What a lovely past week we had. Three of the days were spent in the Birmingham Temple with our missionaries. We say “our” as we truly do love each as our own and being in the temple with them was a special privilege. When Elder Koelliker was here for the mission tour, he brought instructions that the missionaries be given more opportunities to attend the temple. The Brethren have realized that, when possible, those young missionaries who are given the chance to attend the temple regularly remained committed to temple attendance when completing their missions. In the past the mission has had each Zone take turns attending over and five week period. This took place twice a year. In order to follow the direction from Salt Lake, this time they had a morning and an afternoon session so that all six Zones could attend in a three day period. All but one of the sessions were private sessions held during times when the temple is normally not opened. We so appreciate the workers that willingly gave of their time to come in and make this possible. There was a special feeling knowing that the missionaries had the temple all to their self. It was so quiet and reverent with a very sweet spirit among all there, workers and patrons. The temple is beautiful, much like the Gila Valley temple. The detail work, especially in the carpets, is stunning. Sis Van Kampen, the Matron, said the carpet here is the most detailed of any.
The temple has a small garden area. This time of year all over Alabama you see yellow butterflies that have migrated here. They don’t fly in large groups, but can be seen with threes and fours together any place there are flowers. This garden was full of them, but they were much too fast for me to catch on camera. In the other picture you can see the beginnings of Fall on the temple grounds. Beautiful.
Spending this much time at the temple left us with projects to take care of back at the office. It seemed that Elder C’s phone never stopped ringing. Of course, he had to take care of the issues, but we had other things on our minds as we had been asked by the President to speak in a small branch in the southwest part of the mission on Sunday. He was supposed to speak, but had something come up so we were being sent in his place….now, how is that for a way to disappoint the congregation? Anyway, we have had this in the back of our minds ever since he asked us nearly three weeks ago, but now needed to put the finishing touches on our talks and hadn’t left ourselves much time to do it. We had decided that since we were traveling that far, three hours, and needed to be there at 9:00 a.m. Sunday, we would leave Saturday and take in a few historical sites then spend the night. The only problem, the place we were going had no motels within fifty miles. Selma was the closest town. We called the Elders serving there to get an idea of what we could find and they insisted that they contact a couple they stay with in Magnolia where the church is located. They didn’t really give us a chance to say “no” and next thing we knew they had made the arrangements with Butch and Brenda Martin for us to spend the night. It turned out to be a nice thing, but I’ll write more about that later.
Even though it was out of our way, we drove to Montgomery first to try and see a few things in that area. We did see some beautiful churches and antebellum homes. One of the homes had been built by the AL Governor who served during the Civil War. There were many other places we had planned to visit, but our AC on the car wasn’t working for some reason and it was a warm day. Also, the phone just kept ringing and we were spending more time on the side of the road talking to missionaries than looking at things so finally gave up on Montgomery. A good thing that came out of this side trip, however, was that we had to take the road to Selma where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the freedom march in 1965. Over 800 people, black and white, marched from Selma to Montgomery to stand up for the rights of the blacks to vote. Once we reached Selma we stopped at the bridge where “Bloody Sunday” took place on March 7th, 1965. The march had begun with a much smaller group and when they reached the bridge over the Alabama River that leads out of town, the group was met by a patrol on horseback that beat them back with clubs. While we were looking at the memorials to those who had been there, four black women came up. Two of them had marched with the group and when we showed an interest they were eager to share their experience with us. They said “Bloody Sunday” was a terrible, terrible day. There were people bleeding and beaten and they were driven back. We asked what happened next and were told that Dr King met the people at Brown’s Baptist Church where they re-grouped and with an even larger crowd began the march to the State Capitol once again. More and more people joined along the way. There are historical markers on the highway showing where they stopped to camp. They said it was terrible as they were met with opposition all along the way. I know some, including Martin L King, were put in jail. It made us want to go back and read about the event in more detail. It was so interesting hearing these women tell of the terrible things that the blacks faced during this period of history. We were so happy we got to visit with them and left each with a big hug. There is a museum near by, but it was closed when we arrived.
From here we drove to the Brown (not sure that’s the full name) church and saw the memorial there. It is right in the middle of a large section of project housing. We were told later that this is not a safe place to go. Selma is a very poor city and many places are not safe, but not knowing, we spent a couple hours driving through the back roads taking in as much as we could. In the south, people sit out on their front porches or yards and we were waving and smiling at everyone. I did refrain from taking pictures, although, I really wanted to. We did find some neighborhoods where the home were well kept and even found some beautiful, large houses. We can’t help wondering what kind of chance some of those we saw have. Our missionaries say it is a hard place to work, but they have found some success.
We told the Martin’s not to worry about dinner for us so we made the hour drive to their place arriving around 7:00. These were pure country roads with only a few houses spotted along the way. There are fewer trees and more open land in that part of the state. We saw some nice homes and wondered what would bring people out there. It turns out this area is known for its paper mills. Everyone we met at church either works at or are retired from one of the three mills there. The Martins live on a large section of acreage and of all things, raise goats. He was an engineer for the Georgia Pacific Mill but is now retired and has a herd of several hundred goats. He sells them at auction and said most of them are shipped north and sold to the Muslims for religious use. They were very gracious and interesting hosts.
They live in a large log cabin that they built with the help of their seven children who are now all grown. His family goes way back in that area. In fact, we learned that most of the members of the small branch are related. They made us feel very comfortable and welcome and we had a good night’s sleep.
Speaking of the branch, one of just three buildings still standing from the early 1900s is located here. It was here that some of the first members of the church in AL lived and for a long time it was the District of the whole Montgomery region. His mother had kept a book with pictures of missionaries that had been there dating back to the time the church was built. I looked through it hoping to find my father among them, but with no luck. I’m anxious to get out his journals when I get home and see if I recognize some of the places he served here in the south. We were blessed once again to learn the history from those who lived or had loved ones who lived it. The area was beautiful and the people kind.
The members raised money to build a new chapel back in the 1970s and this building was bought and is kept as a historical site by the States Cemetery Society as there is a lovely cemetery behind it. We felt we were going back in time as we toured the inside. Paul had to pound the pulpit and the young Elders rang the bell….it has a ‘real’ church bell.
As for the Sunday meeting, there were about 27 in attendance, including us and two Elders. The members were strong and devoted to their small branch. We were told they usually have only one speaker and that sacrament meeting is over when the speaker finishes his or her talk. For the first time ever, Paul had enough time to give his WHOLE talk. It takes about ten minutes for announcements, song and sacrament and the rest of the time was ours. I think it went well, but we were no replacement for President Holzapfel. The members welcomed us with warmth and kindness, but when they invited us to stay for a pot luck dinner they had planned for the Pres. we knew there had to be some disappointment that he was unable to come. If that was the case, they didn’t show it to us, though. We ate our share of the delicious food which we finished off with the best pee-can pie we’ve ever tasted. Having this experience gave us one more side of Alabama to add to our many good memories. Again, the country is beautiful and the people are friendly and loving. How blessed we are to be here.
We send our love and best wishes for a wonderful week. You are in our thoughts and prayers always.
I've had lots of requests for updates on what it's like for us in China. I have finally had a moment to start a blog. I'm not familiar with blogging, so it's pretty simple and plain, but I promise fun pictures which is what most people want! If you'd like to take a look, here's the link: