Christmas in the Amazon

by Jacqueline White

Amazon forest near Manaus

Four years after being baptized in 1980, I was able to serve a Mission in Brazil.  It was Christmas 1985 that I was transferred two weeks before the Holiday deep into the Amazon to a city called Manaus.   My Christmas on the Amazon was one that I was not prepared for and one that I would never forget.  It was hot, averaging about 90 degrees everyday with 90% humidity (including about 18 days of rain throughout the month of December).  The surroundings seemed dirty to my American sensibilities and there was a kind of poverty that I had never seen before or could imagine existed.

Manaus pic

Having served in the country for only 3 months, the language was still challenging and more of a barrier than a bridge to the people around me.  This town nestled in the middle of the Amazon was 1200 miles from our mission home in Brasilia, only accessible by a flight, which prevented us from joining the rest of the mission for the Holiday Christmas conference.  

Best Brazil map

So in addition to culture shock and acclimating to a new climate and food,  I was feeling very ‘cut off’ from my non-member family, from the friends that I had left at BYU, from other English speakers and now from the rest of our mission.  I longed for the holiday cues that I had grown accustomed to in America.  The cool weather, the cozy traditions and the familiarity of my beloved culture were missing.  I was disoriented and a bit sad, wondering if my nonmember family was right in telling me that I was foolish to interrupt college and spend 18 months far away from everything I loved and everyone who loved me.

On Christmas Eve, our zone of 14 missionaries loaded up in an old, rusty school bus that a member of the branch owned for his job and we drove around to the homes of various investigators singing Christmas Carols.  It was a bit depressing to me and I hadn’t anticipated feeling this kind of alone-ness on a Mission.  Wasn’t Missionary work supposed to be joyous and rewarding?  I knew it would be soul-stretching as well, but loneliness was hollowing out my heart, and I was ashamed that I felt so much sadness and unanticipated homesickness.


Then at 9pm, our rusty school bus stopped to sing our last song of the night outside the home of a one particular family.  As I stood in the dirt road, sweaty from the heat and humidity, feeling filthy and gritty it dawned on me that perhaps the actual first Christmas wasn’t much different from what I was experiencing.   I realized that  Mary and Joseph were far from home in what must have felt like dirty surroundings that we know were very, very humble.  Nothing about their situation was what they had expected or anticipated.  And perhaps they felt a longing for all that was familiar to them as well.  With this thought in mind, I watched the young Brazilian family, standing outside their humble little home, light up over our simple act of holiday kindness.  A calm spirit of pure joy flooded my heart and mind. I was far away from home and everything I knew, but the feeling of the Holy Ghost was familiar and all I needed to make that Christmas meaningful–a Christmas I have never forgotten.

Now, almost 30 years later, I have my own 22 year-old daughter and 20 year-old son each serving missions.  I miss them, but the sacrifice of not being together as a family is worth the good that they are doing for the people they are serving, and for the good that they may never know they are doing.  I know that they will also feel sadness at times, even in the very service that is supposed to bring joy. They will feel loneliness amidst the labors that we are told are divine.  But I know that these experiences will force a reliance on the Holy Ghost and forge an unbreakable bond with God (as it did for me), which will serve them well.  That will be the invisible force that instructs and protects them long after I am no longer here to provide motherly oversight.   And that is the very best gift that I could ask for.


Dum Dum Diddy to the Rescue

When I’d been out on my mission in Brazil only a couple of weeks, the ward mission leader gave his 3-minute spiritual thought at the weekly ward social and then looked at me.

“Sister–what’s the game tonight?”

I swiveled in desperation for my trainer’s assurance that I’d misunderstood.  Her sympathetic eyes confirmed my fear: the next 27 minutes, with 40 Brazilians and my pidgin Portuguese, were mine.  A quick prayer brought to mind my most dreaded Girls Camp campfire tradition: Dum Dum Diddy.  It was a silly clapping and singing song that we had to do all my six years of Girls’ Camp.  I thought it was dumb even back when I was 12 (and I couldn’t manage to keep up!).  But this evening, in a little town in the middle of nowhere, it was a heaven-sent cross-cultural smash hit, as I taught Brazilians from age 2-85 the Philadelphia Stake Girls Camp campfire tradition.  It took all 27 minutes, and absolutely everyone had a grand time.

Here’s my family–I taught it to the kids five minutes before we taped this.  Usually you start out slow and do it a few times, picking up speed.

Weaving Missionaries into the Fabric of the Ward 

by Emily Snyder

My boss happens to serve in the Boston Mission Presidency. They have been working hard to help missionaries be “woven into the fabric of the wards” – which is easier to say than do!!

While serving in Russia, I saw how Sunday meetings didn’t really happen without the missionaries. We had missionaries serving in the branch presidency, teaching in Young Women’s, planning activities, and on and on. Our goal was to help the missionaries to involve themselves less in the details of the ward.

But I realize that there needs to be a balance. The work of the members is the work of the missionaries and the work of the missionaries is the work of the members. If I could be a full-time missionary again, I would want to reach out to the Primary teachers and the youth organizations and suggest ways I could help – teach lessons, visit students, write thank you notes, or plan a lesson with the Relief Society president. I wouldn’t wait to be asked. I wouldn’t wait to have the ward think of ways for me to be used – I would just jump in.

At least I hope I would!

As an assistant in my work life, I have learned some traits that I want to use when I serve full-time again:

  • I am here for the cause–not for my glory, not for my vision. The irony is that the more I give to my boss’ cause, the more I am trusted and the clearer my career path becomes.
  • My job is to make my boss’ life easier. (I want his life to be seamless, so I happily kick under the water as hard as I can.)
  • I am here to help him with his goals and vision and to help him achieve what he wants – not what I have decided he should want.

Maybe this is a reminder for me now, not just in the future. Maybe this is the “ah-ha” for my work with missionaries and who I want to be in my member role . . .  the role of an (almost) full-time missionary who just happens to need to pay bills, too. Maybe this is what I need to be doing to help those I love come to know Jesus Christ better.

Flour mountain – An FHE CLASSIC from Brazil

by Elise Hahl

This game I learned down in Brazil is a fantastic ice breaker. You can use it when you host a Family Home Evening on your mission, or even in the walls of your own home…

Here’s what you need: flour, a large plate, and a small bowl. You’ll want to bring some flour yourself if you’re visiting another family for FHE.


You’re going to need to pack the bowl with flour. Make sure it’s nice and tight.


Put the plate face down on top of the bowl and then flip them, so they end up like this:


Remove the bowl, and voila! You have your flour mountain.


Place a small coin on top of the little mountain, like so:


One at a time, have each member of the crowd slice a tiny piece off of the mountain. The goal is to cut off a little corner without making the coin fall. On each turn, a player gets to saw off just one side. Keep it moving!


After a few turns, your flour mountain will start to look like this.


And then like this…


Eventually, somebody will have to cut so close to the coin that it will fall into the flour.  It’s a pretty dramatic moment.


The person who made the coin fall then has to fish for the coin in the flour–with their mouth. You really don’t want to be this person…


And the game is over once this person pulls the coin out with their mouth! This kid actually did pretty well. Most people who have to go fishing for the coin end up worse.


You don’t really need to be the same age or even to speak the same language to play this game. Flour in the face is universally awkward. Makes for a great time!

7 Tips from the Trenches

by Mary Scoresby

While some feelings, life-lessons, and relationships from my mission are still clear in my memory, many of the details have faded with time. In order to offer you a current perspective and sound advice, I picked the brains of two of my favorite missionaries–the sisters serving in my own ward. I asked Sister Tolman and Sister Goodstein to finish seven sentences, sharing their experience, wisdom, and practical tips for thriving as a missionary.

SisterTolmanGoldstein1. In the MTC, I’m grateful that I took the time to. . . 

  •      Make a 3 sentence summary of the Restoration lesson. Most of the time, you only have about 15 seconds to give a mini-lesson and capture someone’s interest! (Tolman)
  •      Memorize the First Vision and take the early morning work-out classes for sisters! (Goodstein)
2. I could have improved my MTC experience by. . .26_ChocolateMilk
  •       Being more patient with the 18 year old Elders. (T)
  •       Drinking more of the BYU chocolate milk! It’s on tap! (G)                  

3. If I could give my pre-mission self one piece of advice, it would be. . .

  •      Re-memorize all the seminary scripture mastery verses. Nearly all the questions we are asked can be explained using theses inspired passages!   I’d memorize the references, too! What good will it do if you can’t find the right verse? (T)scriptures
  •      Hug your parents more before you leave. You’ll miss it. And dance more, you’ll miss it too. (G)

4. I wish I had brought. . .

  •     mormon-tabernacle-choir-application-article-largeChurch music! Motab, classical music, Christ-centered instrumentals. Music helps keep the Spirit in your heart and mind! (T)
  •      Music!!! (G)

5. I never imagined my mission would. . .

  •      Produce so many life-long friends already! (T)
  •      Help me grow as much as it has. I didn’t even know how much I would grow until I came out here. (G)

6. I feel supported on my  mission when. . .

  •      My family and friends share thoughts and insights from the scriptures. Many of my prayers have been answered by reading letters/emails about the scripture! (T)brown-paper-packages
  •      I get packages!! And when our investigators tell us how much we change their lives for the better. (G)

7. One life lesson I have learned so far is. . .

  •      The value of visiting teaching! When I go home, I want to always do my visiting teaching with a smile! When done by the Spirit, visiting teaching can bring about miracles! (T)
  •      Do everything you can to live your life in a way that you can be with your family forever and to help your family members do the same. (G)

Sister Tolman and Sister Goodstein are serving in the Indianapolis Indiana Mission.


by Lisa Sorenson, Alabama Birmigham Mission

“The baby’s comin’ – I need a ride to the hospital!”

  The 4 a.m. phone call wasn’t what I expected receiving as a missionary. After all, missionaries aren’t usually on obstetric duty. 

red-phone1          Shantae (name changed) was one of the many women we encountered in the projects in the cities of Alabama. Pregnant, without the support of the baby’s father, without a dependable car to get to the hospital, she urgently needed help.  So in the dark of night as her labor pain increased, she called someone she knew would be there for her – the sister missionaries.  Or as she referred to us – her SISTAZ. 

She was swept into the ER when we arrived and that was the last we saw of her for hours.  We paced.  We read.  We prayed.  From time to time a nurse would poke her head into the waiting room, look around and then disappear.  Other than that we were alone.  


After three hours we were truly concerned, so my companion flagged someone down and asked about Shantae.  The woman looked at us quizzically and said – “She had her baby a couple hours ago – emergency C-Section.”   The nurse took us to the recovery room.  As we visited with exhausted Shantae, our disappointment and  frustration of not being there to support her gave way to humor as we had realized what had happened.  In her pre-delivery panic she had pled with the nurses to go get her “SISTAZ” – the nurse had dutifully gone to the waiting room, looked around, and since she didn’t see anyone who looked like Shantae she assumed her sistazs weren’t there.  It never crossed her mind that Shantae’s sistazs were actually sisters wearing skirts, reading scriptures, and possessing pasty white skin.  

We laughed, oohed and aahed at her precious tiny son, and cherished our sisterhood that transcended physical characteristics and brought us boundless joy.


Keep Calm-ART-Do not attempt-MarketingWe wanted a list of important scriptures that future missionaries could learn (preferably by heart), so we asked our very own Linda Johnson–author of the “Keep Calm and Carry Scriptures” chapter–for her insights. She had to whittle down a list of 200 scriptures to just 21, so we’re all getting a real bargain, right? This list would help any missionary, past, present, future, whatever–in a lot of situations. Heeeeere it is!



1. God & Christ’s Purpose:

a.    Moses 1:39 – For behold, this is my work and my glory…

b.    John 3:16-17 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…

c.    John 14:6  – I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.


2. Our Purpose:

a.    John 17:3 – This is life eternal, that they might know thee…

b.    2 Nephi 25:26  – And we talk of Christ, we rejoice in Christ…

c.  Moroni 10:32 – Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him…



21 Scriptures (Large)


3. Personal Prayer:

a.    James 1:5-6 – If any of you lack wisdom…

b.   Matthew 7:7-8 – Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find…

c.    2 Nephi 32:9 – Ye must pray always, and not faint…


4. Studying the Scriptures:

a.    John 5:39 – Search the scriptures…

b.    Moroni 10:4-5 – And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God…

c.    Alma 17:2-3 – …they had searched the scriptures diligently…


5. Act on What We Learn:

a.    John 7:17 – If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine…

b.    John 14:15 – If ye love me, keep my commandments.

c.    Matthew 7:20 – Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.

d.    2 Nephi 31:20 – Ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ…

e.    D&C 82:10 – I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say…


6. Seek the Spirit:

a.    John 14:26 – But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost…

b.    John 15:26 – But when the Comforter is come…he shall testify of me.

c.    D&C 8:2 – I will tell you in your mind and in your heart…

d.    Galatians 5:22-23 – But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…



1 Corinthians 2:11 & 14 – …the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.