Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Joy of Being Santa Again!

Dear Family and Friends,

Brent and I had a joyous experience this Christmas season as we met with our missionaries to "celebrate" their hard work, their faith, and their missionary spirit.  It really was just like being with a bunch of little children who were reveling in the excitement of awaiting Santa's magical Christmas Eve visit.

There is a restaurant here literally called "The Restaurant".  It is a buffet, but not the classic Chuck-A-Rama type.  This restaurant has gourmet food, a HUGE selection, and ambiance.  The food spans the entire gamut of delicacies from appetizers, salads, seafood, Creole food, a little French food, a fresh grilled section, to a dessert bar - crepes made to order right before your eyes -, and an ice cream section. Of course, you can go back as many times as you want.  Brent told the missionaries to meet at the St Denis chapel at 11:30 on Monday, December 23, their P-Day, and we would take them to The Restaurant for Christmas Dinner.  We had SO much fun watching their faces as they entered, peeking around, wide-eyed, BIG smiles on their faces, child-like anticipation.  I heard one elder, giggling, say "I am SO excited for this."  When we were all inside, the fun really began, as they walked around in awe looking at the selections and deciding what they would eat first, next, next, next, next, and last.  As always, the pictures don't do it justice and, though I took many many photos, some didn't turn out because of the lighting, but you will get a sample.  My personal favorite food eaten was octopus salad...delish!  Brent's favorite was a sweet and sour shrimp made with letchis.

After the marathon eating and laughing, we returned to the church to watch the Christmas Devotional.  One highlight was having an elder come up to us, big, warm smile on his face as he said, "My heart is just so full I feel like I can't stand it."  Christmas away from home, but Christmas still enjoyed and savored as we all recognized the blessings of celebrating Christmas, together, in the mission field.

On Christmas morning, Brent went to the park to workout, but I stayed at home doing something that made me feel like a mom during the holidays:  baking gingerbread cookies.  One of our daughters sent a package last year - that didn't arrive until February - which included a gingerbread cookie mix.  When Brent returned, spicy aromas were wafting everywhere: home sweet home!  We then put the cookies in little gift bags, along with some other tasty treats and took them to the Christmas brunch at the branch.  There were seven people who had no family with whom to celebrate, but the branch president made sure that Christmas was filled with fun, food, and "family".  His wife began cooking at 1:30 in the morning, finishing at 4:00 to provide a wonderful meal.  Brent and I provided the entrees. As the special guests were leaving, our hearts were touched, as we approached each one with our little gift bag of treats, at the expressions of heartfelt gratitude we received. It really took so little to do something that  meant so much.   It was the best part of Christmas for us, as that quality of time spent always is.  Again, a little bit of Santa's magic.

Highlight of the week:  Skyping with our family Christmas Day.  It is ALMOST as good as being there.  We are just so grateful for the blessings of technology and for a family that shares all of Santa's magic from halfway around the world!

Lowlight of the week:  We were all sitting at breakfast brunch when the branch president's wife jumped up, grabed a roll of table paper, and headed down the hall.  I heard these "whoop, whoop" sounds, so I peered around the door to see her following this fat rat down the hall, hitting the walls on each side to keep him moving forward in a straight line until he reached the door.  I have included a picture of their son and two of the elders trying to "sweep" him into the undergrowth.  I couldn't help but wonder how long it took him to return to his "home" in the church!

The Restaurant, the fun, and the food.

The sister missionaries after having received President and Sister Adam's gift.

The elders, except for those from St Pierre, who had to leave early because of the distance.

A little bit of magic that we will never forget.

Waiting for another meal.

Don't hurt him, just keep sweeping him to the trees.
The founders of the feast...bless their good hearts!

And bless YOUR good hearts for your love, for your gifts of time, talent, and everything with which the Lord has blessed you lift, serve, and are constantly "there."

We love you!

The Castaways

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Joyeux Noel Nos Amies,

It is Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere:  Twinkling red lights loop our balcony railing, the music of the season fills our few small rooms, Mr. Gecko is sporting a Santa hat, and we have six gorgeous red and lime green anthurium, the size of salad plates, on our dining room table.

We will celebrate Christmas with the missionaries on Monday, December 23, with a very special dinner, secret Santa gifts, a program, and the showing of The Christmas Devotional on a large screen TV in the St Denis primary room (more intimate).  Christmas is wonderful wherever you are in the world; as a friend of ours always told her children when they were away at Christmas, or any other time, "Make it special.  Create happy memories; it is up to you", and that is what we are trying to do.

Brent and I need to assure that each missionary is set up for that "all-important" phone call home, either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.  The members are generous to share their homes, computers and telephones with the missionaries, but occasionally there will be a companionship whose arrangements fall through; we want to make sure that isn't a problem.  Holiday invitations have been warmly offered to us, but our first priority is to be a back-up for the missionaries, so we will be home in case they need to come here.  Later, on Christmas morning, one of he branch presidents has arranged to have all those in his branch, who are alone at Christmas, come to the branch to be together and enjoy a Christmas brunch.  His wife is cooking; they wanted to provide for their flock...probably five, who will be without anyone, (many people here have families in Madagascar) so we will happily share that time - and some of the preparations - with them.  After that...who knows? but it will be a Merry Christmas as WE also make OUR all-important phone call home.

May the warmth and wonder of this most blessed time of year fill your hearts and your homes.  Thank you for your prayers for the missionaries, and parents...THANK YOU FOR YOUR MISSIONARIES!

                                                    MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE!


At this time of year the Flamboyant - the tree of Christmas - blossom, and they are stunning!  The natives say, "We don't need to decorate for Christmas; the island decorates itself. " The tree down the road from our apartment is on a corner that we round several times a day.  This picture does NOT even begin to capture the beauty of it; I was so disappointed.

 The next two pictures are from Le Port; we took these pictures after district meeting.

This last picture is from the St Denis church parking lot.  If you look closely you can see our little white Yaris in the background patiently waiting until I find the right angle.  Notice how the fallen blossoms decorate the ground.  It really is so beautiful.

Now, we bring you the fruit of Christmas...the letchi.  You peel the top off the outside shell, squeeze the bottom, and this absolutely amazing flavor-filled ball pops into your mouth.  It has a seed the size of an oblong marble in the middle.  In late November, when they first appear, they can be as high as 10 euros a kilo, but now they are only 1.50 euros per kilo.  This morning, we bought 2 kilos...a big sack, soon to be eaten.

We wish we could send some of these home to you; we guarantee that you would love them.  You buy them in bunches still on the stem, OR if you are really feeling extravagant, you can buy them without stems.
Finally, let us introduce you to... the people in centre ville, enjoying the season, shopping, talking, and some school children taking a field trip, all dressed in red and white.

      A little holiday cheer "chez nous" (at our house).  Three of the sister missionaries live just above us.          They actually have a tree with lights, but it wasn't on when we took this picture.




Monday, December 9, 2013

The Way It Works

Bonjour a tous,

Brent and I just finished a HUGE missionary week ... our last major assignment here.  We will have three missionaries arriving in January just before we board the jumbo jet for home, but other than that, it is now just our daily-business-as-usual for the next four weeks. Nothing too out of the ordinary as far as being demanding; nothing too stressful; do we really believe - or want - that?

Elder Dale Renlund, our Area President, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, toured the Madagascar Mission.  Because Mauritius is part of that mission and currently has only two Elders and a Senior Couple, they were all flown here to be a part his time with us.  On Tuesday afternoon, we picked the Mauritius couple up at the airport, brought them to our apartment for a light dinner, took them to their hotel, and then went to the church for two hours to set up for the next day with the Zone Leader and his companions. We then picked up President and Sister Renlund and the Adams at 10:40 PM that night.  The next morning found us up bright and early, putting together the final touches for the 9:00 AM Zone Conference:  handouts, electronic equipment, people needing transportation to the church, lunch for 28 which had to be taken from our fridge to the church fridge.  Group photo...inside or outside?...chance of rain; is everything ready for the special musical number?   Incredibly tight schedule needing to be navigated smoothly.  We have sterling missionaries here who constantly amaze us with their ideas, their willingness to do anything and everything, and their talents.  Yes, it all went well on our end thanks to many hands, young brains, and the constant, gentle guidance of the Holy Ghost.  There were so many times early in the week, when we thought, "We don't know how we are going to manage all of this. I'm not sure that much food is even doable in my kitchen; how will we handle this in that time frame?"  But thoughts would come of how to accomplish what needed to be done; thoughts that we knew WEREN'T ours because we would have never have done it that way; thoughts that made the undoable, totally doable.  That is the "Way It Works" in the mission field; the ONLY way it could work.

The "other end", the end the Renlunds and the Adams were responsible for, was a spiritually rich and memorable day for all of us.  With the opening prayer came the strong assurance of the Lord's love for those valiant missionaries and when President Reunlund stood before the group to welcome them there, he said, (condensed) "I have three things I want to tell you."  He looked at all of them, and in a voice which wrapped his arms around each of them, personally and individually, he slowly and softly stated, "Merci, merci pour toute choses que vous avez donne. ("Thank you, thank you for all things you have given").  That simple and heartfelt "Thank you" expressed with such love meant the world to young elders and sisters who fight an uphill battle here.  He meant it; they felt it; it validated their efforts.  He then went on to tell them that they all needed, if they hadn't already, to obtain their own personal revelation that their mission call here was inspired, issued by an apostle of the Lord, that personal revelation being their base as they daily serve.  Another affirmation.  Lastly, he assured them that President Adams was their inspired leader, who loves them, serves them, and leads them in all things.  Appreciate him; follow him; love him.  A final affirmation, and this was just his welcome to the conference.  We wish we could share the entire day with you; the teaching was inspired, covering topics that were needed specifically on La Reunion, topics that would not only lift them, but also give them something to think about - and apply - as they approached lessons, difficulties with investigators, and personal challenges.  Not a head nodded; every eye was riveted on the person teaching all morning.  It was not a meeting that required a bathroom break; no one wanted to stop listening, including me, and I knew that lunch was to be served promptly at 1:00, following the closing prayer.  I kept thinking, "I don't want to leave at 12:30 to warm the sweet pork for the sandwiches!"  A thought came.  I went to the kitchen during the special musical number, tried something I had never done before, returned to the meeting, slipped out only briefly once to make sure it was working, and voila! after the prayer I hurried down to the kitchen.  Everything was done to perfection and I put it on the table along with the salads and other sides and WE ATE.  That is the "way it works", and I know that it will never work like that again at home.

After clean-up, we drove the mauritius missionaries to the airport and returned to our apartment where the Adams and Renlunds would arrive for dinner at 5:00.  That is one of the perks associated with all of the work...a quiet dinner and conversation that filled our hearts with gratitude for the opportunity.  I wish I had the capacity to express what we witnessed and what we felt, from both Elder and Sister Renlund, but it will have to remain a blessing experienced in the spirit and in the heart.  After that, off to an island fireside for all of the members.  Again...amazing.  Elder Renlund is responsible for 13 missions in an area 3 times the size of the United States.  Think of all the traveling, all the problems to be solved, all the needs to be met, yet, you would have thought that these missionaries on our remote little island were the ONLY missionaries he was responsible for.  Thank you, our new friends, for showing us "The Way it Works."

Lowlight and Highlight of the Week:
Lowlight:  On Monday, before everyone arrived, Brent and I were hurrying to an evening appointment.  Brent had told the family we were visiting that we would bring pizza, something we NEVER do, but later, realized that Brent had truly been inspired by his offer.  I went in to pick up the pizza, put it in the back of our Yaris, and hurried to get in the car.  In my rush I put my head forward BEFORE I got the door totally opened and WHACK, the top corner of the door and my head collided!  I was momentarily stunned, got in the car, felt my forehead over my right eye, and a HUGE goose-egg had already popped out.  "Oh, no, I'm going to have an ugly bruise and possibly a black eye for the meetings!"  We immediately applied some ice with a "car-made" ice pack.   Highlight:  Wednesday and Thursday came and went...nothing.  Could I really have been so lucky?  NO.  I got up Friday morning...Whoa...a first-class shiner, that continued to grow and darken both Saturday and Sunday.  No matter; I'm counting my highlight blessing of no black eye on Wednesday!


Here we are, with the sun in our eyes.  The other direction was too dark, but at least it didn't rain as forecast.  How we love all of these people!

When I got to the church, I found I had a helper...Mr. Gecko.  We carefully deposited him out in the grass.

Our dear friends and mentors, Les Adams.

Lunch is served, they loved it, and there was enough and to spare.

Fun after clean-up.

After dinner photo with President and Sister Renlund... an intellectual and spiritual power couple!

Now part of our family, President and Sister Adams

Waiting at the church the next morning while the men were in interviews, before going to the airport

There is always a good laugh before heading for home.

Brent shared some Winston Churchill quotes with me today; one reminded me of these wonderful young people here and also of our friends and family at home:
"Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear."

Miracles happen when we move forward in faith, when we act in spite of our fears, when we take that step into the unknown because we know it is the right step...that is....The Way It Works.

Our love to all of you who are the great blessings of our lives,

A bientot!

The Castaways

Sunday, December 1, 2013

With Hearts Full of Thankfulness

Bienvenue, nous sommes tres reconnaissant pour vous tous qui nous souvient,
(Welcome, we are very thankful for all of you who remember us)

We hope you had a memorable Thanksgiving holiday, that your leftovers lasted for more than just the second go-round, and that you are now settling in for a sparkling, wintry Christmas season, focusing on those things most important and dismissing all of the "must do's" the secular Christmas season emphasizes. Please don't misinterpret...I'm not getting preachy; it is just that here, it becomes clear and simple, and although I always knew what really mattered, there was much time spent on what really didn't.  I hope it is still that clear when I return home, but I know that will be difficult.

There are times when we feel like our hearts cannot contain the feelings of love and gratitude we experience.  This has been one of those weeks.  Last year a friend sent me a little package containing Thanksgiving napkins, some small table decorations, and two large plastic Thanksgiving didn't arrive until Christmas... but, undeterred, I gratefully tucked them all away for this year.  On Monday, when our missionary force gathered at 4:00 in the St Denis Primary room for Thanksgiving dinner, hungry and beaming in missionary attire, their eyes popped as they saw the tables looking so festive and appealing.  The sisters from upstairs were in charge of set up and they truly worked magic.

Everyone placed their assignments on the long serving tables and the results of eight hours of cooking in our postage-stamp kitchen, with one tiny oven and two feet of countertop space, began to disappear.  Turkey cutlets - no whole turkeys here - stuffing, cranberries, (I simmered craisins in orange juice and added orange zest, not bad really) potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, ham with peach sauce; the missionaries provided all the rest.  I could have cooked twice as many mashed potatoes (and I cooked ALOT) but otherwise, there was ample food.  It made us think of a favorite quote by Albert Enstein, "There are only two ways to live your life.  One is though nothing is a miracle.  The other is as though everything is a miracle."  Dinner for 20 hungry missionaries, cooked with love at home and transported to the church, was indeed a miracle and we realized, once again, that Heavenly help always comes when we just jump in and get to work.  Heartfelt prayers of gratitude, hymns of thanksgiving, expressions of newly recognized blessings, realization of what we all mean to each other (we are each other's family here), the blessings of sharing Thanksgiving together, and the opportunities of being missionaries on La Reunion...all of the right sentiments were present because the spirit was present.  Throats were cleared and eyes blinked as they talked of their families at home and their love and new appreciation for what they left behind. Brent and I love Thanksgiving with our family; we missed them and wistfully thought of their day, as we always do, but this Thanksgiving, cooking for and spending the day with these marvelous young people will be a memorable Thanksgiving forever.  Games, with much laughter, concluded our evening, and we sent them off...all of our cups and stomachs filled.

The work is very difficult here.  The missionaries work incredibly hard for seemingly minimal results.  Finding people to teach is challenging; baptisms are infrequent.  Our valiant missionaries put in long, hot, or rainy, days going door-to-door, or street contacting, occasionally being chased by feral dogs, as they search for receptive hearts.  We have felt their despair as investigators fell away; it would be easy to give up and quit trying, but they don't.  Their  strength is a testimony to us of missionary work and missionary blessings.  We emphasize, "Your mission success doesn't depend upon how many baptisms you have, it depends upon your total obedience to mission rules, the quality of your daily effort, your willingness to help your companions, your love for the people here, and your consistency in serving the Lord with all your heart.  You have a short time here; don't leave any effort wanting, fill your days with selfless service, and you will never have to wonder if your mission was a success."  They may not really believe that until they look back a couple of decades, but we can easily see how true it is. They are forging the path of their future, and we are grateful to be here and to be a part off their faith and their efforts.


The gathering.

The feast begins.

The Reunion "family table."

The Heap grandparents.  I know...I look tired...I was.  It is not so much the work, as it is the worry of "Will this all really work out?"

The Soeurs of St Paul

The Elders of Le Port

The other Elders of Le Port

The Elders of St Denis

The Soeurs of St Denis, a little blurry, sorry.

The Elders of St Pierre

The Elders of St Marie

The "Game" and the predictable comment, "Elder --------, I think you are making up the rules as you go along!"

Some can't resist a flair for the dramatic.  He couldn't just "throw" the sticks!

The closing song with Elder Heap.

"The unthankful heart discovers no mercies, but the thankful heart sweeps through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some Heavenly blessing"
Henry Ward Beecher

With hearts full of thankfulness and testimony for the gospel of Jesus Christ, for the missionaries on La Reunion, and for cherished family and friends at home, we send our love and best wishes for the magical December days ahead.

A Bientot,

The Castaways