Thursday, May 24, 2012


Our last week in Sitka has topped everything good we could have imagined. On Sunday afternoon we fly to Anchorage to see our mission president, but Sunday morning our Jessica will be baptized. Jessica and her husband have two beautiful children. Her husband will baptize and confirm her. If you knew how Jessica avoided us at first you would say, as everyone here says, this is truly remarkable. Her countenance is serene and, although she originally wanted only a skeleton crew in attendance at her baptism, she’s invited many friends.

Today we met with lots of friends. Here’s a picture of Richard teaching Scott to tie a tie. Scott was ordained an elder last week. That family will go to the temple on September 8, 2012. This Sunday Ian will bless the Sacrament for the first time with his new priesthood. He will take his family to the temple in March 2013. Jessica and her husband were talking about their trip to the temple one year from this Sunday. We’ve had a week full of hugs and tears, but we all know we’re friends forever.

On Tuesday we’ll fly home to Boise and scoop up some wonderful grandkids and give them a million hugs and kisses. How excited we are to see them!

Richard and Linda, Mom and Dad, Papa and Nanny

Saturday, May 19, 2012

May 19, 2012

Last week out apartment was wall-to-wall Nicholas. We had tons of fun while he visited with us, and he was our “member-present” at lessons.

The weather changed from beautiful to rainy just as Nic arrived, so he wasn’t able to see much of the beauty of surrounding mountains, but the rain didn’t stop us from having some fun.

Nic and Richard went fishing on Monday morning and limited out on king salmon and halibut before noon. They also caught yellow-eye and rockfish. Nic went home determined to cook his mother halibut for mother’s day.

Two months ago we were at the airport and met a neat couple—Debera and Lance. They are caretakers of an island resort for a wealthy man who visits about once a year. He calls it his “fish camp.” He’s generous in allowing Lance and Debera to share his facilities with family and friends, as well as his great boat (all enclosed for inclement weather). The three of us spent Wednesday afternoon and evening with them, pulling crab pots and then having a crab feast on the island. Nic caught and pulled in the buoys and helped hoist up the pots, which were about 200+ feet down.

Now that Nic has left we realize we’re in the final days of our mission. It causes our palms to sweat because our work is not finished. We know what to do and we pray we have the focus and stamina to get it done. We’re sprucing up the Area Book and compiling notes for the new missionaries. They are sooo lucky! Sitka is a neat place to serve.

We met with Jessica tonight. She’s a beautiful mother and her husband is active and a returned missionary. Jessica has been taught by two other sets of missionaries. We asked her tonight if she had prayed about being baptized and she hadn’t. We asked her if she would this week. We only have time to teach her ONCE MORE! We’re praying for a win by a nose, but the decision is entirely hers. We’re praying soooo hard.

Tonight we also met with the Fritz family. We reminded Dee that it’s the two-month anniversary of her baptism and asked her how she felt. To the best of our recollection she said:

“I am so happy since I was baptized. The family has received more blessings than we ever thought we would receive—blessings of peace and even physical and temporal blessings. We know we are serving God. Since we have joined the church and Ian has become active our family is different. Everything is better. We want to devote our lives to the church. We just want to do everything for God. I knew I wanted to be baptized even before I knew that the Book of Mormon was true. The first time I went to church I felt it was where I belonged.”

Dee’s husband, Ian, who has activated over the past few months said: “My grandpa and my uncle and my mother and my aunt have all started going back to church in Tennessee so they can go to the temple with us. You guys are doing work in Tennessee and you didn’t even know it.”

Kyle (12), who was baptized right after his mother, said that his life is happier, like sunshine. “I help my mother more and I have more happy days.”

Meanwhile our little Alicia and Hilda are suffering persecution and we’re trying to strengthen them. Their stories are tender and their faith is rock-solid, but their eyes are tearful.

We love our mission and are grateful for it on a thousand levels.

Richard and Linda, Mom and Dad, Papa and Nan

Sunday, April 29, 2012

April 29, 2012

Nephew Vance Hemsley with daughter, Faith

Richard with our sweet Virginia

Sister missionaries.  We took the sisters and Virginia out for dinner after the baptism.

We spent most of last week in the Anchorage/Wasilla/Kenai areas, so this first paragraph is pretty much a travel log.  Sorry.  We left Sitka on the 6 a.m. flight Monday morning and flew to Anchorage, and then drove to Wasilla to visit with David Robinson (my brother) and his wife, Koreen.  We thoroughly enjoyed their company, their cooking and the comfortable bed.  David’s getting ready for another over-seas assignment and Koreen will likely go with him, so we wanted to see them before they take off.  Tuesday morning we drove to Kenai where we attended Virginia’s baptism that evening.  Wednesday we drove back to Anchorage to attend the temple and spend the evening with President and Sister Beesley and other couples from the mission. 

About Virginia:    Last June, while serving in Dutch Harbor we received an email from our mission president saying that the Lord had transferred us to Sitka and that we were to spend a week in Anchorage prior to departing for Sitka.  We asked if we could stay at a missionary apartment in Anchorage so we wouldn’t have such high hotel bills since it was peak season.  The missionary apartment given to us was next door to Virginia’s apartment.  We had prayed for someone to be placed in our path, and there she was, sitting on her porch smoking, so we visited with her and invited her to dinner.  We worked like crazy cleaning the apartment and then bought some take-out food and shared it with her.  We taught her the first lesson and committed her to baptism.  During the lesson she had said that she had lived next door to “the boys” for two years and always wanted to know more.  Each day she watched them come home and smelled their cooking and listened to their singing, but not one missionary had talked to her.  We taught her twice more before leaving for Sitka.  Over the following months we learned that Virginia had fallen through the cracks again and again.  Finally, (we’re convinced in answer to our prayers) Virginia was transferred to Kenai and we called the sister-missionaries there. They took Virginia into their hearts and now Virginia is baptized.  It was joyful to see her in white.     

While in Anchorage we handed our Bush Branch over to new missionaries.  The church defines the Bush as “areas of Alaska that are not served by other wards or branches and that are not accessible by road.”  As the first missionaries called to the Bush Branch we spent a lot of time figuring out how to teach people effectively over the phone—there isn’t enough band width for Skype so we never get to see those we teach.  We’re admittedly territorial about those voices we have come to love.  So after meeting with the missionaries and turning over our area book we set an appointment for last evening to “meet” them on an 800-conference line with one of our investigators.  We introduced the elders, had prayer and read scriptures and then it was time for us to say good-bye and for the elders to continue teaching.  After hanging up Richard said “I don’t like this one bit.”    We wish we could teach them from Boise.  Letting go is hard.

When we got back to our beautiful island of Sitka (noon Thursday) Richard found a leak underneath our sink in the apartment.  The landlords were stateside at a daughter’s wedding so Richard spent several hours replacing rusted pipes.  We had to reschedule our two evening appointments.  Consequently Friday arrived and we had ZERO lessons for the week, but now it’s Sunday night and we’ve had 10.  But even though it’s a bleak week for lessons, one of our investigators set a baptismal date for May 19.  We’re going to work with him closely over the next couple weeks to help him prepare.       

We just talked with Virginia.  She was confirmed today and she says she feels sooo good.  She says she looked in the mirror and said “I’m beautiful,” which she says she had never thought before.  She says that people tell her she glows.  She told us of the new vibrant colors she sees in nature and of her overwhelming gratitude for all of it.  She cried when she said that she finally found the place where she belongs.  She thanked us.  Can you imagine?  We’re the ones who feel thankful. 


Love each of you.
Richard and Linda, Mom and Dad, Papa and Nanny

Saturday, April 21, 2012

April 21, 2012

We’re flying to Anchorage on Monday to travel to the baptism of Virginia.  She will be baptized in the Kenai Ward but she’s ours.   We’ll share her story when we get home.  Last week the sisters called to tell us that Virginia was being baptized and she was hoping Elder Later would do the honors.  Our mission president gave us permission to go.  Weeks like this are “the why” of missionary work.  While there we’ll drive to Wasilla to share some white salmon with my Brother, David.  He’s a chef and Sitka white salmon is his favorite.  We look forward to spending Monday evening with family before driving to Kenai for a reunion with our Virginia. 

We attended a Tlingit (pronounced “Klink-it”) graduation exercise today where many of the cultural traditions were performed and explained.  Their clans in this area are either Raven or Wolf or Eagle, or a combination.  A traditional robe was placed on each graduate in turn while a speech was said about the person.  The robe was beaded with insignias of the clan.  The colors were important—black to ward off death, red to enliven the spirits, white for light.  We didn’t take notes.  This is from memory, and you know us.  They beat a huge drum and sang a cultural song, which was pretty cool.  The Tlingits are more like North American Indians than Eskimos in our opinion.  We have several Tlingit friends and we love them dearly.

We haven’t told you about our weekly devotionals with the senior missionaries or shared what it’s like to attend weekly district meetings.  Once a week all the senior couples throughout Alaska get together (mostly by telephone) and read Preach My Gospel together for thirty minutes.  We take turns reading paragraphs, and when scriptures are listed or referenced we turn to them and each read about three verses.  There are three CES missionary couples, four office couples (one set will be leaving in May); two proselyting couples (us and Powell’s who are serving in Haines); and one armed services couple who works with the military as a liaison for members of the armed services.    The couples’ devotionals are on Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and we love hearing the voices of the other couples who have traveled to Alaska to devote all they have to serve the Lord.  We love each of them.

District meetings are on Wednesday mornings.  All the other members of our district labor in Juneau so we also call in to that meeting.  They’re respectful young elders who do their very best.  They seem wise beyond their years and we adore them.  Elder Norris is our district leader right now.  He’s a favorite because he was in our first district when we worked in Dutch Harbor and had to call into Anchorage every week.  Whenever there’s a birthday we order pizza online for our district.  That may be the reason they love us.  It makes us happy to work with such high energy and strong testimonies.  They’re exceptional.

We’ve had to get involved in fixing our travel home May 29, which has been a major distraction.  Next week we travel for Virginia’s baptism in Kenai, and then on May 5 our grandson, Nicholas, comes to visit for a week so it feels like time is slipping away too fast.  We have three investigators that we’d love to see baptized prior to departing.  It makes our palms sweaty to think of everything that must be done, but we have to proceed with steadiness and faith and NOT PANIC!!!  Breathe.   

We love you! 
Richard and Linda, Mom and Dad, Nana and Papa

Dee after Relief Society with two nursery children

Primary children singing on an activity day

Taken from the driveway of a new investigator

Tlinget blanket of the coho/raven clan

Tlinget blanket of the raven clan

Tlinget blanket of the Eagle clan

Tribal values.  The first one is "Discipline and ancestors" which makes our work sooo difficult

Our investigator, Wayne, is in the white shirt with yellow stripe

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

April 4, 2012

The days are long with sunshine, the herring are in and the festival has begun.  Of course there’s a little drama because the bears are back, but right now Sitka feels like it’s awakened from a winter nap and it’s an exciting place to live.  Here’s a link to an aerial view of a herring festival.

Every day we say “We need to write this in our blog.”  Each day passes and now we can’t recall all we wanted to share. 

The mission office called and let us know that we were flying home May 29 from Anchorage.  We knew it was coming but it’s still hard, good news.  We talked with our president and asked if we could fly home directly from Sitka.  Right now we don’t know if we’ll be coming home the 28th or 29th.  They’ll let us know. 

We’re not “wrapping up our mission.”  We’re “ramping up our mission.”  We want Sitka to continue to have missionaries, so if we’re teaching and turning in fruitful reports, President Beesley said he’d replace us.  Those lucky missionaries.  Sitka is ready for harvesting.    

  We found and taught three new people last week and our planner is full this week.  We also teach a man in rehab (he admitted himself).   It’s a spiritual experience to teach someone who the “the higher power” is.   We better understand King Lamoni’s reaction as well as Ammon’s.  This young man has family and friends who want him to fail and only one soul who will support his sobriety.  The odds of his succeeding are slim, but right now he’s amazing and we love teaching him.  He’ll be at church again this Sunday.

We enjoyed watching general conference with recent converts.  On Sunday, noon session, we set up a TV in the Primary room for Spanish-speaking people and then went to the home of the Fritz family to watch it with them.  We checked with Hilda afterwards to see if the Spanish broadcast was all right and she got tears.  “I love my apostles,” she says.  She is very brilliant and learning English quickly.  Hilda is a great little missionary.  Last week there were five in our “Spanish section” of the chapel.  They’re all returning members and they support one another. 

Our Leeshawna is doing well.  She’s a polyanna and tends to look for the best and say everything is all right when it isn’t so we have to watch her.  She’s in counseling and trying to start her own baking business so we felt she was well enough to begin teaching again.  Her new best friend turns out to be a member.  Less-active members make very good “member-present” helpers, and it’s always nice to hear their stories and testimonies. 

The Williamson family is fun to teach.  We aren’t sure they’ll be baptized during our tenure, but we can hope.  Brother Williamson has serious doubts, which he is working on.  We love this family and want to be there for their big day. Their baby had her first birthday party at the church, which was brilliant.  We were able to get several appointments with attendees. 

We love you!
Richard and Linda, Mom and Dad, Papa and Nanny

Mountains and ocean surround downtown Sitka

Brittany rope-swinging in our yard.  Church in background on left.

Mission couples:  us, The Schindlers and the Powells

Juneau Zone.  Elder and Sister Beesley in middle.  We'll get a closeup next time.

Birthday party for Berlin (center front on her Dad's lap)

Arriving at the Calverts to teach.  They always swing the door open before we ever have a chance to knock, greeting us with smiles.  We're so happy to be part of their lives.

Kathy Swanberg.  View from her living room.  What an ocean!

Evening time in Sitka.

The CoraLee--Dylan's boat.

We found the Calvert's along the road.  Flat tire.

The Herring run was so far off the shore (highly regulated) we couldn't get a good photo.  The white dots are boats.  Be sure to click onto the link above to watch it.  It's soooo worth it!  Millions were made during these few hours.

Another evening in Sitka.  Boats returning.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

March 20, 2012

Here are a few pictures, hoping they're worth a thousand words.  We're leaving for zone conference Thursday and hope to write more after that.  There's so much to say about the families we're teaching.  This stuff is FUN!

Richard at the recycling center.  Sitka is BIG on recycling.  All the products are ferried to Seattle

Jana helped us by going to DI and finding a suit for Ian.  He's just reactivated and was ordained a priest.

Here's part of the little family we've been working with.  Ian was able to baptize his wife and 12-yr-old step-son.

This is Sitka ward's awesome ward council

During church on Sunday it snowed 14 inches.  This is a shot of priesthood meeting.

March 18, 2012, sudden snow-storm.  It was forecast to be sunny.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

March 10, 2012

The work is progressing.  We’ll have two baptisms this Saturday.  It’s a great story of miracles and finding.  Deanne and Ian (a deacon) just celebrated their third wedding anniversary.  Two family members will be baptized March 17 (Deanne and her 12-year-old son), and Ian will be doing the baptizing.  He hasn’t been active since he was a young boy, but now he and Dee want to prepare for the temple.  The Bishop is working with him to prepare him for priesthood advancement.  This little family of five is an awesome find!

We feel loved here.  When we go to the post office to check our mail we get little smiley faces on masking tape from the recently-activated member who works there.  When we go to either of the grocery stores we talk with people we teach who work there.  When we go to the caf├ęs we have waiters come to our table two at a time to talk with us.  We have friends in three shops downtown.  Trying to teach these sweet people hasn’t often resulted in progressive investigators.   In fact, though we continue to reap, the people who are ready to progress are few.  But even though people do not progress, they feel appreciation toward us.  We know that we’re very plain people who are called by THEIR Savior to help them.  Each day we pray that they feel His love through us.  We are not the power.  We are the conduits. 

We spent a lot of time putting together a Dr. Seuss birthday party for the library.  There were about 35 children with their parents, including one part-member family that has been critical of the church.  As we have previously said, one of our reasons for being here, according to our mission president, is to dispel misperceptions about the church.  After the Seuss party we reviewed the results of our labors and made a list of seven people that perhaps we helped in a positive way.   We put the part-member family on the list.  The party was a lot of work, so we hope we accomplished something, however small.  Donating time to the community is part of missionary work but doesn’t create the same feeling in our hearts as teaching the gospel.  We decided that this was our last library event.  We’re going to concentrate on teaching for the remainder of our mission.  It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 16 months.  We want to continue to find new investigators so they will have a reason to send in a couple or a companionship to replace us.  We love Sitka.

The Iditarod races are in full swing up north, which are proving to be a distraction to our scheduled lessons with people living in the Bush Branch.  There are celebrations in every village and everyone is busy preparing for festivities.  We feel the excitement from way down here in Sitka. 

Here in Sitka we have our own exciting energy, with longer days and the anticipation of the herring run.  Old-timers say to watch for the herring run when the weather is bad and the whales start filling the sound.  The whales have become more numerous over the past week and the weather has been bad.  People are expecting the run at the end of this month, and the excitement is palpable.  We’re hearing stories and politics from everyone about the herring.  There are a few million dollars to be had for a few, and the contest will be competitive.  Fifty boats are licensed to be part of this year’s catch, but the natives don’t need to have a license.  The roe (caviar) from the Sitka herring will be purchased by the Japanese.  Apparently Sitka’s caviar is better than anyone else’s.  You’ll have to take their word for it.  

Bishop Hart and Brock Bauder.  Bishop Hart is the "heart" of the Ward.

A family we are teaching.  Not Ian and Deanne.

Aurora -- a wonderful friend and investigator.  She knows the church is true.

Dr. Fribush's magic class at our Dr. Seuss party

Aurora decorated cupcakes with us.