Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Lord is in the Details

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Another busy week ahead of us. Tomorrow morning we'll welcome into our apartment a very nice lady whom we met several months ago at a SuperCuts. She cuts hair for both of us (one of us has a lot less hair than the other) and has become our friend. At Easter we gave her a copy of the Book of Mormon and several Church videos for her family. Based on multiple conversations we've had with her, we're hopeful that she will be receptive to the message of the Restoration.

And on Tuesday we will host a dinner for a lovely Baylor University student who has been studying the gospel and is interested in baptism.

Then later in the week we'll do a two-day pro bono leadership workshop for senior people at the non-profit Baylor Scott & White Healthcare system. That relationship has implications we'll tell you more about in later posts.

Our faithful and ever-present friend Kermit is a favorite
among missionaries of all ages.
Kermit Goes to Zone Conference

Every few weeks we have a Zone Conference. These day-long meetings include the nearly four dozen missionaries in the Waco-Killeen area. The agenda is a scripture-centered focus on spiritual growth, leadership, finding, teaching, retention, reactivation, and other issues related to effective missionary work. Our mission president provides much of the instruction, with assistance from several other missionaries. The discussions are lively, insightful, and well worth the several hours of sitting. The day typically ends with a dinner served by local Relief Society sisters.
Not sure what I like most, the ankle
or the red shoes. I think the ankle.
As a thank-you, we serenade the sisters by singing "Because I Have Been Given Much" (Hymn 219) and "Called to Serve" (Hymn 249). As President Monson might say, "Principles are taught, lessons are learned, hearts are touched, food is served, stomachs are filled, songs are sung, tears are shed."

Family Home Evening Group

Every week we're invited to attend a Family Home Evening in the home of our dear friends David and Sheryl Gleason. David is in the Young Single Adult Branch presidency and Sheryl is president of the Waco Stake Relief Society. Under the "isn't it a small world" category, their niece Michelle Bennion was one of our wonderful trainers last December at the Provo Missionary Training Center. The Gleasons live in Temple, Texas, about 40 minutes south of our apartment, but it's well worth the drive to spend an evening of gospel conversation with them and other friends, including the Waco Stake patriarch.

Family Home Evening with the Gleasons (on the far right)
and other friends.
The Lord is in the Details

Several years ago the Gleasons felt impressed to serve a mission. One of their daughters asked them to delay their mission. Why? Because she was not yet married and feared that she would meet someone and want to get married in their absence. David and Sheryl prayed about the situation and still felt they should apply for missionary service. They were called to serve in Ukraine, on the other side of the globe. While in Ukraine, the Gleasons attended a senior missionary retreat. In conversation with another couple, they began sharing family photos. It turned out that the Gleasons' single daughter was the same age as the other couple's single son. Through an interesting (and inspired) series of events, the two young people met. Fell in love. And were married. They now live in the Dallas area with their several children. Mission miracles come in all sizes, shapes, and colors.

The pro-life messages we see around the Waco area are not
exactly subtle. 
Tender Mercy Implant

A couple of weeks ago while eating a Snickers bar (which I knew I shouldn't have) I completely broke off a dental crown. All the way to the root. Ouch! It's never "convenient" to break a crown, but it's especially troublesome if you have a roomful of people who are expecting you to deliver two days of training.

Up close and personal with my
dental implant, courtesy of
Dr. (Bishop) Johnson.
We immediately went to the home of our friend Ben Johnson, a fine dentist who's also bishop of the Hewitt Ward. He examined the situation and advised that I hope (and pray) for the best. Because of my training commitment, it would be a couple of days before I could get any care. But, again, the Lord is in the details. Mercifully, my pain was quite manageable during the two days of training. But almost on cue, as soon as the training was over the pain started to worsen. A lot. In a four-hour surgery, Dr. (Bishop) Johnson removed the remaining tooth root and inserted an implant. After about 90 days of healing, I'll then get a new crown.

Rean and her neighborhood Levite friends.
Neighborhood Tracting

For someone who claims to have little gift for missionary activity, my lovely Rean seems to be a natural at engaging people in conversation that quickly establishes trust. For the past several months she has befriended one of our neighbors, an engineer who happens to be a Levite (a Messianic Jew from the tribe of Levi).

All their conversations (sometimes quite lengthy) are in the apartment parking lot. Rean gave her friend a copy of the Book of Mormon, which he says he's read in the past. He's grateful to have his own copy, and promises to read it again.

Did I mention how much I dearly love my missionary companion?

Monday, September 21, 2015

"Teach correct principles and give encouragement"

By Rodger Dean Duncan

"Leadership" has multitudes of definitions. The one I prefer is "Leadership is mindful influence." And to paraphrase Joseph Smith, the responsibility of the effective leader is to "teach correct principles and give encouragement."

Much of our mission has involved teaching and coaching. In addition to teaching missionary lessons to investigators (people exploring our faith), we've been called upon to help train bishoprics, Relief Society leaders, Ward Councils, priesthood quorum leaders and others.

And we continue to provide leadership training for people in the Waco community. Last week I did a three-hour mini workshop for another group of leaders from various organizations. The session was held at the Waco Chamber of Commerce building where I've attended several meetings with community leaders focused on addressing poverty issues.

Principles and Practices

Although my professional credentials help open doors for such dialogue with people in this area, it's always crystal clear that I'm serving in my capacity as a missionary. And I take every opportunity to bear testimony of principles and practices that bless people's lives.

One story that I frequently tell involves Latter-day Saint Clayton Christensen. Clay is a world renowned professor at the Harvard Business School and author of numerous bestselling books. In one notable interview with Charlie Rose, Clay bore his testimony (on national television) about his decision as a young boy that he would never play sports on the sabbath. He noted that in revisiting that early decision years later, he realized that mortality is a series of "extenuating circumstances" that may tempt us to stray from a principle that we profess to embrace. But, as he told Charlie Rose, he's discovered that it's easier to stay faithful to a principle 100% of the time than it is to stay faithful 99% of the time. Why? Because if you accept anything less than 100% faithfulness for yourself, you'll always wonder if the current situation is an "extenuating circumstance" that merits an exception to the principle. (Click here to see a video of Clay talking about "How I became an everyday missionary.")

Our new friend Officer McKnight

Last week a couple of the young sister missionaries in our zone we involved in a minor traffic accident. Fortunately, nobody was injured. But the missionaries' car had to be towed for repair. (They will be walking and biking for a while.)

Under the "It's a Small World" heading (or tender mercy?), the police officer responding to the incident is a Latter-day Saint. We were called to the scene to drive the missionaries to their apartment. We enjoyed a nice chat with Officer McKnight. (He was very friendly. For the photo he put on his serious face.)

Prior to his service on the Waco Police force, Officer McKnight served in military intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan. He speaks German and Arabic. He also speaks "Mormonese." Upon arriving at the accident scene he asked the sisters if they needed to call their bishop or mission president.

Dinner Party, Fireside

On Friday we enjoyed a six-hour Zone Conference. Then on Saturday evening we had a Mission President's Fireside at the Waco stake center. Although President Ames does a fireside each month in the northern part of the mission, this is the first fireside he's done in the Waco area. Saturday's fireside filled the chapel, and we expect future events of this nature will draw even larger crowds.

Prior to the fireside we hosted an early dinner party at our apartment for President and Sister Ames (the Texas Fort Worth Mission) and for President and Sister Price of the Waco Stake. We catered the meal (Olive Garden) to simplify our already-busy day. The Prices brought a beautiful plant that perfectly accentuates our apartment's color scheme. Until dessert time we didn't tell anyone that Saturday was Rean's birthday, but the wonderful gathering of treasured friends turned out to be the perfect celebration.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Helping the Poor and Needy

By Rodger Dean Duncan

Kermit, a constant reminder of our grandchildren, always wants to get in 
on the action. He brings a smile to all.
Change Workshop

This week we delivered a pro bono CHANGE-friendly IMPLEMENTATION workshop for the leaders of several Waco-area non-profit organizations that serve the poor and needy. The two-day workshop focused on the behaviors and practices that produce consistently superior results in most any kind of project or implementation situation. The participants represented organizations such as the Texas Hunger Initiative, Caritas, Antioch Community Church, Shepherds Heart, and Goodwill Industries. These are wonderful people who are clearly devoted to the causes they serve. It was a blessing to be of service to them in their service.

Alan Mayfield and some of his new friends.
One of the workshop participants was Alan Mayfield. Alan, a member of our church, is a highly-respected district judge in Waco. He serves as director of public affairs in the Waco Stake, so participation in this workshop provided an excellent opportunity for him to exchange ideas with like-minded people from other organizations.

LeadershipPlenty Institute

We also did a presentation for the LeadershipPlenty Institute. Originally created by the Pew Partnership for Civic Change (and now sponsored by the Waco Foundation), the LeadershipPlenty Institute provides a 10-module course on civic engagement. Up-and-coming leaders are identified in the Waco community. Then, through a rigorous nomination and qualification process, candidates are selected to participate in a year-long curriculum of training that equips them for more effective service not only in their "day jobs" but also in their volunteer work in Waco. The presentation was at Baylor University's beautiful Research and Innovation complex, a magnificent facility.

Senior Retreat

On Monday we attended a Retreat for all the senior missionaries serving in the Texas Fort Worth Mission. These are great people and we love being with them. Because we're the only "senior couple" in the southern part of the mission, we rarely see our counterparts. The meetings are rich with strong testimonies as well as helpful discussions about best practices. Two of the other couples (Jim and Dottie Stotts and Max and Shirley Murdock) are from our home area in Missouri.

Fine young men being reared by wonderful parents.
Qureshi Tribe

We were delighted this week to enjoy a visit from our dear friends Ahmed and Juliette Qureshi. When I served as bishop of a BYU singles ward in the early 1990s, Juliette was one of our Relief Society presidents and Ahmed was one of our elders quorum presidents. After they married, Ahmed served as one of my bishopric counselors. We have followed their family journey all these years. They've recently moved to Texas from Virginia. It was such a pleasure to meet their sons Zachary, Zane and Adam. Their daughter Aliya is on a mission in Japan. (Time really does fly.)

Another busy week awaits us. We love the people. We love the work. We love the cause that has brought us to Texas.