Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer 2015

Dear Family and Friends,

Our friends, President and Sister Swensen, told us that their mission felt like it lasted one year and two days, even though they presided in Vienna for 3 years. When I first heard it, I didn't understand.  But now, I do!  Our time in the mission, especially year two, has passed too quickly for me.

I apologize to those who have asked for an update.  It has been about ten months since we have written, so pretend like these many many photos appeared on this blog every week in much smaller doses.  Evie thinks only two people will look through this, so if you are one of those two, well done and thanks:)!  

And just a friendly reminder, I don't usually photograph or blog about the hardest parts of life.  There are hard parts, there are sad and bleak moments.  There are heartfelt prayers for people we love who are suffering.  But I don't put those toughest things on here.  Just in case you would look at these photos and think we only have gelato-filled, smiling moments, I want to be honest and say that although we are incredibly blessed to be serving here as a family, life is still filled with ups and downs.  I wish we were perfect at always choosing to be cheerful and 100 percent brave and spiritual, but we are simply working on those things every single day.  So this blog is not a complete account of our experiences.  Ok?  I'm just trying to be honest:) 

To ALL of our family and friends and Imperial Second ward family and returned missionaries who may just read this far, here's what I want to say:  We love you.  So so much.  We think about you and laugh because of memories of you and feel strengthened by your goodness. Thank you! 

In September, we went to Plzen with some of the missionaries and many members to do service with the Wallace Toronto Foundation.  After serving, we visited the beautiful town square in Plzen, enjoyed church there the next day, and then went to Elder and Sister Gray's home.  They have the best balcony view. For those of you who know the Grays, you know that it is a treat to be around them and listen to their amazing stories.  We are so blessed to have them serving here!


 Trip to Kosice, the furthest city that we visit.  It is near the Ukrainian border and is SO beautiful.  We have four young missionaries there, a senior couple, and the leaders of the branch are the VanDalens.  They encourage and help us so much, we don't know what we would do without them.   

 James, just outside his favorite pastry shop, heading to a zone conference with missionaries.
 Where Kosice branch meets each Sunday

 Some of our Slovak missionaries!

 Friendship tree in Kosice.  It shows distance from other cities in the continent.

Great to get home from Kosice to see these little angels.

Cousins!  And Uncle Dave and Aunt Julie!

Uncle Dave at tennis lessons with us
Ashley and George

With Dave and his family at my favorite museum in Prague.  The Slav Epic, by Mucha. We have brought our missionaries here a couple of times as well.  Mucha tells the story of the Slavic people.  Stunning!
Sarah-- surprising Wilson in the school library, buying flowers with me, and resting on cobblestone with Wilson

Hyrum trying out his new contacts

 After District Conference with the Prague District.  Evie and sweet friend Jo.
For District Conference, our District President asked me to give a full talk (not just the easy parts) in Czech so that it could be the first conference of its kind with all czech speakers.  The awesome translation team for the church took my english talk and translated it into czech.  Then James helped me practice so much.  I recorded him reading it and then listened to his pronunciation when I drove in the car after school drop-off.  It was only a few pages long but I had to practice so much.  Here I am with Elder Weyland and Elder Howell, holding up my talk.  I am so amazed at all our young missionaries who learn czech and slovak.  It is a beautiful, super difficult, sophisticated language.

Mission Leadership Councils

Our dear friend Ary, after he home taught us for the first time.  He had never done it before but was amazing!  He received the melchizedek priesthood today after district conference.  We love him!

Goodbye to the Wrightsons! Exceptional branch president and primary president in slovakia! 

In the parking lot of the hospital, right after Wilson had his cast removed.  His poor finger didn't quite heal straight, but we had a good laugh about it.

the Pumpkin bowl

Evie's 17th birthday

Playing games with the missionaries
Gelato instead of cake

Watching General Conference

My favorite garden shop
Hyrum recovering from Pneumonia.  Priesthood blessing, prayers, and multiple doctors checking him all helped.

New missionaries!

Going-home missionaries and some trainers, singing in our home.  They eventually went into Hyrum's room singing in Czech and Slovak his favorite hymn, Praise to the Man, around his bed. He was still home sick with pneumonia and it made him smile!
New missionaries coming back from the notary where they get documents signed to facilitate their long-term stay permits.

At school, Miss Robson, Ev and Wilson's fantastic art teacher

Goodbye to these exceptional missionaries!

At the mission president's seminar in Portugal, President Teixeira featured a video he had made of our dear Sister Smith.
Beautiful Portugal.  Before the wonderful meetings each day, James and I went out early while it was still dark.  Beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

Elder Sewell, from Bristol, back for a lovely visit, and lots of attention for our kids.  
At the lego store.  Thank you for your help Elder Sewell!
Football on the way to the castle.
With George.

and Wilson
and also, a visit from cousin Sam!
and Kelly and Brian!

Sister Roubicek was picked up by her brother, Adam, who also served here a couple of years ago, and her parents.  Her mom made us a quilt to thank us for taking care of her daughter! So pretty!

James comforting sister Roubicek about how great it will be to go home.  She didn't quite want to leave her mission:)

Sister Huggard and Sister Clark on our street in Prague

A return visit from Sister Graham

Sister Rosenvall extended her mission 30 days to go to Slovakia for the first time, and train 2 new slovak sisters.  When she left, Sister Eggers and Sister Parsons were amazing to finish training themselves!  In Bratislava!

 Wilson practicing guitar
and his new ukelele that Elder Howell gave to him!

Getting ready for autumn and the senior missionary conference

Hyrum on the morning of his 11th birthday, with George
We dumped out all the legos on the table and built with the missionaries before singing to H.

The next day, we were blessed by a visit from Jacque, Marc, and their adorable son James.  We were in heaven having a little toddler in the house.  And Jacque and Marc are like family to us.  James was her home teacher so many years ago, when she was in middle school, and we are all still so close . 

I can't stop taking photos of this view near our home.

Field trip with Hyrum's class to the Jewish Cemetery and Synagogue.   

Hyrum and friends, heading to a nearby patch of grass to play soccer

Goodbye sister Rosenvall!

Meeting and visiting with Elder and Sister Hafen

Thank you Becky Lowe for this awesome Thankful Tree!  Everyone at thanksgiving dinner wrote what they are thankful for


Sugar cookie decorating contest at the home of some friends

Saint Nicholas Day (only we call it Svati Miklaus here).  Wonderful members from our branch stopped in just to spoil our kids with treats.  A great tradition.

An intense volleyball tournament in Moravia.  These missionaries and my family members got crushed by the members of the church in Uherske Hradiste!  But it was great fun anyway!


Jicin for branch conference.  These two are so so so great to travel early on Sunday mornings to church in other towns.  They are happy to make new friends and wait for their parents to finish meetings and conversations and interviews.  

Eating and talking with dear Czech friends, in their lovely home.

Assistants to James, Elder Gashler and Elder Howell

Growing boys

I really wish that every single missionary in our mission could spend some of their time serving in Prague so that we could have them to dinner and hear of their stories and the miracles that they have seen in their service.  We love these moments of getting to know the missionaries better.

James getting stuff done!

New missionaries!  Again!

Three generations.  Elder Driskill, brand new, about to be trained by Elder Garner, who was trained by Elder Garlick

It was difficult to say goodbye to these missionaries, but we were happy for their families that that they would have their missionaries home for Christmas!

Hyrum and his biggest fans after his violin Christmas recital

A quick visit from the Mocks, who brought lots of love, and stories of their kids who are so dear to Evie and Wilson.  

Excellent lesson in Young Women's in the city of Brno

Mom.  Your sweater gets so much use here!  I love it.  I wear it a lot in December.  Whenever people say something about it, I go on and on, telling them that Grandpa bought it for you when you were in Junior High, over 60 years ago.  Yay for Scandinavian quality!
Walnut shells and candles, a Czech Christmas tradition.  Each person can learn what their future holds in the new year, based on the travel and duration of the little candle:) Leaders of the mission planned czech holiday traditions for us to try at zone conference.
Christmas concert in Uherske Hradiste, which included many members and these great missionaries.

Lucky us!  We got to have Sister Hamblin and Sister Birkeland sleep over for a few nights in December.

Christmas Eve

Merry Christmas!

  Evie says to put this photo in to show that we are not just co-workers.  We do love each other:)

The amazing Cankovi family.  They were so kind to invite us to their home.
Learning the "Brother Canek" game with tape, pens, and a trash can.  The kids love to play this now when they are bored in towns all over the mission.  

On New Years' day, James, George, Hyrum and I walked to the castle to learn more about knights!

Fireworks for New Years

After branch conference in Hradec Kralove

Meanwhile, Evie and Wilson spent most of their Christmas holiday with Grandad, Grandmother, and cousin Ava in Israel.  Here they are at the sea of Galilee, and of course, Wilson played basketball next to it.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
Grandad, Grandmother, and Ava, thank you for spending so much time with Evie and Wilson! They had a once in a lifetime experience. 

I am in love with Prague, in every season.  On this snowy day, I stopped doing mission stuff and walked with Hyrum and George to the park so they could sled.  After they played for a while, I walked to our familiar bridge overlook (and didn't take a picture) and was stunned, again, at how gorgeous the city is.  The orange roofs were turned white, and the city was even more lovely.   I have felt this way, this awe,  in the past when I see the mountains of northern Utah and the red rock of Arches or Lake Powell.   

James teaching a zone conference in Brno. One of our senior missionaries took this photo for us:)

A visit from mission friends that James grew to love 25 years ago

A night walk date to the castle with George.

Joanne Moffatt, visiting the mission for the weekend.  She and I had a lovely time in the Jewish quarter, and also at the branch in Liberec for a fireside that James gave in that city.

Photos that Joanne took:)

Wilson and Ev working after school in the art room

One day, I walked out of teaching a lesson with Elder Galbraith and Elder Benson, to the most awesome new investigator from China named "Wu", who is now a member that we love so much, and there on the stairs of the church was Nicki Gray!  I screamed and it echoed in the church!  She and Stewart came mainly to visit Stewart's parents (our senior missionaries) but we lucked out seeing them a little bit as well.

Sister Angerhofer and Sister Daugirda
Elder Gray telling his stories
International food fair at school
Thanks Elder Gashler for the hair cut!  Wilson wants you to come back to the mission just to give him hair cuts.
To the wonderful Munros, we will never forget you!  We love you!

After the Munros left, Elder Benson, Elder Galbraith, James and I tried to substitute and help with the office work.  I sat at Sister Munro's desk and tried to do her jobs.  And sometimes I just took photos of James working.  Here he was, headphone in his ear, on a very difficult phone call.  In the foreground is hyrum (it's too dark to see him) who came to the office with us because he was home sick from school.  

Huge blessing:  Shelli came to visit again and she is so great with office knowledge!  She helped me a lot with my duties.
James' view of some priesthood leaders in Prague district
Shelli and James, amazing people

At the Ostrava branch conference, Sister Kolkova teaching one of her beautiful lessons to the sisters.  
After giving a ride home to one of the sweet members of Ostrava who travels about 30 minutes to get to church

Branch Conference in Uherske Hradiste
James teaching in the primary, asking the kids to tell him their favorite Book of Mormon stories (I think.  I don't always know what he is saying).

I love how they organize their singing charts for primary!

Shelli is now a huge fan of the Uherske Hradiste members.  She was so at home in their branch!
Uherske Hradiste town square
So glad that Shelli brought Owen with her for this visit.  He keeps our kids laughing and smiling non-stop, until the goodbyes and then everyone starts crying.
Thank you to everyone who wished me happy birthday!  And posted on facebook and sent me messages and love!  I have the greatest friends and family.  And thanks to Sister White and Sister Smith for the party-in-a-box!

Vysehrad here in Prague, with Shelli and Owen

Goodbye to sister Scerra!
And elders Case, Jaynes, Howell, Romrell and Payne!

A fun airport trip to pick up Sister Hale, Elder Cahoon, and Elder Smith.
I love watching the missionaries arrive at the airport.  They are easy to love, and so full of excitement while also feeling so jet-lagged.  

Elder Gashler and Elder Garlick, leaving their job as assistants to go out to other areas

Good-bye Bells! You took such great care of so many of us!

George's school buddies

Soccer at the park for George's party

Not a very clear picture, but this is my view when I sit in traffic each morning after taking the kids to school.  The light is different every day, and I love listening to a lecture or talking with missionaries by phone as I wait for the cars to move.   

Wilson, getting help from dad to find church clothes that fit.

Wilson played on the varsity team, and loved playing lots of games in Prague and then traveled with the team to Istanbul for a tournament against Budapest, Kiev, Moscow, Bucharest, Istanbul, Warsaw.

Jihlava branch conference~such great people

Red light-Green light for family home evening.  This picture looks kind of peaceful, but it was the most awful and competitive game we have ever played!

A weekly chat with the sister training leaders, which james usually has over the phone with them.  They give insights and suggestions on how to help the mission.

James had the flu virus, and then Evie, Wilson and I had it pretty bad in March.  This picture kind of captures the days of discomfort.

And this picture, of Wilson eating Amber's homemade rolls and soup, shows how a loving friend can help heal us.  When I opened the door on that Sunday and saw Amber, I bawled.  James was in Slovakia, and the rest of us were struggling.  She has no idea how much that meal meant, we felt so loved!

A visit from cousin Josh and Lisa

Josh and I trying to re-create the picture of our great grandpa kaspar with aunt lonnie and arthur gaithe 

So glad that Elder Breyman and Elder Croney made it, after waiting for their visas!

A year of more studying/homework than our kids have ever had

My favorite art store that Evie showed me.

Zone conference role-play
Missionaries taking their mail and packages after zone conference
If missionaries are about to go home, they share their testimony at the end of the zone conference and on this particular day, these four spoke.  I love these missionaries!  
Hradec Kralove missionaries
Evie and Wilson and an interesting monument?

The greatest, most international Sunday School class!  

George after church
George showing us what he has been working on at school lately

As Hyrum says, it's not March pleasantness, it's March madness.  Our annual tradition of filling out brackets for the NCAA basketball tournament.  

Thanks Cowley family for the new shirts!!
Elder King, staying strong with Elder Cowley and James

After teaching with Elders Kuhlman and Williams in Bratislava. We taught a wonderful man who is deaf and kind and super smart and spiritual.  A great experience!
Hanging pictures for the new church space in Bratislava

Sister Seninger, teaching the missionaries in Bratislava about the blessings we receive when we are obedient to God's commandments.  For months as she studied Preach My Gospel, she took notes (on both sides of this paper) a list of all the different blessings we are promised. 

Slovak missionaries!

The creation of the first ever Slovak District!  Members from many different towns came to Bratislava for this historic meeting! 

And this is the first ever President of the Slovakia district, with his mom (who helped translate the Book of Mormon and she also translated for me when I gave my speech that day).  Anyway, the President, as James said, "stood up at the pulpit and began to speak, as young Samuel, and by the time he sat down, we all saw him as PRESIDENT Seidl".  Samuel Seidl, at age 23, loves God and his family and Slovakia, and he teaches from the scriptures with such power. 

The District Presidency

Brno district President, Petr Tichon, and Sister Tichonova

Every mission president has counselors, and these two have done so much to help James and the church here.  They have become great friends, brothers in this work.  President Tmej and President Kolek.

I like this photo Evie snapped of James and the elders

After the conference.
Thanks Sister Abbot for taking this picture for us!

The sisters teaching Ivan in the visitor's center in our church building.

A fun walk with Sister Baird, visiting after her mission

Easter Egg dying and hunt at Amber's house!

Easter Sunday

Missionaries and some of the members from the Prague branch.  We also sang happy birthday to Wu!

With Elder Davis, right before he baptized his sweet Czech baby sitter from when he was a toddler
Baptisms in Prague

So happy for this dear sister on her baptism day!

George dribbling on our way home from errands.  This is our street.
Evie cleaning out all the cupboards
Evie's laptop drying upside down for 3 days under a fan after a brother spilled water on it.
A walk to Stromovka park

And one ride at the nearby amusement park

A night away with the family for spring break

Beautiful Spring

After watching women's conference, with the sisters
Watching general priesthood session in English
Wilson and Elder Gashler
These are such outstanding missionaries!!! When we came to the mission, these elders were in their first month of service.  And now they are done!  And these three sisters, I wish they could stay for 18 more months.  

Waiting for Grandma and Opa at terminal 2! So exciting!

Mom and Dad came to visit us and tour but also they came to tend the kids while we had meetings in Frankfurt.  Thanks Grandma and Opa!!

So happy to be with our MTC group again!
Presidents and general authorities at the conference in Frankfurt

Mission Presidents and General Authorities and their wives at the european conference

Right after, we came back to prague and welcomed some great new missionaries to the mission! 

And George performed as an indian in Peter Pan at school.  The assistants, Elder Earl and Elder Cowley, as well as Grandma, Grandpa, and the Holts came to watch with our family.  George did awesome!

Evie and her friends on their way to prom at the Lobkowitz Palace
Telling dad about her fun night

Plzen for branch conference!  Dad, Wilson and Elder Petty in priesthood.
So happy to introduce mom to Rostya.  I love these two women and look up to them both so much.
A lengthy traffic jam on the freeway from Plzen to Prague

Hyrum's solo suzuki recital
Here is his beautiful teacher, Jana.
Elder Cook and Elder Kleiner
The HOLTS!  They are the new office couple, and we are thankful to Heavenly Father that they are here in our mission!  We appreciate them every day!  
The Cankovi family
How kind of all these friends to fill in for the Springer and McConkie families
Grandma was so sweet to play piano for H, and Hyrum's teacher and dad played some duets with him as well.

In front of the mission office across the street

At Strahov Monastery, a lovely library and my book-loving mom

Exploring Hluboka with Grandma and Opa

While Grandma and Opa were in the Hluboka castle on a tour, Hyrum and George and I happily ran into a bunch of our senior couples!  What an awesome surprise!

Grandma and Opa in the Hluboka gardens

Mom loves lilacs!

Hluboka-so impressive! Mom, can you see yourselves in the front of the castle?

Cesky Krumlov is one of the most exquisite towns in the country.  

A stop to visit the missionaries in Ceske Budejovice:)

Opa and the boys at school
Showing mom and dad the inside of the kids' school
Wilson in art class, right before grandma marched in to visit:)

Senior Missionary Conference!
For the Senior misisonaries, we gave some lectures and at the end of mine, I had the Prague missionaries come sing "called to serve"

During my family search lesson that I asked my dad to give me, Branch President Van Dalen called me from Kosice, which was not a coincidence at ALL because he and my dad really needed to meet over the phone and speak dutch to each other.  They have only emailed a bit over the past two years, trying to see if they are related.  They are both such geneology experts.   I took a video of their conversation, and realized that I hadn't really ever heard dad speak dutch!  It was a joy.  He couldn't stop smiling and I couldn't stop getting emotional.  Thank you to President Van Dalen!

Wilson loves to go with the assistants to take the sacrament to people in their homes, or sometimes teach. 
A Sunday walk with George and Hyrum

At the Holt's apartment, we celebrated the Mendenhall's mission as they prepared to fly home. 
For two years, Sister Mendenhall has sat beside me at weekly office meetings, given me parenting ideas and advice, listened to me cry and wonder and grow and problem solve, tended our kids, tuned our piano, made us food, brought music into the building with her piano playing, baked bread that makes the whole church smell amazing, and told me the exact words I needed to hear time and time again.  
And Elder Mendenhall has been the uncle, grandpa, priesthood holder, doctrine explainer, apartment repairer, food maker, scripture class teacher, and true friend that we all needed.  These two arrived a week after we did.  I miss having them in the building every day.  They were always nearby, mainly to serve the young single adult crowd for multiple events per week, but we were daily blessed by having them here for our family.  

Evie, lucky lucky girl, went with Hannah and Heidi Moore to Italy for a few days.  Thank you Imperial Second friends!!

George's buddy Oliver came to George's baptism last year, and we were so happy to go to Oliver's first communion this Spring. 

On mother's day I clicked on my phone to this lovely collage of Wilson's previous collages.  Thanks, son.

Sometimes I walk/run in the park and thought I should take a photo of the beer garden.  It is a spot where people gather each night in the summer for beer and they talk for hours.  A super pretty view.

My three favorite languages!

Olomouc Branch conference--Primary was so awesome

A boat party to celebrate the health of Hyrum's great friend who has come through all the treatments for Leukemia.  We have prayed for him and fasted for him many many times. So grateful that he is doing well!!! 

Look who is 15!  I took Wilson on an outing to town for lots of street food, including gelato.
And then a birthday party at night with the missionaries.  

James and I took George and Wilson with us to Trencin to celebrate the dedication of Slovakia for the preaching of the gospel by Dieter Uchdorf.  Here the members and missionaries are singing, and sister Eggers and Elder Driskill are playing two keyboards, see them on the left? Great idea to get extra volume outdoors, right?
And then as it started to rain, James quickly played his musical number under my umbrella and then he yelled that we would move the meeting from the dedication site to the church, down the hill. 

After the meeting, with lots of slovak missionaries and members

broom/waterballoon baseball
Halusky dinner with the Trencin missionaries in the Elders' apartment.  Elder Wycoff would be so proud!

Branch conference in Trencin the next day

Killing time waiting for dad to finish meetings by rolling water balloons off the car.

At the border

While we were in Trencin, Hyrum was at a birthday sleepover for a friend and then he spent time with the Holts.  Evie went to Warsaw for varsity tennis.  Here she is with her cute dance friend, Noa, who is also her tennis partner.  In the doubles One division, these two won first place!  Champions!

Prague castle

Welcome back Elder Bushnell!

Elder Kearon's visit to our mission
Elder Scherf and his awesome friend Elder Archibald.  I don't think I had any senior missionaries in my mission when I was in Argentina, so I didn't realize until this mission how close the senior missionaries and the younger missionaries can get.  They are like family.  They will stay in touch the rest of their lives.  The friendship that they share is deep and loyal, and they have an understanding of what has taken place in this mission.  

More of Elder Kearon.  His speech in General Conference, about the scorpion and about the healing power of Jesus Christ, was something we all studied to get ready for his visit.  When he was speaking to the missionaries, I have to say that the highlight for me was hearing his conversion story, and the details of his personal journey and childhood leading up to it.  James and I are so grateful that he was assigned to come and teach all of us so much about missionary work from a convert's perspective.  He was so kind to our kids and we have all grown to love him so much.

Prague zoo for a primary activity

Evie at the color run

Back to Ceske Budejovice for a branch conference

George waiting for me to pick him up after school

Feeling grateful for L. Tom Perry, and sad that he passed away.  He gave James a beautiful blessing to set him apart when we came on the mission. 
One of Wilson's posters for school (social studies)
George at tennis courts
Weiner Wednesday after tennis, at an outdoor barbeque in the park
Hyrum after his last day of swimming in elementary school at Strahov Stadium
Hyrum and some other americans, teaching all of the elementary school about the US.  Hyrum loved telling them about Arches!
James and I snuck into the art room with the teacher to see Wilson's bananas that she wanted to show us.

Our two newest groups of missionaries, after "progression training" in Brno.  

A visit from Sister Senkane and her family, they drove here from Latvia and are amazing church members/pioneers really.

Good bye Fullmers!!!!  We are so glad that you got transferred from france to czech republic half way through your mission!!!

Sometimes you just need Bishop Wood to stop by and listen to you.  Like good old days.  

So great to see all the Wood kids!

These guys were the best, with their selfie stick and their segway rentals, and constantly smiling and laughing and not acting like they had jet lag at all!  It was great to have them here for a few days before they went to all their other destinations.

 I don't know how to write about this photo.  I wasn't there, but the boys came home from squash on p-day with James and some of the missionaries, talking about eating raw meat spread.  

Hyrum's "long walk for water" hike, to gather water from a lake, and then they raised money as a fifth grade to build a well for a village in south sudan. Some of the kids in south sudan spend all day walking to water, and bringing it back home, then repeating, then that's it.  That's all they do really.  Having a well will help them get water where they live, and then they can go to school.  Hyrum has taught our family so much this year, about how blessed we are to have clean water.
Hyrum at fifth grade "moving up" ceremony.  Sixth grade with be middle school for him!

So tired from studying for year end exams all day every day

Elder Knapp returned and kept the kids quite entertained for about a week.  

Happy Father's day dad!
 The best part of Father's day, for me, was sitting at the front of this conference hall and looking at so many members and missionaries that I love, people and from all over the Czech Republic.  The longer I am here, the more personal experiences I have with the people and I love them so much.  This was a special country-wide meeting, and Elder Kearon came again as the visiting authority.  

So we went to this antique postcard/money shop that Jonathan Tichy frequents when he is here, and we found little inexpensive treasures!  From these black and white photos from the 1930's, we see that Prague really kept its' beauty from before world war 2.  The owner of the store, along with his friends who were sitting there visiting, kept trying to offer us plum liquor and James got into a great conversation with them about our religion and his calling.  They called him the priest by the end.  I wish I could speak Czech better, so I could hear all about their long and interesting lives.  

The most recent group to head home.  Just a few days ago, we said goodbye to most of these elders.  I cry saying goodbye, but it's mostly because I am just so grateful for who they are, for how they have conquered their own personal demons, for how they have loved our family.  Really, so so grateful.
 At the airport, Elder Davis showed me this letter that he wrote to himself on the flight over to the mission two years ago.  He was going to open it on the flight home.  He told me that when he wrote the letter, his expectations were lower.  His mission was so much more than he hoped for.  And Elder Davis is incredibly optimistic and hopeful!  But the Lord is so good to His servants.  It reminded me of the quote that Sister Cooper used to share, that "a person cannot give a crust to the Lord without receiving a loaf in return" (marion g. romney).  It's true.

 These four elders stayed a little longer because their parents were coming to pick them up.  SO, they cleaned my entire kitchen and dinner tables from the night before and then played ball with the boys.  Sweet, sweet elders.

Alexandra, baptized here in Prague 2 years ago, and now moving to the states.

Talking to Raul, who has now been a member of the church for one year.  He reminds me SO MUCH of Leif Paulsen, only with an ecuadorian accent and he speaks Czech.  I love him and his outlook so much, he teaches us about love.  All the time.  When Elder Holt took this photo, Raul was telling me and Elder Kleiner why the Doctrine and Covenants is the absolute greatest book and that we really need to get out there and tell people about it more.  Love it!


 Visiting Elder Terry and Elder Sylvester in Trebic for the Trebic 20th anniversary of being a branch!  They used to meet in a new members' apartment, 20 years ago, and now they have a lovely meeting space.  We had a fireside there last night to celebrate the 20 years, with such great families and individuals, and then today was branch conference.  I liked how the primary kids all took off their shoes to go into the primary room.

A stop in the city called Telc on the way back to prague

Two years ago, today, when we started this mission, I remember thinking that all the missionaries looked alike and that I would never sort out in my mind their names, who was who.  That worry, in a matter of hours, left me, because as I got to know each individual missionary, or as James started to tell me what he loved and admired about each one, I could see them for how wonderfully different they all are.  

I'm sure that if I scrolled through all these pictures of missionaries, as someone who didn't know them, they would all seem alike.  They are alike in their acceptance to the call to serve here, but each one brings such different talents and strengths and fears and ideas.  

Like Rachelle Doane told me once, a mission is very personal.  It's so true.  Each missionary leaves here having built  tight bonds with the people around them, but their stories and experiences and growth are so personal. Even each of our McConkie kids is having a different experience from each other.   I think our missions are personal, and of course each life is.  Of course! 

I appreciate knowing that each individual can feel loved and lifted by God.

I love the fifth chapter of Mark, which right now is my favorite chapter in the new testament.  
I love how every time I study it, I see more about how Jesus gives attention to the individual.  
He addresses, so beautifully, the individual.  
He faces the individual, when I would be inclined to either run away or look away.  
He blesses the lead characters of the stories, but also the individuals who are not so noticed.
He varies his instruction based on the individual's needs.
He is unafraid of how different each individual is!  
I invite you all to study again Mark chapter 5!!!  I know you will get something great from it! And I know this: that change in myself and others is possible because of Christ's atonement.  I love this gospel and I love all of you!  I love that we are God's children!!!!   

With much love from Prague, 
Laurel/Sestra McConkie