Our departure was delayed for a couple of reasons, first by the passing of Kathy's father, William Chapman Wooton, age 92. A musician (trumpet) and educator (high school chorus, band, and math and master woodworker (he even made his own casket), he lived a long and productive life. His funeral was very well attended and, as funerals go, it was wonderful. He will be sorely missed.
The second factor in our delayed departure was the arrival of a foot and a half of snow, which was welcome, but made travel extremely difficult for a couple of days. Finally, on Wednesday, Dec. 16th we were underway. Travel was okay but difficult in spots, especially in northern Montana where the roads were slick and snow packed. We stopped in Helena, MT to stay overnight and then proceeded on to Calgary on Thursday. Despite the sometimes treacherous weather, it was beautiful to travel through the mountains and forests laden with snow. It was a real Christmas scene.
We arrived in Calgary around 4:00 p.m. and drove directly to the Mission Office where we met the housing coordinator , Elder Sefcik, and four sets of Elders anxious to help us move in. From the office we followed them to our apartment building where all hands made quick work of moving our household goods from the trailer and our SUV into the elevator and to the 12th floor where we will be living for the next 18 months.
Our first official day began with Kathy going to the office to begin learning her duties while I assisted Elder Sefcik and others in transporting some 16 Elders and Sisters from the mission home to the airport. Having completed their missions, they are returning home. It was wonderful to see the genuine love and respect shown by them as they said their goodbyes to each other and to their leaders.
The balance of the day was spent being trained in our duties, especially the management of the mission's fleet of 87 cars and pickups and office vehicles. The details that need to be remembered are many and shifting. Inspections of vehicles, tires, fluids, and ensuring that the missionaries clean and care for the cars will be a large part of Kathy's and my responsibilities, also accounting for the regular oil changes and tire care with the contracted service providers, Kal Tire and Canadian Tire, and arranging for repairs when needed, incoming new vehicles, and sale of outgoing vehicles when they reach 60-70,000 miles. I will also have some responsibility for arranging medical care for sick or injured missionaries, and Kathy will have several office duties including the monthly newsletter. There is one other office couple and a volunteer couple, the Sefciks, who work three days a week in the office.
Yesterday the entire office staff traveled to Lethbridge and joined the mission president, President Miles, and his wife, Lori, and the nearly 100 missionaries serving in the south part of the mission. We prepared a dinner of baked ham, baked potatoes, Caesar salad, rolls, and dessert for them. Some had traveled four to five hours to get there from eastern British Columbia. The gathering was so touching as many of them had served with each other in other areas and had not seen each other some time. Again the love and fellowship was marvelous to behold. They relaxed and had a wonderful time. They had each brought a white elephant gift at the request of Sister Miles and after dinner she had them sit in two large circles. As she read, Twas the Night Before Christmas, into which she had blended many "lefts" and "rights", when she read the word "right" they would each pass the gift to the right, and to the left when she read "left". At the end of the poem they opened the gift they had in their hands. It was fun to watch. I will include a video clip of this if I can figure out how to do it. (Couldn't do it so have posted it on my Facebook page - go there (Evan Thorley) to see the full video clip.)
The final part of the afternoon was to meet in the chapel for a devotional. President and Sister Miles spoke. There were several musical numbers including Kathy and I singing a Christmas song, "Were You There?", a violin solo, and two vocal solos. The most touching part of the devotional was the reading of the real Christmas story from Luke, which was done in the three languages for which we have missionaries serving, English, Spanish, and Mandarin Chinese. This was done by non-native speakers. The English version was done by a Sister from China who was disowned by her family when she joined the Church. She arrived at the MTC with hardly any English language skills. She is now only 3 months into her mission. She apologized in near perfect English for her lack of English skills then went on to read the story in Luke with amazingly good grasp of English. She was so cute and personable; she brought tears to everyone's eyes. The musical numbers were all accompanied by Elder Carter, a very accomplished pianist, who turned out to be from Cedar City, UT (my home area) so it was fun to play "who do you know".
Upon returning to Calgary (incidentally the driving time between Calgary and Lethbridge is over two hours), we gathered at the home of Elder Sefcik, one of the local volunteers, to watch the recorded game between BYU and University of Utah at the Las Vegas Bowl. Kathy and I were very tired so when the score became 35-0 due to turnovers by BYU, we left and went home. Little did we know that BYU would eventually outplay Utah for the remaining 3/4 of the game and would draw so close to winning.
Today was a very spiritual day for a variety of reasons: (1) traveling with the other senior couples serving in the mission and getting to know them, their histories, and their reasons for serving, (2) seeing the love and affection the Elders and Sisters have for each other and their devotion to the work, (3) seeing the love that President and Sister Miles have for each of the missionaries serving, and (4) basking in the presence of these young missionaries, - so clear eyed, honest, and dedicated. This is so refreshing when measured against the apathy and lack of purpose seen in so much of our society. Truly these young people will be leaders in society and in the Church, and to think that this scene is repeated over and over again in the other missions of the Church.
We hope and pray that this Christmas week will bring you closer to the Savior of the World as you contemplate His miraculous birth and His sinless life, and the precious gift of love and salvation He has given us.
D&C 6:13 - "If thou wilt do good, yea, and hold out faithful to the end, thou shalt be saved in the kingdom of God; which is the greatest of all the gifts of God; for there is no gift greater than the gift of salvation."
|Early morning view looking south from our 12th floor apartment|
|Our backyard on our planned day of departure|