In the last note we mentioned that our volcano was unusually active and the danger level had been raised to 3. Well it has been at level 4 for a few weeks now and hundreds of eruptions and earthquakes daily. We have taken time to check it out at a place called Lingon Hill. It is a flat topped hill that sits directly in front of the volcano and is just a few kilometers away from the action. Lee found a little building (Phivolcs) on the side of the Lingon Hill that houses the instruments that scientists' use to study and measure the activity of the volcano. This also where Ed the expert, and his crew stay that are studying the volcano and have been for many years. We have made friends there so we go there to check out the news and also look through their telescope, which puts you up close and personal with the action. The work they do is very interesting. We learned that Mt. Mayon is a self healing volcano. The perfect cone it has is even more perfect now than when the eruptions started. There was a huge edge that used to stick out on the right side but is now all filled in.
This is a seismograph showing all the earthquakes and eruptions taking place:
Picture taken at Phivolcs with Mt Mayon in the background:The E-tilt measures the pressure buit up. The rising blue line shows definate eruption going to take place.
Our best lava show was to come on Christmas Eve. We had the largest Christmas Tree in the world, all eight thousand vertical feet of it was light up and glowing. We spent the evening with some members and they live so close you could see the lava flowing out of the top. We especially enjoyed watching the car sized boulders rolling down the sides and some bursting in a thousand pieces when they hit the lava fence, which the volcano has formed at the bottom. What a light show Mother Nature gave us for our Christmas present!
Eruption at night, small compared to Christmas night. Zoom in to get the full effect:
But not everything is exciting about the volcano. We saw thousand of people evacuated from their homes carrying only a bag with their belongings in it. Most were herded like cattle, in to huge trucks and carried away to spend their days and evenings and even Christmas with hundreds of others in schools and churches located out side the danger zone. They found that some farmers would escape and go back to tend their animals, who would feed and care for them? In some cases this was their food for the family in the future. Also the rice farmers are planting their fields and can't be bothered with something like a volcano they have to get the rice in the ground or it will be late for the harvest. In all about 50,000 people were displaced from their homes and made to live in sad inhuman situation for who knows how long.
We also got a close up of the not so truthful news media. They had head lines of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing for their lives, which was not even close to the truth. Also the destruction was tremendous, and in truth all we ever saw was a few coconut trees that were destroyed with the lava flow. So don't believe what you read in the paper about our Mt. Mayon. The media is out of control here also!
Picture from a TV monitor on top of Linon hill. All the news channels were camped there for weeks.
You can see how bad the ash is getting:
You can see the avenues that the lava took:
This picture was taken on Dec 30. Mt Mayon seems to be settling down.
We were told that our December would be slow but not the case in our area. We had a DEC training and a Prosperity Fireside in Bulan on the 19th which is 2 ½ hours away. So we traveled 5 hours on Saturday and got up on Sunday and traveled another 6 hours round trip to Pamplona district where we did 2 more Prosperity firesides. In Pamplona we did our first fireside in the dark. They had had a brown out for two days and still wanted us to come. The first fireside was over and hour late so by the time we drove to the second one the sun was setting. Only the stake centers have generators so no lights mean you are in the dark. I got through my part but about half way through Lee's you could hardly see him in the front of the room. They lit a few candles and placed them around. I could just see our Bishop dying if someone did that in our church building. We did survive and had a wonderful experience even in the dark.
On the 22nd we had our Christmas Zone Conference with the Naga Mission. All the missionaries look forward to this because they have a native dish, Lechon which is a whole pig roasted over a fire.
The Southern Zone:
We had so many delicious dishes and everyone walked away happy and feeling like the holidays were upon us. We also had a gift exchange where we did the left right story. The best however were the skits that the various zones performed. We had singing, acting, dancing and even a story from President and Sister Smith.
President Smith telling a story about a little boy and his grandfather: The most spiritual part is always when they have their Zone meeting and they invite the missionaries that just arrived and the missionaries that are going home to bare their testimonies. This is a special time looking at these energetic, strong youth and know how they are missed at home, but seeing them happy and ready and willing to spend 2 years serving the people and the Lord.
I thought this would wind up our activities and we could give some thought to Christmas presents, wrong. While we were at the Zone Conference the President received a call from Goa Stake President telling him he was the guest speaker for their youth conference the next day. Since he had the Zone Conference in the North that day he asked Elder Cooley if we could go their and take his place. We all know that Elder wouldn't pass up this opportunity and so off we went on the 23rd to a YSA Conference that is two and a half hours away. (You might be thinking at this time that we have put a few miles on our car. You are right we average about 1700 miles a month so far. In December we did 2402 in just 3 weeks.) We had just left home about 10 o'clock, when we received a call from the Stake President wondering where we were. In stead of 1:00 we were scheduled to talk at 9:00 AM unbeknownst to us. He told us that they would wait and wait they did, two hours later Lee started his presentation. The conference was great, Lee gave a terrific talk and the youth loved it.
Christmas Eve with the first councilor in the Legazpi Stake, President Dorosan was a wonderful experience. We love his family and they seemed to enjoy us. They have a little grandson about Taitum's age so I enjoyed holding him and thinking of our two babies at home. We had some interesting dishes which were all delicious. Spending Christmas Eve with friends, great food and Mt. Mayon made our first Christmas here very special. We miss our loved ones at home and know that they had a great Christmas also. I think Christmas in the Mission field is a special experience.
Christmas day we spent opening a box of goodies our kids sent us and the best gift we received were the testimonies that hung on our tree from our family. It was an emotional time for me, but wonderful at the same time. We love our family and hold them close to our heart every minute of everyday we are away from them. We spent Christmas lunch with our neighbor and landlord, Amy and her family. Our friends are very kind and generous to us in every way. They welcome us into their lives and show us the utmost respect. We had dinner at her aunts' house, with all her family that are here in the area. Her aunt, 93 years old and mother 84 years old, are bed ridden for most of the time but they were dressed in their red outfits and came up to dinner with us. We had quite a feast and again every dish was delicious.
To end our perfect day, we cooked dinner for the six Elders who live next door, Elder Walker, Elder Domagsang, Elder Gless, Elder Spreng, Elder Jensen and Elder Reed. We usually only have four next door, but two of the Elders from Camlig were evacuated so they were here to help make our Christmas complete. Ham dinner, twice baked potatoes, green beans and homemade hot rolls made some very happy Elders have a Merry Christmas. Our friends, the Pangan family, came over caroling and so between them and the Elders we had a very special program to end the night. Merry Christmas every one and Happy New Year.
Our biggest and best present came after we came upstairs from a busy day and read an email from our daughter Jennifer and found that our Brian and Jessica were at the hospital having our 18th grandchild. Charles B. Cooley 7lbs. 8 ounces 19 inches long came into this world on Christmas Day spanning two time zones half a world away. He only had an eight hour window to do this and he nailed it, with Jessica's help of course. It was Christmas night in the Philippines at 10:58 PM and Christmas morning in America at 6:58 AM. This child is a genius already and is the cutest thing ever. Jenn sent us some pictures of him just hours old and he is perfect. Edmond is also happy with his new baby brother. Brian and Jessica are wonderful parents and we are so proud of them and the love and help they bless our lives with daily.
New Year's here was exciting with firecrackers and fireworks going off all day and all night. They have firecrackers that sound like small bombs going off and I think they went off all night long. You can't believe the size of the fireworks, they would never make it to America, bottle rockers two feet tall. Needless to say the mission curfew was at 6:00PM. We served the missionaries a Mexican feast for New Year's Day everyone went home stuffed and happy. We ended the night with the elders singing us some hymns in Tagalag a perfect ending to wonderful year and the perfect beginning to a new year.
May the Lord bless and keep you all safe and healthy. We loved the card and notes from our friends and family. Our sweet daughter-in-law, Jessica scanned in the notes and sent us the addresses of the people who sent them. She is always taking care of us especially when it comes to the communications we receive we from you. Thank you for your interest and loving sentiments we love and appreciate our friends and family.