Friends from many nations: Shedding Washington protocol, diplomats enjoy western-style picnic

On Saturday, Oct. 9, the place to meet ambassadors, deputy ambassadors and others of the world's diplomatic community assigned to Washington, D.C., was not in the capital city but on a farm some 60 miles to the west.

Diplomats from 33 countries - including 19 ambassadors and 12 deputy ambassadors - and their families attended a western-style picnic at the Marriott Farm as guests of the Women's International Committee of the Church's International Affairs Office in Washington, D.C. (See box on this page for a list of nations represented at the picnic.)The picnic, held for the third year, is unique among the lengthy list of social functions in and around the nation's capital. For one thing, few gatherings attended by diplomats in Washington could be described as "comfortable," as is the picnic. And rarely, if ever, are diplomats invited to bring their families to social functions, as they are for this event.

Much of Washington protocol was shed at this year's picnic as diplomats climbed aboard a stagecoach for a ride around the farm with their families. And it's unlikely anyone really knew the proper procedure for helping diplomats find a comfortable perch for the traditional hayride, or who ought to go first in a game of horseshoes or shuffleboard.

Throughout the four-hour event, a bluegrass band performed country and western music. After a lunch that included barbecued chicken and hamburgers, dancers entertained the crowd, and then taught the guests how to do the Texas two-step and western line dancing.

"This picnic is a wonderful way for the ambassadors, the deputy ambassadors and their families to be together in a relaxed setting and become acquainted with us," said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve, who attended the picnic with his wife, Barbara. "This picnic is a way to build bridges of understanding and to build lasting relationships. Some of the friendships that are made here will last for years. You can look around and see how happy everyone is to be here. The ambassadors and other diplomats enjoy meeting one another and getting a taste of the country they're in."

Beverly Campbell, director of the Church's International Affairs office, said: "Our purpose is to open doors and build bridges, to provide accurate information so the Church can move forward in the countries of the world.

"I was reading in the Doctrine and Covenants (Section 124, verses 1-14) about Joseph Smith receiving the admonition to make a proclamation of the gospel so that presidents, governors and rulers of nations would understand what the Church is about. As I read that, I thought how applicable that is to what we are doing through events such as the picnic. We see that the emissaries and ambassadors, and the peoples of nations and principalities have the opportunity to know who we are and what we are about."

Sister Campbell said the Church members who serve as hosts try to make their guests at the picnic feel at home, and to give them a sense of American culture and history. The Church is part of that culture and history, she noted.

This year's picnic had the theme "Legacies of Hope." Guests were presented paperweights made of granite with a metal plate on which was engraved outlines of pioneers. A brief history of the Church, including a reference to the Mormon Pioneers' westward trek, was printed on a small piece of paper. One paragraph stated: "As nations emerge, shift, change and grow, heroic struggles give rise to new legacies of hope, built on the dreams and sacrifices of those who have gone before. Please accept this gift as a remembrance of this day in the country and as a reminder that we are all pioneers as we journey through life."

Memories of the picnic likely will last long. Susan Faust, a member of the Women's International Committee, noted: "I think Marriott Farm has the feeling of a home place for some of the diplomats. Some of them have been to our picnics here before. I think this is a place where they enjoy coming, where they can be comfortable. A lot of the embassies are so large that the diplomats' families don't feel they have a support system. Through this picnic and other events the Women's International Committee sponsors, they build their support system. We're starting to become familiar faces. Some of the women I met at a luncheon we hosted in the spring recognized and hugged me when they arrived at the picnic. The women are starting to come up to us at these events; we used to have to seek them out. I think this shows they feel they are among friends."

Sister Faust said several of the host families have invited the diplomats and their families to Thanksgiving dinner.

Richard E. and Nancy Marriott headed the hosting committee, along with Sister Campbell and her husband, A. Pierce Campbell. Sister Marriott said one of the benefits of the picnic is the great exchange of good will.

"The picnic provides an opportunity for people from other countries to come into a unique setting in a Virginia countryside," she said. "There are good feelings of friendship among people of many nations. This can't be anything but a healthy exchange for all people. Nations benefit from this, as well as the Church.

"Every year, the picnic gets better. When you're in a community of diplomats or any other group of people, word-of-mouth speaks more than anything. Word has gotten out about this picnic. It's a day of good will, a happy day. It's a time when the diplomats don't feel they have to be on the spot. They enjoy getting out in the countryside for a day with their families.

"The first time one ambassador came to the picnic, he wore the formal attire of his office. By the end of the day, which included stage coach rides and hay rides, he realized he could just be himself. This year, he came in cowboy attire. I told him I loved his shirt, which he got especially for the picnic. He said he would look for a matching one for next year."

Sister Marriott said the large number of people who attend the picnic (this year's guests included 97 adults and 125 children) attests to the success of the event. "In Washington, there are so many formal things the diplomats have to do. They choose to come to this picnic. That is a lovely compliment to the Church and those who participate."


Attending the picnic sponsored by the Women's International Committee of the Church's International Affairs Office at the Marriott Farm Oct. 9 were ambassadors and deputy ambassadors from the following:

Austria, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Botswana, Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech, Egypt, Delegation of European Communities, France, Gabon, Germany, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Israel, Jamaica, Latvia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mongolia, Morocco, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Switzerland and Zimbabwe.

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