Sunday, August 11, 2019

Earthquakes, Typhoons, and Undaunted Missionaries

Typhoon Lekima made quite a bit of international excitement this week. Upgraded to a super typhoon, and headed to the northern part of Taiwan and places beyond, the Taiwanese government ordered schools, stores and even our temple to be closed on Friday. Just to be on the safe side. No one ever quite knows the exact path of these things though predictions are made carefully. So we braced for the worst, then watched while it veered farther north and just left in its wake lots of rain in this part of the island. So sorry to hear of the devastation it caused in China. 

This just after the 6.0 earthquake jolted us from our beds Thursday morning. Elder Coffey and I are used to typhoons and earthquakes so we weren’t overly impressed by the magnitude of either, though the quake did send us to a sisters apartment to examine long horizontal cracks in their bedroom walls. No worries - they're just surface cracks. The structural integrity of the apartment is still intact. 

Crack extending the full length of the wall in a sisters' apartment following the earthquake.

It also disrupted the mission presidents office with a smashed picture and a broken decorative pot, along with a noticeable crack in the corner wall. 

Life still carries on. There is work to do. We are all safe and the buildings are still sound. They are built well here and made to withstand earthquakes much larger than this one.

We’ve been here for a month. We’ve inspected many apartments, fixing faucets, dryers, microwaves, leaks, and whatever else might need attending to. We first try to teach the missionaries how to fix the problem themselves (self reliance), then try to get the landlords to fix the issue, then Elder Coffey steps in if the need still continues. 
Elders in front of their apartment building entrance

Each apartment has a water filter system for clean drinkinng water

Rain doesn't stop them!
And along the way we take them treats and get to enjoy these wonderful missionaries, all 126 of them. We love seeing them as they do what they do best - finding people with whom they can share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Sisters with their newly found friends
There are 8 zones, or areas, in the mission. Each zone has anywhere from 12-20 missionaries. So we travel by subway (MRT), bus, train or drive the mission mini van, slowly getting out to each of the areas, some of them hours away.  We are encouraged to do an inspection to each apartment once a quarter, checking for cleanliness, safety, and repairs where needed. This way we will eventually get to see the entire northern and eastern side of the island!  Pretty cool! 
It's always appreciated when they come out to meet us and help us find their apartment!

The missionaries stop to talk to everyone, even while waiting at a stop light!  Such examples!
Most apartments are pretty cleaned up before we arrive, some better than others.  But this pair of Elders win the clean apartment award - hands down. We haven't seen a more orderly, clean and neat apartment anywhere here. They will make their future wives proud! Good job Elders!

They also win the ingenious award. They had a leaky air conditioner, and rather than just mopping up the water each day, they devised a controlled drip system to channel the water down into collection bottles, until the leak can be fixed.

But sometimes we find ugly surprises, like this slimy moldy wall underneath some sisters' bathroom cabinet. We located the source of the leak and the sisters contacted the attentive landlord, who came in minutes to get it fixed. Not all landlords are as conscientious. We are grateful!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Arriving in Asia - The Smells Always Get Me

My dad always said that of all our senses, the sense of smell is the strongest - with the ability to bring back long lost memories enveloping us like fuzzy blankets, stirring the soul and enlivening the intellect.

I wait for it. The doors of the plane open and travel-weary passengers stream into the modern Taipei airport, complete with modern ventilation systems. The air is fresh. No memory streaming just yet. 

Our mission president and his wife greet us enthusiastically.

We head outdoors into the sultry night air. I anticipate the moment. 

Ah -  there it is! The warm cloud hitting the nose and mind with seeming simultaneous precision, then gently enveloping us like a heavy, pungent perfume-laden quilt. 

Memories flood my soul. Childhood playing on the back alleys of Saigon, exploring the beaches in Thailand, riding the ferry to Kowloon in Hong Kong. Then the adult-born memories of hubby-accompanied humanitarian trips to Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, China and Timor-Leste, with previous missions taking us back to Hong Kong and Vietnam. Yep - the smell is still there. 
Saying goodbye to MTC companion and long friend
who traveled with us on the same plane to Taiwan.
 She and her husband are serving in the
Taiwan Taichung mission, to the south.

The thing is - it smells so good! Like an old friend never forgotten- a warm embrace, a soft touch, mingled with a touch of salt air from the China Strait, flowing between China and Taiwan.

We are taken to our apartment, resting behind a rusting metal gate and up one set of stairs. While the blue gate doesn't exactly look like much, and the inside courtyard and dimly lit peeling staircase look like something out of National Geographic, the three bedroom apartment is nevertheless spacious and comfortable. We live like the locals. We relish in it! 

Our apartment is literally a 1.5 minute walk from the door of the church building, which is right next to the temple, which is across the street from the Mission Office. We are pretty spoiled! 

We see the temple as soon as we step outside our apartment gate. The beauty and grandeur of the Taiwan Taipei temple gleams, with tropical palms and fragrant flowers perfuming the humid night air.

The mission president and his wife treat us to shou zhua bing (Taiwanese pancakes) and bao bing (shaved ice - ours with fresh mango and a scoop of mango ice cream on top). 

Making shou zhua bing - thick pancake type breads with delicious fillings

Bao bing - big enough to share the tangy
 sweet Taiwan-famous dessert

Each evening, Fur Elise or other pleasant tunes comes floating through the air up and down the streets.

A bright yellow truck blocks the crowded intersection. Music cascades down its sides and floats melodiously through the neighborhood. The local residents have been gathering, waiting patiently.

An ice cream truck at 8:30 at night? It’s worthy of an investigation, peering through our balcony window to the street below.

No ice cream here – it’s the local garbage truck! 

Imagine if everywhere in the world garbage was soothed with music from the great composers of all time. It's a change of perspective worthy of much contemplation.

So we are welcomed to Taipei through our senses, both physical and spiritual. Our mission has begun!

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Inside the Missionary Training Center – Discovering Its Miracles

 “Good morning, Elder and Sister! Welcome to the MTC!” 

Young missionaries greet 
us and show us to our 
room. We don't have to
lift a thing!
A pair of friendly hands effortlessly lifts our heavy suitcases from the car as if they were pillows and lines them up on the sidewalk. 

Greg's brother-in-law drops us off at the MTC, and immediately the welcoming begins.

Inside the lobby we are greeted again – “Welcome to the MTC!” – where a host finds our information and welcome packet and pins our missionary tags in place. 

Outside, 39 flags fly at equal height.
We scan all 39 until we find ours – not Old Glory this time – but another red white and blue banner. 
Flag of  Taiwan, courtesy of
flickr/Alan Wu

The flag of the Republic of China –  known as Taiwan. The flag that will fly in our land and our hearts for the next 18 months. The MTC has 139 flags that get rotated regularly, representing countries throughout the world where the Gospel is preached.

“Good morning, Elder and Sister!  Welcome to the MTC!” We are greeted yet again. Everywhere we turn there is someone to help us in case we get lost or can’t find our next class.

The MTC is a remarkable gathering of nations.  We met an Elder from the Marshall Islands who is on his way to Orem, Utah. A sister from China who will also serve in Utah.  Another sister from Guatemala who will serve in Puerto Rico and another to Vancouver, BC.  And senior missionaries preparing to serve in a wide range of places such as Vanuatu, Kansas ranch property, New Zealand, New Jersey and the Baltic States.  In every corner, hallway, classroom, bench and sidewalk, missionary discussions and gospel principles are being studied and discussed by the young missionaries, whether it be in English or in French, Portuguese, Japanese, Hungarian or Spanish.

During break times, senior missionaries gather and build friendships.

Often we catch Mandarin phrases floating on the air as we pass missionaries in the halls – stopping to chat with them.  We’ve found many going to Taipei. We’ll already be in Taipei when they finally finish their language training and arrive in August. We'll be ready to greet them again!

In no time at all the MTC feels like an oasis of a home away from home where friendships are secured for life – especially in the dining hall, which feeds thousands of hungry missionaries every day with amazing efficiency,

including the 92 senior missionaries who all started the same time as we did - cheerfully ready to take on a new day of training.

It’s one of the great miracles of the MTC – not the learning of languages or operating serene and well-organized traffic control and class training for thousands of young people every day - (although those are miraculous events all in themselves) – but rather the transforming of ordinary young men and women from all walks of life into disciples of Jesus Christ, bearing His name over their hearts, ready to take on the world.

We love the MTC.  This is our third time coming here.  Each senior missionary spends their first week studying Preach My Gospel, learning how to invite people to come unto Christ, studying scriptures about Jesus Christ and His restored church, and sharing our testimonies and faith-filled experiences with each other.

While some senior missionaries head off to their missions at the end of the first week, others spend several days of the second week being trained in their specific areas of emphasis – public affairs, office, self-reliance, Church Education System, military relations, etc. We will receive office training next week, then fly out to Taipei on July 12th.

Exercise and fitness is important for healthy missionaries. Everyday they are given time for sports, exercising, fitness equipment and fun. Seniors can use the exercise equipment too, and also have their own private gym in their residence building - just in case anyone wants to work off the huge meals provided!

But this week we get to witness a historic moment in Church missionary history. Meet Sister H’s missionary companion – faithful, smart, obedient, loyal, - and a dog.
Brother Leo, a service dog
Sister H has a rare coronary blood clotting disorder.  Brother Leo has saved her life 6 times. When he detects she is in trouble, he dials 911 with his nose. He’s also the most popular missionary companion here in the MTC!

Brother Leo is the first ever service dog to enter the MTC on a mission. And it looks like he is loving every moment.

In spite of his human companion’s serious physical condition, he accompanies her faithfully as she serves the Lord in a way made possible just for her. She was called to serve as a medical adviser, serving from her own home. What courage! What faith! There are no excuses for this amazing missionary pair.

Our District, with our instructor in the center
Our days of training run from 8:00 a.m.– 4:30 p.m. Our instructors are young returned missionaries with patient enthusiasm, gently guiding us on the principles of being a witness of Christ. 

Our evenings are free. Tuesday night we attended an amazing MTC Devotional with Elder Kim B. Clark and his wife as speakers. 

Wednesday we walked over to the BYU Creamery on Ninth to buy some treats (my chocolate run!). 

Thursday night we watched the fireworks of the nearby 4th of July celebrations. 

Friday we took a walk around the Provo temple. Some of the sisters or couples have their car with them still, and leave to go visit family or friends.

Today (Saturday - our P day, preparation day) we will be spending the afternoon with our daughters, a future son-in-law and a granddaughter hiking the Y mountain and enjoying food and fun.

Tomorrow we'll attend Church together with them. So grateful for our family! Senior missionaries can leave the MTC throughout their stay, and spending time with family is one of the best things to do!

The missionaries here are incredible people with incredible stories of how they got to this point in their lives. It is hard to explain how it feels to be surrounded by such faith-filled servants of the Lord all the time. The missionaries, young and not so young alike, are walking miracles. You don't have to look far to discover that it’s the people – it’s always the people – (and in this case a dog, too) who are the miracles of the MTC. I imagine this might be a bit of what heaven is like. 

Our MTC Group of Senior Missionaries

“Welcome to the MTC!”

 **This blog is dedicated to sharing with others what it is like to serve a senior mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and to increase faith in Jesus Christ. You can follow our missionary journey to Taiwan Taipei by adding your email to the box in the upper right hand corner of this page.  If you have questions, we would love to hear from you!  Contact us at:

Sunday, June 23, 2019

We Report in 8 Days!

Well, our bags are packed and we’re ready to go – the house is empty and we’re pacing the floor – it’s nearly time for us to begin our mission to Taipei!

But how did all this get started? And many people ask -  why are we going again, for the third time?

We’ve always wanted to serve a senior mission together, ever since we were first married. It was something in the back of our minds over the years. That plan shaped many of our earlier decisions – financial and debt issues, health and
Our wedding day -
a very long time ago!
lifestyle choices, retirement plans. Going on a senior mission takes much more preparation than sending your 18 or 19-year-old out the door for a mission experience!  There is a lot to think about and many things to prepare for.

But with all the different kinds of senior mission opportunities out there now, it is much easier of a choice and much easier decision than it used to be.

I’ve heard that wondering what to do with pets is a big issue for many!! But here are the top three questions we get asked by strangers and friends alike, about serving senior missions:

1.       Did you have to learn the language?

We served our first mission in the Hong Kong Area office as humanitarian specialists, in a Cantonese/Mandarin/English speaking country.

We served our second mission in Vietnam as MLS missionaries, in a Vietnamese/English speaking country.

We are now going to Taiwan Taipei as office specialists, in a Mandarin/English speaking country.

I think you see the pattern - English is spoken nearly everywhere!

Our MTC Senior missionary group studying how to
share the gospel - all in English!
Seniors are not required to learn the language. You simply would not become fluent and effective if you started from scratch and tried to learn the language of whatever country you are assigned.  If you know the language, great! If not, just stick with English as there are plenty of people who speak English and who will translate for you.

On a final note, there are tons opportunities in English speaking areas of the world – way more openings than they can possibly fill. You are needed everywhere!

2.       How much does it cost to serve?

Mission costs are very straight forward.  Kind of.  On the church’s senior mission opportunities website (Church Senior Mission Website) each mission need is listed, along with the cost for that mission. Some missions are relatively inexpensive (like a Handcart Trek specialist in Argentina for $1050 a month for two people) or can be on the higher side (like the Ivory Coast Abidjan CES Program Specialist mission which is currently $4300).  In the search engine, you just specify how much money you are able to spend each month, and the computer will find missions to match.

We found that we usually spend pretty close to what the website specifies, though sometimes we came in lower.  We tend to be frugal by nature.

As an example, our current mission expenses breakdown is this:
Housing - $1400 (which includes rent, utilities and furnishings)
Transportation - $100 (for public transportation or other in-mission travel)
Personal expenses - $850 (food, things and stuff)
Medical insurance through Missionary Medical – about $550 for the two of us (we’re not on Medicaid yet)
Total: $2900

Here’s the clincher – if you’ve been able to plan ahead and have no debts (your house is paid for and your cars are debt free) – then going on a mission can actually be cheaper than living at home!  We spend less on our missions and can actually find it a good way to save retirement money!

3.       What about your children and grandchildren?

We have 9 wonderful children, 7 amazing spouses, and 23 perfect grandchildren. And we bank on this promise given to missionaries: Elder Robert D. Hales said, “The Lord will send special blessings to your family as you serve. ‘I, the Lord, give unto them a promise that I will provide for their families’ (D&C 118:3). Couples are sometimes concerned that in their absence they will miss weddings, births, family reunions, and other family events. We have learned that the impact on families while grandparents are on missions is worth a thousand sermons. Families are greatly strengthened as they pray for their parents and grandparents and read letters sent home which share their testimonies and the contribution they are making in the mission field.” 
Our senior missionary MTC group in 2014 - seniors training to serve
all over the world and US. 
Some seniors think that they need to wait for the perfect time to serve a mission – where there will be no obstacles of finances, family needs or upcoming events, health, etc. If you wait for the perfect time, it will probably never come.  There are flexible missions with flexible hours, missions from home, part time missions, 6 month missions – so many to choose from!  We know from personal experience that if you just put your best foot forward and tell the Lord you want to go, He will do the rest.  Doors will open in ways you never imagined.  We’ve seen it happen over and over again, to many, many senior couples.

Many seniors want to do something exciting and are afraid of getting “stuck” in an office position, but the thing to remember is this – we go on missions not because they are fun vacations, but because we love the Lord and want to serve. We are there to do whatever the mission president or area president wants us to do.  We are there to help them. Period. We served an office mission in Hong Kong and it was truly one of the highlights of our lives. You’ll have to read our blog posts to find out why. And we’re doing another office this time round.  Stay tuned and we’ll keep you posted on how we make it, too, one of the highlights of our lives.

So why are we going again?  Because missions are awesome!  Because we love the Lord and want to serve Him as full time as possible for the rest of our lives. And because the MTC food is amazing!  Can’t wait to go there again!  Ha!

Studying at the MTC