Facebook live & Zoom

Greetings from the sacred Grove. Well pretty close to the sacred Grove anyway, just on the other side of the parking lot. This past week we celebrated our 6th week on our mission, our 4th week in New York, and our 3rd week of conducting tours, so things have flown by quite quickly. It was an interesting week, and I will share a few details with you shortly. But as I promised I share with you a story about the Palmyra temple in my letter last week.

Last week we got a chance to go in and cleaned the temple, as they are only open for sealings as of yet. But that day we found out that they were moving to phase two and that there would be about 30 missionaries from the Syracuse mission coming to take out their endowments over the next few weeks. When we had concluded our cleaning, we got an opportunity to take a small tour of the temple and they shared with us a this very interesting story.

At the end of the hallway in the temple past the recommend desk, there is a clear see-through window. Now I don’t know of any other temple that has a see-through window, most all of them are stained glass or opaque. It seems that as the temple construction was being concluded President Hinckley made a trip and he found that that part of the temple faced towards the Sacred Grove. He told them that he wanted a clear window put in so that they could see the Grove. So they installed it and he returned a few weeks later, but he saw that looking out of the window the view of the Sacred Grove was obscured by as stand of trees growing on the grounds. These trees are protected by a land act and so they were not allowed to be cut down to clear a path for the view to be enhanced. So president Hinckley said that he was going to “pray that those trees would not be long lived that the view of the Grove would be able to be seen from the temple”. Well Interestingly enough within the next two years all of the trees that were in the path had died and had to be taken down. Now they couldn’t cut any other trees down to broaden the view, but they could continue to keep that path clear. And so today if you were to visit the Palmyra temple, you would be able to look out that window onto the Smith farm and into the sacred Grove.

We have been busy with torus at the Smith Farm and had a very interesting tour just the other day. I will steal Sister Isoms version of this from her missionary letter:

Today we did a regular Zoom call and a Facebook live at the same time. We had 16 regular groups set up with 41 connections and a missionary sign up that wanted around 80 connections. Well as you can only have 100 connections on a zoom call, so it was suggested that they reschedule. They did not want to do that as they had it all set and didn’t want to change if at all possible. They then had the bright idea that they would just do a Facebook live. Well, that has only been done 1 other time with a Facebook and regular tour at the same time. To do it you have to carry 2 phones at the same time. That is crazy sauce, I am just saying. Well, that is exactly what we did, Zoom and Facebook live at the same time. The other time they just carried a phone in each hand, but Elder Isom was able to rig up a stick to hold both phones so you could go up and down the stairs safely as well as walk in the snow without killing yourself. That was the worst thing I have done here and I will NOT ever do it again. You are trying to walk, talk, looking at the 2 screens to make sure they can see everything and keep everything in frame. Then you have Facebook live adding all kinds of comments about how the video has frozen, they can’t hear, it’s so beautiful, this is amazing etc. It was so distracting that you would forget what you were saying as you were trying to determine if the comments were actually issues or not. It didn’t take long for us to just ignore the comments. We had people on Zoom who knew that the Facebook live was going on but I don’t think they thought it would affect their tour.

Well as you might expect, even with all of the challenges we had, it was amazing how the Lord made up the needed difference so that both groups enjoyed their time on the tour. But sister Isom and I were a little worse for the ware. As she said she did not want to do that again. So you guessed it,  this coming week we have another Facebook live tour. Now we have to hope no one wants to sign up in that time slot for a Zoom tour. 😉 But we are ready. As she is always saying “Come what may and love it” 

They keep telling us that winter is almost over, and from time ot time we catch a glimmer that it might be turning the corner, but then it comes back with a vengeance. Several days last week in the single digits, but it looks like we might be approaching freezing on a few days this coming week. We can only hope.

This week we are beginning the efforts to prepare for the arrival of the first set of 5 companionships of sisters to join us for the spring to fall months. They stay here for 18 weeks, then head out to their full-time missions once they finish. They will come in a series of 4 waves and the last ones will leave us around November. It is funny how the young can fly south for the winter, but us old birds must have a bit of memory lapse as we stay put for the long cold winter.

Keep the faith Elder and Sister Isom.

Winter is here* Snowshoes

Well, we knew it was coming but it looks like winter is here. Up to this point we’ve only had a few inches of snow but earlier this past week it snowed about 12 inches. And this morning we woke up to – 4 degrees. Sister Isom said that she thought she knew cold up until this week, and while it’s not too bad when the sun’s out which only happens one day a week, when the wind starts to blow it is terribly cold.

So, as we said we had 12 inches of snow one morning and we had an early tour to do. A couple had been out just before us and we followed their footsteps in the snow for the first part of the tour. But they turned around and did not go up “Heartbreak Hill”. We made our way up it talking and telling the narrative and pushing upwards of 18 inches of snow that had drifted until we got up to the top. I think they should name it to “Cardiac Arrest Hill” because I know that my heart rate was up there for sure. We knew that something more needed to be done for the remailing tours that day and then Sister Isom was inspired. I want to share the story.

About five days before, one of the ladies who works in facilities management, randomly told us that she had brought in some snowshoes and put him in the closet just in case we would ever need them. Sister Isom remembered this, and so as you see in the picture below, she went out and had her very first snowshoeing expedition. She went up and down the path that we normally walk three times to be able to compact the snow enough for all to walk on. Of all the experiences we thought we would have on our mission; this was one that didn’t even make our list.

It’s been very exciting for us to see how that even during this time of Covid and the lockdown, God is able to keep his work going throughout the world. As you know we have not been able to give live tours as of yet, so all of our tours have been virtual. This is pretty challenging in just making sure that the technology and all of the things work together, but it also has given an opportunity for people all over the world, who would not have been able to come to these sites to view them, to hear of the great events that transpired, and feel of the spirit. This past week we were able to do tours with folks from the UK, many states in America, the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, and even Hong Kong. Just this past Sunday we had 17 countries and over 5500 people. The reach of the message is very broad.

One of our favorite ones was a German youth group of about 250 that joined us as part of their stake youth conference. What was interesting about this one was that they had a simultaneous translation in German that was done through clicking on a language channel in the Zoom meeting. We always wonder how the spirit comes through over the virtual tours, even when we felt inadequate, and now seeing this helps me know that our Father in Heaven has the ability to press the “Spirit” button on our tours to allow it to come through.

Sister Isom has been able to send out pictures of the Grove, the log home, the Sacred Grove, and the Palmyra temple from the day of their tour to the organizers of the tours that we have been fortunate enough to conduct. They have been incredibly grateful for this and have shared it with all of the members who were on the tour so that they could have a visual reminder of the day that they spent in the Grove and on the Smith farm. Attached you will see a few of those pictures.

We’ve also been working to improve the tours and you will see another picture of Sister Isom she checked her connectivity strength to see how well the signals are in different parts of the tour. We have been very fortunate that our phones and our phone plan have worked outstanding here and we’ve had virtually no issues. Unfortunately, that can’t be said for all of the couples.

Well, that’ll wrap it up for this week we had some tremendous experiences, we feel the spirit of these places and we’re even beginning to feel like we have a small grasp upon the tremendous events that happened here. We will wish you a good week and the blessings of God be upon you and your families.

Elder and Sister Isom 

P.S. Tune in Next week for a tremendous story about the Palmyra Temple and President Hinkley.

Special moment

Well, it’s now almost one month into our mission but we’ve only been on site for 2 weeks, but a lot has happened in a short time. It didn’t take long before they put us into the rotation of giving tours via zoom to people from all over the world. Of course, as you can imagine this was a little bit of a steep learning curve for us to know how to present these sacred events in a way that the spirit could be felt over a video call. And while some of the tours didn’t go as we had hoped they would, it was amazing how people could still feel the power of the place and the and the message that was shared.

So, I will have Amy share with you a special monument she had.

 So this was our second day of giving tours and this was our 3rd tour we had given while being here. It was going to be a challenge as there was a tour right before us and right after us. Our tour started at 9:45 but we couldn’t use the link until 9:42 because of the other tour before us. We share the same link so we can’t log in and start until the tour before us is finished. But we don’t know when they finish as we start in the welcome center and end in the grove. So being a little stressed we had a challenge logging in. We were just leaving the welcome center as the other tour right behind us was beginning on the Spanish link. This may not seem like a big deal but it’s like having somebody breathing down your neck when you don’t know what you’re doing. We had offered a prayer that all would go well, but as the tour went on, it just didn’t seem to be flowing well and I couldn’t feel the spirit which was a little challenging for me. As we finished in the Grove and went out for questions and answers, they thanked us and were very kind. But I still didn’t have a feeling of peace that we had conveyed the message the way we had previously. On top of all of this it was a very snowy cold morning with no sunshine, just clouds. Being from Phoenix that in and of itself tends to be a little dreary. I stopped to offer a prayer as I left the Grove asking Heavenly Father for his forgiveness as the tour had not gone as planned. I had no sooner finished praying than the clouds parted, and the sun shone through, and I could feel Heavenly Father saying to me, “All is well, I will take care of the details of my work, and your efforts are acceptable to me”. What great comfort came to my heart knowing that we had another tour in just a few minutes to be able to go forward in faith knowing that all was well that like Joseph, I was right with my Heavenly Father.

This past Sunday in our sacrament meeting one of the sisters, who has been here for a while, gave a great lesson talking about the different trees in the Grove and how she has come to be “a tree hugger”. She says she likes to look at the trees and think about what caused them to grow the way that they did. Whether they were tall straight and strong, or they had lost parts and had to struggle around other trees and maybe grow sideways for a period of time. She likened this to our lives how that the events that happened to us shape us in causes to grow but she made a note that no matter what, the trees always grew up trying to reach for the sun. And I think that’s inspiring to think when we are in trouble in our lives are having hard times that we too can reach up. We need to always grow reaching towards the light and not let the darkness get us down.

During our walks in the Grove this week we ran into two individuals. This is kind of unusual to find others besides us out walking in the Grove as there was snow and it’s quite cold. But the one young lady that we found had come there because she and her family were preparing to move to Utah and she was there to say goodbye to the Grove, a place that had been very special to her over the years. Another gentleman who had been making deliveries in New York found himself in the Grove as well. As we visited with them and they shared some of their stories we let them know that while this Grove is very special, that they could find their own Grove’s, that place where they can again feel that same spirit and love from their Father in Heaven as Joseph had done here so many years ago and encourage them to find it wherever they may be.

This past week we had nearly 200,000 viewers of our virtual tours. Now that is a lot more than we do on a normal week, but it was due to the fact that Al Carraway (the Tattooed Mormon) did a live streaming of the Smith Farm tour on her Face book and Instagram accounts simultaneously and had 99,000 of her viewers attend the event.  Well as a parting thought we’ve mentioned a couple of times here that it was cold sitting here writing this this morning it’s 10 degrees outside and it is actually zero with the wind chill. But the other day as we were walking through the Grove we saw birds nesting in the trees. Telling us that spring was just around the corner. Hopefully it’s not a very long corner that it is round and that it will be here soon.

Stay safe and warm!

Elder and Sister Isom

5 Days and 2500 Miles

Well, we’re finally here it only took five days and 2500 miles through seven states and two Covid tests, but we’re finally here. Once we got here, we had to isolate for a few days before we were eligible to take our second Covid test to allow the state in New York to tell us that we were “negative – but very positive people” as Sister Isom says. I’m sure you’ve been following the pictures and posts on Amy’s Facebook page, so you’ve probably gotten most of the information about our journey, but we did see a couple of very interesting sites along the way.

Once we got here the weather was pretty mild FOR HERE, it was only getting down into the low 30s, but that changed pretty quick. This morning we woke up to a beautiful white front yard with 6 inches of snow and 17 degrees. Of course, this was better than two days ago when it was 19 degrees and a wind chill factor had it down to 7 degrees with swirling snow. Jared once told us when he was on his mission in York, that they called it a lazy wind, because it was too lazy to go around you so it just went right through you. I think we can both attest to the fact that that is so true. And in spite of the green kitchen sink, and the need to put on couch covers, I think Sister Isom has made a pretty good little place for us to live here and helped us to be able to focus on the things we need to do.

So we’ve spent the few weeks before we traveled, and the past few days while we were isolated in our apartment, studying the material that we were to share with the visitors to the sites, and in the last 2 days we’ve done some “testing tours”. Thanks to Bruce and Alison, Melanie and David, and Gary and Susan Barker for being our test subjects. We decided to start with friendly faces just in case, but things went along pretty well, so we felt comfortable enough that we could start giving live tours to larger groups. Which brings us too today!

We had our first live tour and even though it showed we only had three groups that were scheduled, each group had over 25 people in it. We figured there was about 85 individuals on the tour. Things started off a little bit rough, as people were trying to sign in, and Interestingly enough they really didn’t understand what the mute button was for. So about halfway through our tour we finally wound up having to mute all so that the background noise would subside.

In spite of all the challenges it’s been a wonderful experience to be here so far. We’ve had opportunity to walk through the Sacred Grove with the snow on the ground and sunlight peering through the branches of the trees. The other day we saw deer traveling through the Sacred Grove, it was peaceful and they were still and we were able to watch them as they made their way through. There’s been something special about seeing this place with the snow on the ground all white pristine and clean. And what makes it even more special is the ability to testify of the miraculous visitation of the Father and the Son to the Prophet Joseph. I’m not sure that I’ve ever borne that testimony before where the spirit was stronger and testified to me of the truthfulness than it has while we have been here.

This evening as we were finishing our tour we ran into a young lady who was in the Grove. She told us that she was there saying goodbye. She and her husband and family were being transferred to Utah. we had a wonderful conversation and shared with her a few thoughts. W invited her to look for her own sacred spaces in her new location.  At the end she thanked us so much, as it was exactly what she felt she needed to hear as she begins to make her way into a new journey that was scary for her but she knew would be exciting and beneficial. And I think that that sums up how we feel about this time. We are away from family and friends and that’s always hard, but we’ve been warmly welcomed here buy a new group of friends to a place that we quickly grown to love.

Well, this is probably a very long email and I don’t want to make it any longer so we’ll just say take care for now and will share more with you next week.