Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Christmas at Las Flores

December 25, 2009

As the season has developed we have enjoyed the variety and creativity of the decorations that abound here. The traditional (as we determine!) colors are used but in addition, many other colors are introduced, such as lavender and teal, and lots of sparkily stuff! We have seen lights and decorations that really enliven one's creative thinking. On the other side, the expression of this nativity is crafted in such a way that you get a strong sense of the deep feelings of the artisans.

Each figure is shaped out of bound together twigs. This nativity was at the side of the road--quite large--a labor of love.

More outdoor decorations created from corn husks and twigs.

Our Hoilday celebration started with a disappointment and concern for President and Sister Hansen. The Presidient has had a reoccurance of cellulitis, that nasty infection that he had when we arrived last March, only this time it attacked the opposite foot and moved to his knee. The better part of precaution was to have him admitted to the hospital and receive more powerful antibiotics than can be administered by mouth. Rats! This health chapter emerged the day of the senior missionary Christmas dinner and FHE. Sister Hansen, incredibly organized and on the ball, told me where the recipes and ingredients were for the dinner items to be prepared at the mission home and instructed us to carry on. We enjoyed ourselves but missed them! As of this posting (January 7th) President Hansen has received a clean bill of health after spending most of a week, including Christmas, in the hospital.

All the senior missionaries on the stairs at the mission home. There we are at the top. Just think, YOU might be lucky enough to be part of a group like this! We really enjoy getting to know these good folks; there's something about serving shoulder to shoulder in the Lord's cause that creates a bond like none other. In this group we have a wide variety of talent and service: family history, temple open house public relations, mission office (yours truly), the Employment Resource Center, and member activation. The nice thing about our assignmentes is our own life experience is an important and useful factor. In many settings you have some guidelines, but carry out the assignement in your own way, using your talents and life experience. It works every time to the great blessing of the church here in the Cebu missiosn.

In league with Old Saint Nick--Christams Eve day we met the senior missionaries at the office who were heading back to their island or area after our gathering on the 23rd. Look at this trunk full of goodies that they got to take back to the missionaries in their areas! We anticipate the packages will continue to trickle in over the next month.

Senior missionary wisdom: If you can’t be home with your first-line loved ones for Christmas, make a completely different day so you don’t feel a lonely pang.

We celebrated our Philippine Christmas with four other senior missionary couples at a seaside resort about 35 miles north of Cebu. We discovered Las Flores a couple of months ago—stopped in to see what it was all about during a drive from Cebu to Bogo. Our immediate reaction was “THIS is the place. We’ve found a piece of paradise.” We confirmed our feeling by spending the night a few weeks later and started talking up a Las Flores Christmas. Everyone who wanted to come, came; we all relaxed and heard at least once an hour, “this is such a good spot”.

The view of Las Flores from the ocean. We took all our meals on the terrace overlooking the Camotes Sea.

Alma with proprieters Virginia and Ian. We'd love to introduce you to these dear friends. What do you think?

A good spot is much more than the Camotes Sea just beyond the back terrace. The people who run Las Flores—Ian & Virginia Gillies and their assistants Janice, Alma and Mildred create an ambiance of welcome and respite. Janice, Alma and Mildred cook and serve under the direction of Virginia, and Ian hosts in general. No detail is left to chance. We were relaxed kings and queens on Christmas.

I personally vacillated between the relaxed queen to wanting to help out! In a big, impersonal resort there would be no “help out” feelings, but here—we felt like family.

We arrived on the 24th after Christmas caroling our way north, stopping at all the missionary apartments between Cebu and Las Flores with a song and a treat. The missionaries were surprised, most in a good way, some because they weren’t quite on their morning schedule. Oh well—we were kind and friendly, and hopefully left the message that even when no one is watching, someone may be watching. The ones who are on their business bring you feelings of great respect and appreciation. They all had appointments for the day; one companionship was long gone when we arrived at 9:35 (missionaries are supposed to be out of their apartment at 9:30). We know of a baptism in City Zone that is took place on Christmas afternoon. Now that gives “a white Christmas” a new meaning!

Dinner on the terrace--The Pecks (left) and the Watkins (right). How in the world did this get blue and underlined?

A Christmas sunrise. Kevin is on the right.

Christmas day was long and leisurely, including some blogging time. From my vantage point I can look out the door and see the ocean.

Our last evening we enjoyed the company of many of the children who had come to play at the beach. We skipped rocks, looked for shells, discussed English and Cebuano and enjoyed the sunset.

Eventually we had to say our goodbyes and felt better for having made the journey.

Left to right: Orin & Maxine Peck, Jim & Nancy Spencer, yours truly, Jim & Melanie Watkins, Noel & Beverly Luke. Friends like these are a mission bonus!

After all the gathering and enjoyment we came round to our anniversery,(32),which we quietly celebrated,(on the 29th),the great opportunity the Lord gives us to be families. We thank you all for your love, prayers, and support as we continue on this great adventure. The Gospel is here and the path is before us. As Elder McConkie stated 'it matters not where we are on the path, only that we are on the path and continue to progress toward Eternal Life'. To that we add our witness that this is true.

All the best to you and yours, Ann and Kevin, Mom and Dad, Grammi and Grandpa.

Friday, December 25, 2009

December in a Nutshell

From earlier in the month--

December 5th was a memorable afternoon for piano students in the Cebu Stake and Kevin’s English class. We had a Christmas Carol Sing-along, an opportunity for them to perform their developing skills.

We transformed the cultural hall into a recital hall.

Everyone participated with courage, (music director is Fatima, also a student, and pianist is Russel Patalinghug) and the whole afternoon was a stunning success.

We had a big crowd (100) and robust carol singing.

My treasured piano students.

I thought a lot a about piano teachers everywhere and what it’s like to help your students prepare for a recital, or to have them prepare me, such as when I did my organ recital 10 years ago. It's quite a task to get us ready in mind as well as learn the music, then be with us/them in spirit as they perform their “act of bravery.” This was definitely a first for most of them; we will do it again before our mission is complete.

City Zone - Christmas Zone Conference 2009. These are the missionaries we see on a weekly basis. We enjoy getting to know them while they are near, then watch their service, growth and progress from afar when they are transferred to outlying zones or off island.

President & Sister Hansen at the same Zone Conference. Don't they cut a fine figure together? They are a great team of powerful leaders for our mission.

Kevin and Elder Elmer, a brand new missionary assigned to the Pulambato branch where we attend once a month. We attended their Christmas party--were feasted and funned magnificently.

Here comes Santa Claus, Here comes Santa Claus right down Woolbright Drive--
We decided to take a treat to all the gradeschool kids who are out waiting for the bus at 5:30 on weekeday mornings when we walk. Kevin was way into the Santa Claus spirit. I, on the other hand couldn't bear the thought of the Santa Claus hat in 80* weather.

In league with Old Saint Nick--we made extra trips to the post office, gathering a trunkful of packages for the missionaries every time we went. Thanks to the senior missionaries who joined the Santa Claus League in getting packages back to their areas after our Senior Missionary Christmas gathering. It takes a village to make a mission successful.

A Philippine nativity made out of twigs. Very creative--we wondered for a second whether we could get something like this back to the states in tact...

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thanksgiving is a Condition of the Heart

We observed Thanksgiving. Sort of. But not on THE day of traditional American feasting. On Thursday we were up to our eyebrows in good-byes and hellos with eleven missionaries departing and an all-time record of eighteen arriving. Fifteen came from the Provo MTC and three from the Manila MTC. Just put the logistics in your brain: thirty 50 lb. suitcases plus 15 carry-ons. Oh and the missionaries themselves. How are you going to get that many everything to the mission home from the airport? The Assistants had given the whole thing considerable thought, but when we got right down to it we needed another large van for all those suitcases. Of course there was one wanting to be hired on the spot so we did just fine.

Fifteen fine, can-do attitudes helped us stuff all the luggage in the vehicles in no time.

Are these handsome fellows or what? They are smiling bravely on the outside and sweltering on the inside. It was quite a mild day by Cebuano standards, but hey--they came from Provo, Utah where there was snow on the mountains! They'll leave their suit jackets at the mission home for the next 22 months.

There wasn't room for all the luggage in the mission home.

Learning how to direct music their first afternoon in Cebu.

When it was all said and done and all those bright-spirited elders and one sister were oriented and off to their first areas of service, it had gone very smoothly. In fact almost better than our little batches of six or eight. Sometimes having to prepare every minute detail so you don't crash and burn is a blessing.

Now about feasting. We had Thanksgiving dinner with all the stake and district presidents on Cebu, Bohol and Negros on Saturday in conjunction with their coordinating council. Sister Hansen, wonder woman that she is, hosted and roasted. I peeled and pie'd. None of these good brethren had experienced an American Thanksgiving dinner before, so it was our pleasure to teach them why we eat turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes and pie.

My favorite part of dinner chat came about because of the Jello salad, which we assured them was NOT part of the first Thanksgiving feast, but an American tradition that started in the 60's. One of the stake presidents asked me if I knew where gelatin came from. I was thinking, " ah--horse hoofs?" but just couldn't bring myself to say it out loud at such a fine feast. Then President Mausisa proceeded to enlighten us on the horticulture matter of gelatin. Horse hoofs! How silly is that?!? Gelatin comes from seaweed, and most of it for the entire world is farmed not 15 miles from the mission office! I'd love to go on a field trip as see the whole business. It is apparently a 3-month crop.

About gratitude--we are beyond-words-grateful for you, our beloved family and friends. We count ourselves rich indeed for having so many loved ones who share our path, teach us new and interesting things, inspire us to be more than we would be otherwise, laugh with us, weep with us, hold our hands when we're scared and pray for us.

To you far away in America, if we had our way we'd be able to blink and bring all our Filipino friends over for a get-to-know-you party. You would definitely like them and want to open your friendship circle to include them. We became richer the moment we landed in Cebu.

If you are reading this wondering if you'd be all warm and gushy (sorry-I know I go over the top from time to time) about serving a mission, I have to say the answer is a resounding YES. It's okay to put yourselves in the Lord's hands and take a step into the dark. It's okay to not know every little detail of the path you might be called to walk. It's okay to say, "we'll go where we're called and do what we're asked to do." We're convinced that there are no lame mission assignments because God's work is never lame. Oh you could probably sort of sit on the sidelines and do more watching than serving, but if you jump in with all your heart, might, mind and strength, you will become almost instantly rich with the experiences you have and people you grow to love. This is how serving the Lord full-time works. We know it's true.

We love you! We pray for you regularly! Be well and happy, and don't forget to write.

Elder and Sister Reed
In Cebu