Monday, December 30, 2013

Christmas in Ayutthaya

Sister Sowards and I finished reading The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson, just before Christmas--an annual family tradition we are grateful to continue. "For unto you a Child is Born!" Ah! You've gotta love Gladys.

We held an open house for members and friends at our house Christmas Eve. Joan fixed pumpkin pie, chocolate chip cookies and fudge, I made brownies and fruit crunch. So much fun stuff to serve Thais American yummies they have not eaten before. One young man came into the house and kept saying, “Wow!” in English. We played games and showed the short video Luke 2. Joan introduced them to the coin on top of a mound of flour game. One uses a knife to cut away parts of the flour while trying to not make the coin fall. Everyone enjoyed it. We sang Christmas carols. It was just like Christmas.

Christmas day started early when the four elders

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

We Have New Elders in Ayutthaya

Here is the new Ayutthaya line-up of elders! We will miss Elders Watkins, Smith, and Gibbons. We are thankful for their hard work.

Welcome to:

Elders Winsor (South Weber, UT)
 Elder Slaughter (Kaysville, UT)
Elder Mageno (Springville, UT)
Elder Vance (Laguna Nigel, CA)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas, Baptisms, and the Giggles

Elders Sowards, Gibbons, Smith, Watkins, Winsor
sitting with the entire high school student body 
Joan and I gave our Christmas presentation at three schools this week. Each went well for the most part. The most challenging was in an open covered building. The sunlight was so bright it washed out the screen so our slides could not be seen. They had put up two large plasma displays but one didn’t work and the other was also impacted by the sunlight.  In our presentation, we use pictures to help the students understand Christmas. A picture is worth a 1000 words and we didn’t have time or their interest to say enough to describe our pictures.  We did what we could but felt very defeated. After we were finished, the elders sang The First Noel and spoke a little to the group and made the students laugh--which saved our show! As thank you gifts for coming they gave our group two gift baskets of Veta vitamin fruit drink.

Saturday morning a mother, daughter (age 12) and grandson (age 9) were baptized.  It was very special but we had one unexpected happening. After the two speakers finished, and before the baptisms, an investigator stood up in the back of the room and asked if he could say a prayer for the people being baptized. I was conducting and my initial thought was it couldn’t hurt as long as he didn’t say anything improper in the prayer. He gave a wonderful prayer. 

In Sacrament meeting Sunday we had the three confirmations, a letter from a counsellor in the mission presidency, three speakers, and two musical numbers--which was all too much for one hour. The first musical number "Silent Night" sung by three ladies--one started giggling, and then they all were giggling by the end of the song. The elders sang The First Noel beautifully. All three speakers had to shorten their talks. I felt bad having to ask them to cut their talks short. We sang only one verse of the closing song and was still over time.

McD's in Thai culture

Another highlight of the week--we found a drive-thru McDonald's near Ayutthaya--one of the few DT McD's in Thailand. Yeah! A taste of home.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Ayutthaya Choir! Blending Cultures

Ayutthaya Branch choir in shepherd costumes for district concert
Our branch pulled together and sang at our district Christmas program Dec 14. We sang a song I wrote entitled "The Son of God, the Messiah" and added eight Thai instruments called angalung. The challenge with angalung is they are whole-step scale instruments, each playing a single note as would a bell, but not our western scale. We had to work with the scale to find a key for the song that best suited the instruments. I secretly worried that someone who was well educated about the instrument would think we were crazy to combine voice, piano, violin, and western civilization music with the ancient instruments.

The program listed us the second choir from the last to sing. There was no applause during the first ten numbers. When it was our turn, we lined up in the choir loft, and when angalung players held up their instruments, a delighted gasp rippled through the chapel.

The restless audience hushed. Elder Gibbons cued us and we began. (My hands shook so much I could hardly play the piano.) Our 14 year-old violinist played beautifully. The choir sang with full hearts "He is the Son of God, the Messiah!". I was proud of them. And at the last note, with relief, I knew we had done our best.

But the more delightful part--a few hands began clapping in the audience, then the whole congregation burst into applause. For a no-applause concert, we were all surprised!

It was the angalung that made it special. The Thais love their history--and bringing an instrument of their own culture into a concert where adaptation to another culture was clearly portrayed--they saw the two cultures blended in celebrating the birth of our Savior.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The King's Birthday Celebration

Elders Winsor and Smith with party attendee
This week Joan and I gave our first presentation on traditions of Christmas. We taught about 100 students at the high school of a member. It was our first presentation and went alright but we had a few problems with their audio system. (The kids got very restless by the end.) Overall they seemed to like it, especially when we taught them "We Wish You A Merry Christmas."

Thursday was the King’s birthday and Father's Day. We went with some members to a celebration. There was free (Thai) food, school students dancing mostly traditional Thai dances, and fireworks. I don’t think I have ever been right under so many rockets exploding overhead at one time. It was like the 4th of July condensed into 5 minutes. Not one rocket after another. but maybe 5 or more exploding together and 5 more right after that. My ears are still ringing. What was most interesting was that several random people came up to our elders and ask to have their picture taken with them. 

All attendees lit a candle to honor the King

Member and her candle dance group. Oui is
third from left.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Another Busy Week's Bits and Pieces

Joan and I visited our local university library and offered a free 1-year subscription to the Church international magazine, the Liahona, in Thai and/or English. The lady who met with us seemed surprised that it was free. She actually was not the head librarian so we left sample copies and also told her we would be willing to come present about Christmas or be a guest speaker on Lean (me) or writing books (Joan). We plan to go to other libraries in the area.

On Tuesday we went to Bangkok to a Mission Tour training session. President and Sister Senior taught some

Monday, December 2, 2013

Practice the Piano!

When you were young, did your parents hound you to, "Practice the piano!"? I told my children over and over while they were growing up to practice because they would need to play on their missions. I was sure they'd end up in a branch with no pianist, and they would have to stumble through hymns using their John Thompson 1st grade level knowledge.

Well, as you probably can guess, none of my children were called on to play on their missions.

But guess who has ended up in a branch that has very little musical training? Yours truly. My mother never hounded me about practicing because she never dreamed I'd serve a mission (or become a songwriter.) But here I am in Ayutthaya, and yesterday, because our fourteen-year-old pianist who plays from the simplified hymnal, became very ill, and I was the backup. So I played for sacrament meeting and Primary. (I think it was a first in my life.) Every song went fine until Far, Far Away on Judea's Plains, and my fingers couldn't play any notes right. The music looks easy but is really tricky if you haven't practiced.

The piano is a central-place in our branch.
When we were preparing to serve our mission, in prayer I'd ask what I needed to do to get ready. The answer always came as, "Practice the piano." Every time I asked, the answer was the same. I practiced for at least an hour a day for four months. For some reason, being able to play the piano was important to my mission. To what extent I didn't know.

Now I have 10 weekly piano students (and accompany for musical numbers when needed.) All of them are still at the beginning level, but they are eager to learn. Our piano is in constant use. Someone is always playing/practicing.

I am the music chairman in our branch. We have a special musical number every Sunday. Amazing when you know how little real talent we have, but everyone is very willing to participate. Good people.

So, you never know what you will do on a mission. Be ready to use your talents, shiny or rusty, in whatever way the Lord needs you. You will have some great experiences, as we have.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Three Baptisms, and Goals Met

The Ayutthaya Branch had three baptisms this week. Rah! Rah! Rah!

Saturday, a member's 12 year-old son became our first deacon age young man. We will be happy when he receives the Aaronic Priesthood! He has already been a great addition to our mutual age youth for the last few months.

He was baptized by our only priest age member (taller boy in white). What a great opportunity for both of them!

On Sunday, the Shaw family was blessed when David baptized his wife and 12 year-old son. (Yeah! now we have two deacons. From 0 to 2.) The older son has been a member for a few months and is an enthusiastic member, and our teachers' quorum president.

Our mission set a goal this month for every companionship to have a baptism. We are happy that both our companionships of elders in Ayutthaya realized their goal.

And especially, we are grateful for these individuals who have joined our branch!

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thanksgiving came to Thailand

Thanksgiving came to Ayutthaya hours before the United States was shoving turkeys into ovens.

We had fourteen gathered at the church for our turkey feast--two Thais and twelve Americans. Besides eight elders, the McGeorges joined us. Dale is from California. His wife is from Thailand. Elder Wilamat is also native here.

Our group of great elders include Elders Wilamat, Gibbons, Schmitz, Cutler, Winsor, Wheeler, and Smith as pictured here. Elder Watkins was very much under the weather and snoozing close by. (Elders Wilamat, Schimitz, Cutler and Wheeler serve in Lopuri.)

To prepare dinner, we used our new oven for the first time. I made my traditional pecan pie for Elder Sowards, and it volunteered to bake first. Since I had no idea what all the settings meant, and since the instruction manual was in Thai with very little explanation in English, the poor pie baked on broil for 40 minutes. So actually, we had a charred pecan pie!

But I finally figured out the settings, and the pumpkin pie turned out quite nice. We put the turkey in the oven at 6 AM and it was done by 10:30 AM and turned out delicious. Today I am thankful for many blessings, and having an oven is one of them. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

November is passing Fast!

Some of the girls from the music/English class we teach. They
are beautiful.
Sister N has been attending for a several months
and was baptized by our SS president who
introduced her to the gospel. Also pictured is Elder Gibbons
and Watkins who taught her.
Our Wednesday English music class of 9 year olds is very enthusiastic for learning. We added a few new songs including Silent Night. As we explained the meaning and sang through it, I thought it ironic that we were teaching this special Christmas song at Buddhist temple school! They have asked Joan to teach the students to sing in parts. They are mostly 9 years old – this is a challenge in any school but even more to teach them in a foreign language for them.

We visited one of our members that I home teach. Joan had not been to her house, about 50 KM out of town, so she went with me. Her parents have never been very friendly to the missionaries. They seemed to accept us since we are more their age – they are both 70. They asked a lot of questions about our family and we just happen to have the picture of our family with us- taken last March on the AZ temple grounds. We had used it earlier in the day to introduce us at the school. Joan asked to take some pictures of their beautiful Thai (teak wood) house. The mother was thrilled. Using our iPad Joan showed the mother the pictures. We also took some of the couple and their member daughter. We had a great visit and I am sure we will be welcomed again.

One unusual part of this visit was

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thai Translator of the Book of Mormon Passes Away

This is reposted from Sister Srilaksana headed the first translation of the Book of Mormon into Thai. This woman is loved by all. We are sorry we could not attend her services, and post this article in her honor. When Dennis served in Thailand 1969-1971 the Book of Mormon had not been yet translated. We appreciate the long, hard process that translation is.

November 7, 2013 - Sister Srilaksana Suntarahut, the mother of the LDS Church in Thailand, passed away on November 7, 2013, in Bangkok Thailand.

Microsoft Word Document
Srilaksana Suntarahut (1924-2013)

Srilaksana Suntarahut (1924-2013) was an early convert to the LDS Church in Thailand soon after the first missionaries arrived in 1968. Her testimony came powerfully, after reading just a few verses, from the English Book of Mormon. She and two sisters, were raised by the widowed and childless Queen of King Rama VI, with the support of her parents. She became the principal translator of the LDS Scriptures into the Thai Language (1970-1979), receiving revelation to solve challenging issues. While she could not be their priesthood leader, she was the shepherd to the young flock of early converts, hosting them at her home every Sunday afternoon. She shared her testimony with all who would listen. Her story is one of the most remarkable in all of LDS Church history.

A memorial for Srilaksana Suntarahut was held at the Asoke Ward meeting house in Bangkok on Saturday, November 9, 2013.

Photo and Flowers at the memorial service.
Some of those who attended the memorial service on November 9, 2013, at the Asoke chapel in Bangkok Thailand.
Photos: Wisan Wisanbannawit

Scripture Chase Basketball

Our youth activity this week was a real page turner.

 Elder Winsor explained how to use the index to find where stories are in the Book of Mormon.

The Elders took turns telling stories and showing the corresponding pictures from the "Gospel Art Book."

Each person on two teams had to open their own copy to the story and then raise his/her hand. The first team with all members' hands raised got to shoot the basketball. If the ball made it through the tiny hoop they scored 5 points, if it landed in the bucket, they received 2 points. If they missed both, they received 0 points.
Even though they look bored, they had to keep alert.

Team members could help each other. And since we had younger siblings and investigators, they had to work together to win.

The youth had three shots to make the basket on their turn. Score or not, we moved on to the next story to keep the game moving.

Below is a picture of Nat almost scoring.

  Amazingly, after telling 20 stories, the two teams had tied! No better way to end a friendly game of  scripture-chase basketball!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

I Still Believe in Christmas

 Living in a non-Christian country brings the lyrics I wrote a few years ago for this song, even closer to my heart. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Loi Kratong

Sunday was one of the biggest Thai holidays of the year called Loi Kratong. The tradition is to make a round boat out of banana leafs, put a lit candle on it, plus money and float it down the river. The Buddhist monks would collect the money the next morning. A beautiful and quiet celebration.
The tradition concept of Loi Kratong

But it has been 40 years since I last enjoyed Loi Kratong, and evidently it has evolved into a carnival and lots if firecrackers. It was like a 4th of July on steroids. Not with beautiful fireworks in the sky but with the sound for fireworks and some rockets in the sky. One explosion after another constantly all night. I could still hear them at 3:30 AM. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Teaching English Has Its Perks

This week we kept busy teaching English, besides our regular Tuesday night class--which is always a lot of fun. Wednesday we drove out to a countryside school where a member teaches, and taught songs in English to nine-year-olds. They sang with enthusiasm: Kindness Begins With Me, Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Rain is Falling all Around, Once There Was A Snowman, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, and Singing a Song is Fun to Do. We will return this week, review all these songs, and teach We Wish You A Merry Christmas, and Sing Your Way Home, and Silent Night. 

Thursday, we taught two classes at another member's school about pronunciation, and also some of the same songs. The students love when Joan sings Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes, especially when she does it real fast.  

After we ate lunch, another teacher asked about Jesus Christ. Elder Sowards spent over an hour explaining about who Christ is and about the plan of salvation. She seemed to hang onto every word. We invited her to our meetings. Maybe someday she will come. The village where the school is located is about 60 miles from our church and attending will be hard for her. We promised to bring a copy of the Book of Mormon with

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Investigators and Bananas

We helped the elders teach an investigator a second and third discussion last Tuesday and yesterday. We currently have 12 investigators, three with baptismal dates. Sitting in on discussions is always a wonderful experience, and this young woman asked very thoughtful questions about the plan of salvation. She has a humble, open-minded spirit about her, too.
View of Ayutthaya through the rice fields.

Another woman brought her family to our English class on Tuesday and asked for a Book of Mormon. She said when the elders came tracting to her house earlier this week, the family invited them in to hear their message and she felt a special spirit and wanted to know more. This family will be a great addition to our branch.

We have a few youth investigators who come to activities and church, too. We must not rush youth, for if they join the church alone--without other family members--they easily get lost. We love each of these young people and try to nurture them so they will develop strong foundations in the gospel.

On the lighter side. We cut down half of the bunch of bananas from the tree that hangs over our back fence, leaving the other half to ripen and to cut after we had eaten the first batch. They stay green on the tree and then ripen after picking. Even that first half of the bunch were too many for two of us to eat before they became too ripe.

Bananas before the first picking. We took the small
bunch at the bottom.

The day after the picking, we noticed the second half of the bunch was gone from the tree. We wondered about it, but since the tree grew on the property behind us, we figured the owner had harvested the last of the bananas.

Then on Sunday our next door neighbor brought us bananas--bright yellow and ripe, and told us they were from our yard. (We keep our gate locked. Scratching head in wonder here.) We aren’t sure if they saw us pick the first  bunch and felt sorry for us that we didn’t know how to pick the whole bunch, or what. We know they meant well and are caring neighbors.

We are looking forward to having Thanksgiving with our elders. Happy month-of-gratitute to all!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Ayutthaya Rooster


Rooster statues are found throughout Ayutthaya--sold in stores, at homes and wats, standing along the street. And if you know our family, you may know we like chickens, so naturally, Elder Sowards and I had to find out why Ayutthaya has so many rooster statues. So, here is the scoop.

Burma and Thailand had fought during the 16th century and the Thai Prince Naresuan "was taken to Burma after the capital 

ornate and gilded
city fell in defeat to Burmese King Bayin Naung in 1564 and 1569. Ayutthaya became a vassal state as a consequence, and the Burmese installed Prince Naresuan’s father - King Maha Thammaracha (1569-1590) - on the throne. Prince Naresuan was subsequently raised in the land of his enemies as a type of collateral against future 
uprisings. While still in Burma, Prince Naresuan proved himself as a skilled fighter with a 
Roosters offered by tourists line wall
keen sense of military strategy. With his complicated rise in power, a string of events
provoked Prince Naresuan to shift allegiances and declare Ayutthaya independent once 

The legend is that Thai Prince Naresuan wagered a bet with a 
a Burmese prince that Ayutthaya would be freed from Burmese rule if Naresuan's rooster emerged victorious in the cock fight. Prince Naresuan's rooster won the bet, humiliating the Burmese prince in the process. 

After the release of a popular movie about King Naresuan, these rooster statues began to appear mysterious at temples 
across Ayutthaya. They are most highly concentrated at temples associated with this 
royal warrior (Wat Worachet, Wat Worachetharam, Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon, etc.). 
However, the rooster statues around the King Naresuan Memorial in Ayutthaya (where these pictures are taken) can number in the 
hundreds, and Thai citizens bring them from all over the country as offerings.
Elder Sowards among the roosters

 So there you go. A tidbit on Thailand history. Cool.

We knew you'd like to know. And here is a website telling more of the story of this revered Prince/King.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Riding Elephants, Tourist Day

While Elder and Sister Jones visited Ayutthaya we took our first spin around the city in tourist style. Ayutthaya is a favorite tourist city because of its history as Thailand's capital for 417 years until Burma destroyed the city in 1767. Now Ayutthaya is built around the ruins of the time period.

Since the Jones are finishing their mission in three weeks, Sister Jones wanted to ride an elephant before stepping on that jet headed back to Meridian, Idaho.

Here is Elder Sowards and I on an elephant. Elephants are seen walking through Ayutthaya on a daily basis, usually with tourists on their backs. Our guide is holding a pass-along card which he thoroughly studied on the ride. He and Elder Sowards had a long conversation about why we were in Thailand.

This ominous Buddha at Wat Phananchoeng is one of the largest in Thailand. Huge. It is the most revered Buddha in Ayutthaya.

                                                                                This Buddha face peeks from tree roots at Wat Maha That. After the city was destroyed this face was placed in the roots that now have grown around it. A tourist hotspot.  Above are more ruins at this most popular ancient wat.

We will miss the Jones very much. What great people they are, and what an asset to the mission! They have been good friends, too.
Sister and Elder Jones

Everywhere we go people are impressed that Elder Sowards speaks fluent Thai, and with correct tones. Thai is a tonal language. One word may have five meanings determined by the tone: high, low, mid, rising, or falling. Most Americans don't get the tones right, it is a strange concept to us, but Elder Sowards does very well.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Feet Eating Fish

Tiny garra rufa at work

Okay, Elder Sowards talked me into this. We had foot pedicures by these tiny fish called garra rufa. They eat the dead skin off feet. I am very ticklish, and let me tell you, it took a good minute to be able to tolerate these little guys' nibbling!

And then I couldn't watch them at work. It was too freaky thinking about those tiny toothless mouths chomping on my calluses. But I lasted the full twenty minutes. I think Elder Sowards did as well as he did because I was so squimish. Someone had to be strong.

Here we are enjoying a foot spa of fishies.
My feet are much smoother after the 20 minute sitting. In the states (if you can find a spa that offers fish pedicures) you will pay $35. We paid $3.

Such extravagance is not the usual routine for missionaries' sore, tired feet, but the elders from Lopuri told us about this treatment and how much they enjoyed it on one of their p-days, so today we were passing the spa in Ayutthaya and decided to give it a try.

Squimish or not, I'd do it again.

PS we gave the spa owner a pass-along card,
so it wasn't all play.

Introduction to the Book of Mormon

Elder and Sister Jones, the most fantastic office couple ever, who keep our mission running (too bad they are finishing their mission in three weeks) came to Ayutthaya to teach our youth about the Book of Mormon for our Saturday youth activity.

Our awesome Elders led a gathering game of "guess what is written on the slip of paper pinned to your back."

Then the Jones told us their love story. Sister Jones joined the church--the only member in her family--in high school. She was dating Elder Jones and wanted him to be a member of the church, too. After taking the missionary discussions, he was baptized. He then served a mission and she faithfully wrote to him every week. They were married five months after his return. This is their second mission. They have served in the Church in so many capacities including bishop, stake president, RS president, etc.

Then they asked what person was known in every country of the world. The youth gave many answers including Lady Gaga, George Bush, Obama. The Jones said angel Moroni told Joseph Smith his name would be had for good and evil among all nations kindreds and tongues. When we thought about it, we were a small group of people on the other side of the world from New York, in an out-of-the-way meeting house, and knew the name of Joseph Smith. A fulfillment of prophecy!

The Book of Mormon took place over 1000 years from 600BC and 400AD, and during that time period the people were taught about our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Then we read Mosiah 15 and circled every time any form of the word Redeemer was mentioned. Very interesting, and what a great chapter!

Our closing game was the Mummy Race--who could wrap a whole roll of toilet paper around their mummy the fastest. (The game would go well with an introduction to the Pearl of Great Price. :-) The team of the little guy in the center won. Refreshments were homemade fudge pops.

The best news for last: we had seven investigators in attendance!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Armor of God

Brother Arm wearing the
ARMor of God
 Our youth activity today centered on the Armor of God. We had 16 youth and four elders split up in five groups and make the belt "loins girded about with truth," the breastplate of righteousness, feet shod with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, helmet of salvation, and sword of the Spirit which is the word of God.

Elder Gibbons, Watkins, Smith, and Winsor did a great job of teaching the concept and mentoring the groups. Everyone seemed to enjoy the activity. 

We had 16 youth attend. (In July when we started our Saturday Mutual activities, we were lucky to get three attending, and today we had 16! Six non-member, teenage boys walked in with their investigator friends right as we were starting the activity. What a surprise. Pictured below are eight members and two investigators. They are a great group of youth!
Our awesome youth group.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Treasures in My Garden

#6 Lady who gets up late. Please translate into Americanese? 

Please help me identify these flowers and plants in my garden. I wish I would have taken my mother's tutoring in gardening seriously, for she knew all the flowers' names. Alas.

These posted actually represent only a few we have growing in our yard.

Could I grow much in Arizona? No. Only plants that loved heat, and could take care of themselves. But here in Thailand, flowers are plentiful.

#1 small coral flowers
#2 elephant ear size leaves, 2 1/2 feet tall. It must have a better name than Elephant Ears.

The bananas don't grow in my yard but hang over the wall. I've watched them for three months now, wondering if it is my right to pick them. They tell me there is a right way to pick bananas.

This lovely waterlily grows on my front porch, a gift from members of our branch who worked on our lawn while we went to the USA.

 The interesting thing about waterlilies is while one blooms, there is another bud waiting underwater to rise up and blossom when the first one dies. Each blossom has one day of glory in the sun.

#3 This pretty orange blossom is another the members planted in our absence. So lovely. They are coming to the end of their season.

#4 Looks familiar. I should know him. Didn't
he once grow in my house in Mesa?

#5 a bugle 

#6 Orchid, Thailand is famous for them.

These papaya grow in the front year. I've got to find a ladder to pick them. There were two
papaya trees, but one fell in a storm last week.

These orchids grow in hanging pots-- the members brought.
#7 are not snapdragons. The Thais call the blue haway. (Blue Hawaii?--but they
don't have five petals.)