Monday, June 30, 2008

First Week

Vicki's putting the pictures together, so I'm going to write a little about what's been going on the last two weeks.

We arrived in Bogotá late June 13th. We had a little trouble getting through immigration at the airport, until they found our visas in our passports. We didn't have any problems with customs—we got a green light, so no inspection.

We were met at the airport by two people from my office. They took us to the temple patron housing, where they had stocked our apartment with food and made sure we had everything we needed. We were across the parking lot from the temple, so we took advantage of that.

The next day (Saturday) we met my boss and some of the members of the church. We took a walk to a mall about ½ mile from the temple. The traffic is intense and taxi rides are white knuckle experiences, but the drivers seem to get through them okay.

It took us about a week to find a permanent apartment. We're about 30 blocks from work, so we get a good hike in when we walk. Usually we take a taxi, because it isn't safe to carry our computers that far. Eventually we'll get our computers at work, then we won't have to haul ours back and forth. Once that happens we'll walk almost every day. When we get back to the US we should be in good shape.

This is a long weekend. Monday is a holiday. I asked one of the folks at work what the holiday was all about. He said no one knows (I think it's San Pedro's day). They just have lots of holidays. We expect to spend some time with my mentor/trainer doing some sightseeing on Monday.

We'll be going to Mexico City in July, as well as to a couple of other cities in Colombia (including Cartagena). In August we'll go to Ecuador for about 10 days to put on some training.

We're inviting ourselves to various areas to provide training for the stake and ward auditors. There is a high turn over, so we need to repeat that training often.

When we go out to train the auditors, the mission presidents try to see Vicki. All of them have some missionaries who need some help, and they see Vicki as a life boat. We spent four hours today with a mission president and his wife discussing some of the problems they're having. They obviously care a lot about their missionaries, and want to help them find their way in life.

We're having fun with the language. Vicki understands a lot of what she hears, and confirms the rest with me (a reversal of our usual roles). Most of the folks we work with understand a lot of English, but are limited in their ability to speak. Today's visit with Pres. & Sis. Martinez was typical. Vicki spoke to them in English, and they spoke to her in Spanish. I was able to fill in the gaps when they didn't understand, but that wasn't all that often.

We have found several stores where we like to shop. A couple of days ago we went to a place called Carrefour. It's a French owned chain like Walmart, only the store is much bigger, and the aisles aren't crowded with merchandise. It was a comfortable place to shop. After we got what we wanted to there, we went across the street to a fruit and vegetable store. It was amazing how much fruit we were able to find. We're trying new things every day. We eat a lot differently than we're used to. Our new diet is probably pretty healthy.

There's too much going on to tell all of it. We're always amazed as we watch horse drawn carts, buses, bicycles, motorcycles, cars and even an occasional truck on the crowded streets. What would be two lanes in the US becomes four lanes here. About every third car is a taxi, but we have to be careful not to hail them down when we want a ride. We call a taxi service and request a ride. They give a license plate number (which is also printed on the side of the vehicle) and a security code. When the taxi arrives, we have to give the driver the code so he can call it in.

The motorcycle laws are interesting. All the riders have to wear helmets and vests with the license plate numbers in huge letters. We never see a motorcyclist without a helmet. We've seen a lot of near accidents, but never one that actually occurred. We hardly ever see a car with a dent. Crowding in with a car seems to be an accepted way of life. We sometimes see traffic cops, but we never see them pull anyone over. If there are rules of the road, we don't know what they are. I guess the main rule is that whoever is biggest has the right of way, or whoever honks first gets to go through the intersection first.

Private security is everywhere, which is both comforting and disconcerting at the same time. We're glad to have the security, but we wish it wasn't necessary. There are police on every block, and at night they carry sub-machine guns. We have to go through security to get into our building at work, and our computer serial numbers are checked when we enter and when we leave. When we leave our apartment, the security guard at the door lets us out, and lets us back in when we return. It's kind of nice to know that strangers can't just walk into our building.

There is much to tell, but not enough time to tell it right now. We'll add more on our next blog update. We're having new and different experiences every day, and enjoying every bit of it. Wish we could have done this years ago!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Catch up

Ok here we go. It has been a couple of weeks since I have been able to update this blog and a lot has happened. First of all we are finally in Bogota. We got here last night late. We were on visa hold for a while We are temporarily in housing on the grounds of the Bogota, Temple.

If you go to google and then to maps for Bogota Colombia and look at the satellite photo you can almost see us. Just put in Mormon Temple Bogota Colombia in the search box and 5 locations will come up. It is the one that is furtherist north. I don’t know what the others are. We are in the wing of the L shaped building that is closest to the Temple. Zoom in to one hash mark from the top.

This Temple is Huge. It is as long as the Salt Lake Temple and just a little bit smaller in width and just as tall. I will talk more about our adventures here so far later , (we have walked to the Mall and gone into the neighborhoods around the Temple looking for the Chapel where we will go to church tomorrow.) But first I want to talk some more about our experience in the MTC.

The MTC is an amazing place. The young missionaries are given assignments to go stop a senior couple and teach them a short principle or share their testimony in their new language. They catch us while we are between classes or in the laundry or going to meals. The senior couples are given basically the same assignment except it is to stop young missionaries and teach and/or speak to them in the language we are learning.

As a result all over the MTC grounds you see little groups of usually 4 (two elders or sisters talking to a senior couple) And you know what is going on. This gets done a lot during the first 2 weeks a new missionary is in language training. We have had several sets come up to us. Some from the US going Spanish speaking, some from Korea going English speaking. One group was from Canada and Australia going German Speaking. In addition we have seen lots of other people practicing their languages. We have several pictures in the slide show below of Elders and Sisters who have practiced their language skills with us.

The two elders in the Fiji shirts are going to Fiji but the short one, is one of three missionaries in training from a small Island just off of the Marshal Islands. He has his own native language and is here learning both English (which he had never had the opportunity to speak or hear before) and Fijian(also new to him.) There are no native speakers of his language at the MTC (which is unusual). He is one of several elders and sisters that are coming in from the Islands.

One of the problems these Elders and Sisters face is that they have never worn shoes. Even the Samoan and Tongon Elders have problems in shoes but these three from this particular Island are really having trouble. We talked to their branch president and he indicated that they are all currently in flip flops because their feet are so sore and blistered, even on the tops of the toes. He says he has had to have the medical staff attend to a couple of them because they are so excited to be here that they don’t want to complain. Their toes are all spread out instead of being bunched together like someone who wears shoes. It is hard for them to walk in regular shoes. A moccasin like shoe has been created for them and they will transition to that after they get the sores healed.

Foot issues were one of the things we got training on in the medical department. It underscores some of the problems that we deal with. Some Elders have been raised going to the Doctor about every little problem and complain about everything. They have very little tolerance for the discomfort that mission life can bring. When they struggle with the language and are sleeping and eating in sometimes less than adequate situations they get discouraged and a few have a hard time adjusting. Most of them usually make the adjustment expecially when they get into the field and can see the conditions that many people in the world live in. They develop a sense of gratitude and go to work to help make things better.

Some, however, think that God doesn’t love them if they have to experience some difficult times. Others are genuinely ill either physically or they have a major mental health challenge that can not be helped in the field. That’s where I come in. Part of my job is helping those that want to stay in the field have the help they need in the field if it is feasible. Some of these are the best ,most hard working elders. They are not slackers but the extreme stress of the mission makes the issues they struggle with worse or brings them out in the first place. If they reach a point where they can not function (and we have some guide lines for that) than we have to bring them home for treatment. There is a difference between the Elder who is suffering from the “Traditions of His Fathers” ie a life of plenty and no real discomforts in life and the one who goes over the edge into a serious mental health challenge that needs better treatment and less stress than we can offer in the field. Elders and Sisters have to be able to do the work. If they can’t than we work with them to come to some kind of an agreement that they need treatment at home.

It is always hard to send an Elder or Sister Home but sometimes it has to be done. The other part of this delimma is that we have Elders like the Island Elders and Sisters I have talked about have come from such humble circumstances that they will ignore even the worst pain in order to continue to serve. We have to be careful at both ends of the “Traditions of their Fathers” spectrum. I can tell you that we have fewer Elders from poverty areas of the globe experiencing depression and anxiety. They experience psychosis at about the same rate .

Below are the pictures I have taken so far in Colombia. My Spanish is inadequate and improving rapidly. I even bought soap (jabon) at a small neighborhood Drug store kind of on my own, ie I sort of did the talking (a lot of hand guesturing and a few words). I also bought a few things like flour and sugar at a major grocery store. (You have to go through security to park in the lot and you have to pay to get out. ) It was a as crowded and noisy as it is on a Saturday afternoon at any store in the US and they have anything and everything you could think of including US products (which cost an arm and a leg). I can’t give you any price comparisons yet. I don’t know the exchange rate well enough to figure it out.

We walked along the bike route to a big mall (see slide show below)and looked around but the grocery store is not in the Mall. Br Barlow, who Darwin will be working with (He is the comptroller for the SA North Area), took us. He is leaving Tuesday for a months vacation in the US so we don’t know who will be English Speaking down here to get us oriented. We will be shopping on Monday and Tues for an apartment. That could be interesting.

The Car situation here is interesting. Taxi’s and buses are everywhere and are cheap. There are private cars but they are given certain days when they can be on the road and other days when they can’t be. It is by licenses plate number. Br. Barlow said that right now he cannot dirve his car on Tues and Friday. That will switch to Monday and Thursday in August. On Sunday they totally shut down most major roads into the central city and make them bike and pedestrian only.

We are very much on our own until Monday when we will go into the office for the first time. They did give dad a cell phone right away so we have contact numbers. But anybody’s best bet to get us is by email. As I said we are in Patron Housing on the Temple grounds. The Temple has security personnel on duty around the clock. They have been very helpful. Everybody down here is just great. The Temple president lives in this complex but mostly these apartments are for the Temple patrons that come in from areas away from the city. There were lots of families here today(Saturday). Enough for now. More next week. Check out the pictures of the water system in the slide show
PS Note. While at the Grocery store I bought noodles and some canned tuna and some soup to make tuna noodle casserole. We are not going to be here in this apartment long so I wanted stuff that was simple and quick. This apartment is furnished and has utensils but after I had finished cooking the noodles I discovered that we didn’t have a can opener. Talk about “Traditions of the Fathers”. I just assumed that a stocked kitchen would have a can opener but they don’t use that many canned foods down here; those of us who don’t cook well with all natural ingredients have expectations by tradition that just don't hold up here.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Scenes from the MTC

The pictures that follow are just a few of the sites at the MTC. We have taken some pictures of the grounds and some of the pictures hanging on the walls in the main building. There are probably 300 or more photos of Elders and Sisters serving around the world. We have also included a picture of the map showing the 17 Missionary training centers and pictures of a few of the international MTC's. I hope you like them. Leave a note that you have been here or sign the guest book at

Monday, June 2, 2008

Church on Sunday at the MTC

Yesterday was incredable. We were assigned to the 57th branch. There are 57 branches (ie church congregations) at the MTC but there are not that many that are Comprised of Elders and Sisters learning to speak english (ESL). Branch 57 is one of those. We had Elders and Sisters in the branch from Tonga, Samoa, Japan, Mainland China, and Pakistan. Some of the other couples were with Elders and Sisters from Mexico and South Ameria and had church in Spanish. There were still others who were having church in Spanish with other Spanish speaking Elders. Since yesterday was fast sunday (for those non members of the LDS Church-- a day set a side to fast - go without food for two meals and donate the money you save by not eating those two meals for the blessing of the poor and needy) During the meeting of our branch we had several of the Tongans, and two Samoans, and one sister from China stand and speak in English. The Tongans had been here for 7 weeks and were speaking quite well. The little Sister from China Got up and spoke. She has only been in the US for 1 week and spoke with broken but understandable English. It was wonderful to be there and feel their spirit. They were all dedicated and had strong testimonies that Joseph Smith did in fact see the Father and the Son in a vision and that Moroni (a resurrectuded being did infact deliver The Book of Mormon to Joseph who translated it by the power of God.) After Church we went to a fireside where the Senior Couples sit down front and were overwhelmed by the 2000 Elders and Sisters sitting behind us as they sang.

We wandered the halls of the MTC looking a pictures of Elders and Sisters, teaching, performing services, building, baptising and doing all that you do when you are in the service of the Lord.

Today we went to the church Office building in SALT Lake. We had the first of 4 days of medical and mental health area adviser orientation. In addition I will still be meeting with my tutor this week on Wed-Frid and then we fly out on Monday Jun 10, 2008. At our meetings today they informed me that my counterpart that was supposed to go to the South America West Area, (which is Bolivia and Peru) can't make it so I will have 10 more missions to look after for a while. We have a Doctor in Lima so that will help.

We were assigned a car from the BYU car pool. It was a Toyota Prius Hybred. It was fun to drive. There were gages that showed what kind of gas milage you were getting. We are hoping that in two years BYU will be ready to sell these and buy new ones. Maybe we can buy a used one when we get back.

Well enough for today. I will try to post more pictures tomorrow. To my grand kids.----I want you to know that I know that God lives and is our loving Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ is his son and came to earth to overcome death and provide for our return to our Father in Heaven if we would make the changes necessary in our lives to show that we love Him and that we will take upon us His name and keep His commandements.. If we will do that he will make weak things strong in our lives and will through His power make us better than we are. He loves us and Leads this Church through His prophet on the earth. That man is Thomas S Monson.

I will be back soon with more pictures.

Vicki (Mom and Grandma)