Us Seniors

Elder et Soeur Arn & Jody

Tuesday, December 25


If it could be called a “Christmas Tree” at all, the account of this tree was over 2,600 years ago. A young man sat pondering in his heart a story told to him by his father. It is a story of a vision that his father had of a very special tree. The young man wanted to see what his father had seen. As he sat pondering upon this, the spirit of the Lord came upon him and asked him what he wanted. He said that he wanted to see the things that his father had seen. The spirit asked him if he believed that his father had seen this tree of which he had spoken. Then the young man replied, “Yea, thou knowest that I believe all the words of my father.” The spirit then cried aloud saying: “Hosanna to the Lord, the most high God; for he is God over all the earth, yea, even above all. And blessed art thou… because thou believest in the Son of the most high God; wherefore, thou shalt behold the things which thou hast desired.”

He was then told that he would behold the tree that his father had seen and that afterword he would see a man descend out of heaven and that he should bear record that it is the Son of God.

The spirit then said to him, “Look!” and he looked and beheld a tree; and it was like the tree which his father had seen. He described it… “the beauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the whiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” After he had seen the tree, he said unto the Spirit: “I behold thou hast shown unto me the tree which is precious above all.” The spirit then asked him again what he wanted to know. His response to the Spirit of the Lord was that he wanted to know “the interpretation thereof.” The spirit of the Lord told him once again to look.

As he looked he beheld the great city of Jerusalem and other cities. And he beheld the city of Nazareth, and in that city he beheld a virgin, and she was exceedingly fair and white. And he saw the heavens open; and an angel came down and stood before him; and he said: “What beholdest thou?”

And he said: “A virgin, most beautiful and fair above all other virgins.”

And the angel said to him: “Knowest thou the condescension of God?”

And he answered: “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.”

And the angel said: “Behold, the virgin whom thou seest is the mother of the Son of God, after the manner of the flesh.”

And he looked again and beheld that she was carried away in the Spirit; and after she had been carried away in the Spirit for the space of a time the angel once again said to him: “Look!”
And when he looked, he beheld the virgin again, bearing a child in her arms.

And the angel said unto him: “Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father! Knowest thou the meaning of the tree which thy father saw?”

And he answered, saying: “Yea, it is the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of the children of men; wherefore, it is the most desirable above all things.”

And the angel said: “Yea, and the most joyous to the soul.”

And after he had said these words, the angel said unto him: “Look!” And he looked again, and beheld the Son of God going forth among the children of men; and saw many fall down at his feet and worship him.

Taken from the account of Nephi son of Lehi. See 1 Nephi 11:1-24

Monday, December 24


The Christmas celebration in France seems to be very similar to that in America. They start the Christmas shopping push around December 1st. The stores have their decorations very similar to ours. They also have adopted the “no Christmas Christmas.” They don’t say Joyeux Noël (which is French for Merry Christmas), they say Joyeuse Fetes (Happy Holidays) or Bonne Annee (Happy New Year). We have made it a point to say Joyeux Noël to all we come in contact with. Most of them respond favorably.

The city of Bordeaux does nothing in the way of Christmas lights, etc. on their main streets. The little communities, however, decorate their streets as if in competition. Many of them are very elaborate. Some, like Cauderan, the little community we live in, try, but obviously do not have a lot of money to spend. They covered their street lights with colored cellophane. It was very pretty when they first did it, but then we had a couple of days with a lot of wind and now there are only about a fourth of the street lights still covered.

They have what they call “marché de noël” or Christmas markets set up at Christmas time. They are shed-like buildings that they set up in a park or large area. Each building sells some item – mostly hand-crafted items. There are food booths and lots of candy booths. It is most interesting. It is a lot like our swap meets only with a Christmas theme. We went to two different ones. One was very elaborate and one more simple. They even had a small ice skating rink set up where the kids could skate for free. We understand that they have huge Christmas markets in Paris and in Germany where people come from miles around to do their Christmas shopping. You are able to get very unique, one of a kind items at the markets that you could never find anywhere else or at any other time.

We had a Christmas party at the church last weekend. It was very different from the ward parties we have had in the past. There were no decorations and no Santa Claus. Everyone was dressed very casually (no Christmas outfits, no red and green clothing). The only exception was the MC who had on a tuxedo.
 It was sort of a concert, with the Primary doing a song and a folk dance, a string trio performing with two guitars and a cello (also piano), the ward choir singing a song, and a puppet show.
 It was all very nice, but also very unorganized. It seemed more like a family doing a talent show at home. The choir director came into the audience and asked people to come up to sing – no rehearsal. More time was spent getting everyone organized and things set up than actually performing.
 The puppet show had to be stopped half way through because the projector broke, so the man who was behind the show came out in the dark with a flashlight up to his face and acted out the rest of the show. It had something to do with the Bethlehem story, but with silly characters – even a donkey that clucked like a chicken. Despite the disorganization, it was most enjoyable and we had a great time. After the program, they had a long table set up in the back with food that the members had made. There were sweet things and hot and cold hors-d’oeuvres. This seems to be the way they do all their get togethers – a long table with food the members brought and then everyone stands around eating and visiting.

On December 20th we had a Zone Conference. Usually we have workshops during the morning, a lunch and then meet all together in the afternoon for instruction and inspiration. Lunch is usually just a sandwich, some fruit, a juice box and a wrapped treat. -- very easy for the Elders to put together and no one goes hungry. However, this time the Mission President’s wife and children (and a few members from Bordeaux) made a real Christmas feast for us.
 The cultural hall and tables were decorated beautifully.
 We all had presents beautifully wrapped at each of our plates with our names on them. There were 3 wrapped presents, two wash clothes (impossible to get in France) stuffed with candy, a homemade pecan roll, an ornament and a candy cane (all wrapped up together with a bow). We were told not to open the presents until Christmas, so we don’t know exactly what they are yet. We have our guesses, but we will see.
 The dinner was delicious. They served mashed potatoes with gravy with nice pieces of turkey in the gravy (it is impossible to get large turkeys here in France so this was a great substitute), fancy green beans, and fruit salad – also French bread.
 For dessert the sisters in the ward here made buche de noël – very rich chocolate cakes that are shaped like logs. We also had JoAnn's famous pecan pie (thanks to Laura and Susan for the corn syrup). They don’t have regular pie pans here so we used some flimsy disposable aluminum cake pans. Because they have such high sides, the pie crust had to come up straight instead of slanting like our pie plates. Our oven is small so we could only cook one at a time and the temperature is different, so we had to experiment as we went. We needed 8 pies and only had enough corn syrup for the 8, so we couldn’t have any do overs. The stove also seems to be uneven and slants toward the front, so the pie crusts all pushed over the end of the pans. They looked a little funny, but the missionaries didn’t seem to care. In fact, one of the sisters that came to help out had 4 pieces. She said she had never had anything so good and wanted the recipe. Unfortunately, they just don’t have the corn syrup here, so we had to tell her it would do no good.
Sister Merrell always does everything she can to make sure that the missionaries are happy and well cared for. She has such a special way of encouraging all the missionaries and making them want to be and do better.

President Merrell made sure that each missionary had a nice Christmas picture from the Zone Conference. He had cameras draped all over him until all the pictures were taken.

Arnold and JoAnn with picture in front of the Christmas tree the Merrells provided for ambiance at the luncheon and then as a visual aid during the rest of the Zone Conference. They have a tradition at their home to always decorate the Christmas tree with all white ornaments in remembrance of the "tree of life" in Lehi's dream. It sounded like a nice tradition that we may continue when we get back home.

One really nice thing about this Zone Conference is that we met the new senior couple.
 We had been the only ones (except for the office couple) until now. It was wonderful having someone more our age to talk with. They are Elder and Sister Metcalfe from Cokeville, Wyoming, and are a very nice couple. They are proselyting missionaries in a town about 3 hours from Bordeaux, so we probably will only see them every six weeks at zone conferences.

The rest of the Zone Conference was very spiritual. We talked a lot about the meaning of Christmas. They said that there are three levels of Christmas.
 The first is the “Santa Claus” level – where all the commercialism comes in. That is fine and can be a lot of fun but is not what Christmas should be all about. They mentioned that President Merrell had gone to Viet Nam for many years at Christmas time to do surgery on those there who were in need. (He is a first rate plastic surgeon.) They noticed that the last time they went (just before they left on their mission) that Christmas had come to Viet Nam. There were decorations in all the windows, etc. The commercialism of Christmas had come to a country that was not even Christian.

The second level was the “baby Jesus” level. This is where our attention is centered on the birth of Jesus. It is a miraculous story and is what we try to keep in the forefront of our Christmas celebrations.

The third level is the “adult Jesus” level. This is where we understand the divine mission of Jesus Christ, the sacrifice and price He paid so that we can all return to our Heavenly Father again – the atonement. Someone said if there had not been an Easter, there would not be a Christmas. When we realize the significance of Christ’s life and death, then we realize the significance of His birth.

They ended with a beautiful slide show depicting pictures of Christ’s birth while inspirational music played in the background. They also included pictures of the missionaries and members they have baptized – the goal this year was to have a white baptismal Christmas. The missionaries put forth extra effort these last few months and there has been a definite increase in the number of baptisms.

Bordeaux Opera House
That Sunday after church we went to the big "place" (plaza) in front of the "Grand Theatre" (the Bordeaux Opera House) with all the missionaries and some members and sang Christmas carols. It was cold and kinda foggy but no one seemed to mind. To start with there was just an old drunk who tried to chime in with the singing, but he finally gave up and left. It was fun to watch the people stop and listen. Some would step forward and try to read what was printed on our name tags. We can't say much about the musicality of our effort but our hearts were totally in it. It does, however, say something about our chutzpah - singing in front of the opera house!!

We were invited for Christmas Eve at the Defranchis (the family we lived with when we first got to France). It was so much fun to have Christmas Eve with a family with kids and everything. Sister Defranchi is American and her husband is French, so it was interesting to see how they mixed the two traditions. The only tradition JoAnn has heard about that she would not like is that everyone always serves fois gras (goose liver) at all holidays. They say it is delicious, but she doesn’t know if she wants to find out or not.
Sylvia, Lydia and Marina at the table ready to feast. The dish at the top was filled with large shrimp and sauce. Very, very good!

Sylvia, Lydia, Marina and Amalia around the Christmas tree.

We had a lovely dinner, enjoyed singing carols and just spending the evening together. When we first got there Lydia (who has been away at school at BYU) looked at our badges and exclaimed, "I have a gift for you." We thought, "How nice, and we just met." She brought us a wrapped present and explained that a couple in Utah met her roommate. When they said they had friends on a mission in Bordeaux, the girl said that her roommate was going to Bordeaux for Christmas. So they had her bring the present, figuring that someone might know us and she could give us the present. Then there we were right in her living room on Christmas Eve! The present was from Don and Jill Urish. What a coincidence??

We had planned to invite all the missionaries in Bordeaux over for Christmas dinner, but we found out that we needed to share them with the members and investigators. We were, however, allowed to have one set share dinner with us.
Elder Giles and Elder Gill were the Elders we were blessed with on Christmas. JoAnn made an American dinner for the Elders, but then Elder Giles from England was one of the Elders to come to dinner. We don't know if he appreciated most of the American feast, but he really loved the mashed potatoes. The Elders all talked about wanting egg nog for Christmas, but they don't sell it here in France, so JoAnn made it from scratch. It was so good that she will never buy that cartoned stuff again. Elder Gill talked about that egg nog everyday until he was transferred (or so the other Elders told us).

After dinner we went to a convalescent home to sing Christmas carols to the patients. They really seemed to enjoy it. When we sang in English, one of the ladies sang very loudly with us. It was a fun experience.
After that we drove the Elders to various members' homes so that they could call their families for Christmas. We had hoped to also get a chance to call home, but the Elders took too long and at one of the houses no one was home so they had to double up at another home. By the time we got them back to their apartments by curfew it was too late for us. Fortunately, though we can call home at any time, so we were glad that they got to make their calls. They are only allowed two calls home a year - one at Christmas and one at Mother's Day.
For JoAnn’s birthday, we bought a small artificial Christmas tree and some small ornaments. It is really cute and gives us the feeling of Christmas. We also bought a Christmas CD and have been playing it everyday since then. We thought we might get bored with it by playing it so soon, but we haven’t. It just seems to cheer up our little apartment.

Brother and Sister Crucy (the wonderful family we stayed with in Paris) sent us home with a big box of Christmas goodies, so we have been covered in that department too.
All in all it was a wonderful Christmas. We were kept busy enough that we didn't have time to feel extremely homesick. We certainly missed everyone but know that we will have many more Christmases to spend with them.


Joeux Noel!

It is the day before Christmas and as usual (even when on a mission) there is too much to do and too little time to do it to get ready for Christmas. We are sending a Christmas email card to everyone telling some of the traditions that are here in France for Christmas.

We are going to have a couple of missionaries over to our house for Christmas dinner for a real American Christmas dinner. Funny though, we can only have one set of Elders over at a time and one of the ones that are coming for Christmas is from England. Oh, well, we will give him something different even though we were hoping to give them a taste of home. At least we and the other Elder will enjoy the American food. We will then go to a nursing home with all the missionaries to sing. It should be fun. We are even going to sing in English - I really miss singing in English. They have translated the Christmas carols into French here, but they are just not the same. They have to fit too many words in to make the meaning come across and it is awkward to sing.

At our zone conference last week our mission president's wife brought our attention to this verse in Zephaniah in the Old Testament. Not exactly a common scripture, but it really hit us and thought you would enjoy it.

It is in Zephaniah 3:17. It is telling about when the Lord will dwell in the midst of the people - second coming we presume.

17 The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing.

It is a beautiful thought but when you get to the last phrase, it gives you something wonderful to think about. Can you imagine hearing the Savior singing with joy over us!

We don't know where or when we will be able to talk to you on the phone. One of the members has invited some of the missionaries to call on his phone (he has free unlimited phone to the States) but we are not sure when we will be able to use it. We feel that the other missionaries should have first chance since this is the only time they get to make calls.

Monday, December 3


We're back in Bordeaux and finished the job at the French Protestant Archives. We gained a great appreciation of the sacrifices the early Protestants gave for their religious convictions and the persecutions they faced. Anyone with Huguenot heritage should have an easier time finding their ancestors once this work is published.

We are back at McDonald's in Bordeaux. When we got back to Bordeaux, our electricity had been turned off, so we are spending our time at McDonald's doing indexing, where it is warm and there are lights and power for the computers (and lights in the bathrooms). They don't think they will get it turned on until the first of the week. We are really doing okay - we have extra warm blankets and enough food that we don't need to cook to last. We bought some candles today, so we should be all set. It's funny because in Paris, at the home where we were staying, they had this conservation thing with the power company - they don't have heat in their house except from 1:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. on certain days, and for three days last week the heater was broken at the Archives - so we got used to the cold. The only real problem is not being able to take a hot shower. We are sponge bathing with cold water - not wonderful, but not too bad either.