One thing that’s been so fun about living in Pine Valley is being part of the Pine Valley branch. Our 130 or so members attend church in a building completed in 1868 which is now the oldest operating meetinghouse in the Mormon church. It’s a beautiful old building that looks very much like it did in 1868. It is famous because legend suggests that the chapel was built like an upside down ship because its builder was a shipbuilder.
Today we gave talks in that building saying farewell to our friends in the branch for eighteen months. A couple of our children and their families were here and we really appreciated them coming. Rachel and her Rick gave the opening and closing prayers and Dan did a beautiful piano medley assisted by his youngest son Gabe.
I wanted to post both talks since many of our family and friends weren’t able to be here. Frank’s talk is written in his journal and he said that he will get it transcribed so I can post it very soon. Mine was entitled “Why We Serve” and is included below: (sorry for the long entry; this will be an exception :)
WHY WE SERVE—a talk given by Maxine on Jan 12, 2014
On July 22 of last year, we submitted applications to serve a mission, and on September 26, after what seemed like a long wait, we received the letter calling us to serve in the South Africa Johannesburg Mission as Church Education System, or CES missionaries.
Ever since that envelope was opened, friends and family have asked what exactly we will be doing. Apart from a one-sentence description explaining that we will be teaching and working with the youth, we really don’t know. We don’t know how much we’ll be teaching, finding, supporting or traveling; we don’t know the people we will be working with, whether there are other CES missionaries or whether we’ll work alone; we don’t know how it will be to live away from our family for so long; we don’t how it will be to live so closely with each other for so long. Frankly, we don’t know much.
Yet, despite this state of not knowing, we’re doing everything in our power to be ready to report to the Mission Training Center at 10:00 a.m. on Jan 20 where, after ten brief days of training, we will be in the skies for a 25-hour flight to Africa. We’ll then land a country where we don’t know a single one of the 53 million people; we don’t know where we’ll be living; we don’t know what foods we’ll be eating; we don’t know which bugs the insecticide that we have been instructed to spray on every piece of clothing is intended to deter; and we don’t know if we can always remember to drive on the wrong side of the road
So why in the world would we be going at all? In fact, why will we along with eighty thousand other full time missionaries serve in 405 missions, almost all leaving everything familiar, to go where they don’t know as much as we don’t know? Young missionaries leave family, friends, sports careers and important educational paths while couple missionaries leave children, grandchildren, aging parents, beloved pets, homes, businesses and more. In our case, we’ve worked really hard to be able to retire in Pine Valley, and we love everything about being here—the mountains, the hikes, the trees, the stars, the quiet, the chapel, and the people. So why do missionaries serve when they know so little about where they are going and what they’ll be doing? There are probably at least eighty thousand reasons for eighty thousand missionaries, but I will share a few of ours, knowing that these are ones that many missionaries would have in common.
1. We will serve because we believe that life is more than a chance occurrence, that we have a creator and that he has a plan for us to be happy in this life and to return to him for the next. We believe that he sent his son to show us how to do that, and to provide a way for us to achieve what we have no power to do on our own. We believe the physical evidence as Alma pointed out when he said that all things denote there is a God, but even more importantly, we believe a lifetime of spiritual evidence, small and large miracles too often and too specific to be just chance.
2. We will serve because we want our children and our grandchildren to know that we believe that. We love our family and love spending time with them. We will undoubtedly miss them, probably a lot more than we realize right now. But we want them to know that their parents or grandparents consider the gospel worth sacrificing for, and that we have faith that they will be blessed by our service and not harmed.
3. We will serve because we believe that the gospel that has blessed our lives can bless other lives. From what we’ve learned about the people of South Africa, they are an intelligent, insightful and resilient people. As a nation, they have made huge changes in a comparatively controlled and peaceful manner. They have set an example for other nations striving toward democracy and have had the foresight to forego hatred and retaliation for the greater good of forgiveness and rebuilding. We believe that learning about and living the gospel can support the rebuilding of nations and of individuals. Alma, in speaking of missionary work to the Zoramites said:
And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them. Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God
Alma understood when we come to know God, we know that he loves us. If he loves us, then he must love our brothers and sisters. Knowing they are our brothers and sisters, we can love them better too. His plan gives us is a reason for us to do right.
4. We will serve because we believe that we are needed
Leaders of the church have been calling for senior missionaries for many years.
Elder Robert, in general conference said, “If you are or will soon be the age of a senior missionary, I witness of the blessings that can change your life forever. Your Heavenly Father needs you. His work, under the direction of our Savior Jesus Christ, needs what you are uniquely prepared to give. Every missionary experience requires faith, sacrifice, and service, and these are always followed by an outpouring of blessings.” Africa is one of those places of rapid growth in the church, where young branches and wards can greatly benefit just by having a senior couple with the simple experience of attending church or holding a calling.
5. We will serve to express gratitude. In our lives, as in every life, we have faced challenges, but our abundance of blessings would tip the scale to overflowing. We can’t begin to repay our Father in Heaven for such generosity, but we can show appreciation by doing something for his children. We don’t know exactly what that will be, but we have faith that we will know it and will be able to accomplish it.
For these reasons and many others, we are serving, despite so many areas of not knowing. Many of you, even realizing our lack of complete information, have said that you would like to be going with us. So let’s all go together! After all, even though we say we’re going on a mission, really we’re going TO a mission. We should all have been ON missions since the day we promised to stand for Christ at all times and in all things and in all places. To be on a mission with us, you won’t need an application or an interview. You won’t need a passport, and FBI clearance, a visa or a plane ticket. You won’t need shots for Tetanus, Diphtheria or Pertussis; you won’t need two shots for hepatitis A or three for B. You won’t need typhoid, influenza, poliomyelitis, pneumonia, shingles or meningococcal meningitis. You don’t have to wait until the 20th; you can start now; you can start here. Don’t spend too much time planning, talking about, reading or worrying about your missionary, Just DO IT. After a conference session a few years ago, we talked with the Elder who spoke. He said that with all of his time planning, traveling, presiding and giving talks, almost always about missionary work, it was his wife that was always friendshipping someone of referring someone to the missionaries, because she just DID it. We will seldom know the perfect thing to do, so we should just do something. It can be a very small act with very small consequences—walk out of your door and over to say hi to someone who is visiting their cabin for the weekend; comfort someone even if you think someone closer must surely be doing that already; help someone with a project; invite someone to go to a walk. Just be you, but let more people know the you that you are. As I heard someone counsel once, don’t be camouflaged where the gospel is concerned. Sharing the gospel may occur in tiny increments and accepting may by single degrees, but it is still sharing. Many of my best friends are not members of the church and may never be, but knowing them enriches my life. I would hope that, through our association, they have some understanding of the church that is so much a part of my life, and feel positively towards it.
Most of you recently sustained Brother Romney as the new branch mission leader with his wife and the Nielsen’s as assistants, but remember they are just the point men, the organizers, the gatherers and disseminators of missionary information. The full time elders are your trained resource and have been set apart for the formal teaching of investigators, but YOU are the finder, the friend and the example of what a member of the church represents. You are a missionary as much as they are.
If everyone becomes busy being missionaries here in Pine Valley, where we only have so many neighbors, then it will undoubtedly free up some of you to follow us by going TO a mission, to help where there are not chapels full of people with the kind of testimonies, knowledge and life experience as you have.
Even though we know so little right now, we’re looking forward to our mission, to a time of being together and working together—I will be blessed with a fearless missionary companion. Brother Davie is a convert to the church who has seen the gospel so richly bless his life that he absolutely believes that it can do the same for everyone. Whether the person listening believes that or not has no bearing on how he proceeds. He is a fearless missionary and truly an example of “be not ashamed, neither confounded…” I look forward to serving with him.
We’re also looking forward to being in the country of South Africa and among its citizens. We had our seven-year-old grandson Gabe for a few days recently. He has obviously been considering his primary or home evening lessons and spoke several times about teaching the gospel when he is older. At one point he said, “and when you teach the gospel, you can also learn from the people, right?” Yes Gabe, I’m sure we will learn from the people of South Africa. We will undoubtedly learn more and gain more than we give so even though we begin by not knowing, we will end with greater knowledge and blessings.