Sunday, February 8, 2015

What we learned as Senior Missionaries

It's been less than three weeks since we left Chile, and we have been trying to function more or less competently in our home country. Fortunately our children have been taking good care of us. We were released as missionaries by President Barlow, we have made several trips out to the farm to see how things are--which is, well taken care of by the renters--and start moving loads of belongings out of our house's basement and into our daughter's garage.

We visited our home ward, the Ontario 3rd, and were warmly welcomed. How wonderful it is to see old and faithful friends. We have known them for many years, and we have missed them.

Malheur Butte, July 2013

We don't know when it started happening, but the house we built together and spent 40 years happily raising our family in, the place where I grew a large garden of trees and flowers next to my husband's fields and pastures, overlooking a magnificent view of the Treasure Valley and the Malheur  Butte, no longer seems to belong to us. Clinton is no longer interested in farming. We love the farm, but it is passing into a different phase, as are we.

We started looking at homes in Idaho. We would like to stay in the western Treasure Valley, or we may end up building a home. We don't know what is in store for us. We will recognize it when it comes.

On Sunday we are to give a report of our mission in our home ward, the Ontario 3rd, Ontario Oregon Stake. In thinking about what I would say, I have written down several unforgettable and hard-won lessons:

1. Nearly  every LDS missionary I have known and spoken with in the field, no matter how effective and capable they are, wonder if they are doing enough, or even making any difference at all. The mission president's wife, Hermana Arrington, and the mission nurse, Hermana Balden, recognized that especially the sisters can feel dispirited to the point that it affects their outlook and health. This can persist for the entire mission, until the very end, when the missionary starts to say goodbye.

2. Which leads to the corollary that it isn't until you start saying goodbye, and people start crying and giving you besos y abrazos, and telling you that you have changed their lives for the better, and wishing you would stay, that you begin to believe you weren't ineffectual after all.

Then it hits you that what you worried about from the beginning--that you would fall in love with these people, that you would be involved in their lives, and their hopes, and their dreams, and that just being there loving them was enough, and more than they expected. Now you have an entire new set of people to love, and soon you will be far away from them, and you will forever wonder how they are faring in their lives, without you.

3. Although we never knew whether we were accomplishing anything or not, we always had the reassurance that we were in the right place. This was a great comfort. It made the miracles that ensued not entirely unexpected. Because we were where we ought to be, even when it was a sudden last-minute change of plans, peoples' prayers were answered.

For one example, we ended up unexpectedly in a ward we eventually planned to visit, and found a young woman who had been trying to contact us so Elder Kennington could sign a form that needed to be uploaded on the spot so she would make the Perpetual Education Fund deadline the next day. She later let us know her loan had been approved.

Returned missionaries, at home with Vanessa's family. The Salt Lake Temple in copper above my head was a gift from Chile.

4. The Lord loves missionaries. You can feel the prayers from your family at home, and you can feel the prayers from the prayer rolls in all the LDS temples around the world. Your prayers are answered in rapid and undeniable ways. It is something you hope you are worthy of continuing after you are released from the calling. At the end of our mission, our mission president made sure we knew what all missionaries need to know at the end of their missions--that their sacrifice was acceptable to God.

5. The Lord loves people who take care of missionaries. We have seen desperately poor families take great joy in feeding the hungry young missionary elders and sisters, and introducing them to friends and family and neighbors, and they are blessed because of it.

6. If you try to accomplish something on your own, you may or may not be successful. You may find intractable problems along the way. If you are doing what the Lord approves, if you have prayed, prepared, and been patient, allowing Providence to make all the arrangements for you, then what is right will happen in an orderly and almost instantaneous way, if not on the time schedule or even the place or circumstances you had hoped for. It will, in fact, be better than you anticipated.

Elder Kauer is one of the office missionaries whose  job it is to find rental units for young elders and sisters. Letting the Lord make all the arrangements is his motto. If you didn't follow the right plan, you would regret it by and by, but if you did, you would be amazed and thankful. This happened when we bought our car, and when we sold it. While we were away, we saw two of our children, after several years of preparation and prayers, get their dream jobs and move across the country to a much better home situation. If it is right, then it will happen in a marvelous way.

7. If you are a senior missionary couple, a misionero matrimonio, you get to spend almost every living moment within calling distance of your companion. If you loved your companion to begin with, you will come out of the experience in awe and reverence of the incredible person you finally realize you married.

8. Finally, you are changed forever. Your heart is more tender, you cry more easily, you listen to the humblest of souls without judgment or the need to impose your greater wisdom or expertise, you admire more fully, you are grateful for tender mercies and small blessings. Even with the perplexities of living in a foreign country and the sometimes difficult personalities you are expected to coexist with, you are in the process of stripping away things that don't matter, until there is nothing left but determined faith, great good will and appreciation and a desire to serve God's children wherever you may be. This has been our experience.

Your heart has expanded, but you have left an important part of it behind you, in Chile.

Ecuador Kauzay musicians performing in the Plaza de la Independencia, Concepcion, Chile, January 2015

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Farewell to Chile

We knew this day would come, but it came more quickly than we expected. I was cleaning out the apartment--which was surprisingly full of stuff as small as it was--and Elder Kennington was in the process of selling our Outback with the help of Hno. Parra, our resident legal expert.

For my birthday and our farewell, the senior missionaries of the Concepcion Mission took us to lunch at Restaurante Don Quijote.

The 51st annual Feria Concepcion had begun, so we managed to find time to attend. I bought a twin of Hermana Pendley's lapis lazuli ring I had been coveting, and Elder Kennington found these wonderful wall hangings that will forever remind us of rural Chile. The Almacen--storehouse--on the left had a space left blank for personalization, so when the artisan asked Elder K. what name he wanted painted in, Elder K. said, naturally, "Almacen del Obispo," the Bishop's Storehouse.

We wanted to say personal goodbyes to families that mean a lot to us. We visited the mother and grandmother of our missionary sister in Peru, along with her little nephew Victor, who is now a laughing baby with long and enviable pestañas--eyelashes.

It was hard to say goodbye to the Conejos. We gave them an electric fan--ventilador--from our apartment, which their little boys found entertaining and a welcome relief on the warm Chilean summer day. We pray for the Conejos to have everything they need to raise and take care of their family. 

It was even harder to take leave of Andrea, Manuel and Manuelito, who have become very dear friends. They have been a blessing in our lives and we are better people because of them.

It wasn't until Tuesday morning, the day we were to fly out of Concepcion, that Elder Kennington finished the trámite--legal paperwork--to sell the Outback to a deserving member. The Kauers and Pendleys picked us up with all our luggage, and we were met at the airport by the Arringtons, who we were able to say goodbye to. I didn't get a picture of Concepcion since there was fog, but I did get this shot of Santiago as we were landing after the first leg of our flight.

The night flight from Santiago to Atlanta was 10 hours. We were exhausted and able to sleep some. We had to go through agricultural customs because Elder K. still had three Washington apples he bought in Concepcion. The picture above is our flight taking off out of  Atlanta, Georgia.

During the four-hour flight, we passed over the snow-capped Rocky Mountains somewhere in Colorado. Mighty as they are, they are not the Andes.
Mount Timpanogos as we approached the Salt Lake Valley.

Our last leg of the journey, flying out over Logan, Utah.

We knew we were getting close to our destination when we saw the Teton Mountain range in the distance. Our Toyota 4Runner had been taken care of by our daughter Carrie and her husband Jon, who live in Idaho Falls with their four children, so we landed there first.

Circling over Rexburg and Brigham Young University Idaho.

Another shot of the Tetons from the circling plane.

Descending over snowy, sunny, spread-out Idaho Falls. We had a wonderful five-day visit with Carrie's family, got over a little jet lag, started speaking English again, and had to borrow jackets and mittens for the unaccustomed frosty weather.

Back in the U.S.A. with four of the most beautiful grandchildren in the world. The 4Runner was well taken care of, so we took off for a short stay with Conrad and his family in Boise, where we bought some winter clothes! and then, after a visit to Costco to renew our lapsed membership, we made it to the western Treasure Valley where our oldest daughter Vanessa and her family live. They welcomed us with open arms, and we have been trying to catch up on sleep ever since.