To begin, we'll share our Christmas greeting sent by email and letter to friends and family:
Sing the Song of Redeeming Love…
We can only describe the past weeks as joyful and busy. We'll recount in reverse from our Christmas greeting to the events preceding. We've enjoyed visiting some of our convert and investigator families the past few days, sharing with them a Christmas message and a "whenever" breakfast goody bag. The Chases, the Howards, Sister Roca (who has returned), and a special visit last night that we will remember for a long time. Several others we want to see are working draining holiday jobs, and we will catch up to them when they can recover. One, Ibiri Boateng, was baptized on December 16. Unfortunately, he had to postpone his December 23 confirmation because he was working for 36 straight hours - Walmart's gift to their stocking employees! Born in Ghana, Obi (as he's known) has been in the U.S. for 14 years. With most of his family in DC, he's been in Georgia for about 2 years. He immediately recognized the truth when Elders Hanny and Edmunds taught him and totally turned away from old habits to new. We enjoyed having dinner with him at the Lilburn Ward Christmas Party. He speaks French and is delighted that Sister Paepaetaata from Tahiti is now serving in the ward and he can speak his favorite language with her! We feel blessed that we'll be able to continue working with and getting to know him better.
We had a bittersweet visit last night with Mercy and Malyssa Ansah last night. Merci is from Ghana, too. A single parent and member, she's been delaying the baptism for her 9-year old daughter, Malyssa. Malyssa is a cutie with lots of energy who charms everyone she meets. We called ahead and arranged a 7 p.m. visit. A secret Santa from the ward had dropped off a large box of gifts to the mission office for us to deliver along with our goodies. As Mercy invited us in, we noticed the pile of boxes and the unassembled bed frame in the living room of the tiny apartment. The stack of boxes have been there since Sister Connors first met them. With no storage, they can only keep their extras in the boxes. However, the borrowed sofa they were using previously had been returned to its owner, so there was only one computer chair to sit on, a sofa table, a small desk and a television. There were only those items, and a sad Malyssa wrapped up in blankets on the floor. Sick with the stomach flu, she had little desire to do more than say "hello" and "thank you." There was (by mom's choice) no tree, no decorations. This little girl who is usually ready with a big smile and hug and curiosity about what you have to offer was having a sad Christmas. We had to hold back the tears until we closed the door behind as we left. It will be an image we'll keep in our hearts and minds. We hope another visit from Sister Allen and Paepaetaata who were arriving at 8 p.m. helped to cheer them, too. Our Christmas Eve ended with prayers for this beautiful child and struggling mother, and a commitment to find them a small sofa or chairs. It was a blessed humility experience for our Christmas Eve. We know the Lord knows and is aware and will work the experience to their benefit.
Today, Christmas Day, we learned about a mission vehicle with a vandalized windshield. The incident reports can come at any time of any day. We are helping to filter some other disobedience distractions that may end in more early missionary departures (the 2nd time this month). Satan works so hard to tempt these missionaries into disobedience. We can't tell the story; it breaks our hearts when we hear and even more when we are the sounding board. But we have to recognize the challenging realities that exist in a mission right along with the joys.
Our son, David, texted us the week before Christmas to ask when was our Preparation Day. He surprised us with a one day visit as our Christmas gift. He flew in on Friday evening. We picked him up at the airport and spent a chilled windy Saturday with him, going to see the view from atop Stone Mountain (didn't stay long) and then to downtown Atlanta to visit the World of Coca-Cola and Olympic Park.
Then it was tacos at Los Hermanos, that favorite local taqueria, and a nice visit with Don and Zaza Clark. Sunday morning he picked up a rental car, rendezvoused with a former Alaska missionary friend, and then drove 560 miles to Mobile, AL where he is picking up a car to drive it back to Utah for friend Darren Webster. We so enjoyed a relaxed low-key day with him. He looks good, is eating healthier, and recovering well from some major dental surgery. It gave us great joy and peace of mind to spend time with him. We love him and are proud of the person he is. His Christmas gift to himself was to be another "solo" trip on the road. Last year he celebrated by hiking to Delicate Arch on Christmas morning to watch the sunrise after we shared family Christmas on Christmas Eve. He's celebrated the holiday in Panama, Alaska, and elsewhere. The life of a bachelor. He's now driven every state except Hawaii. However, his Christmas Day driving plans have been foiled. FedEx didn't get the purchase check to the dealer, so he's held up in Mobile until Wednesday. He'll make a discovery somewhere today, we're sure.
Speaking of FedEx, we still have about 50 missionary Christmas boxes in the mission office that arrived on Monday. We couldn't get the USPS boxes and 100 cards and letters re-addressed before the Post Office closed. We will probably get more on Wednesday, so it will be another all-day mail marathon and multiple trips to the Post Office. We have the best mail carriers. One day we received four deliveries, one of them with nothing in the truck but our missionaries' boxes! No, you can't wait until a week before Christmas to get a package to a missionary! But many loved ones tried! After Thanksgiving we started storing all packages in the mission office, leapfrogging the older packages back into delivery once we were assured we would have at least once package for each missionary for our Mission Christmas party. We ended up with hundreds of packages of all sizes saved at the Mission Office and hundreds more forwarded on. Packages everywhere! Why didn't we take a photo of all those gifts!? Too busy! Mail and packages have been the primary focus of the month, along with helping our new couple, Elder and Sister Hall, learn and adapt into the mission office routine. Some days we felt like we were sinking and have some catch up to do to be totally afloat again. However, it has brought great joy to bring these wonderful missionaries happiness.
We had our mission party on Wednesday, December 19, at the Stake Annex next to the Mission Office. It's the only time of year that all of the missionaries get together. We had a great catered turkey and stuffing dinner. The Halls helped us provide and put together little candy bags and a summarized bookmark of Elder Ballard's talk about Be Anxiously Engaged. A bee theme in the talk led to the Bee Merry and Bright greeting tag and Bits of Honey mixed with other candy. We saw a wonderful slide show of life in the mission for 2012. We we had an amazing talent show: Sister Paepaetaata performed island dances; Elders Dennie, Boman, MacDonald, Hemsley, and McConnehey created a happy rhythm and rap "I Get No Mail for Chistmas" parody; Sister Waterworth played her flute; Elder McConnehey gave an amazing jazz piano improv rendition of "I Hope They Call Me on a Mission"; Elder Rallison juggled; Elder McAllister balanced everything from a music stand to a full size banquet table on his chin (and got down and up on the floor while balancing); senior Elder Lee shared some favorite country songs; Elder Beenfield created a movie trailer sound effect number; senior Sister Lundgren sang The Lord's Prayer; Elder Fetuli played his ukulele as he sang "How Can I Become Like Him?", a touching reflection about dozens of Book of Mormon prophets and the Savior. It brought tears to our eyes. Elder Campbell concluded with a reverent and beautiful "The First Noel" vocal solo. The program ended as President and Sister Wolfert expressed their love, and it was time to finally find and open the many gift(s) we had transported from the mission office. It was a wonderful four hours! Unfortunately our camera battery went dead and our few photos of the event are lost in action!
Other December highlights include:
- Welcoming Sister Kathleen and Elder Richard Hall from Orem, UT. They replace Mike and Rosemary Bolt as the Finance Secretary and Housing Coordinator. We already love them so much!
- Soccer playoffs on Preparation Day with the Obers and Clarks and our first visit to a Chick-fil-a Dwarf House
- The Lilburn Ward Christmas Party; it was your typical Ward Christmas Party, but very enjoyable.
- A great empty-nester Family Home Evening. Len and Darlene Holladay (yes, Holladay, Utah is named after his family) shared their infamous and great hand-drawn and wonderfully told recitation of "The Grinch That Stole Christmas." They started the tradition with their family in the 1960's, after seeing the book in the Spokane newspaper (before its mass publication).
- A lovely senior missionary dinner at a local Italian restaurant.
- A visit to one of two well-known Nativity Celebrations in the Atlanta Area. We attended the event in Roswell with the Halls. Another was held the week before in Gainesville. It was a great community missionary event that draws thousands to see nearly a thousand amazing nativity displays and enjoy musical numbers from local talent. It was beautiful and spiritual.
- Catching the amazing nutcracker collection window display in tiny, downtown Lilburn.
- Shopping for sub-for-Santa events.
- Helping Zaza and her granddaughters decorate the Christmas tree.
- Attending the Sugar Hill Choir Christmas Concert. It was another wonderful community event and tugged at our hearts already missing being part of the Orchard Stake Concert at home.
- Working two preparations days: one driving to Jonesboro to get a totaled car out of impound; another deep cleaning and organizing the mission office in preparation for another new couple (mission nurse and husband) who will arrive in January. That effort is still in progress. So much to do!
- Helping the Halls transition into their jobs.
- Improvising with copy and fax machines down and installing a totally new phone system and hardware two days ago.
- AND...notifications of new missionaries are arrive at an amazing rate, so comes the handling all of the correspondence, paperwork, and logistics that come with it. January arrivals will be a fairly standard seven. February? Seventeen and counting (mostly sisters). March? Thirteen and counting; they will be among the first group to enter the mission field after only 10 days in the MTC. April? Eight and counting. Our collective minds are spinning thinking about what it will be mean in terms of expansion as we may gain 100 additional missionaries in our ranks. It will be an especially busy time for the Housing Coordinator. Furniture donations have started and every week we have people dropping housing items off to the office of the storage unit. How many new areas will we open? Everyone needs to bring a bike. Where will we store the bikes until their owners arrive? How will we find 12-week trainers for 30 sisters when we only have twelve sisters right now? It's exciting, and there couldn't be a better Christmas and New Year gift.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, one and all.