Elder Preston Ferrell finished his mission and arrived home with his parents about a month ago. For those who might be contemplating traveling to Prague and picking up their missionary, I thought that we would express the positives for doing so.
Before leaving the U.S. to pick up our son, we were given the time of 9:30 that we would be expected to arrive at the mission office. We flew into Frankfurt, Germany, rented a car, and drove to Prague after spending our first night in Nuremberg. We arrived in Prague about noon and settled into our hotel about a half mile away from the mission office. We spent the rest of the day sightseeing. We saw a couple of Elders who were out talking to people but didn't want to distract them or bother them from what they were doing. We hoped we might run into our son on the streets but that was not to be the case.
The next morning we overslept a little bit trying to acclimate to our new time. We walked to what we thought was the mission office but turned out to be the Presidents flat and the church in Prague. We got the President's son to let us in and he told us to walk across the street to the mission offices. So we arrived about 5 or 10 minutes after our anticipated time. We pressed the buzzer and the mission secretary asked who we were and were buzzed in. We walked up a flight of stairs and at the end of a hall was Sister McConkey awaiting us. Elder Ferrell's sister and mother got to him first and gave him a short hug. Then Elder Ferrell's father, being the last one up the stairs, shook Sister McConkie's hand. She held out her hand and motioned him to Elder Ferrell. He walked down the hall and into the office and hugged his son for the first time in 25 months and wouldn't let go. After a couple of emotional minutes, he let go. Upon looking around, he noticed that there were no dry eyes in the mission offices. The president said, "now, that's a reunion." We were ushered into the private office of the president and sat down. Sister McConkie told us that when Elder Ferrell first arrived in Prague she knew he was going to be special because there was no one to meet him at the airport terminal. He simple sat down and waited for about an hour. Then, deciding that he couldn't spend his entire mission in the airport, set out looking for them. When they finally united, he wasn't flustered but found it amusing. President McConkie told us that the two things that he will remember Elder Ferrell for was his Slovak language ability and the love he has for the people in Slovakia and the love they have for him. It was a touching and emotional few minutes that we spent with them. After about 30 minutes we left and went back to our hotel to pack up the car.
We left Prague later that afternoon and drove to Salzburg, Austria where we spent about a day. We went to a marionette performance of the Sound of Music that night and went to Werfen Castle. This castle was used in the filming of the Sound of Music as well as Where Eagle's dare.
We then drove through Slovenia on our way to Croatia. The next day was Sunday and we attended church in the Osijek branch, less that an hour from where Elder Ferrell's great grandparents had lived before immigrating to America. This was a wonderful experience. We spent an hour or two talking to the 6 missionaries in this branch after church. Then we went to the small town where Elder Ferrell's relatives had once lived. It was extremely small and we found no remnants of their family.
The next day we drove to Budapest Hungary. We spent the day sightseeing. The next day we took a train to Bratislava, Slovakia, a city where Elder Ferrell had served for 6 months. He wanted to look up a struggling member so we took some trams and went to where the member worked. We had a very nice time meeting her and Elder Ferrell spoke to her in Slovak. We then met the missionaries serving in that city at the church building, a beautiful building that had only been moved into a few months earlier. We met with all the missionaries and had a nice time talking to the senior couple working in that city. The Elders and sisters were extraordinary and seemed genuinely happy and eager to serve. We took the train back to Budapest, Hungary and prepared to leave the next day.
We then drove to Kosice, Slovakia. This was about a 7 hour drive and we arrived there in the late afternoon. President Van Dalen met us at the church and gave us an informative and fascinating tour of the city. This might be the most beautiful city I have ever visited. The city center has a wonderful town square with lights and water shows continually. I could have just stayed there all day.
Upon leaving Kosice, we drove to Oswiecim, Poland. This is where Auschwitz and Birkenau are located. While this tour was fascinating, it was difficult to go to knowing that at least a million and a half people were murdered there by the Nazis. We left the next day and drove back to Slovakia through the Orave district. This was a beautiful drive and we looked for cemetaries to go through that might have some names of other relatives of Elder Ferrell. We found several that were probably related. We took pictures of the headstones in order to do geneology. We then drove to Zilina, Elder Ferrell's last area. He served there for almost a year and as Branch President' for almost the last 9 months.
It was hard to watch the farewell between Elder Ferrell and the members. There were several who came for the first time just to say goodbye to Elder Ferrell. Emotions ran deep as a middle aged man approached us, pointed at Elder Ferrell and said in broken English, "like an angel" President McConkie warned us that we were going to be overwhelmed by the love that the members in Zilina had for Elder Ferrell. And we were.
Elder Ferrell stood to bear testimony at the end of the meeting. He said (in Slovak) that whatever he said, his parents would not understand one word. At that moment, Sis Seidlova stood and said, "oh yes they will" She then came and sat in between us, where Elder Ferrell had been sitting and translated his testimony. This was a wonderful gesture and we enjoyed it immensely. That night we went over to the Seidle's for dinner which was wonderful and I think we were adopted into their family. I know that they were adopted into ours.
The next morning we left early for Frankfurt. We drove through Prague, stopping just long enough to eat lunch, a traditional Czech meal, and pick up two suitcases we had left of Elder Ferrell's, due to lack of room in the car. We arrived in Frankfurt just in time to check in to the temple patron house, eat lunch with our niece who had driven up from an air force base that her family was stationed at, and go to bed. The next morning we attended the temple with members of Slovakia who had traveled over to have one last temple excursion at the temple before it is closed for renovation for the next two years. It was so touching to see our son go through the temple with several members he had served with for the last two years. When saying goodbye to President Van Dalen, they gave each other a big hug. and Elder Ferrell said, "President, thanks for everything, I have learned so much from you." President Van Dalen then said, President Ferrell, I have learned from you as well. I hope we see each other again." Saying goodbye to the Seidles was also extremely hard. We left for the airport and flew to Toronto, then the next day, to Phoenix.
Elder Ferrell was released later that day and the following Sunday reported to the high council early in the morning, at one ward in our stake at 9:00, and at his home ward at 1:00. His talks were about charity, something he learned a tremendous amount about on his mission. We are still hearing praises over his talk. Just a week after arriving home, Preston left for Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming to see family friends and missionary acquaintances. I think the reason for going up there most of all was about seeing the missionary acquaintances. He stayed with the Wrightsons, a senior couple who served as branch president in Zilina and who are from Idaho Falls. He spent time with many old missionary companions, and with Sister Johnson, a sister he began his mission with in Kosice. He then met up with his brother, Richard and his family, and is presently traveling to Alaska.
For anyone getting this far in this post, might I say that this trip was perhaps the best we have ever taken. We have traveled to many places in the world, Asia, South America, Europe, and Africa. This trip, while tiring, was spectacular in the things we saw, places, we visited, and wonderful people we met. It was so extraordinary that we are trying to prepare ourselves, to serve a mission, hopefully in central Europe, as we continue our endeavors of finding more relatives, doing geneology and strengthening the wards and branches where needed. Sis Ferrell, Elder Ferrell, family and friends are looking forward to return to that part of the world in about 6 months. They can hardly wait.