Week One of President Bigelow

I can’t believe it’s only been one week… Ever since President Bigelow has touched down on Brazilian soil he’s been practically sprinting at full speed and we’ve been trying to stay alongside him. As the Brazilians would say, “Pense num Presidente animado!” Which would roughly translate to, “Talk about an excited President!”. It’s been great. We’ve basically been preparing for this transfer of Presidents since I got into the office. When Sunday rolled around, two days after Pres. Bigelow had landed in Recife, we went to the Mission Home with orientation materials that we had been preparing for him – a map of the city; a map of the state; key indicator analysis over the last five weeks, last month, last six months; a brief definition of our role as assistants; a snapshot of the normal missionary week in MBR; the orientation given to every new missionary; the divisions of the districts by geographical proximity; a list of which missionaries are where; a list of all the phone numbers in the mission; trainings that were recently given on the mission – and that was just a glimpse of our part of the orientation. The Financial Secretary and Executive Secretary also prepared an equal number of materials to give to both Sister and President Bigelow. I thought that would already be too much information, but as we started talking I realized there were so many more things that we would have to prepare to aid in the President’s understanding of the every-day tasks in the office.

On the bright side, President Bigelow came entirely prepared in every other aspect. He served directing Seminaries and Institutes for all of Latin American, serving simultaneously as Stake President after a brief stint of 2 years as a Bishop, to which office he was called at age 27. Though relatively young, he is in every sense a Gospel scholar and his spiritual knowledge emanates from his countenance. Every conversation with him is a teaching moment. Without trying to be blasphemous, sometimes I feel how the early disciples must have felt walking by Christ’s side. It turns out he had actually searched for some of the missionaries’ blogs from the Brasil Recife Mission and found a few, including mine. I turned bright red as I tried to review in my mind every word I’ve written over the past year and 10 months, but was quite relieved when he said he liked it.

It’s a very different sort of environment having a President with his family. With President and Sister Lanius, the Mission Home maintained somewhat of an executive, hands-off feeling. Not to say, in any way, that the family reduces the professionalism or dignity of the President’s home or calling – but it does create a much more organic and natural air both in the President’s home and in the office. Included in our conversations about scheduling a series of meetings with all the zones in the first week and the nature of the mission phone plans were questions about how the two youngest children would get across town to school and if Sister Bigelow would be able to text her children if they were lost and needed help. As we tried to figure out the President’s office schedule, we had to address the importance of President Bigelow’s call-free presence in the mornings and evenings with his kids. For a moment my mind flashed forward 10 years to when (who knows) I’ll have kids and a family and somehow I’ll try to have to find balance between work and school and family. It’s so complicated… One thing I’ve discovered watching President Bigelow work is that he creates space and time for God first, his family, the missionaries, but at the end of the day there’s very little time for his “Me”. After this week, I’m exhausted! And I know I’ve slept twice as much as President Bigelow! Truly, President Bigelow has had the mantle of Mission President placed upon him and the Lord carries him, giving energy and sanity at all moments.

Tuesday we had a meeting with all the interior zones. All of them went by bus from their various and scattered locations and met in Caruaru. Elder Gustavo and I went in President Bigelow’s car, together with the rest of his family. I’ll admit that it was a very strange experience. Once more I was in the 7-passenger van on a family road trip. Sister Bigelow gave Dramamine to the Bigelow daughters cooped up in the back seat, shortly after which they fell asleep, one on the shoulder of the other. The littlest Bigelow, Spencer, played games on the iPad, while Sister Bigelow held President Bigelow’s hand in the front seat. It was like the epic family road trip from the epoch that has come and gone in the Fleming Family. I felt right back on our way from Salt Lake City to California. I almost felt the urge to ask, “Are we there yet?” But then I remembered that I was the only one in the car who knew how long it takes to get from Recife to Caruaru…

President Bigelow speaks Portuguese like a returned missionary from Brazil. Actually, he speaks better. Sister Bigelow makes her way along and wrote her talk for the meeting with the interior zones in Portuguese. And the little sibs? Well, Elder Peixoto and I translated for them on the pulpit. But they also understand a fair amount of Portuguese. The oldest Bigelow daughter, Sara, studied Portuguese briefly at BYU and will be returning there in the fall, given that her expenses are not covered by the church due to her age. They all show a maturity and a love for one another that softens even the hardest of missionary hearts. There was a brief moment open for questions at the end of the meetings with the missionaries, so I took the opportunity to ask President Bigelow one thing that his wife does to show affection and love for him that he appreciates. He said that the way Sister Bigelow smiles when she looks at him gives him all the support and feeling of self-worth and acceptance he needs to move forward with the work! And it’s true! All of them smile with one another and with the other missionaries in such a way that there’s really no way to keep a frown without pulling your cheeks down with your fingers! That’s what the temple is for, I suppose. Celestial families effuse a tangible celestial spirit.

Speaking of the importance of temples and missionary work, one of the topics we discussed in our conversation with the president was this talk given by Russell M. Nelson at the Mission President’s Seminar that will significantly change the way in which we teach and follow up with investigators.

It’s nice to have an apostle confirm what I think excellent missionaries naturally do and what many missionaries have been feeling ought to be done for some time now. Now we have an excuse to follow up with those we have taught and baptized because – whether we wanted or not, the system of depending solely on the members to follow with recent-converts just hasn’t been producing the retention that the Church needs.

I digress…

So this week we put on three meetings with the missionaries and fit in a division somewhere in the middle of it all. Much of our work these days, though, has been planning, planning, planning. We had to do a mid-transfer transfer recently and… man… Transfers are a lot harder than I thought. We, of course, have no authority to be receiving inspiration for transfers nor have we the role of giving suggestions. But. Given that the President is new, he has been very open with his thought process about the transfer and we’ve had to discuss the needs and personalities of each missionary – what can be done, what can’t be done, questions of logistics, all in light of the fact that here in another 5 weeks we’ll receive a whole new batch missionaries and we’ll need to open areas and close areas assign trainers and every transfer decision has a million consequences down the road that are so difficult to find but must be found. Thinking through the transfer process and running through the possible transfer scenarios is like laying down fifty different railroad tracks, then scanning each one for a missing nail, knowing that any defect or deficiency in our planning could easily through a locomotive with precious cargo hurtling down a deep crevasse.

And President Bigelow, poor thing, has to think through all of this having slept just 2 hours the night before because he was passing the early morning hours with a Sister Missionary in the hospital. While his family waits at home for him with dinner because he still hasn’t eaten yet. We’ve been running a tight ship. But the Lord administers the full measure of his grace in the third mile.

Thank you all for your support and prayers. Here’s to more miracles and more saved souls in the mission field!

-Elder Fleming-


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