Friday, March 13, 2015

Pres. Hinckley’s Funeral

January 27, 2008 – February 6, 2008

The morning of January 28th, which was a P-day, we got a call from the mission offices informing us that the then-prophet and president of the church, Gordon B. Hinckley, had passed away. At the age of 97, he had been in declining health for several years, so while it wasn’t particularly surprising, it was still significant news for all of us. Pres. Hinckley was the only president of the church that I’d grown up with. I’d been too young to remember either of his two predecessors, so having the presidency of the church change felt very strange to me.

When the prophet dies, the next-most senior apostle takes his place. He selects two new counselors, and a new person is called to fill the most junior seat in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. There’s no election or political vying, so there’s no confusion over who the prophet is. At the next General Conference, the entire membership of the church has the chance to give a sustaining vote to the new leadership. In this case, Thomas S. Monson was the most senior apostle, so we knew he would be called to be the next president of the church.

Pres. Hinckley’s passing affected us in a couple of ways. First, we had to get used to presenting Pres. Monson to investigators as the current-day prophet rather than Pres. Hinckley. This was something we almost always did during our initial lesson with a new investigator, so it was easy to get stuck on autopilot and talk about Pres. Hinckley if we weren’t paying close enough attention.

The other way was that the church held a funeral for Pres. Hinckley in Salt Lake City that they televised to congregations all over the world. Our mission president told us that we should plan on attending the broadcast, which was a couple of days later.

The funeral ended up being sort of like a session of General Conference. There were lots of senior church officials that spoke, as well as members of Pres. Hinckley’s family. They even held the funeral in the same place as Conference. While I didn’t have any personal connection to Pres. Hinckley, watching the funeral service made me feel old, like part of my childhood had been torn away. Pres. Monson would be the prophet during my adulthood, not Pres. Hinckley.

The broadcast also included shots of the procession through downtown Salt Lake City. Ironically, this may have been the part of the whole event that affected me the most. There were shots of mountains on the horizon and snow on the ground, which made me miss home for the first time in a while. Unlike a lot of missionaries, I generally hadn’t felt very homesick; there were things that I missed from home, but it was never something that really made me feel down. I was definitely culture shocked, but it usually didn’t make me want to go home. But something about seeing mountains and snow and familiar locations on the screen made me “trunky,” which is missionary slang for thinking too much about going home (as in, they’ve already packed their trunk). Feeling trunky usually means that the missionaries aren’t as effective because they aren’t focusing enough on the work they need to do. Thankfully, I didn’t stay trunky for too long after the funeral was over.

Right around this same time were transfers in the mission again. This time, though, nothing really changed for me. Elder Nájera and I would both be staying at least another six weeks in our area. I had figured this was the most likely result, but transfers days always held a bit of wonder for most missionaries. Lots of missionaries in my mission spent transfers nights trying to guess where they or their companion might get sent next. But this time the only thing that changed in our district was that Elder Schwarting was being transferred to Veracruz to be the new assistant to the president, and we would be getting a new zone leader, Elder Schamaun.

Starting a new transfer also meant that it was time for zone conferences again. I’ve already talked a lot about zone conferences in previous posts, and this was a fairly typical one, so I won’t go into a lot of detail this time, but I will mention that this was when I finally got most of the packages that people had sent me for Christmas. Packages take a long time to go from the states to Mexico, and any mail that arrives has to sit at the mission offices in Veracruz until the missionaries that work there have some reason to travel to the other zones (like a zone conference). In this case, I didn’t get my Christmas mail until early February. But I did get a lot of it.

Elder Nájera and me with my big stack of Christmas packages.

To be fair, one of those packages was a mission-provided box of Books of Mormon to give to investigators, and another was a box of caramel treats that I won as a prize during the zone conference. During normal zone conferences where we aren’t rushed, the missionaries would play pesquisas, a scripture-chase game where one missionary starts reading the text of an obscure verse of scripture somewhere in the Book of Mormon. Everyone else has to try to locate the scripture in their own book without getting a reference or any other context. I had played games like this before my mission, but the scriptures involved had always been well-known, important verses, and they were usually from a set list that was known beforehand. I assume the point of this version of the game was to incentivize the missionaries to be studying the Book of Mormon all the time.

The first time I saw the missionary version of this, I was pretty impressed that people could find them at all. It was usually no more than a few seconds before someone found the quoted verse. The first person to find it got to choose from a nice selection of Mexican and American treats. When I played this time, I won one of the rounds and got the orange package of Hojaldradas, which are a pair of big wafers with thick caramel in between them. They made for a nice pick-me-up whenever we got home in the evenings.

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