I did not expect to be writing the final post in our mission blog this soon but here we are at home in Lethbridge and I am finishing the blog. This all started last Sunday. We got word that Jay had collapsed at work and was admitted to the hospital in Weyburn. He had lost control and feeling in his legs. They thought he had a protruding disk and sent him up to Regina on Monday for an MRI and to see a neurosurgeon. After the MRI he had surgery right away. They removed a disc from his back and fused it together. After the surgery he still didn't have feeling in his legs.
We, of course were very concerned and let President Donaldson know about what was going on and that we may have to go home and care for Jay. After talking to Jay on Tuesday we made the decision that we needed to go home and help him out in any way that we could. In his current condition he certainly couldn't look after himself. President Donaldson was very supportive and asked how would we feel if we were over there providing service to the members when our son was home needing our service. So he quickly got approval for our early release and we had our flight plans for Thursday that evening.
We spent the day on Wednesday getting the apartment cleaned up and taking things where they needed to go. The Angels came over from Portadown and spent the morning with us and took all of the things that did not belong in the apartment and were mission property or that we had purchased. At noon President and Sister Thompson came over and we all went out for lunch together. We spent the afternoon running errands taking things back and then went over to say our goodbyes at the Charity Shop. That was difficult as we enjoyed our time there and made good friends with Rose and Brian and the other volunteers, especially Sheila.
In the evening on Wednesday we went over to the Fosters for supper. We have enjoyed their friendship and it was difficult to say goodbye to them also. We spent the evening packing our bags and then got a little sleep. We had to get up at 3:00 am to drive to Belfast to catch our flight to London. The zone leaders met us at the airport to take our car and we were on our way. It just seemed like it happened so fast and we were disappointed to not be able to finish our mission or say goodbye to everyone.
It was a very long flight home. It was made worse by having a 5 hour layover in London. We flew from London to Calgary direct. It was a large airplane, a 787 Dreamliner, and it was only about 1/4 full so that made the flight a lot more pleasant. There was room to stretch and move around. We landed at Calgary at about 3:30 in the afternoon and Corey, Kailey and Scott and their families were there to meet us. It was great to see them. We had a couple of hours to visit and then we flew the rest of the way to Lethbridge where Skye and her family and the Pincher Creek crew were there to greet us. Needless to say we were exhausted. We went to the Stake Centre where President Stewart released us.
It was an abrupt and unexpected end to our mission. It was over too soon but we feel we made the right decision and one that we needed to make. We have many fond memories of our time in Ireland and the members and missionaries that we got to know and worked with for our time there. If there is a bright side to a situation like this it is that we were almost finished our service. Now our mission is to do all we can to help Jay recover and get better.
Over and out!
We held a Family Home Evening on Monday night for the branch for the first time. It was the idea of the Relief Society president to have a home evening for people in the branch who are usually on their own. The elders prepared a game of Jeopardy with gospel related questions and we had a great time together.
We travelled up to Londonderry this week for our regular district meeting. Because of holidays and conferences we haven't had one for a while. We had a good district meeting and gave the "Sister" Clean award to the sisters who serve in Letterkenny. After the meeting we went with Elders Flynn and McDaniel to do the first inspection of their new apartment. It is located near the city centre and it quite old but it has been renovated and is a nice place. The inspection went well, Elder McDaniel is a bit of a clean freak.
We completed taking photos of the headstones at the Dublin Road cemetery this week for the Billion Graves project. We took photos for a while and then the iPad battery ran out. So we had to go home and get it recharged and then return to complete it. When we were finished we had uploaded 1513 photos of the headstones in that cemetery. There is another large cemetery here in Omagh and we are going to do that one also in the coming weeks.
We had been asked by the mission home to do inspections of the elders apartment in Sligo. It is a small city about the same size as Omagh and has a small branch and two elders. It is on the coast south and west of here and is in the Republic. We drove up there through Enniskillen and on the way home drove up the coast and back through Beleek. It was a nice day and we had a good drive there. The elders have a really nice apartment and it was in good condition. I also did an inspection of their car. When we were finished we drove to an abbey that we wanted to see that is in the centre of town but it was closed until March. Some historic sites here close for the winter. So we walked around the town centre for a while and stopped in at a little cafe/bakery for lunch. After lunch we drove to Rosse's Point, which is where Yeats spent his summers, and walked around the seashore. It is a long drive to Sligo, about 2 hours, but it is a nice town and there was lots to see. It was an enjoyable inspection.
While we were walking around the city centre we came across a busker who was playing the Uilean pipes. I had a chat with him and asked if he would mind if I took a short video and he said he didn't. We enjoyed his playing.
We had a surprise at church today. One of the other volunteers from the charity shop, Sheila, came to church. She was going to come last week with Brian and Rose but wasn't feeling well. We had no idea that she was coming today but it was great to have her and she enjoyed the meetings. We worked our regular Friday shift at the charity shop and put in a good day's work. Both Brian and Rose enjoyed their visit to the church last week and Brian had lots more questions for us.
A few weeks ago we were given a Book of Mormon that someone who lived in Cookstown had requested while visiting the church website. So we drove up there one day this week to deliver it to him. We didn't have a phone number so we just had to drive up and hope that he was home. He was not so I wrote him a note and left it with the Book of Mormon in his mailbox. We noticed that there was an historic site near the town so decided to visit it while we were there. We thought it might be an old castle but there was nothing left of the fort; even so it was an important site for early Irish history. It was up on a hill so we also got a nice view of Cookstown from the top near Tullaghoge Fort.
We got our first real snowfall since we have been in Ireland this week. It snowed all night and the better part of the next day. There was a good covering of snow here in Omagh and quite a bit more snow up in the hills. It lasted a couple of days and then most of it was gone by Saturday night.
They decided this week to finish some of the sidewalks in the neighbourhood. The sidewalks here are not concrete but are asphalt like the roads. They have equipment that are miniature versions of the big ones for working on projects like that. Maurene thinks that they are cute.
During our shift at the Charity Shop this week we had noticed that the display windows hadn't been changed since we had been there. So Maurene decided that we should change them in a Valentine's theme. On Saturday night, the shop had a social. It was a a get together for all of the volunteers and we had a nice visit and shared some treats. On Sunday, Brian and Rose from the shop came to church. They said they were going to just come for Sacrament meeting but they ended up staying for the whole block. It was great to have them come and they said they enjoyed the meetings.
I went for my usual Parkrun on Saturday morning at the Leisure Centre here in Omagh. It was a nice warm morning and it was more that just a little unusual to go running at the beginning of January in shorts and a T-shirt. It was a nice run and I met up with some runners from Loughmacrory after the run. The fellow had just run a 24 hour run around the lake there a couple of weeks ago to raise money for a local charity and had completed over 80 miles in the 24 hours. It was nice to be able to talk with him and ask him about his experience. Like most of the conversations I have here, people ask me why I am here and I get to talk to them about our mission and the church. They have always been good conversations and I get to explain things they didn't know about our church and often clear up misconceptions that they have. They do the asking and we try to answer as best we can.
We had our usual Friday shift at the Charity Shop and we got a lot of work done. Maurene did a lot of organizing and I helped rearrange some larger items at the back of the store and do some work on the display windows. There were two other volunteers there, Chris and Sheila, and they had lots of questions for us about the church. We had some good conversations with them and they asked if they would be able to attend church. We said of course and are hoping they come to church next Sunday.
There are two large cemeteries here in Omagh and neither one of them are on the Billion Graves site. So we went to the Dublin Road Cemetery and started to take photos of the headstones there. We registered the cemetery and then spent two afternoons taking photos and then uploading them to their website when we got home. We have uploaded about 900 photos of headstones and still have quite a few more to do.
We held our Self Reliance class on Tuesday evening and the topic was the Word of Wisdom. That is a topic that almost always engenders a lot of discussion and Tuesday was no exception. It was nice though, it is always great to have lots of discussion on topics. I also visited the Strule Arts Centre and bought tickets for a concert that is going to be held there in February. A big band from Dublin is going to perform and it looks like it will be a good concert, playing lots of old swing music. We are looking foward to it.
It is of course the holiday season here between Christmas and New Years so things slow down a bit as far as our missionary work goes. So we took the opportunity this week to go on a little walk around the city centre to a number of historic buildings and sites. It is an historic walk and there is a booklet we picked up at the Strule Arts centre called the Historic Town Trail Map that gives a description and some history of each of the spots. It was very interesting to get some background on some of the buildings etc. that we have seen many times in passing. It was a nice hike and it is amazing how much history there is wherever you go in Ireland.
A while ago we bought tickets to a concert at the Strule Arts Centre that was held this week. We wanted to go hear some Irish music so we went to see the Whistlin' Donkeys. It was a good concert that we really enjoyed. They were all talented musicians and put on a good show. They also had some Irish dancers that performed a few numbers with them. We enjoyed the concert a great deal.
We had our second shift at the charity shop this week and there was lots of work to do again. There was another volunteer working with us and we had an opportunity to talk to her quite a bit about the church and answer her questions. We are working on one of the owners of the shop coming to the church to talk to the Relief Society and Young Women about the work they do and see if any members are interested in helping them. We are also going to put a box at the church to collect used clothes etc. for the shop.
We drove out to the Sperrins one afternoon to see the Beaghmore stone circles. It is about a half hour drive from Omagh. There are seven stone circles that were discovered in the 1940's when a local farmer was digging for peat. All the stone circles are associated with cairns (graves) and a stone row runs towards them. It was a very cold day and out in the middle of nowhere but we met a couple from New Hampshire visiting there.
On Saturday morning I drove out to Loughmacrory which is a small village by a lake about 20 minutes from Omagh. I took part in the Lough5 which is a New Year's Eve 5 mile race that they hold there every year. It was a beautiful morning and was a well organized race with about 500 to 600 people participating. We ran on small roads in the countryside and then finished running around the lake on a trail. It was a very nice course with a couple of challenging hills. I enjoyed the experience very much and met some nice people there.
On New Year's Eve we had the elders over for supper to spend the evening with us. After supper the elders watched a movie and then a BYU basketball game. It was nice to have them over again and enjoy the evening together. For them it was a real treat to see a movie and relax for the evening.
We wish all of you a happy and prosperous 2017 and will see you before the year is out!
We have had a very busy and enjoyable week. On Thursday we had an all Ireland Christmas conference in Dublin. So we set off in the early morning with our two Elders and drove down there, not our favorite part of the day. It was not the usual zone conference. We played games, including a "snow ball" fight, did some singing of Christmas carols, watched the movie "Brave", had lunch together and then put on a nativity at the end. It was great to relax with the other missionaries and see them have a good time and enjoy each others company. We got to visit with and say goodbye to the Reimers and Hawkes who are headed home on January 6. We will then be the senior, senior couple in the mission. Before we went back to Omagh, the Dublin stake president took a photo of the missionaires with his drone in a 360 which was the mission goal for baptisms which was met.
Elder and Sister Reimers were good friends and were a big help to us. They served their mission in Galway and were in our Limerick district for quite a while. They helped us feed the missionairies at district meetings and were encouraging and positive. This was their second mission and they are planning on another one soon after they get home to California in January.
I woke up one morning this week and looked out the kitchen window at our back yard and saw a trampoline. It dawned on me that we did not have a trampoline. It was sitting upright in the yard like it belonged. I looked over to the neighbours and theirs was missing. I guess we had a big wind during the night and it picked up that trampoline and blew it over the fence into our yard. Very strange!
We have thought for a while that we would like to do some community service on a regular basis. So we volunteered to help out at the Goodwill Gift Charity Shop here in Omagh. It is located in the city centre and is run by a Catholic couple. The proceeds from the shop go to help the homeless in the area. We are going to work there for four hours every Friday and this week was our first shift. There is lots of work to do there and we spent our first day sorting out new donations that had arrived in the last little while. They are sad that we will only be here until March but I think it will be a good experience. They want to come to the church and talk to the members about their shop and I answered a lot of Brian's questions that day about the church.
On Christmas Eve we had our local Elders Wayment and Palmer over for the evening. We ordered in some pizza and since both of them are basketball fans we watched a BYU basketball game on my MacBook together. We had some snacks and played a few hands of hearts with them. It was a nice relaxing evening and we enjoyed spending it with them.
Christmas Day started off with church. We only had Sacrament meeting with a few talks and lots of music. Both Maurene and I spoke, she played the piano and I led the music. It was a nice service and we had a few visitors. I always enjoy having Christmas Day on a Sunday. After church we went home and opened gifts and then went over to the Fosters for Christmas dinner. They are such a nice couple and we really enjoy their company. They prepared a really nice meal with both turkey and ham and I was stuffed when it was over. We gave them some Lindor chocolates which are their favorite and they gave us exactly the same thing. We had a good laugh over that.
After dinner was the best part of the day, we FaceTimed with our children and grandchildren. We had chats with all of them and got to share in their Christmas Day which was wonderful. We got some great news when talking with Kailey and Caleb, they are expecting a baby girl in May! They kept it a secret until now and the best part is we will be home for the new arrival! A great end to a wonderul day!
This week was the branch Christmas party. For some reason it was not widely known by all members of the branch so the attendance was not as good as it could have been. But those that came had a good time, we had a lot of fun. Due to some miscommunication, we found out on Friday evening that we were in charge of the food. So we spent all of Saturday buying things and preparing the food. We managed to get it together and everyone really enjoyed the hot apple cider, cheese ball, seven layer dip, Nanaimo bars and the other things that we put together. The Irish love their "Christmas jumpers" as evidenced in the photo above. We played some fun reindeer games, had some food and finished off the evening singing Christmas carols.
We went down to the city centre to the Strule Arts centre this week to see a craft fair that was being held there. It was pretty small but a woman who was selling jewellery had some questions about our badges and the church and we got in a lengthy conversation about the church and religion in general. She was a really nice person and we left her with a Christmas pass along card and an invitation to come to our church. We also stopped by a thrift shop to see if we could volunteer there maybe once a week to help them out. We are going back next week to see the person in charge.
We had our weekly Self Reliance course on Tuesday evening. The class went well and everyone was in attendance. I had some problems with the materials and had to drive out to the church to run off some materials that we needed the day before. When I was leaving the church there was pheasant walking across the lawn. It is the first one I have seen here. There are fields behind the church so not surprising to see him there.
One thing that the Irish love is their crisps, what we would call in Canada potatoe chips. What they do have here is a variety of very different flavors. Vive la differance! It is interesting but I don't think I could bring myself to try some of them, not trememdously appealing.
One thing that we really enjoy is teaching the YSA Sunday School class. Today was the last class this year so at the end we gave them a little Christmas treat that Maurene put together. They are a good bunch of young people and it is nice that two of them are returned missionaries. This tiny branch has one missionary out right now and another one is leaving in January. They have sent out 7 missionaries in the last five years, that is amazing!
We travelled up to Londonderry this Tuesday for district meeting. We had a good meeting with the young Elders and sisters and had a great lunch of burritos and Rice Krispie squares prepared by Maurene. After the district meeting the Elders from Omagh caught the bus home and we inpsected the apartments of the Londonderry Elders and then drove to Letterkenny to see the sisters' apartment. They both did a great job of looking after and cleaning their apartments which makes our job so much easier and more enjoyable.
We had a special treat on Thursday. The Fosters invited us over to their house for supper and then took us to the Strule Arts Centre for an evening of Irish music and dance. As usual, we were treated to a really nice meal and the musical program was very enjoyable. There were a real variety of performers and they performed quite a bit of Christmas music which was nice. A lot of the songs were sung in Irish but were great to listen to nonetheless. There was a woman vocalist accompanied by a guy playing the acoutic guitar who were both very good. There was a girls school choir who were just excellent. The last act was a choir with a band who were very good also. There were two young people doing Irish dancing with them who were All Ireland champions. We wished we could have seen more of them. It was an enjoyable evening. The most unusual act of the night was a ukelele band!
We were assigned to inspect the apartment of the Elders who serve in Coleraine, which is about a two hour drive from here on the north coast of Ireland. So we decided to drive up there on Friday. There had a beautiful apartment on the ground flood of an apartment building that is located right by the river that flows through the city. We had a good inspection although we had to give them serveral things to look after since they did not keep the place as clean as they should.
We found out that the Giant's Causeway was only about a 20 minute drive away from Coleraine. So since we had already driven all the way up there, we decided to go have a look at it after we had inspected the apartment. We were certainly glad that we did since it was a very impressive sight indeed. It was an overcast day but not too cold. They had a nice visitors centre there and it was about a 15 minute walk to where the causeway started down by the ocean. It was fun to explore the structures and to hike along the coast. There were a few other people there but it was far from being crowded. Seeing those long hexagon shaped structures was fascinating. We were glad we made the effort to go there.
We decided to drive along a bit more of the north coast on our way back to Omagh from the Giant's Causeway. Only a few miles along the coast we came upon Dunluce Castle which was an unexpected surprise. It was a beautiful spot and we enjoyed seeing it.
As we continued our drive back to Omagh we saw a beautiful sunset over the river just south of Londonderry. We couldn't stop to capture a better photo of it but it was a beautiful end to a great day.
This week we held our first self reliance class. We are doing the Health and Well Being class and are going to meet every week for the next 12. We had four students to our first class and there are two more going to join us next week. That is a pretty good turn out for such a small branch. And next week we are going to start a second class that is going to meet on a different night. The Young Woman's president is going to facilitate an education plus finding a job class that has five or six students signed up to take it. We are excited and very happy about the enthusiasm of the members for these classes.
The Christmas season is here and one thing that the Irish love is tacky Christmas sweaters. The thing is that they do not view them as tacky, they love them! So the stores are full of displays of these wonderful jumpers. Maurene wants me to buy one but I am resisting.
Another thing that they like to do here at Christmas is to put up lights in the city centre. About a week ago they lit the light display here in Omagh in the city centre shopping area. On our way home the other night we drove through there to see the lights and took a few photos. Of course, they don't do it justice, it is so much nicer when you are there in person. But is does make the area look very festive and it is nice to walk around down there.
We had two conferences to attend this week, our zone conference and stake conference. So that meant two drives into Belfast and back. Maurene wasn't feeling up to going the day of zone conference so I picked up the Elders and we went there together. It was a good conference although it did last a little longer than usual so we got caught in the evening rush traffic more than we usually do. We have been asked to inspect the young missionaires cars during conference so I did my first one, the sisters in our district's car. I was concerned when I finished as their front tires were getting near bald and they had a couple of codes lighting up their dash. Thankfully, when I saw them at stake conference they had already had their car serviced and had new tires put on. I am glad that we are doing the inspections so we can catch these things before someone has an accident or breaks down.
We had stake conference this weekend. For the first time they decided to do a webcast of the two Saturday sessions to Omagh and Londonderry because of the the distance to travel to Belfast. I worked with the stake person and streamed the webcast on my laptop at the church and hooked it up to the TV. It worked well and we had a nice group of members attend the Saturday evening session. We drove to Belfast on Sunday for the last session and took the elders with us. President McCrudden was released as stake president and a new presidency called. So we had Elder Sabin of the Seventy there. It was a good conference and it was nice to drive to Belfast on a Sunday, the traffic was much better.
We decided this week to take a little drive when things were slow to a town near here called Castlederg. It was a nice little town in a pretty valley with a good sized river running throught the town. We had a look around the castle and went for a walk along the river and through a bit of the town.
This past week has been very cold for here in Northern Ireland. We have had heavy frost on most mornings and some thick fog almost every day. I was getting a bit worried about what the rest of the winter was going to be like. But a fellow I was chatting with at the car wash as well as other locals assured me that this was unusually cold even for winter. Needless to say we were relieved as we were worried about January if this was November weather! I even had a couple of mornings that I could not run because the sidewalks were very icy. Maurene managed to capture some of the beauty of the frost one morning before we headed out for the day.
One evening this week we went over to the Fosters for supper. We always have a good time visiting with them, she is from Poland and he is from around here. We had a nice discussion after supper about what life was like here in Northern Ireland during the troubles in the 70's through the 90's if you were a Catholic, which Brendan was before he joined the church. It gave us a little glimpse into the turmoil from a different perspective. It gave us a better idea about some of the reasons for the conflict. He also shared his conversion story which was very inspiring, it was a good story.
We spent another day this week travelling around in rural areas looking for more of the lost sheep. We didn't have any success unfortunately. None of the people we were looking for lived at the addresses that we were given. It was not fruitless, I guess. Our branch president can now send the memberships back and let them know that they do not live here.
We travelled up to Londonderry on Tuesday for district meeting which went very well. Maurene made soup and cookies for the district which we all enjoyed when the meeting was over.
We pretty well have things organized for the Self Reliance courses that are going to start this next week. I am going to facilitate a course on Health and Well Being for which we have six people signed up to take. Jennifer, a returned missionary in the branch, is going to do a combination of Education for Better Work and My Job Search. She has about five or six members who are interested in taking those courses. So that is a tremendous number of people to take the courses for a small branch like this. We are excited to start this next week and see how this turns out. Our course and the other two that Jennifer is facilitating will take about 12 weeks to complete.
We are looking forward to Christmas, we hope that you are too!
This is the blog of Elder Tom and Sister Maurene Wilson of our mission to the Scotland/Ireland Mission.