Friday, January 31, 2014

Some very special experiences and a Celebration trip to Guadeloupe

 There are a few special events that have not been recorded yet.  I must address them before moving to our Guadeloupe trip.

One is the familiar sight of returning home to Trinidad!  We are traveling with Celebration so much now…. so we get all warm and fuzzy when we return to these common everyday views of our home island - burning garbage on the side of the Freeway…………..ahhhhhh - home at last!
Zone conference in January and a picture of all of our adorable sisters!
On January 11th, Elder Anderson. the Area President, and his wife came to hold a YSA fireside.  President Rupa told us at our YSA meeting the week before that President Gould would love to have a YSA choir for President and Sister Anderson.  So, at the YSA meeting, we said, "Let's do it!  Who sings?"  (Blank faces-laughing - None of them admitted to being able to sing)  I convinced them that they could all sing! All they had to do was listen to the tone played on the piano and make their voice sound just like it.  So basically it went like this: you two be Altos; you two be Sopranos; you three be Tenors; and you three be Basses.  For an hour we went through each part on the piano, and they did it!!  They were so excited and happy with how it sounded when they put all the parts together - a new experience!  We decided to meet an hour before the fireside the next Sunday and refine the song before  performing it.  The next Sunday an hour before the fireside, only two of those who had practiced the week before showed up!  Back to the drawing board with all new part assignments and people who had never sung before.  You can see my hand motions (primary style) to help them hear when the note goes up or down.  We just went over and over each part until they got it and then put it together.  This was one of my favorite experiences of my mission!!  They did a beautiful job! I swear angels sang along to support them.  We ended up with about 25 people in the choir, 22 of whom had NEVER sung parts before!  (Their typical version of parts is the men sing melody and then the women sing melody) Not to mention many of them had never heard the song, "Where Can I Turn For Peace."  I will never forget how thrilled they were when the Stake President said after they sang, "Wow, the YSA choir has done me proud!"  Also, the Andersons both mentioned how impressed they were with the choir.  Since we just plunged into learning the parts, there was no choir director.  So they just came up from the audience, took their place, and since we had gone over the introduction on the piano, they knew exactly where to start and came in together perfectly!  Sister Anderson commented on how they directed themselves so well!  They were radiant afterward and so proud of themselves.  It was just awesome!  I wish I had that performance on video so I could watch it again and again!   So spirit - filled and tender!

 This was a great memory.  When we return home, our entire family is going to Hawaii for a family reunion. (We only have three months left - we can't believe how fast it has flown!) These pictures were submitted by our grandchildren for the T-shirt family reunion logo coloring contest.  Elder Monson and I could not possibly make this decision since every one of our grandchildren is a Rembrandt in embryo - so the other Senior missionaries and some of the young missionaries weighed in for the final decision.  It was a hard decision for them, too!  The top right submission won!
 The bottom left here was a computer creation.  We loved them all and laminated them to be used as place mats in Hawaii!
 This was the view outside the plane window as the sun set on our way to Guadeloupe.  I imagined walking across those clouds to the throne of God someday in eternity.
 When we opened the curtain in the morning from the hotel, this is the sight that greeted us!
This was our first foray into the French areas of our mission.  We had a wonderful time.  The people are so loving and radiate the gospel in their lives.  I love the kiss-on-both-cheeks thing.  I wonder if I could convince everyone in Saint George to begin that tradition?  I'm thinking, no, it won't catch on somehow.  The butterfly Island is beautiful!  
 The chapel in Guadeloupe.  We went in the morning with the young elders to settle a landlord dispute and then were excited to go to a Celebration practice with the youth.
 We were so thrilled to see what they are working on and preparing.  Trios, Duets, poems.  Great leaders and coaches working with them - it was so impressive!  After the practice, we met with their Celebration committee and covered all upcoming concerns and questions.  We had to have an interpreter, but could communicate just fine with a wonderful former SL temple square missionary speaking for both of us.
 The next night was district meeting; Saturday night session.  President Otto had asked us to speak so we spent much of the day preparing our talks.  They had to be written out for the interpreter missionaries ahead of time.  However, Elder Monson laboriously searched the French dictionary and wrote his talk in French!  It has been forty years since he gave a talk in French, so I was very impressed that he even attempted it.  My message was essentially that we are all literal spirit children of the most creative being in all eternity - God, our eternal Father.  As such, we have been endowed with creativity from our divine parentage.  That inherited gift finds individual expression in each of us, but we have a responsibility to develop and share it with others.  Elder Monson did an awesome job - it was a very sweet experience for him to hearken back to the language of his first mission.  He also remembered more than he had anticipated.  Both Elder Gamiette and Sister Mehr complimented him on his delivery in French.  I had a very sweet experience, too, as after the meeting a young mother came up to me and told me with tears in her eyes that my talk was an answer to her prayers. Although she knew my desire was to encourage people to participate in Celebration, she felt the Spirit confirm to her personally that she was born as a spirit child of noble, divine parentage and it lifted her heart so much.  We both felt very thankful for the evening experience.
 The next day was district conference.  We arrived an hour early to meet with the Martinique branch president about Celebration.  Right after we sat down, the choir director came up and asked if I would accompany the choir and could I practice with them now.  They had practiced three hymns without any accompaniment.  We worked on them, and they did a beautiful job in the conference.  As we were leaving, she came up to me with an interpreter.  She told me, "I have prayed and prayed to the Lord to send angels to help me today for district conference.  This choir has been so difficult to conduct with no music.  I was so worried and concerned about how it would go today.  When I left home, I prayed that somehow we would be able to have music to assist them.  Then with tears in her eyes, she said, "You are my miracle.  You are the angel the Lord sent so that I could praise him today with our choir."  I was crying too, and thanked her and told her that there has been nothing sweeter in my mission than to be an answer to someone's prayer.  How sweet it has been to experience this appreciation from our sisters and brothers here.  Somehow all those years of practicing as a kid did not seem like it made all that difference, except for my own enjoyment (thanks, mom) but it has been so sweet to be able to really help when needed so much.  
 This young father on the left holding his son bore his testimony at district conference, at the president's request.  He told his conversion story.  He said his wife was first interested in the church and he could see her happiness, so he thought to himself, "Why not me? - why don't I try to find that happiness?"  As the missionaries taught him about the power of the priesthood he said, "I could never begin to imagine that I could have the power to baptize and bless my children."  As he read the Book of Mormon, he felt the Spirit confirm the truthfulness of that book, but he had addictions that controlled his life.  Everyday he was smoking and could not stop.  Elder Gamiette was his friend and told him that he could give him a blessing to help him overcome his addictions.  So he said, "Why not - it can't hurt."  So the next day, after his blessing,  he went outside for his smoke, and as he lit up, it did not taste good!  He said, "I didn't want it anymore.  The desire was just gone.  I am so thankful for the strength that blessing gave me and that I was able to be baptized and prepare with my wife and two boys to travel together as a family down this road towards Jesus Christ."  His testimony was amazing.  He recently baptized his son, and after this meeting he was set apart as an Elder.  
 The missionaries invited us to come at 4:30 in the morning on a hike to see the sunrise.  I wasn't too thrilled with the 4:30 part, but it sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime view, so we decided to join in.  It was their P-day outing.  We drove for about a half hour and when we arrived, had to hike up the top of a promontory overlooking the ocean in the dark.  Luckily, one of the Elders with us had a flashlight on his phone and we could see a little in the dark.  Once settled, we were in for a thrill.  This was just as the sun started coming up with the moon still very visible.
 Still dark over the water, but lighting the sky

 With the sun just breaking through
 Still behind the clouds
 Warming the sky
 First rays 

 Full, vibrant color
 The sun-kissed mountain
 The warmth of the sun coloring the earth
 A few of the missionaries posing for the sky
 Our feet on the edge
 Fully lit with the ocean color I LOVE!
 Some scenes walking back in full light
 Sprays against the rocks with the new sun
 Full light of day
 This earth is soooooo beautiful!
 French districts have phenomenal bakeries!
 mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm  We grabbed lunch here and took our trusty map and rental car on the road to find an amazing waterfall that the Elders told us we must see. 
 How gorgeous is this road?
 Remember in Princess Bride, the rodents of unusual size?  Well, we found in Guadeloupe leaves of unusual size!!!  Aren't  those the largest you've ever seen?
 What a friendly little bird - just visiting, right when we got there.
 This national park is not Trinidad!  It was gorgeous.
 There were three waterfalls.  This one was way in the distance and is reputed to have been sighted by Christopher Columbus way out at sea.  It beckoned him to come in to get fresh water.
 We hiked on a well marked trail to the second waterfall.
 It was glorious!
 The wondrous variety of this earth created for us to inhabit is evidence of God's love for each of his children.  He gifted us with an earth so glorious - we acknowledge his love in it all!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Baptisms/A new year!/YSA Water Party Activity

 One of the favorite things about our mission is frequent baptisms.  The Spirit is always so strong, and it is such a sweet experience.  Sister Montoute was baptized a couple months ago - her son (15) a few months before that.  This is her son, Mosiah, and the next two pictures are of Jamilia, his friend. They are next door neighbors.  They are both 9 years old.  Mosiah shared the gospel with Jamilia as the Elders taught him, and she loved everything he shared with her.  Jamilia actually had her baptism set two weeks ago, but she doesn't know how to swim and is terrified of water.  When the elders tried to help her through it, she just couldn't do it and was soooo sad.  So two weeks later, Mosiah decided he was ready to be baptized, and he would go first to give her courage.  Here, Elder Dearing baptized Mosiah while Jamilia watched from the side.
 Then Elder Guzzman helped Jamilia into the water while we all held our breath with a prayer in our hearts that she would have enough courage to go through with her plan.  This is so common - a literal terror of the water and never learning to swim.  When we had our first YSA beach activity, one of the things that surprised us was the Stake President's concern because so few people know how to swim.
 I love that Elder Guzzman is leaning down to reassure her that he would keep her safe and protected.  As soon as she came out of the water, she yelled out a reflexive shout of joy that was music to our ears.  She was so happy and proud of herself.  After the baptism, I visited with her Dad.  He is not a member, but is learning about the church.  I mentioned to him the Lord said, "And a little child shall lead them…".He was visibly touched and said, "I know and I feel so proud of the courage it took for her today to be baptized! This shows how much she loves the Lord and wanted to be baptized."
Sister Montoute bore her testimony and said, "God is gathering His sheep into his fold. After I was baptized and given the Holy Ghost, I felt angels surround me.  I had a strong impression to love my children and as I did that - just love them consistently - they would all come into His fold, which is the strongest desire of my heart.  This is the second of my six children to be baptized.  I know this is His church and the only way families can be together eternally!"
 This was our big New Year's Day celebration - lunch at McDonalds with Batemans and Rays. We were shaping 2014 on the front row.  I have no idea what the jokers on the back row were doing behind our heads.  
 Elder and Sister Ray had two friends come and visit them from Arizona - both professional musicians. Diane Baker and Eckhart Selman.  Here we were being instructed by a steel pan player in the Savannah in Port of Spain.  We so enjoyed spending time with them. Sister Ray invited us all to dinner one night, to which we both contributed.   He is German, and she is Japanese.  For a surprise, I made spaetzle and red cabbage  to go with Sister Ray's chicken and gravy.   He was thrilled.  They are wonderful, gracious people.  They will actually be performing at Tuacahn (an outdoor theatre in Saint George) after we return - how fun to go see them perform at home!
This represents just the middle section and about half of the attendees to our YSA January activity.  The  purpose was unity.  We had 60 people, total.  We started with a devotional on the theme.
We had three different relays to emphasize the cooperation required in unity and the importance of working toward a common goal.
Racing toward the finish line without busting the balloon between them.

Sponge Bob relay.  Move all the water from the front bucket to the back with a soaked sponge overhead.

Soaking up the sponge

Squeezing out the water on the other end

Partner water-balloon volleyball

The champions had a play-off/ these guys were the champions!

The opposing play-off team

Catching the water balloon before it hit the ground

Water balloon capture the flag

The black flag team was victorious

Slip and slide was the final activityThey had a blast.

Most had never done this in their lives - they loved it!

On p-day we took our North west zone on a rare outing - a hike from Chagaramos to Macurepe Bay.

 We all had to spray our legs against Denghi mosquitos, first

We came across real Tarzan vines part way up the hike and the brave ones gave it a shot.

Yup - it's blurry, but that is Elder Monson - aka Tarzan

Even Sister Edmonds gave it a try

 This picture of Elder Beck was the best

 Back on the trail

First overlook at the top


On the bridge at the beach

All obedient missionaries - they just looked at the water………..

 These missionaries are really amazing people - we are so lucky to work with them.

Another view from the beach….

 Elder McCalla's reenactment of the first vision.  We love this quiet-spoken giant of a young man.  He is from Jamaica and as we walked the trail he told me his story.  Two years ago, he had a girl friend who was LDS.  He knew that she was a mormon but knew nothing else about it.  He said he thought it was some evangelical church.  Once when he was at her house, the missionaries stopped by and started talking with him.  He was very interested in what they said and invited them to come teach him.  He said as they taught him, he felt a feeling of calm and peace he had not experienced before.  Then later as he read the Book of Mormon, the same feeling came over him.  He asked the missionaries if he could be baptized the next time they came to teach him and within a year, he went on his mission.  In the interim, he taught his two younger sisters and his mom about the church and was able to baptize them before leaving on his mission.  He is a remarkable young man.

In the bamboo cathedral at the end of our hike

 Some notable Trini sights on the way home - Rasta hair all grown into one.

I've just got to catch travel back to the store and return this box of hair dye - I want my money back!

We have seen some remarkable sunsets here in Trinidad!