For three years now, Randy Vest experienced this setting every six weeks.
A couple hundred eager young men and women gather in a parking lot outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Walnut Street. Some just learned their first mission partner; many others are waiting to learn who their new partner will be and where they will be transferred.
After he announces the pairings involving new Mormon missionaries, Vest and his wife Kristine inevitably have many hugs to share with the transferring missionaries.
Thursday morning marked the last such time for that scene. Vest has served as the local mission president for the past three years, the customary service time for that position in the LDS Church. He and Kristine will return to their ranch east of Dallas, where he had been a retired financial executive and serving in the Dallas Temple Presidency when the church's First Presidency asked him to serve in Independence.
Vest said that in addition to Kansas City barbecue, he will mostly miss the people of Independence and the metro area – inside and outside the church.
“It's been wonderful,” he said, “Very hospitable and kind.”
To coordinate the transfers, Vest and two assistants begin the process a week before, with all missionaries' names on a large board – about 200 of them. Some pairings stay the same, and changes are made based on interviews, letters from the elders and sisters and figuring out which personalities would work well together.
Call it part science, part spiritually guided gut instinct.
“I make it a matter of prayer, and I make changes based on that feeling,” Vest said.
Vest called the missionaries to be transferred on Tuesday and they gathered in the parking lot Thursday and waited for a van that had all the new pairings listed on sheets of paper taped to the outside.
It doesn't exactly bring back memories of Vest's own mission, from 1968 into 1971 in Japan.
“We would go get on a train, and we traveled to the next city,” he said. “They (the new mission partner) would be waiting at the station.”
In addition to pairing up missionaries and seeing them off, Vest also welcomed 13 elders and sisters who have finished their two-year Mormon mission. They have a spiritual meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahman, a famous Mormon plot of land north Gallatin near the Grand River, some counseling on employment or education options, a barbecue dinner and then a morning visit to the Kansas City Temple in the Northland before heading home.
The Vests will be replaced by a couple from Ogden, Utah.