Sunday, December 29, 2013

Christmas Gifts

Christmas decorations in Koror
Christmas in the mission field is much different than at home, but how grateful we are for the opportunity to focus more on the Savior and serve our younger missionaries and the people of Palau.  The hot temperatures and high humidity were definitely unChristmasy.  Our outdoor light display brought a festive holiday feeling as Christmas music played in our car and apartment.  
Christmas caroling in the heat

Join in the singing

Another home, another carol

Following lively Christmas caroling, our zone decided to celebrate Christmas Eve with a dinner at the Palau Pacific Resort, an exclusive hotel in this country.  We took several pictures around their decorated tree and entry way, and then found our way to the beach and our table for ten.  We had just ordered dinner when we felt the first sprinkles.  We waited for a few minutes under an awning, canceled our dinner, and decided to find an indoor restaurant since the rain continued to fall.  We watched a couple of our branch members dance at a beach barbecue then drove to the Rose Garden Restaurant where we had a lively discussion, good food, and enjoyed time spent together.
Palau Pacific Resort tree
Palauan dancers under a canopy/photographer in the rain

Christmas day dawned bright and beautiful with calls to and from family members.  The younger missionaries came to call home, and thanks to technology, four of us could talk at the same time.  In between phone calls we helped ourselves to cold cereal and lots of pies Sister Carter made, and treats sent by family members.  We enjoyed sitting around the tree opening gifts together, played a couple of games, then ate some more.  Many missionaries did not receive packages from home YET, but they all had packages to open from our secret Santa event and a Christmas game.
Treats from home

What could it be?

Opening gifts

Making a cake

Puzzle time

Love comes in Christmas boxes

Letters are a wonderful gift

More gifts

In cognito

Family makes us happy
Embroidered head band

Elder Malais

Sister Purcell

Sister Norgrant

 Elders Murdoch, Fullmer, Dopp

Sisters Norgrant, Masiasomua, Ale, Purcell

Elder Malais

Opening all at once

What?  No Alphabits?

Elder Fullmer and Elder Dopp

Elder Dopp

How does this work?

Ready to open

Lots of gifts under the tree

In the Christmas spirit

Bring on the gifts

Christmas music

Sister Ale

Sister Masiasomua

Elder Carter and See's Chocolates

Sister Purcell surrounded by gifts

We gathered again Christmas evening for another baptism, Marsh Henio.  Each baptism is sweet, but how much more memorable to share this experience on Christmas day—the only way to have a “white Christmas” in Palau.
Mars Henio

Mars and Elder Fullmer

Henio and Dativa's family plus Sister Carter

Since the 26th of December here is Christmas in the United States, some missionaries called home and we were able to visit with more of our family.  We are so grateful for Skype and Facetime and that our children carve time in their busy, holiday schedules to allow us a glimpse into their Christmas celebrations.  Our children spoiled us with gifts, cards, letters, and lots of attention.  We love you so much!
Elder Dopp on Skype with his family

We jumped right back into missionary work following the holiday and enjoyed sharing the First Presidency message with many of our branch members.  Saturday evening we gathered for another baptism of two new members:  Antonio Borja and Dildis Melus.  We were privileged to be the witnesses at Antonio and Fran’s wedding just before his baptism.
Dildis waiting for baptism

Dildis' family

Antonio's family plus sister missionaries


Church services seem to involve a little guesswork.  We always start Sacrament Meeting on time at 9:00 A.M., but we’re never sure how many people will attend by the time it’s over at 10:10.  We began this Sunday with about 50 people and ended up with over 110.  Our three new members were confirmed and received the gift of the Holy Ghost and then our speakers were three of the St. George group who will be going home in only two more weeks.
President Kesolei made a giant announcement at the baptism Saturday night as he told the members that the mission would now help them go to the temple two times each year.  Considering that it’s at least $1,000 per member per trip, that’s an extraordinary gift.  Elder Carter added another giant announcement of President Kesolei’s call to serve as second counselor in the Micronesia Guam Mission Presidency.  We’re so happy for him and his desire and ability to serve in this capacity and wholeheartedly sustain him.
Sister Ale and Sister Norgrant with Kessy & Kubarii

President Kesolei’s new calling will bring about major changes in the branch, and we’re looking forward to President Mecham’s visit in mid-January when we’ll find out what those changes may be.  We’re praying mightily that as he calls those to lead the Palau branch in the years to come that we will do all in our power to sustain, support, and love our new leaders.
Brianna Bryner and Crystal Huffaker, our Primary counselors leaving soon

The New Year begins this week, and with it we recommit ourselves to humbly seek the Lord’s direction as we serve here in Palau.  May each of you recognize the hand of the Lord in your lives and rely more fully upon his strength and wisdom as you step forward into a new beginning in 2014.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Ungil Kurismas

A blur of activities and preparation for Christmas, yet we feel somewhat un-Christmas-like with equal parts hot temperatures and humidity.  We’re grateful for this season of the year and our focus on the birth of the Christ child as we look for more ways to serve Him and His children in the beautiful isles of Palau.
Elder Carter wishing all a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Delivering hygiene kits to hospital (Minister of Health)

Hygiene kit assembly

Monday evening several branch members and all the missionaries gathered at our apartment for a dinner hosted by Betty and Clair Hall.  Betty wanted to cook for all of us one more time before their departure to the States on Wednesday morning.  All 20 of us enjoyed her generosity and thoughtfulness as we ate lasagna, salad, bread, and her famous four-layer dessert.  We will surely miss them in the branch!
What shirt size?

Good food/good company

What size again?

We eat well.

Kids had fun too.

Betty at work.

Who needs chairs?


Serving ourselves

Tuesday evening all of the missionaries and some branch members entertained at Bethlehem Park as part of the community Christmas celebration.  We sang eight Christmas carols to a delighted audience.  We think they liked our singing, but they especially enjoyed Santa’s visit following our performance.
Sister Norgrant, Sister Purcell, Sister Masiasomua, Sister Ale

We hurried from the park to do some home teaching to a less-active brother, and we were so happy to see the light of the gospel shine in his countenance.  We’ve been visiting him for about three months now and feel blessed to see the gentle but sure transformation as he remembers his testimony and the outpouring of heaven’s blessings upon him.
Koror at  Christmas

Sister Carter said goodbye to her Palau High School class last week, but they asked her to return on Wednesday so they could finish the party they started last week.  Together they reviewed what they had learned over the semester in preparation for the final exam on Thursday, took pictures, ate ice cream, and then delighted Sister Carter with Palauan dances and giant farewell cards.  She left part of her heart with each one.
Giant cards presented by beautiful girls!

Showing some dance moves

Beautiful faces!!

The last Seminary class for 2013 concluded Wednesday night with the challenge to read and pray about the Book of Mormon every day during the holiday break.  We’re already looking towards our opening class/party on January 8th and are pushing hard to make sure we have even more students attend faithfully.  Institute completed this semester on Thursday night with a lesson followed by pizza and treats to celebrate the season.
Elders & Kaytano before he leaves for his mission

We will miss you!

The branch Christmas party on Saturday night was a smash!  Elder Carter, ever the accountant, counted all 91 members and investigators who chose to spend their Saturday evening with us.  The Primary began the talent show with a couple of Christmas carols followed by the full-time elders showing their Palauan dance skills taught them by several young boys.  We’re pretty sure the chapel neighbors had to hear the peals of laughter crashing through the windows, especially when it didn’t stop during the entire dance routine.  Melody Lee sang a famous Philippine song called “Christmas in Our Hearts”, and she performed with no accompaniment.  So brave!  She was followed by the sister missionaries and several other sisters demonstrating their outstanding Samoan dance skills.  All those practices were definitely worth it!  Raphia Ngiraked sang an original Christmas song and accompanied herself on the guitar.  She knows how to sing from the heart.  The Antonio girls presented a beautiful authentic Palauan dance. Each missionary companionship then hosted games that brought even more laughter and squeals of delight.  Everyone ate cookies, cookies, and more cookies washed down with chocolate or strawberry flavored milk to end the fun-filled evening of love, fellowship, and celebration of Christmas.
Game time

All the right moves


Knock off the ornament

Hang the ornament

No hands

Jingle in the trunk

Jingle again

Keep jingling

Follow the leader

Beautiful Samoan dance

Dollar trick

How low can you go?

So creative!

All together

Melody can sing!

Primary children

Ready to start
We had lots of sweet surprises at the branch Christmas party including Maylin Obak's visit from St. George. Originally from Palau, Maylin moved to St. George just before we left on our mission.  We met her three days before we entered the MTC in April and she gave us a beautiful and practical introduction to Palau. Now it's an extra blessing to meet her in her homeland and introduce her to many new members.

Sacrament Meeting Sunday morning was the culmination of many months of music rehearsals and preparation.  Eleven speakers quoted thoughts from General Authorities about the birth of Jesus Christ and his love for each of his children.  They spoke about how we can find peace in this life through keeping the commandments and serving those around us with charity and love.  They testified of the reality of Jesus Christ, the only Begotten Son of the Father in the flesh, and his mercy as he willingly offered to come to earth, teach us the way home, then suffered the Atonement that we might live with him again.  Between the speakers, the choir offered three different musical gems that were medleys of famous Christmas carols.  The sister missionaries sang “Mary’s Lullaby” and Sister Purcell sang a solo of “Mary, Did You Know?” accompanied by Elder Malais on the guitar.  The Young Men and Young Women sang “Still, Still, Still” while the Primary sang three short songs from the Primary songbook.  The congregation were included too as they sang “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and “Angels We Have Heard on High” between a couple of the speakers.  We felt a wonderful spirit inspired by word and song and feel ever more deeply the profound nature of the Savior’s sacrifice.
Young Men delivering treats to Primary

We pray that each of you have been touched by a word, thought, or hymn this week that will help you bend more humbly before Him who gladly ransoms us as we daily repent.  May the “Spirit of Christ” fill your hearts and homes as you celebrate this season.  Please remember that we miss you, but our thoughts of home are miraculously replaced with joy serving the Savior in this singular time and place.  We love you!