Sunday, August 30, 2015

Transfers: Gone, But Not Forgotten

By Rodger Dean Duncan

We've commented many times how much we love and appreciate the young(er) missionaries here in Waco. Their devotion and spiritual focus provide a good model for anyone of any age.

Our daughter Rachel said this photo reminds her of the classic painting 
American Gothic. (Minus the pitchfork, plus the happy friends and frog.)
We become very attached to these young people. Although we operate on our own schedule of meetings, community service and teaching appointments, we see them several times a week. Each Tuesday we have either a District Meeting or a Zone Council Meeting. Then of course there are baptisms on Saturday and Sabbath meetings (almost all day) on Sunday. In addition, we often invite the missionaries to our apartment for meals.

This coming week is another round of transfers. As reported earlier, a transfer is when some of the missionaries are sent to serve in other areas of the mission. Our Texas Fort Worth Mission ranges from the Red River (Oklahoma border) on the north to beyond Killeen which is about an hour south of where we are in Waco. Our mission includes about 250 full-time volunteer missionaries. (Our church has 90,000+ missionaries worldwide.)

Rean certainly knows how to prepare a delicious and
healthful meal. This meal of salmon, roasted vegetables,
steamed kale, and brown rice with caramelized onions
greeted some of our guests last week.
As part of the frequent "redeployment of troops," the two elders who have been serving in the Waco Second Ward are being reassigned to serve in the Fort Worth area. Now the elders who've been serving in the Young Single Adult Branch here will also serve in the Waco Second Ward. That will be a challenge, but they are up to it. As you may recall from previous posts, Rean and I serve in two wards and a branch (three different congregations), as well as in the overall Waco Stake which includes eleven congregations consisting of several thousand members. We will serve here throughout our year-long mission. We have gained many treasured friendships here, and will sorely miss these wonderful people when we return home to Missouri in December.

We stay in touch with several of the missionaries who previously served with us in Waco. If they're still on their mission, we communicate by text. If they've returned home, Facebook seems to be their favorite medium.

Home Teaching, Visiting Teaching

As a community of covenant-makers, Latter-day Saints have agreed (both individually and collectively) to "watch over" or help each other. Much of this can come in the way of effective home teaching and visiting teaching. In fact, nearly every key performance indicator in a ward or stake can be linked to the quality (and quantity) of home teaching and visiting teaching.

In recent months we have helped reactivate a wonderful lady who's a delight. She's 81, but has the energy and vitality of someone half her age. She's highly intelligent and funny. We enjoy her company and friendship.

To ensure that she gets the appropriate level of "customer service," we have arranged to be her home teachers, and Rean will be her visiting teacher. This will entail an additional load on our schedule (we anticipate multiple visits each month), but that's perfectly okay with us.

Fried catfish and hushpuppies may not be as elegant as
Rean's salmon dish, but the meal brought back great
memories of my grandmother's cooking.
Fish Fry and Football

Last week we mentioned plans to attend a fish fry and football game. We were guests of a man we're teaching the gospel. His community group holds a fish fry on every fourth Friday between April and October. The funds raised are used to support children's hospitals. We loved being with many nice people (what great manners these Texans have!), and Rean even survived the football game (the weather was relatively moderate and we sat in the shade).

Coming Activity

In addition to missionary lessons, this week marks the beginning of a round of community speeches, training workshops, and fireside talks.

We're blessed to be busy. And it's astounding to us that our mission will be complete in only 15 more weeks.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Warriors in the Lord's Army

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Warriors in the Lord's Army

Phil Knorr, an Army and Marine veteran (explosives expert), never knew much about the Church. In fact, he was never much interested in religion in general.

Then his friend Seth, a self-described "lapsed Mormon," decided to become active. When he did, Phil noticed the difference in Seth's countenance, in his behavior, in his overall outlook on life. Phil liked what he saw, so he inquired about the possibility of learning more about the gospel.

Meanwhile, Seth got his life on track and accepted a call to serve a two-year mission for the church. By then, Phil had met several other Latter-day Saints and was attending the Young Single Adult Branch here in Waco.

The YSA members adopted Phil as one of their own. The missionaries taught him the gospel. And on Saturday, with about 50 members of his "new family" in attendance, Phil was baptized.

Now this former U.S. Army and Marine Corps warrior is in the Lord's army.

Cole Copas is the now the newest members of the Hewitt
Ward. On the left is our friend Bishop Ben Johnson.
Later on Saturday, 9-year-old Cole Copas was baptized. Cole has been attending Primary and was very well tutored by the missionaries as well as by his Primary teacher. He's a bright young man with spiritual understanding that belies his youth. And he looked especially handsome in his bow tie.

Cole is a much younger "Warrior for the Lord" than Phil, but his enthusiasm for the gospel is boundless. We expect his mother to be baptized in the near future.

Current Teaching

We continue to teach the gospel to our friend Bob, a wonderful man in the Hewitt Ward. Bob, 66, is a life-long Baptist and married to a Latter-day Saint. We started teaching him a few weeks ago.

Sister Duncan teaching the
Plan of Salvation.
One Sunday Bob was sitting beside me in priesthood meeting. I had to excuse myself from the room to take a brief phone call. When I returned, Bob was bearing his testimony about the marvels of the restoration that he had recently learned. His new-found appetite for the gospel is a delight to behold.

Bob, who's been a college teacher for 39 years, is a curious, life-long learner. But never of a subject that's given him as much excitement as the gospel.

Bob's baptism is scheduled for September 26. It would be sooner, but he wants to be sure his out-of-town daughter can attend. (Can you see the smile on my face as I type this?)

This coming week we'll return to Bob's place in McGregor (about 20 miles south of Waco) for dinner and another missionary discussion.

Then on Friday night we'll join Bob and his wife Veronica at a McGregor Bulldog football game.

For those of you who don't know, followers of Texas high school football are ... well, what's a good synonym for rabid? (Bear in mind that the word "fan" is short for "fanatical.") And for those of you who know my northern California girl Rean, can you even begin to imagine how excited she is to attend a high school football game? In Texas? In August? She's such a faithful missionary.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Power of Generosity

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Of all the Christlike virtues and behaviors that people may have, generosity must certainly be among the most important.

Generosity can take many forms. It can involve sharing something tangible like a dish of funeral potatoes.

And it can involve sharing something even more lasting and more spiritually nourishing such as a smile or a kind word of encouragement or an act of selfless service.

Alma admonishes us to bear one another's burdens that they may be light ... to mourn with those who mourn ... to comfort those who stand in need of comfort ... and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all place that we may be in. (Mosiah 18:8-9)

It was John Wesley who said: "Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can."

Among the many people we've met on our mission, we've observed countless instances of Christlike, covenant-keeping generosity:

  • Church members who invite the young missionaries into their homes for dinner. Not just occasionally, but every single week.
  • Families who share the bounty of their gardens, in some instances inviting needy friends to come and "pick their own" at any time.
  • Dentists who provide expensive services to patients who have little means. (We know one Latter-day Saint dentist whose goal is to donate $10,000 of free services every single month.)
  • Physicians and other health care providers who donate their services to missionaries and others.
  • People who provide free child care to young mothers while they run errands or attend classes.
  • A sweet widow, herself struggling financially, who provides meals to people who have even less than she.
Blessing Glasses 

One of the countless practices that have been reinforced for us while serving a full-time mission is that we're now more adept at wearing our "Blessing Glasses." 

Have you ever worn polarized glasses? With regular glasses you might look at a body of water and see nothing but the waves on top. But with polarized lenses, you can see beyond the surface and observe the fish and other things underneath. With our "Blessing Glasses" we see the Lord's tender mercies all around us. They've always been there and we have occasionally noticed them. But now we're on the look-out and see them every day. 

Baylor Connections

Last week we enjoyed a wonderful evening in our apartment with Burt and Julie Burleson. Burt, as mentioned previously, is Baylor University's Chaplain and Dean of Student Spiritual Life. After a delicious dinner (Rean really can cook!), we visited for a couple of hours. Burt is about 15 years younger than I, but we still knew many of the same professors and administrators during our years at Baylor. He also earned one of his graduate degrees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, the same school that honors my distant grandfather James Calvin Price who was a prominent Baptist circuit rider in this part of Texas during the 1880s. And under the "it's really a small world" rubric, Burt and Julie's son graduated from William Jewell College in our hometown of Liberty, Missouri. They know our friend David Sallee, who's president of WJC. 

We expect to see more of Burt and Julie, possibly even taking a trip together to the Texas Hill Country. 

Meanwhile, Burt is checking on a possible date for me to speak at Baylor Chapel (similar to Forum and Devotional at BYU). I last spoke at Baylor Chapel in 1979, then in the early 1980s Rean and I brought our friend Lenore Romney (Mitt's mother) to Waco for her speech at Baylor. The chapel agenda is already full for the fall semester, but I assured Burt that even though we will be back in Missouri by December, I would gladly return to Waco next spring. We'll see what develops.

I also had a nice lunch meeting with Brian O'Grady, vice president of Baylor Scott & White Hospital. Brian accepted my offer to do a two-day Change-friendly Implementation workshop for his team of internal consultants who focus on leadership and organizational effectiveness. The Baylor Scott & White system includes 46 hospitals throughout the state of Texas. It's one of the world's foremost healthcare systems. I'm willing to provide pro bono services to the organization because it's non-profit and does a tremendous amount of good in its service to the poor and needy.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel

By Rodger Dean Duncan

What Sunday Is Like for Us

For a missionary, the idea of Sunday as "a day of rest" has special meaning. It certainly does not include naps.

For us, as with other Latter-day Saints, Sunday is special because we get to take the sacrament. It's also special because we get to worship and serve with so many of our friends.

Yesterday was another great Sunday. And a long one. We attended meetings in all three of the congregations to which we're assigned.

First, we attended sacrament meeting in the Hewitt Ward. We were eager to hear our friend Veronica White speak. (We're teaching her husband, Bob.) Veronica gave a solid talk on the blessings of temple service. Then we attended Sunday School with Veronica and Bob, and I sat with Bob in priesthood meeting.

Rean then attended Relief Society in the Waco Second Ward. She wanted to support our friend Jeannette Lane who was the day's teacher. Sister Lane is an amazingly energetic 82 year-old from Wales. She is an excellent teacher and delightfully engaging.

When you attend about nine hours of meetings on Sunday,
this is what "lunch" looks like.
While Rean was lending encouragement to Sister Lane in the Second Ward, as well as attending gospel doctrine class there, I attended sacrament meeting in the Young Single Adult Branch. One of the speakers was Amber Cook, the young woman to whom we taught the missionary discussions and who was baptized on March 28. She's now in the branch Relief Society presidency. Amber gave a talk on the Savior's atonement that was both insightful and inspiring. It is such a delight to see this outstanding young woman blossom. We really love Amber. She has designated us as her surrogate grandparents.

After all those meetings, we attended a gathering of the Waco Stake Public Affairs Council on which we serve. This made for nine hours of meetings. But it was joyful and not nearly as tiring as you might imagine. We spent the day with a lot of great people discussing the most important things in life. The satisfaction we get from such an activity-filled Sabbath reminds us of the feeling derived from singing the uplifting Mormon pioneer anthem "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel."

Connections Everywhere

It seems that everywhere we go we keep meeting people who are somehow connected to our past.

With Andrea Elieson, who married the grandson of a
long-ago friend. A round-about connection, but 
nevertheless a pleasant one.
Yesterday we met Andrea Elieson. Andrea lives in Temple, about half an hour south of Waco. She serves with us on the Waco Stake Public Affairs Council. Within ten seconds of meeting her, I asked if she's related to Sanfred Elieson. Yes, she, said. She's married to one of San's grandsons who now practices medicine here. San Elieson was mission president here when I was a student at Baylor in the early 1960s. I was a new member of the Church and the two of us became friends because I spent a lot of time with the missionaries. In those days, Waco was in the Dallas Mission which covered much of the entire state of Texas.

I fondly remember San coming to Waco occasionally to speak at Sunday evening firesides. He and his wife were from California. But they fell in love with Texas and relocated here after their mission. He then had several businesses in North Texas, including a car dealership. In 1968, when I was a political writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Rean and I went to San and purchased a 1968 Pontiac GTO, one of the hottest cars on the road. It was fun to drive, and we kept it for several years. When our family expanded to include infant car seats, we graduated to station wagons.

In the mid 1980s, San was well connected in the Dallas business community and helped me network into some excellent consulting work. He was a good friend on several levels. The last time we saw him was in the Dallas Temple in about 1989.

Friend in the News
Our friend Mike Otterson speaking at the FAIRMormon

More activity awaited us on our return to our apartment last night. In addition to preparing for the coming week, we watched an interesting speech by our friend Michael Otterson. Mike is worldwide managing director of Public Affairs for the Church. In the 1970s, when he was PA director in London, he and I did a lot of work together in Great Britain. I wrote a book, and we collaborated on a documentary on the Church for BBC.

During that work in Britain, which lasted several months, I fondly recall visiting Mike and his family in their home. I engaged his young daughter Lisa in a conversation about accents. She had a delightful Liverpudlian accent. My own accent is a mixture of Oklahoma and Texas. I asked Lisa what she thought of the way I talk. "I like it," she said. "You sound just like Huckleberry Hound!" I laughed so hard I nearly choked on my dinner. Mike and his family later visited us when we lived in New Jersey.

The speech we watched last night was one Mike delivered last week at the FAIRMormon Conference in Utah. His remarks, titled "On the Record," are well worth your attention. Mike is an extraordinarily savvy and faithful guy who offers an unvarnished view of how the Church is addressing many of the high profile issues of the day. Click here to read the full transcript or watch the video of his speech.


This will be another busy week. In addition to preparing for two community group speeches and a two-day leadership workshop for non-profit organizations, we will continue our teaching with a very promising investigator. We're also hosting dinner for Burt and Julie Burleson. Burt is Baylor University's chaplain and Dean of Student Spiritual Life. And on Thursday there's lunch with Brian O'Grady, vice president of Baylor Scott & White Hospital.

The work goes on.

Monday, August 3, 2015

"Meet the Mormons" Playing in Homes and Hearts Near You

By Rodger Dean Duncan

In addition to working with community leaders and Church members, we continue to teach the missionary lessons at every opportunity. We are especially encouraged by the faith and commitment of one of our new investigators. More on that in coming weeks.

Stephen was already overjoyed by his baptism, then was
overcome by the surprise appearance of his friend Katie
who's been so instrumental in his conversion.
Another Baptism

On Saturday we attended the baptism of a young man (he’s 25, so that qualifies as “young”). His name is Stephen. He’s very bright. But by his own acknowledgement he hasn’t always been wise. Fortunately, he recently decided to let God help him turn his life around. Stephen was cheered along the way by his friend Katie. He and Katie worked together in Houston a couple of years ago. Katie is a Latter-day Saint, and returned from her own missionary service in April. She now lives in Provo, Utah. A few weeks ago, when he was feeling especially discouraged, Stephen decided to call his friend Katie. Over the telephone, she taught him how to pray. She helped him understand that he’s a precious child of God who has value and potential. He agreed to see the missionaries here in the Waco area. Since that first meeting, he has devoured everything he’s been taught. He is excited by the good news of the gospel and is fully committed to keeping the commandments and realizing his spiritual potential.

Just before Stephen’s baptism on Saturday, he and I were posing for photographs. Then down the hallway walked Katie. She had come all the way from Utah to join in the joyous occasion. Stephen did not know she was coming. The photo you see here is shot at the moment Stephen is still recovering from the very pleasant surprise.

Many things are remarkable about Stephen’s journey. The first, of course, is the wonderful grace that's provided through the Savior’s atonement. That good news is never old news. It’s always fresh and invigorating. Another remarkable thing is the faithful friendship extended to Stephen by Katie. She may no longer be wearing a missionary tag, but she has been a world class teacher and fellowshipper.

"Meet the Mormons"

On Friday evening the Hewitt Ward had a missionary open house featuring a showing of the award-winning documentary “Meet the Mormons.” This great film (1:18 in length) shows everyday Latter-day Saints living their religion. They range from U.S. Naval Academy football coach Ken Niumatalolo and MMA fighter Carolina Munoz Marin in Costa Rica to humanitarian Bishnu Adhikari in Nepal and missionary mom Dawn Armstrong.

The film has been translated into ten languages and includes a sound track featuring David Archuleta’s “Glorious.” We have our own copies of the film and have shown it to guests in our apartment several times. Regardless of your church affiliation, make a point to see this film (available on Netflix, Amazon, and many other outlets). It’s a powerful message about how the gospel of Jesus Christ works miracles in people’s lives. (Warning: if parts of this film do not put a lump in your throat, see your cardiologist immediately.)

Click here to see a short trailer on the film, and click here to see a youth choir's wonderful presentation of the film's featured music.

Meanwhile, you may be certain of this: at every moment of the day in every corner of the world and likely in your own neighborhood, people are learning about and accepting the message of the restored gospel. Without doubt, a local version of "Meet the Mormons" is playing in homes and hearts near you. It's a wonderful thing to behold.

Our Assignment(s)

When we first arrived in Texas eight months ago, we already knew we would be assigned to serve in Waco. Our mission president gave us a simple directive: “Go to Waco, identify ways you can help, then serve the people.” 

That’s about as open-ended as an assignment can be. It’s good to have the trust of your leader.

As mentioned previously, we are the first senior missionary couple ever to serve in Waco. The Church has grown exponentially since I first came here in 1962. Fifty years ago the Waco Ward was part of the Dallas Stake, which itself was relatively new. Today, just our Texas Fort Worth Mission includes 14 stakes. 

In addition to helping the younger missionaries, our assignment is to work with the leaders of the Waco Stake, as well as support the leaders in three separate congregations: the Hewitt Ward, the Waco 2nds Ward, and the Young Single Adult (YSA) Branch. Fortunately, all three of these congregations meet in the stake center in Hewitt, which is about 12 minutes from our apartment. 

As you can see by the graphic, the meetings overlap. So on Sunday it’s not unusual for us to attend regular Church meetings for any—or all—of the hours between 9:00 am and 4:00 pm. In addition, we often have missionary meetings before 9:00 am and public affairs or other meetings after 4:00 pm. You can understand why we consider Monday our day of rest.

Woman of Vision

I share this photo only because it's such a hit on Facebook and Instagram. Rean's (temporary) sun glasses are somewhat of a joke while we're waiting for the "real" ones from the optometrist.

It's been hotter than blazes in Waco these past few weeks, and more sizzle is predicted for August (and likely into September). That's hard on a girl from the San Francisco Bay area. And not particularly comfortable for a guy from Oklahoma. But we're managing okay.

Keep those cards and emails coming' in.