Ending on a High Note

This past week feels like it has been a month! The Tabernacle Choir arrived on Tuesday, though most of their leadership arrived earlier. Last Sunday evening our department and the choir leaders met together to review the plans for the VIP events we’re in charge of. From that time on, our week was a whirlwind of finalizing plans and getting things put together. We spent long hours and had moments of panic, wondering if we’d get it all done in time. But in the end, it all came together. It was interesting to be in a position to know some of what was going on in the background, things most people would never know about. It felt a bit like a duck swimming on a pond. On the surface it seems to be gliding smoothly along, but underneath is it paddling like crazy.

The first Choir event we were involved with was on Thursday, when the Choir put on a performance at the cathedral in Toluca. Alfredo was very involved in helping with that event and was in charge of planning a VIP dinner before it began. We and the Frandsens went to Toluca together. Pat Frandsen was there to take photos. We were just there to lend a hand as needed. The cathedral sits across the road from a lovely park. The dinner was held in the courtyard of a museum across that park from the cathedral. We had fun hanging out with friends and watching the ten buses arrive carrying the choir. We commented how much more fun it is for us to go to events now than when we first got here because we know people now.


The cathedral in Toluca
     

     

The park in Toluca was full of large beds of lavendar, which was in bloom.
    
The venue for the VIP dinner in Toluca
     
Pat Frandsen and I with hermana Lima (the Service Missionary who is working in our department) and Alfredo's daughter, Daphne.)
     
A table full of some of our friends from PSD (the Publishing Services Department.)

    
The buses arrivng in Toluca with the Choir members.


A bug went through many of the Choir members while they were here, and it hit two of the Choir members on the hour long ride from their hotel to Toluca. Tracy Frandsen, who is a doctor, said he wasn’t sure if it was food poisoning or something else, but the result was a couple of men were not feeling well at all. We and the Frandsens had hotel rooms reserved in Toluca for that night, so we took the men there to clean up and rest. Ron and Tracy took their clothes to a laundry that agreed to clean them in two hours, just in case they felt better in time to perform. Sadly, they didn’t, but they did have clean clothes to ride back to their hotel in.

The performance at the cathedral was not highly publicized and was by invitation. Initially the Choir leaders approached the Catholic leaders with the idea that the concert was a gift from our church to theirs, and that they could be in charge of inviting whoever they wanted. They graciously countered with it being a combined event, so about half the people there were Catholic and half from our church. It was so inspirational to hear the Catholic Archbishop welcome everyone there and express gratitude to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I loved that feeling of joining together as followers of Jesus Christ, rather than focusing on our differences in doctrine. The concert itself was wonderful. The acoustics in the cathedral were amazing. We heard that during the rehearsel before the actual performance, Mack Wilberg told the Choir they needed to hold back by about a third because the sound carried so well and bounced around so much in there. Although this was the smallest event and not as highly publicized, it was my favorite and was so beautiful.

Half way through the concert, two of Gustavo's children came over to sit with us. It was such a fun suprise to see them there. Pat Frandsen tood this photo for us.
We were delighted to get to see Gustavo's parents once again.

When the Choir sang the Hallelujah chorus, I didn't think there could be anything to equal it in magnificence...



...then they sang this:



The Choir's main performances were held Saturday and Sunday in the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City. It holds almost 10,000 people. Our department was responsible for distributing about a tenth of the tickets by inviting VIPs, holding radio giveaways, etc. Ron and I helped organize a VIP reception before the Saturday concert and a VVIP dinner before the Sunday one. We had wonderful providers who helped with the setup, food, etc. and both events went well. Most of the VIPs RSVPed online but didn’t receive their tickets ahead of time. Ron and I helped put together a group of people to hand out the tickets and another group to act as hosts to help escort the VIPs to the reception and into the auditorium. It was a lot of work and organizing, but we had great people to help. We were able to attend the performance on Saturday. For both nights, besides the people who had tickets, there was a long standby line, and the auditorium and very nearly filled to capacity. As always, the Choir’s performance was magnificent. Additionally, they had three guest performers: Adassa, who was the voice of Dolores on Encanto; Alex Melecio, who is a singer and acted as MC; and Mariano Osorio, who is the host of the longest running radio talk show in Mexico and who shared a touching experience of hope. I don’t know how to adequately describe how awesome it was.

The setting for the VIP reception. It was in a part of the Auditorium's lobby, which was sectioned off by curtains for the event.
     

    

Me with our awesome event planners.
     

     
Crazy that I had to come all the way to Mexico to meet this fellow Shelleyite. Debbie Cox Porter is married to Gary B. Porter (another Shelleyite) who is a counselor in the Tablernacle Choir Presidency. It was so much fun to visit with her and find out who all our mutual friends are.
     

     
I got this close-up shot of Adassa from the jumbotron. She was so darling and sang so beautifully!

     
The whole audience held up their cell phone lights as a symbol of hope during Mariano and Alex's performance. 

The VVIP dinner was held at Restaurante Campo Marte, which is just across the road from the Auditorio. We went there directly from church yesterday. The Frandsens helped me get things ready at the restaurant while Ron took care of our responsibilities at the Auditorio. The dinner was held on a second floor terrace which looks out over the grounds of Campo Marte and was a lovely setting. We had a couple of bumps as we got things put together, but it was looking beautiful and I felt confident. Then a group arrived an hour early. I couldn’t tell if they were all together or if they were multiple groups. There was one couple in the group who I had met before, and I knew their names weren’t on the guest list, which meant we didn’t have a place set for them. I wasn’t sure if it was just them or if we hadn’t been planning on the entire group. One man introduced himself and his wife, but I couldn’t catch his name very well and I thought it would be rude to ask a VIP to repeat his name (probably multiple times) so I could figure out who he was and whether or not we’d been planning on him.  I tried to be gracious and said, “Bienvenidos,” (Welcome.) The restaurant had set up a little seating area for us, and I asked them to sit there. I said, “Es un poco temprano,” (it’s a little early.) They laughed in a way that said they knew they were very early and seemed to be okay. I thought I was doing a good job of hiding my panic, but Pat Frandsen said I had a startled look on my face. I just hope they thought it was because they were early. We had a “bar” area which was making mocktails, and they brought drinks to the group, so they were content. I went around a corner to where it was more private and called Gustavo. I told him I needed help! Now! He said he was almost there, and Alfredo arrived a few minutes later as well. They managed to sort out who we’d been planning for and how many extra places needed to be squeezed in. Since it was early, I don’t think it looked too out of place for the waiters to be bringing in more place settings and chairs. In the end, everyone had a seat, though a few didn’t have place cards. The food was good, and the setting was beautiful, and after they ate, they got to go see the concert. So I think it was all a success. After the VIPs left for the concert, Tracy Frandsen said he was feeling hungry. We had ordered a certain number of plates and there were a few empty chairs, so I asked Brisette, our event planner from the restaurant, if there was any food left. She checked and said yes. The staff quickly cleaned off one of the tables and set it for us. Then we, the Frandsens, and a couple of guys from the area office who were there taking down the sound equipment, all ate dinner and visited while the staff took down the other tables. The official dinner was lovely. However, the sun had been coming directly into the space, which made it a little hot. (The staff brought out some cute screens which helped block the sun a little.) By the time we were eating, the sun had gone down low enough that we weren’t getting it directly. There was a pleasant breeze and the temperature was perfect. I’m sure we got the better dinner.


     

    
     
The orchestra, which accompanied the Choir to Mexico, provided a string quartet to play at the VVIP dinner.
     
I don't know what the team at the bar thought about serving only non-alcohol drinks, but they did their job fantastically and came up with some delicious, refreshing combinations.

      

By the time we finished eating, the concert had started. Plus, Ron hadn’t brought any tickets for us when he came over from the Auditorio, so we didn’t get to watch that performance. We figured we’d seen it already, and if someone else who hadn’t could sit in our seat, we were okay with that. However, we did go back to the Auditorio at the end because our friends Sylvester and Juanita Carmargo had come from Queretaro for that performance, and we wanted to see them before they left to go home. We also invited Abram and Leila from Teca Once and they attended with the Deavers. And, we also saw our event planners from the Saturday reception. We gave them tickets for Sunday, and we were so glad to know they attended. They said the concert was magnificent. I did not see my chiropractor there. I hope he came. Another person we finally got to meet in person was Justin Smith. When we first arrived in Mexico and were assigned to help coordinate the Living Legends, he was working for BYU’s performing arts department as their tour director. We had weekly Teams meetings with him for that. The first hint we got that the Tabernacle Choir might be coming to Mexico was shortly after the Living Legends tour when Gustavo told us that Justin had been hired by the Tabernacle Choir to be their tour director, and that they were considering coming here, possibly in June. It was that day that I said to Ron, “IF the Choir decides to come to Mexico, and IF they say they could use our help with it, and IF it’s in June, we could extend our mission a couple of months.” I never expected to say those words, but that day I felt the Spirit prompting me. It just felt like it was meant to be. It wasn’t just the Choir coming that made me feel that way, it was that we would be working again with Justin. For the past six months, we have again been having weekly meetings with him, though they now included a whole lot of other people too. It was fun to get to meet him in person and give him a hug.

     

Sylvester and Juanita with three of their four children
     
Leila and Abram. The Everetts were sitting just a few rows in front of them and Janece took this photo.

     

Justin Smith in the flesh, not just as a face on a computer screen!

It has been an amazing, stressful, wonderful experience to help do our small part in planning and carrying out the events connected with the Choir’s visit. We are so happy we stayed and are honored to have been a part of it.

This will be my last blog post from Mexico and our mission. We pulled out the suitcases and started packing today. We go home on Thursday. So besides all the busyness of this past few weeks, we have also been trying to gauge how to make our groceries and time here run out at the same time. We've been doing things "for the last time" and telling people good-bye. Since we all worked long hours through the weekend, Gustavo told our department to take today off. So we got up and walked through the park. We usually only do it on Saturdays because it takes too long to do on a weekday morning. It was a treat to get to do it one last time. It all tugs a little at our hearts.     

Ron standing on a bridge at his favorite spot in the park we walk in, not to be confused with the massive Chapultepec Park, which we also love.
     


We will be speaking in the Shelley 5th Ward Sacrament Meeting this Sunday, June 25 at 9:00. Anyone who would like to attend is welcome. Or if you want to listen but can’t come, it will be broadcast as a Zoom meeting. To watch, go to shelleysouthstake.org, click on “Ward Information & Meeting Broadcasts” then “5th Ward” and then “Sacrament Meeting Broadcasts.”

I’ve been trying to think how I would summarize my experience serving a mission. I have missed my home and family, especially my grandchildren. A year and a half isn’t long in the life of an adult, my children will pretty much look the same when I go home. However, it is a long time in the life of a child, and they will have grown and changed a lot. I missed being there to watch that. There have been moments that have been frustrating and stressful as we’ve tried to carry out our assignments, but there have also been times that have been amazing and fulfilling. I’ve learned things about myself and have grown in ways that I may not have otherwise. We’ve met so many wonderful people who now hold a place in our hearts. Although we feel happy and ready to go home, we also feel sad at leaving this beautiful place and the dear friends we’ve made here. So what is my final verdict about serving as a Senior Missionary? It has been an experience which has enriched my life and my testimony, and I am so grateful I have had this opportunity and this assignment to serve the Lord and help to build his kingdom. As I told a group from the Publishing Services Department when we were in Toluca (and I said this in Spanish) “I know my eyes are blue and my language isn’t correct, but my heart is Mexican.”

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