Santa came early to the South Africa Johannesburg Mission! Monday, 20 December, was our Mission Christmas Devotional/Celebration (as President called it).
The missionaries came fasting to the devotional which started at 1:00. After a brief message from President Poulsen the time was turned over for testimonies. I'm sure there were angels on the roof top as elder after elder bore testimony of their Saviour Jesus Christ, of the Restoration of the Gospel and shared inspiring missionary experiences. There was no lull as the elders filled the pews at the front of the chapel to wait their 2 minute turn. Three hours later the closing prayer was said. Those were the sweetest and shortest three hours I have ever experienced!
After the devotional the missionaries were fed an absolutely delicious meal of sloppy joes, corn on the cob, watermelon, chips, soda, ice cream and Texas sheet cake! Remember, it is summer here! Elder & Sister Watts were in charge of the food and that is a serious assignment when you think of feeding 160 fasting young men! There was plenty and to spare. The Watts had done a fantastic job and all of the other senior couples helped with food assignments and serving.
Now for the celebration!!! Elder Henrichsen and I were in charge of the program. There was a great program used last year that we tweaked and added special musical numbers. The Spirit was again poured out as we heard readings of the testimonies of the prophets proclaiming the birth of our Savior and tender stories of Christmas and the singing of special numbers and Christmas hymns.
I asked our new senior couple, Elder 7 Sister Porter, who have great musical talents to be in charge of the group singing and the now traditional chime choir which originated, I believe, with last year's program. Sister Porter had used the "transposing key" on the organ (I didn't know there was such a thing) to transpose to match the key of the chimes. The chime choir played "Silent Night" at key moments in the program and then was part of the accompaniment for a couple of other Christmas carols. The music was indeed heavenly and with a sprinkle of humor. The very last chime for "Silent Night" was being held too tightly or maybe was just off key because each time it was played the hymn ended with kind of a "thud" instead of a chime. The elder holding the chime would smile and shrug his shoulders. He was a good sport. Each time it brought a gentle chuckle from the congregation.
( I think it was the way the chime was held because Sister Porter has a great musical ear and had rehearsed those elders prior)
Sister Wittwer added a nice touch with tasteful decorations outside of the chapel and on the pulpit.This picture was taken as she was gathering things up to put them away...probably doesn't look so "tasteful" but the actual finished arrangement was lovely.
At almost the last minute president had wanted a little Christmasy touch for the elders to wear. I looked around the office and had a great idea that the garland we had strung around the cupboards would make great boutonnieres, kind of like what we made for Krista and Ron's wedding. At first it seemed like too much to ask at the last minute but many hands made it happen.
And the elders looked so handsome in their suits with that extra touch of Christmas on their lapels.
It was one of those special days when my smile muscles were sore at end of the day and my eyes were wet with tears from the special moments.
The program lasted about two hours. Okay, add that up: 3+2=5 hours of sitting with an hour break to eat.
Everyone had such a wonderful experience. And lingered and visited afterward taking pictures and not wanting to go back to their areas.
But of course it helped alot to have Santa Claus (aka Elder Watts) waiting to greet them as they filed into the cultural hall to receive their Christmas gift from President and Sister Poulsen. Santa was over powered by those big kids sitting on his lap but everyone loved every minute of it.
The next day we had several elders come to the office and they were still smiling from the day before! They even asked if there were any sloppy joes left over.
This is a picture of one of my heroes! His name is Elder Lawrence. He is from Western Australia and has a twin brother who was in the SAF MTC with him. His brother is now serving in the South Africa Durban Mission. Our Elder Lawrence has cerebral palsy and is very hard of hearing. He has a slight speech defect because of this. HE IS A GIANT OF MISSIONARY! In the three weeks he has been here he has already touched so many lives and hearts of both investigators and other missionaries. We are so blessed to have him serving here!
Elder Henrichsen and I have had a difficult time "wrapping our minds" around Christmas here with 80 deg weather and very very little recognition of this glorious event except the decorations in the malls and grocery stores ( and I understand a whole lot of drinking). The other night while out we did spot one house with Christmas lights!
We are far far way on South Africa's plains but it is wonderful to be a part of this great work! There is no more glorious gift to the world than our Savior Jesus Christ and his Atonement. There is nothing greater that we could give to those we love than our testimony of Him, that he lives! That his Gospel is restored in these, the latter days and that because of our Heavenly Father's Great Plan of Happiness we have been given the one and only way to return to Him. May we all see this blessing in our lives and share it with others!
Merry Christmas from South Africa!