It has been another very busy week “plowing” in the Florida Orlando Mission field. On Tuesday we welcomed six new missionaries from the Mission Training Center in Provo, Utah and two from the Mission Language Training Center in Mexico City, Mexico. Due to the smaller than normal numbers (I guess everyone wanted to wait until after the holidays) we didn't get the opportunity to meet them at the airport, but we did get to join them for dinner later in the day.
A delicious dinner of baked ham, homemade macaroni and cheese, and green beans (comfort foods-thanks to our food fairy Sister Berry) for the newly arrived missionaries at the Mission Home. Elder Wood’s back is to us but from left to right, Elders Jones, Albin, Fullmer, Thompson, and supervisors Elder Busath and Gordon.
Sisters Bracken, Stratman and Jacklin.
And for dessert, chocolate birthday cake! President Berry blowing out his birthday candles.
Elders Jones and Albin working on the singing snowman jig saw puzzle while they wait patiently to e-mail home to let their families know that they arrived safely.
Bright, and very early Tuesday morning we conducted orientation for the new missionaries. Elder Gordon is telling them the do’s and don’t in regards to vehicle safety.
The newest members to the mission, from back left to right Elder Thompson, Fullmer, Jones, Albin, Wood, Nielson, Sisters Stratman, Jacklin, and Bracken.
All waiting to continue the next leg of their journey…
We began a new method of conducting transfers in the mission December 2nd. No more “party in the parking lot” as companions said good bye to their old friends and welcomed the new. Only the missionaries being transferred were contacted by their Zone Leaders and asked to meet at the Hunter’s Creek Stake Center at a specific time. When they arrived they were quickly ushered in to the building where they took their seats in the chapel and waited for the new trainers and trainees to complete their instruction. The missionaries being transferred sat at the right side of the chapel, their old companions and those that were there to pick up new companions sat in the center section of the chapel according to Zones. Members of the church who had graciously driven the missionaries from their various areas to the transfer meeting were welcomed to stay and they sat in the back of the chapel.
There was a feeling of great excitement and anticipation in the air. No one knew where they would be going, or with whom and so they were all on the edge of their seats. President Berry presided over the meeting and the Assistants to the President, Elders Curtis, Quarnberg and Patten (who was just called a few days before), conducted the meeting. The President spoke briefly about the spiritual process that went in to creating the companionship's and then began by introducing each newly arrived missionary by displaying their picture on an overhead screen and reading a short biography about them. Then a picture of their new trainer/companion was displayed and both missionaries would then stand, greet one another, usually a handshake or a hug, sometimes both, and then find a seat in the Zone in which they would be serving. Following the introductions of each new missionary the President read off a long list of names of missionaries being transferred and the names of their new companions and the areas they were called to serve in. They also stood, greeted their new companions and proceeded to the appropriate Zone. It was wonderful to feel of their enthusiasm and I seriously didn't think it could get much better than this, but it did. Before the meeting was adjourned the President asked each of the departing missionaries to stand and bear their testimonies. I always get a little teary eyed when I feel the Spirit, but having personally known many of the departing missionaries made it especially hard. It was powerful to hear of their experiences, their challenges and their successes and to know that this might be the last time that we would be seeing them, never knowing the next chapter of their stories. We were so proud of them and knew that they would be missed.
At the conclusion of the meeting everyone was invited to stay for a lunch of Subway sandwiches and then be on their way. As you can see we spared no expense on decorations J
Following our Transfer Meeting we hurried back to the office to spend some time tying up loose ends, addressing vehicle or bike problems, apartment needs, proselyting material distribution and then it was off to prepare for the departure dinner…
Normally the missionaries and President and Sister Berry are at the Florida Orlando Temple and the “Office Staff”, the Gordon’s, the Nielson’s and us have the privilege to make dinner and have it ready for them when they return. But this time the temple was closed so they attended the temple last Saturday and so we hurried around with hungry missionaries under foot.
While dinner cooked Elder and Sister Gordon, Elder Nielson, Elder Lee, Elder Coe (supervising) and Sister Kerns tried to beat the clock and see if they could finish the puzzle before dinner.
Elders Jensen, Patten and Niederhauser reminiscing. Elders Jensen and Niederhauser would be leaving in the morning on a jet plane bound for home for their new adventure, Elder Patten’s adventures as a new Assistant to the President would just be beginning.
Elders Romero, Quarnberg and Curtis, the three amigos. Elder Romero would be departing for his home in Fontana, California, much to our dismay. We tried to talk him into staying (even offered to take him out to dinner, because we knew how effective that was) but we both knew it was time for the next chapter in his life.
The Departure Dinner is served. Chicken Cordon Bleu, funeral potatoes, broccoli and cheese, orange fluff-back by demand-green salad, rolls and for dessert apple pie and ice cream.
From left to right, Elders Lee, Baugh, Ashby, Romero, Sister Kerns, Elders Thomas, Niederhauser, Beach, Jensen, and Coe. Oh the stories I could tell you about each one of these wonderful missionaries! Some stories too close to my heart to share, others I am sworn t secrecy to protect the innocent :0
I will say that rumor has it that two of these Elders are “almost engaged” already. The grapevine reports that it became official for Elder Ashby just a day after his return, Elder Thomas?
Elder Mark Romero from Fontana, California. He served as an Assistant to the President since we have been here and as a result we have gotten to know him well and grown to love him. If we could have adopted him we would have!
Sister Alexis Kerns homeward bound!
Sister Michelle Bonilla, 12, baptized Thursday, December 5th at the Pleasant Hill building.
Michelle’s baptism was well attended by the several missionaries in the area. Sisters Salvesen, Sister Jamison, Elder Galindo, Elder Sherwin and Elder Cluff.
On Saturday, December 7th our Senior Missionary District, including President and Sister Berry, attended the 36th Annual Cracker Christmas at Fort Christmas Historical Park. It was held just one weekend a year and by the look of the grassy field also known as the parking lot, it was a very popular event. They had displays for weaving, spinning, lace making, pioneer food, a civil war camp, handmade crafts and much much more. They actually had community groups and 4 H groups selling swamp cabbage, gator meat, stew and biscuits, but we opted for hot dogs and chips just to be on the safe side. It reminded me a lot of Apple Hill in Placerville in the fall with a few minor exceptions. It was over 85 degrees outside with high humidity, and although there were sweet treats, ice cream, fudge, there was not a caramel apple, apple donut or apple pie in sight.
Even the kids got into the spirit of things and danced as the Seminole Indians might have back in the day.
They had something for everyone here at Fort Christmas. Crafts for the women, sweet treats for the kids and antique cars and tractors for the men. But the best part about Fort Christmas is that they hand stamp every letter. So if you happen to receive a Christmas card from us, check out the post mark :)
We heard through the grapevine (Facebook) that after 7 long weeks the Pleasant Hill Ward was finally going to receive a new Bishop. Bishop Justin Rucker had recently been called to serve in the Hunter’s Creek Stake Presidency leaving a hole that would be hard to fill. Brother Carlos Augusto Godoy, a Memeber of the Seventy, happened to be in town visiting relatives,was presiding at today’s Sacrament Meeting and President Ryan Munns, the new Hunter’s Creek Stake President and President Justin Rucker were on hand to speak. It was an amazing Sacrament Meeting and we were thrilled to hear them announce that Carlos Palomino had been called to be the new Bishop! He was on the top of our very short list. He currently was the Ward Mission Leader and was doing a fabulous job. He is a nurse and the father of three small children, two very busy little boys, almost 4 and 3 and a baby sister 1. His family is originally from Peru and they moved to the United States when he was 6 years old-less than 20 years ago I would guess. His wife is from Argentina who moved to the United States when she was 13. They met soon after he returned from his mission and the rest is the stuff of fairy tales. Brother Egg, currently the Young Men’s President was called to serve as his first councilor with Brother Realpe as his second councilor. One other interesting note; Brother and Sister Realpe just recently moved to the area and have been converts to the church for just a little over two years. They felt especially drawn to the Pleasant Hill Ward when they were looking for a place to plant roots in Florida and now they know why!
The second Sunday is “Linger Longer” in the Pleasant Hill Ward and today was no exception! It was chips and dips and the members of the ward out did themselves once again! The Tucker’s “Very Hot” salsa is to die for and there is no comparison to homemade salsa from Columbia, Peru or Argentina.
Brother Realpe probably spreading the good news!
Just a little background to set the stage on the above picture. A few months ago, May or June, the Pleasant Hill Ward held a dinner and silent auction to help the Scouts and Young Women in the ward earn money to attend camp. Autumn offered to knit a baby quilt as her auction item and we couldn't resist. So we wrote down what we thought was a fair price for her efforts and we won! We paid our money and didn't give it another thought until today. Since that time we were transferred to the Poinciana Branch and didn't have a chance to run into the family to inquire about the quilt until today. Each member of the family proudly informed us that the blanket was finished and could we stop by to pick it up? We were thrilled with the result! It is beautiful and we can’t wait to wrap it up and put it in the mail to help keep baby Wade warm when he arrives the end of March.
Autumn Hammock and yours truly at her home in front of the Christmas tree to record her special gift for Wade.
It's late the blog is not cooperating so I will close, but before I close I just had to include a Christmas story I thought worth sharing:
The Empty Box
Even though it was only September, the air was crisp and children were already whispering about Christmas plans and Santa Claus. It made the already long winter months until Christmas seem even longer. With each passing day the children became more anxious, waiting for the final school bell. Upon its ringing everyone would run for their coats and go home, everyone except David.
David was a small boy with messy brown hair and tattered clothes. I had often wondered what kind of home life David had and often asked myself what kind of mother could send her son to school dressed so inappropriately for the cold winter months, without a coat, boots, or gloves. But something made David special. It wasn't his intelligence or manners, for they were lacking just as his winter clothes were. But I can never recall looking at David and not seeing a smile. He was always willing to help and not a day passed that David didn't stay after school to straighten chairs and clean erasers. We never talked much, he would just simply smile and ask what else he could do, then thank me for letting him stay and slowly head for home.
Weeks passed and the excitement over the coming Christmas grew into restlessness until the last day of school before the holiday break. I can't recall a more anxious group of children as that final bell rang and they scattered out the door. I smiled in relief as the last of them hurried out the door. Turning around I saw David quietly standing by my desk.
"Aren't you anxious to get home David?" I asked.
"No," he replied quietly.
Ready to go home myself, I said, "Well, I think the chairs and erasers will wait, why don't you hurry home?"
"I have something for you," he said and pulled from behind his back a small box wrapped in old paper and tied with string. Handing it to me, he said anxiously, "Open it." I took the box from him, thanked him and slowly unwrapped it. I lifted the lid and to my surprise saw nothing. I looked at David's smiling face and back into the empty box and said, "The box is nice David, but it's empty."
"Oh no it isn't," said David. "It's full of love. My mum told me before she died that love was something you couldn't see or touch unless you know it's there... can you see it?"
Tears filled my eyes as I looked at the proud dirty face that I had rarely given attention to. "Yes, David, 'I can see it," I replied. "Thank you." David and I became good friends after that Christmas and I can say that with the passing years, I never again let the uncombed hair bother me, and never forgot the meaning behind the little empty box that set on my desk.
Thinking of all of you especially at this very special time of the year and sending my "empty" box filled with love to each of you.
Until next time............