Our Public Affairs Missionary, Sister James had this dream, or perhaps a vision about us sponsoring an Interfaithl Christmas Program, with common Christmas Carols and scripture readings. Her thinking was probably influenced by a comment made by Elder Anderson during a media training event when he described a successful Interfaith Christmas Program he was part of in Mongolia where they actually had participation from other churches.
So she had this idea and sold it to our mission president and her Public Affairs supervisors at the Area Office, which consisted of an attempt to involve other Christian Church Choirs, and a choir composed of members of the different branches in and about Phnom Penh complete with a live nativity. The other churches were not interested except for a lone soprano; using the excuse they had other plans for the proposed day.
As a result, Sister Tuck has been training choirs from Ta Khmau 1st and 2nd, and the International Branch, while Sister James with Sister Westover have been training Choirs from at least 3 other branches. I was assigned the live nativity, to find actors and help build the needed platforms while Sister James had costumes sewn.
Thinking it over, I determined to involve Khmae returned missionaries as Mary and Joseph, shepherds, and the angels, but use older, more stately members for the Wise Men. Not everything worked out as planned but I put together a crew of actors. When we had the nativity training and costume fitting, it was wonderful, with the actors and the costumes looking great, probably looking nothing like the real event, but wonderful none-the-less.
We had Mary and Joseph, played by Un Sophol Nara and his sister, Un Sophallaroth, both returned missionaries. Having a brother and sister play these parts enabled them to interact more personally which worked quite well.
The Shepherds were played by Samat Kim Sroy, Chum Meta and Chhoeun Sokunthea, all returned missionaries.
The Angels were played by Phon Srey Leak, Samat Kim Thoy and Mey Phalla. Srey Leak, although not yet a returned missionary was a last-minute replacement which turned out to be a stroke of genius.
The Wise Men were played by Ken Gabriel, Un Sophol, and Kay Sopheap. Ken Gabriel, the only non-Ta Khmau actor was chosen for the part by Sister James which turned out to be an inspired choice due to his size and presence.
We held a costume fitting and part rehearsal at the Ta Khmau building the Sunday prior to the performance where we showed everyone the role they would play. Not quite the real set, but it worked OK.
We had determined we needed a short platform below the Sacrament Table, a platform over the sacrament Table, and a higher stand behind the Sacrament Table. Ultimately we determined we could put a carpet on the Sacrament Table to protect it and just build the short and tall platforms. The original concern was that the Sacrament Table may not be able to stand the weight of the actors, but realizing that our Khmae actors are slight of build we put that fear to rest.
Shopping around, Elder James had a bid of $500 for the set of platforms, much too high so we looked elsewhere, considering welding platforms for $550 and building our own for less than $150. Of course, I had the opportunity to build the two platforms, based on some remnants from a 4×8 sheet of plywood I had purchased for another project. My total cost complete with some tools and delivering the platforms to the North District Center was $120, well within budget.
The first and second rehearsal at the North District Center went good, with about 75 choir members. We expected to have just over 100 members in the choir when we have the real thing on Saturday, December 15, which is tomorrow. The big dress rehearsal is tonight. [skip ahead several days]
Dress rehearsal went well. The platforms Elder James and I built worked wonderfully, and the choirs combined well. Sister James went through the show twice with everybody so both the Nativity actors and the choirs knew what to do. While we had a big choir, they were seated by branch because in addition to the numbers that would be performed as a group, there were songs sung by the individual branches as well.
Elder James had a star made from a florescent light which turned out to be very fragile, having to be replaced [twice – shhhh, Sister James doesn’t know about the first breakage] before it was hung above where Joseph and Mary would be. The star was five-pointed about 14 inches across and shone brightly when plugged in. There are craftsmen that can do almost anything here in Phnom Penh if you can just find them.
Finally, Saturday, the day of our performance came.
After a full day of teaching and meetings, Sister Tuck and I arrived at the North District Center at 4:30, finding Elder and Sister James and a good number of choir members and audience already there. We participated in the hustle and bustle required for the final setup and were quite relieved when the choir members and the Nativity actors showed up.
As the clock counted down to the starting time, we were pleased to see the audience fill up, and very pleased to see the US Ambassador with (I think) a representative from the Cambodian Ministry of Cults and Religions join with us.
Suffice it to say that the choirs sounded great, the narration from the scriptures wonderful, and the live nativity illustrated the songs and the scriptures. Sister James led the choirs with some help from Sister Tuck, Sister Westover played the piano, Dallin Green played a violin and Kim Koung narrated the scriptures. It must be noted that the scriptures were read in both English and Khmae, and many of the songs were done in both languages, except for one song which was sung in English and Vietnamese.
There was a noteworthy point when the Wise Men came up from the rear of the hall, being led by Ken Gabriel where the noise level of the audience increased as a wave as Ken passed each row, really causing quite a stir.
Everything went smoothly and the evening was a success. The final count was 137 in the choir and 1112 in the audience.