Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Mother's Day phone call

It was a big we last week with all of our Mother's Day celebrations.  Actually one of the most exciting parts of Mother's Day was the fact that Alex had the opportunity to call home.  He called us right after we got home from church and we were able to spend some time talking with him on the phone.  To make sure that everybody could hear and had the opportunity to talk, we set up the speaker phone in the middle of the kitchen table.  Then we all sat around the table and enjoyed our time as a complete family with one of our family members participating over the phone. 

Alex told us all about his new assignment in Burlington Kansas.  I think we mentioned last time that Burlington is a rather small town in the middle of Kansas.  Alex told us that the whole town is about twelve blocks long by about twelve blocks wide.  He said that the streets in Burlington are empty most of the time since there isn't a whole lot of traffic in a town of about 2,400 people.  In fact most of the time they can just walk down the middle of the street and not even worry about being hit by a car or anything else.  This is a real change from being in Lawrence where there is always a lot more going on all of the time.

Remember that slick 1980's vintage bike that Alex is so proud of?  Well he told us that his bike isn't in such good shape anymore.  Apparently he and some of the other missionaries were having a little too much fun riding their bikes in unusual ways (if you catch my drift).  Alex must have landed his bike in a funny way which caused the shifter cable to break.  Now a bike which used to have ten speeds, only has one.  I'm not sure which gear his bike is stuck in, but Alex told us that it is good enough to ride around on since there are no hills in Burlington.  Speaking of "no hills", Alex also told us that they can ride out to the edge of town, stand in the middle of the street and see one long straight road that only seems to end when it hits the horizon.  That's how flat it is.  So given that kind of terrain, there really isn't any need for more than one gear on his bike. 

Getting back to the Mother's day phone call, hearing Alex's voice on the phone was almost like the good old days sitting around the dining room table and talking.  In fact while he was still on the phone telling all about life as a missionary, I was able to fix Mother's Day dinner, have the kids set the table and call everybody to dinner, including Alex (well, virtually anyway).  Once we all finally sat down at the table to eat and with the speaker phone still in the middle of the table, I called on Alex to give us a blessing on the food.  At that point we all folded our arms, bowed our heads and let Alex bless our Mother's Day dinner all the way from Burlington Kansas.  He gave a wonderful prayer over the phone but unfortunately he couldn't actually eat the food that he just blessed.  But then that might have been to his advantage since it is his mother who is the cook in the family but she had the day off due to it being Mother's Day.  Well, not too much longer after that, our phone call came to an end, we all said goodbye and look forward to hearing his voice again at Christmas. 

The next day was Alex's P-Day which if you aren't familiar with the way a missionary's schedule works, it is basically the one day during the week that they have to write letters, take care of things like laundry, shopping and other errands and also get in a little basketball or other activities.  Being P-day, Alex sent us his usual family letter but obviously since we had already talked with him on the phone the day before, his letter was kind of short.  He told us a little more about the people that they are teaching in Burlington and how they have spent much of their time visiting members of the church who are less active at the moment.  Since there haven't been any missionaries in the Burlington for quite a while, they are having to do a lot of tracting and figuring out other ways to meet people who might be interested in listening to the message that a couple of LDS missionaries have to offer.  From what Alex told us, it sounds like they have been fairly successful in the short time that they have been there.  But then there is only so much tracting that you can do in a small town before you run out of doors to knock.  So being a little more creative like they did in Wamego and Lawrence with raking leaves and shoveling snow, might be the way they need to go.

This week Alex sent us another letter telling us all about the great week that he and his companion have had.  I mentioned that they have only been in Burlington for a few weeks and they have already found several different people who are interested in listening to these Elders.  Alex sounded really excited in his letter due to many of the experiences that they had during the past week.  He described some of these experiences this way:
"But things are going really great out here! We had a killer week this last week! ... [The] weird part about being on a mission, you see a lot of stuff that you never saw back home. Like real world stuff, not just dumb high school drama like getting dumped by your girlfriend ;) lol. But yeah its weird trying to help people through all of these serious crisis’s and trials in their life when you have never experienced anything close to it. It’s a good thing Christ knows all about it, because I sure don’t."
That is the kind of experience that shows you that a mission for a young man is just as much about learning as it is about teaching others the gospel.  It also teaches these young men that life is very different for a lot of people.  Not everybody grows up in a nice house with a good family and great friends.  Count your many blessings.

Alex told us that they discovered a new way to make tracting a little more successful.  Go tracting in the rain.  He said that the other day it was raining fairly hard but they decided that they would go out knocking on doors anyway.  As it turned out, many of the people that they met must have felt sorry for these poor soaked missionaries and let them in to dry off a little.  Tracting in the rain turned out to work so well, that they completely filled up their teaching appointment book.  On top of all of that, a member of the church in the area also invited the missionaries over to teach one of their neighbors.  So needless to say, these two missionaries are very excited about the work in Burlington.  Hopefully things will continue to go well for them and they will be able to help the church grow in this little town.

One interesting story that Alex included in his last letter.  From what Alex has told us before about Burlington, it is a town with a very diverse population due to the nuclear power plant nearby.  There are many very nice houses in town and then there are some not so nice trailer parks.  So the other night Alex and his companion decided to check out some of the trailers in town.  They walked up to one trailer that Alex described as being very sketchy looking.  He said that in addition to just the trailer structure, whoever lived there had also done a little remodeling work using plywood and parts of other trailers.  They decided to knock on the door to see if they could talk to whoever lived there.  Alex said that a man with long hair answered the door and as these missionaries introduced themselves and started talking, this man told them that he believed that God is a woman.  His reason for believing that God is a woman is because only a woman could try us in this way.  Well, they got a good laugh out of that and everybody left smiling.  I guess that just goes to show you that everybody has their own way of thinking and their own beliefs. 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ready for the big move

This last week marks Alex's first six months as a full-time missionary.  We almost can't believe that six months has passed since that day back in October when we dropped him off at the Mission Training Center (MTC).  In this short time Alex has gained a lot of experiences from being a district leader in the MTC to all of the time spent learning and teaching in Wamego, Platte City and Lawrence.  From the letters that he has sent home, he has enjoyed every minute of his mission so far and we don't expect that to change at all.  Alex has met, taught and learned from so many people in the various areas in which he has served.  He has also had many other opportunities to use his skills from serving up meals at the Salvation Army to being a volunteer wrestling coach at Wamego High School.  Every week we hear about new things that Alex is involved with and new people that he has met.  There just seems to be so many opportunities, that I am sure the next six months will be just as exciting and fruitful as the last six.

Just one little note here.  If you remember in the last post, Alex acquired a new bike which turned out to be a 1980's vintage Schwinn Sierra.  I just happened to find a picture on the internet of what his new bike probably looks like and included the picture in the last entry.  Since then Alex wrote and told us that the picture of the bike is "spot on" except that the handle bars on his bike are a little more goofy looking than the picture.  But there you have it.  If you happen to be reading this blog and also just happen to live in Kansas or Missouri and see an LDS missionary riding down the street, wave at him and tell him that his Mom and Dad say "Hi".

Over the past couple of weeks, Alex and his companion have been getting ready for their move from Lawrence to Burlington KS.  Besides saying goodbye to many of the people that they have met and grown to love, they also needed to make sure that the people that they were teaching, continue to learn and progress in the gospel even after these two missionaries have left the area.  Some of the people that they were teaching, they turned over to the sister missionaries.  Others who have already developed a relationship with members of the Ward, will continue to be visited by those members.  In the end, it is not about the missionary but about the gospel and the testimony that these people gain through the spirit.  Long after these missionaries leave the area or the mission, the spirit that these people felt will hopefully still be with them.

Just before Alex and his companion left Lawrence, Alex conducted his last district meeting as the Lawrence District Leader.  One of the recent changes, at least for this Lawrence district, is that they were allocated new 2010 Chevy Malibu cars to use in their missionary work.  So after their last meeting, they all decided that it would be a good idea to take one last picture of themselves as a district.  Except this time they would all pose in front of their new cars as if they were going to be on the cover of a new (missionary) rap album.  So they lined up the cars and everybody took their positions on and around them.  Alex mentioned that one Elder, who just happens to be a little more on the rounder side, decided that he wanted to pose on the roof of one of the cars.  Well, from what Alex told us, the structural integrity of the roof of this brand new 2010 Chevy Malibu wasn't quite up to the standards required to support this slightly rotund missionary.  Needless to say, this missionary left his mark on the mission that day.  Luckily there was no permanent damage and the picture turned out fantastic.  Just see for yourself.

After Alex sent us this picture, I enhanced it slightly and printed out an 8x10 to post on our refrigerator door.  When Alex's Mom first saw this picture, she couldn't figure out why I had put a picture of a bunch of people posed on cars on our refrigerator door.  Then I told her to look a little more closely.  That's when it dawned on her that her son Alex was front and center in the photo.  Nice job guys.  I'm considering sending this photo to the Chevrolet marketing department.  I'm guessing that with the recent economic trouble that they have had, they could probably use a little help from the missionaries. ;-)

So here is one more funny story from Alex about his companion on their last Sunday at church in Lawrence.  Apparently there is a young family in their Ward who Alex and his companion have come to know.  One day last week, the zone leaders paid Alex and his companion a visit so that they could team up and try to get a little more work done that day.  I've mentioned before just how much Alex has really liked his current companion and apparently one thing that they have in common is their sense of humor especially when it comes to practical jokes.  Well, while Alex's companion was out with one of the zone leaders, this young couple from the Ward just happen to be driving by and saw them.  So to try to play a little joke on the zone leader who wasn't from that Lawrence area, they pulled up to the missionaries and started taking to Alex's companion about all of the new music CD's and DVD's that he had bought.  Alex's companion, playing along with the joke, responded by saying that he and Alex would be over to their house later to check them out a little later.  This, of course, would be a violation of the mission rules and apparently it took the zone leader by surprise hearing about the plan. Of course they finally let the zone leader in on the joke and then went on their way.  However the joke didn't really end there.  Apparently that next Sunday, which was Alex and his companion's last Sunday in the Ward before their transfer, Alex's companion was assigned to speak in Sacrement meeting.  Unfortunately, the printed program had mispelled his name with a "ch" rather than a "ck" at the end of his name.  So when this same Ward member got up to announce the Sacrament meeting program that day, he mentioned how great it was to have these two missionaries in their Ward and purposely mis-pronounced Alex's companion's name according to the way it had been printed.  Then at the same time, over the pulpit, he also told the congregation just how much he enjoyed having these missionaries over to his house to listen to CD's and watch DVD's.  Well, the whole congregation got a good laugh out of that because they all knew just how hard working Alex and his companion are and what good missionaries they had been in their Ward.  It all turned out to be a really good way to leave on their last Sunday in the Lawrence Ward.  They knew that the Ward members had really appreciated all of the work that these two missionaries had done and also knew that it was really going to be hard to leave Lawrence. 

Just as we mentioned in the last blog entry, Alex and his companion were both transferred together to Burlington KS.  Burlington is a small town of around two thousand people with a very small branch of the LDS church. It is also the home to a nuclear power plant.  What I find curious is that Alex asked us a couple of weeks ago at what age a man starts to lose his hair.  We are now wondering if the nuclear power plant might be the reason for this question.  Just kidding, I'm sure not everybody in Burlington glows in the dark. ;-)

Ok seriously now.  From what Alex has said, Burlington seems like a really nice and conservative midwestern small town.  Alex mentioned in his last letter that he and his companion were able to ride their bikes from one end of town to the other without one single person yelling at them or flipping them off.  He told us that it felt really great.  There were even a couple of towns people that waved at these two missionaries in a friendly manner even before they had a chance to greet those people first.  Alex told us that this was a really big change for them, coming from one of the most liberal cities in Kansas to one of the more conservative.  Nothing like a breath of fresh air, even if the air might be a little radio active (ok, just kidding again :-).

Both Alex and his companion are staying with a really nice family from Burlington.  Alex said that they live in a house that is from the very early 1900's and the coolest thing about the house are all of the little tunnels and passage ways that connect all of the rooms.  They spent most of last week getting cleaned up and getting ready for the move, moving and then unpacking in their new place.  They have already been out meeting the people in Burlington and plan to really hit it hard this week.  With the move to Burlington, the mission president also had to put together a new missionary district.  The district is made up of not only Alex and his companion in Burlington, but also several other Elders who are serving in a few of the other nearby towns.  Just like in Lawrence, Alex is the district leader of the this new district.  He told us that they call themselves the CoffeyCan district because they are in Coffey County Kansas.  As much as Alex hated leaving Lawrence and the people that he taught there as well as the members of the Ward, he appears to be very excited to be in Burlington and to see what new opportunities this assignment brings. 

By the way, Mother's day is coming this week which also means that we will be talking to Alex on the phone instead of just through letters.  It will be great to hear his voice and get a little more detail about missionary life and how things are going for him in his new area.