Sunday, June 7, 2009

Where Ever I Roam

Today at Church a visiting member bore his testimony, and in it he talked about being able to go anywhere and have the Church to go to. He just returned from a deployment in Afghanistan, where they just recently organized a branch and a district. Another brother talked about a similar theme, and how he had some neighbors who had been looking for a church to attend, but didn't know where one was that they believed in/agreed with.

I love how, where ever I have gone in the world, there has been the Gospel, and somewhere there has been a ward house, or at least members gathered together. Whether I've moved to various places, or whether I've just been visiting and passing through, we just look up where we'll be on, and it will tell us the closest Chapel to attend.

Last year we attended a ward in Lille, France. I do not speak any French at all, but that did not stop me from appreciating the ward. The Brother, originally from Africa, that sat next to me shared his hymnbook with me, and made a few comments throughout the meeting, that he would then laugh at. I would laugh too, although I had no idea what he had said, and we continued happily this way through all of Sacrament meeting. I still do not know if he ever realized I didn't speak French. I dropped Lydia off at Nursery, and could not even tell them anything but her name, but they smiled at me, and took her. I could not follow the lessons, but I could take the sacrament. I could show my devotion through attendance.

The first time we attended our Oxford ward, within five minutes of me arriving, a Sister Talputt had met me in the hallway, and taken down my name and address and relevant information, and was already working on finding my family a regular ride to Church for the nine months we were there (which she did find for us that very Sunday).

In Tennessee, where Avram's grandparents, who are not LDS members live, when we went to the local Branch they were meeting in a School's Lunchroom, while their building was being renovated. When we arrived - Avram's parents, three brothers and he and I (this was before the Girls), they were so excited, because they thought at first we were moving in. They were still happy to see us visiting, even if it didn't mean more permanent strength to the Branch.

I've been to church in Amman, Jordan, where the branch was so small, and all the women were wearing pants, and only one member was wearing a suit, and he was also the only returned missionary. A Senior Couple led the branch. And most of the investigators were more interested in learning English than in religion. And in Jordan, where proselyting is not allowed, the only method of finding investigators is teaching English. And yet, in all their manifold weakness, so weak that I just wanted to pack up and find an official wardhouse with hundreds of members, because I felt uncomfortable, as if I should do something to help them be strong, to help them learn the gospel, but I didn't know how. In all of this, the Primary gave a musical number, and the primary president (who probably also was her own first and second counselor and secretary as well) stood up, and herded the children to the front. She was still wearing a pantsuit, but it was a dressy one, and as she led the children in a song, accompanied by a CD, I realized that the Gospel light shining may be weak, and new, and unsure about many customs. But the Spirit was there, and these children, this Primary President, this suited Returned Missionary. They had the Spirit (and hey, the Romantic part of me thought, she's young and unmarried, he's young and unmarried, maybe they'll end up together, and help build the Church together....).

In Egypt there is only one branch, in Cairo. It is composed mainly of various foreign (mostly American) military personnel and their families, and also Sudanese. After one meeting there, we talked to some of the Sudanese women, in their native, large printed flowing cotton dresses, bright with patterns and color. They talked of how they had come from Sudan, from the war there, came as refugees to Egypt. And how they came to Church, and liked it here. Liked what they felt.

When I went to boarding school in Wisconsin as a teenager, my mother called ahead to the Branch President. He arranged for a ride to pick me up that first Sunday - a brother who was also called as my 'home teacher' (being an unusual family unit of one 17 year old, he mainly served me through regular rides to church). The branch, which met in a school while their building was being built, already knew who I was. They were excited to have me, and for the next two years, this branch became my family. They picked me up for Seminary, which time had to be delayed until they came to unlock the dorms every morning, so I could get out. They visited the plays I was in, and visited me in the hospital when I broke my wrist and had to spend the night. They picked me up from the airport, and dropped me off at the bus station. They took me into their homes, and fed me Sunday Dinners. And all for a teenager that did not always say thank you enough, and who has certainly not kept in touch since then, as she should. And yet I know they would do it again, in a heartbeat, for anyone else who came to the Boarding School.

When I had Elisheva in England, our ward helped us out immensely. Besides the basic, with Sister Dick watching Lydia for two days, taking me to the Hospital, ferrying Avram home in the midnight hour after Elisheva was born (since he was not allowed to spend the night in the hospital), and then taking us home for the hospital with a box of food to eat. Sister Hill (Sister Dick's mother), the compassionate service leader, arranged for food for a week. She also had Sisters call me every day, to make sure I was doing alright. Connie Rigby, my Visiting Teacher, and a sweet grandmother, visited me in the hospital, and knitted booties galore for Elisheva, plus knitted stuffed animals for Elisheva and Lydia both. A member of Avram's program, Or, from Israel, was among several who expressed amazement at our finding a church who helped us this much. A few asked us how we had found them. The answer to us seemed almost laughable - we just looked up the closest ward, and arrived at it. And they loved us, and took us in, even thought they knew we would only be there for less than a year. I told Or he could come to our ward too, if he really thought it was that amazing. But he aptly pointed out he would have to believe in our Religion.

I do love the doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But as much so, I love the people. I love that on any given Sunday (or Friday, Jordan or Egypt, or Saturday in Israel), anywhere in the world, a group of Saints gather together, and any are welcome. And whether I understand the lessons or not, they are out of the same manual I use . And the Sacrament is always present. I may only be there for a day, I may be moving in, but I still feel the same amount of kindness, and well wishing. The people are different cultures, speak different languages, and wear different sorts of clothes. The local customs are different. They meet in everything from schools to rented apartments to member's homes to official Church buildings, with the universal floor plan, and carpeted walls. But we are all Latter-day Saints. And the Spirit can go anywhere.


  1. you know here the ward meets in an elementary school with sacrament in the lunch room. whats with all these curch meetings in schools, huh?? its been really hard for us because of the hard floors and chairs and its echo-y and porter finds it overwhelming to say the least. We spend a lot of time in the hallways. They are gettinga building renovated for the ward but it wont be for another year sadly! I am eager to go back to a sacrament room i must say! Its been really hard to feel the spirit at church under the circumstances. Also like you they are always so disapointed you are just visiting. in fact once they realized we were visiting only for three months they didnt bother giving us visiting or home teachers or callings and actually they were not going to transfer our records untill i asked how i would pay my tithing then?? It seems wards really like us if we are perminant or if we are passing through for a week. but for three monthst hey dont want to bother with getting to know us i guess. its been really lonely to say the least!

    sorry i got carried away...

  2. You sure get around:) Thanks, I felt the spirit just reading it.

  3. I love Thora. And the church everywhere, too. We also had a visitor bear her testimony at church today.

  4. Thora, your post made me cry! We have lived all over, too, and found the same thing. And we've had some pretty stressful moves. It's true that once when we were only going to be there for the summer we didn't get any callings or anything, which I was sad about. Still, when we lived in California as newlyweds we were taken in as family. All the "adults" treated us as their own children and cared for us. As someone who grew up in Idaho, moving to Los Angeles and the freeway system could not have been a bigger shock. Then we moved to the Antelope Valley and we were treated as the "adults" - my husband was Elder's Quorum president and I was in the stake Relief Society presidency! Extremes, but both places we were fully integrated into the ward!

    In Saudi Arabia the ward truly was our family, and it's like that is the baseline group of friends for most of us to this day. We moved to New York as the first Gulf war was starting. That was the toughest move. But that ward welcomed us and we were part of it and had multiple callings. It was truly part of God's plan for us to be there. We found friends and had experiences that have profoundly influenced our lives to this day.

    This is getting to be too long, but Houston became home. Kuwait was truly the place the Lord wanted us for the time we were there. We've visited in Sheffield, England, Switzerland, Jordan, and elsewhere. Once were were in a ward where some of the people were hostile to us because of some ill will towards someone else. Still, sitting in Sacrament meeting I got the answers I needed through a particularly strong Spirit. Everywhere we've lived or visited it's as you described, the Spirit is there, the Sacrament is there, and we are blessed so abundantly "there is not room enough to receive it."

  5. That is so neat that you have been able to attend church in so many places. I too love that it is the same everywhere, that we are all united. I love that upon moving we dont have to "find a new church" or "church shop" WE just go to our assigned ward, and there we are.