Friday, December 23, 2011

"With Wondering Awe: An Ode to the Christmas Season"

"With Wondering Awe: An Ode to the Christmas Season"
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

What a glorious season! With Wondering Awe, we listen to young children–yes, truly Angels We Have Heard on High--and sing hymns and carols that shout Joy to the World....” In the precious hymn Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful that we sing at least once or twice at Christmas come three wondrous strains: “Come, all ye faithful,” “Come, and behold Him,” and “Oh, come, let us adore Him.”

 “Come, all ye faithful

During this Christmas season, the faithful followers of Christ congregate to sing joyous hymns to him. Note that the Lord did not say, “Come, all ye faithful for just this season." Rather, the words merely state “Come, all ye faithful.” The Lord wants us to faithful every minute of the day, every day of the week, and every week of the year.

Thankfully, at Christmas time, we tend to listen to our hearts more than our heads, the spiritual more than cerebral, and the perennial more than the ephemeral. We seem to want to fix our lives so that they are in accordance with the Lord's. Yes, we tend to “come unto Christ and adore Him.” But should we "come unto Him" only during the Christmas holidays?

Wouldn't it be nice if every year, we had twelve Decembers?  Then we wouldn't have to be trying to repent every 12th month. Instead of an annual event of repenting and striving to be like the Father and His Holy Son, it would become a daily activity. Every day would become an act of kindness. We would actually smile because we would have forgotten how to be sad. Every day we would finally reach out to those most in need. Every day we would understand each other’s feelings. Every day would become a glorious where the sun would shine and brighten lives. Every day would bring us closer to our Savior. Every day we would know whose we really are: For we are the Father’s and He loves us deeply.

As one poet penned in an “Ode to Christmas”:

An Ode to Christmas
Decembers come and go, like winds from the west.
But for those brief 31 days, our hearts stretch just a bit.
We sometimes sense in ourselves a gratification
that cannot be quenched without our first giving
of ourselves to others most in need.
It is at that moment, this sense of oneness with our hearts,
when we finally understand our true place in the universe,
We come to know that we, indeed, have hearts to give
and feelings of love to share with others.
This feeling, if carried for more than thirty-one days,
would endow us with the true gifts from our Father.
Surely, then, we would reach out more than before.
Alas, the essence of the trueness of Christ’s message
would fold our worrisome cares into large gray bundles,
dropped them humbly in the swiftest part of the stream,
and watch them thankfully bob in the current
until they disappear around the bend downstream,
away from us at last and, perhaps, forever.
Then for 365 days, we would come and be His again.

“Come, and behold Him”

 The shepherds “came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in the manger” (Luke 2:16). After the shepherds had seen the Christ child, they returned to their flocks and herds, “glorifying and praising God for all they things that they had heard and seen....” (Luke 2:20). There also came “wise men from the east to Jerusalem” (Matthew 2:1) and began asking about: “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). And we know not how many others came to “behold him.”

We do know that Lamoni’s father, the great king over all of the Lamanites, after he had heard the preachings of Aaron, said, “O, god, Aaron hath told me there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day” (Alma 27:18). Thus, we see that the King also desired to “Come, and Behold Him.” And he did. When he rose from his spiritual trance, he stood forth “and did minister unto them, insomuch that his whole household were converted unto the Lord” (Alma 22:23).

Often, we believe that to “behold God” we must be completely spiritual pure. In one sense that is correct, but in another, we can behold God–though daily communion with Him and through reading the holy scriptures. Plus, our heart can be filled with Him always. Consider the words of (Christina Rossetti, “My Gift”)

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part,—
Yet what I can I give Him, give my heart.

Thus, the question hinges on this:”What are we willing to do in our lives in order to “behold Him”? Are we willing to give away all of our sins? Are we willing to yield our hearts to God? Are we willing to do our part?

“Oh, come, let us adore Him.”

What does it really mean to “Come and to adore Him? As I have sung this hymn over the past several years and in two different languages, I have come to adore Him. Who is Him? Or in more appropriate English Who is He? According to that great Old Testament prophet Isaiah, He is called “Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace....(Isaiah 9:6)...the Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity....Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Father of heaven and earth, the Creator of all things from the beginning” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “At the Summit of the Ages,” Ensign, November  1999, p. 72).

The ancient Prophet Moroni, as he ended his work and closed the abridgment of the record of God’s dealings with His people, which is the Book of Mormon, called upon all who read his ending passage: “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32).

Elder Robert S. Wood of the Seventy said: “When we speak and act, we should ask whether our words and expressions are calculated to invite the powers of heaven into our lives and to invite all to come unto Christ. We must treat sacred things with reverence. We need to eliminate from our conversations the immodest and the lewd, the violent and the threatening, the demeaning and the false. As the Apostle Peter wrote, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation” (1 Pet. 1:15).

We all know the prophecies of Christ that he “shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases" (Gordon B. Hinckley, “At the Summit of the Ages,” Ensign, November. 1999, p. 72). He has already done those things, both in when he lived among His people in Jerusalem and when he visits the Americas after he was resurrected.

Thus, the challenge: “Come, all ye faithful....come, let us behold him... [and] come let us adore Him.” The real goal is to “Yea, Come Unto Christ.”

May we accept the challenge and experience the glorious days that the Nephites of old had with the Savior that we may at some time "thrust [our own] hands into his side, and ...feel the prints of the nails in his hands and in his feet...[that we may] see with [our own] eyes and...feel with [our own] hands, and...know of a surety and...bear record, that it was He, of whom it was written by the prophets, that should come... [that when we have] all gone forth and...witnessed for [ourselves], [we] can cry out with one accord, saying: Hosanna!  Blessed be the name of the Most High God!  And then [we will] fall down at the feet of Jesus [our Savior and Brother], and...worship him" (3 Nephi 11:15-17) who is the Truth and the Light and the Prince of Peace is my prayer and Christmas challenge....

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Hogar de Ancianos": An Afternoon of Singing Christmas Hymns"

"Hogar de Ancianos": An Afternoon of Singing Christmas Hymns"
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

Senior missionaries serving in the DR
          We had a wonderful early Family Home Evening this afternoon. We went to the Hoger de Ancianos to sing Christmas carols to the residents called ancianos.We met at the Casa de Huéspedes, gathered up the senior missionaries, and then waited for the Snows to arrive. They arrived in a van, which we used to haul the rest of us. Brother Muñoz drove the temple van. So, two vans full of people went: Los Bair, Swapp, Hammon, Snow, Burke, Brown, Casanova, Ferguson, Ford, Low, Muñoz, Shaver, Sisters McDermid and Meade, and Reid Cornish. We drove down the Malecón to the Luperon and then on to Independencia. It was just a couple of blocks away.
Sister Maria
We rolled into the yard, parked, and then packed our presents of hygiene kits into the building. Sister María, one of the senior nuns who works with Mother Superior, met us at the door. Her large smile made up for her minute stature. I am sure her small body is packed with energy. She greeted us and then led us through a couple of courtyards to an open area where several ancianos were sitting, some in wheelchairs, others in rocking chairs, while others sat on benches. Whether they were just there because of the time of day or had been summoned that the Mormones had arrived to sing, we do not know. Our thoughts were they had come to hear us sing.
                We had a good time. We sang several Christmas hymns like Venid, adoremos!, Cantan santos ángeles, Jesús en pesebre, and ÍRogocijad! Jesús nació. The senior missionaries from Puerto Rico began singing various songs from Puerto Rico. With glorious notes and rhythmic movements, they, along with many of the senior missionaries who joined in, sauntered around the big room, singing melodious tunes to the ancianos. At the end, we sang Noche de luz.
One of the ancianas
                While the missionaries were singing, I went around the room and took pictures of some of the ancianas/os. They were wonderful. One of them asked me to take her picture. I told them I would and then come back and bring them the pictures. They seemed pleased.
More of las ancianas
I also spent some time with Sister María who told me about how the Church had helped them last year through a humanitarian project and how appreciative they were because of our help. One of the next projects they wanted to complete was renovating their chapel.
After visiting the kitchen and being serenaded by another sister, we trundled back to the front of the building where we bid adieu to Sister María and another sister. She asked us to return someday in the morning so we could take a tour of the entire facility, which houses over 300 ancianos. I loved the courtyards and the gardens. I am sure there are more to be seen.
One of the courtyards
President Bair (Temple President), Sister Maria, and another Sister who sang to us.
We left the Hogar de Ancianos, sharing Feliz Navidades. What a great time!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Kits de Cocina: Missionary Service Project in the Dominican Republic"

 "Kits de Cocina: Missionary Service Project in the Dominican Republic"
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

Here in the Dominican Republic we have a Centro de Capacitacion Misional (CCM), which is the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in the Caribbean Area. Missionaries who will be serving in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, or perhaps another Spanish-speaking county may spend some of their time here. 

As in all MTCs or CCMs, missionaries need service projects. Here in the Bishops' Storehouse, we have several projects the missionaries can do--everything from dry packing food to stocking shelves to cleaning. One of the projects we needed done was "Kits de Cocina" or Kitchen Kits for emergency purposes. Here are the items in a "Kit de Cocina":

English                            Spanish
   big aluminum pot          Calderos de aluminio    (26 cms)
   bathroom tissue             rollos de papel de bano
   plastic bowl (big)           lebrillos plasticos (24 cms)
   candles                          paquetes de velas
   small lighter                  encenderdor (pequeno)
   plastic plates                 platos plasticos
   plastic glasses               vasos plasticos
   bowls                            tacitas plasticas
   stainer                           colador plastico
   ladle (no holes)              cucharon liso
   ladle (with holes)           curada con hoyos
   knife                              cuchillo #7
   silverware                      set de cubiertos
   can opener                     destapador multiuso
   metal cup (jug)              jarros de alumino #12
All of these items are place in a five-gallon plastic bucket and sealed. Yes, every item can be placed in a bucket. The missionaries found an organized way to place all of the items. 

The missionaries came the past two Mondays for about an hour or so. We had 250 buckets to fill. 

   1) one set to take off all of the place wrap from the cooking pot; 

   2) two sets of missionaries to verify what was in the buckets and make sure everything on the list was in the bucket; 

   3) two sets of missionaries to stack the buckets when they were finished; 

    4) a set of missionaries to put together one of the other pots we put in the bucket; and 

   5) the rest of the missionaries placing the items in a new bucket. One of the elders would place the items in the bucket, and the other elder would mark it off the list. This organization went very well. 

They completed over 200 Kits de cocina. Muchas gracias, Elderes!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving, November 24, 2011
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

This is our first Thanksgiving serving in the Dominican Republic, and I am so thankful for many things:

A beautiful wife who continues to look amazing.
Two gorgeous daughters, their husbands, our little sweet Emiline, and a future grandson on the way.
Beautiful weather every single day.
A mission call that allows us to serve some of God’s children on an island in the Caribbean.
The knowledge that the Book of Mormon, Another Testament of Christ, is true.
A Church that helps hundreds of thousands of people, if not millions, through its humanitarian projects throughout the world.
Good health.
Brothers and sisters
The privilege of attending the Santo Domingo Temple at least once per week.
Bon ice cream.   
Fresh fruit drinks every day, made from mango, blue berries, pineapples, bananas, and vanilla yogurt
Packages that come periodically with licorice and candy corns.
Skype that allows us to talk to our family.
Senior missionary rules that allow us to do things the young elders and sisters are not able to do.
Dominicanos who are incredibly faithful to the Church.
The Internet, email, and Facebook.
Delicious food, no matter where you eat.
The ability to read and write.
A good camera that can “click and shoot” like the best of them.
Photoshop to help with the pictures that aren’t quite up to specs.
La clase de Español that helps me keep up on my Spanish.
Air conditioning.
A gate and a guard.
Being able to speak a second language.
Scriptures, journals, missionaries.
Family Home Evening, fondly called FHE.
People who know red means stop.
Sharp senses to swerve just at the right time.
A GPS that works and Elder Snow, the GPS guru.
The Caribbean Ocean, clear blue skies, and white sandy beaches.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Samaná Penisula: An Incredible View

"Samaná Penisula: An Incredible View"
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

                The travel to the Samaná Penisula was incredible. The countryside was replete with foliage, green foliage. I wish I knew the names of all of the trees. We drove by rice fields—those just being planted, those growing, and those being harvested. The tractors that harvest it are pretty big and do not have tires, per se. Rather, they have big tracks in order to get through the mucky soil. Since rice fields are flooded in order to grow, the ground is always wet and soggy. We also passed by huge groves of coconuts. They had cut out the tops of them. The sign in the field said, “This is a field of coconuts being renovated.” Along side each topped tree was a new seedling about five or six feet tall. It was amazing to see how straight they had planted the original trees. To me, it seemed that they had stuck huge poles into the ground. Many of the topped coconut trees had vines growing up the entire trunk.
Samaná Bay
                Samaná is a typical seaside community, complete with boats, a gorgeous bay, five-star hotels, lots of touristy-like traffic with buses and such, and a host of people willing to take you in their boat or the boat they represent out to the island. During January-March, the whales come to Samaná to mate; so, there are even more people who come to watch the whales. This is something we would like to do. It would be fun.
                We drove up the road to a very nice hotel. The Glaziers and Atkinsons had stayed there, and we wanted to check it out. The name of it was the Vista Mare. We pulled up to the gate. I got out and asked the guard if we could visit with someone about the place and a possible tour. “Sí, Señor.” He quickly opened up the gate and pointed me to the Reception area. We parked, and we went in. We talked to the recepionista who walked us over to a room, which looked out over the ocean. The room was nice, too. When you walked in, you saw a dining room on the left side and a sitting room on the right. Two bedrooms anchored the suite. Also, a huge kitchen with all of the gadgetries you would ever need to cook were hidden behind cupboards and shelves. She showed us the dishwasher and a stackable washer and drier. Then, we walked out onto the balcony. Wow! It was an incredible vista. She told us we could watch the whales frolicking our in the bay during the whale season. I looked over to Joanne and said, “This is bigger than our apartment.”
                We then walked over to the pool area and the dining facilities. These were just as nice. As we walked out, she beckoned us to climb into the van, and she took us down to one of the beaches—well, almost down to the beach. She took us to a parking place, where we then walked down to the beach. The stairs were a bit steep, but we clung to the walkway and went down. The beach was tuck beneath steep walls. On the far side, an arroyito (little stream) dribbled into the ocean between crashing washes. The waves were a bit fierce, we thought, although the young woman said they were today, but usually, though, it was a big more calm.
                We climbed back up the stairs and motored back to the Reception area. We went in and picked up some brochures and visited a bit more. They charge just one rate for the room. You could have as many as you wanted stay there. Then we were off to the end of the road beach.
                We drove for about 20 minutes or so and ended up at the end of the road. Literally. The road ended at the beach. We parked. While Elder Snow talked to the one of the gentleman there at the beach, Sister Snow, Joanne, and I walked down to the beach. Just incredible! The waves crashed in the distance on the rocks while close to the beach, they crashed into much smaller waves and crawled up the beach. Soon, Sister Snow and Joanne had their shoes off and allowed the water to creep around their feet. I took a few pictures and just stared out into the massive ocean.
To my right, several young men heaved and pushed a boat out into the water. Several people from a tour van waded out into the water and climbed in. I don’t know where they were going because we learned from Elder Snow that the waves were too high for the boat to go to the la Playa Rincón, which is a playa about 3,000 feet long. We didn’t have time to do this although it would be something to do, for sure.
Then, it was time to head back to Samaná. We stopped at the place where we had gone to the restroom earlier in the day. The place was called: “La Mata Rosado.” It was very Dominican, I thought. But then Elder Snow and I ordered el plato del día. He asked me what I wanted with it. I told him arroz and what about habichuelas (beans). He just looked at me. I told him one of the Dominicans told me that if you have arroz (rice), you must have habichuelas with it. He said, “We are French. If you want to have habichuelas, you need to go next door to the Dominican place.” Lift my finger to my nose and push up. The food was very good. I think I could go back to this French-Dominican restaurante.
On the way, we had to stop to take some pictures of the topped coconut trees. They were under renovation or so said the sign. They had planted 5-6 ft little coconut trees along side of the big sticks now de-headed of its vast foliage. I would like to ask someone what will happen with the topped trees.
We headed home, not that we wanted to. Samaná is one of those places one needs to go and spend a few days. We just went to become acquainted. We would love to go and spend a few days there, visiting the various beaches, climbing up to see the waterfall at El Limón, walking around some of the quaint streets at the end of the road on the Samaná peninsula. Truly, it is one of those places one must just take time to enjoy.