This is a letter that Elder Wheatley and I wrote to family about Christmas:
December 30, 2012
I want to share a few things about our Christmas in
the Congo. I will try to make it brief so as to not bore you. We had
only been in the Congo about nine or ten days when we experienced our
first Christmas here. I think we came away with the feeling they didn't
celebrate. This year we saw the bigger picture and realized that for
many of the people Christmas is celebrated much like it is in the United
States just on a much smaller scale.
We started our Christmas by putting up the artificial tree that was
left by the previous couple. There were a few ornaments and a strand
of lights When Sister Wheatley went to plug in the lights the plug
disintegrated, not unusual for electrical appliances here. Elder
Wheatley tried unsuccessfully to do a repair job but failed.
When we looked at the price of tree lights in the French store we
determined that our tree would go without lights. However a few days
later we got lost in the Grande Marche, and Sister Wheatley saw a store
with artificial trees outside. Inside she found some affordable
lights. Then an investigator that the Elders had brought to our house
that had noticed our bare tree brought more ornaments and a string of
lights. Our tree ended up very decorated.
We noticed this year that a few homes put up lights, the French
store put up a big pine tree and even sold real trees. There was even a
small tree lot. We saw some "talking" Santa Claus'. Sister Wheatley
managed to capture a picture of a lady with bananas and pineapples on
her head standing next to one. Lots of toys showed up along the roads
and in front of the shops, mostly plastic cars like we see in the
states, also lots of small bicycles. Dolls, too, seemed to be popular,
even though they all seem to be white.There should be beautiful black dolls, like beautiful black people!
A few days before Christmas, 2 neighbors each gave us a bunch of
bananas and we weren't sure if it was connected to Christmas or not.
Elder Wheatley had made banana bread (he is getting really good at that
task), and so we took a loaf of it, and some little gifts for our
neighbor, Angel and her family, and a bowl of popcorn over and knocked
on her door. We had fun sitting in her yard and trying to carry on a
conversation with her very limited English and our very limited French.
In the next few days, we saw her little nephew and grandson playing
with the marbles, so that was nice. It was our understanding that she
was going to Cabinda (a tiny piece of Angola next to Congo) to be with
family after Christmas, and she seemed very happy about that.
In the English class we teach we asked the students to stand and
talk about Christmas in their homes. Most indicated that they attended
Church services and then spent the day with friends and family. Like
most countries where there is a strong Catholic influence, attending
mass on Christmas is a long standing tradition. We noticed on Christmas
Day that among the families of wealth that all of the young girls had
new dresses and their hair done up with a new wig.
None of the three branches here did anything extra. Sunday services
included Christmas carols and talks. The Pointe Noire Branch's
Sacrament Meeting was a program put on by the Primary, including
children being a live nativity.
For us, Christmas became a time of concern and a time of small
miracles. In advance of Christmas Sister Wheatley had arranged a skype
schedule with the elders' and our families back home. Each Elder was
allowed forty minutes. She also had asked each family to e-mail a
special letter that we would print and give to the Elders on Christmas
Day. Sister Wheatley also made each Elder a Christmas Stocking out of
African looking material. Along with the Elders, we drew names within
the zone so we would all have a gift. (Christmas packages from home are
almost an impossibility here)
The week before Christmas became a time of one electrical
interruption after another. We have a small generator that will
generate enough power for one or two appliances at a time. Maybe the
refrigerator and an air conditioner. Typically only the water pump.
For some reason a curling iron takes a lot of power. The electrical oven is an instant overload. The intra-net is very
questionable when using power from the generator. We worried about
families back home standing around their computers waiting for a skype
message that might not come.
We agreed with the Elders that we would meet with them Monday
afternoon, as a P-Day activity, to exchange gifts, have pot luck, visit
and play games. On Christmas Day they would come again in the afternoon
to skype with their families and enjoy a Christmas dinner together.
Things were going well and then the power became a problem. After
days of interruptions the power went out Sunday Morning, We also knew
our water supply was running low, at our home. We have a small reservoir
and the water company disperses water through the city by sending water
thru the lines and it fills up your reservoir. This is what you have
until they put water in your line again. When we get low on water we
figure out ways to economize like catch the shower water to flush
toilets with. Elders can go through lots of water when they visit, so we
have containers with hand-washing water. Another concern was the one
letter from home had turned into letters from grandmas and grandpa's,
aunts, uncles,and friends. We could only print them when we had power,
printer cartridges cost money, and we worried that one Elder might get a
single letter and another ten or fifteen letters. The Sunday morning
outage lasted through the night. Monday morning still without power we
had faith that we could still make cookies and bake bread. Soon we were
watching several small pans of bread rise as the yeast began to do its
job. With no power the bread dough was made into flat pieces of
fry bread and cooked in a frying pan on the gas burner. The Elders really like Sister
Wheatley's bread. She makes it with some of the flour being wheat flour
when she can buy it, and they say it tastes like the bread their moms
make. We made potato soup, filled the stockings with kinder eggs and
candy bars, and stapled the e-mails from the Elders' families together.
After much worrying, we decided our gifts for the secret Santa would be
a carved elephant and a box of packages of capri-sun (many of the elders love this taste of home). It was getting late into
the afternoon and the elders would be arriving. Still no power.
The elders arrived, they brought potato chips, cheese and bread for
grilled cheese sandwiches (a great treat) and chili they made. We exchanged gifts, some were
useful, most were rather ridiculous. We each received a tee-shirt, white with a red heart
and the words I love Camdon, only Camdon was crossed through with a
black marker. Elder Wheatley's shirt now said, "I love Theresa." and
Sister Wheatley's said, "I love Keith." We really think they are cool.
We sat down to eat as the light was starting to disappear. In the dining area we get no light from the
generator. The bread loaves turned into fry bread became a small
miracle as the Elders spread their chili beans on them and ate them like
Navajo Taco's. Then about 6:00 P.M. the power returned. We finished
our potluck, the elders cut and baked cookies and then decorated and ate
them. They played games and it was time for them to go home. Before
they left Sister Wheatley smuggled their Christmas stockings to the
district leaders and asked them to lay them out where they would find
them on Christmas Morning. We gave them their e-mails from home. They
were most grateful and excited...
The power stayed on through the night. We arose Christmas morning
and each opened a Kinder Egg. Elder Wheatley's had a little top
inside. Sister Wheatley's had a little cardboard puzzle. Our computer
sounded telling us someone wanted to skype with us. It was Joe and
Trudy, what a blessing. They told us that they attended midnight mass
in a cave. We are grateful for those who have fought for our freedoms
as their story unfolds. We will always be grateful for this time they
skyped with us. We prepared pulled pork, rice, beans and frog-eye salad
(as close to frog-eye salad as Sister Wheatley could get with
substitutions), green beans and French bread. Special chocolate and coconut cupcakes would be our
About 12:30 P.M. the Elders began to arrive. They were early and
caught Sister Wheatley without her hair curled. They let us know they
were here by climbing on our outside wall and sitting there singing
Christmas carols (the gate was locked and some of the barbed wire is down due to adding some brick to the wall). We do love the elders! We
have two laptops and at 2:00 P.M. two of the Elders skyped with home. It
worked without any problems, clear picture and voice. One after another
thru the afternoon the Elders visited with their families, while the
rest of us talked, played games, and just relaxed. We had a nice supper
together. Then we all expressed our feelings about our Saviour Jesus
Christ. This was most touching. After a prayer together they departed.
It was now our turn to skype with our children. Then as an added bonus
Colin and Cindy showed up on line. Visits from Holland (Joe and Trudy
working for the U.S. Government there), Germany (Colin and Cindy serving
a temple mission there) , Australia (Amy and Josh) and from our children in the United
States all on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day . We went to bed with
grateful hearts,knowing we had experienced a wonderful Christmas. When
we lost power again the next morning we understood that even here in
this isolated town in the Congo, God was watching out for us on those special days. A small
group of Mormon missionaries were not forgotten.
The water supply held out until Thursday evening, then we were
blessed that our neighbor, Angel, had water in her line and allowed us
to get some from her. This morning (Sunday) we could hear water
dripping into our reservoir! Yea!!! Monday is supposed to be wash day
isn't it? Lots of laundry to do and housekeeping to catch up on. Water
is good - and what a blessing it is to have good water in the U.S. We
have a wonderful filtering system here, which the church provides at
great cost to all missionaries around the world where there is not good
water. We will always be more appreciative of pure water in our lives. Now on to a New Year!
Love from Congo,
Elder and Sister Wheatley