Next, I met Elders Kuhn and Jensen in Woodstock. To save them miles, as members often do, I drove them to the small town of Mount Jackson. They'd long wanted to street contact in the quaint community, but had never had an opportunity. Their large area and a mileage limit means carefully budgeting each month. While biking is possible in and around Woodstock, driving or finding rides with members are the best options to and from the other small towns in the rural county.
We walked together for a block and a half before passing anyone on our side of the street and stepped into a quiet gift shop. After browsing for a few minutes and making small talk with the owner, Jensen, a seasoned, confident elder, explained their purpose and asked the owner if he would like to hear their “unique message.” He took their name and number on a pass-along card, but politely declined. After several more minutes, we said goodbye.
We dashed across the street and the elders approached a Hispanic woman. Kuhn, who is serving a Spanish-speaking mission and speaks extraordinarily well for being in the field less than a year, introduced us and described their work. The woman, Enriqueta, asked what differentiated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from her Catholic faith. With impressive poise and conviction, Kuhn laid out a few key differences and before we walked away, the woman gave her address and accepted an invitation for a weekend visit.
Running late, we hurried back to Woodstock for an appointment with a family they’d met a few days prior. When we finally arrived at the apartment complex, the family was in the parking lot struggling with a large desk they needed carried to their second-floor apartment. Both the husband and wife have health problems and they were thankful for the elders' help. Though they were then unable to meet with the missionaries, they expressed gratitude for their service and asked them to return the next day.
“That was my favorite experience,” Kuhn said when we later recapped our time together. “We arrived at exactly the time we needed to be there. It really taught me that the Lord's plans always come before our own and that they are often nothing like what we were expecting. We just have to try our best and he’ll help us with what we missed.”
Jensen, a talented district leader, agreed. “Heavenly Father knows where each one of his children is, and I believe he places us in their paths. We just need to have the faith and courage to share with them this message of happiness.”
Meanwhile, the sisters had another key appointment fall through, this time with a less-active member they’ve been working with for quite some time. It was obvious they weren’t disappointed for themselves, but for her.
As is common in many Mormon missions, we spent some time in the afternoon performing service. The ward mission leader and his wife, Jerry and Christine Clipp, arranged for us to help a neighbor cut and clear a large, fallen branch. Jim Heishman, another local member, provided the chainsaw and completed the team. Many hands handled the work in only an hour.
Jeanne, the 88-year-young neighbor, was delighted with the missionaries’ energy and enthusiasm. There were no expectations and not a whiff of pressure to teach or even return. There were, however, hugs for the sisters and handshakes for the elders. (I, of course, took a hug. How could I not?)
After changing back into dresses, shirts and ties, the sisters and elders survived dinner at my family’s home and we discussed how their day compared to missionaries serving in places like Baltimore. They referenced their daily goal of inviting 20 people to hear more, a recent challenge from Elder M. Russell Ballard, of the Quorum of the Twelve, and how challenging it is in a place where they might only see 20 people from dawn to dusk. And that's counting their companion.
Soon, I was racing out the door with the elders to meet with a family in Edinburg, another small town outside of Woodstock. The family’s trials and challenges were heartbreaking, and I was touched by the young elders’ empathy for situations they cannot yet begin to understand. Before my time with the elders came to a close, Jensen moved swiftly to hand a card to a jogger and invited her to visit the church’s website.
“Thank you!” she said sincerely and without breaking stride.
“You never know,” he smiled.
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