Sunday, January 11, 2015

Tender Mercies, Nametags, and Covenants

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Tender Mercies

We try to maintain the habit of noticing and appreciating the tender mercies of life. One tender mercy related to our mission came even before we got here.

As reported in a previous blog post, the week after Thanksgiving Rean and I came to Waco to "set up shop." We returned to Liberty, then flew to Utah for our week at the Missionary Training Center. After the MTC we came to Waco in time to celebrate our first Christmas away from our family in 45 years. 

The Duncan home that awaits us in Liberty, Missouri.
For now, Waco, Texas, is our home. Y'all.
The tender mercy is this. We love our beautiful home in Liberty. It is so personal, so familiar, so comfortable, so accommodating. But the last time we were there we both noticed, independently, that the house seemed oddly estranged. It's still a magnificent, spacious place. But it somehow seemed to be saying to us "This is not your home right now. Waco is your home. You will return here, but for now the Lord wants you and needs you in Waco. That should be your focus." So it is.

One recent day we attended District Meeting in the Hewitt Building about 12 minutes from our apartment. Afterwards, we went to the IGA Supermarket on Hewitt Drive right near the turn-off to our apartment. At the intersection of Hewitt Drive and Sun Valley, we stopped at a red light. There were several cars in front of us. When the light turned green, all the other cars lurched forward. The car in front of us slammed into the back of the car in front of it, then that car did the same to the car in front of it, and the ensuring chain-reaction involved at least four vehicles. There was considerable damage to one of the vehicles, and likely a few whiplashes. We feel very blessed that we were not part of that mess. It reminded us of a really terrible (probably fatal) accident we once avoided in California because we paused about three seconds before going through a green light. The instant we started to move, a speeding truck barreled through the intersection. There’s no way we could have survived. Another tender mercy.

Waco, Then and Now

Yes, it can get cold in
Waco, too. Wind chill
factor below zero.
Waco, does indeed, feel more familiar every day. The town is considerably larger than it was when I first enrolled at Baylor University here more than 52 years ago. But a lot of those old memories are starting to come into focus for me, and Rean and I are discovering a lot of "new" things together. "New" is of course a relative term. For example, some of the things on the Baylor campus that seem "new" to me have now been here nearly half a century. If I allowed myself to, I could feel ancient. My body is clearly older, but I'm thankfully still young at heart.

This past week was filled with a lot of productive activity. We participated in an excellent Zone Council meeting in nearby Temple, Texas. As mentioned before, we are so impressed by the young missionaries who serve in this area. In addition to their spiritual maturity, they demonstrate terrific "professional" skills. For example, most of them can organize and conduct a meeting better than many of my professional clients who are twice their age. Most of these missionaries are only 18-20 years old when they report for duty in the mission field. But when they return home 18 to 24 months later, they have matured well beyond their chronological ages. The CIA, the FBI and other government agencies have long been impressed by the maturity and capacity of Mormon young people--to the extent that the government sends people to Brigham Young University to try to figure out the "secret formula." The "formula" is no secret. People who are genuinely committed to a cause bigger than themselves enjoy accelerated learning and maturity.

Dinner Guests, New Friends

This week we hosted Blake and Paula Christensen in our apartment for dinner. Blake is president of the Waco Stake, and previously served as president of the Killeen Stake before the Waco Stake was formed. Blake and Paula are among the first people we met here on our initial visit last Easter. They are wonderful, faithful people and we love being with them. Rean discovered, again, that hosting a dinner in our apartment is not nearly as convenient as doing the same in our Liberty home. But it all works, despite the fact that every day we seem to notice something we intended to bring but somehow managed to leave in Liberty. No complaints, though. The apartment we found and rented is very nice and we're grateful to have it.

Today we spoke in the Hewitt Ward sacrament meeting. We also attended the ward's Missionary Correlation Meeting (before the three-hour block), then the Ward Council Meeting after the block. We are very impressed by the focus and dedication of the ward members as they reach out to serve others.

On Friday we visited Gloria and her daughter Anna. Gloria, who's in her 70s and is a native of Mexico, has a Catholic background. Anna is in her late 40s. We went to teach Gloria and were pleased to meet Anna, too. The visit went very well and they asked wonderful questions. Gloria is very attracted to Latter-day Saint teachings about the Godhead (Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost).  And Anna seemed absolutely delighted to learn about the great apostasy that created the need for the restoration. "I've always wondered why there are so many different churches," she said. "Surely they can't all be right, especially since they often disagree." We invited them to attend church with us and we're confident they will. (Today's weather was cold and damp and we assume they stayed home because of Gloria's fragile health.) We hope to see them again this coming week.


As full-time missionaries, we wear our missionary tags everywhere we go outside our apartment: to the supermarket, the gas station, the barbershop, the car wash, the fitness center where we exercise. Everywhere.

Our conviction has always been clear and we’ve always been bold in expressing our faith. But there’s something about wearing a missionary nametag that really “lays it out there.” After all, the largest font in the logo says “JESUS CHRIST.” As covenant-makers, we’ve taken upon ourselves the name of the Savior. The missionary tags provide a tangible, unequivocal sign of that allegiance.

It’s been interesting to observe people’s response to the nametags. Some sneak a glance out of the corner of their eyes, apparently not wanting us to notice that they’re curious (though not curious enough to ask a question). Others look at the tags and say something like, “Oh, you’re missionaries! That’s great. Have a blessed day.” And then others seem eager to draw a distinction between their beliefs and what they assume are ours. A man at the barbershop was cordial at first, then he noticed my nametag and said, “Oh, you’re a Mormon!” with a tone one might adopt in saying “Oh, you have poison ivy.” He followed up with, “I’m a Baptist,” to which I cheerfully responded: “I used to be a Baptist, too. They’re wonderful people. As a young Latter-day Saint I was surrounded by Baptists when I was a student at Baylor University.” (Somehow, mentioning my Baylor background gives me a certain amount of street cred in Waco, Texas.) We then struck up a friendly conversation.

It’s apparently not uncommon for the missionaries here to be greeted (accosted?) with something like, “I don’t want to talk with you, I’m a Christian.” This is a remarkable response, especially given that the name of our church emphasizes the name of the Savior himself. It’s interesting that some people can be so woefully misinformed about our religion.

Back to the nametags. As covenant-makers, we promise to take upon ourselves the name of Christ. Not necessarily in the sense of wearing a tangible nametag, but certainly in the sense of faithfulness and allegiance to the Savior's restored gospel. When we fail to honor that promise, we are taking the Lord’s name in vain. For many people, taking the Lord’s name in vain involves foul language. While that definition is accurate, it’s also limited. I think the broader definition is worthy of consideration.

Maya Angelou

On a related note, I’ve always liked a quote from poet Maya Angelou. She said that when someone claimed to be a Christian she would respond with an incredulous “Already?” She may have understood more true doctrine than she realized. Professing belief in and demonstrating allegiance to Jesus is certainly a prerequisite to adopting the title of “Christian.” So is lifelong, constant effort to live the gospel as the Savior taught.

Love to all.

Elder and Sister Duncan
Texas Fort Worth Mission
The Church of Jesus Christ
   of Latter-day Saints

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