Thursday, November 17, 2011

Special Mission Conference

Before telling you about our spectacular weekend I have to share my Christmas Dream for the Chile Antofagasta Mission. So bear with me. Last year, after our four Zone Christmas parties, I shared with Presidente Bruce that I wanted all our missionaries to travel to Antofagasta next Christmas (2011) to be together for a huge celebration. We crunched the numbers, did some creative budgeting and looked at the logistics of any possibility of gathering everyone in Antofagasta for a day and it just wasn't plausible. So I settled for separate Zone Christmas parties again this year. Then four weeks ago Presidente Bruce received an email from the Area Presidency announcing a special mission conference with visiting General Authorities. We were instructed to bring ALL of the missionaries to Antofagasta for this meeting. My Christmas Dream had become a reality. 

And so last weekend 155 missionaries arrived in Antofagasta for the best Christmas present of all: to be together for the first time in the history of the mission and listen to the words of a living Apostle, two members of the Seventy and a member of the Presiding Bishopric. Thanks to a very organized and motivated group of missionaries in our office, we were able to coordinate bus passages for 124 missionaries, find hotel rooms for 93 missionaries and organize food for all of our hungry missionaries.

The missionaries arrived on Friday afternoon and we gathered for a Zone Conference.  The excitement was palpable and keeping this group reverent was a challenge.  I was reminded of several Stake Youth Conferences of the past where we were constantly herding youth and encouraging reverence over and over.  It was so great to be together and tears came to my eyes several times over the course of the weekend as I sat on the stand and looked around the chapel to see all our missionaries, who we love like our own children.  

Presidente Bruce taught a great meeting about obedience and encouraged all the missionaries to re-examine their Missionary Handbooks to strengthen their resolve to become more obedient and successful missionaries.  We gave them plenty of instructions and encouragement for our meeting the following day, hoping in our hearts that all of their wiggles and excitement would be worked out during the Zone Conference and that everyone would be ready to receive the spiritual feast on Saturday morning.

We all sat for a group picture before dinner.  Elder Fowkes set the camera on a tripod and with a timer we sat for picture after picture.  This truly is a most historic moment for our mission and one that I can only dream will happen again in the future with other mission presidents.

After sitting still for many serious pictures we posed for the funny shots.  I think these poses are more indicative of their behavior on Friday night.  It was just too much fun being together to sit quietly.  Many missionaries were able to connect with past companions whom they haven't seen since the MTC or earlier in their missions.  Other missionaries were able to meet for the first time some of the missionaries they  have heard about but never met.  It was all so glorious!!!

Dinner!! How do you feed 155 missionaries without help from other church members?  We couldn't fit in the cultural hall of the chapel so we set up tables in the parking lot.  We ordered 1/2 a chicken for each missionary from Don Pollo and dear Nery baked 160 potatoes at the mission home after the office Elders helped me wash and wrap each potato in foil the night before.  Fresh bread, BBQ sauce and the delicacy of sour cream topped off the dinner and everyone was full.  Dessert, the most important part of a meal, was 11 pans of marshmallow and chocolate-frosting topped brownies that I spent a few days making.  Thanks to many helpful missionaries we were able to serve everyone in record time.

Preparing dessert.

All the missionaries eating in the parking lot.

Elder C.and Elder R. dishing up brownies while chatting with Presidente Bruce.

Elder M. also helped with dessert.

The conversations were better than the food.

No talking here; just serious eating.

Some of our beautiful hermanas.

More hermanas.

Elder and Sister R.

Thumbs up from Elder B.

Elder M., my brownie helper.

Love those brownies.
After our meeting on Friday we sent all of the missionaries back to their hotel rooms or pensions with instructions to read from the Book of Acts with their companions for half an hour in preparation for our meeting with Elder Quentin L. Cook.  The Assistants checked each hotel before midnight to make sure everyone was in their room and ready for bed.  Many of the missionaries were already asleep and all were tucked in with no monkey business in the halls of the hotels.  Good job Elders!!!

On Saturday morning all of the missionaries returned to the Origenes Chapel at 7:30 a.m. to await the arrival of the General Authorities.  Presidente Bruce and I were able to pick up and drive Bishop Keith McMullin and his wife from the hotel and met Elder Quentin L. Cook and his wife along with Elder Steven Snow and his wife at the hotel before we all caravanned to the church with Elder Jorge Zeballos and his wife from our Area Presidency.

When we arrived at the church all of the missionaries were given the opportunity to shake all of our visiting authorities hands.  The reverence of our missionaries was incredible.  They were definitely spiritually prepared for this meeting.  We had a beautiful musical number by a choir of missionaries and then were blessed to hear from each General Authority and his wife, ending with Elder Cook.  He spoke about the importance of "Building Branches" and strengthening the wards and branches in the mission.  He left our mission with an Apostolic Blessing and his testimony.  We watched the reactions of several missionaries as he spoke directly to their hearts during his blessing.  I kept asking myself "Where are my Kleenex?"

At the conclusion of the meeting our guests were driven back to their hotel and we returned to the church to see that all the missionaries were receiving their sack lunches.  The tone of this meal was much more subdued, without the singing and cheering and photo taking of the prior evening.  It was a reverent tone.  Soon the transport buses arrived to pick up all the missionaries and take them to the bus terminal for their rides back to their sectors.  Each missionary expressed gratitude for the experience and many exclaimed that the weekend was better than Christmas.  I agreed.  

The following day we had special meetings with the General Authorities in the Antofagasta, La Portada and Calama Stakes.  Presidente Bruce and I attended the Antofagasta Stake with Elder and Sister Snow.  After the meeting everyone gathered at the mission home for lunch.  I was nervous about this meal.  What do you feed General Authorities?  What do you talk about with General Authorities?  Well, we fed them lasagna and we talked about football and soccer.  It was a lovely lunch and so easy because they were, of course, gracious guests.  Afterwards we were able to take photos with some of our lunch guests before driving them to the airport for their flights to Santiago and then back to Salt Lake City.

One week later and it seems like a wonderful dream.  Christmas may be next month, but in the Chile Antofagasta Mission it has already been celebrated.  Anything more will be just a cherry on top.

Elder Quentin L. Cook, Mary Cook with me and  Presidente Bruce

Cooks, Zeballos and Bruce's

Elder Snow and wife, Elder Zeballos and wife, Elder Cook and wife outside the mission home.

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