Saturday, December 16, 2017

12/16/2017 Missionary Miracles in the Ohio

December 16, 2017
Dear loved ones,
As I began this post, we had just gotten off a FaceTime conversation with Reuben.  (Colby was there also, just in case you were wondering if a 1-year-old could initiate a FaceTime conversation.)  It was a really nice conversation.  Reuben’s end of the conversation was mostly sound effects and onomatopoeia. I’ll get back to Reuben in a moment, but first I’ll expound on the latter. 
The word onomatopoeia, “the formation of a word from a sound associated with what is named,” arises from two Greek roots:  onoma—name, and polein—to make.  The end result is “word-making.”  So basically, onomatopoeia are words that sound like what they are describing.  Examples include spray, splash, pow, bang, crash, plop, trill, and burp.  I came across an onomatopoeia poem by Lee Emmett, an Australian poet:
whoosh, passing breeze
flags flutter and flap
frog croaks, bird whistles
babbling bubbles from tap
I wonder if all Australian poets eschew (n. deliberately avoid using; abstain from; rhymes with achoo—another onomatopoeia) capital letters and punctuation?   I thought the poem was amazing, at least until I came across the lyrics of a song by Todd Rundgren:
“Onomatopoeia every time I see ya
My senses tell me hubba
And I just can't disagree.
I get a feeling in my heart that I can't describe. . .
It's sort of whack, whir, wheeze, whine
Sputter, splat, squirt, scrape
Clink, clank, clunk, clatter
Crash, bang, beep, buzz
Ring, rip, roar, retch
Twang, toot, tinkle, thud
Pop, plop, plunk, pow
Snort, snuck, sniff, smack
Screech, splash, squish, squeak
Jingle, rattle, squeal, boing
Honk, hoot, hack, belch.”
I will now wrap up this huge (and classic Elder Davis) digression by reciting Reuben’s entire non-sound-effect vocabulary:
“Hi, more, mama, dada, quack-quack.”  Smashing.  So, 20% of his English vocabulary is onomatopoeia.  But if you consider a few more descriptive screeches, squawks, whooshes, clucks, yips, buzzes, cheeps, belches, blurts, chortles, and bloops (an Elder Davis neologism), Reuben’s thought processes are pretty transparent.  He is one happy, cute little sound effect, and we are so blessed to have him.
Sonja here: And you all thought you were tuning to find out what we have been up to on our mission! Haha! Back to Kent…
Continuing along with this theme of randomness (a non-sequitur, “noun, a conclusion or statement that does not logically flow from the previous argument or statement) I’ll next share the most terrifying text message I have ever received:
“What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?” 
I got that one just as I was turning out the lights, and it definitely ended all thoughts of sleep for quite a while.  All missionary apartments have battery-driven combined smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.  We set ours off pretty regularly, but for obvious causes—using the oven broiler to cook bacon, for instance.  (We can generate enough smoke doing that to rival the great Chicago fire of 1871.)  I immediately called them back.  The wait until they picked up was interminable, but fortunately their disembodied spirits didn’t answer the phone.  I told them to get out of there immediately, which they did.  They called 911 and spent the night in a hotel.  Fortunately, the fire department couldn’t find any danger, and they continue to survive.  So far.
It's time for our most memorable ankle sprain.  This one is on one of our APs—assistants to the mission president.  This one is most memorable because of his overly enthusiastic compression.  His ankle wrap acted more like a tourniquet.  Ouch.
The ankle spray in question, complete with a reassuring X-ray
Now it’s time to get down to real news, the headlines of which read: “Cincinnati Young Single Adult Branch to be Made a Ward this Sunday, December 17, 2017.”  This is something we have been praying, fasting, working, and hoping for our entire mission.  We feel incredibly blessed to be able to see it happen while we are still here.
Perhaps we should explain why it matters.  In President Peterson’s words, “Respect.”  “Bishop” gets more traction that “Branch President.”  We have had potential new branch members with job offers in Cincinnati that presumably went elsewhere because we are a branch, not a ward.  LDS YSAs typically want to date, court, and marry.  Numbers matter to them.  Also, calling a bishop requires First Presidency approval, but branch president does not.  Bishopric counselors can do more than branch presidency counselors can.  And perhaps the biggest reason it matters is that this is a tangible manifestation of God’s love for all of us.  Everyone that has put their faith on the line by daring to pray, hope, and work for this miracle has been rewarded.  We are absolutely thrilled.

Our Christmas tree in our apartment

Davis and Reagan at the Museum of Idaho.  Davis asked if somebody had shot Santa Claus.  Tina opined that perhaps he has spent too much time at the cabin with Grandpa's mounted trophies.

Sunsets are gorgeous here!

A nuclear explosion in the distance

Watch that first step out the side door!

We attended a fireside last Sunday from an amazing member missionary named Jim Smith.  It’s a common name for a really uncommon guy.  In 2001, Jim got a call from Charles, his high school friend and fellow troublemaker.  Charles had a failed marriage, drug addiction, and jail time in his past.  He asked Jim why he hadn’t talked to him about the church.  He lamented the likelihood that he could have avoided lots of pain if he had heard about the gospel in high school.  Charles asked Jim why he hadn’t talked to him about the church years ago.  Jim felt guilty for not doing so, and decided that it would never, ever happen again.
He started carrying a copy of the Book of Mormon with him, but couldn’t find a home for it over the next two months.  He redoubled his efforts in prayer, and later stopped at a Phillips 66 station on the corner of Washington and 12th St. in Ogden.  He helped a lady fill her gas tank, and while doing so struck up a conversation.  She was a Baptist, but was looking for somewhere else to go to church.  She had tons of Mormon neighbors, but really hadn’t interacted with them.  He gave her a book and asked for her phone number so he could call her the next week.  She and her family joined the Church.  It only happened because he diligently prayed for the opportunity to share the gospel.
As his story continued, he fast-forwarded to a subsequent move to Kentucky.  The Church released the Book of Mormon pass-along card.  He managed to get 5 cards from his bishop, out of the ward’s allotment of 100.  He handed them out in no time, so called the Church’s distribution center and ordered his own supply of 500.  He has handed out over 32,500 of them since then.  He writes his email address on the back of each card.
At one point, he was traveling 340 days out of every year for work.  Yes, that number was not a mistake.  He gave a pass-along card to another road warrior in Philadelphia after offering his testimony.  His fellow traveler became enraged, tore up the card, and threw the pieces back at him.  That was awkward, of course, but it was even more awkward when they sat next to each other on the plane.  They were both in first class, and tried to switch seats but people were settled in and nobody wanted to move.  It was a rather uncomfortable flight.  About 10 minutes before they started the descent, the other guy went to the bathroom.  While he was gone, Jim got into his luggage and crammed eight or so pass-along cards into various nooks and crannies in his jacket, briefcase, suitcase, etc.  He admits that it was mostly revenge.
Five or so years later, Jim had changed jobs and was working for an electronic document companion in Blue Ash, a suburb of Cincinnati.  They had a big potential client in Lexington, Kentucky, and he was waiting for the elevator with a colleague to go up and make a sales pitch.  They were both packing tons of gear.  When the door opened, a man in the elevator locked his eyes onto Jim, broke into tears, and dashed out to give him a really long bear hug.  Jim said it was more than slightly awkward, because he had no idea who this man was.    
“You don’t remember who I am, do you?  Hi, I’m Mark Wilson.”  Mark pulled out an extremely tattered pass-along card that he had been carrying around for five years while he looked for Jim. He asked if they could talk, so they found an empty conference room.  Mark was the angry fellow traveler in Philadelphia.  Mark said that he was so angry when he got home and found pass-along cards stuffed into his belongings that it took him two hours to calm down enough for his wife to say that these cards must have been really important to Jim.  Maybe he should call the number.  He and his entire family joined the Church, and they had been sealed together as an eternal family two weeks before in the Louisville, Kentucky temple.  Mark had been looking for Jim for years.  Mark was serving in a bishopric, their son had served a mission, and their daughter was waiting for a mission call. 
(Sonja: If you feel like you’ve heard this story before from our blog, it’s because you have. One of our stake presidents, Pres. Greenhalgh, told this story to us in zone conference. He told Kent and I that this Jim Smith has hundreds of more stories like this. Sometime later, Pres. Greenhalgh spoke at the YSA branch and I had the thought that I should ask if Jim Smith gives firesides. So, after sacrament meeting, I caught Pres. Greenhalgh and asked him. He replied in the affirmative and told me that Jim Smith is the father of one of our YSAs, Steven Smith. That is how this fireside happened. Jim Smith told us the above story in better detail than we had heard it from Pres. Greenhalgh.)
Jim had a project in Tampa, Florida that lasted for about three weeks.  The travel back and forth each week to home was kind of expensive, so he decided to stay down there even over the weekends.  After church one Sunday, he visited a botanical garden to take pictures.  He noticed a beautiful gazebo with a lake in the background that he wanted to photograph, but because there was a couple sitting inside he decided to return there after he had seen the rest of the gardens.  When he was ready to leave, he returned to the gazebo only to find that the couple was still there.  He decided to go ahead anyway, and when he stuck his head inside he noticed that the man was wearing a naval ball cap and the woman was in tears.  He introduced himself and asked if he could help.
It turned out they were in Tampa for a Naval reunion.  He asked them how their home life was, and they replied that it was generally good.  They went to church, and all but one of their kids were doing well.  But, they were distressed because their oldest son was in trouble and they were worried about the consequences of his decisions.  He had some bad friends.  Jim said this reminded him of himself in high school and told them that reading the Book of Mormon had made a huge difference in his life, then told them the story of Alma the Younger and followed up with Laman and Lemuel.  The stories resonated with them.  He gave them a card, and then three weeks later got an email that said they had received the book and asked what to do next.  He suggested they read it.  Some weeks later he got an email that said, “I never realized how important good parents are.”  He asked how their son liked the story of Alma the younger, and unsurprisingly he didn’t like it.  He suggested that they share the story of Laman and Lemuel, and it turned out that he didn’t like it either—but at least he was listening by then.
The parents took about six weeks to get baptized.  Four or five months later the formerly troubled oldest son was baptized.  The son served a mission.  The father is a counselor in a stake presidency.  Jim is still in touch with them.       
He says even after 16+ years he is still nervous every single time he shares the gospel.  He strikes up a conversation, gets to know them, and then forges ahead.  Sometimes he asked what they think about when they see this picture.  He always tries to love them.  Like Nephi, he is “led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do.” (1 Nephi 4:6)  He has a sign posted on his wall that is pretty much the first thing he sees in the morning.  It reads, “Satan groans because I am awake.”  He next said, “I love the sound of groaning.”  If the worth of souls is great in the sight of God (D&C 18:10), it should also be great for us.
A Book of Mormon pass-along card
A couple of years ago he was working for a company that didn’t encourage employees to talk about religion.  He kept a stack of pass-along cards on the corner of his desk.  If someone asked about it, he suggested they meet up after work.  At the beginning of December, his employer posted a sign-up list to serve at charities.  He overheard fellow employee express frustration that it only happened once per year.  He brought up the Church’s #LightTheWorld campaign, and she started doing it.  “I never knew you Mormons do things like that.”
One summer he took 12 scouts on a hike in Cumberland Gap National Park.  He caught his foot in a hole, and heard an audible “crack” (another onomatopoeia—even in a serious portion of this blog post!) and he was immediately in excruciating pain.  He did a little first aid by soaking his food in cold water, but it was just too painful to go on.  Bishop John Nealon helped him up to the road, where he planned to hitchhike back to the camp.  It took some time, but he finally got picked up by a typical Kentucky hillbilly named Chad.  The pickup was in a horrendous state of disrepair, “Much like the man driving it.”  Jim was in so much pain that he wasn’t thinking about missionary work, and seemed to have been more than slightly distracted by watching the road pass by through holes in the floorboards.  But out of the blue, Chad asked him what church he went to.  When Jim told him the guy “goes off about everything he has heard about Mormons.”
Jim’s response was, “I guess you’re not looking to have your life changed.”
“What does that mean?”
“Get involved with the Mormon Church, and it will change your life.”
Chad accepted the pass-along card and took off.  Jim needed to go to the bathroom, so he hobbled over to the outhouse.  On the way, he tripped over his foot yet again, and heard another audible “crack.”  But this time the pain was gone.  100%.  Finished.  Over.  Jim said he felt like asking the heavens, “Really?  Was this the easiest way to make that happen?”
A few weeks go by, and Jim got an email from Chad.  He had called the number on the card and gotten a copy of the Book of Mormon.  He was wondering how he could get another copy, because there were so many people that read it the book was getting pretty tattered.  So, Jim called the church’s distribution again and had them ship a case to Chad—50 copies.  Within a few days they were gone also.  Chad’s entire extended family group was reading the Book of Mormon.  Jim finished by saying, “Ten or fifteen of them have already been baptized.”
The point of this rather extended retelling is that God will put us where we need to be if we are willing.  The most important message is to get to know them, take an honest interest in others.  The opportunities will just flow.  It’s all about love.  “Why do I do this?  I love the sound of [Satan] groaning.”
As of these month, since 2001 he has handed out well over 32,500 pass-along cards.  52% of the people that accept cards take the first discussion.  73% of them finish all of the lessons, and 84% of that group get baptized.  There have been roughly 21,425 baptisms, 372 temple marriages, and there are currently 480 missionaries in the field.  Since 2001.  I hope Jim never, ever dies.  We all need him.
We’ve been really busy medically.  The Welches were doing interviews last week, and we got lots of referrals from that this time around.  We have a sister with PCOS, polycystic ovarian syndrome, who is older than usual and is struggling with self-image as she watches more facial hair appear.  She is also hearing her biological clock tick as her concerns about fertility increase.  Poor thing.  We have another elder concerned by our political dialogue because he has very close family members here in the US illegally.   
Casey is finished with his undergraduate education.  Yea for Casey!  I was leaping into the air as I typed that.  He and Hilary moved to Lehi to be closer to their work. Hilary works at an elementary school and Casey will start a computer job with a company by the name of Brevium.  They’re excited about their new place and we’re excited for them.  Colby and Maria drove to Utah, found a great house they like, bought it, drove back to Texas. Casey is getting an “all-expense paid vacation” to fly to Texas and drive the mammoth Penske truck towing one car with Colby to Utah while Maria and her mother drive their van to San Diego.  Colby will close on the house and unload the truck into and then fly to San Diego to spend Christmas with the Mortensens. He will officially start work at KLAS on January 1, 2018.  Chris loves his new job teaching special education at Rocky Mountain Middle School.  He spent so much time there getting to know the kids so they wouldn’t be traumatized when he takes over next month that his principal put him on the payroll.  Carter and fam are going to Washington for Christmas.  He got a preliminary endorsement of a potential thesis project from one of his professors, and is in high demand as a teaching assistant.  He’s working hard to move forward with his research so he can be done with is PhD after five years, which can be a challenge.  Taylor is hard at work, as usual, at KLAS and in typical Taylor fashion is also pursuing an Executive MBA at BYU.  We can’t imagine being prouder of all our children and their great spouses.  Their strong work ethic inspires and amazes us, but what really matters to us is their dedication to the gospel and the way they honor their priesthood.
Casey and Hilary with this year's Christmas tree

From upper left clockwise:  Carter and family in downtown Chicago, Noah giving his cousin Max a hearty squeeze (Max accompanied his Dad on a business trip to Chicago), Noah's excitement to lay down on the glass floor of the Willis Tower turning to fear, and Whitney's preschool class.  These are two great parents.

Reuben channeling a Minion, Eli & Willie enjoying the accomodations on their house buying trip to Utah, and their Penske truck being loaded for the drive west.

The latest member of the Orem Davis family:  Friday, an Old English Sheepdog/poodle mix known as a "Sheepadoddle."  Friday is a great name for the cuddly little guy.

Reagan Rusch, the most recent of our granddaughters to realize that she is a princess.

Last Saturday we got to drive our sister missionaries, Sisters Carlile and Mecham, and their latest convert, Monica Hutton, to the Indianapolis Temple.  Monica was baptized last month, and is a total delight.  She goes to school at Xavier University—a Jesuit Catholic school.  She is very bright, as in she decided not to go to Harvard because she liked the feel on the Xavier campus.  We have no doubt she was really at Xavier so she could find the gospel.  Every once in a while, amazing stories spill from her lips.  For instance, she casually mentioned that she manages a band on the side.  She followed that up by mentioning that she is taking them to London for a recording session—that the studio is funding.  When she first told the band they thought she was kidding.  They fly over the pond on December 23rd—and she hasn’t mentioned it to her family.  Ha!  Another nonchalant factoid was that she can see sound waves.  Sonja admitted that she was slightly doubtful when Monica said that, but when I heard that she has synesthesia I was pumped! 
Time for our next vocabulary word.  Synesthesia, noun, a concomitant sensation; especially:  a subjective sensation or image of a sense (as of vision) other than the one (as of sound) being stimulated.  There are people that smell light, hear color, taste music, and leap tall buildings with a single bound.  Just kidding about that last one.  Synesthetics tend to be very bright and creative.  Monica fits the bill.  She is a great addition to the kingdom.
Left:  Monica Hutton with Sister Mecham and Carlile at the Columbus Temple.  Right:  it was Monica's birthday, so we celebrated with all of our branch missionaries at Brio's Tuscan Grill in Newport, Kentucky.

Elders Westover, Davis, Davis, and Sisters Davis, Monica, and Sisters Carlile and Mecham

The crew in Newport, Kentucky

Among other news, we finished Institute for the semester.  Our curriculum this semester has been Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel, one of the four Cornerstone Institute courses.  It has been a joy.  We spent some time with the Leavitts, our probable replacements in our beloved YSA Ward.  (I almost typed branch at the end of the last sentence.  Woohoo!)  Our sister missionaries had a baptism on Sunday, Dawn Robertson.  Dawn is amazing.  Many if not most of our converts are initially drawn to the church by the social scene, but not Dawn.  She’s here for the doctrine.
Jarett Weddle, Sister Carlile, Dawn Robertson, and Sister Mecham
We had transfers this week in which we welcomed 12 new missionaries to the OCM and said good-bye to 14 others.  Our Sister Carlile went home, and we welcomed Sister Sarah Anderson into the YSA.  It was a big enough group that the Welches asked us to help transport some of them to the temple in Columbus.  We love to do that, even though it’s always rather sad to say good-bye.  But, we have three former OCM missionaries staying with us this weekend.  I’ll report more on that next week.
The returning group with the Welches, us, and the Leavitts at the Columbus Temple

The missionaries each choose one verse of their favorite hymn to since together.  Elder Bischoff, at the piano, plays well--by ear one.

The four sisters in the returning group at transfer meeting in Centerville.

In the car on the trip to the temple

Departing missionaries' dinner at the mission home.  The Wendells, standing by the Welches, are new to the mission.

The more time we spend here the more grateful we are for this opportunity.  I love Sonja more every day, and even after 37+ years of marriage I am constantly amazed by her.  The gospel is true, Jesus Christ is the Redeemer of the World and gives our lives meaning—both now and in the eternities to come.
Sonja here. Kent spends a lot of time writing these letters. My job is to edit. Sometimes I add a bit or fix a bit here and there. He does such a great job that I rarely feel the need to add my two cents to what he writes. However, my gratitude this week moves me to feeling the need to add my two cents to this post. I don’t know why Heavenly Father felt to bless us with such a great assignment here in this mission at this time. I really don’t! But, I feel so grateful! When we were first assigned to the YSA branch, Pres. Welch said that it was “on life support” and "needed CPR." The first week we attended, there were around 50 in attendance and it reminded me a bit of the “Island of Misfit Toys.” 
You may recall that our assignment here under the combined keys of Pres. Welch and Pres. Foister (the stake president with authority over the branch) was to 1. Build infrastructure and 2. Start an institute on UC campus. We were momentarily puzzled by “infrastructure” initiative, but soon came to understand that it had to do with building a working relationship and communication conduit between our branch and the feeding units (wards and branches) in all three of the three Cincinnati stakes. There is no instruction manual on how to do that. We moved forward and thought we had the plan. It turns out that Heavenly Father had THE PLAN which differed from ours. 
How did it happen? I’m not quite sure. It seems that it was just the perfect storm of all of the people that Heavenly Father put into the right place: from the keyholders--Pres. Welch and Pres. Foister, our inspired branch presidency, ultra-prepared converts, returning members, and amazing missionaries, to the great summer salesmen who attended from May to August and everyone in between. Our branch presidency told us early on, even in March, that they had a goal to see the branch become a ward. The first Sunday in  May, the branch fasted for that purpose. We all felt the spirit bear witness to us that Heavenly Father had great and amazing things in store for the branch.
 Kent felt certain and testified to our leaders and missionaries that it would happen “fast.”  Having less faith and being uncomfortable with his boldness, I told him that Heavenly Father doesn’t usually tell us “the when.” One of our YSAs got up in that testimony meeting and said that he had been a part of a branch being made a ward and that it took a few years. Pres. Wilkie, the counselor in the stake presidency over the YSA got up afterwards and said, “The Lord requires that this will take place much faster.” He later told us how the spirit had born witness to him of that fact. I was chastened by the spirit. The miracles have been incredible. This is God’s miracle. He orchestrated it. It was HIS plan all along and, somehow, he was incredibly kind to let us have front row seats with which to view the whole panorama. We praise Him and thank Him for his love and goodness to us! Truly, this great work that we are privileged to participate in is God’s work and not the work of men.  
Much love,
Elder & Sister Davis 

Monday, December 4, 2017

12/4/2017 Underground Railroad in the Ohio

December 4, 2017
Dear all,
            Cincinnati was an important stop on the Underground Railroad (UR), which was a system of safe houses and hiding places that helped runaway slaves escape to freedom.  White and Black “conductors” served as guides from place to place along the way.  Ohio is a northern state, in the sense that slavery wasn’t legal here, but just across the Ohio River to our south lay Kentucky, which was a Southern, and therefore a slave, state.  Fugitive slaves could legally be apprehended anywhere in the Union and returned to their owners, so the UR didn’t stop here.  The ultimate destination for slaves was often Canada, where they were welcomed as free citizens.  That’s a bit of a black eye on our national history, but those were much different days.
There are 10 buildings still extant in Cincinnati that were stops on the UR, and Cincinnati figured prominently enough in the UR that it was chosen at the site for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center—a beautiful museum/education center that opened in 2004 and sits just a few steps away from the Ohio River.
             We have visited the museum once, not long after we moved from Oxford to Cincinnati.  It was profoundly moving and disturbing.  They have a very professional film, Brothers of the Borderland, narrated by Oprah Winfrey that tells, among other things, the story of John Rankin, who was a Presbyterian minister that was raised in a strict Calvinist home in Tennessee.  It seems he really struggled to deliver an effective sermon—at least until he spoke out against slavery.  After that sermon, his elders suggested he leave the state if he intended to ever oppose slavery from the pulpit again.  I’m not sure that was the response he was seeking, but this good man knew that his faith wouldn’t allow him to keep his views to himself.  So, he left Tennessee and traveled north to Carlisle, Kentucky. 
In Carlisle, he began his second ministry in the Concord Presbyterian Church, one of twelve churches in the area that formed the Kentucky Abolition Society.  Rankin lived in Carlisle for four years, where his deepening anti-slavery views were nurtured by his abolitionist flock.  He started a school for slaves there—in Kentucky, where slavery was legal. This is a guy that wasn’t afraid to live by his principles.  Unsurprisingly, within a year Rankin and his students drew the attention of a club-wielding mob which ultimately necessitated a nighttime escape northward across the Ohio River on the night of December 31, 1829.  They landed in the riverside town of Ripley, Ohio, which is a bit downstream from Cincinnati.  
Rankin didn’t escape persecution in Ripley, but laying low didn’t seem to be his goal.  He made quite a ruckus when he learned that his brother had purchased slaves. Rankin wrote a series of letters to his brother that he later published in book form as Letters on Slavery. Hecklers and protesters often followed the new preacher through town and gathered outside his cabin.  Slave owners and hunters often viewed him as the prime suspect to be harboring slaves, and often appeared at his door at all hours demanding information about fugitive slaves.
            He moved his wife and 9 children, of an eventual 13, to a house at the top of a 540-foot high hill that provided a panoramic view of the valley and the river.  He also constructed a staircase leading up the hill to the house for slaves to climb up to safety on their way further north.  The signal that it was safe was a lantern hung from the top of a pole.  I would think that that staircase might have looked a little suspicious, but I guess I’m just a suspicious kind of guy.
            Rankin and others rescued thousands from slavery.  It’s hard not to think of them stealthily rowing across the Ohio as we buzz across it on I-71.  We are blessed in many ways, not least of all by the courage of our ancestors.
            It’s probably time to rejoin the 21st century.  We did that in the UR Freedom Center also as we learned about the scope of our current world’s problems with slavery.  It is definitely huge problem even today.  But, let’s move on to cheerier subjects.
            We had tons of fun in Chicago over the Thanksgiving holiday with Carter, Whitney, Noah, and Hannah.  We attended an interfaith Thanksgiving service in the chapel on campus at University of Chicago.  Carter and Whitney’s bishop shared a scripture, and we also heard from a Baha’i, Catholic, Muslim, Unitarian, and Lutheran among others.  Carter and I left a few minutes early so we could pick up our take-out Thanksgiving dinner.  We took two homemade apple pies with us from Cincinnati, Whitney made rolls, and the rest was all purchased.  And, it was FANTASTIC!!!  The turkey was smoked (I wonder which end they lit?), the mashed potatoes were about 50% butter, cornbread stuffing was a delicious novelty, and the cranberry sauce was heavenly.  It’s hard to say enough about how great it was, and it also saved tons and tons of work.  Bud City, the restaurant, did some great work for us.
The church on campus at the University of Chicago

Fun times at the Interfaith Thanksgiving day service
            Carter and Whitney made arrangements to pick up a single lady named Melinda from their ward and share the meal with her.  She lives in a really sketchy neighborhood, and Carter was reluctant to show our pale faces in her ‘hood.  When we took her home before dark, she insisted we come in and see her place.  It made us very, very grateful for our blessings.
            We visited the Museum of Science & Technology on Friday, mainly to see their Christmas tree exhibit.  It was astoundingly beautiful.
Panorama shot of the Christmas tree display at the MST in Chicago.  They had representative trees from lots and lots of countries.
            Noah is three years old now, and is both delightful and a bundle of energy.  He really never slows down.  He’s also a monkey.  He’s fearless of heights, and doesn’t seem to worry much about potential consequences when (not if) he falls.  Go figure.
Noah in a milder moment of climbing
            One of the greatest joys in our lives is to see what great parents our kids are.  I must admit, there is also a lot of entertainment value in the grandparent role.  For instance, when Carter was a little guy he couldn’t have cared less about food.  He would only eat enough to stave off the worst of his hunger pangs, and then he’d gaze about and consider when the best time would be to throw his next temper tantrum. 
Carter made a great comment while we were there: “I never anticipated how hard it would be to keep our children alive.”  He meant to keep them from starving to death, because Noah and Hannah both share his non-appetite for food.  Hannah will wake up, drink one ounce, then go back to sleep.  Noah does a little better, I think largely because Whitney works really hard on getting him to eat a wide variety of food.  The situation makes me believe in this whole genetic inheritance thing.  

Thanksgiving dinner with the Fam.  Melinda's in the white sweater on the right.

The rolls were, indeed, delicious.  No doubt it was Noah's cooking skills that made the difference.

 A really, really cute Mom and her boy

            We drove back to Cincinnati on Saturday evening because it’s tough to miss church on Sunday while we’re serving a mission.  It was hard to leave our Chicago family, but it’s been a wonderful blessing to be so close to them and to be able to see them so frequently.
Hannah Lee Davis discovering toys

Noah hiding under his Dad's shirt.  It was amazing how long he'd stay under there.

Noah helping out Grandpa Davis take our gear to the car.
            We have had some amazing miracles in the missionary work.  Sonja and I are taking point in a mission-wide push to find “resting” young single adult (YSA) members and invite them back.  We have suggested asking their ward/branch leadership for names.  We’ve struggled a bit to find the right approach, but President Welch has invited us to MLC (Mission Leadership Conference) at the beginning of each month.  MLC consists of all our zone leaders (ZL), sister training leaders (STL), and assistants to the president (AP).  The President has also invited our YSA branch’s elders and sisters as a compliment to their leadership.  In November, we challenged every companionship at MLC to find a resting YSA member.  We have texted and emailed each companionship to remind them and encourage them.  We also asked for photos and stories in time for this month’s meeting, which was held on December 1st. 
            Sisters Thomson and Dickinson fasted and prayed for help—always a good plan.  A member lady from Guam, Agnes, approached them at church and asked them for help getting her inactive son involved and to return to activity.  Agnes brought Shaynee and his girlfriend to church twice and made some really good friends.  The sisters were invited to their home for FHE and were surprised when they saw six other nonmembers there for the lesson!  They had a powerful lesson about the Restoration of the gospel. They’re working on getting copies of the Book of Mormon in their native language of Pompeii. Their success was definitely not an isolated instance.  I’m happy to report that we’ve had a very good month in the work.

Our current YSA Branch missionaries:  Elders Davis, Westover, & K. Davis; Sisters Davis, Carlile, and Mecham
At MLC, we also learned a bit of Sister Welch’s history.  When she was married, her mother was six months pregnant.  She begged them to put off the wedding, but they ended up going ahead anyway.  After that daughter was born, her Mom had another daughter to keep the first one company.  Those two girls, Alyssa James and Amber Stulton, arrived in Cincinnati towards the end of MLC last Friday.  Both girls said that the Welches were more like parents than siblings.  They do remind us a lot of their big sister—spiritual, kind, friendly, and amazingly talented musically. (Sonja here: Sister Welch’s Dad was a smoker. Amber went on a mission and served in Washington DC. Then Alyssa was called to Saratov, Russia (before the Saratov Approach situation). Sister Welch’s Dad was super opposed to his daughter serving a mission in Russia for some weird reason. One night while she was gone he was out and about and prayed and promised God that if He’d bring Alyssa back home safely, he’d quit smoking. He quit on the spot and got active again in the church and never smoked again.)
            It’s amazing how the Lord can use adversity for good.  I had an upper molar that fractured beneath a crown.  I had some trouble finding a dentist to see, but I prayed hard for help and made an appointment with Dr. Sunny Pahouja.  The bad news was that the tooth wasn’t salvageable, so I went back the next day to spend an hour in the chair while he drilled and yanked and finally got the tooth out.  The good news was that he did dental school at Ohio State, and there were lots of LDS students in his class.  His X-ray tech mentioned to me that her mother “used to be a Mormon,” and has been commenting that she needs to go back.  When I went back for the extraction I took along a stack of copies of the Book of Mormon for everybody, including Amy’s mother.
            My scheduling of the extraction wasn’t all it could have been.  I bled for several hours afterwards, which was fine.  But, we taught Institute that night.  I should have chosen a different day.  I would ask a question, then turn around and spit out a chunk of bloody gauze and quickly replace it, then spin back around and keep teaching.  Our elders later said they had no idea what was happening, which made me happy.
            We are excited to report that Colby and Maria’s trek to Utah was successful.  They found a home they like in Lindon, and had their offer accepted.  They’ll move right before Christmas, and then Colby will start work on January 2nd.  Chris is teaching special ed at Rocky Mountain Middle School, and is enjoying it.  He wasn’t due to start until next month, but he was spending so much time there getting his feet on the ground so the teacher switch wouldn’t be traumatic for the students that his principal started paying him early. (Sonja again: We have been so blessed! We are so grateful that things are working out for both Colby and Chris and their families!)
Colby & Maria's new home in Lindon
            Merry Christmas, everyone.  We hope everyone is enjoying and participating the Church’s #LightTheWorld campaign.  One of the girls in the branch has been rather down, but she told the relief society Sunday that reaching out to others has helped her feel much better.
            It is our testimony that Jesus Christ is everything—our Redeemer, our Savior, our Lord, and the hope of all the world.  We love you all.
            Lots and lots of love,
            Your Ohio Missionaries