Sunday, July 7, 2013

Out of Obscurity

"Bring this Visitors' Centre out of obscurity." That's what we were asked to do while at the MTC 18 months ago.  This charge gave us much to think about. What did they mean? We later learned that after the Centre was dedicated in 1969, it had been closed for many years due to its rural location and lack of visitors.  It was reopened in 2008 through the efforts of President Jeffrey and Sister Heidi Swinton and managed  by a senior missionary couple assigned by the England London South Mission president. We were the first to be called by the First Presidency to direct the Centre.

As soon as we arrived, we began to understand the challenge we'd been given. The London Temple Visitors' Centre is not a beacon set on a hill.  It cannot even be seen from the street. The only way to find it is to enter the property through the temple gates and drive past a parking lot.  Those who find it -- mostly members -- already knew it was here. There were no "welcome" signs. We wanted the general public to feel welcome and invited, but most did not know the Centre existed. We felt like we were in a London fog when we first got here. We didn't know where to turn.  We prayed a lot, and went to work, not really knowing where to go or what to do.

With the help of the Lord and the backing of the Church Missionary Department, we've watched some exciting things unfold!  Each senior missionary couple who previously served at the Visitors' Centre gave their hearts and souls and contributed to its progress, but they did not have the support we now enjoy through the Missionary Department. We have been assigned wonderful sister missionaries, two senior couples, and an operating budget. We've been able to extend opening hours at the Centre and had the flexibility to develop new programs, make media contacts, and work with government, community and Church leaders to promote the Centre. We've had the funds to purchase needed supplies, materials, and advertising.

This week we sent our third six-month report to the Missionary Department.  I've written about some of these developments in previous blogs, but I'd like to share a few highlights from that report.  We're thrilled to see some positive progress being made toward bringing the Visitors' Centre "out of obscurity."

1. Five more "brown signs" have been installed by West Sussex County to guide motorists to the temple from East Grinstead, Crawley, and Gatwick Airport.  These are in addition to the five signs installed last year by Surrey County. All ten signs have directional arrows with the words, London Temple & Visitors' Centre.  Brown signs in England lend public credibility to the Visitors' Centre as a recognized tourist/information destination. 

Heading north on the A-22  - the Old Roman Road

Just off the M-23 near Gatwick Airport

Heading west on West Park Road

2. News articles favorable to the Church and the Visitors' Centre have appeared recently in The Surrey Mirror, The Crawley Observer, The East Grinstead Courier, In-Touch Magazine, RH Uncovered Magazine, Crawley Lions Magazine, and A Guide to Tandridge. (See "Uncovered" on Feb. 28, 2013 and "A Good Week in Newchapel" on Apr. 22, 2013.)

3. As a result of these articles, I was interviewed on BBC Radio, along with Annabelle Griffiths of the Maidstone Stake, for two Sunday morning "Faith" programs carried throughout Surrey and Sussex Counties. (See "Our New Edition" on June 10, 2013.)

4. Two new exhibits have been established and promoted at the Visitors' Centre -- We Follow Christ, and a display of the First European Edition of The Book of Mormon, published in Liverpool in 1841. (See "Introducing" on Jan. 29, 2013 and "Our New Edition" on June 10, 2013.)

5. Two new bus routes to the London Temple have been established with connections from East Grinstead, Crawley, and Gatwick Airport.  New bus schedules have been published that include color advertisements inviting people to come to the Visitors' Centre.

6. Town maps have been erected at 15 high-pedestrian locations in East Grinstead, Forest Row, and Lingfield, with a Visitors' Centre advertisement showing its location - along with other community points of interest.  (See "Spreading the Word" on Apr. 4, 2013.)

7. Missionaries have increased the number of teaching appointments and the number of investigators brought to the Visitors' Centre for lessons taught by our sister missionaries. They feel a peaceful, powerful spirit on the temple grounds, which helps them to make and keep baptismal commitments. The number and percentage of nonmembers coming to the Centre has grown.

8. Our sister missionaries have increased their on-line teaching hours, focusing on email teaching and the use of Chat, Facebook, and missionary blogs.  During the past six months, computer-aided teaching has led to baptisms in Canada, California, Texas, Georgia, New Hampshire, South Africa, Haiti, and London. (See "Chat" on Apr. 8, 2013.)

9. The Visitors' Centre sponsors successful Why I Believe and ELSM firesides every other Sunday evening. Monday night family programs for members and friends have been added, including several Family History workshops conducted by directors of the Reading Stake Family History Centre. (See "Firesides and Activities" on Feb. 17, 2013.)

Our Family History experts:  Christine & Alan Johnson

President Anatsui, Wandsworth Stake, speaking at "Why I Believe"

Elder & Sister Morris (New Zealand) with Pres. & Sister Anatsui (Ghana)

10. By invitation, we continue to speak 2-3 times each month in Sacrament meetings and firesides in the wards and branches of the temple district. We speak on gospel topics, but always invite members to bring nonmember friends and family to the Visitors' Centre.

Elder Carpenter at the Crawley Stake Centre

We have learned that missionary work is never finished.  When we are released, other directors will move in and take the London Temple Visitors' Centre in new directions.  We have worked hard, but there is always so much more to be done.

No matter what we do to spread the "good news" of the gospel and enhance the image of the Church, we've  found that many people remain uninterested in God or religion -- their own or any other.  Secularism and atheism, meanwhile, continue to rise throughout Europe.  We remain undeterred, because we know how badly the world needs the truths of the restored gospel and the happiness that is found in living true principles.

Two weeks ago we attended a concert in Brighton by a group presenting the music of "The Carpenters."  We loved it!  With respect to this mission, we feel like joining Karen Carpenter in singing We've Only Just Begun.                                                                                                            ~ Don~

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