It has been so long since I have written, and I'm not quite sure where to begin. We have been BUSY and the weeks are going very quickly. I try and post occasionally on Facebook and let you all know we are still alive and doing well.
The work is going great! We are able to participate in many teaching opportunities. There have been many changes in the Mission over the last few months. They have moved the Fort Meyers area out of our mission and into the Fort Lauderdale Mission. This cut the number of missionaries in our mission by quite a bit. This means less cars, but it also has made the Tampa Florida Mission much smaller in area. This has not been a bad thing for us because it makes it much easier for the whole mission to get together more often. We have had some great Mission and Zone Trainings over the last few months. We had a wonderful opportunity to be trained by Elder Zwick for two weeks in a row. I love it when all of the missionaries get together, there is such strength in this Army of The Lord.
We have also had many changes in our District the last few weeks. We have gone from four Elders down to two. We have also had two other sets of Elders transferred in the last few weeks, Our District now consists of one set of Elders (assigned to our Branch) and 4 sets of Sister missionaries. Elder Fawou is the District leader,so right now we are telling him he is the "sistrict leader". We are not sure what will happen over the next few weeks. Transfers are on the 29th so we shall see who we get. In spite of the changes, I am ever impressed with the strength and testimonies of these missionaries.
We have a number of people the Elders are teaching and we get the opportunity to tag along with the sisters quite often. We have become great friend with Victoria. She is from Bulgaria and came in contact with us because a tenet in her apartment building is a member of the church. She is so very intelligent, and so educated. She has looked at the gospel in a very logical way and wanted to be able to understand exactly how it all works together. Out of all the churches she has investigated, she said the LDS church is so different and yet makes so much sense. She prays in such a humble and heartfelt way. She has a date set to be baptized in May and we can't wait to see her in the water. She has a great deal of strength and determination. Combine that with the gospel and there will be no stopping her!
We also are helping with our "little Miss Mary". She is the most humble, sweetest little sister. I'm guessing she is in her 60's and cleans houses a couple of days a week. She is up every morning reading her book of scriptures and praising Jesus every moment of the day. She was riding the bus almost 1 1/2 hours to get to the Sisters in St. Petersburg for her lessons.
We had a baptism yesterday of a 9 year old girl. She started coming to church with one of our Ward Clerks that lives on a boat next to hers in the Marina. She is the cutest little girl and has made quick friends with everyone in the Branch. I think the Elders had taught her two lessons when she said to them "so when can I get baptized"? Her mother is not a member but she has some close friends that are members of the church. Primary songs truly strengthened her testimony.
President Cusick has asked us to attend all of the baptisms in the Stake, so we have had some amazing opportunities to meet and visit with all of the new converts. It keeps us busy because the Stake is quite large. Gulfport is at the south end of the Stake and Hudson in 2 hours north of us and they are the north boundary. We have 3 baptisms in Hudson this next weekend. We really have enjoyed this assignment. It is exciting to watch as people make these covenants and share testimony. We are also able to see the great support of the wards.
Some of the things we have been able to do in the last few months is go to the temple in Orlando four times. That has been a great blessing! We went with the youth of the Branch, the Sisters in the Stake, with a group of new and returning members from the Seminole Ward and one time just us when we went over to see the Heggie family at Disney World. We have been to the Bishop's Storehouse in Plant City on a couple of assignments, which Dad has loved. We went to the Manatee Center at Appolo Beach to see the Manatees...very fascinating creatures. We went to Clearwater Aquarium to see Winter and Hope, the dolphins in the movies "Dophin's Tale 1 & 2" . I really enjoyed it, but Dad was not so impressed. We were doing a "Flat Stanley" project for my cousin Melissa's daughter. It was fun to have him tag along with us. We went to the St. Petersburg Grand Prix and watched the race from the Beck's 31st floor apartment. They are such a great couple and so supportive of the missionaries and the branch. We have been able to get with the other Senior couples in the mission a few times, enjoy food, compare notes, and talk. We have had two couples go home this month and will have one couple coming in May. We were able to drive half way across the state to take two of our Elders to Sebring. It was a great drive and we saw a ton of orange groves and a beautiful part of Florida...countryside, not city. We enjoyed the day and the drive, but we will sure miss those two Elders.
I am going to attach a sampling of all of the pictures I have taken over the last few months and try and do a little description with them. Since I am as bad at keeping a journal as I am at writing letters, this Blog may be the only record we were ever in Florida. I will try and do better, promise.
We do love it here! It has its ups and downs and is not always a bed of roses, but we wouldn't trade the opportunities and blessing we have received. We love you all and are so thankful for your support and keeping us posted on the things happening at home.
The restored gospel of Jesus Christ is true, He is there for us at all times. We are guided by a living prophet Thomas S. Monson, who is his spokesman here on this Earth at this time. The Lord has blessed us in so many ways, we are eternally in his debt. Stay close to the covenants you have made and He will always be with you.
Love you all,
Mom and Dad
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
So yes, I am the worst letter writer EVER! I would have been out in the Mission Field wringing some necks if my boys had been this bad at writing home. It’s nice to stay in touch with Facebook and texts with everyone, but I really want to be better at keeping track of what we are doing here. So, this is going to be a quick log with pictures of what we have been doing the last month or so. Yup, the last real letter was the 1st part of November. It’s kind of like eating an elephant one bite at a time, and everyone has been at dinner for an hour before you.
I have posted some things on Facebook that we have been doing but I know there are a few things I have missed. The work is going great and I think we are getting in the routine a little bit. We have spent a lot of time searching for those that no one knows for sure if they live here or not. We have become quite the little detectives. We have used a couple of search engines that help us to see where people were last seen or located and what phone numbers are attached to them. We then try calling and leaving messages in hopes that they will call us back. We have been able to move out about 36 records of those that have moved for sure. The Gulfport Branch membership over 400 and more than half of the names no one knows them. We get pretty excited when we find one that is dead or has a criminal record. They are the easy ones, and we know we can take the records off. It is a little frustrating because no one answers their phones and no one is ever home. But, we are making slow but sure progress. When the Branch list is a little more workable and accurate they can really start concentrating on Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching. The Branch is really great! The people are very warm and friendly. They have a great love for each other and truly care for those they know. I find myself each week touched by the Spirit as my love for all of them increases.
Gulfport Branch Building, This is the phase two of the building and they have it designed to be able to add on to it with a phase 3 and 4 as the membership grows. It really is a beautiful little building.
We were invited up to the Beck's apartment in November before Thanksgiving. They are this wonderful little couple that live in downtown St. Petersburg in a high-rise apartment, they live on the 31st floor. She is the organist and he is the Branch Chorister. They have family that live in SLC and a son that lives here. They will tell you that the apartment is his and he just lets them live in it. They had all of the missionaries over for lunch one day. They wanted to be able to spend time with them before she started her chemo treatments and has been put into isolation for the next few months. They are such a beautiful couple and we all had a great time.
The Wall of Water is a big attraction in St. Petersburg and is just outside the Beck's apartment building. It was pretty cool.
We went to Sarasota to an Amish Restaurant for Thanksgiving Dinner. We met up with all of the other Senior Couples and had a great time visiting and getting to know them a little better. The food was good, but not like a real homemade Thanksgiving Dinner. That afternoon, we came back to our apartment and fed the Elders. Of course, we were all so full from already having dinner we had a lot of leftovers.
Elders right to left: Elder Stuart - tall and skinny as a rail and can eat more food than anyone I have ever met. Elder Birth - quiet and a great leader he is an amazing teacher and has a great love for the people of Gulfport, Elder Farley - this guy is smarter than anyone I have met in a very long time. He knows the scriptures inside and out. Elder Anderson - He's a crack up and keeps us laughing all of the time, but has an amazing testimony of the Gospel and is such a hard worker.
I posted pictures of the Mission Christmas Party on Facebook. It was so much fun to watch the Missionaries associate with each other and just relax and have fun. I have already posted most of the pictures from Christmas also. It was wonderful! We received some great gifts from family and friends. Thank you all so much! It was fun to talk to all of you and hear how your Christmas went.
We had the Elders over for Christmas Eve and cooked the traditional Prime Rib and Shrimp. We played some games, like Heads Up, and had a great time. They came back Christmas Day to Skype with their families. It really was a highlight watching them talk to their families and laugh and cry (although they would never admit it). We went to Clearwater and had Christmas Dinner with Melanie’s parents, Dave and Rosella and with her sister Lisa. It was so nice to spend time with them. Dinner was delicious and they gave us a beautiful wreath made with shells. I love it and is really my only wall décor except for calendars and art work from Grandkids.
We had two baptism in December. Danielle was baptized on December 6th. She is a beautiful young woman who knows what she wants and just goes for it. They have put her in the Primary to help teach and she is very excited about it. We took her to Stake Conference the end of November and introduced her to President Emery, our Stake President. She was so impressed with him, so when we ask her who she wanted to baptize her, she said the President. He was so kind and arranged his schedule so he could do it for her. It was a beautiful day and it has been so fun to watch her grow in the Gospel.
I posted pictures of Michael and Asmara’s wedding and baptism. That was a great two days! Michael approached Elder Farley and Elder Anderson at Taco Bell, where he works. They just asked him if he wanted to be baptized and he said "sure". It was all golden contact from there. He has a very strong testimony and desire to know the entire Gospel. Asmara is such a sweetheart and they want so badly to go to the temple and be sealed to their little Noah. Michael is so tenderhearted and close to the Spirit it was very special to witness.
January 1st started out with another baptism. Sean, a 16 year old young man was baptized in September, just before we got here. He had approached the Missionaries at the skate park and wanted to know what they were doing. Elders Birth and Stuart taught him and he was very anxious to be baptized. While they were teaching him his mother Carmen and his sister Madison listened in. Carmen was baptized on New Year’s Day and Madison wanted to wait for her 13th birthday on January 30th. It is pretty exciting to see this whole family come into the Church. We went to the Orlando Temple on Saturday, January 31st with the youth of the Branch. Sean was able to participate in Baptisms for the Dead for the first time. It was a great experience. The youth did family names for a young couple in the Branch and it was a very spiritual experience for everyone. I spent the afternoon with Madison walking around the temple and taking pictures. We talked a lot and I tried to teach her. She is a pretty typical 13 year old and not quite sure about a lot of things. I am so grateful I was able to raise my family in little old Rigby. This is a tough place to be a teenager. So many influences that draw them to the World and it is hard for them to comprehend what a great influence the Church can be in their lives and how it can bring them so much happiness and peace.
I posted about our Martin Luther King Day of Service activity, it was a lot of fun and the Elders made such a good impression on the community. We were able to go to an interfaith service on Sunday and listen to some good Gospel music, eat great food, and visit with some amazing people. The guest speaker that night was the author of the book “The Freedom Riders” it was very good. On Monday, we were able to experience the craziness of MLK Day as we went out to make some visits. Note to self for next year...DO NOT try and drive anywhere near Martin Luther King Boulevard on Martin Luther King day in the evening. It was a whole new experience for us. We found out the next morning that our Elders ended up riding their bikes through it all. Needless to say the cops just looked at them and thought they were crazy and encouraged them to hurry home. They did!
We have had a lot of changes in the Mission in the last month. The boundaries were changed and we lost about 30 missionaries to the Fort Lauderdale Mission. All of the Fort Meyers area went over there. It is good for them and so much easier for our Mission. They were all quite a bit south, but it was also the area that had the most baptisms in the Mission so we will all have to step it up. The Missionaries have all had the IPads to use as area books. They have been such a blessing and have made it so easy for them to teach and correspond. At our Mission Training Conference they took away one IPad per companionship so now they are working off of one IPad. They were also all to delete their Facebook accounts. It has been an adjustment for all of them and they were all pretty down for a few days. But, they will adjust and go back to being amazing.
Well, this kind of brings us back up to speed and I will be much better about writing to all of you. It is great to hear from you, no matter what the method may be. We love you all so much and appreciate your support and prayers more than you will ever know. Stay strong in the Lord and, as they say down here, “Have a Blessed Day”.
Dad and Mom
Our District in November
Our CRAZY District in December
Senior Couples in the Tampa Mission
Zone Dodgeball - Elder Smith killed them!
From the front of our apartment looking to the East - you can see Tropicana Field
If you zoom in close you can see the Skyway Bridge
Our whole Mission just after they changed boundaries in January
Monday, February 2, 2015
We have had a couple of great days. Miss M was baptized yesterday on her 13th birthday. Today we went with the youth from the Gulfport Branch to the Orlando Temple. They were all able to do Baptisms for the Dead and Miss. M and I spent time together taking pictures and talking. She is so excited to be confirmed tomorrow and then have her turn to go back to the temple.
Friday, January 30, 2015
This is an amazing group of missionaries currently serving in the Florida Tampa mission. We are all in the St.Petersburg District and would like everyone to #discoverthebook. The Book of Mormon is the keystone to our religion and the reason why we are all out here serving and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Reading the word of God in the Book of Mormon will strengthen your love for others and change your life. Read it, discover it, and share it.
Saturday, January 17, 2015
During Mission Conference today it was announced the Ft. Myers Zone would now be part of the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission. The boundaries for our two missions were realigned. The work is the same where ever we go, but it was still very difficult.
We had a great day today participating in the Gulfport MLK Day of Service. Did a little street cleanup and the Elders worked at the local animal shelter. Elder Anderson also gave a little blood.
The Elders were able to tell everyone about their experience today. They were great examples of the church.
Elder Birth is a dog lover!
Ignore the frown, he was very willing to give!
Elder Anderson's greatest support system Elder Farley.
Elder Smith doing what he loves to do...yard cleanup.
We recruited the Meadows to help us today.
Brother and Sister Meadows, Elder Birth, Elder Farley, Elder Anderson, Elder Smith and I standing in front of the Gulfport Trolley.