Thursday, January 31, 2013

We arrived safely in Rome. It was a trip marked by lots of waiting time in airports. As we already mentioned, our flight from SLC was delayed two hours. This was no problem because our flight from Dallas to London didn't leave until 4:35 pm - later delayed until around 5:15. They had changed our seats from the ones I selected, and I was a little sad. However, when I mentioned it, the woman at the counter said she would do what she could.
About half an hour before takeoff, she called us over to the desk and she had managed to get our original seats back. The plane was a 747-400. In economy the seats go 3 - 4 - 3 across each row. However, at the very rear of the plane there were three rows of 2 - 4 - 2. I had selected the very last row (53) so we could try the two seat row. It turned out to be pretty nice. I had the window and Geri had the aisle. There is about a foot and a half space between the window seat and the window. We were both able to pretty much stretch out the whole way. We had exit row seats from SLC to Dallas and from London to Rome, so we were definitely flying in as much luxury as possible in economy seating.
When we arrived in London, it took forever to disembark from the plane. Instead of the extendable walkways, they had a series of buses. Passsengers had to walk down a couple of flights of portable stairs to get from the plane to the tarmac and then board a bus. This was a bit difficult for elderly passengers, so it was a slow process. Being in the very last row, we were pretty much the last to leave the plane. Our bus had to wait for a couple of REALLY slow people. I thought we would never reach the terminal. However, as it turned out, it didn't make a bit of difference.
When we finally made it through passport checks and security, we found that our flight to Rome was delayed an hour and a half. At Heathrow airport, they don't post the gate numbers until about 45 minutes before each flight. So we waited for about three hours for our gate to be posted, then walked to the far end of the terminal to finally board our flight to Rome. On the way to the plane Sister Scherbel's foot was run over by a suitcase pulled by a fellow passenger in a hurray. It was very painful for her and left a crease across the top of her foot which was swollen from sitting so long. It looks like it will be a multi-colored bruise for a while.
While waiting in London, I decided to buy something to drink. I purchases a "cloudy lemonade," a "cream soda," and a "ginger beer." They had a special on - buy two get one free. I had forgotten that Endland is still on the pound sterling instead of euros. So, I gave the cashier a 5 euro note and received a couple of pounds and pence back in change. The money exchange in Italy wouldn't change coins. Since I don't think I will ever have the opportunity to spend that change in England, those three bottles of soda cost 5 euros, or nearly seven dollars -- and they tasted terrible. Live and learn.
Security was kind of funny. They ask you to open your luggage and take out any liquids, pastes, or gels and put them in a clear plastic bag. There is a limit to how much of these items they allow. I only had a nearly empty tube of tooth paste, literally about two brushes worth left in the tube. I dutifully put the flat tube in my little plastic bag. It looked a bit silly, but we did make it through security with no problems.
Security at Rome was interesting. We were flying from England to Italy, so since we were flying between two EU countries, there wasn't any customs check at all. We showed our passports to a very bored Italian security agent. He didn't even scan or stamp our passports. We need to have a special "permesso" within eight days of our arrival in Italy in conjunction with our visa for religious purposes. I don't know how they will know when we arrived in the country.
So, aside from spending plenty of time in airports, we arrived without incident. The benefit of delayed flights is that there is plenty of time for the airline to transfer your baggage, so all of our baggage arrived with us. Another fortunate event -- we weren't charged for our extra bags. I think since we originated with American Airlines and I am a lifetime Gold member, there was no charge for our two extra bags. Both of Geri's bags and one of mine slightly exceeded the 50 lb. limit, but we had absolutely no baggage challenges.
Sister Scherbel waiting with our luggage at Terminal 3 in Rome
True to form, there was no one to pick us up at the Rome airport even though our flight was about two hours late. I had called Sister Steuer from London to advise her our flight would be late. After waiting about half an hour, I called the mission home. I couldn't get through because of a busy signal. I finally called President Kelly's cell phone,. He had given me a business card when we visited him in November. He said the assistants, Elder Hansen and Elder Longhurst, were on their way. I finally got ahold of the mission office and obtained the cell phone number of the assistants. After a couple of phone conversations, they found us, loaded our luggage into the mission van and drove us into Rome. Very impressive missionaries.
In front of the Rome Temple beside the mission van
They were kind enough to stop at the construction site of the Rome temple. The builders are just putting the exterior marble or granite (we're not sure which one) up. It is much more grey than in the architect's renderings I have seen. I had pictured it whiter. It will be very beautiful nonetheless.
We then drove over to the mission office where we met Elder and Sister Steuer again. (We had met them in November also.) They are a really impressive couple who are assigned to the mission office. They gave us a few instructions relating to driving cars in Italy, how our expenses will be handled, and some information about our branch in Battipaglia. We then drove with them to the mission home where we were again greeted by President and Sister Kelly. It was so great to see them again. They are a truly wonderful couple. After another of Sister Kelly's delicious meals, with a delictable apple pie and gelato provided by Sister Steuer, we watched a video they are producing as a kind of documentary of the year 2012 in the Italy Rome Mission. They have done a super job. President Kelly wanted a little different music, so I suggested "Nella Fantisia," my newest favorite song. They were already familiar with it and might use it in the video.
We spent a very pleasant evening with the Kellys and the Steuers, but faded kind of quickly after our all night plane trip. We spent the night in a very nice bedroom in the basement of the mission home and zonked out until around 5:30 am. I walked outside for a quick stroll around the mission home in the early morning hours. I have lots of wonderful memories of Rome. It is so amazing to be back after amost exactly 46 years. As I remember, our district arrived in Rome in January of 1967. We stayed in a "pensione" near the train station as we looked for an apartment.
Before I finish this long e-mail, I want to tell you about an experience I had while waiting in the DFW airport. As we were finding a place to sit at the gate, we noticed that they had little islands with seating around them. The islands had electrical outlets where people could plug in their computers, iPads, etc. This was perfect for us as we always have things that need to be charged. As we were trying to get situated, we had to work around a man who looked to be from the middle east. Once settled, we started talking. It turned out that he was from Turkey, near Istanbul, where he is an assistant professor of electrical engineering at a university there. His English wasn't too good, and my Turkish is non-existant, but we had a very pleasant conversation. He had been visiting in Baton Rouge, LA and had made a quick trip to Florida. We talked about families and life in general. Then we began to discuss religion. he is Muslim and quite devout. He reads prayers from the Prophet Mohammed every day. We became instant friends. We exchanged e-mail addresses. Then he did an interesting thing. He had purchased a large bottle of Planters Peanuts for a snack. He felt he had to give me some of his peanuts. It was such a personal gesture of friendship. He took a sheet of newspaper, made a cone out of it, and poured a whole bunch of peanuts in it for me. I was so touched by his kindness. I had nothing to offer him in return but my thanks. People are so good. We need to stop fighting and arguing and just enjoy friendship. It was such a testimony to me of the innate goodness in people in general.
Well, we are ready for a new day. We hope to drive to Battipaglia today and move into our new apartment by this evening. My secondary goal is to eat a Battipaglia pizza before the day is ended.
Thanks again for your wonderful hospitality. We are starting to miss you already, but are extremely excited to be here and hope we can find ways to bless the lives of the people we meet.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Geri arose at 4:30 a.m. this morning - I at 5:15. Our flight leaves at 8:15 to Dallas, then a 4 hour layover and on to London, then Rome. The day of departure has finally arrived. Our weeks of preparation are finally over. What seemed like such a long time a few weeks ago seems to have flown by magically. As I am showering and shaving, I realize that if I don't hurry, we are going to be late to the airport.

It is snowing this morning, as it has for the last two days. The radio reports the roads are snowy and slick and that traffic is moving, but slower than usual. Great. After waiting for weeks, we are going to be late to the airport.

Wagstaffs up early to see us off. Shelly rode with us to the airport.
We have been staying with our daughter Shelly and her husband Ryan Wagstaff and their four children since December 17th. They all got up early to see us off (except for the 18 month old twins). We have appreciated their wonderful hospitality so much. A thankful prayer, hugs all around, and we're into the car. Geri has already cleaned the snow off and the car is warmed up. She is definitely worried we will be late. All of our luggage actually fit! We wanted to leave at 6:00 -- it is already 6:15. We are definitely going to be late. I wonder what that freeway traffic is going to be like in this blizzard.

The dashboard indicator says there is a door open -- probably the hatch back. Maybe our luggage isn't going to fit after all. Slam! That should do it. Yup, no more indicator light. We are now at the end of the cul-de-sac. We have traveled our first 100 yards.

On I-15 north, the traffic is actually moving along quite well. We get up to 47 mph. We might make it to the airport after all.  The traffic report says there is a serious accident on I-80 west of Salt Lake. Rats! This the route we need to take. Traffic has been stopped. Maybe we won't make it after all. Whew, the accident is on the eastbound side. The Lord still loves us.

We arrive at the airport at 6:50 -- a miracle! Now, how do we get all this luggage inside? Stack it, of course. Now up to the ticket counter -- it seems deserted. Let's see, we're flying British Air -- but I think we should check in at American.  We do.  Our flight has been delayed 2 hours. That 4 hour layover in Dallas that we had been dreading has now become our friend. We might actually get to Italy after all.

Look at the blizzard behind Sister Scherbel and Sister Leslie at gate A1
Our missionary name tags attract attention. Elder Arnell, who has served two missions in Ecuador and Hong Kong and is now a sealer in Rexburg stops by to talk. He knows Elder Noel Zaugg who I served with in Italy in 1967.  We meet sister Leslie from St. George who is headed to Manchester, England. She has a 4 hour layover in SLC.

All my stuff made it through security -- even the metal puzzles I received for Christmas. I lost a can of shaving cream to security on the way to Chicato to get our visas. Geri wasn't so lucky. As she was shifting stuff from suitcase to suitcase, trying to get them under 50 lbs. each (we had 3 suitcases slightly over 50 pounds), she ended up putting her treasured vanilla extract in her carry-on. So the people at security now have a nice supply of US vanilla. Aparently vanilla is a rare commodity in Italy. I didn't know that. I wonder if they have vanilla at the Dallas airport? We should have followed the advice the Tappans e-mailed us: Pack half as many clothes and twice as much money...

Only an hour left before takeoff...

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Jon arrives back home
We were on the way to the airport to pick up our youngest son, Jonathan, who was returning from his mission to Mesa, Arizona. It was August 21, 2012. As we were driving, the thought entered my mind, "we could could serve a mission now." We had been thinking of serving next year when I will be elligible for full Social Security benefits. My main worry was how to pay for our mission. We had developed a wonderful subdivision in Afton and hoped that the profits from it would be sufficient to pay for our mission. Our lot sales were surprisingly good from 2005 to 2008, and we were able to pay for all the infrastructure and improvements. However, when the real eatate market collapsed in 2008, our hopes for enough profit to pay for a mission vanished. But I realized that if we rented our home, sold our cars and some stock and received some help from my brothers, we could probably find a way. I felt like serving a mission now was exactly the right thing to do. Geri agreed.

 I immediately placed a call to the senior missionary department of the Church to find out how couples like Geri and I would go about applying to serve a mission. Following the advice received from the phone call, we searched on for information. We then phoned our Bishop and asked him to get the ball rolling. In a couple of days we were filling out our application online.

Paul on soon to be wet iPhone 4S

Following a fun-filled week at Lake Powell with our daughter Shelly and her family, we completed the necessary doctor and dentist visits, began our inoculations, and submitted our application. We interviewed with our Bishop and Stake President on Sunday, September 16 and the application was submitted to the Church.

We decided that we didn't want to indicate any preference as to where we wanted to serve. I thought a mission to Africa would be interesting. Geri was terrified that we might actually be sent to somewhere as challenging as that. She was thinking that a return to Germany would be nice. We did mention where we had lived, the languages we were familiar with, where our ancestors were from, and where I had served as a young missionary. We also indicated we would serve for 23 months (the choices were 6, 12, 18, or 24 months.) Basically, we just wanted to serve where we would be useful.

Six weeks later, on October 26th our long-awaited, eagerly anticipated, large, white envelope arrived. Since Geri had never had the opportunity to open a mission call, I thought she should open the letter. It is difficult to describe the combination of fear and excitement that accompany the opening of a mission call -- even as a senior couple. It crosses your mind that the next two years of your life will be determined by the contents of that envelope. She tried to cover up the part of the letter indicating the name of our mission so she could read the letter from beginning to end, but was unsuccessful. She immediately saw "Italy Rome Mission" and started screaming. I wasn't sure if she was screaming for happiness or disappointment, but it quickly became clear she was elated, and shouted that we were called to serve in Italy where I had served as a young missionary from September 1966 to January 1969.

President and Sister Kelly flanking us
Geri's Mom & my Dad & our ship Celebrity Reflections
We had been planning a Mediterranean cruise since July with our parents. We were excited to learn that our cruise ship would be stopping in four cities in our mission – Valetta, Malta, Catania, Sicily, Naples, and Rome, Italy. We were even able to meet our Mission President and his wonderful wife while we were in Rome.

Brother Jolley - our main tutor
Sister Cropper - sunniest smile in the MTC
We had read that language training is available for senior missionaries via Skype or in person. Geri started hourly sessions about three days a week before our cruise. We were able to purchase Internet access on board ship, so she was able to continue even during our cruise. A day or two after we returned home, the day before Thanksgiving, we went down to the Missionary Training Center in Provo for eight hours of language immersion training in Italian. We thoroughly enjoyed this opportunity and were amazed at the resources available to help people learn foreign languages there. Junior missionaries learn in districts of about six to ten people. Senior missionaries have individual tutors. In addition, people from the surrounding communities who already speak the language you are studying volunteer to come in and help you learn the language. Computer-aided study is also available. We were very impressed and decided to spend as much time in the immersion program as possible. Beginning December 17th we spent three days a week, eight hours each day studying Italian. We did this for five weeks. I was able to speak Italian several hours each day, listen to General Conference talks in Italian, memorize scriptures, and teach lessons. I have written down nearly 400 new vocabulary words from this experience. I just hope it will be enough to be effective.

Geri having a fun breakfast at the Corner Bakery in Chicago
On January 7th, we flew to Chicago for a day to appear in person before the Italian Consulate to apply for long term visas. We stayed in a La Quinta Inn Sunday night in Elk Brook, then took the courtesy shuttle back to the airport Sunday morning and rode the “L” into downtown Chicago. After a short city bus ride, we arrived at the Italian Consulate. We waited for an hour, had a 20 minute conversation with the woman in charge, and that was that.

Looking down 103 stories from the Willis Tower
With the rest of the day available, we decided to tour the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower), the tallest building in the United States before taking the subway back to the airport. This was very fun. You are 103 stories up in the air – 800 feet higher than any mountain in Illinois. The view was breath taking. They have cubicles which extend out from the walls of the building which have clear plexi-glass walls and floors. You feel like you are precariously suspended on fragile footing looking straight down about a quarter of a mile – definitely an E-ticket ride.

37 couples and 2 single sisters at the MTC
On Monday, January 21, we entered the Missionary Training Center for real. We received five days of intensive training on how to be effective missionaries from young recently returned missionaries. There were a total of 38 companionships including two single sisters in our group. This week was a very special week. The training itself was excellent. However, meeting the other couples and sharing their experiences and fears as we all prepared to depart for various parts of the world was truly a memorable experience. Couples were heading to Mongolia, India, England, Finland, Romania, Spain, Newfoundland, Manhattan, Washington DC, several military bases in the US, Japan, the Marshall Islands, Hawaii, and several locations in the continental US. It was also awesome to meet some of the 3,000 young missionaries preparing to serve all over the world as well. I would estimate that about one fourth of the missionaries in the MTC were sisters. This percentage is rising and will soon reach around 50%.

Cullimores, Scherbels, Tappans, Lynns with Sister Zollinger - Our District
Highlights from the MTC:

Sister Roach - Her grandaughter referred to elderly people as "children with grandma and grandpa faces." That is pretty much how I feel -- a young person with an old face (and body).

Sister Nalley - The forgotten beattitude: Blessed are the flexible, for they will not get bent out of shape.

Sister Evans: Exact obediance.

Brother David Evans: We need the second kind of faith, the kind which causes things to happen.

Brother Pike (young missionary instructor): Teach-ify - testifying without saying "I know..."

Elder Holland (via a video):
The eyes of the investigator will tell you all you need to know about what they need to be taught.

(French Story) "Come to the edge." "No, I'll fall." "Come to the edge." "No, I'll fall."  "Come to the edge."  So, they came to the edge -- and he pushed them -- and they flew.

Brother Tueller:
The Lord doesn't call the qualified. He qualifies those He calls.

Think about the slogans of home improvement stores. They apply well to missionary work.

Home Depot: You can do it. We can help. (New Slogan: More saving. More doing.)

Lowes: Let's build something together. (New Slogan: Never stop improving.)

Local hardware store in Mountain Home Idaho: If we don't have it, you don't need it.

We are now as prepared as we are going to get. We are excited to actually begin our service. Actually, it has just dawned on me in the last couple of days that this is really going to happen. I will miss our children, grandchildren, parents, brothers and sisters, and friends so much. I am nervous as I think about supporting Geri and helping her continue to learn Italian. I'm not sure exactly what we're going to do, but I sincerely hope we can be useful to someone.

Geri is not going to Greece or Bulgaria. Her finger just slipped.
Yesterday we attended our last Sunday meetings in English. Next Sunday is Fast Sunday. We will be bearing our testimonies in Battipaglia, Italy. We fly out the day after tomorrow.