Have you ever had a song stuck in your head for days and as much as you have tried, you just can't quit singing it???? Sometimes it drives me nuts but this past week, I have repeated the words to a melancholy tune whose first line is 'so this is Christmas'. I am not certain why those words are whirling around in my mind but I have just 'gone with it' and enjoyed the tune in my head. Here in the Philippines, many of the Christmas songs sound like Polka music from the US. I heard it from the Tuguegarao Zone Leaders apartment a couple of weeks ago as we were moving them in and asked them about the Polka music-they laughed and told me it was a popular Christmas song. Wow...it is amazing to me how we relate our memories to music-this past month we have done nine Christmas Devotional's in nine different parts of the mission involving missionaries from all nine areas and it has been so great. Last year we focused on the birth of our Savior and the events in Bethlehem and this year, we introduced the audience to the events in the America's during that same time. Upon finishing one performance, an audience member came up and asked if we could do an encore performance the next weekend. Some of these precious people were in such awe-most have never seen a live performance like this before especially one using a violin and costumes. It was last year and again this year a highlight for me...I really could feel the spirit of the season as we shared our time and talents with the members and their friends. I will miss this experience and remember it with such fond warmth....'so this is Christmas'...yes it was!
The Friday before Christmas one sweet sister in our Mallig branch had a long awaited dream come true. She married a little later in life and being a member for many years, wanted a righteous man for her companion. She married Orlando last February in a nice civil ceremony in Cabatuan [where we live] and then promptly moved to his home in Mallig [where we serve and spend most of our time]. At the time of their marriage, he was not a member of our church but he was tolerant of her beliefs and eventually decided to listen to the missionaries. Well, her deepest desires have been realized! Orlando was baptized on December 21st, and on the 23rd, he was given the Aaronic Priesthood after he was confirmed a member of the church. She now has a 'righteous priesthood holder' as her companion and she is thrilled! Growing up in Cabatuan, she was active in the church, has been to the temple and served to the best of her ability. Now, they have a goal to become an eternal family next year and what a blessing that will be for their little family.
|Orlando, Sionie, Elder Saragnaya and Elder Dagal at|
We decided to share our thoughts about family, traditions, the love of our Savior and the reason we celebrate the season with them and as they left church, we gave each an orange. To you, that might sound a little lame but a fresh orange is a delicacy to these people and something they would never purchase for themselves. When we brought the cases from the car, they were all thrilled. They are our family this year and we wanted them to feel the love WE have for them as well as the love of our Savior. The saying goes 'it is better to give than to receive' and last Sunday, we definitely felt that in our lives.
We have loved visiting the members in their homes. When our assignment was changed last summer to be full-time in the Mallig Branch, we were challenged by President Carlos to 'visit the members in their homes, read scripture and pray with them. It will change their lives.' I was skeptical. What could this old lady, visiting them and reading with them do to change their lives??? I have witnessed miracles by following the direction of my Mission President and the blessings I have received have far surpassed anything I could ever imagine. Last Monday [Christmas Eve Day] we decided to visit members, take them a treat, read scripture with them and leave them with a Christmas message. The entire visit was planned for under two minutes at each home, not a long visit, just a short 'remember why we are celebrating' visit. I made Amie Carlos' Pumpkin Dip [which turned out runny but it was still good] and bought styrofoam clam shells, loaded them with little cups of dip and cookies and off we went. We invited Ermhel to come with us. She is a convert of maybe six months with an amazing testimony of the Savior and GREAT English skills. She is a second year college student and her availability is good-we take her with us most evenings if we are visiting because #1. we love her and #2. she is willing to come with these old people and #3. she brings a great spirit to our visits as well as great English for interpretation. She has become a precious friend whom we love.
|Sister Agno is so thrilled to have a fresh orange for Christmas.|
|The children were so happy to have an orange|
We informed the missionaries of our plans, asking them if they had anyone they would like for us to visit for them. They must have either misunderstood our message or just wanted to be included but they gave up their 'P' day [precious to them] to come with us. I had brought out glittery Santa hats [luckily had 3] and I wore a silver boa to dress for the season. When we picked them up, they told us they had until 1:00 p.m. then they had another appointment. Well, they had such fun! It was easy to 'catch the fever' of the visiting and leaving a brief message and when 1:00 came, we offered to take them wherever they needed to go on our way to a remote area and they decided to continue with us-they didn't want to miss anything. We all had a great time and visited 20 families that day.
We finished our visiting mid-afternoon then went to the Mission home to spend the evening. Christmas Eve will always have special mission memories for us-serving the Lord and His wonderful saints in this part of His vineyard...such a treat and a blessing for us.
|Elder Saragnaya, Elder Dagal and and us with Sister Ponsoy and her daughter|
|This is the precious Domingo family-they were less-active for many years and have returned|
to full activity. He is in the Branch Presidency and recently baptized their youngest child, Jason.
|Elder Dagal's face says it all-serving is where it's at!!!|
Last weekend, before the Christmas festivities were in full swing, Sister Carlos decided to get the senior couples together to celebrate Elder Gottfredson's 75th birthday. He and his wife are from Salt Lake City where he was [and still is] an attorney to many of the General Authorities in our church. They are a great couple and we really enjoy serving with them.
After dinner, we all decided to play a game. The Mills are from Brighton and brought with them a card game that the Russell's actually taught us when they were here-it is called The Great Delmoody. I am not sure that is spelled right but you get the idea. It is a fun interactive game that involves a pecking order among the players. It is our desire to become 'The Great Delmoody' and when we do, we got to wear the king hat. The other players each wore a silly hat and that particular hat stayed with that position at the table. We enjoyed the evening and it was interesting to note that Elder Gottfredson wore the crown most of the game! Must have been birthday luck...
We have enjoyed this 'senior team' and the interactions we have had. Each of us bring something different to the table and we think that between the 12 of us, we can do anything! They are a joy to serve with and we are so pleased to be able to rub shoulders with and work beside such great seniors.
I told you about Sister Ramos...the sister at the beginning of this post who now has a husband who has joined the church. She was born and raised in Cabatuan [where we live] and currently lives with her husband in Mallig [where we serve and work every day]. We told her that if she ever wanted a free ride 'home' for a weekend or anything, to just let us know. We travel that road almost everyday and are very willing to have them ride with us. When she was small, she contracted polio and has one leg that is very weak with the foot turned under, a little like a club foot, so walking is difficult. Public transportation here is hard at best and if we can save her that time and money, we are very willing. We brought them home on Sunday after church for the Christmas holiday and yesterday, we told them we could take them back to Mallig. They were attending the Christmas party at the church here in Cabatuan so they brought their 'luggage' and put it in the back of our truck. Our plan was to take them home then to continue on to Tuguegarao to do some errands. We had planned to take a clothes rack to a set of Elders in Tuguegarao and when Elder Shaner was loading it, I heard him scream! In the back of the truck, in a blue plastic bag, was a LIVE CHICKEN!!! That was a Christmas present to Sister Ramos from her father and she was just taking it home-we had NO idea it was in the back of the truck and it startled my poor man. I laughed-only in the Philippines, right?
Now I am here to tell you that before coming on this mission, I ate at McDonald's only under duress...it is NOT my fast food choice EVER! If I had grandkids and they wanted to go there to play, I would take them but NEVER eat there...that said, our favorite place to eat here in the Philippines is MCDONALDS!!!!!!! It must, somewhere in the recesses of our minds, remind us a little of home. Last night, we shopped at a local store in a nearby town and because we hadn't had supper, decided to go to McDO [that is what the missionaries call it]. We do love their fried chicken and chose that for our supper. I was waiting for Elder to wash up and looked over to see this clever Christmas Tree that was in their lobby! I told you these people are clever!!
It is planting time again. We have dreaded this day because we realize it is our last time to full-cycle with rice. We will see this crop planted, fertilized, grow then harvested. That is the cycle of life here in the Philippines...they plant, they fertilize, it grows then they harvest. The next planting will happen just before we leave to return to our home but we will not see another full cycle...
|Sister Gottfredson and Elder Shaner|
|Elder Gottfredson with his crown...what a King he is!!|
|Our team-The Lakers, us, the Kiholms, the Mills and the Gottfredsons. The Carlos|
were SkyPe-ing with their kids for Christmas when we took this picture.
|Chicken to go...|
|Christmas Tree made of french fry containers and strung with lights and bows.|
Our work here has been planting seeds of truth, fertilizing those seeds with teaching, praying, reading scriptures, Family Home Evenings, and church attendance for the new members or newly returned inactives, then watching them grow in the gospel as they learn of their Heavenly Father, His son Jesus Christ and Their companion, the Holy Ghost. They learn of the influence those three can and will have on their testimonies, their lives, their families and their eternal salvation. Then we hope they will continue the cycle as they, in turn, will plant, fertilize and continue to strengthen those whom they will teach and as they harvest, the legacy will go on. I do not expect these people to remember me...they will go on with their lives and remembering ME is not important...but when we return to our families, I hope they will remember the love we have for them and they will share that love with others so the cycle will continue.
|Planting for our last full cycle of growing rice...a sad day...|