It’s December 21, and even though we’re wearing short sleeves and sandals, and running the air conditioner, Christmas is here.
I have to say that my favorite Christmas carols this year were sung by the Tongan ward at St. Helen’s building in Campbelltown Sunday. We had travelled to that building to visit with a missionary about his education plans, and we decided to stay for the Tongan sacrament meeting because that fit our schedule the best. We thought it was a little strange that the ward had no one playing prelude music. But what happened next will make our list of favorite Christmas music forevermore. After the bishop gave the opening announcements a statuesque Tongan woman arose to lead the opening hymn, “Far Far Away n Judea’s plains” With a voice like a Tongan Ethel Merman she provided the first three notes. Then the congregation joined in as if they were the heavenly choir in all four parts plus, with no accompaniment. We literally came out of our seats and the newly arrived senior couple who had com with us started looking for her voice recorder on her phone. Every person was singing at top angelic capacity.
The sacrament hymn was the same, “I Stand All Amazed”. We could hardly wait for the rest hymn, “O Come All ye Faithful”. We were thrilled to add our paltry American voices to this group of 100 Tongan singers, but we were hampered because, did I mention? This was all sung from the Tongan hymnbook.
Of course, we couldn’t quite understand any of the talks, which were also in Tongan, but the spirit was certainly there. Lots of tears from the missionary speaker, newly returned to his ward for the first Sunday back. He wore a lava lava as did quite a few of the other men and the little boys. These lava lavas are like wrap around skirts that end an inch or two below the knee. They are constructed of the same fabric as a men’s suit, in fact a few had on suit jackets with their lava lavas. Most were wearing their white shirts and ties and sandals. The missionary also had on a taʻovala, a woven mat, that is worn over the lava lava which is secured with a woven belt.
The second part of our pre-Christmas Sabbath was spent supervising the temple lighting display. This is a mini version of the lights at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. I have attached some of the pictures. We knew this would be a big night when we arrived early and the best spots on the lawn were already occupied by families and groups waiting for the lights to be turned on and the inside display to be open. They had brought picnics and were having the greatest time visiting and eating. The young missionaries had also arrived – all 32 of them. After we had a prayer meeting with the elders and sisters, and assigned them to their stations, we turned on the lights, music and opened the doors. Literally hundreds of people came through between the hours of 7:30 and 10:30. We had to turn out the inside lights and close inside doors to get the procession to the art display to stop. But even then, the Young Single Adults were still gathered around the lawns and the parking lots enjoying the lights, the temple and each other. The night was just beginning for some of them. We will repeat our supervisory role on Christmas eve.
Tomorrow, and the next day, we’ll help with the young missionary Christmas party which will feature a barbeque with hamburgers, hot dogs and all the trimmings. We will also have games and then, at the end of the day, pass out the gifts for them to take home and unwrap in their apartments. Every missionary will have a gift – all 200 of them. The yanks will receive their presents sent from home. But all those from the Islands and China, who most likely have received nothing, will get a gift that the stakes and the senior missionaries have been working on for months.
This Christmas, like no other we have ever spent, is made much more enjoyable with these missionaries whom, in the absence of our families, we shower love upon. They are so splendid. The sisters never fail to envelope the senior sisters in a hug, and the elders are full of caring and concern. This morning I worked with Elder Semple, a black elder from Guyana with an enormous smile and just as big a desire to become educated in computer science after his mission. I also worked with Elder Hsu from Taiwan on his college application. He is a very small man with immaculate manners who wants to attend BYU Hawaii. This morning as he and his companion went out the door, he said, “Seestah, thang you for beeing my mom, today.”
We will have festivities this week so different from our cherished traditions at home. Our Christmas dinner with the senior missionaries will be a. wonderful Mexican feast cooked by Kelly and Shirlee Willis, the hardworking and talented Public Affairs couple from Snow Flake, Arizona. On Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, we’ll board a boat in Sydney Harbour with the other senior missionaries to watch the beginning of the Sydney to Tasmania yacht race.
All of these interesting things in this beautiful country are nice, but I have to say that most wonderful of all is the true spirit of Christ that we experience in large measure just about every day. We do have discouraging moments when, for example, we work hard on a presentation, that is not as well attended as we wished. But living so close to the spirit with so many others who are striving to be their best on a continual basis is quite amazing. We can clearly see the Lord doing his redemptive work for the saints here. We love the Gospel of Jesus Christ and are thankful for his birth, life and resurrection. Words cannot express how much we love Him and are trying with every bit of our energy to be good missionary servants. We love you all.
Joe and Jill in front of Christus image at the temple lighting display. Many of those attending take pictures in front of this display.
Lights in front of the Sydney Temple as viewed from the street.
Images in the life of Christ lifesize displays. We have to keep the kids off the camels.
Artwork display on the inside of the Buckland House. There are around 50 paintings, reproductions of some of the most famous depictions of the life of Christ. We also show a nice video.