Thursday, December 31, 2015

One More Adventure Day for 2015

Today was the last day of our visit with Elder and Sister Roberts, which happens to be the last day of the year. We have had more grand adventures in the past week than usually happen in weeks or months. We picked up Elder and Sister Roberts from their hotel at 7:20 this morning, then we met Sister Leavitt at the mission office where we waited for a Tuk Tuk ride to the river for a boat ride to Silk Island. We were offered soft drinks, water, or cold fresh coconut. We tried the coconut! This trip was a little different than our Senior Retreat on Halloween. We were on a smaller boat where we were joined by three other passengers.

The silk farm we visited today was different than before, but we thought it was more informative. At the island we took another Tuk Tuk ride around the island, where we learned of the life cycle of a silk worm and a detailed description of creating silk from the cocoons. It takes about 3 days for a weaver to create enough fabric for a scarf. The more complicated patterns take longer, and it takes more like 2 weeks to create enough to make a skirt. The patterns are set in the loom by a different person or crew, which set-up process takes about 30 days. We selected two pieces of silk to purchase. We understand Cambodian Silk is some of the best.

Walking around the grounds of the silk farm was relaxing and interesting. It seems they are trying to create a resort, complete with huts and a "swimming pool" down in the river. Our walk back to the Tuk Tuks took us across a bamboo bridge. That was kind of fun! Our tour guide gave each of us a bag of candy and treats to share with the village children. There was no school today because of the New Years holiday, but the children came out of their huts as we rode through the village. One of the Tuk Tuks even went and gathered a few children to receive the treats.

The return boat ride they served cold drinks again, along with a variety of Khmer sticky rice wrapped in banana leaves, and a platter of cut fruits. This is a nice way to spend a morning in Phnom Penh.

We learned that Elder Roberts enjoys fly fishing, and last night he was meeting President Eng, who happens to be the General manager for Fly Works. It was arranged for us to stop in to Rainy's Fly Works this afternoon on our way to take the Roberts to the airport. It was clear that Silk Island was a visit for Sister Roberts, and Fly Works was a perfect visit for Elder Roberts. He explained as much of how the flies worked as Eng.

After all our adventures this week, we were so-o-o-o ready to go home and have a quiet evening at home. We will just have to celebrate the new year by going to sleep early.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Visiting Trash Mountain and The Killing Fields

Elder Roberts was most of the way done with the major project that he had come to Cambodia for as we left the office last night. This morning we took Elder and Sister Roberts to see a side of Phnom Penh that most tourists never see, Trash Mountain, which is known because of the book "The Rent Collector", and The Killing Fields, from the Pol Pot era here.

Elder and Sister Meinzer, the LDS Charities Senior Couple, were kind and took us out to Trash Mountain. The Church has already done several projects with Scott Neeson of Cambodian Children Fund (CCF) and there are several more in the works. This is the poorest part of town and CCF is trying to help bring them up out of poverty through education. As we walked around we had several members stop us to say hi. This area is in the Steung Mean Chey 3rd Ward. It was very sobering to see these families living in about 210 square foot little corrugated tin huts, up on stilts. We even met a 104 year old grandma that was excited to point out where she lives.

The Killing Fields is where Pol Pot took those he felt that were enemies to the state to be killed. The Khmer Rogue considered the educated, entertainers, rich, religious and any one suspected to be in opposition to them were enemies. The enemies were first taken to a former High School to be interrogated and tortured. After that they were taken out to a spot about 10 miles away to kill them. Thus the name, the Killing Field. It is always sobering to realize that the Khmer Rogue either killed, starved or due to living conditions wiped out 25% of the population in three years eight months and twenty days.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Russian Market and Meetings

It is interesting to see the difference between the scheduled day and the actual rollout of the day. Today's schedule was expected to go something like this:

  • 7:30 - arrive at the office
  • 8:30 - office devotional (Sister Roberts would meet us as we finished the devotional as Elder Roberts took care of his scheduled business at the Service Center)
  • 10:00 - District Meeting at South Stake building 
  • 11:30 - visit Russian Market
  • 12:30 - lunch
  • Afternoon - visit either Cambodia National Museum or the Royal Palace with Sister Roberts
  • Evening - possibly dinner with Elder and Sister Roberts
Instead the day rolled out more like this:
  • 7:30 - arrive at the office
  • 8:30 - office devotional (Elder and Sister Roberts arrived about 10 minutes before we finished.)
  • 10:10 - District Meeting (Everything seemed to be going right on schedule, then the District Leader announced they would watch the movie "The Best Two Years" for their meeting, looking for things that were good or bad as to what the missionaries did in the movie.
  • 12:10 - head back to the Service Center to check on Elder Roberts. He came out just after we got there and said not to worry about him. He still had several hours of meetings. He thought he would be finished by late afternoon. So we implemented our altered plans.
  • 12:30 - Lunch with Sister Roberts at a Tex-Mex restaurant.
  • 1:30 - Elder Oveson dropped Sister Oveson and Sister Roberts to Russian Market for some shopping and exploring, while he went to fill the car with gas, get pastries at Erik Keiser Bakery, drop the bakery goods to the apartment, then back for the Sisters.
  • In the meantime, Sister Oveson and Sister Roberts found CJF booth at the market. Sister Roberts was able to pick up a coconut nativity and a few ornaments. They took a walk through the maze of shops and displays, and finally settled on purchasing themselves lounge pants.
  • 2:30 - back to Erik Keiser for Sister Roberts to make some bakery selections, then back to the office. We hoped to find Elder Roberts. By this point they decided not to worry about the museum or palace. 
  • 4:00 - The Sisters walked to the mission home for information on a boat trip to Silk Island, for a possible adventure tomorrow, then back to the office.
  • 4:30 - back to the office. Visited while we waited for Elder Roberts.
  • 5:00 - Elder Roberts finally came out and declared he was almost done. He was exhausted, had a late lunch and just wanted to go back to the hotel. Tomorrow we will go either to The Killing Fields or to Trash Mountain. It looks like Silk Island has been vetoed, but Elder Roberts will be with us for the day. 
Dinner became a more simple meal at our apartment and did some laundry. Now we need to get some sleep so that we are ready for tomorrow's adventures!

Monday, December 28, 2015

More Hong Kong Visitors

The Asia Area offices are in Hong Kong, so the support team for Cambodia is stationed there. A couple of weeks ago Elder Roberts came to deal with some legal issues here, today he came to finish up those same issues. This time he brought his wife with him, who we have spoken to on Skype multiple times, but had never met. It is always a joy to finally meet someone that is already a friend through Church Service.

We volunteered to pick them up at the airport, here in Phnom Penh that is a minimum two hour commitment, but we were more than willing to do that. Since Elder Roberts was tied up handling the legal issues all afternoon, Sister Roberts and Sister Oveson went to visit the Central Market, a definite must see for visitors. They took a TukTuk which was also a new experience for Sister Roberts.

Elder Roberts was tied up until about 8:00 p.m. after that we took them out to dinner at Brooklyn Pizza and Bistro before dropping them back to their hotel for a well deserved sleep. If they are lucky Elder Roberts will finish up the legal matters tomorrow and then he can join the sightseeing also on Wednesday and Thursday before they fly up to Siem Reap on Thursday evening.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Returning From the Kaits

Most Sundays include a schedule of six hours of church and an hour of travel. Today we had one hour of church and six hours of travel. Either way we finish the day tired of sitting and ready for a break.

Our started our day visiting the Siem Reap First branch. It was wonderful to see some of our missionary friends. It is also interesting to visit branches like Siem Reap where it is a tourist area. There were several families visiting as they were touring the Angkor Wat area of Cambodia for a family vacation.

Knowing we had a six hour drive for our return to Phnom Penh, we set out by about 10:30 a.m., caravanning with Elder and Sister Leavitt. We made a stop at rest area with a restaurant for lunch about 12:30. By then we all needed to get out and stretch. We ate lunch looking out over a quiet little lake. The food was better than average rest-stop options, and the rest very welcome.

We were on the road again but needed to make one more stop along the way. This time we visited the elder's apartment in Kampong Thom. After a very short visit with Elders Jensen, Quirante, Thorn, and Beckstead, we were on the road again.

On a road trip it is interesting to take in the scenery and passing vehicles. Each village we drove through had similar features. The houses about 10-15 feet up on stilts, rice drying in front of the home, markets and shops along the road. The vehicles have added variety in the Kaits (provinces). There are the typical motos with trailers, or with random loads, or the ox carts. We even saw a moto pulling a trailer with two oxen. Maybe that is the new ox-carts? We also saw vehicles that looks a roto-tiller, pulling a long trailer which they drive on the road. These pull heavier loads than the motos, but they are also very slow. Before we made it to the city we had to stop while a herd of cattle crossed the road. Maybe we are a little retro here! Sometime we feel like we have stepped back in time, but it is amusing to see these same retro people texting or using smart phones while they drive (and it doesn't matter which vehicle they are driving, including the ox-cart!)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Our Christmas Present This Year

We figured that we did not need anything this year, so we skipped Christmas shopping completely and did not worry about presents under our tree. Today we realized that we truly did give each other a present this year, a trip to Siem Reap, which included spending most of the day in Angkor Wat area with Elder and Sister Leavitt, then a boat ride out on the Tonle Sap Lake to watch the sun set and to end the day at dinner with the Leavitts and Christensens. What a perfect Christmas present that we had not completely counted on.

We were up and on our way from the hotel in Kampong Cham about 6:20 and arrived in Siem Reap around 10:40. The Leavitts and the tour guide had already been over to Angkor Wat and seen it, which was just fine with us because we had already spent more than enough time there in March. We did go to the Tomb Raider Wat, where Angela Jolee filmed her famous movies, The Pink Lady Wat (so called because of the pink sandstone and it is beautiful) and Bayon Wat in Angkor Thom, which was the capital of the Khmer empire.  Our guide recommended that we take a boat ride out to see the floating village on the lake and watch the sunset,. That was definitely a worthwhile side trip.

After the lake we met up with President & Sister Christensen, who where in town to take care of some Church business with the local District, for dinner in Siem Reap. It was a great day, we were with wonderful friends, we got to see some phenomenal sights from the 10th through 13th century and truly experience the part of Cambodia that most tourist come to see.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas In Kampong Cham

We started and ended our day today Hangingout, Skyping and Facetiming with family. Christmas is about families, the little family in Bethlehem, Our Heavenly Father's eternal family and our earthly families. Even though we were not with our own family this year, we felt the joy of families on this special mission Christmas.

When we were asked to go to Kampong Cham and be with the missionaries, we had no idea what a special Christmas that it would be. We spent this evening with five beautiful Sisters and eight wonderful Elders. The mission home Elders had put together the 2015 Mission Slideshow that had the missionaries laughing and enjoying the pictures of their fellow missionaries. Then we had a wonderful meal of turkey, dressing, rice, gravy, fruit salad, bread and drinks. We even had a little left over that we sent home with the missionaries.

The highlight of the evening was the First Presidency Devotional and a short testimony meeting. We started it off and all of the missionaries were short and to the point, we asked them to only take two minutes each because they needed to get home. What a wonderful way to end a Christmas Day with testimonies of young missionaries that are serving with all of their hearts. This is a once in a life time opportunity, even if we are asked to come back to Kompnng Cham next year, it will be a different group of missionaries.

We are so blessed to be in the service of Our Savior Jesus Christ, to know that He lives and loves us and still cares for us. The work that we are about is essential and these young missionaries are such a testimony that it is true. They put their own lives on hold for eighteen to twenty-four months and come to a foreign land and preach the gospel to a non-Christian people, but the work continues to go forward. We want to add our testimony, the child that we celebrate at Christmas died that all of us may live again.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Cambodia Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is here, which means another year is fast coming to a close. This year we have found to be very different than Christmases in the past. We didn't do any shopping. There were no last minute presents to buy, in fact we have not bought any presents this year. There are no toys or gifts to assemble before we go to sleep. There are no gifts to wrap. In fact, there are no gifts under our tree to be opened on Christmas morning. All of this is just as it should be this year. We are very content to spend a quiet Khmer Christmas this year!

We spent the morning at the office. We had a scheduled Skype call with Siste Roberts in Hong Kong. We are excited that she will be coming with her husband to Cambodia next week. We have become good friends over Skype during the past few months and we are excited to meet in person. Besides, it is always wonderful to have visitors!

This afternoon we had several stops to make as we wound our way home. Even though we won't be with a big family gathering, we will be "hosting" Christmas dinner for the 13 missionaries in the Kampong Cham Zone. We have the turkey roasted and ready to go, but we needed just a few more things to make the meal complete. We stopped at the mission home to pick up a few packages to deliver. Another stop to a bakery for pies, which we had to order and we will pick them up in the morning before heading out of town. 

Back home we would never consider eating out for Christmas Eve, but our Khmer Christmas plans included a quiet dinner at Brooklyn. Having spent a quiet day and visits from friends, we are ready for Christmas!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Service Center Christmas Party

The Cambodia government must not have enough holidays, so the Church appropriately added Christmas as a vacation day for the employees. And just like in the U.S. many of the Church employees are taking a personal leave day tomorrow to make this a four day holiday.

Since so many are taking tomorrow off, the Service Center had their Christmas Party at the end of the day today.  We are not employees, but we do office there so we were invited. They started off with Christmas Hymns and spiritual messages from Sea Samnang, the Service Center Manager, and Sister Christensen.  Then they played Pictionary, which became very competitive, and they had an ugly sweater contest that Sister VanBrocklin won. They had a local catering company handle the dinner, which was mainly Khmer (Cambodian) but there were plenty of items that we could pick from, and of course rice.

One of the friends that we have made is Kuntheavy, the Seminary and Institute Secretary. She goes for an interview at the U.S. embassy next Monday for a fiancee visa and she is really nervous. Earlier this week she came and asked for a Priesthood Blessing today before she went home, so Elder VanBrocklin and Elder Oveson gave here one.

This evening on our way home we stopped and picked up the cooked turkey at the Mission Home. We got it all cut up and put in the freezer, we figure if it is frozen solid it will travel easier and keep better on Friday as we go to Kampong Cham.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Missionaries and Christmas Preparations

As usual, the day we had laid out in our schedule was not quite what we thought we planned, but all turned out well in the end. We arrived at the office and worked through emails and news before attending the weekly service center devotional, which followed our plans.

We ducked out before the meeting was finished so we could go to the South Stake center for district meeting with the young missionaries. As we arrived we thought there were more bikes there than usual, but didn't think too much about that until we didn't find the district meetings in the usual rooms. It turned out that both South and East Zones met together for a special zone meeting where they were watching the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert video with the Muppets from last year. What a great treat! That meant we could give hugs and Christmas greetings to a much larger group of missionaries than we thought we would!

After the movie and all the missionaries had moved on with their day, we decided to stop at Mama's New York Deli for lunch, where we found a group of 13 elders who beat us there! After we ordered two more elders came. We overheard some of the other customers comment on there being a large group there for lunch today. We were quite impressed with how quickly they were able to take orders and get the food served. We were out of there in a very short time, even though there was a large group ahead of us.

As we left lunch we made one quick stop at an office supply place, then went to the mission home to check on the turkey for Friday. Sister Leavitt volunteered to cook it today and we thought we should see if she needed any help. So here is the funny story for today.

We arrived at the mission home and found the gate locked. We had to wait a few minutes before the guard came and let us in because everyone was on the second floor for a Christmas party. We went up and learned the turkey we were to take on Friday was being served at this gathering today. Sister Leavitt had decided to put both the turkey she had for today's lunch party and the one I provided for Kampang Cham at the same time, since they both fit in the oven. When it was time to fix the rest of the food for today's meal it was discovered that the propane had run out, and the breast meat on the two birds was all that was fully cooked. We assured them this was not OUR turkey and that it seems to have all worked out just right. Sister Christensen will buy another's bird and roast it tomorrow, so it will still be done in plenty of time for our trip to Kampong Cham.

This slight change worked better in our day. We thought we were going to have to divide and conquer later as Elder Oveson had a meeting, and Sister Oveson was going to go back to the mission home to help get the turkey cut and taken care of for Friday, then ride a Tuk Tuk home. We are blessed to know who is in charge and He even takes care of little details we couldn't possibly know on our own.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mondays at the Mission Home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

For a Monday, today was very quiet. Sameth was sick, and not as many people make their way past our desk to find Phanna. We put out a tin of cookies to share. It was interesting to see who were the ones who returned often for another treat.

We had a few errands to run today getting ready for Christmas in Kampong Cham. We committed to bring a turkey and dessert, paper goods, and some of the basics for the dinner with the young missionaries in Kampong Cham, about two hours outside of Phnom Penh. We went shopping, then took the frozen bird to the mission home. Sister Leavitt so graciously volunteered to cook the turkey (since we don't have an oven). What a wonderful friend we have!

Visiting the mission home on Monday is always an adventure. P-day for most of the missionaries brings a variety of visitors, noise included. Sister Leavitt described it like this, "They come in and soak up the cool air, and things get very noisy around here!" She enjoys being with these wonderful young missionaries, as well as working closely with President and Sister Christensen, and all the rest of us seniors as well.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Keeping The Sabbath Day Holy

A major emphasis of the Church recently has been on keeping the Sabbath Day holy. It has taken on a whole new light being in Cambodia. It was discussed in last weeks Coordinating Council Meeting with the Stake and District Presidencies here in Phnom Penh.  Even though Phnom Penh is a city of more than two million people and has many of the conveniences of a modern city, there are still the third world elements. One issue that was discussed is that many members do not have refrigerators and buy the food that they eat daily. How do you teach the members the importance of keeping the Sabbath Day holy, they have to eat?  I guess what we have learned is that each culture has their own unique challenges when it comes to the Sabbath Day.

One thing that Sister Oveson has started doing here in Cambodia is fixing most of our Sunday meal on Saturday. We started doing that because we do not trust the crock pot or slow cocker to leave it while we are gone to church, it cooks way too fast. That evolved into Sister Oveson cooking while Elder Oveson is gone to the Stake Meetings on Saturday.  Now we are saying that we should continue to do that even after we go home. It does help with our Sabbath worship.

Today was a very unusual Sunday for us, we only attended the two wards that we are assigned to visit, without any additional meetings. Lately we have had additional meetings to attend, so today was a true day of rest for us.  Elder Oveson even closed his eyes for a few minutes between the two blocks.

We always find amusing pictures on our way to Steung Mean Chey, today there was the guy riding on top of a load of carved wood furniture and another guy riding in a trailer like a chariot. Also, there was a new sports car in the garage of our apartment today, another red Ferrari.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wise Men Seek Him ... O Be Wise!

December is quickly slipping by as we are in South East Asia, making preparations for a very different Christmas than we have ever experienced before. We don't have the many varied Nativity sets we would normally display in our home. Instead we have one small nativity which was made here in Cambodia, set in a coconut.  We have a small tree we "inherited" as we moved our office a few weeks ago. However we have been given a variety of ornaments from friends and family. What we may lack in the amount of decor is more than made up in the feelings of love and appreciation we have received.

Today as we finished our Institute class with about 18 people whom we have come to love, we were presented with two little angel ornaments for our tree. We added these to our collection, and to the feeling of being loved and cared for.

As we think of the story of Christmas, we consider that the Wise Men came from the East. There is no way to know just where they traveled from, but Asia is considered the East. And here we are, in Asia! Thinking of the Christ being born, living his life and ministry to teach us, then having Atoned for us through his death and resurrection. We are truly humbled to think of His love for all of us.

At this time of year we often hear the phrase, "Wise Men Seek Him Still." I would add the words of Jacob, "O be wise. What can I Say More."

Friday, December 18, 2015

New Buffet Experience

This week the system we use at the office had an update for Office 365, which required a training session. We had our choice of a session yesterday afternoon or this morning. We chose this morning, which seems to have been the better option. The session yesterday was about 45 minutes. Since today was a second run of the training it lasted 31 minutes. Now we need to put to use what we learned.

Even with the training meeting things were pretty quiet at the office today. We were asked by Saret, the finance manager, for another report. He has to compile information, including PEF information, to submit to the government quarterly. This was the first time we have been asked for this. We were able to put together the needed materials, then reviewed it with the team before giving it to Saret.

This evening we had an invitation for dinner with the Bishops and Stake Presidency from the South Stake. This was another new restaurant experience. The "ViNi Garden" is a Khmer buffet and BBQ. We learned you go to the buffet tables, select the foods you want to try, bring it back to the table where you have a little BBQ grill and small soup pot to cook on. We tried a broad variety of foods, taking a little at a time, but still managed to eat too much.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Christmas Season Is Even Busy in Cambodia

This time of year was always extremely busy prior to our mission. We figured that with being on the other side of the world, in a non-christian country that this year would not be as busy for us. As we mentioned in a previous blog, we had even considered not having a tree or decorations, before we moved offices and a tree was donated to us.

Someone, or a lot of someones, is making sure that we are kept busy and with a lot of Christmas cheer and spirit. We usually eat out once a week, but we have already been out to eat three times, with another dinner out tomorrow night. There is a Christmas party for the Church employees next Wednesday starting at 4:00, we don't know for how long.  Next Friday we are off to Kampong Cham to share the day with the missionaries up there, and then we are going on up to Siem Reap to go to Angkor Wat. Our first photo for the day is more random Khmer pictures.

Along with the fun we are also being kept busy with our missionary service. We continued with some additional communication with the Church attorney for Asia today.  We believe that we are getting very close to being able to run with the complete Self Reliance Initiative here in Cambodia.  We know that prayer with faith can move mountains and we are starting to hear the rumble of the move.

This evening we met with President Veasna of the Phnom Penh East District, who is one of our pictures tonight. It is their District goal to become a Stake during 2016. He wanted our ideas on what should happen to help them accomplish their goal. In many ways it is safe for these leaders to counsel with Senior Missionaries, because we will go home sometime and they can say that any suggestions came from us.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Our Circle of Friends

We have been told that the only real things that we take with us from this life is our family, friends and experiences. We are grateful that all three have continued to grow over the last year.

Earlier this year we added our eleventh grandchild, Bree, and we found out that number twelve is expected in April. Then you add the additions of great nieces and nephews and our family just continues to grow.

Our circle of friends has dramatically increased over the last ten months, from two wonderful Mission Presidents and their wives, to fellow Senior Couples, the young Missionaries, the fantastic people that we work with and the kind and caring members here in Cambodia. A couple of months ago we met via Skype a new Senior Sister, Sister Kathy Roberts, in Hong Kong who is helping out with Self-Reliance Services. Her husband is a retired attorney that is on a legal services mission. Yesterday Elder Ken Roberts walked back to our area to introduce himself, he was in Phnom Penh on some legal matters. We got to know him a lot better today, after visiting with him this morning for a while, going to lunch and then dropping him to the airport to fly back to Hong Kong. There are now three legal service missionaries serving in Hong Kong and they are truly needed and appreciated.

Hopefully you can tell from our previous blog posts that through our experiences we have grown so much in the last ten months, it is impossible to describe. It still comes back to President Moon's description of life here in Cambodia, "It is complicated."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Christmas Devotional and A Walk Through Christmas Lights

Today was a little different than we thought it would be. We seemed to start slow, but we were out the door early. Not sure how that happened. The Cambodia Service Center weekly devotional is typically at 8:30 on Tuesday morning, so we planned to attend District Meeting after. Those plans changed with the announcement that the devotional time was moved to 10:00 so we could connect live to the Asia Area Christmas Devotional on a Web-X connection with Hong Kong.

This was a wonderful devotional. Elder Garrett Gong, the Area President, has received a new assignment and will be moving back to Salt Lake City to serve as one of the Seven Presidents of the Seventy. This was a farewell to Elder and Sister Gong. Elder Randy Funk, who was serving as a counselor in the Area Presidency, will take his place as Area President. It was fun to see people we know from the area office perform in a bell choir. We have truly been blessed with friends all over Asia.

After working hard and accomplishing much at the office today, we went to the Mission Home to meet up with Elder and Sister VanBrocklin to go out to dinner. Of course that meant we invited Elder and Sister Leavitt to join us and have a Senior Night out. We all decided to introduce the VanBrocklins to Fox Bistro, and that we should just walk to the restaurant. Crossing a busy street during rush-hour can be interesting, but we used the "power of the Swarm" to our advantage. Besides, all you have to do is cross one inch at a time.

Dinner was good, food was great, and the company was wonderful. We decided this is where we need to suggest for the next big Senior Missionary dinner outing. Elder VanBrocklin rarely smiles when it comes to food or restaurants here in Cambodia, and he even smiled and said he would definitely come back. He even checked and found that they have a private room for a party that would fit our missionary group.

After dinner the sun had set and the "Christmas" lights were lit for a pleasant walk back. As we walked past several lit Christmas trees, and the hanging lights hung from the tropical trees, we decided this is the way to walk through the Christmas lights. The temperature was about 88* F, and the only snowflakes we saw were the decorations for the holiday.

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Meeting With The Prime Minister

We have mentioned before that Cambodia is a Buddhist nation, but in many ways they do try hard to make room for the other religions, which they refer to as cults.  They especially appreciate when those other religions are willing to help the people in their country.

We started our day with a meeting at the largest auditorium in Cambodia in an area of Phnom Penh referred to as Diamond Island.  Originally we were told to be there at 7:00 a.m., but when we were given our tickets we were told 6:30 a.m., so we split the difference and got there about 6:45.  We were shocked to see that there were already others there, including President and Sister Christensen and Elder & Sister VanBrocklin.  We could see them on the front row but we decided to sit down about half way up.  It wasn't long before the Under Secretary of Religion was coming and telling us they had a seat for us down front.  We ended up on the second row right behind the others.

The meeting was to call for disseminating religious moral vision for harmonization in Cambodia to celebrate the day of prayer and action for the children.  The Prime Minister of Cambodia, Hun Sen, was the featured speaker and he arrived about 8:15.  About 25% of the auditorium was filled with Buddhist monks and their three main leaders had seats of honor on the stage.  Even the Prime Minister went over and bowed to the Buddhist Priests when he came in. The Prime Minister spoke about forty-five minutes, about fifteen minutes from a prepared text on the subject for the meeting and a half hour on politics.  After he left they had to have several other speakers.  It got through just before 11:00, we were grateful that the seats were soft.

We made it back to the office and were able to actually get some of our real work done.  Elder Oveson had some correspondence to do for the stake.  Sister Oveson helped him get his notes from yesterday's meeting pulled together so that he could send them to the others in the Stake Presidency. We also helped with some reports for the Perpetual Education Fund, it is year end and the area has to report to headquarters. We were plenty busy so we were tired when we headed home this evening.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bishop Changes and the Christmas Devotional

Bishop Kang Chamroeun
Today was not a typical Sunday, if there is such a thing. We went to the Chaktomuk Ward, as usual. That is about all that was our usual. Even those meetings were different. The first matter of business was to release and sustain a bishop. Bishop Kang Sok Chamroeun and his family moved about four months ago up to "Mormon Acres" in Tuol Sangke, and he has still been serving, waiting for this change.

The new bishop (sorry, we missed the name) is a 58 year old man who has been a member for a number of years. As will all changes, this will be good, but Bishop Kang will be greatly missed. We are hoping the change will bring new energy to this ward.

The sacrament meeting went long with the changes and having everyone affected speak. That left a short class time for Sunday School, but Elder Oveson had to make preparations for the Cambodia Coordinating Council Meeting that was scheduled for this afternoon. With that meeting, our weekly trip to Steung Mean Chey 3rd ward was cancelled. We did go out there twice yesterday to attend a wedding, then later for the reception.

To top the evening, however, was the annual Christmas Choral Devotional. This year it is being held at the South Stake building. This is a combined choir of members from throughout Phnom Penh area. What would Christmas be without those Christmas Concerts? We consider all of these people our friends.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Khmer Weddings

We started our day with our Institute class where we had 19 in attendance, followed by a quick shopping trip and Skype calls to family. We absolutely love talking to our family and it is a true joy to teach these wonderful Cambodian brothers and Sisters.

It must be Wedding Season in Cambodia. Today we had two weddings to attend. Kang Sreynach and Sam Vathanak in Steung Meanchey to the South, and Vanny and Terry in Teul Sanke (Sameth's neighbors) to the North. We consulted with several of our Cambodian friends to try to understand the culture, and how we should appropriately give gifts to the couples.

With two weddings in opposite ends of the city, we had to do some strategic planning for the day. We chose to attend the wedding ceremony in Steung Meanchey at 2:00 pm, then go to Tuol Sanke about 4:00 for the other reception. (This couple were married in August, so it was a housewarming and reception). After making our appearance in the second reception, we made our way South again through heavy traffic to enjoy the reception dinner with the first couple.
With Vanny and Terry (top)
and Sreynach and Vathanak

Weddings her are typically very elaborate. The invitations are elegant. The bride and groom usually change outfits five or six times (or more) during the celebration, each matching, and requiring modifications to the bride's hair style as well. The the day began with a food parade at about 7:00 a.m.  We were teaching our class, so we missed that part. That also meant several of our class missed today to attend the morning activities for the wedding. Please check back later to see photos for the post.

We have now been on our mission for 300 days, where did they go, that means we have completed the equivalent of three days of our seven day mission.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Teriyaki Chicken Don (Rice Bowl with Egg)

The sin was quite red this morning with a light rain falling. By the time we were out the door we could see little indication of the early rain. That "Red sky at morning" didn't give any indication of the day's warning.  We stayed in our office all day, with no window or outside view, so it was pretty hard to know if there was storm or sunshine.

Friday following a Thursday holiday seems to be a quiet day in this city. Many take advantage of the holiday to give themselves an extended weekend. Traffic was not quite as heave this morning. There were several missing faces from the office. All in all it was a quiet day.

We have watched as a new restaurant was built and opened. We were going to try it once before, but discovered we were just a few days before they opened. Tonight on our way home we decided to try again. This is a Japanese Udon restaurant. It seems simple enough. We must have arrived before the dinner rush, as there were probably more than twenty employees in different posts, but only about ten customers (counting us). The service was quick, and the food not bad. We ordered Teriyaki Chicken Don (a rice bowl), then sampled some of the tempura vegetables offered on a buffet line. This is not quite Yamasaki. We are still looking for a replacement for that one. The interesting thing is many of the entrees here are topped with a poached egg. So was our rice bowl!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Another Random Holiday

International Human Rights Day provided another reason for a holiday in Cambodia, and just about any reason works for a holiday here. With our office in the Service Center now, on holidays the office is completely deserted, at least when we were at the Stake Center there were members who randomly dropped by.  So today we worked from our apartment.

This morning we had our weekly Skype call with Hong Kong. It is good to feel like we have someone that we report to at least weekly. We also send a weekly email with the highlights of our week.

We also read our scriptures and worked on our Institute lesson for Saturday. We appreciate those little moments that we get to prepare for our Institute lesson.

This afternoon Elder Oveson had a phone call with the lead Church attorney in Hong Kong. He is so busy all the time that when he tells us he will call we clear our calendar to make room. We are hoping that we are getting closer to finally get clearance to operate the full Self-Reliance Initiative here in Cambodia. When we finally get permission we need to get the Self-Reliance Centers setup in each of the Stakes and Districts, more self-reliance groups going, and start establishing resources for jobs. There will be a lot to do, but we know that it is needed here and will be a blessing to the Saints.

Since today was a very random day, it is only appropriate that our picture for today is also a random collage.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Skype, Google, Web-X, FaceTime, Internet Meetings -- Technology

We have been at the Cambodia Service Center for over a week now, but we feel settled in like we have been there much longer. This picture is most of the people who work with us at the Service Center. Samnang, the Service Center Manager, is missing from this picture.
Phia, Kimsroy, Bhean, Mory, Lum, Sameth, Tay (Tie), Elder Oveson, Sophornn, Sambo, Phanna, and Saret
Jackie, Belinda, Rathana, Sister Oveson, Nhet (Night)
We have been blessed to be surrounded by so many wonderful people, and already count all of these people as our friends.

We had an opportunity to Skype with some of our family today, but getting technology to work in our favor is another story. We tried Google Hangouts using the laptop, but sound was not working on the other end. We tried FaceTime, but it wouldn't fully connect. Back to Google using the iPad and we succeeded.

The family call was not the only connection problem for the day. We had an Asia Area Team Meeting on the schedule for 12:30 our time. As we tried signing into the meeting we received the message that the meeting was already complete or cancelled. We brought in Phanna's computer and sign-in link with a similar message. After retreating back to our own desks, Phanna was able to connect in, but there was only the Hong Kong group was on the link. We visited with them for a while, then they said maybe we should reschedule for tomorrow or Friday. The problem with that is tomorrow is a Holiday in Cambodia (you would have never guessed that, right?), so Phanna will be out of the office the rest of the week. We just got settled in our desk again, and again were invited to attend the meeting with those from Hong Kong. This Skype call proved to be a more productive discussion than having all the countries linked in. We were able to have it more focused on Cambodia's needs and goals, since all the countries throughout Asia are so varied and different. The rest of the Asia team will get together tomorrow and cover the same training and discussion.  We missed seeing those others, but enjoyed having more one-on-one training.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Christmas Lights and Meetings

On Tuesday we have a variety of meetings to attend. Now that we office in the Service Center we are invited to attend the weekly devotional from 8:30 to 9:30. Then we headed to the South Stake Center to attend one of three District Meetings that meet there. Today we went to the Tuol Thom Pong District.  This district is made up of the Office Elders, Elder Bostrum & Elder Jarvis, who are assigned to the International Branch. The Zone Leaders in the South Zone, Elder Child and Elder Lauritzen, who serve in the Tuol Thom Pong area. And Sister Schwab and Sister Kimball, who also serve in Tuol Thom Pong.  We chose that district because they were in the High Council Room with the softest chairs and best air conditioner.  Elder Lauritzen was just transferred in from Kampong Cham. We already like him, he was thinking about the district today and brought cookies and milk to share. The cookies were great. The only problem was the milk was sour, he wondered why it was on sale for half off.

The Church's focus this Christmas is "A Savior Is Born." Each of the companionships here have been given a couple hundred small cards that are laminated that they can give out. It is a great way for them to start a conversation with people on the street, since they are not allowed to go house to house.  It is amazing how willing the people are to take anything that is free, even if they don't keep it and drop it, since it is laminated somebody will probably pick it up. With all of the noise of the world we have to get through to them anyway that we can.

We may not have the lights at Temple Square or any of the other wonderful Christmas lights, but there are a few here.  Tonights collage are some of those lights and the district from today.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Meeting More Missionaries

In the week since our office moved to the Cambodia Service Center we have found we are more likely to see more people, and especially more likely to see the young missionaries. Today Elder Oveson needed to take his suit to the mission home so it could be cleaned. [We just have to say $7.50 for a two pant suit sure beats the fortune we spent on cleaning back home.] Since today was Monday, which is P-day for most of the missionaries, we happened to run into a nice group of Elders and Sisters.

Elder Bullough just arrived four days ago was there with his companion, Elder Carter. We said Hi to Elders Elieson and Christensen, the AP's, and the office Elders, Jarvis and Bostrom. We also said hello to Sisters Collins & Leng, Sisters Haddock, Fields and Harris, and Sisters Seoun and Loftus. Sister Kimball joined in with Sister Harris and Young and Leng. Sister Harris and Sister Young are the senior Sister Training Leaders. What a happy group! So glad we could see them today!

We are trying to get year end work done already at the office. We set the goals for next year in our Self-Reliance team Meeting this morning. Since they affect Phanna the most, in his performance review as the manager, he wanted to sleep on them.  We also worked on the report format for next year so that it was ready to go.

We are almost half way through the Book of Mormon and should complete it by the end of the year. Sister Oveson also got us going on our Institute lesson for this week. That is our Monday wrap-up.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The New Missionaries That We Serve With

We look forward to transfers a little bit differently than the young missionaries.  We do not have to worry about where we will be serving or with whom.  Instead we get to make new friends that help us in many ways, especially translating for us in Church meetings so that we do not go to sleep.

Each of the companionships in the Chaktomuk Ward had changes with this transfer.  Elder Rom is now with Elder Palmer, who we first met at the MTC in Provo.  Sister Young's new companion is Sister Harris, one of the original sign flippers from early on in our blog.  Elder Christensen is Elder Eliesons companion as an Assistant to the President.  There is also a new Office Elder, Elder Jarvis that has translated for us in Steung Mean Chey for the last six months, is with Elder Bostrum.

With Elder Jarvis leaving Steung Mean Chey, Elder Denkers has two new companions, Elder Reeves and Elder Meas.  Elder Meas is waiting for a visa to serve in London England.  We also got to meet Sister Killian's new companion, Sister Sung, a new missionary from Kampong Thom, and Elder Steadman is now with Elder Riches.  We love meeting with and making new friends.  We have the best young missionaries in the whole Church here in Cambodia.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

There Would Be No Christmas Without Easter

It has been such a blessing to teach our Institute class, and to be learning and teaching more about our Savior, Jesus Christ. Our lesson today was on the Resurrection, and as we prepared our room for our class today, Sister Oveson thought of a quote about Christmas.

"There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection."

"Our joy at this season is because He came into the world. The peace that comes from Him, His infinite love which each of us may feel, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for that which He freely gave us at so great a cost to Himself—these are of the true essence of Christmas." (President Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Wondrous and True Story of Christmas", Ensign December 2000)

 As we taught our class with 20 in attendance, we felt so blessed to learn and teach more about Christ. His Atonement and sacrifice have brought us so many blessings. We encourage all to think more of the Savior this season. Think of his birth, yes, but think more of His life and mission. Think of His Resurrection. Think that He has made it possible for us to be forgiven of our mistakes and to "Come Unto Him"!

We have given some of our grandchildren a challenge to read The Book of Mormon, and welcome any of you who are interested in this challenge. We challenged them to look for three things:
     1. Promised Blessings
     2. Warnings
     3. Why they wrote these scriptures

Friday, December 4, 2015

Our Little Bit of Christmas

In Cambodia 95% of the population are Buddhist, and only two percent are Christian, the other three percent are Muslim, Hindu, etc.  With that, Christmas is not even an official holiday on the calendar.  Many of the holidays are based around Buddhism, but when you are in the minority you should not expect a whole lot.  The government entity that the Church has to report to is the Ministry of Religion and Cults.  Buddhism is the Religion and all of the rest are cults.

We figured that we did not need any real Christmas decorations this year, even though you can find plenty in some stores, especially office supple stores.  As we moved offices on Monday Sameth reminded us that there was a three foot Christmas tree that we should take and use.  Since Oveson jumped at the opportunity, it took a few days to get it up, but we are officially ready for Christmas in our apartment now, complete with a nativity.

Today was another busy day for us.  We finished up the new analysis that Hong Kong asked us to work on about the Perpetual Education Fund participants.  We went over it as a team and made some adjustments to take into mind the human factors of some of the participants.  We also finished working on our Institute lesson for tomorrow.  Sister Oveson worked on a presentation for the International Branch while Elder Oveson worked on stuff for the Stake Presidency and Stake PEC Meetings tomorrow.

Yesterday we went and picked out some new office chairs, they were delivered this morning.  We left the old ones with the desks at our former office, but they were not very comfortable anyway.  Now we have chairs that fit our old bodies better and are a little softer also.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Transfer Day - Missionaries Coming and Going

Today is Transfer Day in the Cambodia Phnom Penh Mission. Transfers tend to come with hellos and goodbyes. There is a group of 22 new missionaries arriving in the mission, and 14 missionaries have completed their missions and are returning to their homes.

After lunch we took a walk to see who we might be able to greet. Changes this transfer shake things up throughout the entire mission. We have become friends with so many, so whether they move around the country or around the world we will miss seeing them. These missionaries are all wonderful!

Our regular translators will change. Elder Jarvis is now serving in the office, so we will see him but no longer in Steung Mean Chey. Sister Uresk is transferring to Kaysville, Utah, and we will say hello to Sister Harris who is returning from Kampong Cham. Elder Christensen is coming to Chaktomuk Ward as he is now an Assistant.

We were able to meet several new fresh faces this afternoon. It is amazing how excited they are to be in Cambodia. We look forward to getting to know all of them better.

As new missionaries arrive they are put to work immediately. Most are immediately united with a companion, dropped at the Phsaa (Market) and start contacting. After about an hour, they make their way to the mission home, receive their assignments and meet the rest of the companions, and by the evening they are on their way to their area. If they do their training like last transfers, they will receive their more extensive training next week with President and Sister Christensen, after they have had a few days to decompress from the travel and get acquainted with their area and companion.

Those who are departing the mission will have one last meeting and dinner with President and Sister Christensen, and they will depart tomorrow. We are so blessed to serve with such valiant young missionaries. We look forward to our continued associate with these eternal friends. Our lives have been forever changed because of serving with them.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Car Repair and Service

Way back on August 1st as we were swallowed by the first big flood we had faced here in Phnom Penh we lost the liner for the front passenger wheel well.  Three months ago we took our car to the Toyota Dealership to get it repaired and they told us that they would need to order the part.  It finally came in last week, so we ventured back to the Toyota Dealership to get the car repaired.

We had the person that setup the appointment for us check to see how long it would take, and when they told us an hour to install the part and an hour for an oil change and service, we decided to just go and wait.  The dealership is only about ten kilometers from our office, we decided that we better give us at least forty-five minutes to get there.  We were shocked that it only took us thirty minutes.

They did the oil change first, which took less than an hour, but then we were given a front row seat watching the car repair, just outside the window of the waiting room.  We could tell that they have not had to replace this part often.  They first went to the driver side to find out how that one was attached to the car.  The next logical step, in our opinion, would have been to remove the tire to give them room to work, but they decided to turn the wheel and try and work around the tire. (We have been told logical reasoning is a skill people lack here.)  It took them more than thirty minutes to finally start installing the new liner.  They finally got it on and we were out of there before the two hours that they promised.  Of course this process had to be our picture for today.  One interesting sign that we could not get a good picture of was the "Denting Area."  We were glad that they did not put our car over there, because we did not want any dents.

We were able to make significant progress on the new report for Hong Kong.  We have gathered all of the information, now we need to determine how to analyze it in a way to help us in the future.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Settling In -- Package from Home -- Dinner Out

This morning was an Area Presidency Devotional with all the Church employees in Phnom Penh. This devotional was recorded in Hong Kong last week and we were able to view it with everyone at the Cambodia Service Center this morning.  

The rest of the morning was a bit of a settling in day at our new office for our Self-Reliance team. We had our desks situated by yesterday afternoon, but Phanna and Sameth spent much of the day getting their area in order.  We had other boxes brought to our wing to be put away in the new storage cabinets, so all the cupboards were soon filled. By lunch the office was seeming to settle into a more normal feel.

We were given a new report to work up for Hong Kong. With this new assignment we also learned how to tap into information in the computer program we use for PEF.  Elder Oveson was getting pretty excited as he did a sort and was able to pull out data he didn’t know he could access before. I guess “Christmas” comes in different forms for different people.

About 2:00 we decided to take a walk to the mission home. Our new office is close enough to do that, and we needed to drop some things to the office there. In the few minutes we were there the office employee and one of the guards started bringing in packages. There were about 35 packages of a variety of sizes and shapes. We knew a package had been shipped to us about 10 days ago, but didn’t really expect it to be here until next week at the earliest. We joked that it would be ironic if one of these was ours, when Elder Oveson walked to one pile and found our name on the box on the top of the pile. Big thanks goes to our family for the yummy treats and surprises.

As we visited with Elder and Sister Leavitt, the office couple, they invited us to go with them to dinner and check out a new restaurant. We returned to our office and worked on reports and projects until dinner time. The new restaurant is “FOX Wine Bistro”. It was good food, great atmosphere, and a good place to plan a future Senior Missionary gathering. (Maybe even for Christmas or New Years).