Well, I guess it is my turn to write in the blog. I probably won't be as good as Sister Cutler, but here goes. Since our last post on Feb 21st, all the new missionaries have settled in with a few experiencing homesickness and other issues. The mission president is learning that most 18 year olds have never been away from home for any extended time, so mission life is quite a shock for some. But as, Pres. Hinkley was told by his Dad when he wanted to come home, "Son, forget yourself and get to work". So that is what Pres. Wirthlin does. Sister Wirthlin, is the medical nurse, so she gets all the calls about aches, pains and all sorts of medical issues. Today, the President told us that three missionaries busted up their knees this weekend and will probably have to go home to heal and/or have an operation. They will be on medical release. You never know from one day to the next, what missionary issues will come up. Also, two missionaries told the President that they wanted early releases (1-2 months early) so they could go on a trip with their family or so they could work before school started. The President was very disappointed in their decision because they needed to fulfill their commitment to finish their mission. It really causes problems because then unplanned transfers need to happen. It takes a lot to be a mission president and I am grateful that it is not my calling.
Since the last new missionaries arrived, we have been preparing for the next influx. Right now, it changes each day, we have 28 more new missionaries planning to arrive. That means that I must acquire 9-10 new apartments by March 9th. Last Sunday, we only had 1, which came from a referral from someone. It is located about 2.5 hours north in the mission district. I Goggled the address and it looked somewhat sketchy, but was somewhat anxious to get going. So I called the landlord and got this gruff voice on line,,,"What do you want?" I explained who I was and wanted to know more able the apartment. His name was "Carmine", so I should have been suspicious. He said it was a great apartment in an old building that was renovated. Still somewhat leery, I ask him to prepare a lease and I would drive up to inspect and close the deal. So Elder Barlow and I drove up on Tuesday, passing through the towns of Mexico, Philadelphia and Antwerp. Thought we were lost. Upon arriving at the address, I looked at Elder Barlow with a shock on my face...yes it was an old building...but ready to fall down. We gingerly climbed rickety stairs and entered the unit and was horrified. It was so bad that I wouldn't have let my best pig live in it. I told the landlord that this was totally unacceptable...he said, "What's wrong with the place...just needs a little touching up". We quickly left the place with the lease and the checks torn up. We were pretty discouraged. But we knew that we had to find something, so we continued to look around town. It is a very small village, but we did locate a possible alternative, so all was not wasted.
Then, the next day, I traveled to Cooperstown, NY to look at another prospect, with no physical information other than what the real estate agent told me....never fully trust a real estate agent. I knew it was an older building, but right in the middle of the historic town (Baseball Hall of Fame). The town is wonderful, historic and picturesque. The unit was on the third floor. Imagine carrying furniture up those stairs. The floors in the unit were, I think, original wood planks, but were sanded and painted. It was old, but clean. So I took the deal. The sisters who will live there will make it look great with some imagination and a woman's touch.
So after those experiences, I enlisted the Zone Leaders (5 Zones) to help find the apartments in their zones. They were charged with locating, talking with the managers, inspecting the apartment and taking pictures inside and out. Then they were to send me all the information. With pictures in hand, I am now able to get a better handle on each location and what the unit looks like. Now we have 6-7 units being considered and the process is running much smoother.
But I learned today, that it really is the Lord who is in charge of all this. The Zone Leaders responsible for finding an apartment in Carthage, NY (near Fort Drum) on Wednesday said that they couldn't find an apartment within the Carthage area because the area was filled with military families and recommended that we consider an apartment in Philadelphia which is north from Carthage and on the other side of Fort Drum. I looked at the pictures and thought it was a good choice even though the President didn't really like having the missionaries traveling across the base to get into their area. So I requested the paper work to be started. On Friday, I received an email from the landlord that they needed a financial statement of the church and background checks on the missionaries that would be living in the apartment. I knew that the Church would not provide a financial statement, so I ask the President what to do. He said that we could provide a bank statement on the mission, but that was all. So another road block was presented. That was on Saturday. Today, Sunday, I bore my testimony at the Branch and mentioned about my experiences with finding apartments. After the meetings, a sister came up to me and said that she owned a large apartment complex in (guess where) Carthage and she had one apartment available. She showed me the unit on Craig's List and it was perfect. Another tender mercy!
Being the financial secretary, I get to see somewhat what the Church is spending on missionary work. I don't think I am telling anything out of line, but it is a big pile of $$$. The mission budget is around $800,000-$1,000,000 for each mission on average (405 missions). Each missionary gets $160 each month to live on (60,000 missionaries). The apartments average rent in our mission is $700 per month, utilities average $200 for, right now, 72 apartments. When we were in the MTC, the church had 14,000 vehicles in operation throughout the world (avg $17,000 each). Car expenses (gas, service, ins, etc) average $.51 per mile (avg 1,250 miles per month). It costs about $1,200 to furnish each apartment. But each young missionary pays the church $485 per month with seniors paying about $1,000 per month...so there is some help with the total church expenditure.
Interesting facts about our mission. It is a large geographical mission running from the Penn. border to the Canadian border. Two two biggest church population areas in the mission is in the Syracuse and Albany areas. The rest is of the mission is small branches with attendance of about 15-50 in attendance. This area is covers the entireMohawk Valley and the entire northern district. There are 4 stakes and one district. Our branch is 40 miles wide and 70 miles long. In the past, this area was economically vibrant with large active wards, but in the past 10-20 years,manufacturing and other large employers have left the state leaving unemployment extremely high. The small villages are really depressed, hence the Church has suffered. It is slowly coming back, but I doubt it will attain its former stature. So, the missionaries have a big responsibility to help the less active and bring new people into the fold. Some wonderful work is going on and with the increased missionaries, it will be exciting to see what the Lord has in store for this area.
One example of the Lord opening up a way to do the work happened on Tuesday. The local stake priesthood leaders were involved in an Inter-Faith Council group and found a wonderful reception. After meeting with them for the past 5-6 months, they suggested that the next meeting might be held at the Stake Center where the mission offices are located. On Tuesday, we started having ministers come through our door because the front doors to the main church were locked. Each person was welcomed with smiles, handshakes and then lead into the building for a luncheon. After the luncheon, at which the Mission President was invited, the President took them on a tour of our offices. We each explained our duties and then the President invited them into his office to let them see the "transfer board". He wasn't sure he should do that at first, but was prompted that it was OK. The ministers, including a Jewish Rabbi, were astounded at the number of missionaries and where they were located and where they were from. They were greatly impressed. Each of their congregations are struggling with large old buildings to maintain and few funds. The President was gratified with his prompting to let them see the inter-workings of the mission.
Each day this past week, a private contractor has been working in our office setting up a new phone system. He was greeted warmly by the staff and each missionary who happened to be in the office, including all the Zone Leaders who were there for training on Friday. He asked many questions and could not get over the warm feeling he had. He had never worked in an environment like ours before. So, Sister Barlow, gave him a Book of Mormon and the missionary pamphlets, with the promise he would read. He then said he would and wanted to come back on Monday and do some extra work on the phones which was really not required.
So, each day is an adventure. It is hard for us to fully plan the day because things are in so much flux. But we are extremely glad to serve in our callings because we can see how much work goes on behind the scene. We are happy to be the support team to the President and the missionaries. When the Zone Leaders and the AP's are in for leadership training, the office lights up with excitement. How grateful we are to be here in this exciting time of missionary growth.
Oh, by the way, Lizzy, as you have spent a week by a beautiful pool looking at the ocean in Costa Rica, our weather today is snowing and it feels like 10 degrees. That's how the weather is reported here..."feels like".
Love, Elder Cutler