Monday, January 26, 2015

Great People, Great Teaching, Great Opportunity

By Rodger Dean Duncan

The Church members here have extended a warm welcome to us. We've had multiple dinner invitations. The hospitality is exactly what we remember and love about people in Texas (native or otherwise). And the amount of food they put on the table is fit for a caravan of truck drivers. If we don't discipline ourselves we'll need to get new (larger) wardrobes.

"Orange ya glad we brought
some Vitamin C?" We often
give the young missionaries
special treats. Even the most
simple things are appreciated.
For the younger missionaries, as most of you know, the "rules" of operation are very specific and deliberately regimented. The young women serve for 18 months, the young men serve for 24 months. (Click here to see a brief and inspiring video from a newly-called young missionary.) Outside the privacy of their apartment, a missionary is never to lose visual contact with his companion. Missionaries have no (as in zero, nada) access to social media or music other than the Tabernacle Choir or similar sacred fare. They call home only twice a year: on their birthdays and on Mothers Day (sorry about that, Dad). Their schedules are very tight and filled with study, community service, teaching, and other activities that directly advance the cause of the gospel in their own lives and in the lives of others. They are up early, doing physical exercise and gospel study. A missionary has one "P-day" (p for preparation) each week. The morning of that day is typically devoted to things like grocery shopping, doing laundry and apartment cleaning. This may be followed by something like a game of (half court) basketball or a visit to a local attraction like a zoo or museum. Then back to the work  of finding and teaching. Young missionaries rise no later than 6:30 am, with lights out no later than 10:30 pm. It's part of a routine that will serve them well the rest of their lives.

The State of Texas is obviously very
liberal with policies on custom car tags.
The local leaders in this area seem to understand why we're here. But some of the rank-and-file members seem very curious about our role. That's probably because we are the first senior missionaries ever to serve in Waco. Younger missionaries have served here at least since before I was a Baylor student 50 years ago. But "senior" missionaries like us are apparently a novelty. Compared to the younger missionaries, our schedules are extremely flexible. We're expected to use our own experience and proactivity in working with the local members and others in the community. This includes helping members expand their vision (and actual work) on their own "missionary" responsibilities.

Grasshoppers in January. Really!
For example, we met this week with Alan Mayfield. Alan is a district judge and well-known in the community. (As it turns out, we knew each other briefly before my graduation from Baylor 49 years ago.) Alan has served as a bishop and in numerous other callings over the years. His current assignment in the Waco Stake is public affairs. But he has had limited guidance, so the program is really not very functional. I offered to help him get the public affairs operation properly organized (this will of course require support from the stake presidency). I'm confident that with a visionary approach and the right kind of "staffing," public affairs can have a significant positive impact on the growth of the Church here. The purpose of public affairs is not proselyting. It's all about building bridges of understanding with people throughout the community. We can do it. We will do it.
With Trish and Alan on a weekend visit.

On Friday of last week we took some of the missionaries from Waco up to Arlington where they previously served. A year ago they baptized a couple into the Church, and on Saturday the couple was sealed in the Dallas Temple. The elders joined them for the happy occasion. Rean and I spent Friday night at the home of my sister Patricia and brother-in-law Alan. They live in Terrell, about 40 miles east of Dallas. It's always good to be with Trish and Alan, and being at their place is like hanging out at an upscale spa. Great food, great conversation, lots of laughter, and splendid accommodations.

Zone Conference. Great day with great people.
On Sunday morning we attended the SMC (Stake Missionary Correlation) meeting with the stake president, our mission president, and the zone leaders. Naturally  the discussion centered on how to bless the people who are headed toward baptism or who have recently (in the past year) been baptized. We are extremely focused on retention, because baptizing people and then having them slip away is not at all the Lord's plan. We have a very impressive set of metrics that enable us to track the progress of individual people. President Ames and I zeroed in on a couple of specific issues that need tweaking. For example, how to help ward councils focus their resources in more effective ways to bless new members. I felt like I was coaching a business client, although in this instance the implications are eternally more important. 

Overall, we have found the Sunday worship services here to be exceptionally good. We've heard some of the best sacrament meeting talks one could ever hope to enjoy: well prepared, scripture-based, lots of excellent personal examples and testimony, etc. And the Sunday School classes are also excellent. In one of the wards we attend the Gospel Essentials teacher is a beautiful and bright young woman (about 30) who grew up in the Church and then dropped out for a few years while she was in college. She then married and returned to the fold, extremely grateful for the welcoming arms of the gospel. She is a remarkably able teacher, very adept at keeping the discussion laser focused on the most salient points of the doctrinal points she teaches. Note one of her chalkboard illustrations.

In addition to following through on a number of initiatives we're working on here, this coming week we'll be up in Fort Worth for a senior missionary retreat. I'll report on that next time.

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