”  It was a way to make our missionaries more visible, and a non-threatening way for members to share the gospel.  Unsurprisingly, our YSA branch has lots of members that are active on social media.  It went very well. (Sonja here: Here’s a bit of trivia about “Social Media Splits.” Apparently, they are done in many missions now but they started right here in Cincinnati. In the early days of the “Book of Mormon” play, it came to Cincinnati. The members were distraught about it and the message it sent, so they came up with this “Social Media Split” plan as a way to combat the bad connotations of the play and “flood the earth” with the good things that missionaries do. It was so successful that they’ve done it ever since.  This was our second round.)    
Now I come to Sunday, July 23rd.  We had 150 people in sacrament meeting!  That’s WAY up from the 60ish that were attending when we first came on board in March.  We had an amazing sacrament meeting, and what was even more amazing was that nobody died of heat stroke.  The Norwood building is really, really old, which is fine.  What is less than ideal is that the HVAC system seems to have been designed by faithful members while they were crossing the plains.  One of our speakers said that she grew up attending in our building, and it made her feel right at home because the AC system hasn’t ever worked.  Yikes!  President Peterson canceled the rest of the block after sacrament meeting.  Our frozen fruit bars turned out to be a really great idea.  They were popular.  Maybe that’s why nobody died of heat stroke.  Or maybe not.

Sunday evening, we had a “Why I Believe” fireside in which we heard from many new converts.  Dylan Beyer, Cam’ron Smith, Renisha Cohen, and Chris Jackson were all powerful.  We also heard from Bradi Banner, who is a member of our branch that is blind.  She’s amazing, and absolutely fearless.  She’s singing The Star-Spangled Banner at the Cincinnati Reds’ baseball game on August 7th.  Wow.  Brittany Durham was baptized about four years ago.  When she started meeting with the missionaries she was in school to become a pastor in another religion.  When her leaders found out what she was doing they gave the ultimatum of either cutting all ties with Mormonism or getting kicked out of school.  And losing her profession.  She chose correctly and courageously.  We had some amazing musical numbers, and then President Welch was amazing as always.  The Welches were also happy that they didn’t have to do anything besides show up. Our amazing YSA sisters pretty much arranged the whole thing.

This week has been much quieter as far as travel goes.  But, there has been lots of medical stuff happening.  We had a sister missionary with a kidney stone yesterday.  Something like that pretty much engulfs an entire day.  We found the closest hospital to her apartment, then scrambled out there to check up on her.  The Welches were also there, unsurprisingly.  The sister also had a UTI, and they did give her some morphine as well some IV antibiotics.  She was a crack-up when she was under the influence.  She said to President Welch, “President, your hair is all going away.”  He just laughed.  The Welches had her call her Mom, and that was also hilarious.  She said something like, “Do you know that Elder Davis is 6 feet 5 inches?  And Sister Davis is also up there.  He’s like a BFG.”  I guess being a giant is fine, and I definitely like the “big” and “friendly” appellations.  I also like Roald Dahl books.  It was memorable.
The Welches on the left

We had one set of elders get to witness a psychotic break in their 15-year-old investigator.  The poor girl has PTSD and bipolar disorder.  Her parents are very supportive of her being taught, and they fortunately were there and knew to restrain her and call 911.  The elders were rather traumatized, so we offered some counseling.   

I also had the chance to show off my non-existent entomology skills.  Sister Welch texted me a photo of a couple of bugs some sister missionaries found in their apartment and asked me if I knew what they were.  One photo was really out of focus, but may have been mosquitoes.  The other was a beetle-looking bug that was beige and has four white spots on the wings.  I googled “what beetle has four white spots and the wings,” and learned that it was an Ivory Marked Longhorn Borer, or Eburia quadrigeminata.  It eats wood, so I suggested that the sisters let their landlord know about it because it can be pretty destructive.
My Ivory Marked Longhorn Borer

And the bugs I wasn't sure about

We are off now to Louisville this evening to support one of the girls in our institute class as she receives her endowment.  We’re quite excited to see our third temple!  Life is great here, and we are thankful for this great opportunity.  We can already tell it’s going to be hard to leave.  We sure love you all and appreciate all the support.  The gospel is most assuredly true, and this is God’s work.  Everybody please be sure to pray for missionary opportunities!  Do it every day, and carry the prayer in your hearts always.  He certainly will answer.

Lots and lots of love, your Ohio Missionaries.   

[i] D&C 42:14
[ii] Jeffrey R. Holland, “Preparing for the Second Coming,” New Era, Dec. 2013, 2–5.  Available  online at: