I am guessing that you have thought that we have dropped off the face of the earth. Fear not! We are still here. I have just not been terribly faithful in writing this blog. We have now been here on our mission for eight and a half months and the past six weeks have gone by in a flash. The beautiful fall foliage of New England has come and nearly gone at this point.
We have become well acquainted with some of the students in our English class and have been impacted in a meaningful way by their stories of how they have come to America and sacrifices they have made to get here. It is quite different from what you might think when you listen to the stories in the press and the so-called experts on the nightly news. One of the most dedicated students in the class recently told us his story. To protect his privacy, I will call him Carlos. His story begins in Ecuador where he was serving his compulsory military service. His job in the military gave him access to places and people and information that ultimately led him to know things that his superiors did not want him to know or to reveal. When he left the service, he realized that his life was in peril if he stayed in the country. He made the difficult decision to leave and try to enter the United States and ask for asylum. With three friends he flew from Ecuador to Peru and then to Central America. He traveled by bus and then crossed the border to Mexico on foot and then walked the entire length of Mexico. When he crossed into the United States he spent three months in a border patrol facility in Phoenix, Arizona. He was granted temporary resident alien status while his petition for asylum goes forward. One of his friends was deported and the other has since gone back to Ecuador. It has now been seven years and his case has still not been heard. During this time, he is gainfully and legally employed and works in the construction industry. He respects the laws of this country and is working to better himself for his fiancé and his family. He works hard to learn and study English. If you met him, you would be struck by his wonderful attitude and gratitude of the opportunity to be in America. Many in the class have the same story and experience. One woman has a house cleaning business and is here legally. She asked for advice on how to tell her clients that due to inflation she need to raise her fees for her service. She has not raised her rates in eight years! With a bit of coaching that I gave her she successfully communicated her need to increase her rates without losing her customers. All these experiences cause to think and ponder the scripture, “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;” (Ephesians 2:19)
Like this lighthouse in Gloucester, this country has served as beacon of hope for as long as it has existed as a nation. And also like this lighthouse, the gospel of Jesus Christ shines forth to all corners of this earth.
Another person we have a weekly experience with I will call Sarah for the purposes of this blog. Sarah is about our age. She has been here in the United States for just over a year. She is from Ethiopia. Sarah met the young Sister Missionaries along the river walk along banks of the Merrimack River. She speaks very little English; her native language is Amharic. But, in spite of the communication barrier she meets regularly with the missionaries desiring to be taught the gospel. To illustrate the modern global reach of the missionary effort, a friend of one of the sister missionaries is serving a mission in Ethiopia. The missionaries serving in Ethiopia have Zoom sessions with the Sarah and the English-speaking Sister missionaries so Sarah can be taught the gospel in her native language. Sister Zollinger and I have the happy task of picking Sarah up for church each Sunday and taking her to and from church. Sarah radiates joy each time we see her. She greets Sister Zollinger with a kiss of gratitude. She is grateful to be with fellow believers even when she understands very little of what is being taught. She is walking proof that the language of the spirit transcends all communication barriers. She has expressed the desire to be baptized. Today I saw the relief society president and my wife sitting with her during the Sunday School hour, each of them using the Gospel Library app set to display the Amharic language for Sarah so that she could read and understand the lesson being taught.
My brother Kevin and his wife Kathy visited us for a few days in October. We were able to take them to the local museum, Gloucester, and Minuteman National Park. It was good to see them and show them a bit of our adopted community. We stopped to see the memorial in the photo above. Gloucester is the oldest seaport in America. This memorial contains the names of all the men who were lost at sea between the years of 1623 an 1923. It is a sobering reminder of the perils of the deep. At the memorial a scripture is quoted in Psalms 107 : 23 - 24 which reads,
"They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep."
This perfectly describes a fisherman and his work. How we take their work for granted!
This past month we had Hispanic Culture Celebration sponsored by the Lowell First Ward Spanish Group. It was well attended, and different countries were represented with booths that proudly displayed the flag of the nation, and food from that region. There was music and dancing for all. Sister Zollinger proudly represented England at this cultural event and served sausage rolls and English candy. You may be wondering at the rich Hispanic culture in England. It didn’t matter, the Spanish Group has taken a real liking to Sister Zollinger and adopted her as their own. And for her part, she diligently studies with Duolingo every day to learn Spanish. I am very proud of her efforts. All that British grit and all. She played pass the parcel with the primary children, and it was the hit of the party.
We went to Maine to inspect missionary apartments in the far north of the mission. We stayed two nights in Bangor, Maine. Went to Machias (the northernmost area in the mission), and Newport, Maine. Sister Zollinger’s Aunt Jo Ellen lives in Jones Port, Maine and were able to meet her for lunch and Machias and then visit her beautiful home that sits across from the harbor waterways. Lobster boats bobbed in the water as we visited. Maine has taken a place in my heart, and I really do love it there. Pictures just do not do it justice. You really must see it someday if you have not.
We continue to attend the English classes and help where we can. We are in between sessions in teaching the temple preparation class but will pick that up again soon. We help the younger missionaries where needed. I teach the Spanish elder’s quorum from time to time, and we give rides to mutual and activity day for a Spanish group family. We are the “minutemen” of the ward, ready to pitch in where needed. And that is just perfect for us. Transfers occurred and things are very different now. Here is a picture of our district as it was. We love these missionaries and miss them when they move on.
Until next time gentle reader and I promise to post more often. And so I leave you with some fall foliage pictures from several locations for your enjoyment.