Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Last . . . April 25, 2010

The Last . . . April 25, 2010
Weather -- warming, overcast
Temp -- 55 F Wind -- 5-7 mph

We are doing a lot of "Lasts" as we get ready for our exit. Two Sundays ago we spoke in 1st Branch as our last appearance in that branch. I spoke on callings and Sister Cindy spoke on listening to the Spirit. That week the McCauleys (our replacements) came. They stayed in the Mission Home for the first three days and then moved in with us. It is a long-term sleepover and a little complex getting ready in the morning, but they are very compatible and just plain nice people.

(This post was started while at home but from here on it was completed on the airplane and not posted until May 11th after we had been home for a week and gotten totally unpacked.)

Today begins a series of "LASTS", the last metro to Zoloni Kupola, the last YSA fireside, the last choir practice, etc.

At the 1st Branch Sacrament Meeting we also had a first. The young couple, Alexe and Marina, who have been taught in our home at least 5 times, were both in the meeting with their little boy. Alexe had attended several times alone, but this was the first time Marina had come because she didn't want to bring the little one out in the cold. They are very attentive parents. We had intended to escort the McCauleys' via Metro to the 2nd Branch meetings and then spend some time at the office before returning to the building for choir practice and the "last" YSA fireside, but upon hearing that this couple was in the 1st Branch meeting, Sister Cindy insisted that we stay to support them. It was a good choice.

After the second set of meetings, we just stayed for choir practice at 5 and the Fireside at 6:30. I did not conduct, but sang with the choir and let Sister McCauley get her feet wet. We were preparing for an event that was to be the next Saturday, the 1st of May, to celebrate the Church's 180th birthday, but as it turned out, the event was canceled due to lack of interest. She did a great job and will work into the role with time.

The last YSA fireside was a tribute to us. They prepared a "Newly-weds" type game in which I was to answer questions that Cindy had already answered to see if our answers were the same. It was cute, but sort of dated. We all had fun and I got most of them right.

This game was preceded by two talks, Julia (from the office) talked about friends coming and going and how important friends are. Ina spoke about something that I cannot remember, possibly because Elder Petersen had to translate it for us and I just got lost. After the game we both spoke for just a couple of minutes and it closed with "Love One Another" from the hymnal.

Many of the young people came up to get their picture taken with us only after the refreshment table was pretty-much emptied; typical. Here, Yulia from the office held it together for most of the event, then lost it at the final goodbye. We sure love her. She is a very bright light in a dark place and I hope that she can find joy in the things she can do in the Gospel. She seems to be waiting for a missionary who left from our city and should return early next year. I really hope that it all works out for her happiness.

Monday was the last full day at the office where we took the lead. The staff gave us a bon-voyage party and a lacquer-box which was very lovely. They didn't have to do that, but we truly appreciated the sentiment and the gift. We have had a good relationship with all of them over the past 2 years and I am sure we will think of them often as we try to get back to life in America.

Monday night we had the last visit with the Ozherelev's. We played Hand and Foot with the 6 of us and had a very tearful goodbye with them, particularly Lenna who had grown very close to Sister Cindy. She was very sad as she delivered the last of the sewing work she had done for Cindy.  We will miss them every day and I know that as of today I think of them often each day. The separation is as painful and full of feelings as it would be with a family member, After all, they were family for two years and remain so.

Tuesday I got up at 6AM to be ready for President to pick us up with our luggage at 7:30. I looked out our 9th floor window at the scene below on Sacco & Vanzetti Street with its potholes and water still running from the last ice melting along the way. A street sweeper was slowly moving along, picking up the sand in the road from the previous winter ice treatment. I looked up at the blue sky with its summer haze from the power plants on the left bank across the river just laying in. I took the last shower in our cracked tub, started the last load of wash (the sheets from our bed), plugged in the Christmas Tree for the last time in the "shrine", a waist-high shelf in my corner shelf unit. It all seemed very final.

At the office we took pictures with everyone. Here are our office elders, Elder Barwick on the left and Elder Byers in the center, whom we love very much and will miss deeply. Elder Byers was the one who wrote the verse to the Mission song that I put together. He is a talented musician and I hope to keep up with his career post mission. Elder Barwick is also a talented singer and the two of them make great music. I feel very close to both of these elders.

 We had the my last Mission Presidency Meeting where I had Elder McCauley take over completely (He did marvelously well). Here we are reviewing items on the agenda that he will prepare weekly.

We participated in the last Office Coordination Meeting where the old issues remain and the McCauleys pick up the baton. They are diplomatic and careful to keep everyone engaged. I expect them to be very effective in that regard.

Here Sister McCauley is receiving the keys and cell phone from Sister Cindy. These are the symbols and the actual tools of the job she will have to pick up. Sister Cindy leaves big shoes to fill, but I think she and Elder McCauley will make their own mark on the mission.

Finally, we had our last interview with the President.  He said some very kind things about us and how he would miss us. He has a great burden to carry with the Millers gone, our leaving, and the Holmes going in May. We love him and Sister Trejo very much and pray for them nightly even now.

That night, we went to the Mission Home with the other departing missionaries for the last time. We had the final meal of Taco Salad, the traditional tie cutting-off for the marriage predictions, got our Green Berets, Cindy and I sang two songs. Then we had the final Testimony meeting before heading to bed and the 3:30 AM wake-up call.

Sister Zhernova got the bunk-bed room, the Elders got the great room, and Cindy and I had the General Authority room, same room where we slept that first morning 23 months ago when we sat and cried together, asking the Lord and each other how we were ever going to do this.

Now, for all practical purposes, it is finished and with the Lord's help we served with our might. We hope it was enough.

What a mission. What a country