Friday, December 27, 2013

Holy Land Pilgrimage

 In 2013 a cry went out from near the great Salt Lake
To join a pilgrimage of sorts, despite some risks to take.
To a land far away of ancient mien, they would fly 
     and ride and hike,
led by a band of merry souls named Karen and Ron and Mike.
An Aussie came, a Kiwi or two, some Canadians and a Brit
A bunch of Americans, of course, and two sets of sisters, to wit.
They were lawyers and doctors and writers and sages
And realtors and bankers and jacks of all traders.
But in one important aspect they did all agree
To Jerusalem they must go, and the Sea of Galilee.


Sadat took the reins when they landed in Turkey
With blue Aegean skies and the ocean not murky.
The lands round about lay in ancient ruins galore,
So they snapped and they clicked till they couldn’t anymore.
Then off to the heart of old Constantinople they journeyed,
To view the Blue Mosque and the palace next door, they hurried.
The Spice Market and Grand Bazaar were next on the docket
Where money of all kinds flew out of their pocket.
With leather and rugs and spices in tow,
The fabled isle of Patmos was the next place to go.
They hiked up the hill to the alleged address,
Where ancient John the Beloved put quill to papyrus.
And in his poetical symbolic way
Prepared those who would read it for a far better day.


Then with feet turned toward Jerusalem into Jordan they crossed,
And walked ancient Petra which the Nabataeans lost.
The carvers who labored there to worship and memorialize,
Would be rolling in their graves if allowed to realize,
That their beautiful and sacred cherished mausoleum
Was teaming with hawkers and vendors ad nauseum.
The Bedouin tents dot the hills with their camels so touching,
Till up with their diet cokes and cell phones come rushing.


From the depths of the Dead to the Galilee Seas
We followed the Jordan midst date palms and trees.
Near the river so verdant we beheld with our eyes
Water so sacred where The Son was baptized.
Tiberius and Carmel, Tabgha, Tel Dan
Were places next seen, where travelled The Man.
From Beautitudes heights, to calm Galilees banks,
We boated in darkness, in awe and with thanks.


Next on to Nazareth, they trekked through the land
And followed His footsteps, and learned of his commands.
Capernaum, so favored, where the Savior did teach,
His disciples to love God, and broaden their reach.
In Bethlehem singing brought joy to the earth,
At Nativities centre, the place of his birth.


Finally, at Jerusalem, the pilgrims arrived to
See old city and Temple Mount (the place of some strife)
The western walls prayers and Solomon’s Porch
To Antonia’s cells, sit of Jesus’s cruel scourge.
St Annes’ church so lovely, which held a surprise
French Mormons heard us singing, that Mike had baptized.
Next, our intrepid travelers, their courage to test,
Donned shorts and some sandals, Hezekiahs tunnel to best.
For the feelings they felt, their hearts barely had room,
As they visited Golgotha and the garden tomb.


With money, time and energy blown,
Soon hearts and feet turned toward home.
In many directions, each one did return
To family and loved ones, for whom they did yearn.
And with them they carried deep in their heart
A greater love for the Savior, that would not depart.
And oft in their thoughts as they lived through a day,
Their minds would wander Jerusalem way.
And oft times for the cool breeze of Galilee yearn
And hoped against hope that someday they’d return.
But maybe some will, and maybe some not,
Yet each of them harbored this singular thought:
That their time in the Holy Land had changed them a lot.

Written by Denise Murray with Assistance from Jay Rush 

Kerry & Tina Miller, Denise & Gordon Murray

Making silk thread at the carpet factory in Turkey

Baptisms in the River Jordan

Christian Group from Kenya
Dr. Michael Wilcox describing the valley

Hi Diane,

Sorry this took longer than I'd hoped.  With our trip to Hawaii after the Holy Land and Christmas, things got delayed.  I so appreciated your sweet husband reading it to our bus, he has an amazing voice.  It was an honour and privileged to share this trip with you.  If you ever come to Calgary, remember you have a place to stay. Best wishes for a great 2014!   Warmly, Denise

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tom's Sacrament Meeting Talk - Dec. 15th

Elder Stokoe talked on the atonement -- "Joyful for us today. . . Agonizing for the Saviour at the time of endurance."  

"Sitting in the Jerusalem Center in a sacrament meeting on Saturday, for that is when sacrament meeting is held, Saturday, one sees an inspiring sight.  The seats of the auditorium slope downward as in a Greek amphi theatre, and as the floor levels out, a huge rectangular wall of glass reveals a sweeping view of the city of Jerusalem on a hillside.  The buildings are white in colour, stacked row upon row, layer upon layer, top to bottom and side to side.  It is a marvellous sight to behold — this city, rich in biblical history, a city dear to the Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

Historically, Jerusalem was destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.  The oldest part of the city was settled around 4,500-3,400 BC making Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world.

Leaving the Jerusalem Center, you weave through streets till you arrive at the secluded foot of the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.  A tall wall surrounds the garden ensuring isolation from surroundings.

Forty-four days ago I entered the Garden of Gethsemane, entered the Garden Tomb where Christ's body once did lay, and stood beneath Golgotha—enroute home after serving a mission in South Africa.  As I entered the Garden of Gethsemane, I walked upon the path that encircles the 8 ancient olive trees growing there.  A low rectangular barrier prevents anyone from walking among them.  

The original trees at the time of Christ are gone.  However, when an olives tree is cut down roots can grow a new tree.  The trees there today are around 900 years old.  Through regeneration the location of each olive tree in the garden today, could be the location of each tree at the time Jesus was there with his disciples.  I gazed at the 8 olive trees and wondered where Jesus may have knelt and prayed.  Was it by that tree, that tree, or this tree.

And as storytellers of oral history pass on the tales of past event, likewise I wondered if the roots of the trees at the time of Christ, passed on to the succeeding generations of trees, what the original trees witness and felt, the night Jesus knelt and prayed unto the Father, and assumed the sins of the world.

And as I gazed, studying and pondering the olive trees, this is the story they symbolised to me.  The tree trunks are gnarled, with slanting grooves descending the turn from top to bottom—as though wave after wave of pain grooved the trunk through which great drops of sap oozed and dropped to the ground.

Along side of the grooves, are thick crusts of bark, knotted and buckled, as though forced upward due to extreme agony from within.

The lower boughs outstretched and dangling like drooping arms bearing the weight of tremendous burden, symbolised the cry (Matthew 26:39)  "Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me;  nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt."  At this moment a scripture comes to mind (D&C 81:5)  ". . .Succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees."  This is what Jesus needs at this very moment.  (Luck 22:43, 44)  "And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him."  And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground."

The Atonement of the Saviour in the Garden of Gethsemane culminating on the Cross at Gologtha and "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,"

And the Resurrection of the Saviour culminating in the angels' declaration "Why seek ye the living among the dead?"  He is not here but he is risen" are the greatest triumphs of the Saviour on behalf of mankind during his 33 years on earth.

Gazing at the green leaves of the olive trees, as they peacefully rustled in a gentle breeze beneath the blue sky and the radiant sun of Jerusalem, they suggested that final triumph.

People from all over the world visit the Garden of Gethsemane, and undoubtedly, each person may see, think and feel differently, and take from it what impression he or she may.  As for me on that day, standing in the Garden of Gethsemane —that is what those special moments with the olive trees suggested to me. . . "

Wonderful!  Thank you for sharing this very personal experience with us.

Sister Wood

Monday, December 23, 2013

Deng Gatluak

Deng graduates from Nelson Mendela University next month and expects
to return to his home in Juba, capitol of South Sedan, where he will work as a civil engineer.
Hey Stokoe's thanks so much for writing to us. I appreciate it. You've been going to many places already! That must be exciting to confirm and learn more from Bible history.
Thanks for your concern over South Sudan. Am also worried. They say things are getting better but it might escalate and the damage has been done already. I hope it never happens again and that there maybe peace but as you said God watches over His children.
Keep well and Merry Christmas to you too. We'll update the handout for that lesson as well.

Kind Regards

Diane Stokoe e-mailed her Institute students on December 22nd:


I've been thinking about all of you.  Especially when we were on the Isle of Patmos listening to Dr. Michael Wilcox explain John's revelation.  He cautioned us not to take it literally.  It's poetic and figurative, a method of expression which was used at that time.  We visited the cave where John lived and dictated his vision to a scribe.  The horsemen (famine, death, violence and wickedness) have ridden throughout human history and should not be assigned to one particular seal or time.  The rider on the white horse with the bow (Revelations 6:2) is not Jesus Christ.  He would not ride in company with those horsemen.  Please update the handout on Chapters 55 & 56 which we covered in the make up lesson on October 2nd.  We also enjoyed visiting four of Paul's seven cities in Asia Minor--including Ephesus, Sneyrna, Sardis and Phildelphia. 

I am so proud of all of you for graduating  and I especially appreciated the guidance and direction of Brother and Sister Sherbert.   We wish you all the best in 2014.  I've been watching the news and am very concerned about Deng and what is happening in South Sedan.  However we know that Christ is in charge and is mindful of his children and of all nations.  We have many wonderful memories of the time we spent together and wish you all the best in the new year.  Sincerely,  the Stokoes


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Billings Return & Mandela's death

Dear Family and Friends,

This will come as a surprise to many of you but we have left the Congo and have returned to our home.  JoAnn has had some health problems that have caused us to come home for medical attention.  We got home on Wednesday night before Thanksgiving and spent Thanksgiving Day with some of our children in our home.  We are looking forward to seeing all of you.  Thanks to all of you for your support while we have been gone.  The email messages that you have sent have given us the lifts we have needed in order to endure the many challenges we faced.

Leaving now left much of the responsibility for training in the hands of the Congolese we had trained to be trainers.  The time had come and we have confidence they will be able to carry on and grow as they encounter new challenges on their own. 

We hope all is well for each of you and that you will have a most enjoyable holiday season.

Best regards,

George and JoAnn

[We attended George and JoAnn's December 29th mission report with the Kents and their open house where we learned that JoAnn was accidentally electrocuted while reaching over her stove.  Electricity traveled through both arms.    Since they were scheduled for release in a few weeks they opted to return rather than fly to Johannesburg for medical treatment.  JoAnn is gradually recovering.  She has lost strength in both arms.  The rhythm of her heart was affected.  She is lucky to be alive.]

Nelson Mandela 1918-2013

We spent December 6th watching the news broadcasts on CNN.  When asked if he had any regrets, Mandela said:  "No.  I just followed my heart. "   

Friday, November 29, 2013

Mission Report - Willow Creek 3rd Ward - Nov. 24, 2013

Sister Stokoe

We are Tom & Diane Stokoe, both retired educators.   For those of you new to the ward, I’ll begin by saying a little about us.  We have lived in Willow Creek for 35 years.  We raised a family of six sons here.  My husband taught history, speech and drama at Skyline High for 31 years and was the voice of Skyline football and announced games for 13 years.  After retiring early from Granite District, he taught at Mountain Ridge Jr. high in Alpine until 2010.  I taught at Skyline and at Kennedy Junior High and served as librarian at Granite and later at Olympus High School.   I was elected president of the Granite Library Media Association and from 2001 to 2004 I served as president of the Utah Library Media Association.

We were released from our mission in South Africa on October 15th and spent the next eighteen days touring Turkey as we followed in the footsteps of Paul. We visited the cave on the Isle of Patmos where John the Revelator had the vision recorded in the Book of Revelation and then we flew to the Holy Land and walked in the footsteps of our Lord and Savior.  We saw people from different denominations being baptised in the River Jordan and contemplated the many baptisms we witnessed in South Africa as we served in Motherwell.  
Baptism of the Mdlele Family including missionaries and President Zitzu on Right
When we came home we went to the Draper temple where we performed baptisms for the dead.   We are the only church on the face of the earth that performs baptizims for the dead.        But they were performed in Christ's time for we know that Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Else why are they baptised for the dead if the dead rise not at all?” (1st Corinthians 15:29).  This is the foundation of our faith.

I testify to you that John the Baptist delivered the keys to baptism and the authority to Joseph Smith.  We belong to the same church that Christ organised when he was here upon the earthIt .  It has been restored in our day in all it’s purity and power.

 Our primary assignment in South Africa was to work with the Church Educational System as CES specialists and to assist with the Perpetual Education Fund.   We spent our first eight months presenting PEF firesides and sponsoring “Planning for Success” classes in the wards and branches from Port Elizabeth to East London; but did not have very much success generating  loans.  If we’d worked for a bank we'd been fired.  I found it hard to reconcile being a loan officer with my patriarchal blessing which states, “You will take the gospel to those who know not God nor the purpose for which they have come to earth.”

My first few weeks on mission were very hard.  I was not happy with our tiny flat.  It needed painting and repair.    I blew up a couple of appliances by plugging them into the wrong outlets.  Our washer did not work and the Internet went down every time it rained. 

For me everything changed the night before Mother’s Day.  Four young elders knocked at our door and brought me a cake.  These young men will probably never know what a blessing they were to me.   They invited us everywhere. We went with them to teach investigators.  We visited in-actives with them. Elders Acton & Pack were particularly attentive.  This dynamic duo signed their area book “Action Packed” and they were.  I fell in love with the young missionaries.  
At District Conference in East London

In December President Wood got approval from area leaders for us to do member service work in Grahamstown.  President and Sister Nyes were leaving and the new couple that had been assigned there had visa problems and were sent to the Phillipines.  

We moved into the flat in Grahamstown.  Elder Stokoe presided over the branch until the end of January and then something historic happened.  A new all black branch presidency was called and Elder Stokoe served as executive secretary.    I sent their picture to the local newspaper and wrote an article explaining that the Mormon Church in Grahamstown is now led by local leaders.   

 Khaya Ketani, 1st Counselor, President Budaza, 2nd Couselor
          Nathan Johnson with Elder Stokoe & Mission President Wood

I taught Institute and helped with the activities.  We organized a Valentines dance in an effort to promote romance in this branch of mostly single young adults who were attending college but had not much more success than we did in generating PEF loans.

Grahamstown is a college town and it has many universities and boarding school.  It is the same distance from Port Elizabeth as Logan is from Salt Lake.  I know this because we maintained two flats during this time and drove back and forth between them a couple of times a week.  Thank you for keeping us in your prayers.  Many of you know that Elder Stokoe loves to drive fast.  I just closed my eyes and tried to sleep while he whizzed past construction sites and dodged the cows, sheep, goats or baboons that wandered into the highway.

Grahamstown is also home of the National Arts Festival so we got to enjoyed some plays, musical productions and art exhibits.  Elder Stokoe loved watching the native African dancers.   But often I got tired of stomping Africans so went off to enjoy the award winning films. 
In the projection room at Settler's monument with the
professor who chose films for the yearly Art's Festival.
The mid-winter festival happened while you were all celebrating the 4th of July.   

 Each Sunday evening we invited our four young missionaries to dinner along with Alan Bamford, who is a widower and the only white man in the branch.    We went with the elders to do service at the Thomas’ 600 acre farm.    Sister Thomas was the only white woman in the branch.  Her husband is an Afrikaner and a non-member who owned a from outside Grahamstown so she could only attended every other Sunday.   

On March 3td the branch had a “finding the lost sheep” activity and we divided up into  groups and went to the townships looking for members-of-record who were not attending.   The biggest problem was distance.  Many black members had to walk 45 minutes to get to and from church every Sunday and 45 minutes home.   Few blacks own cars.  Most must walk everywhere.    It takes a lot of commitment and stamina to be a good Latter-day Saint in Africa.    

We moved back to Port Elizabeth and continued our work with the PEF program.  By then it had merged with Employment Services under Provident Living. The new program was just being introduced so we had down time.    We sponsored a service project at the Lorraine Frail Care Center. Tom bought the seeds for a vegetable garden. 
 The young missionaries dug up the ground to plant the seeds.  Elder Stokoe decided that we should have a talent show for the patients there.  Twice he put together awesome shows with our very talented young missionaries.  They loved it!  We always ended each show by singing the mission song.  I would have liked to have had some of our young missionaries come and sing it for you but it's holiday season and it did not work out.  

President Neku with his two counsellors
Stake President Neku called us in April to go out and assist Elder Zitsu in a town-ship called Motherwell.  There were six members there.  It was too far for them to walk to the ward building in KwanaMaxi.  So they decided to organise a group there.   The stake  rented a vacant classroom in an elementary school. Group leader Elder Zitsu was a one man show.  He he prepared the sacrament, conducted the meeting and  taught lessons.  More and more people began attend.  There were so many investigators that President Wood sent out two missionaries.  Members were making appointments for them.  They were so busy that President Neku called us to go and help out.
With Elder Zitsu in Motherwell

Luckily in May the church was able to rent three more classrooms.  These four rooms were painted, broken glass windows replaced and new copper wiring strung to replace that which was stolen.  Now we had electricity and rooms for the relief society, the  primary and our young adults.   President Zitsu told them, "Now you will not have to meet with the old people.  You will have your own room and Sister Stokoe will be your teacher." I taught young women's and the 12-17 Sunday School  class.  

Going to Home Affairs so Boswella's aunt could testify.
It took two visits and mountains of paper work.
We helped some of the members.  It took five  months to get Boswella a national identification number.   Until then she was a non-person in South Africa.  I thank my friends who prayer for her and put her name in the temple.  It took all our efforts to establish her citizenship.  Now Boswella can get a job and be legally married.  This is huge.  Many people were not issued birth certificates when they were born so they are locked out of the system.  We helped Zim Mdlele get back into college and assisted Paul, a 26 year-old, complete classes so he can get a job as a security guard.

Every Sunday we had the best of both worlds.  At 8:00 a.m. we attend Sacrament Meeting in Port Elizabeth Ward; which is an old, established white Afrikaans ward with a few blacks.   After that meeting we drove to Motherwell and attended the block and served.

Nicole & Neil Fourie, Deng Gatluak, Phuti Rukia with Erin Palmer seated
On Wednesday nights I taught Institute to young adults in Port Elizabeth.  Those youth are so committed and dedicated.  They were such an example to us.  I had two engineering student from Nelson Mendela University.  Puti invited Deng, a classmate from South Sudan, to attend.  He was baptized.   I worried about Deng because he is returning to South Sedan after graduation in January.  I thought he would be the only member there until I learned that there is a small branch in Juba he can attend.

Four young men in East London leaving for missions.
  I want to share Sifundio Beja’s story.  It demonstrates what is going on all over the world. Africans do not learn to swim but enjoy going to the beach and being in the water.   Sifundiso went to the beach with his soccer club when a huge wave came in and swept them out to sea.  Seven drowned.  Sifundiso survived.  A little after that his English teacher introduced him to the gospel.   Grahamstown has only 135 members but they have five missionaries in the field.  We took Elder Maxoli (far right) to leave for his mission.
 Sifundiso (shown with his English teacher) was baptised on May 4th, He spent many many hours helping the missionaries which is typical for many devout young Africans who are baptised into the church.  Often they are the only member of their family to join.  Some are teased, persecuted or shunned by their peers.  But they remain faithful.  

We took Sifundiso  to get his patriarchal blessing and discovered that he had been was fore ordained to serve in many important callings in Africa.  When Motherwell became a branch in September this nineteen-year-old  high school senior who was called to serve as the 2nd counciler in the branch presidency.  We served with Doctor Scott, a senior who had been of five other missions and he told us about teaching five young Muslims.  “How can we know that what your are teaching us is true,”  they wondered.  “Pray about it.  Just ask God,” he told them.   Today every one of those young men are serving missions.
Sister Frieda Palmer, Sifundiso, Patriarch Palmer, President Neku and Paul

Thank you for your faith and prayers in our behalf. I testify that the Lord keeps his promises. My patriarchal blessing was fulfilled as we were called to serve in Grahamstown and Motherwell.  During the first few weeks of my mission I wondered if the brethern had made a mistake. What I felt prepared to do and what my experience and training had taught me to do was not what I had been assigned to do.  I was not successful as a loan officer but because of being assigned to area we had wonderful opportunities that we would never have had if we'd been called to another position.  Senior missionaries are told that they are to be "the guide on the side not the sage on the stage."  Often they are not given teaching responsibilities.  But Elder Stokoe and I had lots of opportunities to speak, to share, to lift as we participate in those branches."
Motherwell Branch Presidency
Elder Mdlele, President Zitsu and Sifundiso Beja

Will a senior mission be easy?  My answer is "no."  But it will be worth it.  Will it be what you expected?  "Probably not."   Think of a senior mission as boot camp for eternity.  Tom and I had separate careers which took us in different directions. We were busy raising our family.  And did not have time to work out some of our relationship problems.   Companionship training in Zone Conference and being together 24 hours a day chaned that.  helped.  Things got a lot better when Elder Stokoe figured out who the senior companion was.

Marriage is not easy.  Patriarch & Sister Palmer spoke at a P.E. fireside for the young marrieds.  “I deserve a metal ” Elder Palmer said.  Sister Frieda Palmer responded with: “I deserve a monument."  I love my husband more and we are more compatible having had a mission experience.  I am happy to have had a willing, worthy, healthy husband to take me on a mission.  It was a privilege to wear the mission badge.  It reminded us that we are all disciples of Jesus Christ. 

President Wood told us about going out to the Cape of Good Hope in his missionary gear--white shirt, tie and suit.  Everyone else was in sports clothes.  He wore his badge.  As he walked passed tourist he heard him say to his friend:  “Did you see that man?  That was Jesus Christ.”  We not Jesus Christ but we are his disciples.  It was a great blessing to serve and represent him in South Africa.  

The church is truth.  This work is real.   Joseph Smith was a prophet.  We belong to the church that was established by Jesus Christ in ancient times.  Serving a senior mission blesses us now and blesses our family.   My kids are an independent lot and they get along pretty well on their own.  But each could see the hand of God in their lives as we served.  I love our Heavenly Father and say this in the name of our beloved Savior, even Jesus Christ, Amen