|Elder Connors - President Grinceri - Elder Amodeo|
Italy Padova Mission
Decades ago, Dave served a mission for the LDS church in Northern Italy. Last weekend we joined his Mission President and his wife, John and Vicki Grinceri, at a mission reunion here in Salt Lake City. The Grinceri’s live in Australia, so it is always a special treat when they make it to the US. We anticipated forty or fifty former missionaries would attend. Almost 150 came. We spent a delightful evening reconnecting, listening to counsel, nibbling on anti-pasta and bruschetta, and recounting stories from days gone by. Dave and I were able to join the Grinceri’s and three of their grandkids at Scott and Cathy Rallison’s house for dinner before the reunion.
Dave joined the LDS church when he was a Junior at Yale, then left for his mission one week after he graduated. This made him an older missionary. He was 23 when he served as Pres. Grinceri’s assistant in the newly formed Italy Padova Mission. President Grinceri was only 29 years old at the time, one of the youngest mission presidents ever to serve. Vickie was 26, with three little babies at the time. Because they were so young, we are blessed to be forty years out from his mission and still able to hold reunions with the mission president. Though they will always hold a place of reverence in our hearts, we also think of them as friends. John and Vicki are as divine as humans can get. Down-to-earth humble and very real, but very devoted. Such great recipes for people!
I love attending Dave’s reunions because I get to hear former missionaries talk about how much they loved and respected Dave. Dave is not one to toot his own horn, so this is where I get informed. I also love hearing stories told and retold that remind me missionaries are boys and girls just learning to be grown-ups. (This is a really good time to keep them focused on God.)
One of the missionaries told us about the house where he and his companion lived. It was an old house, sparsely renovated, and in the basement, was a fully stocked wine cellar. Companionships came and went, I guess. Having wine in the foundation of a house where Mormon missionaries were living could be a bit of a temptation, I would think. If I were the devil, I would be putting thoughts into 19-year-old boys’ heads. Anyway, I guess the Elders asked around about whose wine this was, and it was revealed that is was from an old winery and belonged to no one. So, the Elders decided to cleanse the house and took the wooden casks out of the basement and drained the wine out of them, then lit them on fire. Apparently, it made quite the blaze and the priest from the local church came running with some choice words in Italian. The casks were very old, and quite valuable I guess.
I suggested that if Jesus had been there he could have changed the wine into water and they would have their emergency supply.
|Ellie reprises her role as a donkey.|
This got me to thinking about the miracles of Jesus, the first of which was turning water into wine. Yesterday I taught our Primary kids about another miracle before his Triumphal entry into Jerusalem: the raising of Lazarus. I then told them about Jesus finally declaring that he was the Messiah, and fulfilling prophecy by riding into the holy city on a white donkey. This happened on the day we celebrate as Palm Sunday. Our faithful little saints waved palms and laid robes down on the floor of the Primary room as we sang Hosanna, reenacting the crowd in Jerusalem all those years ago. I told the kids that all those people in the crowd thought that Jesus was the promised Messiah. And he was. But some of the people had misguided understanding of what the Messiah would do. They wanted him to save them from their lot in life, to rescue them from their oppressed state. When they realized that he was not going to overthrow the roman rulers, and vilify the Jews, they turned on him. By Thursday most of them wanted him crucified.
At Dave’s mission reunion, Elder Meurs, a member of the Seventy and a friend of the Grinceri’s spoke. He told us that according to current statistics only 20% of LDS Primary children would grow up to remain active endowed members of the church. Those words were piercing to me, so much so that my fasting this Sunday was for the sake of the Primary kids in our ward and in my family. I stood before those kids yesterday, Palm Sunday, and sang with them the words to Hosanna. I scanned their innocent faces, praying beneath the melody and the lyrics, asking that they would have an extra measure of the Holy Spirit to give them courage, and desire. I prayed, and continue to pray, that they will see beyond their current comfort; that they will trust the prophet when they don’t quite understand policy; that they will commit early enough to avoid life altering mistakes; that they will fortify themselves with holy practices. I pray they will have the wherewithal to stand true, and to keep their eye on the prize.
As I looked into each of their beautiful faces during the 40 minutes I had with them, I spoke a silent prayer with each child's name attached, ending with a quiet admonition: "Please, don't turn! Hold the course!"
I pray for them as I pray for myself, that we will not turn from Him who never, not even once, turned from us.