Family, Imperial 2nd Ward, Dear Friends,
Hugs and love from Prague! I especially want to tell you Mom and Mom McConkie how much I love you and how great it was to talk to you both on Mother's Day yesterday. And to all of my aunts, you have loved and guided me and I love you!!
I hope everyone is doing well. I think of you all so much, especially as I realize the graduations and births and baptisms and passing of loved ones and all the amazing events that are taking place in your lives. I hope you are all blessed and that you know that we love you so much!
When we went to Lake Powell and back with the Woods, in one day, just to deliver a mission call to David Doane, we could not have predicted that in the future our Wilson would get to see him in Moscow at a basketball tournament! When he opened his call to Moscow, we had no idea that we would be also going on a mission. A HUGE highlight of Wilson's trip to Moscow was seeing David.
Back in Utah, I would get all weepy sending Wilson to scout camp, and then YM President Spencer Denison would listen to me and assure me that everything would be great and I knew it would be. And here, wow, sending Wilson to Moscow was a little farther than camp. But I knew that he was watched over by great coaches, a host family, and Heavenly Father. And BONUS- he got to see a fellow quorum member. I am so grateful for all that the young men and leaders did for Wilson in the Imperial 2nd Ward. You prepared him for this mission experience. In so many ways!
Wilson with Elder Doane after one of his games!!!
Throwing rocks at a gas station on our way to Trencin, Slovakia.
Trencin castle out the window of where we stayed. Our family loves this town!
Sunday morning relief society after branch conference. Three of us missionaries, two visiting sisters from the district presidency, and four lovely women who live in Trencin. We sat our chairs in a circle for our lesson, and I loved them as they shared how they have been strengthened by the Book of Mormon.
Elder Ellingson-first counselor in the branch presidency
Primary was so fun with Elder Brousseau as the teacher
Hyrum's grade had a technology fair! Hyrum, for his project, secretly filmed the fourth grade classes as they responded to Hyrum's poster, instructing "dance down this hall" in the fourth grade hallway. Hyrum's teacher helped him set up cameras and they had awesome music playing. It was so interesting! I was there for part of it, and just five minutes of dancing around with friends before class seemed to really change the emotion and energy of the kids. In a great way! Everyone joined in, and Hyrum had fun putting together a video to show his results at this fair. It reminded me of when Mrs. Wheeler, at Highland Park last year, had the kids dance around the room to "thunderstruck" before taking a test.
On a different day, George's grade did a fair about the human body, and George showed us what he has learned about circulation. He for sure understands the systems of the body better than I do. Often he teaches me interesting facts about our bodies.
A little chess phase.
Our lovely CES couple, the Lyons, finished their mission. James and I admire them so much. Awesome teachers, strong marriage, and they love travel and adventures.
James went to Slovakia early for a zone conference, so I went down with Elder Sylvester and Elder Davis, our office elders who needed to go change all the tires on the mission cars in Slovakia. Road trips are the best way to learn about people, truly! I loved hearing their thoughts and asking them questions about their missions and their lives. Super missionaries.
Sister Baird and Sister Kane before our conference in Bratislava.
Field trip!! We decided to have a little shorter training so that we could all enjoy a tour of Bratislava together. Learning about this country makes us love the people even more!
Sister Senkane and Sister Seninger
Elder Wrightson and Elder Archibald
Brno and Slovak zones
On our tour, various times people stopped our missionaries to ask about who we are.
Elder Calderon (pointing to the word "finland" where he is from:))
Elder Howell and Elder Payne
Holocaust Memorial. I loved it from all angles, please visit here someday:)
More chatting with interested people. This is Elder Dupre and Elder Neumann
The Bells-humanitarian missionaries!
Sister Belibi Minya speaking with a man from her country (france)
The Archibalds, who care for the Young Single Adults in Brno
On a different day, we went to Jihlava branch for their branch conference. See that cute little blue building? The members meet in there on the second floor in a couple of rooms. This is the branch president, who came out in the rain to meet us. I taught them about the widow's mite in my talk, and gave them specific examples of how I have seen them offer so much to the Lord. They have great faith. Many obstacles are before them, and they have gone through so much in their past in this country, but the people in that room are intelligent and brave and happy to serve God. And each other!
On our drive to another city so James could release someone from their calling.
A dear brother who served in the district presidency. I really loved his family, their home, and the cool wooden swing in the yard.
So the next week, after the zone conference we did in Prague, we took the Prague and Hradec Kralove zones on a field trip to the Bethlehem chapel. This chapel was the first place that Elder Wirthlin wanted to visit when he came to Prague during the days of communism. He, and we, wanted to go there to learn about Jan Hus, an early religious reformer admired by John A. Widstoe at the 1929 dedication of Czechoslovakia for the preaching of the gospel. yes, james wrote that last sentence:)
Sisters Shoen and Hicken, who bravely re-opened a city called Mlada Boleslav for missionary work a few months ago.
Elder Boysen, happy assistant to James
In front of the entrance to the Bethlehem chapel. (that was as far as I got, because school was almost out so I ran home to go get the kids, but I heard it was amazing inside and the tour guide let some of our missionaries sight read one of the hymns from the 1400's and it was gorgeous)
Walking Evie to dance class with aunt Teresa! A lovely visit from her meant loads of attention for the kids, wonderful conversations for me, many meals and a cleaner mission home because she can't help but serve, and even in the rain, she gets me to exercise outside and see parts of this city I had never known.
And then Shelli arrived and we could spoil her with walks and a treasure hunt around prague (that teresa planned perfectly) to celebrate her 40th birthday! Even though we were trying to spoil Shell, I felt spoiled the whole time. They have helped our family, and me personally, so much here and I felt like I was ten years younger by the time they left. Thanks sisters for helping me problem solve and for listening and for laughing with me and for encouraging me!
District Conference for the Prague District. We enjoyed the visit of Elder Olsson and his wife and daughter (who served in our ward/stake back in Salt Lake.) The last time I had seen young sister Olssen was when she and her companion were helping to clean our house when we had moved out last May. James had her speak to our sister missionaries and she got us all FIRED UP to be better and to be humble and let the Lord teach us and guide us.
Two beautiful missionaries, Sister Jackson and Sister Roubicek
One evening we visited Elder Simcock and Elder Taylor in Hradec Kralove, where James was teaching with some other elders at an ecumenical gathering of different Christian faiths. When Elder Simcock was in Prague, I loved to stand next to him when we sang in public squares because he has an awesome voice!
New trainers, getting all excited to meet their new missionaries fresh from the MTC!
James announcing companionships and areas to the new missionaries:)
I'll have to put a photo on next time of all the new missionaries, they are so great.
Getting ready to say goodbye to 12 missionaries
Sisters Woodworth, Barney, Bateman, Terry and EV:)
And on the back row, Elders Rhees, Hammond, Probst, Neumann, McConkie, Carlson, Chezik, Elliason, and Simcock
Using our stairway to sort and pack and get rid of stuff before they fly out.
Nice little reminder at the airport
So James and his 11 sons, having a burger after Priesthood session (and sports night) to discuss the talks of conference.
Another drive to Slovakia for James to help some missionaries. The kids had spring break, so I got to show them Bratislava for a day
Easter decorations at a mall
Hanging out in the hotel room
Relaxing on a tram ride into town.
On our way to that UFO tower that is part of the bridge.
On top of the UFO tower, Bratislava behind us. Had a great conversation with a family of six who took our picture and was from Norway. They had talked to missionaries once before, so it was fun to follow up!
Those hills behind George are Austria. Can you imagine being so close to Western Europe for all those years when it was terribly difficult to leave the East?
From inside the UFO tower, pretty windows. The best was in the bathroom, where each toilet faces a glass wall. I guess it's so high up, privacy is not an issue. The boys were especially fascinated with the men's room, and came out with all kinds of photos. If you're interested, they'd love to show you them someday. This is just the restaurant part.
Walking back over the bridge. I love these kids. But I also really LIKE them, so much that it feels like I'm with dear friends when we are together. And even though we argue and bug each other sometimes, we are usually all we have so we are definitely bonding. And we love James too, fyi:)
Another view of the tower.
Clever little bench on a slanty alleyway.
Pretty famous sculpture in Bratislava.
Better than any tourist attraction--running into missionaries on our walk!! Elder Calderon and Elder Lamb:):)
At the chapel in Bratislava, Elder Mason and Elder Jardine, having their dinner in-between appointments. I think it was oatmeal.
Back in Prague, not really the best part of Spring Break for the kids, more time at the Foreign Police trying to stay legal here. It's like taking the whole family to the DMV. Only in Czech. And sometimes for 3 hours. But thankfully Elder Olson, who we LOVE, was with us to make it go smoother and quicker, and then we rewarded everyone with the best burgers, maybe that I've ever had, at the Tavern.
Evie patiently waiting at a clothing store for Wilson to look at some clothes. He's growing so much lately.
Wilson waiting patiently??? for evie to look at zippers and buttons:)
Before eating with all the missionaries in Prague, James and I each gave a spiritual thought. James read about the resurrection of the Savior in the bible, and it reminded me of that feeling I have on Christmas eve when we read the story of Jesus' birth from the bible. And for my spiritual thought I showed the missionaries the little video that I'm sure you've all seen, but it's SO great so I'll write the web address here:
I think Hyrum was feeling a little homesick on Easter Sunday, because he made these words of Utah stuff. And then one of our Elders added the Cache Valley.
Getting warm enough for SWINGBALL.
And always basketball.
George's eggs from school.
At the baptism of a sweet new friend!!!
George, playing soccer with all men. His brothers chose basketball. Every saturday night is Sports Night for missionaries, members, our family, investigators, anyone! It's perfect at the park near our home.
Sister Roubicek has been serving in Prague for so long, Evie feels like she is an actual sister to her. When sister Roubicek sings, she reminds me of Katrina Madsen. I don't want the song to end! And her mannerisms remind me so much of Ashley Springer our niece!
George was really missing Highland Park, and the ability to walk home from school, so he and I went on a walk from our house to the castle and then got super rained on as we ran home through large puddles. When we got home, Hyrum handed us folded clean towels as he opened the door for us.
Evie is almost as tall as me now.
Mission Presidents' seminar in Frankfurt. Amazing instruction and Spirit.
While we were in Frankfurt, Evie was in Budapest, Hungary with her choir. They practiced for about 11 hours on one of the days, and on the last night gave a big performance. She stayed with a host family, loved the music, learned a lot, and made some new friends. I'm so proud of her for going!
Elder Utenis (I have no idea how to spell that, I am sorry) from Finland was our visiting authority for the Brno District conference. He said that when he joined the church, he told the missionaries that he never wanted to give a talk. Ever. He felt so shy. And he said, in his speech, that he is only able to speak at conferences (I think almost every weekend) because of God's power and strength. He feels like he is experiencing a miracle. I feel that way, too! Not necessarily with speaking, but with other challenges in life. The boys and I loved hearing him talk about the light in Finland, how it is light all night in the Summer. The sun drops near the horizon, but doesn't ever disappear. He said it is like in 3 nephi when Christ visits in the Book of Mormon. And he also talked about the darkness of winter, and I felt amazed at the goodness of the people who live north! That would be so hard!
Pretty flowers from the Brno District after conference ended.
After the District conference, James took the area authority back to prague, and I stayed in Brno and did a Zone conference/training with about 70 missionaries. It was so strange to do everything without James! But the missionaries were soooooo awesome and made me feel like I was speaking to relatives. The missionaries who are leaders took turns training as well, and we all learned from each other. When I was teaching my different segments, I remembered what Jared Stoddard told me once after one of my Gospel Doctrine lessons in the Imperial 2nd ward. He said that James' lessons were like a Summer Blockbuster, with a big strong ending. And that my lessons were like a foreign film. I actually agree with you Jared! It was definitely a different zone conference without James' booming finale. But I know we felt the Spirit together, and hopefully I taught them stuff that they could think about in the days to come, like we do after lovely foreign films:)
Here is a shot of Sister Seninger and Sister Belibi Minya after zone conference.
Elder Suwyn came on his own from the MTC because he was waiting to get a cast off of his leg or foot, so we happily met him at the airport with his trainer, Elder Esser.
Little victory: finding a garden store and picking out plants that are labeled in czech. I don't have a garden, but we have lots of pots on 2 small balconies, so I have planted those and it is a joy to watch everything grow. George is especially excited about his pot of strawberries.
Another little victory: finding and shopping at a home depot-type place for the first time. Wilson usually picks pretty tricky science fair projects, but this is the trickiest because we had to use body language to ask questions to the sweet czech men working at the store. And had them cut wood for us and everything. It took a long time. We were quite proud of ourselves. And thankful!
Couples conference! Everyone came to us this time, and after trainings and dinner, we spent the next day on a tour of Prague with a guide who is a member of our branch. I have heard stories of their kids and grandkids and church service and now their missionary tales, and I am amazed at their willingness to do this. They make SUCH a difference to this mission and these countries, with humanitarian work, young single adults, financial and office service, CES, and helping to run and teach in branches.
Sunday walk to the castle moat with the 3 boys. I don't know if I'm spelling moat right, but anyway, it's not the kind that has water in it. There used to be bears and bear keepers in the moat to keep away the enemy or to dissuade prisoners from escaping the tower. Fun fact from our tour guide (mentioned above), the prague castle is the largest medieval castle in the world.
Can you tell he is growing? I look him in the eye now and it is crazy!
Mom, are these Forget-me-nots? I love them so I bought them and they greet me every time we come in the back door.
More signs of Spring.
Running an errand with James to town the other night, trying to find Wilson some baseball socks, and the sky was so gorgeous.
The chapel in Plzen, where Elder and Sister Gray will be serving when they arrive. I know they will miss terribly their kids and grandkids but soon they will love the people who fill these seats on Sunday!!
A last game of basketball with Elder Nye.
At many conferences, when the boys were so bored waiting for us to finish interviews or a class, Elder Nye would play basketball with them at the Brno chapel.
Elder and Sister Nye at their farewell dinner
We will miss them!
George's second rugby practice.
Sports night with one of our favorite members! He had come from the temple in Germany, still dressed up, so he and I watched (he actually coached:))from the sidelines as everyone played soccer.
Wilson's trip to Bucharest with the softball team was SO FUN he says. They won all their games, and then lost in the championship to Moscow. So second place! Which is so great, and I just love that he even played because he has never played on a softball/baseball team before.
So family, friends, if any of you read all of that, did you feel like you were flipping channels on the tv? I apologize for lack or organization, truly. I know that the things of my heart mixed with random activities and family stuff followed by missionary stuff makes it hard to have any kind of flow. But thanks for reading anyway, and for supporting us and being there for us!
I did this thing where, after 30 days, I tallied some stuff that we had been doing. I didn't count up all the lessons or school projects or performances or playdates, none of the normal meetings and weekly predictables. I didn't count up all the days James was on the road visiting other missionaries and stuff. But here are some things from a 30 day span. Times I gave a speech or taught: 7. James taught or spoke 14 times. Days devoted to conferences or trainings: 16. Meals we hosted: 7. Visits to the Prague airport: 10. Visits to medical centers: 6. It would be impossible to count up the number of blessings and interviews James has given, unless we kept a count every day. And many of my hours are spent in helping sick missionaries or driving to school and back, which I love by the way. Both of those things. But I just am sharing these various facts because of Elder Bednar's talk at conference. Did you hear it? President Wood told us the story years ago from a training he went to with Elder Bednar, so I was so happy to hear the message again. The main point I took from the message was that the absence of burdens does not create in us HAPPINESS. Rather, as we join with God, and take His yoke upon us, our burdens are lightened. I sometimes look at what we have done in a day, or a week, or in 30 days like I just wrote about, and I can't really understand how come we didn't crumble physically and emotionally. But I guess I do understand this: when I let the Lord help me with my burdens, I, at times, experience so much joy that I am able to keep going. Because God asks us all, whether we are on a mission or not, to do hard things and to make a difference and to spread His truths, we will never be burden free! But if we were burdenless, we couldn't feel the joy that comes from partnering with Him. So to especially my family who worries about me sometimes that we are so busy as mission president and fam, please know that the blessings and joy are so great. We witness miracles and are amazed at the Lord's hand in this work. We love our missionaries so deeply! We love the people of this land! His yoke is easy, or as Grandad explains, it fits well, and His burden is light. I love that. And I love all of you, so much. Have a beautiful Spring! Love, Laurel/Sestra McConkie