Christmas was quite a bit different this year. We didn't focus on gifts, but focused on serving other people. This Christmas was a very special one that I will always remember.
My favorite Christmas gift was being able to talk to my own missionary. Sometimes we have communication issues with Conner, so I told him my FaceTime and Skype information, and then said that if it needed to just be a phone call, WE would need to call him. I wasn't sure how hard it would be for him to call us, but we have a relatively easy time talking with people in the United States. Well, the letter I got back said, "I'll call you at 6:30am Hawaii time on Christmas Eve Day." You know how mom's think of everything that could possibly go wrong? My mind started racing, he doesn't have our number! How is he going to figure out how to reach us? Didn't he read that last letter? Instead of getting completely stressed out that I wouldn't be able to talk to our son, I patiently waited for some news or direction. It ended up coming on Christmas Eve morning for us. His mission president called us and gave us our missionary's phone number. It was really nice talking with him for a while about our son, and how he is doing on his mission. That was my first gift! We waited until that night, and called him. It was 6:30am his time. We are 13 hours ahead of him... literally on the other side of the world! We thought he would just be waking up, but apparently, he gets up at 5:00 every morning and plays basketball at the church for his exercise. It was so wonderful to speak with him!!! AAHHH he sounds so good! He is back on Oahu, and really loves it. That phone call was my second gift!
Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, we were able to FaceTime all of our kids and our parents. The grandchildren were so excited, and Avery told us what she had asked Santa for. She said she had been very good, and I guess he agreed, because she got just what she asked for. Addie jabbered at us the whole time, and was so smiley and happy. I can't believe how quickly she's growing up. And then Harvey was all smiles as well. We haven't been able to reach our son Steve and his wife Sarah for several weeks. Apparently, they have new phones, and can no longer FaceTime with us. It was so great to finally be able to see how they are doing. I'm so grateful for how well each of our kids are doing! That was my third gift.
We called Steve's family during the Christmas Eve party and they passed the phone around the room and spoke with us one by one. Then we spoke with my parents. There was a mixture of excitement and a little bit of homesickness, but we are being so blessed for serving a mission. Gift number four.
On Christmas morning, as I was praying, I asked that I might have a spiritual experience at church. It was about 85 degrees outside, and didn't feel much like the Christmas I'm used to. We only had sacrament meeting, and when we arrived at church, we were asked to speak. I'm not one that likes to speak on the spot, but I am becoming better at it. So we sat on the stand. After the opening prayer, the Bishop got up and announced that there would be 7 confirmations. The Bishop, his counselor, and two of our missionaries stood up to confirm these 7 individuals. The Bishop confirmed the first person, which I have seen many times, but then for the second one, they rotated and had one of our missionaries do the confirmation. This Elder had been on his mission for about two weeks, and as he started to speak, I felt a rush of the Spirit. Watching one of our missionaries use the Priesthood to bless another person just made such an impression on me. This is why they are here! And they seem so young, but they are doing what the Lord wants them to be doing, and he is qualifying them for the work. After he finished they rotated again, and his companion confirmed the next person. Again, my heart swelled with joy, and love. I received an answer to my prayer. I had such a wonderful spiritual experience, and felt what a mother feels when she sees her children making good decisions, and growing in the Gospel. What a blessing. President Collings and I followed several other speakers, and really enjoyed the meeting. We went home and prepared for the evening. We invited two of the senior couples and one zone over to the mission home for Christmas dinner, and to call and Skype with their families. There were 17 elders and sisters, and it was so fun! We started taking pictures, but the missionaries were using our iPad and phones, so I didn't get them all. We really enjoyed hearing the excitement all over the mission home. It was a very special day.
On Monday, we experienced our first Boxing Day! I had no idea that they celebrate that here, but basically the entire country shuts down and it seemed like it was just an extension of Christmas Day. The roads were pretty much empty, and nobody went to work... except us and the Senior couple, haha. I'm told that Boxing Day is when they open their presents, I also heard it's a recovery day from Christmas, and they just relax. Sounds like a new tradition I'd love to try.
A couple of funny stories: We have a wonderful security guard named Martin (Marteen is how he says it). We have a great relationship with him. He always says he will remember President. They are always laughing and joking around. The other day we were talking, and I said, "I don't even have any pictures of you! Do you mind if I get a picture with you and President Collings?" Well, he was happy to pose for a picture, and even smiled for me. When I showed him the picture, I said that he looked very smart! (Handsome, distinguished, put together). He looked and started laughing at it. He said, "I look like charcoal next to President!" We all laughed, but I said, "No, you look just right!" He was happy. People are very blunt here... which actually leads me to my second story.
We were pulled over by a traffic officer. That seems to happen very often here. We always are very respectful, and even try to make them laugh. We have never been given a ticket, just a hello, and they send us on our way. Well, this officer asked to see Steve's license. He said, "I'll give it to you, but you have to promise not to laugh, the picture looks pretty funny." The officer didn't even smile. He took the license, looked at it, and said, "You were fat!" Then he handed it back and told us to go on our way. We both laughed. He has lost over 20 pounds while we have been here, but I never thought he looked FAT. Haha.
The next situation happened just this week. I don't really have a problem understanding the people here anymore. I guess I have my African ears now, yay! But the other day there was a member of the stake at the mission office to meet with President Collings. When he was finished, he came over to me and we were talking. He is a very nice young man that we have gotten to know in our ward. At one point he asked me about my "Rhino". I was a little bit confused, we have a carving of an elephant in the mission office, so I pointed to it. Then he said, "UrAna" with a Long A sound. I'm thinking solar system now... What? He said, "you know for small?" I was completely lost. I told him to come with me, because I was determined to understand what he was saying. We walked over to a sitting area where there were two of our elders sitting, waiting to talk to President Collings. I asked them to translate for me. I seriously have never had a problem understanding this brother. Well, again he said "Rhino", and the elders said, "Rhino?" And he shook his head. This made me feel a little better. Then he said "UrAna", and they looked confused too. Then he said "for small" and immediately they knew exactly what he wanted. URINAL! Oh my... I was so embarrassed! This poor young man just needed to use the bathroom, and I'm walking him around the office making him announce it to everyone! The elders took him and showed him where the bathroom was, and I crawled under my desk in the fetal position for an hour or two... I THOUGHT I had my African ears...
On Christmas Day, we received a phone call from one of our missionaries who had been released two weeks before. He said that he and his mother were coming back to tour his mission, and we invited them to come stay with us. What an amazing experience that turned out to be. This young man lives in Kenya. He and his mom got on a bus and rode for eight hours to Uganda. His mom was so excited to meet people that her son taught, and see the areas where he served. She was the most ambitions, positive, faithful woman! I was truly inspired by her!
They came early Monday morning. Ezekiel is his name. He and President Collings decided to run to the church and then do sports with the other elders. Steve was excited to run with a Kenyan, and Ezekiel was excited to run with his former mission president. While they were gone, I was going to drive down with his mom, and bring a basketball for them. But in the mean time, we had some time to kill. I sat down in the living room, and thought I'd have a nice conversation with her, but she had other ideas. She said, "I like to stay busy, I don't like to sit." She said in their culture the men sit and talk, and the women work together. She asked what she could do in my house, and then pointed out how dirty my floors were. The night before was Christmas, and we had 24 people over, eating, and calling home. By the time everyone left, it was pretty late. I had swept areas that looked bad, but the floor was still bad. I have two brooms, so I said I would be happy to have her help sweeping the floors. That went by pretty quickly, but right away she asked for a bucket of water and a rag. She actually wanted a towel. I brought it out, and a mop for me, and she went to work mopping my floors. I started to protest a bit when she actually pulled out the chairs and crawled under my tables to mop, but she kept quoting the scripture, "When you are in the service of your fellow beings, you are only in the service of your God. Thank you for letting me serve God today." How can I argue with that? I felt very humbled that she was so anxious to serve. When the floor was mopped, I told her it was time to go see the missionaries. We drove down to the church, and she was able to meet the elders that her son knew. I believe there were a couple that had been his companions.
Ezekiel had planned the entire trip. They would visit with people around the Kampala area the first day, then take a taxi to Kajjansi the second day, and on the third day, they would take a taxi to Jinja, stopping at areas where he had served on the way. From Jinja, they would get on a bus back to Kenya. His mom was so excited. She is about 60 years old. She said that she had always wanted to serve a mission, and this week with her son was her mission. Each area that they went to, she brought a Liahona magazine and shared a message with the people and some candy. Some of the people were active members of the church. Some were less active, and some were just investigating. She bore testimony to them, and said she really felt like she was able to be a missionary. You could see the love and pride she has for her son who served an honorable mission, and you could see what a support she has been to her son. She truly has a strong testimony of the Gospel. At one point she said that she would walk from Kenya to Johannesburg just to go to the temple again. She loves it so much. She and her son are both endowed members. She also talked about her calling in the church. She has been the secretary in the Relief Society for six years, and a teacher. She said she shares the Gospel with everyone around her, and has seen so many people baptized because of her sharing the Gospel with them. She says if she was in another religion, they would build a church for her and make her the pastor over it because of all the people she has converted, but she knows that this church doesn't work that way, and a man is called of God to lead each congregation. She is just happy to have the true church in her life.
One blessing that has come to this family, Ezekiel's mom says it is a blessing from her son serving a mission. When he was very young, his father left the family, and his mother raised six children on her own. She and her two youngest sons joined the church together. Her other kids were already married and had moved away by this time. While her son was serving a mission, she and her husband were reunited, and married. Her husband was baptized a member of the church. When Ezekiel heard this, he said he didn't believe it. Then the family sent pictures and he said he had to believe it. Before his mission was over, we asked him what he wanted to do after his mission. He said, "I just want to be with my FAMILY" .
For each meal we had together while they were here, his mom asked if I would show her how I set the table. I showed her the first time, and then let her set it each time afterwards. She took pictures, and was so excited. She also insisted on letting her wash the dishes for me when we were done. We worked together, but again, I was so impressed, and humbled by her service and frankly her ambition. We enjoyed having them here so much! I will be forever changed just knowing this sweet Kenyan family. Ezekiel says he hopes to get married in the next two years so we will be able to meet his wife before our mission is over. Wouldn't that be wonderful?
We have always said how friendly people are here in Uganda. If you smile at them, their whole face lights up. If you stop your car and allow them to pass, they smile and wave. We have really enjoyed it. Well these past few weeks, we have had people from other countries verify that this is the case. Ezekiel's mom mentioned how people just smile and wave. How happy people of Uganda are. She said in Kenya, they will point at you sternly, and shake their finger at you. We had our senior couple from Ethiopia come for a short stay, and they also mentioned how different it is here in Uganda. People are just happier. I believe it.