Friday, December 18, 2015

Sweet Homecoming

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Our year-long missionary service in Texas has come to an end.

We met Jeannette Lane during our first week in Waco. She
was completely inactive. She's now stalwart and faithful in
every way. A native of Wales, she is delightfully spunky,
with dazzling intelligence and a quick wit.
We can honestly say that in our 48 years of marriage, 2015 was one of the very best. We labored together in consecrated ministry in a way we'd never experienced before.

We've served in many church callings over the years, and have often been companions in that service. But being full-time missionaries is different. The focus is intense and constant. The sense of unity is magnificent.

Our final 90 days in the mission were a blur. We've never had a year pass so quickly, and the last three months seemed especially fleeting. Obviously the "time flies when you're having fun" cliche is a fact.

Although our missionary service was wonderfully satisfying, that's not to say it was always easy. We are tired. But it's a good kind of tired and we know we will soon be rejuvenated by other opportunities to serve.

A common question about our mission has been "What was the hardest part?" By far, the hardest part was saying goodbye to our new friends in Texas. We loved being in Waco. Except for the Brazos River and the strikingly beautiful Baylor University campus, Waco is not a particularly attractive town. But the people are kind and generous and very easy to love. We treasure our new friendships, and will forever cherish the memories of what we did, what we learned, and what we felt while serving as missionaries.

Over the past year our blog posts have only scratched the surface in reporting our goings-on. Suffice it to say that we're confident we accomplished a lot of good in Waco for a lot of people. Most of all, the experience was a blessing to us.

We will never be the same.

A few days before our mission's end we drove down through the beautiful
Texas Hill Country. We spent a day and a night in the delightful town of
Fredericksburg, famous for his antique shops. It was all decked out for
Christmas. We especially enjoyed the carriage ride through town. Before
heading back to Waco, we drove over to Stonewall, Texas, to see the
Lyndon B. Johnson Ranch. Because we arrived early in the morning, we
enjoyed a private tour of the ranch house. 
You'll recall our sweet friend Amber Cook. She was baptized in March. She's
a Baylor University graduate and a school teacher. Now she's in graduate
school at the University of Texas. She was originally introduced to us by
Ross Cooper in the Waco Young Single Adult Branch. Let's just say that Ross
takes fellowshipping very seriously. They drove all the way up from Austin
to say goodbye to us on the eve of our departure from Waco.
These eight Elders helped us load the trailer for the move back home to
Liberty. A couple of missionary Sisters helped with final cleaning. Also
pitching in were a friend from one of the Waco wards and a member of
the Waco stake presidency.
Our friends Isaac and Wyndi run The Retreat, the terrific apartment complex
where we've lived for the past year. We will always remember their kindness.
We spent the last night of our mission in Southlake, Texas, at the home of
Kevin Kaufman of the mission presidency. We enjoyed a fine dinner and a
memorable evening of singing and devotional with several other missionary
Upon arrival in Liberty, we had our first meeting with Adeline, our new
great granddaughter (daughter of our granddaughter Morgan). When we
drove up to our home we were greeted on the front lawn by about two
dozen members of our ward congregation. Daughter Rachel had
orchestrated the decoration of a ten-foot Christmas tree in our living room.
There was fresh food in the refrigerator, Christmas candles in the windows,
 and the sweet feel of homecoming.
The afternoon after our return, our stake president visited our home and
issued our formal release from missionary service. It was a heart-tugging
moment. We're of course happy to be home, but we sorely miss our
Texas friends and the indescribable blessing of full-time service in the
cause we love.
Back to Reality: For now, my office (above) and Rean's studio (below) resemble a tornado scene. But in a few
days we will sort it all out and begin to ease back into our home routines. For Christmas we will host a
houseful of loved ones. How could life be better?
Thanks for reading our mission blog these past twelve months. We hope you have enjoyed a glimpse of our joyous journey.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

LeaderSHOP for Saints

By Rodger Dean Duncan

The LeaderSHOP for Saints we organized and produced for the Waco Stake was a rousing success. More than 250 ward and branch leaders attended the event on Saturday.

We started with an opening talk by me, then separated into eight break-out groups that focused on performance issues of particular importance to the organization (Young Women, Relief Society, Primary, etc.).

This was my last talk in the Waco Stake where we've gained
many treasured friendships and cherished memories.
My talk emphasized serving by covenant rather than merely by assignment.

Here's one story I told:

In 1979 my friend Ardeth Kapp (who was then the General Young Women President in the Church) attended the cornerstone ceremony at the Jordan River Temple. She arrived a bit late and was unable to take the seat that had been saved for her near the front. So she stood back in the crowd. 

Most of the people around her were taller than she, so she could see little more than backs and elbows. But then she noticed something wonderful. Off to the side she could see some men in dark suits and white shirts and ties

pouring sand and cement and water into a wheelbarrow and mixing up the mortar. Then as the speakers finished their addresses and it was time to lay the cornerstone, the men quietly took the mortar over to the corner and the ceremony began.

Ardeth realized she probably wouldn't remember many of the things that were said that day, but she would always remember that the mortar that those men almost anonymously mixed would serve to hold that cornerstone in place through the eternities.

When we have a choice, how often are we willing to mix the mortar? How often are we willing to serve anonymously to render quiet acts of love and service ... the simple notes of gratitude and appreciation, the phone calls, the visits that are unassigned and very low profile? These quiet acts of loving service are the mortar that can hold lives together. It's often in the supporting roles that we can offer the most magnificent performances.

Do we serve only by assignment, or do we serve by covenant?

Our friend and mission president Rodney Ames taught the break-out
session for bishops, mission leaders and ward missionaries. As always,
his instruction was first rate.
After my talk we formed break-out groups throughout the stake center. These sessions were 90 minutes.

The stake president spoke at the closing session and emphasized the importance of quality teaching.

The entire event was only 2.5 hours in length, beginning at 8:30 AM and adjourning at 11:00 AM. This gave participants plenty of time for the rest of their Saturday.

When we proposed this event to the stake presidency several months ago they immediately put it on the stake calendar to accommodate our release date. This LeaderSHOP replaced another training event that was originally scheduled for the first quarter of 2016.

To prepare for the LeaderSHOP, we coached the stake council on their responsibilities, then delivered a train-the-trainer workshop for those selected to leader the break-out sessions. Most presenters were members of ward councils who are qualified to teach with credibility on best practices. The result was eight truly excellent break-out sessions. All the trainers were exceptionally well-prepared and participation was lively and engaging.

We are grateful to have had the opportunity to produce this event for the Waco Stake. We're confident it will have a positive impact here for a long time to come.

A Savior is Born

The Church has produced another glorious series of Christmas videos. These are already going viral on the Internet. Click here to take a look.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Turkey, Family, Friends, and Rummikub

By Rodger Dean Duncan

It seems that life's most beautiful moments accelerate and slip beyond our grasp just when we want to hold onto them for as long as possible.

That's how we feel about our mission. We've met and worked with so many wonderful people. They've been kind and generous to us. Fortunately many of them promise to visit us at our home in Liberty, Missouri. We will hold them to those promises.

We always take one serious photo and one goofy one. We'll let you decide
if this one is serious or goofy.
This past Monday evening we drove 90 miles to the north to the mission home in Colleyville. There we spent a great evening with our mission president and 16 other missionaries who have completed their missions and are heading home. We don't leave until December 14, but we were invited to attend this farewell. After a tasty dinner of Texas barbecue (what else?), we sang hymns and had a testimony meeting. The latter revealed in living color the amazing spiritual maturity of these young people. We will miss them. And we think they'll miss us, too.

What would a family celebration be without Kermit?

We spent two days of Thanksgiving celebration at the home of my sister Patricia and her family in Terrell, Texas, about 30 miles east of Dallas. It's always so fun ... and caloric ... to visit there. It's like being at an upscale spa, complete with entertainment (especially when our nephews are there).


We loved having a visit from Brent and Helena Knapp and their lovely daughter Ava. Helena was a member of the BYU 40th Ward when I served as bishop about 20 years ago. She and Brent are also friends of our daughter Rachel and son-in-law Kirk. In fact, it was Helena who introduced them. Thanks to Ava for decorating our mini Christmas tree. Didn't she do a nice job? Her reward was a Kermit cuddle.

Is it our imagination, or are stake presidents getting younger
these days?
Friends Forever

Did you ever meet someone and just know from the very beginning that you'll be lifelong friends? That's how we feel about Chris and Amanda Price. Chris is the (relatively new) president of the Waco Stake. He and Amanda are a treasure to us, both as friends and as fellow workers in the kingdom.

Last night we drove down to Temple to enjoy a delicious dinner with the Price family, plus games of Chicken Foot Dominoes and Rummikub. (Our grandchildren will be happy to hear that for the first time in my life I played Rummikub.)

We love to see strong young families like the Prices who are so devoted to the gospel. Chris and Amanda and their children Cody (left), Mason, and Kylie promise to visit us next summer in Liberty.

Opinion, Please

Don't you think Brent Knapp and Chris Price (above) look enough alike to be brothers?

LeaderSHOP for Saints 

In our next blog post we'll report on the December 5 LeaderSHOP for Saints that we've organized for the Waco Stake.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Parable of the Marshmallows

By Rodger Dean Duncan

We live in a world of instant gratification. Young couples often start marriage expecting to enjoy the same conveniences and material things it took their parents decades to acquire. Some students seem to believe that real learning requires only a quick scan of a Cliff Notes booklet. In this age of smartphones, millions of people have come to regard "communication" as a series of 140-character tweets, brief bursts of texts punctuated by smiley faces and other emoticons.

With spiritual things, some people seem to regard prayer as little more than a perfunctory pass through the drive-up lane to place and order and then pick up the requested blessing at the check-out window.

One of the most important lessons we can learn is that blessings come on God's timetable, not ours. Part of the test of faith is learning to wait. Learning to be patient. Learning that miracles come in various sizes and shapes and forms. Learning that our spiritual development cannot be rushed like a microwave dinner.

In addition to being a great metaphor in learning the power of faith, delayed gratification has some interesting scientific applications. In a series of studies in the 1960s and 1970s, scientists at Stanford University explored the long-term effects of delayed gratification. In the studies, a child was offered a choice between one small reward (usually a marshmallow) provided immediately or two small rewards if they waited for a short period. In follow-up studies, the researchers found that children who were able (and willing) to wait longer for the desired rewards tended to have better life outcomes as measured by SAT scores, educational attainment, body mass index and other life metrics.

That same principle applies to spiritual development. People who willingly "pay the price" of faith, patience, and devotion tend to have excellent outcomes. Oh, they are not insulated from life's bumps and bruises. They are not immune to disappointment and heartache. But they are better prepared to weather the storms.

Click here to see a brief message (2:41) about applying this principle in your own life.

What We're Teaching

Some readers of this blog have asked about what we're teaching during our mission.

Much of our work has involved "public affairs" activity, building relationships with various nonprofit organizations in the Waco area. As reported in previous posts, that work has focused on organizations that serve the poor and needy. Some of this service has involved providing leadership and change management training. We love this no-strings-attached service and we've met many good people in other faith communities.

When we work with "investigators" (people who express an interest in exploring our faith), we use a course of study called "Preach My Gospel." (We think this should be a focus in every Latter-day Saint home.) Prior to baptism, an investigator receives at least five lessons. The baptismal candidate is expected to attend church multiple times (why would you join a church if you weren't willing to attend?) and make specific commitments regarding devotion to the Lord's commandments.

The first three lessons we teach are the Message of the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Plan of Salvation, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Investigators typically experience an "ah ha" with these lessons. Why? Because as children of God they have a sense of "homecoming." They sense that their Father in Heaven cares about them personally and that He has a plan for helping them find their way back home. It's a wonderful sight to behold, and a privilege to carry the message.

To learn more about what we've been teaching, click on any or all of the following links: The Restoration, The Plan of Salvation, The Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Entering the Final Laps

It's really hard for us to believe, but in three weeks our mission ends and we'll return to our home in Liberty, Missouri. But there's still plenty of work to do here in Waco. We're preparing for the Stake LeaderSHOP that we've organized for December 5. We're expecting 400 or more church leaders to participate in training that will help them in their leadership roles.

Our friend Jeannette Lane is a charming, highly intelligent
women, certainly the feistiest and most able and
independent 81-year-old we've ever known.
Meanwhile, as the Savior taught, the key to the ninety-nine is the one. We treasure the friendship we've developed with Jeannette Lane. Sister Lane, a native of Wales (you can only imagine how her accent compares to the way other people talk in Central Texas) joined the Church ten years ago. She went inactive about two years ago. We met her when we first arrived in Waco and took her under our wing. She is now fully active again, deriving personal meaning from the Apostle Paul's proclamation that "[we] are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God." (Ephesians 2:19) This past week we took Sister Lane to the Dallas Temple. It was her first visit to the Temple in eight or nine years.

Our young missionary friends are very fond of Rean's cooking, and they
especially appreciate the yummy (and healthful) treats she provides at our
weekly training meetings.

On nearly 70 occasions over the past 11 months we have welcomed young
missionaries and others (local church leaders, people from the community,
etc.) into our apartment for meals, teaching, and friendship. This past week,
four missionaries spent the night with us before going to a training
conference in Fort Worth with a General Authority.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Father Has No Children to Spare

By Rodger Dean Duncan

These are the fall colors we get at our home in Missouri. 
Not so much in Central Texas. We love both places.
In Central Texas, there don't seem to be seasons. There are temporary "spells," and they don't necessarily coincide with our expectations for a particular time of year.

For example, last Christmas Eve here in Waco it was warm enough to require air conditioning to cool our apartment.

We especially miss autumn. At home in Missouri, the autumn colors have exploded in their full glory. In Waco, only a few trees are turning orange even in mid November.

Because we were married in October, we have many fond memories of autumn. We've observed our anniversary in beautiful overseas places like Prague and Florence, and we've celebrated in less exotic venues like a hospital cafeteria (our first grandson was born 13 years ago on our 35th anniversary).

One year Rean and I decided to take a spontaneous October trip to honor our anniversary. We love the magnificent colors of autumn in New England. So we flew to New York, rented a car, and headed north through Connecticut and Massachusetts.

As we entered a little village in southern Massachusetts we noticed a small sign at the side of the road. It read simply: “Please drive carefully. We have no children to spare.”

At first, we chuckled. What a friendly safety reminder, we thought. Then it occurred to us that – though likely inadvertent – that message was pure gospel doctrine: Our Heavenly Father has no children to spare. He wants us all to return home safely to him.

Our Father and our Savior have given us a glorious Plan of Salvation. It’s a simple Plan. Nothing complicated. No tricks or convoluted requirements. The purpose of the Plan is to enable us – Heavenly Father’s children – to make wise choices that help us navigate through the crooks and turns of mortality.

Today, our GPS devices are on the dashboard of our car and on the screens of our smartphones. But the very first GPS we used years ago seemed to have a personality all its own. When we made a wrong turn, it would “talk” to us in a tone that seemed a bit impatient or even condescending. It would say, with apparently exasperation, “recalculating.” If we made another wrong turn, it would again say "recalculating." Eventually, we always found our way to our safe destination.

With the Holy Ghost, each of us can have the ultimate GPS. The Holy Ghost has his own way of urging us to “recalculate” our position and direction. But his guidance is never impatient, never condescending.

The church organization itself is the ideal environment for our spiritual growth and development. The Savior’s restored church provides the heaven-ordained support for the human family. And because it is the Savior’s restored church, it’s organized exactly as originally established by the Savior himself.

This makes for interesting conversation with people from other faith communities. Not long ago we hosted a dinner party for a Baptist minister and his wife. Our friend expressed interest in how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints "works." He was especially intrigued that the Church has no professional clergy. He struggled to understand how an LDS bishop, for example, would devote 30 or more hours a week to his ecclesiastical duties and receive zero monetary compensation. I explained that we don't campaign for position. We don’t submit our resumés for selection by some hiring committee. As covenant-keepers, we simply make ourselves available to serve in whatever capacities the Lord invites us. We do it gladly because it's all about covenants, not about jobs. As leaders in the Church, we are deputized to help develop the faith and spiritual capacity of others among Heavenly Father’s precious children. That stewardship, I explained, implies both an awe-inspiring trust from the Lord and a humbling partnership with the Lord.

And we do our best to lead and serve with special care. Why? Because our Father has no children to spare.

My Favorite iPhone Playlist

Sometimes when I'm exercising, taking a 20-minute power nap, or even when driving, I like to play music stored on my iPhone. My go-to playlist is a series of hymns.

At the top of the list is "I Love the Lord." My favorite version is the BYU Mens Chorus from the April 2007 Priesthood Session of General Conference. This wonderful rendition, sung to the tune of "Be Still My Soul," is an arrangement by Ronald Staheli with John Tanner's paraphrase of 2 Nephi 4 as lyrics.

Click here to see and hear the 2007 performance. Then follow the wonderful lyrics, below.

I love the Lord, in Him my soul delights.
Upon His word, I ponder day and night.
He’s heard my cry, brought visions to my sleep,
And kept me safe o’er deserts and the deep.
He’s filled my heart with His consuming love,
And borne me high on wings of His great dove.
Yet oft I groan, "O wretched man am I"
My flesh is weak and I’m encompassed by
A world of sin, which holds me in it’s thrall,
If I give in and to temptations fall.
Then strength grows slack, I waste in sorrow’s vale;
My peace destroyed, my enemies prevail.

The Lord my God, who is my rock and stay
To keep me strict upon His straight, plain way.
Oh let me shake at the first sight of sin
And thus escape my foes without and in.
Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin.
Rejoice, my heart! And let me praise again.

I love the Lord, in Him my soul delights.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

What's Your Six-Word Resolution?

By Rodger Dean Duncan

What does Ernest Hemingway have to do with teaching
how to apply gospel principles?
We live in an age of 140-character tweets and other superficial forms and styles of communication. How we communicate has a profound influence on how we think (and of course vice versa). If a young missionary tells me he thinks the gospel is “freaking awesome,” I am impressed by his enthusiasm but have concerns about how much he really understands. But when he tells me a detailed story of an investigator’s conversion and specifies in concrete terms how the gospel and its saving ordinances will bless that person’s life, then I know he “gets it.”

For a few years in our home congregation in Missouri, Rean and I taught a Sunday School class for 16 and 17 year-olds. We constantly emphasized personal application of the principles discussed in class. We gave weekly assignments and asked the class members to return and report. At first, their responses were superficial. But over time they learned to think. (What a concept.)

At the end of the year we told them about the challenge Ernest Hemingway once accepted to write a novel in six words. (His novel: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”) We asked the class members to write a six-word resolution with an emphasis on specifically how they intended to be more effective covenant-keepers in the coming year. 

We gave them a week to ponder. Then another week to write. The results were very impressive.

This laser-focused exercise caused them to consider their testimonies and personal commitment in ways that had never before occurred to them. Sharing and talking about their six-word resolutions strengthened their purpose and courage and it helped them connect the dots with all the principles we had discussed in class the previous months. It helped them adopt a “Hey, I can do this!” spirit. 

Effective, soul-changing gospel living is all about application. As we are asked to teach and train the leaders in the Waco Stake, we are using this same where-the-rubber-hits-the-road approach. We like the results we're seeing.

Clarity is a Good Thing

In pre-Revolutionary Russia a man was confronted by a soldier as he walked down a road. Aiming a rifle at the man, the soldier demanded, "Who are you? Where are you going? Why are you going there?" Unfazed by the sudden interrogation, the man replied with a question of his own: "How much do they pay you?" Somewhat surprised, the soldier answered, "Twenty-five kopecks a month." After a thoughtful pause, the man said, "I have a proposal for you. I'll pay you fifty kopecks a month if you'll stop me here every day and challenge me to respond to those same three questions."

None of us has a "soldier" confronting us each day with life's tough questions. But we can honestly ask the questions ourselves. If we choose to, we can issue our own self-challenges to push ourselves not only to do better but to be better.

One of the verities of mortality is that we become what we want to be by being who we want to become.

As missionaries, we teach the beautifully simple and simply beautiful Plan of Salvation. For the sincere seeker, that Plan provides answers for all of life's most important questions:

  • Who are we? We are the literal spiritual offspring of a loving Father in Heaven. This seems to be news to some people, even those who habitually pray to their "Father in Heaven." The relationship is real. You can look it up.
  • Where are we going? As children of God, we came to earth to be tested and proved. Because we have agency, we can choose. Our choices involve everything from our favorite flavor of ice cream to how, or even if, we worship God. If we choose to worship God, and if we accept his son as our savior, we must decide how we will worship. That includes which doctrines we choose to follow. In other words, we can go along with God or we can go along with the philosophies of men. God has only one Plan. Men have countless.
  • Why are we going there? The answer to this question depends on how "there" is defined. If our "there" is a focus on Heavenly Father's plan and the generous grace of Jesus Christ, our motivation will be commitment and obedience to God's unchanging and unchangeable law. If our "there" is a worldly corruption of God's plan (no matter how well intended), our motive may be tainted with something like political correctness.

In the past few days we've seen a lot of media hubbub about the Church's clarification of policy regarding same-sex relationships. This is not at all "new doctrine." There is no "new doctrine" and never will be. It's merely a clarification of policy in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision.

In media outlets ranging from CNN to the usual trash-talking blogs, we've seen widespread misunderstanding and blatant misrepresentations of the Church's position on same-sex relationships. We've even seen social media posts by church members who are apparently confused or troubled by the policy clarification. For those who want the unvarnished account of the Church's position, click here to see an interview with Elder Todd Christofferson. You'll see that the policy clarification is all about compassion, reason, and a desire to protect children from conflict. And click on "New Additions to the LDS Handbook: Not the Perfect PR Plan" for an especially helpful and well-reasoned discussion on the subject.

Which brings us back to the three questions above. A wise man once said: "If you have not chosen the kingdom of God first, it will in the end make no difference what you have chosen instead."

We rejoice when we see good people accept baptism and confirmation in the Church. In most cases, they are already faith-filled Christians. We love to share in their excitement as they learn how to practice Christianity in the way specified by the Savior himself. Priesthood covenants really do matter. Priesthood ordinances really do matter.

And for those who try to re-tool God's laws to conform to the social trends and philosophies of the day, we refer to scriptural warnings: If we say "I have enough, I don't need or want to align myself with the teachings of the prophets, I'll go my own way," the Lord will accommodate us by ceasing to give us more and by withdrawing the understanding he's already given.

How grateful we are for a loving Heavenly Father. For the atonement of a merciful Savior. For a Plan of Salvation that is unchangeably fair and user-friendly. For the restoration of the Lord's authentic priesthood and the church exactly as he organized it during his earthly ministry.

Clarity is a good thing. What's your six-word resolution?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

By Rodger Dean Duncan

These are our friends Desiree and her aunt Maria. They are
from Brazil, and they live in our apartment complex. Desiree
is a pre-med student at Baylor University. They are lovely
people and attend the Waco 2nd Ward and the YSA Branch.
Teaching the gospel is a wonderful experience.

So far, every single person we've taught on our mission was already a Christian. At least in the sense that they accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

But to an extent, much of their belief has been somewhat generic.

In most instances, they've never really considered much of anything we would call "doctrine." The typical view has been "I believe in Jesus, He's got my back, I'm good."

That's an excellent start. But not enough.

The Plan of Salvation is both good news and new news to the people we've taught. They are thrilled to learn that they (and all of us) are literally children of God. They are thrilled to know that their Heavenly Father has a specific plan for them and all of His children. They are thrilled to understand, with clarity, that choice is a key ingredient of the plan and that Father has given all of us the opportunity to choose specific behaviors and actions that will lead us back to Him.

The behaviors include obedience to principles. These are not "suggestions" with loopholes. They are commandments with promises. The actions include covenants and priesthood ordinances that open multiple doors of opportunity for spiritual advancement.

The Plan of Salvation is relatively simple. And, as someone once said, "to believe in God is to know that all the rules will be fair, and there will be many wonderful surprises."

For some people, acceptance of the restored gospel does not require significant life changes. They're already living Christlike lives and their personal habits are congruent with what the Lord would have them do and be. When they accept baptism in the mode and by the authority prescribed by the Savior, they are on the path to progress that will bring them much happiness.

For others, baptism into the Church means significant changes in habits, behaviors, and even their circle of associates. Note that I did not say circle of "friends." A "friend" is someone who helps you be your best. An "accomplice" is someone who influences you to miss opportunities, to engage in harmful habits, to make bad choices. It's common for accomplices to masquerade as friends. One of the welcome benefits of the Holy Ghost is that He can help us know the difference, then have the courage to choose the right.

In coaching my business clients as well as fellow church members, I have for many years used a poem by Portia Nelson. It's called "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters." Read it carefully. See how it might apply to one of your challenges (we all have them).

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Please Don't Rain on Our Prade

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Baylor's first homecoming parade, 1909.
Homecoming Weekend is one of the year's biggest events at Baylor University. In fact, Baylor claims to have been in the homecoming business longer than any other university ... more than 100 years.

Baylor's first homecoming in 1909 was a pretty big deal even by today's standards. It was nearly 40 blocks long. The colorful extravaganza featured bands, horse-drawn carriages and wagons, student and civic organizations, and a stream of dignitaries. That first homecoming parade was led by a towering drum major who, it was reported, was "six feet six in his stocking feet and without his bearskin cap."

Baylor Homecoming's Pigskin Revue, 2015.
Unfortunately, the weather put a serious damper on this year's festivities. As Hurricane Patricia roared across Texas, the Waco area was slammed with torrential rain and thunderstorms. Due to the danger of lightning, Saturday morning's big parade was cancelled. This was a big disappointment for many thousands of alumni who had converged on Waco for homecoming weekend. But the cancellation may have been even more disappointing to the student groups who had invested weeks of work and reportedly up to $15,000 on each of the parade floats they had prepared to showcase.

But there was plenty of opportunity for indoor fun. Rean and I attended Pigskin Revue. This is the annual homecoming tradition showcasing the winning acts from the previous spring's All University Sing competition. The performances are musical, Broadway-style acts prepared and performed by campus organizations, complete with costumes, elaborate backdrops and props, and complex choreography.

My date for Baylor Homecoming weekend. And forever.
When I was a Baylor student I participated in All University Sing. My group did a take-off on the heartwarming Fiddler on the Roof, which had just opened on Broadway. It was a lot of work, but fun. The campus performances in those days had a sort of Doris Day or Julie Andrews quality. Some of the 2015 acts, especially the dance moves (even by performers dressed as nuns), are more reminiscent of Miley Cyrus or Lady Gaga. I miss Doris and Julie.

Although we won't be in Waco as full-time missionaries, we will likely come for Baylor Homecoming next year. 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of my graduation.

Search and Rescue

When the Waco Stake first established a Young Single Adult Branch 13 months ago, the move was met with much excitement by single Church members in the age 18-31 range. For the first time ever in the Waco area, they would have their own congregation with a focus on activities especially suited to their interests.

Elder Max Murdock (center), tutors YSA Branch President David Hodson
and Branch Clerk Tom Morley on creative uses of membership databases.
Seasoned priesthood leaders were called to the branch presidency. Then members of the YSA congregation were given the opportunity to serve in Relief Society and priesthood callings that most of them had never before had. 

Service, it's been said, is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth. YSA members are stepping up to the calls to serve, and missionary work is going very well in the branch. But there's still plenty of opportunity for outreach to single stake members who could be attending the branch.

Elder Murdock demonstrates how to reconfigure membership
records to produce helpful color-coded reports that facilitate
finding and activation work. 
Today in the Waco Stake there are about 650 members who fall into the 18-31 age range. Only about 25% have chosen to attend the YSA Branch. The others fall into four categories: (1) those who simply prefer to attend a traditional family ward, (2) those who are temporarily out of the area serving missions, serving in the military, or attending school, (3) those who have chosen to be inactive, and (4) those who are otherwise unaccounted for because they no longer live in the Waco Stake but did not leave forwarding addresses.

The goal is first to account for all members on the records, then to ensure that those who wish to be active are given every opportunity to participate fully. You might call the effort Search and Rescue. 

Getting the records "cleaned up" is not just a matter of administrative neatness, although there's much to be said for that. It's primarily about ensuring that Church members are afforded the appropriate "customer service" associated with their membership.

To help the YSA Branch leaders with this, Rean and I enlisted the help of Elder Max Murdock. Max and his wife Shirley are from our home stake in Independence Missouri. They, too, serve as full-time missionaries in the Texas Fort Worth Mission. They are assigned to work with single adult wards in Arlington and Denton, about two hours north of Waco. 

Max is a whiz with all things computer related, especially the ins and outs of using the Church's massive database on members. Last week Max came down to Waco and spent an evening tutoring  the YSA Branch presidency. They were very appreciative of his help, and we're confident their new-found skills will pay rich dividends in finding and activation work here.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Friends, Gratitude, Gifts

By Rodger Dean Duncan

A Visit With Amber

From previous posts you'll recall that in February and March we taught the missionary lessons to Amber Cook. She was baptized on March 28. Amber is a Baylor University graduate and was teaching at nearby Midway High School. She recently moved to Austin for a graduate program at the University of Texas.

The lovely Amber is like a granddaughter to us.
We treasure our friendship with Amber and stay in touch with her. In fact, this past week we drove down to Austin for a visit. We went to lunch on Wednesday, then on Thursday we toured the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum with her on the UT campus. The LBJ Library is right next to the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. We wanted to see that, too, but didn't have time. Dolph, a former Texas governor, was a fine man. I got to know him well when I traveled extensively with him during the 1968 gubernatorial campaign. (I was a political writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)

Amber is doing exceptionally well. She's active in her university student ward and attends the LDS Institute there. Her testimony of the restored gospel is very solid. It's always a pleasure to be with her.

With friends at Cave Henricks and Shelton Interactive. They
inquired about Kermit, who's in many of our blog photos.
Unfortunately, Kermit did not make the trip with us. As an
apology, he asked to be inserted here.
Our Bookish Friends

While we were in Austin we stopped by for a brief visit with my friends at Cave Henricks Communications and Shelton Interactive. These folks are world-class media relations experts who specialize in promoting business books and other nonfiction titles. They've helped many authors reach bestseller status, and they're the ones who helped promote my most recent book CHANGE-friendly LEADERSHIP. In addition to being top pros, they are really outstanding people. I'm impressed by their Christian values and excellent work ethic. I like them very much.

Zone Council, Transfers

We recently had another Waco Zone Council. These are typically just before transfers, which means some of our missionaries will be transferred to other areas of the mission, and some have completed their missions and are returning home. Either way, it's a time of mixed emotions for us. We are proud of "our" young missionaries and wish them well on the next phase of their life journeys. And we are saddened to see them leave. We cannot say enough about the amazing devotion of these young people.

Kermit enjoyed the Baylor-West Virginia game. The Bears
scored 60+ points again.
Another Fireside, More Teaching

We did another fireside on Sunday evening. This one was for the Single Adults in the Waco Stake.

Rean gave a wonderful talk on gratitude, referencing a General Conference address by Dieter Uchtdorf (April 2014) and a 1989 talk by Henry Eyring. I spoke about using heaven-sent gifts. As the springboard of my talk, I used the Apostle Paul's declaration from the 4th chapter of Philippians: "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." We love meeting with the saints of the Waco Stake, and really appreciate the stake presidency and bishops for giving us so many opportunities to serve.

This coming week will bring more teaching, plus preparation for future events. Time is flying. We'll return to Liberty in only 56 days. How can that be possible?

Monday, October 12, 2015

Happy Anniversary to Us

By Rodger Dean Duncan

October 1967
Today is our 48th wedding anniversary. Yowza!

On this day in 1967 we were certainly not thinking about missions. In fact, on this day only two years ago we weren't thinking about a mission. But we are so very grateful that we made ourselves available for service. This experience has been (and still is) a lifetime highlight.

So how did we celebrate our big day? We visited our friendly chiropractor. Went grocery shopping. Then drove over to the stake center to visit with our (younger) missionary friends on their P-Day (P is for preparation). Rean took snacks (as she does virtually every week), and we took photos (with Kermit, of course) of all the missionaries who are being transferred. This evening we will drive down to Temple to enjoy a family home evening with a group of our good friends. We really know how to party, don't we?

P-Day with Kermit and friends
Over the years, we have celebrated our anniversary in a wide range of ways. Two especially memorable anniversaries were sharing dinner with our son Baylor at a fine restaurant in Prague (Czech Republic), and eating dinner in the cafeteria of North Kansas City Hospital. The latter was because our first grandson, Duncan, was born on our 35th anniversary. After enjoying our first face-to-face with him in the maternity ward, we decided to celebrate the day in the hospital cafeteria.

We love October 12.


Last night we did a fireside for leaders of three congregations in Temple, Texas, about 45 minutes south of here. The chapel was nearly full and I was asked to speak for 90 minutes. The requested topic was leadership as a covenant, not just as an assignment. As always, I told a lot of stories to illustrate key points. Some of what I covered included stewardship delegation, use of SMART Goals, use of mind mapping, appropriate collaboration as a ward council, how to manage ward "culture," how to foster commitment to purpose, and other issues related to effective leadership. The feedback was very positive (we've received more than a dozen emails just this morning), and the stake president said the training was especially helpful. We regard that effort as one of those "this is why we were called to serve in Waco" moments.

Stake Conference

This past weekend was also stake conference. On Saturday, I was asked to speak at stake priesthood leadership meeting. Then in the afternoon, Rean and I did a Train-the-Trainer session for all the people who will lead break-out sessions of the December 5 LeaderSHOP we're spearheading for about 450 leaders in the stake. It was a very productive day.

On Saturday night, President and Sister Ames, and their son Jacob, spent the night with us at our apartment. A good time was had by all.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Missionary Work is All About Multiplication

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Four years ago this week I had an "unscheduled outage"  major heart surgery to replace three blocked arteries. Mercifully, I did not have a heart attack. My heart is very healthy and strong. But without the surgery, which was not at all planned, I likely wouldn't be here today.

It was during recuperation from surgery that I wrote CHANGE-friendly LEADERSHIP. I'd thought about the book for years, but my heavy consulting load kept me away from the keyboard. Several weeks of post-surgery travel restriction provided just the pump primer (no pun intended) to get the book project on a path to completion.

It's always a pleasure to spend a couple of days with a roomful of nice
people. These leaders from Baylor Scott & White are very sharp.
What Rean and I didn't know at the time is that (a) the book would turn out to be very popular, and (b) it would be an excellent tool for our missionary work. (At that time a full-time mission wasn't even on our radar.)

This past week I did another pro bono leadership workshop based on the content of the book. This workshop was for leaders of Baylor Scott & White, the largest not-for-profit healthcare system in Texas. It includes 49 hospitals, more than 800 patient care sites, 5,800 physicians and 38,000 employees. These folks have more than 5.3 million patient encounters each year. So helping them improve their effectiveness can have far-reaching implications.

Missionary work is all about multiplication, touching the lives of relatively small numbers of people who then "pass along" what they've learned to many, many more. We readily acknowledge that our ever-generous God has given us a multitude of gifts. We're now trying to share those gifts in ways that will bless others among His children. ("Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." - Matthew 25:40)

Brian O'Grady is a Baylor Scott & White vice president. We
loved spending an evening with him and his beautiful family.
A delicious dinner was hosted by our dear friends David and
Sheryl Gleason.
I loved doing the workshop, and took every opportunity to mention how the leadership principles I teach are gospel-based. The two-day workshop enabled me to make some good friends for the Church. In fact, on Friday evening Rean and I had dinner with one of the Baylor Scott & White vice presidents and his beautiful family. We think there's a chance they will attend a fireside we're doing next Sunday evening.

Elder Rasband, Elder Stevenson,
and Elder Renlund.
New Apostles!

At this weekend's General Conference, we were pleased to sustain three new apostles in our Church. Elder Ronald A. Rasband, Elder Gary E. Stevenson, and Elder Dale G. Renlund were called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to fill vacancies resulting from the recent deaths of Boyd K. Packer, L. Tom Perry and Richard G. Scott. It is such a comfort to know that the Lord's true Church has been restored to the earth, along with the authentic priesthood. No politicking, no jockeying for position, no self-promotion. These men, all with marvelous secular credentials, will set aside all worldly pursuits and devote the rest of their lives to the Lord's work.

Waco's original LDS Chapel where I attended
church during all my years at Baylor University.
Bishop Hoppie is on the far right.
Down Memory Lane

Our Missionary District Meeting this week was held at the old Latter-day Saint chapel on Viking Drive in Waco. I say "old" because it is now the oldest LDS building in Waco. But it is not the first. As mentioned in one of our early blog posts, Waco's first LDS building was dedicated about a decade before I enrolled at Baylor University here in 1962. That structure is now home to the Boys and Girls Club of Waco.

While at the Viking Building this week we noticed a display case containing historical documents related to the dedication of the original LDS chapel here. It seems a bit like ancient history now, but I recognized some of the people in the photos. One was Roy Durlin Hoppie who served as my bishop during all four of my years at Baylor. I had been a member of the Church for only five weeks when I first arrived at Baylor. Bishop Hoppie was a marvelous coach and mentor to me and taught me some critically important principles and practices that have served me well for the past fifty-plus years.

5 Leadership Lessons from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir 

More than a year ago I wrote a piece for Forbes magazine entitled "5 Leadership Lessons from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir." It's still getting online views, especially around General Conference time. Click here to see it.