Hello from the Jefferies in Clermont-Ferrand,
Tomorrow is P-Day here in the land of 1,000+ cheeses and your sons may not be able to get to a computer to write to you. Transfers were announced Friday, and they are both heading to Lyon to pick up new companions. Elder Russo will be teamed with a "two-transfer" missionary (fairly new) who speaks Spanish on the side. This is sort of exactly what our Bishop Allanic has been hoping for. He has asked the Mission President and the Stake President for at least one missionary who can speak Spanish, to stay with us for two transfers to do a triage operation.... the ward is slowly shrinking in size as nearly all the new baptisees from the past 3 years are either refugees or students who do not stay here more than a few months. And... they have largely been young men as the Elders seem to avoid teaching pretty young ladies. For this reason, many times there are only young adult males at Soiree Familliale. Can you imagine all the testosterone at les soirees familliales (family home evening for the young adults at the church) where all the young men play a mass ping-pong game around an improvised table? I'll post some recent videos for you to look at on my Facebook site. If you want to see them, just "friend" me: Jane Jefferies (missionary application photo of my companion & me - for ID if there are more of the same name).
It looks like Elder Russo will "die" here in Clermont-Ferrand. That's the strange language of the Elders. When they come to their mission they are "born." and their first companion, their trainer, is called their "Father." As they near the end of their mission they say an Elder is "growing old," and when they ship out for home.... sigh.... it's akin to "dying." So, Elder Russo, the athletic & competitive, will be here for the next six weeks with his new young companion, and then he will return to that mortal family who gave him life.
As for Elder Smith, who reminds me of a combination of Joseph Smith (his stature) and Brigham Young (his wisdom), is saying good-by to us today here in this Massif Central region, a cold, and sometimes snowy land, to head to Lyon on the train tomorrow morning with Elder Russo at 8:30 am. There our two stalwart Elders will meet their new companions, and Elder Russo will return around 5:30 pm while Elder Smith will get his new trainee and depart for the south... the home of one of our Young Adults, and also the home of our Eveque Allanic. If you don't hear from him tomorrow, Smith Family, write back to me and I'll tell you where he has gone. We will miss him a lot. One good thing about his going, is that he has resisted buying a thick wool coat and has shivered a bit through the coldest days of winter... but now, spring is coming and he is heading south. He will be fine!
It's the Bishop we worry about now. He is a young man, just 37 years old with all the responsibility of first a branch and now this ward with its list of nearly 300 members... most of which have moved away or died. We have only 97 known active people, and most of them are well over the median age for life. We just learned that Bishop Allanic has a fibrillating heart. The first treatments, after a few years of medication, were yesterday in a clinic. The procedure did not resolve the problem. The medics threaded a catheter up a vein from his leg to his heart and he was given some kind of electrical treatment three times to attempt to reset the control region of his heart. And it had no effect! I wonder if the stress of managing the ward and his business is making the problem critical? He's an osteopathic physician who works alone and manages everything... and the landlord of his building has other plans for Bishop Allanic's doctor's office and treatment room as he plans NOT to renew the doctor's lease in September.
We are trying to take some of the pressure off. Our task is to locate the missing members and ship off their records either to the genealogy vaults or to the ward of their new residence. When we are finished, our young Bishop will have a better chance to properly manage home teaching and visiting teaching as he ministers to the needs of his actual ward members. As it is, the ward grows continually smaller. Baptisms among the student population just get our hopes up until the semester is over and the students depart.
THAT's why the Bishop needs a Spanish-speaking missionary for just two transfers. He's been begging for one for many months, now, and he's had a bit of a time getting some of the Elders to understand the plan. Because the stalwart ward members are all aging rapidly, and because we have very few families and only 7 children off-and-on in the primary, and because the three young families with children are all moving away this year, the ward is very close to returning to Branch Status. The Bishop's inspiration involved taking advantage of the most recent wave of immigrants from Spain which happened due to a poisonous political atmosphere in Spain several years ago. Since these people are still humble people, as they do not qualify for the national social security doles, they turn to God for guidance... like the people that Alma and Ammon worked with in the Book of Mormon times. AND their children are rapidly approaching young adulthood... the time when they will choose to either become one with the national culture or to embrace their parents' religious values.
"Upon such a full sea are we now afloat" and if we can take advantage of it by having the missionaries seeking out these Spanish/French-speaking families now, we may both save them and save the Wardby buffing up the number of actual resident families. As the Bishop says, "In these times of change, we must change how we work." He would also like to see the location of missionary apartments change every five years to give different neighborhoods better exposure to our Elders and , hopefully, Sisters. As the official Clermont-Ferrand lobbyist to President Roney, I am looking forward to the 70 new missionaries that are destined for the France Lyon mission when the 18-year old Elders and 19-year-old Sister Missionaries arrive! He has said he would give us another team of missionaries.
I will wish you well as I turn back to my missionary projects.... but first some photos! Check the attachments The Elders are posing with Sister Patricia Hughes, and Englishwoman who lives out in the country... she makes "teddy bears" out of amazing fabrics. The Elders left so quickly after the services today that I was not able to properly immortalize them with my camera. Elder Jefferies and I may see them off in the morning. If so, I'll try for better photos for you then.