#1 – January 18, 2010
KAREN: We finally entered the MTC on Monday morning, January 4, 2010, after several weeks, or months for that matter, of intense preparation. We started the mission application process in about June. Contrary to common belief, you don’t just ‘send in your mission papers.’ First you fill out all the forms—one set for John and one for Karen—which is pages and pages of questions on the internet. You do your personal research--which includes mega-memory power--get your appointments made for doctor, dentist, health dept. (for shots), the Sheriff’s office (for a good citizenship verification), etc. and go about the process of discovering what it will take to get you healthy enough to be considered for a mission. (NOTE: It’s very possible--highly probable in fact--that the aforementioned ‘mega-memory power’ has been so severely taxed by this point that I may have the chronological order of all this whole process a little out of order. Suffice it to say that most of what is described has happened at some point in time, in some order or other, between June and September, 2009). Once the original internet questionnaires are completed and checked off the list, a whole new set of questions comes up based on how you’ve answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the first set of questions. If your ‘yes or no’ answers have indicated that there might be even the slightest chance of you having a physical ailment or condition that could make a difference in whether the church sends you out as a missionary to the farthest reaches of a third-world country, the front doorstep of the closest-to-home medical center, somewhere in between, or no mission at all, then they need more information before you can proceed in the application process. When I say ‘more’ I mean moooooooooore. Each little question that indicates a problem requires several pages of questions to clarify your condition. If there are 7 or 8 such little questions, then that number, multiplied by several pages each, takes another several hours, if not days, to complete. It’s possible that more tests or more specific forms from doctors, or both, will be required before you can be considered a healthy enough specimen to be turned loose In the world.
After physical exams, from multiple doctors, required tests, dental work, shots and more shots, and forms filled out by all law enforcement, dental, health and medical experts in our behalf, the Bishop of our Ward enters the picture, goes over our forms, interviews us both and then sends everything on to the Stake President. (for those not acquainted with common Mormon jargon, Wards and Stakes are geographical areas of division, with a Ward being like a local parish and a Stake being a larger district, made up of about 8 to 10 wards. Each ward has an ecclesiastical leader called a Bishop, and each stake is presided over by a Stake Presidency (a President and two counselors.) The Stake organization checks everything out with our application and an appointment is made for a final interview with the Stake President. We had such difficulty coordinating our schedule and the President’s busy itinerary, that acquiring an appointment with him seemed almost impossible. Luckily, as we were driving away from church one Sunday, President Nelson was just getting out of his car in the parking lot, saw us, and waved us over. We rolled down the car window and he apologized for being so difficult to catch, asked us if our health was good, said “I know you’re worthy and able”, (he happens to live in our town and knows us well) and waved us on with his blessings. That was it--a two minute interview in the parking lot and our papers could be sent on to Church Headquarters in Salt Lake. (We had expected a very formal and lengthy interview in his office) We laughingly waved goodbye and drove off, knowing that once our papers were sent to the Church, where a decision would be made of where to send us, we could be looking for a Mission Call within the next couple of weeks (a Mission Call is an official letter from the Church, calling us to a specific area of the world, and telling us when to report to the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, Utah).
Anyone in Mormon culture knows that the day of receipt of a Mission Call is a big day indeed. The letter is seldom opened immediately, but is held patiently until all interested family members and friends that can be easily and quickly called together arrive at the appointed gathering place, with digital and video cameras ready to record the great opening event. It can take from 2 to 48 hrs for all that to happen sometimes. Our family had been alerted ahead of a possible delivery of our Mission call within a week or two, always on a Wednesday. Because our family is so spread out, we found a nice little park in Lehi, Utah, a very central location, where we reserved a pavilion for a pot-luck picnic dinner. Once everyone had arrived with cameras at the ready, we opened our letter and read it out loud. A great cheer went up from our crowd as we announced that we had been called to the Samoa Apia Mission. Everyone knew that Samoa was absolutely our first choice because John had served in Samoa as a young missionary way back in 1955 - 1958, before we met. When you fill out your mission papers, you are asked if you have any preferences, but it is well known that not everyone goes where they choose. We were prepared to be sent anywhere else in the world, and would gladly have gone, but were happily granted our first wish. We received the letter on September 16th and were invited to make our way to the MTC on Monday morning, January 4th, 2010, which gave us a little over 3-1/2 months to prepare ourselves to be gone from home, family, friends and country for almost two years.
Our delight in knowing where we were headed, and when we would leave, soon gave way to the reality of making certain our lives were left in order while we were gone. We were fortunate in that we had already made arrangements for a young couple, just newly married this past summer, to stay in our home and be caretakers of our property while we are gone. Their folks are our good friends from up the road. Our children have complicated lives of their own in different parts of the state, but were willing to take turns coming to Wallsburg once each week to check on things. This alternate arrangement is so much better for all of us. Because our home is sort of isolated up in the mountains, it would be easy for somebody to find out we are gone and come in and rob us blind. We feel much more comfortable knowing there will be someone there all the time.
Some of the other issues that had to be dealt with were as follows: getting everything ready for income taxes for two years; having all mail re-routed or forwarded to our daughter and making arrangements to have her pay all our bills each month; setting up power-of-attorney forms with different children who are attending to various financial and real estate matters; ordering meds for several months at a time and having them shipped to us as we need them over two years; making certain our estate planning and family trust were in order and appointing co-executors for our trust and wills; setting up banking procedures so that sources of income are sent directly to our bank and ready to be transferred to our bank in Samoa periodically for our living expenses; and on and on and on. We had long lists of things that had to be done around the house or on the property. We tried to prioritize the list so that the most important things would get done and those with lowest priority would just have to wait until we get home in two years. We worked hard 24/7 for weeks and crossed off the highest priorities in time to leave for the MTC on Jan. 4th. Because we were able to come home each night after 12-hr training days at the MTC, we were able to pick away at a few other items in the evenings.
Since we needed language training, at least ‘sister Krogh’ did, we were fortunate to meet with a wonderful Samoan tutor, brother Papaloa Ete, at the MTC about 3 times per week in November and December. John has worked pretty hard the past several years brushing up on his Samoan and is fairly fluent, so the tutor spent a good deal of his time with me. Besides having an excellent command of both Samoan and English, as well as Samoan culture, he is a very spiritual man and had a great influence on us both in that respect. Samoan is supposedly one of the easier languages to learn, but with the combination of poor hearing, a 71-year-old brain and the stress of all the preparation, Karen struggled to get much accomplished. After becoming bogged down with all the rules and grammar, it was decided that we would focus on some basic scenarios that we would be confronted with in Samoa, like meeting people at church, going shopping, asking for directions, etc. We would memorize the Samoan conversations and then practice switching back and forth asking and answering questions. That was time better spent for me and less stressful. That’s not saying I’m really great with those scenarios, but I believe it will become a little easier to study and focus once we’re in the mission field.
JOHN: Our experience at the MTC was incredible. The spirit of the place is like no other place we’ve been and we loved being there. The training could be quite challenging, but we learned a lot about what we would probably be spending most of our time doing on our mission. Our official calling is “member and leader support” and probably consists of finding, fellowshipping and teaching less-active members and assisting brand new members of the church as they make the transition from investigator to convert. Our instructors were young recently returned missionaries in their 20s and old folks like us who had recently completed mission calls throughout the world. We had one General Authority of the church speak to us one evening too. Our group consisted of about 30 couples, and many of them had served at least one mission before. They were going all over the world, with some going to proselyte, some to do office work, some to teach in the church’s educational system, and many going to do humanitarian service, and all at their own expense. We feel so fortunate to be able to afford to go, especially these days when many older couples have had to go back to work just to make ends meet financially. Probably our most spiritual experience occurred when we were trying to write up a lesson plan to teach another couple who had been acting out the role of an inactive couple who had strayed away from the church and from God’s laws. We didn’t agree at all on our approach and had to finally go into a remote room to talk and then to pray about it before we realized the right way to proceed. As it turns out, John just plunged in when Karen hesitated in preparing a plan and then she didn’t feel good about the plan. What we finally decided to do after our prayer was go back to the very basic premise that God loves us and wants us to be happy and that doing His will brings about that happiness. We realized that once a person lets the spirit guide him, that spirit will help him overcome whatever problem he may have. He simply needs to study, pray, and keep the commandments, and then ask sincerely for help with the problem. There will undoubtedly be many other times when we will not agree and need to ask the Lord’s help in finding the best way to proceed.
KAREN: I just want to add a couple of other thoughts as I look back on that week at the MTC. First - DITTO to everything John mentioned above. Second - going back to the experience we had teaching the other couple, where we didn’t agree on how to approach someone (who probably wouldn’t be interested in hearing from the missionaries anyway) was a real eye-opener for us in terms of how our companionship as missionaries was going to work differently than how it had worked for us as a team in our everyday life (for over 50 years, I might add, and not always with the best result). As we were discussing, and disagreeing, about how to prepare a lesson for these folks, our young instructor, probably no more than 23 years old, approached us and asked if he could help. We explained our dilemma and he very kindly and maturely pulled out a scripture or quote that suggested that we might come to a more unified solution if we were to pray together and ask for The Lord’s spirit to assist us in coming up with an agreeable plan. Well…., duh!!!! How simple is that??? We’ve been praying together for years and we’ve also had ‘discussions’ and tried to solve problems as a team for years, but only a team of two hard-headed people with their own opinions. Some of those discussions might have been helped along with a little more help from a ‘third member’ on that team. Anyway, it was a profound awakening for us, and a sweet solution once we gave it the test. Amazingly, our final resolution it was also very well received by our so-called ‘investigator couple’ who had expected us to come back very judgmentally and start preaching at them. Third (oops, I said a couple didn’t I? Oh well, these others were great memories too) – The meeting with the general authority was inspirational, but the thing I remember most about it was the experience of sitting in that huge hall, surrounded by over 600 young, 19-21 year-old, exuberant new missionaries and singing “Called to Serve” (a rousing Mormon missionary hymn) at the top of our lungs. It was mind-boggling and humbling all in one package (goose-bumps and tears galore). Fourth (and last) – the enormous dining hall at the MTC, which fed us senior couples, and all of those other young bottomless pits, three meals a day, was a sight and sound to behold. Everyone is out of class for an hour-and-a-half, relaxed, hungry and ready to share all their ideas and feelings at the same time--a cacophony of voices, laughter, clanging plates and trays and a totally joyful place to be. Most young Elders (Hmmm, is that an oxymoron? All missionary males are addressed as “Elder”, no matter what their age), anyway, most young elders, besides having several plates of entrees, a salad, a roll or two, 2-3 drinks, and desserts, would often have a heaping bowl of Cheerios or Lucky Charms and milk to top it off, lunch and dinner as well at breakfast. Such grown men, taking two years out of their lives, at their own expense, going out into the world to serve the Lord, but still such little boys in some ways. What a miracle!!!
This will end this epistle for now. Sorry it’s so long and verbose, but it will be doubling as our journal for this mission and we wanted to add our experiences from the very beginning. The next segments, hopefully, will be shorter and interlaced with photos. We were so busy up to this point, that picture-taking hardly entered our minds. We’ve actually been in Samoa now for five days, but we’ve been totally tied up with preparing to move to another Island, shopping for furnishings for an apartment we’ll be hunting for during a short stay in a church school guest house over in Savai’i. We have a lot to show and tell, but it will all have to wait until after we’ve loaded up our car and made the 1 hour-plus trip on the ferry tomorrow, and gotten settled, although just temporarily again.
Much love from Elder and Sister Krogh.