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!