Healing and Hope

Reed (President Tolman) is doing better. He was diagnosed with mold disease. Living in Samoa, where mold is ever present, proved too much for his system. He struggled the last time we were there, but seemed to recover well when we returned home. We went to Samoa this time believing that through some changes we had made to our lifestyle he would be fine. Well, that was not to be the case. Thankfully, through the help of good doctors and a detox protocol he is on the mend.

Leaving missionaries in the field was piercingly painful. We grew to love each of them with a love not known to this earth. It was a tender blessing from God; every missionary immediately became important and vital to us. We have missed them terribly since being home.

We certainly have a new perspective on early-returning missionaries. We as a people need to do a better job of celebrating what they have achieved rather than focusing on what was left undone. When a missionary returns home early, it is cause for celebrating because it signals the beginning of healing either physically, emotionally or spiritually. As we navigate this mortal experience and certainly this mission experience, we need to remember it is not always a straight upward course. Changes sometimes need to be made, and those changes can bring greater health and happiness if we handle them correctly. Wrap your arms around those missionaries; congratulate them on their service and their sacrifice. Help them to know there is healing and hope awaiting them.

Personally, trying to make sense of all of this has been a challenge neither one of us saw coming or had the ability to understand easily. How does one understand why things don't work out like we planned? How do we come to terms with facing the painful fact that we could not complete what God had sent us to do? How do we reconcile our faith with the outcome we didn't want or expect? It has been almost impossible not to look at where we fell short. What more should we have done?

These past six months have been some of the hardest we have faced. Some have asked what we have learned. I am not sure we are even to a place yet where we can formulate that into meaningful words. The Savior promised: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." Quite frankly, it has been hard to find that promised peace.

So we try to live in a place of gratitude. Gratitude for the time we had with our remarkable missionaries. Gratitude for the sweetness of being in His service. Gratitude for the strength of each other.  Gratitude for a family, a ward, friends and priesthood leaders who have loved and supported us; they have celebrated our service and recognized our sacrifice. Gratitude for the moments we do grasp His peace.

We have felt the prayers of all those of you who have reached to the heavens on our behalf. Your kind thoughts and concerns have sustained us these past six months. You have helped the healing begin. You truly have helped carry our burden, for which we will ever be grateful. Alofa tele atu.

Zone Conference and a Final Good-bye

We met with the zones here on Upolu. They are learning and growing right before our eyes. Missionaries who were shy and quiet have become powerful agents. They teach doctrine with their comments and testify of the Savior in ways that change lives.

Northeast and Northwest Zones

Central, Apia and Southwest Zone

We sadly announce that we have been given a medical release by the Church. President Tolman has struggled for many months with health issues and has developed a new condition that cannot be diagnosed or treated here. There are not words adequate to express the sadness we feel leaving these remarkable disciples. We love every single one of these missionaries. We know they have great things to do and to accomplish here in Samoa. They will continue to have our hearts and our prayers.

An interm mission president couple has been called. Elder and Sister Saunders have been serving for 15 months in American Samoa. They have run the mission office there and are extremely capable. They know most of our missionaries and already love them. These missionaries will be well-cared for and will continue to grow under their inspired and loving leadership.

A new mission president is being called. We do not know the timeline for their arrival, but I am sure they will bring wonderful things to the Samoa Apia Mission.

It is in times like these where nothing seems to make sense that the only thing we can do is to trust in God. I read a quote a few months ago. It went something like this, "When trials seem unbearable, do not trust your feelings. The only thing you can trust is the doctrine you know about God." Trying to find the whys in a situation like this only leads to unproductive places, so we have chosen to trust the doctrine we know about God. We know he loves us and is working in our lives to bring about change and growth. That doesn't mean that sometimes it won't hurt. One of our missionaries said this week at zone conference he believes God does His best work in times of darkness and despair. I think that says it all. We are deeply grateful to have spent time with your sons and daughters. We feel privileged to have cared for them and loved them!

If you wish to continue to follow the happenings of the mission, you can do that on the Saunders blog. It can be found at http://saundersmission.blogspot.ca.

President and Sister Saunders

Zone Conference

Over the past two weeks, we have met with five of the ten zones. The other five are scheduled for this coming week. It is always a good day when we get to spend it with missionaries! It is fun to watch them reconnect. They become attached to one another in the MTC and when they serve together; transfers can scatter them for many months. They are always excited to see one another and catch up.

I love what Elder Holland said in October Conference 2012, "The call is to come back, to stay true, to love God, and to lend a hand. I include in that call to fixed faithfulness every returned missionary who ever stood in a baptismal font and with arm to the square said, 'Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ.' That commission was to have changed your convert forever, but it was surely supposed to have changed you forever as well."

It is a privilege to watch that change occur in the lives of these missionaries. We see them develop the "fixed faithfulness" mentioned by Elder Holland. They set their faces towards God and allow this experience to sanctify them and prepare them.

Savaii Zones

Tutuila Zones


We just received seventeen new missionaries; nine of them are sisters. We are thrilled to have a growing number of sisters in our mission.

Sheri Dew, in 1999, after talking about her grandmother said this: "To the world, my grandma was ordinary. But to me, she represents the unsung heroines of this century who lived up to their pre-mortal promises and left a foundation of faith upon which we may build. Grandma wasn't perfect, but she was a woman of God. Now, it is for you and for me to carry forward the banner into the next century. We are not women of the world. We are women of God. And women of God will be among the greatest heroines of the 21st century."

I marvel as I watch these sisters come. I see women of great faith and devotion. I see women of God and disciples of the Savior. They serve with priesthood authority and great heavenly power. I am ever so grateful for them. They help me to be stronger and more committed. They stand as witnesses in all things and in all places. They are a force for all that is good and praiseworthy; 1600 of them enter the mission field every month. Watching these sisters serve is a remarkable blessing.

New Missionaries (More photos on Life with Missionaries page)

As exciting as it is to welcome new missionaries, it is always sad at the end of the week to say good-bye to those who are returning home. We will miss them. Along with our young missionaries, our office couple, the Jacksons also went home. They will be missed by all of us! It is our hope as our missionaries leave us that each of them will feel the approval of the Savior for their sacred consecrated work.

Departing Missionaries


The Missionary Handbook states: "Listen only to music that is consistent with the sacred spirit of your calling. Music should invite the Spirit, help you focus on the work, and direct your thoughts and feelings to the Savior. Do not listen to music that pulls your thoughts away from your work, merely entertains, has romantic lyrics or overtones, or dulls your spiritual sensitivity by its tempo, beat, loudness, lyrics or intensity. Listening to music must never interfere with your personal preparation or proselyting."

We seem to have some confusion about this in our mission. Some missionaries, no matter the music or the lyrics, will say it helps them feel the Spirit. Others will say that listening to the music of the world is what calms them and helps them focus. The handbook is fairly clear on what the music should be, but we discussed it as a Missionary Leadership Council this past week. It was obvious very quickly that there is misunderstanding. I love to watch this Council as we work through issues and come to a consensus on something that will benefit every missionary.

We collectively decided to set a standard against which all music could be measured. We first talked about listening to only hymns, then only Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Someone brought up Especially for Youth Music. Others wanted to know what they could play on their ukuleles. After much discussion, we decided that as a mission we will listen to and play only songs that are appropriate for Sacrament Meeting. It seems a reasonable and measurable standard.

Sometimes the things God requires of us seem too specific. Can we not govern ourselves in all things? Of course we can; we have moral agency and can decide if what He is asking of us is important or necessary. Music may not seem like a big deal, but leaving the things of the world behind is a big deal. It made me reflect on a talk given several years ago in General Conference by Elder David A. Stone entitled "Zion in the Midst of Babylon."  He explained, "Babylon was, in the time of ancient Israel, a city which had become sensual, decadent, and corrupt." While the city of Babylon no longer exists, it provides a good metaphor for some of our choices and behaviors. He continues, "Too many people of the world have come to resemble the Babylon of old by walking in their own ways, and following a god "whose image is in the likeness of the world."

He suggested that we could develop a Zion in the midst of Babylon. Just as Babylon, the city of Zion no longer exists. It, too, stands as a metaphor for all that is good and right. A place filled with His light and His guidance. A place drenched in His love. A place where the pure in heart dwell. How do we achieve Zion in the midst of Babylon?

Elder Stone explains, "We can live as a Zion people, if we wish to. Will it be hard? Of course it will, for the waves of Babylonian culture crash incessantly against our shores. Will it take courage? Of course it will.

We have always been entranced by tales of courage of those who faced fearsome odds and overcame. Courage is the basis and foundation for all of our other virtues; the lack of courage diminishes every other virtue that we have. If we are to have Zion in the midst of Babylon, we will need courage.

The opportunities to stand for that which is right--when the pressures are subtle and when even our friends are encouraging us to give in to the idolatry of the times--those come along frequently. No photographer is there to record of heroism, no journalist will splash it across the newspaper's front page. Just in the quiet contemplation of our conscience, we will know that we faced the test of courage: Zion or Babylon?"

Missionaries have the opportunity to experience some of what Zion offers by living the standards of the Missionary Handbook. This mission experience is a refining process; each choice brings us closer to God or further from Him. Choosing to listen to music that invites the spirit and turns our thoughts to the Savior is one of those choices. For many who choose Zion, it will be required that they stand alone. "We will need courage" and strength beyond our own!

Elder Stone reminds us of the blessings that await, "Wherever we are, whatever city we may live in, we can build our own Zion by the principles of the celestial kingdom and ever seek to become the pure in heart. Zion is the beautiful, and the Lord holds it in His own hands. Our homes can be places which are a refuge and protection, as Zion is."

Mission Leadership Council 


Serendipity: The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way. God enjoys serendipitous events; in fact, He makes them happen! I traveled home a few weeks ago for shoulder surgery and therapy. I did not want to leave the mission and make the long journey home, but it was necessary and needful. While many things occurred that could be defined as serendipitous, one of those sweet moments was being able to attend the homecoming report of one of our missionaries!

Elder Wengert is from Gilbert, Arizona, a neighboring city to our home town. He returned home about the same time as I returned to Arizona. I loved hearing him speak about his experiences in Samoa. What was most impressive to me was when he talked about his struggles. He shared that there was a time on his mission when he wondered what he was doing and why he was serving. He wondered why he was wasting his time and his family's time. He struggled with this burden for quite some time, and when he finally decided to completely and totally turn his will over to God's, his entire perspective and mission changed. As he allowed God to lead him, he found ways to serve and bless that were previously not available to him. In this process, he changed; he became who God wanted him to be. He became a fully converted disciple of the Savior; he learned how to represent Jesus Christ and offer His sweet Atonement to those he taught.

As I listened to him talk, I reflected back on what I had observed as we served together. I saw a good young man become a powerful, respected missionary and advocate of Jesus Christ. Elder Wenger left a legacy of growth and dedication in the mission field. It was an "event by chance in a happy way" that I was able to attend his home ward and celebrate his growth among those who know him and love him.

Elder Wengert and his parents

Listening to Elder Wenger and being home gave me a lot of time to think about what God expects of us and how He crafts experiences, which allow us to benefit if we choose to fully and completely embrace His will. I thought of the song "I Will Go Where You Want Me to Go."
"It may not be on the mountain height
Or over the stormy sea,
It may not be at the battle's front
My Lord will have need of me.
But if, by a still, small voice He calls
To paths that I do not know,
I'll answer, dear Lord, with my hand in thine:
I'll go where you want me to go."

The interesting thing is He may need us at the "mountain height, over the stormy sea, or the battle's front." It will always be to paths we do not know because it is only through these kinds of experiences that we come to know God and understand His love and His desire for us to return to His rest. The places we are needed can be scary and hard; they can be lonely and overwhelming; they can be places where we struggle to thrive.

Sometimes, we believe when we are serving in the mission field that the Lord will take care of our problems, things will go smoothly at home because we are serving, or we will be protected from difficulty because we are missionaries. While our service always brings blessings, they usually are not the ones we think we deserve or want. This trip home taught me, once again, God knows exactly what is most important for us to learn and do, and if we will go with our hand in His, He will always lead us to places of growth and greater light. Going where He wants us to go takes courage and faith, but it mostly takes giving our entire will to Him. When we finally surrender is when we find Him, and in finding Him we discover that turning our will over wasn't hard after all.

Six Weeks

I am a little behind. We welcomed a new group of missionaries over a week ago. They, like all others, came excited and ready to work. We are finding that six weeks rolls by pretty quickly. It seems we just get one group settled and another comes. 

These new missionaries remind me of Mormon. Mormon, abridger of the plates and prophet, was described by those who knew him when he was young. It is noted in the record of the Book of Mormon he "was quick to observe." Elder David A. Bednar has taught that "when we are quick to observe, we promptly look or notice and obey. Both of these fundamental elements-looking and obeying-are essential to being quick to observe. Being quick to observe is a prerequisite to and a preparation for the gift of discernment. We can only hope to obtain that supernal gift of discernment and its light of protection and direction if we are quick to observe-if we both look and obey."

New missionaries can be described as Mormon. They are anxious to learn their place and to obey the rules of the mission. They serve as a reminder of what God expects of His missionaries. They are quick to observe. Mission life can be hard and discouraging. We can all learn from Mormon; he remained true to the end wading through a difficult life with unrighteous people surrounded by war. We all have things to learn from our new missionaries as well. They feel unsure of themselves as they begin their work, but if we look beyond their worry, we see great warriors and if we allow them to, they can change all of us making us better. Thank goodness we need only wait six weeks! (Check the Life with Missionaries page for more pictures.)

New Missionaries

We also sadly said goodbye to some powerful missionaries. Their presence and influence will be greatly missed. Saying goodbye is always bitter sweet. We try to help them understand they have come and served and now it is time for the next chapter in their lives. It always leaves us feeling a little unsteady as we carry on without them. For those who serve with no regret, their conversation and love of God is evident in their countenance. They can with clear eyes and a full heart answer Alma's question: "I say unto you, can ye look up to God at that day with a pure heart and clean hands? I say unto you, can you look up, having the image of God engraven upon your countenances?" 

Departing Missionaries