We have been called to serve a CES (Church Education System) mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the England Birmingham Mission. Our assignment is to work with the Young Single Adults - ages 18 to 30 years - teaching religion classes, supporting their activities, assisting in the day to day running of the institute, and anything else as directed by our Mission President. Our 18 month mission begins on December 27, 2010.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

JOURNAL - July 25 - 31

Monday, July 25

Sister Clark and Sister Baker wanted a lesson in making pie crust. Transfers are due in a week. We are all hoping neither of them gets transferred, but it could happen. So, we decided to spend P-day together at our flat and make a pie. They came over about noon, we had lunch, made the pie (triple berry using Costco frozen berries - yummy), and then played a game of Wizard. It was a great afternoon!

In the evening we went to FHE and gave our lesson about Pioneers. Afterwards we played Scum. Some were familiar with the game. It was lots of fun, but I think our group was a little big - 13 people. Will try it next time with fewer people.


Today is also Devon's mother's birthday - she would have been 103. She was pretty tickled that she shared a birthday with two of her great grandsons.

We did our final flat check today. It's hard to pick the best one. They all worked hard and were rightfully proud of their efforts - I'm proud of their efforts! But the winner has to be the elders who scrubbed their oven.

Wednesday, July 27

We spent the morning working on our final Institute lesson for the summer course. Our attendance was low at Institute. We are competing with youth camp this week. Many of our YSA have callings in their respective wards with the YM andYW, so they were all off to camp. With agreement from the Stake Presidency, we have decided to suspend our weekly YSA Council meetings until fall Institute starts. During the summer we have been lucky to have one of the presidency attend the weekly meetings and only Reps from 3 or 4 wards out of the 7 units. It is discouraging. The presidency are all great kids, but with very busy lives. The president works during the week at the Preston MTC - something he hopes will change if he is accepted to university here in Birmingham. He will know in a couple of weeks how that will play out, so we're just waiting and hoping he will be with us for the next school year. The 1st counselor is getting married the end of August. She has been working every shift she can to save money, so she is frequently not there. The 2nd counselor is a policeman with shift work that keeps him away some weeks. And the secretary is a student that has gone home for the summer. We are really looking forward to the new start in the fall with a full, functioning presidency. In the meantime we will be busy trying to keep in contact with and encouraging the Reps to continue with the work in their wards.


Part of our job with flat checks is to asses if the missionaries need anything for their flat. They haven't had flat checks for many months and so there were quite a few items they needed such as bedding, shower curtains, iron, mops, brooms, dish towels, ironing board cover, etc. So today we went to the mission office to gather up those items and take them to District Meeting to distribute. It was almost like Christmas for those cute missionaries. After District Meeting they go to lunch together. Today we joined them and went to Subway. We had to park a couple of blocks away. The sisters are amazing! As we're walking down the street they stop and hand out pass-along cards to anyone who would listen to them for a moment - no wonder they are having such success. It is fun to visit with the missionaries and find out more about their lives before their mission.

Friday, July 29

Spent most of the day getting caught up on paper work and email. Typed up and emailed the minutes from our meeting on Wednesday. Emailed the YSA Presidency about getting the new Activity Committee organized. Finalized and emailed information regarding summer Institute attendance. Notified those that need a little make-up work to get full credit for Institute. Emailed Coventry and Lichfield Stake Presidents and YSA Advisors regarding the tri-stake YSA choir for conference with Elder Bednar in September. And answered a few messages on Facebook from some YSA. It feels good to get this caught up.

Sad day - we got news that Brad and Jenna's dog, Max, died - very unexpected.

Saturday, July 30

We visited a less-active young man from Sheldon Ward today. We called a couple of days ahead to set up the appointment. He said to come at 10:00 a.m. - which we did. Well, when we got there he was still in bed and hadn't told his mom we were coming - SURPRISE! We said we could come back, but when the mom found out we drove about 30 minutes to get there, she invited us in and woke him up. We had a nice visit. He turned 18 about a month ago and although he and is family are not active, he said he was interested in coming to YSA activities. We are now "friends" on Facebook, so I can easily let him know about the activities. We will get the Ward Rep to start inviting him to things also. Hope he will come. They are very nice, friendly people. His mom told us a couple of times she wasn't interested in coming to Church, although she does have regular visits from her visiting teachers. They have lived in their house for over 20 years, but originally were in another ward and stake. When the boundaries were changed, they stopped coming. She has no objection to her kids coming to Church, so we'll see.

In the afternoon we rode the bus to Bull Ring (Birmingham city center) so I could go to my little knitting shop. Seems I didn't buy enough yarn for the sweater I am knitting. Looks like I will need at least 2 more skeins. I bought the amount they calculated I would need, but it is definitely not enough.
Normally I would just buy some more, but (1) it is quite expensive, and (2) they don't have 2 more skeins - would have to call all over England for it, or order it from Canada. Either way it would take quite a while to get more. So, after going home and thinking about my options, I have decided to pull it all out, find a new project that will accommodate the amount of yarn I have, and start on a new project. It's just something I do in the car when we are driving from place to place, so I don't mind starting over. I figure it is good practice.


I can't believe it is the last day of July. Also, I can't believe we actually have warmer weather. It got hot and stuffy in Sacrament Meeting today - no air conditioning. Once we were out of the chapel it was lovely! Madhi, our new YSA convert, was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood today and he was just beaming! So were the sisters that taught him. There is a big National YSA Convention in Nottingham for four days in August. The ward is going to pay his way and he is so excited about attending. It think it will be really good for him. We called a couple of less-active YSA to set up appointments to go visit them. They were not home, so we left messages. I hope they will call back.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

JOURNAL July 18 - 24

Wednesday, July 20

Monday and Tuesday were pretty routine days - usually the slower days of the week. We did laundry, grocery shopping, and prep for our Institute lesson. This week the lesson is on covenants. One aspect of our mission, that we both have really enjoyed, is the opportunity to study and prepare our lessons. We have gained valuable insight to gospel principles we thought we understood before but now have a more complete understanding of. 

Another aspect we love is the relationships we have developed with the YSA. It is fun to watch the romances develop. Between Lichfield and Birmingham Stake there will be 8 temple weddings/engagements this spring and summer - WONDERFUL - and it looks like another romance is blooming! We don't go to Lichfield any more, but the kids keep us informed and we love it.

Usually the things they share with us are happy events, but tonight we heard of a sad one. One young man seemed distant and quiet. When I asked him if he was alright, he confided that he had learned earlier that a family member was arrested and facing jail time for an internet problem. We didn't go into details, but he was obviously upset and wanted a blessing. Devon gave him a beautiful blessing. It won't solve the problem, but I hope it will bring him some peace knowing how much Heavenly Father loves him.

Thursday, July 21 - HAPPY BIRTHDAY LINDSAY (one year old!)

A few months ago we felt inspired regarding a new plan for fellow shipping. We have spent a lot of time since then orienting and training the YSA reps and developing an effective approach to fellow shipping and coordinating missionary efforts with the ward full-time missionaries. The new approach seems to be helping, although it continues to be a "work in progress". Most of the reps have caught the vision and are doing great, but some from the smaller wards struggle. It is a problem I'm not sure how to fix.

Lately our concerns have turned to the activity portion of the YSA program. One person, the counselor over activities, seems to be carrying the load all alone - no functioning activities committee. Currently the reps are divided into either a missionary committee or the activity committee. The thought came to me, loud and clear, that the reps ARE the missionary committee and that other YSA outside of the reps should be called to function on the activity committee. Seems pretty basic - don't know why it hasn't occurred to me sooner. We proposed our idea to the Stake Presidency and the YSA Presidency. Everyone, especially the YSA Presidency, are excited about this change and anxious to implement it. We are hoping to get a new committee called as soon as possible and to help with planning activities.

Friday, July 22

Seems like we were on the run all day! We did flat checks at Stourbridge and Redditch - both nice flats and pretty clean. We were especially impressed with the Redditch flat - they had actually scrubbed out the oven! For that reason alone I think they may get the prize for the cleanest missionary flat from our stake. We still have one more flat to check next week - then I'll make my final decision.

In between the two flat checks we found a nice carvery (restaurant) for lunch. Actually, very nice and very reasonable. It was in Redditch. Wish it was closer - I would go there again in a heart beat.

Saturday, July 23

We were up early to go to a YSA service project. It was a flop as numbers go - only a few showed up. But it was a success as a service project. Birmingham is divided into areas called wards. We went to a mainly Muslim area called Sparkbrook and spent the morning picking up litter from the streets. A very nice young woman from the local volunteer council met us and was so thrilled that we would come to their community and provide the service. While we were on the street picking up litter, we were contacted by a very nice group from the Jehovah's Witness faith. When we explained who we were and what we were doing the man said, "Bless you! You are doing God's work." After the project we came back to Harborne and had a pancake brunch and enjoyed visiting with each other. Everyone that participated enjoyed the project. I'm pretty sure we will do it again - hopefully with more people.

 Sharoon, Sister Tufts, ,Elder Tufts, John, Lauren, Terry, and Ryan

Tonight was another YSA baptism. This young man's name is Madhi and he is from Iran. He is about 21 years old. He's been on his own since he was 14 and is seeking asylum here. His father is in prison at home and he would be imprisoned, or worse, if he got sent back to Iran. Most likely his legal appeals will be granted. To return home as a Christian would just complicate things even more for him. Anyway, he is an amazing young man and has taken to the gospel of Jesus Christ like you wouldn't believe. It has been such a sweet blessing to get to know him and watch him learn and love the gospel. Now he is teaching his friend, Hadi, about the church!
Tristin, Madhi, Sister Clark, and Sister Baker

Sunday, July 24 

We were able to attend our Harborne Ward today. What used to seem like a strange ward, now seems like home - so many good people. It is Pioneer Day. Seems strange to us that no one here knows about Pioneer Day. I didn't expect it to be anything like the event in Utah, but did think they would mention it - nope. Didn't even sing "Come, Come Ye Saints". We are teaching the lesson tomorrow at FHE and are going to do it on the pioneers. Devon is battling a cold, so we took it easy today. We did enjoy Skype with some of our family.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

JOURNAL - July 11 - 17

Monday, July 11

Whew! Busy, but wonderful day! We did grocery shopping and laundry in the morning. In the afternoon we did a flat check in Solihull. There used to be elders assigned to Solihull Ward, but since last transfer there are sisters. It's a bit of an adjustment for them. Previously they had a car - now they are on bikes! Their flat is in an interesting place. Solihull has a very nice shopping area complete with lots of small and large stores. The sisters' flat is in the middle of the shopping area over a bridal shop. It is a decent flat and they did a great job cleaning it. We are finding that most of the missionaries have not had flat checks in many months, so this first time is a little hard. Doing flat checks has provided to be a great time to sit with the missionaries and discuss the YSA missionary efforts. It has to be a team approach if it is to work. So getting the missionaries and the Ward Reps to work together is our goal. It is easier with some wards than others, but we see slow improvement.

FHE was great - we had 3 YSA investigators there. After most had left three YSA girls and I played the piano in the chapel and sang favorite hymns and Primary songs for almost an hour - loved it!

Tuesday, July 12

Another flat check - this time out in Kidderminster, the smallest unit in the Stake. It is a beautiful, more rural area. The missionaries here work hard to find people to teach, but they are working with one YSA and a couple others. Their flat was the newest one we've seen, and they did a great job cleaning. It's going to be hard to pick the best one. We like to take a treat to the missionaries when we do flat checks. I found an online store where I can order American products. They had free shipping so I ordered Log Cabin maple syrup to give to the missionaries and it has been a huge hit - the syrup here is not very good. Their faces light up when I pull the syrup out of my bag! Makes my day!

Wednesday, July 13

Institute was good. We had 3 investigators come and they seemed to enjoy it. One, Eleanor, is very sweet, and quite interesting. She has been coming to FHE and Institute for the last three weeks, one of which was her birthday week. It is the tradition at FHE to go around the group and have everyone say something they like about the birthday person. Sometimes it's a reach to think of something to say, especially if the person is new and not well known. Well, on the second week Eleanor came to FHE she had bright red eye shadow all around her eyes - kind of like a raccoon. It happened to be her birthday week. A couple of YSA commented on her "artistic and creative" eye shadow, so now she wears it every time she comes.

Friday, July 15

We attended the wedding of another YSA couple - Jethro and Laura. They are a great couple. He just finished medical school. He has secured a position in Australia for a year, so they will leave in a couple weeks. The wedding was beautiful and they seem very happy.

In the afternoon we decided to drive to the Gloucestershire area and see if we could find the old Corse Church where Devon's 2nd great grandparents, Daniel Collett and Ester Jones, were married in the spring of 1833. They were among the original United Brethren converts that joined the church in the 1840's and immigrated to Utah. Daniel was born in Corse. With directions from a local man, we found the little old church on a small country rode, nestled among apple orchards. It is in good repair and still used as a house of worship today.

Love this old, working organ!

We also visited the quaint little town of Ledbury. It has a couple of significant church history sites.

Quaint little side street in downtown Ledbury. The building on the left was built in the 1500's and is still used today - amazing!
This was a former Methodist Church where Brigham Young was invited to preach. He converted the pastor and was given permission to use their baptismal font. The next pastor banned him from teaching there. Today it is a Baptist Church.
This building on stilts is called Market Square. Brigham Young preached here several times. The building was used to store corn at one point. Local vendors set up markets here on the weekend.

Saturday, July 16

We woke up to a heavy down pour of rain, but by noon the sun was peeking through. President and Sister Ogden had invited all the senior couples from the mission to their house in Sutton Coldfield for a BBQ and opportunity to meet and mingle with each other. Their house is on a cul-de-sac across the street from the mission office...and is VERY nice! It is quite large and they actually have a clothes dryer, dish washer, two large refrigerators and a separate freezer! I was in awe! The event was really nice - the first time we have had a senior social since our arrival. I think everyone enjoyed it. The only bad thing was that I forgot to get a picture of our group - will have to do that next time. 

After the BBQ we drove to Cheltenham Stake (about an hour away) for a fireside preview of a musical called "Faith, The Musical" that was written by a bishop from Cheltenham. It is the story of the Thomas Oakey Family and the Willie Handcart Company. Thomas Oakey's wife, Anne, was a sister to Daniel Collett. The cast is leaving for Salt Lake City in about a week where they and a ward from South Jordan will join to present the play at the little theater in the Conference Center. Needless to say, they are very excited! 

Sunday, July 17

Nice sabbath, even with the cooler temperatures and on and off light rain. Devon had a High Council speaking assignment in Stourbridge Ward, so we attended church there. It is a very small ward - no more than 50 people in attendance including our two YSA. We also enjoyed Skype conversations with Lori & Eric, Brad & Jenna, Stephen & Annily (Andrea was sick), and Daryn  & Catie. Tomorrow we will Skype Emily & Marianne. It's been a good day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

JOURNAL - July 4 - 10

Monday, July 4 - GOD BLESS AMERICA!

The Brits are celebrating American Independence Day by encouraging everyone to support independent businesses today. We are celebrating it at P-day with the missionaries in our Zone. They all met at Harborne Ward for a BBQ. Devon and I went to Costco and bought American style hot dogs, chips, tangerines, and vanilla ice cream. Then we went to Wing Yip (a Chinese importer) to buy 2 cases of A&W Root Beer. I made 6 batches of kettle corn, and K-squares for the party. There were 33 missionaries in attendance including us and another senior couple (the Henry's from Spanish Fork) who heard about the "celebration" and decided to join us. Devon, again, was the chief BBQ'er and did another great job! The event began with a rousing rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner", complete with one elder waving an American flag - so great! Those boys ate, and ate, and ate, and then played soccer, ping pong, air hockey, and foosball for about 3 hours. Everyone - including us - had a great time (if you don't count the sprained ankle one elder got)!!!

After the BBQ we went home for a couple of hours and before returning to the ward for FHE with the YSA. It was so much fun! One of the girls is moving to a new house with three other YSA. She told a hilarious story about planting new flowers in their small garden and discovering a rather large dog buried about 2 inches under the surface. Apparently the dog hadn't been there very long. Her description of the event had everyone in stitches! After the lesson and treats, we played a highly competitive game of Uno - again very fun!

Then we came home and had a nice visit with Stephen's family on Skype. All in all - a great 4th of July!

Wednesday, July 6

Yesterday we spent a wonderful hour with our newest YSA Rep.  He just graduated from Seminary and has moved from the biggest ward with the most YSAs to the smallest ward with only two active YSAs, and one of them usually attends another ward where his girlfriend lives. This is quite a change for Sharoon, but he has a wonderful spirit and attitude, and is excited for his new assignment. We are so grateful to have him on the "team".

This is the end of the quarter, so I have been busy yesterday and today preparing the quarterly CfYA report. Between the report, the minutes of our Advisory Committee Meeting, and general paperwork catch up, I have been really busy on the computer - so much so that Devon prepared and taught the whole lesson at Institute tonight. Now I just need to find time to catch up on ironing!

Thursday, July 7

Today is our third trip to Gadfield Elm in the past 5 weeks. This time we went with half of the missionaries in our mission (the other half went yesterday). Also different this time was that President Ogden was the narrator. Previously we had Brother David Head, a senior missionary at the GFE Historical Site. This time we also got to see the barn at Benbow Farm where Wilford Woodruff preached many sermons. The owners of the property, now known as Hill Farm, are very friendly to the church. They are very proud of and respect their property's historical significance. Mrs. Manning though not a member of our church, is an amazing historian regarding the early history of the church in England.
Another view of Benbow Pond.
President Charles Ogden speaking to the missionaries at Benbow Pond.
The sister on the far left just arrived from Zimbabwe.
These Missionaries represent half our mission.

Friday, July 8
Today we did another missionary flat check. This flat was a disaster! I have to give the Elders credit for trying, but that's about it. The flat itself is in bad condition from general neglect by the landlord. So bad, in fact, that the mission is looking for a new flat for them. They have given notice and this is their last month in this place. They can hardly wait to move! I hope they do a better job of cleaning the new one than they did this old one. We will see...........

Tonight was the monthly YSA multi stake dance. We had about 275 kids - less than usual, and that was nice. It didn't feel so packed with hot, sweaty bodies. They had their usual DJ in the cultural hall playing the usual music, and another one in the Institute room playing Motown and a little older music. So many of the kids loved the older music. It was nice to have it spread out a little.

Saturday, July 9

This is a red letter day - got all the ironing done! I'm pretty much caught up with everything and it feels really good. Tonight we went to a house warming event for four YSA students that moved to a new house. Probably about 30 kids showed up for the party and all seemed to be having a good time. We stay a short time, had nice visits with the kids, toured the house, and saw where the dead dog had been buried. It was a nice evening.

Sunday, July 10

Oh my goodness...we overslept and were late to church! I usually can't sleep past 7:30, so it was a shock! Thankfully, Sacrament meeting is last, so we didn't miss much. We probably had 30 kids in our YSA Sunday School class today - the largest number ever. Many were visitors. Some that came to the house warming stayed overnight, and we had visitors from Germany, Brussels, and (believe it or not) Highland, Utah. Yep - one girl served her mission here and two friends came with her to visit England. Small world!!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

JOURNAL - June 27 - July 3

Monday, June 27

Oh my goodness - today is our 6 month mark! The time is going really fast!

Woke up to Monday morning sun. Had a nice walk in Cannon Hill Park and stopped at Aldi for milk on the way home. We ended up also buying hummus and peanut cookies. Aldi is a really cheap grocery store. They don't sell any name brands, so you never know how the product will taste. We broke even this time. the peanut cookies were yummy (kind of tasted like peanut butter cookies and had lots of whole peanuts on the top). The hummus tasted like paste! 

Kinda of sad at FHE tonight. The lesson, treats, and activity were great, but we said goodbye to a group of university girls who are leaving for summer at home. The good news is that all but one is returning in September. The one not coming back, Kendall, graduated and is moving to Manchester to work. 

Tuesday, June 28

Today we did our first flat check. We decided to start with the missionaries we know the best, so we did the Harborne Elders. They live in a rather large, two bedroom, upstairs flat. We could tell they worked really hard to get it clean, and they did a great job. They gasped when I opened the microwave - had forgot to clean it, and it really needed it. It is fun to see where they live, and made me grateful for our nice flat!

Wednesday, June 29

One member of the Stake High Council is involved with producing media for the Church in Europe. He was contacted by the area authority and asked to film activities at an Institute, so he and his wife came with camera and tripod and filmed various aspects of our lesson - us teaching, the kids listening, reading their scriptures, and working in a group discussion. He also filmed the activities after the lesson. We all had to sign wavers, but it's anyone's guess what they plan to do with the film. 

Thursday, June 30

We picked up some bags from one of the YSA students to store in our garage over the summer. We drove through a part of town that was a little scary to get to her student housing. Thankfully she is in a nice, gated area. It's always very interesting to see different parts of the city. We met the Sisters and helped teach a lesson to Jack, a less-active YSA. He is on the fence - wants parts of both worlds. That's why he is having problems. It is either true or it's not - there really is no half way. He wants to keep meeting with them and studying. They are going to find an active YSA to teach with them, so he has the advantage of a YSA friend. After the lesson we took the Sisters to dinner at TIGF - yep they have one not far from our flat. It was fun and the food was pretty good. Service in the UK is really sloooow. It took forever to get our order and then we always have to ask for the check. Maybe it's slow because most people sit around and drink a little (or a lot). We always have tap water and are anxious to get moving on - not much time to just sit. Anyway it was a fun time with the Sisters and they enjoyed it too!

Friday, July 1

The day started with another flat check - this time the Sisters. It was very clean - they had worked very hard - even made us a lemon meringue pie (they are not past bribery). We gave them good marks. The only problem is mildew and mold on a ceiling and one wall - not at all their fault, but whether the landlord will do anything about it is anyone's guess. We'll turn in the report and see what happens. We also made a trip to Costco with the Johnson's to get the food for the Lichfield Gadfield Elm trip tomorrow, and got our hair cut.

Saturday, July 2

Gadfield Elm trip with Lichfield - great fun. Disappointing that so few Lichfield kids went. Most of the kids were from the Wolverhampton group. Still, everyone had a great time!
About midnight we joined the annual Onstott Family 4th of July Picnic through Skype. It was held in Lehi this year and looked like so much fun. The Skype connection was a little erratic, so we didn't talk long - still it was great to "be there".

Sunday, July 3

Attended Sacrament Meeting at Sheldon Ward. They were sustaining and setting apart a new YSA Rep and Bishop Stilger thought it would be nice if we were there. He was right, it was a special experience. This is one of the smaller wards in the stake and they haven't had a rep for months. Sharoon's father was the first person to join the church in Pakistan 20 years ago - so interesting to hear his story. He was Christian at the time. His pastor had a copy of the Book of Mormon and was criticizing it so so much that Sharoon's father asked if he had read it. He said, "no". So Sharoon's dad asked if he could read it. Upon reading it he was converted and has been strong in the faith ever since.

Today little Gracelyn was blessed. Afterward all the family gathered at Brad and Jenna's for lunch and visiting. We enjoyed visiting with them through Skype - so much fun!