Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Finishing strong

I am actually home now, finishing this blog history of our mission in retrospect.  What a journey it has been! How grateful we are for the many experiences, miracles and blessings of our mission.
After Celebration, Savior of the World was put on by the Stake.  The Gerard's came (shown here) and we visited with them before the show.  They are such a wonderful family investigating the church.  They told us they had set a baptismal date and that the Andruses were coming back to the mission for the special occasion. Before returning home from their mission, the Andruses introduced us to this loving family.  The girls came to our first youth conference at the beginning of our mission.  Some were very connected to their previous church congregation, so it was a difficult transition for them, and they were determined to join the church as an entire family, or not at all.  We were so blessed to be there for the glorious day, right at the end of our mission.  What a fabulous contribution this family is to the Chaguanas branch.
The Stake did a great job.  There was a pretty remarkable story about the production.  The night of the Show, the young man who played the centrally important role of Peter, fell seriously ill and was hospitalized.  Sister Danzell, the show director, got the call four hours before showtime.  The choice was to cancel the show or find someone who had been to all the practices and had the greatest chance of learning a new part in such a little amount of time.  Chris Danzell had been to all the practices, taking care of their kids while Akisha ran the show.  He was the only possibility to step in with such short notice.  No one had a clue!  He did a remarkable job.  He told me after the show there was a certain part where he looked up to the sky pretending to be pondering heaven and really..... he was praying to remember a line he had forgotten!  Which came!
Look at the impressive length of his tail!!!
 This beautiful guy was sitting on the rock right in the restaurant in Guadeloupe.  
 See the rock in the background.  He was reposed there, sunning, and didn't mind the photo op at all.
 Two beautiful shots of the area around our hotel in Guadeloupe.  We were there for their fabulous Celebration, but I didn't include these pictures in the previous post about the shows.  

 In St. Lucia for Celebration, the Gublers took us around the Island, I got to hold a Boa Constrictor!
 The famous Piton mountains
We traveled to Saint Lucia with our replacements as the Celebration and YSA/Youth couple:  The Francoms are great people who will do a fabulous job and are from Utah and good friends with the Nuttals (good friends from Saint George).  Small world in the church!  It was their first Celebration.
 Sisters Gubler, Francom, Monson and the Pitons
 Elder Monson with Rasta hair!  It just fits  - ya think?
 Elders Francom and Monson in the mineral pool telling stories about Dan Nuttall!! 
Gublers, Francoms and Monsons at a sweet restaurant overlooking the Bay!  Good memories!  This was the very same restaurant where we ate when we vacationed in St. Lucia for Christmas prior to our mission.
What a delightful surprise awaited me at the morning devotional on my birthday!  Balloons all over the window, several of the following flower bouquets - retrieved at great personal sacrifice, which originally hung over the walls of neighbors homes and were clipped at 4:00 am by our beloved Rays, wonderful homemade muffins, (Sister Anne Ray), cut-up fruit (Sister Sue Ray) and a beautiful song in my honor! I play the keyboard every morning for our devotional, so after the surprise, all the hoopla and excitement, they said to turn to, "Let us oft speak kind words to each other," so I innocently played the first verse while they all sang along and then they broke into words about me which they had composed together!  "Happy Birthday to you, Sister Monson, We know that you hate hearing praise, But we have to extoll your great talents, And mention your well-advancing age.  We know you are shy and retiring, And never assert a point of view.  But now that we've gathered together, We want to express our love for you.  Oh, the service you give, shall in memory live, with the sunshine you always impart. Your goodness will live on this island, And ever be held in our hearts.  Happy Birthday to you.....etc......  It was one of my favorite birthdays ever!!
 This was the dessert I had at Angelo's Restaurant for my birthday with all the Trinidad Senior missionaries.  The surprise from the waiter, with Elder Monson's assistance, was this beautiful dessert, and it was DELICIOUS!!  It was so funny because no one ordered dessert so everyone just watched me eat it - I was totally oblivious, devouring the almond filling with the chocolate sprinkled on top and lemon curd whipped cream.......(everyone was talking and visiting) and then Bro. Francom said, after it was all gone....."Wow, we thought you'd offer us all a taste or something, but you just inhaled that thing!"  Such a funny memory!!
 Wonderful friends;  Elders and Sisters Turner, Francom, and Ray.  You can see I am the only one with cake and all the rest observers!!  I am just going to laugh hard (I was laughing so hard I cried  that night) every time I see this picture from now on!!  I just lost my mind in the pleasure of it all!
Speaking of birthdays, we all were at the mission home at 6:30 am while President and Sister Mehr went on their morning walk on her birthday.  They returned to this surprise for her!
Wonderful couple!
We stayed and had breakfast with them.
We helped the Stake with the two-day youth conference.  It was a wonderful experience.  Here the kids were signing in at the Port of Spain Chapel.  We had almost 100 youth in attendance.
 The theme was, "Putting on the Armour of God!"  The decoration committee did a great job!  We started with all the youth filling out a blind questionnaire about morality from which we took information for the devotional the last night.  There was a dance the first night, and we gave a prize to the person who had the most names on their dance card.  The culture in the West Indies does not encourage dating.  It does not happen.  So encouraging them to dance with many people and get to know them is a hard transition.  The culture and standards of the church are very foreign to this culture.  Those valiant and true youth who stay worthy and pure, prepare to serve missions and marry before sex, are the rare and few!
We had three stations on Saturday.  Elder and Sister Bateman ran this one for us.  The first was a scripture treasure hunt which required an Olympic challenge with every clue before receiving the next one.  They had headquarters where they searched the scriptures for the clues (which took forever to put together....many thanks to Sister Francom for helping) and then ran back to complete the challenge.  It was really fun, and the kids loved it.  The treasure was: "The Lord is my personal Savior and Redeemer!"
Here they were running to the next location after completing the team Olympic challenge.
The second station was skits.  Sister Ann Ray helped me with this one.  It was held out on the outdoor basketball court.  They were given scripts and a bag of costumes to read through, practice and then at the end of the day, the skits were performed.  
Practicing being angels
 Reading through the scripts......Love the hair!
The third station was Water Wars.  Elder Ray helped Elder Monson run this station.  We had made shields upon which were alka-seltzer tablets.  They were trying to dissolve each others tablet - with gospel applications of working together as a team to protect one from dissolving.  The importance of good friends etc..  It was a fun, cool activity.
Planning strategy.......
The performance of the skits in the late afternoon.  They all did a great job and really had fun in the process, teaching Gospel principles.
After the skits, we went into the devotional in the chapel where four exemplary young people spoke about the war we wage every day to keep the commandments of God.  Two YSA's (Nezhma and Naresh) and two youth (Samantha and Jerome) were the speakers.  They did a great job.  Then President Danzell turned the time to the youth for testimony bearing.  It was so spirit filled and special.  Several of the youth said very sweet things about Elder Monson and me which touched us deeply and will be remembered forever.  As Senior missionaries, there is always a question in your mind if you have made any difference for good at all in the short 18 months you served.  This meeting gave us a sweet sense of assurance that such was the case.

Since there are only a few more posts left to write about our mission, I want to record some testimonies we heard personally on our mission, not previously recorded here.

As we walked out of a baptism one Saturday, holding hands, an older sister (my age probably) came up to us and asked how long we have been married.  I told her 40 years, and she said, "Thank you for coming here on a mission.  You are our inspiration and our shining hope that what the Gospel teaches is really possible.  We never see anyone holding hands in our culture; we hardly can begin to imagine being married, let alone to one spouse for our entire life.  Seeing you together makes us believe eternal marriage is possible. (I decided I should record this for all Senior couples who have not served yet, and think one must be a scriptorian, have had major church positions or be someone notable in the world to be an effective senior missionary) 

I think I shared the story of the choir director, Brother Ramoutar, from San Fernando, but not his conversion story.  He is an amazing missionary and sang with several churches with other couples.    He came across a member who invited him to come sing at our church.  He was struck from his first visit that there was talk of baptism by immersion, and he had read the Bible enough to know that baptism must be by immersion, as Jesus' was.  He said he and his wife were investigating several churches at once, praying fervently about which one was true, when he had a very vivid dream in which he saw a glistening white stone that had radiant lights shooting out from it in all directions.  On the stone he saw gold writing that said; The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  They were baptized and have been members for 19 years.  He said during the first year they prayed fervently to have enough money to go to the temple to be sealed.  At the end of the first year of their membership, he received three refunds from the mortgage company and had no explanation for the appearance of that money.  It was enough to go to the temple.  They, unlike so many, have paid a full tithing since they first joined the church, and they attributed this blessing to their obedience to that law.  

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