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Foreign diplomats enjoy outing with Western flavor in Virginia

Ambassadors and diplomats and their families got a taste of the American West as they lunched, danced and played at the eighth annual Western Family Picnic, held at the Marriott Farm here on Sept. 26.

The diplomats, representing 26 countries, gathered with a group of Church members to foster understanding and build relationships between the Church and their countries.Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy and president of the North America East Area greeted the international guests, along with Richard and Nancy Marriott of Host Marriott. Also hosting the diplomats were T. LaMar Sleight, director of the Church's International and Government Affairs Office, and his wife, Sharma, and Ann C. Santini, director of International Affairs for the Church, and her husband, Jim.

Countries represented were Azerbajian, Belarus, Botswana, Cameroon, China, Croatia, Egypt, Estonia, the European Union, Fiji, Georgia, Germany, Honduras, Iceland, Israel, Kyrgyz Republic, Lebanon, Lithuania, New Zealand, the Philippines, Russia, Slovak Republic, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Turkey and Uzbekistan.

Also attending were local Church leaders and LDS members of Congress, Senator Bob Bennett of Utah and his wife, Joyce; and California representatives Howard P. (Buck) McKeon and Ron Packard and his wife, Jean.

The ranch was transformed into a western playground for the event and bustled with activity. Throughout the day, children and adults crafted leather wristbands, created sand art, took covered wagon rides and hay rides, hunted for arrowheads, practiced lassoing and played horseshoes.

Diplomats experienced a favorite pioneer pastime as they watched traditional square dancing and clogging performances by BYU's International Folk Dance Team. The folk dancers then taught the diplomats a variety of steps, including some line dances. The international guests were wide-eyed and awed as members of BYU's Living Legends, colorfully clad in authentic costumes, performed the intricate movements of Native American dances.

Elder Carmack said, "Recognizing that we are all part of the Washington, D.C., community, we can develop an attitude of helpfulness on both the part of the Church and on the part of the diplomats because we know each other."

Event planners wanted the diplomats to leave the picnic this year with a greater understanding of the global expansion of the Church. Through a display that included pioneer handicrafts, maps and charts, diplomats learned about the pioneers' westward trek, the movement of the Church across the United States and the expansion of the Church throughout the world.

Chris Brewer, a member of the Washington D.C. Stake, told pioneer stories for the visitors. He later said that Hu Yongtao, first secretary in the embassy of China, spent time conversing with him. Brother Brewer said: "I showed him a handcart and told him how 10 companies traveled across the country to the Salt Lake Valley using handcarts. There were tears in his eyes as he told me how his people used handcarts, and that there were many similarities between the Mormon trek and the Long March."

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