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.

1 comment:

  1. We wish you the best and pray for your success!