Sunday, February 16, 2014

Beautiful 13th grandchild born/ Celebration trip to Martinique

 We welcomed through Skype our third grandchild born since we have been on our mission.  (How did senior missionaries in the past ever survive without Skype?)  Eli Parker Monson was born on February 7th.  He is sooooo beautiful! Their perfect family now consists of two boys and two girls.
 Proud Daddy with his second son.  We did not get a picture of brave Mama who did all the work to bring this beautiful boy into our family.  We now have 8 boys and 5 girls among our grandchildren.
New brothers just getting to know each other
Hello, my new baby brother - I'm your big sister!  We were actually in Martinique on Celebration assignment when our newest grandchild joined our family. 
This was the reaction to our Celebration introduction!  We asked who was excited and willing to perform in Celebration.  Since Martinique is French, everything was through a missionary interpreter.  The French members are adorable!  One sister, when we asked who does beautiful handiwork of all kinds, jumped up and tried to describe her talent in English.  When we obviously did not understand, she went to the side of the room, grabbed a basket with a pot of artificial flowers in it, pulled them out and held up the basket, saying, "Papier - I make."  After the meeting, she came up, and we asked about her paper baskets through a missionary.  They are beautiful and we asked if we could buy one?  She said that they are at her home, and she lives far away.  We told her we would like to come, see, and buy her baskets.  The missionaries offered to come with us to show us the way, so that evening we set out to find her home and workshop.
The sun was setting as we drove the hour drive to get to her home.
It was like going back in time to an old French village in the countryside.  Here is the cemetery up ahead.  We drove through St. Pierre, going higher and higher in the mountains.  Parts of the area have houses that look as if Hansel and Gretel were locked inside.  Others look as though we had happened upon Brigadoon, and they would begin to disappear before we departed.  When we finally descended down the steep roller coaster which is the final street to her house, we were thinking, "Dang! We hope we can ascend this hill to get back out!"
The Catholic church in the distance is just before the very very steep descent to get to her house.
We asked to take a picture with our dear Sister when we got there, knowing it would be too dark afterward.
She actually lives with her sister, holding here one of the many beautiful baby blankets she makes.  We bought this one for our new baby grandson - Eli.   There were nine children in this Sister's family growing up.  Her father left the family when she was eight, (with three younger siblings) and her Mother raised all nine children by herself.  Most of them live just down or up or on the other side of this same street in Martinique;  her extended family has been there for just over a hundred years. 
 This picture shows other family members that came down or up or across the street to meet the "mormon missionaries!"  This dear sister is the only member of her extended family.  Her daughter was baptized, but her son-in-law, on the far left, is a Catholic, and it was just easier, after her marriage, to attend the Catholic church at the top of the hill.  She does take her mom to Church occassionally, which is why we were able to meet her at church today. 
Here she is in her workshop at the side of her Sister's house.  Her baskets are made out of phone books, newspapers, and other discarded paper she collects to add color and texture to her baskets. 
The missionaries told us her story.  She was married and lived in France.  Life was good for a period of time and then things got bad really fast.  Her husband tried to kill her.  Things were very desperate in her life and she was praying to God for help.  She said, "I need help, God.  Please send me help."  She heard someone call at her door and went to the peep hole and looked out.  She saw the missionaries, invited them in and said, "You are from God."  She took the discussions, joined the church and has been very faithful in keeping her covenants ever since.  She attended the temple in London and received her endowment. For a time, things were better in her marriage, after she joined the church, but eventually things began to degenerate again to the point that she had to flee to Martinique for safety. Upon arriving, she had no idea where the Mormon church was in Martinique.  When she found out,  she had to walk with her baby on her back and three children under 8 at her side for an hour through the winding, mountainous roads down to St. Pierre where she could catch travel.   Between  walking from the mountains and travel, it took her two hours each way to go to Church.  She did that faithfully until her kids grew up and it became too hard for her to walk that far.  Now, she can only attend when her daughter will take her.  She radiated joy to be able to attend Church.  The missionaries said that is how she always is whenever she is able to come.  She was so kind and loving to us.  
These are the two beautiful baskets we bought from her.  She tried to give us one as a gift.  What a beautiful heart she has!  What a courageous and valiant woman.  We were thrilled to meet and visit with her.
She also designs dresses with paper and then her sister sews them from her designs.  
She is the perfect example of everything we teach about the purpose of Celebration 2015!  One of our central messages is that each of us, as children of the most creative beings in the universe, has inherited the innate desire to create, to leave the earth a little better than we found it, to fashion something lovely that will outlast the short period of our lives.  
She also makes flowers out of discarded plastic bottles by cutting, painting and shaping them. I told her that her collection of plastic flowers reminds me of the ceiling in the Bellagio Hotel/ Las Vegas; covered with glass flowers designed in Italy.  However, hers doesn't cost millions of dollars and has made of refuse a beautiful thing!  Hers is much more practical and praiseworthy!
We had a wonderful meeting with the Celebration Committee while we were there.  This is the view  outside the window of our hotel.
This countryside village was so European reminiscent
A central gathering plaza
The local Catholic church, always open, with people coming in at all hours, to meditate and pray - why don't we do that?  I like that idea.
Seaside houses
 Looks like a vacation destination on a postcard
Idyllic countryside animals just waiting to be painted
A friendly lost cow walking down the road, dragging her chain
Here's the Brigadoon inlet.  I know my kids are saying, "What on earth is a Brigadoon?"
Beautiful ocean overlook
Hobbitville or Hansel and Gretel's cottage town
A French couple and their child on one of the beaches having a picnic
On our way home at Sunrise - Wow!  We never see Cruise ships near Trinidad - Hmmmm, I wonder why?
Our dear friends, the Kotiah's, took us to see a Steel Pan final audition for those hoping to be selected as part of Carnival 2014 bands.  This picture was taken at 8:00 pm.  It was supposed to start at 7:00 pm.
It was worth the wait - it started at 8:30.  The judges still had not arrived - but what a treat!  The most professional steel pan band we have ever heard in our whole mission.
This was a shot of the people that came out to view the final judging.  It was open to the public, but after being selected, people pay lots of money to get into the band competitions that happen at Carnival. Brother Kotiah is the official senior missionary protector.  He takes us around and shows us all the good local things.  He, his wife and family are faithful members of the Curepe ward.  He also works  fixing up the cars that get all busted up.  She works for the Church as a S&I coordinator and administrative support to the area.
 The day after Valentine's day, we were driving at 8:30 in the morning to pick up Brother Victor and his sound system in POS for the Stake preliminaries for Celebration.  We turned the corner, driving on the left side (that's how one is supposed to drive here), and a woman from a side street backed out into the street, coming right at the passenger side of our car.  Elder Monson honked three times. She heard the honk, and in her words, "I mashed the gas and I meant to mash the brakes."  Yea, so here is the scene of the accident…………..
 The back end of her car……...
The passenger side of ours.  Right where I was sitting.  I am so thankful that the many prayers we, our grandchildren, the patrons in the temple and many others offer to plead for protection for the missionaries are heard and answered.  I was told by a neck-and-back specialist at 24 years old that if I were ever in an accident that jerked my neck really hard, I could be paralyzed.  (I have always had 5th and 6th vertebrae problems) The impact jerked my head sideways, and then my temple crashed into the seatbelt attachment on the side of the car.  My cheekbone, jaw, neck and shoulder were killing me.  At first, I was really afraid that there was something seriously wrong, but after a priesthood blessing, tons of cold rice packs (those are amazing - I hope everyone has one or two) and resting in bed all the next day - I am fine and nothing serious happened.  I am soooo thankful for those prayers and feel very blessed!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Saint Martin Celebration return visit

All the senior missionaries cut and color their own hair on the mission. We finally got an actual qualified hair stylist, Sister Bateman,  so her salon was out in the parking lot of our apartment!  Elder and Sister Bird came for a humanitarian project and jumped into the party!  Great times and no cleanup - well - the birds feather their nests a little and are grateful!
Driving to the airport to go to St Martin, the French side, we passed this nifty house-on-a-truck.  
Here are the side and back windows - all ready to be dropped off in someone's yard; add the curtains, a door mat and voila - your house is ready for occupancy!  Life is so much simpler here!
We got to our hotel right on the beach where the huge jets fly over and people gather to fight the jet stream when they take off.  Last time we visited this hotel was full, but we lucked out on this trip.
This island is geared toward tourists!  They are in high season now - it is cold everywhere else!  They had a parade out in front of the hotel and an open hors d'oeuvres buffett for the Super Bowl - we didn't join in because we went out to dinner with the senior missionary couple, the Thompsons. 
They are wonderful- we had such a great time with them.  This is their apartment - what a view!
We want to remember this meeting forever!  Luckily, I took out my iPad and typed as the people spoke. 

The young man seated in the second seat of the row on the left bore his testimony.  He said, "I was close to God, but sinning.  I went To Guadeloupe and read my Bible and started studying.  I went to Jehovah Witnesses searching for God's truth.  Mormon missionaries came to my house, and I was like, nah, I do not want that church.  The Jehovah Witnesses made me feel good.  I read Matthew and many other scriptures in the Bible and thought maybe I should go Adventist.  I was still sinning and asking forgiveness and telling God that I knew I needed a church to go to, as the scriptures said.  All of them were wonderful and nice to me.  I don't have a problem with any of them.  I am welcomed at all, but I want the truth and want to know what God wants me to do.  I said to God in prayer, the next church that approaches me, I will know, is the church you want me to join.  I was working at a car wash at the time and President Gamiette brought his car to be washed and we started talking.  He left me with a brochure.  He approached me the next day and asked me to come meet with him.  I went there and saw the missionaries that I had met earlier and dismissed.  I met with them, studied with them, but I was very worried about what all my friends and family would think.  It is really weird to be a Mormon, but I kept studying.  As I read and studied, God testified to me that the Book of Mormon is true.  It is through my stubbornness and fear that I am not baptized as yet because the Spirit has borne witness to me that it is true.  Why is it that my friends and family do not care if I join any other church, just not this one?"  Elder Monson and I were so impressed with this young man - his honest searching and questions.  He had been on this journey for two years.  We spent time with him after the meeting, and he committed with the missionaries at church to be baptized next Saturday!  We are so sad that we will not be there for his baptism.  Later that evening when we were at the Thompson's, (he is the branch president) he got the call about the three baptisms next Saturday and this young man was one of them.  What a thrill to be there today, talk with him and hear his journey and courageous decision to follow the Savior in spite of the sacrifices he will have to make.  
It was an amazing meeting because right after him another young woman stood up and said, "I also prayed to find out which church God wanted me to go to.  I was feeling like I wanted to give my all to  God and not follow the empty path of the world.  He hears and answers prayers, especially when you honestly pray to find out which church to go to.  I felt an impression to move back here,  and I was a little overwhelmed with my studies.  I prayed and the missionaries met with me.  Heavenly Father reminded me in my mind, - remember I helped you find your place and you promised you would find my church and give me your all?  I meant what I said to him, so right after that the phone rang, and it was the missionaries.  It was around Christmas time.  I really wanted to find God's church.  When I came to Christmas dinner at the church, I met the youth, and they were singing the next week and asked me to come.  I prayed and fasted and continued to meet with the missionaries.  I felt certain that this is what God wanted me to do, so I called my family and told them I was going to join the Mormon church.  They did not respond well, but I knew that was what God wanted me to do.  In my confusion, I said a prayer and opened to the thirteenth article of faith. This church IS virtuous, lovely and of good report, and it is right to seek after it.  After the Spirit confirmed that, I felt good in my heart that this is what I wanted, and the right thing to do, no matter what.  I was baptized and received the Holy Ghost.  I know this church is true.  It has made my life full and meaningful.  I know that Jesus Christ really atoned for my sins and that He lives.  I know that President Monson is a prophet of God on the earth today and that the Book of Mormon is true.  Maybe at first your family may not understand and be concerned, but they will see your example and your happiness and that will bring them closer to Him, too.

Elder Thompson, the senior missionary and branch president, closed the meeting with his testimony. "I also joined the church as a young man.  I was 17 and have been a member for 52 years and never had one moment of regret.  I was the first member in my family, also.  My mother questioned me and was so worried when I joined this church.  I could have joined any other Christian church and she would have been fine.  She was a faithful baptist, and her husband was a preacher.  When I joined this church, there was nothing but opposition against me from my friends and family.  That was evidence to me that this IS the true church of Jesus Christ.  Satan desires to oppose the growth of the true church of Jesus Christ.  I, likewise, learned that any other church caused no challenge from anyone I knew,  except this one.  There is truth in every church, but we have the whole truth and a personal relationship with God. We have to expect we will have opposition.  It is the church of Jesus Christ, not of man.  All should take courage through that opposition and see it as evidence of the growth of God's true church.  We are the lights which should not be hid under a bushel.  God needs a courageous people.  I bless all of you, as Branch President, to have the courage to follow the Spirit and bear witness of the truth in your soul to those around you.  The Lord is hastening His work and preparing the earth for His return.  The time is growing close that Jesus Christ will return to this earth and call up those who confess His name in all things.  In the measure of man's time, it is not very long."

What a remarkable testimony meeting.  We were thankful to have been there to record it.  After the block, we met with the Celebration committee and were very encouraged by the things we discussed.
This was the view right outside our balcony window straight ahead.
This was the view to the right outside the window.
Early the next morning the Thompsons picked us up at the hotel to explore the Island with them.  On the way, we found that local people provide for themselves with produce stands here as they do in almost all other Carribean countries we have visited.
We passed this canal which looks very European, even Venetian.
Oh man!  We stopped for breakfast at a boulangerie/ patisserie that makes French province areas distinctly heavenly!  Amazing! - we had an apple one, a strawberry one and brought along a spinach goat cheese for later.  Fabulous!  The missionaries in these French areas struggle with gaining weight on their missions, needless to say!  Good thing we just visit here occasionally!
We parked near the beach and found a table where the owners of a grill allowed us to sit and eat our breakfast.  We had passed a bunch of school kids in their uniforms, following after their teachers, ending up right in front of us for PE class.  How fun would it be for PE class to be swimming in the ocean!  Not a Wasatch Front experience, for sure!  We watched them with their boards go out one at a time and swim around a clearly designated area,  kicking and swimming with the life belts you can see on those in the foreground.  We were happy to see that.  They do not do that in Trinidad which is why almost none of the young people there know how to swim.
Here we are riding on a boat out to a tiny private Island, Penil, to spend some time.
Our trusty captain
The view of the water from the chairs on the Island.  It rained intermittently while we were there, but the umbrellas provided pretty adequate cover. 
The view of the beach as we walked back to get on the boat for the return home.  There was a tiny restaurant there and a restroom and that's about it.

On the way back, we stopped and watched some tourists taking in the wind surfing options.

We had a chance to walk over to the windward Atlantic side.  The waves were enormous compared to the Caribbean side.  The wind and color of the ocean is different too.  I just can't get enough of the color of the Caribbean water.  The aqua, teal colored water is the most beautiful color in the world!

We got back to our hotel, showered and changed and went to a fabulous restaurant on the beach.  Look at the phenomenal yachts out in the harbor at night.  We saw Steve Jobs'
 yacht that cost one hundred forty million dollars, commissioned to be built for him.  I wonder, now, if he is thinking that was money well spent?
We returned to Trinidad and put together a birthday surprise for Sister Sue Ray in the office.  She was very happy and pleased!  It was fun.  Sister Anne and Elder Ray sneaked around in the wee morning hours with a sturdy pair of scissors gathering up bouquets of flowers hanging over garden fences.