Len & Kit's Missionary Adventures in California

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Special Witnesses of Jesus Christ

We had another out-of-the-ordinary week. Sister Bradshaw (Mission Secretary and next door neighbor) had major surgery on Wednesday.  She prepared us as much as possible for the transfer this coming week.  She is doing very well and will have daughters here to help when she gets home.  Although she will not be returning to the office for several weeks, we look forward to being able to reach her by phone because “Sister Bradshaw Knows Everything” and we don’t!

There will be thirteen missionaries arriving and a dozen leaving in this transfer, plus other changes to line up trainers for all the new arrivals and companions for the ones whose comps are going home. We had to treat the mail differently:  Usually zone leaders pick it up on Friday, but it can take them several days to get it delivered in spread out zones. Tuesday is the day missionaries depart and Wednesday is the day new missionaries come.  In order to make sure no mail gets lost in the shuffle, the mail is held at the office on the Friday before transfer week and goes out after all the moving is done.  That has probably happened for a long time and may explain why letters used to come late when our kids were transferred – such a blessing that most communication with family is now by email.  Though that can fail, too. : )

Saturday morning’s final choir run through for the Special Zone Conference with visiting General Authorities was at 7:30 a.m.  Then all the missionaries in the mission (~175) were organized into rows, leaving space right in the middle.   President and Sister Clark went outside and greeted Russell M. Nelson, President of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, his wife Wendy, and Seventies J. Scott Dorius and Carl B. Cook and their wives, and brought them back to sit in the middle of the group for a picture.  After that the visitors went into the chapel from one side and all the missionaries entered through the other side passing by the receiving line where they shook hands with all our visitors (Sr. missionaries went first and we were lucky enough to be at the front) and then sat down.  Everyone was in place by 8:57 for the nine o’clock meeting to begin. Perfect! 

It was a memorable meeting. Our choir number with piano and violin accompaniment, “Precious Savior, Dear Redeemer” by H.R. Palmer, went very well. (There is a similar arrangement of the piece by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on YouTube.) 

Here are a few highlights of the Zone Conference: 
President Nelson reminded us that he had been a physician. (Len saw patients with him 40 years ago in SLC.) He asked, “What is the first question a doctor always asks a patient?  It is: Where do you hurt?”  Then he said, “Everyone has a challenge.  Find out ‘where they hurt’ and you will have a connection.  The gospel of Jesus Christ has the power to heal.  You are the spiritual physician to the people you teach.  Pray with your investigators.  Sing with them.” During her talk, Sister Nelson said, “ When you sing about the truth of doctrines in the children’s songs and in hymns, the Spirit rushes in.”     

Other comments by President Nelson:  “Why do missionaries go two by two?  There are many reasons, but the most important one is that it is part of the law of witnesses.”  “Why do we teach the Book of Mormon?  It is a tangible sign that the promised gathering (before the second coming of Christ) is underway.”  “Don’t spend your time looking back at your mistakes.  Go forward!”  He also commented that ways of teaching the gospel will continue to change and that there may be fewer chapels and more temples over time.  That reminded Kit of something Neal A. Maxwell said about 25 years ago at a Stake Conference lunch in Rochester.  He said one thing the twelve sometimes discussed was what was part of the gospel and what was tradition?  He noted that in Asian areas, religions were not tied to chapels as in other parts of the world.

Elder Dorius told of a really good salt-of-the-earth man who was his counselor in the bishopric many years ago.  The man bore a strong testimony, beginning, “I am a follower of Jesus Christ; I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.” He then bore his personal testimony about the Savior and what that meant relative to how the man lived his own life.  Elder Dorius said that testimony changed the people of the ward over time as they also grew to define themselves and their lives. 

Sister Cook told about when their daughter was preparing to leave for her mission.  She asked returned missionary friends if they had any advice.  One person said, “Yes. I wish I had walked with my companion.”  They were interrupted and the Cook’s daughter didn’t get to find out just what was meant.  She asked her parents what they thought.  Sister Cook thought the friend was probably a really strong, all-out missionary and wished she’d slowed down a little so she and her companions could be more unified.  Elder Cook thought it was the opposite: that she wished she’d upped her game to keep pace with her companions and be more unified.  Then they all realized it didn’t really make any difference which way was right; the important thing was to be unified with one’s companions.

With our love,  Len and Kit

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Returning Home

Bonus rendezvous with Kit's sister Carolyn and her husband Jan during our quick trip to Arizona

Last week went fast.  The office closed for MLK Day, but that didn’t make too much difference in our schedule since we went to both big choir practices (one in Fresno and the other an hour away) to help Sister Clark prepare the missionaries for singing next Saturday when one of the apostles, Elder Russell Nelson, will come and speak to all the missionaries. 
We were able to get everything we needed to finish for the week done in three days.  After work Thursday we drove to the airport and flew to AZ.  It turned out to be more practical for us to go there for Kit’s annual infusion to increase bone strength than to have it done in Fresno.  We stayed with Whitney and Jeff’s family, which was a lot of fun.  One good surprise was that Kit’s sister and husband from UT were also in town visiting their son.  We were able to meet for a quick catch-up.

Sunday morning, we hopped back on the plane and returned.  Our neighbors next door invited us over for a good dinner and a visit, after which we made chocolate chip cookies to hand out on Monday when we did apartment checks for our own zone.  By having shorter travel times and only eight (as opposed to 10 or 11) apartments this time, we were done with apartment checks by noon, had lunch with the zone leaders, and had the afternoon left to work in the office.  Lots to do this week, both for the special meeting and program Saturday and also to be ready for another transfer next week.  Thirteen missionaries are going home and about the same number will arrive.  

Not every missionary is able to stay to the end of her/his mission.  Being in the office we have necessarily become aware of “emergency transfers”.  Many are for medical reasons.  Here, the mission nurse helps with straightforward health concerns. She is a locally called missionary who had a nursing career and has a good network here.  If a condition is beyond her expertise, she consults with local doctors or refers the missionary to an appropriate physician.  The mission President is in the loop, plus the missionary’s parents are notified and participate in decision-making.  If a missionary needs surgery or other on-going help, it is sometimes necessary to return home for treatment and support. Some are able to resolve the issues, return, and complete the mission.  Senior missionaries can choose to have needed surgery or other procedures here or back at home.  Of course, acute problems such as broken bones or appendicitis, have to be dealt with at once.  Sometimes the distance from home and the quality of available medical care figures into the decision. We have seen missionaries go home due to such diverse issues as a tumor that needed surgery, uncontrollable migraines, spine (disc) troubles.  One missionary who is near the end of his time here said, “It is always a sad thing for everyone when someone has to leave early”. We certainly share in the sorrow for the struggles of these young people.  Privacy is protected so the number of people aware of the trouble or the departure can be quite limited.

With love from Len and Kit

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Hmong People

Elders Gray, Biggs, Cummings, and Bagley with President Clark at their Hmong New Year booth.

A couple of times I have referenced the Hmong people that our mission serves.  We have four missionaries who speak some Hmong.  In February there will be four more.  Sometimes there are two Hmong speaking missionaries together and sometimes they are divided so an English speaking elder is with a Hmong speaking elder.

I am fascinated by this third language in our mission and have spent time asking missionaries questions and reading online. This is what I learned:  Hmong people historically split off from one of the (approximately 3 dozen) ethnic groups in China, where millions still live. They settled in mountainous areas of countries such as Thailand and Laos. Some were resettled in the U. S. beginning around 1970, toward the end of the Viet Nam war.  Hmong immigrants achieved refugee status largely because of their war efforts on behalf of the Americans as well as their need to escape the communist regime in Laos.

The only city in the U.S. that has more Hmong people than Fresno is Minneapolis-St.Paul.(~66,000 in MN in 2010)  California has the highest Hmong population among the states (~91,000 in 2010) and Fresno has the highest population of any city in CA. (around 40,000 now?)  There are also several thousand in Merced, which is in our mission.  Immigration has been fairly limited for years, but Hmongs also increase because they have larger than average families.

Hmong students took longer to learn English and to seek higher education than other immigrant groups due to having parents who spoke little English. In addition, until the French became involved in the 1960s no written form of the Hmong language existed, and many of the Hmong people were unable to read or write their own language.

The lack of formal education among Hmong immigrants is also due to the fact that many were once farmers in the hills of Laos or were refugees from war who fled into remote jungles, and had little or no access to schools.  More than 30% of Hmong families in the United States live under the poverty level.  They have struggled with high incidence of mental health problems, which have been attributed to traumatic past experiences and problems adjusting to life in the United States. Things are so very different here and important passages such as death – which, in their pasts, meant a week long funeral beginning immediately after someone’s demise, are simply impossible and in some ways, illegal here.

Now many Hmong Americans are rapidly blending into mainstream American society. Primarily, the older people are the ones who speak Hmong. The younger people very often make little effort to learn or understand the language. This is causing some of the younger generation to lose aspects of their cultural identity at a faster pace. For example, Hmong New Year used to be a major family event of several days – a celebration with aspects of family reunions and opportunites to meet extended family.  Young people in the U.S. often now use it as an event to take a date, or go with friends.  Marriage outside their ethnic group is increasing.

In the Hmong community there have traditionally been values of honoring age and education.  Missionaries who learn the language gain some acceptance because of the efforts they make to communicate in Hmong. According to some missionaries, learning the language also helps them learn the culture and understand the Hmong ways of thinking.  They love the Hmong people and are very glad for the opportunity to get to know them well, to serve them, and to teach them spiritual truths that can make their lives better.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Senior Missionaries

CA Fresno Senior Missionaries celebrating Christmas

We have noticed that exceptionally cold and snowy weather has been a predominant pattern across the country recently, with rain in place of snow in the southern states. Weather is definitely a BIG topic here right now.  In our ward, the person who said the opening prayer thanked Heavenly Father for rain we have received and asked that we continue to receive moisture.  I’m pretty sure that in mission areas nearer the Sierra Nevadas, including Yosemite and Sequoia Parks, people are praying for the rain and snow to stop.  Up to 11” of rain in one day was forecast in some areas.  The parks are closed, there have been some evacuations, and at least three deaths have been attributed to the rain so far.

A few weeks ago we were asked to write more about senior missionaries in the CA Fresno Mission.  Today is the day. There are roughly a dozen couples serving in this mission. 

Several of the couples are MLS (Membership and Leader Support) missionaries.  Some of them are assigned to work in small towns where they are the only missionaries.  Typically they work within one ward’s boundaries, and help the Bishop, mission leaders, and any local ward missionaries.  They are often assigned to visit people from the ward who do not attend.  They try to help overcome the various problems that keep people away, from physical problems where service can help, to lack of understanding where teaching is needed.  Sometimes there are insurmountable health problems where they offer compassionate, companionship, help, and friendship.   Every situation is different and some of the stories are heartbreaking.  One I cannot forget is too grim to relate in this blog, but it illustrates how MLS work can be both very discouraging and very rewarding.

Running an employment office that serves all comers by helping with resumes, offering training in job hunting skills, advising people on options for getting more training, and, of course, trying to place them directly in jobs, was one senior couple’s mission job description.  They recently went home and have been replaced by a senior couple who are from Fresno and serving a mission while they live in their own home.

One kind of mission that was new to us is a military mission.  A man whose career was in the military, and his wife, serve people and families who are connected to the military.  Some have had multiple deployments.  There are many with problems from the service they gave and many of their family members who struggle with life while someone is away.  The missionary couple works with chaplains and uses materials provided by the government (some very good) as well as by the church.  There are various classes they give to assist people to cope with assorted problems.  

The sister with a walker in the picture had a career as a nurse in Fresno and served as a mission nurse until her own health problems sidelined her.  The seated sister is also from Fresno and continues long service as the referral secretary.  She passes along contact information from people who have asked for Books of Mormon or Bibles, or to be taught – to the missionaries in their neighborhoods who will fulfill the requests.  She is well into her eighties and her husband, who uses a walker now, accompanies her to all the major events of the mission where they delight in cheering on the young people.

You are already aware of the office missionaries – the mission president’s private secretary, the finance secretary, the housing coordinator, and the transportation person (aka Car Czar) who is in charge of everything to do with automobiles, bicycles, a couple of pickups and a trailer.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Highlights of this last week of 2016:

Whitney & Jeff’s family came last Monday evening and left Tuesday morning after a quick tour of the mission office: Short but very sweet!

We’re speeding up! Tuesday afternoon, we managed to pay all the rents and also package supply orders for two zones of missionaries (over 20 companionships of 2).     

Finally did a major sorting of our 3 furniture storage units Wednesday, and also packed the last ½ of missionary supply orders. That night we took 4 area missionaries who serve the Hmong people to dinner. Some were wearing their Hmong clothes since they were in town for Hmong New Year festivities.  They looked great!

Thursday, we did end of year paperwork & orders; also bought & installed a new office water dispenser.  There is no plumbing in our end of the building, not to mention that the treat cart is right outside our door so having a drink of water handy is important!

Friday, the zone leaders had training and then took all the orders we packaged to their people. We ordered needed furniture pieces to prepare for two senior missionary apartments we will furnish in the next few weeks.

More shopping and cooking Saturday for New Year’s Eve dinner with Bradshaws and assorted missionaries. 

Looking ahead in 2017:

I have been thinking about what a big part new beginnings play in our lives, and about just how many do-overs there are!  We get to start over every 24 hours.  When we “have a bad day”, we can put it behind us and try again.  In times of struggles or sorrows, we can “live life one day at a time”.  There are new weeks, new months, years, decades.  There are also new school years and levels – from preschool to elementary, from middle school to high school, college, and beyond.  New to-do lists, new jobs, new milestones, new goals.  We have thousands of chances to begin once more and make positive changes. 

And for every beginning there is some sort of ending, also providing thousands of chances to learn from experiences, to save choice memories but let go of others, to benefit from what is behind while living in the present and going forward without being dragged down.   Thousands of times we can alter the future to see life with gratitude, to recognize all the good in those around us and in our selves, and to recognize our blessings and understand their source, to inch up to higher ground in so many areas.

May we learn to live in a way that we can use our new beginnings (and endings), large and small, to become better and consequently, happier, people.  WISHING YOU A WONDERFUL 2017!                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
With love from Len and Kit