We finally got permission to go over to Kwajalein Army base in December, thanks to the sponsorship of Dr. Skinner. The ferry ride takes only 15-20 minutes from Ebeye, but it seems like a lifetime away especially when you can't get access to get on the base. There are no cars allowed on the base (except for army vehicles), so everyone gets around by bicycle. I love it! People riding bikes everywhere. It is a very spread out, peaceful and green island. Much different than the crowded island of Ebeye that we are used to! Mike went snorkeling with Dr. Skinner and Dr. Sok while I decorated cookies with the women and girls of the Branch. They were making Christmas baskets to give away. They had a few extra cookies, so the missionaries scored as we shared the cookies with them at our weekly District Meeting that week.
|look, a giant Christmas tree with ornaments!|
|Kwaj Young Women ready to decorate cookies|
|Kwajalein church members. I love Skinner's palm Christmas tree in the back! I want one! It takes up no room, and looks cool.|
|Hilary Whatcott and Skinners|
|the master cookie decorators at work|
|beautiful decorated cookies!|
On our next visit to Kwaj (short for Kwajalein) on Sunday, December 22nd we went over so we could attend their church meetings and meet all the members. They meet in a small building there on Kwaj, but plenty big enough for the 25 or so members! They had a few visitors that day, so I think we actually had about 30 of us in attendance! They had a wonderful Sacrament meeting centered on Christ and Christmas. We were their main speakers that day. Diane Elliot read a poem, the Primary children sang "Away In A Manger", Samantha Tippetts read a story, and then Peter and Florence Parker sang a song and played the guitar.
Our talks were about our favorite Christmas memory, so our thoughts went back to our Christmas family trip to Italy in 2005. Lisa talked about events leading up to our trip, how we had previously picked up our children from their respective missions (Tabitha in Florianopolis Brazil, Nick in Riga Latvia, and now Brandon was finishing up in Rome Italy). All of their missions had overlapped in time, so it had been five or so years since we had all been together. Our four children are all close in age, so at that time their ages ranged from 20 - 25, none of them yet married (although Tabitha was getting close). Lisa planted the idea that Italy would be a great place for a reunion and to spend Christmas together as Brandon would finish up his mission just days before Christmas. And it would be another great opportunity for a missionary experience. We were able to see first hand as we had picked up Tabitha and Nick how they had affected the lives of the people they served with in their areas. The love the people had for our children was evident in every home and in every land we visited. The trip to Italy was an idyllic Christmas, spent together without presents, just each other. It reminded me of the Grinch on Christmas morning, when he said, "It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags." We had no presents to exchange, just our love and the wonderful company of one another in that beautiful land of Italy.
Mike then talked about his conversion story to the LDS church. First he spoke about being raised Catholic, and of the strong Catholic people in his family. Family is everything to him as he comes from a large family of 14 children (he is #11). He then spoke about going to Italy, and of traveling around that beautiful country with our children surrounding us once again. How on that fateful Christmas Eve, standing in the middle of St. Peter's square, while the Pope talked on the big screen, this devout Catholic man decided that he wanted to be with his wife and children for time and all eternity. The words "till death do you part" were not good enough for him. These thoughts were shared with Lisa and the children, and upon our return to the states he took the discussions in the Boise Idaho Mission home (as requested by Brent Ririe, the current Mission President) and was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on February 4, 2006 (2-04-06). Our son, Nick, baptized him and then he was confirmed by our other son, Brandon. One year later, on March 10, 2007, we were sealed as husband and wife for time and all eternity in the Boise Idaho temple. Then we were sealed to our five children. Our son-in-law, Matt, stood in as proxy for our son, Shawn Michael, who had died as an infant. Now we were a complete and eternal family. Lisa's lifelong dream had finally come to fruition. As a side note: It was because of those missionary experiences with our children that we decided that it was now our turn to serve a mission.
After church we had a lovely dinner with the Tippetts family. They talked us into staying at Kwaj until evening so we could experience Scuba Santa! We visited with the members until sundown when it was time for the Santa experience. John Tippetts, their teen-age son, got to don his scuba gear and participate as one of his elves. First a live Christmas tree is brought through the lagoon by Santa's elves, and then Santa makes his arrival flanked by more elves.
|The Christmas tree starts to emerge out of the ocean!|
|Here comes the Christmas tree, flanked by scuba elves|
|And there is the official Santa Christmas tree! Decorated with colorful glow sticks. And yes, it is a real live pine tree. They must've brought it from the North Pole, because those are hard to find around here!|
|Santa's light under the water!|
|Santa and his elves coming up out of the water|
|Santa with his group of elves|
|Santa walking up on the beach|
|Santa greeting the kids|
|Watching Santa with Alison Sok and SamanthaTippetts, Elder Becker and Dr. Skinner talking behind the bench|