Chiclayo Peru is one of the most interesting places to be on New Year's Eve! Last year I told about the tradition of burning a muñeca, which is basically a stuffed dummy that represents yourself. At midnight they burn the muñeca to represent burning the old self and becoming a new person in the new year. The day of New Year's Eve there are muñecas everywhere lining the streets to be sold. They are even on the back of moto-taxis. There are child versions also, but adults are the most common.
Muñecas for Sale!
The fireworks display on New Year's Eve was amazing! For hours the sky was full of huge fireworks. It was the most intense between 11:30 and 12:30. We are lucky to have a perfect view from our seventh story apartment. We will be moving into a house in a couple of weeks, but we were hoping to stay in our apartment for New Year's Eve and it was well worth it. The moon also decided to be part of the celebration. It was positioned right where some of the best fireworks were and looked like a giant half cookie hanging in the sky. It was amazing!
That's the moon to the right. It's fuzzy and hard to see because their was so much smoke in the air!
The Moon is a little brighter in this picture. It looked really amazing in real life. My photography
skills are not good. You can also see the skyline of Chiclayo.
Mark had the privilege of baptizing a mother and daughter, Nilda Flor Bravi Nuñez and Dayana Nicolle Chirinos Bravo. The names in South America can be a little challenging because they are long - they keep their father's and their mother's names - and they are different. Mark did so well. He practiced their names over and over again. He wanted to say them right and he did; he said them perfect. The only problem was that he was so worried about their names, that on the first baptism, he forgot to say, "Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ." The poor Elders who were the witnesses were a little afraid to tell the Mission President that he had said the prayer wrong! It was still an amazing occasion to witness their entry into the path to the Kingdom of God.
These are the sisters he baptized on Halloween Day.
They had a lot of support from the ward.
I had the privilege of working with two sisters in our mission and it was one of the best experiences I have ever. They were so well prepared and did everything perfectly, just like right out of Preach my Gospel. They made great contacts, had wonderful lessons prepared and taught very naturally together. To one less active sister, I had the privilege of bearing my testimony of a living prophet, to another family of investigators, the restoration of the Priesthood, and to another woman, the power of the Book of Mormon. The sisters were introducing the Book of Mormon to this woman and telling her that it was going to change her life. She looked right at me and asked, "Has the Book of Mormon changed your life?" I told her that it had. "How has it changed your life?" For me that is not that easy to explain. I have never been less active or struggled with any major sins, but I have had doubts and challenges. There are so many times it has changed my life in so many ways. I tried to explain to her that it has changed my heart and my feelings when they have not been what they should, that it has strengthened my faith on many occasions when it has been weak and that it has helped me to have more patience and charity when I have needed it. One morning recently, the words of the Book of Mormon pierced my heart and I felt that I needed to be a better person.
I also had an interesting experience I have not had before. At one point, we decided to go back to the sister's room for a bathroom break and they stopped at a tiny little store to get one or two items they needed. There was an older gentlemen there, maybe 65-70 years old, who they had visited with briefly on a few occasions. They introduced me to him. He took my hand and held it and without any shame flirted with me saying, "Aye Carramba!" He tried out a few English words on me, then as we were leaving, he took my hand again and said, "Bye, bye baby!" The sisters just laughed and said, "Sister Williams, he really likes you!" I was so flattered that a 70 year old man was enamored with me!!
Several people have asked me about Thanksgiving. It was much better this year! We stayed away from the whole turkeys and just bought a nice turkey breast. It's not the same and not as fun as a whole turkey roasting in the oven, but it is much more safe and less traumatic. We had the Office Elders, the sisters from our ward and Edna and her three children for Thanksgiving. So there were 12 of us. It was a wonderful and fun occasion. Edna's children are Stephanie 31, Danny 20 and Eric 18. Danny and Eric are both preparing to serve missions. Edna also has a son named Jean who lives in Lima.
Sisters with Thanksgiving Spirit!
Thanksgiving Dinner 2015
Thanksgiving Guests: Starting with me and going
around the table; Me, Stephanie, Danny, Sister Kelly,
Sister Romero, Edna, Eric, Elder Haddock, Elder
Prestwich, Elder Banks and Elder Lopez.
Edna is our housekeeper and her life has not been easy. She has been a widow for 18 years now. She grew up in the jungle. Her mother was a housekeeper for a "Gringo" family, so Edna was around them a lot and tasted a lot of "Gringo" foods growing up. She married when she was 17 to an abusive man and had her first two children with him, Stephanie and Jean. Then she divorced from him and eventually married a nicer man. After they were married a few years, he was killed in a moto accident. She told me that her daughter Danny was two and her son Eric was 4 months old. She joined the church about eight years ago. The gospel has been a great anchor in her life, but she is still very stand-offish with men. She has been very patient with my Spanish. I have learned from her that the Peruvian people are very humble and teachable. She loves it when I teach her how to make Gringo foods. She always says that I am her teacher and I am the one who cannot speak Spanish!
Eric, Stephanie, Danny and Edna. She looks
very young with her pigtails!
The other day I had an awesome experience. I went to a different place to get my hair cut and met a man named Josef who cut my hair. He was different from many others who have cut my hair. Usually I have always had to initiate the conversation, but Josef was very interested in who we were and why we were in Peru. It was a lead in to a great conversation about the church. He wanted to know about some of our beliefs; Do you believe in heaven and hell? Do you believe in miracles? When do you have church services? Why only on Sunday? I told him we have a living prophet that receives revelation and gives us guidance and that we have 12 apostles just like Jesus Christ did in His original church. Then he asked what I think is a golden question! He said, "Why Mormons?'" At first I did not understand his question and did not know how to respond. But then I decided to answer it the way I wanted to and assumed he meant, "Why are you called Mormons?" That was a easy question to answer, "Because we have a book called the Book of Mormon!" I told him that it is another witness of the Bible and of Jesus Christ. He told me that he studied to be a Catholic Priest for five years and now he cuts hair, but that he loves to read. He showed me a book he is reading about how to live a "holy life." I told him he should read the Book of Mormon. Then he asked what missionaries always love to hear, "Where can I get a copy of this book?" Such beautiful words. I sent my husband out to the car to retrieve a copy I stowed in the glove compartment for an occasion just like this.
When he finished cutting my hair, my husband showed him the book and told him a little about it. He was so excited and said, "I have never heard of this before!" He said that he was going to read it. It is so exciting to be an instrument to introduce someone to something they have never heard of before, the gospel of Jesus Christ. As I have thought about the conversation and the things that Josef told me, In Preach my Gospel it says, "They often do not know they are looking for the restored gospel until they have found it. For example one convert said, 'When I heard the gospel, it filled a hole in my heart than I didn't know was there." I think that Josef is one of these people. He obviously had a problem with something in the Catholic religion and is reading books about how to be closer to God. I think he is looking for the Gospel and for the Book of Mormon, but he doesn't know it. He also has a family with three children, 8, 6 and 2. What a blessing this could be to all of them. I am very excited to return to the shop next week and see what he thought about the Book of Mormon! I have a feeling he is going to love it!
Christmas Party 2015
Sharing Christmas Traditions of Ecuador
Sharing Christmas Traditions of Bolivia
Only acting here!
Always lots of imitations of President Williams!
December has been a busy month with six hour Christmas parties with the missionaries and singing again at the plaza. This year the city wanted to join with us and be a part of our program one night. We sang on the stage this year, had an emcee and a sound guy to help us. Hundreds of people stopped to listen to our program. I was directing the choir and every time the choir sang, the emcee said, "Thank you, Hermana Williams!" He must have said that about eight times, so I was probably the most famous person there. My housekeeper was there one night and said she heard some men talking who were saying, "That American lady must be a millionaire!" So funny! I guess they thought I owned this choir or something and brought them all from the United States. We tried to explain who we were, but I guess not everyone understood our purpose! Mark even directed one number and danced for everyone. I told him that if he is trying to get released from his calling, he is doing a great job!
"Gracias, Hermana Williams!"
I had a special experience at our first Christmas party. After the closing prayer, I just started playing Christmas hymns from the hymnbook. Gradually a group of missionaries gathered around me who wanted to sing. It started first with an American and his companion and then gradually we had a whole group of Latino Missionaries who were singing with us. I was really enjoying this. I basically have a huge hole in my heart because I have missed singing Christmas music in choirs for several years now. It was so fun to sing with them! Then there was one moment when all these Elders were gathered around me singing that I had a flashback of my whole family gathered around me singing Christmas songs at the piano. I got a little emotional and at the end of the song, I told the missionaries that they had given me a special memory of my family. I thanked them for being my family that day. What a tender mercy for me at a time when I was feeling a little homesick for my family.
Another special experience for us was visiting two recent convert families and taking them some treats and gifts. We were able to spend some time with Jose and Lizbet and their family on Christmas Eve. The first time I went to their home, it looked differnet. There was not much paint on the walls, and no pictures. But in order to prepare for this Christmas party with us and the missionaries, they had painted the whole room, put up new curtains, rearranged the furniture, put up drawings and paintings their daughter had made and put up lights and Christmas decorations. As I looked around the room that night, I saw a tiny Christmas tree in the corner with a tiny nativity placed carefully next to it. Then I noticed on the wall in front of me, a photo of the Lima Temple. Right below the temple, almost inside it was a picture of Jose and Lizbet and a copy of the Proclamation on the Family. This is a reminder of their goal and that they want to be sealed in the temple as a family. The feeling in this house was so different than the first time I went there. This reminded me of a quote by President Benson when he said, "The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of the people, and then they take themselves out of the slums." (Liahona, Oct. 1989) When people know the truth, they have hope for a better world and their lives begin to change.
One fun thing they did that night was to sing for us. Jose and his brother both have beautiful voices and the more we told them how well they sang, then the more they sang for us. It was very cute and so fun!
Lizbet, Jose, Jose's brother, son and 97 year old Mother.
We had rooster meat, boiled potatoes and yucca, paneton, sweet
empanadas and hot chocolate for Christmas Dinner. These are the
newly painted lime green walls with pictures and Christmas
At the beginning of the month, my husband worked with two missionaries and visited a convert family of only two weeks, a mother and a son. The son, Beckert, is 43 and has been in a bed for almost 34 years. His back was broken when he was nine years of age in a bike accident and his sweet mother has lovingly cared for him all these years in the most horrible conditions you could ever imagine; dirt floors, tin and sheets for their roof and very little furniture. How she has done this, I will never know. She has the faith and the strength of a mother that loves her child more than herself. Many religious people came to their home to teach them, but Beckert was never interested in any of them. Then the missionaries came one day and he said, "Yea Mom, this is the true church." His mom told me that he is so happy and so excited to go to church every Sunday. We visited them the day before Christmas Eve and Beckert sat in a wheelchair with his emaciated, crippled body. His mother had him tied into the chair so he could somehow halfway sit and not fall out. Beckert has really needed a reclining wheelchair so that he could be more comfortable. Their new ward, who knows they have covenanted to bear each other's burdens, presented them with a new reclining wheel chair on Christmas Eve. I know there were many tears of gratitude that night, because when we presented some very small gifts, this mother cried and cried and hugged us and said thank you with tears running down her cheeks. I am so thankful for the amazing missionaries who have made the sacrifice to be here during the holidays to teach these humble sweet people the gospel of Jesus Christ. The feet of those who preach the gospel of peace truly are so beautiful!
Mark with Eckbert and his Mom.