Thursday, October 6, 2016

Are we there yet?

From 20160918 Sacrament Meeting report
Laurene Starkey
referring to
by Elder David A. Bednar
(But ask my husband for his, if you'd like to read the better talk!)

Good morning!  It is a beautiful autumn morning.  It is great to be home!  Great to see faces of neighbors and friends and family. For those of you who don't know or remember us, I will take a minute to introduce us who we are (a little about us and our family) where we have been and how it has changed us.

Twenty four years ago this month, my husband Val and I met at a single's conference at a Church ranch in western Washington. I was the mother to two little girls ages four and one, named Kristen and Amber;
Val was father to five children ages 10-17. 
 After four seasons of courtship, we were married, then sealed in the Logan and Seattle temples and worked together on raising little sister ducklings--then added another happy white-haired friend,   Maria. 
Each enjoyed older children as they visited with kite-making, recipe creating, game playing, holiday gatherings and sometimes a summer or winter road trip to peek in on cousins or grandparents in Utah.

On one of those 900 mile road trips, we picked October, because our youngest (two teens and a "tween") had not experienced a "real live" conference.  As we packed up our night bags on a Saturday morning in Boise and tuned our car radio, we heard President Hinckley announce over the radio two new apostles who would fill vacancies left by Neal A. Maxwell and David B. Haight--Elder Dieter Friedrich Uchtdorf and Elder David Allan Bednar.
That Sunday morning, as we nestled into cushioned seats in the conference center, we heard Elder Uchtdorf speak about being happy and frightened and express his thankfulness  for the members throughout the world for their faithfulness.  "I have seen the face of Christ in your faces, in your deeds, and in your exemplary lives."

And we heard Elder Bednar testify of the enabling power of Christ's atonement to help "us to see and to do and to become good in ways that we could never recognize or accomplish with our limited mortal capacity."  

During the past three years my husband and I have been blessed to serve missions in Central America--first in a new temple in Honduras, then in a new mission in northern Guatemala. In Guatemala, as our office missionaries gravitated and followed Elder Bednar, I remembered his talks to our Renton, Washington stake before he became an apostle, promising us 100% of a spiritual feast if we would arrive 10 minutes early to our meetings and pleading with us to share everything possible with our younger children as we returned from special experiences in the temple.

I remember that when he became an apostle he used Sesame Street terms: "one of these things is not like the others" and taught us of tender mercies, family history, loving the apostles, and valuing age  to help us understand our duties and testify with power.

In preparing for our "coming home" talks, my husband and I were invited to read two addresses from last April conference:  I studied "Always Retain a Remission of your Sins by Elder Bednar and Brother Starkey studied "The Healing Ointment of Forgiveness" by Elder Kevin R. Duncan, area authority for our Central American area.  Since college, I watched and admired an older professor that would be found in the Harold B. Lee library in bright orange tennis shoes--a scholar of the scriptures and scores of languages and cultures--Hugh Nibley.  In his biography, I learned about his after-death experience, where young Brother Nibley looking down to see himself on a hospital gurney, was surprised there how easy it was to learn things such as science and math.  He discovered what we need to learn here is to repent and forgive.  So today, in our talks, we will give you a one-two punch: Sister Starkey will repent and Brother Starkey will forgive!
In teaching us to retain a remission of our sins, Elder Bednar draws our minds to a time of great preparation in the land:  time to prepare hearts and minds to receive conference messages. 

When I visited Primary [in Salamá, San Jerónimo, Santa Barbara, and Cobán] I got to bring a keyboard to help Primary children learn songs like, "If I Listen with my Heart."  Sometimes, I got to help teach. I would lift a little boy high up onto a chair.  He would be our King Benjamin. 
 The other children were invited to pitch their tents toward the temple to listen to the prophet.  Then we would march around the primary rooms singing, "Sigue al profeta, sigue al profeta,
          sigue al profeta, deja el error.
          Sigue al profeta, sigue al profeta,
          lo que él dice manda el Señor."

King Benjamin taught of how we can know of the GLORY OF GOD,  taste of his love, and receive a remission of our sins.  Sister Tanner taught us this month about looking up words that are less common:
                             rəˈmiSH(ə)n/      noun
                             the cancellation of a debt, charge, or penalty.
                             a lessening of the seriousness or intensity of                                      disease  or pain; a temporary recovery.
                             synonyms: forgiveness, pardoning, absolution,                                              exoneration; formal exculpation.

King Benjamin taught about remembering the greatness of God
praying daily, standing steadfastly in the faith, to always REjoice and retain remission of sins.  

In our mission, I learned that REjoice means to experience joy again and again.  At Maria's graduation we learned that remembering something beautiful can bring a physiological surge of chemicals in our brain the same as receiving money or gift...Thanks to Bishop Clark for inviting us to remember pieces of the past 18 months. And, as we share our tales and testimony, we invite each of you to review the hand of the Lord in your lives, and invite the Holy Spirit to teach us.

So, in remembering, what if we Start at the very beginning? A very good place to start!  [I shared the story about my dream about going on a mission 24 years ago and then Val's later insistent wish that propelled us to submit mission papers and about being promised by a Bountiful temple president that the Holy Ghost could put in order our lives (D&C 109:15)]       The promise was real.  
As we found ourselves in a different culture, we learned Heavenly Father tutors line upon line-- from "¡Hola!" to "¿Cómo está usted?"

I tasted Elder Bednar's "rebirth" in watching who I was change to who I found myself becoming:  from feeling apprehensive about office work, Spanish, and working together in a companionship, about being a senior missionary, allergic to electronics and less than obedient computers.  In my plea for help with my unbelief, I heard, "Ask the missionaries, they can help  you!"

At the MTC we met scores of couples serving and serving again. One sister walked the halls with me rehearsing from Elder Ballard what became my mission motto: LOOK THEM IN THE EYE AND SMILE!! No language needed! 

Also we learned that BEEAU (be you!) in beautiful, helps as we learn who we arewhat we have to do and how to accomplish it!

Val's was assigned to serve as secretary to our president, office manager, and housing inspector [to procure, open, close, inspect, 70+ missionary apartments and furnish beds, stoves, appliances, furniture.] In the Cobán mission, aside from the president's assistants, only senior couples had cars.  Whenever an urgent health or other need emerged with an emergency change, we were on call. 
I was schooled in a talent taught by Sister Hinckley and Sister Monson, and Sister Curtiss, wife to our president--the blessing of working to be a supportive companion. I got to encourage Latin missionaries to prepare for an English test to qualify them to enroll in the BYU pathways program. Val and I supported monthly leadership meetings;  including introductory meetings and training sessions to welcome new missionaries entering Cobán and meetings and meals to wishing well  missionaries headed to their homes.  Val supported office meetings with the president and the assistants.  I attended the sister leadership trainings.  Together, we tried to support weekly district meetings, monthly zone meetings and were in charge of starting weekdays in our office with a prayer meeting.

I was invited to serve for 3 months as mission nurse, and later to process mission papers of young people who lived in the boundaries of our mission and celebrated their calls to serve in Costa Rica, Mexico, El Salvador, and elsewhere. 

The most important thing we learned and hope to remember is about being a companion.  In district meeting we tied our feet together and struggled to keep balloons in the air.  Have you ever been in a three legged race?  You can't go very far without your partner!

One night early in our mission, Elder Willits had invited us to the pouch elders' baptism across town, to be held at seven.  It was close to seven.  We  became hopelessly lost finding the church, even though we had located it on a map previously. The church was supposed to be just "past the Chiu bridge," then past a soccer field, up and around the cemetery--it was dark.  There was more than one Chiu bridge.  We went up and around the cemetery, saw no sight or sound of a chapel, and called the missionaries.

No worries, the woman being baptized had not arrived yet.  We arrived at Coban 2nd ward chapel twenty minutes late, but no one had come but the missionaries.  No worries. With a hymn book and a piano, I sat down to play. An hour later, the bishop approached me to express interest in learning, and having the youth in his ward learn to accompany.  From this conversation, I was invited to teach directing, then keyboarding to a group of 15 youth.  Five more wards, branches, or groups later, more than 30 keyboards with manuals were placed in family homes with the help of a grant from a United States family working to provide accompanists for lacking wards and branches. Our involvement in teaching music was interesting, wonderful, exasperating, fulfilling, and blessed. And the lion's share of the blessed part came in our tandem bicycle ride. 

Elder Starkey knows about electronics.  He orchestrated extension cords,  made friends with the lost sheep, and even taught, though he only had a few months of piano as a youth.  He performed a duet, loved our students, and waited, even when it was time to eat.  He exhibited patience as his wife worked on temperance.  And he coached.

In Honduras, it took overcoming a language hurdle to be trusted with the children for hours on end.  With cuddling and bouncing, bubbles and hide-and-seek in the stairway to help calm and comfort little fingers and faces before reuniting with parents over a sacred altar, tears of joy flowed freely as mommies and daddies beheld "their little ones."  I testify that there is no greater power on earth than what I felt in the ordinance of sealing couples to each other and to their children. 

In Guatemala, our temple spires were five hours away by public bus over winding narrow roads.  The ordinance in focus in our mission was BAPTISM and the principle that precedes it: REPENTANCE.  

President Curtiss taught in district conference, and challenged the   Salamá saints: if your prayers rote, not often enough or on your knees, or  less than sincere, if your scripture study is not sufficient to invite heaven's help into your day, if there is something amiss in your family:  CHANGE IT!

Sister Curtiss taught powerfully of the power of the atonement and admonished us that every talk upon returning home must bear a strong witness of the atonement, a topic missionaries were asked to study month after month.  We learn from Preach My Gospel that everything that is not fair in life will be corrected with the power of the atonement. We found that our suffering can be swallowed up on the joy of Christ (Alma 31:38), and that as we exercise faith in the Savior unto repentance (Alma 26:22), that we can learn the mysteries of God and have help in inviting others to receive the same happiness. 

Because "the ordinance of the sacrament is a holy and repeated invitation to repent sincerely and to be renewed spiritually" when Central America area authorities and apostles (including Elder Bednar, President Russell M. Nelson, and Elder Cook) visited in person and over satellite, they encouraged members and leaders to focus on making Sunday a special day, and enriching Sacrament Meetings.

       Our efforts as missionaries were to help make baptisms and sacrament meetings and special ordinances more meaningful and sacred. (So now, we understand the "WHY" for 5 a.m. practice sessions as a child in a cold basement with big sister, of learning legato organ technique for the temple, of working diligently with little fingers to curve and shape and train...)

On a final Tuesday night lesson near the river Chiu, 16 year old Josselyn arrived after her evening session of high school and signed the roll having practiced 1 hour per day for weeks.  Our friend Bishop Torres, who had come with his wife and eight and six year old children whom we had scooped up and tutored as we clapped dotted quarters and molded our fingers into mountains and spider legs, approached this ever so busy pretty dark haired youth, who was a bit nervous to play for others. He extended a calling, for Josselyn to serve as the ward accompanist.  Though she could boast only a few handfuls of lessons, with a touch of trembling, she agreed.
This is Josselyn and Venus.  And a painting that symbolizes her face and our love for our Guatemalan friends
As we prepared ourselves and others in receiving and renewing sacred ordinances,  I was able to celebrate the baptism of Margarita Pinnott, a young woman touched by a sister missionary's suggestion to pray about the clothes she chose to wear.  How could she honor the Savior and her Heavenly Father by choosing things that she would feel comfortable in if she were standing in front of them?

Margarita had dimples and beamed.  She bore her testimony, then accepted a call to serve as counselor in the primary.  I encouraged her to receive her patriarchal blessing; then helped to translate and process her missionary papers.  She serves today in Costa Rica.Her mission president's wife is a sister who worked with me in the Honduras temple. 
 Since she arrived, Margarita's mother and brother have been baptized into the church.  Margarita's faith, and her smile shines as she testifies, teaches, and lifts others--to invite them to
          1. Take upon themselves the name of the Savior
          2. Remember Him always
          3. Keep His Commandments

Margarita glows as she recalls the "sacred acts [of] spiritual purpose, eternal significance, related to God's laws and statutes...authorized by one who hold the requisite priesthood keys...more than rituals or symbolic performances, [but] authorized channels through which the blessings and powers of heaven [were invited to] flow into [their] individual lives."  (Conference, Oct 2016, Bednar.)

We got to see a few of these blessings:

"Sister Starkey, PRAY!"  were the words Elder Starkey begged returning late one night over twisting mountain roads in the dark.  Within moments of my prayer, a truck appeared with bright, bright lights that we followed to warn us of unlighted motorcycles, dogs, or people walking.  The truck led us to safety.

Help in a different scary moment came in a flurry one October morning when a frenzied knock on the office glass.  A disheveled man banged frantically at the door screaming "Collapse! Collapse!" 
("¡Derrumbó! ¡Derrumbó!")

We had had all kinds of people at our entry way.  My first inclination was to decide it was someone drunk or disturbed...Instead, it was a worker on a nearby parking lot fence project.  He pointed dramatically to the ditch of earth that was being dug down nine feet to prepare a stronger wall for the chapel outer fence.   In creating a stronger cement wall, the earth had given way, two men had been entrapped.   My companion, recognizing the urgency ran out with the man, and sent me to find someone to call the fire department [or bomberos.] 

He ran and I ran.   This is the spouse who in most situations gets dizzy at any hint of blood and can take his time to make a measured decision.  As I rushed to find our stake president facility management director  Val ran to the trenches to retrieve two buried men.  They scrambled to transfer the men from one end of the parking lot onto the bomberos truck with sirens to make a dash to the hospital. 

We learned later that the middle aged man was in critical condition, but the 18 year old worker did not survive. That afternoon, in a meeting called by our president's wife,  
one young pouch elder missionary,  son to a physician related to us how he had felt in the moment,  deciding, "I am not qualified to lend a hand in something like this."  He then shared that he would never forget what he had felt while watching Elder Starkey rush, qualified or not, white sleeves or no, to try to assist, even if it merely to hold the young man in his arms a few moments before he passed into the next world.  Elder Walker vowed that from that moment, it would be him that was doing what he could in helping another prepare to meet their maker.  This dear missionary went on to lead in a far away zone and return to the office and currently serves as assistant to the president with the same companion who wept with him that day. 
My favorite remembrance of Elder Reyes was hearing his remembrance of his family Christmas tradition
in the Dominican Republic of their dance contest on Christmas eve, "¡Que alegre!"

It is true, missions are not all birthday cakes or buying flowers on Father's Day.  My final piano lesson in San Jerónimo, every one of our students arrived with one addition.  A young woman invited in, who had been sleeping at the chapel gate.  She was not an active member and not exactly a student, but she entered, expressed interest, and proceeded to pound on a piano for most of two hours.  My patience extinguished after ninety minutes, I had a frank talk with the Lord about 2 Nephi 2, wondering WHY the opposition in all things had to happen on my special last day.  I had hoped for my students to play at church the following day, but likely because the nature of the lesson, were not fully prepared. 
Here are Barbara and Christian, practicing at home
Walking in to our building the next morning, a little deflated, rather than hand over a list of songs the youth would be doing, I asked the branch president what we could do to help.  He told us a family we had visited recently had gone to the temple the day before and they would like to celebrate.  I asked President Serralde what his favorite song was.  He told me, put it on the rostrum (and did not change the songs midway through, which happens!)  My students played prelude and postlude and I played the hymns.  

In the next meeting, a young missionary reading the lesson, asked someone to describe the "gift" of the Holy Ghost.  A visitor raised his hand.  The night before this man had dreamt of a song.  He looked and looked to find the song--from what the missionaries had taught him, he decided that he had heard this song in the life before this. When he arrived at church, the first song he heard  (the favorite of President Serralde) was the haunting tune of "Oh My Father."  The very song!!

In aclimating to the culture of Honduras and Guatemala in temples and in home, we learned about being "the messenger of the covenant" (Malachi 3:1) 

As Elder Bednar concludes with his promise and testimony, he states that:  We are imperfect human beings striving to live in mortality according to Heavenly Father's perfect plan of eternal progression.  He states that "the requirements of His plan are glorious, merciful, and rigorous."

And that is how I would describe our missions:
Glorious--in seeing happiness and change enter into lives of people we grew to appreciate, respect, and love.
Merciful--in finding help beyond our own.
Rigorous--in finding out that we could contribute more than we thought we had in us, especially when it meant that we could encourage others to do more than they thought they could do.

As we learn to make and honor covenants and strive to become men and women of Christ, our weaknesses are strengthened, our limitations  overcome.

 Can we pitch our tents toward the temple?

            President Curtiss knew we had limits.  As official priesthood leader to 5 districts, he gave us an assignment to support the district of Salamá, which consisted of three branches and two group.  Rather than have us travel to all 5, he  encouraged us to focus upon three: the branch of Salamá, where they had just built a beautiful new chapel, the satellite branch San Jeronimo 20 minutes east, and finally a tiny group up on the mountain, which met in a rented building where the missionaries originally lived.  President Curtiss also asked us to share our testimonies of the temple to encourage families that might be close to ready, to look to the temple, and prepare themselves.

In Primary, one Sunday in April, with my young adult friend, Liliana, I got to help the children of the Chacón family act out a story that I had just heard about the day before on the side of the freeway, cleaning up the highway with their mother.   

As a child Gladis grew up in the Polochik, the mountainous area hours east of Cobán, where our missionaries lived in houses with solar panels to eke out enough power to charge cell phones, that they would have to point at a stick in the ground where they might get signal; the same missionaries that learned the Mayan language of Queq' chi' and the ones who walk for hours up Jurassic Park type mountains to attend a single appointment.  When Gladis was five years old, some missionaries found Gladis and helped her learn to read.  She remembered them, and when she met them again close to Santa Barbara, she accepted the gospel, chose to be baptized, and invited her family to partake.  

We watched Gladis' husband Rudy learn to bless the sacrament, to lead a baptismal ceremony for Gladis' sister Liliana, and finally be advanced to the Melchizedek Priesthood.  Gladis accepted a calling to teach Sunday School.  Liliana accepted a calling to help teach Primary.  Lovingly she fingered the magnetic tag that I placed on each of the children as they pretended to be missionaries preaching the gospel. 

President Serralde meticulously taught the Chacon family the seven lessons to prepare to go to the temple.  Then it was time to go:  "Ready or not, here we come!"  But the three hour bus trip from Santa Barbara to Guatemala City would cost more quetzales than they had.  When Rudy met with President Curtiss, the President told him to go forward, and the Lord would prepare the way. 

Rudy, with few prospects for work, went to an employer for whom he was painting a house.  "I am half way finished, will you pay me half the money?" 

The employer said, "Yes!" 

Then Gladis had the flu, and six year old Shirley had an abscessed tooth. 
Shall we stay home?  I asked the children what they would do. 

"Go to the temple!"  they exclaimed.  The family went.  Gladis and Rudy were sealed to Rudy Junior, Shirley and Sergio.  When they returned home, Shirley's tooth healed, and Rudy had more work than he had time to do. 

Do we have blessings from attending the temple?  The Chacón family thinks, "Yes!"

And Liliana, after watching over a peruvian missionary with chicken pox decided that a mission in her future might just be possible.  She has a new job, is reading the Book of Mormon and joins sister missionaries to prepare.
In the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is made manifest.

Sister Natividad Veliz Veliz was married to Istanislao Lopez for years.  He had enjoyed liquor and was very involved in the religious rituals that slow city streets of Guatemala regularly.  Sitting together outside their home in a circle lit by a flashlight, we heard the story of how  Istanishlao (or "Tanish") had walked from participating in a procession to be approached by some missionaries and how he had given up liquor and embraced the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, while his staunch Catholic wife doubted.  After a series of dreams, one of which helped  her to understand that someday she would see her deceased baby again, Natividad also was baptized and served faithfully for years, sending sons on missions, and supporting in the branch, although she could not read. 

One Sunday, as we were getting ready to gather our things and travel the two hours back to Cobán, Natividad detained me in the back of the San Jeronimo tile chapel and begged for my help to prepare the temple names for her brother and her uncle, who had both visited her in a dreams, one pacing back and forth, indicating that they were depending on her help.  She wanted to prepare their names for the temple.  Would I help?

I was not so good at setting up Spanish family search accounts, but after several handfuls of phone calls between me and Salt Lake and San Jeronimo, a few touches of keystrokes with the information she shared with me, I was able to help prepare the names for Natividad to bring her uncle and brother's names to the temple.  Before another meeting soon after, Natividad, sought me out, took me by the hand and wept with gratitude as she described a most wonderful day in the temple.  "I will NEVER forget you!  I will ALWAYS remember you!"

As we partake of the sacrament, with hands and hearts we witness what Natividad told me that morning--"I will always remember!"  

Our final week, I joined Sister Curtiss for lunch with our mission nurse and her companion, who has since taught and loved our neighbors.  They have been preparing to "taste of the fruit of the tree" and we are thrilled to hear that they have a plan to be baptized this week!  

Sister Curtiss asked me what I would miss about the mission.  I had to think students?  our neighbors?  our friends?  the missionaries?  Yes!  I love them! And oh how we miss them!  But gratefully, I carry with me the things I love most about our mission--my companion! My love for my neighbors!  My love for the Savior and Heavenly Father.  

I know that Heavenly Father lives.  I know that He can and will lift us in our extremities. His Only Begotten Son atoned for our sins, and His correct choices offer us joy here and eternal life.  I testify that because He loves us, He allowed restored truths and amazing tools to help us in our efforts to draw near Him, including prophets, whose counsel we treasure and study daily and an amazing book that teaches us the language of heaven, the Book of Mormon.

On road trips as a child, then as a teen, later as a Mom, we often heard the question, "Are we there yet?!!"  My mom taught us songs like "I'm hungry, I'm happy, chickadee dee dee dee!"  and we would sing our way home! I pray that as we progress on to future journeys, our personal missions, and our road trips home, that each of us may tap into what allows us to rejoice and retain feelings of peace and rightness which come from pitching our tents in the right direction as we sing a song of redeeming love. 

We remember you!

Love and blessings from your Kaysville fan club, Laurene and Val

1 comment:

  1. Gracias por compartir sus hermosas experiencias, mis queridos hermanitos. El realizar sus misiones en Centro América, les ha hecho disfrutar de las bendiciones que Dios tiene para ustedes por su entrega total a El, el ayudar a elevar otros, muchísimas gracias por su amor a la obra del Señor. Les recordamos y amamos.