Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009 (Christmas Eve)

We were up early to do our shopping for tomorrow morning’s brunch with all of the office Elders. Our first stop was at “The Pastry” bakery. We bought some great sweets for us to eat after the brunch. This is the bakery that bakes the “Pan Sobado” we had for lunch on the 19th. It’s a very dense and soft bread. Each loaf is about the size of submarine sandwich bread but with a very soft crust. Next we went to Jumbo to finish our grocery shopping.

We only worked a half day at the office and then we headed home to clean, cook and set up for the brunch.

This evening we were invited over to Christmas Eve dinner with Pres. & Hna. Almonte at the Mission Home. Also invited were the Capital AP’s, Elder & Hna. Finlayson, Elder & Hna. Roberts, as well as Fred & Tracy Thacker and their 4 sons. We started off by singing several Christmas Hymns accompanied by Hna. Roberts on the piano. The Dinner was traditional Dominican Fare and it was wonderful as was the whole evening. In spite of a language barrier we enjoyed each other’s company, told stories and took pictures. It was a delightful and warm Christmas Eve with the Almonte’s.

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Elder Fred Thacker and his companion Elder Peterson were serving in the city of La Vega, Dominican Republic in 1987; about 10 years after the island nation had been dedicated for the preaching of the gospel. They were tracting door to door when they happened upon the home of Juan & Victoria Almonte.

The Almonte family was in a state of crisis. Their business enterprises were failing, they argued and fought over their situation and there was the real possibility of divorce. Hna. Almonte had been praying that morning for help and guidance with her situation and with her family.

With the knock on the door by the two Elders, Hna. Almonte would normally have turned them away but this time she let them in. She listened to their message and an appointment was made when her husband and family could be there for the first lesson with the Elders.

Lessons were given, the spirit testified of the truth and the Almonte’s knew without a doubt that what the Elders had brought to their home was the true church of Jesus Christ restored in these latter days. Their baptism would be a special day for them to enjoy and remember but there was a problem. The Almonte’s had not been to church yet. Before a new convert can be baptized they must attend church.

The Almonte’s were enthusiastic and eager to join the church but each Sunday morning they would pack up their family and head to grandma’s house and a standing invitation for a large family gathering there. During each of the missionary’s lessons they would say they would go to church the following Sunday but old habits die hard. So every Sunday they would forget their promise to the Elders and leave for grandma’s house bright and early.

Elder Thacker and Elder Peterson knew the Almonte family wanted to go to church but their Sunday morning tradition was too overpowering for them to remember. So the Elder hatched a plan. The next Sunday morning at 7:00am they went to the Almonte home surrounded with an 8 ft. wall topped with glass shards and razor wire. They climbed on top of a parked car next to the wall. They managed to get over the razor wire and jump down into the front court yard below.

The Almonte’s were very surprised to hear someone knocking at their door at 7:00am. Discovering the two Elders at their front door the Almonte’s assured them that this Sunday they would definitely go to church and they would see them there. But Elder Thacker and Elder Peterson were not taking any chances. They stayed with the Almonte’s the rest of the morning and went with them to church at 9:00am.

In Juan Almonte’s words, “We have never missed a Sunday since.” And now the legacy of that day lives on. Not only did the Almonte family join the church but many of their extended family as well. Juan Almonte became Elder Quorum President then Branch President and then the First Stake President of the La Vega Stake where he served for ten years. In 2008 he became the first native Dominican to be called as a Mission President. Today Pres. Juan E. Almonte presides over a mission of nearly 200 Elders, Sisters and Senior couples. He is a Spiritual giant as he leads, teaches and inspires. He is a great mission president.

Young missionaries serve their missions then go home to lands far away and often wonder if their work has made a difference in the lives of the people they taught. Yes Elder Thacker and Elder Peterson, you did make a difference in the lives of one very good family in La Vega. That single family has brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to thousands and has influenced the lives of tens of thousands more.

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Dear Family and Friends,

On this Christmas Eve we can’t help but think of the Savior at this special time of the year. He is the reason for the season. I recall last year’s December issue of the Ensign and the First Presidency’s message “The Best Christmas Ever.” Pres. Monson said: “Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. Enemies are forgiven, friends remembered, and God obeyed. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than things. To catch the real meaning of the “spirit of Christmas,” we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the “Spirit of Christ.”

One of our favorite family Christmas traditions we enjoy is Christmas morning “Brunch” for all of the family hosted by Hna. Johnson’s parents Jim and Betty Burk. This year our family is far away but we still have them in our hearts and in our prayers. Hna. Johnson and I will continue the tradition here in the Dominican Republic. But instead of having our family near us we will have our new family, all 6 of the office Elders, over at our apartment for Christmas morning brunch.

Hna. Johnson and I are truly blessed. Not because of the presents we receive for Christmas but because we have the love of family and friends to enjoy and share at this beautiful time of the year when we commemorate the birth of the Savior. Especially this year as we serve the Lord and His children here in the Dominican Republic we know we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, where we are supposed to be and when we are supposed to.

At this special season of the year when we commemorate the birth of the Savior, may you and your family find happiness, piece and joy as you celebrate His birth. And may you have a safe and prosperous New Year.

Elder and Hna. Johnson

PS. I can’t begin to tell you in this brief letter what we’ve been doing in the Dominican Republic while we’ve been serving our mission. So I hope you can take a few minutes and follow us as we serve on our blogspot: davidypam.blogspot.com

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