Dear Family and Friends,
I am going to take the opportunity today to let you all know what Christmas service projects we were able to do because of all of the things that were given to us by you. THANK YOU ALL for everything you did. Every service was wonderful, not only for the people who received the help but also for the missionaries. Thank you for being patient with me in getting this letter back to you. Ed and I were only home 8 days in the month of December and most of those days were spent getting things organized for the service projects. This week we have spent gathering new missionaries from the MTC here in Guatemala – (they are WONDERFUL!) and saying good bye to 19 of our missionaries who have completed their missions – a PAINFUL experience for me! I would like to have every missionary stay here with us until we go home, welcoming all of the new ones that we can get. But I think that I would rather ask President Monson for extensions for our missionaries than ask their Mothers. I would not like to ask President Monson though so you can guess how much I would NOT like to ask the Mothers! Anyway, it is busy – as always – here in the Mission and I do appreciate your patience.
Before I get into the specifics of the service projects, let me tell you that we had 76 missionaries who did not receive any gift from home this year. However, we were able to put together something for each one of them. Each of them received A LOT of candy, granola bars, etc., razor, toothbrush and toothpaste, socks, jerky, a tie for the Elders and a little hair thing for the Hermanas. They were all thrilled! I know that some of the parents of our missionaries also sent an extra package for the companion of their son or daughter. Thank you for thinking of them. It is difficult to not have anything when your companion does. We have one Elder who has NEVER received a gift before for ANY reason so thank you for making this possible for all of them.
Our goal this year for the service projects was to do something that would help the missionaries connect with the people and the communities that they live in. We wanted to find some service activities that would allow them the opportunity to work with “people” not “dirt.” (Although we also think that “dirt” service projects are important too!) Heavenly Father truly directed us to find a service project for each area. Each project was different, but I really cannot choose one that I felt was more significant than another. The rule for each of the projects was to forget about themselves and bless someone else. Every missionary did this.
Our first project was in San Jeronimo in the Baja Verapaz Valley at an orphanage with 93 children. The children range in age from 1 year old to 18. We started together by singing Christmas songs, with Elder Nelson accompanying us on the little piano keyboard. We sang most of the songs in Spanish and then sang a few (At the suggestion of one of our Latino Elders) in English. We then played the game Fruit Basket with the missionaries and the children. It did not take long for the smiling and the squealing to begin! After the group activity we broke into smaller groups so that the missionaries could get to know the children on a more personal basis because they were responsible to choose the gifts for the children they were interacting with. The bags with the little cars, the teddy bears, stuffed rabbits and other stuffed animals, the action figures and army guys, the yoyos, the bugs and dinosaurs, the dolls, the journals and jacks, balls, EVERYTHING were just so much appreciated and loved! We had asked the people at the orphanage what the children needed or what we might do to help them and they told us that all of the children needed socks. We put together bags that had socks, a toothbrush; a Christmas pencil, (thanks Misty!), fruit snacks and candy in them and then the missionaries choose something that the child they had gotten to know would like. We were able to buy some beautiful pictures of the Savior from the Distribution Center and so each child received one of those too. We gave everyone their gifts, sang a song and then left. One little guy said that he had NEVER had his own toothbrush. I can still see the happy little faces of the children, young and old, but they did not outshine the happy faces of our missionaries. They were magnificent!
Our second project was in Chulac in the Polochic Valley. The Polochic does not have an orphanage or a retirement home, but they have significantly other needs. This is the area where the people still cook on open pit fires. Many of the people that live here have burns and infections from cuts and more serious wounds. The very first time Ed and I traveled to meet our missionaries in July, a young woman stopped us and told us the she was expecting a baby, but that she was sick and could not get the medicine. The medicine was not in the Polochic Valley. In November we saw a little 4 year old downs syndrome girl with a serious burn on her neck. All that the family had to treat it with was raw egg. If the medicine can be found in the Polochic it is VERY expensive for the people there. We found out that it is also very expensive here in the Capitol. We thought that the best service project for the missionaries in the Polochic to participate in was to help put together simple first aid kits. We found that the Church had some supplies of donated medical things that we needed that was just sitting in an unfinished building in Senahu so we were able to get some of those supplies. With other money that was donated by several of you we were able to buy supplies to make 55 big first aid kits (2 per missionary) for the missionaries to take to the Branch Presidents or other responsible leader in the Branch, 220 (8 per missionary) medium kits for the missionaries to give to people that they were aware of that might need the kits and then 100 (4 per missionary) small kits with band aides, etc. The big kits contained soap, gauze, several different kinds and sizes of band aides, tape, Antibiotic cream for infection, burn cream, anti-fungal cream, Ibuprofen, acetaminophen, a thermometer, plastic gloves, and ace wraps. We also put a 5 x 7 picture of the Savior in each kit. The missionaries were given instructions about the supplies that they were giving to others so that they could explain and help where needed. I just got a picture this week of a family that Hermana Westenskow gave her first aid kit to. It was a little family of a Mother, Father and four little children. Thank you to all who donated toward this project, I think it will bless the lives of families living in the Polochic.
The third project that we were able to participate in was with all of the Elders and Hermanas in the Capitol. We had about 100 missionaries participate in this activity. We took the items that you gave us and every missionary thought of a family, a member, or investigator that did not have anything for Christmas or that needed something a little more. They each wrote their testimony and message on a card and then chose items specifically for the people they were thinking of. It was so fun to watch them carefully select the item(s) that they thought would be just right for someone else. We had a picture of the Savior, candy, etc. for them to add to the bags and then that night, December 23rd, (Joseph Smith’s birthday); they each delivered their gift to their chosen person or family. I have heard back from several of the missionaries and besides the phone call from home, this was their favorite part of the Christmas season this year. Our missionaries serve and pray and work with the people who live here and so the gift that they were able to give was not only given with your love but with theirs as well. Thank you.
The fourth project was a service project in San Benito, Petén. (This is Elder Smith's current area of assignment.) We had this activity on December 27th because of all of the meetings, Christmas Conferences and trainings held in December. We could not get to all of the places before Christmas. However, the missionaries were good sports about this and I thought that it just helped the season last a little bit longer. In Petén we were able to go to a Rest Home that houses about 90 people, around 70 men and 20 women. It is run completely by volunteers so you can guess that they need a little help. When asked what they might need, they told us that they needed food – just basic food. We were able to buy eggs, flour, beans, rice and powdered milk for them. When we got to the Home the missionaries helped us put together bags with socks, Chap Stick, razors, some smaller pictures of the Savior and some candy in each one. The missionaries then made sure that each person got a bag. The best part though was the time we each were able to spend with the residents there. They were wonderful. Some of our Q’eqchi speaking missionaries found a couple of people who spoke Q’eqchi and spent some time with them. We even met a couple who had just gotten married and they were both in their 90s. Before we left, we lined up in the hallway every other one facing opposite of each other so that we could see each person as we sang some Christmas hymns to them. It was wonderful and the Spirit was so strong. After we finished singing all of the little residents clapped. Our 4 Q’eqchi speaking Elders sang a Christmas song to our two new Q’eqchi friends. I loved seeing each missionary spending one on one time with each resident and I will never forget the sight of one of our missionaries holding the hand and talking to an older man who was in a wheelchair and was unable to move or speak. Thank you for helping to make this possible.
With all of these activities and all of the effort and money that each of you went to, I keep thinking about the part of the baptismal covenant which tells us that part of the covenant is to “bear one another’s burdens.” This you truly did this Christmas season. Not only did you help the people of Guatemala and our missionaries but you helped ALL of us be a little less homesick as we found ourselves lost in the gift of thinking about someone else. Thank you.
Well, this is long enough – SORRY!! I cannot express enough thanks for all that you have done in English or Spanish! Thank you, each one, for your kindness and generosity and once again, to those of you who are parents of our missionaries, Ed and I LOVE THEM DEARLY!!! We will forever be blessed because we have been privileged to know and serve with them. We hope that you have a wonderful, blessed New Year!
Love you, Hermana Watts
For more pictures, please click on the slideshow on the right sidebar titled "Christmas Service Projects 2011."