This group of returned missionaries surprised us this weekend by showing up at our home in Oregon to be present when we gave our homecoming talks. We were just shocked they would travel so many miles by car and air to come and support us. It was so great to see each one of them. Our family has only grown bigger because of the mission. We love these young people with all our hearts.
The first picture the president has taken without a tie in three years.
It was so great to see these returned sister missionaries. They loved picking blue berries in our back yard.
If you are interested below is a copy of the talk I gave at our homecoming.
Mission Homecoming Talk July 21, 2013
Pucallpa is a city in the Amazon jungle of Peru which holds many special memories for me. This is where Lynette and I got lost in our second week in Peru while out doing apartment checks. Our mototaxi driver ran out of gas and we were following an assistant and a zone leader. We coasted into a gas station and thought for sure they would come back and get us. Nevertheless after waiting twenty minutes they did not arrive. So here we are in Puccallpa a jungle city, neither of us could speak Spanish yet and we don’t know where the church is. Larry and the assistants don’t answer their phones. We are stuck and on our own. The good news is the taxi driver doesn’t leave us because we don’t have money to pay him. My only thought is to call the office elders in Lima to see if they can help us out. Luckily one of them had served in Pucallpa and he could direct the taxi driver to the church. When we finally arrived the assistant was outside sweating bullets thinking he had lost the new president’s wife and his daughter.
This adventure began in October of 2009 when my husband received a call from Elder Oaks at work. He requested to have an interview with us. For a week I didn’t get any sleep because I was worrying about what he was going to talk to us about. In short order we found out my husband was being considered to serve as a mission president. He told us to go home and not be concerned because the first presidency would not be making any decisions until December. Three weeks later in November we had another interview with Pres Utchdorf where he extended a call to my husband to serve as a mission president over a Spanish speaking mission. In February we finally received our call to serve over the Peru Lima North Mission. We both cried Larry because he was returning to Peru where he served his first mission and me because we were going to a foreign country that spoke another language. Preparing for the mission was very stressful. All of our personal and business affairs needed to be put in order. We continued with our callings while we were being trained to serve another calling. Larry had served a mission so he understood mission life. I had never served a mission so I didn’t really understand what I was getting into. Our training was fabulous. In the missionary training center we were taught by our living day prophet and all the apostles. Then the journey began and we flew to Peru. As we were driving to our hotel the first night we arrived in Peru I remember thinking “What have I done?”. This is how the journey of the last three years began.
For those of you who do not know us, Larry and I are both converts to the church. Larry joined the church when he was 16 and I joined when I was 19. For the most part we have raised our four children here in Canby. Like most of you we have worked to have family home evening, scripture study and family prayer. In the church we have served in a variety of callings over the years. Basically, we are just garden variety people from Canby, Oregon who aren’t afraid to get up and go to work. There are always weeds to be pulled, trees to be pruned or flowers to be planted. We approached the mission in much the same way; we would get up and go forth to do the Lord’s work every day.
Lima is huge city of 12 million people. The mission office was an hour drive from the mission home. At any given time we had about 200 missionaries serving in our mission. Over the course of three years we served with over 600 different missionaries coming from 17 different countries. Eighty percent of our missionaries were Latinos. Half of our missionaries served in the northern suburbs of Lima and the other half of the missionaries served in cities located in the Amazon jungle regions of Peru. Most people do not realize it, but large cities exist in the jungle regions of Peru. We flew to three of these cities. Iquitos, 500,000 people, Pucallpa 300,000 people, and Tarapoto 150,000 people. One of our goals was to see each of our missionaries each month. So each month we flew to all of these jungle cities one or more times. From these cities we would then travel to other smaller cities by van. Over the course of our three year mission we made over 300 flights to and from Lima. We knew the airport well and made many contacts and obtained many referrals at the airport and on the airplanes.
Our first responsibility was for the spiritual and temporal well-being of the missionaries. Second was the responsibility to fortify the church and to help the church experience real growth in our mission. Thus, one month we would visit all 14 zones for doctrinal teaching and training, the next month we would hold specialized training to help them learn to become better teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ , and the third month the president would interview all 200 missionaries and I would do apartment inspections and practice English with the Latino missionaries. In between these meetings there was always zone leader council, new missionaries coming and missionaries leaving, district conferences, extra interviews and misc. other meetings. On top of that we were encouraged to go out and work with the missionaries and participate in every aspect of their day, from scripture study, planning to actual teaching investigators. Some of our sweetest memories of the mission came from this participation.
I remember participating with the sisters in Iquitos in my first FHE. We arrived at a humble home and walked into a living room that had a well kept dirt floor. People proceeded to gather for a video the sisters were going to show about the restoration of the gospel. We sat on simple wooden benches. During the middle of the video chickens started to walk through this living room. Everyone sat there glued to the video and didn’t give a thought to these chickens. I learned in short order that we in the United States do not know what real poverty is. The dirt floors and the chickens didn’t matter to these members, the most important thing was the gospel message they were receiving. They did not need “things” to make them happy, the most precious thing they had was the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The president and I each had cell phones on us 24/7 to take care of any needs that would arise. I was primarily responsible for all sorts of health needs of the missionaries. There were ingrown toe nails, sore throats, colds, fungus rashes, hernia surgeries and appendectomies, just to name a few. Sometimes I just had to laugh. Sometimes the missionaries just needed a hug when they were homesick had received a Dear John letter or when they received bad news from home. On weekends we represented the church by attending stake conferences. The president would do a lot of priesthood training and we would both speak at the adult and general sessions. From the very beginning, Larry had me get up and speak Spanish in stake conferences. I am sure the people did not understand a single word I said but they were always very kind and gracious I made the effort.
One of the amazing things about the mission is the talents and the capabilies these young missionaries have. Basically each mission is like a small corporation. You have a president and he is assisted by 4-6 missionaries who serve in the office. Their job was to take care of the temporal affairs of the mission so the president could be out taking care of the spiritual needs of the missionaries. On many occasions I was in awe at what the office elders were able to accomplish.
One of the challenges of missionary work in Peru is getting people married. The president had worked hard with local government officials to have a massive marriage at our stake building where our mission office was located. There would be twenty two couples getting married at a much reduced cost and the city official would perform the marriages. The office elders called and asked for a few guidelines from me about what to do for this marriage. We talked about having cake, decorations and flowers. Then we left on a week-long mission tour with a visiting general authority. When we arrived on Friday for this marriage I had no idea what to expect. They were anxious for me to see the cultural hall area and what they had done. When I entered the room I was absolutely shocked. There were over 500 family and friends seated waiting for the marriages to happen. Every detail for a beautiful wedding ceremony had been attended to, I just wanted to cry because I was so proud of what they had done. I told all of them they could the wedding planners for our youngest daughters wedding one day.
We were always asked what is the best part of serving a mission? The answer for us was easy and always the same, being with the missionaries. We loved every moment we were with them because they taught us so much.
Specifically, these are the strengths I saw in the missionaries which taught me valuable lessons:
1. I saw the strength of their faith.
As a teenage this young man was searching for a church in his life. He read the bible and attended a lot of different churches. One day the elders contacted him in the street and gave him a Book of Mormon but they never went to teach him. He read the Book of Mormon for six months. He prayed to know if was true. After he received his answer he found one of our churches to attend. When he saw the elders at church he asked them if he could be baptized. He is the only member in his family. He received a mission call to serve in the Peru Lima North mission. After a year of service on his mission he became sick with TB and had to return home treatment. His only desire was to get better and return to complete his mission. After three years of treatment we was healthy enough to return and finish his mission. In a few months he will complete an honorable mission.
2. I saw the power of their testimonies.
The power of this young man’s testimony motivates him to serve the Lord and continue to serve. He is a convert of two years and his parents are not members of the church. He had been taught and baptized by missionaries who served in our mission. Faithfully he writes his parents an email each week but his parents do not have a computer in their humble home. They do not know how to use a computer. He has never received a letter from them during this mission. He continues to write in hopes that one day they will be able to read his letters about his mission experiences and what he is learning while serving. Each week he shares his testimony with them.
3. I saw the degree of their sacrifice.
Before his mission this missionary's mother had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. A year before his mission he became his mother’s sole caregiver. He gave up his social activities with friends and other hobbies to take care of his mother. When he left on his mission her cancer was in remission. During the course of his mission her cancer became active again. The only thing she wanted was for all of her seven sons to serve faithful missions. The president allowed him to skype with his mother until her death. This elder had a beautiful voice so each Monday during part of their conversation he would sing to his mother. He did this until his mother passed away. He remained and served a faithful mission.
4. I saw the goodness of their lives and their desire to serve the Lord.
This was a quiet humble young man that was focused from the very beginning on serving the Lord and loving the people of Peru. Before his mission he had not been active in the church but a friend kept inviting him to attend and gave him a Bk of Mormon to read. He started reading and he knew he needed to serve a mission. His Bishop helped him prepare. At every meeting or training he attended he paid diligent attention and took notes so he could implement what was being taught. I really didn’t know if he had had much success as a missionary until I picked up a PMG that had been left behind at a meeting and looked inside for a name. In the front of this PMG was his name and a list of all his converts and their phone numbers. Nearly 100 converts were listed. He was a quiet servant of the Lord, humble, reserved and serving the Lord with all his might.
5. I saw their desire to learn and grow.
Before his mission this missionary had been a gang member. At one point he had been sent to jail and while in jail, one of his counselors introduced him to the gospel. of Jesus Christ. Through repentance he completely changed his life and received a mission call to our mission. “Every interview he had with the President he brought a pen and notepad because he took notes and asked for specific things to work on to improve his life.
6. I saw their desire to change through the atonement of Jesus Christ.
I literally saw the lives of many many missionaries change through the atonement of Jesus Christ. My understanding of the atonement increased dramatically because I saw it change people’s lives. As they studied about Christ their faith in Christ would grow and they would have a desire to change their lives and become more like Him through sincere repentance. Many of them entered as young men and women but left the mission as men and women of God.
Elder Bednar has also taught another really important concept about the atonement:
“Most of us understand the redeeming and cleansing power of the Atonement. Jesus literally died for our sins that we may be forgiven. The atonement is for sinners.
But the atonement is also for good men and women who are obedient, worthy and striving to become better. What we may not understand is the strengthening power we can receive through the atonement.”
Matthew 11:28-30 Christ invites us to:
“Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
Book of Mormon Mosiah 24:14-15 Christ’s promise to us:
“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of the surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.”
Their burdens had not changed. Alma and his followers were strengthened and their capacity increased. They were empowered by the atonement.
For many of our missionaries they experienced this strengthening power as they:
1. Learned a new language
2. Adapted to living in a foreign country
3. Accepted leadership assignments
4. Learned to contact adult men and families
5. Looked for solutions to problems they faced.
6. Dealt with challenging concerns at home, death of loved ones, loss of employment, etc.
7. In a very personal way I experienced this strengthening power over and over again, when so many things were difficult in a 3rd world country, when I didn’t understand the language and had to try and speak it.
8. I saw this power manifest in the president’s life many times as he dealt with difficult situations.
I testify that this strengthening power of the atonement is real and we have access to it on a daily basis.
The best part of the mission was working with the missionaries and learning from them. We love them and we hope they will always know that. Our years of serving with them binds us together forever. Our mission logo was “andare’ en rectitud”which means walk in righteousness. That would be our hope for them that they would all choose to walk in righteousness. It is the little things we do on a daily basis that determine that destiny.
Jesus invitation to all men is simple, “Follow thou me” What did Jesus do, he came to earth to teach his Father’s doctrine. Jesus tells Peter 3 times in the New Testament to “feed my sheep”, That invitation is extended to all of us. There are many ways to follow Christ’s example and feed his sheep. I invite all of you to evaluate how you can best accomplish this admonition to “feed my sheep”. Being a full missionary is one way to do this but there many others ways we can share the gospel as well.
In closing there are two other things that I need to mention.
At the mission presidents seminar we attended Pres Packer shared this with us: “Everything is going to be alright. Your affairs are going to be alright. Your children will be alright, and your grandchildren. Your home and your holdings will all be alright. All has been placed at the altar. All will be watched over by angels while you are away.
I testify to you that we have seen His hand in our affairs and in the lives of our children and grandchildren while we have been away. These past few weeks we have experienced a joyous reunion with our family.
We cannot thank our children enough for their love, support and sacrifice during this time.
We especially need to thank Janeece and Dusty for supporting us. They were an answer to our prayers when they volunteered to move home and manage our affairs. They had no idea what they were getting into or how much work it would be. Janeece, I know you carried a huge burden, as you managed our affairs and the affairs of your own growing family. Your service allowed us to serve undistracted, The words thank you do not adequately describe our deep appreciate to you. I also know many of you helped and supported Janeece and Dusty during this time. You were the angels that watched over our family while we were away. Thank you.
Finally, I need to say it was a privilege to serve with my husband. He gave his whole heart and soul to this calling. He loved every missionary that entered the mission. Many times I would just sit and watch with amazement as he would teach the missionaries. He loved what he was doing. He was teaching them to become not only teachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ but he was training them to become future leaders of their communities and their church. Most importantly he was training them to be future mothers and fathers. His greatest desire was for them was to become men and women of God.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.