We are truly having a greater time than we even expected as we recognize our five-month mark today of our mission. How fast these past five months have flown by! I suppose it will feel the same a year from now when we only have one more month to go! We feel totally welcomed into our new ward (Ca Ventura Stake, Ventura 1st Ward) here now and are even getting to know most of the people by name! The ward is very focused on both non-member missionary work as well as shepherding less-actives back into the fold. “Shepherding” is the new buzz-word from our Stake Presidency throughout the stake. We, along with two Mission-assigned proselyting missionaries, attend the weekly Ward Council Meeting. We have an active list of about 8 investigators and several more less-active members that we all minister to.
We actively interact with our two full-time missionaries, our Ward Mission Leader (Brother Joe Dee Kay), and our three Ward Missionaries as we teach and otherwise fellowship our investigating and less-active brothers and sisters. Sister Jones and Sister Hopkins were the first two missionaries we interacted with. Then Sister Coulon took Sister Hopkins’ place. We have the 6-week transfers coming up Tuesday next week so I expect we’ll lose both Sisters and have two Elders. We’ve had three investigators baptized since we’ve been here and one of our new investigators – Devin Hansen - accepted a baptism commitment for August 20th in our lesson last week! He also just reconfirmed that commitment last night in a lesson! He also agreed to give up coffee and tea for the coming week! He’s had alcohol and drug problems in the past but has given them up and is attending AA meetings. This is such a problem in this area and we’re so glad that Devin is already taking these steps. We just returned from a Stake Pioneer Day musical to which we brought five of these brothers and sisters.
Sister Iverson and I interact with such a variety of people here. In the course of our normal mission duties, 90% of the people we interact with are those with strong and vibrant testimonies, i.e., the young full-time missionaries as well as fellow senior missionaries. But in the course of our “off-duty” activities like shopping, the “free spirits” here come in a wide variety of hair colors and lengths, piercings, tattoos, etc. Tattoo shops and liquor stores are more common here than grocery stores! Drug and alcohol addiction is way too common here; as a measure of this, an alcoholic trying to recover can literally find an AA meeting to go to here in our town nearly 24 hours per day. Sister Iverson and I have become way more informed in matters and facilities pertaining to drug and alcohol addictions and recovery than we would like to be. It’s really common here to have skate-boarders on the streets; I think it’s partly due to people losing their licenses due to those alcohol/drug problems!
A cultural difference here as well is the overall casualness of the living here. Many of our friends are truly beach-goers and lots, including our Stake President, are devoted surfers! We had dinner with our HPG Leader last evening. He greeted us at the door dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian-type shirt and joked about not letting anyone in the house if they were wearing a tie (like I was)!
Sadly, one of our less-active members, Jake, that we have become very close to has now been transferred from the hospital to a local hospice since his doctor has told him that he has a 70% chance of dying in the next 90 days! His condition is entirely due to drinking. His liver is mostly dead. The hospice is a place for people with terminal illnesses to go to live out their days in relative comfort with sufficient pain medication management. BUT this dear friend also has a 30% chance to live as well!! Our task is now two-fold; give him gospel knowledge and help him develop testimony so that he can decide to either be at peace with death or to fight to live longer. But is that not all of our goals here; to live now so that if death comes unexpectedly tomorrow we are ready?
We do dearly love our young missionaries who we support in Sister Iverson’s mission secretarial duties and me with my vehicle support duties. My worst fear is to take a call from a missionary who has had a serious accident. I have 74 vehicles in my mission fleet and it is a fun challenge to work with the Elders, Sisters, and Hermanas (Spanish-speaking Sisters) to keep those vehicles maintained and repaired. More than that, each vehicle has a GPS system called “tiwi” (literally “teenager independent witness”) installed which helps the driver to drive more safely with verbal warnings of speeding, aggressive driving, and fastening seatbelts. Driving missions like ours get a “Red-Yellow-Green” report every six weeks which tells us if any of our young driving missionaries have had enough tiwi warnings to get themselves into a yellow (warning) or red (no longer allowed to drive) status. It’s rare for a mission of our size to get 100% green (happened only once in the year and a half prior to our start here) but our missionaries have ”gone green” two reporting periods in a row! I am so proud of them for this!
It’s been so great to have Christian’s and Jon’s come to visit us since we’ve been here. We’ve even discovered some new beaches and “tourist-y” places to go since they were here! With our spare bedroom and the hideaway bed/couch in the living room, staying here is very do-able. The water here has now warmed up enough that we can go swimming without being in wetsuits. However, we have availability of several extra wetsuits if anyone wants to use one. Mom and I are planning to go to the beach again this Saturday during the day – maybe take Jake with us - and then going to an out-door play with the Floyd’s at a neighboring town called Ojai (Oh-hi).
We have taught lessons in Priesthood and Relief Society and our missionary Book of Mormon class, but we have also recently received new callings. The Church is right in the midst of a change in the old “Stake Employment Centers” program to a new program more accurately called the Stake Self Reliance Center or something like that. We’ve been called as the new Stake Self Reliance Center Coordinators. This change is so new that when Sister Iverson logged in and was immediately given admin rights as the Stake Self Reliance Center Coordinator, our local priesthood authority said she was the first in the nation to do so! I followed shortly after that! We have a room in the Stake Center for this work and it is literally dusty from non-use and we will be getting it set up for such work. We will also be coordinating with the Family History Center for use of their computers for job search work when the Family History Center is “off-duty”. We are now taking the approach with Bishops like as if we are acting in the normal style of Stake LDS Employment Specialists; we will be inviting them to 1) call a brother or sister as a Ward Employment Specialist, 2) include that Specialist to an occasional Ward Council Meeting to report on job needs and encourage members to look for employment opportunities, and, 3) the most important action a person looking for a job can do now is to log into ldsjobs.org and register. We can help with that. We are part of this pilot project with the Self Reliance program and it’s exciting. We are truly living in really really great times!
Our primary duties keep us in the Mission Office perhaps 75% of the time, but we also get out into the other parts of the mission. Our CA Ventura mission stretches about 180 miles north-south from just barely north of Los Angeles to Paso Robles and ~50 miles east-west. We have seen major mountain-side fires, one of which (Santa Clarita) has had 37,000+ acres burned as of this morning and is going on right now and is extremely serious.
We’ve attended the Los Angeles Temple twice on Stake temple trips but it is closed now for upgrading. I’ll be curious to see if the temple does some xeriscaping; they have turned off the irrigation water for the turf due to the continuing drought that California is experiencing. Our Ward actively works to getting new converts or returning less-active members to the temple as soon as they can to do baptisms for the dead so they can start getting more priesthood ordinance experience as well as gain stronger testimonies of the wide-reaching plan of salvation for all of God’s children. I’m thinking strongly of xeriscaping our house front yard when we return.
If you have influence over any teenagers in your wards – or maybe even in your own family!!! - we would encourage all youth in high school to start now getting experience in all the skills we have been teaching for years. Some are vehicle skills and some are just life skills. In our driving mission it is so great to have youth arrive here with: driving skills, obeying the highway laws, how to not only back up a vehicle safely but learning how to be outside helping the driver back up safely, basic vehicle maintenance skills such as checking the oil, checking tire air pressure, knowing where to check fluids (coolant, oil, brake, window washer, etc.), and how to keep a vehicle clean inside and outside. Basic life skills include: being obedient, learning the concept of “return and report”, using a planner, keeping living quarters clean, budgeting (here the Sisters get $140/month and the Elders get $135/month), and more. They need to know how to keep living quarters clean, i.e., run the dishwasher at least weekly even if not washing dishes, same for clothes washer and dryer, clean sinks, toilets, etc., make beds, wash dishes, pick up clothes, be on time, make conversation, talk with strangers, etc.
In driving missions like ours, it makes the Mission President’s job of pairing up missionaries so much easier when missionaries come to the mission with driving experience, no violations, and they’ve submitted their required documents.
BTW, on or about September 5th, Mitchell and Haley Bruce will be moving into our house and the Flandro’s will be moving out. Anna, thank you so much for just managing this sort of thing for us. We know Flandro’s have been great tenants and Maggie will miss them! Bruce’s will be here for USU classes so will probably attend a student married ward but we don’t know that for sure. Bishop Carter is trying to find a house for Flandro’s to live in within the Ward boundaries; that would be fun.
Our missionaries teach a concept called “CPR”; stands for three basic things we should all do – (attend) Church, Pray, Read (the scriptures). As mission prep considerations for your church youth or your own kids, they will learn on their mission about putting together “messages” but it’s handy to have some lessons always ready to go for both investigators as well as for active members when you’ve been invited for dinner.
If you ever have a chance to talk to Church members who are say 50 years old or older, please pass this on. For our “seasoned” members contemplating Senior Missions, I’d recommend for all those 50 years old and older to start preparing now. Mainly this includes financial and health preparations. There is such a wide variety of missions now for Seniors that most members could serve one kind of mission or another and everything from 3 months to 23 months. Having senior missionaries has a huge positive effect and we desperately need more and more of our seniors to accept such callings and they will never feel more needed and invigorated. It is a refreshing and vibrant experience to do what we do and we so much wish for similar blessings to extend to others. Within our mission we have couples doing: mission president, vehicles, secretary, housing, finance, referrals, nurse, baptism records, mission leader support, and CES.
We have heard it taught by General Authorities that seniors on missions receive not only personal blessings but blessings extended to their families as well. We have most certainly seen that come true for us with you and your kids. We have seen significant and tangible blessings of many of you going from reasonable employment to better employment to outstanding employment; especially outstanding in these days low employment. We have seen Seth’s family increase their loving involvement with their new ward exponentially. We have just seen Henry deal not only with his chemo but with the brand-new successful surgery. You all have reported added love and unity within your own families since we started our mission and some of you have attributed it to discussions from your kids about Gma and Gpa being on their mission. We know that such blessings come about not only because of us being on our missions – you make these things happen in your lives by your actions as well.
We’ve been reminded of this by Elder Packer’s message to Mission Presidents of: “It’s going to be alright. Your affairs are going to be all right. Your children will be all right and your grandchildren and your home and your holdings. All have been placed on the altar and they are watched over by more faithful servants that we could have in mortality.” We’ve certainly had this reinforced to us recently with my experience at our Stake setting apart.
As strong as we’ve felt our testimonies have been in the past, our feelings of love and respect for Christ to atone for our sins and extend his love to us and to our brothers and sisters has increased by leaps and bounds. The work of the gospel needs to go forth with more intensity than ever.
We love Jesus Christ and are so grateful for His love and sacrifice for us. What a courageous man Joseph Smith was for which we are so grateful as well as for the succession of prophets since Brother Joseph. We’re so glad the Book of Mormon was brought forth in our day and that we have prophetic leadership now. Satan is working as vigorously as he’s ever worked and we need to continue to work energetically against him.
All our love,
Elder and Sister Iverson
G-ma and G-pa Iverson!!