Well, it seems like the most important and exciting thing this week was Christmas and the opportunity to talk to nearly the entire family. We didn’t have a lot of gift-giving here – things are expensive and we’re pretty conscious of the need to send or carry with us anything that’s treasured. There was enough investigation done to let us get Skype set up on our computers so we could talk free for as long as we wanted to or could stand it. We’d had a couple of test runs earlier that gave us a working knowledge of what had to be done to connect to each other and we’d set up to talk to Heidi’s family first so, on Christmas day, we went to the office about 5:30, set up the laptop and made the call to Heidi. We have the ability to do a 1-to-1 video call so we got to talk to Sam, Heidi, Carlee & Preston for a few minutes then dropped that call and made a group call to all the other kids but Chad (no Skype at his place yet). It was apparent early that, with that many people, each wanting to talk and ask questions, that wouldn’t work very well so we decided on an order for calling each family based loosely on their schedules. We talked to Meyers then Collins then Thorntons and then a group at Needlers. Travis had his laptop set up there so we got to talk to him then Angela then all the Needlers and then with Travis again. It became apparent at the first call that we weren’t going to be able to stay within the 15-minutes we’d planned for each call so we got further and further behind the schedule as we went along. At the end we were asking callee A to telephone callee B to tell them to answer the computer call that was coming. For us it was a great experience and so good to see and talk to each of them and we’re grateful to Skype for coming up with the idea and technology to allow it to happen for us. We’re still exploring ideas to get hooked up with Chad & Trisha and hope it happens sooner than later.
Our Christmas activities started Wednesday evening with an open house at the mission offices. We’d invited the people of the branch, the missionaries had invited their investigators, the Hnas had decorated and prepared lots of food & goodies – only 2 sisters from the branch came. That was disappointing but, on the upside, there was plenty to snack on in the office for that evening and following day. On Christmas Eve we were invited to the mission home for dinner with Pte & Hna Clegg and the 5 Elders in the office – had an excellent roast beef dinner. The Cleggs had put a jigsaw puzzle on a coffee table that that occupied the Elders before and for a long time after dinner – we don’t know how long. After we’d done some clean up we excused ourselves, drove to Las Arenas and spent the obligatory 30-45 minutes looking for a place to park – it was even worse than usual. We declined a breakfast invitation for Christmas morning so we could sleep in and relax a little more. Flo roasted our gold-plated turkey, made dressing using a loaf of ‘pan’ she’d left out overnight and added some other traditional Christmas dinner dishes – it was absolutely great. It was a bright sunny day and while the turkey & dressing were in the oven we rode the transporter across the Bilbao River and walked for over an hour on that side of the river. It was an interesting walk for us and we saw other things we want to visit and explore in the future so we’ll go back. When we returned we both were hungry (don’t seem to get that way very often) so digging into Christmas dinner was great.
As for the rest of the week, last Sunday, after studying much of the afternoon, we got ready and per an invitation, took the Metro to Bilbao for their ward’s Christmas musical program. The chapel was full of people and that didn’t count the many people who depicted the birth and mission of the Savior thru narration, song and costumed portrayal – it really was well done. Before and as it started, some were taking pictures and Flo asked me to snap a picture of an early scene but no sooner had I taken the picture than someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me that no flash photography was allowed – we put away the camera. They used the missionaries in the chorus and for special music and the wife of our branch president sang a medley of songs – she has a beautiful voice and performed very well. They gave each of us a small bag of sweets and we visited for a few minutes then came home
Monday morning we left our piso a few minutes earlier than normal, went next door to Marcelo’s store and bought tomatoes for the meal today, caught the Metro and went to the Bilbao chapel for our zone conference. From the windows of our train I could see snow covered hills close-by - it’s an interesting contrast of bright green grass just below the blanket of snow on the hills. We’d all been asked to come fasting with the objective of setting mission goals for next year. We got seats on the back row, Flo helped get the meat for the taco salad warming and the morning session (to 1:00) was devoted to teaching principles of goal setting, exercising faith and getting the Lord’s work done. Pte Clegg told us we’ll have 39 missionaries go home in the April – August period of 2010 and we’ll go from 72 to 60 in that time period. But we’re still going to try to do as well with teaching and baptizing as we’ve done with more missionaries and will need to keep doing it to get our work done. There was significant follow-up on principles taught by Elder Caussé and some musical talents displayed between segments; we had taco salad, cookies & pumpkin bread to eat, did a game to exchange white elephant gifts (we ended up with our own peanut butter and a different bag of candy), they distributed laminated pages of the mission theme and each got a gift bag with a card from the First Presidency, a Book of Mormon (read it by April 1 and mark all passages referencing the Savior), a cookbook and some treats - we finished about 3:15. I started trying to remember zone conferences in my Germany mission – I’m not sure we had them. We had a few mission conferences but there was much less contact between missionaries and our mission president in that mission. We had group pictures (I think Flo put one on her blog), Flo & I helped with dishes (I dropped & broke a plate), we gathered our stuff and returned to the piso. Flo hung up a load of laundry, we took some things and went to the office where I connected to the internet, processed some email, sent the family letter and we started Skype. We had some trial and error experiences but talked with Heidi, Danette & Monika and firmed up plans to try to talk with everyone together for a few minutes on Christmas day.
On Tuesday we had a busy day mostly trying to catch up our Monday work, Flo fixed fried chicken and the obligatory array of dishes that go with it to feed the secretaries and I think they got enough to eat. We’ve been trying to get our cars serviced at the dealership but the schedule has been hectic enough that we sometime have them there longer than necessary just because we don’t get an exchange made. Pte Clegg has asked me to get a system worked out on his laptop that allows the missionaries to send their weekly letter by email rather than snail mail so I spent several hours on Wednesday trying to get that done. All the missionaries email addresses are on Hna Clegg’s laptop but not on the president’s and the only way I knew to move them was to send an email to the missionaries, copy the president then add each of the addresses to his contact list. Then I tried to make a distribution list and use that in a rule definition that will segregate incoming letters into a folder for his use. I didn’t get all the set up work done yet so if any of you have advice for me on things to do or not do, please pass it along.
The rest of the week has been down-time for the holidays – we’ve had a chance to relax, do some reading and studying and reflect on the reason for the season. We’re thankful and excited to be here involved in share the message of His gospel with the people of Spain. We finished reading the Book of Mormon in Spanish lst night and will start reading the Doctrine & Covenants today (Sunday) – we’re understanding enough that it’s becoming more like reading scripture rather than just reading words. We’ve pondered and discussed things from the Book of Mormon that never occurred to us while reading it in English. We love you all very much and want especially to wish my dear Madre a very happy birthday. If you get your computer set up with Skype, let us know and we’ll make a video call to you. Hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and we wish you a Happy & Prosperous New Year. Love from Spain, E&H Belnap