We are happy to report that we are very busy right now. Our time is flying by, and we are getting some wonderful opportunities to contribute here.
One of our projects is teaching some young mothers to read. One woman knew some letters of the alphabet and understood the concept of each symbol representing a sound, so she immediately made good progress with simple words. But another does not recognize any letters or numbers. She cannot tell us how to spell her name or what year she was born. Her 8 year-old son plays as we work, and she doesn’t recognize that he too needs to be learning. School here is free, and we can get the necessary uniform and supplies, but if she wanted to enroll him in school, she could not read the forms or comprehend the calendar, so it seems completely beyond her expectations for him to get any education.
We come home from each lesson and try to go back one more step and create ever-simpler lesson materials. My own handicap is that, although I have obtained some basic picture worksheets, I don’t always know what the vocabulary word is in Spanish. I knew sombrero for hat, but a baseball cap is a gorra. I think it helps our relationship that there is something she can teach me, too.
We cannot imagine being unable to recognize a sign that says farmacia or read a clock—being unable to give directions to our house or read a price in a shop. The knowledge gap was especially obvious to me today when I was Skyping with my family, and my three year old granddaughter, seeing behind me asked, “Why does your refrigerator say 10?”
Last week we ended up being in charge of the activities for a fellowship party and dinner. I knew the sisters would do a great job preparing the meal, but didn’t have much confidence in the ideas I heard suggested for activities. “Just in case” we spent all our spare time for a couple of days creating a scripture-based treasure hunt and a set of Jeopardy-type questions: people, places, and things from the scriptures for 100, 200, and 300 points.
Friday night, when we talked to the branch president about the plans, he admitted that no one had actually done any preparation for the activities they were thinking about—everything from water balloon volleyball to following a symbolic “iron rod” through an obstacle course. He was happy to accept our offer to run a couple of activities the next night!
Frank directed the treasure hunt with small groups while I did the quiz game in the chapel. I divided the group into two teams and let everyone choose their points and category and then consult with their team for the answers. The 100-point questions were things we expected Primary-aged children might know: Who baptized Jesus? Where was Daniel thrown when he ignored the king’s order and prayed? We expected that the hardest questions would be challenging to most people: What was the new name Jacob received? What Book of Mormon prophet preached standing on top of a wall, and no one could hit him with their arrows?
Both teams immediately migrated to the 300 point questions—with about a 50% success rate, and everyone had a great time with the game. At first no one wanted to leave for the treasure hunt, but when the first team returned with good reports, more and more people were willing to go out and hunt for the next clue near a “fountain of living water” or “behold, I will sweep you with a broom.” Frank timed each team and announced the winners as we feasted on rice and shredded chicken with vegetables–my favorite Nicaraguan dish.
Meanwhile, we have our usual activities: teaching piano lessons in three cities for 18 hours each week, leadership training classes and temple preparation seminars running in two branches, and individual visits and training with teachers or members. This week a sister told me she has been struggling to overcome an addiction, so I just downloaded the first few lessons of the addiction recovery program to offer some support for her.
On Sunday, we both had speaking assignments in the sacrament meeting, then I played the piano and taught the “sharing time” for the primary children, and Frank taught both the youth Sunday school and young men’s classes. In the afternoon, we drove a 1 ½ hours to Boaco to a training meeting, only to be stopped by a festival of prancing horses, bands, clowns, and hundreds of people. Unable to get across town and hopelessly lost trying to find another route, we finally made phone contact with a member waiting at the chapel, and he walked back through town and guided us through an alternate route down and around the mountainous roads. (There are some disadvantages to having a car in a place where everyone walks.)
As we serve our last six months in Nicaragua, our Spanish is better, we understand the culture, and we are more bold in saying, “I can teach you a better way.” We are very needed here in Juigalpa, and we know that every person, young or old, is an important child of God, with infinite potential in their own future and their ability to influence others.
In my talk Sunday, I told the story of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. And then I pointed out that we can’t necessarily wash one another’s feet, but we can offer to wash the baptismal clothes or clean the church. We can’t be there at the last supper with Jesus, but we can remember Him as He asked when we partake of the emblems of His blood and body. We can love the little children, as He did, and we can try to be “doers of the word and not hearers only.” We feel honored to be able to wear His name on our name tags, and we’re trying to become more like Him. We are grateful to have the health, resources, righteous family, and faith to be here.