Sunday, November 29, 2015

Thanksgiving and More

The Christmas season in Pittsburgh actually starts before Thanksgiving.  We had a very fun night on November 20th.  Gregorie is one of the members we are very close with and he is a very talented young man.  One of his talents is playing the drums.  We were able to attend the Pittsburgh "Light Up Night" downtown to watch Gregorie play the drums in a jazz band.  The atmosphere and weather were wonderful and we had a really good time taking it all in.  We have never been walking downtown at night before so it was a new experience for us.  The large tree in the PPG plaza was lit and it will have ice skating around it all winter.  A German Christmas village of shops is also set up and of course we did a little shopping.  We don't normally like crowds and traffic, but we found a great parking garage and then took the "T" (subway/trax) to maneuver from one place to another.  There are actually other tree lightings and fireworks and just lots and lots of fun things going on everywhere during this celebration.  Last year we watched the city from a viewpoint at Mount Washington, but it was fun to be a part of things even more this year.

The next day we were so happy to be able to make temple trip to the Columbus, Ohio temple with members from the 7th Ward.  Our sweet friend, Winnie, took the temple preparation class that we taught last spring.  She went to the Washington D.C. temple at that time to do baptisms, but she was so excited to be able to go this time to complete her own ordinances.  Amiee is a recent convert and she was also elated to be able to go to Columbus and do baptisms.  Nadja is another sister who went to do baptisms. She also found it to be a very satisfying experience, and we are looking forward to going again soon with her and others.

Quite a bit of preparation and coordination in travel plans are always necessary for these temple trips.  Each of these sisters has a few health concerns so it was especially gratifying to be able to help with the preparation and see them all be able to accomplish this goal.

We also recently heard a great story from the elders at district meeting.  Our district leader, Elder Kocherhans, and his companion, Elder Gull were out walking in a neighborhood here called Braddock.  It's a steel mill town that still actually has a functioning mill.  They came across a group

of young teenagers playing basketball and asked if they could join in.  The teenagers reluctantly let them join with obvious disdain for two guys with white shirts and ties wanting to play basketball.  They didn't realize that the two elders are actually very good basketball players and by the end of the game, the elders had definitely earned the respect of the kids.  They finished with a challenge game.  The challenge was that if the elders won then the kids would have to listen to a missionary lesson.  The elders ended up claiming victory and the kids all sat down and listened to a short lesson on the Book of Mormon.  The elders offered them books and gave out all of the Book of Mormons that they had in their backpacks.  They recounted this story to us in our "highlight moments" of district meeting and shared the picture they took with us.  Fun experience to hear about!!

During this month we were also able to have another P-day with Megan and her companion.  Megan's companion, Sister Wall, has not spent much time in Pittsburgh so we went to the Cathedral of Learning and also spent a little time at the church where Jim and Megan got to compete a bit in ping pong.  Sure didn't think we would ever see a picture like this taken on our mission!

We had another great family history experience while giving one-on-one help to Sandra at the Vintage Center.  Sandra is one of many non member of our church who has attended the classes that we presented at Vintage.    We were finally able to sit down with her and get her signed up for Family Search.  We had a short prayer with her before we started because we explained that our experience has been that the veil is very thin when we do family history work. We told her that we feel that we need the help from those on the other side of the veil.  We put her father's name into the program and had a couple of historical records pop up.  We went into the Find-a-grave index and when she recognized her father's name and information she got tears in her eyes.  Of course, I got a little teary at the same time.  It just seemed that he was very near to us at that moment.  Anyone who has done much Family History will know the feeling that we all experienced at that precious moment.  She is now busy trying to gather more information at home and we plan to have another meeting with her next month.

Thanksgiving day we had another "first" holiday experience with Margaret and Janet.  Margaret is an African American member of the church who saw the elders in her neighborhood several years ago.  She called to them and invited them into her home to explain the dangers of the neighborhood that she lives right beside.  Before she knew it, she was embracing the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ and after studying it for many months Margaret joined the church.   Margaret became interested in family history and began searching for a lost brother.  Unbeknownst to her, her brother had died, but his daughter, Janet, had been searching for any extended family for 20 years.  At one point she even hired a private investigator with no success.  Her father had not kept in touch with any relatives nor even ever talked about his family.  Several months ago through the help of Ancestry, Family Search and Facebook,  Margaret was able to connect with her niece, Janet.  Margaret went to North Carolina last spring to visit Janet.  This Thanksgiving Janet and her 3 year old daughter made the trip to Pittsburgh to visit with Margaret and meet all of the extended family.  She was just so happy to meet aunts, uncles, and cousins that she didn't know she had.

Thanksgiving dinner was held at a restaurant on the Northside and we, along with 4 elders, were invited to attend the dinner.  We met so many warm and wonderful members of the family that day. a Margaret said it is only a small part of her large extended family.  It was great to see Janet introduced to all of the rest of the family.  We missed having a more traditional dinner with all of our family, but we will definitely chalk it up as one of our very enjoyable and memorable holidays.  We felt very honored to be included.

The next part of the story is that Janet soon realized that Margaret was a member of the Mormon church.  Janet says she actually studied with the Mormon missionaries many years ago, but became distracted and didn't continue.  She is very knowledgable with the Bible and has really enjoyed having two lessons with the elders that we were able to attend.  She is excited to get connected with the church in North Carolina and to continue taking the lessons there.  She is even considering baptism if she continues to feel as positive as she does now about the things she is learning.  She feels that the teachings from the Book of Mormon fits in so well with her present knowledge of  Bible teachings.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November News

We started the month of November by seeing a small flock of wild turkeys walking down one of the sidewalks here.  Of course, I had to have Elder Butler stop the car so we could get a picture!  We were only quick enough to catch one of them with the camera, but it was a fun moment and very appropriate to start this month

                                                                                                                                                                                    We also held two Family History Workshops at the Vintage Senior Citizen center.  The people we help there are not members of our church, but we have
loved getting to know them and help all we can with their search for their ancestors.  At the end of the second session we offered to schedule one on one help.  We had several people sign up.  Two of the people who signed up were Sonja and her friend, LaVerne.  We were so happy to help them because they are so excited about family history.  We referred them to one of the Family History Centers in one of our church buildings near their homes.  They got lots of help there.  We later met with them to sign them up for FamilySearch and give them a little tech help----yes, we are actually helping someone else with technology!!!  Sonja was so excited to show us pictures of  her 2nd great grandfather that she had found at the library along with a picture and biography.

Then on November 8th Damoni was confirmed a member of the church.  He was baptized a few days earlier but we had to miss his baptism due to a senior conference.  His grandmother, Vikkiy, has been in and out of the hospital so we were especially glad that she could make it to the confirmation.  He looked so good in his new white shirt and tie.

A few days later the Southside Spanish speaking elders had a missionary's dream come true--a whole family coming into the church.   Missionaries and ward members  were able to help arrange for the marriage of Armando and Remelios after months of paperwork problems with the Mexican government.  Then right after the marriage ceremony the couple were baptized along with two of their oldest children.  They have the cutest little family. They will be such
a blessing to the Spanish group here.

We also had a great P-day this month by visiting a place called McConnell's Mill.  It is an old mill and covered bridge.  We went on a beautiful hike on both sides of Slippery Rock Creek.  It is hard to describe the peace and beauty that we experienced that day in nature.  It was such a great break for us.

On our way to the mill we also stopped by a members home who had recently moved out of one of the wards here in Pittsburgh to a new ward in the suburbs.  Her name is Martha and when we met her almost a year ago she was totally inactive in the church.  She was also a little antagonistic and resentful about past wrongs she felt had been done in the church.  We tried to be accepting of her feelings and just tried to become friends with her.  As we visited several times with her we ended up having some spiritual discussions especially relating to her

Utah pioneer ancestors.  One of those ancestors was Dr. Shipp who is pictured on the right.  We are now seeing positive changes start to happen in Martha's life.   She just seems much happier and more at peace.  We get glimpses of her underlying testimony of the gospel.  We feel that a few things led to this change. One was that she started working on family history.......she had a couple of people in the ward reach out to her who related well to her......and the ward young men's group provided service to her by helping her move.  She is now attending church in her new ward!!  We had a wonderful visit with her and her mom.

We feel some of her ancestors on the other side must have gotten very busy after our visit because a few days later, we happened to meet a woman in her new ward at the grocery story here by our home.  As we talked to this woman we realized that she is a perfect fit to be a new friend to Martha.  She said she only comes into Pittsburgh every 4 or 5 months to shop!!  An interesting side note is that Elder Butler was going to go to the store alone, but at the last minute we both had a feeling that I should go too.  As we spoke to the woman at the store I was the one who made the connection with her about the fact that she lived close to Martha.  We realized that (as usual) it was a good thing I didn't send Elder Butler to the store alone.  Then, that night after we got home,  guess who called on the phone just to talk.....Martha!

We had a fun zone training on November 12.  First we had a good meeting together and heard about the new Christmas initiative that will go into effect on November 29th.  We can hardly wait.  We are already getting ready to put the cards on little gifts and thinking of any other way we can to share the beautiful video that we saw.  It really got us in the Christmas spirit a little bit early.  Everyone wore yellow or black shirts commemorating the "Stilers"(local pronunciation) and then we signed and decorated each other's shirts.  They also played a new game (to us anyway) of toilet paper dodgeball in the gym!  Lots of fun!

Then before we knew it, November 17,  "transfer day", was here.  A change in procedure was made and this time everyone got news of changes in areas and companions on the Saturday before. We had one last lunch with both Pittsburgh districts together at Boston Market.  It was a great time together.

At the transfer meeting we met Megan's new companion, Sister Wall.  Megan's new area will be Monongahela which is about an hour away from us.  Yeah!  We are so blessed.  It is also in our zone!!!  This means we will see her at even more meetings and be able to still spend P-days with her and her companion.  It still doesn't quite seem real to us.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Halloween--a weird sort of holiday!

We enjoyed a few Halloween festivities the week before Halloween as we participated in an activity after our zone training.  We went to Schenly Park as a zone, had a barbeque and carved pumpkins.  It was really fun to all be together.  We feel like we could get to know some of the zone members that live outside of Pittsburgh and who we don't see very often.  The elders and sisters have long, hard days sometimes.  They have appointments that cancel at the last minute, people who say rude things, and many times they just feel a little down and rejected.  We have to admire them for being upbeat most of the time no matter what they encounter.  A few activities of fun and relaxation really help them cope too. We try to support these activities as much as we can.  This particular activity even attracted nearby kids who came to join us.

We also took some leftover pumpkins to one of the families we visit and taught them what Halloween is all about. We have always thought the concepts behind Halloween are a little strange ourselves, and so it was a little hard to enlighten them on it's meaning.  Anyway, we tried to make some sense out of skeletons, ghosts, begging for candy, and destroying food that they are used to using every last bit of in South Africa.  In the end we tried to just convey that rather than trying to figure it out that it might be better to just have fun with the holiday and enjoy an excuse to do something a little different.

While we were carving pumpkins with them it was interesting to see the mom of the family snatch up the seeds.  She said one of the foods that they enjoy in Africa is to dry the seeds, grind them into powder, and then make a soup from the powder and other ingredients.  The kids also told us that they usually pick the pumpkins green rather than orange and that they eat the leaves as a spinach type dish.

So the week before Halloween President Johnson's weekly letter told us that all missionaries should be in their apartments by 6 PM on Halloween night.  He encouraged everyone to clean our apartments, get caught up on study, or just try to find useful things to do.  Obviously, missionaries in the past may have pushed the envelope

just a bit too much with

Halloween activities.  Anyway, that didn't really cause too much of a problem for us since it's been quite awhile since we have had the urge to go trick or treating.  The thing that seemed strange though is that no one trick or treats in our apartment building either because of all the locked doors and security.

So we spent Halloween evening cleaning, organizing and getting texts of pictures from home.  We really enjoyed seeing the costumes of our crazy kids and grandkids.   It turned out to be a very fun night for us.

Just have to include some of the cute costumes that we were able to enjoy.......

Luke and Heidi-----a hunter and hunted..........

Brynlee just had to be the cutest mermaid ever.....

Jenna was Pedro from Napolean Dynamite----vote for Pedro!....

         McCord and his friend as  
                really cute nerds......

October in Pennsylvania

Theres always so much to do that I have been delinquent in keeping up with the blog...but hopefully I can get caught up now.

We have savored the talks from General Conference ever since the first of the month.  Two of my favorites were given on Saturday morning. Elder Richard J. Maynes talked about the joy of living a Christ centered life and used the example of a potter needing to keep the clay exactly centered on the wheel for the pottery to be successful. He quoted the prophet Isaiah---"But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou our potter; and we are the work of thy hand."  Sister Neill Marriott who is from the South and has a VERY cute southern accent talked next.  She began her talk on yielding our hearts to God by quoting a song that said "Have thine own way, dear Lord! Have Thine own way! Thou are the Potter; I am the clay. Mould me and make me after Thy will, while I am waiting yielded and still."  

We have been told that no one who speaks at conference is given a set topic and so I thought it was very cool that the two talks fit perfectly together.  Both talks really "spoke to our hearts" as we considered some of our most personal experiences here in the mission.  It has given us so much peace in difficult situations to feel that we must be pliable in His hands and and flexible to His will for us.  As we still await news of some of our family's health outcomes and also as we have felt the loss of our sweet nephew, Jake, these teachings have comforted and sustained us.

Our mission this month has been especially busy.

We have spent a lot more time teaching lessons with the elders and have had many interesting experiences.  Here is a short synopsis of some of the scenarios that we have encountered.

  • Alecia.  She was converted to the church in Las Vegas a few years ago--almost by accident.  She was dating a man who belonged to a different church with a name she mistook for the LDS church.  She started to investigate our church without telling him.  She said she just wanted to understand him better.  Before she knew it, she was really feeling the Spirit.  She was baptized,  became immersed in ward activity, and made many friends in the church.  Alecia eventually moved back to Pittsburgh and has had some rough times.  She has just started to come back to church here and we are excited to be her friends and help her any way we can.
  • Loretta.  She is investigating the church and is a devout Catholic.  She wants to learn more about what we believe.  She loves to go to mass, but says she doesn't feel a connection with other people there.  The Spirit was very strong as we attended a lesson with her and the elders.  We talked about things we believe that can add to the spirituality she already feels.
  • Ed.  He is an accomplished keyboard musician and past hairstylist and makeup artist. He is currently working as a music producer which takes him around the world for various ventures.  He is disillusioned with what the world has to offer and loves the tabernacle choir.  He says he meets many members of the church as he travels and he really admires them.  He even sometimes attends our church meetings in different places around the world as he travels  Ed says he really wants to be baptized into the church, but he has a medical issue that needs to be solved first.
  • Damoni who is a new nine year old member of the church.  His immediate family has been less active, but his grandmother is active in the other ward we attend. Through her influence and help from missionaries and ward members he was able to be baptized recently.  He is a very sweet boy with a lot of potential in his life.

October is a favorite month of ours and as we have walked, driven, and bicycled around the city and state I have loved the gorgeousness of the autumn colors here. I think I might have just made up a new word there!

We have traveled quite a bit.  One trip to Gettysburg was particularly sobering and spiritual.  We visited the battlefields of Antietam, Gettysburg and the historic town of Harper's Ferry.  I have a couple of ancestors who were in the Civil War and so being on the battlefields was particularly touching.

At the end of the month we also took a trip for a "Senior Couples Conference" to the new Priesthood Restoration church history site in Harmony, PA.  We stopped in Johnstown, PA to pick up one of the senior couples who serve there.  Johnstown is such an interesting little town to me, because I once read a book about the flood that occured there in 1889.  We learned that there were actually two more floods--one in 1936 and another in 1977.  Visiting museums there really helped to tell the amazing story of the survival of this town.

In Harmony we visited the shore of the Susquehanna River where Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey were baptized by John the Baptist.  We also saw the grove of trees where they received the Aaronic Priesthood from Peter, James and John.  The home of Emma Smiths parents (Isaac and Elizabeth Hale) and the home where Joseph and Emma lived for a short time have been restored.  We also saw the cemetery where their infant son was buried.  Seeing it all and hearing the history in the new visitors center really brought church history to life for us.
A highlight of our trip was hearing the Visitor Center sister missionaries sing acapella to us

Lots of interesting people and places.  We love serving in PA!