We are settling into a new home in the mountains, surrounded by lush tropical trees, vivid birds and the constant crowing of roosters from the chicken farm next door. The city of Juigalpa is a bit more prosperous that other cities we’ve seen, and the people have welcomed us with enthusiasm to learn how to play the piano and how to conduct the programs of the Church. Frank has already helped one young man complete his mission application, I’ve started teaching the children songs, and we’ve taught classes and lessons and given talks as if we know what we are doing—which is possible after one year here. We still don’t have internet—so we haven’t been in touch and are updating our Christmas letter as a New Year’s greeting. (We also don’t yet have a working refrigerator or place to wash clothes, but we’re coping and hoping.)
Today is the anniversary of our arrival in Nicaragua. With the holidays past, we missed all the fun of being with family and old friends, the shopping and wrapping, the concerts and cards, the decorations and dinners. As my friend taught me a few years ago, the mosaic of these hectic deadlines and busy days creates much of the richness of our lives. But we enjoyed another kind of richness this year, as we celebrated with new friends and different traditions and took time to savor the things we value most—being together, enjoying good health, Skyping with kids and grandkids from a great distance, and focusing most of our time trying to give pure service to the Lord, who only blesses us more, so that we are always in debt to Him who has showered His blessing on us all our lives.
Our Granada friends showered us with some beautiful handmade gifts. President Rodriguez, the District President, cut and carved a model of the horse carts that take tourists around the old city in Granada. He also made a model of a wooden Liahona, a Book of Mormon compass that is inscribed with scripture references and thanks for our service. One family gave us an elegantly carved flower with a hummingbird feeding and the primary children gave me little dolls in traditional Nicaraguan dress. The youth group sang us a special song and presented hand painted refrigerator magnets with birds and mountains of the county. We will add these to the very sweet memories that we have of the love and dedication of our dear friends here.
We hope we added value in Granada in our year there. With the gift of keyboards from the Harman Fund, we each tallied up 450 hours of piano lessons, introducing over 150 people to the keyboard and seeing 28 people play at least one hymn in four different branches of the Church here. In December, we organized a recital, and then placed 15 “teclados” into the homes of church members so that they can continue to learn and serve and enjoy music in their homes. When we left Naperville, we had no idea that music would be such an important part of our time here.
We have helped about 20 different young people with their own mission applications, taking them to the doctor or dentist, helping them—and their leaders–log onto the computer system, and walking them through the application process, a real challenge to people who don’t actually have an “address,” email, passport, birth certificate, shot record, or computer to use. They have never sent or received a piece of mail, never filled out a form, and never seen a dentist before. We think that the opportunity to get out of Granada and serve somewhere else will open a lot of doors for them, and they will not only teach others the gospel of Jesus Christ but also grow to be more aware of the world and more prepared to be leaders in their homes and the church in the future.
We have also spent uncounted hours preparing and teaching Sunday lessons, meeting and training young and inexperienced leaders, and just sitting in classes participating and contributing our insights into the scriptures and their application in our lives. (Hey, we’re old and have lived through a lot of experiences.) We’re organized or supported numberless musical ensembles and primary programs, supported fundraises by eating “repolache” and “frutas,” and played the same game over and over again in fellowship nights, called “noche de hermanamiento.”
Of course, we have made dozens of new friends and learned as we taught. We can now really speak Spanish and often even understand when people speak to us. We are better pianists and better teachers. But the great lesson that we have learned this year is that we can’t single-handedly create institutional change here. What we can do is love and serve as Jesus did, one individual at a time. It is the same model that we realize has always touched us and blessed our growing family. Others took the time to teach and encourage us, scout leaders walked our boys through their Eagle process, and loving young women leaders came to the house to help our girls keep going with their Personal Progress goals. Bishops have counseled, teachers have taught, and friends have loved us all, one person, one act of service, and one word at a time.
The little moments here are the most meaningful ones. One night we picked up a young missionary from the hospital and delivered her to the mission nurse with her foot in a new cast and no crutches. (She’s a tall young woman from Australia, and the only available crutches were for the average Nica, who is about a foot and a half shorter.) As she viewed the step up into the little house where she was to spend the night, it looked like an insurmountable obstacle. Then a young sister missionary stood on each side of her and Hermana G. said, “Put your arm around me and then push down.” Leaning on the shoulders of others, Hermana C. put her weight on their shoulders and easily hopped up into the house.
We, who have had the shoulders of others supporting us all our lives, hope that we can be the shoulders for the wonderful people of Nicaragua to lean on as they hop up to a higher level of faith, obedience and service.
We bear witness to you, as we do to the people we teach here, that there is a God in heaven who knows and loves each one of us and wants to shower His blessings on us every day. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ to be our Savior and to lift us up. May we all have the faith to lean on Him when we see insurmountable obstacles in front of us, as well as when we are walking along a pleasant and peaceful path. Christmas and New Year’s joy to all of our friends and loved ones near and far!