For eighteen months now we have been on our mission to the New Hampshire Manchester Mission. We have served with 55 different young missionaries in the Lowell District of the Nashua Zone. Each one of these young missionaries have touched our lives in different ways. We love being with them and just might spoil them occasionally. We've had the experience of being with them when they have taught friends about the restoration of the Gospel and Joseph Smith. The prophet Joseph Smith was told in vision that "...that God had a work for me to do; that my name should be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues..." My wife never had the opportunity to serve a fulltime mission in her youth like I did. Every time we gather together on Friday for district council I can't help but reflect on the two years I spent in Buenos Aires, Argentina from February 1979 to December 1980. In one of our district councils I shared the following experience with the young missionaries.
My mission was at the time in Argentina was during the rule of the military junta after Isabel Peron was removed from power. It was a tumultuous era when political dissent was not tolerated in Argentina. Many students and others who spoke out against the military rulers "disappeared" after being picked up by the police or swept up in military searches. I taught a couple whose university student daughter was dragged out of her bed by the police early one morning and was never seen again. She became one of the "missing ones." Her mother would go to the Plaza de Mayo regularly to demonstrate with other mothers on behalf of her missing daughter. This group of mothers were called the "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo." For years they pled for answers about their missing children. Against this back drop I served those two years in Argentina. I felt safe for the most part, as missionaries do not participate in political debates. All citizens were required to carry identity documents. As foreigners, we had our own "documentos" we were required to carry and present to the authorities upon demand. One evening early in my tenure as the senior companion to a brand new missionary I learned how important it was that Joseph Smith's name was had for good and for bad in that far off country of Argentina.
In August 1979 I was with my companion, Elder McGrath, at a train station late in the evening ready to take the train back to our apartment. Suddenly, the train station was stormed with soldiers checking everyone's identity documents. There was compulsory military service for all young men in those days. They had a commanding officer who was a career military, but somewhat alarmingly the young soldiers had rifles with their fingers on the triggers. One of them approached us and asked for our documents. My heart sank. I did not yet have my foreigners identity documents. I had not been very long in the country and I had not yet received mine. My companion had only been t here a couple of months and he did not have his either. All we had was a photocopy of our passports. The young soldier called out to his sergeant that we had no documents. He came over, looked at our photocopy of our passports and said that this was not sufficient and ordered us taken at gunpoint to a military transport truck. At this point all I could think about was the all the missing university students who have been taken by helicopter and dropped in the River Parana to their deaths. My companion did not yet speak the language very well, and to be truthful, neither did I. In the back of the truck it seemed that every rifle was pointed at us with fingers on the triggers. I began to pray silently for deliverance. My companion kept trying to talk to me in English and I had to tell him to be quiet so they wouldn't think that we were talking sedition.
We were driven to a police station and herded inside. The sergeant gruffly told us to sit down and wait while he called his commanding officer. I could hear his part of the conversation as he spoke into the telephone, and it will be forever etched in my memory. It went was follows:
"Yes sir, we have two Yankees here. They have no documents. They claim to be missionaries for the Church of Joe Smith. But this is completely unacceptable that they don't have documents!
The sergeant paused as the person on the other end began to speak. He stiffened and stood up straight and looked at us as he continued to listen. Then his face began to pale and blanche. He stood up even straighter as if at attention for this unseen commanding officer.
"Yes sir, I understand," he said weakly. Then he put down the phone and looked at us. "You are free to go."
We walked out of the police station and then back to the train station to catch the last train home. All the while on that return journey I silently gave thanks for the fact that name of Joseph Smith was had for "bad and for good" in the nation of Argentina just as the prophet had been told in vision. I don't know what the commanding officer had told the sergeant on the phone, but the name "Joe Smith," even spoken with derision, had been our salvation that night in Argentina all those years ago.
I recently had a chance to go the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial again with two elders from our district, Elder Smith and Elder Meade and their friend Kieran. We also went to the Rauner Special Collections Library at Dartmouth University on the same trip to see and handle a rare first edition of the Book of Mormon.
Our work in Lowell continues much the same as it has for the past eighteen months. We continue to work with the Spanish group in the Lowell ward. We are teaching the temple preparation class again, which we enjoy very much. The missionaries in the Lowell District are hard working and dedicated. They frequently are at the top of the mission in the key indicators of missionary work. We enjoy working with them as much as ever. We continue to hear periodically from those that served here and have returned home. Some are now getting married and we get the Facebook invitations announcing their pending nuptials. They are like children to us. I refuse to think of them as grandchildren although that is getting closer to being an apt comparison.
New Lowell District as a result of transfers - front row left to right - Sister Hoskisson, Sister Thomas, Herman Shipley, Herman Medina, Hermana Kersavage - Back row left to right - Elder Rees, Elder Sabin (DL), Elder Dixon, Elder Meade, Sister Dixon, Sister Zollinger, Elder Zollinger, Elder Anderson (ZL), Elder Smith, Elder Secretan (ZL)
There continue to be cultural events in Lowell. The latest was the Asian Water Festival along the Riverwalk on the Merrimack River. It was very crowded as you can see from the pictures below.
We have two elders who live just down the hall from us, and they are assigned to the Heritage Park YSA Ward that meets in our same church building. They are Elder Smith and Elder Meade. We have to say that this has been a real treat because as a show of gratitude for when we have helped them, Elder Meade bakes us a loaf of bread! Let me tell you this bread is delicious, just like my grandmother used to bake. He was taught by his mother and let me tell you she did a good job of teaching him. He brings us the bread warm, right out of the oven. I will never turn down a loaf of freshly baked bread! Just look at it!
Lastly, here are some of our travels during the month. We went to the Louisa May Alcott Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, the state capitol in Concord, New Hampshire which we really enjoyed. We also went to a nearby graveyard in Harvard, Massachusetts where my 8th great-grandfather and great-grandmother are buried. I was surprised to find out that I have New England roots on both sides of my family. Caleb and Sarah Sawyer from my Van Orman line are buried there.
We love the people of Lowell and enjoy serving here. We can hardly believe that so much time has passed and that we are in the last quarter of our mission. We love and miss you all!
On a recent trip to Maine this year I took this picture at Two Lights State Park of this abandoned coastal defense watch tower. This tower was used to keep an eye on potential enemy attacks during WWI and WWII. You can only imagine how lonely it must of been for those manning the tower. And as we know there were no attacks on this coast during both those wars although enemy submarines were suspected of patrolling the waters. The vigilance required must have been mind numbing as anyone who has ever performed an military watch can attest.
We have watchmen who keep an eye on our physical defenses from towers such as this. We also have watchmen who keep an eye on our spiritual well being. In the Old Testament God told his people to hearken unto the "watchmen." In Ezekiel 3:17 it says, "Son of Man, I have made thee a Watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me."
I am grateful to know that we have prophets who are a living "watchman" to warn us of coming difficulties and the movements of the enemy. Our spiritual enemies are very sophisticated and often times we are blind to their movements. The prophet of today, President Russell M. Nelson, has warned us of many things in his role of Watchman. I know that I, for one, need to do a better job of heeding his warnings.
Our work continues in Lowell, with English classes, and working with the Spanish Group members. We recently had to fun opportunity to attend two asados in Lowell. One with the Meirelles family, and also with the Nerio family. I took pictures at the Nerio asado (BBQ) which included a home made parilla by Douglas Temponi who is from Brazil. Nothing compares to a South American asado from Uruguayans, Brazilians, or Argentinians. We had a great time being with them.
On the 4th of July our Lowell District was able to participate in the Chelmsford Two Mile Run. Sister Zollinger and I sponsored the young missionaries to participate. There were approximately 2000 participants in the run. I decided to walk the race. At the conclusion of the race there was an old fashioned 4th of July parade that I enjoyed taking pictures of as I walked back to the starting line where Sister Zollinger waited with the card. We enjoyed this last year and decided to participate once again.
Earlier in the month we had the opportunity as men to attend the temple and perform baptisms and confirmations. This was a great experience to be with some of these men who had never attended before. Afterward, we enjoyed ice cream and some male bonding. On this night Sister Zollinger taught some members of the Spanish Group how to sew.
The Lowell Portuguese Branch invited the English Ward and Spanish Group to attend a party in July that celebrates the cowboys and hillbillies of Brazil. At least that is what I understood it to mean. They celebrate corn in all its various incarnations at this festival. We enjoyed the folk music and the energy that the Brazilian saints demonstrated. Some vigorous rounds of musical chairs ensued and all had a good time.
Our district changed in July with missionaries leaving and new ones arriving. As of this writing we have been on our mission for 17 months and have 6 months remaining. We have now served with 55 missionaries in this Lowell district since we arrived in here in March 2022. We've enjoyed all the missionaries we met and truly love them all.
Finally, the weather here has been as strange as in the rest of the country. It has rained virtually everyday this summer. And, in a first for us, we had a tornado warning in Lowell, MA last Sunday! Nothing touched down here, but we were looking at the sky for funnel clouds. The rain really came down. Back home in Arizona they are having tremendous heat so I will not complain. As a wise person once said, "Everyone complains about the weather but no one does anything about it."
It has been quite some time since I have published a blog entry. Rest assured, we are doing fine in the New Hampshire Manchester Mission. We continue our regular work with the Spanish speaking members of the Lowell First Ward and with all members of the ward regardless of their language. We continue assisting in the English classes and there is still a persistent group of attendees that number between 10 and 20 depending on the night of the week. In another testament of how small the church is, I met a member of the ward, Jeff Adams, who is from my home stake of Pleasanton, California. Jeff was a year behind me in high school and attended Amador High where as I went to Dublin High. Jeff's father was LaVere Adams, a legendary figure in the Pleasanton Stake, a master of teaching, and writer of drama including Roadshows. How interesting to run into his son here on our mission of all places.
In the hallway of the Lowell First Ward chapel there hangs a portrait of Walker Lewis. Walker Lewis was one of the first converts baptized in the Lowell, Massachusetts. He was a African American and was one of few that were ordained to the priesthood. Walker Lewis faced a great deal of prejudice in his day that is hard to reconcile today, but was unfortunately very common for the time he lived in. He was a respected businessman in the community and persevered through great personal and spiritual difficulty. He was buried in the Lowell Cemetery. It is fitting that his portrait hangs in the Lowell Chapel on Princeton Boulevard and is reflection of the diverse community that exists within the membership of the Lowell First Ward today.
The month of May stirs many feelings. I have my birthday, my mother's birthday, a grandson's birthday, my brother's birthday, and we have Memorial Day. This year was even more poignant when I lost one of my friends from my high school years, Michael James Payne. Mike Payne came into my life when I was about 16 years old. He was new in our church congregation in Dublin, California. Mike was very different from me even though we shared the same name. He was a year older and had definitely walked a different path from my upbringing. He became active in our faith, it turns out, because his stepfather saw he was headed in the wrong direction and decreed that he was grounded and needed to go to church, even though his stepfather did not belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And so, Mike began to attend. With Mike and our other friends, the Urry brothers, Gordon, Robbie, and Randy, I discovered the joys of backpacking, and the endless art of discussing Lord of the Rings while we were camping. Mike had the best looking set of wheels our of all of us. A rebuilt 57ish chevy pickup, red, with black vinyl padded upholstery on the side of bed. I am probably not describing that correctly. It was a sweet ride and one that I coveted as I did not have my own personal car.
One memorable experience was the time when he, myself, and Randy Urry decided to go on a triple date in San Francisco with some girls in our ward, Nadine Jacobs, Vickie Porter, and Diane Bywater. We could only get tickets for the 9 pm concert performance of John Denver, so we went and spent the day in the city and went out to eat and enjoyed the sites. Because of all the concert traffic near the Cow Palace, the 9 pm concert didn't start until almost 11 pm. This was before cell phones, so we couldn't easily inform out parents that we would be much later than we thought. My parents stipulation was that if I was going to the 9 pm session no matter how late I got home that Saturday night I had to be up bright and early to go to church on Sunday. With the late start the concert didn't get over until the wee hours of the morning we stopped for an early breakfast as well. By the time we rolled into Dublin and dropped off the first girl, Vickie, it was 5 AM. As Mike walked her to the door to say goodbye, the door opened and a mother's arm reached out and grabbed the daughter and pulled her inside. Apparently, she had "neglected" to tell her parents that we were going to the 9 pm concert! Her father was the bishop of our congregation, to say that it was a awkward is an understatement but one that he and I have spoken about fondly over the years.
Mike had a few rough edges compared to my tame upbringing, but these edges were worn smooth and when he turned 19 he wanted to serve a mission. I don't think that his stepfather ever imagined that by "grounding" Mike and forcing him to attend church, Mike would develop a desire to serve God as a missionary. One day Mike showed up at my house with a brand new silver Volkswagen Sirocco. He asked me if I wanted to go for a ride. Of course I did! Mike drove uncomfortably fast with me and I enjoyed every minute. Finally I asked, why the new car? He said that his stepfather had brought it home and said, "If you don't serve a mission this car is yours." I looked at Mike with incredulity because I knew that he wanted to serve a mission. He smiled at me and said, "Don't worry Zolly, I am serving a mission, but I am going to drive this car into the ground for the next 24 hours before I give it back to him and turn down his offer."
And that is what he did. He gave the car back, submitted his missionary application and was called to New York Rochester Mission. A year later following his example I was called to the Argentina Buenos Aires North Mission. After I returned home he introduced me to the girl he wanted to marry. Then he said to me, "Will you be a witness at our marriage sealing?" And I was. He served with distinction in the military culminating as and Army chief warrant officer helicopter pilot and served two tours in Iraq. Our contact was sporadic over the years until Lynn and I decided to serve a senior couple mission and we reconnected. He was in simple terms, a good man. We need more like him. May he rest in peace and is example he set inspire others.
Another zone conference has come and gone. This time we had a visit from Elder Kevin Hamilton of the Seventy and his wife. As usual these zone conferences are inspirational and uplifting. It is sometimes sad to realize that many of the young missionaries that were here when we arrived are now going home or have long been home from their missions and are moving on with life. We have been here more than 16 months now. That is both long and short depending on how you think of it
We've had a chance to do some traveling and see some sites over the past two months. On my birthday we were able to visit the National Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. Springfield is the birthplace of basketball. It is an impressive place to visit if you are fan of basketball. I bought a pennant of my favorite team, the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors promptly lost to the Lakers in the playoffs in the second round. This is proof that if you pay money to support your team they will lose. Some of my favorite exhibits were like the one below. You can compare how you measure up to the stars of the game.
A little more on the sports scene prompts me to post a picture that I took of a mural in Nashua, NH. Nashua used to be the home of a Brooklyn Dodger minor league team. There is a mural painted on the side of a building near the medical center that where we go for most of medical appointments of two dodger greats. Don Newcombe and Roy Campanella.
We took a tour recently in the Lowell Cemetery that gave information of the some of the more famous people buried there. We expected a crowd of about 10 to 20 people. We were surprised when there appeared to be close to two hundred people there. It was very interesting and informative. Whoever said that "dead men tell no tales" was badly misinformed.
Our mission district also decided to do some service the cemetery participating in the Billion Graves project and passing out cards that share how to use FamilySearch.org The young missionaries enjoyed the project.
We've done a little sight seeing over the past few months. Two Lights State Park in Maine is one of our favorite places to go. We also went to Ongunquit, Maine and walked a very nice path along the ocean with gorgeous views and also visited the Nubble Light House there. I highly recommend it if you come to visit.
We get a chance to treat missionaries from time to time. One such moment was on my birthday when we discovered that Hermana Kersavage and I share the same birthday! That called for dinner out at our favorite Mexican restaurant in Lowell, called El Potro. The food is always delicious!
One of the things we enjoy greatly is a morning walk along the Merrimack River in Lowell, MA. The river is beautiful. There is a lot of crewing on this river and wildlife.
We were able to have a Nashua Zone Preparation Day this past transfer. We had a BBQ and enjoyed some games. A good time was had by all.
For one of our recent district preparation days we went as a district on the Lowell National Historic Park canal tour. The park ranger gave a history of the canals and how they were used in the cotton mill industry in Lowell. Lowell was at the forefront of the industrial revolution in the USA.
During the past few months we also had the opportunity on a preparation day to take a boat tour of Lake Winnipsaukee, New Hampshire. This is the largest lake in the state. It is about 72 square miles and is a beautiful place to see. We enjoyed the three hour tour and the scenery.
And finally, this has been a much colder spring and summer than last year, with a great deal more rain. When it rains here, it comes down in sheets. We recently experienced a storm that flooded into the first floor of our apartment building. We live on the top floor (third story) so we were not threatened. The main road that runs in front of our building (our apartment faces the street) was under several inches of water, threatening to float the vehicles away that dared to operate during the flood. Here are a couple of pictures.
As I have studied, I have been reminded that “out of small things proceed that which is great.” In late March we were able to visit a maple sugar farm and learn about the process of making maple syrup from maple sap. We were able to take a tour with Elder and Sister Dixon (the other senior couple serving in the Lowell First Ward) and thoroughly enjoyed learning about syrup. We learned that it takes 40 gallons of maple sap to produce one gallon of maple syrup. Truly a great thing proceeding out of a small thing for those that love maple syrup. We saw the taps that are used to pierce the trunk and drain the syrup into pails. We have some pictures of that day and our tour of the sugar shack at Charmingfare Farm in Candia, New Hampshire and have included some of them below.
In March I was able to be reunited with one of my missionary companions for my time in the Argentina Buenos Aires North Mission. Elder Michael Blackburn of Boise, ID was traveling here on business and was able to attend our Spanish Group in the Lowell Ward and visit a bit with us. Mike and I were in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) together and then went to the same mission. We then became companions just before the one-year mark of our missions. We had great success together. We were paired together at a pivotal point in my mission where I was about ready to call it quits. His easy going and positive demeanor literally rescued me at the point. All missionaries experience a time of trial on their mission and Mike Blackburn was what I needed. Below is a then and now picture of us. We haven’t changed a bit! (Sarcasm intended here.)
One of our most eagerly anticipated experiences is to attend the temple with friends who have been recently baptized. We were able to help one such friend, Jordan Lucas, prepare his grandfather’s name for baptism and confirmation in the temple and then drive him and Sisters Cattani and Evans to the temple in Belmont, MA. Their Jordan was baptized and confirmed for his grandfather and a few of my family names. He was then able to baptize Sister Cattani and Sister Evans for some of my family names. It was a very special experience to be able to assist with this. Jordan is a good guy and we are glad we’ve been able to help in this regard.
In early April our son Mark, his wife Bonnie, and our grandsons Hayden, Jace, and Oliver drove from Kentucky to spend the coldest spring break in the history of mankind with us! It was wonderful to see family again and enjoy how much our grandsons had grown! We were able to spend a freezing day at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire, and then drive up the beautiful New Hampshire coast to Portsmouth, NH and tour the USS Albacore submarine museum. Our grandsons were amazed at how small things are on a submarine, especially the berthing compartments with the bunks (racks in navy terminology). We also saw some lighthouses in Portsmouth. We were able to then go and tour the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial in South Royalton, Vermont and receive a tour from the senior couple that serve there. That was a special experience for the family. We then were able to go to the Rauner Special Collections library at Dartmouth College and view a rare first edition copy of the Book of Mormon. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this is akin to seeing a Guttenberg Bible. These editions are rare and not easily seen by the public. But at the Rauner Special Collections Library, all I needed to do was exchange my drivers license and the book was brought out for us to view and gently handle. One person was allowed to change to pages. This book means a lot to me and it was interesting to see the layout of the printing as it first appeared. Here are some pictures for you to enjoy. Our visit with family rounded out with an approved trip to Boston and a tour of the USS Constitution. It was another cold day so the rest of that day was spent in the Boston Children’s Museum, which the boys thoroughly enjoyed and I highly recommend it future visitors.
Another Zone Conference has come and gone. These conferences are the anchor that holds each six-week transfer period together in a young missionary’s life. Senior missionaries are not subject to transfers, so we stay where we are, and the young missionaries come and go. Each time one of them leaves our beloved Lowell District, we lament the loss and then welcome a new one in to take their place. These young missionaries become our focus and an extension of our family. This past transfer saw our Hermana Fife finishing her mission and returning home. We’ve been able to associate with her for the entirety of our mission as she was here in Lowell when we arrived, and never left the state of Massachusetts during her mission. Sister Cattani, who is nearly our neighbor in San Tan Valley, AZ, also returned home, as well as our district leader, Elder Apolonio, who returned to his native Brazil. We are very proud of our Lowell District and call it the “promised land” of the mission. We feel it our duty to spoil the missionaries as much as possible.
After nearly a year’s delay we drove to Stockbridge in western Massachusetts and visited the Norman Rockwell Museum. Norman Rockwell was able to capture American life in ways that few artists have been able to accomplish. We enjoyed viewing his many magazine covers. I had forgotten that he painted many covers for Boys Life magazine that every boy scout will remember. His attention to detail was amazing. We enjoyed a guided tour of the museum and the beautiful grounds surrounding it. We met up with Elder and Sister Banks who serve in Pittsfield, MA for lunch. They are finishing their mission at the end of this month, and we will miss our association with them. They made us feel welcome when we arrived in the mission over a year ago now and we will miss them!
And lastly, it is Cambodian New Year and once again the Lowell First Ward celebrated the even with a ward party with good fellowship, good music, and good food for everyone! We truly love the people of this ward and value their friendship and welcoming spirit.
On March 4, 2023 it marked one year ago that we arrived in Lowell, Massachusetts and began our service in the Lowell First Ward. There is one constant truth in being a missionary, time passes more quickly than you realize. It seems impossible that that we have now served for over a year of our mission.
We were able to travel to the Joseph Smith Birthplace Memorial this past week and drove two missionaries, Sisters Cattani and Evans, and their friend Jordan Lucas who is getting baptized on March 26. As we drove, we were able to hear the sisters teach about Joseph Smith and the restoration and feel the enthusiasm of Jordan as he shared his thoughts on the Book of Mormon and the restoration of the gospel. South Royalton, Vermont is 126 miles from Lowell. We had good weather and only a little bit of snow on the journey. There was quite a bit of snow on the ground at the memorial. We enjoyed the tour given by senior missionary couple serving there. We were surprised to learn that this couple from Pocatello, ID lived in the same ward as we did in 1984 when I was training as a reactor operator in the United States Navy. We didn’t know each other then but shared the common bond that members of the church have by living in the same congregation.
Here are a few pictures from that experience:
Joseph Smith’s life was one of great spiritual highs and revelatory moments, and also one of unsurpassed trials and tribulations. The truths restored through his prophetic ministry are life changing. For some these truths collide with worldly values and trends. But they remain there to lift us. I wrote a poem about truths and the fabric and structure they give to my life like stone fences in my wife’s native England and that are found here in New England as well.
by Michael S Zollinger
Stone fences across the landscape wind;
each one a masterpiece passing the test of time
The master mason built each fence with stones of every size
Fitted in place to fill the gaps measured by the master’s eye
If a stone doesn’t fit a gap it is carefully set aside
And waits it’s turn to take its place within the master’s design
So like this fence we build our faith in God’s eternal plan
We choose each stone in our “fence of faith” from building blocks of truths
At times these truths don’t fit the gaps and aren’t of immediate use
Like the master we set them aside and continue with our task
We select another that fits the gap and the fence is finished at last
When our stone fence of truths is finished we marvel as we see;
that truths once thought not to fit are a masterpiece that shapes eternity
We continue to enjoy serving with our young missionaries here in the Lowell District in the Nashua Zone. Two of our missionaries are now in the last transfer of their mission and will return home on April 7. Sister Cattani from Queen Creek, AZ and Elder Apolonio from Brazil. We have enjoyed serving with them as well as the other missionaries who have served in Lowell. Sister Cattani lives one mile from our house in Arizona and before her mission, was the babysitter for our niece Tiffany Taylor. It is a small world in the church! We also have a new sister missionary (hermana), Sister Cahoon, serving in the ward and we have enjoyed getting to know her. Two of our favorite missionaries, Hermana Fife, will also head home on April 7th and is finishing her mission. She and Hermana Smedshammer (who just returned home this week) were the first Spanish speaking missionaries we served with here in Lowell. Parents of missionaries, I think you might think that you are seeing the growth in your sons and daughters from afar, but I have to tell you that I don’t think you will really comprehend it until they are home again and you see the change a mission has made in their lives.
The Lowell Ward recently had a Chili and Chocolate cook off that was well attended. Sister Zollinger decided to compete in the chocolate competition (imagine that). We were very happy when our little Spanish Group took top honors in the dessert category. Here are pictures from that event and you can judge for yourself on the cake she made.
At a recent zone conference I was impressed by a young sister missionary who used the line, "we all have to find the right tools to face our giants in life." This made me reflect on the story of David and Goliath and how David chose five smooth stones to use in his sling against the giant. He only needed one stone to do the job, but he was prepared with four extras. I have observed in life that it is always good to have a backup plan and to have the right tool/weapon for the job. I wrote a poem about this and will share it here.
Stones to Face my Giants
by Michael S. Zollinger
David often used stones for his flock’s protection; he used them oft without hesitation
The stones were shaped smooth and even; by the streams brisk current in the shadows hidden
Now with the giant he’d soon be facing he chose five more his journey pacing
Five he knew would do the task; four more than needed just in case
He knew that God would make him sure even with that Giant lurking there
The first stone was Faith in the living God
The second was courage when none else believed
The third was truth that cuts through doubt
The fourth for heart to see it through
The fifth and last for humility of spirit; not to boast or even close to it
And with these stones of virtue so needed; he slayed the Giant and saved a people
Our giants today are no less daunting, and of these same stone carved virtues we can’t be found wanting
Faith leads to all let it do the talking
and then Courage to act and heed a prompting
Truth slices through doubt and then shadows do flee
Our Heart that is pure shines through in the dark; with Humility of Spirit we take on our part
The giants in life will stand in our way but with these smooth stone virtues we too them can slay
One year ago, today we entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah. It was a fitting today to begin our missionary journey together. It is one year later, and it is hard to believe that we have been serving for twelve months! Time has flown by most of the time and we are still enjoying our service in Lowell, Massachusetts. Today we returned from errands and found a package on our doorstep. Some lovely gifts from the Thomas family in Taos, New Mexico. Sister Zollinger and I grew to love the people of the Taos Ward and have many fond memories of our visits to Taos over the 15 years that I served in the stake presidency of the Santa Fe New Mexico Stake. It became our home away from home. The gifts were unique to Taos and will hold a special place in our heart.
A couple of Saturdays ago we had the blessing of attending the Boston Massachusetts Temple with a group of new members who had been baptized recently in the Lowell First Ward and three of the young women in the ward. Sister Zollinger and I had helped two of the couples find family names for their first visit to the temple. With the recent changes to how baptisms and confirmations are performed, the husbands were able to baptize their wives for their family. In one case for the mother and grandmother of the sister and the grandmother of another. To start things off the young women who have done this before led the way to show the new members how it is done. What a great experience to see them do this in the temple. The day started out very cold with temperatures below zero outside. Inside, however, it was very warm with knowledge of the ordinances being performed for their ancestors. Here is a picture outside that day of those who went.
Front row left to right; Sister Vogboundy, Sister Montalvo, Sister Stone, Sister Morey, Sister Owen; Middle row left to right; Brother Stone, Brother Phomoa, Brother Syndergaard, Sister Owen, Sister Zollinger; Back row left to right; Elder Zollinger, Brother Baker, Brother Harrington, Brother Montalvo.
Last Saturday we had a Noche de Hogar (Family Home Evening) in the Spanish Group and I taught the lesson. I used an object lesson with a uncooked egg, water, and salt to teach the principal of how by doing simple things in our lives we can improve our outlook and float above our troubles and become happy. Here is Mr. Egg who starred in the lesson.
February is a month of special dates in our family. February 6, 2004 we adopted our daughters in the Ukraine, February 13, 2004 we arrived back with them in the United States. February is also the month of Sister Zollinger’s birthday. I wrote up the experience of adopting our daughters for our family so that everyone would know all the miracles that took place along the way. Here is that story if you are interested in reading about it. It isn't short and please excuse my writing ability.
In the past year we've met many special missionaries. One of those is Hermana Isabella Fife who was here in Lowell when we got here and served the first ten months of her mission in Lowell. We still get to see her and her companions from time to time. We like to spoil our missionaries occasionally! Until next time!
Here we are again at our local emergency room. One of our duties is the care and feeding of the young missionaries. Sometimes this has us taking them to be seen at urgent care or the ER. We don’t mind being surrogate parents for these young people. It is one of the privileges of senior missionary service. And while at the ER we get to meet a variety of interesting characters. In any metropolitan area the ER can resemble a microcosm of society. There is an older woman moaning in pain. A young feverish toddler being comforted by his mother. Another mother comforts her crying infant. A man storms out of the ER cursing at the staff for denying him painkillers. The staff take it all in stride competently plying their healer’s art.
As I thought about this I couldn’t help but think of how this life is like an ER waiting room and we are all waiting to be called into the examining room to see the Master Physician. Some are patient and some are angry and others demand that their pain be taken away by any means possible. And yet though we may demand our cure, our pain numbing narcotic to take away life’s pains, only the touch of the Master can heal our hearts and souls from mortalities vexing infirmities. He heals and only He can heal. In the picture above of Christ at the Pool of Bethsaida he heals the man who cannot get himself to the water. As has been said, "Christ does not make up the difference in our lives, He is the difference." I wrote a poem recently about how Christ heals us. You might be tired of my attempts at poetry, but I include it here in hopes it can help someone.
Broken Bits of Me
by Michael S Zollinger
I see life’s cruelty in the mirror of time
How do I change this life of mine?
You healed the sick; the blind to see
Please take this pain away from me!
Savior can’t you help me please
with all the broken bits of me?
Heal my heart and soul and mind;
a cleansing breeze through life’s wind chime
And in the stillness of the night
blackness fades replaced by light.
In my heart at last I see
how the Master mends broken men like me.
Morning breaks; my heart feels peace
With thankfulness I’m on my knees
I am reborn; Christ sets me free!
No more broken bits of me!
We continue assisting in the English classes that are held each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evenings at the Lowell chapel. The attendance has increased in recent weeks and there is an average of 15 to 17 Spanish and Portuguese native speakers there at any given class. The young missionaries do an excellent job facilitating this class. The students are dedicated learners. In one class I helped them learn phrases that would help in the job interviews and searches. One young man approached me a couple of classes and excitedly told me that he successfully gotten a job as a mechanic! We had practiced how to say "I have five years of experience as a mechanic," in English. It is rewarding to be able to help people. Here is a picture of a recent class.
Our winter has been fairly mild but we have had some snow in the past few weeks. A family who had responsibility for snow removal made some entertaining snowmen for everyone's enjoyment.
We had a recent zone conference for the Nashua, Worchester, and Exeter Zones. Our inspired mission president, Stephen Hayden, gave a day long workshop to the missionaries on how to give and receive feedback. You can tell he was corporate trainer for Apple computer in his previous life. He did a masterful job that will help these young people on their mission, but also for the rest of their working and married lives.
Lastly, it has been almost one year since we entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah on February 14, 2022. And yet that amount of time has passed. Here is a picture of us with our district in the MTC. It does not seem possible that amount of time as passed, and yet it has.
This time of year has led me to reflect on the significance of the Christmas Star that led the Wisemen to find the promised Messiah. The star led them on their journey to find the savior of all mankind and they brought him gifts that were suitable for a king. Although born in humble circumstances they recognized his greatness. I realized that in this day and age that if such a thing occurred it would have been difficult to start on such a journey to follow a "star" that would lead to the birthplace of a reputed king. The public ridicule would be intense. Would I have had the faith to follow the signs? And yet we all have the benefit of a Christmas Star in our lives through the holy scriptures and the words of the prophets, and even more importantly the influences of the spirit in our lives. The admonition to "follow that star" still rings true if we can recognize that it has never vanished from the heavens as long as we hold it in our heart.
On December 14 two anniversaries were celebrated. First, it has been 44 years since I entered the Missionary Training Center (MTC) to begin my mission to the Argentina Buenos Aires North Mission. It has been so long ago that it seems it was in another lifetime. Second, it has now been 10 months since we started this mission to the New Hampshire Manchester Mission. That doesn’t seem possible either, yet here are almost one year into our 23-month mission. On December 19th we celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary. That also doesn’t seem possible. Here we are eight children and eighteen grandchildren later.
We’ve grown to love the members of our Spanish group in the Lowell First Ward. One of those families we have been able to get to know is the Nerio family. Their daughter Elisabeth turned eight earlier this month and asked me to baptize and confirm her on December 21st. This I gladly did. She is a cute little girl with a big smile, and I couldn’t very well say no to her. It was a sweet experience since it has been many years since I’ve baptized anyone in Spanish.
On Christmas Day and we enjoyed a beautiful Christmas program in the Lowell First Ward. The Portuguese Branch and Young Single Adult Ward joined with our ward with the English, Spanish and Khmer groups for a memorable sacrament meeting. Readings of the scriptures of the Christmas story were done in English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Khmer (Cambodian) accompanied by beautiful performed musical numbers. It was a meeting to honor the Lord’s birth that perfectly framed the diversity of the Lowell congregations. We were invited to enjoy a Christmas dinner with Paul and Reta Brown and had a great time with their family. We’ve had a wonderful Christmas season that started with delivering Christmas gifts two days ago to some members of the congregation as a token of love from the ward family. We were invited on Christmas Eve to celebrate Noche Buena with members of the Spanish group. It was a fun night of visiting and games and food from Columbia, and Guatemala. Very tasty cooking and even better company.
We enjoyed a Christmas Zone Conference in December The missionaries continue to amaze us with their dedication and knowledge. They got to enjoy some Christmas spirit and festivity which helps to make their separation from family more bearable. Here is the latest zone picture:
And here is our district after our white elephant gift exchange on December 26, 2022:
Another senior missionary couple joined us in December. Elder and Sister Dixon have been assigned to the Lowell 1st Ward to work with the Cambodian Group. They don't speak Khmer but will work with those that do. We are glad to have another set of hands in the ward. We also had the opportunity to take the Phommaa Family to see the temple grounds at the Boston Temple. Shawn and his wife Dasani and their daughter Anna were baptized on December 30th and are the newest members of the Lowell 1st Ward. Here they are at the temple:
Another sweet experience occurred in December when Todd Baker, a member of the Temple Preparation Class we teach, was able to attend the Boston Temple and make sacred covenants in the company of friends from the ward. Here is a picture of us on that day.
We hope that all of you had a wonderful Christmas season will enjoy a very happy New Year!
It is Thanksgiving weekend, and we have much to be grateful for in this blog posting. First, we are grateful to be on this mission and to enjoy good health (except for minor illnesses and body aches). Our family is healthy and safe, and all are well. Secondly, our good friends were married and baptized this past weekend. Ramon and Cynthia live here in Lowell. We’ve known them for several months now as they began attending our Spanish group and being taught by the young missionaries. On Saturday, November 19 they were married in a ceremony conducted by our bishop. It was a lovely wedding that the members of the Spanish group decorated for and made very special for them. They are from Peru, so it was arranged for their family to view the ceremony via Zoom from Peru. Elder Zollinger was asked to escort Cynthia down the aisle, that was reminiscent of our daughter Vika’s wedding. We were able to talk to Ramon’s parents and sister via Zoom and congratulate them on their son’s wedding. Ramon’s parents have been receiving the missionaries in Cuzco and have been attending church there.
The next day on Sunday, November 20, 2022, Ramon and Cynthia were baptized and confirmed members of the church in a very special service. The couple have two young sons, David (4), and Josue (3). The whole experience was special for the Spanish group as they have become beloved members of the group over the past few months. Now they will work towards making temple covenants in the future as they grow and progress in the church.
Reflecting on these events and what it means to follow the word of God, I wrote a poem that reflects my thoughts and feelings: