(Journal Entry November 18, 2016)
Michelle and I just spent Wednesday evening, November 16 back in the Area Presidency’s video conference room, this time doing our own personal video chat with President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The meeting was a follow-up to our similar video conference three weeks earlier with Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve. Kind of heady stuff for a nice little senior missionary couple from Allen, TX.
The outcome of those two meetings is that we will be heading home in mid-January, two months early from our mission to West Africa, to get ready to preside over one of the Church’s 421 missions for the next three years, starting next July 1. We don’t yet know where we will be called to serve among the 122 mission presidents slated to be released next June, and likely several additional new missions will be created by then. President Uchtdorf did say that we would be assigned to an English-speaking mission, but that those are scattered around the world. He said that we would be notified of our mission assignments by the end of the year and the assignment would be publicly communicated by the Church in early January. He did ask us spend some time without sharing any information on this calling, at least until we get the formal written notification, which would come within two weeks.
In our twenty-minute meeting, President Uchtdorf was extremely personable, but very straightforward. He said that our names had been under consideration for the past two weeks in the weekly meeting in the temple by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve and they had received confirmation that this is what the Lord would have us do. He then pointedly asked each of us if we would accept a calling from the First Presidency to serve the Lord in this capacity for the next three years, starting with new mission president’s seminar in Provo in late June. We both said we felt overwhelmed, but confident that with His help, we would accept and are willing and honored with this errand from the Lord. He then started referring to me as President Clark, which had an ominous tone.
After the call, his assistant offered to send an electronic copy of the call letter, which will should arrive in about a week. Current plans are to share the news with all our kids on Thanksgiving when they are all gathered for the holiday at a cabin at Lake Tahoe. We will probably break the news locally on Monday, November 28 and beyond shortly thereafter. We are more than a bit nervous about talking with the kids, because our three youngest daughters, who were all married in the past three years, have built family planning assumptions on the basis of having their mom back home for the next few years and the grandkids have long been counting the time until their grandma comes “Out of Africa”. Frankly, this new calling will be a difficult sacrifice for them and for us as well. By the time we finally get back home in July 2020, we will have spent all but a few months of five years away from home and family.
We got an email the Church Missionary Department later that evening, saying that President Uchtdorf notified them we are ready to roll. They sent a huge laundry list of various preparations, general guidance, reference materials and promises of much more to come. We did notice that most of the guidance and timelines for what they are asking us to do does not envision that we happen to already be serving a mission in a third-world country. I spoke briefly with one administrator who assured me that most of the medical and other preparations could wait until we got home in late January.
After our initial meeting last month with Elder Ballard and in follow-up conversations with Elder Vinson, the Africa West Area President, we already went ahead and rebooked our South Africa safari for January 10-21, two months earlier than originally scheduled, just barely getting some of the final slots they had available.
The morning after the meeting with President Uchtdorf, we boarded a flight to Sierra Leone, where we are currently traveling throughout the interior of the country for five days doing a series of financial reviews and leadership training meetings. We get back to Accra the middle of next week and will be in home for a week before we hit the road again on Thursday, December 1 to hopscotch across Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria to train and orient four newly-called assistant area auditors. Then we scramble to put together the annual training conference where we bring all of our 17 assistants from across West Africa to Ghana on January 6-7. Somewhere in the midst of all this, we need to squeeze Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Three days after we wrap up our training conference, we are packed and boarding a plane to South Africa and Zimbabwe, hopefully with enough time in flight to catch our breath, before embarking on a series of breath-taking interactions with big game animals, Victoria Falls and other sites. We then fly back to Ghana on January 21, have a day to repack, say final good-byes, hop on another plane and spend the whole day on Tuesday, January 23 traversing the Atlantic Ocean to DFW via JFK.
Oh, and since the next round of about 1,200 audits starts on January 15 while we are in vacationing in South Africa, we should probably find time to wrap up some loose ends around here and wish good luck to Brother Richard Ahadjie, who gets to manage the audit process by himself until the Church identifies another missionary couple to take our place sometime next year. Not really looking forward to breaking the news to him…