We hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas celebration this year and we wish all of you a Happy and prosperous New Year. This has been a busy time for us but it has been a beautiful time as we were able to truly celebrate Christmas this year. (On the right: their Christmas tree. If you look at the stairs you can see the silhouettes of miniature nutcrackers, with mouths that open & close!)
This Christmas there was just the 2 of us – as I think about it – this is the first Christmas ever that we have been together just by ourselves. We certainly miss family but it was nice to be together. We gave each other a King Flute made from bamboo. We hope to learn how to play them before we get home.Last week started with a Philippine funeral. The husband of the Primary President had come home for the weekend and he passed away on Sunday morning. We found out about this on Monday morning. We visited the family that afternoon. The funeral homes don’t have a place to have viewings so the body is prepared and taken to the family’s home for viewing. The funeral director provides a curtain backdrop, a nice rug to go under the casket and several floor lamps around the casket. The body remains in the home until all of the debts and funeral expenses are paid and then the body is released for burial. I was a bit shocked at first but as I have thought about this – where else would be more sacred than a home for the viewing to be at? So it is beginning to feel a little bit more comfortable now.
Monday evening we had all of the missionaries (plus some others) in the San Gabriel Zone at our house for a Christmas dinner of ham, potatoes, vegetables, fruit salad, rolls and of course lots of rice. Our Tagalog tutor (Sister Briones (tutor) and Mom) made a large chocolate cake for us (you can’t celebrate a birthday without a birthday cake). We all ate well. After dinner we did a gift exchange. Mom told a story where everyone had to pass the present either right or left and I have never seen anyone laugh as hard as these Elders. One of the Zone leaders had given a Barbie doll as a funny gift. The Zone leaders and others wanted one particular Elder to get the doll – I was the lucky one so I now have a Barbie doll. The Zone leader apologized to me, explaining that it was a joke gift. I reassured him that it was just fine and that I knew a little girl that would love that doll. I asked him if it would be alright if I could give it to her. They laughed and laughed that I got the doll. We then sang and read from our traditional nativity story for Family Home Evening and then shared testimonies. This was one of the most sacred experiences we have had. We have come to love these young men. They are so good. They are some of our latter-day stripling warriors. At the end of the night Mom and I gave them all a small present bag from us. I think we caught them by surprise.(San Gabriel Zone: back: Dad, Elders Spiva, Buzbee middle: Elders Duero,Popoy, Lunag, Stirland, & Shiver
front: Elders Seru, DelaCruz, & Bergonia)
Tuesday we were able to make up some food baskets (actually boxes) and take them to some of the members. The branch was doing this also so I asked if we could do some of the members in particular. . I figured that if the full time elders and I would take them we could say that the boxes were from the members of the branch and they would know that the poor Elders couldn’t afford this. Perfect plan! This reminded me of the times we did this for Family Home Evening. I was impressed to put a Book of Mormon reader in one box and then just as I left, I decided to put some money in a Christmas card for one of the families. He has been without work and they are struggling. Well, we went to this family and they invited us into the home. They made some hot chocolate because it was cold outside (84 degrees and I’m drinking hot chocolate!) Their little boy about 5 or 6 opened the box and saw the book. He took the book out and came and sat down next to me. This is unusual because most kids are a little nervous to be around a big white guy. He cuddled into my side and after he rubbed the hair on my arm (it must be a good luck thing) we read from the Book of Mormon reader. I was in heaven. This has been as close to a grandchild that I have been in a long time and he let me read to him in my broken Tagalog. On Sunday the mother came up to mom and put her head on moms shoulder and cried. She thanked mom for the money. The dad thanked me but I played dumb- so the plan wasn’t perfect after all. The sister came over to me and hugged me and cried. My heart melted and I wanted to give them more. To me this is what Christmas is all about. They weren’t expecting anything. I love surprises.
Wednesday evening December 22, we went to Manila for Christmas dinner with the four senior missionary couples and President and Sister Howard. We were blessed to have the Thomas’s with us for the evening. Elder and Sister Thomas are assigned to the island of Palawan and we don’t get to see them very often. We all had a wonderful evening together. We had some small gifts for all of them and mom and I thought it would be nice to give the assistants and office elders a Christmas bag. I think we surprised them also. The Thomas’s gave each of the senior couples a large sea shell from the island. It is really cool and pretty.Thursday we had an appointment with a member family to share family home evening with them. (On the left; Dalo family FHE) They have 10 children and are a great asset to this branch. The kids are very good kids. One of the boys taught himself to play the piano because the branch needed someone to play the piano. (On the right; Nathan Dalo playing the piano)
We enjoyed singing, games and dinner with them. That was nice of them to invite us – the mother told us that we couldn’t be by ourselves for Christmas, especially our first Christmas in the Philippines, so they wanted to have us in their home.Christmas Eve was a riot. We were settling in for a quiet night and then the fireworks started. I lost count of the number of carolers that came to our door. It is expected that you give them something we gave them candy. The fireworks continued until about 4:00 am. It was not a night for anyone to sleep. Christmas Day was quiet until about 4:00 – the carolers came back again and again. Then at dark the parties began. I really think that the windows in our house were shaking from the music from all the neighbor’s homes. Mom and I laughed and laughed.
I thought that we could just ramble a little bit and tell you of some of the unique things we have seen here. They won’t be in any particular chronological order but as I count my blessings I write down just a note here and there so I won’t forget about what we have seen. Mom will send the pictures so these experiences will make better sense.
The Philippine people can do anything they set their minds to do. For example, we watched a man paint this two-story house. He didn’t have a ladder so he leaned out the window and painted the upper portion with the long roller. It was fun to watch him. We went back a little while later and the house was finished. We didn’t take a close-up look but from the street it looked ok.
When we come home later in the evening and the stores are closed, the street vendors come out. They cook all kinds of things – usually chicken or pork on a skewer. Balut is a delicacy. Balut is a fertilized duck egg and one can buy the partially cooked egg (still liquid in the center) and drink the egg with the little duck inside. Sounds delicious to me! But one of the busiest places at night is the Lotto. These places usually have a line outside – everyone looking to make their fortune. Gambling is no more than a tax on the poor people and that is really apparent here.
On one of our journeys with Elder and Sister Smith we were able to go to the Mall of Asia, the 4th largest mall in the world. Again I admit that I don’t understand the fascination the people have with malls but they certainly are loud and crowded. Mom said that part of the love for the malls is that they are air-conditioned. It’s a great place to get out of the heat. There were two things that were notable about this mall. The parking garage has sensors in each parking stall so when a car parks in a stall a red light comes on above the parking stall. If it is open the light is green. You don’t have to drive all over to find a parking spot you just look for the green lights – great idea huh? The second great thing – a SPAM kiosk! I really hope they were serving grilled SPAM and not SPAM juice. Eeeeew - gross!!
It is interesting to see how some of the crops are harvested here. There are plenty of people so manual labor is cheap. It is not uncommon to be driving down the street of a small town and see a tarp in one lane of the road covered with rice. They are drying the rice and you will not run over the rice. I would imagine it would be like driving on tiny marbles and there would some sliding around. We have on occasion eaten rice and there have been small rocks in the rice – maybe this is where the rocks get into the rice?
Just a little way down the road we saw some people laying out some long orange things on a cement basketball pad. We thought they were carrots. We were surprised to see that it was corn. I have never seen orange corn. We were thinking that it is popcorn but we are not certain. It has been drying now for about three weeks (which begs the question – How can you air dry something when the humidity is close to 80% every day?One last thing. Last Saturday evening, December 18 was our branch Christmas party. We were not able to attend the entire party since President Howard asked me to attend a meeting with the Stake and District Presidents and the Area 70. We came to the party at the end of the dancing/entertainment. The little children were in the middle of the floor and someone threw a handful of candy out onto the floor. The kids went absolutely wild. Then someone threw some coins on the floor. Now they really went wild. More coins came out and now some of the adults came on the floor picking up the money. The adults would throw the money back onto the floor It was so wild.
Well, thanks for letting me just go on. I hope this will make sense to you. This is a wonderful country. The people are beautiful. (On the right, Sister Gregorio & her grandbaby) They have a determined will. I get frustrated with some of the things they do, but mom always reminds me that I am the stranger here. But the good news is: the gospel is true and these people are ready!
The mission is on target for 225 baptisms in December. This mission alone baptizes the equivalent of a new stake each year and there are 16 missions here in the Philippines. It is unbelievable.
We are doing well. I have just resigned myself to the fact that I am just part of the food chain here. Anything the bites, sucks blood or licks comes my way. We are excited to be here and look for additional ways to serve. Hope that you are all doing well. Thank you for your prayers, love and support. We love you all and pray for each of you. Remember to be good, do good and be men and women of Christ. And always remember to say your prayers.
Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Janene and Grant