Sunday, April 26, 2015

Valentine's Day in April (and every day)

By Rodger Dean Duncan

As reported months ago, our experience at the Missionary Training Center prior to coming to Texas was a delight. The instruction was excellent, the atmosphere inspirational, and the company extraordinary.

But we learned one thing that was disappointing: not all senior couples have a successful mission. In fact, some senior couples actually get divorced after their mission. Although that number is extremely small, it underscores a reality: some couples can’t seem to manage spending so much time together.

I’m happy to report that Rean and I are getting along famously. (This will be no surprise to those of you who know us!) Except for the occasional manicure or haircut or meeting, we are together 24/7. I cannot imagine a more wonderful marriage or missionary companion. She is the love of my (eternal) life. And she seems to like me okay, too. We thoroughly enjoy our time together, and this mission is helping us serve each other as we’ve tried to do these past 47-plus years. Corny though it may sound, every day is Valentine’s Day for us.

The recent change in the Waco stake presidency opens up some opportunity for more relationship building. Although we already know all three members of the presidency, we will now get to know them in the context of their new assignments. We have a meeting scheduled with them later this week. We will brief them on our public affairs activity. Notably, we will tell them about our outreach to the City of Waco, the Waco Foundation, the Prosper Waco organization, and a range of non-profits. We’ll also report on our efforts to build relationship bridges between the church and Baylor University, a key player in most everything in this city. In addition, we will offer recommendations on such matters as increasing the frequency and quality of “member present” missionary lessons in the stake.

Regarding Baylor, we reported earlier that I was to meet with Burt Burleson, the university’s chaplain. That meeting went superbly well. Burt and I hit it off like long-lost friends. He introduced me to his complete staff (several associate chaplains, mission directors, etc.), then we had a wide-ranging discussion about possible collaboration between the church and the university on service activities. It turns out that Burt’s son Brandt is a graduate of William Jewel College in our hometown of Liberty, Missouri. He also knows our friend David Sallee, William Jewell’s president. This really is a small world. Just one more of millions of reasons to be on good behavior at all times. Burt said he would like to know more about our church. I pointed to my missionary name tag and told him we can accommodate that request. We will invite Burt and his wife Julie to dinner at our apartment.

Someone showed me this 
photo from the 1966 
Baylor yearbook.
This past week I was guest professor in a marketing communications class at Baylor. I really enjoyed being with the students, and have appreciated getting to know some of the faculty members. I will do some more guest teaching in the fall semester. These relationships will help us identify resources for some of the public affairs work we’re doing in Waco.

We’ve continued to try to balance our missionary work with daily exercise. I go to the fitness facility at our apartment five days a week. I walk at least five miles a day, more than half of it at aerobic speed. But our favorite activity is walking along the Brazos River or through Cameron Park. Waco has some incredibly beautiful parks and walking trails. As the summer heat and humidity set in, I’m sure these walks will need to be very early in the morning.

This week brings another round of transfers. We will say sad goodbyes to some of the young missionaries we’ve adopted as our own. But that will be somewhat offset by the pleasure of meeting those who are new to our area.

The work goes on. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Konnections, Konference, and Kermit

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Another busy week, filled with lots of activity that will bear both short- and long-term benefit for the gospel cause in Waco.

Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce
You'll recall from a previous post that we met with Matthew Polk, executive director of Prosper Waco. That's an organization established by Waco's movers and shakers to address the generations-old issue of poverty in the city. Matthew invited me to attend one of the organization's meetings, not just as an observer, but as an active participant. So on Monday I attended a meeting focused on "financial security" issues ranging from jobs to availability of food. The meeting was held at the Greater Waco Chamber Building. About 40 people attended. They were obviously expecting me, because my name was on a name tent with an assigned seat. My table mates included the mayor of the City of Waco and three people who lead various non-profits that focus on serving the poor.

The conversation was focused and lively. When the discussion turned to the issue of generational poverty, I suggested that we "work backwards" and consider root causes rather than just the obvious symptoms. We then talked about the importance of helping young people (perhaps as early as elementary school age) catch the vision of the importance of everything from school success and simple money management to manners, comportment, grooming, and other factors that affect the ability to get and keep a job. I asked if any organizations in town provide a mentoring program for young people. One man at the table said his organization tried to provide mentoring "but ran out of money." I asked what money had to do with it. He said: "Well, we had to pay the mentors." Call me naive, but I was stunned. From my Latter-day Saint perspective, it never occurred to me that anyone who's really serious about lifting people up would need to be "paid." I then learned that virtually every "poverty" program in town relies heavily on paid staff, with only a few volunteers.

I have an idea about establishing a mentoring program that could (1) make a significant long-term difference in Waco's struggle with poverty, and (2) encourage the city's many faith communities to collaborate in ways they've not done before. As the idea is fleshed out, we'll report on this blog.

In any event, I was grateful to be invited to participate with the Prosper Waco organization. In addition to getting acquainted with the mayor, I also met the president of the Chamber of Commerce and the leaders of multiple businesses and non-profits. We expect the connections we're making to be a major factor in our efforts to help the community.

Waco Zone Conference, 10 April 2015
Much of the rest of the week was devoted to missionary meetings: Waco North Zone Council on Tuesday, Waco South Zone Council on Wednesday, an all-day Zone Conference meeting on Friday, and stake conference on Saturday and Sunday.

The Waco Stake Center
At the weekend conference, the Waco Stake presidency was reorganized. Our friend Blake Christensen was released after nearly ten years of service as stake president. Three other fine men were called to serve in the new presidency. Two of them we know quite well. It is wonderful how leadership works in the restored church. Nobody gets paid (at least not in money). Nobody campaigns for office. Nobody chooses where he or she will serve. The Lord is in charge of it all. When Latter-day Saints are "Called to Serve," it's by revelation, not by lobbying for position. It's a simple and beautiful thing to behold.


We were blessed to host Rodney and Kimberlee Ames as
our overnight guests during stake conference. (Rodney is
our mission president.) They are dear friends from our
hometown of Liberty, Missouri. We love being with them.
At our home in Liberty, our grandchildren enjoy the "Kermit game." Someone "hides" Kermit. The rule is that only a small portion of "Kermit green" can be showing. The hiding strategies can get very imaginative. Then when someone finds Kermit, he or she finds another hiding place.

As a treat to our grandchildren (and ourselves), we've invited Kermit to accompany us on our mission. You'll be seeing more of him in the future. This past week, Kermit met many new friends in the army of missionaries. He was a big hit, and has been adopted as official mascot in this part of the Texas Fort Worth Mission.

Kermit with some of his new friends at the Waco South Zone Council meeting.

Kermit waxes strong in confidence.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Blessings As the Work Goes On

By Rodger Dean Duncan

This weekend's General Conference (broadcast worldwide from Salt Lake City) was marvelous, and a great way to celebrate Easter. Rean and I watched all ten hours and took lots of notes. I found a tip for myself in every single message and every piece of music. It’s hard to imagine what life must be like for people who are unaware of the restored gospel. Or, perhaps worse yet, people who are aware of the restored gospel but fail to listen and heed.

As a post-Easter treat to yourself, click on Because He Lives for an inspiring short video about the Savior's mission.

This past week we were blessed with a visit by our daughter Rachel and two of her wonderful children, Duncan and Hannah. We basked in our time with them.

Because we're always blessed by our association with missionary activities, I wanted Duncan to take special advantage of his Waco visit. So on Tuesday I invited him to accompany me to a District Meeting with the Waco North Zone elders. 

The missionaries welcomed Duncan with open arms and actually vied for the opportunity to team with him in our role-play teaching exercises. If you know Duncan, you’ll not be surprised that he performed exceptionally well.

Earlier in the day, I had taken Duncan for a haircut by the same lady who cuts my hair in Texas. (I really miss Rob Rose, my barber in Liberty!) I'd previously had some good conversations with this lady and learned a lot about her family situation and spiritual orientation. She expressed interest in receiving some DVDs and other media related to Easter and the life of Jesus. So after the District Meeting, Duncan and I delivered to our haircutter several Church DVDs, a number of pamphlets, and an inscribed copy of the Book of Mormon ... all in Spanish as she had requested. When we 
Deacon Duncan and some of his new best friends.
returned to the salon, I noticed that the pass-along card I previously gave her was displayed prominently where every customer could see it. We received her address and phone number, and I promised that she could expect some follow up.

Rean and I took Rachel and the children on a walking tour of the Baylor campus and a mid-afternoon lunch at the Student Union Building. After lunch, I suggested we go upstairs to see the “Drawing Room,” a huge (and luxurious) space where I once gave speeches as a student body officer. Little did I realize that at exactly the time we entered the room the weekly ice cream social had begun. (If you know of my affection for ice cream, you may doubt the spontaneity of this.
Dr. Burt Burleson, Baylor Chaplain 
and Dean of Student Spiritual Life.
But I really didn’t know.) This room is about the size of four basketball courts. So what I report next is especially remarkable. In the corner of my eye I noticed a man making a beeline toward us. In a very friendly way he introduced himself as Burt Burleson. He’s the University Chaplain and Dean of Student Spiritual Life. We visited for several minutes, comparing notes on our times at Baylor (he graduated nearly 20 years after I did). Then he asked what we were doing in Waco. I pointed to my missionary badge and explained our purpose here. He had to put on his glasses to read the badge, so it was obviously not the badge that drew him to us. To employ a Texas term, we firmly believe our meeting was “a God thing.” I’ve already written a follow-up email to Burt, and we will set up a meeting for a more in-depth conversation. We believe that Burt and we can enjoy a rewarding friendship.

Rean and I had a great meeting with Matthew Polk, executive director of Prosper Waco. (An editorial in the Waco Tribune-Herald, where I got my first newspaper job, says the mission of Prosper Waco “reflects true Christian principles.”) Matthew welcomed us enthusiastically. He invited me to participate in any or all of three steering committees: Education, Health, and Financial Security. All of these consist of Waco’s movers and shakers (business leaders, non profit leaders, clergy, educators, etc.). They focus on using a “collective impact model” to improve the lives of Waco citizens, especially the 28% who live in poverty. (Baylor University president Ken Starr is a very high profile supporter of all this.)

Dr. Matthew Polk, Executive
Director of Prosper Waco.
I gave Matthew a copy of my book CHANGE-friendly LEADERSHIP. He read the table of contents and enthusiastically noted some of the chapter titles like “Validate the Journey,” “Scan for Speed Bumps,” “Chart the Course,” and “Build a Coalition.” Then he saw the book’s subtitle: “How to Transform Good Intentions Into Great Performance.” Rean and I agree that it’s almost as though I wrote the book to help the people of Waco during our mission. (When I wrote the book, we didn't even know for sure we'd serve a mission, let alone a mission in Waco.)

This week we will attend a meeting of one of the Prosper Waco committees. At Matthew’s urging, we’ve also reached out to Waco Foundation. That’s another organization where we believe we can provide meaningful assistance. Stay tuned.

Blessings to you and yours.