Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas cheer displayed along a street near we live--these are trees made from recyclables
Malipayong Paskua! (Merry Christmas)

George and I attended Church in the newest chapel on the island on Sunday; a beautiful small fishing community next to the ocean, Himoga-an.  As I walked into Sacrament Meeting, George mentioned that we would be speaking today along with the Elders.  This chapel had a piano that they press a few buttons and the Hymn of choice plays.  Many choristers that we have seen on the island lead the music using some pretty fancy arm maneuvers; maybe that is why some meetings have more than one chorister (it is tiring).  After the meeting we walked along the beach before heading towards Cadiz.

Later, we attended a ‘special’ sacrament meeting (this is where there is no organized unit in the area and the bishopric or branch presidency authorizes and presides at a special meeting outside the formal chapel and organized unit) in Bayabas Uno.  We met Elders Friare and Celebrado, along with Branch President Valero; a kind, humble man and traveled into the sugar cane fields.  This was only the second time they had met in this area.  The brother and sister who hosted the meeting at their humble home had placed a homemade sign that displayed the Church’s name.
Elders Celebrado & Friare in front of makeshift sign where special sacrament was held
The meeting was scheduled to begin at 2:00pm.  In the Philippines, despite advertised start times, the meeting starts when a critical mass of people gets there.  While we waited, there were many curious children and George started passing out packaged crackers (we keep these mainly for beggars).  He initially gave a few packages away.  They went and told more children and this continued until we had given 15+ away.  They stayed for sacrament meeting; maybe they learned something they will never forget.
Some of the children that attended the special sacrament meeting
People continued to gather until we had (we were told) 57 people in attendance (about 3pm).  The Branch President had Karen and I sit up front, sort of on display I guess ;-).  I think some had never seen a white skinned person in real life.  After the meeting one of the Elders’ came up to Karen and asked her to meet with some young men who had questions.  They quizzed her about how she got her skin so white—they asked; ‘what kind of cream do you use?’  She told them that was the color of her skin.  On a side note, in the Philippines, all the stores sell whitening crèmes, lotions, and potions.  In fact, it’s hard to buy lotion without a whitener.
Group Photo with some of the attendees
We enjoyed a very merry Christmas unlike any we have experienced.   We attended the 7 am Catholic Mass at the Regional Hospital—yes you read correctly.  It was a very good experience for us.  I had met Father Mendoza a few weeks ago when we sought permission to carol and provide gifts to the pediatric ward of the hospital.  He was very helpful to us—and I told him we would come to his mass on Christmas Day.  He even introduced us during mass and the congregation clapped for us.  He gave us a very cordial greeting after mass and thanked us for coming; a very good man indeed.
Pediatrics Ward on Christmas morning
Another section of the pediatrics unit with the Deyros and friends
Singing Christmas Carols to the children and their families
We joined with our friends President and Dr. Deyro, their daughter Ina and son Zech and several return missionaries to help us deliver gifts to children in the pedia (pediatric) ward.  Zech played the keyboard, there was a tambourine and we caroled to the children and their loved ones.  Although it was Christmas, the ward was full and we greeted some very sick children and their worried loved ones.  Hopefully for a moment their spirits were lifted.  I know mine was.

We also attended two different baptisms in Bacolod.  Our mission had a white Christmas (200+ baptisms on Christmas Day!)  The missionaries work hard to make this a special time for all.  Across the mission there were marriages, many baptisms and celebrations to honor the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
Palangga namon kamo (we love you all!)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Magi come to worship the Savior Display

This has been a full week, I hardly know where to begin . . so I will start with my favorite part.  Early Wednesday morning we drove some of the 35 missionaries to the airport heading for home.  They had completed their full time missions and now had family and friends awaiting their return.  George and I didn’t count how many Sisters were snugly loaded in the President’s van, but they said, “We are mostly Polys” (Polynesian) and they honored us by singing all the way to the airport.  They sang hymns and Christmas songs, one after another.   Their beautiful angelic voices were strong and clear and on key!  George said I had tears rolling down my face and I really wanted to join in singing, but I did not want to ruin their beautiful harmony and rhythm.  We have known these Sisters for half of their mission!  Each time we say good bye it becomes more difficult.  Today, already, some of the missionaries are asking to be friends on George’s Facebook.
The Mission Office where we works gets VERY BUSY during departures
Part of a BIG BATCH of departing missionaries going home for Christmas after serving 18-24 months
Just one day earlier, we had taken Sister Solome to the airport because she was going to her family’s new home somewhere in Polynesia and her travel time was especially long.  Unfortunately she missed her flight out of Manila and she got to spend one more day with her “batch mates”.   I am sure she liked that.  I asked her what she wished she had known prior to coming on a mission.  She said she didn’t realize how hard she would work or how much she could love.
Sister Salomone departing the mission field
The newest batch of missionaries, arriving just an hour after 35 went home
In the evening, after spending time some time at the mission home with our new missionaries, George and I went to the airport once again to pick up a returning missionary who lives in the Southern part of the island.  We took him to the mission home to be released, but it was decided he would spend the night in Bacolod as his younger brother was coming to Bacolod early the next day on his way to the MTC in Manila.  Elder Dolleno spent the night at our apartment and the next morning he met his brother who he had not seen in two years.  They are the only members in their family of five boys and their mother (his father is deceased).   His younger brother had a bit of good news to share, their mom is getting baptized in a few weeks.  They are rice farmers.
Elder Dolleno (left) just arrived home and meets his brother who is departing for his mission says final goodbye for two more years (our third trip to the airport in 24-hours)
Our mission dynamics changed with this transfer, the Supply couple went home and they have been replaced with Supply Elders.  Our couples now are George and me and the Self Reliance Couple, the Greens.  So far, so good—everything appears to be operating smoothly (we’re keeping our fingers crossed ;-).
Our 'miracle' Sisters--Sister Cruz on left was bitten by a poisonous serpent (longer than she is tall) with no ill effect because of her great faith and Sister Legaspi who endured through Typhoid Fever
On a different note, supply and demand are interesting here.  I do like Coke Zero but it is often not available.  George asks where is Coke Zero?  The reply is always the same: “Out of stock”.  We even saw the Coke distributor one day and asked him where can we find Coke Zero?  “Out of stock”.  We like “Bob’s” a bakery and café and they have the most delicious Christmas bread.  Unfortunately for the last two weeks, in the prime of Christmas season, it is also “Out of stock”.  Hmmmm

Christmastime is wonderful in the Philippines!  Lights and decorations are everywhere.  People have the Christmas spirit and people are especially friendly and kind—looking forward to celebrating Christmas with their families.  Many we speak to are from different parts of the islands and are going home to celebrate—or if they can’t, they have to stay (as Karen’s manicurist today said because of her “duty” (she is assigned to work the day before and after Christmas).  Our Mission President, President Lopez, is stressing to the missionaries to have a “white Christmas”; meaning it’s a day for taking advantage of Christ’s greatest gift by being baptized.  It will be the highest baptizing day in the mission.  We look forward to attending a baptism or two on Christmas day.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

We captured this picture of a carabao pulling this cart along the national highway

Karen and I are working with our friends, President and Dr. President Deyro to visit the pediatric ward in the local (poor) hospital on Christmas Day (we referenced in an earlier post).  I had sent the Hospital Director a letter requesting that we be allowed to visit and bring some small presents and snacks to any inpatients.  A few days later, we called the Director’s office and were told that we had to go through the Hospital Priest in order to make the visit.  President Deyro and I went to the Hospital this past Tuesday with some apprehension about being able to get to see the Priest (in his experience, an appointment was needed to see the Priest—and to do that you had to go through his deacon, secretary, etc.).  Anyway, we had a prayer and walked over to the Hospital.  He asks, ‘do you have any ID with you?’ I said, only my missionary badge.  He left his ID behind, and asked if we should go back and get it, I said no based on my previous visits to the Hospital.  We went to the Director’s office to get the signed copy of our request—with the Director’s letter; assigning the Priest to be our ‘gatekeeper’ for the visit.  The guard asked for an ID to take to the Director’s Office to get the letter—before I could react—President Deyro had pulled my badge off of my pocket and given it to the guard.  I told him—he better bring that back or you’re in big trouble!  He did, and we got the letter :-).
Bacolod Regional Hospital (normally VERY crowded inside/outside)
We then walked over to the Church to see if we could get in to see Father Mendoza.  Turns out, he was sitting on the porch in front of what I think was his residence.  He was very friendly and cordial.  I presented the letter to him.  He looked at it and asked if he could make copies.  We chatted about our plans for the visit, and invited him to make the visit with us.  He said he was one of thirteen children and was going home to visit his mother on Christmas Day after the morning mass.  He was a very well educated man, speaking some five languages (including very good English) and had several advanced degrees.  He makes the rounds to visit hospital patients twice a day—he’s a very busy man.  He very willingly approved our visit and sent instructions to the appropriate staff in the Pediatric Ward to grease the skids for our visit.  We gave him a special Ensign edition about Christ and he willingly accepted; A very nice man in the humble service of his God.

I’m growing what they call in the Philippines a ‘rice belly’.  Well before I get to the point where people start wondering if men can get pregnant (like some of the Filipino men appear to be), I talked to Karen about getting an elliptical machine and she readily agreed.  We loved to walk at home, but the outside air pollution here is so intense, we don’t really like to walk and breathe all the polluted air, unless we go to a mall.  I’m too cheap to buy a Nordic Trac machine, which was $500, so I bought a cheap China knock off elliptical machine which is cheesy, but allows me to get some exercise.  I think it does some good, but after a few weeks it developed major squeaks that bother me and are obnoxious to Karen.  You see, we only have a window air conditioning unit in our bedroom—so the machine has to go in there.  I purchased the only oil I could find—it was Singer ‘all purpose’ oil, I think for sewing machines.  Even with regular oiling, the machine began to squeak with every step.  I went back to the store where we purchased  and asked what they could do to help me.  They said, give us your phone number and we’ll send a service person over to fix it.  Well, that didn’t work.  So I went back again, and they promised to visit.  On a Sunday evening they called and soon came over.

My Elliptical

Two guys riding on a little scooter showed up.  They looked at the elliptical and told me that the oil I had been using caused the squeaks.  So they went outside and brought back a few tools to take the machine apart.  They apparently didn’t bring the right tools, so asked to borrow the cheap tools that came with the elliptical—and used them (and kept the wrench) to disassemble/reassemble.  And they didn’t bring any oil—so they asked to borrow mine (yeah, after they told me how bad it was—and used half the bottle).  To their credit, they did fix the squeaks but we were cleaning up pools of oil for weeks after.  Anyway, it’s fixed and I’m back working on reducing the rice belly.
Young man & his mother opening his mission call during sacrament meeting
Today we traveled to north to Fabrica and Paraiso for Church (about 1.5 hour drive).  Church was cancelled last week because of the typhoon threat.  At the Fabrica Ward during Sacrament Meeting a young man and his mother were called up to the pulpit where he opened his missionary call!  We hear this is often done here.   It was an exciting time for this small ward to celebrate together this special day of this young man and his family.   This small ward of about 150 people currently have six missionaries already serving.

Christmas tree exhibit next to the Cathedral (made of bottles)
We saw Christmas decorations all along the National Highway this Sunday.  Trees and tinsel in bright colors.  We stopped in Silay coming back to look at many Nativity Scenes made by different Barangays around the town Cathedral.  This is a Christian nation!  Near this area there were a couple of hundred people playing Bingo!
Nativity scene outside Cathedral

Nativity scene outside Cathedral

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Here's a carabao in training--learning the ropes ;-)
The big concern in the Philippines this week has been typhoon Hagupit renamed “Ruby”.   We learned Friday we would be going into missionary “lockdown” beginning at 6:00 pm.  All missionaries left low lying areas near the ocean and came down from mountainous regions and moved inland.  Today (Sunday morning) the lockdown was lifted for Bacolod.  Friday, it was warm, very humid, and cloudy with a little wind.  The grocery store was crowded with people stocking up on supplies (including us).  We asked several people about the typhoon and they definitely have respect for the elements.  Some mentioned fear.  Prayer was another word often heard.  I think everyone we talked to knows someone located where the typhoon was headed and was concerned for their loved ones safety.  We live on an island in the Western Visayans.  This area is often more protected from big storms; the Northern part of the island remains under careful watch.
Latest update on Hurricane Ruby--it is well above the island we live on (red arrow)--we are thankful!

The banana tree leaves were beginning to hang over the fence, so we asked our landlord to trim them.  Saturday our landlord’s helpers came to trim.  Apparently banana trees are often the first to succumb to strong winds.  One petite Filipina climbed the eight foot ladder with flip flops on and a machete in one hand.  She then walked casually along the six foot high fence as she trimmed the trees.  To get the higher up leaves, she lashed the machete on a simple pull and removed them.  I'm telling you, that machete was sharp!

Trimming banana leaves--lashing the machete to a bamboo pole

She's really good balancing and trimming with here machete
Rain started Saturday evening and it continues to rain (as I write).  The temperature has dropped to 73 degrees Fahrenheit and is quite cool even with the humidity.  It’s the first time since we came here that we didn’t have the ‘AIRCON’ on in our bedroom because it was so cool.  We have experienced a couple of short power outages, but nothing we haven’t witnessed before.  There was little traffic as we traveled to Tangub (south Bacolod) for Church which was a welcome change.  But there were few people at Church because of the weather; many people do not have access to current news.  The Sisters had just returned this morning after their evacuation.  I think they enjoyed spending a couple of days and nights with other Sisters that had also been moved to safer areas.
Getting the hair treatment--complete with plastic ear protectors :-)
In the movie Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and her new friends go to Emerald City they have a day of physical preparation to get ready to see Oz.  This week I felt like the cowardly lion (who wanted courage as I did) getting groomed.  I had my hair done (so long overdue because of fear of the unknown).   My nails were manicured as my hair was getting worked on; in the background there was another worker who was a go for in getting needed “stuff”.  And then the others who stood around watching; a white woman with unusual colored hair is an anomaly.

At church today, waiting for Relief Society to begin (9:15), I was visiting with the few sisters as we waited for more sisters to come.  The door opened and there were children and men who I was later told had heard there was a “beautiful white woman” in the building.  I shook everyone’s hands and greeted them.  I should enjoy these experiences as this will never happen in the US.