Sunday, October 30, 2011

Plans For a Full Time Mission

Pictured above is the reaction of the Arizona Crew to Mark’s big announcement.  “Our home will be sold and we will go on a full time 23 month mission having no ‘house’ concerns. “ 

Pres. Nielson owns the missionary apartments in Cody and reserves them for the exclusive use of the Mural missionaries. We contacted him asking if we could move into one early and stay a little longer after the summer mural mission.  He had one question for us, “Which apartment do you want?” We now had the perfect opportunity to prepare for that planned full time mission!

Our call came on Saturday July 9th. Previous to submitting our mission application, Mark had explored the Current Opportunities for Senior couples site and had discovered that an assistant area auditor was needed in the Caribbean, in Trinidad. His experience seemed perfect.  We had lived in Puerto Rico for several years and thought that Trinidad would be similar in many ways to Puerto Rico. Mark contacted the church-auditing department. They contacted the Area Presidency in the Caribbean and after several rounds of emails and phone calls our names were flagged for that assignment. 

There is a box in the final step on a mission application for Sr. Couples that questions, “Will you go where the Lord wants you to go?” We checked the box because - other than a personal preference - there really was no need to stipulate an area of service and we were willing to go where the Lord wanted us to go.  So we were surprised.

Our call came as a surprise!!

We immediately called the church audit department and were told they were as surprised as we were about our call, but that this did happen. Most likely we wouldn’t be in the Philippines long before we would know why we had been called there’

Now Filipino connections came into our life. We met a returned missionary who many years earlier had served in the Northern part of the Philippines in a Vietnamese refugee camp.  She said, “Expect miracles.” Our Granddaughter had married a young man of Filipino descent.  We could not have more love, respect and admiration for him and his family.

We met a couple who had spent much time preparing power point presentations for the training of branch auxiliary leaders during their much loved mission in the Philippines.  They sent us a memory stick with all their presentations on it. What a marvelous tool they gave us.

We were told that we would experience a cultural shock when we arrived in the Philippines, but the greater shock would be when we returned.  One friend suggested that our sentiments might echo Dorothy's  . . . "Toto, we're not in Kansas (Wyoming ) anymore!"

We were told of wonderful tropical fruit but because of parasites it would have to be washed in Clorox and rinsed in boiled or filtered water before it could be eaten.  Our clothes would be washed by hand and air-dried.

Easy solution, our daughter Mindy thoughtfully provided us with “The Breathing Mobil Washer”. It is a revamp of an old patent from the late 1800s. It looks a lot like a toilet plunger. There is a metal one on display with other Pioneer artifacts in the Big Horn Basin Room adjoining the Cody Mural.

One day Elder Vaughn Featherstone and his wife visited the mural.   Elder Featherstone had served many years earlier in the Philippine/Micronesia area Presidency.   It was a heart softening opportunity to speak one-on-one with Sister Featherstone about their Philippine experiences.  She began by saying; “We send our green barets to the Philippines.” My thought was “But I was applying for an office job.”  She concluded by saying how wonderful the people are.  How eagerly they accept the gospel, but how very much they need guidance in making it a real part of their lives.  She said, “Love them, just love them.”

When last in Utah, we had dinner with a friend whose son, Kit, had recently completed a mission on an island just West of Cebu. Our daughter, Meghan, and her husband went with us.  As Kit told of his mission experiences and showed pictures of the country side and the people’s living conditions, Meghan’s mouth visibly dropped. Finally in a hushed voice she stated, “ Mom, you are so in trouble.” I could laugh, knowing that my heart was softening and that we would certainly not be alone in our service. Later we were deeply moved by Kit’s testimony of love for the people, the work and of God.

We received a letter from our mission President counseling us to continue preparing for missionary service through prayer and gospel study.

Reading the book, Yearning for the Living God,  by Elder Enzio Bushe, who was for many years a member of the 1st Quorum of Seventy,  was another heart softening experience and I believe I found at least one reason for our call to the Philippines. Before joining the church as a young man in post war Germany, Elder Bushe had set two conditions: 1 - that he never have a calling and 2 - that he never be asked to give a talk. In the book he states: 

I have since learned that Heavenly Father has His own ways to educate us and lead us toward growth.  Everything we do has to come step by step, but it does not come without sacrifice.  We may feel serving is a sacrifice.  However, when we really submit ourselves to the will of God, we learn that, in serving Him, He immediately turns our sacrifices into blessings.  When we are on a spiritual plateau, it is necessary for us to understand that we cannot go beyond that plateau until we increase our level of sacrifice and our ability to move one step further.  Such was the case with me when I finally gave my first talk, which led to a new level of spirituality and understanding , accompanied  by a greater level of faith. P. 92 

As part of our preparation we planned a special visit with each of our children and their families.  We leave with those new and wonderful family memories.

We prepared a special “Why we are going on a mission Box” for younger grandchildren who may ask, “When will Grandma and Grandpa be back?  It explains that we want to teach others what is of most value to us: that Jesus is our Savior and that Families can be together forever.  We filled the boxes with little candies that the children know are always found in Grandma’s bag.  Each Sunday, they may have one candy.  When the candy is gone, they will know that we will be back soon. 
We have tried to be in touch with friends to let them know of our plans.  It has been fun to get their responses.
On Sunday, October 30, 2011, we were set apart by Elder Fred Hopkins, Stake President of the Cody Wyoming Stake, as full time missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints to labor in the Philippines, Cebu Mission.  It was an inspirational experience. We are grateful for blessings promised as we serve.

Mark's new mission suit
This suit was put on for the first time to wear when we were set apart.  Mark will wear it in the MTC and on the plane.  Once in the Philippines, the coat will be hung in a closet in the mission home and given back to him to wear home 23 months later.  Do you like me taking the picture in the background?  I couldn't figure out any other way to quickly get us both in a "setting apart" photo.

We will enter the MTC on Monday, November 7 and begin week one of our mission and this Opportunity of a Lifetime (title of the October 2011 Priesthood Session General Conference address of Elder W. Christopher Waddell of the Seventy).

Favorite Cody Mural Missionary Experiences

As mural missionaries, our prayers often expressed the hope that those whose hearts would be touched by seeing the mural will be guided to it. Former neighbors of ours came to Cody this summer for a family reunion and stopped to see the mural.  Their son told us that on his mission he had baptized someone who had visited the mural.  He felt that this man had first been willing to listen to the gospel message because of the spirit he had felt there.

We had the opportunity to show the Mural to a senior couple from Green Valley, AZ.  The husband didn’t seem very interested. He casually walked around as he patiently waited for his wife, who was interested in my telling of the stories the panels portrayed. Mark was busy with other visitors, but when they left, Mark began to visit with him.  He told Mark that nearly all the men in his wife’s family were ministers – her father, brothers, brothers-in-law, etc. He lightheartedly told Mark that his wife was bound to be preaching to me, and that she had probably converted me to Lutheranism. However, when we came around the corner returning to the mural area from the Big Horn Basin room, Mark observed, “Well, it looks to me like your wife is now carrying a Book of Mormon.”  This man just laughed out loud because the joke was on him and he was surprised.

We greeted a very receptive couple who came in about 5:30 and told us that they had family members who were members of the church. They wanted to visit these family members and get to know them better, so they wanted to learn about our church.  They mentioned that divisions in the family had occurred when a nephew had joined the Church and married a young woman from Ogden. This young man’s parents, non-members, were not able to attend the temple wedding.  We asked our visitors what their time restraints were. They replied, “You close at seven, we understand.”  What a choice opportunity to talk about the gospel. We exchanged hugs and handshakes at seven as they left taking a Book of Mormon with them.  They are currently traveling and living in a motor home.  Before purchasing it, they spent four years living in a forty-foot yacht of the coast of Florida.

We had a delightful family from Idaho Falls come into the mural. They were not members of the church, but had Latter-day Saint friends who had suggested they visit the Mural while in Cody. They had a polite nine-year-old son, Geoffrey, and a cute little three-year-old.  The mother just had her breath taken away when she walked into the mural area.  She thought it that amazing.  As I told a little of the early history of the church, she would nod.  You could sense her empathy as I talked about the persecution.  Later she said, “I wonder what comes first, faith or perseverance?”  I thought that an excellent observation.  Geoffrey was asked to be the one to leave a comment on the visitor cards.  He took that opportunity very seriously and wrote, “I thought the mural was really amazing and the history of this church is so rich.”  The mother stated that she had learned much she hadn’t known. 

We had two men from England visit. They had flown into Salt Lake City and rented a car for a three-week trip.  They would fly back to England from the Midwest somewhere.  They had become somewhat familiar with Church history while in Salt Lake, but they still lingered for over a half hour. While they were there, two men from Cedar City joined us.  The people from England were interested in hearing from these men about a friend who had come to the Big Horn Basin with a group of LDS setters in 1900.  He had been seven at the time.
Several years before his death in 1998, someone had brought him back to visit the Basin.  They had found the house he grew up in.  This man commented about the little tree they had planted and wondered where the huge tree they saw in the yard had come from.  He said that the little tree had been planted close to the wire fence that had run around their yard. Looking carefully at the tree, they found wire protruding from its trunk.  Their friend could hardly believe such a huge tree had grown from the little one they had planted.  

In addition to the mural, we showed a room of wonderful paintings and other displays, including a topography map of the Big Horn Basin.  This room tells some pretty interesting stories of the settlement here.  The two men had come specifically to see that room.

Mark’s family from the Johnson side came to the Big Horn Basin in 1903.  They were trying to escape the grief of having two daughters, a two year old and seven year old, die from a type of diphtheria, during the same night. They had been living in southern Utah. This was Grandma Ilene Dover’s mother’s family. Her mother, Naomi Johnson Brown, was 10 at time they came.

Above the door, high on the domed ceiling, one sees, as he leaves the Mural area,  strong, solemn faces representing the Mormon pioneers who blazed a trail across a trackless desert to a desolate valley.  They display the same spirit which characterized the founders of this nation.  They gave the world an example of initiative, of cooperation, of endurance and of faith. Faith in God and steadfast loyalty to their country were the ideals and cornerstones with which they built our heritage. These are the characteristics upon which Mormonism was founded; these are the principles of freedom everywhere.  True principles are eternal and unchanging.  These same characteristics must be enshrined in our hearts if freedom is to be preserved.  Tomorrow and the future are ours.

                                       Lest We Forget from The Cody Mural

                                                                        A pictorial history of Mormonism

We especially loved showing this Mural to those whose first glimpse of it brought an audible catch in their breath -- for these were the visitors  most likely to sense the testimony of Christ and restoration of truth that Edward Grigware painted into these panals.

Thomas S. Monson, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, has said, “Too numerous to mention are the examples of individuals who have faced difficult circumstances and yet who have persevered and prevailed because their faith in the gospel and in the Savior has given them the strength they needed.”

While sitting alone one day in the mural area, the thought came to me that art is a representation of experience, and that great art magnificently conveys the noblest of strivings within that experience.

When first shown this area, Mr. Grigware at one point ceased listening to the discussion of how this space might be used. It is reported that he said, “It has no beginning and no end. It goes to Heaven.  If you would let me, I could paint the masterpiece of my life here.”  He did consider it his masterpiece.

Mark and I, with so very many others, consider this mural truly to be great art. It has been an inspiration to us. It has been a joy to see it become an inspiration to many, many visitors who see it during their stay in Cody. A visitor from Fort Myers, Florida signed a comment card saying, “ My heart was lifted by my visit here. Thank you for sharing the beauty and inspiration of your church and artwork.

2009 Mural Appreciation Dinner
Back to Front
Vaughn and Cheryl Cook
Mark and Merrillyn Dover
Bill and Yvonne Nielson
Mel and Doreen Weeks
Ken and Pam Taylor
2011 Mural Appreciation Dinner
Back to Front
Marilyn and Peter Hansen
Barbara and Dee Stephenson
Merrillyn and Mark Dover
Yvonne and Bill Nielson
(Patsy and Veldon Seymore were unable to join us that night but are featured in the next photo)

Cody Mural Visitor Center Missionaries

It has been a wonderful opportunity to spend the summers of 2009 and 2011 in Cody getting away from the summer heat of Arizona and serving as missionaries at the Mural. The mural was completed in 1951. Mark remembers watching the Mural being painted.

This Mural is a less known treasure of church history. Reproduction of several of its panels, including a portrayal of the miracle of the seagulls in the Salt Lake Valley in 1868, has made the art feel familiar to first time LDS visitors.  It is an impressive story to the many who visit and hear it for the first time at the Mural.

Incidentally, we gained some additional insight into the story of the crickets.  It came in the form of a question.

 “How do you dress for Halloween as a Mormon cricket?”

Wear a basic black outfit with some sort of antennas. Then get about a thousand of your friends and family to dress the same and then – together - descend on someone’s party.
There is a web site,, that is well done, presents the mural in good detail, and tells a little of it’s history.  

The Mural was commissioned by Glen E. Nielson in commemoration of a significant spiritual experience he had when seeking financial backing for a business endeavor.  It was painted by Edward T. Grigware. Mr. Grigware was already a nationally recognized artist when he moved to Cody in the late 1930s.  He would eventually be commissioned to paint the Garden Room in the Los Angeles temple.

When commissioned to paint the Cody mural, he knew little about the church. For a year he studied – learning of its doctrine and history--traveling to many historic sites with the Bishop of the Cody Ward.  The mural then required another year to complete.  Mr. Grigware stated  that  what he  painted “was the love and admiration he held in his heart for this indomitable people.”

A frequently asked question was if he joined the church.  Several years ago a mural missionary documented an interesting story regarding that question.

This missionary was eating lunch at the Senior Citizen Center  when a lady approached and introduced herself. She told this missionary that she and her husband had been close friends of the Grigwares. She said, “I watched Ed as he studied your church and painted your mural. He changed.”  She continued saying that Ed’s wife, who was dying of cancer, saw the change also and was afraid that he would join the Mormon Church.  Before her death, she asked him to promise her that he would not join.  He promised.

She then added,  “I have a son who joined your church.  He changed.   Your church makes people change."

Summer 1961

A trip to Cody, Wyoming with my young women’s group from the Montpelier, Idaho 3rd Ward to see the Mural in the Cody 1st Ward chapel was an exciting adventure.  My younger sister, Kiera, was going, too. We would also see a performance of the Passion Play produced annually in Rapid City, South Dakota.  Oh, to have had a crystal ball and know how special people in Cody and the mural would become to me.  

Mark lived just a block from the chapel.  His mom told him that a group of girls from Idaho were spending the night in the basement of the chapel and suggested that he and some of his friends might go welcome them to Cody.  He didn’t.

Guess timing wasn’t right.  We would meet at BYU, fall semester of 1965. The rest is a delightful history!