Monday, January 28, 2013

We're on our way!

Several of the initiatives we have been working on since we first arrived in the mission field were kicked off this weekend, and we are thrilled! First, your Trinidad culture lesson for this week.

 This is our home office and we have found the coolest thing to deal with the Carribean flying creatures!  Some of you know our love for tennis....well, we have found a replacement.  The electric bug zapper!  I'm just dying to take one of these up to the cabin. We ARE bringing one home!  It electrocutes and evaporates bugs on contact with a pop like a firecracker! Endless entertainment! Here's his backhand shot.
Forehand.  Got it!
 I made him hold still so you could actually see it! We have way too much fun with this thing and the minute we see anything flying in our office, the race is on to get to the bug zapper first!!  I can hardly wait to entertain my grandchildren with this in a whole swarm of mosquitoes in the Uintahs!
I just had to include this billboard.  They are all over the place.  The first time we saw one, we were like, "You've got to be kidding?" It has led to several interesting discussions about the culture as it relates to men.  A man we love in a very senior leadership position from Guadaloupe explained it thus when we met privately with him.  "You can never understand, Elder Monson."  He had his arm on his shoulder and was looking deep into his eyes.  "The men here are suffering! They try to prove their manhood in any number of destructive ways.The Gospel of Jesus Christ heals them, but it is a long, long process."

After a meeting this Saturday with the Stake President, we had a chance to just lime with him for awhile.  Lime= hang out and chat in Trini.  All the youth go liming on the weekend!  Anyway, we discussed this a little more with him.  He is a great man.  We love him!  He basically gave us a history lesson going back decades, and we are starting to figure it out.  The families were fractured in slavery, men ripped from their homes to be sent somewhere to work never to return. So the Africans became a matriarchal society, that is until the children got old enough to be torn away to be used as  work implements too.  It had rippling effects that are still keenly felt. The sense of belonging, of community, of family was not part of their history.  As their culture evolved, that translated into an isolationist, every-man-for-himself, survival-of-the-fittest, you-do-your-thing-I-do-mine mentality.  Add to that the lack of initiative and drive that comes from a government-entitled, dependent society and you see many of the problems here in Trinidad.  Then, the Church comes along with its focus on family, building your brothers and sisters, service and community in ward, branch or unit. It is a huge stretch!  The happy thing is happening!  The Lord does heal them and the future of the Church in the Carribean radiates in these noble youth, returned missionaries and young leaders!
This is a perfect example.  We went to New Beginnings this week.  The young woman on the right is adorable, and she is standing next to her STAKE YOUNG WOMENS PRESIDENT!!!! The girl is 14 and the president is a recently returned missionary She is 23!  That is the case through all of our areas of responsibility, the High Councilors, the Stake Presidency, they are mostly young, with few exceptions, by North American standards. They are the stalwarts!  They see the vision!  They get the Gospel of Jesus Christ! So, you see why the mission president has been inspired to dedicate a senior couple exclusively to youth/YSA needs and concerns, and we are the blessed couple that get to have that assignment.  We are driven to get these wonderful youth nourished with the good word of God and going on missions because they are needed immediately upon their return to build his kingdom!
 Some more of the girls at New Beginnings
The Girls at New Beginnings in front of the refreshment table.  Look closely at the girl on the far right and the girl on the far left. I have to share this story because it must be recorded in our journal.  I was playing the piano for the opening song when the missionaries came in with these two girls.  The elder came up and whispered to me that they had to go and would I sit by them during the meeting and take care of them.  I went down, introduced myself, and we sat together during the meeting.  Afterward, they got some refreshments, and we"limed" until we were the last ones to leave and Elder Monson and I gave them a ride home.  I love these girls!! One of them has had three discussions and been to church once.  The other just came with her best friend for fun and knew nothing about the church.  With that information, I asked them if they had a clue what on earth Personal Progress was???  They laughed!  I explained it and gave them a book.  I told them they could ask me any questions they had about the church.  The one said, "Well, the missionaries keep talking about a word that I hear over and over, and I don't know what it means,"  "What is it,"  "Atonement." That was a revelation and led to a great discussion.  They wanted to know what "Fireside" and "Steak" (Stake) President meant since he spoke in the meeting.  I invited them to the first of our youth/YSA monthly firesides beginning the next day (after explaining there would be no marshmallows), and the one said she had a conflict and could not come. Her friend said she would walk there by herself, would read the Book of Mormon, and would talk to me tomorrow more about it.  She did come, she had read third Nephi chapter 9 through 11, and when asked how she felt as she read it, she said, "I loved it so much that I wanted to go back and start from the first!"  As we embraced, I told her that I know that she is my sister and we have the same loving Father in Heaven. We both cried. There is nothing sweeter than seeing the Spirit touch the heart of another person!! I LOVE BEING A MISSIONARY! I LOVE YOUNG PEOPLE SO MUCH; the honesty of their hearts, the direct, raw way they are who they present themselves to be, without any hypocrisy or guile!  I just may have to stay on my mission the rest of my life!  My children know the Lord and their children are being taught the gospel by righteous parents, and there are soooooo many people who don't have that incredible blessing!
 I had to preserve this daily experience. Elder Andrus, above, (from St. George, within walking distance from our home, in our stake and no, we didn't know him and his wife before the mission....remember this is Utah, not Chicago) presides from his desk while the rest of us sit across from him.  They are returning home, along with Sister Galbraith, in one week, so I had to record a picture of our morning devotionals before they left.
 The other side of his desk!
Our morning routine is to get up at 6:30 am, walk in our neighborhood for three miles, get ready and be to our office devotional at 8:00 am.  The office missionaries, the nurse, travel sister, and auditor sister join us, and we rotate leading the devotionals alphabetically.  There have been some amazing messages shared. One was from the auditor sister, whom we love, and she was telling us that in her family, (she joined the church when she was 18) there are seven children.  Three of her siblings have died, two of alcohol related illnesses and one of a heart attack.  Of the remaining 4, one has struggled all his life with drugs, in and out of rehab; the other three joined the church and have raised their families in the church.  She talked about the tangible blessings of being an active member of this church, and how sometimes those blessings are not apparent when you are young. When you look back at your life from a 70-year perspective, at children and grandchildren and the fruits of the gospel in their lives, it is staggering to see how blessed one’s life is because they choose to live the gospel of Jesus Christ and strive to keep His commandments.  It was an amazing perspective. 

 R to L Sister Sanner, Us, Sister Andrus, Sister Brown, Sister Galbraith
 I had to include this picture of the adorable scripture bags that the YW in Port of Spain made from a placemat, some ribbon and a fabric flower.  They also made the tissue paper balls hanging above them.  Their leaders are awesome and great examples of the New Curriculum teaching method. 

After a four hour youth YSA meeting, we drove home three youth.  It was a two hour drive so we got some good visiting time.  Two of them are brother and sister and shared their conversion story.  They were Hare Krishna’s prior to becoming members, and yes, they did the chanting and wore the robes.  They did not shave their heads though!
They said their mom and dad were struggling and decided to divorce, so he moved out into the front house (6'x8').  They all stayed in the back ( 12' by 12'). Their Mom felt there was something missing in her life; saw the missionaries walking down the street and actually pulled her car in front of them to block their way.  Surprised, they went over to her window and asked, “May we help you?”  She responded that she wanted them to teach her.  Surprisingly, they obliged!  She and her youngest daughter joined the church.  The two teenagers were not interested; they really liked their Hare Krisna church.  The missionaries would come teach, and they would sit in the back and pretend not to listen.  When they started talking about repentance, and how Dad could repent, change his ways and they could be an eternal family, they were interested.  Eventually  Dad would come from the front house and listen too.  They really started to pay attention when Dad was baptized and moved back into the house, and Mom and Dad got married again.  Now, two years later, these two young people and their family’s lives have completely changed.  She is engaged to be married, and when I asked them about the wedding, they said they are saving every dime to be able to get married in the temple.  They have been inspired by President Goodluck and his wife who went without electricity and running water for 8 months after getting married to save money to go to the temple.  They used candles and hauled water rather than use money for electricity and pipes for plumbing.  When they married they were determined to save enough within one year and were able to make it in 9 months.  For righteous people in this country, they get married, with only parents in attendance, at a government office with no fanfare whatsoever, not a dime spent, that would detract from the money they are saving daily to be able to be sealed in the temple.  Her brother has received his mission call and will be leaving in March on his mission and has served three mini-missions.  The gospel changes lives!  
Phew!  That was a ton of writing and not enough pictures!  The good thing is...... it is not a meeting...... you can leave whenever you want!!  Till next week, adieu

Monday, January 21, 2013

Groundhog Day sunshine every day!

We love our assignment!  We are working with the youth and YSA programs across the mission.  We travel each week to a different branch, unit or ward in Trinidad and, since the New Year began, we have been modeling the New Curriculum for youth in the YM & YW and Youth Sunday School classes.  Some of the sweetest teaching experiences of my life have happened in the last few weeks.  So many of these youth come from religious backgrounds where they have had no or very little exposure to the notion that God is the literal Father of our spirits, that we lived as sisters and brothers before we came to this earth, that he is intimately aware of us, loves and seeks after us as a loving Father (which most of them do not have on this earth.)  To see that thought settle in their hearts and touch their spirits has been humbling and astonishing.  We, who grew up as children knowing our Heavenly Father is ever present, that we can talk to him and walk through life assisted by His Spirit, cannot begin to imagine the difference that knowledge makes to them. 
Finding these branches is a real challenge.  See the Church sign? We drove around this block three times before we found the Chinese restaurant pictured here.  The Church meets above it and there is a market across the street. It was full to capacity, every seat was filled. 

 Many of the teachers have only been members a short time, many have been called by bishops, unit or branch presidents that have barely been members.  They are called to teach, handed a manual and  just try to figure it out.  We had one very prominent leader say to us, “I was raised by a single mother, I don’t know how to be a husband, let alone have any clue how to fulfill this major leadership role I hold.  The only example I have ever had is Dr. Huxtable on the Cosby Show.”  The culture for men is tragic.  The majority of men embrace a culture that condones men drinking, partying, sleeping around, addicted to drugs and even beating their wives.  A member of the Church confided to me that her mother told her, when he husband openly had a girlfriend, to not worry about it because all men did that.  So needless to say, the dearth of righteous priesthood leaders is a big problem here.  It is a huge leap in this culture for a man to become a man of God, leave the false traditions of this culture, and commit to serve in the church and his family.  There are so many women with broken lives and broken hearts reminiscent of the women in the book of Mormon. (Jacob2:31) "For behold, I, the Lord, have seen the sorrow, and heard the mourning of the daughters of my people…… in all the lands of my people, because of the wickedness and abominations of their husbands." 
This is why we have been commissioned to focus on the youth and a new generation willing to rise up and answer the Lord’s call to serve missions, keep His commandments and separate from the culture of the society they live in. They are doing it!  Just look up Trinidad Carnival 2012 online and you can get a sense of what they have to deal with.  Carnival happens every year during February in Trinidad.  It is Mardi Gras on steroids! They are noble youth and making great sacrifices to walk in opposition to the ways of the world and stand strong with the lord and the standards he has set. They inspire us more with every interaction!
We were there early while they were setting up listening to the cacophony of traffic and shopping just outside the windows.  
The Elders came over for breakfast this morning and as we were washing the dishes looking out our window we saw.........yes, a monkey!  That is not something we have ever seen looking out our front window before!
 Elder Monson ran outside and got some more shots of him as he waltzed along the fence.
 and moved happily on down the street!
Welcome to the, "unusual trees in Trinidad" section of this post.
 There are lots of these strange fan palm trees.
 Another variety of palm. Very different than the ones in Saint George.
 Coconut trees.  Everywhere; in peoples yards, and coconuts are sold off the streets.
 How would you like to pick a coconut from the back yard?
 These skinny downward hanging trees are kinda sad looking!
 Look carefully at this Park.  What is missing?  Observe the ground. They all look just like this!

Trini Culture lesson for the week
This was the process last week for a single sister to get her license.  She arrived two weeks before we did so we will be looking forward to this experience soon! However, we have been assured that every single experience, (guidelines, only guidelines) is completely different.  Never complain about your DMV again! 3 days, 3 trips driving to the license location, an average of 3-4 hours per day.  The first visit: stand in line for three hours to get the forms required, and the test booklet, one of which is a mandatory Doctor’s physical form. Second day: start the day by going to the designated Dr. for the physical form to be filled out. This sister in this story is the mission nurse. (Good thing they didn’t know that)  She described the physical thus: Actually took blood pressure, wrote the result on the form. Just filled in any old number for eyes, (wrote down 20/20.)  She wears glasses and they didn’t check with or without them.  Put any random number down for respiration, pulse and weight.  She has a heart murmur so she was worried.  They never listened, so it wasn’t an issue.  She passed!  They signed the form; she paid money, and returned with the completed physical form. The office opens at 8:00 am, but this day there was a guy out in front on a ladder fixing something so 43 people stood in line watching him for forty five minutes. The office opened at 8:50 that day.  Wait for three hours to get the {Approval To Take Exam} form because the { Physical Exam} form was now completed and COME BACK TOMORROW! Third day: Wait four hours, in fact be the very last person waited on (complexion disadvantage & not being a naturalized citizen) to take test, take picture, and go skipping merrily away with your license! We are soooo excited!!

 We had an appointment this week with a family who requested Senior Missionaries.  The Elders came with us for our first visit.  We met them and I guess we passed the first inspection because we have an apt. with them on Wednesday.  They have seven children, one of their daughters has a baby also and they live up this path.  The branch has just added another room to their home. They really need it..

 Here's Elder Monson out in front of their home.
 The Dad, some of the kids and mom without her head.  Great photography!
 Mom's head and another one of the kids.
 The daughter's daughter.  Isn't she beautiful!
 The top of a nearby house where the kids have a flat surface to play. 
 Ever since we got here, we have heard about the amazing bake n shark sandwiches at Richards on the beach! It's about an hour away, so when we were 1/4th the way there for Stake training prior to Conference on Saturday, our fellow missionary invited us to experience the much regaled hot spot for missionaries!  Look what we found!  We really are in the Caribbean.  It was beautiful!
 The overlook on the way to the beach.
 Our friend, compatriot and the notorious winner of the Oreo "down the forehead and in the mouth first" game!
 The famous place we have heard so much about! Find Elder Monson in line? The Sandwich is a scone with two lightly breaded shark fillets deep fried with a condiment table full of tomatoes, lettuce, shredded cabbage, onions and a bunch of sauces to put on top.  It was as yummy as we had been promised, though not for daily fare, we are thinking!
 The beach across the street from Richard's.
 We finally found a bunch of tourists!  Even some typical tourist jewelry selling stands.  Until next week, think of us suffering in this interminable 80 degree temperature!