Monday, February 23, 2015

Frequently Asked Questions

By Rodger Dean Duncan

First, we send thanks to the many readers of this blog who have taken the time to send words of encouragement during our mission. One long-time friend even sent a five-page handwritten note. Handwritten notes, if you haven't noticed, have become a lost art in this age of digital communication.

We've been asked a lot of questions about serving as senior missionaries. Let me address a few of the more frequent ones:

Will you be transferred? No. In addition to keeping our companionship intact (very convenient when you're happily married to your companion), we will not move to another area. We are assigned to Waco for our entire mission. We are very grateful for that. In addition to not wanting to move again (the younger missionaries have all their belongings in a couple of suitcases), we certainly wouldn't want to have to find another apartment, etc. But of greatest importance, a lot of our work involves establishing relationships with the "locals."

Can you communicate freely with your family? Yes. Younger missionaries are allowed (and encouraged) to email their families once a week. And they may talk with their families by phone (or Skype) twice a year ... on Christmas and on Mothers Day. That's all the communication that's allowed. We, on the other hand, can call or Skype or text our loved ones (and anyone else) any time we wish. We feel especially blessed by technology that makes instant communication possible. One time we received a FaceTime call from our son and daughter-in-law in Italy while we were driving down Interstate 35. (Don't worry. I kept my eyes on the road while Rean enjoyed both the audio and video.) Miraculous!

Rean with some of young friends at last week's district meeting.
Do you do anything other than attend meetings? Of course. Because we are assigned to work with three different congregations and an entire stake (a group of many more congregations), our Sundays are especially full of meetings. But during the week we typically attend only two or three other meetings. The week day meetings are with the younger missionaries. In addition to helping us keep up with the missionaries' activity with finding and teaching, these meetings provide a good forum for us to coach and encourage the missionaries. They do not report to us, but the mission president has encouraged them to look to us for counsel and advice. We love and admire them. We're now working with missionaries in two zones and multiple districts.

When our friend Rodney Ames (our mission
president) comes to our part of the mission he
stays with us. When we go to the northern part
of  the mission, we stay at the Mission Home
with him and his sweet wife. In addition to
his inspired leadership skills, Rodney can
cook a really fine breakfast.
Do you have a strict regimen? No. We were given an area (the Waco Stake, with special emphasis on three congregations) and simply told to "go forth and accomplish good." In addition to relying on inspiration from the Lord, we are using our own experience and proactivity to identify opportunities to advance the work of the Lord. Through the spiritual lens provided by our calling, we see a very target rich environment and are finding many ways to be of service. Also, the local leaders are reaching out to us for help in ways ranging from speaking to leadership training to coaching on public affairs. No grass is growing under us.

Is all of your work in Waco? No. We frequently drive up to the Fort Worth area for various meetings. We can also attend the Dallas Temple as often as we wish (our schedule has allowed only one visit since we arrived before Christmas). And we often drive to surrounding cities for meetings. This past weekend we went to Lake Whitney (about an hour north of Waco) to participate in a Leadership Retreat for the Young Single Adult Branch. Both of us provided some of the training on Saturday morning. Rather than stay in one of the rustic cabins, we opted for a motel in Hillsboro, about half an hour away. Call us sissies if you wish. We figured a motel bill was cheaper than additional visits to the chiropractor.

Do you teach missionary discussions to investigators? Yes. In addition to occasionally accompanying the younger missionaries to assist in teaching their investigators, we are of course called and set apart as proselytizing missionaries. By covenant, and literally by law, we are licensed as ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Just today a member asked us to teach the discussions to one of his friends. We are happy to oblige.

Are you making a lot of friends? Absolutely. And we're certainly getting a lot of practice associating names with faces, and faces with families. After all, we're working with three different congregations. It's a real challenge recalling who is a member of which ward, who the leaders are, who the teachers are, etc. But it's actually going better than you might imagine. People are very friendly here and they've made us feel quite welcome. We are getting especially well acquainted with the stake and ward priesthood leaders. They are relying on us more and more to provide help with their callings. This week, for example, we've been invited to meet with the stake presidency to offer our recommendations for public affairs "staffing" and programming throughout the area.

Do you wear your missionary tags at all times? No. We don't wear them on our pajamas, and I simply clip mine to the shower curtain while bathing. Seriously, yes, we do wear our missionary tags at all times when we're outside our apartment. Why? Because we're missionaries.

As servants of the Lord, we must continually jump off cliffs - then develop our wings on the way down.

What do you miss most about home? One of the many tender mercies about being on the Lord's errand is that the natural tendency to be homesick is mitigated by the joy of meeting and helping people we otherwise would never know. But what do we miss? (1) Our family and friends. (2) Our king-sized bed with custom-made mattresses. (3) Our family and friends. (4) Our climate-controlled garage. (5) Our favorite supermarket. And, oh, did I mention our family and friends?

What's your favorite part of the mission so far? (1) Knowing that what we're doing can make a lasting difference in people's lives. (2) Feeling the spirit with so many nice people in the local congregations. (3) Working with the wonderful young missionaries. (4) Being on a perpetual "date" with each other.

We love you all, ya'll. And we would love to hear from you. Leave a comment (below), or drop us a note.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What E'er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part

By Rodger Dean Duncan

When I first came to Waco in the autumn of 1962 as a Baylor University freshman, I had been a member of the Church for only about five weeks. I knew exactly nobody in this town. The members of the Waco Ward took me in as one of their own. For four years they coached me in all the nuances of being a faithful covenant-keeper. They gave me many opportunities to serve. They welcomed me into their homes and at their dinner tables. I will always remember their kind generosity.

Boys & Girls Club of Waco, originally built to serve as the Waco Ward
meetinghouse of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
In those days, the only Latter-day Saint building in town was at 21st and Alexander Streets. It was a modest, though functional, stone structure of simple design. In addition to a very small chapel, it had a few classrooms, a couple of offices, a small kitchen, and two restrooms. It was in that building that I gave my first few talks from the pulpit and where I received much good tutoring from ward members. My bishop was Roy Durlin Hoppie. He was an insurance executive by profession, but a true leader by disposition and practice. For all of my days I will treasure some of my conversations with him.

When Rean and I came to Waco last Easter to attend the first conference held in the new Waco Stake Center, we asked our Liberty friend Rodney Ames (now our mission president here) to take us over to the old ward building. The Church sold the building many years after I graduated from Baylor, but it's still here. Today it houses the Boys & Girls Club of Waco.

This past week, Rean and I went to the site to inquire about community service opportunities. We met with one of the employees of the Boys & Girls Club and told her about the resources we have: about two dozen young missionaries who can provide up to ten hours of service each week. Like many community organizations these days, this one struggles with funding. It also goes begging for volunteer help. Our offer was welcomed. We will return this week to explore the opportunity further. It's obvious from even a cursory look that the place needs a lot of work: basic clean up, painting, etc.

The former Cripe residence at 2325 Sanger Avenue. Dan's
chiropractic office was in the side entrance.
Another great memory from my Baylor days was my friend Dan Cripe. Dan was my very first home teaching companion. (In those days it was known as "ward teaching.") Dan was a chiropractor. He was only 44 then. He had a thriving practice and was well-known in town. I always enjoyed being with him, and appreciated and learned from his dedication to all things involving service. On many occasions the Cripe home on Sanger Avenue served as the venue for Sunday evening "firesides" featuring (then) high tech film strip presentations projected on his living room wall.

Dan outlived two wives and one daughter. He died in 2010 at the age of 92. Until the day he died he was still practicing chiropractic medicine. As it turns out, the man who took over Dan's practice is a member of the Waco 2nd Ward where we're assigned. I've been seeing him at least twice a week for adjustments on my back. I'm also making regular visits to a massage therapist in the Ward. I'm determined to be in good shape when we return to Liberty.

After a change in assignments, the young missionaries with whom we're working are now in two different zones. The elders assigned to the Hewitt Ward and the elders assigned to the Waco 2nd Ward are in the Waco South Zone. The elders assigned to the Young Single Adult (YSA) Branch are in the Waco North Zone. Because we are assigned to all three congregations, this reconfiguration has the potential to double up our travel and meeting schedule. But we're managing.

On Tuesday we attended the Waco North Zone meeting. In addition to the YSA elders, this includes missionaries serving in the Waco 1st Ward, as well as missionaries serving in Hillsboro and Mexia. A couple of Spanish-speaking elders are also in the zone.

We're enjoying getting to know these missionaries who are new to our circle of associates here. As with all the other missionaries we've met here, these are very solid, mature, and devoted to the cause. It really is remarkable that such sharp young people will set aside two years of school, dating, and all the other activities of their age group so they can serve the Lord in the way they do.

On Saturday the YSA elders brought one of their investigators, Stephen, to our apartment for dinner. Stephen is a junior at Baylor University. He studies religion, German, and business, and is in Baylor's special program for entrepreneurs. We were very impressed with him. He's been studying with the elders for several weeks and is developing a good foundation in the principles of the restoration. He asked a number of very insightful questions, evidence that he is both thoughtful and serious. We look forward to seeing him again, and are hopeful for his progress.

A final thought: In the foyer of the Provo Missionary Training Center a large stone is displayed. It's associated with David O. McKay. He was president of the Church when I was baptized in 1962 (he died in 1970). I had the opportunity to meet and visit with him personally (and even privately) on a number of occasions. (If one were casting a movie about modern-day prophets, David O. McKay—with his flowing white mane and majestic bearing—would be the star.) I first saw the stone in the MTC many years ago, but it now has especially poignant meaning because of our missionary service.

Here's what President McKay said about it: "I remember as a missionary in Scotland fifty-seven years ago (1898), after having been in Stirling only a few weeks I walked around Stirling Castle with my companion. I confess I was homesick. We had spent a half-day around the castle, and the men out in the fields ploughing that spring day made me all the more homesick. As we returned to the town, I saw an unfinished building standing back from the sidewalk several yards. Over the front door was a stone arch. There was an inscription chiseled in that arch. When I approached near enough, this message came to me not only in stone, but as if it came from One in whose service we were engaged: 'What E'er Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part.' That was a message to me that morning to act my part well as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is merely another way of saying—what is more precious because it comes from the words of the Savior—'Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven."

We're trying.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Ancestral Roots in the Texas Fort Worth Mission

By Rodger Dean Duncan

In some ways, I feel like I'm serving a mission alongside my ancestors. Here's the story.

My maternal grandparents were at the heart of much of what I recall about my childhood – hard work tending to farm chores, long fishing trips, delicious food in great abundance, church meetings, warm summer evenings sitting under the cloudless Oklahoma skies back when you could actually see the stars.

My grandfather, always known as Granddad, grew up in central Missouri and migrated to Oklahoma after returning from France where he served in the U.S. Army during World War I. 

My grandmother was born in North Texas, and came to Oklahoma in about 1920. We always called her Mom because my mother and older brother and I lived with my grandparents while our father served overseas during World War II. Our mother called her mother “Mom,” so as young boys we picked it up.

Until I left home for Baylor University at the age of 18, Mom and Granddad were by far my closest confidants. They taught me some of the most important lessons of life. They were especially instrumental in preparing me to accept the restored gospel when I first heard about it during my last term in high school. (I was baptized shortly thereafter.)

Like many of us, Mom yearned to know about her spiritual roots. But she had only sketchy information. She knew that her mother, Willie Price (who died when my grandmother was only a small child), grew up in an orphanage in Dallas. She knew nothing beyond that. In other words, she didn’t know even the names of her own grandparents. This was incomprehensible to me because my grandparents were (and still are) such important figures in my life.

My grandmother died in 1976, and my grandfather followed four years later. When Mom left mortality, she still knew nothing of her grandparents.

In 1981, when we lived in New Jersey, I was working on family history. Through a chain of events that can be described as nothing short of miraculous (family history works like that), I unearthed some promising clues. I followed the trail, reminiscent of the breadcrumbs in the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. One piece of data quickly led to another. Then I discovered a treasure trove of information that Mom had longed for all her life.

James Calvin Price,
Rodger Dean Duncan's
great-great grandfather
Mom’s grandmother was Mary Josephine Clementine Woolf. As a young woman she met and married James Calvin Price. After bearing three children (including my great-grandmother Willie Price), Mary became ill and died. James Calvin struggled to raise the children. This must have been particularly difficult because he was a Baptist circuit rider (evangelist) and traveled all over Texas on horseback. In 1892, James Calvin Price became ill himself and died. He was only 40 years old.

With no parents or any other family members to care for them, the Price children were placed in the Buckner Baptist Orphanage in Dallas. Shortly thereafter a fire at the orphanage destroyed all the records. That’s one reason my own grandmother never knew about her ancestry.

My research uncovered family history more detailed than I’d ever imagined. A lengthy journal by another family member painted rich word pictures of Grandfather Price’s spiritual depth, intellect and personality. One of my favorite stories was about a group of hoodlums who tried to disturb a tent meeting (a religious revival) by setting fire to an arbor at the back of the tent. Grandfather Price and his brother-in-law sneaked up on the young men and marched them – at gun point – to the front of the congregation and made them sit on the "mourners bench" usually reserved for widows. Then they warned the hoodlums that if they disturbed the meeting again they would be “shot from the pulpit.” Now that’s my idea of a reverence program!

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth
For a man of his time, Grandfather Price was extremely well educated. He was fluent in both Greek and Latin and was a prolific writer. In addition to being a prominent Baptist circuit rider of the day, he was founding editor of a Baptist newspaper that served members of his faith throughout the southwest. He wrote hundreds of religious tracts on subjects like the Atonement and the Abrahamic Covenant. On microfilm in the library at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth you can read tens of thousands of words written by and about this great-great grandfather of mine.

James Calvin Price’s territory as a Baptist circuit rider included what is today the Texas Fort Worth Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In Waco I keep his picture in our apartment as a reminder that I’m one of his descendants, now serving a mission of my own in that same Texas territory. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Seniors, Transfers, Gratitude

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Senior Missionary Retreat

Throughout the world, mission presidents are virtually pleading for more senior missionaries. (By "more," I mean additional, not older.) The Texas Fort Worth Mission has an official "allotment" of 11 senior missionary couples. But because our mission president has made an excellent case for more, we have them.

Last week we enjoyed a Senior Missionary Retreat. On Tuesday evening we all attended the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo. In its 119th year, this is among the biggest events of its kind anywhere. While calf-roping and bull-wrestling are not necessarily our favorite spectator sports, it was a fun evening. We had dinner with our good friends Rodney and Kimberlee Ames (he's our mission president), then spent the night with them at the Mission Home.

Senior Missionary Couples in the Texas Fort Worth Mission - fine people all.                                     
On Wednesday we met for half the day at the Colleyville Stake Center. This included lots of good discussion about challenges, opportunities, and best practices. Some of the senior couples are focusing on military relations (Fort Hood is one of the largest military installations in the world), while others work mostly with young single adults. Rean and I got acquainted with couples who, like us, are focusing on MLS (member and leader support) work. We were interested to visit with one couple (Al and Donna Holland) who lived and served in the same New Jersey stake that we did 30+ years ago. We also enjoyed spending time with Max and Shirley Murdock from our home stake of Independence Missouri. It's a small world, and service in the Church seems to make it even smaller.


One of the many great things about serving as a senior missionary is that you get to keep the same companion throughout your mission!

Throughout the mission, every six weeks there's a "transfer." That's when the young(er) missionaries are moved from one area to another. Not every missionary is transferred, but many of them are. A typical practice is that missionary A will stay in an area when his/her companion (missionary B) is transferred elsewhere. Then, six weeks later, missionary A may be the one to move. This provides continuity in relationships with local members and people being taught. It also gives missionaries the opportunity to meet new people and experience new relationships. Then there's the issue of "missionary dependency." New members of the Church tend to develop strong bonds with the missionaries who taught them. (One of the missionaries who taught me nearly 53 years ago is still a close friend.) The ideal is for new members to develop a strong circle of friends among the members where they live.
Elder Ty Shields (right) is returning
home this week. He was only 18 when
he received his mission call. He is
mature way beyond his years and has
been an excellent missionary. His
companion, Elder McCabe Coats,
will now be a District Leader in
South Waco. GREAT young men!

There are other reasons for transfers, but these are among the most obvious. In any event, I'm pleased that my companion (my wife) will not be transferred elsewhere. I'm also pleased to report that being together literally 24/7 for the first time in 47+ years is very pleasant. (We understand that some senior couples struggle with such constant proximity.) Here's the way I figure it: I plan to spend eternity with my sweetheart, so this is good practice.

Meanwhile, we will sorely miss a couple of the young missionaries who are returning home with honor this week. Since our arrival here before Christmas, we have been with them several times a week and have marveled at their dedication and maturity. We've spent many hours with them during trips to Fort Worth, during weekly District meetings, during Zone conferences, in the homes of members, in teaching appointments, and when we've hosted them in our apartment. We've grown to love them. So saying goodbye is hard, especially when we realize we will likely never see them again.


Because we spent five weeks in Italy before preparing for the Missionary Training Center, and because we then reported for duty in Texas on December 22, we never got any Christmas cards sent this year. And because of delays in mail forwarding from Liberty to Waco, we didn't receive any Christmas cards until well after the holidays. So to all of our family and friends, we send a much belated Christmas greeting. We are so grateful for all of you, and wish you the very best for all of 2015. Meanwhile, we really miss you all. But we're heartened by the knowledge that we're on the Lord's errand.