I knew the transfer call was coming. You see, as missionaries, transfer calls came every six weeks. This meant that you could conceivably move every 6 weeks, but typically you stayed in an area for anywhere between 3 months to 6 months. Since I had been in Corvallis for 6 months, the odds were against me. Transfer days were always exciting. We would always stay up the night before and make predictions about who was going where, and then after the calls came in, all the sisters would call around to each other and find out all the news. In early January of 2001, I got my first transfer call from tiny Corvallis to the big city – Great Falls!
Ok, so Great Falls isn’t the biggest city in Montana, but it’s the third biggest city. And ok, so Great Falls, in comparison to other cities, isn’t even that big. But after one flashing red light on the main highway, the one way streets and multiple food and shopping options of Great Falls made it seem huge. And I had a new mission companion, Taryn Kartchner. Yay!
Please note that it is January in Montana and therefore must have been freezing cold, but we don’t have coats on because we are tough like that. In Montana, you wear short sleeves at 35 degrees Fahrenheit because it was balmy. I met up with Kartch at the mission home in Billings and then we drove to Great Falls.
Here are a few great things about Great Falls:
Lewis and Clark went through Great Falls, and Charlie M. Russell painted and sculpted in there. I can’t believe I never went to the Charlie M. Russell Museum when I was there. It’s on the top of my list of places to see whenever I return.
2. Other missionaries!
Montana is a huge state, and the Great Montana Billings Mission covered the whole state, plus about a third of Wyoming. So spread out 180 missionaries (give or take) and for most of my mission, I never served around other missionaries. When I was in Corvallis, there were some elders nearby in Hamilton and Stevensville, but we rarely ever saw them. In Great Falls, we shared the city with six other elders, plus elders in Lewistown. We would even get together on our preparation days and go bowling, play games, or sometimes go out to lunch. We had our ups and downs with the elders (most of the time they just played basketball, so we were left out), but it was nice to have other missionaries close by to hang out with.
Jen was a member of the church that lived nearby, and she was (well, still is) awesome! She was always willing to give us rides and help out, but mostly, she was just fun to have around. And sometimes she’d surprise us with great presents.
As a missionary, we were supposed to provide around four hours of community service per week. In Great Falls, we volunteered a few hours each week in a first grade class. This was my favorite volunteer experience (although the soup kitchen and food bank in Havre was pretty great, too). These kids, though, were so great, and it was always so rewarding to see them make progress.
5. Big John!
Honestly, I have no idea what this statue is or what it’s for, but we always just called it Big John. There’s a similar one in New Orleans that always reminded me of Great Falls.
I celebrated my “hump day” (or half-way point) in Montana by burning a slip. It’s tradition. (The bra burning came at the year mark, so you’ve got that to look forward to.)
Kartch and I only served together for 3 months. Then there was a little mix up with companionships and I found myself without a mission companion, so I was bundled off to the Havre sisters. We split our time between Great Falls and Havre for about 10 days (pics to come in the Havre post). Finally, Sister Bird transferred to Montana from the Florida Tampa Mission.
We served together for about 4 weeks. One of my favorite experiences while serving with Sister Bird was a mission conference. We all got to meet up in Helena to hear one of the general authorities of the church speak. But the best part is that it meant that I got to stay at Sister Bernhoft’s apartment and meet her new mission companion from Mongolia, Sister Myagmarsuren (Miigaa). She taught us an awesome Mongolian game. It was similar to marbles, but you play it with sheep bones (from what I remember).
During the mission conference, my mission president asked me how I felt about staying in Great Falls for the next transfer. I told him that I wouldn’t mind leaving. Sure enough, I got transferred a week later. But that’s for the next entry.