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