Monday, July 31, 2017

Faith • Hope • Charity

I have long been fascinated by the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.  I have looked a them closely off and on in my life and have loved learning about their power, their beauty and how they are integrally related and interdependent.  I have studied all three of them, lectured about them, and prayed for the gift of all of them, most particularly for the greatest of them all, charity (I Corinthians 13:13) This personal search has led me to believe that the other two virtues are necessary to lead us to the greatest of all, and that you can almost never separate the three.  Just as with two chemicals that when combined create something completely new, two of these virtues when practiced create a newness and a synergy that consistently leads to the third.

So imagine my delight when on our Senior Conference trip we saw the Camargue Cross that symbolizes all three of the virtues interlaced into a breath-taking whole.  President Babin of the Paris mission explained that these virtues are and should be the focus and objective of all missionaries.  I mentioned to one of our other senior sister missionaries who also expressed her love of these virtues and the Camargue cross that I felt that faith, hope, and charity were the main themes of the Book of Mormon.  She wisely added that she thought that they were the theme of the whole gospel, and that when she found that she was lacking in charity, it was because she had fallen short of faith or hope.  I couldn't agree more!  I have found this same truth evidenced on my mission and in my own efforts to come closer to the Savior.

Not only have I loved observing these three virtues in the wonderful member of the church here in France, but my life has also been greatly enriched by the examples of faith, hope, and charity in the amazing senior missionaries that we have been privileged to serve with.

The Camargue cross:
A cross representing faith, the anchor of hope, and a heart symbolizing charity.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The First Christians

The first community of Christians to come to Gaulle settled here in the city of Lugdunum, now Lyon.  It was a very difficult beginning.  In the year 177, under the reign of Marcus Aurelius, many of these early Christians were rounded up, tortured, and martyred because of their faith.   But the Roman attempts to stamp out Christianity were a total failure.  The Fourvière hill overlooking Lyon, once the Roman forum, is now dominated by a beautiful cathedral.  (The name "Fourvière" is derived from "forum -vieux" or "old forum".)   The hill still has many decaying remnants of ancient Rome including walls, two theatres, and a dungeon that tradition regards as the place where many of these early Christian martyrs were imprisoned.  But the dominant feature on the hill today is the Fourvière Cathedral, an edifice to the triumph of Christianity.  And the dungeon, the "Antiquaille", is now a beautiful memorial to the first 48 Christians who gave their lives for their beliefs here in France. 

Now fast forward almost 2000 years.  We get to come to this same place as missionaries for Jesus Christ.  And even though there is a degree of sacrifice in serving a mission today, it isn't anything like the offering made by those early Christians.  We live in relative peace and comfort.  We have great friends in our fellow missionaries and in the wonderful people of France.   We are privileged to be immersed in this place with so much rich culture and history.  The list of blessings goes on and on.  So if we ever start feeling in any way sorry for ourselves, or at any time start thinking that a mission is difficult, all we have to do is reflect for a minute about those who paved our way almost 2000 years ago, smile, and offer a little prayer of thanks. 

Fourvière Cathedral, dominating the landscape of Lyon.

One of the Roman theaters overlooking the city.

Inside "l'Antiquaille", the dungeon honoring the early Christian martyrs of Lyon.

Mosaics in "l'Antiquaille" depict Blandina and the first 48 martyrs.

Our senior couples from the Lyon Mission had a weekend conference in the South: Arles, Nîmes, Terrascon, Les Baux, Fontaine de Vaucluse, Orange, Avignon.  Here we are in front of the Roman Pont-du-Gard.

These olive trees, near the Pont-du-Gard are over 1000 years old.

We went to the sound and light presentation at "Les Carrières de Lumières" near Les Baux de Provence.  The show presented was based on the artworks of Bosch, Brueghel, and Archimboldo with accompanying music.  The theme of the presentation began with the creation of the world, evolved into life on this earth and then ended with a return to heaven.  Seems like we have heard of this three-step process somewhere before?!

Le Pont d'Avignon.  No, we didn't dance!

Orange, France.  Kind of appropriate to have our senior missionaries in front of a Roman Arc de Triomphe!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Wonderful Memories with great people

As we have said before, one of the very best things about our mission is the connections and friendships we are able to make with very dear people.  Last Sunday we went to church in St. Etienne, the home ward to our friends, Les Jo's-Jos, Joseph and Joelle Galleti.  He is the stake high councilman over self reliance.  He and his wife live in a two-hundred year farm house out in the country near their city.  They have worked hard to up-date the inside of the house, and it is magnificent.  The outside probably looks very much like it did 200 years ago with surrounding gardens and fruit trees.  Brother and Sister Galleti have been a great support to us in our Self-Reliance work.  They come to firesides to help out any way they can and hold video conferences with us, the Stake President, and the ward Self-Reliance specialists in each ward.  We discovered that Joelle attended school at BYU-Hawaii at the same time that we were there.  Our pictures are in her year book.  Small world in the church.

The distance between wards and the circumference of the stake are astounding. These devoted members think nothing of spending 1/2 hour to 1 1/2 hours to get to church and back. They will often have a pot-luck lunch (which they call sale or sucre--salty or sweet) right after the church block and before our self-reliance devotional.  We just love these good saints!

It's also been a joyful experience to get to know so many wonderful senior missionaries.  Elder and Sister Klematz have been serving as MLS missionaries to the Saint Etienne ward .  They were with us at the Galetti's home since it was their last Sunday in that ward.  They too had to drive all the way from Lyon, about 45 minutes to get to church.  They have just been reassigned to Bezier in Southern France where they will once again work "their magic"  helping and loving the members.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

So Much History

This week our fellow senior missionaries, Elder and Sister Klemasz from Adelaide, Australia, were transferred to a new assignment in the city of Béziers in the south of France. To get all their things moved, they needed "The Duke", a large mission van. To help them with their move, we drove their car down to Béziers, spent the night, and then drove the empty van back to Lyon. 

Driving in France is such a tour through history.  In the city of Béziers, we made a quick stop at the medieval Saint-Nazaire Cathedral perched on a cliff overlooking the Orb river.  We marveled at how beautiful and well preserved this cathedral is, with elements from the 11th century romanesque era onward.  It is so old when compared to any of the structures we are used to seeing in Idaho.  Then, when we turned around to look over the river valley below, we saw a bridge built by the Romans more than 1000 years earlier than the cathedral.  And the parade of civilizations that left their visible mark on this country certainly didn't begin with the Romans.  In France there is just so much history.

A bridge along the Roman Via Domitia below the Saint-Nazaire cathedral in Béziers.

Cathedrals like Saint-Naziare were often built over hundreds of years. This cloister is more gothic than the earlier Romanesque cathedral structure.  On the interior, many of the embellishments are a later baroque style.   

The road back from Béziers goes along the Mediterranean coast and the fishing village of Sète.

In Sète we happened upon an interesting gondola jousting tournament.

Each "knight" took aim as the boats passed...

Just glad they weren't wearing heavy armor!

On the way home we stopped for the night on the Mediterranean coast at the medieval city of Aigues Mortes.  In 1243, Louis IX and his Chevaliers sailed from here on the seventh crusade.  

A statue of Saint Louis stands in the square near the church.

The church in Aigues Mortes where Louis received the crusaders cross from Cardinal Légats in 1243.

The ramparts, gates, and towers surrounding the city are still completely intact.

Our dear friends and fellow missionaries, Elder and Sister Klemasz, now live in Béziers.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Transfer Week

This was "transfer week".  Every six weeks, all missions throughout the world go through this shakeup and renewal event.  It is such a mission milestone that the traditional calendar of months and years is thrown out, and missionaries measure their tenure in terms of transfers.  The incoming group is also assigned a number that indicates the transfer in which they arrived.  When asked how long they have been serving, a missionary might say "I'm a 119" or "I'm in my 8th transfer", but they never say "I came out last November" or "I've be here for six months".  We happen to be 116's and we are now in our 9th transfer. (Translation: We arrived last August and have been here for eleven months.)

On Monday we had the final dinner and testimony meeting with the departing 111's.  These 29 elders and sisters were the largest and most incredible group anyone here can remember or imagine.  They are legendary.  And then on Wednesday we had the orientation and assignment meeting of 23 new "blues".  (In France the color blue, not green, is used to describe a novice.)  To a coach of a professional athletic team or to a corporate CEO, the idea of transfer week would seem like a death wish.  You can't even imagine any sound-minded coach saying, "I have a great idea: Let's trade all of our seasoned all-stars for a bunch of unknown rookies!"  But a mission isn't anything like the professional world, and what is nonsense in the one is pure inspiration in the other.

We have now been here long enough to see what happens to the blue's.  Ones that just months ago we were trying to hold up and encourage to keep on going are now coming back as trainers with fire in their eyes, ready to meet their new junior-companion blues.  Ones whose "BONJEER" screamed "I'm an American" now flow with melodic confidence.

We've heard the quip, "The Church must be true, because if it wasn't, the young missionaries would have destroyed it a long time ago."  Whoever said that never met the France, Lyon missionaries!

President and Sœur Brown saying goodbye to 29 of their children.

Just finishing dinner and beginning the final testimony meeting for the "magnifique 111" group at President and Sœur Brown's home.

We took a group of our departing Lyon elders and their companions to dinner a few days before transfers.  Missionaries can't go out to eat too many times.

Elders Bouaka and Elder Menzel, both assistants to the President.  It seems like an impossible task to replace missionaries like these two.

Sœur Staniforth and Sœur Lowder: Two more of the amazing 111 group.

This is what the jet-lagged blues look like at first.  Doesn't give you much
confidence, but just wait!