Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Thunder Down Under

This coming week is Transfer Week. I have a love/hate relationship with Transfer Week. It's really fun to see the new Golden missionaries arrive from the MTC with a look of excitement, high hopes (and jet lag) on their faces, but it's brutal to say goodbye to others. Truly, one of the hardest things about serving as a senior missionary is saying goodbye to amazing and incredible young missionaries when the time comes for them to return to their homes.

Here are some of the amazing missionaries we will say goodbye to this week:

As office staff, we get to know many of the missionaries very well ... and it's hard to see them go. To most of you looking at this blog, they are just a bunch of ordinary Mormon missionaries, not a lot different than the thousands of other missionaries serving around the world. But to us, they are far from ordinary, they are extra-ordinary, and each and every one of them is a story of growth, and successes, and overcoming hardships and challenges, and friendships, and miracles. In a way each of them IS a miracle.

I'm not sure how to put into words what these young, energetic and spiritual young men and young women mean to us. The closest explanation I can offer would be to compare it to how I feel about my own adult children, who are my best friends, and who I miss like crazy!

One of the departing missionaries who I love dearly is Elder Oscar John Francis Rizardo Olan, from the Philippines. (Yes, that's his name!) Elder Olan (far left) is one of the kindest, most loving missionaries I have ever met. Most recently, he has been serving, along with Elder Walbeck, as an Assistant to President Vidmar, which meant that Sister Gray and I were able to associate with and get to know him and a little more than usual. (The Assistants also live right next door to us in Bayswater, which provided other opportunities to rub shoulders with them.)

Elder Olan is an amazing teacher and leader and I have learned a lot from his humble example and testimony. He will be a true blessing to his family and others back home in the Philippines. I get emotional just thinking about saying goodbye to Elder Olan and several other amazing missionaries who are going home in this transfer. I'm not sure if I'll ever get to see Elder Olan again. Hopefully, so.

There's another reason I'll miss Elder Olan: He is an incredible ping pong player! Being a tennis player, I have played a little ping pong myself over the years and Elder Olan proved to be a more-than-able opponent! There just happens to be a ping pong table at the Mission Home and a couple of times a month on P-Day, Elder Olan and I would meet there to see who would be the victor that day. We had some epic battles! It seemed that some days he was just too tough to beat, yet on others, I was able to squeak out a win or two. It was always back and forth and neither of us could claim superiority over the other.

Last P-Day was to be our final battle, winner take all, Mission bragging rights for ever and ever. President Vidmar called it "The Thunder Down Under" and created an "official" scoreboard complete with quotes from ping pong "experts" around the world, to track the wins and losses. (Zoom in on the photo to read the quotes!) The champion would be crowned based on whoever could win the best of 11 games (or first one to 6). The infamous Howard Cosell (aka P-Viddy) even made an appearance from the grave to interview the contestants. The Final Contest was on!

Elder Olan came out swinging with incredibly aggressive play and quickly went up 1-0. I came back with a tight win to even things up at 1 all. Then Elder Olan got serious and whooped me 11 to 4 in game 3 to take a 2-1 lead. I settled down and played a little smarter and evened the score at 2 games apiece. But then Elder Olan went on a tear, winning two straight games for a commanding 4-2 lead.

I picked up the next game, but Elder Olan came right back with another victory to make the overall score 5-3 in favor of Elder Olan. He only needed one more win to be crowned the champion. It was not looking good for me.

That was when Howard "Tell It Like It Is" Cosell entered the picture. He interviewed a humble Elder Olan first, who admitted he knew it wasn't over yet. (I wasn't so sure.) But it was when Cosell/P-Viddy asked me how I could possibly come back from a 5-3 deficit, that I found my advantage: age! I told Cosell that while my skilled opponent had youth and good looks, he lacked the wisdom that only comes with age. The Intimidation Factor was in play and game 9 began.

I don't remember the exact score in the next two games, but I do remember getting down 8-3 or something like that. I thought I was toast. But somehow I inched my way back into those two games and eventually won them both, tying up the score 5 all. Next game wins it all.

And what a final game it was! It was no surprise when we suddenly found ourselves tied at 10 points each. (For those who don't know the proper scoring in table tennis, games are played to 11 with players alternating serve every two points. At 10 all, the serve alternates back and forth between the players after every point. And you have to win by two.)

So, there we were, 5 all in games and 10 all in point in the final game. One thing is for sure, it could easily have gone either way, but on this day age and wisdom won over youth and beauty. (Truth be told, I got really lucky!)

It's a memory Elder Olan and I will treasure forever. See ya around, Elder Oscar John Francis Rizardo Olan. You will be missed.

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