Thursday, March 31, 2016

Thursday, March 31, 2016 – Denver to Topeka KS

Today’s travel for Elder & Sis. Johnson was not nearly as stressful as yesterday. We drove 540 miles over flat prairie from Denver to Topeka Kansas.  Tomorrow we have the last leg to drive, 350 miles to Nauvoo Illinois and our mission assignment. We can’t wait.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wednesday, March 30, 2016 - First day on the road to Nauvoo, Snow, and Miracle on Vail Pass
This morning at 9:00am Sis. Johnson and I were on the road to Nauvoo but not without a lot of hesitation, planning and prayer. The original plan was for all 19 of the Senior Missionaries to drive north to the I-80 and take it all the way through Wyoming, Nebraska and Iowa to the Mississippi River, then drop south to Nauvoo.  But. . . . a large winter storm was threatening to close the roads across Wyoming so our departure would need to be delayed a day or two.

After further study of the storm track we decided that the storm was going to stay north and a new  southern route, I-70 across Utah and Colorado to Denver, was a better choice. So instead of waiting two or three days for the I-80 to reopen, we all went south and headed toward Denver.
Our trip through the Rockies was uneventful until Sis. Johnson and I got within 8 miles of the Vail Summit at 10,600 ft. It had been snowing for a couple of hours by then and there were about 2 inches of hard packed snow on the road. The snow on the road posed no problem but then, for an unknown reason, all of the traffic slowed and then stopped.

Our Ford Focus and trailer had done great up to that point but as we slowed down the car began to lose traction. The anti-skid traction program in the transmission kicked in and the vehicle began to stutter, shudder and sputter!  Several times we were reduced to going only one mile per hour. We still had 4 miles before we reached the Vail Summit and it looked like we were stuck in the snow for good in near “White Out” conditions.
That’s when Sis. Johnson texted here whole family, “Need Prayers Now”! After another 15 minutes of trying to coax the car to role forward we had only traveled a few hundred feet. Finally we came to a complete stop, it was steep uphill and the car would move no further. To make things worse in the past 30 minutes we hadn’t seen a single car on the road with us. We were stuck with no help and no prospect of rescue. Sister Johnson laid her head on the dash and said her own personal prayer for help.

When she looked up, a tow truck pulled up in front of us, in answer to all of the prayers, Sister Johnson’s and all of her family back home. The tow truck driver walked up and asked, need a tow to the top of the pass? Then another man walked up to Sis. Johnson’s window and asked, Can I help?  It was Elder Stoker, one of the seniors on his way to Nauvoo too. He happened to see us on the side of the road and pulled over to help.  It was a miracle, literally a miracle in answer to dozens of prayers by us and our family.
By the end of the day we had been rescued, the car worked perfectly, we drove over two more snow packed summits without a problem, and we were in Golden Colorado in a nice warm hotel room for the night. What wonderful miracles! Our Heavenly Father does hear and answer our prayers.
Other noteworthy events and “Tender Mercies” today included: Our delay on top of Vail Summit meant that we were about an hour late getting to the bottom of the mountain.  When we finally did get near the bottom all traffic was detoured off of I-70 to bypass a huge multiple car pileup on the freeway. That huge traffic accident happened at about the same time we and the Stokers would have been driving through that area. We both could have been involved in the terrible accident. My car troubles may very well have been the Lord saying, “Go a little slower, it's better if you get there a little later”!

(Sister Rusty Miller’s comments about her experience over the Vail Summit:  Tender mercies were all around us Wednesday night. As I approached the top of Vail Pass, the altitude wreaked havoc with my ear, threatening to rupture my fragile right ear drum. We were crawling slowly over the top. Each exit after the summit looked more dangerously slick with ice than the ne before. So we headed slowly down the pass. I thought we were the last in the group. But we were hardly over the summit when two other people texted that they were stuck in Vail due to closure. We carefully made our way down to the first well cleared exit in Georgetown. The slow but steady descent was a Godsend for my poor ear. We found nearly the last room in a hotel and I was able to sleep painfree. I felt bad for those held back and yet rejoiced that I wasnt spending my night in an emergency room. This morning a gas station attendant told us that there was a multiple car accident at the Vail Summit just before the road was closed and I am surely grateful none of us were involved.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tuesday, March 29, 2016 – Last day of classes at the MTC 

Today was our last day of classes at the MTC. We’ve had a wonderful experience the past 9 days learning how to do our job and be good servants of the Lord.  

Tonight we got to attend another MTC Devotional. They are great. Tonight’s speaker was Elder Terence M. Vinson of the 70 and his wife Kay Vinson. Of course they spoke on missionary work. Elder Vinson also talked of his conversion and baptism after he got married.  They were both inspiring and very good talks.
Tomorrow we were supposed to leave for Nauvoo Illinois but our departure date is in question. Evidently there is a large storm predicted all day tomorrow. Both interstate highways, I-80 though Wyoming and I-70 through Colorado will be hit hard.

(Text message I sent to Elder and Sister Pursel. They left the MTC early today to pack and get a jump on the storm. Here is what I wrote in the text: Elder Pursel, in this afternoon’s class a brother from the MTC office said they have been in contact with SLC and Nauvoo and all of us do not have to be to Nauvoo by Friday.  They said “don’t worry about it”.  Be safe; don’t leave until Thursday if you are uncomfortable with the forecast. See you in Nauvoo, be safe, Elder Johnson. 

Elder Pursel’s reply at 8:30pm: So nice of you to let us know.  Thank you. We are just leaving Green River UT. on US70 [he meant I-70].  The roads have been ok with some flurries.  We will stay the night in Grand Junction.  Praying for all of you.)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday, March 28, 2016 – Salt Lake City Visitor’s Center 

This morning we drove up to the SLC Visitor’s Center. We met there with all of the other couples and single sisters that are assigned to Visitor’s Centers all around the world. There were about 45 to 50 of us. We got to watch the Salt Lake Visitor’s Center missionaries as they did their job. We broke into small groups of 10 and they gave us the tour just like they would any other guests. 

Sis. Johnson really enjoyed the conversion stories of the Sister Missionary from Mongolia. She was 14 when her parents got divorced. She said she was looking for stability in her youth. She found the church and really liked Mutual. In order to attend and be baptized she had to get her father's permission. She was very happy he said yes.
Sis. Johnson really enjoyed the conversion stories of the Sister Missionary from Mongolia. She was 14 when her parents got divorced. She said she was looking for stability in her youth. She found the church and really liked Mutual. In order to attend and be baptized she had to get her father's permission. She was very happy he said yes.
The Sister Missionaries also gave us a tour of their Mission Office and the phone center. I was fascinated to learn that there are about 180 Sister Missionaries on Temple Square and they come from countries all over the globe. The Temple Square missionaries have multiple missionaries that speak every language on the planet where the church has full time missionaries.

They have a room called the “Teaching Center” full of dozens of phone & computer stations where the sisters answer calls from all over the world 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They also log onto LDS chat rooms on the internet and link up with people that are interested in learning about the gospel. They take referrals and pass them along to missionaries where ever the person is in the world. But, until the local missionaries find the person, the sister teaches them lessons on the phone or through the chat room. Then, even after the local missionaries take over the lessons, the “Teaching Center” sister keeps in touch with the investigator clear through to their baptism. I was very impressed with these sisters from all over the world.

Another fascinating thing about these wonderful Sister Missionaries is that they all are bilingual. Every one of them speaks very good English in addition to their native language. I talked to several of them and asked if they had lived in the US to learn such good English. None of them had, they all said that before their missions they only knew the English they were taught in school, the rest they learned since they arrived in SLC.  Wow, they are good.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sunday, March 27, 2016 – Easter Sunday at the MTC

This morning we attended a devotional that was simultaneously broadcast to all of the other MTC's around the world. Our only speaker for the hour was Apostle M. Russell Ballard. It was a great devotional; Elder Ballard is truly is an amazing man. His entire talk bore testimony of Easter and of the Savior. He is an amazing personal witness of the Lord Jesus Christ. My reaction to the entire experience was one of awe, how sweet it was to be literally seated at the feet of an Apostle of the Lord.
We were also spiritually uplifted by the music of the devotional. There is nothing better than a choir made up of 500 plus Elders and Sisters. Then we had a soloist sing “Behold the Lilies of the Field”. This young Elder (Elder Lunt from Gilbert, Arizona) had the voice of a seasoned recording artist. Along with his accompaniment of a violinist and pianist. I still get goose bumps thinking about the music at the devotional.

During Elder Ballard’s talk he referenced an article by a Professor of Theology Stephen H. Webb. It was titled “Mormonism Obsessed with Christ”. I was fascinated to hear Elder Ballard quote from the article and then to realize the author was not LDS. Wow!

February 2012
Stephen H. Webb (March 13, 1961 – March 5, 2016)

“I came to realize just how deeply Christ-centered Mormonism is.”
Mocking Mormonism is one of the last frontiers of verbal lawlessness to be untouched by the vigilante powers of political correctness.

I too used to think of Mormonism as little more than an exotic and abnormal addition to Christianity. When I taught Mormon history to my students, I emphasized its remarkable spirit of endurance, its organizational savvy, and the sheer scope of its religious imagination. Yet I regret to say that I did not try to hide my condescension.

I have come to repent of this view, and not just because I came to my senses about how wrong it is to be rude toward somebody else’s faith. I changed my mind because I came to realize just how deeply Christ-centered Mormonism is. Mormonism is more than Christianity, of course—most obviously by adding the Book of Mormon to the Bible—and that makes it much less than Christianity as well. Nevertheless, the fact that Mormonism adds to the traditional Christian story does not necessarily mean that it detracts from Christianity to the point of denying it altogether.
After all, what gives Christianity its identity is its commitment to the divinity of Jesus Christ. And on that ground Mormons are more Christian than many mainstream Christians who do not take seriously the astounding claim that Jesus is the Son of God
Mormonism is obsessed with Christ, and everything that it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and expand faith in him. It adds to the plural but coherent portrait of Jesus that emerges from the four gospels in a way, I am convinced, that does not significantly damage or deface that portrait.
I came to this conclusion when I read through the Book of Mormon for the first time. I already knew the basic outline: that it recounts the journey of a people God led from Jerusalem to the Americas six hundred years before the birth of Christ. In America, they split into two groups, the good guys (the Nephites) and the bad guys (the Lamanites), who battled each other until there were no good guys left—except for Moroni (Mormon’s son), who buried the chronicles of their wars and then, in 1823, told a farm boy from upstate New York where to find them. . . . 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday, March 26, 2016 – Our Sixth Day at the MTC, Pam is Better

Pam is feeling better this morning however after she takes her medicine she gets an upset stomach, compounding her suffering. However she was up to getting out of our room today so we did some shopping and other errands. After buying some more era accurate clothes/costumes for Nauvoo at Deseret Book store we headed to downtown Provo.

While we were downtown we stopped by the newly completed/dedicated Provo City Center Temple. We parked and walked around the grounds. It is a beautiful/magnificent temple. Next Tuesday afternoon, if time allows, we hope to attend an endowment session.

 It’s a small world. This afternoon we got our hair cut at the MTC barber shop. My barber was Jay Cordon from Mesa AZ. He used to work for my old barber, Tom Bennett in Mesa in 1989-90. We had a great time visiting and he did a very good job.  (He made a silk purse out of a sow’s ear!)

Friday, March 25, 2016

Friday, March 25, 2016 – Our Fifth Day at the MTC, Pam is sick

This morning Pam woke up with a back cold. She felt miserable and took medication for her headache, cough and sore throat and went to our first class. After our class we took some group pictures but Pam was done for the day. She went back to our room, developed a fever and went to bed for the rest of the day. 

Today is our last day of “Preach My Gospel” classes. The classes have been great all week and our instructors are phenomenal. We couldn’t have asked for better teachers. Each day all week they brought the Spirit of the Lord to our class rooms, they had enthusiasm for every concept in the book they taught yet they were humble and let the spirit teach through them. Well done!

Next Monday we start two days of intensive “Visitor Center” training.  Then, next Wednesday, we will start our 1200 mile cross country drive to Nauvoo, Illinois. We are looking forward to it.

This evening in the cafeteria the line servers were handing out slices of sausage & pepperoni pizza, Yum! Of course there were several other dinner options but the line of Elders and Sister Missionaries for pizza was all the way back to the door of the cafeteria. I also noticed that for a time there were pieces of pumpkin pie but by the time I got there they had been replaced with something else. But. . . I wanted pumpkin pie so after I got my slices of pizza I went around to the side and asked the line worker if there was any pumpkin pie left, he said yes and got me a slice. That’s when I noticed the pizza boxes. There weren’t a few, it looked like there were hundreds. I asked the line worker, does that box say “Papa John’s Pizza”? She said, with a big smile, we got tired of cooking so we ordered out tonight!

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016 – Fourth Day at the MTC, Teaching Experience with Actors

For the past two days we’ve had a “Teaching experience with an actor” playing the part of a non-member investigator. This morning the part was played by a gentleman named Ray Andrus. I described him as a “tough nut to crack” as he played the part perfectly. We spent almost an hour with him and he did a great job helping Sis. Johnson and I rediscover our hidden and almost forgotten teaching talents.

After we were “off the clock” with Bro. Andrus we discovered that two years ago he and his wife served an 18 month mission to the Mesa, AZ Visitors Center.  Then he asked us where we were called to serve and when we told him Nauvoo, Illinois he had a surprise for us. As a young man in 1956 he served part of his mission in Nauvoo too! 

Bro. Andrus told us he and his companion were assigned for a time to search out historic sites around the old township of Nauvoo. He explained that this was in a time before any restoration of any sites had been started. He and his companion were some of the very first to undertake the task of identifying the old structures, foundations and pioneer cemetery, etc. He said the whole area was a thicket of weeds and undergrowth.   We were particularly interested in his description of the old house he and his companion lived in while they were there. He said it was a small stone building sitting right on the site of the original Nauvoo Temple. And, it was constructed of the original limestone block used in the Temple!

It was a pleasure to spend some time talking to Bro. Andrus. In the 60 years since his mission he married and is the father of 10 children. He has been a professor of Business Marketing at the Univ. of Utah and recently retired as the Associate Dean of the School of Management at BYC. He and his wife also spent two years in China teaching English. What a great man and great example.

Today we also got to spend some time with other Senior Missionaries. We got to take turns learning about them and they about us. Then we practiced our teaching skills on each other. The idea is that as we learn more about the people we are teaching we can better prepare the lesson materials and plan a custom outline for their specific needs. As a side benefit this is a wonderful way to learn about the back ground and pre-mission lives of our co-Senior Missionaries her at the MTC.
The couple we got to learn about and teach was Bro. & Sis. Faapuna. They are a wonderful couple and have been called to Brisbane, Australia as member support and leadership missionaries. The Faapuna’s are Samoans but lived in Hawaii most of their lives. They have 3 children of their own and 2 adopted daughters. Bro. Faapuna served in the US Army for 20 years.  Their 40 hour journey to Australia with 3 layovers starts next Monday.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Wednesday, March 23, 2016 – Third Day at the MTC, Sis. Nichelle Yazzie

This afternoon our group training class instructor, Sis. Nichelle Yazzie gave a wonderful lesson on the power of the Savior to change our hearts and be converted. She told the powerful conversion story of her great grandfather on the reservation in northern Arizona. Wonderful stories like this one, touches our souls and testifies of the divinity of Jesus Christ as our Savior. The MTC is wonderful, today’s classes were great.
(FACEBOOK: For those of you who know our friends, Al & Julia Poole, Sister Yazzie is AL Poole’s great niece and that makes Amy Faatoafe’s her second cousin. Small world!)

In our group training class our instructor, Sis. Nichelle Yazzie, said she and her brother are both instructors and that they are from Gilbert AZ. This peaked my attention.  Independently, Sis. Johnson and I both made mental notes as Sis Yazzie continued to explain that she and her brother are half Navajo and half Hopi, two tribes that don’t get along well together.  This revelation continued to peak my attention. The last time I heard someone say this was over 20 years ago. Our good friend from the Alma 3rd Ward, Al Poole (half Navajo & Hopi) had told me the same thing.

After Sis. Nichelle Yazzie finished her class instruction, Sis. Johnson went up to talk to Sis. Nichelle Yazzie to see if there was any relationship between her family and Al & Julia Poole’s family. Yes indeed. Al Poole’s sister is Nichelle Yazzie’s Grandmother. That makes Sis. Nichelle Yazzie Al Poole’s great niece.

In addition, Al & Julia Poole’s daughter, Amy, is married to Justin Faatoafe and they were our close friends in the Hillside Ward, Lehi Stake. That makes Sis. Nichelle Yazzie second cousin to Amy Faatoafe. Small world!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016 – Our 2nd Day in the MTC

Today we woke up to an overcast sky with occasional showers that turned to snow flurries once and a while.  It was very cold, I loved it.

Today, as yesterday, we spent our time in class being taught more “Preach My Gospel” skills. Our class is made up of only four couples. They are: Elder & Sis. Schkrohowski from Boisie Idaho. They will be serving in Kirtland Ohio at the church history site there. Elder & Sis. Thurston are from Tooele, (Pronounced, Tuilla), Utah. They will be serving as the directors of the Welfare Services for the church in Cambodia.  Elder & Sis. Jones are from Henderson, NV. They have been called to be Humanitarian Missionaries in Beirut Lebanon.

A funny part of our training was a short video clip of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland teaching us how to stay focused and brief without droning on and on to the point of being boring. He said, “Don’t get carried away in your teaching and start talking about the body temperature of translated beings!”  I thought it was very funny.

Every week there is a Tuesday night devotional for all of the missionaries. No one knows who the guest speaker is in advance. In fact the speaker is never announced until the devotional starts. However, Brother Taylor, the MTC Senior Missionary Coordinator, told us yesterday, “I know who the speaker is!”  . . . . He paused for several seconds to let us all build up our anticipation. . . . Then he said, “The speaker will be a member of the Quorum of the 12 or a member of the 70! Ya, he got us.

Tonight’s Devotional speaker was Elder Gerritt W. Gong and his wife Susan. He has been a member of Seventy since 2010. In October 2015 he was called to be in the Presidency of the Seventy. His talk was very appropriate for the missionaries in the MTC, he spoke on how to teach repentance from the “Preach My Gospel” manual.  He did a very good job.
Elder Gong’s wife Susan also gave a very good talk. She told the story of a branch in the capital of Laos, Luang Prabang. She said that the branch president loads all of the members into a van, 15 to 20 people and drives from the outskirts of the town to their rented building for Sunday services. Government officials became suspicious of this happening every Sunday and on one particular morning, pulled them over, separated all of the passengers, roughed them up and interrogated them all. They asked the branch president, where are you going? To church. Is it a Christian church? Yes. Are there foreigners there? Yes. What do you get from them? Nothing. Do they give you money? No. Do they give you rice? No.  Why do you go? Because we love the Lord and we want to keep his commandments.

They interrogated every passenger separately; when they got to the Branch President’s wife they asked her the same question. She (as well as all of the members of the branch) gave the same answers to all of the questions. That is until the question: what do you get from them? The branch president’s wife answered, I got a good man for a husband! He doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink, he loves me, and he loves his children. He comes straight home from work every day to be with his family. That’s what I get from going to church every Sunday! Yes, good answer.
Monday, March 21, 2016 – Day 1 at the Mission Training Center

The big day has arrived. With a lot of anticipation and a little nervousness we arrived at the MTC, Provo Utah at the appointed time, 10:20am.

Our nervousness was not justified as all went smoothly from our unpacking, hauling to our room, lunch, meetings, training, dinner and more training. We’ve been assigned to a district and we’ve already made lots of new friends.  In this 10 day training session there are 7 senior couples and 4 single sister missionaries that are all going to Nauvoo, Illinois just like Sister Johnson and I.

At dinner we happened to be seated by a young Elder from Cuba.  That’s right, CUBA. Since the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the Communist island nation, a young missionary has been called from Cuba to serve in Salt Lake City for two years. He speaks very little English, so I asked him how many missionaries there are from Cuba, he held up one finger and said, uno!

Miracles do happen in our day! Wow, I thought I would never see the day when young Elders would be allowed to leave Cuba on a proselyting visa to the USA.  I recall 6 years ago while serving in the Dominican Republic the church offices in Santo Domingo were sending emissaries to Cuba to conduct negotiations to give the church “Official Standing” in Cuba.  I have not heard much on the subject since but it appears that the Lord has softened the hearts of the leaders of both nations. Maybe someday soon we will be allowed to send missionaries to Cuba for the first time in over 60 years. Won’t that be a miracle!

This evening we had a very special spiritual feast.  All of the senior missionaries (there are over 50 couple that arrived with us today) watched a talk given by Elder David A Bednar on Christmas Day 2011 right here in the MTC.  His subject was on how each of us must have more than a testimony, we must be converted, then we must be more than converted, we must have the countenance of the Savior within us.  His talk was sooo powerful, the stories he told were sooo moving and the special witness of Jesus Christ he bore was sooo profound, it was an amazing talk. I love the MTC!