Saturday, December 17, 2016

There is Work Enough to Do

I can’t believe December is already half over. Time is passing quickly and as the hymn states, “I have work enough to do.” Here are a few of the things we have done these last few weeks:

Shared Thanksgiving Dinner with some Hermanas (Spanish-speaking sister missionaries)
These are the Hermanas who joined us for Thanksgiving
and had 4 other missionaries stop by to wish us Happy Thanksgiving, some even bearing a plate of cookies that quickly got shared with everyone else. (Sorry for not having pictures but I don’t have a smart phone anymore and just recently decided to use my tablet for pictures—but now I can’t figure out how to get them onto my computer. I love technology when it works and can get pretty frustrated when I don’t know how to make it work when it isn’t.)

Met with the other MLS senior couple and later with the whole mission staff, including the office couple, the mission nurse, and 5 church service missionaries supporting the mission (data entry, cars, apartment couple, and food). Another office couple is coming next week and will replace the data entry and cars locals who have been serving for 1-4 years already. In January, another Spanish speaking MLS senior couple will come and even live in our same apartment complex.

Received our assignment: North Hollywood 5th Ward (Spanish), San Fernando Stake (Spanish). We felt very welcomed and needed from the first time we attended (3 weeks ago). The bishop always has a smile on his face and everyone is very friendly—lots of hugs between the sisters. The first week (Nov 27), there were only 14 people there at the beginning of Sacrament, but about 70 by the end so we felt right at home—this is very similar to Dwarka Branch back in Delhi. The last couple of weeks, there have been more like 30 there at the beginning and 80 at the end, but there are over 400 on the role so we have lots of work to do.  So far we have met with about 20 families/members and most will speak some English during our visits, which I really appreciate.
Two faithful sisters who live together in our ward
There seem to be more from El Salvador and Guatemala than Mexico. We have also met people from Bolivia, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. (Someone told us that 75% of the people in the valley speak Spanish and there are also lots of people from Armenia.) We have been blessed to make a good connection with several members already and one Hermana (Sister) came to the Christmas Party last night who hasn’t been out to church for a couple of years. Yeah! One big challenge is lack of active Melchizedek Priesthood holders. Consequently, we have a HP Group Leader, an Elder’s Quorum President, and an YM President all with no counselors or secretary.

We have attended Mutual a couple weeks and even got to support a trip to the LA Temple for Baptisms for the dead one Saturday morning at 7. We’ve enjoyed getting to know the youth (about 6 active YW and 3 active YM) and even got invited to one YW’s 18th Birthday Party held at church the next week. We only stayed an hour but it seemed to be a big deal--the birthday cake was as big as a wedding cake.
This is a picture of the picture on my tablet. I got desperate.

We’ve also been attending our District and Zone Meetings, getting to know quite a few different Elders and Sisters/Hermanas. Here we are with our original district.
Just last week our ward got white washed—that means that all those who had been serving here were transferred and we got totally new missionaries. Here we are with our original missionaries.
Old NH 5 missionaries
In fact 2 of the 6 Elders now serving with us are greenies, straight from the MTC. One is from a small branch in Mexico and one from Utah. One is adjusting to America and one to speaking Spanish. The districts and zones are mixed here, half English and half Spanish. For example, our district is comprised of missionaries from 4 different wards and two different stakes (one English and one Spanish), and the missionaries serving our ward go to 3 different districts all in the same zone.

We have been enjoying having a car. It’s about 5 or 6 miles to our building and only half that to the edge of our ward. Most of the time we can be to our visit in about 20 minutes, but we do try to avoid the freeways at rush hour—this is LA after all. We’ve done a little exploring, visiting UCLA after the temple baptisms,
driving to Malibu and Pepperdine one P-day.
Road to Malibu
on the beach at Malibu
lots of trees still have colored leaves on them here
Pepperdine Elf Activity
We’ve also attended some special holiday events—a Nativity Festival in Burbank, complete with a live nativity;
Nativities on loan from Bob Hope's family
an Inter-faith Concert at a church next to the LA Temple Visitor’s Center;
Hallelujah Chorus combined choirs from my tablet
and just last week a special “When Love is Born” program in Santa Clarita/Valencia Stake with a 170 chorus and 60 piece orchestra. We’ve been told that it included a lot of the local professionals—including conductor Richard Rich (who I googled when we got home). It really feels like Christmas this year, even if we don’t have any snow.
Our apartment's tree of lights with the grandkids pictures inside. 

Here are a couple of pictures of our surroundings--the first taken of the courtyard of our apartment complex from our balcony;

This picture is of Sherman Avenue, just north of us. I think it's pretty with majestic palm trees planted on both sides. Most streets here are wide with many lanes of traffic going each way.

An investigator (Jose) of one set of Hermanas in our zone asked Elder to baptize him on December 17. For some reason he had attended our ward one week and they had met in Priesthood. We took him to the “When Love is Born” program last Sunday night and enjoyed getting to know him better.
Another picture of my tablet's picture. This scene was in the foyer. Amazing program!

Attended the LA Temple with half the missionaries of our mission (about 70). Now when we drove to the temple at 6:30 Saturday morning it took us 15-20 minutes—it really is very close. However, last Wednesday morning, we left at 7:30 to go pick up some elders needing a ride from our ward building (35 minutes), and then it was just about an hour on back roads to the temple. The LA Temple is huge! I’ve read it’s the second largest next to SLC. It is beautiful, with very high ceilings and very large rooms! The walls are painted in all the rooms (you move several times), even the celestial room has murals on the walls. There are lots of elegant drapes and chandeliers. It was good to be back in the temple after 14 months.

Thursday night we had an appointment reschedule so we stopped by the church to help decorate for the ward party the next night. Some youth and leaders had arrived early and most of it was already done.
They had done a great job and seemed to enjoy doing it!
Thanks! It was a fun well-attended (about 100) party with dancing!

We do like to take walks and found a nice park just down the road that works well if we have enough time.

Well I need to wrap this up. We are meeting other senior missionaries for breakfast before a service project at Operation Gratitude from 9-noon
and then Jose’s baptism at 2 and more member visits this afternoon and evening.

We are thankful to be here, though think often of all our good friends back in India. We are amazed at what deep relationships we formed in those precious 13 months. But the church is true everywhere and there is indeed work enough for all of us to do wherever we happen to be. And for us right now, that is North Hollywood 5th Ward.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Week That (almost) Wasn't

Jet lag is real and I’d heard it was worse coming back than going. I’ll add my amen to that! It probably didn’t help that I woke up at 4 am Monday morning, in anticipation of our day’s (and night’s and next day’s) activities—that of mainly sitting on a plane!

We received our itinerary on Friday and our first flight left Tuesday morning at 1:25. That meant that we would be in Delhi for their District Conference on Saturday and Sunday—one last time to say our goodbyes. In fact Elder David Evans (Counselor in the Asia Area Presidency) was in town for the conference and a mission tour complete with Zone Conferences (and since we work with a branch in each zone, we were invited to be in both pictures--lucky us!)
and a senior missionary dinner.
As we arrived at District Conference Sunday morning, he invited us to sit on the stand and bear our testimonies during the meeting. What a sweet experience. There were more hugs and tears following the meeting.
We knew we were leaving a part of our hearts in Delhi and most likely the next time we will see so many of our good friends there will be that sweet reunion in heaven.
How did we get so close to so many?
The tears still flow just thinking of them.

A few people made the trip to our apartment for one last visit with the two of us—the air pollution had gotten just awful following Diwali, even setting a new Delhi high of 1570. Consequently, Elder didn’t go out much our last two weeks there, but we loved having visitors.

It was a tender mercy that the Sunday of District Conference dawned pretty clear and clean so he was able to attend. Of course I got out a couple of times, including a fun shopping trip with the other senior sisters and the office financial manager Trija.

A couple other people we will miss is our mission driver, Anil, (he also drives a Camry and Innova)
and all of our guards of which Ramesh and Raj are just two.

So back to Monday, November 14: we did our final washing and cleaning and had lunch with the other senior missionaries—what loving supportive friends! We will miss them, but since they are all from Utah, we plan to meet up post mission. We had a final interview with President, then dinner and testimonies. We barely had time for a quick shower and it was time to head to the airport at 9:30 pm. It would be 56 hours after arising at 4 am Monday before I crawled into our California bed! Add in the fact that I only got about 5 hours of sleep on the plane enroute and I was missing half my brain this whole last week. For some reason, I couldn’t sleep more than 4-5 hours every night! I woke up between 2 and 4 am every day. I took a nap some of the days, but I still had a serious sleep deficit—until Sunday. We attended one of the Spanish branches from 9-12 in their stake center 5 minutes away. Then we met with the Stake President and one of the bishops we will be working with. Came home, ate lunch and I laid down for a nap at 2. Elder tried to wake me up 2.5 hours later but I just couldn’t do it. We didn’t make the baptism that night (we had attended one the night before) and I slept until 10 pm. He was getting ready for bed so I followed his lead. I slept until 4 am and felt much better when I woke up! Yeah!

Now there is one part of the trip I need to mention. Since we arrived with no working phones, we were anxious to hear about our airport pickup before we left Delhi. Sunday night we exchanged several emails with our new mission president and were glad to hear that they had an apartment waiting for us and that our daughter from Las Vegas had called him and asked if she could surprise us by picking us up at the airport! What a show of support! We loved it!
Even if we only got to spend 5 hours with her before she drove back to Vegas that night, she was awake and alert and drove me to Walmart to pick up a few things we would need the next day. Thanks so much! (Here are the pictures she sent us of our big Airbus 380 landing from Paris, us coming up the ramp and then a group selfie.)

So far this last week we have attended a district meeting, a baptism, met with the mission president, then with one of his counselors. Following the baptism, one of the wards meeting in the stake center was having a ward Thanksgiving dinner and the bishop’s wife invited us to come taste some of her turkey—Salvadoran style. It was delicious! Everyone is very friendly and gives lots of hugs (among the women at least).

So you might be asking: What will you be doing? We aren’t quite sure yet. Since Elder is fluent in Spanish, they want to utilize that. We’ve been told that 75% of the people in the San Fernando Valley speak Spanish. Now most also speak English, but the San Fernando Stake is one of only 3 stakes in the US that is totally Spanish speaking. There are 8 wards and 1 YSA Branch. The Stake Center is huge--having two chapels, 2 RS rooms, 2 of everything except just one full size cultural hall. So four of the wards meet there. The other 5 meet at chapels spread out over the valley. (Our mission has 6 stakes total and is pretty small geographically—maybe a 45 minute drive from one end to the other if the traffic is bad.) The mission president has assigned us to this Spanish speaking stake and it is the stake president who will give us our exact assignment. We are meeting with him and the counselor in the mission presidency again next Sunday.

Here are a few pictures of our very nice 2-bedroom apartment. Welcoming flowers from the President and his wife.
You can see we’ve added some Indian color with our wall hanging and matching pillows.
The zone leaders also live in these apartments and we’ve been told there is another couple coming in January where the husband speaks Spanish and the wife doesn’t. It will be nice to have them close. There is another senior couple just a couple miles away here in the valley, both just English speaking, who dropped by to introduce themselves as well. And the LA Temple is only about 15 minutes away! We get to go in just another week! I’m excited!

Thanks for your prayers and support and patience in hearing from us. It’s been a challenge getting working internet (a choice of exactly one very lowly rated and expensive cable company), phones (our apartments are a Verizon dead spot) and charge cards (even though we filed a travel plan showing we were moving to LA, Chase just wanted to hear from us that it was really us trying to use the card—something that is hard to do without a phone or internet and with only half a brain working). Well, things are looking up—I’m awake! Our phone works on our balcony and sometimes by the sliding glass door! Our internet works great this time of morning! (It’s 4 am as I finish writing this.) And we know that the fire alarms in the complex work since they have gone off early Sunday morning (a nice way to meet your neighbors) and several times yesterday as they were working on them so they don’t give any more false alarms.

We are excited to get back to work. We are excited for Thanksgiving this week. We have much to be thankful for, including the opportunity of serving a mission. But our relationships with family and friends both here in the states and back in India are some of our most precious blessings. We love you and wish you a blessed Thanksgiving Week.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

California Here We Come!

The wait is over—we have our reassignment! We are going to the California San Fernando mission just north of Los Angeles to complete our last five months.


Now all we have to do is wait for our travel itinerary and pack.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Saying our goodbyes

I’ve moved a lot in my life, so I’ve said a lot of goodbyes. However, after living in Littleton for 26 years, most of my recent goodbyes have been to other people leaving—until coming on this mission, of course. And since our call was for 18 months, I knew we would have to say goodbye to India sometime next spring. Five weeks ago when we decided we just couldn’t complete our mission here without seriously jeopardizing Elder’s health, we started to say our farewells. It’s been hard—we have both shed many tears. We truly love so many of the people, active members, inactive members and investigators alike. Add in the two visits from our kids (2.5 weeks of the five since our decision), and the time has just flown by. Here are a few pictures from this time:

Dwarka goodbyes:
With the Primary kids
 With the Young Women:

At a mutual activity:
With the Relief Society:
The front of our church building--we use the top two floors--see the sign :
With President Vijay and his family:

With First Counselor President Rajesh and his extended family, plus friends:
With Second Counselor President Jitender and his family:
With First Counselor in the District Presidency President Pandey and his new wife:
With the Talwars:
With the Sharmas:
With Brother Akram Shah and later with his wife and baby son:

With Sahil Sharma:
With the Sambaria family:
With Nicolas Massey:
And of course with a branch of 350 members, we have worked with and love many whose pictures aren't here. Some we neglected to take a picture with. Some we weren't able to see 'one more time.' We love you all and will miss you. I am crying as I write these words. Know that you are in our hearts. And the same goes for many we have worked with in the District. We will continue to pray for you all.

Noida goodbyes:
Our last week there was during our son's visit. They even brought a "Good Luck Allens" cake.

With the whole group of members following church:

With the missionaries:

With President James and the Gupta sisters, Monica and Ruchi:

With Sister Barnabus and Brother Rajiv:

With the Hukil family:

We also had a last District Self Reliance Committee monthly meeting with District Councilman Brother Paul Frost:

And District Self Reliance Specialists Sisters Honey Rai and Nicole Goldrup:
All of our Indian friends have a special place in our hearts reserved just for them and we will truly miss them when we leave.

Of course we had to go see some sights with Jon, Marci and McKinley:
Old Delhi is always crowded but this day it was extra crazy:

We finally saw the Lotus Temple here in Delhi--striking design and beautiful grounds.

We saw the Taj and Agra Fort again, but this time in Jaipur the elephants were riding to Amber Fort so we all hopped on:

The next day it was time for a camel ride:

Back in Delhi, Gandhi museum was a favorite:

Kinley found her favorite brand of bottled water:

It was great doing fun things together, but my favorite was the time we had for visiting. Thanks for taking the long plane ride to spend a week with us.

Last Sunday was Diwali, the Festival of Lights and stores go all out decorating:

Last night we had one more senior couples FHE activity at the mission home: cutting out the last of the fleece blankets we started a year ago. Notice what the men use of weights at the corners—pretty clever us of Institute manuals!

Now you might be asking yourself a question about now like, “Did I miss something? I don’t know where they have been reassigned to.” And I would respond, “Nope, you haven’t missed a thing. We haven’t received our reassignment yet. We have been assured that it is coming this week and after its arrival, we should be out of Delhi within a couple of days.” So once again I must end with a stay tuned. . . . .