Sunday, April 27, 2014

Easter in the Philippines

is very different from at home. We finally saw a few candy treats this week, but not an Easter Basket anywhere in sight.  And NO PEEPS in any color or shape.  What a trial for us!   This tree was in the mall, but no other decorations.  

On the other hand, it has been "Holy Week", and this is a country that takes that seriously.  No school, and virtually everything was closed on Good Friday.  On Maundy Thursday, the celebration of the Last Suppper, people walked for miles, thousands of them! up the hills and into Antipolo.  They took up an entire lane, slowed traffic to a walking speed, and never looked at the cars at all.  We spent 27 minutes on the big highway past our mall, traveling about the length of a football field.  

Sadly, some people take the "penance" idea very seriously.  Two of our office elders went out to teach this week, and came across a large group of people in the act of whipping and crucifying some people.  At first, they thought it was a re-enactment, but no, it is part of the religious tradition.  Poor Elder Smith said, "I couldn't believe what I was seeing.  Blood everywhere.  It was the worst thing I have ever seen. "

  This is the article that was printed in the papers here, to give you an idea.  

Avoid whipping, nailing to cross, advises DOH

By Tina G. Santos  (Philippine Daily Inquirer)
The Department of Health (DOH) on Tuesday urged penitents to practice other forms of atonement other than whipping themselves bloody and nailing themselves to crosses as part of their Lenten rituals and sacrifice, saying these practices may cause serious health problems.

“Let us just pray hard and live a moral life as our penitence instead of hurting ourselves,” said Health Secretary Enrique Ona in an interview with reporters.

Ona said that while it respected the Lenten tradition of flagellation and crucifixion which some Filipinos consider a form of “atonement for sins,” the DOH discouraged such rituals because penitents faced the risk of infection from wounds like tetanus.

He said that even Catholic Church leaders opposed such practices.

Ona said that deep-cut wounds resulting from crucifixion and whipping could be exposed to the heat, dust and all sorts of bacteria. “Tetanus could enter the body through the wounds,” he said.

Flagellants use whips with pieces of metal or bamboo on the tips to lash themselves. In some cases, others do the whipping for them.

Ona said the nails to be used to crucify penitents should first be soaked in sterilizing solution to protect from tetanus.

“It is also important that those who nail the flagellants to the cross are experts because they might damage vital nerves on the hands, affecting the (muscles of the) hands,” he said. 

Does anyone else see the irony of telling them not to do it, and then telling them HOW to do it?

WE mostly spent the week in the office, of course, preparing for exits and transfers.  But it is still lots of fun!                                                       Tuesday morning, after their zone meeting, all the nearby missionaries came into the office to send/ get their mail, etc.  This is my desk.  I should really have done a before and after picture, as it DID NOT look like this when I took it on.  But Elder and I just can't work in the confusion that used to exist.  WE are gradually bringing a sense of order and peace.  (And cleanliness!)  
Here he is,enjoying them all and renewing old friendships, and generally making them feel like "Dad" is there for them.

I taught one more workshop, three English lessons, Music in Primary Sharing Time  AND the 8 - 11 year-olds in Primary, while writing letters and purchasing air tickets and planning for the week ahead.  We have 17 leaving, including one emergency trip home.  We have 19 coming in, if you count the new couple coming on Wed morning and the Elder returning after a one year leave of absence.  We had to arrange shuttles to and from the airport, to and from the memorial, to and from the hotel.  Also hotel rooms, meals, career workshops, chest x-rays. tickets and travel funds, all their letters to and from the President during their mission, and about a million other things.  So much FUN!  
Here are the Barlow's, the new couple.  We don't know them, as very fortunately, the Sheffers took on the orientation for them.  They are MLS as well, but their lease is only 3 months, so I suppose President is looking ahead to who will go to Mindoro in July, and they will either leave or move into someone else's lease. 

In two weeks, we had mostly 12-18 hour days.  Almost never home for dinner;  just learning and helping.  We had some great times, though.  Here are some highlights:

FHE with the seniors.  President Nielsen ( Area Seventy and President) and his wife spoke to us.  They had just returned from General Conference.  He said, "Don't despair.  The church has NEVER been stronger.  The work goes forward at an amazing pace"

Pot luck lunch at the office to say goodbye to Elder Smith and Elder Masula.  They all cooked and brought food .  We all had a great time, and then sisters began arriving for appts with President, so we fed a crowd, too.  Elder Masula on right, Elder Ballon next to him, and then AP Elder Osores next to Elder S.  

8:00 Monday night at the office before Exit Day and Transfers.  EVERYBODY working.     

Elder Smith, trying to finish the ever-haunting immigration forms before he leaves the office to me.

The STLs, with help from Elder Crowther and all of us, finishing up the 72 hour kits Sister Revillo asked them to do for the arriving missionaries.  STLs are Sister Training Leaders, a new position that came after the arrival of so many sisters in the missions.  They are SO great.  They are trainers, of course, but also AP's to the President's wife.  Sister Revillo loves them to pieces.  She has 6.

 Here are the completed kits.  In a bad storm, (inevitable, here!) the missionaries have food, etc, in their apartments so they can stay home.  These travel with them on their transfers.  Of course, in really bad times, like Ondoy and Yolanda, it is all lost, anyway.  

Elder Osores, AP, finishing up the plans for the next two days.  

Elder Schlager and Elder Hall, getting ready for the days ahead.  Planning times, shuttles, etc.  Or maybe just chatting, as they all like to talk to him.


Elder Sheffer, on his first assignment as the apartment manager.  They wrote an original song to sing to the new missionaries! 

And, another trip to the American War cemetary, on Tues and again on Wednesday. 

 Here is Sister Medina, the brave girl finished her mission.  She was so happy.  Of course, nothing is ever easy here.  She and Elder Aguinaldo had to take a 12 hour bus ride north to go home to Isabella.  Can't book in advance.  The shuttle picked them (and everyone else for the day) up at 4:00 Wed. to get them to the bus stations and airports.  No buses available. She told us you have to push and shove, and "we are missionaries.  We can't do that".  So, they went to the temple.  Tried again later.  WE saw them in the office at 10:00 that night.  She said, "I want to go home to bear my testimony to my Tatay."  And, she told Elder Aguinaldo, "we have to work tomorrow.  Maybe there is some soul we are supposed to find."   We took her to the STL's to stay the night, tried again on Thursday.  No buses.  She had a LOT of baggage, and didn't want to fly.  But, the travel dept. finally got them on the plane on Friday morning, they arranged for extra baggage allowance for them, and the office elders picked them up before dawn and took them to the airport.

EVERYONE works so hard! 

The highlight of the week, and one of the highlights of our mission, was the privilege of helping the Aguilar Family prepare for, and go to the temple.  We began way back in Sept, when President Dolleti asked us to teach them and prepare them.  After we moved into the city and were not working out there anymore, it was harder, but we wanted to complete it.  
There were obstacles all along the way. I repeat,  Nothing is easy here.  But on Saturday, this is what happened:

In the end, we had to rent a Jeepney. (p3500, or about $90).    So, President Villafania of Tanay went up the mountain early in Ronnie to get them.  Since they had a jeepney, they made it a branch temple trip and many came, including the investigators and the missionaries who are teaching them.  It was the "National Day of Service", and the local leaders wanted every branch and ward to contribute.  So, they met before dawn and did their service project, then got on the jeep for a 3 hour ride.  Here are Sister Dolleti, and Sister Aguilar senior, and all the rest.  

Because both of their lolas (grandmas) came to look after them, Jhezelle and John Ivan were able to come on the same day to be sealed to their parents.

Here they are, a brand new "Eternal Family",  Anthony, Eva, John Ivan and Jhezelle Ann Aguilar.   

We are so proud of them.  They are already giving everything they have to the kingdom. She has been primary president since the branch was created, and he is first counselor in the branch presidency.  She has been baptized just one year!


And here are all the people from Sampaloc, at 6:00 pm, back on Ronnie to go home, about a 2 1/2 hour trip.  They had a great day.  Lots of food, lots of teaching, lots of learning.  
How did you spend $100 this week?

WE continue to be amazed at the opportunities and blessings that are part of this work. 
Also, they are so desperate for senior couples, they are beginning to tease us that we can't go home until we find our replacements!   So, if anybody is available, or can make themselves so, don't hesitate. 

(And Pray for a call to the Philippines!)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

IF you aren't making any mistakes, you probably aren't doing anything!
(or at least, it comforts us to think so!)
First Time we saw the President,  after our "Black Monday", he gave us the keys to the new car in the mission!   
We said, "President, are you SURE?"
He said, "Well, it's either you or the new couple. It probably has a better chance with you.  

This is what we expected to be traveling in!!
So, now we are touring around in a classy little red number with about 400 miles on it. Our daughter said, "They rewarded you? " Guess so. 
 (Don't worry, we can't put the first scratch on it.  The APs did that!)

Our new job started bright and early Monday Morning. Elder Smith is training me, and Elder Masula is training Elder S. I will be the office secretary, he will be the mission recorder. We will continue to assist with Exit Days, and Transfer Days, but will also be doing all the travel arrangements, Visa battles, letters to EVERYONE, historical files, Baptismal Records, missionary referrals, mail, and etal.
                                                  This is Elder Smith.

We learned a lot in our MTC training, but that was 8 months ago, a lifetime for our poor aged brains.  And some of what Elder is doing was in my training, not his.  We will still have Elder Crowther to do the finance, and Elder Ballon to do the apartment contracts.  SO glad.  He speaks very good English, but he is Filipino and he can talk to the owners and be understood.

In looking at my computer to get acquainted with the documents, etc, I found:

So, When Elder Smith goes next week we will not be completely without support.  Someone very kindly wrote a book for us!  This is what it looks like:

We are learning as fast as we can, but at least I know where to go find the answers, (I hope!) when we hit a snag.  

DURING the week, we did have some fun times, too.  One night we went out to walk to the bookstore for office supplies, and they were renting cars to little people to drive around.  I tried to get some pictures, but they were moving too fast for my flash camera.  This is the best I got:  
As you see, he was speeding away from me!

We see people on cycles all the time, of course.  They call them MOTOSIKLO on the street signs, and have lanes marked for them.  Good luck with that!   And there are signs all over that say, "Motosiklo stay strictly on first (1st) lane."  Yeah, right.  They zip around between the cars and buses and taxis and go wherever they want to.  You often see entire families on them, with little ones tucked between the parents.  Sometimes, those are the only ones without a helmet!  
We followed this little guy for a long time, and it just sort of tickled me to see him hanging on behind Dad while the cycle went fast and slow, back and forth, finding the holes in the traffic.  He never flinched.  I DID!

WE are still missionaries.  And we still have the joy of seeing the work move forward with power.  This is Rocky!  (Or Akky).  She came into the office with the sister missionaries, and they asked her to wait, but asked me to "keep an eye on her, she is a flight risk"..   
Well, they have been teaching her.  She arrived in Quezon City to see her father, from her home down south with her mother 5 weeks ago.  She is 18.  As it turns out, her father was being baptized that day.  She is in training, hoping to be hired in a call center.  
That is the best of the best for these young people, if they can do it. They can earn enough to support themselves and their family.,
 Her English is remarkable, and she should be able to manage it.  Except, she needs glasses, and she broke hers.   No money to replace them.  The missionaries left her to go home and see if an extra pair they had would work.  
She was telling me about her life, and that she and her dad "need each other".  She left her mom, and her brother, back on the island.  
She has a baptism date.  April 19.  
I asked her about that, and she said she had been reading and studying with the missionaries since the day she came and saw her dad baptized.  She has read the Book of Mormon. 
I asked her, "and how do you like that?"  
She said, " I don't like it.  I absolutely LOVE it!"
I know for sure that another senior sister at the Employment Center offered to help her buy new glasses.  She would not take the money.  She says she can manage.

General Conference is a week late here, due of course, to the time difference.  So, we spent Saturday with the seniors, watching two sessions and having a pot luck lunch.  
Sunday we were invited to the mission home,  for the Sunday sessions and another lovely meal.  There were a lot of us.  I did not take pictures, but we only stayed for the morning and the lunch.  

Then we drove out to Taytay where we are tutoring three sister missionaries in their English language work.  This is Sister Fuertes.  She is from Cebu.  She goes home this next transfer, and is working really hard to finish her second book so she can take the test.  Her English is wonderful.  We spend time on trying to help her sound just like an American.  But the real problem is that her speech is TOO good.   Precise and perfect.  So I tell her, we don't say "morTal" we say "mordal".  She looks at me like I am crazy, and says "mordal" ?????  
Her name is Sheharrazad.  (Shouldn't tell you that, but it tickles me.  She is going home in 10 days, anyway.)  She is a tiny little thing, and lost her purse with all her ID several months ago.  Now, we have a problem.  Big mess, trying to get her on a plane to go home and she isn't even leaving the country!   Of course, we would have the same trouble in the US.  No ID, no ticket!  

Here is my General Conference Quote for this week:

A Thankful Heart is the Parent of all Virtues.
President Uchtdorf

Here are my words of wisdom for the week:
No matter what anyone tells you, Prune Juice is not your friend.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Poor President Revillo left us on the streets just one week too long.  Monday was not a good day for us.   We had four apartments move, two up north and two down south.  We were running from one to another to make sure the apartments were alright, the missionaries were alright, and that the moving costs got paid.  As we left our parking garage to go back in the afternoon, we met another big van coming down the ramp.  We had to back up to get out of his way, and in the echoing space we thought he was honking at us.  By the time I realized it was ANOTHER car, I said, "Elder" and CRUNCH! We backed into a nice Honda, his right front corner with our left back corner.  (Not easy to do!)  But he was very nice, We didn't realize at the time, in the dark, the damages to our car, and we went back to work.
But we were upset, and not too clear headed, I guess.  Later in the day we got lost in an inner city neighborhood, finally had a trike driver lead us to where we could meet the missionaries and have them take us to their new apartment.  Well, in leaving that one, we found ourselves, at 5:00 pm, on a narrow city street full of people and traffic, and as we dodged small children and trikes, we squeezed past a big orange delivery truck with his tailgate down. But there was something protruding from beneath the gate that caught us again!   No damage to him, this time.  But, now the right side of the van is also damaged!  See the long orange scratch running halfway down the side?

This has been a difficult week.  In between training the Sheffers, teaching two workshops, and getting the new apartments in order, we had to make time to gather estimates, collect and find documents, report the damages to the fleet manager, the insurance company, and the mission office, meet with the poor man we crunched, and so forth.  Do any of you have the Original Receipt for your driver's license?  Fortunately, I kept that as a tax deductible expense.  You have to prove that you actually have a real license here, and that it is not counterfeit.  You do that with your official receipt.  

We had to report it to the office as well, as President has to sign both of the accident reports.  
Elder S always says "My goal is to be part of the solution.  Not part of the problem".  We didn't manage it this week.  When I spoke to Elder Smith, the Office Secretary, he said "Don't worry about it.  It is just part of the Philippines.  I had a scrape this week, too. We are just glad you are alright." 

But when I pointed out that most people probably don't manage to damage both sides of the car in two separate accidents in the same afternoon, he laughed and said, "Well, I will admit, THAT is a first!"  

 In fact, we know for sure of three other senior couples who have had accidents since we arrived.  We are just SO grateful that we didn't harm anyone.

The van had a damaged side when we got it.  President saw it, and told us to get it fixed.  He felt it looked bad.  So, we were without it for a week, and it looked perfect when we got it back.  It was perfect for about 3 weeks!!  I think he jinxed us!
Just FYI, the damages are about $800 for Mr Borah's Honda, and about $500 each for our two booboos.  If we could, I think we would have just paid for it and saved the aggravation.  On Monday and Tuesday, I would have gladly paid it to avoid the stress of dealing with people we can't really talk to .  

OF ALL the challenges of our mission, the worst is our inability to speak the language.  

Typical of the Philippines, however, there were some things that tickled us this week.

We drove past a motorcycle shop on a narrow street near the office.  At least, I think it was that.  A nice stock of new cycles outside, all lined up, and a counter to the left with a big display of helmets in several colors.  All new and shiny looking.  (Remember, these have no windows or doors, just open bays until they pull down the metal garage doors late at night to close up.)  So as I looked in, at the back was a beautiful white casket on a stand.  Don't know if they sell motorcycles and caskets, or if they were holding a wake there until the funeral.  Most likely, though, the second choice is true!

 While delivering to a new apartment, Sister Sheffer and I, who do NOT carry refrigerators upstairs, walked down the street to shop in the little stores.  This "shop" had aquariums, fish, and these little chicks, dyed for the Easter Season.  

 Our last purchase for the apartments before turning our fund over the the Sheffers.  A new refrigerator for 2 Elders in Taguig.

Sorry, I accidentally deleted the good one and kept the bad one, but she was lovely, honest.  When was the last time you saw an elevator operator?  I am quite sure I was a child in Salt Lake City, shopping at ZCMI with my Grandma Dunn.  But here she is, taking people up and down at the SM mall.
As you have seen before, the hospitals here are pretty basic and the services are worse.  But, while driving near the office, there is a large one.  We saw a young couple, with their BRAND NEW baby in her arms,  come out of the hospital gate and climb into a Jeepney to go home.  I caught a glimpse of the baby when the blanket slipped, and it was so tiny, and floppy, like they are for a day or so.  I don't think this baby was even 24 hours old.  Imagine in the States?  They won't let you out of the hospital until they strap the baby into a car seat that THEY have to approve!  But here, this baby was just really lucky to be born at the hospital.  

We were late for an appointment because we could not get through Morong on Sunday.  It is Summer Vacation here, but the schools still seem to have a lot going on.  Sports, concerts, etc.  So it must have been a basketball game that had just ended.  People, and trikes, and Jeepneys all over the place.  Here are some of the band. 

There were also about 15 young women dressed in white blouses and yellow satin skirts with white tennis shoes and pink laces for ?  Cheerleading?  Dance team?  Baton Twirling?  See this closeup of one of them?  Notice the little straw hat hair decoration.  Also, the women here almost always have long hair, but it is down their backs at play, and ALWAYS in a tight little bun for work, etc.  
Back to Primary on Sunday, and i finally met the Primary President, Sister Domingo.  She has been out for weeks with a difficult pregnancy.  Here she is, teaching her Primary in sharing time.  I was really glad to see her arrive, as the counselors were not there. 
It took her exactly one hour to ask me to be the second teacher for the Valiant class.  But i will encourage her to call another teacher, as we should not do for them what they CAN do for themselves.  There are other teachers available to her.  Wish i COULD PLAY THE PIANO, THOUGH.
Here is Janna again.  Remember,I cleaned her fingernails two weeks ago?  It turns out, she and her sister are investigators.  Their parents don't come, they come with another family.  I didn't mention that she doesn't smell very good.  Unusual with children here, at least in our experience.  But this week, she came freshly bathed, with clean damp hair, which she kept combing.  She had a little shopping bag with her, with her comb, and a bottle of baby powder, and her pamphlets from the Elders, and her Book of Mormon.  And she smelled like a freshly washed baby.  Sweet and clean.  She was waiting for me, and she stayed with me until she went to class and I went to RS.  I hope I am "ministering that matters" to her!

Well, we have turned all the apartment work, including the poor van, over to the Sheffers.  We have our pretty little Toyota home again, after a stint with the Johnsons and a tour with the Sheffers, and we are glad to have it back.  Of course, tomorrow when we go to the office, President may decide to put us in a taxi.  He already tried a tank---didn't work!  (He probably wonders why the mission department makes our young missionaries use public transportation, and gives cars to the seniors!)
If it weren't for having to drive for over an hour to church every week, I think we would prefer taxis.  Elder S had a rough week, and to make matters worse, Elder Johnson is calling him "CRASH".

When I read one of Elder Maxwell's books, he introduced me to a quote from C.S.Lewis that has become a Moment of Truth for me, to inspire me to do better.  

"Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage.  If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated.  If we were braver, we might have been sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle."

Here in the Philippines, I have met some of those braver, stronger souls, and I have seen some of the more desperate posts.  As Sister Revillo reminded the missionaries this week, we need to be kind and generous to each other.  We have no idea what some others of us have had to fight to get where they are!