Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Homecoming

The day finally arrived.  The day that we thought, two years ago, would never come.  The day that our son, Elder Alex Nicholes, arrived home safe and sound from serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Independence, Missouri mission.  As you can imagine this was a wonderful day for us and as we could have never imagined, his release as a missionary was almost as hard as the day we dropped him off at the MTC.  That statement may sound a little strange, but if you have ever sent a missionary out for two years and had the experience of welcoming your missionary home again, you know what I am talking about.  I will attempt to explain what I mean as I describe what happened in our lives over the next 36 hours or so after Alex arrived home.

This blog entry will be very different than the entries that I have previously written. Over the last two years I have been writing all about Alex from his perspective through the stories that he sent home as part of in his weekly letters.  This blog entry will be written completely from our perspective as the parents of a missionary who has returned home safely and honorably from a two year mission.  So let's get started!

Alex's flight was scheduled to arrive at the airport at 7:15 pm Friday night.  We of course, had already notified family and friends that if they would like to meet Alex at the airport, they were perfectly welcome to come and share in the excitement that we have been anticipating for the last two years.  Since we have known for several weeks what time his flight was scheduled to arrive, we made sure to give ourselves plenty of time to travel from our home to the airport.  We also wanted to give ourselves a little bit of extra time at the airport to settle in and get ready for the big moment.  Just our luck, right off the bat as we entered the freeway, we ran into the typical Friday evening rush hour traffic.  The traffic report on the radio was warning the evening drivers that this jam was serious and to be prepared to wait.  When we were planning our trip to the airport earlier in the day, a traffic jam was not what we had anticipated.  Luckily our freeway entrance was closer to the end of the jam rather than the beginning.  Some of our friends who were also planning to join us at the airport, weren't so lucky however.  Well we arrived at the airport, settled in like we planned and immediately noticed that there were several other families doing the same thing.  They were holding hand painted posters welcoming their missionary home just like we were.  In fact, there were probably a hundred people standing there at the bottom of the baggage claim escalator waiting in pure excitement. Alex wasn't the only one coming home from the Missouri mission.  There were several other Elders and one Sister missionary who were also returning as well.

As the arrival time of his flight came and went, the crowd grew larger as more and more of us were standing there holding our "Welcome Home Elder ..." signs.  We were all staring at the constant steam of people descending the escalator hoping to catch the first glimpse of anybody in a suit sporting a missionary name plaque.  To our surprise, several passengers who had been on the same flight and were already entering the baggage claim area, informed us that there was a group of missionaries standing at the top of the escalator just out of our sight.  While we were all waiting, they were talking and hugging and saying goodbye to their missionary companions whom they had served with for the last two years.  Then finally, as all of us who were standing at the bottom of the escalator, the crowd started to cheer with excitement as these fine missionaries stepped onto the escalator and started to make their way towards us.

There was Alex, standing on the escalator right in the middle of the pack.  You can probably imagine just how excited we all were to finally see our boy... Man, again after two year.  Of course I have to say that at this moment it felt like the last two years had just flown by.  Standing there in the airport watching Alex come down the escalator felt like it was just last week that we dropped him off at the MTC.  He looked great.  His patented "smile" and glow that he always carries with him was there and very familiar.  I don't have to tell you just how great of a sight that was.

At the bottom of the stairs you can just imagine who was there to greet her missionary son first.  If you guessed anybody other than his mother, in the first place you would have been wrong and the second place you would have been crazy to guess anybody else.  You have probably heard the old saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words".  Well, I think the following pictures tell more about the excitement and emotion of the whole experience than I could ever write.

I don't think that I have to tell you just how exciting it was to finally see Alex again and to hug him and talk to him in person.  Especially knowing just how wonderful of a missionary he has been over the last two years and everything that he has accomplished.  Who wouldn't be proud of their son or daughter knowing that they had just spent two years of their life serving their God and as well as their fellow men.

For some reason, our family is always the last to leave any party and this airport homecoming was no different.  Alex had parents, siblings, grandparents, cousins and friends there to greet him.  We all stood there talking and hugging for so long that when we finally looked around, everybody else had already gone.  There were still a few strangers in the baggage claim area waiting for their bags, but the large crowd who had been there just minutes before, had now left.  There were so few people around that we had a hard time trying to find someone who would be willing to take one last picture of our whole welcome home party.  Luckily we were able to recruit a man who had been standing off to the side watching the whole experience.  Then after the final picture we decided that it was probably time for us to leave and head for home.

On our way home we asked Alex where he would like to go to get something to eat.  I know it had been a long day for me and I was hungry.  It had also been a long day for Alex and he was probably hungry as well.  Believe it or not, the place we chose to go after this huge event was... Crown Burger.  If you aren't from the Salt Lake area, Crown Burger is just what you would think, a fast food burger joint.  However, it isn't just any burger joint, Crown Burger was actually featured on the show Man vs. Food if you happen to be familiar with the Travel Channel.  Anyway, enough of plugging the burger joint and on to the story that happened next.  As we pulled into the parking lot, Alex still wearing his missionary suit and tags of course, spotted a woman sitting on the curb talking to a man in a wheel chair.  Alex immediately grabbed his box of church pamphlets, selected two of them and walked up to these people introducing himself as Elder Nicholes from the Church of Jesus Christ.  Alex struck up a conversation with them where he asked who they were and what they were doing.  They noticed the missionary tags and asked Alex about his mission.  It turned out that they were both members of the church and were very excited to hear that Alex had just returned home from his mission.  Alex handed them both the missionary pamphlets anyway and we all wished them a good evening.  This is where I insert an old but very fitting cliche, "you can take the missionary out of the mission, but you can't take the mission out of the missionary".

The rest of the evening went very well.  We enjoyed our meal at Crown Burger where Alex informed us that it was getting late and that he needed to be home and in bed by 10:30 pm.  We finished up dinner, said goodbye to the family and friends who were there with us and headed home.  Once we arrived at home, we unpacked the car, reintroduced Alex to his home and new room just before Alex went to bed.  If you happen to be reading this President, Yes... Alex made it home and in bed on time.  For the rest of you who may think that being in bed on time seems a little silly for a returned missionary, well at this point Alex was still a missionary.  His release from being a full-time missionary wouldn't happen until 9:00 am the next morning.  Since being in bed by 10:30 pm didn't apply to the rest of us, we all stayed up and watched the previously recorded BYU vs. TCU football game.  We won't be going into that, if you know what I mean!     

The next morning, being a Saturday as well as the day after that very emotional day we just experienced, we of course slept in a bit.  That doesn't mean to say that we didn't hear the rustling around of our missionary son who was up on time just like every other day for the past two years.  As it turned out, since his younger brother just became Alex's temporary companion for a few hours, they had both gotten up early, gone down to the track at the high school to workout and were finally back home.  When their mother finally wandered downstairs... well the following photograph tells the whole story.

If you think for a second that this picture was staged, I assure you that it wasn't.  Alex had pulled his new junior companion out of bed, spent time exercising and now they were both fully engaged in companionship study.  Alex still had about an hour left before he would be released from his service as a full-time missionary and he wasn't about to waste any of it.

Speaking of being released, remember at the beginning of this blog I told you that experiencing the release of a missionary son is almost as hard as dropping him off at the MTC.  Well, here comes the experience that took us all by surprise.  One that we will never forget and one that even though it was hard, we wouldn't trade for anything.  Not long after the picture above was taken, we all were up, dressed and out the door to go meet with the Stake President.  As it turned out, our Stake President had a conflict and wasn't actually able to be there to release Alex from his missionary service.  However, the Stake President had delegated this responsibility to his first counselor who is also a very humble and spiritual man.  As we entered the Stake President's office, we all sat down and the first counselor began to speak.  I was focused on what the first counselor was saying and listening very intently to his words.  After he had been speaking for a few minutes, I noticed that his voice began to crack.  That is when, in a tearful tone he said, "don't start this...".  What I thought he meant by saying that was that the spirit was very strong and he was starting to feel very emotional about what was happening.  Then I glanced over at Alex as tears were streaming down his face.  It wasn't the first councilor who was being overcome by this very emotional experience.  It was Alex and his emotional response to being released from his service was affecting not only the first councilor, but the rest of us as well.  I won't go into everything that was said during the meeting but I will relate one more thing that speaks to just how important being a full-time missionary really was for Alex.  Once the first councilor was finished speaking and all was said and done, we all stood up to shake the first councilor's hand and make our way out the door.  All except for Alex.  He was still sitting there in his chair not wanting to leave.  At that moment I could read Alex like a book.  He knew that once he stood up and walked out of that office, his full-time missionary service would be complete.  When he finally did stand up, he quietly unclasped his missionary tags from his suit coat and white shirt, put them into his pocket, shook the first councilor's hand and it was done.  He cried all the way out to the car and most of the way home.  This was a very significant moment for us because the day that we dropped Alex off at the MTC, we all cried in the car all the way home.  Experiencing almost the same emotions the day Alex was released as the day Alex left, was something that we never would have expected.  What a moment!

The rest of the day was wonderful for us.  We spent the whole day in the mountains which was a little different for Alex since he hasn't seen any mountains for the last two years.  We watched family videos, looked at family and mission photos and tried to catch up on as much of all that has happened over the past two year as we could.  Later that night, Alex went to visit some friends and no, this time as a released full-time missionary, he wasn't in bed by 10:30 pm.  But he wasn't too much later than that.

I have said this before on this blog and I will say it again.  To all of you who watched out for our missionary son over the past two years.  To all of you who taught him, mentored him, fed him, housed him, acted as surrogate mother, father, grandmother and grandfather.  To all of his companions, church leaders, mission leaders and presidents and to those of you whom he taught and helped to bring into the gospel of Jesus Christ.  THANK YOU!!!  You will never know how much the Missouri, Independence mission with all of the people there in, mean to us and especially to Alex.  We hope to met you someday and thank you in person as well.

Thank you again and may God bless you!

The Nicholes Family

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Here's your sign

The last couple of weeks for Alex have been unusual.  But then if you consider that there is always something new and different going everyday of your mission, maybe unusual is normal.  Alex only wrote us a quick email a couple of weeks ago due to the fact that he had a busy P-day planned.  He and several other missionaries were headed out on their P-Day to take a tour of the Community of Christ temple and the tunnels that run underneath it.  When the opportunity arose to go on a tour like this, he figured that he should jump on it because he probably wouldn't have another opportunity.  But, in his most recent letter home, he told us that the tour of the tunnels and the temple wasn't as exciting as he thought it would be.  There just wasn't much that was out of the ordinary and the fact that he only wrote a couple of sentences about the whole tour, must mean that there wasn't much to write home about either.

Speaking of temples, Alex told us that this past week he also had the opportunity to work with some of the missionaries in the northern part of Kansas City.  If you weren't aware of this already, that part of Kansas City is where the LDS church is currently in construction of the Kansas City, Mo temple.  The temple is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2012 and will be a very exciting addition for the members of the church in the area.  Alex told us that the temple is one of the smaller versions but where it is positioned, just off of the freeway, it appears suddenly as a seemingly large structure when you round the corner while driving along the freeway.  The temple construction has resulted in a lot of new interest in the church from the people who live in that area.  Alex said that every where they went, people were asking about the temple and what it's purpose is.  Of course not everybody has been excited about the new LDS temple.  Alex mentioned that he met one little girl who was very disappointed to learn that the giant pretty building just off the freeway, was actually a Mormon temple.  She was really hoping that it would be a castle for a princess.  Well, if you really think about it, this little girl might actually be right and maybe someday, she will be that princess. 

Of course general conference was this last weekend and for those of you who attended the Priesthood session, you probably heard the marvelous priesthood choir.  Well, we might be a little biased here because all of the choir members were from Alex's home town.  Alex told us that they arrived a little bit late to the Stake center and the priesthood session had already started.  As a result, they missed the announcement about the choir being from Pleasant Grove.  Then later during the final musical number when the TV camera started panning around the choir members, Alex told us that all of the sudden he saw this red headed kid that looked very familiar.  After a little closer look, he thought, "hey I know that kid".  Then the camera focused in on this kid's dad and then another person that he knew.  Right then it dawned on Alex that the choir was filled with all kinds of familiar faces.  Faces of people he knows from back home.  Alex told us that it was really fun to see all of these people from home and know that they are all participating in the priesthood session of general conference.

So this has got to be one of the funniest stories that Alex has ever told us during his mission.  He told us that about a week ago, he and his companion were working with the zone leaders in Olathe, KS.  One night they decided to stop by a local BBQ place called Oklahoma Joe's, to get something to eat.  While they were there, they just happened to sit down at a table right next to two people who Alex described as a Christian and an Atheist.  How did Alex know that?  Basically by the rather loud religious discussion that they were having over dinner.  At one point during their discussion the Atheist pointed at the missionaries and said, "If there was a God and he really cared about these Mormons, he would have bought their lunch".  Right after he said that, one of the missionaries got a big grin on his face.  The Elder leaned over to Alex and said, "God did buy my lunch".  As it turned out, that previous Sunday a member of the church had walked up to the Elders between church meetings and handed them gift cards to Oklahoma Joe's restaurant.  So in reality, God did buy them lunch.  So there you have it!  To quote a famous comedian, "Here's your sign".  ;-)  Oh but wait, that wasn't the end of the story.  Alex and the other missionaries actually sat down and talked to this man for quite a while after his Christian friend had left.  This man invited Alex and the other missionaries to come and talk to his Atheist group at some future date.  Alex isn't quite sure how he feels about that, but it sounds like, at the very least, it could be a great adventure.

Just a quick side note.  We are getting down to the end of these blog entries due to the fact that Alex will complete his mission at the end of this month.  One of the many things that Alex has done over the past two years is make the most out of the time that he had while serving his mission.  He is feeling very happy to be coming home and seeing his family and friends again.  But at the same time, very sad that his service as a full-time missionary is coming to a close.  He has told us many times that he wishes his mission could last forever because he has enjoyed every minute of it.  I will try to fit in at least one more blog entry before Alex returns home.  Of course that will depend on Alex and how much time he has to write home over the next few weeks.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Twenty-one and wrestling again

As I started this blog entry, I noticed that it had been over a month since the last time I wrote about what Alex has been doing.  The blog entries aren't this far apart because we are slowing down towards the end of Alex's two years of service, it is more because Alex has been very busy and has had little time to write home.  So when we get letters from him, many times that are very short with just a quick summary of what he has been doing.  After a months time, I think we finally have enough good information to make a descent blog entry. 

Oh before I forget, today is actually Alex's 21st birthday.  Alex didn't really want us to send him anything because he would just have to pack it up in about a month when he comes home.  Hard to believe that Alex's two years is coming to a close in just over a month.  Anyway, to celebrate his 21st birthday we made him a little video filled with all kinds of very embarrassing photos.  These photo range from when he was just a little kid in elementary school to the last pictures we took of him just before he entered the MTC.  We had the office Sisters in the mission office help us out a little by surprising Alex with the video.  We told the Sisters that they had free rein to show the video to as many people as possible with the goal of making sure that Alex knows that we love him and are proud of all that he has accomplished.  Of course everybody knows that you only embarrass the one's that you love the most, right?  ;-)  So if you happen to be in the Independence, MO area and would like to see a good video of Alex, I'm sure the office Sisters wouldn't mind showing it to you. 

A couple of weeks ago Alex sent us a short letter and told us that he was coaching wrestling again.  If you remember way back almost two years ago when Alex first arrived in Independence, his first area was Wamego, KS.  While in Wamego Alex received permission from his mission president to spend some of his volunteer service time helping out at the high school as a wrestling coach.  Well it appears that Alex will finish out his mission in much the same way as he began.  No he isn't back in Wamego, but he is spending some of his service time at a local high school near Independence, helping out with the wrestling team there.  Alex told us that this is kind of a poorer area of town and because of that, some of the wrestlers haven't been able to purchase wrestling shoes.  Some of the team members show up to practice each day in just their stocking feet.  If you have ever watched a wrestling match you have probably noticed that a good grip on the mat is essential to being a good wrestler.  So trying to wrestle in socks is a very difficult thing to do which leads into a great story. 

Alex emailed us one night after getting special permission from his mission president since he was sending this email on a day other than his normal P-Day.  In his email he asked if we would be able to dig up some of his old wrestling shoes and send them out to him at the mission office.  His intent was to help out some of the wrestlers by trying to provide them with some descent wrestling shoes even though they might be a little worn.  After digging through Alex's stuff which has been put away in boxes for the last couple of years, we were finally able to find some of his old shoe.  Unfortunately, none of the shoes were in very good shape.  So we decided to get online, find a descent pair of shoe and send them out to Alex so that he could give them to one of the boys on he team.  Here is where the story gets a little more interesting.  As it turned out, we found a good pair of wrestling shoes on Amazon for not too much money.  If you know anything about purchasing from Amazon, many times they are just an online presence for a lot of other smaller stores.  We were a little surprised to find out that on Alex's next P-day after purchasing the wrestling shoes, he had already received them at the mission office.  That is when Alex told us about where those shoes really came from.  The sporting goods store that had actually sold and shipped the shoes is in Lenexa, KS.  Lenexa just happens to be one of the cities in the Independence, Mo mission, so obviously the store didn't have to ship the shoes very far.  Then Alex told us that the store is actually owned by a member of the LDS church.  Who knew that when we purchased the shoes on Amazon that they were actually coming from somewhere in Alex's mission and going to serve someone in that same mission.  The latest we have heard from Alex is that the shoes had been put to good use and the team is doing great.

Being in a mission with lots of church history sites Alex, at times, runs into people from back home.  In Alex's letter a couple of weeks ago, he told us about being at the visitor's center in Independence talking with people as they toured the center.  He started up a conversation with a couple who were there and asked them were they were from.  Their response was American Fork, Utah.  Alex told them that he was from Pleasant Grove, Utah.  If you aren't familiar with the Utah Valley area, Pleasant Grove and American Fork are two cities right next to each other.  In fact there is a fairly healthy rivalry between the two high schools in these cities.  Anyway, the couple made a comment to Alex about Pleasant Grove being good but American Fork being better.  Alex said that he had to teach this couple a little lesson about Good, Better, Best (if you don't get this joke, you better re-read Elder Holland's talk from General Conference).  The couple noticed that Alex's mission plaque said "Elder Nicholes" and they told Alex that they knew a Chris Nicholes from Pleasant Grove.  Alex responded with, "hey, that's my brother".  It turned out that this couple was the parents of one of Alex's brother's best friends from high school.  They had a good conversation right there in the visitor's center and caught up on a little news from back home.

Alex sent home a few pictures this week.  About a month or so ago, Alex told us about spending some early morning time at Adam Ondi Ahman.  He described a sunrise shooting through the clouds and how beautiful it was.  I told him to get some pictures and send them home.  Well he didn't get the picture of the sunrise but he did send some other picture from around the area.

Now here is a young man who is obviously out-standing in his fields.  OK it is an old joke, but you have to admit that it is a good one and it fits the picture.  :-)

Here is a handsome group of young missionaries.  Except that one in the back doesn't look very happy.  I think he was a little sad because he was nearing the end of his mission and was finally headed home.  Someone once told me that the day that a missionary enters the MTC, the missionary smiles and his mother cries.  The day that the missionary comes home, the mother smiles and the missionary cries.  That is the sign of a mission well served.


Apparently there is a bit of a pranking war going on between the office Elders and the Sisters.  The latest in the feud is sticky notes all over the office Elder's car.  Oh the wicked web we weave when revenge is on our minds.  Watch out Sisters!  What goes around comes around. ;-)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Beams of sunlight through the fog at Adam Ondi Ahman

As usual, "Busy" is the key word.  But despite all of that, Alex managed to email us twice over the last couple of weeks which is now unusual.  Anyway, one of the things that he told us is that his responsibilities as an assistant to the president will be changing a bit.  Over the last week or so, both Alex and his companion have felt that they needed to get out more and work with individual companionships.  During the past few months, they have been doing a lot of training session at zone conferences and working with the zone leaders, but they haven't worked much with individual companionships.  Now with his new responsibilities, they will be able to do just that.  Alex is very excited about this new opportunity.  He told us that both he and his companion will be spending a lot of nights sleeping on the floor at various missionary apartments as they travel around the mission, but that is all part of the excitement.

In his latest email, Alex told us that he and his companion had already started traveling.  He told us about traveling to Gallatin and spending the morning in scripture study while over looking the valley at Adam Ondi Ahman.  Alex told us that they got up early in the morning so that they could experience the peacefulness.  When they got there, the whole valley was covered in fog.  When the sun started to rise over the horizon, they could see beams of light shooting through the fog.  Alex said that it was one of the coolest sights he has ever seen.  I reminded Alex that this would have been a great time to have had a camera ready.  We would have really liked to have seen that sight as well.  Since he will be spending a few days there, hopefully he will take his camera with him the next time so that we can share the same visual experience with everybody.

Since Alex and his companion won't be spending as much time in their home area, now that they are traveling.  They were asked to turn some of the people that they had been teaching over to the Sister missionaries there.  Alex was a little sad about that because some of the people that they were teaching were really progressing well.  In fact before too much longer, Alex felt like some of them would be ready for baptism.  Of course no matter who is actually doing the teaching, knowing that somebody is ready for baptism is always a great feeling.  Alex is just glad to know that he was able to help out even though he couldn't be there through the whole process.

In his last email, Alex told us a cute story about wrestling.  He started out the story by telling us that he had his first official wrestling match recently on a Sunday night.  At first when you read that sentence you think to yourself, "official wrestling match", "Sunday night", "Missionaries".  Ok, something sounds a little off with this story.  But after Alex's explanation of what happened, it all seemed to come together and make sense.  As it turns out, one of the mission president's grandsons was visiting the area with his family recently.  This grandson is a little blond headed kid who reminded Alex of himself when he was little.  Apparently this boy's grandfather had told him that Elder Nicholes would be dropping by a little later and that he was a wrestler.  Upon hearing that news, this little boy immediately wanted to challenge Alex to a wrestling match.  So there you have it.  Alex's mission president had just scheduled a wrestling match between Alex and his little grandson. 

Alex and his companion arrived at the mission home and after dinner, they all went to the conference room where there would be enough space for this wrestling challenge to take place.  Ok, so this match seems a little lopsided but this is where the whole story gets really good.  Immediately on the whistle, the little boy charges for Alex's legs.  Good move, especially since that is what a good wrestler should do.  The only problem was that with Alex being more in the 172 lbs weight class and this little boy weighing in at maybe 40 lbs.,  this little brave wrestler ran into Alex and immediately bounced off to the floor.  Oh, but that didn't discourage or stop this little guy.  He jumped back up and the wrestling match went on.  After a few head shucks, granbies, arm bars and cradles, this little guy finally pinned Alex flat to the floor.  So after a state champion season a couple of years ago, Alex has just started out his first official wrestling match in two years at 0-1.  We aren't quite sure how Alex is going to recover from this loss. ;-)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Summer heat and new opportunities

   It seems like these blog entries are getting fewer and farther between.  Basically they have and that is mostly due to the fact that we don't hear from Alex as much as we used to anymore.  He has been so busy over that last few months, that he rarely gets a chance to write home.  This last month has been especially busy due to the transition from one mission president to another.  The month of July is usually when a certain number of mission presidents complete their missions and turn the reins over to a new mission president.   This was the case in Alex's mission. 
   When the previous mission president returns home and a new mission president takes over, it is a unique opportunity for both the missionary and the parents.  With Alex serving as an assistant to the president, he and his companion automatically become part of the transition plan for the new mission president.  This last month Alex and his companion have been traveling the mission and conducting zone conferences with the new mission president and his family.  However, that isn't the only new opportunity that has come from the changing of the guard.  We, as the parents of a missionary, had the great opportunity to attend the Sacrament meeting in which Alex's returning mission president and his wife, spoke.  This was a great opportunity where we were finally able to meet the mission president under whom Alex has been serving for almost two years.
    It was a wonderful day and a great experience for us when we were able to attend the homecoming Sacrament meeting in which Alex's former mission president spoke.  The church building was literally pack with Ward members, friends and former missionaries.  In fact at one point during Sister Van Komen's talk, she asked all of the former missionaries in the audience to stand.  The number of people who stood up at that point had to be about half of the people in the audience.  Keep in mind that the number of people in attendance that day spilled out of the chapel and into the cultural hall.  Judging from the number of people, it looked more like a Stake conference than a normal Sacrament meeting.  There were a lot of former Sister missionaries as well has senior couples who served in the visitor centers and in other capacities.  There were also a lot of young men who served in the Independence Missouri mission as proselyting missionaries just like Alex.  There obviously wasn't a lot of time, but we had the opportunity to briefly speak with President Van Komen right before the meeting started and to hear some wonderful comments from him about Alex.  Following the meeting we also had the chance to speak with Sister Van Komen as well.  As we stepped up to greet her, I introduced myself as Alex's Dad.  That was all it took.  Sister Van Komen just started talking all about Alex and all of the wonderful things that he has done as a missionary in the Independence Missouri mission.  It was so great to hear directly from her knowing that she and her husband have been such a big part of Alex's life over the last year and a half.
    I mentioned that Alex and his companion have been traveling the mission visiting every zone with their new mission president and conducting training meetings.  At one point just a few weeks ago, Alex contacted us and wanted to know more about my mission and the people that I had taught.  He wanted to use these stories as part of the training that he was conducting during the zones conferences.  Both Alex has well as his companion have had the opportunity to get to know personally some of the people their fathers taught while serving mission many years ago.  They wanted to draw on some of those stories to help train current missionaries to love their missions and to take advantage of every opportunity.  Alex told us that the training sessions have gone really well.  On top of all of the training, Alex and his companion have also been going on splits with each of the zone leaders following the each of the zone conferences that they conduct.  This has made for some very long days full of hard work and a lot of spiritual promptings.  This kind of work has left these two young missionaries very tired but at the same time, very excited to get up the next day and do it all over again.
    In Alex's latest letter home he again told us all about how crazy life has been.  Alex told us all about some of the recent zone leader splits that he has been a part of and some of the miracles that he experienced.  I won't go into detail here but one of the stories was all about meeting someone that was just waiting for the missionaries to knock on their door.  It was one of those kinds of stories where a missionary is prompted to go somewhere or talk to someone that he normally wouldn't have.  The end result was an opportunity and an experience which neither Alex nor the zone leader that accompanied him that night, will never forget.
   One of the funnier stories this week was Alex telling us how much he likes the heat.  Summer time in the Midwest can be very hot.  Apparently they have had a few days where the temperatures have been over a hundred degrees.  For most people as well as for missionaries, this is a sign that it might be a good idea to go inside where there is some air conditioning.  For Alex, it is the opposite.  The only explanation that Alex could give us for wanting to be out in the heat is that he loves to sweat.  With all of the running and wrestling that he has done over the years, Alex is very used to sweating a lot and for whatever reason, he really enjoys it.  If you think that is a little strange, well then you probably don't know Alex very well.  Anyway, according to Alex, the hot weather also provides him with a great line for getting a conversation going.  All he needs to say is "Wow, we sure are having some beautiful weather, huh?".  After that comment, most people look at him with an "Are you nuts?" kind of look in their eye and wondering what he is talking about.  Right there the conversation starts and Alex is off and running.  Soon the conversation transitions into a gospel topic and before the person even knows it, they are hearing all about the gospel and message that the missionaries have to offer.  Who would have ever thought that talking about the weather would be a great way to start a gospel discussion. Humm??? ;-)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Messing with the greenies

This is going to sound like a broken record but every time Alex writes home, the underlying theme of the letter is telling us just how busy he is.  To give you an idea, this last week he sent a short little email explaining that as he was trying to find time to write us, he was also typing up the mailing lists, working out the transfer rosters, figuring out the bus schedules for transfers, sending out emails to all of the Stake Presidents notifying them of the missionary transfers and typing up the leadership call list for the mission president.  Apparently he and his companion had been in the mission office all day finishing up all of these last minute tasks before transfer notices go out in a day or so.  In all of that emailing and scheduling, the one thing that Alex didn't get finished was sending out his weekly family letter to us.  Well, we finally did receive his letter, but it wasn't until the next day.  He had to get permission from his mission president to write home on Tuesday rather than Monday because he had run out of time the day before.  I guess that is just how it goes.  We will have the rest of our lives to talk to him, but Alex only has a few more months as a full time missionary.  So making the most of it is obviously the top priority.

 Alex's last couple of letters, once we finally got them, were filled with some great stories.  I will try to retell some of them here and hopefully I will be able to capture the same spirit in which they were originally told to us by Alex.  One of the first stories that Alex told us really pointed out just how far he has come in the last year and a half.  One of the traditions that the mission president's wife has at each of the zone leader's conferences is to randomly pick a couple of missionaries to give a five minute talk on the spot.  This was a tradition that was started back when the mission president and his wife first entered the Independence Missouri mission almost three years ago.  The five minute talk is meant to prepare the missionaries for times when they are called on by a Bishop or Stake President to stand up in Sacrament Meeting or some other meeting and speak with no notice before hand.  The idea is to  stand up, quote a scripture, thank the Ward and bear pure testimony.  The reason why this is significant is because back when Alex was first made a zone leader almost a year ago, he used to get really nervous during each of the zone leader conferences wondering if it was going to be his turn to give a five minute talk.  Now step forward almost a year.  Alex is now an assistant to the president and as part of his responsibilities at each zone leader's conference, he is expected to lead two different training segments, conduct the meeting, prepare for and clean up after the whole thing.  After handling and completing all of those responsibilities, a five minute talk seems like a very insignificant cake walk in comparison. 

Another story that Alex related to us in one of his recent letters was really about another missionary who had struggled a bit but is now really starting to shine.  It started at a district meeting up in Platte City Missouri.  The district leader in that area was conducting a meeting and doing a very good job.  But for a missionary, something seemed out of place.  During the after meeting review that the assistants hold with each district leader individually, Alex mentioned to this Elder that his mis-matched suit and pants didn't really look appropriate for a missionary.  As it turned out, this Elder didn't really have a lot of resources when it came to outfitting himself for a mission and so he was doing the best he could.  After hearing that, Alex and his companion decided that they would pool half of their monthly allotment to try to help this Elder purchase some new clothes.  As they were preparing to pool their money, they talked to the mission president's wife and found out that the mission actually had a fund to cover just this very thing.  So the next time that this Elder and his companion were in Independence for interviews, Alex and his companion grabbed the Elder and took him down to a local discount clothing store where they proceeded to set this Elder up with three new suits and some killer ties all for under $200.  According to Alex, this has made a real difference in this missionaries attitude and life.  Sometimes just the simplest changes can make all the difference.

Alex also included a story about one of their favorite investigator families.  Unfortunately, this story goes more to show that their are ups and downs as a missionary and this story was one of the downs.  Without going into all of the details, Alex told us that they had really made a lot of good progress with this family but for some reason, the parents just couldn't quite get past a few issues that they had with the Church.  As a result, things kind of came to an end as far as teaching goes even though Alex still feels that they are some of the finest people that he has meet.  At the very least, the seed has been sown.  Maybe someday another set of missionaries will be there to help that seed grow and complete what Alex and his companion had started.

Finally, this story has to be one of the funniest stories that Alex has ever shared with us.  It is all about messing with the greenies.  One of the many highlights of being an AP is when the new missionaries arrive in the mission, every six weeks.  The APs along with the mission president have the great opportunity of meeting these new missionaries at the airport and helping them get adjusted to their new life as full time missionaries.  Well, maybe the words "helping them get adjusted" is a bit of an over statement especially when it comes to seasoned APs and new greenies.  Alex told us that he and his companion had a little bit of fun with the new missionaries as they were helping them get all of their luggage loaded into the trailer at the airport.  Here is how the story went.  Picture this, a bunch of brand spankin new missionaries have just arrived at the airport in Independence and have just meet the mission president and the APs.  They are all standing around the trailer as Alex and his companion are helping them load their luggage.  As they are loading the luggage and knowing that all of these new missionaries are still a little shell shocked, Alex and his companion start up a little bit of a gospel conversation.  Alex says to his companion,   "Hey Elder, what would your interpretation be of Lamentations chapter 4 versus Romans chapter 15?".  His companion responds, "Well I would have to refer you back to Romans chapter 3 to answer that question".  Of course this little scriptorian discussion was all totally made up, but looking around at the faces of these newest missionaries, they were thinking that maybe they missed something during their training in the MTC.  Alex said that their jaws were dropping all over the ground in awe.  Then one of the greenies pipes up and asks, "Elders, how long have you been out?".  Of course continuing in the vein of messing with the greenies, Alex responds, "Oh, about 5 months".  Oh what a story, I'm sure there will be some repenting to do Elders. :-)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Life is busier than ever

Now that Alex is an assistant to the President, we haven't heard from him quite as much.  In fact just this week we finally got his first real letter since we talked to him on Mother's Day.  Alex told us that life as an AP is crazier than he ever imagined.  He said that when he was a zone leader he thought life was busy.  But now as an AP, he and his companion are constantly on the move.  Alex gave us a brief run down of what he and his companion have to do.  Every transfer period, which is basically six weeks, they are traveling the mission and going on splits with every one of the zone leader companionships.  They use this time to do training and to find out just how well the zone leaders and their zones are doing.  In addition to that, they are helping to conduct the zone leader conference every month and also taking care of every odd and end that the mission president needs done in between.  On Sunday evenings Alex and his companion are at the mission office making phone calls and collection the weekly numbers so that they can report them back to Salt Lake.  We know this firsthand because during our Mother's Day call last month which happened to be on a Sunday night, Alex was constantly interrupted by phone calls from zones leaders who were calling to report their weekly progress.  Then on top of all of that, they are also expected to continue their normal proselyting and teaching just like every other missionary.   

Alex told us a story that is typical Alex.  When Alex was called to be an assistant to the president, he had to leave Manhattan and report to the mission office about a week before regular transfers.  His companion in Manhattan was also preparing to finish his mission a week later.  This meant that two new missionaries would be taking over the Manhattan 2nd Ward area where Alex has been serving for the past 8 months.  When his Manhattan companion arrived at the mission office week later, just before going home, Alex was obvious there.  Apparently the mission president and his wife invite all of the departing missionaries to have dinner with them in the mission home.  Alex told us that he and his Manhattan companion skipped out of the dinner that night and went tracting instead.   Alex told us that his former companion had a really hard time leaving the mission and that Alex had a really hard time watching him go.  During that final night of tracting, Alex told us that he and his former companion found 10 potential investigators.  Alex hasn't mention what has become of any of those 10 contacts but I can just imagine that when the time comes for Alex to return home, this is probably how he will spend his last night in Independence Missouri mission as well.

Alex told us in his most recent letter that he was able to travel back to Manhattan to perform the baptism of one of the people that he and his previous companion had been teaching.  He said that the baptism went very well and that he really misses the Manhattan Ward.  He also said that since both he and his previous companion basically left Manhattan at the same time, fortunately they were replace by two very good missionaries.  Of course the work will always go on no matter what, but it is good to know that when a missionary leaves an area, that there are good missionaries who are capable of picking up where they had left off. 

Alex told us kind of a funny story about what he and several other "white" missionaries did for Memorial Day.  Apparently Alex and his companion are currently teaching several black people.  So for a Memorial Day celebration, these good people invited Alex, his companion and several other missionaries over to their house for a good southern fish fry.  Alex told us that as these gatherings go, there were quite a few people at this house, all enjoying each others company and having a good time.  So many people that when one of the missionaries was asked to say grace, the line of people all holding hands during the prayer extended through the garage and into the house.   Of course everyone there were singing and dancing and having a good time.  At one point during the celebration, Alex's companion decided to join in by "busting a little dance move" just to show what he's got.  Well, I'm not sure what kind of moves this missionary had, but it caused the whole crowd to burst out laughing.  Alex said that they all had a very good time and it was a unique experience for all of them.

In closing his letter this last week, this is what Alex told us about his last few weeks as an AP:
"I am very grateful for this opportunity that I have been given. I feel like I have grown so much in the past three weeks, its incredible. My testimony is growing by leaps and bounds, and I am loving my mission more than ever! I love serving the Lord, and seeing the miracles that happen when we work as hard as we can! The church is true!"