Dear family, friends, and missionary support group:
We have absolutely terrific missionaries here! I can say this as a fact, because I just saw every one of them at our all-zone conference. They are dedicated, hardworking (and hard playing, and hard eating) creative, helpful, attentive to instruction, supportive of their brother elders, and anxious to build the kingdom. There are few things as inspiring as a chapel full of missionaries. You can feel the power - and the potential power.
The theme of the conference was "I Believe in Christ" and we started out with two hours of instruction on the Atonement, by our Area Seventy, Elder Garith Hill. Through use of the scriptures, group participation and pure testimony, Elder Hill brought a spirit that lasted throughout the conference.
He gave some good counsel to the missionaries. He reminded them that through the Atonement we can always start over and progress. "The advocate uses love to inspire people. The adversary uses fear to control people." He used the example of Adam and Eve and added,"The minute you do anything wrong you hear ringing in your ears: Run away! Hide! You are no longer worthy."
"An angel came to tell Adam and Eve why they were performing sacrifices. For the Adams and Eves out in the world, we may be the only ones who ever clearly indicate to them how they can have hope." We do not threaten, coerce, or manipulate. We invite as many as will believe."
After lunch the elders split into workshops: The Divine Companionship (with the Holy Ghost as the third companion), Tailored Lessons (designed specifically for individual investigators),
Teaching Skills, and Having a Balance in the Work. Then we had a wonderful testimony meeting, with missionaries sharing miracles and things they have learned, along with their testimonies. It's so amazing to see the change that occurs in a missionary during his two years of service. They are so impressive!
We had a Christmas dinner (the couples sliced 10 or 12 small turkeys to make it happen!) and then the infamous talent show. Every zone sang or did a skit, then individual missionaries put some very nice numbers together. And last, but not least, the annual slide show, composed of photos taken by the missionaries throughout the year, sorted into categories, and set to music by the office elders. Elder Lemmon was the "producer" this year. The missionaries were then asked to "Drive home slowly, and get to bed quickly!"
Wednesday morning was another powerful session, as President Colin Wilford of the Hillcrest Stake spoke on the characteristics of Christ. He referred to the way President Hinckley used to refer not only to the reality of the Saviour, but to his personality. We should understand and appreciate both. He referred to scriptures that exhort us to learn about Christ: "These scriptures were not suggestions. They are divine imperatives to know the nature of God." President Wilford also reminded the elders that "The Saviour himself only served a three-year mission."
He then discussed the temptations Jesus resisted in the wilderness. Jesus responded to each temptation with doctrine: "It is written..." as if to say, "Don't challenge me on this." Satan knows what is written, so in the second temptation he himself quotes scripture, and Jesus again responds with doctrine, as He does with the third temptaion. "Every single temptation you will ever be exposed to was intensified in this experience of the Saviour. He gave them no heed (which means not allowing them any foothold, no matter how small). He turned to the doctrine and remembered who He was."
Elder Hill had said the day before, about missionary work: "We do not threaten, coerce or manipulate. We invite those who will hear. " President Wilford added: "We are here understand what they need to help them become better." Then we offer it.
He encouraged the missionaries to find the scriptures with the phrase "one by one" and ponder about each of those experiences. Finally, he invited them to "firmly resolve to put aside any actions that are foreign to the nature of Christ." President Wilford always gives a thought-provoking, personal talk that sends me away with lots to think about and follow up on in the scriptures. He's a counsellor by profession, so maybe he looks at things from a slightly different angle than the rest of us. In any case, we were "well-nourished by the word of God" by both our speakers.
The last activities were sports (no injuries!!!) and lunch, then back to their areas with renewed energy to Build the Kingdom. Last year Elder Wells, our Area Psychologist, attended our all-zone conference and did a presentation. He told us that it was one of the best emotional lifts the elders could receive - so we feel it was practically like filling a prescription for emotional health.
Getting back to real life included several elders needing doctor's appointments, and one with an emergency appendectomy. The elders in Nhlangano, Swaziland hit another cow (same bakkie, different elders); one of our cars (parked and empty, fortunately) was hit by a drunk driver, who tried to reverse and take off, and ended up in a ditch instead; a transmission went out; and a bike elder crashed and hurt his knee. They'll be walking for a few days. Everyone's fine, though!
ps A cat has started hanging around the mission home (and inside the mission home, when it can get in!). It's well-fed and very tame, so we assume it has a home. We aren't allowed any pets, but it made me miss my cats!
pps I've seen 2 houses with Christmas lights as I've driven around (a lot). One was all blue lights, and the other yellow-white. I miss my big old coloured outdoor lights!