As we mentioned, our experiences this week have been so wonderful that we will have difficulty know where to start and when to stop. We have entered what feels like a different world. When we entered the MTC, we went to a room where all the Senior Missionaries reporting in were greeted and received instructions and material for our training. We were so impressed with the order in which some 60 people were personally greeted and given instructions before our first group meeting.
First of all we noticed the quality of the people reporting in was that of what you might expect of a mission president and his wife to be. These are people who sacrificed much and overcame challenges to be here and are now ready to serve with all they have been blessed. Secondly, the people who are there to train us were so extremely well prepared and carried a wonderful spirit about them. We were treated like royalty and with such respect that it made us realize how badly the Lord wants us for this service. There were a total of 2,500 missionaries at the MTC when we got there and yet each session felt tailored just for us.
On Tuesday night after our training we went to a devotional in the MTC gym where all 2,500 of us went to see Elder Groberg (he produced "The Other Side of Heaven") and when we all sang together is was like nothing I have ever experienced, even when we attended conference in the new conference center. Elder Groberg taught us the importance of our work in bringing those to Christ in our work and that ultimately we must all go to the temple, so baptism and confirmation is just the first step. We all need to seek to be sealed and go to the temple to feel the closeness that only comes from our experiences in the temple. We met him afterward and when he learned we were from Roseville, he said to give Elder Trythall his regards.
This week we were taught by the staff at the MTC the real purpose of being on a mission and did a lot of soul searching in our discussions about why we were on a mission and what we could accomplish if we would dedicate this time to the Lord. We really studied the Preach My Gospel book and have finally began to learn of incredibly inspired the work is and how very thorough it is in helping us understand before we teach. We took one day each to learn and teach the first 4 lessons. As much as I thought I knew the material it was very challenging. As mom and I were companions you can imagine the challenge it was not only to do my part but to get two type A personalities to work together to plan the lesson then break it up so we gave it together. It was so much fun to see how each time we gave our lesson to an investigator that we were getting much more confident and effective. One of our investigators (a volunteer) even teared up at one point in our lesson. We have learned so much just this week and realize how much we don't know, but have begun to realize that if we exercise faith, we can fill in the blanks as we go.
Thursday of this week, we were asked to go to Salt Lake to receive training on the Perpetual Education Fund (PEF). This was extremely uplifting and faith promoting. We were met in the parking garage by our host who took us up to the 10th floor of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building (formerly the Hotel Utah before the church bought it). The parking lot itself was impressive, not a spot on the floor, no trash anywhere. The parking attendants were friendly and wore white gloves. As our group of about 10 couples were escorted into the building we noticed that even the walkways and corridors were carpeted and very clean an orderly, you could feel you were entering a special place. We went into a large wood paneled meeting room as nice as any Board Room I have been in. There we were greeted by Brother Rex Allen of the Perpetual Education Fund. Brother Allen may be the most impressive man we have ever met in or out of the church. He was one of the three brethren who President Hinckley called on to launch the PEF in 2001 in his conference talk. The others were Elder Carmack and Elder Cook (of the Seventy no emeritus). Here we were taught about the purpose and foundation of this "Bright Ray of Hope" that the PEF is to those who need it. We learned how inspired the program was from the beginning and is now providing proof that the prophecies of President Hinckley in his very first talk about his vision for this work.
There were 1,000 people who were helped by this fund in the first year. Now barely 8 years later there will be 42,000 and we have just scratched the surface. What is impressive is that there are only about 15-20 people that are dedicated full time to this, the rest of the people are volunteers or local priesthood. In this way 100% of the earning of this fund go to benefit recipients. And all funds come from people in the church who voluntarily contribute. It is amazing to me how well conceived and how effective this program is.
The Brethren realized that the growth of the church world wide would be so great that in order for the work to progress we needed to figure out a way to break the cycle of poverty in third world countries. The only way out was to do it through providing education through loans to returning missionaries who were ambitious and could be successful we heard case after case of students who got jobs after completing their education in countries of South and Central America, Mongolia, Philippines and Africa. It is truly inspiring to hear the stories directly from them. In fact some of the people were are with are serving their 2nd or 3rd missions and actually knew some of the beneficiaries of the programs in countries were they served.
We were very excited to see how we would be playing a role in the PEF in the Philippines and over 1,000 people there are in it today. We will be able to meet some of them soon after we get to our mission area. As we wrapped up Elder Cooke gave a very inspiring testimony of what has been and yet will be accomplished with just this one program we will be a part of. I can say that I have never met people any more excited than these people about the work they are doing.
On Friday we met with some welfare missionaries (Employment Resources, our mission responsibility is an arm of Church Welfare) who are now back training other Seniors who are going on similar missions. Our discussion leader was Brother Holliday who turned out to be related to mom through the Hollidays. He was awesome and also served in the Philippines in Welfare. He shared some interesting facts:
Bishops in the area have responsibility for all members and non-members in there geographic ward boundaries. In Granite Bay for example there are 25,000 people total in the three wards, with about a maximum of 1,500 members between the three. So a Bishop in our area might have responsibility for 8,000 total people in their respective wards. In the Philippines a Bishop or Branch President has about 85,550! There is lots of work to do to help these people with leadership, training and Welfare Services. The opportunity is mind boggling. It is clear to see why there is such a great need to have Seniors with church and life experiences to help the church grow in these areas.
Brother Holliday shared a story about Elder Oaks when he was in the Philippine area when Brian was on his mission. He attended a ward in Makati (an affluent area of Manila) one time. As he looked out into the congregation and met several of the people he realized there were dozens of affluent, well educated people, with careers in government and business. When they got to sacrament meeting he asked the Bishop to give him some time. He then stood up and said effectively, "this ward has many people that have been blessed so much that the ward was now dissolved" and they all needed to go to other wards where they could help those who were not so well blessed! They were then sent to wards and branches as far away as an hour or two to help leadership in other areas.
Saturday we had one of our most spiritual meetings yet. Each of us were asked to bear our testimonies about our path to going on a mission, miracles that occurred and obstacles faced as we prepared to go on missions. It was quite touching to see the small and great things that happened that allow each of us to be able to serve a mission. One couple didn't know how they could ever go on a mission. The husband was unemployed, then went to school to learn facilities management and the day after he graduated he was to start working for BYU and they initiated a hiring freeze. So their children stepped up and told them they would support them on a mission if they would go! Reluctantly they accepted not wanting to rely on their children, but finally they saw that not only they would be blessed but also their children if they went forward to serve. They were called to Hawaii!
There were some very touching things they shared with us (our two leaders of the session went to Tagloban (sic) which is just south of out mission):
We cannot describe the feelings we have had this last week as we have begun to leave our worldly cares aside and listen to and learn how we can serve the Lord for our 18 months in the Philippines. This is now where I wanted to go, but this is where the Lord wants us to go and there are so many people who need us that we cannot help but feel excited about doing anthing we can to help out in the Lord's way. How great our calling!
Elder and Sister Cooley my son and daughter, "blessed are you because of your faith in our work. Behold you have had many afflictions because of your family; nevertheless, I will bless you and your family, yea, your little ones; and the day cometh that they will believe and know the truth and be one with you in my church."