Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mission Accomplished!!

President George Bush made the mistake of using this title after the liberation of Iraq.  We use it simply to say that we have returned from our calling as full time missionaries for the Lord in the great country of Italy; but in no means to say that our work is over.   We recognize that we have much more to do and more service to give, and we look forward to each opportunity.

After our last Sunday with our branch in Siena, our formal service was completed.  We took two days to rent a car and drive down south into the other mission to visit the temple site in Rome and to spend a day and half with Salvatore and Rosa Izzo.  Salvatore is a man who Darryl had the great privilege to teach and baptize when he served as a young missionary in Pisa some 41 years ago.  Salvatore and his wife, Rosa, live in Carinola, a small town about 45 minutes outside of Caserta, near Naples.

We enjoyed our visit with them.  We drove down to Mondragone, a city on the Mediterranean Sea.  It was s cold and rainy day, but we weathered the elements and enjoyed a stroll along the waterfront.

Salvatore, Rosa, Bonnie and Darryl, by the sea
Rosa is a great Italian cook, and we always enjoy her creations.  But for our last meal there before we left, Darryl offered to prepare them an American breakfast.  Rosa actually let him work in her kitchen, and we ate eggs, sausage and toast, along with a few of Rosa's delights.

One our way back to Siena, we first stopped at the Rome temple site.  There wasn't much activity going on at all; so we hope they have resolved their labor disputes and are back to work, as the Church recently reported.  It appears that the three auxiliary buildings are fairly complete on the outside.  The temple itself looks pretty much complete on the outside as well, except for the spires.  We hope that the temple can be competed and dedicated sometime in 2016.  We look forward to the chance to return to Italy for these historic events.

We then stopped at Civita di Bagnoregio, a very interesting medieval town that sits on the top of an ever-eroding hilltop, connected now by a narrow walking bridge.  It always amazes us how the ancient Italians constructed these towns on the tops of the hills; building large churches and cathedrals that had to entail heroic efforts just to get the stones and other materials to the site.  It was quite a hike from the top of one hill down over the bridge and then up to the small town.  But we enjoyed the beauties that surrounded us.

We returned to our little apartment in Siena Wednesday night and made the final arrangements to close the apartment and turn the keys over to the owners the next morning.  We continued to pare down our belongings, making a number of trips to give extra stuff to our elders and sisters, and to some of our members.  On Thursday, we turned the apartment back over to the owners, packed up our little Meriva with our six suitcases and other stuff to deliver to the Mission Home, and drove to Milano.

In Milano, we had our "last supper" with President and Sister Dibb, and then got about five hours sleep before waking up at 4:00 am and heading off to the airport for a 7:30 am flight back home.

Our return trip was extra long because after flying from Milano to London, and then to Dallas, we missed our connection in Dallas, requiring us to wait another four hours for the next flight.  But we finally arrived home about 11:00 pm where we were greeted by two of our children, Kristine and Daniel, who took us home.  We had been up for over 24 hours at that time, and were just grateful to be on our home soil again.

Waiting for our connecting flight in London
Kristine and Daniel picking us up
And there we are, home at last!
After seeing our two sleeping twin granddaughters that were born while we were gone, embracing Jason and Tara, Kristine and Daniel's spouses, and talking for about an hour, we crawled into our bed for some much-needed sleep.

We loved serving the Lord in Italy!  We love the members of the Siena branch and our hearts will always be with them as they struggle and grow.  We love serving with the young missionaries that crossed our paths during our 18 months in Italy, and they will always hold a special place in our hearts as well.

The gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored in its fullness through the prophet Joseph Smith, and the priesthood authority to act in God's name resides in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Prophets and apostles exist today to lead and guide those who will humble themselves to listen and do.  We are grateful for our testimonies of these truths, and we are committed to move forward in our lives to serve and love our fellow beings, sharing these truths as directed by the Spirit.

As this is our last blog post, we invite any who might have endured, or even enjoyed, our various posts during these 18 months to come and participate with us as we share some of our experiences at our "homecoming" sacrament meeting.  

We will be speaking at our Eagleridge Ward on April 19, 2015 at 11:00 am.  Our ward meets in the chapel located at 351 Lofty Lane, North Salt Lake, Utah.  

After Sacrament Meeting we invite all to come to our home for some light refreshments and some more talk about the beauties of Italy and the courage and faithfulness of the Italian Saints.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Last Week, Final Sunday

Sunday, March 8 was the "Festa della Donna" (Holiday for the Woman).  This day commemorates the sacrifices made by women for the advancement of mankind; especially the work they shouldered on the home front during the Second World War while their husbands, fathers and brothers were away fighting.  We celebrated this holiday in church with the traditional Mimosa bouquets, as the Mimosa is the first flowering plant of spring.  Bonnie also made some delicious dipped strawberries to share with all our sisters in the branch.  There were even enough for the men to enjoy as well.

All our great sisters after Sacrament Meeting
Darryl with Diletta and her Mom, Franca
Darryl with Sonia
On Monday we had our last correlation meeting with our four young missionaries here in Siena.  They came to our apartment for their "Last Supper".  We have really enjoyed rubbing shoulders with these great, young servants of the Lord.

Sisters Rincón and Salmond, Darryl, and Elders Driver and Moa
See, Darryl actually does have a place at these many missionary luncheons
We held our last Family Home Evening as well.  Bonnie gave a great lesson about courage in the face of adversity.  We have a small, but faithful group that attends these FHE's in our church each Monday, and we believe these meetings have been a support for them.  We will miss these weekly gatherings with these fine Saints.

Our Family Home Evening group
On Tuesday Elder and Sister Fry, another Senior couple that is serving in Ancona, came to visit us and to pick up a lot of our furniture and other fun things that they can use in their apartment.  We showed them around Siena.  It was a beautiful, clear day to enjoy this marvelous city for one of the last times, at least for now.

Siena's magnificent Duomo
 On Wednesday we said goodbye to our Relief Society President.  She took us and our missionaries, along with Emily, our member from England, on a tour of the museum of her contrada, the contrada of the Goose.  This contrada has won the annual palio 66 times since its beginnings in the 1400's.  After this tour, we gathered all the small coins we have been throwing in a jar for the past year and a half and we discovered that we had more than enough money to treat all the missionaries and Emily to a gelato at our favorite gelateria.  Darryl got a big cone!!

Sister Eole Feri, a gem!
Sister Rincón, Emily, Darryl, Sister Salmond, Elders Driver and Moa
On Thursday we drove to Pisa for the first ever Zone Training of the new Pisa Zone.  Our mission president decided to split the Florence Zone into two zones.  Now we have the Pisa Zone that consists of the missionaries serving in Siena, Pisa, Livorno and La Spezia.

The new Pisa Zone
That evening Lucy and her daughter, Francesca, invited us and the missionaries to dinner at their home.  We had a great dinner and an enjoyable time with them.  The Sisters taught a lesson, and we gathered together for the obligatory group picture that we will cherish after we return home.

Sister Rincón, Francesca, Bonnie, Darryl and Elder Driver
Sister Salmond and Lucy in front
In between all these trips and visits, we have been hard at work cleaning the apartment and getting ready to leave.  There will not be another Senior missionary couple here in Siena after we leave, so we have to clean out the apartment and get it ready to turn over to the owners.  We have been busy with these tasks as well.

On Friday evening we took our Sisters to Poggibonsi and met with the Natale family.  Afterward, we went to the Limongi family who had invited us to dinner.  We had a great visit with Maria Limongi and her son, Alexander.  We will miss all these great members.

Sister Limongi and Alexander, Sisters Rincón and Salmond, Bonnie and Darryl
Today was our last Sunday at our wonderful Siena branch.  We both were privileged to speak one last time in Sacrament meeting.  This time we held it together fairly well as we preached our last sermons and said our goodbyes.

The branch, thanks to the coordination and hard work of our Sister missionaries, held a surprise farewell lunch for us after Sacrament meeting.  It was very enjoyable to spend time with all our great members, and with a number of investigators who came as well.  It was bittersweet, however, knowing that it will be a while before we will see them again.  But with FaceBook and Skype, etc., it will be easier to keep in touch.

Azzurra, Sister Salmond, Bianka
Bonnie playing Uno with our Primary kids
The whole group having lunch together after Sacrament meeting
Darryl and Sister Rincón with three investigators
Giovanna, the young woman in white, is getting baptized this coming Saturday
Darry with Daniela (who was baptized in October) and Sonia
Bonnie with Franca Viti, Maria Rosa Nigi and Giacomo Calamassi
Bonnie with Paolo, Sonia, and Azzura, who is holding her sister, Francesca
Bonnie with Brother and Sister Natale and their grandchildren, Miki and Sharon
Francesca Andreoni is on the right
The elders and Enrique have clean up duty!
We continued to do missionary work up to the end though, as Darryl conducted a baptismal interview after the luncheon for a young woman from Peru who has been in Italy for about six years.  She will be baptized this coming Saturday, one day after we return home.   The miracles continue to happen here in Siena, and we are grateful that we have been able to play our small role in the hastening of the work in this part of the Lord's vineyard.

Tomorrow our official missionary work will be over.  We are heading down to a small town near Naples to visit a man that Darryl baptized 41 years ago next month.  Salvatore has remained active in the church, serving for many years in the branch presidency in his branch in Caserta.  He has been to the temple and made sacred covenants there, and we are grateful for his friendship and continued faithfulness. 

After two days down south, we will return to Siena for one night, pack up our car and then head to Milano to meet with our mission president one last time.  Then we will head home to see our wonderful children, their spouses, and our fourteen grandchildren; five of whom we have only seen via Skype.  We are happy and grateful!!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Beginning of the End

As we write this blog post, we have exactly one week left as full time missionaries for the Lord in this beautiful spot in His vast vineyard.  Therefore, we have started the sad task of saying our goodbyes to some very special people we have grown to love so deeply.

As part of our mission responsibilities, we continued to inspect the young missionaries' apartments.  Our last out-of-town trip was to inspect the apartments in Pisa and Livorno.  We took advantage of this trip to visit Mena LaVecchia, a sister that Darryl and his companion taught and baptized some forty years ago.  They baptized her husband as well.  Although Mena and her son have taken a lengthy "vacation" from activity in the Church, and she and her husband have long-since divorced, we remain close friends with the entire family.  And we have gotten to know Mena's current husband, Bruno.  We took Mena and Bruno out for dinner while we were in Pisa.  We had a great time catching up on news of each other’s lives, and cementing our friendship.

Bonnie and Mena at dinner 
When we went to Livorno, it was too late and too far to drive back to Siena (after inspecting four apartments in two different cities), so we stayed overnight at a B&B on the outskirts of Livorno.  And who knows what missionary opportunities might pop up when you listen to the Spirit.

It turned out the owners of this B&B are a unique couple with interests in many things.  Ariela is an Italian Jew whose ancestors came to Italy from Spain after the Inquisition, and became very well to do in the "freeport city" of Livorno.  Although her grandparents had to flee to the countryside and hide while the Nazis controlled Italy during WWII, the survivors returned to Livorno and continued a good life.  Ariela studied in the U.S. where she met Edward, an American from Washington State.  Since we were the first Mormons Ariela had ever met (although she had seen the missionaries around Livorno from time to time) she had lots of questions about the Church. 

We spent a few hours that evening sitting around their fire and talking about the Church.  We also talked again at breakfast.  We left some information about the Church and encouraged them to check out the Church's website where they could learn more.  Now we will get our missionaries in Livorno to visit them and see what happens from there.

Edward, Ariela, Bonnie and Darryl
On Saturday the 28th of February we took our Elders to visit our members who live in Certaldo, a small town about 20 miles from Siena.  We left a message and our love, as we told them we would be leaving soon.  These two sisters have been members of the Church for over 40 years, and they have been stalwarts in their testimonies and their examples for their entire lives.  We will miss them.

Darryl and Bonnie with Franca and Maria Rosa, sisters and members for 40 years
On Sunday, the 1st of March, we had our monthly missionary correlation lunch after Church.  This one was a bit special, as it was our last one.  Darryl made his now famous "Penne Senese alla Presidente Lee".  We think it was a hit.

Sisters Salmond, Rincón, Bonnie, Elders Driver and Moa
Last week we took an extended P-Day and drove up to Venice to visit the Nelson family.  Spencer Nelson, a Utah State basketball star that has been playing professionally in Europe for over ten years now, played for the Siena team last year.  We grew to love their family while they were here.  He is playing this year for the Venice team, so we visited them and took a moment to see the sites in Venice.

Logan and Hannah with the "Wees"

Although we have been in many different parts of Italy during our marriage, we never visited the beautiful northern mountains that are part of the Italian Alps, called the Dolomites.  So we drove up to Trento and Bolzano and enjoyed some cold, crisp, but clear weather as we enjoyed the beauties of this area.

German is the predominant language in these northern Italian cities

On our way home, we went to say our goodbyes to the Gori family who live about 40 miles outside of Siena.  Sandro drives truck and is gone most of the week, including Sundays.  Cinzia and their daughter, Chiara, don't have drivers' licenses, and no buses or trains run on Sunday to get them to Church.  So it has been months now that they haven't been able to come to Church.  But we visit them often, as do our Sister missionaries, and they continue to hold strong testimonies of the Gospel. Sandro is seeking a new job that he hopes will give him more time with his family and for Church service.  We pray that will happen soon.

Darryl, Bonnie, Cinzia, Chiara and Sandro
with Tobi nibbling at Darryl's fingers
Last evening we had the opportunity to attend mass in a Catholic church where a special service was held for the husband of one of our members who died about a year ago.  Lucy asked the missionaries to come and sing her husband's favorite hymn, "I Am a Child of God".  So Bonnie and our four missionaries got up at the end of an hour-long mass and sang this hymn beautifully, touching the hearts of a full-to-overflowing chapel of mass-attending Catholics.  We watched as the parents of Lucy's deceased husband shed unabashed tears during the hymn.  God moves in mysterious ways to touch the hearts of His children.

Our singing missionaries outside the Catholic church
It was so cold outside afterwards, with the wind blowing, that we couldn't let our elders (who didn't bring their overcoats) walk home.  So we crammed everyone into our little Meriva for a short ride into town.  Although it may not look very legal, the sisters were able to get the seatbelt fastened around both of them, so maybe not too many rules were broken.

The ride home, Sister Salmond on Sister Rincón's lap, and the rest crammed in the back
We love serving with these valiant, young servants of God, and we love being with our Italian members and investigators.  It will be difficult in many ways to get on that airplane for the long ride back to the States; but it will be exciting too, as we get to embrace our 10 kids and the 9 grandkids we said goodbye to a year and a half ago, and to hold for the first time the 5 new grandkids that have joined our family since we have been gone. 

Bittersweet, but we wouldn't have it any other way.