Well, we have technically been on our mission for nearly 3 weeks now. We entered the MTC on Oct. 29, 2012 where we spent a week involved in a crash course to teach us how to be missionaries. Since neither of us have ever been a missionary before it was a little intimidating at first but within a day or two we decided that maybe we could actually do it.
Our MTC experience was very good. I heard once that there were about 45 couples in our class. We were divided up into districts, each district consisting of 4 couples. Our district leader was a Bro. Williams and his wife from Washington state. He is an attorney, fairly young, probably in his 50's and his wife is a bit younger than that. They are going to Colorado Springs on a Spanish speaking mission. Another couple, the Johnson's are from Elk Ridge in the south end of Utah county. They are both educators and are going to Tahiti to help teachers in the church education system in that area become certified as teachers. The Claytons are from one of my old hometowns, Idaho Falls Idaho. They are a bit younger than we are and I never knew them while I lived there. They are going to San Jose where he will be in charge of all of the missionaries vehicles and cell phones and she will be working in the office. They are going to live in their trailer while on their mission.
Both of our instructors are returned missionaries. Neither of us can remember the Elder's name but he was a BYU student and did a good job of teaching us and preparing us for the teaching role play exercises that we had to do on days 3 & 4. Our other teacher was another returned missionary/BYU student, a sister Thomas. She also did a great job and was so cute we tried to get Sam to call her and set up a time to get acquainted but it seems Sam wants to do his own thing. Too bad, she seems like a great young woman.
We also did a lot of role playing on each other and couple on couple. We enjoyed watching all the new missionaries come in on Wednesday. There were 280 of them. The sister in charge said they are getting 660 the Wednesday before Thanksgiving which is in just 3 days now. Our mission has 12 missionaries going home this week and 20 more coming. We are also going to be increasing the number of sister missionaries the early part of next near from the current 10-12 to 124 because of the change in age eligibility announced last conference. There will be nearly as many sister as Elders in our mission then.
Overall our MTC experience was great. We stayed at home at night and drove there every morning by 8 for class. It was exciting to get to know people going to places all around the world to spread the gospel and do all kinds of good works for people in every circumstance. To be a part of that great effort is humbling and exciting at the same time.
On Saturday, we packed our car and got the house ready to leave after our week at the MTC and started driving the following Monday morning, Nov. 6, 2012. We went as far as Denver the first day and stayed with Jalene and Tim. We got to stay in their recently completed downstairs suite. Jalene fixed us some great food so we ate, slept and visited and left early the next morning. We drove another 500+ miles to Wichita, Kansas the next day. Then another 500 + to just past Memphis, Tennessee on Wednesday. Thursday we drove another 500+ miles to Tallahassee but it also included a side trip to Panama City, Florida on the gulf coast. It was only another 40 miles each way and we had never been to the gulf, so we decided to go. The last day, November 9th, we only had about 160 miles to go to the mission office. We got there around 11:00 am.
We met President Barry and his wife plus the mission office couples, got the keys to our apartment and a bunch of supplies they had for us and we started out to see where we would be living for the next year or so. We had originally been scheduled to be living in Hilliard, Florida, but they were unable to find us an apartment there so we ended up in Callahan. Callahan is close to Jacksonville and about 35 miles from the mission office. Our apartment was very nicely furnished by the Priests, one of the mission couples. It is in a group of three duplexes situated behind the McDonalds in the middle of town. The trains lull us to sleep each night. Our apartment has a living room/kitchen, 2nd bedroom or office and bath/utility room on the first floor and a bedroom and bath on the 2nd floor. Gratefully there is a brand new washer and dryer.
Hilliard is another 12 miles north and is a smaller town so we are glad for the change. The church is located north east of town in Hilliard and is about in the middle of the Branch. The Hilliard Branch is geographically very large. I think it is about 60 miles from the North end of the branch to the South end and probably over 30 miles side to side. We haven't been able to count them all yet but there appear to be over 400 names on the Branch list but there are only 60-70 at church each week. There were 62 people in sacrament meeting today. As in many small ward/branches there are several core families that are the most active/committed/faithful people that hold everything together. It is the same way in Sunvalley.
Branch Pres. Scherck is a highly motivated man in his 50's with young twin daughters. He is going to school on line and about to complete his bachelors degree. He works as a mentor/teacher for an autistic child and his wife is a school teacher. He was an executive with the Boy Scouts of America and has had a couple of other businesses before deciding to get into psychology. His goal is to make this branch a ward. It has been a branch for a very long time. I talked to a brother at church today who was baptized into the branch 31 years ago so there is a long history of "branchhood" here. Maybe we can change that.
We had a potluck dinner after the block today. We folded up some of the the chairs in the chapel, brought in some tables, set up a food line and ate dinner. The chapel is also the cultural hall. It is a nice little bldg. that is fairly new. It serves the needs of the Branch quite well. It is built so that if we become a ward and have a lot more members a new chapel can be built on one end and the current chapel/cultural hall will then be only a cultural hall. It has a kitchen, Branch Pres. office, clerks office, relief society room, classrooms and a font.
There are many, many names on the list that no one has been able to contact in years. People come here to disappear and they do a good job of doing just that. There are miles and miles of forests, wetlands and dirt roads that are not listed or that can't be found by our GPS. There are also a number of people that converted years ago and have since decided that they don't want to be in the church anymore. We found a couple of women on Saturday who said they had told others not to come anymore and while they weren't necessarily angry, they made it plain that they didn't want to see anyone from the church again. One of our main goals is to find out who is here and who is not and who we can contact and who doesn't want anything to do with the church at least for now. If we can get the records straightened out we will at least know what we are dealing with.
We were surprised to learn that senior missionaries are really given little or no direction as to what they are supposed to do. Pres. Barry told us to talk to our Branch Pres. and do what we could to help him. Sharyn made a good point, i.e. regular missionaries all have a senior companion whose job it is to train them and bring them up to speed. Not the case with Seniors. It appears they think we have all this experience and we will figure it out. I guess we will but it has been a bit frustrating. We don't want to step on toes and make people think that we feel they haven't been doing a good job and we don't want them to think that we are taking over. We want to work with them, get their ideas, learn the background and history of people we need to work with so we can help them better without offending them in any way so we have been talking to people, trying to get home teaching lists etc. and learn what we can about the people and the culture of the Branch. It is a bit different here but not unlike a lot of other small communities where people have been born and raised and are pretty set in their ways. But we already know that there are some humble, knowledgeable, good people here and we look forward to getting to know them better.
This is a picture of our first district. The elders on the left are assigned to our branch. The shorter one is the district leader, Elder Lyman. He is from Texas and is going home on Tuesday. He is the District Leader and very knowledgable about the branch.
We have a busy week this week. Tomorrow we will drive two Elders who are going home down to Jacksonville. Tuesday evening we are going home teaching to 3-4 families with Bro. Chapman who is a nearly 80 year old convert who is doing all he can to help the people here. He is a prior Branch President. He home teaches 25 families just because he likes to and wants to know that it is being done. He calls them his motly crew. He is raising one of his grandsons who is the only Aaronic Priesthood kid that ever comes to church. He is the High Priest group leader and he is the one that takes charge of most of the service projects in the Branch. What a guy.
Wednesday we have to go to Jacksonville again and pickup a new Elder who will be serving in our area. We will be attending the Transfer Meeting and be introduced as new Senior Missionaries. Thursday is Thanksgiving and we have asked if there is someone we can have over for dinner. If not we have been invited to go up to Folkston with the Jones family. Bro. Jones is blind but a very sweet man who is great to talk to. Friday we are invited to a 4th Friday cottage meeting with a group of people from the ward. We also need to get out and visit some more members to see if they too don't want us coming around anymore. Bottom line is that next week we will have more to do and that is good.