We are going on a mission. To Tonga. Too young, you say? Well, that's ALMOST true. We certainly didn't expect to be going on a mission quite yet. But going we are. Let me start at the beginning.
We have to go back a little bit. For the past 25 years Garth has worked as CFO at Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau, Alaska. He, along with the CEO, were employees of the management company who contracted with the city and borough of Juneau to manage the hospital. In the summer of 2011 the hospital board decided they wanted to have the contract go out to bid. After doing so, they decided to again sign a contract with Quorum Health Resources, but to change the contract so that the CEO and CFO would be employees of the city and borough, and not of the management company. Because of a noncompete clause, Garth and the current CEO could not be hired by the hospital, and in December of 2011 we found out Garth no longer had a job.
During the following year Garth did some contract work, he applied for and interviewed for some CFO positions, but we didn't feel that we were supposed to accept any of the offers he received. We felt that Heavenly Father had a plan for us, but we weren't sure what that was. We prayed to know what his plan for us was, but did not receive a definitive answer....we just knew Heavenly Father was mindful of us and everything would work out. So onward we moved, a step or two at a time, feeling our way along and trusting that we would recognize the path Heavenly Father wanted us to take.
Jump ahead to October 2012. Garth still did not have a permanent job, but after doing some consulting work for most of 2012, he was asked in October if he would be interested in working as the interim CFO at Wrangell Medical Center, in the small town of Wrangell, about 150 miles south of Juneau. Garth moved to Wrangell and spent his weekends traveling either to Juneau, or wherever his calling as stake president took him. Not knowing what our future held, we decided to sell our house, and I stayed in Juneau to take care of that task. A family who we were getting to know had been looking for three years for a home and had not found what they wanted. They had let us know if we ever decided to sell our home they would be interested in looking at it. We called them, and after looking at our house they decided they were interested in buying it. Could things have worked out any easier? We signed papers the middle of January and I moved to Wrangell to be with Garth.
The apartment Garth had moved into was a small studio apartment, but it was fully furnished, and the rent was paid for by the hospital, so we were able to put all our things in storage and we proceeded to learn to live a much simpler life style.
Wrangell is a small, beautiful town on Wrangell Island. The apartment we lived in looked out over downtown Wrangell and the ocean. From the desk at which I worked I could watch the fishing vessels leave the harbor each morning and return each evening. I watched whales breaching in the channel and birds as they flew north along their migration to the northern parts of Alaska for the summer. All the stores and businesses closed by 6:00 p.m. each evening, and were closed on Sundays. We would take our walks along the quiet evening streets and enjoy the sounds of children playing and sea birds squawking at one another, and the beauty of God's nature at its best. We were enjoying our new home and began to wonder about making Garth's interim position a permanent one instead.
At stake conference the end of April 2013 Garth was released after serving nine years as stake president. The following weekend we were unexpectedly back in Juneau to attend the funeral of a great Tongan patriarch of our stake, Uncle Feleti Tupou. His nephew, Leitoni Tupou, had been called six months previously to serve as the new mission president in Tonga, with his mission to start July 1, 2013. While visiting with Lei and his wife, Lori, at Uncle Feleti's funeral, Lei told us of his desire to dress like the missionaries, and spend time with them as they served the Lord in Tonga. Garth said, "You'll need someone who can keep the mission office functioning while you're with the missionaries. (a long pause) We could do that." A look of shocked surprise passed over Garth's face as he said those words. Leitoni said, "Really? Are you serious? You could do that?" "Well......maybe. Let's think about it." That was on Monday, May 5.
We spent that day talking with Lei and Lori a little more about the possibility of us going to Tonga with them. By the following day, Tuesday, Lei had called Salt Lake and had requested that we be assigned to serve a mission in Tonga. By the end of the week we were working on our papers and had set up medical and dental appointments. Within six weeks our papers were submitted and we were awaiting our call.
Once our papers had been received by the missionary department we were told not to expect a call for three to six weeks. We were anxious to get to Tonga, and that long of a wait seemed too long. We updated Leitoni as to our status. He also felt that was too long to wait. On a Wednesday afternoon the end of June, while sitting in a training meeting for new mission presidents, Leitoni felt impressed that he should leave the meeting and go out into the hall. He hesitated, not wanting to be disrespectful of the two general authorities who were doing the training. But, again he felt the prompting to leave. As he got up to leave, he picked up a small card sitting on the table at which he sat. He went into the restroom to wash his hands. As he exited the restroom he saw Elder Russell M. Nelson, who is the executive director of the missionary department. Lei asked if it would be okay if he talked with Elder Nelson about some concerns he had about the Tongan mission. Elder Nelson said, "Of course." Lei went on to explain that he was concerned about not having anyone to run the mission office since the office had been without a missionary couple since December. They had been using full-time missionaries as well as the son of the outgoing president, who would come to work in the mission office after already working at his full time job. They were in desperate need of someone to work in the mission office and allow the missionaries to get back to proselyting. Lei went on to explain that his former stake president and his wife had turned in their papers. Elder Nelson, raising his hands in the air, said, "Wonderful." Lei went on to tell him that no call had been issued yet. Elder Nelson asked Lei to provide him with their names, and he would take care of it the following day. Lei pulled out the note card he had picked up from his table, wrote our names on the card, and on Friday, two days later, we received word the assignment had been made. Because of some unexpected travel, we were not going to be home when our call arrived in the mail, so we were able to call and find out our report date.....August 12. We had five weeks before we reported!! Holy Cow!
As we look back on the past year and a half we can see the Lord's hand directing our lives. While we could not see where we were going, the Lord could. Everything that happened occurred so we would be ready to pick up and
leave quickly. We had no house to worry about, no permanent job to quit,
our worldly goods were stored, and we had money in the bank with which to pay for
our mission. He blessed us and took care of us while we waited. We listened and prayed, and when the idea of going on a mission to Tonga came, we knew that was what Heavenly Father wanted us to do. We don't know what the future holds for us, but we know Heavenly Father will provide.
As our final week in Wrangell draws to a close, we are madly packing up our remaining personal belongings and moving them to our storage unit in Juneau. We are saying good-bye to family and friends, and getting ready to embark on an experience of a lifetime. Our hearts are full of gratitude for a loving Heavenly Father, who knows us....who TRULY knows us, and takes care of us, even when we don't recognize it.
On July 30 we will fly from Wrangell to Ketchikan to meet with our stake president and be set apart as missionaries. (Unbelievable!) Then we'll attend a family reunion with my family in Ashton, Idaho. Then we'll do a week of intensive language study the week of August 5, Preach My Gospel training the week of August 12, four days of office training the week of August 19, fly from Salt Lake the evening of August 22, overnight to Aukland, New Zealand, and after a 12-hour layover will arrive in Tonga the evening of Saturday, August 24 (we cross the International Date Line). Yowza!!
Updates to follow :)
(Our mission calls)