Saturday, December 31, 2016

Our Institute Friends

Each Saturday morning as we go to teach Institute we never know what to expect. There was the time that the classroom that we teach in was flood along with that wing of the building. At times the room looks very well taken care of and other times when we just have to say, "Really!?" This morning was one of those times. Someone had taken styrofoam christmas decorations and shredded them all over the floor. We spent fifteen minutes sweeping up the mess before we could start setting up for the class.

Another unknown each week is how many will be there when we start and by the end of the class. As the time to start arrived we had no participants, so we started without them and sang an opening hymn. Before we finished singing the first two arrived, so one of them offered the opening prayer. By ten after the hour we had more than ten present and the last one walked in with five minutes left of the class. There were a total of twenty-one participants and the four year old daughter of one who came with her this morning.

As the class ended Rathana, who works at the Service Center and attends our class, asked what time Elder Oveson had meetings today. We told them that he did not have any meetings this week but next week he did. She said good because we have a surprise for you. They had planned a going away party with food and drinks. I guess we have to forgive them for being late since they were preparing for the party.

This evening Elder & Sister Thurston hosted a gathering for any of the Senior Missionaries that could come to their apartment. Since they live just across the hall from us we could not use the excuse that it was too far to go on a New Years Eve. It is always fun to get together with the other Senior Missionaries and we will miss this group when we go home.

Friday, December 30, 2016

It's All About TIME

Time is an amazing thing. It can't be hurried or held back. You can't see it, smell it, or taste it. Clocks and calendars are tools to help measure it's passing. According to our time-tools, it has been 672 days since we came to Cambodia. There have been some days that have been similar, but no two days have been the same. We have learned so much and had some amazing adventures. As time winds down there are less than 10 days to work in the office, and on Tuesday we will be under 10 days remaining in the country. This gives us a moment to reflect on all the people we have come to know and love, places we have visited. We hope to make good use of the last few days here to leave things better than we found them. Tomorrow will be the final count-down for the end of 2016 and the start of a new year. We can hardly imagine what adventures to expect in 2017.  Best of all will be spending time with our family!

Today was our last internet meeting with the senior missionaries throughout Asia. It is bitter-sweet encountering all the "lasts" and saying goodbye. We hope to meet each of them in person as they complete their missions and find time to visit Utah.

Tonight we made one more visit to Brooklyn Pizza and enjoyed ribs for dinner. This has been one of our favorite "taste of home" restaurants.

Driving home after dinner we noticed so many changes that we have seen over the almost two years we have spent in Phnom Penh. We wonder what changes we are going to find have happened in the two years we have been away from home!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Winter In Cambodia

The coldest part of the year in Cambodia is the end of December and first part of January. The daytime high only got up to the low 80s today and over night it got down to the low seventies. As we took our morning walk there was definitely the smell of charcoal in the air. The homes do not have heaters in them so when it gets cold they burn the charcoal that is normally used for cooking. We enjoyed the cooler temperatures but we are in for a really big shock once we go home. As we passed the marshal arts group that daily works out at the monument square area the main instructor had his jacket on to keep warm. You would think that with the physical exercise they would not need that, but they are use to the warmer weather.

After a few quick calls to family back home we made it to the office just a little late. For the last twelve plus months we have been talking to Sister Roberts on Skype most Thursday mornings. We figured why stop now even though we are no longer the communication couple, there is a friendship with both Sister and Elder Roberts. It was really good to chat with them and catch up with what they are doing. They only have about two and a half months left of their mission and they are going home to Arizona. They have homes in both Utah and Arizona, but this time of year is way too cold in Utah for them.

We are in the process of deleting stuff out of our computers and files out of our desks that will not be needed and will not mean much once we go home. Over the years we have always found it interesting how often people walk away from a calling or a job without dejunking, leaving it for the next person to figure out. We want to leave things as clean as possible, even with that there will be a time in the future someone will probably say, why did they leave that? Oh well, we are trying.

Tonight's collage are random signs from around Phnom Penh, including their very own Home Depot.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Death Cards and Obituaries

The young missionaries talk about where they were "born" on their mission (their first area), their "mom or dad" (first companion), their "children" (those they train), and when and where they "die" (finish their mission). Shortly before they die they create what they call "death cards" to hand out with home contact information and a picture. They are also given a paper to fill out for their "obituary" (a little about where they served and what they accomplished). This week we were given our paper to fill out our obituary so it was time to create our departure cards.

We struggled with what photos we might use, then we received the completed painting of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple which was created for us by a member. The photo of us with our Christmas present was just the right one to choose. Then we happened upon another picture in our library which was taken during a visit to Siem Reap.  The logical place to get the cards was printed was at "The Picture of the Pleasant Digital Service". They had them ready in an hour.

Our morning started with one last apartment inspection, complete with donuts for a reward. And this afternoon it was exciting to hear Elder and Sister Spencer come into the service center. Their son and his family have come to visit Cambodia. The Spencers are busy enough in Battambang, and it is far enough we don't get to see them very often. They are just two months behind us the next time we get to see them will likely be after they send out their own death cards, and come find us back in Utah.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rice Distribution At Ampil

Before we came on our mission we were told that if any of the other Senior Missionaries invited us to go somewhere with them to go if at all possible. Too many Senior Missionaries don't go because they feel like it is not in their missionary job description. Several weeks ago Elder & Sister Thurston invited us to go to a Rice Distribution with them at Steung Mean Chey or possibly Ampil. The Steung Mean Chey distribution was on Sunday when we needed to be at Church. And originally if we went to the one at Ampil it was going to have seven of us in one vehicle, so we were going to bow out. That changed when one more was added and they decided to take two vehicle.

We are so glad to have been able to go for numerous reasons. We got to ride with the Thurstons for about seven plus hours and just have a great time to talk and get to know more about each other. In addition we got to see a new bridge that opened about a year ago over the Mekong River that is called the Japanese Bridge because they donated 100 million dollars to build it. The bridge is beautiful and the Cambodians have to stop part way across it to look at the view and at the bridge.

The main reason that we are glad that we went was to be part of the rice distribution ceremony. LDS Charities gave 50 kilograms (about 110 pounds) of rice, six bottles soy sauce, six bottles of fish sauce and a two litter jug of oil to each of 1,200 Cambodian families. This is a very poor area that is not very far from the Vietnam border. The ceremony was suppose to start at 1:00 p.m. but the last government official did not arrive until just before 2:00 p.m. Fortunately they kept the ceremony short and sweet and it was done by 2:30. Elder Thurston explained to the people gathered there that members of the Church around the world had donated money to give them rice. He then asked them to go find others that they could help in some small way. As we left we saw some of that help as some who carried out their own rice went back in to help others who needed help.

Our lives have been truly blessed to be able to see the beauties of Cambodia. To many they consider the beauties as Angkor Wat, the sunrises and sunsets, the lush vegetation of the countryside or the sugar palm trees. All of those are beautiful, but we have learned the true beauty of Cambodia are the wonderful children of God who live here.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Our Christmas Present

Christmas in Cambodia was busy with attending meetings and gathering with missionaries. Because our time here will be finished in less that three weeks we had our family keep any gifts they may have for us to open when we return home. One gift we bought for ourselves to take when we return home is a painting of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple, specially created for us by an amazingly talented artist, Sopheap Nhem. In 2015 she submitted an entry into the Church’s art contest, and was a Purchase Award Winner. [Here is a link to see that painting.  https://history.lds.org/exhibit/iac-2015-tell-me-the-stories-of-jesus?lang=eng#mv63.] Sopheap's brother-in-law works at the service center, so we worked through him to have this painting created.

Most missionaries are able to make two calls home during the year, one on Christmas the other on Mother's day. The "gray hair" seniors are not restricted to the two call limit, but that doesn't mean our Christmas calls are any less important. We were able to call two of our children for their Christmas morning and the other four in the evening (which means opposite for us as there is a 14-15 hour time difference.) It was wonderful to talk to each of the grandchildren and see their excitement for the day.

While our family gave reports of 8-10 inches of snow back home, we woke to a tropical winter of mid 70*'s and sunshine, and the high of the day was 89*.  When we fly home on January 13th someone will have to bring us a coat to the airport. Our summer clothes just may not be enough as we transition to our first cold winter in two years.

With time getting short we recruited a friend as a translator and went to the Olympic market. This was our first time to this market, which is more of a wholesaler market. It seems much cleaner than the more tourist oriented markets.  There were things we still needed from one of the other markets.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Feeling The Christmas Spirit

Merry Christmas to all who follow our blog, whether you are family, friends, follow missionaries, families of missionaries or just stumbled across our blog. We have written in this blog every day of our adventure over the last twenty-two plus months and we are grateful that you follow even in a small way.

Yesterday we wrote about the Christmas Party that did not feel like Christmas at all, but today was completely different. We can truly say that we felt the true meaning of Christmas in many ways and we are so grateful for each experience.

What a blessing to have Christmas fall on a Sunday when we turn away from many of our daily tasks and focus on Christ and His gospel. To give more time for families the Church instructed the wards throughout the world to only have Sacrament Meeting. They also gave the option for wards within the same building to combine. That is what the Chaktomuk and Twol Thom Pong Wards did today. The nice part was the attendance felt like a lot more.

President and Sister Christensen asked us to be in charge of the gathering for the Phnom Penh South Zone, similar to Thanksgiving. The difference was that instead of just a desert they asked us to help with a light meal. We decide to crock pot fifteen pounds of chicken breasts, have green salad, bread, rice and, the most requested item, gravy. There was three quarts of gravy and it was all gone along with everything else. What a great way to feel the Christmas spirit than to serve others.

This evening we went to a Christmas devotional at the Stake Center sponsored by the Phnom Penh East District. There were excellent musical numbers, including some of our friends and missionaries. We definitely heard the Christmas songs that we are used to hearing, even if most were in a language that we do not understand, the English words are written in our hearts from past Christmases.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve In Cambodia

We have often shared that we do something here on what is a holiday back home that we will probably never do again on that holiday. Today was another one of those days that we can honestly say we did things that we have never done before on Christmas Eve and will most likely never do again.

With it being Saturday we started our day teaching Institute to twenty wonderful Cambodians that have become our friends. They are always so eager to learn about the gospel and in many ways about Christianity, since only 2% of the population here are Christians. Before our class started one of those dear friends asked us what some of the symbols of Christmas meant, like the tree and star. We were able to share what we could in our limited time before class.

Right after Institute we headed across town to the Phnom Penh North Stake Center to attend a wedding. Both the bride and groom have attended our Institute Class in the past, the groom more than the bride. Weddings are not a normal Christmas Eve activity, but we had time and wanted to attend.

Tomorrow we are hosting a gathering of Missionaries for Christmas, so we had to get the major preparation for it ready. There were four Crock Pots of chicken breasts to cook, about three quarts of gravy, pick up bread, desert, napkins and water. Likewise we decided to give them a little Christmas Tree ornament and candy as a gift from us. Sister Oveson came up with a great idea to use a half of a legal envelope for a little gift sack. We think that they look good, we hope the missionaries enjoy the dinner and gift.

This evening we went to a Christmas Party that was for two of the Wards from the South Stake that meet in the Stake Center. The only thing that looked anything like our Christmas in the U.S. was the costumes for one dance, but the music was not familiar at all. We will most likely never see another Christmas program like that in the future, especially on Christmas Eve.    

Friday, December 23, 2016

Marathon Days

Today was one of those days that seemed to be a marathon from the time you get up until time to go to bed. We started with our "normal" schedule of a morning walk before going to the office. There were several Christmas projects that needed to be completed before noon. About 9:30 the zone leaders brought us 15 kg of fresh chicken they had purchased at the market for Sunday's missionary gathering. That meant we needed to make a quick trip to the apartment and find space in the fridge. 

Back to the office and Sister Oveson finished putting together a bookmark handout for Institute, as well as Christmas Pockets for the missionaries by printing a nativity picture and Christmas greeting on legal size envelopes then cutting them in half, then filling them with a few pieces of candy and a small gift with an encouraging message. There were also preparations for teaching Institute tomorrow, and reading scriptures. 

This afternoon we had lunch with Sister Schwab and Sister OrMax. With transfers next week, Sister Schwab returns home to Star Valley Wyoming. These two valiant missionaries have been our translators in Chaktomuk Ward for several months. Two weeks may not be enough time to break in someone new. 

After lunch we had to pick up produce from Mama's which she purchased for our missionary lunch Sunday, back to the apartment and find more space in our small fridge, then to the church for a Stake Presidency meeting.  Driving through traffic before 5:00 rush hour made it possible, where 10 minutes later would have taken about twice as long. 

The Stake Presidency, their wives and children wanted to take us out for dinner to thank us for our service in the Stake. We went with them to Tonle Bassac II, a buffet restaurant that we have written about before. The biggest problem with going to a buffet is eating way to much. In the past we have gone at lunch time, the evening the price is a lot more but there is also a bigger selection. They even have the meat, pineapple and vegetables on skewer like Brazilian restaurants that we have been to in Utah. As so many times before, the food was good but the company was even better.  


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Last Apartment Inspections

As our mission winds down we find more things we are doing for one last time. Today was one of those as we made our rounds doing apartment inspections. There is one last apartment to inspect on Tuesday. President and Sister Christensen have emphasized the need to be Deliberate Disciples, including keeping their apartments clean. The apartments are still much better than when we started doing inspections, but the training has been long enough ago that they are slipping a little. They were still good enough that they all earned their donuts. Each apartment was decorated for Christmas, including trees and presents, stockings, and paper snow-flakes and "missionaries" (including name badges) in one apartment. It is such a joy to associate with these wonderful young missionaries.

Next Wednesday, the 28th, is the last transfer of the year, with some of the elders we met at the MTC taking their last long transfer home. The rest of "our" group will finish in February. The group split for this last transfer because of a change in the length of training at the MTC, causing a modification in the schedule of missionaries coming, which also created a modification in arrivals and departures.

Because of inspections we didn't get to the office until after 11:00. When we logged into our computer we found that several of our children had tried to call us. With a 14 hour time difference these would be some late calls for them. Lunch didn't happen until about 1:00, but that was okay.

The most exciting thing today was the delivery of our Christmas present, which we will tell more about after Christmas. There may not be many gifts under our tree, but our hearts are full of love for the amazing friends we have made in this little Kingdom of Cambodia, the Land of Wonder.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Cambodian Wedding In The Morning

We have been to Khmer wedding ring ceremonies (the Church part of the marriage) and receptions before, but until today we had not been to the morning part of a Cambodian Wedding. Hang Ladin is a returned missionary that lives in the Chaktomuk Ward that we have been attending for the last twenty-two months. His bride is a recently returned missionary from the Steung Mean Chey 1st Ward. We were invited to the morning traditional portion of a wedding about a year ago but did not go. This time Sameth, that we work with, encouraged us to go and see what this part of the ceremony was like.

In Phnom Penh few of the streets, other than the main thoroughfares, have street signs. Likewise, most of the buildings and houses do not have their address listed. On top of that we were headed into a part of the city that we were not really familiar. Even with a map a lot of times it is impossible to find the location you are headed for, but we decided to try any how. Needless to say we did get lost, but miraculously we found where we needed to go and we were only a few minutes late.

As with the evening receptions, the bride, groom and wedding party are all dressed up in traditional Khmer outfits which they changed at least once in the hour and a half that we were there. The first part of the gathering was the food parade. Each guest is given a fancy bowl of primarily fruits to carry, then they follow the groom and the wedding party a short distance from the wedding tent. The groom, the wedding party and guests then carry the food to be presented to the brides parents as a dowry for their daughter.

Then everyone sits down for a breakfast of rice porridge. It is a soup with rice, mushrooms, meat and vegetables. We were then invited into a ceremony with the parents in receiving the food brought by the procession. It was a very interesting and educational morning.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Sleepover Across the Hall

Elder and Sister Thurston have 7 family members visiting, and rather than booking a hotel for the short time in Phnom they decided it would be more fun to just have one big sleep-over. We offered our spare room, since we are just across the hall, but instead they borrowed a stack of extra towels, bedding, and the mattress and pillows from the extra room.  This morning as we were almost back from our walk we met Sister Thurston, her sister, and two teenagers heading out on a walk of their own. They are making a quick trip to Battambang and Siem Reap, then will be back to spend Christmas eve and Christmas morning in Phnom Penh. Then the visitors leave for a quick trip to Vietnam, then on to Hawaii. They started with a couple of days in Japan before their arrival in Cambodia. That is really one whirlwind Christmas vacation.

This morning we took Elder and Sister Curtis for a quick trip to Russian Market before they headed back to Kampong Cham. It is always an adventure to find what you are looking for when you don't speak the local language and things seem to be quite random in their layout. The hard part is the disappointed looks from vendors when they try so hard but you still don't buy from them. Many of them have such a large inventory for how little it would appear that they sell.

Our time at the office is being spent wrapping up projects and helping with year-end reports. There are frequently questions brought to us that start with something like, "Since you have lived in the US for so long ....", or "What does this word (or phrase) mean?" Then there are those who visit our desk for the candy dish.

These brave watchdogs were sitting in a basket on a moto during our early morning walk. The chickens were on display along a busy road. This load of workers were headed home about 9:00 at night, some of them holding on so they didn't fall off the load. And on the grill are skewers of bananas. We have tried them before and didn't care for the smoked flavor.

Monday, December 19, 2016

CICFO Orphanage Visit

Almost twenty-two months ago, shortly after we arrived in Cambodia we went with the other Senior Missionaries to CICFO (Cambodian International Children Friend Outreach). It is an orphanage run by a member, Bothevy Keo, that lives in the Phnom Penh North Stake. The interesting thing about orphanages here in Cambodia approximately 85% of the children who live in orphanages have at least one parent that is still alive. The parents are often so poor that they cannot take care of their children so they send them to an orphanage to live. Bothevy is a Khmer Rouge survivor that loves children and wants to help those that are in need. We have been to the orphanage three or four times and each time they put on a show with traditional Khmer dances. Also each time as we arrive and as we leave each one of them has to come and give hugs to everybody. What a great Family Home Evening opportunity for the Christmas season.

This morning we had to make some FaceTime calls with our children who we did not get to talk to last Saturday morning, their Friday night. We spoke to four of our children, two son-in-laws and six of our grandchildren. What a great way to start the week. That meant we were late getting to our office and holding our early morning planning meeting. We not only came late, but we left early to go to the orphanage visit. Elder and Sister Curtis, who serve in Kampong Cham, came down to go to the orphanage as well. One of the missionaries serving in Kampong Cham grew up at the CICFO orphanage so they had a very personal reason why they wanted to go. Since they do not know Phnom Penh very well we invited them to ride with us.

As we look ahead at this week it is already stacking up to be very busy. In fact tomorrow night is the only night that we plan on eating at our apartment, we have something every other day. We feel like we are sprinting as fast as we can to the finish line with a lot to be done before we get on that plane and fly home.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Lok-Taa and Lok Yiay

Sunday again, and each week that goes by brings blessings and opportunities. We feel so blessed to be able to get to know the wonderful members of the Church here in Cambodia. Previously we have shared that we are known as "Lok Taa" and "Lok Yiay" or Grandpa and Grandma. They have become our friends and greet us warmly with such respect. They follow our example as we take a few minutes to tidy the church before meetings.

After Sacrament Meeting in Steung Mean Chey we needed to attend the International English-Speaking Branch for their branch conference. It was good to hear speakers and lessons in English and not have to go through a translator. Between meetings there we happened to meet one of our favorite families who live in another ward in the stake center. Three young adults in this family have been in our Institute class since we started, and the mom is the stake Relief Society president. The mom expressed how sad she will be when we leave, and they want us to visit their home before we leave. We have scheduled a visit for January 2nd.

Christmas is just a week away, we found a couple more trees to post. The Steung Mean Chey building has their tree outside on the front steps. No need to worry about snow on this tree, but it shows they are ready for Christmas. The artificial tree from previous years is looking like an even better option when the fresh-cut trees were tagged as $168.00 at Lucky's yesterday.

Traveling to Steung Mean Chey has always brought interesting photos for our blog. Ladders being carried on a moto are common, but this one looked more like a javelin. Watching how they carry their loads we can only imagine the strength they develop in their arms. The other moto has a large stack of egg crates strapped to his.

One of the other senior couples asked us for photos of motos with a load, which compelled us to go through our files from almost two years in Cambodia. We will have to create a book of just the motorcycle loads. The best have been part of our blog.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Institute, Baptisms and Meetings

Each week we wonder who and how many will show up for the Institute Class that we teach. There are some weeks where they start arriving ten minutes early and others, like today, when the first one shows up just minutes before 7:00 a.m. It is also very interesting to see the mix that are there, some weeks the young sisters show up first and other weeks the YSA males arrive first. Today there were five female and five male as we started teaching the lesson. We had a total of twenty come today, fourteen sisters and six brethren. One of the joys of teaching is when they ask us profound questions. This is literally the first generation of membership of the Church here in Cambodia, so we are teaching them how to bring up the second generation as an Eternal Family. There are some of the YSA sisters who compete to see who can get the most hugs from Sister Oveson at the end of the class. They say they are storing them up for when we go home.

This evening we went to the baptism for two young adults, one from the Chaktomuk Ward, that we attend, and the other from the Tuol Thom Pong Ward. The one from Chaktomuk is a YSA sister that the Sister Missionaries taught, her mother, that is also taking the lessons, came for the baptism. The other baptism is a YSA brother that Elder Maurer and Elder Burnett taught. That was a great birthday present for the two of them, Elder Burnett's birthday was last Saturday and Elder Maurer's birthday is tomorrow.

This morning we only Skyped and FaceTimed with two of our daughters and their families. The others were off with other activities, this is a very busy time back home. We will have to catch the rest on other days.

This afternoon Elder Oveson had to go to Stake Presidency Meeting and Stake Priesthood  Executive Committee Meeting. With the end of the year coming up fast they still need to compllete the Stake goals, calendar and planning for next year. The goals have to be submitted by Tuesday and we are still waiting for some from one of the units. Hopefully we will get them tomorrow.  

Friday, December 16, 2016

16 December '16

During our morning walk we often discuss what we have for the day. Today was unusual compared to our recent calendar schedule because there was nothing on today's schedule. That seemed like a reprieve from our recently over-packed agendas. Nothing on the calendar did not really mean there was nothing to do, it just meant we could focus on some of our "back-burner" projects.

Rain had fallen through the night and it looked like our walk may have to be cancelled. Happily at 5:45 things were wet but the rain had stopped. A big full moon was peeking through the clouds as we headed back home. (The picture doesn't give a true perspective of how big.) Then there was more rain off and on throughout the day, and we heard reports of some flooding in the area of the city we used to live. One reason we are grateful for our current apartment.

There must have been some big event around the Freedom Monument as these barriers are ready to close the street to traffic. At 6:00 a.m. it was a bit surprising to see a large cluster of balloons ready to be sold for the day.

The Tuk-Tuk was actually a mobile Levi's vendor. It is surprising how many such shops we see around town. The Christmas light are in Elder and Sister Thurston's office. Before their mission his Christmas lights display was the one in the neighborhood everyone came to see.

As we left the office this evening we noticed this young man on the back of a moto with his "take-away" dinner of rice.  He was eating his meal on the way. The Moto being the family "car" and he was in the "back seat", he must have been too hungry to wait until he got home.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Service Center Christmas Devotional & Party

When we were released as the Self-Reliance Service Communication Couple earlier this week we figured that things would slow down some, we were wrong. On the day that we were released Chad, the Asia Area Self-Reliance Manager, asked us to still attend the Asia Area Self-Reliance Committee Meeting today. He also asked Sister Oveson to offer the opening prayer and Elder Oveson to prepare a spiritual thought. This is a meeting Chaired by Elder David Evans of the Seventy, so we needed to put in some extra preparation time. That same day Neth (pronounced Night) asked us to give a Christmas "speak" at the Christmas Devotional and Party today.

Sister Oveson started working on the Service Center speak, including a PowerPoint presentation, while Elder Oveson worked on his thought. On Wednesday we found out that they wanted us to give separate talks of five to ten minutes each. We decided to do a combined presentation of about ten minutes instead. We have always enjoyed team teaching versus separate talks. We felt that it went well and hope that it touched some hearts.

Neth figured that we also needed a new picture of the Service Center staff so we all gathered out in the courtyard of the building. That was a perfect opportunity to get our picture for our blog today of the many friends that we work with each day.

After the devotional and a team game it was time for the food. They were told not to go out for the Christmas party this year but to do something smaller at the Service Center. They fired up the bar-b-ques and grilled shrimp, chicken, beef skewers, hotdogs and brats. They also had rice, bread, fruit, salad, etc. Elder Thurston made a full bowl of caramel popcorn bowls to share. It was a fun time to be together.

We feel so blessed to be able to work with and associate with this group of Church employees that are a blessing to the members here in Cambodia.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Electric-City and a Back-up Generator

Cities throughout the world require some source of power to make everything go. That power, or as they call it here "Electric-City" is very important. In spite of how high the electricity rates are there are so many electronic billboards and signs, there are many lighting stores with displays elaborate large chandeliers, and everyone seems to carry smart phones and other digital devices.

With the high demand for electricity there also comes frequent power outages or bumps on the grid. To compensate for the outages all the large newer apartment buildings and businesses have back-up generators.

Over the past several months our posts have shown the progress of construction of the building across from our apartment. Last night about 8:30 or so we could hear some large truck and equipment noises outside. We looked out to see that a large generator had been lifted by a crane from the back of a very large flatbed truck. The work crew manipulated the generator with the help of the crane and a large forklift. The difficulty was moving it into a parking garage with limited clearance considering the size of the unit. The crane would lift enough for men to slide cylinders underneath to help moving it. There came a point where the crane had done all it could, which is when the heavy duty forklift came into the action. After careful nudges, moving the cylinders, and a final nudge, pushing it off the cylinders and far enough into the garage to close the gates, the work was done and one more building will soon be supplied with backup "Electric-City".

This time of year the world takes a moment to reflect upon the "True Light" which needs no backup for those power bumps. Jesus Christ is that True Light and may we help Light The World as we follow Him this Christmas season and throughout the year.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Traffic Signs in Phnom Penh

Over the last twenty-two months we have had to learn a completely different set of rules for driving. We have never seen a real rules for driving in Cambodia" handbook, there are some funny ones about how people really drive. A lot of our drivers education came from Elder & Sister Meinzer just after we arrived here, and we quickly learned he knew what signs meant, but just like the locals he didn't need to follow them. He enjoyed taking us down one way streets the wrong way.

We decided to share some of the signs that we see around the streets of Phnom Penh. The top row of our collage has three different no parking signs. The first one is no parking any time, the next with one I crossed out is no parking on odd days and the last with two II crossed out is no parking on even days. One of the narrow streets that we drive home from the office utilizes the no parking on odd one side and even on the others. It is an attempt to keep traffic flowing on these alleys which can really get tied in knots. The only problem is nobody follows the signs and the police do not enforce the no parking.

On the second row down is a very common sign on the major roads here, no U turn. It is also very common for the major roads to have concrete barriers down the middle to keep traffic from sprawling into the other direction during rush hour. With those barricades in place and a lot of no U turn signs many drivers figure those are for everybody else but not for them. As you can see from the second no U turn sign the only way to prevent this is close off the opening. They do have school crossing signs and Slow Down in English and Khmer.

The bottom sign is on the way to Steung Mean Chey, we know it looks completely normal other than the left turn part where there is absolutely no place to turn left. Needless to say driving here has been a true adventure.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Wise Men Came from the East and Found Christ

The Christmas story includes the narrative that wise men came from the East, and followed the star which led them to the young Christ child. Coupled with that is the saying, "Wise Men Still Seek Him", and one of our favorite scriptures in Jacob 6:12, "O be wise, what can I say more?"

It has been almost 22 months since we left our home in the West and traveled to serve in what is referred to as the Far East in the little country of Cambodia. With about 95% of the population are Buddhist, and Christians make up about 2%. Only about 5% of the Christians in Cambodia are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even with these small numbers we have blessed to see those who seek to live the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Our friend Sameth told us that about 11 years ago after he had finished his mission he wanted to buy a Christmas tree to help remember Christ during the Christmas season. There were very few people who celebrated Christmas at that time. There were not so many Western stores, and it seemed there were no trees to be found. Then he happened to find a tree for sale in a little book store, and the price was over $100. Wages in Cambodia even now make that a difficult price, yet it was important enough that he pulled together enough to buy that tree. He still uses that tree now. Trees and decorations are much more affordable with small trees starting at about $10, and as we drive throughout the city there are many shops with Christmas trees and decorations.

As we spend Christmas in this little country in the Far East we rejoice to see those who are choosing to seek for Christ. We have watched as they have listened to the message of the Gospel, then taken those principles into their lives and started on a path to follow Christ. As they have continued down the path, faithfully learning and growing in testimony, their light has continued to grow brighter, and more people are finding that light in their lives.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Our Last Sunday For Both Three Hour Blocks

It is hard to believe that today is the last Sunday when we will attend the full three hour block of both Wards that we were assigned to visit almost twenty-two months ago. Next week we have been requested to attend the International Branch's annual Branch Conference, so we will go to the Steung Mean Chey 3rd Ward Sacrament Service and then to the Branch at 10:00 a.m. The following week is Christmas and, just like the rest of the world, there is only Sacrament Meeting. Then the Wards change schedules with the New Year, so Steung Mean Chey 3rd Ward will be from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Chaktomuk Ward is from 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. so they overlap.

We have grown to love the wonderful members in both of these Wards and each have their own unique characteristics. The Steung Mean Chey 3rd Ward is in the poorest section of the city and has more families and little children. The Relief Society President and her husband, the Ward Clerk, brought their new little baby to Church for the first time today. We went to their wedding and helped them with arrangements to go to the Hong Kong Temple. It was great to see this little family. The Chaktomuk Ward is made of strong Sisters and Young Adults, with few families. We have shared before that they have two Sunday School classes, Gospel Doctrine which is mainly the older Sisters and Gospel Essentials which is the YSA. We usually go to Gospel Essentials, because that is where we can get translation from the missionaries, and it is a fun class.

Today in the Chaktomuk Ward we got to meet a Sister Missionary, Sister Tao, who had served in Mongolia and was touring with her mom and sister on their way home to Long Beach California. She was born in Cambodia but moved to the U.S. when she was about four. She still has family in Cambodia that they had come to visit. She asked Elder Denkers if he remembered her, they were in the MTC together. We live in a very small world when it comes to the Church. We also saw our new friend Lotus that is from China as she was waiting at the Church for the missionaries to teach her. We hope she gets baptized while we are still here.

Our collage tonight includes a couple of moto loads that we passed on our travels to Steung Mean Chey and decorations at a local Toyota dealership including a Christmas tree made out of the ovals that they use on their logo.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Baptisms, Birthdays, and Saturday Adventures


Saturdays can hardly be called routine. There are similar elements, but each week unfolds with something new. 

The morning started with 21 in attendance at Institute. We highly recommend rising early on Saturday mornings and start the day with gospel discussion.
 
In a blog post on September 25, 2016 we mentioned Augustus who just showed up at Church in Steung Mean Chey 3rd ward, wanting to worship God. He had come to Cambodia from Nigeria in an effort to get a visa to the U.S. to further his education. His questions and desire to learn the gospel were amazing. We gave his contact information to the office elders who serve in the English speaking international branch. Today was his baptism. He testified how the gospel had changed his life. As he arrived at the Church for the baptismal service someone driving by on a moto snatched his phone from his pocket and was gone. He was concerned, but never angry. We assured him that was just stuff, but the blessings he received today no one could take from him. He is pretty amazing!

We also had a request from Elder Burnett's mom to wish him happy birthday if we saw him this weekend. Someone was looking out for that request because as we were just leaving after the baptism we came across Elder Burnett and his companion, Elder Maurer. It turns out next week is Elder Maurer's birthday, so both appreciate the birthday wishes.

This afternoon we went in search of a little shop Sister Thurston had told us about. We never found the shop, but the "Delikat Gelato" was delicious! The mom driving a moto with her baby strapped in a pack is a rare find, but unfortunately there are too many children carrying an infant into traffic, counting on the sympathy of the motorists to give them money.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Light The World - Just Visited The Lonely

Before we came to Cambodia we were able to meet with the previous Perpetual Education Fund couple who had been home for about four months. They left just as Self-Reliance Services was being rolled out here in Asia and Phanna and Sameth were hired as Church Employees. They shared some of the things which they did while they were here and told us a little bit about the people and the country. They did share that they had a favorite restaurant that they went to way too often, Mama's New York Deli on Street 63. It did not take us long to find Mama's or to put it on our favorite list as well.

We have been following the LDS Church Advent calendar about Lighting the World each day this month, today's message was about visiting the lonely. In talking with Mama she is a widow that moved back to Phnom Penh from New York City after her husband past away. Mama is probably in her 80s, based on what she has told us, and she missses her grandchildren that are still in the U.S., so we decided to go there for dinner. She always loves to see us and Sister Oveson always gets big hugs before we leave.

Today was one of those interesting days at the office. We did go in about 7:30, but we only stayed until 9:45 when we went home for a Skype call. We stayed home long enough to eat lunch, but by time we went back Phanna was gone for the day and Sameth took today off. Needless to say our corner of the office was very quiet. We were able to wrap up somethings that we had on our list to do today before we called it a day as well.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Blessed With More Than Enough

The past two years have been a real learning process. Even in years past when money was scarce, we always had plenty to eat, fresh water to drink, and a warm home to live in.

Cambodia is considered a 3rd world country where poverty is very evident in the faces and lives of the people. Add to that the struggle of a drought that has at times eliminated the crops that would provide food for many families for the year, much of the water supplies reduced to puddles, and the homes may simply be a simple roof to protect from the sun and rain.

In these humble circumstances there is often great needs, including hunger. The Thurstons, the LDS Charities couple, along with two other of the senior couples and several young missionaries participated in a food distribution to about 130 families. Each received 25 kg of rice, noodles, fish sauce, and oil. It was amazing how they were able to load the food and the people on their bicycles or motos to take it home. There is a picture of this food all loaded in a big truck in our blog a couple of days ago. There will be more rice distributions in the near future, both will be about 10 times as big as this one.

This evening Elder and Sister Thurston joined us for dinner. We ventured to make veggie lasagna in our toaster oven, and it turned out very good. We are feeling blessed as we, even here, have enough to eat, clean running water, a safe home to live in, and friends and neighbors to share the good times with.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A Look At Our Missionary Life

Both sets of our parents served as Senior Missionary Couples while our families was growing up. Back then there was no internet and we had to wait for what is now called snail mail. They served in the U.S., one in Nevada and another in Alaska, and drove (and ferried) their family car to their field of service. Each faced their own challenges but made it through all eighteen months that they were called to serve.

Fast forward almost forty years and it is still hard to comprehend the missions that they served. With that in mind, tonight we want to share some of the things that we do on our mission.

We live in a ten story apartment building that is fairly new and comfortable. Since we are in Asia we have to get use to their idea of comfortable. For generations the people of Cambodia have slept on woven mats on the floor, so even their mattresses now are extremely hard. That likewise translates into their sofas and chairs and even their benches at Church, no padding at all.

There are five or six grocery stores in Phnom Penh that cater to Westerners, so we can find a lot of different foods that we like. The main problem is that when you see something that you like you have to buy several because there is a good chance it will not be there next time.

Our normal working day is from about 7:30 a.m. until about 5:00 p.m. and most of that time is spent at the Church Service Center office. We are the support staff for the Cambodian employees that need to take the lead. Our goal is to have them so competent that as we go home they will be fine without us. On Sunday we are assigned to attend the full three hour blocks of two wards, which does not include commute time. Saturdays are also full with teaching Institute and various meeting.

It is easy to say that our mission has been extremely busy and very rewarding. We feel like we have, and still are, making a difference. There are challenges, but the rewards are fantastic.

Our collage tonight includes Elder Oveson's and Phanna's visit to a local banking school. Another picture of someone asleep in a position that cannot be comfortable. And riding on the back of a cart keeping ahold of a pane of glass.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"Take Time to be Holy"

One of the sweet treats we have been enjoying is "Dove Promises" our daughters brought when they came to visit. One message we often read is "Hit snooze ... x5".  We are rarely still asleep for the alarm to sound even once. This morning was one of the rare times we waited to get up until the alarm sounded.

There is a LDS Charities project we were invited to this week which we had to decline. There will be a truckload of rice, fish sauce, and other items delivered and distributed in Kampong Thom on Wednesday or Thursday. We are feeling the deadline creeping closer and still have projects we need to complete, not to say anything of being double booked on Wednesday already. There still may be another rice distribution we can participate in in a couple of weeks.

In a message from our home bishop he shared words of a hymn, "Take Time To Be Holy" by William D. Longstaff.
Take time to be Holy, speak oft with thy Lord.
Abide in Him always and feed on His word.
Make friends of God’s children, help those who are weak, Forgetting in nothing His blessing to seek.
 We encourage each of you to take time to speak with the Lord often, read His words, and recognize His blessings in your life. Throughout this Christmas Season remember Christ and all He has done for each of us. This is what makes this "The most wonderful time of the year!"

Monday, December 5, 2016

Our Many Favorite Missionaries

This morning we were on our walk again before the sun was up. As we approached Independence Monument we saw four runners coming that looked like they maybe missionaries. Sure enough it was the Assistants to the President and Office Elders out for their morning jog. It is always great to see friends in the morning.

We are not suppose to have favorites, but at times there are those who you feel a special bond and are closer to than others. That is also true as we work with the young Elders and Sisters, each are wonderful and have been willing to sacrifice as they put their lives on hold for eighteen to twenty-four months. Still there are times that you feel that some need a little more love and attention than others right then.

There was a set of Sisters from Steung Mean Chey that were not able to attend the Thanksgiving gathering because of illness. We have always really enjoyed both of these Sisters anyway. So we asked them if they would like to go to lunch on their Preparation Day. Last week Sister Winder, that had been ill, was still not up to lunch, so we put it off for a week. Sister Clark is one of the kindest and most dedicated missionaries that we have met. Today we went out and picked them up and took them to Brooklyn Pizza and Bistro for lunch. On our way to Steung Mean Chey we passed a Tuk Tuk full of boys headed to or from school.

It feels like our time in the office is a continual whirlwind of things that need to be done. We are so grateful for the opportunity to be busy in so many way. There are still projects that we are working on to help with the hand off of our various assignments. One of those handoffs happens a week from tomorrow, so we have a week to put the final polish on our projects.

As we were leaving the Distribution Center to head home, two more of our favorite Sister Missionaries were there, Sister Schwab and Sister Ormax. With the Christmas Tree as the backdrop they had to be added to our collage tonight.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Even On Sunday

We made it to both of our assigned Wards and stayed for the entire blocks. It seems like more and more that is the exception instead of the norm. 

Previous couples warned us to make sure to take lots of photos the first six months of your mission because everything seems commonplace after that. Our daily photos have happened for almost 22 months now, and we have to admit there are times it is hard to remember to pull out the camera, and other picture material is just gone too fast for the camera shutter even with it on and in our hand. There are still new things to shake our heads at. It can also be difficult to put into words some of those extraordinary things we see, but we try.

Over the past few months there have been changes to the center barriers on some of the major roads through the city. The old metal dividers were removed, new pavement surface applied to the road, and new concrete sections put in place. These will soon be painted with yellow and black arrow stripes indicating the direction traffic should flow. (It hasn't stopped people from driving the wrong way down the road.)

Last night as we looked out we saw a sliver of a moon close to a very bright star. It is times like this that we wish for the camera we left home instead of the iPhone for the photo. The other camera just wouldn't fit into our pocket quite so well.

Today was our weekly trip to Steung Mean Chey for Church. There is one particular corner that the children beggar group congregates. Today there was a lineup of about eight children, all between age 8 and 10, and each carrying infants out into the traffic to up the sympathy factor for contributions to their pockets. We are quite confident someone else gets the money.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Preparation Moments, Not Day

We continue to be amazed by the group that comes to the Institute Class that we have the privilege to teach each week. There is a core group of about fourteen and then another twelve to fourteen that make it off and on. Today we had twenty that made it for the class. At times there are part of the core group that have to drop out, mainly because of work or school. Last week one of the male YSA that has been a core strength for the last twenty months let us know that he has a new job and cannot come in the future. But today we had a new recently returned missionary that came for the first time that we hope will become a strong part of that core going forward.

We count Saturday as our Preparation Moment (since it is never a Preparation Day). We still get to talk with most of our family after Institute. This morning as we called, Wendy's oldest two boys were at Becky's, Wendy and Spencer was gone to a Christmas Party, Janeene and her family were in Park City for a stay at a condo, Brenda was dog sitting for Janeene, and Marla was at home. Those Skype and FaceTime calls are so important we try hard to avoid conflicts as much as possible.

After a quick trip to the grocery store and lunch Elder Oveson had to go to the Stake Meetings. It is amazing how many people come up and ask him where Sister Oveson is when he goes into the Stake Center. The Stake President was out of town, but asked the rest of the Presidency to meet to work on the yearend goals and calendar. Some progress was made, but they need to be turned in by the 20th of this month. There was also a Stake Priesthood Executive Meeting to get the High Council involved in the process.

Sister Oveson is always equally busy at home, writing our weekly letter to friends and family, Crock Pot cooking part of the meal for tomorrow, ironing shirts and taking care of things around the apartment. That is the only way that we are able to get everything done with the rest of our schedule. It is great to be busy and to try to make a difference here in this little part of the kingdom.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Seasons and Neighbors

The season changes in Cambodia are not quite the same as back home. There are no brilliant autumn leaves covering the trees, or snow covered mountains and meadows. One thing we have seen in the gradual change in the time the sun rises and sets. Cambodia is close enough to the equator that the variance is fairly small, but our walks recently begin in the dark, and the sun sets just before 6:00.

Christmas season has been helped along by our neighbors, Elder and Sister Thurston. They have decked out their apartment with much more flare than we have done. They knocked on our door last night to invite us to come see their lights. The rest of our apartment building may be dark, but it has become easy to spot the Thurston's apartment from the street. And as a gift they shared a new fruit with us called a wood apple. It is about the size of a small coconut and about as hard. We have yet to crack it open and taste it, but we were warned it might taste about like sawdust.


After spending our day working on our several projects we went out on a few errands. One of those errands was Sister Oveson's final haircut in Cambodia. We couldn't help but notice the extra setting on the back of the moto. Maybe it is their version of a side saddle? We also went past an interesting sign which, when our daughters were here, Marla "translated" for Brenda. Her interpretation was that if they peel away the trash and pollution they can reveal a clean beautiful world.

Our plans for dinner changed when the restaurant we intended to visit was closed for another hour, so we checked with the Thurstons. They were making plans to introduce Elder and Sister Dowd to a restaurant we had been interested in trying, so we tagged along, taking a couple of Tuk Tuks to Mexicana.  It was excellent food and great company.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Advent Calendar - Light the World

As our children grew up the schools and various groups that they were in had fund raisers. Often those fund raiser would focus around the Christmas season and would include an Advent Calendar that would count down the days from December 1st to Christmas. The calendar would have a little flap for each day that they would open to find a chocolate treat.

This year The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has invited the world to join us as we honor Jesus Christ by following His example of sharing light and love. Since a new star first appeared above Bethlehem, Christmas has been a season of light, reminding us that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. Together, we can celebrate His birth by making the world a brighter place. All we have to do is follow Him - His life, His example, and His teachings. In doing so, we can help Light the World.

On the LDS Church websites at LDS.Org or Mormon.org is a link to a different kind of advent calendar that counts down the days with short videos, teachings and challenges. We opened the first day of the calendar as we started our day today and accepted the challenge to make a difference. We invite you to likewise help light the world.

We had a very busy day including two scheduled Skype calls with Self-Reliance Service Missionaries, helping Phanna and Sameth with projects, and wide variety of everyday assignments. Our first Skype call was with Sister Roberts in Hong Kong, which is always a joy. After visiting with her she told us a friend wanted to say hello, Lynn Beckstead, one of Elder Oveson's former clients. We spent another half hour on Skype with him. Phanna wanted to work some more on the 2017 calendar, Sister Oveson had started a calendar for him several months ago but now it December so we need to get serious about it. This afternoon we had a Skype call with Sister Ricks in Thailand. Elder Ricks had gone with their daughter and son-in-law to the airport to see them off, they had been visiting since Thanksgiving. We also worked on our Institute lesson and our normal daily projects.