Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas away from home

Well, here we are the week of Christmas surviving a Canadian winter with no snow and warmer temperatures than Logan, Utah. Everyone tells us "wait until January through April". We did pass a house with snow and a snowman (man made, of course). We decided the heat wave in Toronto comes from Santa's extracurricular activities. It will be a different Christmas being away from home, but we are not alone; There are hundreds of other missionaries in the mission (and thousands from other missions) that are also away from home this year.

Snow in Toronto

Mr. & Mrs. Santa heating it up in Toronto
Sister Wheeler got a call from Sister Carroll who was having a piano recital in Brampton on Monday evening and wondered if Sister Wheeler would be willing to play a lively song like "Sleigh Ride" for the recital. She agreed. Sister Carroll had the music in Brampton, but we looked for it (without success) in Toronto so Sister Wheeler could practice. She got the music about 5:30 before the 7:00 recital and was able to run through it a couple of times. She didn't like the left hand part of the arrangement, so during the first part of the recital she changed how she would play it. She really jazzed it up and made it a lot of fun.

Sister Wheeler at the piano in Brampton
We decided we needed to reach out for Christmas instead of just feeling sorry for ourselves for not being with family. One way to do this was to offer a Christmas party for our zone as part of Wednesday's district meetings. Sister Brown said her family had Navajo Tacos for Christmas, but where do you find fry bread in Toronto? We decided on Indian Tacos and used "naan" (a bread from India) instead. Sister Wheeler made three batches of chili and prepared the fixings for the party. She made an ice cream roll and a jelly roll (for a sister who is lactose intolerant) for dessert. We found some soup mugs and put a package of chicken-noodle soup and goldfish crackers in the mugs for gifts. They held separate district meetings then combined for a short program with music, special thoughts, and testimonies. This was followed by lunch for 24 missionaries. It was a lot of work, but the missionaries seemed to enjoy the activity so it was worth the effort. 

Soup mugs with soup and crackers
Setting for lunch
Hungry missionaries
Thursday was a day to take Christmas cards to some of the Portuguese ward members. We passed out cards on Sunday to those who were at church. We had cards for all of those we have met in the ward. We were able to visit Paulo (real name Amerigo) and his wife Maria from Portugal. Out of all the homes, theirs gives the us the feeling of visiting Portugal. Part of it comes from the pictures on their wall painted by an aunt. Also, Maria sings Fado, the traditional Portuguese song. She treated us with a rendition while we were there. We also stopped by Dufferin Mall for a few items and visited the park across the street with a fun little house. 

Portuguese guitar (one of several paintings)
Paulo and Maria (with grandson)
Little house in the park
We have been trying to get free tickets to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, but finally gave up and paid the price. This is a world class natural history and anthropological museum. They had a special exhibit on the Mayans. There were artifacts from around the world, both modern and ancient. There were also dinosaur bones (and a lot of man-made casts to fill in the gaps), bird and mammal exhibits, and a wonderful mineral and gemstone exhibit. The AAA guide suggest planning 3 hours, but we were there for at least 5 hours. 
Royal Ontario Museum
Native-American canoes
Asian warriors
Small part of the mineral collection
Star sapphire
Damaru with human skull caps
Egyptian tomb visit

We started Saturday with a shortened version of ESL. Our topic was about holidays so our class read Luke 2 from the bible, explaining words they didn't know. We had a short party afterwards for the students. We took out some more Christmas cards. We were able to see several of the Portuguese members with whom we have had little contact. One was Catia (we had met with Patricio, her husband before). Her nine-year-old son has not been baptized, but Catia agreed that it would be a good idea for him to receive lessons and prepare for baptism.

Catia with son and daughter

We were invited by the Verdasca family to join them for their Christmas Eve activities. We were very grateful, but didn't realize how extensive their traditions were. We started with a wonderful dinner which included port loin and a traditional Christmas fish dish. For desert we had Bolo do Rei (Cake of the King) which is traditional in Portugal as well as other treats (one of which was a rice pudding that Elder Wheeler especially liked). We read the Christmas story from Luke and Matthew (in Portuguese, of course) interspersed with Christmas carols. Next came Santa and handed out gifts (for us too). Tiago, a boy who will barely say two words at church, was full of life. Everyone was really laughing, especially Grandma Elvira. We finally had a chance to meet Manuel Berrencourt (a friend of Verdascas). We have seen his son, Tiago, at church, but Manuel was one of the Portuguese members we had not been able to visit. Overall it was a wonderful Christmas celebration.

Sister Verdasca, our hostess
Grandma Elvira and her new-born grandson
Good food with pork loin and traditional fish dish
Many desserts with traditional King Cake, etc.
Tiago and Manuel Bettencourt
Sister Santa
Elder Santa
The "real" Santa (Tiago)
The family gang

Christmas Day was on Sunday this year (I guess it was for the rest of you too). We had a small tree with only a few gifts. Since we are always together, there were few surprises. Elder Wheeler got some Bucky Balls to play with and Sister Wheeler got some wooden spoon drum sticks for the kitchen. The biggest sunrise was the small quilt Andrea made with pictures of our grandchildren. It brought us to tears. We received many Christmas cards this year that let us know we are not forgotten. Thank you.

Christmas Tree (setting) with presents
Sister Wheeler with her wooden spoon drum sticks
Family quilt
Christmas cards in the window
We only had sacrament meeting for church on Christmas Sunday. The bishop wanted to have a Spanish choir and a Portuguese choir, each to sing three songs. The Spanish choir, though small, has been practicing before church for several weeks. The Portuguese choir was set to practice after church, but with baptismal serves (and many other things) only one person showed up and that was only one time. When all else fails in the mission field - Call On The Missionaries. We put together a choir at the last minute with 15 missionaries (5 Portuguese-speaking, 6 Spanish-Speaking, and 4 English-speaking) and 6 members of the ward to sing two songs in Portuguese. Don't tell the Spanish members, but it was better than their numbers even after all their practice.

We mentioned a few weeks ago that the Toronto ward had a new Brazilian bishop. We finally caught him and his wife in the hall for a photo. There seems to be a lot of excitement about the work among the Portuguese in Toronto (except for the choir, of course).

Bishop Landim and his wife
We had another Portuguese baptism today (though Mateus doesn't speak Portuguese, his mother does). He is 9-years old and hadn't been baptized so the elders worked to teach him and work with his mother to prepare for the baptism. Sometimes working with the children strengthens the parents as well.

Mateus with his mother, Amanda (right), Sidy (left), and the Portuguese elders

Well, Christmas is wrapped up and 2011 is almost wrapped up. In case some of you have not heard the news - We Are Being Transfered the first week in 2012 to a small branch called Trent Hills. There are no other missionaries there and only about 15 active members. Goodbye big city and hello small town (the whole township which covers a large area and includes three small communities only numbers about 12,000 people). We hope to have more information on the next blog.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Finally a member

Marzia was baptized three weeks ago, but due to a death of a friend and then some family things she has not been able to attend sacrament meeting to be confirmed a member of the church. We got a call from her yesterday requesting a visit (during which Elder Wheeler got the full scoop on zombies and magic plants from Mateus - age 6). We picked her up today. We thought it would be easier because it has been so cold. Elder Wheeler was able to confirm her and now she is an official member of the church.

They have been doing construction around our apartment building which included cutting cement in the garage. Our car was caked with a layer of cement dust. It looked like they had finished so we took the car for a wash on Monday. We needed to stop by the supply room afterward and found the car with a new layer of dust from the building being demolished next to the church. They must have been on break when we parked because we thought no one was working. We could quote Isaiah 52:11 to our car, "Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord", but we don't think it would do much good.

Another source of cement dust
At out district meeting on Wednesday we discussed "finding", meaning finding people to teach the gospel. Senior couples are encouraged to "find, friendship, and teach" to the extent their other assignments allow, but this is not the focus for them as it is with the younger missionaries. As we reviewed the 17 suggestions for finding people mentioned in Preach My Gospel we realized we have tried 16 of them. The only one we have not used is to place an ad in the local newspaper. Sister Wheeler was surprised to find out that maybe we do more missionary work than she gives us credit for.

We got a call on Wednesday informing us that we have a new missionary from Brazil who just arrived, Elder Amorim. He has had visa problems so had to work as a missionary in Brazil before coming here. That sounds backwards for some reason. There is a lot of new enthusiasm among the Portuguese elders.

Elder Amorim with Elder Seabra and Elder de Moura

President Scott called Thursday morning and asked if we could meet him at the supply room. He wanted to take a look at it to see what could be done. They brought a load of coats from Brampton. When missionaries return home after their mission they are restricted in luggage and often leave things like coats for other missionaries to use. We keep them in the supply room. He talked to us about how the Portuguese work was going and mentioned there might be a few changes by next transfer. We will have a new Portuguese elder which would give us two companionships and the opportunity to divide the work into two areas.

Elder Pead (AP) carrying coats to the supply room

We had our last institute class this Thursday. We prepared a treat for the institute students, but none of them showed up. There was a visitor from Utah that came and the Toronto Ward elders and sisters joined us. Yes, they got the treat. Someone else ordered pizza so that was added to the menu of cookies and ice cream.
Missionaries and strays after institute
We had our usual ESL class on Saturday morning. It is a good service to the community and helps bring potential investigators to the church. They normally have several Portuguese students. We are teaching class A which is the more advanced class. We have a different set of students each class with some returning. 

Class A: Jay (Korea), Chinese family, Toshi (Japan), and Shaheen (Pakistan)
Perry, Helen, and Steven have been coming to ESL a long time

We had a large Portuguese Sunday School class (16 people) this Sunday. There was a lot of energy in the group that was good for Marzia (since all of the other meetings are in Spanish). The elders have been working with Marcio for awhile. He finally came to our class. The elders make a big impact on the less-active members. 
Our class (make that 17 with the baby)
Christmas is only a week away. There are signs of the times, but it is still hard to believe. Notice that we don't have any snow yet. It has snowed a couple of times but nothing that has stayed.

Even Santa has his hangups
Santa's snowball
Santa's train
Our Christmas tree with ice cycles made by Grandma Mitchell and a picture by Emily Bradshaw
 We hope the coming week is filled with the spirit of Christ in Christmas.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

'Tis the season to be ...

Another week has gone by and we are one week closer to Christmas. At least it is beginning to look a lot more like Christmas. There are some houses that are decorated, but most are not. We wondered what to do for a Christmas tree - buy a real one (costs too much), get a small artificial tree (what do we do after Christmas is over?). We decided to get a small Christmas setting and use it as a tree.

Decorated house on Ossington Ave.
Christmas tree at ward party
Christmas trees for sale
Our Christmas tree

We needed a day to catch up on everything, especially on finances, so Monday we registered the car, went to the bank, mailed a bunch of letters, and got our institute lesson (as well as other things). Why does it take us so long to catch up on a lot of things the other missionaries don't even have to worry about?

Tuesday was zone conference (for 3 zones) in Oakville. We left early so we could get there in time through the snow (not a lot of it). We took the three Don Mills elders with us - Elder Johnson, Elder Bode (from Germany), and Elder Roy (who is from Brampton, but awaiting a Visa to serve in Las Vegas.
Elders Johnson, Bode, and Roy
Sister Gay, who has a PhD in psychology (or something like that) was asked to give us a workshop on "The Best Two Years and How to Survive Them". It was about how to deal with stress, which ends up being the biggest struggle we have on our mission. She said stress occurs in response to a gap (gaps between needs, expectations, shoulds, etc.). It was very helpful. Maybe we are just normal. We need to identify the gaps and reduce them.

Safety sign on the subway
Pres. Scott reviewed 2 Nephi 31 with us and gave us a chance to role-play, our favorite activity (jk). We were able to role play with the terrific threesome - Sister Rosenlof, Sister Jungert, and Sister Klein.

The terrific threesome
There is another interesting threesome in Black Creek (a Spanish Ward). Sister Camejo was in the Christie Ward for three weeks (her first three weeks in the mission) when she was transfered to work with Sister Cottam in Black Creek (who also had only been in the mission three weeks). They are now training Sister Ence who just arrived on her mission. Does the color "green" come to mind?

Sisters Cottam, Ence, and Camejo
The assistants held a Jeopardy competition among the three zones with questions from the "white handbook".
Jeopardy competition
Some missionaries know the answers

We ended with a special Christmas program with music and a very insightful talk by Sister Scott.

Wednesday brought an organ workshop by Sister Wheeler at the Weston Ward. For the first time she is using her musical knowledge to help others. We had our next to last class for institute on Thursday. We are trying to determine what we should do for Christmas for the missionaries, our institute students, and members. This means trying to see what is available in the stores around. We went to see the PATH which consists of walkways connecting major buildings downtown that are underground. There are many stores on this underground path but because they are downtown and in the financial area they have things that are expensive. 

We had ESL on Saturday morning (three students from Korea). We finally were able to contact Tony and Simone by going to the Gym where he works. We were told they are too busy for further visits. He is getting his business going and needs Sunday to do it. She is enjoying attending the Pentecostal church with a friend. They did say (with some hesitation) that they will continue to read the Book of Mormon. Maybe they will be ready some time in the future.

Saturday brought the Ward Christmas party. There was a big turnout with dinner and a special program. We did wish we could understand what they were saying. They seemed to do well, but we had no clue what was going on.
Story from Mexico?
Your guess is as good as ours?
We got the nativity scene (with a real baby)
Every so often we are reminded that we are in a foreign country. For example, cows don't give their milk in cartons as in Utah, but in plastic bags. We put a bag in a small pitcher and cut a corner of the bag to pour out the milk. 

Milk from the store
Milk on the table
Here are a few shots around Toronto.

A praying mantis?
The musical missionary
Tree trimming time
The "straight and narrow" tree
Where's the beef?
Four penguins
So that's where Canadian milk comes from
Skating in Toronto

 Here is Bishop Ferreira working at his desk just prior to Ward Council. He asked if I caught his mistake on film.
Bishop Ferreira

 Finally, here we are at the tri-zone conference.

Still alive in the Canada Toronto Mission