Sunday, January 18, 2015

Home Away from Home

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Notice that Texas is spelled with a lowercase "t." Was it an
innocent mistake, or was the sign installed by Yankees?
The apartment we’ve rented in Waco is in an ideal location. We’re only about 12 minutes from the Waco Stake Center where we attend many of our meetings (we’re assigned to work with three congregations), and ten minutes or less from most any kind of shopping we need to do. Some shopping, in fact, is literally within easy walking distance. 

We’re also only about ten minutes from the Baylor campus where we hope to do some public affairs work. Several times a month we're attending various meetings in Temple and Killeen, which are 30 minutes and 60 minutes south of Waco, and in Fort Worth, which is about 90 minutes north. 

We bought a new seven-passenger SUV just for this mission, and it’s turning out to be very useful in transporting missionaries from place to place. (Most of them have cars, but they appreciate getting rides with us to preserve their monthly mileage allotment. And we love their company.) The SUV also provides good visibility as we navigate surprisingly heavy traffic. Rean prefers that I do all the driving. It's okay with me because the SUV is pleasant to drive. Meanwhile, a question: Are there any highways in the State of Texas that are not under some phase of demolition or construction?

No excuses. Lots of exercise options,
including cardio. Early morning is best.
Our apartment complex, which is gated, has nearly 300 units. It’s only about two years old. Most of the residents seem to be professional people. We’ve seen only one child. The staff is very friendly and helpful. 

In addition to the comfort and security of our apartment, we appreciate the on-site fitness center. We use it every morning, and almost always have the entire place to ourselves. (Everyone else is either sleeping in or getting ready to leave for work.) Our doctors, and our mission president, recommend daily exercise. We’re happy to comply.

Rescue Squad

This week we were particularly pleased to spend time with a young woman, a life-long member of the Church, who drifted away a few years ago. She's now divorced and has a seven-year-old daughter. She's been living with her boyfriend for at least a couple of years. She expressed interest in returning to activity and getting her life in order. A critical first step, of course, was for her to move out of the apartment she's been sharing with her boyfriend (he has shown no inclination to leave). Fortunately, she followed the counsel and this week moved in with her parents (who are faithful, active members). 

The situation has some tactical complications because this young woman unwisely commingled her finances with her boyfriend (joint bank account, co-ownership of a car, etc.). But she understands that those details are trifling when compared to the all-important issue of living a moral, covenant-keeping life. She has the loving (and grateful) support of good parents, and we are doing our best to provide lots of reinforcement. In her parents' living room this week I gave her some counsel in my usual unvarnished way. Then I told her that I was sure that everything I said pretty much echoed what she had heard from her mom and dad, but sometimes an additional witness is helpful. Her parents shook their heads in the affirmative, and the young woman expressed tearful thanks for the heartfelt and straightforward counsel. For the past several days I've been sending her periodic "social media hugs"texts with appropriate scriptures, quotes from General Authorities, personal words of encouragement.

Zone Conference

One might assume that a day-long meeting, which included seating on metal
chairs, would be intolerable. But when the meeting is well-planned, well-
executed, and engaging, it's a wonderful experience. Especially when the
entire focus is on the most important work in the world. And of course it
certainly helps to be surrounded by great people.
Friday was Zone Conference. It was in Killeen, about a hour south of Waco. President and Sister Ames dropped by our apartment to pick us up so we could ride down with them. On the way, we gave President Ames a thorough briefing on how the work is going in the Waco area. (Friday night they stayed with us in Waco, and we enjoyed a relaxing breakfast together after an early-morning workout.)

There are nearly 300 missionaries in our mission. This is divided into 12 geographic zones. Our day-long Zone Conference was attended by more than four dozen missionaries, plus a stake president, several bishops, several ward mission leaders, and a number of local ward missionaries. I can't say enough good things about the quality of the meeting. Our friend Rodney Ames, the mission president, was exceptionally well prepared. In addition to having a marvelous vision for how the work can and must be done, he has a gift for helping people "connect the dots" and transform the vision into very specific action steps. He's a great listener, especially to the Spirit. Multiple times during the multi-hour meeting he briefly paused, then deliberately take a short detour before returning to his original path. That's what happens when one allows himself to be guided by a power that's immeasurably more clarifying than mere intellect. We've known Rodney for many years. In addition to being a good personal friend, he's our family attorney. It's a special pleasure to serve with him in this capacity. (Actually, in a sense, the roles are somewhat reversed. Many years ago I served as stake mission president in Liberty. Rodney and his wife Kimberlee were stake missionaries. We loved having missionary firesides in our home. We would often have as many as 80 people in our living room. Great memories.)

Our New Best Friends

Some of the young missionaries who work with us in Waco.
We really love the young missionaries who surround us, and we believe the feeling is mutual. These young warriors (of both genders) are so strong and faithful and stalwart. They teach with remarkable power. They conduct meetings with impressive maturity. They encourage people with love and empathy one might expect to see only in people twice their age. 

Just as we had hoped, the young missionaries have accepted us not only as fellow soldiers in the Lord's Army, but also as sort of away-from-home surrogate grandparents. They come to us for counsel, and we're happy to offer ideas and coaching. Meanwhile, we make it clear that we are learning from them, too.


Because the Church's missionary force (88,000 strong worldwide) is so disciplined, hugging missionaries of the opposite gender is verboten, especially when the hugging is done by someone in a real or perceived position of authority. That policy is entirely appropriate. Having said that, Rean and I have noticed how much the younger missionaries here appreciate getting hugs from us. I've been hugging the elders, and Rean has been hugging the sisters. In addition, we've passed along "proxy" hugs. That's when I hug Rean and she passes the hug along to one of the sisters. The young missionaries have clearly liked this. On Friday we got permission from our mission president to hug all the missionaries. (Perhaps the fact that these missionaries are young enough to be our grandchildren played a role in his leniency.) In any event, the missionaries literally lined up at the end of Friday's Zone Conference so they could collect their hugs form Elder and Sister Duncan. We loved it.


  1. Enjoying these updates!


    Luke, Hadley, Catherine, and Elinor

  2. Thank you for the updates. You are such an elegant writer which makes it that much more enjoyable to read.

  3. My son, a missionary in your area, told me to check out your blog. Thank you so much for sharing your experience in the mission field. It is wonderful to learn more about the area and hearing the nice comments you have about our missionaries.

  4. Elder Lehman is a very impressive young man. Within a week of arriving here he was performing like a veteran. He's eager to learn, eager to volunteer for assignments, and has a wonderful spirit of love for everyone he meets. Nice job, Mom!