At our weekly staff meeting a couple of weeks ago President closed the door and swore everybody to silence. He said he had instructions from President Eyring to park the vehicles in Puerto Rico. We are the only mission in the Caribbean Area with so many vehicles. Everybody else uses public transportation as it is available, or they walk. He would make the announcement on Jan 1, the day after transfers and the arrival of 11 new missionaries. He said we would also be phasing out the use of the bikes in the mission. This applies to the “mainland” for now, not the islands, the senior couples, or the office. Quite a shock since we have been brought into the office to manage the vehicles and the apartments.
December 31 was transfer day, with bunches of new missionaries coming from the MTC in Dominican Republic and at least three coming in from the islands. Of course, that means that three were going out there to replace them, so we spent most of the day driving to the airport to pick up some and drop off some others. Then we loaded up the newbies and their luggage and headed back to the mission office. There was a brief orientation and they were taken out to their new assigned areas. The announcement had not been made about parking the vehicles. That would be made early the next day.
The senior couples in Puerto Rico decided some time ago to have a little get-together on New Years’ Eve, staying up to see 2014 arrive. We drove to 20 miles Caguas to the Costley’s apartment for that occasion. We ate a nice light dinner, played a few fun games, and then we left about 2230 because I had to get up early to be in on the announcement, followed by a trip around the island to pick up the keys to all the vehicles. On the way back into town we noticed lots of fireworks going off. We got to bed before midnight, but when the clock struck 12 it sounded like artillery practice outside. We found out that this is the big holiday celebration where the locals light off lots of fireworks.
Early the next morning, 0730 to be exact, the office elders all got together on a conference call with President and all the zone leaders, assistants, etc, to get the word out to all who had been driving cars and/or riding bikes. I already knew what was happening, which is a good thing because it was all in Spanish. After the announcement the office elders made a plan and the three of us took off around the island. (There was not enough room for Gaye to go, which did not break her heart.) We had the assistants get the keys locally while we went to the more distant west end of the island.
It was a great plan. Unfortunately, some of the elders were late, which then put everything downline behind schedule. We finally made it home about 2230 that night. We had to park all the cars at the chapels, collect the keys, gas cards, mileage reports, vehicle condition reports, and take photos of the damaged vehicles.
Some of the bike racks were attached to the trunks, which put too much weight on the hinges and sprung three of the trunks. There are about 35 vehicles, which all need to be inspected and the broken ones need to be fixed, and then we will hold some sales to dispose of the vehicles as profitably as we can, on behalf of the church.
The bikes are also being discontinued. The missionaries all purchased bikes at various points in the past, so they will now need to decide how to best dispose of them. They can give them away, try to sell them, or ship them back to their homes in the US or wherever. I think they are nice bikes, so several will probably ship them home for about $100. The bikes were a safety issue, with too many accidents. The cars were just a huge expense. Besides, the number of baptisms is going down, so the cost per each baptism has been steadily rising. This mission, even this area, has been one of the most expensive to operate and is also one of only two areas where the number of church members is dropping instead of rising.
This is not an attempt to put a dollar value on a human soul, for every one of God’s children is of infinite worth and importance. However, the Church has finite resources and they need to be maximized. This move will save a bunch of money, A BUNCH, and it will get the missionaries out on the streets where they will be more visible and be making more contacts. Tracting is a thing of the past. Now the missionaries go out where there are people and just contact on the street. This will also require the members to work more closely with the young missionaries, which will also encourage more personal referrals. Those personal referrals are the best kind because the new contacts (investigators) already have the support in place for when they gain testimonies and join the church.
We have been deeply touched by the way these wonderful young people have accepted this radical change. Almost without exception they have been enthusiastic in their positive response to being put out on the streets! They will be walking up to 20 miles per day where they were just driving around, or riding their bikes around. We will be moving some of the apartments so they can all be within walking distance (defined here as 2 miles) of the chapel where they work and worship.
One elder was trying to get a rusted bolt off a bike rack (the newer ones attach in a trailer hitch slot but they were bolted on instead of with a cotter pin), when it began to rain, first softly and soon a downpour. The umbrella I grabbed from the car was doing little good. I tried to shelter him from the rain but he told me to get into the car, so I handed it to him and ran for cover. He just kept on working the sticky nut loose. He was drenched! He got the rack off the car and into the trunk, and then it stopped raining. I asked if we could give him a ride to his apartment. He said he would not need one, he and his companion had an appointment a couple of blocks from the church. Then they would walk home, almost 2 miles away. I asked another one of the young men how he felt about this. He just smiled and said, “It must be the right thing because this is how the Lord wants it!”
That has been the general attitude, especially of the young leaders. They can see that this will be a great blessing to them and to the mission. They know they are not here for a vacation in a lovely place, they are here to invite others to come unto Christ. It is humbling and exciting to be around such faith-filled young people. By the way, President Smartt, Elder Cornish of the area presidency, and President Eyring all came up with this idea at about the same time, independent of each other. Yes, this Church is led by inspiration! Every day!
We have plenty to do in the office, and we are really enjoying the opportunity to be around other couples. Being out in the islands has been a great experience, but there have been times when the isolation became a little difficult. Each little branch is on its own, and no island has more than one couple and one set of young missionaries. The young missionaries are out there for up to six months and then they come back to the big island. The couples have often spent the whole 18 months on various islands. It gets a little lonely at times.
Exciting times. Stay tuned.