Havre, MT: July – Nov. 2001

When I was transferred from Plains to Havre, I had a sneaking suspicion it would be my last mission area. I only had four and half months left. That’s only three transfers. Havre is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and our area covered a lot of miles. We served primarily in Havre and Chinook (shown on the map), but we also covered the Rocky Boy and Fort Belknap reservations and the area between Big Sandy in the west and Hays in the east. It would take more than 2 and half hours to drive from one end to the other.

I was excited about serving in Havre. I had actually been there before. Remember when I said that there was a hiccup with a transfer when I was in Great Falls and that I didn’t have a mission companion for a while? As a missionary, you always have a companion, so I was sent to serve with the sisters in Havre, about two hours north of Great Falls. We actually split our time between Havre and Great Falls. Here we are somewhere in the middle, near Fort Benton.

The sisters in Havre were working with a couple where the husband was a border control officer. We decided to go visit him one preparation day afternoon near the border of Montana and Canada. One of the mission rules is that you can’t leave your area and you also can’t really leave the country because we didn’t have any other documents to get back in. But we got as close as we could because we were rebels.

During my short few days in Havre, I met some of the awesome people that lived there. The awesomest of which was Nanny.

Another favorite family was the Johnsons. They lived in Chinook, and Brother Johnson was the branch mission leader. He used to take us out on visits to the far reaches of the area. One time, we saw the northern lights.

When I went back to Havre, my mission companion was Sister Khisghee from Mongolia. She had only been in the country for three months, I think, so she was still studying English. We had so much fun together, and she taught me how to make all sorts of delicious Mongolian food. Sometimes on our preparation day, we would drive out to the Bear Paw Mountains.

And one night, we actually went to the county fair. Here is probably the worst outfit I had on my mission.

I don’t know where I got that wretched denim shirt, but let’s just say that our shopping options were limited. I guess I felt like the red, white, and blue was appropriate. You know, I learned as a missionary that you can do a lot of things in a dress, but I discovered that night that there is one thing you probably should not do and that is go on carnival rides that spin you upside down. It’s really hard to hold onto the safety bar and make sure your skirt doesn’t ride up too high at the same time. Khisghee and I also went to the rodeo at the county fair.

I never thought I would find the plains of northcentral Montana as beautiful as I did, but I loved it! I loved looking out across the country as we would drive between Havre and Chinook and the surrounding area. The land surrounding Havre is surprisingly diverse, too. There is the green Bear Paw Mountain area and the farmlands with round bales of hay…

and then the badlands.

Khisghee and I served together for three months. For my last six weeks in Montana, I was assigned a new companion, Sister Stuart. One of my favorite memories with Sister Stuart was Halloween night. We couldn’t leave the apartment, so we spent the night making cookies and coming up with various costumes. One of which was a mummy using all of our toilet paper, but because we couldn’t afford to just throw out that toilet paper, we had to fold it all up again once we were done. I also remember making a snowman with her after the first snow. I wish I knew where those photos are. They must be downstairs in the storage area.

I left my mission on Thanksgiving Day 2001. During the last months of my mission, my mom was very sick and had to stay in the hospital. She’d had a few surgeries and no one really knew for sure what would happen. The last six weeks of my mission were the hardest. I was ready to go home. And for a few years after my mission, I had really mixed feelings about it. In fact, I told several people not to serve a mission because it was so hard. I’ve share the good times (and there were many) and the wonderful people (oh so many!), but there was also a lot of heartache and frustration. There was a lot of rejection, a lot of worrying that I wasn’t doing enough, a lot of struggles to communicate with my companion or with other people.

Now that it’s been 10 years, though, I mostly remember just the good things. And I even sometimes wish I could do it again. (Although, I probably wouldn’t follow any of the rules anymore. I guess that’s why you go when you’re 21 and not 33.) It really was wonderful to dedicate my time to studying the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to serving the people around me. I learned to truly love people (other than my family or close friends). I learned how to make small talk with a wide variety of people. I used to think small talk was a waste of time, but on my mission, I learned how important it is. It’s the first stage in learning about someone. It’s a way to put people at ease. It’s a way to let them know you care.

When I was trying to decide whether or not to serve a mission, a friend told me that I would never regret it if I did, even if I had a horrible experience and left after a few months, but I might always regret it if I didn’t go. He was right. I’m glad I have no regrets.

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Plains/Thompson Falls, MT: April – July 2001

Possibly the most beautiful area in which I served during my whole mission was Plains/Thompson Falls. Theses are actually two small towns in Northwestern Montana. We lived in Plains (officially known as Wild Horse Plains), but also covered the congregation in Thompson Falls, about 30 minutes northwest.

The A is Plains, and the B is Thompson Falls.

Have you ever been to Northwestern Montana? It’s basically heaven on earth. I know I might be biased, but I think there are many people who would agree. It probably helps that I was there over the summer, so it was perfect weather. I loved just being in Plains/Thompson Falls. It was gorgeous. When I first arrived, my companion was Sister Workman, and one of our friends in the area quipped that Armstrong and Workman sounded like a formidable companionship. We sounded tough.

Wait, did you see that backdrop? Yep, that’s what we got to look at every day. Those are the mountains we got to drive around in. That was the river we walked by and the cliffs we climbed.

And of course, there were wonderful people in Plains, too. Here are two of my very favorites, Craig and Polly.

Polly even celebrated my one-year mark with us by burning a bra in their backyard.

After six weeks, I got a new companion, Sister Stewart. She is one of my favorites. I even visited her in Canada many years ago.

One of my proudest moments was winning the cleanest truck award at zone conference. Look how shiny.

I always hoped to serve in Whitefish during my mission since my grandparents lived there, I had once lived there, and I grew up vacationing there every summer. For most of my mission, though, no missionaries were assigned to Whitefish, a small touristy town. Plains was the closest I got. We once had a zone conference in Polson, Montana, which was about a two hour drive from Plains. I got special permission to spend the night at my grandpa’s house, which was probably about the same distance away, to be honest. But it was so fun to show Stewart all my old haunts. And of course, spend time with my grandparents.

I did lots of tough stuff in Plains. First of all, we drove a truck. I know it was a mini truck, but still, that automatically made me feel tough. Then, I helped bale hay, and I even helped get fire wood.

During our drives, we often came across interesting signs.

After I took the picture with the trespassers sign, a man shouted from below, “Hey, you! What are you doing?!” I nervously called back, “Uh, hi, uh, I was just, uh, taking a picture with your sign…” And he responded, “Oh yeah, that. It’s pretty funny, huh?”

For the Fourth of July, we went to our very first rodeo and stayed up to watch the fireworks.

Soon after, Stewart and I were both transferred out of Plains and they closed the area to missionaries. We were shocked and sad to leave. It was such a beautiful place to live.

Great Falls, MT: January 2001 – April 2001

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:

1. History!

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.

3. Jen!

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.

4. Kids!

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.

Corvallis, MT: July 2000 – January 2001

I mentioned in another post that this month marks my 10 year anniversary of returning home from my mission. And that I had come across a few small photo albums with pictures from that period of my life. Since I obviously wasn’t blogging back then (in fact, back in the dark days of the early aughts, I barely even emailed), I thought it would be fun to share a few pictures and memories from each area in which I served as a missionary. Of course, I’m totally limited as to what photos I have on hand, so it won’t be all encompassing.(Yes, you can breathe a sigh of relief. 🙂 ) Mostly, just some of these photos are awesome and I want to share them.

When I first got to Montana straight from the Missionary Training Center, I was terrified that I’d have to go knock on doors the first day. Instead, I got to make an 8-hour road trip (yay!) to a tiny little town in Western Montana, just south of Missoula. (I made Mikey drive through it a few years back on our way up to Whitefish.)

We lived in the Corvallis Mobile Village, and I loved it! We got to know all of our neighbors. Here is a family that I really loved. I wish I could remember all of their names. I know the mom is Leah, and I think the daughter is Ashley and the son is Corey? Maybe?

(Just as a side note: be prepared for lots of jumpers. It was what all the sister missionaries wore back then. They were just so versatile! You could wear a variety of shirts under them and you could even wear sweaters over them.)

The daughter had another friend in the trailer park and they would always come over to visit us. One time, they brought some cookies they had made. Sister Bernhoft (Kimmie) and I bit into them and it was all we could do not to immediately spit it back out. “How much salt did you put in this?” I’m pretty sure they said something like, “1/4 cup.” At least, it tasted like that.

Here’s another family that I loved.

You’ll notice I’m wearing the same fashionable jumper and shirt. That’s because these pictures were taken on my last day in Corvallis, where, in between lots of crying, I made good-bye visits.

Another family I became really close to is the Fosters. They lived in a house that they built, and they had all sorts of Western paraphernalia. Sister Bernhoft and I wanted to take some photos at their house for the Christmas letter we were sending to friends and family back home. Here are some of my favorite photos from our little photo shoot.

For my 22nd birthday, the Fosters and another family threw me a surprise party. The best thing about serving a mission is getting to know and love so many people that you would otherwise never come into contact with.

The second best thing is learning about a different culture. I’ll confess that when I first got my mission call to Montana (missionaries don’t select where they serve, but are assigned by leaders in the Church), I was disappointed. I had always wanted to live in Europe and I had friends going to Belgium and Italy and Austria, along with other friends going to South America and Africa. And I wasn’t even changing time zones. But I was only disappointed for a few minutes because as I thought about it, it x`just felt right to me. I had always loved Montana, and it was on a visit there the year before that I felt strongly impressed that I should serve a mission. I guess the Lord knows what He’s doing. Even if it would have been awesome to live in another country for 18 months. But then, I wouldn’t have seen stuff like this:

And I wouldn’t have fallen in love with the American West, which ultimately led to majoring in American studies. Although I have some issues with American studies in general, I had some awesome experiences through it (i.e. studying abroad in Austria, going to Purdue and making some best friends for life… and I guess that’s probably it.)

Here’s a classic missionary picture.

I’m on a bike! We got bikes at the end of October, and neither Kimmie nor I had ridden a bike very much, so we used to get up extra early to ride our bikes around the trailer court so we could practice before going on the road.

So there’s a little glimpse at life in Corvallis. It just barely touches the surface of all the wonderful people and memories.

Mobile Monday 2

Pictures from the past week:

I tried to capture an amazing sunset on my way home from work. Sadly, I was going in the opposite direction.

We decorated some gingerbread houses on Tuesday. You should have seen Peter grabbing as much candy as he could, as fast as he could.

I was thrilled to find a little package from my dear friend Kris on my doorstep. Inside was this sweet necklace.

 

The missionaries came for dinner on Thursday, and I sneaked a picture while they shared a message. Having them over always reminds me of my days as Sister Armstrong. I loved dinner appointments. Not so much because of the food, but because of the families. It’s strange to see it from the family perspective now.

 

Saturday was an absolutely perfect day – 73-degrees and sunny. We took advantage by having a picnic in the park. It felt so strange to be picnicking while the house across the street sported Christmas decor.

And finally, a picture of adorable Lucy Hero. She turns 5 months this week.

 

(Please note Amanda’s bright pink nail polish. Mike took Peter and Penny to the mall so they could pick out a birthday present for their mom. He took them to Claire’s, thinking they could pick some sparkly earrings, but as soon as he saw the bright pink nail polish, he knew his mom must have it.)

a little nostalgic

I’ve been listening to Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner lately, and it has me yearning for Montana – for the West. But in particular, I keep thinking of a small town I served in during my mission, Chinook. We were actually living in Havre, but there was a branch of the church in Chinook, about 30 minutes away. All the blank space on this map will give you an idea of what it was like there.

As missionaries, this area was problematic because we were two hours away from any other missionaries and our area was so large that I don’t think I ever even saw all of the edges. We covered two Reservations and many, many small towns.

We would go to Chinook every other week for church and to visit families. In particular, there was one family there that I loved so much, the Johnsons. They lived on a farm even further away and would often invite us over. They had 8 kids (I think) who were so much fun to play with. One time they took us out to a huge pile of hay bales – the beautiful round kind that I loved so much. And we played tag while hopping from bale to bale. Here’s a picture of one of the girls. I’m so sad that I don’t remember her name anymore, and it’s strange to think that she would probably be in college now.

Here’s another photo from Chinook, including one of my mission companions, Sister Khisghee.

(Sorry about the poor quality of these photos. I had to take a picture of the photo since my scanner doesn’t work. Sadly, I only have these two photos with me. The rest of my mission photos (and too many other souvenirs) are packed in a huge plastic container and stored in Utah.)

As someone who lived in Western Montana and visited there every summer growing up, I had a huge bias for that part of Montana. It’s the greener, more mountainous part of Montana and I think it’s possibly one of the most beautiful places in the world. I was also a Utah girl, accustomed to mountains all around me. I didn’t think I would like the flat plains of Central Montana, but I did. Khishgee (and I) are standing on one of tallest hills in the area and you can see the vantage point. I think I could see into Canada from there. I had the whole world around me. Cooped up in the city, in the humid air that just hangs here, the openness and crispness of my memories of Montana appeal to me.

One in a Million

NY Times, Mormon Missionary

I just found out about the NY Times feature One in a Million, and I spent at least an hour yesterday going through many of the stories. I felt somehow validated for them to feature a Mormon missionary serving in Chinatown. While her story is different from my own (certainly the sparsely populated towns of Montana are nothing like New York City), they share many similarities. My mission seems a long time ago for me now, but there are certain smells or an indistinguishable feeling in the air that bring Montana and being a missionary immediately close to me. As I mentioned in my last post, it’s been almost 8 years, but there are still people that I think about almost every day.