Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Time Flies on Wings of Lightning

Here it is the first of February already! Time truly seems to be flying by! I’m going to take a few minutes to share the last few weeks.

Every Thursday afternoon we attend our district meeting with about 8 junior missionaries. We take turns teaching each other from the Preach My Gospel book on how to be more effective missionaries. We also set goals, play a game, and just generally support each other. Right now none of the other missionaries in our district are serving in our ward, but in neighboring wards, some Spanish speaking and some English speaking. We love getting to know these young men and women.

Every six weeks we have a zone conference. Our zone consists of 3 districts but for zone conference this month we combined 3 zones together and even had a General Authority doing a mission tour. Elder Ardern and his wife of the 70’s are from New Zealand and they were simply delightful. They demonstrated good teaching techniques (as do President and Sister Henrie) and there was a lot of participation during the 6 hours we spent together (and a yummy lunch as well). 

Last week all of us senior couples were invited to a dinner at the mission home with the Arderns. It was pretty informal and nice to get to know them a bit. Elder Ardern wanted each of us to know how much the leaders of the church appreciate all of us seniors and the contribution we make to the church and to the junior missionaries. Of course we loved their New Zealand accent!

Most all of the members we work with are immigrants, some fairly recent but many who have been here for 20-30 years. We have noticed a pattern in their stories. Often, the mother leaves her kids with her mother and comes alone to the USA to earn money to send back home to help support her kids. She wants them to have a better life. (The dad has exited the family.) Sometimes she is here for just a few years and is able to bring them up. Sometimes she brings them when her own mother dies. Sometimes she gets a new husband here, has more kids, and it can be a decade or two before she is able to bring them here. Now we do know of a few families where there is a dad involved all the way through the process and either just the dad comes to the USA or both parents come, again leaving the kids with grandparents. We know of two families in our ward where the older kids (14 and 18 in one family, 13 and 16 in the other) have been here only a few months, joining a new dad and 3 other kids ranging in age from 3-12 years old.

We also heard an inspiring story from an older couple (husband mid-80’s and wife late 70’s) who are from El Salvador. They married, joined the church, and had their 5 children all in El Salvador. They decided they wanted to be sealed in the temple and the closest one was in Mesa, Arizona. A whole group of members hired a bus to drive them there. They sold their home to finance the expense and spent 5 days in the bus each way. Their youngest son was eight at the time, but since the doctor dropped him on his head at birth, he suffered from cerebral palsy and had to be held the whole time. When they got to the border of the USA, the immigration officer denied entry to the young son due to an “infectious cough.” Members of the church (from the mission, the temple, the stake) came to try and help and a Relief Society President ended up staying with the boy so the rest of the family could continue on to the temple. They ended up making a second trip to the temple to have their youngest son sealed to them after he died a short time later.

This same family told us of having to walk to church (over an hour each way) after they came to the USA because they had no car nor the money for bus fare—and the busses didn’t run on Sundays then anyway. This same couple served a mission a few years ago as a senior couple—I think the only one from this stake so far. And they were sent back to El Salvador. What a faithful couple!
He is the Sunday School President and she is the music leader in Sacrament meeting and the choir director (when we have one). And we have come across them making visits to some of the same families we are trying to invite and love back into activity.

One family feeds all the missionaries in our ward two nights a week—and that has been 6 junior missionaries plus they invite us, though we have only gone two times as we don’t expect to be fed like the younger elders/sisters are.
What a dedicated supportive family! The dad is a counselor in the bishopric and the mom is YW President with the RM son teaching Primary and the oldest daughter a counselor to her mom in the YW Presidency.

A couple of weeks ago, we found a great place close to home to take a 6-mile hike!
Great views of the San Fernando Valley!
This last week on P-day, we took a drive to the mountains about 30 minutes east of us. We found snow at the higher elevations!
So we drove back down and took our hike on Mount Wilson, along a ledge where there once were train tracks. We loved the views!
And the rate of elevation gain/loss! There even was a tunnel!
We like to attend Mutual when we can. Here is New Beginnings
and last night’s joint activity with fun games! Build a pyramid,
move a ball,
and move a cookie from your forehead to your mouth without using your hands. Fun!

I want to mention one other activity we did: take Jose to the Visitor’s Center at the LA Temple. We first thought he could do baptisms for the dead, but he hasn’t received the Priesthood yet, so that will be next time. He thoroughly enjoyed seeing the Christus Statue.
Here he is with the Sisters who showed us around—and they remembered him from his first trip there a few months ago!
One of them is Hermana Searle (as some of you know her). It is exciting to watch someone progress in their knowledge and appreciation of the Gospel.

We love the work we are doing here and love feeling like the Lord is using us to touch others and invite them back to Church. The time does seem to be flying by but we plan to continue to work hard right up to the end!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Make the Days Count

I’m taking advantage of a little downtime to post another blog. I can’t believe how fast the weeks and months pass! Here’s what happening in our part of the world:

Elder baptized Jose on December 17. We found out that the week Jose attended our ward, it was fast Sunday and Elder had introduced us to the ward and born his testimony. It was during that testimony that Jose decided he wanted to get baptized and he wanted Elder to do it. Elder was happy to be involved. Here they are with the two sets of sisters who taught him.

The week before Christmas was very busy with lots of activities:

Monday morning we went back to our favorite park for a walk around the lake.
I discovered a tree seeming to grow sideways. (Can you see me in it?)
Monday night was a Mission Office dinner for all senior couples and office workers. Fun!

Thursday night we went caroling with some ward members and other missionaries.
Friday night we went caroling with our district of missionaries—in the rain and wind and it felt cold!

Saturday was a Mission Christmas Devotional complete with an ugly sweater contest.

Sunday we had 4 sister missionaries over for Christmas dinner and two of them used our computer to talk to their family.

In between all these activities, we had about 15 appointments with members, plus baked and delivered 15 bags of star cookies.
I just need to remember to take more pictures of the members we are working with—I’ll make it a new year’s resolution.

The week after Christmas saw our daughter from Las Vegas and her whole family come for a visit. We packed a lot into those two days!

We visited the Getty Center and loved the views!
We also loved the snuggles!

We played at the park.

We played games back in our apartment.

We celebrated Andrew’s 9th birthday!

We went to the beach and dug holes,
played football and Frisbee,
took a walk to the pier, made awesome sandballs
and tried to keep warm.

We went to see the lights at the LA Temple.

Thanks so much for coming! It was great to see you all!

We had a quiet New Year’s Eve, and have since made a few changes to our apartment.
The Tree of Lights is now a Heart of Lights with the same 15 grandkids’ pictures inside.

We rearranged the furniture in our living room to accommodate our new little pico projector—our Christmas gift to each other.
In Delhi, there was a flat screen TV in each senior couple apartment. Here, the other MLS couple brought theirs from home. Sometimes it’s nice to watch something a little bigger than a laptop.
Rather than buy a TV we would just leave here, we decided to buy a little projector to watch on our wall. We love it! But sharing the one chair was getting old, so we moved the couch and chair around so now we can both sit on the couch and watch whatever we are streaming from our computer.

We are systematically trying to find everyone in the directory and are finding lots that have moved 3-4 years ago. But just last week we found a mom and 2 grown kids that had been baptized 12 years ago and inactive for most of that. We had a nice visit, showed a short video from, and the 24 year old son was close to tears. We asked what he was feeling, and he shared that his mind had been flooded with memories of what it was like when they had gone to church and that maybe he needed to come back. We invited him to come on Sunday and he said maybe (he didn’t make it). But they did make another appointment for this week. It’s a start. We are working with several who say they are ready to come back, but change is hard sometimes. It takes time and effort but is definitely worth it!

Know that we are very busy and have tons to do before we leave in a few short months which are going to whiz by just as fast as the last few. I like the saying, “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”

Saturday, December 17, 2016

There is Work Enough to Do

I can’t believe December is already half over. Time is passing quickly and as the hymn states, “I have work enough to do.” Here are a few of the things we have done these last few weeks:

Shared Thanksgiving Dinner with some Hermanas (Spanish-speaking sister missionaries)
These are the Hermanas who joined us for Thanksgiving
and had 4 other missionaries stop by to wish us Happy Thanksgiving, some even bearing a plate of cookies that quickly got shared with everyone else. (Sorry for not having pictures but I don’t have a smart phone anymore and just recently decided to use my tablet for pictures—but now I can’t figure out how to get them onto my computer. I love technology when it works and can get pretty frustrated when I don’t know how to make it work when it isn’t.)

Met with the other MLS senior couple and later with the whole mission staff, including the office couple, the mission nurse, and 5 church service missionaries supporting the mission (data entry, cars, apartment couple, and food). Another office couple is coming next week and will replace the data entry and cars locals who have been serving for 1-4 years already. In January, another Spanish speaking MLS senior couple will come and even live in our same apartment complex.

Received our assignment: North Hollywood 5th Ward (Spanish), San Fernando Stake (Spanish). We felt very welcomed and needed from the first time we attended (3 weeks ago). The bishop always has a smile on his face and everyone is very friendly—lots of hugs between the sisters. The first week (Nov 27), there were only 14 people there at the beginning of Sacrament, but about 70 by the end so we felt right at home—this is very similar to Dwarka Branch back in Delhi. The last couple of weeks, there have been more like 30 there at the beginning and 80 at the end, but there are over 400 on the role so we have lots of work to do.  So far we have met with about 20 families/members and most will speak some English during our visits, which I really appreciate.
Two faithful sisters who live together in our ward
There seem to be more from El Salvador and Guatemala than Mexico. We have also met people from Bolivia, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. (Someone told us that 75% of the people in the valley speak Spanish and there are also lots of people from Armenia.) We have been blessed to make a good connection with several members already and one Hermana (Sister) came to the Christmas Party last night who hasn’t been out to church for a couple of years. Yeah! One big challenge is lack of active Melchizedek Priesthood holders. Consequently, we have a HP Group Leader, an Elder’s Quorum President, and an YM President all with no counselors or secretary.

We have attended Mutual a couple weeks and even got to support a trip to the LA Temple for Baptisms for the dead one Saturday morning at 7. We’ve enjoyed getting to know the youth (about 6 active YW and 3 active YM) and even got invited to one YW’s 18th Birthday Party held at church the next week. We only stayed an hour but it seemed to be a big deal--the birthday cake was as big as a wedding cake.
This is a picture of the picture on my tablet. I got desperate.

We’ve also been attending our District and Zone Meetings, getting to know quite a few different Elders and Sisters/Hermanas. Here we are with our original district.
Just last week our ward got white washed—that means that all those who had been serving here were transferred and we got totally new missionaries. Here we are with our original missionaries.
Old NH 5 missionaries
In fact 2 of the 6 Elders now serving with us are greenies, straight from the MTC. One is from a small branch in Mexico and one from Utah. One is adjusting to America and one to speaking Spanish. The districts and zones are mixed here, half English and half Spanish. For example, our district is comprised of missionaries from 4 different wards and two different stakes (one English and one Spanish), and the missionaries serving our ward go to 3 different districts all in the same zone.

We have been enjoying having a car. It’s about 5 or 6 miles to our building and only half that to the edge of our ward. Most of the time we can be to our visit in about 20 minutes, but we do try to avoid the freeways at rush hour—this is LA after all. We’ve done a little exploring, visiting UCLA after the temple baptisms,
driving to Malibu and Pepperdine one P-day.
Road to Malibu
on the beach at Malibu
lots of trees still have colored leaves on them here
Pepperdine Elf Activity
We’ve also attended some special holiday events—a Nativity Festival in Burbank, complete with a live nativity;
Nativities on loan from Bob Hope's family
an Inter-faith Concert at a church next to the LA Temple Visitor’s Center;
Hallelujah Chorus combined choirs from my tablet
and just last week a special “When Love is Born” program in Santa Clarita/Valencia Stake with a 170 chorus and 60 piece orchestra. We’ve been told that it included a lot of the local professionals—including conductor Richard Rich (who I googled when we got home). It really feels like Christmas this year, even if we don’t have any snow.
Our apartment's tree of lights with the grandkids pictures inside. 

Here are a couple of pictures of our surroundings--the first taken of the courtyard of our apartment complex from our balcony;

This picture is of Sherman Avenue, just north of us. I think it's pretty with majestic palm trees planted on both sides. Most streets here are wide with many lanes of traffic going each way.

An investigator (Jose) of one set of Hermanas in our zone asked Elder to baptize him on December 17. For some reason he had attended our ward one week and they had met in Priesthood. We took him to the “When Love is Born” program last Sunday night and enjoyed getting to know him better.
Another picture of my tablet's picture. This scene was in the foyer. Amazing program!

Attended the LA Temple with half the missionaries of our mission (about 70). Now when we drove to the temple at 6:30 Saturday morning it took us 15-20 minutes—it really is very close. However, last Wednesday morning, we left at 7:30 to go pick up some elders needing a ride from our ward building (35 minutes), and then it was just about an hour on back roads to the temple. The LA Temple is huge! I’ve read it’s the second largest next to SLC. It is beautiful, with very high ceilings and very large rooms! The walls are painted in all the rooms (you move several times), even the celestial room has murals on the walls. There are lots of elegant drapes and chandeliers. It was good to be back in the temple after 14 months.

Thursday night we had an appointment reschedule so we stopped by the church to help decorate for the ward party the next night. Some youth and leaders had arrived early and most of it was already done.
They had done a great job and seemed to enjoy doing it!
Thanks! It was a fun well-attended (about 100) party with dancing!

We do like to take walks and found a nice park just down the road that works well if we have enough time.

Well I need to wrap this up. We are meeting other senior missionaries for breakfast before a service project at Operation Gratitude from 9-noon
and then Jose’s baptism at 2 and more member visits this afternoon and evening.

We are thankful to be here, though think often of all our good friends back in India. We are amazed at what deep relationships we formed in those precious 13 months. But the church is true everywhere and there is indeed work enough for all of us to do wherever we happen to be. And for us right now, that is North Hollywood 5th Ward.

Merry Christmas everyone!