Friday, December 14, 2012

Farewell Alaska

 Friends at the goodbye party that they held at the Institute for us.
 More dear friends in the young single adults.
 Pyramid Lake in Jasper Park, Canada.
 Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada.
The new Calgary Alberta Temple to be dedicated in October 2012.

 Aunt Sarah in Magrath.
 The Cardston Temple
 Glacier National Park.
 Mike and Patrick's families were there to welcome us back home.
 Welcome home signs made by the grandkids.
Most of the grandkids at a welcome home party at Jenny's house. (Lots of silly faces.)

Our mission has come to an end.  It is wonderful to remember the dear friends we made in
Fairbanks and the experiences we were blessed to have had.  Before leaving, a farewell party was held for us at the institute.  It was a bit overwhelming to see so many friends come from the Stake as well as from the Branch and Institute.  After living in Fairbanks almost two years, we felt almost like it was where we belonged.  However, family and friends  were beckoning us back home to Utah.  It was so helpful when some of our young men with strong backs helped us load everything in the car.  There was not an inch to spare.
Our trip home was very enjoyable.  We were able to see so many beautiful places on our trip down the Al-Can Highway.  We added more wildlife to our list of animal sightings--black bears, buffalo, rock sheep, lynx, and more.  We also added a very large rock chip to our windshield that scattered glass inside the car as well.  Just another souvenir in our adventure. 
Along the way, we stopped to see the beauties of the parks in Alberta, Canada.  Going through the Yukon Territory was much like traveling in Alaska.  There were so many thick forests and beautiful mountains.  The scenery was spectacular.  After leaving Jasper and Banff National Parks we drove out into the Alberta prairie.  It was a blessing to see the new Calgary temple almost completed.  The temples are so important to us and to members of the Church. We love the temples. 
We took time to stop in Magrath where we stopped and were able to find Aunt Sarah in a care center.  It was nice to be able to spend some time wih her.  She is 99 years old.  We talked of the fun times we had when JoAnn was much younger when we visited our Grandparents and Uncle Clarence and Aunt Sarah along with Brent and Ricky our cousins in Magrath.  It was hard to leave knowing we might not see her again in this life.
We were also able to go to a session in the Cardston Temple.  JoAnn wanted to go to her "family's temple" and feel the spirit there.  As a family we would stop on our trips to Magrath to see the temple when we were children.  It was a blessing to be there.
After leaving Alberta, we drove through Glacier National Park.  We were surprised that the glaciers there were so much smaller than we remembered.  The mountains are spectacular.  What a beautiful world we have to live in.  We also drove along the side of Flathead Lake in Montana.  It was beautiful as well.  We did notice as we drove home, that the days were getting much shorter.  The sun was setting much earlier in the evening. 
When we arrived home there were yellow ribbons and signs all over the yard.  The grandkids had all been busy getting ready for our arrival.  Some of the family were waiting for us while othes continued to arrive.  It was truly wonderful to see them all again.  A couple of days later, we had a big party at Jenny's home with everyone there. It gave us a chance to hand out Alaska t-shirts and kuspuks (Eskimo dresses) and ulu knives that Jim put together in Fairbanks.  It was a joy to be with all of our family once again. 
After being home for a few months, we miss our friends and the adventure of Alaska, but are enjoying our continuing adventure at home with family and friends here.  What a blessing it has been for us.  Something we will never forget. The gospel is true and Jesus Christ is the Savior who lives and loves us all. 
With love,
JoAnn and Jim


Monday, August 27, 2012

                                                   At Denali Park with Tina.
                 Denali Park on a cloudy day taken through the bus window.  The colors are beautiful.
                                          See if you can find 2 caribou at Denali Park.
                                        A bull reindeer with his harem on the UAF campus.
Tina at the North Pole with Santa.
                                                   Miranda just after her baptism on Friday.
                                                A birthday cake with Randy and Jerri and Tina.
                                The last Fairbanks Zone picture before transfers.

This has been a delightful week.  We had been busy getting everything ready for seminary to begin on Wednesday morning.  It was fun to see the seminary students come to the Institute to meet their new teachers for the year.  Our new teachers are enjoying their classes.  We have four new teachers in Fairbanks.  It always takes a few days to get everything worked out on the rolls.  We are so grateful that a few classes had students just come that had not registered.  The more the better. 

Tina flew in on Wednesday night and Thursday we left at 5:00 AM to drive to Denali is hopes of having a good day there.  It was so wonderful to see her again.  We had a delightful day and even saw Elder & Sister Hawkins from the Anchorage Institute there as well.  We even saw lots of grizzly bears at a safe distance.  The colors in the park are beautiful.  Fall comes early to the park.

Friday and Saturday we spent some time visiting places close to Fairbanks.  North Pole is always a favorite.  Santa even remembered us from our other visits.  We even got to pick up some seminary materials from Sister Loveless in Salcha and say goodbye to her.  We certainly have come to love and appreciate our seminary teachers. 

On Friday Miranda was baptized and even bore her testimony afterwards.  She is a wonderful girl and is on her way to a life of learning in the church.  We have been amazed at the strength of the young adults that have joined the church while we have been here.  They always talk about how different their lives are now that they have joined the church.  Their lives now have purpose and direction.  I played for two of the musical numbers at Miranda's baptism, and then on Saturday I played for the baptism of a ten-year-old girl, the first in her family to be baptized.  It was beautiful as well.

Saturday morning the young missionaries had a breakfast at the Stake Center.  With transfers today, they like to have fun together before they leave for their new assignments.  I was very touched by the farewell song some of the elders sang for us in Samoan.  We will greatly miss the missionaries and hope to see them again at reunions. 

Sunday we were asked to share our testimonies in the Branch sacrament meeting.  Everything is coming to a close so quickly.  We will have some training with the Hulls who are replacing us this week and on Friday we start our long trek home.  We feel so much a part of the Branch and the seminary and institute program here that our leaving will be bitter-sweet.

We are scheduled to speak in our sacrament meeting at home on October 14.  It has been such a blessing to be able to serve the Lord as missionaries.   As we end this chapter, we look forward to being with our family and friends at home once again. 

Love to all,
JoAnn & Jim

Monday, August 20, 2012

As we conclude our mission here in Alaska here is the small institute class in Healy with one returned missionary, one investigator and one newly called missionary who will be going to Utah.
 Sister Spens teaching the last summer 2012 Pearl of Great price institute class and also our last institute class of our mission!  (The students are working together on an assignment.)
 The kitchen has been a busy and popular place for YSA with Sister Spens most excellent cinnamon rolls.
 This was a great baptism in the Chena River no less. The man baptized is a chemistry professor at UAF.
Our home grown forget-me-nots are finally in bloom by our apartment doorstep.
 The taiga (or boreal interior forest) of Alaska is filled with a wonderful variety of unusual mushrooms this being a fine example. It was fifty feet from our apartment door.
Fall continues to press on here in the north. This is the leaf of a fire weed turning a bright red to contrast with the yellow of the birch forest.

This past week has been very busy with the final week of institute classes and the work involved with getting early morning seminary classes ready to go. With our five new teachers the training we are asked to do with those teachers and the preparation of the classes on the computer it has taken a lot of effort. Sister Spens has put in a great amount of time to get things all structured and ready. We had our last new seminary teacher called this past weekend so we met her on Sunday for a brief orientation. We are in the process of turning over our mission calling to a new couple but the sister is out of town for this week and we will just continue to do what we can to get things going for fall seminary and institute. Hopefully within the next two weeks they will completely takeover for us and we will be on our way home.

We have started to get our car ready and pack a few things and have looked briefly at the route home but we are still at the institute doing those things that are needed.  We still have to train our replacements so we can let go. 

The baptism shown above was a great experience. The brother was introduced to the church by having LDS students attend his classes at UAF and noting a significant difference in them compared to the general population of university students. He is excited to have received the gospel and become a member and will be a great member. It was the first time Sister Spens and I had witnessed a baptism in a river. The water was about 40 degrees at the most but the day was warm and sunny. Brother Edmond bore his testimony directly after being baptized. It was great.

We have also turned our institute investigator over to the full time Elders. There are no young elders or branch missionaries serving in the Healy area. So we took two Fairbanks Elders down to Healy with us last week to meet the students including our investigator, and they will continue to teach the class for about four more weeks and hopefully brother Bill the investigator will make good progress.

It does seem kind of strange that our work here is coming to an end. We have come to love all of the YSA and the other members here in the Fairbanks area and we will miss them. We will also miss our association with the investigators and recent converts we have associated with as well. We love being missionaries but it seems all callings in the church have an end.

Elder and Sister Spens

Monday, August 13, 2012

                                       These are a couple of sea otters in Valdez harbor

                                      Bald eagle on the mountains surrounding Valdez harbor

                                Congregation of seal lions in the Prince William sound area

          Bill, JoAnn and Jim on the bow of the cruise ship Lu Lu Bell in Prince William sound with a large blue iceberg in the background

Bill and Jim at the harbor in Valdez

The first hint of fall in Alaska when the birch trees start to turn yellow on a single branch

Bill (Jim's brother) came to Alaska for a one week visit this past week. We began his visit by fishing for Arctic greying although that was not very successful on the Chatanika river. We borrowed some fishing gear from a local and at least Bill fished the interior of Alaska which very few visitors have a chance to do. We did have more success panning for gold and he brought home a few flakes of the yellow metal.

Bill had a chance to come with us to our institute class in the town of Healy, next to Denali park. He also attended our Pearl of Great Price Thursday evening class here in Fairbanks.

We also spent  a day in Denali park seeing brown bears, Dahl sheep and moose. The scenery is always spectacular and the is a definite change of colors in the park as fall approaches.  

We did spend a bit of time driving to Valdez harbor. We presented a fireside on the sacred objects of the book of Mormon to their branch Sunday evening. We had the opportunity of staying with a great LDS family that live there in Valdez. The salmon were running and filling the harbor and surrounding rivers. Black bear were coming down to eat their fill along with the seagulls that finish what the bears do not eat. Valdez is truly  a spectacular place with majestic mountains rising above the deep port city.  Thompson pass that leads into the Valdez area not only sports a glacier but holds the record for greatest snowfall on any road in north America.

We boarded a small cruise ship and spent a day visiting the Prince William sound. It is filled with sea life of all kinds including hump back whales. The tour concluded with a visit to the Columbia glacier that comes down to the sea and has a vertical wall of ice that calves (breaks) of into the sea. It is quite a spectacular sight. 

Bill felt like he had a small glimpse of what a senior missionaries life is like as well as seeing some of the sights of the vast state of Alaska.

 Jim and JoAnn

PS  We have been asked to speak in the Granite View Ward on Sunday, Oct. 14 at 9:00 AM.  That will give us a chance to catch our breath after getting home.  

Saturday, August 4, 2012

 Elder Spens and his brother Bill
 We found some blueberries!
 Kaitlyn and Eddie are going to be married in the Salt Lake Temple next week.
 A visitor means another trip to Denali Park.
 Denali Park was originally set aside to preserve the Dahl sheep like these high on the mountain.
 A grizzly bear mom munching on grass to build up fat for winter.
 Here are her two lazy cubs.  It's beginning to look like fall in the park.
 How many Ptarmigans can you count?  (It's Alaska's state bird.)
Try out this recipe for blueberry pie.

We have had a fun and busy week.  Bill flew into town, so that gave us the opportunity to show him around a bit.  We had a chance to try our hand at panning gold and showing off the oil pipeline.  On Wednesday we went to Healy for Institute class.  We were pleased to have three students and one nonmember there.  Bill was happy to make some thoughtful comments as well.  

Thursday was Institute class in Fairbanks.  We always enjoy meeting with the young adults and sharing the gospel with them.  I made a big batch of chicken enchiladas.  It's fun for me to see the students enjoy the food so much after classes.  

On Friday Bill wanted to try his hand at fishing.  We asked the experts where we could fish close to Fairbanks.  The best suggestion was the Chatanika River.  It was a cold and wet day.  At one point the thermometer read 47 degrees.  Great weather for someone visiting from the hot Salt Lake valley!  Bill tried several spots with no luck.  However, Jerri Olsen had told me of a place she likes to go to pick blueberries, and since she was out of town and we were very close, we gave it a try.  Berry picking is the Alaskan thing to do in August.  Last year we didn't know what to look for.  I think the spot we found had been picked already, but we still got enough berries to count.  If you want a real Alaskan experience, try the blueberry pie recipe.  

Today, Saturday, we drove to Denali Park and took the bus to the Eielson visitor's center.  The clouds were hanging very low on the mountains and it was a bit chilly.  The colors have started to change a little.  It's surprising how much things change here week by week.  There was even snow on the tops of some of the lower mountains this week.  We enjoyed our trip and were able to see a lot of the park animals.  

Kaitlyn and Eddie had a reception here in Fairbanks before leaving next week to be sealed in the Salt Lake Temple.  After a reception in Salt Lake, they will be going to Missouri where Eddie is from for an open house there.  They are a wonderful couple.  Kaitlyn has come home to Fairbanks the past two years from BYU and has been a wonderful part of the branch.  Like so many others, they will be going away to finish school and start their lives together. 

On the home front, our grandaughters Gabi and Cate turned eight years old this week.  Cate was baptized today on her birthday, and Gabi is in Brazil visiting her grandparents there.  When her dad, Daniel, flies to Brazil next week, she will be baptized there.  It makes us so happy to see our grandchildren make the choice to be baptized and become members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The missionary work continues to go forward here and we love serving and sharing our testimonies of Jesus Christ.

Have a wonderful week,
JoAnn and Jim

 Kaitlyn and Eddie's quilt with a lot of blueberry prints.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

  This is our kale garden here in Alaska doing very well.  It is an excellent climate for cool weather crops and along with the long hours of sunshine things do very well.
   This is our kale garden a few days latter after a moose had eaten a good portion. We do not always see the moose that travel through our yard but the evidence is irrefutable.
 Cameron, Gary and Matt who have been in the YSA group from the time we started almost two years ago.  They have all served faithfully in the branch presidency.
Rose and Taylor who both actually knew each other and grew up in Barrow but have re-connected here in Fairbanks and now are engaged to be married. They have not set a date yet.
Mushrooms are popping up all over the forested land and this one is coming up from under the deck in front of our apartment.
A tree used to grow here in this plot at the institute the tree died and now it serves as a  zucchini patch.
                                        President Olsen and his wife Jerri in our apartment.  We have become great friends with both of them as they are our closest member neighbors.

The weeks go by as days as we enter the last month or so of our mission service here in Alaska. We have begun to train in earnest our replacement couple the Hulls. They are a local couple who will be serving a stay at home service mission and will be taking our place on the 20th of Aug. However they will be off to Utah for the marriage of their youngest daughter Kaitlyn in the Salt Lake Temple. When they return we will have about two weeks to complete training with them and then our service here will come to an end. After nearly two years in this calling we finally feel like we are starting to understand how to accomplish the supervision of the early morning seminary and the directing of the institute program as well. Both of these programs are truly great systems for the salvation of the youth of the church. They are not just nice programs but are now vital to the youth of the church and it has been a great privilege and honor as well as a spiritual blessing to both of us to have served in this mission calling for the past two years.

Like any missionary we will leave with mixed emotions as we have come to love the people and especially the YSA of the church here in Alaska. The church continues to grow here. Investigators are baptized and the church is continually being introduced to new people. We have the great opportunity of teaching investigators in our institute classes on a regular basis. The young people bring their friends and the missionaries teach them the official lessons and we teach them the unofficial lessons of whatever the institute curriculum happens to be. The spirit will however, often direct us to teach certain things when investigators are present that hopefully will meet their individual needs.

The Olsens whose basement we live in are on a three week vacation to Utah and than on a cruise ship to return back to Alaska. So we are house sitting for them. However, a new law clerk and his wife and their dog are living upstairs temporary until they find a place of their own. It is not as quite as it might have been if we had been here alone for three weeks.

We actually shipped some stuff home and I have been getting our winter tires ready to mount on our car for the return trip. We will be driving the AlCan highway on our return trip so it will be like a road-trip vacation at the conclusion of our service here. We are certainly looking forward to reconnecting with family and friends upon our return.

Elder and Sister Spens(Jim and JoAnn, Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa)

Monday, July 23, 2012

 Our zone missionaries just before transfers.
 More missionary fun
New sister missionaries for the Young Single Adult Branch

It's been a week of goodbyes and hellos.  On Monday we had a breakfast with all the missionaries in the zone just before a lot of them left to drive to Anchorage to receive new companions and new areas to work in.  We have been so blessed to be able to get to know these great missionaries.  Our zone leaders stayed the same and the district leaders, but we have a lot of new missionaries to get to know.  We now have four sister missionaries in the area and two have been assigned to our Branch.  It's the first time we have had sisters in the branch since we arrived.  They are very excited and have already hit the road running with teaching appointments and lots of visitors to meet.   

On Saturday we attended the funeral of Bro. Mario Gho who died suddenly in his home last Sunday.  Brother Gho was a wonderful man.  He and Sister Gho had been missionaries at the Institute and Sister Gho was teaching institute classes when we arrived.  They invited us to join their family for Thanksgiving dinner just a month after we had arrived.  They have a wonderful family.  Bro. Gho was a kind and gentle man who was always smiling and had a twinkle in his eye that made you know that he was glad to know you.  It's hard to see dear friends leave so quickly.  Mario and Carol Lee had the great opportunity to work in the Anchorage temple together.  Carol Lee was so excited when they received that call.  It's a big commitment to work in the temple that is over 350 miles away for several days each month.  

Today our Branch Presidency was released.  It has been such a great opportunity to work with Randy Olsen in the Branch as well as being his downstairs neighbor.  He has such a love and enthusiasm for the gospel.  I know he has helped so many in the branch become stronger.  Our new branch president is Pres. Terry.  We will have a short time to get to know him.  Gary Holyoak who was a counselor was also released since he will be going to Utah to school in a couple of weeks.  At least I have one more chance to accompany him and Emily next week when they sing in sacrament meeting.

Our classes continue to be one of the highlights of our week.  It is a special blessing to have a student come up to you after class and tell you that the lesson you taught was just what she needed.  We cooked about 11 quarts of minestrone soup and it was totally gone by the end of the night.  (We have had a rainy week, so soup was just what was needed.)  I really enjoy helping with the Munch and Mingle we have on Sundays after our meetings.  We feed about 60-70 people every week.  There is a great committee that is working hard to make things work out without being in the kitchen on Sunday.  I've never baked 30 pounds of potatoes at once before. 

We also had a chance to watch the Pioneer Day broadcast from Salt Lake on Saturday evening.  Several of the young people along with one of the new investigators came as well as a good representation of missionaries.  It was a beautiful program.  

Every day we are more aware of the short time we have left here in Alaska.  There is so much to prepare for next year in seminary and for fall semester in institute.  We are grateful that Pres. and Sister Hull are going to be taking our places and that they have been involved in making some of the decisions that will really affect their service.    With it being a service mission for them, Pres. Hull will still remain in the Stake Presidency.  

We love our association here with the young people.  They are strong and determined.  We are so grateful for the gospel that gives purpose and direction to our lives.  When we loose loved ones, we can be comforted in knowing that this life is not the end.  Families are forever and we are all God's family as well.

With love,
JoAnn and Jim