Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pioneer Children Sang as They Walked: A Pioneer Day Celebration for Families



On Saturday, July 26th 2014, approximately 125 children and adults in families from three different Chesterfield wards (congregations) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered at the Cogbill Road LDS meetinghouse for a morning of music, games, and other activities to celebrate Pioneer Day.


Pioneer Day is recognized as an official holiday in Utah, usually celebrated on July 23rd, but is also often celebrated by members of the LDS community in other parts of the world, as it commemorates the arrival of the first Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley. Salt Lake City was founded as a place for members of the LDS church to freely practice their religion without persecution.


When asked about the reasoning behind organizing such a celebration here in Virginia, President Lora Watkins, of the Belmont Ward Primary (children's Sunday School) said, "In Virginia, Mormons are pioneers because they introduce their religious beliefs to people who have no knowledge of what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in or stands for. We, as modern Mormon pioneers have the task to let others see our community and religion.”


Watkins explained why she believes children should be at the focus of this effort: "It is good for children to be connected to history in order to see that if other people can overcome great odds, it is possible for them in the future to tackle and overcome their personal challenges.”


Children wore bonnets and straw hats, reminiscent of their pioneer forebears, as they tackled such challenges as washing clothes by hand using a washboard, making ice cream by turning a crank, and pushing a handcart. But it wasn't all work and no play: other activities included sack races, line dancing, and a stick pull. Belmont Ward member Kasi Hurley, mother of seven said, "My kids really enjoyed the dancing and have "dosie-doed" many times since then together in our living room." Meadowbrook Ward member Alisha Starnes, mother of five said, "My kids really enjoyed helping to make ice cream and then eating it!”



Several full-time LDS missionaries volunteered at the event as well, helping children with the games and activities. Missionary Sister Stilson, from Provo Utah, said of the celebration, "I thought it was great the way people celebrate their heritage. It doesn't matter where you are, there are always people who have paved the way for you.”


Kasi Hurley summed up her family's experience by saying, "I am so thankful we attended and for allowing my children the experience.  I am grateful for my Pioneer ancestors and the many sacrifices they made to live the gospel and share their example of living by faith."


Photos courtesy of Kasi Hurley, Bethany Crisp, and Heather Dubon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Fanning the Flames of Faith and Friendship: Girls Camp 2014


By Kasey Tross, Chesterfield Stake Media Relations



Every summer 65 to 80 teenage girls from Chesterfield willingly do the unthinkable: they leave behind their cell phones, their tablets, their mp3 players, and boys, and spend 5 days camping together as a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' Chesterfield Stake Girls Camp.

71 girls and 25 leaders attended this year's camp held from June 23 to June 27th at the Church's Eagle's Nest Adult and Youth Camp in Dudley, North Carolina. The girls slept in partially enclosed structures furnished with plywood bunk beds.

Most girls attend camp from Tuesday through Friday, with the 16- and 17-year-old Youth Camp Leaders (YCLs) arriving earlier on Monday for additional training and camp set-up. Each girl is responsible for paying for her own camp fee of $40, and girls are encouraged to organize and participate in fundraisers or work to earn the money. All additional expenses come from the Chesterfield Stake budget.

Girls are organized into levels by years they've attended camp, from First-Years (12-year-olds) through to the YCLs. During the week at camp, each girl works with her level to earn certifications in different areas, including survival and self-sufficiency skills, spiritual and self-improvement skills, and other elective activities, such as sports and crafts. This year's popular activities included making clay pendant necklaces, tie-dyeing socks, archery, shooting rifles, hiking, canoeing, and kayaking.

Chesterfield Stake Girls Camp Director Amanda King said, "Girls Camp is absolutely a unique program in what it provides for girls and their leaders, all of whom are women. The primary purpose of Girls Camp is to bring the girls to the Savior and better understand their relationship to Him and their Heavenly Father. Other purposes include appreciation for the world that has been created for us and an escape from the pressures and attitudes of the world by being away from it all."

Building relationships is also at the heart of the Girls Camp program. Jamie Woodbury, youth leader and mother of 13-year-old Girls Camp attendee, Taylor, said, "I see girls learn patience as they learn how to interact with one another in such an intimate environment. I see girls' love for one another blossom and grow as they meet new people.”


Her daughter agrees, saying that one of the main reasons she goes to camp is to be with her friends, and that her favorite memory from this year was "heart attacking" some other campers by sneaking into their cabins and covering their beds in hearts. "It was a lot of fun and the girls we served really liked it."

While it's true that teenage girls aren't usually known for cheerful and loving attitudes toward one another, that's exactly what you'll find at the Chesterfield Stake Girls Camp. Laurelin Webb, 17, served as a Youth Camp Leader this year and said, "there wasn't a bad attitude to be seen anywhere."

King remarked, "I don't know of any other program in which you can get over 70 teenage girls together and they show such love, service, support, and kindness to one another.”



Leaders take advantage of those great attitudes and channel them into positive learning opportunities. King said, "One of the greatest things that I see as a benefit of girls camp is that it…teach[es] girls to be leaders themselves. They, with support from adult leaders, teach certification to other girls, lead campfires, plan and carry out devotionals, and can completely set the tone for the spirit at camp. I am consistently amazed at how through learning and accomplishing basic leadership tasks the girls grow and are stronger."

Laurelin agreed, saying, "There was a lot of planning involved, but it was well worth it because it was super fun. I gained a lot of leadership skills, as well as a lot of ideas for when I'm a leader myself."

The confidence the girls gain leads to greater personal insights as well. King says that this year, "The camp theme was Discover the Beauty Within and [the girls] really made a noticeable effort to see past each other's outward flaws and look at one another as God sees them."

Laurelin says that during her time at camp she realized "how our inner beauty can radiate when we realize our potential as His daughters."

Taylor had a similar experience, and said, "This year I learned so much about the beauty I have inside of me…I like the spirit I feel at camp."

King summed up the camp experience by saying, "All of these experiences strengthen the girls and prepare them for their futures in countless ways. They learn basic first aid, they learn cooking skills, and self-reliance skills. Best of all I think they learn better confidence in themselves and in who they are and what they can accomplish and become both physically and spiritually."


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Senior Missionaries from the Chesterfield Stake Serve in Malaysia

by Kasey Tross, Chesterfield Stake Media Relations



If you were to ask someone on the street what a Mormon missionary looks like, you might hear things like, ‘young guys in suits’ or ‘those guys on bikes.’ 

If, however, you saw two recently returned missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka, Mormons) here in Chesterfield, you might notice very quickly that these descriptors do not fit. 

Lydia and Marshall Vaughan, ages 68 and 75, respectively, are a married couple from Chesterfield, VA who spent eighteen months serving as "senior" Mormon missionaries on Borneo Island, in the coastal city of Bintulu, in the state of Sarawak, Malaysia. And while Elder Vaughan did wear a white shirt and tie while serving, neither rode bicycles (much to their relief). 
                  
The Vaughans had known ever since they were newlyweds that they would serve as senior missionaries for the Church someday when they retired. Marshall had served as a full-time missionary when he was a youth and Lydia had been interested in doing the same, but met and married Marshall before she had reached 21, the age formerly required for female missionaries in the Church. 

When the time finally came that they were both financially and physically ready to go, the Vaughans jumped at the opportunity. They submitted their paperwork, arranged for their home to be cared for in their absence, bid their five grown children farewell, and, according to Lydia, got "a lot of shots." In May of 2012, less than three months after Lydia retired, when most senior couples are settling into the comfort of retirement, the Vaughans found themselves traveling over 9,500 miles- farther from home than either had ever been before- and facing a world unknown. 

Leadership for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints cites a need for the "maturity and experience" that senior couple missionaries offer.  Of the 85,000 missionaries currently serving full-time missions in the church, 8% of those are senior missionaries over the age of 40. 

For this senior couple, who had never traveled farther than Canada or Mexico, the culture shock upon their arrival in Bintulu was very real. They had to get used to taking off their shoes whenever they entered a home, eating rice for every meal, and sitting primarily on the floor. 

"Sitting on the floor was probably the biggest issue for us," Lydia explains, as both she and her husband suffer from arthritis in their knees. They envied the elderly Malaysian people who looked as if they simply "melted" down to the floor, as they had been doing their whole lives. Some had furniture, such as chairs and couches, but would push it aside to sit on the floor. However, the people were not without compassion for the Vaughans' comfort: “If Elder Vaughan would make plenty of noise as he went down they might go find him a plastic chair," Lydia says with a smile. 

The less-than-comfortable seating arrangements were not the only struggle the Vaughans faced. “The biggest challenge of that mission for us was communication," says Marshall. While the Vaughans had some training in the Indonesian language before going to Malaysia, upon their arrival they realized that the majority of the population in Bintulu spoke either Ebon or Malay, and the church materials they had received to use in their gospel instruction were written in Indonesian. During the first several months the Vaughans relied heavily on the other full-time missionaries serving in the area to translate. While Marshall never did achieve fluency, after about five months Lydia learned enough that she could communicate fairly well in the language and they were able to bridge the communication gaps with those they taught and served. 

Serving a mission in a foreign country was not the first time Lydia had stepped outside of her comfort zone. As a teacher, she taught during the last year of segregation in Chesapeake City schools. She was then a part of the newly integrated faculty, the first step toward desegregation for school system. Lydia says it was "a really great experience" and that it "changed [her] whole perspective on life." Following that experience Lydia worked in correctional education for 14 years and later got her masters degree and then taught in special education.

Marshall, too, felt that he had been preparing for this mission his whole life. His previous experiences serving as a bishop, a member of the High Council for the Church, and as a seminary teacher, gave him valuable skills that helped him as he trained and taught with his wife. 
The Vaughans' goal for their mission was simple: Lydia says they aimed only "to help somebody in some way." The mission president in charge of the area aided them in expanding that goal by giving them the specific assignments to teach new converts to the church and to help with church organization and leadership in Bintulu. 

Lydia and Marshall agree that their contributions were focused in three main areas: serving the youth of the church in Malaysia, teaching adult literacy classes, and spreading Christianity. 

Lydia shares that while the Latter-day Saint youth in Bintulu were bright and capable, their free time was often spent playing games on cell phones or watching TV. The Vaughans encouraged them to plan and participate in group activities, such as line dancing, dodge ball, ping pong, and a youth choir. 

The Vaughans also spent a great deal of time with people who lived in longhouses in the jungle. Despite the fact that education in Malaysia is free, because of the villages' remote location, many families lived too far from a school to receive an education, and Lydia quickly discovered that few adults in the area knew how to read. When she asked them if they would like to learn, they emphatically said, "Yes!" The senior couple spent several hours each Saturday teaching reading classes at the longhouses, and said that the experience truly brought them closer to the Malay people. 

"We just learned to love them so much, and they loved us." 

One of the greatest joys the Vaughans had was sharing their faith with the people of Bintulu. While the state of Sarowak has a Christian majority, Malaysia as a whole is primarily Muslim. Lydia and Marshall were thrilled with the opportunity to take part in first-time Christmas celebrations with recent converts, and say that the highlight of their mission was taking recent converts to the Latter-day Saint temple, where they sealed their faith in Jesus Christ in sacred worship ceremonies. 

When asked what he felt he took away from his mission, Marshall says, "For me it was appreciation of freedoms we enjoy, [especially] freedom of religion." He also says that he gained, "the appreciation of what we have as Americans. We don't know what poverty is." 

Lydia agrees, "The biggest thing for me was, you know, you are aware that there are billions of people in the world, but actually getting to be a part of another culture and realizing that Heavenly Father really does love each and every one of those [people] and that he really does know each and every one- that is a big thing."

Despite the many hardships the Malaysians face, the Vaughans describe them as being a very happy people, and optimistic. While the Vaughans say that their advancing age will most likely prevent them from returning to Malaysia, they do keep in touch by mail and internet with the many people they met while serving there.

Lydia shares her advice for other seniors who may be considering serving a mission: "If you're going to a foreign country, don't expect things to be the same way there that they are at home, and be willing to embrace the culture. But it definitely will be something you will remember all of your life and you will be able to benefit your family and other people with."

Marshall agrees that it's something one will never forget: "It would be one of the great experiences of your life."