Wednesday, December 26, 2012

So this is Christmas...

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. 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
Orlando's baptism.
Last Sunday Elder Shaner and I asked if we could talk in church. We have seen many times when the speakers have not centered their talks on doctrine and the Sunday before Christmas, we felt it was important for the members to hear about our Savior, his mission, his plan, etc. One thing that Elder Shaner and I have in common has been a childhood memory that we both cherish. Neither of us were raised in opulence and sometimes, the Christmas stockings were a little bare BUT we could always count on a fresh orange in our stocking. We love oranges and have passed that tradition on to our children and grandchildren. To us, a fresh orange represents

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. 
Sister Agno is so thrilled to have a fresh orange for Christmas.
The children were so happy to have an orange

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.

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.
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!!!
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.

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...

The Mills

Sister Gottfredson and Elder Shaner

Elder Gottfredson with his crown...what a King he is!!
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.

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.
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?

Chicken to go...
Now I am here to tell you that before coming on this mission, I ate at McDonald's only under 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!!

Christmas Tree made of french fry containers and strung with lights and bows.
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...

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...

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Devotionals, moving, parties and light...

December is upon us....oh, wait! It is SIX DAYS UNTIL CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!!  Where has this month gone? 

Our lives here are SO busy and we love it! Both of us remarked last week how we fall into bed at night exhausted and sleep like logs...him until the sun is well up and me, until the roosters start singing around 4-5:00. Funny our previous life, our sleep patterns were completely flipped! One blessing of serving the Lord, you consecrate your every minute and He fills it with great blessings!

December in the Philippines is the last of the 'ber' months but the Filipinos come out in full force for the smash-up finale. There is music coming from most homes and people everywhere are wishing each other 'malagayang pasko'. Christmas is the time for celebrating the birth of our Savior and this past month, our mission has done exactly that. Sister Carlos wrote and is directing a 'devotional' where the missionaries participate in costume, music and the spoken word to bring to the audience the message of the birth of our Savior. Last year we focused on Christmas in the Holy Land and this year, our title is Christmas in Zarahemla. It has been so well received and attended. We have performed six times [on Friday evenings, Saturday afternoon/evening and on Sunday afternoons] and we have two more scheduled for this weekend. I have been so happy with the number of people who have come and enjoyed the work the missionaries have put into this performance for them. It has really blessed MY life and has helped me feel the spirit of the season.

As you can see by Elder Coleman and Elder James, not all angels are female! They were good sports and did a great job!

One of our main responsibilities for the mission is the apartments and this past two months, it has been a busy assignment. We have relocated five sets of missionaries and each has been a blessing to the members and the missionaries alike. Our assignment to Mallig is a huge blessing to us-we LOVE that little branch however, we love being involved with the missionaries also and feel this apartment gig is a great way for us to stay connected with God's Army.
Elder Robertson and Elder Coleman recently moved to
 Aritao [the MOST gorgeous area in the mission!] to join
Elder Golightly and Elder Rivera.

Elder Rivera in the picture above is a brand new Elder [as of last week] and is being trained by Elder Golightly. When we visited him, I asked him 'how is your English, Elder?' and his response? 'It's going to get a lot better Sister!' We both laughed-he admitted that he likes to just 'sit and listen'. This will be a huge blessing for him indeed!

Elder Coleman and Elder Golightly unloading
a desk.
Nueva Vizcaya is the most gorgeous area in our mission. Elder Shaner and I had to laugh after we unloaded the truck when we took Elder Coleman and Elder Robertson to a nearby city to use their language skills as we ordered bed frames for them. When they arrived in Aritao the night before, it was pitch dark and they rode in on a jeepney. They had only seen their street that morning and when  we took them out on the highway, it was like Christmas morning for us. 'Oh look!' 'AAHHHH' 'Can you see that?' 'LOOK AT THAT ELDER!!!' We sat up front and grinned, remembering those same statements uttered by US 18 months ago! We are so fortunate that this country is so beautiful-it helps us accept the heat, the humidity, the noise, the smells, the crowded living conditions, etc. 

A few days before we helped the Elders in Aritao, we assisted the Zone Leaders in Tuguegaro finally move into their new home. It is lovely, located in a great area that is safe, quiet and we know they will be very comfortable in their new 'digs'.

Elder Lasay and Elder Nay loading their fridge.


A little reward for a job well done!
President and Sister Carlos love their missionaries. They are mission parents to 180 wonderful young people-they both treat them like they are their own precious family and I know at this time of year, that helps ease the homesickness that often plagues the Elders and Sisters. President and Sister are also 'party' people. They love to entertain and have fun. President is a 'closet gourmet chef' and is probably the ONLY Mission President in the church who regularly cooks for his missionaries. He is a wonderful cook and enjoys serving them in this way. 

Yesterday and tomorrow are the two Christmas Party/Devotionals for the missionaries. Half of the mission came yesterday and the other half will be coming tomorrow. They all brought a gift for the gift exchange, played games, sang songs, and each Zone gave a 'presentation'. This year, Sister Carlos thought it would be a great experience for the missionaries to do a CSP. That is short for Community Service Project. The Elders/Sisters were divided into four groups and they all went to different places to carol and cheer the residents...Elder Huffstutler took his group to the jail and Elder Needs, Sister Carlos and I went to three area hospitals. We caroled and walked the halls, greeting the people and trying to spread a little Christmas cheer. Getting there was the trick! One group walked and the rest of us took 'public transportation'.

The one game that was so fun was a brainchild of our dear Sister Carlos-she had items in a bag and divided the missionaries into eight groups. Each bag contained supplies that they were to use to turn one of their fellow Elders/Sisters into Rudolph! It was hilarious!

Elder Dixon as Rudolph

Elder Nay

One Zone [with a Samoan member] did a native dance

Returning from our caroling activity.WE had a snazzy jeepney!

Some tables were decorated in red..

and some in white
While we were in Nueva Vizcaya, we went to our favorite restaurant in Solano and had a quick picture taken...

We feel so blessed every day to be part of this work here in the Philippines. The rescue effort is sometimes frustrating as we try to find and help to kindle in the hearts of the less-active, offended, or no longer interested members of our church the remembrance of the light they once felt at their own baptism. Sometimes, our efforts are successful and we rejoice with those families. Last Saturday, two precious children were baptized, both from families we have tried to help in their efforts to return to church. In one family, the father was actually able to baptize his son and in the other, the father is just not ready yet to come back so he was baptized by another worthy priesthood holder. We were so thrilled for these families.

This precious family is 'back' and we are so happy for them.
This mama is doing the right thing and bringing her precious daughters back to the fold.
The Light of Christ feels different for each of us. For me, it is a warm, 'cozy' feeling in my soul that tells me I am doing right.  Our goal here as full-time missionaries is to assist our dear brothers and sisters in the Philippines to rekindle that light in their lives. Some have wandered away and have NO recollection of ever feeling that comfort...some have a distinct memory that is far in the recesses of their minds, some have a desire, others do not. Free agency is the key-if they have a desire to come back and accept that light in their lives, we only awaken that feeling in them as we visit them in their homes, have prayer with them and read scriptures. Our job is not to teach, it is to bring to them a remembrance of the feelings of light that they once had but now have forgotten. At this time of year, it is especially important for us to assist the Lord in reminding them and it seems a little easier-people are more receptive, more willing to allow us in and more touched by the spirit of the season. Each of us can be a light in the darkness for someone who is reaching out for a hand. Like this tree...the light in the darkness brings beauty to all who will take the time to stop and look. Let us each be a beacon for the Lord, helping Him to accomplish His work.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's That Time of Year....

It's that time of year, when the world falls in love....I love that song and I LOVE the holiday season. Being in the Philippines is such a stitch!!!  The Filipino people LOVE to party and they LOVE to decorate and they LOVE to blare their Christmas music from their homes at all hours of the day and night-it would be hard not to feel festive living here. 

Last year President Carlos was feeling like the members and investigators needed a 'boost' to help them remember the reason for the season and so he planted that idea in the head of his brilliant wife and VOILA!!! The Philippines Cauayan Mission Christmas Devotional was born. Now I have told you in the past about this creative and energetic woman...give her an idea and it becomes a mission for her-to create the most amazing, entertaining and spiritually stirring presentation these people have probably ever seen. Our Christmas Devotional last year was centered around the birth and life of our Savior and reflected the happenings in the Holy Land at that time. Everyone loved it and so this year, she outdid herself with a new and exciting program featuring the happenings on the American continent before and shortly after the birth of the Savior. The title is 'Christmas in Zarahemla'. We have the prelude four part harmony quartet music again, the missionaries participating in song and narration again, Elder Shaner's violin solo and accompaniment to the congregational singing and of course, we cannot forget the rave reviews from the costumes. Last weekend was the start of our programs and they both went very well. We performed for the Santiago Stakes on Saturday evening and on Sunday afternoon, we traveled to Burgos District for their program. We have two every weekend except one from now until Christmas but it really is fun, helps the members feel the spirit of the holiday season and also, is a wonderful way for us senior missionaries to fill the void created by holiday and no family. This mission has become our family and when we travel to the different stakes and districts, we are always greeted and hugged as we see friends that we have not seen in a while. We love the work and the influence these great people have on our lives.

Elder Wooden as Nephi, Sister Joame as the angel and Elder Amoreda as Samuel the Lamanite
Saturday's cast was a little different-

Elder Kaloni and Elder Amoi being Nephi and Samuel the Lamanite
Sister Klein with her sweet companion, Sister Morales
Could her smile be any bigger????
Each performance we try to find a 'bass' within the population of missionaries assigned to that area for our prelude quartet. In the Santiago Zone, we were so lucky to actually have two basses and they alternated the songs-Elder Rostedt you might remember as he served with us in Mallig before being transferred to Ramon and Elder Williamson was also in Mallig early on in our mission. 

Silly Elder Rostedt and Elder Williamson

Elder Shaner has gotten his hair cut the entire time we have been here in the same little barber shop. The building is owned by a man who is proud to say he is 92 years old! He is amazing-most men in this country don't live much past 70 and everyone is so surprised to find out our ages and to watch us as we scurry around. I guess there is something to be said for not working in the fields, hauling 100# bags of rice on our heads all of our lives, huh??

I have gotten such a charge out of watching him get his haircuts. The barber uses scissors that would kill my mom!! She cut hair for 50 years and her scissors were very tiny compared to Brother Rolando's!! My kids will get a kick out of seeing this!

Getting his monthly haircut..cost?? 50 pesos [about $1]
Check out these scissors....they are lethal!!

Our friend...the 92 year old man..
Rice is the major crop in this part of the Philippines but their second is sugar cane. I have never seen sugar cane growing before and was so amazed at how HUGE it is in the field. I would estimate it is over 20' tall! We recently were coming back from a remote area and as we drove around the bend, there stretched out before us miles and miles of sugar cane. I tried to get a picture of a truck filled with the cut canes but it was not very clear-another day..

The Filipino people are so good at job-sharing. Now that may sound a little prejudice but it is interesting how the men and the women both share the responsibility of their children. You might be just as likely to see a dad walking along the side of the road or stand out visiting with other adults and have a baby on his hip as you would a mom. I think that is awesome! One morning I saw a daddy standing by the road with a toddler on his hip, just talking, pointing and explaining things to that curious little mind. Because most men do not have 9-5 jobs where they travel to an office like in the US, they have more time to help mold and teach their children.

Recently, Elder and I were driving down a side street and came upon this scene...the daddy is leading and caring for the little fella. Both are following their master who is in the motorized Kuliglig and they are tethered to the back bumper.

It brought to my mind the One who is leading us every day as we serve here on the other side of the world. We trust Him to keep us tethered to His bumper and as He leads, we follow and hopefully, stay close enough so we don't get lost. So it is with all of us in our lives...if we keep ourselves tethered to the One who knows the way, our destination will never be a disappointment to us...we will follow Him, He will lead us and together, we will arrive at the right place at the right time with the right family...