Monday, April 11, 2016

A Special Baptism

Participating, observing, or helping in any small way with someone getting baptized into the Lord's church is such a joyful experience.  It is so wonderful that we could experience this at the end of our mission with our great friend, Tony.

We feel that Tony's conversion to the gospel can be compared to an anaolgy that we heard recently of grains of rice being put on one side of a scale.  Each little grain of rice added to one side of the scale is like small experiences with the Holy Spirit that people feel as they investigate the gospel.  Those grains of rice grow in weight very slowly.  But then finally the rice (or experiences with the Spirit) add up and the scale tips to the other side.  Joy, peace and hope are felt as conversion occurs through the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.

We have been privileged to be part of the last grains of rice being put on the scale in Tony's conversion to the gospel.  We feel that one of the major tipping points on the scale for Tony was his mom, Viola.  She went to the temple last September to be sealed in eternal marriage to her husband who has been deceased for 50 years.  She came home with a certificate from the temple that was displayed in her living room.  Many of her family who are not members of our church commented on it.  When we asked Tony what he thought of his mom performing this ordinance in the temple he said, "Mom, I think it is so wonderful that you did this for you and dad".

A few weeks later Tony stopped Elders Simmons and Gille on the street and wanted to talk with them more about the gospel.  Tony had been taught lessons from other sets of elders in the past, but he had many interpretations of his own about the scriptures and he wasn't really that ready to be taught.  But....maybe a few grains of rice were added to the scale!

More grains of rice were added on a summer evening when we were present with the elders as they taught a lesson to Tony.  We were seated at an outside table at the McDonalds in East Liberty.  Five of us sat at the table and enjoyed ice cream on this warm evening and then the elders taught the lesson.  It was the first time Elder Simmons had led a discussion and he bore a powerful testimony involving his grandmother's testimony.  The Spirit was strongly felt as we bowed our heads to say a closing prayer. Then an unusual thing happened---we saw a shadow and felt a person standing right beside us!  It was a woman who had felt the Spirit, came to listen to our prayer, and asked us to say another prayer with her for a friend who had been in a serious accident.

Even more grains were added during the following months as Tony's heart began to soften and sets of elders came and went as they were transferred to other areas.  Tony already had a good knowledge of the scriptures, but as he learned the simple truths of the restoration over again it seemed that the pieces of the puzzle began to come together in his mind.  We think he also felt the love of a father he never knew from Elder Butler's hugs!!

Anyway, what a joyous day it was on April 9th when Tony entered the waters of baptism.  Elder Butler was especially pleased when Tony asked him to  perform this ordinance.  President and Sister Johnson were able to attend the baptism.  Brother Pope gave a talk on baptism and I (Sister Butler) gave a talk on the Holy Ghost.

On Sunday Tony was "confirmed" a member of the church and given the gift of the Holy Ghost to be his constant companion as he remains worthy and keeps the commandments.  He also received the Aaronic priesthood and bore his testimony.  He told everyone how grateful he was for the friendship and fellowship he has felt in the ward and offered his service to anyone in need.

      We are so excited for all that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ will mean in Tony's life!

People and Places to Remember

We are starting to think of people we are glad we have met and places that we are glad we have visited.

One of our favorites is Annie.  She has the biggest smile and the best laugh ever.  She has taken lessons from the elders for years and she has a strong testimony of the restored gospel.  She is also a member of a small Baptist congregation here.  She teaches Sunday School and tries to keep the little church going.  She just turned 90 years old a couple of months ago and we have been recently helping her with her family history.  We and many of the elders consider her a real friend.

Another one of our favorite people is Gwen.  She comes to church from her nursing home each week via ACCESS transportation.  She will always be an example of patience, cheerfulness, and pure testimony to us.

Another couple that we see making lots of progress in their lives is Alecia and Damon.  Alecia came into contact with the church in Las Vegas a few years ago and got baptized.  She absolutely loves the church and the gospel, but suffers from an illness that definitely gives her lots of trials in life.  Damon is a truck driver so he is gone a lot, but they are hoping to get married soon.  We are so excited and happy for them.

We also saw the Lord's hand recently in the life of a young man we met at a high school event.  He saw our tags and came up to us to talk.  He said that we might know his grandmother---which we did.  He told us that he was actually a member of the church and we asked about his current involvement in the church.  He said that he wasn't really attending and that he wasn't even living at home, but staying with a friends family.  So....we asked if he would like to talk to elders....or get a Book of Mormon??? He hesitated, but said that getting a Book of Mormon might be okay.  He lives quite far away from us, but he gave us his phone number and so we gave it to the elders near him to deliver the book.  We happened to see the elders a few weeks later at a church event and they said that he is attending church every week now and even participating in the Young Men activities.  He told the elders that he was looking for more direction in his life at the very moment he saw us.  That made us so happy to see how the Lord works miracles in peoples lives when they reach out even a little bit.

We also had our first picnic of the year recently in Nick's backyard with Debi and Elizabeth.  Cool weather is just not an obstacle for most Pittsburgher's.  Nick has only been a church member for a few months and so it was good to get to know him a little better.

We had another unique experience at a unique building recently.  It is a long story with lots of twists and turns, but it seems to have all worked out.  We got a call from the missionary couple who served before us.  They told us about a contact they had here within the organization of Dollar Bank.  Her name is Sandra and she is the vice president of the bank and specifically in charge of construction projects.  The bank was started in 1855 and the large, ornate building was finished in 1870.  It seems that as the bank was renovating within the last few years that they ran across many large books of genealogical records that Sandra felt a special interest in preserving.  It turns out that they ended up hiring a full time archivist to digitize and preserve these records.  The bank has even turned part of it's ground floor space into a heritage center.

We visited the bank along with Cynthia and her husband on April 5th.  Cynthia is on the committee for Public Affairs for the Pittsburgh area and we had a great time taking a tour of this historic bank and seeing some of the records.  This bank was created to serve the common working people and an account could be opened with only one dollar.  They were also the only bank to serve African Americans and women in Pittsburgh for quite some time.  It is the oldest Savings and Loan institution in the country.  There are 68 branches in Pennsylvania at the present time.

We were treated very well and taken on a very nice tour.
It turns out that Sandra actually has family who are church members.  She also shared with us a very tender memory of her daughter being helped greatly by church missionaries when she was stranded in Mosambique, Africa a few years ago.  What a pleasure it was to meet Sandra and feel of her warmth and her love for our church missionaries.

We loved the lions that are guarding the front of the building.  We heard that the original lions had begun to deteriorate in the outside weather so they are now displayed inside.  We were told that these were carved by the same sculptor who carved the lions on the Utah State capital building.

The hours, days, and weeks are moving quickly so we keep trying to fit in all the people and places that we can to help move the Lord's work along!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Cherry Blossoms, Easter, & Pittsburgh Pierogies

We were so grateful to be able to go to the Washington DC Temple and it was an added bonus to be able to go while the cherry blossoms were blooming in the nation's capital.  It was a bright spring day when we arrived in DC with LaShaun and Vikkiy.  It was one of the peak days for the trees to be in bloom and  the Tidal Basin area around the monuments was a very busy place.  We finally found a parking place and were able to walk around and get some great pictures.

The highlight of the trip though was spent afterwards at the temple.  It was such a good break for each of us.  We have grown to appreciate being able to go to the temple so much more.  It is definitely a place where heaven and earth meet for a short time while you are there.

Easter Sunday was a very busy Sunday, but a very rewarding one also.  It was another beautiful day with spring flowers and blossoms everywhere.  Tony came to church all dressed up and even sang in the ward choir.  His baptism date is set in another 2 weeks and we are so excited for him.

We had dinner with Sister Eldridge afterwards.  She loves having us over for holidays along with the elders.

Her niece was visiting along with the Laylands who are previous ward members.  It was probably the last time we will have dinner with Sister Eldridge and it begins a series of "last times" that we will be experiencing the next few weeks.  It is a bittersweet journey that we have ahead of us!

We have started teaching two temple preparation classes - one in each ward.  Courtney and Scott are attending the one in the 7th Ward.  It doesn't look like it got started in time for us to finish and go to the temple with them since it is a 6 week class and will be interrupted by General and Ward Conferences.  Even so it will be wonderful to hear from them about their first trips to the temple after we leave.

The temple class in the 1st Ward is meant for some members to prepare to go to the temple to do baptisms for the dead.  We should be able to fit in at least one trip to one of the temples to do this.

On April 1st we were asked to attend the MLC (Missionary Leadership Council) in Altoona, PA.  It is about 2 hours away from Pittsburgh.  It was wonderful to be able to enjoy the spirit of this meeting with so many of the young leaders in the mission (elders who are Zone Leaders and sisters who are serving as Sister Training leaders).  Jim taught his class on the Atonement that seems to have helped many elders and members here.  His way of presenting it just seems to make sense to most people and he made it into a Powerpoint presentation for the first time.

Then the weekend of General Conference came.
We really enjoyed watching General Conference in our apartment.  One Saturday we had dinner between sessions with Sister McQuarrie who is the Relief Society President in the 7th Ward along with some elders.

Then on Sunday evening we watched conference in our apartment with a set of elders and had some authentic Pittsburgh pierogies.  They were given to us by Mel who is a long time Pittsburgh resident.  For those who don't know what a "pierogi" is I have included a picture.  It is a traditional polish food that is often served with lots of onions and cabbage and other side dishes.  We are told that they are sometimes just served alone and then if you are still hungry, you just eat more pierogies!  They are like raviolis but a little bigger.  The ones we were given to cook were filled with potatoes and cheese and were homemade in a town near here called McKees Rocks.  We understand that many are filled with other things too.  We enjoyed them and had enough left over to send some home with the elders.

We have started to say a few good-byes and reflect on some of the good people we have met here.  It is getting harder and harder to think of leaving and not seeing many people for a very long time.