Icy sheep and robed candles

2013 is almost over! We can’t believe we have been here for over 5 months now. We finally had one night below freezing, with ice on the windshield in the morning. But it has been in the 50’s since then, and most days have been sunny. A crazy thing happened at the temple this past week — a huge flock of sheep came pouring in through the open gates and finally found a patch of lawn that wasn’t chemically treated. Workers at the temple called the police, and found that a flock of 72 sheep had been stolen a week earlier, at quite some distance. Pretty soon the shepherd and his dogs showed up, said the sheep transporter was on its way, and started gathering the sheep. Within 20 minutes they were all gone. The shepherd counted 70, so he lost 2 — either lost or kept by the criminals.

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Orpington district missionaries — Elder Pulman (Wales), Elder Murdock (Alpine, Utah), Elder and Sister Young, Sister Draper (Laverkin, Utah), Sister Finch (England)

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A bus passing the ward chapel, advertising (yes, British spelling) the Book of Mormon musical

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Some of our Maidstone Stake young single adults, Sister Turner (Stake Institute Coordinator), Brother Bleakley (High Councilman over YSA)

Elder Young got us tickets to see his favorite composer/conductor, John Rutter, for his annual Christmas concert. Sister Young was ready to indulge her husband in three hours of choir music — but was pleasantly surpised that the time sped by quickly. Well-known carols, a Finnish lullaby, music by famous composers, and music from fairy tales was joined by audience singing sections. Sister Young is proud to announce that she has sung in Royal Albert Hall in London! The best part was singing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah. The words were in our program, and hundreds of people singing meant you could belt it out and not worry too much about being off key or a bit flat on the high A’s!

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The children’s choir from St Alban’s joined the adult choir, entering with red robes and lit candles. They sang very nicely for their own songs and then with the sopranos when everyone sang. After the interim break, there was a quiz sessions, with John Rutter leading the orchestra in a few bars of a familiar movie theme that included a male or female name. He said he had been suggesting names to William and Kate (they named the future king “George”). Then he asked the audience a question about the movie/music/actors and the first to answer correctly received a CD of his music. Another fun part was a concoction he wrote of Christmas carols but the underlying rhythm was from another piece — for example, Jingle Bells done in 2/4 time sounded like a waltz, and the percussion playing William Tell Overture (the Lone Ranger music) was paired with the violins playing “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”. It was fantastic! The last special part was in memoriam for Nelson Mandela, and the mezzo soprano soloist did a beautiful rendition of Kumbaya with the orchestra.
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Royal Albert Hall decorated for the Christmas concert. This round building with a dome was constructed on the South Kensington estate of Prince Albert in 1871.

In the Christmas spirit…

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Nativity scene on the grounds of London Temple; 400 people attended the “switch-on” of the holiday lights. It was cold but clear and wonderful. The Britannia YSA choir sang carols.

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Hahn/Cock is a sculpture of a giant blue cockerel by the German artist Katharina Fritsch. It was unveiled in London’s Trafalgar Square on 25 July 2013. The fibreglass work stands 15.5 ft high and will stay on display for 18 months. We went into London to see the play Phantom of the Opera in the original theatre where it began — Her Majesty’s Theatre. It was amazing, and very well done in a very small stage.

We had a wonderful Zone Conference with visiting authorities Elder Texeira and Elder Herbertson and their wives. At one point Elder Texeira wanted to make an analogy about cowboys of the western US, and he asked how many in the audience were from the western half of the US. Over 3/4ths of the audience raised their hands! I think all with raised hands were surprised that there were so many. Our district has one elder from Wales and a sister from England, and the other 4 are from the US.

While reading a new book from Sheri Dew, “Women and the Priesthood”, we were pleased to find a description of our own Sister Sahar Qumsiyeh, who works in the mission office. She is from Palestine and is the only missionary that has come from that country. She gave a fireside a few months ago and shared her story. She went through so much in her life and then found the gospel when she received a scholarship to BYU. She returned home and became the Relief Society President in Jerusalem. It was hard to visit all the sisters with the wall separating the areas, so she found a job with the United Nations that gave her a pass through the wall. (She also has a PhD in Statistics!)

Our weather is colder but seems to be warmer than yours! We average upper 30s lower 40s and about half the time it is sunny. The biggest change is the sun, which rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest, never getting very high in the sky. It also sets before 4:00! That makes it really hard on the missionaries when it is dark so early. However, we are working with two families of six, and various other investigators. Last night we had a wonderful, well-attended, Christmas fireside. Elder Young sang We Three Kings with two other men; both of us sang O Little Town of Bethlehem with the young elders and sisters, and we had a wonderful time. The decorations were exquisite, including a full professional backdrop of 10-foot high black wool with pulsing star lights. It really helped set the Christmas spirit, and was a wonderful sharing event for friends and family. We met many new people. We miss our family and friends back home, but know this is where we need to be right now. We have completed 5/23 of our mission (how’s that for an awkward fraction?) and are fairing the winter well. Merry Christmas to all!