Saturday, November 14, 2015

Mission Reassignment to Texas


Eileen and I got reassigned to the Texas San Antonio Mission on Sept 8. We were told the reassignment process would take several weeks but we got a lesson in the amount of pull that Mission Presidents and Stake Presidents can have. We told the Mission President we were ready for the reassignment on a Saturday and he put us in touch with the Stake President who transferred our membership records from Kansas to Texas on Sunday. I got a letter from my cardiologist stating I was fit for service on Monday and e-mailed it to the Stake President that evening. The Stake President sent the letter and other paperwork on to a committee at church headquarters on Tuesday morning. By Tuesday afternoon the missionary Medical Committee had cleared me for service. The Stake President told the Mission President he could request our reassignment to the TSAM. President Slaughter made that request on Wednesday and contacted us on Thursday to tell us the reassignment had been approved but we would have to be set apart to our new mission. We talked to the Stake President on Friday and he set us apart on Sunday afternoon. Our membership records were sent back to Kansas on Sunday evening. Eileen and I started working in the Mission Office at 9:30 a.m. on Monday morning.

President Slaughter with his Assistants in his office
Our first week was pretty hectic as we had no idea what to expect and no preparation for the transfers that would be taking place that week. Things are quite busy for the office staff when transfers take place. The week basically works like this.

The week before transfers the Mission President and his assistants go into the President’s Office, open a big board that shows all the missionaries and where they are serving. They remove the picture cards of all those who are going home in a few days and they add the cards of all the new missionaries that will arrive in a few days. Then they begin to put companionships together and move people around in the mission. They stay in that room until late afternoon when the job is done. Then they close the board and lock it so nobody knows what changes are being made until the following week at the transfer meetings.                                  

Car Czar & Referral Queen Spencer from Denver
Elder Williams takes care of 100+ apartments
On transfer week the missionaries going home all come to San Antonio on Monday for their last two days in the mission. On Tuesday they have a final meeting in the morning and office missionaries provide a luncheon. Then they go to the San Antonio Temple, followed by a formal dinner at the mission home---provided by the office missionaries. Early Wednesday morning the outgoing missionaries travel to the airport and catch an early morning flight home. By late morning the arriving missionaries are picked up at the airport and taken to the mission office to get some things they need for the mission and have lunch. From there they visit the Alamo and end up at the Mission Home for a dinner and discussion with the Mission President. The days are long for everyone. On Thursday the new missionaries meet their first companion and other missionaries learn where they will be transferred to.

Sister Greenwood smiles at the transfer board as she will be going home in a few days
Elders Calley and Hilario discuss a referral given to Sister Spencer
There are two transfer meetings to get all of this done. The first is at 8 a.m. in San Antonio for those in the southern half of the mission, which goes all the way to the border of Mexico. At 2 p.m. there is a second meeting for those in the northern half of the mission in Austin. There is lots of excitement at both of these meetings and tons of energy afterwards as companionships pick up their mail that has come in over the last few weeks, get their bikes if they are going to a bike area, say goodbye to their old companion and make their way out of the parking lot which looks like a Toyota dealership that is giving a free bike rack with every car they sell.
The next 5 weeks will be pretty routine. My job was to manage all of the 100+ apartments that house the missionaries and to pay all the bills associated with housing including utilities. I also worked with the ‘moving Elders’ who move furniture around as we open and close apartments which is a constant process because wards divide and stake boundaries get changed and this changes the areas where the missionaries work so they have to relocate.
76 of our 200+ missionaries are Spanish Speaking and a few are Sign Language missionaries to the deaf community

Eileen was the “face” of the office. She answered the phone, greeted everyone that came in, sent welcome letters out to incoming missionaries, arranged flight plans for those coming in or going home, prepared the picture cards for the transfer board, etc. Her computer skills improved a lot over the short time we were in the office.

We worked in the office for just 5 weeks. Long enough to see how it worked and how important those who work in the office are to the smooth operation of the mission, which has lots of moving parts. But now we are in Austin working with refugees and immigrants from Africa and other areas.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mission Reassignment Possibilities

Eagle Pass, San Antonio Food Bank and Haven for Hope

When we first thought about a possible reassignment to the Texas San Antonio Mission we met with Mission President James Slaughter to see what his thoughts were and what might be some possibilities for us. He mentioned an assignment in Eagle Pass, right on the Mexico border as a possibility. He mentioned a new program called “Just Serve” which someone described to us as “” for volunteers. He also mentioned the San Antonio Food Bank as a possible assignment---either the food bank itself or their soup kitchen called Haven for Hope. We decided to check the possibilities out.

That Sunday we drove 3 hours to the border and attended Eagle Pass Branch 1 which is English speaking. It was an interesting branch and Eagle Pass is an interesting community. The old part of the town is a combination “Small town America” and Mexico with tiendas and tacuerias. The oil boom in that area of Texas has stimulated growth there so there is a new part of town with new stucco houses and developments everywhere. We met the branch president who would have loved to have us serving there.

Eagle Pass is right on the border of Mexico

One of two bridges to Mexico                                     Sign welcoming visitors to Eagle Pass

Then we visited the S.A. Food Bank and we were amazed with the size of the operation and how much the 108 employees there loved their jobs. We met with the CEO who happens to be LDS and trying to get a senior couple there for some time. He was a very impressive guy and before we left we agreed to give it a try. He set us up with food bank t-shirts and had a schedule for the following week- 4 days at the food bank and 1 day at Haven for Hope.

San Antonio Food Bank feeds 58,000 people
a week in 16 south Texas counties
 The S.A. Foodbank depends on thousands of volunteers and only 108 employees to grow, sort, ship and prepare food for hundreds of distribution sites throughout southern Texas.

Thousands of pounds of vegetables are produce in this 27 acre garden
                                          These vegetables will go to school kids & families
        Hundreds of volunteers labor in the hot Texas sun to produce tons of fresh vegetables

The energy conscious food bank uses solar panels on it's warehouse roof for cooling and recycled water along with drip irrigation to grow crops in their 27 acre garden.    

Our first day at the food bank we worked with about 60 other volunteers in the warehouse doing what they call “dry sort” where they had huge pallets loaded with all kinds of miscellaneous food donations from all over San Antonio---about 9 tons worth. Some were in cases like canned fruit, soup, etc. But most was just in cans, bottles and boxes to be sorted for expiration date, nutritional information, bulging cans or damaged bottles. Every food item was re-boxed in banana boxes and put on a pallet according to what it was---snack food, cereal, protein, even pet food. The second day we sorted orders from the hundreds of food sites and organized and filed them for tax purposes since the food bank is a non-profit organization.

Each week the donations are brought into the warehouse where volunteers will sort several tons of food and check for damage, expiration dates, etc. In 3 hours these folks will sort about 18,000 pounds of food that will yield 14,000 meals.

            Sorted food goes to the warehouse and from there to trucks. The
            trucks take the food to distribution sites that serve 58,000 people

Other days we worked in the “kids kitchen” making 4,500 lunches for school kids in summer feeding programs. Each day was a different meal. One day was mac and cheese with fruit cocktail. Another day was roast beef sandwiches made from high end sliced beef that had been damaged in the packaging process. Everything had to be very sanitary and portion controlled. We worked alongside young people who were training to get jobs in the food service industry.

The Kids Cafe prepared over 1,000,000 meals for kids at summer feeding programs all over south Texas


Volunteers assemble 4,000 to 5,000 meals each day which are very healthy. Meals are heat sealed and shipped to kids each day.

                       Prison Trustees learn culinary skills, warehouse management
                       and other skills as well as how to interview & write a resume.

The most enjoyable but most difficult though was working at Haven for Hope; a soup kitchen on the south side of San Antonio. Haven serves 3 meals per day, 365 days a year for 500 or more people who are homeless, in the onsite detox center, in the family housing units, or are just plain hungry.  

Haven for Hope is a huge complex that provides shelter for homeless families, training & rehab for prisoners, treatment for addicts, and meals for 500+ people three times a day. Served by volunteers
You see every kind of person there; families with small children that are just down on their luck; people who are mentally ill; drug or alcohol addicted; cross dressers; ex-convicts in education or job training programs provided at Haven, etc. It was very gratifying to serve those folks, many of whom would say, “God bless you for your service” or “Thank you for your service.” One young father with a wife and two children saw our black nametags and said, “Please pray for our family.”
Another young man asked us to talk with him after we finished and we gave him a Book of Mormon and phone number of the missionaries working in South San Antonio. Everyone should have an experience like volunteering at Haven. It’s good for the soul!

 This homeless lady was fun to talk to. She wore this heavy coat all day every day even though the temperature might have been over 100 degrees in San Antonio.