Sunday, November 30, 2014

Here's our carabao picture--a nice boy willing to pose for us

George: I was asked by the Mission President to go to the ‘poor hospital’ this week to give a blessing.  All we had was, what I assumed was a lady’s name.  I took one of the office elders, Elder Cudac, (a Filipino who is a licensed nurse and speaks Ilonggo) with me.  We were led to a pediatric ward, where we found a young girl, perhaps 10-years of age.  She was afflicted with Typhoid Fever.  She was a cute girl— she was receiving IV fluids by gravity and had an oxygen mask on (the oxygen was connected to a large metal cylinder).  Her Mom was sitting up on the bed with her.  We proceeded to give her a blessing.  After saying goodbye, we walked out of the ward.  I had an uneasy feeling that we had left something undone.  I said to Elder Cudac; “Let’s go back”.  We turned around and went back to the ward.  Not sure what to do, we went back to the bed where the little girl lay, and Elder Cudac asked the lady in the next bed if she would like her child blessed.  She immediately broke into tears, and said YES!  She was an inactive member and very much had desired her child to be blessed.  We did.  It was another reminder that Our Heavenly Father watches over and is mindful of all His children.  We didn’t know she was there, but Heavenly Father did.

Karen:  When I was preparing to quit my job earlier this year, I worked at a large community hospital.  We were invited to visit new bed displays and give our input on the pros and cons of each bed.  The hospital was always upgrading and the individual beds cost thousands of dollars.  The hospital was always making improvements for the safety and comfort of the patients.  I share this because when I returned a couple days later with George and the office Elders to the public government hospital, I wondered, is this legal, especially in a gastroenterology ward?  (Our missionaries only visit a private hospital and select physicians).  There were fifteen beds in a big room; no dividers of any kind.  The paint was chipping off the beds, the side rails were permanently in place and people used plastic chairs to climb in and out of bed.  If you wanted to sit up higher, you rested your back on the metal back of the bed.  Even babies were in these beds.  Family shared the beds with the sick children.  There was one bathroom for the entire area to share.  The little girl that was blessed was improving and had a big smile for us; she no longer needed oxygen.  A woman ran up to us and asked us to bless her little brother.  This petite young woman with a contagious smile wore a badge that said “watcher” allowing her to stay in the hospital with her mother and little brother.  She held my hand and talked as we walked to her family.  I had to keep reminding her I did not understand and she smiled and continued her conversation.  Her family was baptized a couple of months earlier.

Saturday, we were invited to a baptism of a family of 7 in Santa Fe Ward.  There was a wonderful woman and her family (with daughter, grandchildren, etc.).  She shared her conversion story at the end (in English!), which was very touching.  Someone had given her a Church pamphlet at some point.  One night, she happened to pick it up and read it.  She felt a very strong feeling that what she was reading was true.  She called the missionaries and asked where and when they held church services.  On Sunday morning she got her whole family up and asked them to get ready—for she was taking them to a special place.  The driver pulled up to the L.D.S. Church.  They got out and asked what are we doing here?    This is a Mormon Church!  She said, ‘follow me’.  They did and they loved it!  She was ready to be baptized after the meeting, but she said they made her follow the prescribed path; she had to have the lessons and come to church regularly for a few weeks.  Well, they all followed her—and they were all baptized.  Another wonderful experience!

Fruit stand along the road (Karen loves fruit stands)
This “ring leader” as the Sisters called her, as she was bearing her testimony during the baptism service said, “Sister Mower, you are beautiful” - Only in the Philippines!  After the service she came up to me; a small feisty women who didn’t even reach my shoulders (I am 5’7”).  She pinched my cheek with her hand and looked into my eyes and said “I want some of your nose”.  My nose is long and has a dent (like my mom’s did); finally I am happy to have that nose!

One-lane road leading to the dirt road where the missionary apartment is
Today we traveled to the mountains and visited the Minoyan group.  It is a very rural area.  The missionaries met us at the end of the one lane dirt road where we were directed to park the truck and walk with them to where the church service was held.  There were about 75 people attending.  The meeting was held in the house where the Elders live.  One young sister gave a message about gratitude; it was a reminder of it doesn’t matter if we have a lot or a little, we are blessed.   
Minoyan meeting place
George and I celebrated Thanksgiving by eating spaghetti at one of our favorite restaurants and working a normal day.  Our turkey neighbors, I am afraid were eaten.  Thanksgiving is not celebrated in the Philippines.  I told one young missionary that it was Thanksgiving in American, and he said, “Yes I know, but tomorrow is black Friday”.

We are thankful for our loved ones and the opportunity to have this adventure.  The Lord has made our backs strong.
I couldn't resist capturing this electrical box attached to a tree!

Hey, if you got to go... (it beats showing the frequent males doing it on the side of the road)

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cute smiling boy in tree
Twice this week we have driven south in the early morning hours (it gets light here all year round about 5:30 am) and found travel slow because people are up and preparing for the day.    Any type of vehicle has rights on the road including bicycles.  You can smell fragrant frying meats.  The water pumps are busy gathering spots.  There is school and paying jobs to get to.  Sweeping along the road (using a small broom made out of dried reeds) is never ending and taken seriously by all who live here.  We can’t forget the roaming animals including dogs, chickens, ducks, goats and turkeys.  I sometimes feel so thankful to have this opportunity to see things I never even imagined before coming here.

We just remembered it is Thanksgiving week in US.  No holiday for giving thanks here, but we certainly count our blessings daily.  We are thankful for our loved ones.  We do look forward to our weekly video visits with our children and grandchildren and audio with our parents. Heavenly Father is very mindful of the missionaries and we have witnessed miracles in their lives. 

We have been fortunate to meet many who have been blessed with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Today we talked to Jofrim who was baptized a year ago and is active in the Church.  He gave up his former business of selling spiders to children (they do spider fights here) and is attending school now with help from the Church Perpetual Education Fund.  

Near our neighborhood a disabled man with swollen legs and one arm that doesn’t work too well is often busy sweeping.  When he sees the blue truck coming, he stands at attention and salutes; George salutes back.  The other day, for the first time, we stopped and gave him some crackers (you know, Elder Holland's recent talk).  He smiled big enough for us to see he had only a few teeth left and said, “Thank you Elder” in English--that was certainly unexpected!

We went to Ma-ao yesterday after stopping in Bago to pick up some passengers to attend a river baptism.  The Bishop of the Bago ward, Ira who is newly engaged, and her brother Daniel who is preparing for a mission early next year rode with us.  We followed another truck with missionaries and more passengers.  We were glad that Ira spoke English well enough to be our interpreter.
Bishop speaking at member--complete with ducks roaming around ;-)

The bishop (shown in previous picture) is a humble man who truly cared for his flock. This group of members in Ma-ao are part of his ward and are organized into what is called a "Group".  The Group holds a special sacrament meeting each week--and Ma-oa is about a 45-minute trike ride from the ward building.  I asked him what he did for a living and he said he was a laborer.
Host preparing food to put on fire
We went to a member’s house until everyone assembled (which took over an hour).  Ira told me people in the Philippines always want to prepare snacks for their guests.  Our host was no exception.  A small bag of sticks was purchased to make a cooking fire.  With a machete in one hand, coconuts were cut.  The coconut was held in the other hand during this process.  Yikes!  Milk was pressed from the coconut meat and cooked with root vegetables.  When the concoction was soft it was ready to eat.  They purchased ice (they had no fridge) and bought a couple of big bottles of Coke to share.  What kind, sharing people!  The small cement house with no running water or glass windows and open doors that allowed the ducks to come and go at they saw fit overlooked a deep ravine and a winding river.  It was a breathtaking view.
Path to river where baptism was performed
Pedestrian suspension bridge across river--which people freely used as a clothes line :-)
Path down to river
View of bridge from river

People assembled after baptism

When we walked to the baptism I slipped on a muddy hill and fell.  This area didn’t appear hard to get to but we had to jump twice about three feet over a deep crevice over water to get to the baptismal spot.  People from the village were watching and wanting to be of service, brought wooden planks to cross the river on the way back.  Only my pride was hurt.  It was a great day!
Local neighbors brought these planks over to help us get back over the water
Karen & I standing by Raya, who was baptized along with the missionaries
View of river from bridge

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Okay, no carabao picture this week--Karen was fascinated with this man riding a mule

When we filled up the truck diesel tank this week (most everything runs on diesel), a small boy (probably 8-years old) stood on the median where the pumps are.  His dirt smudged face was hard to look at as he peered dolefully through the tinted window of the truck.  His shirt, which was once white, was now different shades of brown.   We carry Skyflakes (soda crackers) for times just like this.  George lowered the window and handed the young boy packaged crackers.  His worried look changed to a big smile (minus a few teeth).  He then waved to another young boy to come and get his prize.  George handed a package of crackers to the boy who also wore a worn dirty shirt and he smiled.  Filipinos can light up the day with their warm smiles.  They both said Salamat (thank you) and stood there smiling and opening their crackers until the attendant scooted them off the property.

Elder & Sister Ardern and President & Sister Lopez
It was a busy week with Mission Tour!  The missionaries look forward to this once a year event.  They gather from the far reaches of the entire mission to come to Bacolod and hear a general authority and the mission president along with their wives share insights.  Many of the missionaries also participated through music or answering questions related to their experiences.  The mission is large enough that half the mission attended on Thursday and the other half started arriving Thursday in Bacolod for the Friday activities.  It was wonderful to see so many missionaries together and shake their hands and visit briefly.  We not only were physically fed, but spiritually nourished.  Last night, Elder Ian S. Ardern, Area President of the Philippines Area said of his ‘mission tour’ in Bacolod that he felt the missionaries were the best prepared he thought he’d ever seen.

Seniors with Elder & Sister Ardern
President Lopez arranged for the senior couples to have dinner in the Mission Home on Thursday evening where it was our privilege and opportunity to spend some time with Elder and Sister Ardern.  They are very down to earth people and certainly well grounded in the Gospel.  We quite enjoyed their New Zealand accents.  They told of their call to full-time service in the First Quorum of the Seventy.  On a long-distance call with President Uchdorff, Sister Ardern’s reaction to the call was: “But we’re just ordinary people!”.  President Ardern was very frank and open with the questions and discussions we had.  He told about General Authority meeting at the October General Conference and shared some of the counsel given.

At airport with departing missionary Elder Mamona Tyson Joseph-Auga-Matamata (Elder JAM)
(George) We had a funny experience in attending the Gospel Principles class last week.  The topic was “The Lord’s Law of Health”.  As typical, the teacher taught in Ilonggo.  We can pick up a few words here and there, but it’s hard to stay focused so we usually read the lesson (or watch the stats of a BYU game ;-).  Anyway, I’m sure the well-intentioned teacher had me pegged for being in my 70s or 80s.  He decided that he was going to use me as an example for being ‘well preserved’ for my age.  He asked me how living the Word of Wisdom kept me in such great condition for my age.  He then asked me how old I was.  When I told him I was 62 he kind of awkwardly skipped on to the next topic :-).

Freshly pumped water from water tank

We have had rain the last couple of weeks, but it seems to be less intense and less often.  We actually ran out of water in our apartment and it took a day for us to be able to fill our tank.  Every morning George turns on the pump to fill our approximately 200 gallon tank.  Some mornings it takes a long time and the water can vary in color from clear to yellow to brown.  We are thankful for the water filter in kitchen, although we shower in varying shades of tubig (water).
Water filter system and clean water we purchase from a water station in blue jug

Sunday, November 9, 2014

You guessed it--another carabao picture; you gotta love this sweet man on his gentle steed
George asked a missionary what is the source of all light?  She replied “Ceneco”, the local electric company (LOL).  I mention this because just yesterday George commented that we hadn’t had a “brown out” in a long time and then last night we had a brown out and again today the electricity was cut off at 8:00 this morning and at 4:00 in the afternoon, we still have no electricity.

Today, we attended our 35th different sacrament meeting since coming here almost 7 months ago.  Instead of being assigned to one unit when we came, our president asked us to attend a different meeting each week.  We have tried to do that.  Although we aren’t able to build close relationships with a single community; we have had many wonderful experiences.  Today, since the power was out, we sat in an overcrowded sacrament meeting and sweltered in a ~90 degree Fahrenheit heat with ~90% humidity; it was very warm and humid and there was no moving air.  A sweet sister sat by me and fanned me.  Her arm must be sore from the constant movement.  It was well worth it!  The people were so kind and friendly to us. 

We remembered an experience years ago when we attended our first meeting in Rochester, Minnesota.  The bishop stood and thanked everyone for attending on such a cold day.  Turns out, it was -20 degrees F; one of the coldest days of the winter.  We were visitors there with light jackets, but warm hearts.

 Busy cemetery gathering on All Souls Day
Backing up an entire week, we were invited to tag along with the mission president and his wife to some outlying areas last Sunday.  This travel required a truck (which we are using) because of the roads.  We traveled 2 ½ hours north to Sewahon a small community and a fairly new area for missionaries.  Because it was All Souls day, there was much traffic on the main road that included trucks of all sizes with chairs in the back for people to sit on, many trikes (motorcycles with side car) that were loaded with passengers, and even motorcycles that had up to 5 humans stacked up. 
Primary Class outside home

We have been able to experience what a tourist probably wouldn’t see here.   When you travel down a street you see many bamboo tin roof structures.  But many times, if you look closely, there are narrow passageways that can take you deeper into communities.  George parked the truck in deep mud on the main street in Sewahon and we ventured single file down a narrow path to a member’s home where Church was being held.  Out of respect we removed our shoes and attended Church barefooted.  Normally with shoes on I might step on a wandering bug, here I hoped the bugs would stay away from me.  In this small house the electrical wires were visible and hanging.  I noticed sun shining though small holes in the rusted tin roof.  Several of us sat on a narrow wooden bench.  About 30 people attended Church.  The small living room was crowded and some people sat on the front porch and listened.  Even in these humble circumstances, it was wonderful to partake of the sacrament and to hear heart-felt testimonies.

Members, investigators and a bare chested (drunk) onlooker after meeting
After the meeting we were escorted to another cement house where a “special snack” was waiting for us.  They prepared sticky rice and had out their best plastic dishes and cups.  Our president and his wife shared a plate and as they ate a little, the hostess piled more on their plate.

Children posed before another special Sacrament Meeting we attended

Prior to meeting--these benches (and more) were filled
These chickens were milling around during the meeting looking for food

Another 6 weeks have come and gone (time between regular transfers) and 19 missionaries went home and in the turnaround 17 new missionaries arrived.  This is kind of a bittersweet time; the missionaries grow so dear to our hearts.  The new “batch” as they are called seemed ready for the task at hand and we enjoyed getting to know them.
An excited "batch" of new missionaries arrive
This next week is the “Mission Tour”:  The area president and his wife are coming.  The caterer of choice was not available, so we ordered food from a new source.  We thought we better try the food first, so George drove the Assistants to the President, the Office Elders and me to the restaurant.  I must tell you, the establishment from the outside and even looking around the inside is probably not a place I would be interested in trying!  But they graciously brought out plate after plate of some of the food that would be served at this special event and the missionaries ate and ate until they were stuffed.  I am sure they brought out at least 10 different dishes.  The missionaries unanimously agreed the food was a good choice.  When George asked for the bill, we were advised there was no charge.  Only in the Philippines!
Freshly plowed field across from where the meeting was held