Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Letter to Banks Grandkids Feb. 27, 2017 & Happy Birthday, Sydnie!

Dear Grandkids,

Thank-you for your family letter. We enjoyed it very much. I wanted to answer your questions.

I can't believe we have grandchildren going to high school. It's much more of a shock for parents though, who have a lot to worry about. Grandparents just see this beautiful granddaughter growing up. My only advice, Sydnie, is to minimize the drama if you have a lot, and you will get a lot more of what you want ;).  In answer to your question, we work in the office, so mostly we help the mission president and wife get things done, so they can concentrate on the missionaries and help all the good looking missionaries when they come in.  We do a lot of office work, Grandpa with finances, such as bill for utilities, housing costs, car repairs, and a lot more I know nothing about. I should ask, right?  I add baptisms to the church records, which is very important. It gives the convert his membership number and starts him/her on their way to the temple.  I also make and send packets to missionaries who have just received their call. There is a bunch of paperwork they have to fill out, go to the doctor, get driving records, passports for those coming from another country (we have a few), and then do packets for those departing their mission. I order missionary nametags, talk to parents who have bad news about a family death or are coming to the area.

Elder and Sister Banks
We wear our missionary tags everyday, all day. Actually it is easy here to start up a conversation because you can ask people if they have been to visit the Washington DC temple during Christmas to see the Christmas lights. They put a light on every living thing that surrounds the temple at Christmastime. Then you can tell them about the visitor's center, which has a lot of sister missionaries serving there who give little tours and such.  I have to wear a dress all day, everyday. We have a nice two bedroom, two bath apartment, so visitors (that's you!) can come to visit. Saturday we visited a town, Frederick, MD, and Grandpa went into a knife shop and the employee looked at him for a minute and said, "Usually the guys I see wearing that tag are a lot younger!" So that was a door opening for Grandpa to tell him what he was doing and inviting him to the temple visitor's center.  Our nametags are a constant reminder to us to put our best selves out there and we are extra kind to everyone we come in contact with. We pause, we step aside, and we always have a smile for everyone.  so, if you pretend you are wearing a nametag for the Church of Jesus Christ of LDS everyday it will be easier to be kind to others and even to your own family.

Wes, we have no sense of what people in Washington DC think of President Trump. I think that two of the most liberal minded states in the country are your Washington and this Washington, so I am think most folks are fairly critical of him. There are people from all over the world here who work in research centers and for the government. John Hopkins University has a huge research facility in the town we live in and there are other universities that do too. The man considered to be the top dog of DNA research in the country is in the Stake presidency of the ward we are assigned to. A lot of members do or have family that work in the foreign service. You would have to look up what that means. There are two places in the United States that charge you if you want a plastic grocery bag. One is Seattle and the other, Montgomery County, Maryland, where we live. Go figure.

Landon,  we have not yet found any good food here, but we haven't looked yet. There are so many big buildings, big apartment buildings, and we are still trying to find our way around. So, we are going to start trying to find a good Mexican, Asian, and whatever else we can find.

Colton, we have seen one great historical place. The first full day we were here, our mission president, Pres. Johnson and his wife took the office staff to the Smithsonian's new African American Museum. We drove the metro train into the city and saw the capital building down the street, and the Washington Monument down the other way. It was thrilling. The museum was more than fascinating. It was amazing.  This Saturday, the senior couples are going to the Ford Theatre, where President Lincoln, was shot, by a crazy guy. It is going to be great.

Tomorrow we are training the new missionaries who came in last week, how to do stuff. So it will be fun to meet the new ones.

Love you all, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SYDNIE!!!!!

Grandma Banks

Welcome to the Washington D.C.North Mission

We arrived at the mission office Tuesday afternoon, Feb 14th. Everyone was waiting for us and welcomed us like prodigal sons.  The story of why we are here:

The Mission Office
SLC told our mission president there was no couple coming to replace the couple leaving the end of December. So President Johnson put out a plea for a local couple to volunteer. Brother and Sister Troutman of Annapolis, who had been working in the temple for six years, and had previously served a mission in SLC at the Church's mission headquarters, volunteered to do it for a year. They started in December, were trained by the couple leaving, and then found out we were coming. Words cannot adequately describe how grateful Greg and I are that they served in the interim. They cleaned up, organized, and got everything ready for us. Then they stayed and have been training us for almost two weeks now. They have on a good commute day, a two hour round trip drive from home to the office. So their sacrifice has been great.

I am a mission secretary and Sister Thompson, from Ogden, is the other mission secretary. Greg is the finance/housing elder. Elder Thompson is the vehicle coordinator.  I think we are here because there was a great need for Greg and his knowledge of all things pertaining to what he can offer the mission office.  There is a couple, Elder and Sister Miles,  serving a Member Leadership Support mission are also housing coordinators out in the field, emptying and finding apartments. The mission is trying to get all missionaries into one bedroom apartments. The Miles are invaluable to the mission, and Greg is so grateful for their help.

The office is the basement of a chapel, and it is very nice. Our apartment is about twenty minutes from the office, and we don't have to get on the freeway. It is a nice quiet area. We are about twenty miles from the Quince Orchard Ward, Maryland Seneca Stake, that we have been assigned to.

Groceries were a sticker shock, but gas about the same price as northern Idaho. John Hopkins and other universities have research facilities here. We are surrounded by very  big research facilities and very large apartment buildings. Many people work either in research or for the government. There are people from all over the world here. So many high rise buildings here, so many roads.

People drive about 20 miles over the speed limit here, do not use their blinkers, and honk at you at will.  Kinda scary. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Drive

We left the MTC on Friday morning, Feb. 10th. We drove through Provo Canyon, which I had never seen before. We drove on I-80 to Limon, just out of Denver. We checked out Cheyenne, WY, and it looked like a fun place to visit with lots of history.  We missed some very heavy winds from before Cheyenne and into Denver. There were four or five empty semis tipped over, and in CO, the winds caused some big fires, that burned about twelve outbuildings down. There were a lot of wind breaks in Wyoming that looked like wooden fences/pallets on end. They were positioned so the blowing snow would hit them and drop to the ground instead of blowing onto the highway. I remember seeing the Platte River and thinking of the pioneers crossing it. We stayed in Limon. CO, outside of Denver for the night.

On Saturday morning we drove on I-70 from Limon, CO, to Kansas City, MO. I had frozen custard for the first time. Made me think of Betsy who used to have it in Mississippi. It is delicious, better than ice cream, so silky smooth. We stopped in Kansas City, found a world famous BBQ place that was in a gas station. The line was long, it was crowded, but things moved fairly fast and we had KC BBQ at Joe's BBQ. We spent the night in Clinton, MO. 

Sunday morning we drove diagonally through Missouri, to Franklin, TN, outside of Nashville. From Missouri on the scenery started to look better. I am sorry we saw it all in February.  I wish I could have seen it in spring or summer.  All the trees were bare, ground was bare too, no green.  From Franklin we drove to Roanoke, VA., following along the Appalachian Mountains.  My Valentine
present from Greg was a  visit to Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke.  They have a show on DIY, called Salvage Dogs, that I enjoy. The episodes are usually the two owners salvaging some very old place.
They have a store where they sell all sorts of "old stuff." We met one of the owners, who spent some
time talking to us. We were asked if we wanted to be on TV, they were filming, we declined. I loved the place.


After Black Dog Salvage, we drove to the mission office in Potomac, MD. We made it.
The drive made us miss the Palouse, the Cascades, the Pacific Ocean, the forests, big rivers, small creeks and everything green.  This spring is when the east coast is supposed to explode into green and color.  I'm looking forward to it.





Sunday, February 26, 2017

The MTC

Despite Greg's sciatica, the MTC was a wonderful place to be.

When we got to the MTC, a brother greeted us outside and sent us inside to check in. We were given keys to our bedroom, and a key card to use to get in the other buildings.  You could not get into any building without one. When we left they deactivated it. We were given our nametags, which we wore at all times, and an envelope of instructions. Then we went to the back of the building where we were staying, unloaded our luggage, parked the car, and went upstairs to our bedroom. There is an MTC bookstore in the building where we picked up a packet of pamphlets, and a  missionary handbook. Then we went to the travel department, also in the same building where we slept, and picked up a check to cover the costs of traveling from Troy to Washington DC. We  figured out how much the drive east cost and we feel the church was generous.  We also got ministerial cards that say we are authorized by the church to preach the gospel. 

Our room was in the main campus. Our bedroom was nice, the bed queen size, a big dresser, and a nice bathroom.  The laundry, cafeteria, classrooms, and everything we needed was just a short walk away.

Seniors come on Monday, young missionaries come on Wednesday. The young elders and sisters were so kind and respectful. Two young elders carried my dirty laundry for me all the way to the laundry room one night. They waited for us to open doors. They are probably told to watch out for the senior folks. We were encouraged to sit with them at meals and talk and listen to them.

There were ninety couples in our group. We were divided into districts, each with a district leader. Greg was our district leader. We grew very quickly to love the other couples in our district.  Nobody cared where anyone was going. Several of the couples were going for a year, most for eighteen months. Most of the couples in our group were driving somewhere in the United States.  About half or our group went to the new SLC Headquarters Mission. They had no idea what they were going to be doing, but hoped it would be Family History. Everyone stayed one week unless you were called as office support. Six couples stayed for four more days the second week to receive office  training on the church's mission software.

The food was okay, and I am sure the young missionaries loved it, but two weeks of cafeteria food..... They feed so many people there. The cafeteria  employs 300 part time students. The dining room is open for an hour for breakfast, and an hour and a half for lunch and dinner. So the room fills up and empties quickly. They have what the missionaries call the Wall of Lettuce, which is a salad/wrap bar open for all three meals. Then there is the main meal, which is new everyday. And then there is a left over kind of place where they take the leftovers and make them into something else and serve also. There is cereal, fruit, green salad bars, and some kind of dessert every day. One day Greg said, "I had to take a zantac today." And I laughed and said that's because you are eating four cookies a day.  On Wednesdays when the new missionaries came the place was packed. 

Every wall, every space, has a picture, either Olsen, Swindle, Bloch, Teichart, and I don't know who else. Our bedroom has two pictures. There are many photographs of missionaries from around the world too. 

There is a devotional every Tuesday evening. Most of the missionaries are in the missionary choir. So when they sing at the devotional the stands are packed with the choir and it is like they sing to the General Authority speaking that night. Elder Meur and Elder Gong were the speakers when we were there. 

Our first week we studied  Preach My Gospel. We had wonderful young return missionaries teach us. It was wonderful experience. I learned a lot and felt more equipped to invite people to hear the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The second week we were taught the church's mission software. It was not as exciting, but necessary.

Laundry room-only one row!

The weekend between the two weeks we went back up to Betsy and Dustin's and had one last dinner with them, said good-bye, and then went to Annette and Mike's. On Sunday we went to church with them and  Dayne and Warren and Polly came to dinner and to visit. It was very relaxing and so enjoyable to be with some of my siblings. Slowly, Greg's leg was starting to feel better.

Waiting for Polly

And then we both got bad colds, felt miserable, but got over them during the drive east.

The Pain

We drove to Boise on Jan. 27th and stayed the night. After the hectic previous three weeks, it was a lovely drive. On Friday morning we went to Peterson's in Boise (a missionary store) and found me shoes that seemed non existent for months. Then we drove to Layton to spend the weekend with Betsy, Dustin, and our grandkids. On Friday night, Greg slept wrong and woke up Saturday morning with a sore hip (his titanium one). By Sunday he was in a lot of pain and could barely walk. Monday we headed to the MTC and checked in. There was a lot of genuine concern for Greg and his situation, but the folks at the MTC wanted us to get through orientation, so he soldiered on, and I was getting very scared for him. On Tuesday we were able to get him into an orthopedic surgeon, who took x-rays, ruled out his hip replacement, and told him he had sciatica, pain affecting the sciatic nerve, a large nerve that goes from the lower back down each leg. Most folks get a shot, but because of where the pain originated (it was too close to the sciatic nerve), the doctor put him on a regimen of prednisone. He also told Greg it would take a long time to heal. And it did. We did not get much sleep in the MTC. It hurt to walk and lay down. Sitting in a chair gave him some relief. Greg received a wonderful blessing from Dustin and then one in the MTC. They helped us a lot to know things would get better.

Mission Preperation

We sent our "mission papers"(42 pages long) in the weekend of Thanksgiving 2016. Our instructions said we would receive our call in four to six weeks. So we left for Seattle on December 17th to spend Christmas with Danner and Kelsi, in hopes of helping Kelsi out as she was on bedrest with her third pregnancy. The bonus of course, was Holden and Emmett. We had a wonderful Christmas with our kids,  and no snow, no cold, which we left behind in Troy. When we returned home we realized our mission call had come the day we left for Seattle and had sat for ten days in the post office. So, thanks to our tech savvy kids (Tyler this time), we skyped and opened our letter.  Washington DC North Mission!  We were surprised and I was very excited. We were to report to the MTC on Jan. 30th.

Opening up our mission call with our family
I learned two things from this experience. First, do not have any expectations about where and when you are going, what you will be doing, and how you will feel about it. We heard so many stories from other senior couples about how nothing happened the way they thought or expected it would. Second, if you tell mission headquarters you will be ready on Jan. 15, be ready to get in your car and go on Jan. 15.  Don't assume you will have more time to get ready.

All that said, I felt wonderful about the call. It felt right and I knew we were going where the Lord needed us to go at that time.

So, we had about three weeks to pack up our belongings, get them to a storage place we felt was reliable, secure, and close to one of our children, in case of any emergency. The weather was, in a word, the worst. It snowed and snowed, and if it wasn't snowing the temperatures were frigid, I mean in the single digits during the day. I felt I should give two weeks notice at my job, so I worked until Jan. 13. The paperwork (wills, power of attorney, etc.) we felt we should do was at times overwhelming. Greg's truck broke down and needed a new fuel pump and a four wheel drive thingy dingy during his travels getting ready. We bought a newer car, as we realized we had to drive across the country in  February to DC. We were so blessed in our car purchase. We got an unbelievable trade in with the dealership and they took it in sight unseen. At the last minute Greg sold his boat, which had been for sale for over a year, and that went toward the car purchase. We hired people to help us load the moving van and they cancelled the day before. We found somebody better. We had a new grandson, Gunnar, during this time and missed meeting him.  Our saviors during this time were Scott and Eva, and Aaron and Shannon. They offered muscle,  great food (thanks Eva), beds (thanks Sydnie, Scott & Eva), and a ton of encouragement. We would not have made it without them. I cannot forget  Diann and Kathy, who five hundred miles away, helped me keep my head on and kept telling me we would make it, and Lynn and Dalene, who offered the same, sound encouragement.  And last, but not least, Brothers Eichner and Webb, who got our moving van in and out of the driveway the day we moved our belongings to Spokane. So, at last, we were ready to go on Jan. 27, 2016.

I feel like I should commit to paper the blessings we received when we were set apart. It was such a special experience for us. While I am sure many of the blessings given were the same most senior couples receive, but when we heard it for us it was very personal and comforting. Eva took notes, which was so kind of her, because we did not realize how wonderful they would be. Our setting apart was done by our new stake president, President Ryan W. Cook. We were his third and fourth missionary.

Summary of Greg's blessing:
You will be blessed with a clear mind. You will have greater health and strength than you can imagine. Other people will be able to see the light of Christ because of the way you are. The Holy Ghost will continue to bless you and your testimony will grow. Share mission experiences with your family and it will bless them. Take time to kneel and pray so you can be directed by the Holy Ghost. You can be comforted in knowing your Heavenly Father will help your family. Your example and willingness to serve will bless your children. Cherish your wife, be more kind and gentle to her.  Share your testimony about the temple with others, and be open to the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

Summary of Bonnie's blessing:
You will have the health you need to fulfill your calling. You will instruct and teach with your actions and your words. Study the scriptures and your testimony will grow.  You will know the words you should speak, keep your mind open to the promptings you receive and follow them.  As you teach you will have the Holy Ghost with you. Don't ignore the random acts of kindness you can do. Your love will continue to grow with Greg. Your family will be blessed as you serve and hearts will be changed, burdens will be lightened, and hearts softened.

Disclaimer

This blog is going to be a journal for us to remember experiences and impressions about our mission.  It will not be a travel log,  or a wonderful collection of essays of our spiritual experiences (but I hope we have some to share);  just me trying not to forget the things we see and feel. Some I already have forgotten.  I'm not even sure this is possible, but please do not cut, copy, and or, paste onto Facebook or other social media without our permission.  I still need to figure out a few things, like how to change the header, upload pictures, notify you (if you want) when I post, and who knows what else. But, I need to start writing or I will forget more!