Saturday, August 29, 2015

Butler, PA

It's a little ironic that Megan's first area is in Butler, PA right next to us in Pittsburgh.  We didn't ever expect that she would be so close to us.  We have never visited the little town of Butler and so we decided to take a short drive for our P-day on August 17th.

It was an experience we have always wished we could have had when Kent and Jared were away on their missions---to be able to almost be a fly on the wall and see how they get along with their companion....what it is really like where they live.....and how they interact with other people.  It was incredibly fun to be able to experience it with our granddaughter, Megan.

The name everyone in the mission calls their companionship by is "The Butler Sisters".  So we saw just how the Butler Sisters live and work each day.

We visited their apartment and found their living conditions to be barely okay!  Sister Sears assured us that it used to be a lot worse before they cleaned out all of the junk left behind by other Sisters and Elders who had lived there.  We were basically apalled at the condition of their laundry room though!  It looks like it came straight out of a horror movie!  Sister Sears said when her mom saw a picture of it that she was sure her daughter had been kidnapped and was being held for ransom in the dingy room.  Anyway, we tried hard not to overreact and took some funny pictures.  It is probably good for both girls to help them appreciate home a little more!

One of our first stops was a Lutheran church where the girls volunteer each week.   The churches in town all volunteer one day a week to feed the homeless.  The Lutheran church calls their dinner night, "Katie's Kitchen".   It seems that a few years ago some elders were walking by the Lutheran church and saw a line of homeless people outside waiting for food.  They went inside and asked if they could help and that started the tradition of the Mormon elders or sisters helping each week ever since.  Megan said their night at "Katie's" is one of her favorite parts of the week.

The church secretary knew Sisters Sears and Welch well and was delighted to show us the sanctuary of worship as well as other areas in the church----especially where they serve dinner to the homeless each week.  It was a beautiful building and we had a great visit with her.

Butler, PA is a small town of about 14,000 people and they are the only missionaries for our church there.  There is one ward building in the town amongst many, many other churches.  The claim to fame for Butler is that the first jeep was invented there during World War II.   It is said that the jeep was one major factor in the success of the war.  This bit of trivia was fun for Jim because jeeping has always been one of his hobbies in life.   He really enjoyed visiting the monument in the town square and talking with some old-timers.  We

looked around all of the monuments and visited with a few people.  The girls talked to some people to offer Book of Mormons to them and then we were on to the rest of our town tour.

Our next stop was lunch at a REALLY good Mexican restaurant.  We eat out with a lot of the elders and sisters and Jim is slowly realizing that most of the rest of the world LOVES pizza and Mexican food.  Poor thing....I try and fix meat and potatoes for him as often as I can!

Our final stop was to go look for a "geo-cache" that a church member told the girls about.  The cache was supposed to be hidden somewhere around a large yellow railroad car.  They gave us directions to help us get there.   We finally found the train car and then began looking and looking for something or other.   We aren't much into geo-caching and so we weren't quite sure what we were looking for.

 Anyway,  I finally spotted a small plastic box up underneath the bottom of the train car.  We took a few items out of the cache which is customary---a plastic army man, a sticker, and something else that I can't remember.  We took a few pictures and then we left our mark by leaving a small raisin box with one remaining raisin and a note that said "The Mormons were here"!

All in all, it was a wonderful P-day and we enjoyed giving Megan's mom a call on our way home to tell her all about our visit which she promptly reported to Sister Sears mom.  We have quite an informant network going on to check up and report on these super fun Sister missionaries.  So grateful for this experience.

Jeep cutouts, all painted & decorated differently, are all over town

Miracles--Big & Little

August seems to be a month of miracles---some big.... and some not so big and important.  One little miracle involves one of our sweet sisters, Gwen.  She lives in a nursing home and comes to church every week in a wheelchair.  She told us that she has quit drinking coffee and wants to go to the temple!  She is so sweet and sincere and in spite of

her health challenges we hope that we can help it happen for her one day.

Also, an update on Sister Page.  We were able to help her come to church again.  And again, it was quite a challenge (oxygen problems, miscommunication with family & her getting locked out of her apartment)!  We did end up coordinating and communicating more with her family than last time, but it definitely still didn't go to smoothly.  Even so, she really enjoyed coming and participating at church.  Her son, who is not a member of the church, is planning to come with her one time!  Another little miracle.

Then, we were able to be eye witnesses to a REALLY BIG spiritual miracle!  We still visit people in the hospitals here every so often.  Around the first part of June we heard of a family from Texas who were at the Children's Hospital with their 8 year old son, Ian.  They brought him to Pittsburgh for some medical tests and expected to stay 3 days.  While he was here in the hospital he developed complete heart failure for some unknown reason...possibly a virus of some kind.  Anyway, his problems were so severe that he was on a bypass machine and then a heart pump with his chest completely open for several weeks.  He had priesthood blessings, but his condition worsened every day for two months.  They were at the point of expecting him to need a heart transplant.  We visited off and on, but only heard that he was going downhill.  It was such a strain for their family.  They had a sister of the mom bring their other two children from Texas once to visit, but eventually they had to return home again.

Anyway, the dad called two of the elders in our district to the hospital on a Sunday night and they helped him give his son a priesthood blessing.  The next day little Ian pulled out the ventilator tube and the doctors decided to see how he would do without it.  He actually did fine and tubes and machines were removed--one after another!  The doctors are the ones who began calling it a miracle.  They said they have never seen something like it.  One doctor said he wants is to write a paper about it.

Last week Ian was still having ups and downs from recovering from being in ICU and artificial life support for so long. We visited his mom on one of his bad days.  We were able to reassure her that we had seen some of the same type symtoms almost exactly a year ago with our daughter, Emily.  Ian's mom said it really helped for her to talk to someone who had also been through the same type of experience.  Somehow we feel we are put in people's paths for a reason.

It has been such a blessing for us and the elders to witness Ian's recovery.  He is now out of intensive care and he is talking and playing with toys.  We visited with the Elders this week and it was good for them to see him doing so much better.

Now for more of a worldly type miracle!  One day in August we were able to walk up to the Pirates box office and get 4 tickets for great seats all a sold out game.... a couple of days before the event!   Still don't quite know how that happened, but we had a wonderful "Pirates P-day" with Sister Welch and Sister Sears. The stadium has to be one of the most beautiful in the nation and from our seats we could see a great game, the Pittsburgh skyline, and the boats sailing down the river.  The Pirates pulled through with a couple of home runs and even ended up winning the game.

PS  Another little blessing!   One morning recently we went on a morning hike around Highland Park, but we took a different route than what we usually do.  We saw a deer in this park that is bordered by a highway and is actually right in the middle of the city!  On another morning we saw a raccoon run right in front of us.  We are so grateful for being able to still hike together a few minutes from our apartment and enjoy the blessings of nature.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Our Halfway Mark

The first weekend in August proved to be a perfect way to mark the halfway point of our mission.  First of's a little background so that everyone can understand why this weekend will always be so memorable for us.

Family of William G. Ferguson & Lucy Willett done by Marie Donovan
We heard a few years ago from extended family in Salt Lake about a Ferguson Family Reunion in Roanoke, Virginia that is held every year on the first Saturday in August.  The Fergusons were among the very first people to join the church in the Roanoke area around 1888.  Jim's grandfather, Byron, was a missionary in Roanoke about 30 years later.  After his mission, Byron ended up returning to Roanoke.  He brought Josephine Ferguson back to Salt Lake City to be married to him in the Salt Lake Temple on June 26, 1919. The story is interesting because only one of Josephine's 11 other siblings ever married (one sister died at a young age).  One account states that at least some of them were determined to marry within the church and so they probably didn't have marriage opportunities come to them in the Roanoke area.
They lived in a beautiful plantation type home and owned acres and acres of apple orchards. They worked hard and were quite wealthy for that time period.

Josephine's exit to Utah broke ties with many of the

Ferguson cousins.  The cousins who stayed in Roanoke were promised by the local mission president that if they stayed in the area and built up the church there instead of migrating to Utah that all of their spouses would eventually join the church.
Every one of the spouses of the children in the family who had this promise made to them did eventually join the church--- even though many were in their advanced years when they made the decision to get baptized.

Anyway, Roanoke is close enough to our mission that attending the reunion this year was a possibility.  President Johnson gave his approval and so we set out early Saturday morning not knowing a soul in Roanoke!  We talked to a relative named Jim on the phone and he confirmed that the reunion was actually being held.  We really didn't know what to expect at all and wondered if we would feel uncomfortable or even
unwelcome since no one from Utah has ever visited the reunion  before.

Inside the original log cabin portion of the home
Truly, everything on the trip went like clockwork.  We arrived in Roanoke and drove directly to the old plantation home.  We found the home and knocked on the door hoping and praying that the people now living there were home and would consent to at least letting us take a few pictures on the outside of the home.  They turned out to be a nice family who have lived there for several years.  They invited us inside and showed us a room that was originally a log cabin.  The rest of the house had been added later, presumably after the family had more means.  It was wonderful to see the home and we plan to keep in touch with them to share information.

Jim visited the home with his family around 1957 when he was 9.  He and his brothers and sisters have many memories and stories of the trip there and staying in this large old home.  Even the spooky stories of an upstairs bedroom in the home matched with the ones the current family told us!

After visiting the home, we drove to a subdivision behind closely.  There is a small little fenced cemetery with graves of some of the Ferguson family.  Many of the inscriptions on the stones are missing because they are so old and weathered, but we took pictures of what we could and felt a special, peaceful feeling there.

Then we went
to the reunion at a small bowery behind the current schoolhouse.  There were about 100 people there and they gave us a warm welcome.  They said the reunion is usually much bigger, but one of the larger families weren't there this year.  We talked and talked and got to know all that we could.

We attended church the next day at the Back Creek Ward and we found that we had some connection, even though it was distant, to most of the members who were there.  We found that we are connected to the Bohon family as well as the Fergusons.

It is a small, but very strong ward in the area with many stake leaders coming from this ward.  Even the stake president is a Bohon.  Such good people!  After church we drove around the William Griffen Ferguson home again and noticed a woman sitting on the porch of a home across the street from the Ferguson home.  We were told previously that the old church/schoolhouse was

across the street and so we decided to park and go ask her if she knew where it was.  As we approached, she went inside and so we decided to be brave.  We knocked on the door and an older woman came out.  When we asked her if she knew where the schoolhouse was, she said, "this is it!"  She was very pleasant and we talked for quite awhile to her.  She said she has lived there for 50 years and she gave a few more tidbits of information about the schoolhouse and area.  She actually remembered seeing John, Josephine's brother, come into her father's store with a solid gold piece for some groceries.

We also stopped at a Roanoke landmark called Mill Mountain where we saw a beautiful view of the city and the Appalachian mountains.  It sure made us want to go hiking there again one day.  The Roanoke Star on top of the mountain is lit up every night and can be seen from many miles away.


Sunday night after we got back to the hotel we called
some of Jim's brothers and sisters to tell them about our experiences.  They were all so excited to hear what we had learned.  Marie, especially, has put a lot of work and effort into researching the Ferguson family and so it was extra special to talk with her.

On our way home the next day we stopped in Wyethville where our nephew, Ryan, is serving his mission.  Wyethville is one of the first places in Virginia where missionaries came to preach the gospel.  Ryan received permission for us to take him and his companion out to lunch and it was really wonderful to see how much he has matured and grown in the gospel.

Our trip to Virginia was something that we
Standing on the Blue Ridge Mountains with the Appalachians in the background
hadn't anticipated at all before coming on our mission.  It was such an unexpected blessing--just like many others that we have experienced while we have been here.

                                                    We are just so grateful and have a lot of family history work to put together when we get home!