26 Dec 2015

Week 74 Christmas Skype

"Happy Boxing day everybody! I don't have much to say seeing as I spoke to you all yesterday (on Skype), but I can give you a summary of what we got up to for Christmas Day.

We left from the office and drove into the centre of town to the Acropoli chapel, where all of the missionaries were already there. We helped set up for the meal but most of it was taken care of by the Perrys, Petcheys and Heders, which was very nice of them. We had A. there, and he told me it was the first time since his wedding that he's worn a tie, he said he just wants to be as much like us as he can, which was very nice.

We had a lovely meal with ham, turkey, and vegetables, and everyone really enjoyed it. We then tidied up and the investigators and members headed off whilst the missionaries stayed for the rest of the afternoon. A. says that since he found the church and has been changing so much, things have gotten a lot better.

In the afternoon we played pool and table football, whilst some missionaries did Skype. Whilst Sister Bakewell was skyping her family  she had about 10 minutes at the end on Skype with her brother who's in the Alpine German Speaking Mission, and who was with us in the MTC. She called us to come up and speak to him, and it was fun to catch up and see how he's doing.

Later on we played some games all together, like the werewolf game that we played at YSA some times, and a game where you have to swap chairs which was kind of like the board game frustration if you remember that, except with people and you move differently. You have to get four people into the target chairs at the end."

"In the evening we did the "white elephant" gift exchange. which was so much fun. We had all brought a wrapped gift and set them on a table, then we had to draw numbers out of a hat. We then went in turns to take a gift from the table, or to steal a gift that someone else had already taken. Each gift can be stolen three times, and then whoever has it keeps it. I was number three so quite near the beginning, and I got a really nice gift from Elder Perry, which was a treasure chest with chocolate money and things inside. It was one of the better gifts, and I kind of hid it under my chair until everyone had forgotten about it, then brought it out again, and nobody stole it. There was a funny moment where Elder Klestrup has his nerf gun stolen from him so took a new gift from the table, and it was the exact same nerf gun again, which he was happy about, and which started a violent few minutes which ended with Alinda shooting him in the face."

"There was also a pair of angel wings that Sister Vallés really wanted, that was taken by Elder Dagry. She was sat next to me and kept asking me if I think it would be okay for her to steal them (she's way too nice to steal something someone wants), and I told her he would be happy to have them stolen, which he was. But then the next gift he took was a bell, so I don't think he was much happier with that! Elder Peel was last and ended up with some hair scrunchies, which wasn't the best gift ever for him. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the game, it's definitely something I'd like to do next year. Some of the gifts were hilarious, some rubbish and some really good, so there was a varying level of satisfaction with the gifts people took. Elder Mead got a Minnie Mouse oven glove which was funny. 
Sister Vallés asked permission from President Heder to wear her angel wings on the Metro home, and then actually did."

"Today (Saturday 26th) we have P-day, and then in the evening we have a baptism! The lady's name is C. and she has been taught by Sister Vallés and Sister Larcher. 
During the day I want to buy the sunglasses, and a Christmas jumper if I can find one!"

As Parents we are just amazed at the effort and dedication put in by President and Sister Heder and all the Senior Missionary couples across the mission. They don't just  make Christmas like a piece of home, they are literally at home. It is obvious they make the Greece Athens Mission a big family for the time the missionaries are serving, 
Elder Teal has experienced 2 wonderful Christmas's now. The first was much quieter with just a couple of companionship's and Elder and Sister West in Thessaloniki. It was much different but equally as good as the group experience this year.

A massive thank you to The Heder family and all the GAM Senior couples, we never have to worry about our missionary! We are grateful that you have all sacrificed to serve and you are a great example to us!

President and Sister Heder

21 Dec 2015

Week 73

"It's been a good week! As you saw we were over in Cyprus for a couple of days for the zone conference over there. We got to see Panayiotis, as well as Robin and Edward, which was really nice. Unfortunately we didn't get to see Pavlos."

"The zone conference was really good, probably the best one I've been to since I started in the mission. We had training from Sister Heder, from Elder Peel and me, and from President Heder. We also had some really funny role-plays where Elder Peel and I were investigators with ridiculous questions, and the missionaries had to teach us the first lesson. Each companionship took a small section of the lesson and each had to get back to the topic as we tried to get it as off-topic as possible. It was a lot of fun."

"We had a Christmas Concert here in Athens which was great, we sang carols and had readings from the scriptures. Starting on Christmas Eve we will have a full week of Christmas activities with the missionaries, and we're really excited for it! It's taking a lot of preparation, but I think it will be worth it."

"I had an email from Sister Mckenna where she's sitting in my old room! It was nice to hear from her, I'm glad she's doing well! And I think she would actually die laughing if she was here with Elder Peel and me as assistants!" (Sister Mckenna stayed at our home on a whistle stop visit to the Preston Temple from Ireland)

"Please tell people thank you for the money, I'm sure that will be more than enough for some nice sunglasses."   Elder Teal is buying a good pair of UV sunglasses to protect his eyes after his operation

"At zone conference Elder Peel and I gave our training. We talked about faith and prayer and how we can seek and ask for our righteous desires and have them granted. We also talked about how we have to be specific with our prayers and with our faith."

We think Elder Teal and Elder Peel make a lovely couple :)

"In Cyprus, it was good to see Panayiotis and Georgia and catch up with how things are going in Larnaca. I also saw Robin and Edward at institute who are both doing really well and it was good to see them. I've missed being in Larnaca!"

"In Priesthood at church, we had a lesson about stakes. It was the best lesson I've ever been in about stakes taught by a man who's never stepped foot in one. It made me realise that I took a lot of the organisation of the church for granted when I was at home."

"We had a really good lesson with A where we talked about the Book of Mormon and about how it has importance in our lives. Elder Peel and I teach really well together and we were able to ask lots of questions that helped him to realise what he needs to do to get to where he wants to be. It was the first time I've quoted Yoda in a lesson as when he said he'll try to come to church next week, I said 'do or do not, there is no try' He got the reference and we laughed." 

Not really sure what these two pictures of Elder Teal and Peel are all about, it just said "a couple of us inspecting the broken window at the chapel" we can only assume they were organising a replacement?

"We also have a service project this evening, all of the missionaries will be coming to the old people's home next to the mission office and we will sing some carols and do readings from the Bible for them!"

In an email I asked about a specific missionary rule, and the missions policy on it, to which I got this quite profound reply.

"... that's why it's so important that we don't make rules! And also, if someone asks if they are or are not allowed to do something, for months now (since I was zone leader in Cyprus), I've never told them they can or can't do it, I've just referred them to the section in the handbook and told them to make a decision. There's a reason that the handbook is given to every missionary and not just to leaders. I think a big part of serving a mission should be learning to be accountable to yourself and to the Lord without having leaders checking your every move."

Finally a caption competition !!

15 Dec 2015

Week 72

The Ward Relief society Christmas Party was out our house this week
"I'm glad your activity went well! I think we probably have 25 sisters across the whole of Athens at church on a Sunday! It's so good that you can all get together and spend time together, and nice that you were able to have it at our house. I say our house, but I feel like I don't recognise it at all when I see it in pictures! The Christmas trees look great!"

We held our Stake Christmas Carol over two nights this weekend.
"The carol concert is something I've missed actually, it really is great. I look forward to it next year! But then again, the activities that we're going to have here over Christmas are going to be absolutely fantastic. We have an activity with the branches on the 19th, and from the 24th to Jan 1st we have a whole week of different activities with the missionaries, including a meal on Christmas day with members and investigators which I'm looking forward to.
Yeah we'll eat at the Acropoli chapel, and I'm not sure who will be doing it, I know that Sister Heder will be doing a lot this Christmas!"

"We haven't watched the Christmas devotional yet no, but I'd like to!"

"We will be allowed an hour maximum, which is quite a lot! And then we will have a full week of things with the missionaries and members, as the country basically shuts down over Christmas. I'm excited, I think it's going to be a very uplifting and inspiring week."

"I don't have photos from during the week unfortunately, but I'll take some here in the office with Elder Peel now."

"My highlight has been that we've had 4 lessons this week! You'll be able to read about them in my journal, but yeah we had 4 lessons, and now have baptismal dates for two of the investigators we're teaching. It feels like we're normal missionaries, which is so good. I missed being able to teach and testify, and I've loved being able to do it this week."

"And generally I'm very happy, as usual! I'm excited for Christmas and for the things we'll be doing here in the mission, I'm excited for the investigators that we're teaching, and I'm excited for my operation in January. I will have a pre-op appointment on the 5th, and the actual surgery on the 7th. It's a great period of my mission, as Elder Peel and I get on extremely well and are working well together, we have lots to do, and are enjoying doing it!"

"Elder Peel and I do really well shopping together, we're quick and even though we buy a variety of food and a lot of it we're always way under budget as we buy the things that are on offer."

"In the evening we had a lesson with A. We taught about Heavenly Fathers plan for us. He said the opening prayer where he just thanked Heavenly Father that he'd found us again and said that he'd been praying to meet me again but didn't know how. He said we are Gods angels and that he will do whatever we tell him to do as he knows that's what best for him."

"We had another fantastic lesson with A. where we talked about the first half of the Plan of Salvation and tied it to the Word of Wisdom."

(This is the man they met last week and had previous contact with in Cyprus)

"I've realised recently that the the whole point of any meeting in the church is for the Holy Ghost to teach and to receive revelation for specific matters at hand."

"We received a referral from a man called T. who had visited the church website and had requested a free copy of The Book of Mormon. We found his house and he invited us in right away. We had one of the best lessons of my whole mission. We talked about how the gospel blesses families, about the role of Jesus Christ and about the restoration. He is searching for something that he knows is missing from his life and he says that he hasn't found a church that really talks to him as a person and fulfills his needs. He is interested to learn more and also said he will drive up to church next Sunday. Elder Peel and I were both really excited after the lesson."

9 Dec 2015

Week 71

Thoughts on the planned Surgery

"I'm feeling good about it all really. I did a load of research last night about it, and generally everything seems to be positive. There are of course some cases where the outcome wasn't 100% ideal, (I mean, perfect vision at the end), but my vision really isn't bad at the minute, and any level of improvement will be more than satisfactory. I'd be more worried about the problem getting worse, which doesn't seem to have happened to anyone that I've read about. I did see one thing that talked about "significant pain" the first night after the surgery, but I'm sure I'll be able to handle it.

Yeah I watched that video, where the guy was really happy with how it went. Something I read about too is that it can take a while for vision to come back fully and to get better than it was before the surgery. I had seen that the recovery time was 1-2 weeks and assumed that meant for vision as well, but I think that that means for the eye to heal from the surgery, and then vision comes back over the next month or so after that. But again, because my vision is still so good now before the surgery I'm pretty sure it won't be too long before it's absolutely fine.
Mum, do you remember whenever we would see a TV advert about laser eye surgery and I would ask you if you would ever consider having it? I never imagine that I'd be having it at some point
I'll buy some nice sunglasses, I was thinking the same thinking about wearing them after the surgery."

"Something I've thought about, about church paying for the treatment. I think it's easier to consecrate something when you know it's literally been paid for with consecrated funds. I will literally, financially owe my vision to the Lord!"

"I'll let you know how it feels. From what I've read you don't feel much at all during the surgery, it's just like having a light shone in your eyes. The thing I'm most worried about is blinking accidentally, but I'm sure they've probably thought of that and there's something to keep your eye open."


"The rest of the week has been good, we had a lesson and also had an investigator at church!

Our lesson was with a former investigator called A. He's a really nice guy and seems to have a lot of interest....it was so nice to have a lesson, we really enjoyed it."

"The investigator at church is a crazy story! I got a phone call earlier in the week from Elder Szvoboda who's currently serving in Sepolia. He said he'd met a guy in the street who knows me and requested that his phone number be given to me. Do you remember in Larnaca (Cyprus) when we had the investigator called At.. who came out into the sea to see Pavlos' baptism up close? "

"Well now he lives here in Athens, and chanced across the missionaries in the street. I called him Saturday night and he was so happy to hear from me. He came to church on Sunday, and seemed to enjoy it. It turns out that he lives a couple of doors down from the Elders in Sepolia now. It's a small world!"

"I have studied my patriarchal blessing this week yeah, and I found a lot in there that I hadn't picked up on before. I think as time passes I'll find even more things that will be of importance, and I'm looking forward to it!"

President Heder and Elder Teal

As a Missionary Dad I had never given much thought prior to him leaving, as to what I would write. Here is a typical email segment and reply from this week.

"With all our thoughts at home about your health it has become easy to lose sight of your focus.
As I have been pondering that this afternoon I have felt to give encouragement to speak to EVERYONE you meet. You know when your work in this life is done , when you are released from it to the next. Likewise in a mission , your work is not complete until  you are released. Over the last two weeks, we worried you would have to come home. But you have been given the opportunity to stay, there must be a reason, along with things to do, there is someone to find!
We are very proud of you. Your service is blessing our lives as much as yours , thank you"

"This is something that I have been thinking about too. I don't want to allow myself to become comfortable with not being  a "normal missionary", and it's something I've tried to avoid since coming into the office. And I definitely want to do better with talking to everyone. It's something Elder Ballard talked to us about when he was here, and how we should aim to talk to at least 10 people every day outside of normal proselyting activities. Thank you for the reminder, something I've really enjoyed seeing during my mission is how the Lord gives the same guidance to everyone at once, in order for His work to move forward."

4 Dec 2015

Eye Problems

We strive to make our blog a place to be uplifted as you read. 
For that reason we made a decision to not talk about a health issue Elder Teal is having. But Now with a plan in place we would like to share some miracles.
After finding studying a little harder, Elder Teal visited an optician 
with the assumption he would need glasses. 

On the 9th of November we received an email from him, explaining it was a bit more of an issue than just glasses. The optician had diagnosed him with a degenerative eye condition called Keratoconus, which simply put means his corneas are thinning. As they thin, the pressure in the eye misshapes the normally round front surface causing changes in vision. Although rare in the UK it is apparently more common in Greece.

The optician suggested it can be controlled by wearing contact lenses, but in severe cases the long term outcome may be a need for corneal transplants. 

By the time we had got the news, Elder Teal had come to terms with the situation and with the support of the senior office couple and a blessing from President Heder, his outlook was very upbeat. The plan was to monitor the condition until he returned home, at the natural end of his mission.

Strangely Sister Heder had been given the contact details of an Athens based eye specialist before her mission. She still had this with her and feeling uncomfortable with doing nothing, Sister Heder insisted an appointment was made for a second opinion. It was unexpected to find out that the eye specialist is a world expert on the very condition Elder Teal has!

The appointment confirmed the diagnosis but concern was expressed at how progressed the deterioration was, for a 19 year old. 2 on a scale of 1-4. The specialists opinion was that action needed to be taken within the next three months.
It was recommended that surgery be carried out on both eyes to reshape the cornea via laser treatment before it was too thin to correct, and at the same time reinforce the cornea to halt the deterioration. Known as the "Athens protocol" this is the only country in the world where this dual process is performed.

We did some research and so did Sister Heder. It became quickly apparent to us as parents, that the best outcome for Elder Teals sight would be to stay in Greece. This thought is also held by the church medical team. The only thing really offered at home being contacts to support the failing cornea.

With every prayer we realised our natural desire to have him home to sort the issue was changed to a desire to have him continue to serve and if possible have treatment in Athens.

It has taken a couple of weeks to get to the current point . Sister Heder has been amazing and determined to get the best possible outcome for one of her missionaries. 
She has also been fantastic at keeping us up to date.

On Thursday she messaged us to confirm that Elder Teal would be able to receive the surgery whilst serving, and that the next step would be to book the appointment. 
On Friday a proposed date in January has been set.
The procedure will be performed at the clinic in Athens an Elder Teal will have to have bandages over his eyes for approximately 3 days. During this Time Elder Peel will have to be the eyes for both of them. Vision should begin to normalise within a week.

Surely it is no coincidence, that Elder Teal was called to serve in Greece, where a world expert has a clinic. Only 1 in 2000 People of Anglo-Saxon origin have this condition, whereas up to 1 in 40 Greeks do.
Not only would treatment not be available any where else, it may not have been picked up until much later as it is rare outside Greece.

No coincidence, that Sister Heder had the specialists contact details, not realising it would be needed for one of her missionaries. 

No coincidence, Elder Teal was transferred back to Athens before going to the opticians.

He probably never thought that applying to serve a mission would potentially save his sight.

What some call coincidence, we would call miracles.

Our leaders teach us that in times of trial we should not ask... Why? 
Rather we should ask.. What can I learn from this? 

We are learning patience and that God always has a plan, that he fulfills in his way and in his time. We have also learnt that missionaries are sent to specific areas for many reasons, not just for those they reach out to. Finally we have learnt to have total trust and faith in President and Sister Heder. It has become very obvious that they treat all of the Greece Athens missionaries as their own children.

This coming Fast Sunday our prayers will be of thanks for a plan and that those involved in all aspects of the coming procedures will play their part well.

UPDATE January 2016

In early January, Elder Teal had surgery to both eyes, to correct and prevent further problems.
The procedure was a full success and you can read about his experience by Clicking HERE

For more information about what the Athens Protocol involves

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