I'll start with our first "official" P-Day we took last Saturday. Elder and Sister Larsen, who are the mission office couple who we have come to really love, invited us to go to the Leeds Castle. It is about 1 1/2 hour train ride from here. We got the train at the very famous Victoria Station. It's a HUGE domed-covered station where all the trains in England have to pass through. It was a beautiful ride out to the castle. I guess this has been the wettest winter in a 100 years (although we missed most of it) so even though there are no leaves, the grass is such a brilliant green it almost hurts your eyes to look at it.
You all would have died at what we saw. The castle was very fun. It had been built in the 1100's and redone about every century. It was situated on an island surrounded by a lake and moat. It looked like it should have been on a movie set; just what a castle should be. What was truly amazing (and you will all know my bias) were the grounds. There were HUGE very old oak trees, cyprus trees that have twisted and turned, ENORMOUS weeping willows draped over small streams that covered the property and every kind of duck, swan and bird you could imagine. The symbol for the Leeds castle is the black swan that was imported from Australia a century ago. I don't think I'd ever seen one before. They are solid black with a bright red beck. What's amazing is its tail feathers. They look like a bunch of ruffles on its bum. It is SO CUTE!! And when they are out on the lake it's a picture straight out of a fairy tale. It was a wonderful day to get out of the city and be in open space. And it was sunny the whole day! We came back refreshed and ready to get to work.
Sunday night we had one of our girls come over after all our meetings. Her name is Katey. She's here doing a Masters of Acting and she is from the states. She came because tomorrow she is going to sing Megan's "My Gethsemane". I've never let anyone but Megs sings that song but if you heard her voice you'd know why she will be singing it. She's got an AMAZING contralto voice. On the first Sunday we were here I sat behind her and when I heard her sing I reached forward and said "You sound just like my daughter." She laughed and said she was going to turn around and tell me "You sound just like my mom!" I'm excited to have her sing this song. It's sad because there's so much talent but no one is asking them to use it in our meetings. Well, that is going to change. I already have 3 musical numbers lined up. Why have talented kids and not share their talents with the ward?!!!
Mid-day on Monday we got a phone call from President Jordan, our mission president, asking if we would like to ride with them to Costco up in Waford. It's our closest Costco and it takes about 1 hour 15 minutes to get there. Everyone knows to call us if they are making a trip to Costco. We are always in need of food for our Thursday night dinners. We had a delightful visit with the Jordans and were able to get better acquinted with them. President Jordan has a large law office in Bountiful, very successful, and they have 1 daughter and 3 sons, all who play lacrosse. Pres. Jordan is 61 and Sister Jordan is 7 years younger. She's cute as a bug, but don't think that just because she's small she's a pushover. They are both very powerful people. I wish you could all meet Pres. Jordan. It is UNCANNY how much he looks, talks and acts like Doug Romney! Your dad and I were both blown away when we first met him and it's still wierd to watch him talk. Doug and Marci are coming this summer and I can't wait for them to meet President Jordan. It's crazy
We got home from Costco just in time to have the Elders and an investigator come for dinner (like I need to cook some more!). Along with them came Natasha, a member from Britannia who is from China. This investigator is one that Dad has been teaching from the beginning with our Elders Anderson and Wu. Elder Wu is from Taiwan and is serving in Britannia ward so he can teach all the Chinese investigators. Shane, our investigator, is from mainland China and here doing his masters in Math and Economics at Imperial College (the college we walk through every day to get to our church). Imperial is considered one of the top 4 universities in the world in Math and Sciences. Only the brightest (and richest) kids in the world can go there. Shane is a very handsome, articulate, bright 23-year-old. We had a lovely pot roast dinner and then I got to sit in on my first missionary discussion. It is always an amazing experience to bear witness to truth. I'm always stunned at the power it has on the person bearing their witness, even more than those receiving it. I got to bear my witness to Shane.
Now you all need to understand that when we teach the Chinese not only do they need to gain a testimony of the gospel, but they have never even heard of God or Christ so they have to really make a walk of faith. Shane has been faithful in his reading and his praying. It's resonating with him, but he still needs to fully accept there is a God and a Savior. But his desire to know is there. At the close of the meeting the Elders asked him to pray. I wish you could all have heard his prayer. When we were done we stood up and I said to Shane that his prayer reminded me of King Lamoni and his father who were willing to give up everything, even their kingdoms, to know God and His truth. That was what Shane basically offered up to the Lord. It was a very sweet experience. Precious precious boy! Pray for him.
Tuesday night we once again had Institute at our flat. That morning I woke up feeling very homesick and blue most the day. I swear that when we have great work ahead is when we are bombarded with negative feelings. I'm sure all you missionaries know what I'm talking about! I had to really beg for the spirit to be ready to teach. We ended up with 15 kids here, several who have never come and are VERY SPECIAL kids. Last week I'd taught Repentance and then felt strongly that we needed to follow it up with Forgivness. It was such an amazing lesson. I love the format of having it in our flat. I sit when I teach, the chairs are in a circle so it just promotes intimacy and sharing. Since the group is small we can do that. And they truly taught one another. It was such a precious night of sharing. After the class the kids stayed, once again, until midnight. Dad was able to give a very choice ward daughter a requested blessing that literally bouyed her up and she left filled with hope.
What we've come to realize is how very difficult most these kids' lives are. Almost all of them come from fractured families, many are the only member in their family, so many struggle with no financial or emotional support. It really is heart breaking. I've never appreciated more my life that has been so full of love, family and emotional support than I do now. Our family is such a minority, that's for sure!!! The mother in me just wants to sweep them up and give them a taste of what family support and a mother's love feels like.
That brings me to a sweet conversation I had with one of our boys. His name is Benjamin and he's from Mexico City. He's 26 years old, very handsome and is having a long distance relationship with a girl he met when she was here on holiday. She lives in Idaho. After class he sat next to me and expressed with deep longing how badly he wants what he sees here in this home; a family and marriage that loves one another and loves the Lord. He went off on how grateful he is for our example and how much hope he's received by just watching us, hope that his deepest desires are really possible, something he wasn't sure could happen. What an enormous responsibility Jim and I have to be that example to these kids, some who have NEVER seen a family that works. It was a tender, sweet moment.
Thursday was our big dinner, always a big production. It's no small thing to feed 70 raviness youth, some who've not had a real meal all week. It was a very frustrating day. I had gotten a recipe from Sister Larsen for Sloppy Joes that she used when they served in France. I spent hours on Wednesday chopping vegatables for it. I went early to cook it all together at church on Thursday. It seemed really wet but I assumed it would cook down. Well, it never did. An hour before dinner Sister Larsen came down and was baffled why is was so wet. I told her it seems the recipe added A LOT of water. She got a funny look on her face and then said "Oops! I forgot to tell you NOT to add the water it calls for." Just a minor small detail. We were pouring sloppy joe sauce through a colendar with 15 minutes til dinner. It was frantic and not very fun. Luckily I have a PRECIOUS chinese young man Dixon, who is Chinese but born in England. He has the craziest accent you've ever heard. He comes every week and helps me in the kitchen for the hour before we serve. I LOVE THIS GUY! He singlehandedly shepherds our chinese group. He humbles me with the service he renders to everyone!
We had meetings with the CES teacher and our Relief Society and Elders Quoram Pres after class on how to go after the kids missing. It's such a huge task here with so many kids coming and going. It's a total overwhelm with our Bishop who still manages to know each kid by name. He has given us a list of names to go after. That's what we were checking on with the youth leaders.
A little about our Relief Society President. She is MY GIRL! Her name is Hollie McKee. She's British but has lived in Provo and South Africa. She is an AMAZING president, only been in for about 4 months. But she knows the status of almost every girl and has brought Visiting Teaching from 25% to 73% since being called. We have a grand love affair going. I love her style. She's an animal but the girls know she loves them. So grateful to have her leading the girls.
Our Elders quoram is not doing so well. It's in disarray and struggling to do just the minimum. It's frustrating. Jim wants to jump in but feels he needs to not overstep. Today he's been setting it up so he can help do some training with our Elders President.
I came home discouraged and overwhelmed at how many kids are not accounted for. A huge task. There is a structure in place that the church has built that would work if those in position to use it WOULD use it. We are really trying to figure out a way to get it going. Your dad is the master of that. He's been emailing and cross emailing; inviting and introducing; opening doors.
Yesterday we had set the day aside to begin a blitz on contacting the lost sheep. Of course we had a big contention with each other that morning over something so stupid. It makes me so angry with myself for giving in to the enticings of the adversary. He KNEW what we were about to embark on and was right there once again using all his power to disuade us. I am begging the Lord to give me the eyes and heart to recognize his attacks and not give in. I get so mad at myself.
Last night was spent with hours on-line facebooking, emailing, calling cells and inviting. It feels really good to be actively going after the lost sheep. We've finally got enough information to do it. What's exciting is as we move forward I feel others in the ward are feeling our enthusiasm and are feeling energy to do it with us. EVERYONE needs to help go find our lost sheep.
Pray for us that we can be led to the most effective way to do this work of reclaiming!
Today we are driving up to Watford with the Jordans for a dinner being held at a YSA Senior couple's flat who serves up there. It's a chance to get ideas (and recipes) that are working with other YSA groups. I'm really excited to go.
Peggy Demming Bills Statement on Being a Mormon Woman
Closing with an entry I found on Facebook by one of our dear students from our BYU ward, Peggy Demming Bills, who Jim helped to get back into the church 10 years ago. She also came and sang in "Sing Noel" a few years ago. I adore her and feel that what she wrote was powerful enough that I printed it off to share with the young women here that get so discouraged and even bitter sometimes. I love what she said about being a young woman in this church. Here it is.
1) I am a Mormon woman
2) I am a very sassy, strong-willed (sometimes stubborn) woman (just ask my husband)
3) I love the doctrines of my church. I chose to come back, after a period of inactivity, because I feel a closer connection to God and like I'm a better person for following its teachings
4) I have never felt oppressed by any man, not even in the church's leadership. I know this isn't going to be the case for everyone, but I want to make sure that my voice attempts to equal all of the negative talk you hear in the media. Not every woman's experience in this church is one of oppression and dismissive men.
5) my testimony of the Plan of Salvation is this: ladies, we are so loved by God. We are cherished, in heaven and on this earth. There is a time and a place for ALL things. Even if you are forever single, in a bad marriage, in a part member family or simply do not fit inside what some would call the Mormon-Woman box... You are watched over, and taken care of. Yes, there is imperfection in people... People do not a doctrine make.
6) My proposed new women's motto: Be strong. Be amazing. Be an example to the new generation of women. Be patient; we really do have so much already, and are promised so much more than that.
7) My personal plea. please Stop fighting with so much anger and finger pointing. Please stop using singular experiences in your life (or in that friend of a friend's life) to place unwarranted judgement on all men or people. Because the men in my life; from my father, to my husband, to my brothers and all the amazing men I've come in contact with in our church DO NOT personify the picture you paint, sure they are flawed as we all are, but they aren't villains in some scheming plot to oppress the women of the world... And I feel to protect them from false accusations made by a small number of hurt women.
8) To those hurt women: I'm so sorry you've been hurt. I'm so sorry for your pain. I know what deep loneliness feels like, what the pain of another's horrible actions feels like, what it's like to love a selfish person who, in the end, callously walks away after beating your heart to a pulp. As your sister, I want to give you a hug and reassure you everything's going to be ok. And if you were sitting right next to me, I would encourage you to embrace your strength, not your anger.
9) the end
I responded on facebook with this:
Sweet friend I'm going to use this with my single sisters here in Brittania ward in London. All single women need to hear this and hold on with hope. You say it so well and have credibility because of your own life experience. I'm so grateful we got to be part of your life journey and watching you come back home. I love you Peggy and am so excited for the next part of your mortal journey, becoming a mommy. Hold on for the ride of your life! Thanks for these words.
She responded with this comment that made me cry:
Thanks everyone... I can't keep quiet about this... even if it's the unpopular voice. Starla, I will never forget the lesson you taught in RS those many moons ago about being a Woman of God. There you were, this feisty, outspoken, strong woman testifying what a Woman of God looks like and I knew I wanted to be just like you. It would be months, from that point, that I would even get to take the sacrament again... but it was your example (and your amazing husband's) that started me down that path. Thank you for being the amazing role model you are. I love you so very much.
We NEVER know our circle of influence. That's why I can testify more than ever in my life the need we have to seek the Holy Ghost in our lives, to live according to His influence and to pray for Charity. I love you my children and grandchildren. Continue to pray for the work here. These kids are so in need of your prayers. Love to each one of you, individually. You are adored! Mom