The past two weeks have been very busy and very rewarding. It is such a blessing in our lives to be able to share holidays with the missionaries! Our office was nearly overflowing with Christmas packages the week before.
Monday morning, December 19 the stack of packages for one single zone was as tall as our finance missionary (Elder Partridge who is 6'6") and just a bit taller than Elder Feusner - one of the Assistants to the President who is from Cody Wyoming.
Monday afternoon we gathered in one of the Stake Centers for a Christmas Conference. When the food is served (almost always buffet style) the Sisters go first. These sisters were ready to get some good food!
Elders enjoying some dessert and some conversation with each other.
The Stake Relief Society did the dinner and the decorations. I thought the centerpieces were especially pretty and because they were on a tall pedestal, they didn't interrupt conversation at the tables - great idea!
After "linner" (a combination lunch and dinner because it started at 3 p.m) the missionaries played "Minute to Win It" games - zone against zone. Here's on of the cheering sections and a couple of Elders keeping score.
Elders "prepping" for one of the games - moving cottonballs from one plate to another with just their nose.
"Ready, Set, Go!" NOTE - a couple of brave Sisters even got in on the action.
I think the winning total of cottonballs was 8---the missionaries had a great time!
While young missionaries were playing games, Senior missionaries were working - filling balloons, testing tiny lights and tying them to the balloons :)
The one Senior Elder who was filling balloons likes to keep people laughing all the time...although my fingers got sore from testing the lights, I had a great time laughing at him as he worked and joked around.
One Elder had the responsibility of moving the balloons that were ready to a different room and keeping a count for us.
We prepared 360 balloons while the younger missionaries were playing games - one balloon for every baptism up to that point in the year.
We came back to the cultural hall to a completely different spirit.....the games are over and the missionaries are gathered in zones reading special Christmas letters from home. They all said they loved those special letters.
As soon as the sun went down, the 140+ missionaries went to the room where the balloons were waiting. Some took two balloons and some took one and went out to the softball field next to the church parking lot. All the parking lot lights had been turned off so the balloons were almost the only light around. Here'e part of the group of missionaries waiting for the others to pick up their balloons and arrive at the designated release place.
Most of the lights are now turned on and waiting for the signal to release.
Elder Ashton jumped in front of me so he could take a video of the process......I was surprised that this video shows a little gray hair for him ;-)
The first of the balloons are released and I heard a soft, "Silent Night, Holy Night" that increased in volume as each missionary released his/her balloon(s) and joined in singing.
As I looked up at the sailing balloons and listened to the quiet singing of the missionaries, I began to feel chills up and down my arms as I thought of the 360 lives that these balloons represented and how well this activity fit in with the light the world initiative.
The balloons rising above the trees started out in a mostly flat formation......
...but as they rose higher the formation changed......
And changed some more with some balloons rising above the rest. I wonder if those high rising balloons seen in this picture represent the baptisms with extremely strong testimonies. What a great activity - something I won't soon forget.
Following this full day on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were catch up days at the office trying to get caught up and a little ahead to prepare for missionaries that would be arriving on Tuesday, December 27th. We received word that we were getting 4 extra missionaries who were waiting for visas to other countries, so I had a responsibility to create 4 more binders........however, buy Wednesday we learned that one of the four had received their visa and would not be coming.
Thursday was a temple day for all of our missionaries. We were attending three different sessions, 10 a.m., 10:45 a.m., and 11:30 a.m. We had a few minutes to walk around the grounds prior to attending the 10 a.m. session and I was taken by all the Agave plants around the temple grounds. The Agave is the decorative them of the temple and I found it interesting to see so many plants sending up the shoot.
The Agave motif glass front doors.
Christmas day was a relatively quiet day with a special program at church with lots of beautiful music and some of our family arriving from St. Johns and other parts of the Phoenix area to have Christmas dinner with us. We had a great time together laughing, talking, and reminiscing.
Our 15 year old granddaughter received a record player and a polaroid camera (who can say retro Christmas gifts). She was saying she didn't have any records so we went to the store room and pulled out some LPs that belonged to her great grandmother. We found this one among the LPs and were really excited to find this signed picture of the astronauts in the LP jacket - thinking we had found a treasure that was worth about $20,000 according to e-bay. ;( No such luck - looks like this picture was signed by a machine rather than by the individual astronauts. Oh well, it was fun while the excitement lasted :)
Anyone remember this day?
5 of the 7 new Sister Missionaries that arrived on Tuesday, December 27th. As you can tell, some of them were pretty tired by the time they arrived here - they said they had been up since 2 a.m. Two of our housing missionaries greeting these newly arrived Sisters.
Elder Ashton and I do our orientation training for new missionaries in the primary room. When we entered the room to get set up, we noticed this bulletin board and found it interesting and uplifting. Children have the sweetest testimonies!
K Brett Nattress. He was the Mission President here in Gilbert when we arrived in May. He is now serving as a General Authority 70. I think this child very accurately described the main message behind his talk.....and captured the hair and facial features pretty well too :)
This one is Brother Ashton of the General Sunday School Presidency. He is our nephew (the oldest son of Elder Ashton's brother). This picture was shared with him and his response was that the child got the hair and the tie exactly right. I also think he got the basic message of the talk which was on the doctrine of Christ - I would say repentance is a pretty important element of that doctrine :)
This past week I was again reminded of the all encompassing message of the gospel and just how much we have become an international religion. We had 8 new missionaries come in on Tuesday....one Elder from the Philippines, one Sister from Mongolia. Both will be serving in the Arizona Gilbert mission. Three Sisters who are waiting for visas to their assigned country. One is going to Trinidad, two are going to Sydney, Australia. One of the Sisters going to Sydney Australia is from Salt Lake City but is of Tongan descent. On Thursday, I received a baptismal record for a convert that was baptized a few days before Christmas. He is in the U.S. for 18 months going to flight school and ran into the missionaries and was easily converted.
It was exciting for me to enter the record and especially to see the signature in Chinese characters. I am amazed at how Heavenly Father and the Savior love each one of us, whether we write in characters, in cursive or in print or something else entirely.
Feeling so blessed to have the gospel in my life and to have the opportunity to serve with the missionaries!