Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas Week 2014
As usual, the week simply flew by.  Monday through Wednesday we attended the various Christmas Devotionals and took their Christmas gifts.  Monday we traveled to Cherry Hill, NJ, which is just north of Camden, NJ so only about 45 minutes away.  Tuesday we were here for the Philadelphia zones and the Valley Forge zones.  It was by far the largest devotional.  Then Wednesday we traveled to Nazareth, about 2 hours north-west of here for the last one.  Yes, upon coming home we traveled through Bethlehem, then north of Philadelphia to deliver a lost Christmas package to a sister who had just received that single gift.  We wanted her to be able to have it for Christmas.  We arrived home, traveling the entire way there and back in the rain, so tired that we called the President and he and his sweet wife met us at a local Chinese Buffet called Ichiban.  It was fun.  Sister Ballard also invited the AP's and when she told them where to meet, she mistakenly said "Itchy Buns".  After a hearty laugh and inability to correct herself, we all got on the same page and enjoyed a Chinese buffet.  Here are just a few highlights of our Christmas Devotionals:
 Elder Jones had his service elders do the Squatty body routine about "Adjusting to Missionary Life" at each devotional and the audience really did enjoy it.
 This is Elder Hunt and he has only been here 1 week.  He studied violin all summer in NYC and is a concert level violinist.  He did some "fiddling" for us and when he was done his violin bow was shredded...
 Elders Hellyer and Murphy and Sisters Balyot and Steadman singing.  They are from the Cherry Hill zone.
 Elders Rich and Milligan doing a skit in Broomall.  They serve in downtown Philly and their skit was concerning 3 different African Americans that they would contact on the street.  Elder Milligan is about 5'2", been a member for only a year and is from the South.  He explained at the end of this skit that he used to be a gang member in his hometown and that he was so grateful that missionaries had contacted him and given him the chance to become a member of this church and urged us not to judge who would accept the gospel but share it freely with everyone.
 Elder Paulsen challenged President Anderson to a water drinking contest.  The stakes:  a trade of ties.  Elder Paulsen bet he could drink 2 bottles of water before President could drink 1.  He did!  He finished his 2 bottles before President could take 2 sips.  The secret:  he placed the bottle in his mouth, then pushed the bottom of the bottle upwards, forcing the water out in a giant gush.  Probably not a good idea to try...President did trade ties...
This is the Lehigh Valley District singing the 12 Days of Christmas, missionary style.  It was very entertaining.  The missionaries also saw the movie "17 Miracles" and had a spiritual message from President and Sister Anderson.  They received a temple recommend holder with the Philadelphia Temple pictured on it.  We handed out all of their presents from home and they all traveled home safely.  Christmas day was spent delivering packages.  We headed out at about 8:30 and arrived back home at 4 pm.  We traveled to Philadelphia, then Maryland, then Dover Delaware, with stops down and back.  It was fun.  Here is what we discovered, however:  Philadelphia and surrounding places shuts completely down--EVERYTHING!  There was not a grocery store open, not the WaWa, nor McDonalds and they stayed shut all Christmas day.  The Ballards intended to purchase something for Christmas dinner on our way home after the last conference, but nothing was open.  (Thank goodness for us, they say that Chinese Restaurants sometimes stay open...)  In Maryland and Delaware, however, grocery stores, C-stores and Fast Food places were open.  

We did enjoy a lovely Christmas dinner with our sister missionaries at the home of the McElroys.  They are a fun couple in our ward, probably about 10 years younger than us.  She had a Prime Rib and it was so very delicious.  Her name is Susan, and she did not have family coming this year--they headed to see their kids in Utah the next day--so she trimmed down her decorating.  She only had 5 Christmas trees.  The decorations would have easily filled 50 totes--villages, nativities, mini-trees, special items from Germany--you name it, she had it.  It was fun to see and very festive.  

Saturday we were rather tired and looking forward to an actual P-day, but it did not happen.  They held a leadership training council, so we headed down to the church to feed them lunch.  We made it easy on ourselves by ordering their favorite--PIZZA.  We ended up staying most of the day and then headed to downtown Philadelphia for a very nice dinner at "Davio's Italian Steakhouse".  It was elegant and served the most delicious food I have ever tasted.  It is located on the second floor of an old bank building in downtown Philly.
 Below:  us seated at our table.  We were surrounded by very attentive waiters and other serving staff and wondered just who to tip...We had our nametags on and the waiter was a bit familiar with our Word of Wisdom items and asked if there was anything we should not partake of other than alcohol and caffeine.  He really looked out for us. 
 These are the appitizers:  Kobe beef meatballs and an assortment of Spring Rolls.  There were 5 types of Spring Rolls, each with its own sauce and each so wonderfully tasty.
 This was my main course:  Tuna with a soy reduction and some greens.  The tuna was cooked just right and the sauce was amazing.  We also ordered some crispy onions and marinated mushrooms.
Elder Jones had a filet mignon and put the marinated mushrooms atop.  He said the meat was so tender he could cut it with his fork.  Thanks, John for a fun Christmas gift!  We will finish the week by having the Sister missionaries for dinner tonight.  We enjoy having them.
We look forward this week to a busy finish of the year in the office.  Elder Jones had a bad accident reported this morning, so he has to take care of that.  Thankfully, the elders were not injured, but were a bit shaken up.  Meanwhile I had 2 phones go down over the weekend.  Tomorrow we are having our Senior FHE with a dinner, gift exchange and games.  That should be enjoyable. Tuesday we will travel to Chester for another breakfast with the family we home teach:  The Kims.  Then we will go inspect a couple of elders apartments that we need to complete before year's end.   Wednesday evening we plan to again go down to the waterfront and watch the fireworks.  It was spectacular last year, so we want to see it again.  Then New Year's Day we will travel to DC and spend the weekend with Jen and her family.  We feel so happy to be here in Philly serving on this mission.  We are enjoying each and every moment!  From the Keystone state we wish you all a very blessed 2015!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

T'was the Week Before Christmas...
Last week I left off the blog to go watch the Messiah Singalong.  It was wonderful!  I enjoyed every minute of it.  So here is a shot of the orchestra and choir warming up.  It was most professionally done and such fun to get to sing along to some of the songs.
Monday we began our transfer week by sending out 23 missionaries.  Elder Jones took them down to Philly for one last look at the temple under construction and then to Old City Tees and Reading Market and the Love Sign.  We have become enamored by the landmarks in Philadelphia...That night we had dinner with them and enjoyed their testimonies.  We also saw a slideshow of their mission photos and took lots of pictures with them.  We sent home some of our favorite sisters so these are photos of them.  
Sisters Howard, Oveson and Maughn


   Sisters Bettylion, Shaia and Hanson

Sisters Howard, Lindley, Pickett and Sturgess.  We love them all!  Sisters Howard and Maughn served in our ward, so we became especially attached to them.  What beautiful Sister Missionaries!  The next day we met our new missionaries at the airport--16 of them.  We enjoyed dinner and testimonies again, and Elder Jones got to interview them about driving privileges.  The next morning we did some training for them.  Here they are waiting nervously to be assigned to their trainer (companion).  So far we have just one who really wants to go home.  We hope he figures it all out!
OK, we are up to Thursday.  On that day we worked really hard to accomplish all of the changes that occur when we have transfers.  For me that means updating phones and addresses (we closed 5 apartments that day!), for Elder Jones it means collecting the keys to apartments and keys and then figuring out what to do with the extra cars.  In the afternoon we tackled the presents, with the help of the Broomall District Elders and Sisters after their District meeting.  This is what the hall looked like when we took all of the presents out of the President's office and sorted them into zones:
Friday we hustled around trying to figure out just who had not yet received presents from home and filling in the gaps with wonderful gifts donated from various missionary parents.  We had lots of wonderful items to present as gifts, so nobody will be without some gifts.  Friday night we were able to convince President and Sister Anderson to accompany us (Jones' Ballards and Wilsons) to Longwood Gardens.  It is a large tract of over 1000 acres that was originally owned by Pierce Brothers as a wooded area.  Pierre DuPont (yes, the chemical magnate) purchased it and restored it to its beauty, preserving trees, creating wonderful European gardens and fountains and building homes for himself and his workers.  He died over 20 years ago and it is a place that people go to enjoy the various displays seasonally.  We went last year and I also went for the orchid festival.  It is really quite spectacular.  This year it was not too cold and the night was clear, so we enjoy seeing some wonderful fountain and lighting displays, as well as in the conservatory the poinsettias and of course, the childrens train display.  We had a really enjoyable time.

Yes!  We dressed warm for the occasion.  We stopped at Chick-Fil-A for a bite of dinner on our way home.  We really did enjoy our time.  Good thing, for the next morning (Saturday--P-day) we began the first of our 4 Christmas devotionals.  We traveled to Dover Delaware where we took the presents for Dover and Wilmington Zones and delivered them.  We also got to watch their talent and Elder Jones had his 4 service elders doing a "Squatty Body" routine dealing with "Adjusting to Missionary Life".  It was really cute and the service elders will travel with us to each zone devotional and perform this.  
So that was our week!  It went by so very fast.  This week we have devotionals as well.  Tomorrow we travel to Cherry Hill, NJ for 3 zones, then home for 3 zones in Broomall and the last day we will travel to Nazareth for 3 zones.  We do plan to come home via Bethlehem so we can say we traveled to Nazareth and Bethlehem on Christmas Eve.  We have many parents who have been late in sending their Christmas gifts, so we plan on spending Christmas day delivering presents.  Then we will enjoy Christmas evening dinner with our Sister Missionaries and a wonderful family in our ward.  Did I mention that we are LOVING all of this!  It really does feel like Christmas when we attend these devotionals, watch the movie "17 Miracles" and see their talent and pass out Christmas gifts.  It does not get any better than this!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Broomall Ward Christmas Party
 Last night was our ward Christmas Party.  It was a most wonderful dinner.  We have a rather new
Relief Society President with Hispanic roots, so we had a Mexican Fiesta Dinner with homemade tamales, enchiladas, rice, beans, tacos, quesadillas, 7 layer dip and lots of desserts.  The Primary did the nativity and Santa came.  There must have been about 150-200 people and lots of food.  It was really good.  Our ward has grown exponentially since last spring.  We have many professionals moving in with their families taking new jobs in this area or going to additional schooling for advanced degrees in medicine.  It really has added to the ward, as they have families.  I think maybe the Lord is preparing this area to receive a temple.  We are blessed to have the General Contractor head man in our ward.  He just got put in as Elders Quorum President.  He is terrific.  The shot above is of the table where we sat.  The decorations were elegant.  Below is Sister Tammy Christiansen on the right.  She leads the music in Primary and the kids love her.  She helped with a wonderful Primary Program a couple of weeks ago.  She is also a registered nurse and works in surgery.  Maggie Mortimer is on the left.  I love to give her hugs.  She is from Haiti and speaks Creole and French.  When she sings--and she loves to sing--she usually sings in French.  She feeds the missionaries lots.  We got invited last month but were off with the other senior couples and unable to attend, but I hear she makes good spicy Creole food.   We have a really good ward and feel quite at home here.
Below are the 2 service missionaries who also serve in our ward.  Elder Nieman, (r) is getting transferred this week, so we will have a new service elder to get to feed.  Our sisters are also leaving--one is returning home and the other will be transferred.  Elder Jones had a busy Friday and Saturday organizing the service elders.  We are getting another senior couple this week.  The sister cannot do stairs, so we traded apartments from the 3rd floor to another one on the first floor.  The elders had to move everything, then go into Camden, NJ and Philly to pick up all of the luggage for the outgoing missionaries as well as those who use public transportation.  We are releasing 23 missionaries to go home and receiving 16.  That means that there are 5 areas that will be closing, each connected to a phone, a car, and an apartment.  For us that means getting all of the furniture and cleaning out apartments, keeping track of the actual addresses, etc.  It is quite challenging, but a good workout for our brains.  The next transfer is also lop-sided, so more closures are in the works.  Since May we have closed 38 apartments and opened 32.  For me that means transferring utilities, setting up vendors, and keeping everything current.  
The Christmas packages are beginning to really appear.  This past week we received over 200!  Beginning Saturday, Dec. 20 we will travel around to have our Christmas devotionals, talent shows, and distribute the gifts to each area.  We do that for 4 days.  On Wed., Dec 24 we will be in Nazareth for their devotional.  We plan to travel home via Bethlehem...Last year it was too early for the lights, so we hope we get to see the Christmas decorations.  We have heard that they decorate nicely.  We will be watching the movie "17 Miracles" this year.  Last year it was "Hyrum's Rescue"--so Corry got to enjoy this movie about his forefather, Jens Nielson.  Same for this year!  We are grateful this week that although Elder Jones has had a really bad cold that he can still function.  He has slept in a chair the last 5 nights and his cold is even in his eyes.  But today he feels quite a bit better and we are grateful.  We will end the week by going back to the church for the Messiah Sing-a-long.  We did so enjoy it last year.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

P-Day.  We have to constantly remind ourselves that these are 18-21 year old boys!  Elders (top to bottom) Watt, Self, Nieman and Tarry.  This was their best attempt...So you can see how our week began.  The next day Elder Jones took Elders Nieman, Self and Rychlik and Bergman--his service elders and left at 8:30 am only to return about 8:30 pm.  They traveled north of Scranton and did hit snow.  We were closing down 3 apartments between here and Clark's Summit and they had rented a U-haul type truck plus the van to pick up all of the salvageable items in these 3 apartments.  One apartment took quite some time to clean.  Elder Jones is very good by this time at vacuuming...These elders work very hard to help in the temporal affairs of other missionaries.  They also made a stop to deliver beds to a set of sisters who just got done fumigating for bedbugs.  Yes, bedbugs are something we have to contend with here in Pennsylvania.  They are usually picked up by teaching humble, yet poor investigators in their homes.  Elder Jones has studied them extensively to come up with a way to effectively get rid of them.  It was a very busy day giving service.
As you can tell, our little apartment is now ready for Christmas.  This is the tree sent to us last year by John and Jana.  Their children made the decorations and I love this little tree as it reminds me of my grandkids and how much I love them and they love me.  Actually, Christmas is quite enjoyable in the mission field.  We simplify things for our own giving to our family and try to participate fully in the various ward, mission and charitable things going on.  I love Christmas, and this is one thing I want to carry back home with me--to simplify and do more meaningful things to celebrate the season.

We are very much enjoying our ward here.  I love our home ward, but we have decided that we could be perfectly content to go to church in the Broomall ward for the rest of our days.  The people are wonderful and it feels like home to us.  Today in Fast Meeting we had some good testimonies.  I will share 2:  Brother Curatolo had throat cancer many years ago and since has had difficulty in swallowing.  He got pneumonia last month and they had to trach him so now he gets his nutrients via a tube.  He told us that his biggest concern was whether he could take the Sacrament.  He has been worried about this.  He told us that since he is a convert from Catholicism his most treasured moment was to actually bless the sacrament as an adult shortly after he converted.  So last week when he was able to come back to church after almost a month of illness, he did not know just how to handle his desire to take the bread and water.  He managed to see a small crumb of bread separated from the rest of the pieces and he took that little piece and placed it on his tongue until it dissolved.  He was so very elated!  His story caused me and everyone else in the audience to really appreciate our ability to take the sacrament and to pay more close attention as we partake of the bread and water.  Second testimony:  Susan McElroy was just released as our RS president in the summer.  She is a kick and I really do like her.  She is always happy.  She and her husband converted just after they married and were attending college.  She said that for her family she and her husband are the pioneers--the ones to set the example for their family to follow.  Anyway, she had a dream and when she awoke she had a distinct impression about being a good example to her grandchildren.  They were headed to Utah where 3 of their children live and while there they took the time to go to the temple and Bro. McElroy, with Susan in attendance, baptized his grandson for his father and baptized his granddaughter for Susan's mother.  She said that because of the tightness of the family bonds in that room the Spirit was very strong and they had an amazing experience.  Another goal for me--enjoy pursuing family history and ordinance work when we return home.  That is also missionary work!

One last story:  As I mentioned several weeks ago, Elder Jones and I have been teaching Barbara Johnson the missionary lessons.  We prepare and teach her almost weekly.  Anyway, we taught her again this past Monday and talked mostly about the apostasy and the need for restoration.  We also really encouraged her to read more than just a little of the Book of Mormon, because she needs to have a real testimony of it and that when she does, she will really desire to be baptized because she will understand the need for it.  She has been coming for almost 9 months now and so we again challenged her to baptism.  She accepted!  She said that she just needed to decide whether to do it right now or wait until after a trip to Utah that she is contemplating for health reasons.  Anyway, we were so excited--but then she said: "but I need you to know that I was baptized into the Mormon church in about 1988 or 1989, but I don't think I was ever confirmed".  We swallowed HARD and then proceeded to ask a few more questions to clarify what we had just heard.  In the end, I ended up calling SLC and speaking to the membership department and sure enough, after being unable to find anything for the first couple of tries, they located her membership in the "unassigned" members.  So she is meeting with us again tomorrow and I guess we just switch gears and go to the "new member" lessons...