Sunday, April 24, 2016

It has been another busy transfer week. 

Each time we receive a new group of missionaries as we did on Tuesday it means it is time to say goodbye to a similar sized group of missionaries who are going home, new companionships are formed as new missionaries join their missionary trainers, some missionaries are scheduled to go from Calgary to the south mission and other missionaries then come from the south mission to the north areas in and around Calgary. It takes President and Sister Miles with the assistance of the two Assistants to the President considerable time to make these assignments. There are many variables which have to be taken into consideration: the three languages our missionaries speak (English, Mandarin, and Spanish), who is eligible to drive (or not), who has served in a given area for quite some time and is due a change, personalities, health needs, and so on. I am so happy I do not have to make these assignment decisions. Inspiration is involved but “information precedes inspiration” as we so well know. Thank goodness for computer assistance as companionships are considered. It is amazing to see, in the end, how well it all works out from the office point of view.

To give you an idea of the first day in the mission for our newly arriving Elders and Sisters, at least for the ones being assigned to North and South American missions; they leave the Missionary Training Center in Provo very early in the morning on a Tuesday and are transported to the airport in Salt Lake City where they wait for their particular flights to the varying destinations. For our group arriving on Tuesday their day began around 1:00 a.m. They arrived about 11:15 a.m. here in Calgary. They next go through customs and this can be a rather lengthy process depending on the size of the group and how many are coming from outside of Canada. When they are all through customs we load them and their baggage into the mission vehicles and drive them to the mission home where they kick off their shoes (it is a custom in Canada that everyone removes his or her shoes as they enter a private residence) and the local training begins. The office staff is introduced and we each have certain things we teach them such as how their mission funding and gas cards work, local laws and customs, driving requirements and safe vehicle use, expectations for upkeep of cars and apartments, telephone and internet use and limitations, how the mail system works in Alberta and how they receive their mail (it all comes to the mission office first and then goes out via the Zone Leaders once a week), ordering supplies, how health issues are handled, etc. This involves several information sheets (since they will remember only some of what we present), and certain forms that must be completed. We try to make it interesting but fatigue from their long day takes its toll so there are stretch breaks and an occasional hymn. Finally they have dinner and have a chance to get to bed but not before each of them has an interview with President Miles which enables him to get to know each of them, their expectations and concerns, and this interview helps with his assignment decisions.

The training continues on Wednesday when each of them first meets their new companion and together they receive additional training before heading out to their assigned area of labor.

On Thursday morning we meet all the Elders and Sisters being transferred and their “old” companions at 9:00 a.m. in a church parking lot. All those going south load up their baggage in the trailer and then climb into one of the mission vehicles and we head for Lethbridge, nearly two hours south. In the meantime those who have briefly lost a companion are paired up with another Elder of Sister in the same circumstance and they go to an area close in and do some work while they await the arrival of their new companions from the south mission. In the meantime the same thing is happening in a church parking lot in Lethbridge although it begins at 11:00 a.m. The convoy of missionaries arrives from the north, new companions are met, baggage is unloaded (see more on this below), cars are loaded up, and the new companionships head to their assigned areas. Those missionaries going north load up and the convoy heads back toward Calgary. Back in Calgary the same thing happens as new companions meet, load up, and head to their areas.

This is all supposed to go smoothly, of course, but not always so…….I have remarked in a previous blog that it is a lot like herding cats. When a bunch of missionaries get together who may not have seen each other in awhile, they understandably want to visit and catch up. There are pockets of visiting missionaries scattered all over the parking lot. Instructions can be ignored or lost in the wind (the wind is an especially big problem in Lethbridge). Announcements to load up must be repeated. Efforts to ensure that cell phones, apartment keys, and car keys get into the right hands are not always successful. Likewise keeping southbound and northbound luggage separated is a big issue; for example, after all of the southbound luggage was unloaded and placed on the south side of the trailer, and the northbound luggage was then loaded, after closing up the trailer I was approached by a frantic Sister saying she couldn’t find her luggage. I unlocked the trailer and the search began. We had to unload 2/3 of the luggage before she spotted her luggage. After getting back to Calgary we got a phone call from one of the Elders who didn’t discover he was missing one of his bags until he got to his area. Sigh………!

I will include a picture I took of the 11 passengers who rode back to Calgary with me. We had to stop in Clareholm at TIM HORTONS to get some “Timbits” (they are like donut holes and come in a variety of flavors – yum, especially the carmel and sea salt ones!)

Also on Thursday, the Elders and Sisters who are returning home gather at the mission home and with President and Sister Miles they all go to the temple. It is a very emotional time for them and going to the temple is an especially fitting way to cap off their missions. It is hard for all to say goodbye. 

On Friday mornings of transfer week after we take the departing missionaries to the airport to catch their flights, things get a bit more relaxed, ….. well sort of. It is then we get calls that a cell phone or a gas card didn’t get passed on as planned, or someone left something important in their last apartment or car and so on.  Despite this it all really does go quite well, and in another six weeks we will do it all over again.

See, it is possible for me to have said all this and hardly a word about cars! Well, there are a couple of items to mention. Two new areas were opened up in the Lethbridge and Cardston zones so two cars had to be identified and driven south on Thursday as a part of the transfer process. Additionally I had to take a couple of repair items south and arrange for these to get to the missionaries needing them.

Tuesday evening after the training sessions with the new missionaries, we three couples who work in the office went to dinner together. I want to share a sign with you that hangs in the Italian restaurant where we ate. I got a kick out of it and thought you might as well.

Finally, as I have mentioned before, we live on the 12th floor of an apartment building and our apartment faces the south. Despite assurances from the locals that it rarely gets hot enough in Calgary to warrant air conditioning, we, nevertheless, have great concern for how hot it will get inside our apartment in the summer. Even on some days when the outside temperature is in the 70s we get too warm and there is no cross ventilation to help. Many of the individual apartment spaces are privately owned and this is true for our apartment. Whether an apartment currently has air conditioning or not was dependent on the individual owners and their willingness to pay the cost of individual a/c units at the time of construction. Considering what we could do to cool our apartment, while in Utah last month we bought a portable a/c unit from Amazon and brought it back with us. I made a special window adaptation for our apartment window in the bedroom and the unit works well for the bedroom, but we need the air to get to the living room as well and this would mean modifying the apartment, viz., a hole through the wall between the rooms. I bought all the component pieces needed to do this, then invited our landlord to visit so I could explain what I wanted to do. I laid out all the pieces and showed him what the wall would look like when it was done. To our delight he readily agreed to it and, in fact, wants to buy the whole system when we leave. I will include a picture of the living room side of the wall and how the a/c unit is hooked up from the bedroom. Hopefully, our problem is solved. Stayed tuned. 

Love, Evan and Kathy

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Cars, trucks, and a special visit.

My blogs remind me of my grandson, Brady. As he was learning to talk all he could talk about were his matchbox trucks. Pretty much everything he said was unintelligible except the word, “trucks” and he loved his trucks (still does). I am guessing you are probably thinking this is true of my blogs, - everything is “cars”. It is a good thing I like cars as my life pretty much revolves around them. So here is the update on mission cars for the week (and a few other things as well).

This past week we were informed of the arrival of two new Nissan Rogues, and one more is due in on Monday or Tuesday of this next week. Later in the month or early in May we will get two more Rogues. The arrival of new cars means the older cars must eventually come out of the fleet; however, since we have been adding new missionaries and opening new areas, until now I haven’t had to prepare anything for sale. That is changing. The truck I mentioned in my last blog is ready for sale and the process should be completed by the end of the week when the truck will probably head south to Cardston. The potential buyer is just waiting for the truck to be priced before he commits, which makes perfect sense. Personally, I would really like to have this truck. It has nearly 100,000 km on it but is in wonderful shape and condition.

The weather has been so nice that Kathy decided she would like to go with me to pick up the new Rogues at the Nissan dealership. On Wednesday the fleet sales guy picked us up and away we went. The previous Rogues had silver paint jobs; these were a sort of gun metal grey, which looks really good but will certainly show the dirt and grime of winter more than the silver ones. When we go in to pick up the new vehicles, we have to do an inspection, fill out the specific car checklist(s), get in them and drive away, - much easier than haggling with a salesman over price, accessories, etc. if I were buying a car for myself!

Now that winter driving is pretty much over and the number of accidents is down, I am concentrating on gradually getting each of the cars in the fleet touched up, bumpers and windshields replaced, and windshield dings repaired. I discovered, however, that this has to be handled just so. Since other than simple repairs are covered by the Church’s automobile insurance, I have to fill out an incident report just like when one of our cars is involved in an accident, only on this incident report I indicate “accumulated damage”.  Filing out an incident report triggers an insurance case number and a file is automatically generated. One of the first cars for which I started this process was a Subaru Impreza that was otherwise in great shape. While we were in Utah in March, without warning the insurance adjustor simply ‘totaled’ it, the insurance company sent the Church a check for its salvage value, the car disappeared from the fleet inventory without warning, and after returning from our Utah trip I am scratching my head trying to figure out why this car was no longer showing up in the inventory. Then the Calgary towing company the insurer uses called to see where they could pick up the car. I said, “Whoa, wait just a darn minute.” I called the Church Fleet people in SLC and asked what was going on. They verified that they had been paid for the car and it was indeed going to a salvage yard. So this was a double whammy; not only does the car come out of the fleet but another car has to be put in place to replace it. Lesson learned; get the windshield replaced, then a bit later arrange for the dings, dents, and scrapes and scratches to be repaired at another time so that no one assumes it isn’t worth the cost of repairs.

Yesterday was a special day for the mission. We learned after returning from Utah that Elder Christofferson (one of the Twelve Apostles for my non-Mormon friends) was coming to the area (together with a couple Seventies) and would be meeting with all of the missionaries. Rarely is there an event that has such importance that the entire mission meets together in one location. For some of our missionaries this means a six-hour drive, working out carpooling, making arrangements for an overnight stay, and then a return long trip back to their areas, - it is not a simple undertaking. So far it appears that everything has gone without a hitch and everyone is safely back home.

You may recall in a previous blog I described how we had a guy here in Calgary come to the zone conferences held in the northern part of the mission to fix the windshield rock chips while the missionaries were in meetings. For the cars in the south mission we were planning the same thing at the next zone conferences. We determined, however, that the gathering of cars for Elder Christofferson’s visit would enable fixing the rock chips in the remaining cars. I sent out word, when planning for which cars would be driven to Calgary, the cars with windshield rock chips should make the drive. And so the plan was to have the cars from the south mission park on the east side of the building where the gathering was to occur and the cars from the north mission on the other side. The meeting was to start at 9:00 a.m. We planned to arrive at 8:15 to begin directing the cars. We arrived shortly after 8:00 thinking we could get set up and be ready at 8:15. As we rounded the corner 50-60 cars were already there! Now picture trying to get the attention of the excited groups of reuniting missionaries; getting them to move their cars and park according to the plan we had so carefully worked out brought to mind the phrase “herding cats”.

The meeting with Elder Christofferson, Elder Martino, and Elder Spackman was wonderful. As the meeting started, President Miles announced that our visitors wanted to shake hands with each of the missionaries. 

The entire chapel was filled with young Sisters and Elders and so the pews emptied one at a time coming around from the back of the chapel and up the aisle to the front where each had an opportunity to shake hands. 

This was our opportunity as well. I will include a picture shot by one of our fellow office workers, Elder Sefcik, when Kathy and my opportunity to shake hands occurred.

Of note is that many of our missionaries think that Elder Christofferson and I look alike and often say so. While we were sitting waiting for the dignitaries to arrive, Elder Sefcik, knowing of the opinion that Elder Christofferson and I look alike, poked me in the shoulder and said, “You should go out the side door and come in through the back of the chapel and up the aisle to see what would happen.”  I didn’t have to think about it very long…. “I don’t think so.”

I was sitting in the right front of the chapel so I could slip out when the guy fixing the rock chips was finished and texted me he was done. This happened right in the middle of Elder Christofferson’s talk. I slipped out the rostrum door as quietly as possible and went outside to meet the repair guy and settle with him (22 rock chip repairs!). When I returned and attempted to come back inside using the front chapel doors, I discovered they were locked. I could see some men dressed in suits sitting in the foyer and so motioned for them to let me in, and one of them did so. Then I got the 3rd degree as to why I was there. It turned out that these men were Elder Christofferson’s security detail. They listened to my story and allowed me to return through the rostrum door I had come through earlier, but it caused me to think what a sad commentary of the time where it is necessary for a security protection detail to travel with the Apostles. I suppose this is true for all General Authorities as well.

Still, life is good. There are still many good people in the world; just getting to be more and more people who have no respect or regard for preserving the good and sacred things of the world. We are delighted to be here. We love those whom we serve. This includes the Master Himself.

We are so saddened to hear of the passing of two of our good friends and neighbors just a few days apart. Kathy and I both know the pain of losing a spouse and our hearts go out to them. We are so grateful to know where they are and to know they are now free from the pain and suffering they had to endure.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

We are back in the saddle again!

It was our first full week since returning from our quick trip home. It was a busy week, especially given all that needed to be done to get caught up. You might recall that we were in the midst of zone conferences and car inspections when we left for Utah. Well, we were only halfway through these when we left. Our fellow office couple finished the inspections for us, but this didn’t include entering the findings from the inspections into the data base and making all the follow-up phone calls to help the missionaries arrange the needed repairs, tire and oil changes, and other requirements.
In addition I have a Chevrolet Colorado that I must get ready to sell. It requires a few repairs, most of which are now done, so in this coming week I need to arrange to have it detailed and then, once everything is done, it will be priced and sold. No, I don’t set the price but do have some input. Each week I receive a couple of calls from people who are interested in buying a mission car, and several are interested in the truck so we will see, once it is priced, who is still interested. As for the truck, it is in great shape and I wouldn’t mind having it myself but that would be wrong so I’m not even thinking about it. I’ll include a picture so you can see for yourself. 

I also received a call from Nissan that we will soon have a few more Rogues to plug into the fleet. I will then take some aging Chevy Cruzes and Subaru Imprezas out of the fleet. Cars are taken out of the fleet before they get too many miles (kilometers in our case) on them to be attractive to potential buyers. I have a list of about 15 people who call almost weekly wondering if we have a car for sale. Many of those who call are people who have previously purchased a mission car. My sister, Ann, who is serving in the New York New York North Mission recently purchased one of the cars from their fleet and will drive this home when she returns. She ended up needing a car when her companion, who had brought her own car, finished her mission and returned home. Anyway, the point I am making is that the cars have been well maintained, are sold before they become high mileage cars, and are fixed up and detailed before they are sold. People who are aware of mission car sales policies feel these cars are real bargains.

The most challenging thing about my job is the difficulty finishing a given task before a call takes me in a different direction, and before I can get back to the first task there is another call and another direction, and so my day goes. The formula goes like this:        90 cars X two young missionaries /car = a busy day. I mention this because it took me three days to successfully enter all the inspection findings, but the task is now done.

I should also mention another thing which took quite a bit of time this past week. In the mission I also serve as an MMA, Mission Medical Advisor. Before I tell you of why I am mentioning this, first some background; the person who has the responsibility for overseeing missionary medical issues in each mission is the mission president’s wife (MPW). When the Elders or Sisters have a medical (or emotional issue), they first call her. Where there is an obvious need for immediate attention she calls a physician or clinic from a list we have and she arranges for immediate care. For colds, back pain, sprains and strains, and other more minor things, she calls an MMA to assist her in determining the best course of action. For the part of the mission around Calgary, this is me. MMAs do not provide treatment but advise the MPW, and this is often best done by seeing the missionary and providing an assessment. I then advise the Sister Miles and make an entry in the missionary’s electronic medical file. Now back to what I was about to say, - this past week there was an usual flurry of sprains, strains, and the like which needed to be seen so this managed to take some time out of my busy week as well. Lest this may sound like I am complaining, I am not. I do like to keep my assessment skills up and it gives me a wonderful opportunity to get to know the missionaries I serve even better.

We are preparing for the visit of Elders Christofferson and Martino, which happens on Saturday, the 16th. It isn’t often we get to meet with a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles and one of the Seventies. All of the Elders and Sisters will be coming to Calgary for this event. This is a real treat, and it presents a unique opportunity to have most of the cars in the mission in one location. The unique opportunity is this; we were able to arrange for a man to come to the north mission Zone Conferences and, while we did our car inspections, he made the rounds and fixed the rock chips in the windshields. Now we will have the opportunity for the remaining cars from the south mission to have the same treatment.

Speaking of rock chips, at that last car inspection which we did just prior to leaving for Utah, we had the window guy also fix a ding in our windshield and we were good to go, except – on our return trip to Canada, just before crossing the border, we picked up another ding and it is bigger than the first.

Thank you for the many emails and FaceTime wishes surrounding my recent birthday. It was a good birthday even though we were traveling back to Canada on the actual day. I also received some nice gifts as well. I will include a picture Kathy took of me in my new tie, which I received from my daughter, Tana. It is a great tie.


I bear testimony of the reality of a loving Heavenly Father and of His Son Jesus Christ, whom we gratefully serve.  

Sunday, April 3, 2016

So we are back "home" in Canada. It is good to be back to work.

We left for Sandy, Utah right after inspecting some 20 mission cars at a zone conference south of Calgary. We continued on and drove as far as Shelby, Montana, the first night. The following day we continued on to Sandy.  This is the beautiful scene we saw the following morning.

The primary reason for returning home was so Kathy could help with the care of a new grand daughter . We were concerned that she might be born before we got there but Susan Grace arrived right on schedule on Monday, March 21st. She is beautiful!

While Kathy spent time helping daughter, Kristi, with her newborn and three other children, I kept busy with things that needed attention with our home and our rental home. Yard cleanup went quickly when several high priests showed up from our ward to help. Thanks, brethren.

Our rental home is in Lehi, Utah. Unfortunately we are losing the wonderful tenants we have had for over two years. I stayed quite busy taking care of a number of repair items in the day time and then showing the home each evening to a surprisingly large number of interested people. Choosing the right tenants is so important but we got it done and have a new rental contract that will last at least until we return from our mission.

We also had income taxes to deal with. Before we left for our mission we tried to get everything together we thought our CPA would need but, in the end, there were a number of additional items needed and it took time getting them assembled. We each had a couple of doctor and dentist visits to do also while we were home. It was a busy time, indeed. We commented to each other that it would be good to get back to Calgary and back to our regular lives!

We sort of celebrated my birthday while returning to Calgary on Tuesday, the 29th. That first day we traveled as far as Helena, MT, and had dinner at one of my favorite places to eat, McKenzie River Pizza, which can be found in a number of other Montana cities. Great pizza!

And now we are back in Calgary and happy to be back to work. We were able to again go to the Calgary Temple on Friday evening, and this weekend we were able to watch all of General Conference right from the comfort of our apartment. Conference was wonderful as always and we wee delighted to hear of the four new temples which were announced. At noon today we gathered with President and Sister Miles, Elder and Sister Peppinger, and the missionaries in the Bow River Zone for lunch at the mission home. We had a wonderful time and then returned home to catch the final session of Conference. We look forward to being able to review all the talks when the new issue of the ENSIGN comes out.

Have a wonderful week.

Elder and Sister Thorley