Sunday, December 30, 2012

Our 2012 Christmas Letter

Dixon Christmas Letter 2012
New Jersey Morristown Mission, 12/2012 
(hint: we're in the 2nd row, on the left.)

Christmas Greetings from New Jersey!  We are still serving here as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  We are assigned to the New Jersey Morristown Mission.  Our current task is to teach the New Testament to young single adults (YSA) who are members of our Church.  (Last year we taught the Old Testament.)  We love our work and love and admire so very much the young people with whom we work and the efforts that they are making to live truly Christian lives. Roger also serves as a counselor in the East Brunswick YSA Branch presidency.
        We teach four classes each week and all of them are taught in Spanish.  For three of these classes we travel about an hour each way.  The fourth class is merely 20 minutes away from our apartment.  We always take refreshments to encourage the young people to linger after class and socialize.  We also play some games after the class; Uno seems to be the most popular.  Twice monthly we meet for our own study sessions with David Bean, a very gifted gospel teacher and with other missionaries who are teaching classes as well.  We dearly love the other senior missionaries with whom we serve.
We teach students who have come to the United States from many countries and who are working hard to improve their possibilities for a happy future.  We love and admire them for their dedication. Many of them are preparing to serve missions for the LDS Church.  A number of our students have already left for the mission field and others have their calls in hand and will leave for the four corners of the earth in the near future.  Several others will be going as soon as they save enough money to take care of their expenses while serving.  

June 30, 2012, we took a bus with our Union City Institute students and  friends to visit the DC Temple.  Unfortunately a  Derecho (damaging tornado-like storm) had hit the night before and the electricity was out for the whole metro area.  Fortunately the Temple workers, who were just getting ready to go home, stayed and ran the Temple by a generator so that our group could enjoy doing service in there for a couple of hours.  

Hurricane Sandy
        Recently, a good deal of our time has been spent in helping to coordinate the efforts of a thousand or so volunteers giving service to help clean up homes after Hurricane Sandy hit.  The church members who  have worked so hard wear the bright Mormon Helping Hands shirts to help distinguish them as a group.  In a number of areas of damage the police were only allowing organized volunteers in and restricting access to people who were just curious.
     We have been working in the Communications Center that was established in Eatontown, New Jersey, near the Jersey shore where Hurricane Sandy did so much damage.  This is one of several centers that were set-up in the New Jersey and New York to coordinate assistance to the storm victims.  We were able to receive requests from victims who needed help and send work teams to them using a brilliantly designed software package based on Google earth.  The s/w allowed us to send Mormon Helping Hands teams to respond to the requests and also allowed teams from other churches and volunteer organizations to claim requests for their teams to work on.  Our missionaries and other Church members along with people of many faiths and other types of organizations invested tens of thousands of hours “mucking” out homes that were damaged by flood waters and falling trees and providing other much needed assistance.   So many people were left with nothing after the storm.  People who had comfortable middle-class lives were suddenly homeless.  The appreciation they expressed for the assistance received was both humbling and heartwarming. 
       It reflects well on our country that so many, many volunteers came to the aid of the storm victims.  These efforts continue and will be needed for months to come (maybe years?) before some semblance of order can be restored to the lives and communities of many of the storm victims.  We've observed that throughout NJ, even hours away from the beach, there are thousands of trees have been uprooted, splintered and crashed to the ground (or nearby building).  Many of these trees are more than four feet in diameter and could easily be more than 100 years old. If you need wood chips or mulch, this is the place to come.

We gathered with other missionaries from the NJMM to help with the Hurricane Sandy aftermath.

A little about our Family
For those of you who know our children, we include the brief summary below.  Our 3 sons live near to us in Utah and Jen and Debi live on the west coast in Oregon and California.

Eric and Liz live in Lehi, Utah with their children: Grant, 16; Claire 13; and Taylor 9.  Eric works as a software consultant for Microsoft and Liz teaches in the BYU Marriot School of Management.
Jen and Andrew Schafer live in Sherwood, Oregon with their children: Sierra, 15, Brennon, 13; and Milo, 6. Jen works as a free-lance editor and Andrew as an architectural LEED specialist for PGE.
Jeff and Kate live in Highland, Utah with their children: Carter, 9; Cassidy, 6; Ella 4; and McKay, 2. Jeff works as an agent for Sentry Insurance and Kate as a notary public.
Dan and Holly live in Lehi, Utah with their children: Sienna, 4; and Lucas, 1. Dan is a real estate broker for Prudential and Holly is a social worker for people needing hospice care.
Debi and Jared Lee live in Santa Paula, California with their children: Bethany 3; and Isaac, 3. Debi and Jared are totally immersed in setting up an orthodontics practice in Santa Paula.
We want to add our testimony to others you receive at this time:  Heavenly Father does live and He knows and loves each of us.  Jesus Christ is our Savior who teaches us principles for living and provides the means to eventually obtain eternal life.  We love being members of the Church of Jesus Christ and find that it gives purpose to all phases of our lives, especially this one.  One of the joys we have discovered as members is the invitation to do family history.  It’s a work of love and intellectual challenge and is an activity we look forward to renewing when we return from our mission in April 2013.

We wish the Lord’s tender mercies on you and your family at this time and for the New Year!
Love, Elder and Sister Dixon
(Roger & Deanne)

Go Tell it on the Mountain!

Our Christmas All-Mission Conference on December 21 was a joy!  

The conference began at 9am with a photo of everyone in our NJ Morristown Mission.
We had a couple hours of sweet testimonies and words of wisdom in the chapel.  Then we went into the cultural hall (that had been previously decorated for a wedding reception) where we were entertained by our Mission President and Sister Jeppson and then Alex Boyes, their son-in-law.  Alex is a member of the Tabernacle Choir and does individual recordings and performances. 

Elder and Sister Dixon at the table watching the musical program.

I have a couple of videos of Alex's performance.   Alex did several serious and gentle Christmas songs and then slipped in a rousing "Go Tell it on the Mountain."  I've done a miserable filming job...but it will give you an idea of the fun we were having.   

Alex Boyes invited the "brothers" to come up and do the moves with him as he sang.  (He pointed out that we are all brothers and sisters, but these are "Brothers! You know what I mean?')  There was another Bro who was sick and not present.  The Elder on the left felt at a disadvantage because he is a new missionary from Mozambique and doesn't know the American moves.  Nevertheless, he did a great job.  He told me afterward that he was pretty nervous.  

So here is my sorry filming.  I wish I had gotten the entire song.  

Alex did several tender performances too, such as "Mary, did you know?" and "I know that my Redeemer Lives."  

See <> (for a video about Alex).

Saturday, December 1, 2012

What are Treasures? (Sandy, Part II)

You walk past block after block with the belongings of homes just piled as trash along the curbs and you ask yourself: WHAT ARE TREASURES?

The Sandy Cleanup experience has highlighted some TREASURES to me.
I'm listing a few in caps below:

The AMERICAN FLAG:  All around Union Beach you see American flags posted to show unity and the community.  One lady told us that the hurricane was a tragedy but also a blessing because it was bringing the town together is such a beautiful way.  People were so kind helpful and friendly.  She wishes it would always be this way.  KINDNESS, LOVE, FRIENDSHIP, LOOKING AT THE POSITIVE.
These young missionaries are happy to be part of the Mormon Helping Hands.  

PERSISTENT UNSELFISH SERVICE.   This is our "Command Center" at Eatontown in the middle of NJ.  We have about 6 people working here in the Family History Center.  We have brought in extra computers and phones to coordinate requests for service and teams offering to give service.  Stakes from all around the area arrive on Friday, Saturday or Sundays to work full days.  Many of the members sleep in the chapels and work two days.  People from other states and other groups have also been working hard.  One survivor said how much she appreciates the help.  She said, "Just seeing the volunteers out there gives me hope."

Roger is in the vest.  Sister Bjorn stands behind and the head of the volunteer effort, David, is in the blue shirt.  One of the missionaries is here picking up an assignment for his team.

FAMILY HISTORY TREASURES.  Since we are using a Family History Center, we notice the walls have interesting messages.  Being an enthusiastic genealogist since I was 14, I can identify with the sentiments.  You may lose all your earthly possessions but still have your family forever.  What a treasure!


I met a man (I'll call him Jim) as he was sweeping sand away from the curb so that the water could drain and dry up.  Jim claimed he was having an OCD moment to help bide his time while trying to figure out what to do next.  Jim has an interesting story:  he lives half a block from the beach in the townhouse on the right. When the warning to evacuate ahead of the storm came his wife said she didn't want to leave.  She had heard that another elderly neighbor had evacuated her home, which was then looted a day before the storm.  Jim's wife was concerned that the same thing could happen to their possessions so she decided to stay to protect them.  Jim, pictured here, wanted to evacuate but he couldn't leave "THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE" behind so he agreed to ride out the storm together.

Somehow they got the idea that their home might be more at risk from flying tree branches, broken glass and  heavy rains, so they decided to take all their valuables down to the garage, which was at ground level.  They worked all day and into the evening as the storm raged and grew to hurricane strength.  He said it was quite terrifying.  Just as Jim was bringing down his last load of treasures, he was in the garage and the door suddenly burst apart.  Water rushed into the garage and it was all he could do with his own rush of adrenalin to hang on and pull himself up the stairs.  The first sensation he felt when the water came was a huge sucking a rip tide, I suppose.  He and his wife made it up to a safer level for the rest of the storm but all his treasures in the garage were lost.  And yet, he can smile because he still has "the love of his life."
There are new garage doors on all the five townhouses here.

ANOTHER DAY.   This car had its own adventure!  Jim explained that the owner parked it safely in the garage.  After the storm it was found inside the next door garage!  It had been sucked out of one and smashed into the next.  When the treasure we've coveted is destroyed, just having another day is a blessing. 
Look closely and you can see this car suffered quite a beating!

The New Brunswick Ward sent a big group of workers, including some of our Institute students.

ONE MAN'S TREASURE IS ANOTHER MAN'S TRASH.  Our East Brunswick Young Single Adults (YSA) Branch members worked most of the day clearing debris from the yard of a family.  The "debris" was a big deck from one of the houses across the street by the shore.  Many other parts of the houses across the street also landed here.

Our EBYSA branch members helped clear this yard.
Being handy with a chain saw was a necessary skill.  The pieces were cut small enough to be carried to the curb.

Sometimes real treasures are found.  This bag contains some coins and paper money.  I couldn't tell if it was foreign money or not since it was all covered with nasty mud.

The EBYSA second counselor carries the bag of money across the street to see if anyone there lost it!  Notice the ocean in the background.  Seems so far away and peaceful.  

The deck is being reduced to manageable pieces.

Someone's graduation longer special.

This is the heap of trash on the curb for the city to come and haul away.

Just what was this?  A play house?

EBYSA Branch workers plus Sister Dixon in red on the right.

The Red Cross delivered free hot meals to all the volunteers and residents who needed them.  Deanne is ready for  food!

A few keepsakes were found and set aside for the neighbors.  One woman was pleased to retrieve a wedding ring and a watch that had been stored in her bathroom vanity shelf and became lodged in a hole in the ground.

I wanted to save one of these but resisted.  They are as contaminated as everything else.

A broken cookie plate and roller skate.

Every street near the beach looks like this.  How does it feel?

HELP AND COMPASSION.  Hundreds or probably thousands of homes have been stripped like this.  The floor can be difficult.  The missionaries told us about one home that had 8 layers of flooring including strange linoleum and stuff glued down that was very hard to remove.  Below the floors was nasty wet mud that probably contained toxic chemicals and sewer contents.  This type of work was typical of what the missionaries have been doing for five-six weeks now.   Everyone wore masks to help protect them from the mold that was developing.




Last year it was a freak snowstorm that stole Halloween.  This year, Hurricane Sandy.  Notice the waterline going across the sign and the number 12.


This home made the news.  It defies description to imagine the force that hit it.

I cannot imagine the trauma people must have felt when they learned that all their treasures were either lost at sea or had been contaminated in the flood and must be tossed in a pile of trash.  Never the less, many victims express gratitude for their lives, their families, friends and the volunteers.
A sign like this is a community treasure.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Helping after Sandy, part I

Elder & Sister Dixon preparing to go help victims of Hurricane Sandy.

If you are following the Dixons, you might wonder if there is anything else we are going to talk about besides Hurricane Sandy.  I'm sure there will be, but for now it's still having an impact on our Institute schedule and other activities in general.

Yesterday we were blessed to be able to participate in a Mormon Helping Hands project in  Union Beach, NJ.  We gained much more than we gave.

Mission President Jeppson started us off at the Eatontown chapel, where we got the yellow shirts to help us be identified to others and ourselves.  It's actually a useful tool.  We were subdivided and sent to different locations.  Rog and I went in a small group with the Stake President Greg Stokes.
President Jon Jeppson rallies the troops.

Alex Boye and Sister Jeppson.

These are mostly non-missionary volunteers and our friends from the Spanish wards.

They are ready to go!
We live 20 minutes to the west/left of "A".  We all met at Eatontown ("B")  then dispersed to our various assignments, ("C"/Union Beach, for us).

Rog and I were assigned to two houses in the town of Union Beach.
 "In late October of 2012, a mandatory evacuation was declared in preparation for the perfect storm Hurricane Sandy. Sandy made landfall near Atlantic City and dealt severe damage along the New Jersey coastline, causing severe damage to the town, destroying at least 50 homes, making at least 62 more uninhabitable, and over 250 homes sustained substantial damage. Union Beach was ranked second in total damage dealt to towns across New Jersey, only behind Atlantic City." (Union Beach, Wikipedia)
A welcome message above and Sandy trash below.

This was the only view we got of the water.
 Recent news reports showed desperate people in NY who are furious about the lack of response from utility companies.  If you have been waiting for 11 days for power I can see how you would be angry too.  Perhaps people without TV do not know just how widespread and complicated the damage was.  We were impressed with the number of utility trucks we saw in or near Union Beach.  Here are a few sample photos we took in the morning. 

A convoy of 6-7 utility trucks.


After arriving we stopped at the Union Beach Borough Hall and Police Station to register and identify the homes we would help.  We then joined the stream of volunteers walking to their assigned homes to "muck out."  There appeared to be many hundreds of helpers, including people from out of state, children, and even other neighbors who were also affected.   It was a gratifying experience to be one of the small army.

Convoy of volunteers!  Helpers were everywhere.
  As we walked a mile or so toward the beach all streets were lined with the contents of the dwellings.  As someone said, the homes were turned inside out...all the life treasures and furnishings were on the outside.

A lifetime of goods...just tossed away!  Anything the toxic water touched could not be saved.

Someone decided it was better to quit now.  More volunteers continue to come.

 To be continued......