Monday, February 29, 2016

P-Day and Lunch with Elders

We were slow getting started today because we were waiting to talk with David this morning.  He has received a new job offer, so I wanted to share some of my thoughts, as though that makes any difference.  Then the Elders who live in our complex invited us to join them and the Beneva Branch Elders for lunch.  We went to Blaze Pizza.  We like the pizza's but haven't been there for quite awhile.

While there, a man in an adjoining table spoke to me and said that he had always wanted to learn more about what we did.  We were able to make an appointment for the Beneva Elders to meet with him because he speaks Spanish, as well as English.

As we were all walking in, a couple from the Palmetto Ward introduced themselves to us.  Needless to say, we are noticeable.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Double Meetings

We attended two Church units today, the University Park Ward and the Beneva Branch.  Both meet in the Sarasota building and the meeting times don't overlap.

We started the day at 7 am for a ward council meeting as part of the ward conference for the University Park Ward.  Most of the meeting was training by Pres. Egan, the 1st counselor in the stake presidency, using videos on keeping the Sabbath holy.  Bishop Leedom and Pres. Egan spoke in sacrament meeting.

Renee attended the Relief Society class while I attended the branch council in the Beneva Branch.  It is the other Spanish-speaking unit in the stake.  I don't know if make much of a contribution other than just being there.  However, Renee was asked to play the piano in sacrament meeting and again in Relief Society meeting.  So I guess we did make a contribution.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Saints Unified Voices

We attended two planning meetings for the upcoming firesides with Gladys Knight and the Saints Unified Voices choir.  The purpose of the firesides is to provide missionary opportunities for members to invite their friends and less active members.  Two firesides will be in St. Petersburg and two in Brandon.  So there were planning meetings in both stake centers.

In between, we did two apartment inspections.  One of the apartments has only had missionaries in it for the past week.  It is one of the apartments that was opened to accommodate the arrival of the new missionaries at the last transfer.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Mission Leadership Council

We drove to Tampa for the monthly MLC.  This was different because we picked up a Sister Missionary who is receiving a medical release and returning home.  After taking her to the mission office, she met with President Cusick, and then we drove her to the airport.  Part of her wants to stay as a missionary.  The other part recognizes her medical challenges that prevent her from doing what she needs to do.

We then returned to the MLC.  We missed most of the meeting, but the topic of discussion for the day was exchanges for the Zone Leaders and Sister Training Leaders with other missionaries.  As was pointed out, the purpose of exchanges is to bless, inspire, encourage, lift and learn from other missionaries.  They were reminded that everything needs be done in love.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Belated Valentine Dinner

Renee worked on the mission histories until mid-afternoon.  Then we went to The Cheesecake Factory for a belated Valentine's dinner.  I told Renee to pick a restaurant.  This was the first time that I thought we had sufficient time to go there.  They are usually busy with an indeterminate wait.  Today we had time to go in the late afternoon and didn't have to wait.

Following the dinner, we went to Sarasota where I had two special consideration interviews.  This couple will need to be married before they can be baptized, which they are planning to do.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Long Drive for an Interview

I had a special consideration interview in Hudson Ward today.  It was rainy and blustery, so I allowed extra time for the drive.  That was a good thing because the traffic was bad.  Driving across the Skyway Bridge was exciting as the wind was blowing hard.  All-in-all it took me over 2 hours to get there.  Fortunately the weather had improved when I returned.

It was a good interview with a young woman who like others is trying to change her life.  I hope that following their baptisms these new members receive the support they need from the ward members.

Renee decided not to go with me.  She doesn't really have a function at these interviews other than to accompany me.  Because this was so far away, she decided to stay in the apartment and continue to work on the mission histories.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

District Meeting

We drove to Palm Harbor/Clearwater to participate in the St. Petersburg North District meeting.  The topic for this week was on tracting and street contacting.  They talked about the different approaches and then had everyone involved in role playing the different situations.  Some of the missionaries were better at one approach than the other.  The concern is that tracting is less efficient than street contacting -- fewer people contacted during the same amount of time.  However, some missionaries prefer tracting because it is less stressful for them.

We then did three apartment inspections in the area.  Fortunately, the apartments were in good condition.  Hopefully we now have a trend of the missionaries taking more effort to keep their apartments clean and uncluttered.

Monday, February 22, 2016

P-Day and Orchid Show

After completing our weekly apartment cleaning, we went to the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota.  We have been there once before.  One of the specializations of the organization is orchids.  This month they have an Orchid Show.  They reportedly had 900 orchids on display in the large conservatory.  They were quite spectacular.  We were not the only ones interested, and it was crowded.

I was very busy with my camera, and Renee was quite patient with me.

Renee at the Orchid Show

A gecko checking out the visitors at the Orchid Show

An osprey in the gardens

Sunday, February 21, 2016

University Park Ward

We were back in the University Park Ward today.  There was only one investigator in the meetings today.  He came a couple of weeks ago with his visiting brother who is a member of the Church.  He decided on his own to attend today.

The Gospel Principles class in the ward is very good.  Sister Denise Igarta, wife of the Ward Mission Leader and a returned missionary.  She encourages discussion and works to have everyone engaged.

Bro. Bischoff, who was baptized two months ago, went to the Orlando Temple yesterday with the ward youth and participated in baptisms for the dead.  He was very excited about his experience.  It is great to see him growing in the Church.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

A Long Drive to a Baptism

We drove Sisters Wright and Coon to Gibsonia Ward for a baptism this evening.  Sister Coon served in Gibsonia until being transferred on Wednesday.  She received permission to return for the baptism of a brother whom she had been teaching.  They did not want to drive because they were concerned about whether they would have enough miles.  (The missionaries are given a limited number miles they are allowed to drive each month.)

It was a nice baptism with two new converts being baptized.  Sister Coon was happy to be back in the ward where she had served for about 6 months.  On the drive to the baptism, we talked about the sisters' backgrounds.  Sis. Coon attended BYU-Hawaii before her mission.  On the way back, we talked about some of the challenges the sisters are having.

Friday, February 19, 2016

A Baptism

Today was a good day, though not necessarily from a missionary standpoint.  We drove to the dentist this morning and Renee had the final part of her dental implant completed.  It has been a long process but hopefully will take care of the problems.

In the afternoon, we spent more time working on the mission histories.  My part is mostly finished, but I had the easier part.

We went to a baptism this evening -- the sister whom I interviewed yesterday.  It was a very nice baptism.  She had quite a few sisters from the ward who attended.  I learned that the Sister Missionaries had sisters from the ward participating in almost all of the lessons.  This will be beneficial as the newly baptized sister now has friends in the ward.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

An Interview and a No Show

We spent most of today working on the mission annual reports.  My task is to prepare the statistical segments of the report, number of baptisms, etc.  Sister Tollerton, the mission secretary, sent us a lot of data, and I have been able to find most of what we need.

We went to the Sarasota chapel for an interview.  The sister became acquainted with the Church through an online correspondence with a returned missionary.  The Sister Missionaries have been teaching her and reported that she has been the most "teachable" investigator that they have worked with.

We then drove to Brandon to try once again try to interview two investigators there.  They cancelled the last time we tried.  This time they didn't both to cancel.  They just didn't show up for the appointment.  Needless to say, that was a disappointment.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


Today was transfer day.  The process has been changed at the request of the Church leaders.  Missionaries being transferred or receiving new companions made their way to the mission office at 9:30.  They were told yesterday who their companions would be.  They found their new companions and were on the road to their areas by 10.

In the meantime, we were meeting with the new missionaries.  They completed their administrative tasks relative to iPads, health insurance, driving, and training on safety, driving, initial meetings with members.  The difference today was that the training was for all of the new missionaries at the same time and included some of the training previously done on the night of arrival.  The new schedule seemed to work, but the training didn't flow as smoothly.  Perhaps I am the only one who noticed that.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Inspections and Arrival Dinner

We picked up apartment keys from the mission office and then drove to Zephyrhills to inspect the apartment there.  The sister missionaries were still at the apartment when we arrived because one of them had not been feeling well.  Not feeling well was apparently the reason why their apartment was quite cluttered.  Renee gave them a few minutes to tidy up before we did the inspection.  With the additional effort on their part, the apartment didn't look too bad.

We looked for possible new apartments in the area and then drove to the mission home to welcome the new missionaries.  Twenty-five missionaries arrived including seven sisters.  It is hard to evaluate them because they are all exhausted after arriving at 2 am to prepare to depart for the airport.  President Cusick has changed the training process for this group.  He believes (correctly in my view) that they don't remember much of what is done the first evening.  So there was some training on making good first impressions, differentiating between things that missionaries can control and what they can't, and introductions.  They had dinner and had an early trip to the hotel for the evening.  I was asked to drive a 12 passenger van to take some to the hotel.  I'm not very exciting or comfortable driving the big vans.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Departure Dinner

Today we did our normal P-day cleaning.  We then drove to the mission home for a dinner with the departing missionaries.  We had had personal interaction with each of these departing missionaries, so it was sad seeing them leave.  They are a good group.  But it's time for them to proceed with other aspects of their lives.

As is typically the case, we will stay in the same hotel as the missionaries for the next two evenings.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Cortez Branch and the Book of Mormon Play

This morming we attended the Cortez Branch, one of the Spanish-speaking units in the stake.  We have started the rotation around the stake again.  Visiting the Spanish-speaking units is a challenge for us.  Although many speak English and greet us in English, the meetings are in Spanish.  A member of the Stake High Council, who is assigned to the branch and also does not speak Spanish, challenged the branch council to become more involved in fellowshipping newly baptized members.

One of the missionaries who recently returned home early (Miami) was at the branch.  He would like to find work in the Bradenton area.  He said that it has been a challenge for him to adjust to no longer being a full-time missionary.

Following the block of meetings, we drove once again to the Van Wezel auditorium to pass out materials as the matinee ended.  A few seem interested, a few are absolutely uninterested, and the majority just aren't interested.  The missionaries who have been doing this (Sisters Packer and Swanson and Elders Ware, Treanor, Casperson, Rees, Bowden and Gardner) are exhausted because the evening performances end at 10:30.  But they are excited about having been able to talk with people.

Most of the patrons for all of the performances are older.  I was joking that I had never seen such a collection of walkers in one spot.  One woman asked me today what I thought about the play.  I told her that I was disappointed that my beliefs were being mocked.  She told me that she thought I was "brave" for being there to talk about our Church.  I don't think it was being brave -- just my responsibility as a missionary.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Baptism and Book of Mormon Play

We went to a baptism in the University Park Ward this afternoon.  The Sisters Johnson and Wright have been teaching him.  He is a rather large man, so Elder Gardner baptized him and Elder Bowden was also in the font to help.  Sister Johnson was especially excited about the baptism because she goes home next week.

Following the baptism, we rushed to the Van Wezel auditorium to hand out materials at the end of the matinee performance.  Unfortunately, traffic in downtown Sarasota was bad.  By the time we arrived, most of the people had already left.  However, we were able to visit with Sisters Packer and Swanson and Elders Bowden, Gardner, Ware, and Treanor.  We took them all to dinner at Chipotle.  The Elders had people to visit, so they rushed.  We had a nice visit with the Sisters.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Book of Mormon Play

We did two more apartment inspections in Bradenton this afternoon.  Fortunately they were both in decent condition.  We then went to the Van Wezel auditorium in Sarasota where the Book of Mormon musical has been playing this week.  The missionaries stand outside the auditorium and try to give people pamphlets or copies of the Book of Mormon.  It was interesting how people responded.  Some people took the pamphlet and said they would read it.  Others were not interested in the pamphlets.  One woman told me "Absolutely not" when I asked if she would like a brochure about the Church.  But the missionaries told us they have been distributing a lot of pamphlets and Books of Mormon.

We spoke with a woman who is in the cast and is a member of the Church.  She graduated from BYU.  She said that she could understand how not just Mormons but Christians could be offended by the profanity in the play.  But she thought that people would leave the play thinking that Mormons are happy in their beliefs.

We spoke with the facility manager of the auditorium.  He told us how much he enjoyed meeting the full-time missionaries.  He admired their energy and commitment.  They might appear energetic to him, but they are exhausted.  The play lasts until 10:30, so they get home late and get up at their regular time.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Disappointing Day

We continued with apartment inspections today doing two in Bradenton.  Then we drove to Brandon for a baptism interview.  As we arrived at the Brandon Stake Center for the interview, my phone rang.  It was the Elders calling to tell us that the person I was to interview had asked for the interview be postponed.  This is the third time the baptism interview has been postponed, but previously we found out before making the drive.

At least we were able to stop at a Greek restaurant that Renee likes, and she was able to order a salad.  I ate at an adjacent Five Guys :-)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Busy Day

We started the day working on the mission histories.  I wish I could say that we are getting close to being done, but we haven't totally completed even one year yet.

We then drove to Seminole in the St. Petersburg Zone to conduct an apartment inspection and a baptism interview.  The apartment is a new one.  Not newly constructed but a recently leased missionary apartment.  It was in reasonable condition.

The person I interviewed became interested in the Church through his parents.  His mother is a long time member but was inactive until recently.  Because of his mother, his father joined the Church a few months ago.  Now the son has committed to join the Church.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

District Meeting

We participated in the Sarasota North district meeting today.  The district meets in the Bradenton chapel, so it was a short drive for us.  The topic for discussion was teaching with the Spirit.  They had a good discussion and all of the missionaries were involved.

Following the meeting, we ran a few errands, and then it was back to work on the mission annual history.  2015 is mostly completed, so now Renee is working on 2014.

Monday, February 8, 2016

P-Day and Senior Missionary Activity

After completing our normal P-Day activities, we drove to Apollo Beach, about an hour north, to the Manatee Viewing Center for a senior missionary activity.  The manatees are warm blooded, so in the winter they seek out warmer water.  There is a large electric generating facility located on Tampa Bay in Apollo Beach.  The manatees seek out the warm water that is discharged from the generating facility.  Tampa Electric Company has created the viewing center so people could see the manatees.  They estimated there were 100 manatees while we were there.  A typical manatee weighs 1200 pounds.  Generally the only time they come above water is to still their nose out to breath or splash with their tail.

We went to a late lunch with the other seniors missionaries at Applebee's and returned in time to attend the University Park Ward empty nesters activity.

A manatee tail splashing with the electric generating plant in the background

Sunday, February 7, 2016

University Park Ward

We attended the University Park Ward again today.  After visiting a different ward each week, it now seems strange to be in the same ward every week.  The advantage of course is that we are becoming acquainted with some of the ward members.  The McKnight's, who were baptized yesterday, were confirmed today.

Following the block of meetings, a special meeting was held for the ward missionaries rather than the normal ward council.  Unfortunately, many of the ward missionaries did not attend, for a variety of reasons.  They introduced a ward mission plan -- a short document with baptism goals for the year and a "Know Your Neighbor" plan to help the ward members provide referrals for the missionaries.  They will initially distribute a questionnaire to the ward missionaries asking them for the names of those who have recently lost a loved one, had a divorce, had a birth, recently moved in, and so forth.  Then the missionaries can contact those people.  It will at least be a start to have members learn more about their neighbors.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Public Affairs Meeting

We drove to the Brandon Stake Center for a meeting about Church Public Affairs.  Apparently there is an annual meeting for the Public Affairs Directors in the stakes along with the Stake Presidents and Mission President.  Public Affairs is one of our assignments, so Pres. Cusick asked us to attend.  There was discussion of the JustServe efforts.  The stake directors were asked to locate and post more service opportunities so that our missionaries can become more involved.  Most of the current postings would not be appropriate for the missionaries.  They can't do things such as beach cleanup, coaching youth league teams, and so forth.

Between the rain and heavy traffic, it took us over 2 hours to drive back from Brandon instead of the normal one hour.  Fortunately, we made it back in time to attend the baptism of a husband and wife in the University Park Ward.  The Elders have been teaching them for awhile.  They have had to overcome some challenges in their lives but are now on the right path.

There were two other baptismal services in the Sarasota District today -- one at 2 pm (couldn't attend because we were still at the Public Affairs meeting) and one at 8 pm (couldn't attend because we were attending the baptism in Sarasota).  Altogether, six people were baptized with more scheduled for baptism next week.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mission Leadership Council

We drove to Tampa to the Mission Office to participate in the monthly Mission Leadership Council.  We enjoy these meetings as the missionaries discuss issues with President Cusick.  Today they had a follow-up on the Worldwide Missionary Broadcast and the special MLC with Elder Kopischke.  The intent was to identify areas that should receive additional discussion in the weekly district meetings.  President Cusick also wanted to know how the missionaries are responding to the new standards of excellence.  The general reaction seems to have been positive.  The concern with raising the standards is that some missionaries might become discouraged.  Apparently that has not been a problem, or at least the missionaries haven't said they are discouraged.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Yet More History

Another day working on the mission history.  We had to deal with some technical problems today because Renee is running out of storage space on her computer.  So today my assignment was to delete some junk files and move others around to create more hard disk space.

I ran out of projects for me to work on, so in the late afternoon, I decided to drive back to the Venice Rookery to try to take some additional pictures.  It was overcast, and I thought it might be better without the harsh shadows of a bright day.  Unfortunately, by the time I got there, it was overcast and dark.  My pictures  were not great.  But I have included a picture of the small island which is the rookery.  The island is in the middle of a pond and is located in an urban area.  You can see the buildings in the background.

The Rookery in Venice with Egret and Heron nests.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Missionary History Day

We basically spent the day in our apartment while Renee worked on collecting information and writing the mission history.  She is making progress though slowly.  My role is to provide technical assistance in formatting pages, etc.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

St. Petersburg District Meeting

We drove to the St. Petersburg South District Meeting this morning.  The training topics for the district meetings this week are from the message of the Worldwide Missionary Broadcast, teach repentance and baptize converts.  A positive comment, for me at least, made by some of the missionaries is that they are teaching fewer lessons but putting more emphasis on having investigators attend church meetings.  They reported that they are seeing more people attend church.  This is a good thing.

Following the district meeting, we had lunch with Elder and Sister Smith.  They return to their home in Idaho at the end of March.  They have done an excellent job in working with the Gulfport Branch in the St. Petersburg Stake.  They are now working with the St. Petersburg Ward.  They have been very good at locating lost members and helping them to return to activity.  The challenge for these units will be to continue their efforts after they return home.


Our preparation days are becoming rather boring.  The big change for today was that we took Elders Bowden and Gardner, who live in our apartment complex, to lunch at Jersey Mike's.  This is our favorite sandwich shop.  They had heard of it but had never been there.  They said that they liked the sandwiches.  Since I paid for them, they of course would have to say that.

We ran a few errands and then spent the remainder of the day in our apartment as Renee continues to work on the mission history.  It is taking longer than I had hoped and I'm sure longer than President Cusick expected.