So we’ve officially begun President Bigelow’s first full round of interviews. It so happens that it is also my first time planning and carrying out a normal round of interviews. Our mission is large in and of itself (200+ missionaries) but on top of that it is relatively disperse, with some 14 zones scattered around Pernambuco. The difficult bit is that, on top of all the planning and logistics that go behind a series of interviews like this, President Bigelow came in the second week of the transfer, has been here but one week, has the normal (overwhelming) quantity of emergency interviews, transfers, and hospital visits to make, and is trying to establish himself and his vision to give the missionaries and this mission a sure footing on which to establish themselves. President Bigelow expressed his desire to avoid superficial interviews with the missionaries and to have time to really get to know each one of the 200+ missionaries for whom he is responsible. So that puts his interview time at about 20 minutes per missionary. At 200 missionaries, that puts him at 4,000 minutes, or 67 hours, or roughly 3 straight days of interviews. Which would be fine and dandy, but interview time must be confined to non-Preparation Days and non-weekends. So, in theory, that puts us at roughly 6-8 hours a day for 4 days a week for the next 3 weeks. He could basically be a paid psychologist. But I suppose the purpose and price of the consultation are quite different…
We’ve stacked all of his Interior Zone visits for the weekends so that he can spend time getting to know Pernambuco with his family during the day and meet with stake presidents, bishops, branch presidents, and members in a series of counsels and firesides at night. What that means for us is that we run the trainings in the Zone Conferences Tuesday-Thursday and do divisions with those respective areas until 21h and then pack our bags Thursday night to spend Friday-Sunday in division and training in the interior zones. We get back Sunday night or Monday morning, receive the Zone Reports from the Zone Leaders, prepare the trainings and logistics for the following week, meet with the President Monday afternoon to handle the rest of the normal Mission Office/Staff duties and necessities and then start everything up all over again on Tuesday. We travel to the Interior with the President early Friday morning and come back by bus at the end of the weekend. One of the interesting consequences of this new schedule is that we have basically had just to drop the idea of being able to be in our own ward for the next 3 weeks. Sunday mornings we spend in Divisions helping the missionaries search out their investigators and take them to church in the far interior. We passed all of our investigators to the Secretaries in our area and are trying to follow up by phone wherever possible. I couldn’t imagine a better last three weeks.
This last weekend brought an almost unexpected surprise when we traveled to Garanhuns and we were able to help the missionaries in Boa Vista (one of the areas I passed through as a Zone Leader in October-November) with one of their ward activities. So many tender feelings and deep joy flooded through me as I saw many of the less actives, investigators, and recent converts I had worked with there over the course of the brief 6 weeks I had passed in Boa Vista. The Zone Leaders currently in the area have done an extraordinary work in giving continuity to the teaching and nourishment of every fledgling and returning member there. It so happens that one of those Zone Leaders is Elder Withers, my ex-companion of 3 weeks when I passed through Boa Vista. Yes. He is still there. 8 months on and still going strong.
It was a strange experience, having the privilege of seeing that ward change over the course of literally two years (first as a missionary in the zone in December through March of 2012, then as a zone leader in Boa Vista in October through November, then some three times to do divisions as part of the Office). It struck me how deliberate and long-term missionary work really is. Visiting Boa Vista over the course of these last two years has been like watching a decelerating strobe light. As a missionary, I saw the daily progress of those investigators, recent-converts, and less-actives. But as I’ve returned, I’ve begun to see larger portions of their progress pass all at once. One member I taught and invited to be baptized but had to leave; the next time I visited some 4 months later she was baptized; and now, some 3 months after she is preparing to go to the temple. Another member I taught for the first time in my very last week in Boa Vista and we didn’t really even get the chance to teach her; now, she’s an integrated member of the ward and has introduced her sister-in-law to the missionaries.source)
Progress in the Gospel is decisively delineated and deliberate. The changes those people who accept fully the gospel make over the course of the year are as marked and evident as the strata in sandstone carved over the course of millennia. They are tangible and visible changes that happen in the matter of just weeks or months. Countenances change, attitudes change – it’s almost as if their aura and entire being has an added light. On the other hand, the stagnation and lack of progress in those who never decide to fully embrace the gospel is just as remarkable. Those we visited and taught who lived drinking and smoking and angry and sad but didn’t embrace the gospel continue just as angry and sad and just as addicted to drinking and smoking as they were when we found them. They continue with the same excuses and the same results. Eternal progress is what we make of it. I’m so happy and feel so lucky for the opportunity to have known the Gospel and to have a clear course charted by God. That we may all share the same happiness and opportunity with those around us.
Thank you all dearly for your love and support.
I love you dearly.