Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Why, What, and How of Missionary Service

By Rodger Dean Duncan

It's been said that you must define your "why" before you can begin with the "what" and "how."

That pretty much sums up how we feel about our missionary service.

We've been asked by a lot of our friends (and even by people we've just met) why we made ourselves available for full-time missionary. We did so because:

  • we know the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is true and it blesses people's lives beyond measure
  • we have made covenants to consecrate ourselves for service in the Lord's kingdom
  • we want to share the gospel message with others
  • we love the Savior and want to follow him in deed, not just in word
  • we are blessed with gifts that that should be used to help others, not just ourselves
  • we know that being an answer to someone else's prayer is often an answer to our own prayers
  • we are able ... so why not?
Those are only a few of the "whys" of our missionary service.

The "what" and "how" are still evolving. In the area where we're serving in Texas we have spoken in multiple Sunday services, made presentations at leadership retreats, taught the gospel to investigators, participated in baptismal services, helped reactivate members, participated in training for bishops and branch presidents, and made significant inroads in establishing collaborative relationships with government and civic leaders. In addition, of course, we have the opportunity to provide support for the many younger (single) missionaries who are assigned to our area. As we've mentioned, these young missionaries are a special treat to be around.

On Saturday, we keynoted the Waco Stake's Relief Society Women's Conference. We especially enjoyed that opportunity. The conference theme was "service." We told many stories about the wonderful service we've seen church members render over the years, ranging from visionary visiting teaching service to the time an entire congregation collaborated in building a complete new home for a widow. We also shared some examples of how our own lives have been blessed (in some cases, through multiple generations) because of the inspired service of others.

We kicked off the conference by playing a music video featuring a rousing rendition of "Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?" by Alex Boy√© and Carmen Rasmusen Herbert. This really is an excellent piece. Click here to watch it. If you're a Latter-day Saint and familiar with the song, you'll delight in this arrangement. If you've never heard the song, you will love the message. Either way, you'll be tempted to play it more than once. Toe-tapping encouraged. For us, this song tells a lot of the "Why" of our missionary service, and provides a number of clues regarding the "What" and "How."

Meanwhile, all the missionaries in the Texas Fort Worth Mission are getting iPads. Each and every one. We senior couples already had access to any technology we want, but for the younger missionaries this is a new development. Most of them, as you might imagine, are very tech savvy. Since the Internet became widely available years ago, it's been used by missionaries only on their weekly "preparation" days for writing letter to their families. (They've used computers in public libraries.) With their own iPads, they will communicate with their families more easily. But the primary use of the iPads will be for missionary purposes: identifying people who are interested in the gospel message, tracking the progress of investigators, communicating with local church members.

We love Waco, but let's just say we
prefer the weather at our home in
Liberty, Missouri.
In this digital age, social media and other electronic platforms make communication so much easier than in the past. It has its risks, of course, but our missionaries have been taught that obedience and personal discipline are the most important filters for keeping trash out of our lives. The iPads used by the missionaries are outfitted with several custom apps (for the uninitiated, that's geek talk for "applications") to help them in their work: scriptures, videos, manuals, magazines, and other teaching materials.

Thanks to all of you who accepted last week's invitation to drop us a note, email, or blog comment. We love hearing from you. And promise to remember you in our wills.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Public Affairs and Relationship Building

By Rodger Dean Duncan

We are happy to report that there were no new shootings in Waco this past week. Although the Waco police are still getting intelligence reports that some motorcycle gang members are planning retribution (including car bombs and other terrorist-like behavior) against law enforcement people here, there's been no further disruption. Yet. We continue to hope and pray for peace.

In previous posts we’ve mentioned our meetings with organizations like Prosper Waco, the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, etc. The purpose of all these meetings is to build bridges of understanding and establish relationships with the movers and shakers in this town. So far, there is very little evidence that church members have done much reaching out in this regard. For the church to grow the way it needs to, there must be a visible and credible public affairs presence here. So we are working to lay the groundwork for this.

Last week I met with the leadership team at the Waco Foundation. This is the most credible group in town when it comes to getting things done. It has the active (and financial) support of most of the major businesses in town, as well as business and civic leaders.

The Waco Foundation has asked me to:

  • Conduct three or more of my two-day CHANGE-friendly IMPLEMENTATION workshops. The focus will be project management, cascading sponsorship, effective messaging, and all the other elements required for effective work in behalf of the poor. Participants will be leaders of the top non-profit organizations in town as well as civic leaders who work in behalf of the poor.
  • Conduct at least one CHANGE-friendly IMPLEMENTATION train-the-trainer workshop. Translation: I will certify trainers who will carry on the work after we’ve left Waco. This will be an important component of the sustainability that we’re trying to help foster with the civic-minded people here.
  • Provide leadership coaching to groups of civic leaders.
  • Conduct a two-hour training session with alumni of the Leadership Plenty Institute. This program is an important vehicle for developing leadership capacity for up-and-comers in the city of Waco.
In addition, I’ve been invited to keynote a conference of the Heart of Texas chapter of the Society of Human Resources Managers. SHRM is the premiere organization for human resources professionals. This chapter includes key people from most of the companies in the Waco area, and certainly all of the major employers.

I’ve also been invited to give speeches on leadership at the Waco Rotary Club and other civic organizations.

Of course all of this is being done on a volunteer basis (no charge for materials or the training) because we are missionaries, not professionals selling services. In addition to the good this will do for a wide range of non-profit organizations, it will enable us to make a lot of high-profile friends for the church.

Relief Society Women’s Conference

On May 30, Rean and I will give a 60-minute keynote presentation at the Waco Stake Relief Society Women’s Conference. The theme is “Have I Done Any Good in the World Today?” We’ve been asked to talk about service—not only from a public affairs perspective, but from a covenant-keeping perspective. We will share many stories from our 50 years of observing wonderful Latter-day Saints giving Christlike service in public and private ways. We've enjoyed working together to prepare this presentation, which includes dozens of images and two videos.

Reading & Study

We completed the 65-Day Book of Mormon challenge in 56 days. And last night we completed our own 50-Day New Testament challenge. Our goal was to finish by the Day of Pentecost, which was yesterday. We did it. Our next goal is to re-read the Doctrine & Covenants. After that we will re-read the Old Testament. We've engaged in these kinds of scripture marathons for many years. We find that reading the scriptures aloud to each other is the best way to enjoy and learn from this.

We're keeping busy here, and love to be with our wonderful Texas friends. We do, however, really miss our friends and family around the world. To you we have this message: If your hands are broken and you cannot operate a pen or keyboard, we are so sorry and hope you heal soon. Otherwise, please post a comment on this blog or write to us at WacoMissionaries@gmail.com. :)

Blessings to you and yours.


Monday, May 18, 2015

Welcome to the Wild, Wild West

By Rodger Dean Duncan

We never dreamed we'd be posting a mission blog on the subject of gun fights. But we want to update our family and many friends who are likely wondering about yesterday's news from Waco.

Here's the headline: 9 people were killed in a shoot-out involving what police describe as "criminal biker gangs." The shooting occurred about a quarter mile from our apartment. (See map, below)

We first heard about this incident while we were still at church. It occurred about 12:15 pm at the Twin Peaks Restaurant. We frequently walk past that restaurant on our exercise jaunts through the shopping center that's adjacent to our apartment. Only a few days ago Rean had lunch with friends at another restaurant that's only about 25 feet from yesterday's shooting incident.

When we tried to return home from church yesterday, police would not let us even enter the road that leads to our apartment. Because all of our identification is from Missouri, we could not prove we live here. So we drove to the home of some church friends. They had invited us to dinner this coming Wednesday. I borrowed their computer, drafted an invitation letter (with our Waco address on it), printed the letter, and asked them to sign it. That letter provided enough proof to the police that we were okay, and they let us come home. (It probably helped that we don't exactly look like troublemakers.)

At last report, 192 arrests were made. At least five gangs were involved. They had come to the restaurant to recruit new members, and the rival gangs got into a fight that started with fists and knives, then escalated to guns. Police knew about the possibility (probability?) of this, and were on high alert. A SWAT team, police, and sheriff's deputies were already on the scene when the shooting began. The bikers first started shooting at each other, then started shooting at the police. The police returned fire.

    Our apartment is at The Retreat at Central Texas Marketplace (1, upper 
    left). Yesterday's shooting incident occurred at the Twin Peaks 
    Restaurant (2, lower right), only a short walk away.
When the smoke cleared, more than 100 weapons were confiscated. Police believe that at least 30 guns fired at least 100 rounds.

Today, there is very heavy police presence all over Waco, especially downtown near the convention center and police station, and at the shopping center adjacent to our apartment. Police apparently have intelligence that gang members from other cities may be headed to Waco to make reprisal against the police and/or rival gangs. The police are assuring the public that law enforcement is ready for any contingency.

I contacted all the missionaries in our area and instructed them to return to their apartments as soon as possible and definitely not to be out after dark. I then called our mission president (90 miles to the north in the Fort Worth area) and told him about the situation. He then reinforced my instructions to the zone leaders. Today the missionaries are asked to avoid the downtown area as well as the part of town near our apartment where the shooting occurred. We are confident of their (and our) safety.

We are very impressed by the professionalism of all the law enforcement agencies that are working on this situation. And we are grateful for the miracle that no police or other innocent citizens were harmed in this terrible incident. There were hundreds of diners and shoppers in the immediate area, and not a single one was hurt.

We're sorry about the subject of this post, but we know many of you want assurance that we are safe. We are. Worry not.

Next time you may expect news more suited to a missionary blog.

Love to all.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day Without the Syrup

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Yesterday Rean and I spoke in the Waco 2nd Ward sacrament meeting. We know that some women in the church (including Rean) are somewhat uncomfortable with Mother’s Day because they don’t feel up to the idealized persona of the “perfect Mom.” So rather than focus on the typical Mother’s Day syrup that we sometimes hear, we talked about the gospel. (That’s what sacrament meeting is for, right?) Using scriptures and specific doctrines as an underpinning, Rean spoke about seven lessons she’s learned about marriage and parenting. I spoke about honoring our mothers by honoring our covenants, with special emphasis on the Savior’s “Sermon on the Mount” message from Matthew in the New Testament and Third Nephi in the Book of Mormon.

On Saturday I was asked to join the stake presidency in speaking at the bishops training meeting (also attended by counselors, clerks, and executive secretaries). They invited me to talk about public affairs and “anything else that the spirit may dictate.” I reported on recent progress in the Waco Stake’s organizing its public affairs operation, then told them about the work we’re doing to build relationships of trust with city government, the chamber of commerce, Baylor University, and several non-profit organizations. I told them that Alan Mayfield, the stake’s Public Affairs Director, will soon visit the wards and branches to provide further details on Just Serve and other public affairs initiatives. 

For the “additional” part of my message, I talked about the difference between “transactional” and “transformational” leaders. Transactional leaders focus on meetings, reports and other routine things. Transactional work is about administering. Transformational leadership, on the other hand, is about ministering. It’s about inspiring people to understand that they can aspire to and achieve higher performance. Transactional leaders make sure the train runs on time. After that work is done, transformational leadership ensures that the train is on the right track, headed in the right direction, and that everyone who wants to make the journey has a ticket and is on the train. I urged bishops to delegate as much transactional leadership (administrative duties) as possible so they can invest the lion's share of their energy in the transformational (ministering) portion of their leadership role. I ended by telling the story of my first bishop, in the original Waco Ward, who was a wonderful transformational leader and who inspired me (as a recent convert) to be a tireless covenant-keeper rather than only a covenant-maker. I said my bishop understood Section 121 of the Doctrine & Covenants and knew that “reproving with sharpness” does not imply “harshness,” it implies “clarity.” And he knew how to “show forth afterwards an increase of love” after he had reproved or corrected someone. As Christians, we of course want to be kind. But I believe some church leaders mistake lack of courage (or skill) for kindness. Is it “kind” not to hold someone accountable when they fail to perform in the calling with which they’ve been entrusted? Is it “kind” to say nothing and simply release a poor performer “with a vote of thanks,” thereby implying that the poor performance was acceptable? I think not. I will forever be grateful to my first bishop who taught me the difference.

Judging by the animated comments after the meeting, I’d say my message struck a chord. Two bishops inquired about my availability to speak in their wards. (I told them that although we are assigned to the three units that meet in the stake building, we are available to speak anywhere in the stake.)

This past week we got the Zone Leaders moved into a new apartment. Their new place was not quite ready for occupancy, so they spent two nights with us. It was a pleasure having them as our guests.

We miss the great missionaries who moved to others areas at the least transfer, but we're delighted to have
new faces and spirits among us. Surely this rising generation must be the best and the brightest. We are so
grateful to have the opportunity to work with them. And our buddy Kermit likes being here, too.
Rean coaching the Elders during this week's Zone Council meeting.
They really love her. And let's just say that when Mama Bear talks,
the Cubs listen.
Tuesday’s Zone Council meeting was the best we’ve attended since being in the mission. The missionaries here have been using the SMART Goals approach we taught them in January. But Elder Petersen and Elder Reed took it a step further. For the “accountability” portion of the meeting, they had the missionaries divide into Districts. These smaller groups then applied SMART Planning to their work with investigators. This was so much more productive that the previous accountability discussions that were sometimes little more than a repeat of the previous meeting’s general comments like “we will get the members more involved.” The SMART Planning approach requires very specific, measurable, and time-bound commitments on action steps in behalf of the investigators' progress. This approach produced very animated discussion as the missionaries challenged and coached each other to markedly improved goal setting. Over the next few weeks, it will be interesting to track the results of this meeting protocol.

All is well.

Write to us. We would love to hear from you.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Tackling Poverty at the Root Cause(s)

By Rodger Dean Duncan

This was another busy week. When we look at our calendar on Sunday evening, sometimes the week is crammed full and sometimes it looks relatively free. But it always seems to fill up. The opportunities for service are limited only by our imagination. Fortunately, we are proactive people.

Focus on Poverty

On Monday I attended another meeting of the Prosper Waco committee on which I serve. The small table group in which I participated included the Waco mayor, a judge, and leaders from several community organizations. We were asked to focus on financial issues related to poverty.

From recent studies, here's a startling macro indicator on the poverty issue in Waco: among 16-24 year-olds, 57.3% are neither employed nor in school. That's not a typo. 57.3%! In this city that amounts to nearly 28,000 young people who are not furthering their education and are not contributing to the economy. It doesn't take much imagination to understand the ripple effect that has in terms of heartbreak and human suffering (hunger, broken families, crime, etc.).

As I listened and observed, I kept thinking of Henry David Thoreau's quote: "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root." I wanted to discuss root causes. But everyone else in the room seemed intent on rehashing old talking points, hacking at the branches. I was frustrated.

Overall, about 60 people participated in the meeting (which was held at the Texas Ranger Museum on the Brazos River). I did manage to introduce the idea of mentoring young people (catch them before they "drop out"), and suggested that we identify 100 participants as a start. That idea seemed to get a little bit of traction. But to bypass the talk-it-to-death syndrome, I will approach some of my friends at Baylor University and see if we can get something going. I'm confident there are plenty of caring, capable people in this town. The challenge is to build a serious coalition and move from talk to action to measurable, sustainable results.

There is Beauty All Around

Despite its challenges, the City of Waco definitely has its attractions. As previously mentioned, we especially love Cameron Park, a huge and truly magnificent natural preserve. We also enjoy taking long walks along both sides of the Brazos River, as well as near its confluence with the Bosque River. The city does a terrific job of maintaining the rivers and the parks that surround them.

Both sides of the Brazos River, which runs from west to east beside Cameron Park and the Baylor University
campus, provide safe and scenic walking areas.
We love the Bluebonnet, the Texas State Flower. Named for its color and, it's said, the resemblance of
its petal to a woman's sunbonnet. These beautiful flowers seem to be everywhere here in the spring. This
field is right across from our apartment.
We enjoy walking across the Waco Suspension Bridge, now open only to foot traffic. Just north of downtown
Waco, the bridge was opened in 1869 to facilitate crossing the Brazos River. It was originally built as a "cattle
bridge," an important part of the famous Chisholm Trail.
Batching It

Rean flew to Utah for five days to help celebrate the Brigham Young University graduation of our granddaughter Morgan and her husband Kevin. Although I kept plenty busy in her absence, I did not at all enjoy being without my sweetheart and missionary companion. For many years I have travelled while Rean stayed home. And she has occasionally travelled without me. But let's just say that having her back in Texas with me was definitely the high point of my week.

What's In a Name?

As we do family history, we become more interested not only in names, but in their derivation. If you type in "Rodger" on the Wikipedia site, you'll find a bio of me, but nothing much about my name. Rean once felt that her name was "invented" by her parents, sort of a version of "Reo," her father's name. But then she discovered that in Welsh families there are a number of similar names, such as Rhiann.

Now she finds, on Wikipedia, an interesting tidbit. REAN is a marketing acronym first coined in 2006. In this context, R stands for Reach (the set of activities needed to raise prospects' attention for your brand, products, or service). E stands for Engage (the gradual, typically multi-channel, often recursive set of activities needed to engage the prospects you just won). A stands for Activate (the activities needed for your prospects to take, eventually, the actions you want them to take). N stands for Nurture (the activities needed to nurture the "customer" relationship you just managed to create).

Reach, Engage, Activate, Nurture. That sounds a lot like missionary work, doesn't it? See, Rean is a natural.

Life is good. Blessings to you and yours.