Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 4, 2016

Greetings from Thailand!

Happy New Year everyone.  I have a great feeling about this new year.  Wonderful things are going to happen.   We are anxiously awaiting news on where the temple in Thailand will be located and when building will commence.   We have 6 months in country now.  I know we don’t know everything yet but we have at least done everything at least once and have lived to tell about it. 
We really lost track of time over the past couple of months. One big challenge was attending three stake conferences and three district conferences. These are challenging weekends. Generally Kelly speaks at all of the meetings. He speaks in Thai and seems to be doing fairly well. I speak at two or three of the meetings each time, in English with a translator. We ended up in a conference every weekend for 6 weeks. We got thinking about it and realized we had gone all of those weeks without taking the sacrament because we were in conferences every weekend. We sure treasured the opportunity to get back in a regular sacrament meeting.

We had a wonderful experience at our Christmas Devotionals.  We had devotionals in each of the zones instead of a traditional zone conference.  It was the busiest 2 weeks but so wonderful.  It is always a highlight to be with our missionaries.  We started the devotional off with the movie The Best Two Years.  Kelly did interviews while the missionaries waited their turn, watching the movie and eating cookies and milk.  I took one suitcase on the plane to each city that was full of homemade cookies.  It was a Christmas miracle that they survived each trip intact.   The best part about the movie was the translators.  Two missionaries would sit in the back and translate the movie into Thai.  It was more fun to listen to them than the movie.  They were so funny.  When the greenie Elder was practicing his Dutch, the Elder’s would translate it exactly the same way in Dutch, but with Thai tones.  Maybe you had to be there but I’ve never laughed so much ever.  Some missionaries had never seen The Best Two Years.  They were really into it. When the missionaries in the movie placed their last Book of Mormon beating the mission record of Books of Mormon placed in one week one of our Elder’s stood up and started clapping and said, “Now that’s what I’m talking about, way to go! “  We even had a few tears when they were teaching their investigator about Joseph Smith’s Vision.  Okay some of those tears were mine.

 When interviews were completed we started the activity portion.  Santa arrived with gifts making everyone cheer and clap.  We gave each missionary a mission T-Shirt designed by Elder Roberts, and a bunch of candy and a CD of approved Christmas music.  Then the games began.   First was Christmas Pictionary of Christmas Songs and Hymns.  Next we divided the missionaries into teams and did a human Christmas tree.  We gave them a kit with colored paper, garland, tape, scissors ribbon and a square sheet of foil.  They designated one missionary to be the tree then they made ornaments and snowflakes and decorated the human tree.  Some were hilarious.  We had a few themed trees and some groups had professional snowflake makers.  They would just laugh the whole time.  It was fun when the Thai missionaries were chosen as the tree.  They were so proud and loved every minute.  We had a Santa hat in everyone’s Christmas bag.  Kelly would put his hat on and tell everyone to watch him and at some point he would remove his hat and they needed to also without alerting anyone else.  The last 3 missionaries that failed to remove their hats had to perform an impromptu Christmas number.  We had some awesome performances including singing, tap dancing and my favorite:  Some Elder’s performed their own rendition of Santa Baby using Kelly’s name and hoping to be his next AP.  It was hysterical.  Then we played our famous cat and mouse game and had a final round competition.  They seemed to love them all. 

We had a close to traditional (for Thailand) Christmas lunch together.  Each zone chose the restaurant to cater.  We had BQ ribs and coleslaw and hamburgers and hot dogs for the Bangkok zones.  We had turkey and all the fixings including rice and curry in Udon and Thai food in Ubon and in Chiang Mai we had tacos.  (Wait, what happened?)  We gave them a budget for a nice Christmas meal and they had tacos.  (Mexican in Thailand).

After lunch we had the Christmas Devotional in the chapel.  We had the most wonderful musical performances in each of the zones.  Singing, piano, violins, flutes, harmonica, ukulele and trumpet.  It was so enjoyable.  Kelly and I both shared a Christ-centered Christmas message.  We played the chimes and they were a hit.  The departing missionaries were able to bear their testimonies.   Kelly talked about having a testimony of Jesus Christ.  He did the Brazil nut object lesson. This lesson emphasizes that individual components of testimony such as tithing, prayer, scriptures, etc. can all be broken if they stand individually. The only unbreakable testimony is one that is based upon Jesus Christ (Helaman 5:12). We closed with the video clip of Reflections of Christ set to the music, “Come Thou Fount”.   I thought doing so many zone conferences all the same would get old but it only became more and more enjoyable every time and we really looked forward to visiting each zone. 

After the last Christmas devotional we hurried back to Bangkok to prepare for our last District/Stake Conference of the year.  We traveled to Ubon.  We were able to visit a Budhist temple there before the Saturday afternoon training and Adult Session.  We are working on a plan to have Kelly Oram do an Art History Tour here in Thailand.  Some of the mosaics and detailed ceilings and stain glass were unbelievable.  The architecture of some of the temples and palaces are really unique.  Europe is still amazing but so is Thailand.  This particular temple had a circular staircase that was so high I was dizzy.  Climbing up was easier than the steepness coming down, or looking down I should say.  Some of the Thai people were scared to climb the stairs and some that did had to stop and sit down to catch their breath.  I will admit that the next day my legs were pretty sore. 

The conference went really well.  Kelly and I both spoke and participated in the auxiliary training as well.  The highlight of the conference was a baptism after.
Elder Frodsham, (yes from Kaysville), performed the baptism of a beautiful young Thai sister.  The baptism was in the swimming pool at the convention center and hotel we stayed at for the conference.  It was beautiful, outside with a breeze and clear, blue water.  Elder Frodsham bore his testimony and then performed the baptism.  It was pretty amazing that the members who came to the conference and baptism had to rent an open bus with a bench on each side with standing room only for most of them.  They seemed happy as can be.  So many members here are so faithful it just really makes you grateful for your own testimony and the blessing to be a member of the true church. Kelly had missionary interviews after and then late that evening we flew back to Bangkok.
We received 3 of our new missionaries.  15 had to be assigned to other missions until their visas come through.  We still did the same training for them as we do with a large group.  We had them to our home for dinner.  We had a potato bar and breadsticks.  They loved it.  All three are Thai and weren’t exactly sure what a potato bar was until we showed them. 

It is still amazing to me how much we love these missionaries, even the ones that are brand new.  It is hard to explain except I know how I feel and how real it is.

We began transfer week!!!  Kelly spends so much time choosing the right companionships for the right areas.  Our AP, Elder Cooper was going home so we got our new AP.  Elder Paxton, (or Ryan Johnson).  Elder Paxton reminds me so much of Ryan it is funny.  Similar mannerisms and just a good through and through missionary.  We will really miss Elder Cooper.  He was the problem solver, the happiest missionary and so considerate of every detail that made our lives easier.  He always translated for me without being asked and he always made sure we ate when we were on the road and he loved everybody and they loved him.  He was a great teacher and an obedient and hardworking missionary.  We also received a new office Elder, Elder Rodgers.  He is really fun and a talented singer.  I am writing this letter and can hear him singing in the other room even now.    This transfer we had the 3 new missionaries and we had 15 departing missionaries.  I call it the great and dreadful day.  Great to receive new missionaries and dreadful to say goodbye to missionaries you have come to love so much.

The members feel the same way and show up at the airport the next morning when we take the missionaries for their flights home.  They get there at 4:00 a.m. too.  Later that same day we took Elder Cooper to the airport for his flight home to Australia.  There were a few tears on that one.  Then there were a few more tears of joy as Jalynn and Jace walked through the airport to where we were anxiously waiting for them.

THE BEST CHRISTMAS PRESENT EVER!!!!
By the time we got home and to bed it was 2:00 a.m.  No time for jet lag for the Johnsons.  We got up early Saturday morning and left with a tour guide at 8:00.  We went to the Grand Palace and Wut Arun.  We had lunch at a wonderful restaurant on the river.  Then we took a long river boat ride down the river to another temple.  Jace had to wear “Elephant Pants” because he was in shorts and they want everyone dressed more respectably for the temples.  It was our first official P-Day and it was wonderful.  Kelly even got a picture in the temple with a monk overlooking the Bangkok landscape in the same place he took one 33 years ago as a missionary. 
We had a great full day that wore us all out.

Sunday we went to the Thai speaking Ward at Asoke and attended a baptism.  This sister was so happy and testified that she was able to quit smoking and drinking because she knew the Lord loved her and gave her the strength she needed.  She closed her testimony by saying, “I will never go back and I will never leave the church, ever.”

This Christmas season I was able to see rows and rows of red Pointsettias on every corner. 
Monday the following day we had Family Home Evening with the Young Single Adults from Asoke.
They are the most wonderful group of saints.  One sister is a return missionary from England and one sister just got her call to serve in the Salt Lake City, Temple Square Mission.  We had a great variety of Single Adults.  Some spoke English and some not a word of English.  Jace and Jalynn had a great time with them.  We ate dinner and then played chimes, decorated human Christmas trees again and played the cat and mouse game.  They would get so nervous that their mouse would get eaten.  It was a lot of fun.  We had a Christmas message and all the single adults said a few words or bore testimony.  We finished the evening by decorating sugar cookies.  It was a huge hit.  They were really into it.  One sister decorated a sugar cookie cut like a gingerbread man.  When she finished she said ohhh he is so cute I can’t eat him.  She never did.  When she left that night she said here Sister Johnson I want you to have him.  The others had no problem eating theirs and Kit Kat (nick-name) kept trying to load plain sugar cookies in her back pack.  She kept saying they are so good I want to eat them all.  It is amazing how strong and faithful they are.  Most of them are the only members in their families and are here alone to go to the University.  We will have to find another excuse to have them over again.

Tuesday morning we had the Christmas Devotional at the Service Center for all the senior couples, the Service Center Employees and our guests of honor, Jace and Jalynn.
They started with the Service Center staff singing a Christmas Carol and doing sign language.  They asked Jalynn to play for them about five minutes before it started.  She did great and they loved her.
Then Kelly and I and Jalynn and Jace sang Silent Night.  I played the guitar and we sang the first verse in English, Jace and Jalynn sang the second verse in Spanish, and the third verse in Thai.  They loved it.  (Mind they are not hard to please and they are so kind to us.)  Then we played chimes and boy were they into it.  They were really good actually.

We had a little gift exchange.  You drew a number and that gift was yours.  Jalynn actually won the prize for guessing how many candies were in a jar.  She said she has never won anything and was thrilled.  Then we had the best lunch with ham and funeral potatos and green salad and of course rice and curry and fruit.

That night we took Jace and Jalynn to a Thai Center for Performing Arts.  They have elephants there outside and they have authentic Thai homes that you can go in.  We visited a Thai woman who was spinning silk thread made from silkworms.  She loved that Dad spoke Thai.  She kept grinning at him and was missing several teeth.  They perform an amazing show all about Thailand’s History and the beliefs of Budhism.

The stage is the largest indoor stage and is in the Guiness Book of World Records.  They have water in front of the stage that you don’t even notice until all of the sudden a man dives into it.  They float the lanterns in it showing one of the celebrations they do here in Thailand and they even had elephants come in and go on the stage.  They show their belief of life in this world, life in hell, and life after this life.  The scene of Hell had people beating people with huge clubs and cooking them in boiling pots and pulling their tongues out with flames of fire and loud screaming and agony sounds.    A few nightmares but it was an interesting show. 

The next day Kelly spent the day until 3pm in the office and then we all went to a snake show.  Jace and Jalynn had their pictures taken with a python wrapped around them.  They had two cobras that were just scary as they turned and followed the snake keeper everywhere he went.  They would turn the upper part of their body and their head and stare him down with their tongues going crazy.  We saw a huge snake eating another snake.  It looked like he had the hiccups while he was eating it.  We went to dinner that night with Sister Nonie and some of her friends at a hotel.  She is a wealthy Thai woman with ties to the Prime Minister and royalty here.  She is so kind to us.  She bought all of the missionaries silk scarves and ties for Christmas.

The following day we drove to Ayutthaya to see the ancient city ruins.  We showed Jace and Jalynn the Buddha head that had fallen to the ground and became imbedded in the roots of a tree.  It is an amazing sight.  They were having a celebration there and they had all the ruins lit up and had dancing and other performances going on all over.  Jace tried his skills on stilts.  He did pretty well.  They had two albino elephants and we got really excited until Jace noticed that in their ears you could tell they had been painted.  Still a pretty awesome sight they had the elephants there to put on a show and they were doing fireworks later that night with the ruins in the background.  We bought the yummiest crepes with bananas and sweet and condensed milk in it.  And we bought tons of pineapple on that trip because it was so good and sweet.  We drove to Lopburi and stayed overnight.  The next morning we drove into the old city to see Monkey City.

Honestly the last time we were there to do missionary interviews the monkeys were calm.  This time however they were crazy.  Jalynn and I were getting the creeps.  It really was starting to feel like the planet of the apes.  They were stealing food from people and each other.  They stole Jace’s selfie stick and destroyed it.  One was biting Jace’s hair but luckily he didn’t need rabies shots.  We did get some great pictures though and the baby monkeys are adorable.

Christmas day was wonderful.  We had Jace and Jalynn with us and about 60 or more of our missionaries from the Bangkok area.  We had lots of food and treats and make your own sugar cookies.  Kelly of course planned activities because everything needs to be planned.  We didn’t use any of them because the missionaries just like being together and visiting.  We sure love having them here in our home.  They are just the greatest.  Our open house (pop in for a bit and leave) turned into a full house with no one leaving until everyone had been there all together for a while.

It was fun for the Thai missionaries to see what a traditional Christmas is like.  They took pictures of I think every single ornament on our tree and of the food and our Christmas cards.  Elder Opad, a Thai missionary couldn’t understand why we didn’t light our red candle.  Kelly tried to explain to him that it was just for decoration but he didn’t get it.  They love my collector thimbles and now everyone is looking for them in their areas.  We haven’t had much luck as of yet.  I did get two additional carved elephants to add to my Laos nativity set.  When it was all over and everyone left, we finally sat down to eat some food ourselves.  We were sitting at the table and noticed that there were still people in the office.  We walked over to see our AP’s and the office Elders sound asleep on our sectional in the office.  We took pictures of course and went back to eating.  They finally came out and were so embarrassed.  It was great.  They work so hard so we don’t blame them at all for stealing a quick nap on Christmas day.  I was glad Jace and Jalynn got to meet so many of our missionaries.

The next day we flew to Chiang Mai.  Funny story…our taxi dropped us off at the wrong hotel and left.  We had to walk to the right one with all our suitcases.  We were quite a site.  We checked in to our right hotel and then grabbed a cab to Doi Suthep.  We climbed the stairs up to the temple.  Jace and Jalynn got their pictures taken with some little girls dressed in their Hilltribe clothes. 
Kelly spent the afternoon doing interviews at the Church, including his final interview with the Stokers.  They are a senior couple and Elder Stoker was a counselor in the mission presidency.  They were heading home to Salt Lake City. They sold their home in Idaho to come on their mission and relocate where all of their children were.  So they won’t be far to visit when we’re home. Later that night, we spend some time shopping at the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazzare.

We attended church in Chiang Mai. Dad and I both had to speak and I gave the closing prayer in Thai.  One of our recently return missionaries was visiting with his family.  His mom knew Kelly and Kirk from Weber High. She is a Breitwiser.  The church really makes the world a small place.
Kelly spent a few hours interviewing missionaries, and young Thai members who are completing missionary applications.

We drove to Chiang Rai. We went to a Hilltribe village.  Jalynn became one old old woman’s best friend.  Jalynn bought a woven water bottle holder from her and she smiled without even one tooth in her mouth.  She turned suddenly and started running (I mean running for an old woman, like really fast) up a hill and yelled to follow her.  We did and found that she was part of the show and didn’t want them to start without her.  Jace and Jalynn got to participate by beating a big log back and forth into the ground like a drum.   We were taking pictures of the kids and she would pose like it was all about her.  So funny.  We saw pigs feeding the baby piglets.  I think they were pretty self-sufficient there with chickens and gardens.  We also saw a long-neck hill tribe.  One young girl had the bands on her neck and on her knees.  She didn’t smile and looked pretty sad.  We bought a scarf from her and Jalynn took pictures with her.  Some of the older women in the tribe were weaving these amazing patterns in their scarves.  They had these braces, like a big belt wrapped around their waists while they sat on the floor with their legs straight out in front of them.  They would sit like that for hours.  I probably wouldn’t smile either.

We drove to The Golden Triangle.  (Laos, Thailand, Myanmar).  We had the best Thai Food there by the river.  We hiked all over.  We had some amazing views.  We talked to a monk at the very top of a hill.  Jace wanted so badly to get him to sit in his hammock and take a picture.  He didn’t dare ask him to do anything inappropriate on the temple grounds.  Jace did get a sweet shot with his hammock near a temple.

Jalynn and I became pros at squatter toilets on this trip.  I will however never like them ever.
We got back to the city in time to have Family Home Evening with the ward in Chiang Rai.  Jalynn was a hit with the young sisters who are all friends on Facebook now.  Jace was able to buy some authentic Thai Ties from Elder Weaver.  Elder Smith-Driggs gave Jace the tie he was wearing.  He is awesome.  Kelly and Jace went back the next evening for English class.  Jalynn and I were unfortunately stuck in the hotel with no power.  Poor Jalynn was in the shower when the power went out and the water was freezing.  I had just gotten out of the shower so we weren’t exactly fit to go to the church.

Wow!!  The next day was like Jace’s wildest dream come true.  We did a jungle tour.  We weren’t sure we were going to make it up the steep roads but we did.  Jace’s first question to our jungle guide was, “Do I get to carry a knife?”  He hands Jace this Knife, Machetti looking blade.  Big smile on Jace’s face.

We take off up this hill that is straight up.  I think Kelly and I were both thinking we may not make it and we only got started.  We did make it and I’m so glad.  It was so amazing.  Our two guides cut down bamboo and made us cups and chopsticks.  They were great guides.  We brought them home with us and have them displayed.  (The cups not the guides).  And of course Jace got to use his weapon.  We hiked some more and saw such beautiful scenery.  We stopped and the guides dammed a river and blocked the water in a pool so they could get crawdads and little fish for what I was sure was our lunch.  (Yikes!)  Jace and Kelly were able to catch some too. I couldn’t understand why they would help catch more of something none of us dared to eat.  They also were gathering tea leaves from the bushes for something I didn’t want to drink either.  They had Jace gather a bunch of huge banana leaves so they could start lunch.  It was amazing how they made a table out of banana leaves and a bowl out of leaves.  They cut some fresh bamboo and carved a big ladle spoon and bamboo tubes to cook our food in.  Luckily they pulled out some vegetables and eggs and noodles from their backpacks.  They cooked everything in the bamboo and stuffed the top with a banana leaf to hold in the steam.  We had noodles with vegetables that they cooked in banana leaves in a pit.  It was delicious.  We had an omelet in bamboo and a delicious salsa.  They roasted chilies and tomatoes on sticks by the fire.  They took them and onions and eggs and used a pestle of bamboo wood to beat it all into salsa.  We ate it with leaves they picked off some tree and cucumber slices.  Jace was going for it and slicing and dicing with his big knife.  It was either so good or we were starving.  Jace and Dad ditched the tea and I told them I didn’t drink tea and Jalynn said they never offered her any. 
Jace hung his hammock and had our guide sit in it and hold his machete up.  Jace took pictures and when he was done the guide kept teasing and saying is this mine, for me?

We finished lunch and then hiked some more.  We stopped and they let Jace and Dad try to make cups and chopsticks.  They did great.  Then they gave me a vase they made out of bamboo while we were taking a break from hiking. I’m excited to use it for flowers. 

We finished the hike by hiking to a beautiful waterfall.  Jace got in and braved it.  While we took pictures our guides braided bamboo into rings for each of us.  It was a great day.  We all enjoyed it a ton.

The next day we went to the Queens Garden.  It was pretty spectacular.  I’ve never seen so many orchids or begonias or beautiful flowers in one place in Thailand.  It made me miss my flowerbeds at home.  Hopefully they are still flowerbeds. 

We went to the White Temple.  (Jeremy, you are right, it’s quite a sight).  Even the fish in the water are white carp.  Everything is white.  We were all really surprised when we got inside the temple and the murals had Star War’s characters and other movie characters painted into it.  Hanging outside in the trees were the heads of fright mare characters and they even had a statue of a transformer sitting on a bench.  Just Weird!  The outside of the temple near the bridge is covered in hands reaching out and twisted and agonized faces of people.  A worker told Kelly that they are going to build 9 temples there to depict each stage of progression to nirvana.

We drove back to Chiang Mai.  We went on an Elephant jungle ride people!!  I went with Kelly and he sat on the Elephants neck with his knees behind his ears.  I rode on the Elephants back holding on to a rope tied around him.  Jace “drove” and Jalynn rode behind on theirs.  They are huge and it is unbelievable how much they sway because they are so wide.  We got to feed them bananas and bath them in water.  Our elephants went right into the water and sat down.  We slid off and started pouring water on them with buckets.  They liked spraying water at us.  One poor girl fell off her elephant backwards into the water.  It was kind of hard to hold on when they went up the hills.  I loved it and I think it was Jalynn’s favorite thing we did.  I think Kelly and Jace liked the jungle tour the best.  After we cleaned up and changed out of our elephant riding clothes we had lunch.  It was Khaw Soi, one of our favorite soups with chicken and noodles.

They gave us a flashdrive of all the pictures that were taken and we took the bus back to our hotel.  We got cleaned up and then drove to Tiger Kingdom.  We bought a package to see a small, bigger, and biggest tiger.  It was awesome.  We got some great pictures rubbing their backs and stomachs and Jalynn holding a tiger’s tail while it led her around.  We saw them jumping in the water and playing.  It was something else.

That night was the New Year’s Celebration.  We watched them launch thousands of lanterns into the sky.  They had fireworks all over the main street of the city.  We had an awesome view outside our hotel window at midnight of the firework finale. 

The next day we flew to Bangkok. We took Jace and Jalynn for their last Thai dinner.  We went to the restaurant across the street from us where we have the departing missionary dinners.  We sat outside and it wasn’t even too hot.  (Because it is winter here.  Ha ha.)   Early the next morning we took Jace and Jalynn to the airport.  We are both so grateful that they came to visit us.  We can’t wait for the next group to come.  We are especially grateful that McKinley arrived safely and Jenica is doing well.  We loved skyping with you Jen.  She is beautiful and I can’t wait to see her in person.  Thanks family for skyping the Johnson Christmas party it was great to see our kids and grandkids and all of you.  Thanks for going alone Matt, you’re awesome. We love you all.  You are always in our prayers.  We pray for all your missionaries who are serving and know they are being blessed everyday just as we are.  We love all you Halsteads.  We are so excited Mom and Dad for you to retire and move into your home in St. George.  I hope the warmer weather will do you good.  Hey it’s pretty warm in Thailand too you know.   Thanks friends for all the Christmas cards.  The missionaries think it’s pretty awesome that we got so many and so do we.  Hope this year is the best yet.  Oh and one of my new year’s resolutions is to write a letter every week not a novel occasionally. 

Love you all,

Kelly and Terri