Monday, December 26, 2016

More Christmas Zone Devotionals, Baptisms, Christmas!

Last week we held our last two Christmas zone devotionals--one in Lethbridge with our Lethbridge, Lethbridge East, Medicine Hat, and Cardston zones; and the other over in BC with that zone alone.
Both were just great.  In the Lethbridge one we also had some wonderful musical numbers by our missionaries--we had Elder Austin on the cello for one number, and Elder Crockett did a great piano medley where he used the  music from the #LighttheWorld Initiative, and combined it with some other Christmas hymns.  He did a beautiful job with it.  We also had 3 different solos which were beautiful as well.  I love hearing our talented missionaries!  Our BC devotional was small, but really nice!  We were so glad we hadn't had them drive to Lethbridge because as we drove there on Tuesday night, the visibility was terrible because of blowing snowdrifts, and the roads weren't very good at all.  So, it confirmed to us that we were wise in not having them travel the long distance to Lethbridge.  So, instead they got their very own devotional.  The Stake Relief Society president of the Cranbrook Stake provided the lunch for them, and she served a delicious lunch on nice plates and real cloth tablecloths!  We are used to paper plates and cheap plastic tablecloths--so we felt spoiled!  It was so nice of her to do it for us-there were 14 of us altogether, plus her husband and President Andersen, the stake president.  It was small, but so fun!  We have one senior couple in that zone, Elder and Sister Ebert, (from our home stake), and they are such a great influence in that zone, and the missionaries just love them.  They serve in the small Columbia Valley branch, and Elder Ebert has been called to serve in that branch presidency.  They do A LOT of work with less active members, and without them there, that branch would die.  We are so grateful for them.
After our devotional in BC, we drove the almost 5 hours back home to Calgary, getting in about 9:45 Wednesday night.  But the roads were better coming home.
Friday we held our retrainers meeting at the mission home for all of the new missionaries that came out 4 weeks ago and their trainers.  It was a great meeting, and we had such good discussions on companionships, on teaching people to pray, on following the spirit as we plan, and striving for our Standards of Excellence.  I love this meeting.  The missionaries are so enthusiastic and ready to learn and go do the work.  After the meeting we had sandwiches for lunch and then sent them on their way.
This week Steve also interviewed all the missionaries that are leaving to go home this Wednesday.  Normally they wouldn't be leaving until next week with the regular transfer, but because of schooling, this group all are going home this Wednesday.  So, we had interviews all throughout the week, ending Friday afternoon about 5.  After interviews were done, we put on our casual clothes for our date night, and went out to do a little Christmas shopping (our only Christmas shopping), to get a few little things for our kids coming next week.  We also grabbed a bite to eat, too.  It snowed all day on Friday, and the roads weren't very good, but we were excited that we would have a white Christmas!
On Saturday, Christmas Eve day, we attended two different baptismal services.  One for Vicki Moorman, who is truly a converted soul!  We had her at our home last week with the sisters who taught her, and she told us her conversion story, and it is just so inspiring and incredible to hear how she has come to love the gospel, and to hear how happy she is because of it, and for the peace and joy she feels.  Her baptism was awesome!
Then following that service was the baptismal service for the Ngwenya family.  Theirs is an equally incredible story.  Some of our elders tracted out the dad, Thulani,  months ago, and he really wasn't interested, although he was very nice to them.  They thought nothing would come of it.  Then, a few weeks ago, our sisters in that area came upon them again, and this time they decided to listen to the message the sisters gave...and this time their hearts were ready, and they loved learning about the gospel.  Thulani's wife, Thandi, wasn't always able to attend the lessons because of work, but their two children living at home, Michelle (17) and Ryan (12) were.  And they began coming to church and reading the Book of Mormon, and the kids also began attending YM and YW.  Thulani even downloaded the Book of Mormon on his phone so he could listen to it.  Then Thandi began to listen to the lessons, and she is a very spiritual person, and the spirit began to touch her.  And finally she began to read the Book of Mormon as well.  Her heart was touched and they all wanted to be baptized!  We had one lesson with them in our home, and they are an amazing family.  They had one roadblock to getting baptized--Thandi and Thulani were married traditionally in Zimbabwe, their home country, but that isn't recognized legally here in Canada.  And as you know, to be baptized you have to be legally married.  Well, they were willing to do so, but because of their culture, they wanted to get approval from their families still living in Zimbabwe.  They didn't want to move ahead without their family's consent.  They really wanted to get baptized on Christmas Eve, and we told them that with everything going on, they could wait until the next week.  But, they are actually moving to St. George, Utah this very week, and they wanted to be baptized before moving! Thulani had received a grant to attend a university to further his education, and there were about 200 he could choose from.  So, as he got online, he chose Dixie in St. George!  This is even before taking the missionary discussions!  The Lord definitely works in mysterious ways!  So, they were able to get approval from their families in Zimbabwe, and so on Friday they obtained the marriage license, and on Saturday, as part of the baptismal service, the bishop married them legally right before their baptism!  It was really just so incredible to see it all come together.  After they were married, the 4 of them changed into their white clothes to be baptized.  Ryan, the 12 year old, hit it off with Steve when they were at our home, and he wanted Steve to baptize him.  And he wanted to be the ONLY one Steve baptized.  So, one of our elders baptized 2 of them, then a brother in the ward baptized the other, and Steve then baptized Ryan.  It was such a special service.  I wish I could describe to you how happy they are to have found the gospel.  They just beam!  Being here and seeing these new converts and their joy in the gospel of Jesus Christ makes me realize that much of the time we take this marvelous gospel for granted.  We forget just how blessed our lives are because of it, and I don't think we sometimes fully appreciate how it guides us and gives us such great happiness.  I have come to love our Heavenly Father's wonderful plan of salvation, or plan of happiness, even more since being out here on our mission.  I have come to know even more, that it truly is a plan of happiness.  My life, and our family's lives have been so blessed because of it.  That's not to say we haven't had our share of trials and challenges, but we have been strengthened and uplifted and guided and blessed every step of the way.  And we have felt our Heavenly Father's love and the love of our Savior.  I do 'stand all amazed' at the love our Savior offers me.
After the baptisms, I ran to the grocery store to get what we needed for our Christmas brunch with our assistants, and when I got home I made Steve get off his computer, where he was working on the next transfer, and we relaxed and enjoyed Christmas eve together.  We had a pre-made turkey dinner, that actually turned out quite delicious!  And we even watched a bit of a Christmas movie together.
Christmas Dad we attended the 11:00 church where were able to see the Ngwenya family confirmed and given the gift of the Holy Ghost--another wonderful experience.  Thulani was also ordained to the Aaronic priesthood to the office of priest.  He was then able to participate in blessing the sacrament with our two elders, Elder Manarii, and Elder Miller.  It was SOOO neat to see him up there at the sacrament table.
After church we had brunch with our assistants, Elders Stringam and Moffitt.  We love these two elders and are so grateful for their hard work, obedience and enthusiasm for the work.
Then two of our sisters, Sisters Lane and Blake, came to our home to call their families.
Throughout the day we spoke with each of our kids and grandsons, and were able to see what Santa had brought them all.  It was a great Christmas day.  We can't believe it has come and gone--thinking back now, it seems like we just had Christmas last year.  The time has really flown!
Sisters HoChing, Taylor, Messick, King, Meyer, Belmonte

Showing off white elephants!

Noisemaker white elephants!

And more white elephants!

And more!

Lethbridge, Lethbridge East, Medicine Hat, and Cardston zones

Our luncheon in BC!

Getting ready to pass white elephants in BC!

Showing off the white elephants!

Our British Columbia Zone!

Lunch after retrainers meeting

Our entryway when the  missionaries arrive!

Sister Blake, Vicki Moorman, Sister Lane

The Ngwenya family before their baptism with Sisters Stash, Black

Ryan Ngwenya and Steve

White Christmas in Calgary!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Zone Training Meetings, Christmas zone devotionals

This week we were able to attend 3 different zone training meetings, which are always so great.  We were able to be with the Calgary Zone, the Calgary North Zone and the Calgary Foothills zone.  All three were just wonderful--and what makes them so wonderful is that the zone leaders and sister trainer leaders plan and prepare all of them and invite other missionaries to participate in the training.  You would be so impressed if you could see what these missionaries can do when they have prayed and prepared.  They are just amazing.  We love to sit and listen to their teaching and insights, and then the things all the other missionaries share with each other.  Those were on Tuesday and Wednesday and then on Thursday and Friday we held two of our Christmas zone devotionals--these were with our different zones in Calgary.  Our wonderful office couples prepared a great luncheon of ham, baked potatoes, salad, rolls and desserts for the missionaries (about 60-65 each day).  We met at noon in the cultural hall for lunch, and then following lunch we had a white elephant exchange.  I read the story of 'The Night Before Christmas' which incorporates the words RIGHT and LEFT many times throughout, and whenever the missionaries hear it they pass their gift either right or left, accordingly.  By the end of the crazy story the gifts have gone quite a ways around the huge circle.  And then we open them up!  It's a pretty fun game to do with them!
After that we went into the chapel for a more spiritual devotional.  With our devotionals we have had some incredible musical numbers by our missionaries!  All of our Mandarin elders sang in Chinese an arrangement of "Once in Royal David's City" that was so beautiful.  It really brought tears to my eyes both days they sang it.  I just wanted to hug them all!  We also had some quartets, solos, flute accompaniment.  We have some pretty talented missionaries.  And the music brings such a great spirit.  At the devotional, along with the musical numbers we have 3 missionaries read the story of the nativity in does it in Mandarin, one in Spanish, and then one in English.  This is a tradition we have had in our own family, where we have our sons and sons-in-law read it in the language where they served their missions.  So, we incorporated that into our devotional.  Then we have showed two Christmas Mormon message videos, and both Steve and I gave a few comments.
This year for their Christmas gift, we gave all of our missionaries a copy of the Book of Mormon with our testimony in it, and we are inviting them to read it with us beginning Christmas Day and ending 113 days later on Easter Sunday.  This means we will read 4.6 pages per day.  So, I invite any of you who are reading this to join us in this.  It will be a great experience!  As we read we will underline any references to the doctrine of Christ--faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.  We are really excited to do this.  We also gave them a personalized temple recommend holder that has a picture of John the Baptist with the Savior on the front, and inside it says, 'Canada Calgary Mission' and then the scripture from 3 Nephi 5:13 that we recite at every meeting.  Our devotionals were wonderful and it was a great way to feel the spirit of this wonderful Christmas season and cherish this time as missionaries to share the true  meaning of Christmas and why we celebrate Christ's birth.  We know that He is our Savior and the Redeemer of the world.  And because of His atoning sacrifice, we will all be resurrected and will have the  blessing of being able to be together for eternity with our families if we will be faithful and follow Him.  We are so blessed because of this wonderful gospel.  My life is so happy because of it.  He truly is 'the reason for the season'!
Yesterday we were able to attend the sealing of a whole family that was baptized last year.  It was the most tender and special experience ever!  Rob and Hillary McLachlan and their 5 children were sealed together for time and all eternity in the Calgary Temple.  I can't even describe to you the beautiful sight to see Rob and Hillary first kneel at the altar to be sealed, and then to have their 4 daughters and little son also kneel at the altar, all dressed in white, and hear that beautiful sealing ordinance performed.  It was an incredible experience to have witnessed their baptism last year, and then to see them in the temple this year.  That is what this whole missionary work is about!! And then the other great thing was that 3 of our past assistants who have returned home, all drove up together to be part of it, since they were all part of their conversion we got to see them for a visit on Friday evening.  It was great to see these past wonderful missionaries of ours.
Youth from the Valley View ward that came to the mission home last Sunday-along with our two  sisters-Sister Boylan  & Grange- (on the right)

Calgary North Zone Training Meeting

Foothills Zone Training Meeting

Getting ready to pass white elephants!

Showing off white elephants!

Even our Senior couples got in on the white elephants!

More white elephants!

Calgary West, North and Confederation Park Zones

Sisters Moss and Sims and Me!

Sisters first in the lunch line!

4 More zones getting ready to pass white elephants

Showing off the goods!

Foothills, Bow River, Fish Creek and Calgary Zones

Past assistants, Colton Christensen, Logan Roberts, Nate Warenski came to visit us!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Special Training, Mission Tour, FREEZING cold!

The past almost two weeks have been so crazily busy that I haven't had time to write.  They have been filled with great things, though.
First off, we were surprised by an invitation we received to attend a special training/video taping for Mission Presidents and Wives in Salt Lake City on Nov. 29.  So, that meant we got to fly down on Monday the 28th, and see our kids!!!!!  It was so fun to see each one--Mike and Leslie (& little Beck) picked us up at the airport and from there we drove to the Memory Care Center where Mom Miles is living.  It was so fun to go see her and hug her.  Of course she doesn't understand that we've been gone, or what we are doing, but it was so special (especially for Steve) to hug his Mom and chat with her for a bit.  Dick and Brenda also came to see us with Mom, and that was really fun.
After we saw Mom we drove to our home and all of the kids came over--of course the day we arrived was the worst snowstorm they had had in awhile!  So it took Katy and her boys, and the Krauss family a long time to get there.  I can't even tell you how fun it was to hug our little grandsons (and our kids!)  Unfortunately, Les wasn't feeling very well at all, and we were even a little worried she might have meningitis.  So, she stayed back at her home-we kept Beck with us until Jord came to pick him up and go be with Les and give her a blessing.  Jordan also picked up my Mom and brought her up to join the party.  It was so great to see her and hug her!  It was so fun to be together and have dinner together and then just chat and hang out!  I was just sick that Les couldn't be there.  Steve went in with Jordan to give her a blessing.  She continued to get a little worse, and she kept in touch with her doctor to see if she should be going to the hospital.  Finally by morning she was doing quite a bit better.  All of the other kids slept over at our home--the little boys had a big sleepover downstairs in the basement, which they thought was a blast.  The next morning the kids fixed 'Big Steve's', which are Steve's version of a breakfast sandwich--toasted English muffin, fried egg, ham, and cheese!  They were making the most of us being together, that's for sure.  Then everyone had to get on their way to work and other things, so we hugged all the little boys good-bye.  The adult kids were all getting together for dinner that night for their 'sibling dinner', so it worked out so perfect, that we could just join them after our training, before heading to the airport.
Now, about our training!  It was done by Elder Bednar, Elder Andersen, and Elder Oaks--three of our apostles, and then Elder Brent Nielsen, the executive director of the missionary committee, and brother Steve Allen, who is managing director of the missionary committee.  There were 7 other couples besides us.  I had to pinch myself that I was in a room with 3 apostles, shaking their hands, and sitting at their feet, learning from them.  It was quite an experience!  We had been given materials to study and prepare with, to be able to discuss.  I was kind of nervous beforehand, but I had a prayer in my heart to not be nervous and to try to glean all I could so I could be better prepared to help our missionaries.  It was such a wonderful experience.  We felt very blessed to be able to attend in person!  They re-emphasized 'teaching repentance and baptizing converts' that they had trained us on last year.  It was videotaped, and then it will go out to all the  mission presidents and their wives that are serving at the end of this  month, to view and learn from.  One thing that is changing for 2017 that will really impact us is we are going to be conducting interviews and zone conferences EVERY transfer--not just quarterly.  So, that means we will be twice as busy, haha!  It's hard to imagine how we can be busier, but it will all work out.  We sat down to schedule out our next few months, and every single day is booked, with the exception of a few days before the transfer.  It is going to take some creative scheduling, but we will figure it out!
After our training, we left the Conference center and walked down to Crown Burger and ate dinner with the kids.  It was just so dang fun to be with all of our children!  Then Mike and Jillian drove us to the airport to catch our plane.  We got home Tuesday night about midnight.
Then we had a couple of days to catch up, then we drove to Taber to participate in their stake conference.  Taber is about 30 minutes east of Lethbridge, and it is the first time we have been able to attend their stake conference, so we were really happy about it.  President and Sister Baldry invited us to stay in their home--and they have a beautiful new home.  We felt like we were in a  star hotel!  They had put chocolates by our bed, and President Baldry had folded a towel into what was supposed to be a swan--but he left us a note saying it looked more like a goose that had been hit by a car!  They are so gracious--and such great people.  We love the Stake Presidents we are able to become friends with and work with.  I mentioned in my remarks in the stake conference that my dad had come goose hunting in Taber years ago, and afterwards I had lots of goose hunters, and farmers that owned land coming up to visit with me!  It was pretty funny!
After the conference we had a wonderful lunch at the Baldry's (Teresa is a fabulous cook), and then we headed to Lethbridge to meet Elder Weatherford T. Clayton, and his wife Lisa who were coming to tour our mission.  We had dinner at President and Sister Gedlaman's home (Steve's first counselor), and then we went back to the hotel to plan our zone conferences and MLC with the Claytons. They were a true delight.  He had been serving as the mission president of the Canada Toronto mission when he was called to be a General Authority.  So, he only served two years as mission president.  I can't even imagine that happening!  But, because of that, it was so great to have them with us, because they had so recently done exactly what we are doing.  They were so filled with insights and great counsel.  We held two zone conferences with them in Lethbridge on Monday, then we drove to Calgary Monday evening (stopping at Roy's in Claresholm to eat, and we finally had one of their famous HUGE cinnamon rolls-split between all 4 of us!--so delicious!).  We got to Calgary about 9:30 or so, and all went to bed so we could meet about 7:00 the next morning to finish our planning.  We then had a wonderful MLC from 9-12, followed by another zone conference from 1-5.  Then we grabbed a very quick bite of dinner, and Steve and Elder Clayton went out teaching with missionaries, and Sister Clayton and I stayed back to help a sister missionary with some struggles.
Then, we had our final zone conference with them on Wednesday morning from 8-12, and then we drove them out to the airport to catch their plane.  It was such a delight to have them with us.  We focused in our zone conferences on our teaching skills--we role-played teaching the Plan of Salvation in 8 minutes, so we could learn to teach more succinctly.  It was great.  We also spoke about the importance of the sacrament, the Book of Mormon, staying obedient, and helping members use social media to spread the gospel.  It was just a great conference. We were tired at the end--it has been a real whirlwind!
AND, we are having the coldest weather in 1000 days they say!  And let me tell you--it is freezing!
The record low we have seen, as we were driving down to Hillspring on Wednesday to take a sister missionary down there, was -26 Celsius!  That is about -14 Fahrenheit.  As much as I hate wearing tights--I am wearing them!
Steve with Beck in SLC!

Seeing Mom Miles in SLC

Teaching in Taber with Sisters Halliday and Poll

Note on our bed from President Baldry

My new friend Amy Baldry (who has special needs).  We hit it off!

Sisters Taylor and King- our STL's in Taber

Sisters Taylor & King with Steve

Took this picture in the car while we were driving-thinking it was our new record low, but then it went to -26!

Elder Clayton doing a selfie with us before we left for Zone Conference!