Sunday, October 28, 2012

Our First Week in Kingson, Jamaica

We had to fly from DR to Miami where we laid over for an hour or so and then to Jamaica.  There is not really any air service between the islands of the Caribbean. People moved our bags for us and just as we came out on to the street Kevin Brown pulled up to pick us up. 

Kevin Brown is a wonderful young man we had heard much of when we were in DR.  He is the Institute director and a native Jamaican.  He is very bright and outgoing.  He has been carrying the PEF by himself since it started here.  He took us to what we later learned was one of the branch buildings where we met the Larsens, a great couple from Parowan UT.  They began immediately orienting us to the city.  We went to the mission office where we met Elder and Sister Evans, the new office couple who we have been communicating with, and several missionaries. 

Our apartment was not supposed to be ready until Monday when the electricity would be turned on but when we went to drop off our things we learned it was ready so that was a great thing otherwise we would have been staying at the mission home.  Our first impression was very favorable.  It has two big bedrooms and the kitchen living room and dining room are all the same room. 

Our living room/dining room/kitchen--yes that is the dining table and the dining chair

We spent a couple days getting things done to set up our apartment and get oriented to the city.  So the last thing we had to get was our car, which was being serviced and being made ready for us.  We got it on Friday afternoon.  It is a four door pickup!  I’m sure my sisters will be jealous!  But of course the kicker is that we drive on the wrong side of the street here! 

Saturday we got up ready to try our wings and go shopping but we had to wait for our landlord to come fix a closet door so we didn’t get out until about 2:00.  This does not seem like a big deal to write about but the fact that we are driving on a different side of the street makes it a big deal in this traffic.  We were told in DR that the driving in Jamaica was crazy but except for being on a different side of the street I think it is considerably easier to drive here than it would have been in DR where they are so fast and crazy and aggressive.  They are not terribly fast here and there is much more polite crowding and very little honking.  The taxies stop where they die (often) in the middle of the street and they will pull out into the oncoming lane to crowd back in front of their line but no one seems to mind.  I have seen nothing like road rage and not even terribly aggressive driving.  My biggest fear is hitting a pedestrian or a street vendor—they walk between the cars at a stop light selling fruit and trinkets or washing windows. 

The last two nights we have come home after dark and I must say much as I hate driving in the dark the hardest thing about driving this truck is parking it in our very tiny parking space here at our apartment.  There is no room to maneuver in the driveway and the parking spaces leave literally 6-10” between cars.

Saturday night we went to a baptism of a man, Bro Banhan, whose wife joined the Church 28 years ago and daughters joined as children, but who has just been holding out all these years while being completely active with his family.  There are many interesting details that came out during the evening which actually lasted 2 ½ hours.  Sister Banhan was taught and baptized by a coworker who was the Branch Pres I think; his name is Nugent.  He and his wife flew in from SLC, where they have since moved, to be to the baptism.  Their grandson is one of the missionaries we first met when we arrived at the mission office.  His family now lives in Mapleton UT.  He performed the baptism of Bro Banhan.  Many interesting coincidences.

It was an amazing meeting.  Several people spoke and bore testimony.  I was more than impressed with the poise, polish, confidence, spiritual depth, and expressed faith of everyone who spoke.  There was not a spiritually immature talk given—even by his 16 year old daughter who was a bit socially immature.  It was an amazing experience and the spirit there was wonderful.  I guess I expected a “developing” country to have “developing Saints”—I was wrong!  We stayed and visited for a while after and you would be hard pressed to find a friendlier group.  Nearly everyone came up and shook our hands and many including Bro Banhan gave us hugs.

 This is Bro Banhan and Elders Coger and Nugent (Rt)

21 October 2012 Sunday

Today was another wonderful day.  I am beginning to think this is really a great vacation.  We went to Church in the Larsen’s branch as she was playing for the Primary Program.  When the counselor in the Branch Presidency saw us come in he came off the stand and asked us if we would introduce ourselves.  So before the program we did—I reminded Bob that the program needed all the time so don’t talk too long then I went first and talked too long.  We both got a couple of laughs but I didn't think anything of it until in the afternoon and one of the women said we were “so funny”. 

The Primary consisted of 16 well behaved children—about a quarter of the way through another 4 showed up and took their places (Jamaica time).  Every talk and scripture was read very clearly and closed in the name of Jesus Christ.  The children were well behaved but a little disorganized.  They seemed to bunch up around the mic and then move to some place different.  But they were cute and the program was well done. 

Then we stayed after church for the keyboard recital of all Sister Larsen’s students.  She goes to people’s homes mostly and gives keyboard lessons.  Elder Whitehead talked to his stake president and they financed 50 keyboards and simplified hymnals, etc.  So Sister Larsen teaches the kids—as well as some teenagers and adult women and when they are able and willing to play in church she gives them the keyboard and book to keep.  She is trying to get people ready to do music when she is not here.  She is not a very good piano player herself by her own admission, but she is able to teach things that the people will be able to use.  For example, instead of the regular left hand she teaches them chords with the left hand and how to move from one to the other so they can play with both hands but not really worry about the left hand notes—only chords.  You cannot really tell the difference—at least with the simplified music. And they are actually producing music.  I would love to learn it myself. 


Sister Benjamin
Sister Clark--RS Pres


Sister Medley

Sister Larsen and some of her students

Sister Larsen goes into one home to give lessons that is so small Elder Larsen cannot even fit in to wait for her.  They have described families where every combination of possible relationship counts for family.  And they fit several families into one apartment.  The 6 Brown sisters apparently fit into a one bedroom apartment.  I talked to the wife of the counselor in the Boulevard Branch presidency and she told me her sister died last Saturday and she now has her niece and nephew moving in with them and they will be adopted.   They already have two children living with them from his former marriage and sometimes a third.  If that is not enough they share the apartment with another couple!  I guess it makes sense to pile as many family members in as you can as there are thousands of homeless people everywhere.  Down by the Larsen’s there is a traffic island in the street that is literally no more than 24” wide where a man sleeps all the time.  There is a space of a little grass along the island too but he prefers the concrete right out on the end of the island.  The Larsens saw a bus go by and the bumper actually went right above the man’s head and it didn't even phase him.  I suspect he has chosen that spot so that other people will not bother him or try to run him off—they can’t get to him without getting hit!  Another man carries all his belongings in a 5 gal bucket.  He wanders the streets during the day but at evening time he has his spot in front of the church.  He strings a tarp from the fence to a stake near a power pole and hangs all his belongings on the chain link fence for the evening and curls up in a little indentation on the ground and that is home for the night.  Sister Larsen has talked to him—she talks to everyone!—and he stores his belongings on top of a little bus stop roof during the day.  He showers and washes his clothes at some shelter or something because he is always clean. 

We have been told there are no jobs here in Jamaica—I don’t know how we are going to help young people become self-reliant with training and work if there are no jobs.  Bob is going to check if there is some government agency who knows about jobs as soon as we get going.  I have talked to a couple of locals who say there used to be industry here and farming and growing of animals but there is none of that now and everything comes from China.  One guy said everything we have is imported ‘even our clothes!’  He seemed very frustrated.

I mentioned how in DR everyone gave us the impression things are a lot worse here than there.  I definitely do not agree from what we have seen.  Both are deep in poverty and unemployment, but Jamaica has created jobs for people to sweep the streets—we have seen very little litter here except when we went down town where there are booths selling fruit and goods along the streets—everywhere else is clean.  (The streets however are very broken up and full of pot holes.)  The major Walmart type store is full of people to help, to bag, to check carts going out, to take carts out to cars, etc.  Bob says that is actually bad for the economy though because it causes the store to have to charge higher prices.  But at least people are doing a job.  I also mentioned the many street vendors selling fruit and goods between the cars in the traffic.  We have been getting our bananas there and they are wonderful.  I do not think we saw street vendors in DR.—that is at least a job of some kind.  (There are also some beggars who weave through the traffic asking for money—but not many.) 

When I come back to our nice apartment with bags full of things “we need” I feel kind of guilty.  Even here at our apartment and at most apartments and houses are gated and gate keepers or guards. 

Tuesday 23 October 2012

It is raining today and there is talk of a tropical storm or even a hurricane.  As we have been running errands today I have been thinking of all the people who have nowhere to go to get out of the rain.  They will just find a place under something so the rain doesn't get them but they will still end up soaked to the skin all night.  It is not really cold but it may get colder in the morning hours as the winds pick up and their clothes are soaked.  Everyone walks around with umbrellas but there are so many potholes and puddles they get soaked form the passing cars. 

We dove with the Larsens to Spanish Town to pick up some humanitarian supplies—tarps and hygiene kits—we saw people taking down billboards and one place where they were putting wood over the windows.  People are getting ready for the worst.  As we drove by they pointed out Zinc City which is an area of several blocks made of corrugated zinc.  It is also used for the fences around their compounds and their walls and roofs.  There are large rocks on top of the roof to keep it from blowing off.  Sister Larsen goes there to teach Sister Clark the RS president keyboard lessons.  It is amazing—I sure hope they don’t get blown down tonight.

Until you have witnessed this I think it would be hard to imagine—I know it was for me and I have at least seen poverty in the world before.  I think I mentioned however, that you would never know some of these members live in poverty as they are very clean and happy and cheerful.  One evidence though is the way they devour refreshments after an event.—I do not mind missing out even on a few brownies if it adds to their happiness.

We were going to Junction, a couple of hours away, with our “boss” tomorrow but we just got word that all missionaries are to stay in tomorrow because of the storm.  It is just as well—I really don’t want to be out in it.  The traffic today in the rain and potholes was really bad—I think schools and businesses closed early to get kids home and get prepared. 

As I am sitting here typing it is raining very hard outside but I cannot see any evidence of wind yet—I guess it is supposed to come later tonight.

Sister Larsen lent us one of her keyboards and a simplified hymnal so Bob and I have taken turns at the keyboard this evening—that will give us something else to do tomorrow as we have neither phone or internet.  We have the mission cell phone thankfully but nothing to call family.

 Wednesday 24 October 2012

After our 30 minute exercise walk up and down stairs and around the parking lot we stayed in all day because of the tropical storm turned level 1 hurricane.  It seemed pretty much like a good hard Seattle rain until later in the day when it got pretty windy but thankfully that was all we experienced.  The Larsens are about 2 miles away from us and it sounds like their area may have been hit a little harder but I have been thinking of Zinc Town all day and wondering if all the walls and roofs are still intact and if the people are swimming in mud.  I suspect the homeless found shelter under some vehicle or roof somewhere but I am sure they are wet. The hardest thing about sitting here all day was not the sitting but the not knowing what was going on in the world.  We have no TV, internet or radio.  So we had to call the Larsens every once in a while to get news.  I hope this is the worst hurricane we have to live through this year—not just for our sake but for the Jamaicans especially!!

 From our apartment window after the storm--not much damage

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stop Over in Santo Domingo, DR

The second day in SLC Bro Jarvis asked us if we minded going to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic for a couple of days before going on to Jamaica.  We of course said yes; it wasn't until sometime later that I thought to ask why.  The reason was for us to be able to get a little local training as our Area Director Rufino Diaz, is based at the Institute there.  So the amazing Church Travel department and the MTC and the PEF dept in SLC juggled our flight itinerary so we could fly to NY, layover for 4 hours, then on to Santo Domingo. 

The Church put us up in the Marriot Courtyard in SD which was very nice.  Since it was 4:00 in the morning we decided if we woke up we would call the Hammons for a ride to Church but we unfortunately did not make it up.  When we got up around 10 we had breakfast and decided to walk to the Temple which Rufino had driven past for us the night before.  It is a beautiful temple and grounds.  We met two senior couples on the temple grounds who stopped their cars to greet us when they saw our name tags.  When we got back to our hotel the Hammons called us and told us their schedule and we asked if we could just tag along.  So they picked us up at 4:00 to go to a Welfare Training at one of the local wards. 

Even though the training was all done in Spanish we really enjoyed the meeting.  The people greeted us with handshakes smiles and hugs from woman to woman as they came in.  We felt very welcome even without the language.  (Though I did understand Elder Hammon pretty well, the Dominicans speak very rapidly and don’t finish words.)  We went directly from there to a Fireside at the MTC which is adjacent to the temple.

There were 18 missionaries in the MTC, 4 of which were sisters and 6 of which were Jamaican who will return to Jamaica to serve.  Pres Anderson the Area President was the speaker.  He spoke on the Doctrine of Christ in a very simple and clear way—nothing new, nothing deep—just pure simple doctrine.  I really enjoyed it.  The temple and Mission Home complex is gated with a guard and the outside fence, or cement wall, is the only one painted and clean with trimmed grass around it.

These are some of the missionaries we met Sunday evening.  They are doing a service project of packing food at the Bishop's Store House.

We spent Monday meeting people from the Area we may be dealing with. Hammons took us to lunch and then to the Institute where we met with the Roberts who are PEF missionaries working with Rufino in the whole area. We finished up with the Roberts on Tuesday and also got to attend an Area meeting with Elder Cornish a Counselor in the Area Presidency.  He was very good. 

Tuesday night we went to dinner at a Dominican restaurant with the Hammons—they are a very nice couple from Wyoming.  He had been a community college president and had kept up his Spanish from his mission and is a whirlwind of activity.  He LOVES speaking Spanish to the locals.  They are very nice and interesting and we had a nice time being with them as they shepherded us around.  After dinner we packed our things and tried to get to bed early as our ride to the airport was coming at 4:00am. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

On Our Way to Jamaica

We finished up our Perpetual Education Fund training in Salt Lake City today, went to dinner with Karen, Eric, Zach and Natalie, came back to the Missionary Training Center and spent the evening packing.  With the carry-on bag we bought (which I filled with books) we got all our bags down under the weight limit--as a matter of fact the carry-on is almost as heavy as the others.  But we are resting now before we go to bed so I thought I would make a small comment on our experience.

We loved being at the MTC learning how to teach the gospel to people not of our faith.  It was so inspirational to be taught by young returned missionaries and to actually study and teach what we believe and love so much.  Monday we had a little change up and spent the day learning to teach young members of the Church from the scriptures.  I loved the approach they taught and plan to use it as I study the scriptures and if I ever have to prepare lessons or even talks.

Tuesday through Friday we drove to Salt Lake City every day for training in the Perpetual Education Fund.  What a wonderful inspired program!  We learned a lot about the technology used to track kids and the program and we were amazed at what a huge program it is.  Not just that it has now served about 58,000 students but that the organization to provide all these services is so huge.

There is so much more I wish I could explain but suffice it to say we are amazed, thrilled, and totally re-converted to the idea of helping raise people out of poverty by helping them find jobs and education.  I will write more as I am able.

We had a nice surprise this morning on our way to breakfast--we ran into Sister Clair Haynie.  I knew she was coming in to the MTC on Wednesday and had been looking for her but it  was still a pleasant surprise this morning.  So fun to see people you know in such an environment!

One final note:  we were able to have dinner with Marie and Greg (Elder and Sister LeBaron) one evening in SLC.  That was fun to see them as missionaries.  Then we snuck into the training lab while they were working and got another 3 minute visit.  They will be wonderful as Family History missionaries. 

We are on our way in the morning.  We will first go to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic for a few days of local training then on to Kingston Jamaica!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Our First Week in the MTC

Well, we had another wonderful week in the Missionary Training Center.  The main thing I remember from our first experience here in 2004 is the cafeteria.  But I guess they have made some changes since then so maybe that is why I don't remember all the other things.

We are part of the largest group of senior missionaries that any of the current leadership has ever experienced.  There are about 150 of us.  It is a nice group and we really enjoyed the three other couples in our district.  The Browns from Southern CA are going to Nigeria, the Garretts, from Tennessee, are going to Edmonton, Canada; and the Bytheways from Southern UT are going to Toronto Canada.  We really enjoyed working and learning with them.  We had two wonderful recently returned missionaries as our teachers that we all really loved, Brother Hong from Idaho, and Brother Keepman from Michigan.  It is amazing how spiritual, role playing can be when we are teaching the Gospel.  During our discussions and learning there were many tender tears shed.

We have worked hard and learned a lot and enjoyed our time very much.  Most evenings were spent doing homework but we did get to walk up Rock Canyon--this was something we really enjoyed when we were here before.  This time we saw a beautiful big mountain sheep come barreling down the mountain about 50 yards away from us.  I was just setting up to take a picture of some rock climbers across a ravine so I was fussing with the camera and was too slow to get his picture as he was moving pretty fast.  The kids on the other side made lots of excited and surprised noises as he was even closer to them.  Anyway that was fun as were the many greetings and conversations with other hikers, walkers, climbers, etc that we spoke to on the trail.  Everyone knows missionaries and seems to love them and be very interested in where they are going to be serving.

 It was a beautiful walk--I talked to Marie on the phone on the way down as she and Greg had just arrived in Salt Lake City to report for their mission--Bob talked to a young man who had just come down off the cliff and indicated he had just returned from his Russian mission.   When we got back to our room I checked on a single senior sister missionary who was sick and we determined she needed a priesthood blessing.  So Bob changed back into his suit and we went looking for another Elder to help him.  We always seem to find little extra things to do that make our lives a little more interesting.

We plan to stay here tomorrow and watch General Conference with the other missionaries.  During Priesthood meeting tomorrow evening they are going to replay the Women's Broadcast for the Sister Missionaries, which I am very glad about since I missed that because of our flight down here last week.  Sunday we will go to Karen's in Draper to watch Conference with them and celebrate Bob's 85th birthday!  (People here are stunned to hear that he is that age.  He is lots younger than many of the people here whose ages are a much smaller number.)