The Last Lecture

Hotel door

As we pack up to head home, in the spirit of the traditional “last lecture,” I’m going to try to capture some of what we have learned on our mission. This is a little bit like dying, after all. Two years of lesson plans and handbooks, household equipment and decorations, left-over spices and canned food, mission handouts and clothes torn on barbed wire fences—most everything is given away or thrown out, and only the most precious things remain. Yet there is still too much to carry home in 50 pounds of checked luggage; we are forced to discover that most “things” are not very essential. We are gently tucking away gifts from dear friends here and Nicaraguan treasures to share for Christmas, our scriptures and a few letters from precious grandchildren, photos and a very full receipt book. We will carry home hearts full of the love of new friends and a greater appreciation for our Savior Jesus Christ.

The same kind of winnowing has accompanied our last months of teaching here, as we have tried to distill the essentials of the truly Christian life. Lately, I have noticed that when I have an opportunity to speak, I keep returning to the same messages: Paul’s condemnation of those who pretend to follow Christ, but do not really live in His light, “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away” (2 Timothy 3: 5), and its companion message in the Old Testament, Isaiah 29: 13, “Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me. . .” We have realized that it is not enough to believe in Christ, for as Jesus Himself pointed out, “the devils also believe, and tremble” (James 2: 19). The Christian is one who walks in the light of Christ—one who lives with the Spirit of Christ in his or her heart.

When we follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we love and serve one another, even when we are tired or busy. We teach loving lessons to little children, and we say kind words to teenagers and strangers. We are honest and reliable.

When we recognize the promptings of the Spirit, we walk away from temptations and evil, and we are aware of angels, both seen and unseen, protecting us from the world.

Living by the Spirit, we are kind and faithful to spouses and family. We nurture children and honor parents. We pray together and make our homes holy places.

When we live by the Spirit, we obey the commandments of God, even when the world mocks them. We discover that every righteous choice makes it a little bit easier to discern between good and evil and continue in the right direction.

I am returning home with a new understanding of the life and peace that being Christlike offers and a new desire to fill my life with this light and Spirit—a new desire to live a life in His grace. I have faith that there really is power in prayer, that God is real and is aware of me and of you, and that the gospel of Jesus Christ and the power of His Holy priesthood authority are on the earth today.

I bear witness that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. As a part of God’s eternal plan for the happiness, growth, and the salvation of mankind, Jesus volunteered to live and die for us. There is no other name nor any other way for us to achieve Eternal Life.

As Paul so often taught, “to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). Since we are not really dying, we’re going to try really living with Christ in our hearts for Christmas, and all of our days.

singing

God’s great blessings to all! Frank and Ellen

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My Fence Fetich

Call it quirky, but I have spent two years fascinated by the “grow your own” fences here, made from whatever kind of natural material is available.  Every house, no matter how simple, gets a fence as soon as the owners can grow one. Here are some examples of my favorite examples:

Here is a line of young ginocuaro trees, the most common fence posts in this part of the country. Barbed wire is strung between the trees, which have their green branches rimmed off once a year.

Here is a line of young ginocuaro trees, the most common fence posts in this part of the country. Barbed wire is strung between the trees, which have their green branches trimmed off once a year.

By the time they grow to be grandpas, the fence posts are gnarled and distinctive

By the time they grow to be grandpas, the fence posts are gnarled and distinctive, with young trees planted in between the old ones as they die off.

Beautiful rows of these trees line the roads in this part of the country. Our friends tell us they tolerate the moths without rain in the dry season, December - May.

Beautiful rows of these trees line the roads in this part of the country. Our friends tell us they tolerate the moths without rain in the dry season, December – May.

In town, where space and time is limited, people weave palm fronds between the wires of their fences to provide privacy and create a better barrier against intrusions.

In town, where space and time is limited, people weave palm fronds between the wires of their fences to provide privacy and create a better barrier against intrusions.

This fence uses straight sticks to create a simple stockade between the trees.

This fence uses straight sticks to create a simple stockade between the trees.

If you really want to keep animals and small children away from your property, it is hard to beat these fence posts!

If you really want to keep animals and small children away from your property, it is hard to beat these fence posts!

In the dry season, the trees lose their leaves, and the fence posts just look like dead sticks in the ground.

In the dry season, the trees lose their leaves, and the fence posts just look like dead sticks in the ground.

Moving

In more ways than one, we’ve been moving this month.

First literally, in Spanish, mudar rather than mover.  We found our hotel becoming more and more inappropriate, and moved to a different one, the truly beautiful Las Miradas, in Juigalpa. In keeping with our apparent policy to constantly downsize, we now have only one room and are without a kitchen. But we still have our table, microwave, refrigerator, and a hot plate, so we can eat well.  We wash dishes in the hotel laundry room and feast our souls on the amazingly beautiful view.

Outside our room, the veranda looks east over farmland and then a national reserve. Here, the clouds are a little lower than the mountain tops, but in the morning, they are below the veranda and look like waves of the sea below us.

Outside our room, the veranda looks east over cattle land and then a national reserve. Here, the clouds are a little lower than the mountain tops, but in the morning, they are below the veranda and look like waves of the sea below us.

Moving was a third world experience.  We piled our food, dishes, and computer equipment into our car, and hired a man with a pickup to move the refrigerator, shelves, suitcases and other big things across town. As he was pulling out of our hotel, we spotted his very flat tire.  He didn’t have a wrench or jack, so Frank unpacked the back of our car to get ours.  He also lacked a spare tire or the means to buy another one, and we were on the point of taking him into a shop to get a repair when his friend happened along with a tire to loan him.  With an extra contribution to pay for the tire, we got moved to our new room by 1pm, with three hours to unpack and set up before we had to be at church to start piano lessons.

A man rich enough to have a battered old truck still has to buy gas, tires, and food. He asked for about 15 dollars to load and unload and move our things.

Though we were a bit distressed to be delayed and  have our belongings sitting by the side of the road in a battered old truck, our mover took it all in stride and  had us safely delivered to our new apartment in a couple of hours.

Now mover: The next morning we were moving before 4am, because we had to pack up for a weekend and make the three hour drive to Managua by 7:15 am for a mission conference. This time we feasted on the word for the day, with inspiring discourses and workshops until nearly 6pm.  Then we made a fast trip to a hotel across from the airport and rented an extra car for a whirlwind three days with visitors from the US!

My brother Bill from Texas and my sister Nancy and her family from Virginia decided to take advantage of a long weekend to see what we were up to being way from home for two years.  (This is where we admit that senior missionaries don’t have the same rules and restrictions as the young missionaries do.)

We spent one day doing all the touristy things we never have time to do, beginning with a drive back to Granada, where we spent our first year in the country.  The sleepy, but still steaming volcano, Mount Mombacho boasts a rattletrap old truck up to the peak, with views of the lake and city below, and a state of the art zip line canopy tour with a dozen platforms and the opportunity to fly like superman or hang upside down.  With limited time and two teenaged boys on holiday, you can guess which one we did.

Here we are suited up for the zip line. (It was the first time I've worn pants in nearly a year.)

Here we are suited up for the zip line. (It was the first time I’ve worn pants in nearly a year.)

Never let it be said we don't know how to show our guests a good time. Here is Nancy, looking a bit crazy. I confess, I stayed head up.

Never let it be said we don’t know how to show our guests a good time. Here is Nancy, looking a bit crazy. I confess, I stayed head up.

We took an hour to walk through the Mercado in Granada and visit some of our old friends, and then we headed to Laguna Apoyo, a crater lake in an extinct volcano, where we had rooms for the night.  We had lunch overlooking another fantastic view, then took a quick swim in the lagoon from the beach at the aptly named Hostel Paradiso.

lunch at Laguna Apoyo

By 4:30, we were ready for the night volcano tour at Volcan Masaya, about 10 miles away. Everyone agreed that this was the best ten dollars we ever spent, with a great guide, views into the sulfurous crater, night lights of all the surrounding villages, bats fluttering out of the caves, and then the flaring lava visible below only at night.

Nephew Mark in front of the steaming, sulfurous crater of Msaya

Nephew Mark in front of the steaming, sulfurous crater of Msaya

Morning found us back on the road headed for our usual Saturday morning appointment teaching piano lessons in Boaco, and then on to Juigalpa, where we involved our visitors in our lessons and a Saturday night priesthood preview program.  My nephew, Christopher, who speaks great Spanish, spoke about his experiences in his young men’s quorum, and Bill and Nancy both contributed testimonies.

Sixteen year-old Christopher talked about the brotherhood and love among the young men in his quorum, including three blind brother who have helped everyone to become more caring and supportive.

Sixteen year-old Christopher talked about the brotherhood and love among the young men in his quorum, including three blind brothers, who have helped everyone to become more caring and supportive.

The members here were amazed to see our relatives, engaged in the gospel as we are, and raising fine young men ready to bear testimony even in a foreign country.

Nancy, Ellen, and Bill, three of the Benac bunch

Nancy, Ellen, and Bill, three of the Benac bunch

For us, it was an opportunity to see our work from the perspective of our guests, who felt the love, energy, and potential for growth in the people they met.  They encouraged our relationships and efforts to train and build the future leaders of the Church here, and we were happy to show off our piano students playing the piano in church and the leaders implementing strategies we have taught them.

Sunday morning we all went to church together.  Nancy delivered a package from our daughter-in-law Lala.  She and the twins had made 40 colorful tote bags for the primary children, so they can carry their scriptures to church. We presented the first of the bags to the children of the Pueblo Nuevo Branch.

The first branch loved their scripture bags!

The first branch loved their scripture bags!

Sunday night we all headed back to the hotel in Managua so our family could catch a morning plane back to the US. We thank them for taking the time and expense to come visit us and help us look up from the bumpy roads to see the beauty and potential of this tropical paradise–and to pause in our work to just enjoy the wonderful friends we have made here. We are grateful for the support we receive from all of our family and friends–from the bags from Lala to all of your notes and prayers for us and for the people of this beautiful country.

Mayordomía

One of our favorite privileges is working with children who have the sense of responsibility and stewardship, mayordomía, that assures us they will be future leaders of the church and community.

They not only learn to play the piano and lead music, but they take charge, making sure someone is on the schedule play each hymn, putting up the numbers, and teaching others what they have learned.

Here are a few of our favorite kids, who give us confidence that we can come back here in ten years and find a rich heritage of music:

Eight year-old Kristel not only plays the piano each week, she also puts up the hymn numbers on Saturday night and then takes the list of hymns to the branch president's office.

Eight year-old Kristel not only plays the piano each week, she also puts up the hymn numbers on Saturday night and then takes the list of hymns to the branch president’s office.

Twelve year-old Karina knows how to lead music--complete with fermatas, upbeats, and changes in time signature.  Here she is teaching an adult to do the same thing!

Twelve year-old Karina knows how to lead music–complete with fermatas, upbeats, and changes in time signature. Here she is teaching an adult to do the same thing!

Fourteen year-old Jose always practices for weeks to play each hymn perfectly.  And he is always prepared to play extra hymns if someone else doesn't make it to church.

Fourteen year-old Alfredo practices for weeks to play each hymn perfectly. And he is always prepared to step up and play extra hymns if someone else doesn’t make it to church.

Staying Healthy

Eat right, exercise, wear your seat belt, get your shots, sleep eight hours, see the doctor promptly—you know the drill.

One of our preoccupations in Nicaragua is staying healthy while living in a third-world country. The average life expectancy for a male here is 70 years, so at 69, Frank is pushing the limits!   Others our age are completely inactive, survivors of war injuries, diseases, accidents, kidney failure, and poor nutrition.

Though we live “in” Nicaragua, we are not really “of” Nicaragua. Our resources and education set us apart from the people who do not have the options we have.

Our first privilege is having a car, so we can drive into Managua when we want to and live outside of the urban center, in a motel with glass windows, screens, and an air conditioner, protecting us from dengue fever and chickungunya, two common mosquito-borne diseases that leave our friends here constantly bedridden or in pain. Many people live in rustic plastic, or wooden enclosures and cook and sit outside. Those rich enough for concrete block houses usually have only iron grates over the window openings and large decorative cut-outs in the walls or foot-high air spaces at the ceiling to allow for some air circulation—and lots of bugs and small animals.

Even houses that are connected together have open blocks like these  near the roof.

Even houses that are connected together have open blocks like these near the roof.

The car does have its own challenges. None of the traffic laws are enforced. People routinely drive through red lights, cars and trucks pass on blind curves over streets without shoulders, and pedestrians all walk in the streets or push carts or ride bicycles without any regard to the cars whizzing around them. Motorcycles zip in and around the cars, and at night, most of them have no reflectors or tail lights. We often sight a shadow on the road ahead and don’t know until we overtake it whether it will be a pedestrian, stray cow, or huge truck. Frank’s job is to drive; mine is to cry out inarticulate warnings.

We are a lot more concerned about vehicle safety than the locals, who routinely honk at us for stopping at red lights.

We are a lot more concerned about vehicle safety than the locals, who routinely honk at us for stopping at red lights.

I am not exaggerating when I say that Nicaraguans usually eat gallo pinto, which means spotted rooster, three meals a day. It is a colorful way of saying beans and rice. Sometimes they add yucca, which tastes like potato, or for a special meal, a little chicken and ketchup, which adds a sweet kick. No one has a refrigerator, and in the tropical heat, everything spoils, gets bugs very quickly, or is eaten by rodents that have free access to open houses. Fresh fruits or vegetables must be washed, soaked in bleach water, and then rinsed in pure water, after which they wilt quickly. Missionaries are warned not to drink tap water or eat prepared street food, which has a high level of contamination. Again, we live a life of privilege. We buy filtered water and bought ourselves a refrigerator. When we drive to Managua, we buy frozen, imported fruit and berries, chicken and bacon, vegetables, pre-packaged snacks, nuts, and even frozen veggie lasagna, which we bring back in a picnic cooler.

A Nicaraguan carrot, shown here with an American zucchini from Pricesmart in Managua.

A Nicaraguan carrot, shown here with an American zucchini from Pricesmart in Managua.

In order to get a little bit of exercise, I decided to do “a marathon a month.” In other words, if I walk a mile every night, it adds up over the month. There is nowhere to walk safely in the city, because of rough roads and no sidewalks. Outside of town, the rural paths have lurking robbers, who have been known to hit our friends or other missionaries over the head with a machete or rock. We all know to simply give up our telephone or wallet when invited to do so. But we live in a walled complex, and 14 turns on the sidewalk around our motel is a good mile.

People do give us funny looks as we do laps around the building every night.  They generally walk everywhere, so our need for basic exercise is unusual. (The  gutter next to the sidewalk carries away our sink and shower water.)

People do give us funny looks as we do laps around the building every night. They generally walk everywhere, so our need for basic exercise is unusual. (The gutter next to the sidewalk carries away our sink and shower water.)

Finally, there is medical care. Before we came down here, we started a series of immunizations, and needed our final shots after we arrived. When we went to the private hospital in Managua to finish our shots, they sent us to the pediatric unit; adults here never bother with preventative medicine. When we asked a branch president to recommend a dentist for a perspective missionary, he explained that he had never been to a dentist. (He is an educated man with a college degree and job, but wages here don’t stretch that far.)

This month, I began to feel some pain when I bit down on hard food with a tooth that had a root canal and crown. I promptly bought some antibiotics and made an appointment in Managua, where a US-trained periodontist at the dental clinic associated with the private hospital took modern digital x-rays and ultimately monitored my vital signs as she removed the tooth, cleaned the infection, and inserted a bone graft.

We are the only senior missionary couple assigned to support the branches and districts of Nicaragua.

We are the only senior missionary couple assigned to support the branches and districts of Nicaragua.

In addition to having the money to buy the food and care we need, we are confident there are angels watching over us, especially out on the streets. This week we found ourselves with a dead battery late at night after piano lessons in Santo Tomas, a half hour’s drive from home. Frank decided to go walking, looking for someone who might have jumper cables. I locked myself in the car and prayed that he would encounter someone from the church who could help us. Then I realized I had asked the Lord for a miracle. The tiny branch in Santo Tomas has only about six families, some without men, none with cars or likely to be out at night. I prayed again and apologized for asking for a miracle, and asked the Lord to simply help Frank be safe on the streets and, if possible, encounter someone who could help us so we wouldn’t have to spend the night in the car. Then I peacefully read my Kindle book while I waited.

After half an hour, Frank returned with the miracle. Walking on the carretera out of town, he passed under a rare street light as our church friend, Jose Gaitán from Juigalpa, walked in the other direction toward the late bus home from work in Santo Tomas. He borrowed our phone to call a friend, who knew a friend with a pickup and tools. For the princely sum of $8.00, he scraped our contacts and got the car running. We drove Brother Gaitán home to Juigalpa, and the next day we bought a new battery. We have absolute confidence the Lord is watching over us and helping us, which also gives us confidence that the Lord cares about the people and the work we are doing here.

On Growing Mellow

Last week, when we drove an hour and a half to Boaco to accompany a choir practice that was cancelled, and then returned to encounter a caravan of horses and revelers blocking the road back into Juigalpa, we calmly turned off the car and realized that we are becoming mellow:

  1. made gentle and compassionate by age or maturity; softened.
  2. pleasantly agreeable; free from tension, discord, etc.
  3. affably relaxed; easygoing; genial.
  4. soft and rich, as sound, tones, color, or light.

It helps a lot that we are retired, without the demands of work, house, family, friends, and personal projects.  Those are great blessings, which have made our lives rich and rewarding, but our busy schedules and sense of responsibility have also contributed a considerable amount of stress through the years.

Here, we have nothing else to do but offer all of our time, talents, and energy to teaching, supporting, and demonstrating service and leadership in a place where few people have a busy schedule or sense of responsibility.  No one will be mad at us if we are late reaching an appointment.  They might not even be there when we arrive.  This is what not busy looks like:

Sometimes no one comes to learn how to read.  They don't own clocks or cell phones, and they couldn't read them if they did.  They don't carry calendars or personal planners.

Sometimes no one comes to learn how to read. They don’t own clocks or cell phones, and they couldn’t read them if they did. They don’t carry calendars or personal planners.

Sometimes we arrive in a city to discover that there is no electricity.  Since our pianos are electronic, and it is dark by 6:00pm in every season, we are sometimes left without much productivity.  One day we used our idle time in Boaco sweeping and mopping–apparently the designated cleaners didn’t make it that week.

We love the easy-to-clean tile floors and walls.  Since people walk to church on unpaved roads in rainy weather, it is always easy to see that you are being productive when you sweep and mop.

We love the easy-to-clean tile floors and walls. Since people walk to church on unpaved roads in rainy weather, it is always easy to see that you are being productive when you sweep and mop.

I have discovered that I need some kind of handwork to do when I might otherwise be “wasting time,” so I followed the example of my dear friend Barbara Gibson, who made handy cloth bags so people could carry their scriptures to church.  Without a sewing machine, I at first thought I couldn’t do any sewing here, but now I am prepared to use the idle moments, when I am waiting for something else to happen.  Being productive helps me not feel frustrated or annoyed.  “They also serve who only stand and wait.”  (That’s John Milton, not the scriptures.)

Made with a double thread and tiny back stitch, with seams tacked every few inches and reinforced with a second line of stitching, I think these bags are strong enough to hold up to books, lesson manuals, and picture kits.  I've made one for each of the primary presidents in our district.

Made with a double thread and tiny back stitch, with seams tacked every few inches and reinforced with a second line of stitching, I think these bags are strong enough to hold up to books, lesson manuals, and picture kits. I’ve made one for each of the primary presidents in our district.

We are trying to develop the same attitude of patience toward the church members who are slowly learning what it means to follow Jesus Christ.  Sometimes we are disappointed and discouraged when people, who say they believe, refuse to give service or decide to make terrible choices in their personal lives. A part of becoming mellow is developing the faith to believe what Jesus said in a tiny parable that I never noticed before our mission:

And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground;

And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how.

Mark 4:26, 27

We have faith that our Heavenly Father, who loves all of His children, can someday transform the lives and hearts of the people of Nicaragua, and build up His kingdom here.  We hope we can learn to let Him take charge and transform our lives along the way, making us more mellow: gentle, compassionate, affable, and free from discord of all kinds.

Local Color: Photo Essay

Even the nicest houses here are simple and small, but each one is as colorful as the owners can afford t make it.

Even the nicest houses here are simple and small, but each one is as colorful as the owners can afford to make it.  Colorful banners above the streets are a common sight.

houses

Our own small contribution to color  is a  variety of placements and dishes to brighten up our  little hotel  apartment.

Our own small contribution to color is a variety of placements and dishes to brighten up our little hotel apartment.

 

Trucks and buses are privately owned, and each ne is brightly painted to make a statement about the owner's business.

Trucks and buses are privately owned, and each one is brightly painted to make a statement about the owner’s business.

A lot of businesses  have religiously  themed names.  The

A lot of businesses have religiously themed names. The “Good Shepherd Pharmacy” seems more appropriate to us than “Divine Child Lubricants” and “Joshua 1:9 Carwash,” which we pass every day.

 

The brightly decorated Boaco Parque Central entrance and fence are typical for even very small cities.

The brightly decorated Boaco Parque Central entrance and fence are typical for even very small cities.

Boaco Park

This is What Busy Looks Like

We start every morning with bags prepared for teaching reading and English, playing the piano, giving training sessions, carrying water, and loaning our scriptures, tape or markers to others.

We start every morning with bags prepared for teaching reading and English, playing the piano, giving training sessions, carrying water, and loaning our scriptures, tape or markers to others.

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?”

Everyone, young and old, enjoyed collaborating with their teammates to answer  scripture questions.

Everyone, young and old, enjoyed collaborating with their teammates to answer scripture questions.

The sisters cooked up enough delicious food for an army.

The sisters cooked up enough delicious food for an army.

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.

Why the girls come to piano lessons; why the boys come to piano lessons

Why the girls come to piano lessons; why the boys come to piano lessons

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.)

FRANK1159 - WIN_20150714_145123

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.

By the end of the day, the table is piled high, and we have to sort things out to start again tomorrow.

By the end of the day, the table is piled high, and we have to sort things out to start again tomorrow.

Serendipity

Serendipity

It’s the rainy season, so suddenly we find water a big part of our day. When we arrived in Boaco to teach piano lessons last Saturday morning, the building had about half an inch of water all over the floor, so we spend the first half hour sweeping water from the classrooms, halls, and chapel, out the doors. Then Frank swept water for two more hours while I set up tables and taught lessons up on the raised area at the front of the chapel.

Mud and water are the norm here. Floors and walls are all concrete and tile—never a carpet or wood, so the water didn’t do any damage except to the bottoms of the doors. We slogged through several inches of standing water in the parking lot of our residence hotel when we got home, and carried dry shoes and socks back to church for our afternoon assignments.

Mopping up our Apartment

Mopping up our Apartment

As fate would have it, we got home from church Sunday afternoon to find water all over our little apartment floor too. Apparently the water we had seen standing outside on the walkway was not standing rainwater as we had assumed, but seepage from a broken pipe under the flagstone right outside our door. Being the expert, Frank took right to the broom. We survived without water for the rest of the day while a man broke out the sidewalk and repaired the pipe underneath. Even though there is no freezing and thawing to break the pipes, excess ground water causes the ground to expand and break things.

Things here break. The rainstorm Saturday night took out the internet tower on top of the hotel, so we were without internet for three days. Last night the electricity went out while we were eating dinner and was out for a couple of hours. And when there is no electricity, there is no water pumped into the tank that supplies our water. There is no water today; I have no idea why. It’s just the way things are here. We carry on.

Scripture Treasure Hunt

Scripture Treasure Hunt

Friday night, as a part of our marriage and family relations class, we taught a workshop on how to have a family home evening, complete with a scripture treasure hunt, concentration games, activity songs, and show and tell. Everybody had a lot of fun, and as we were singing the closing song, some more people arrived, so we repeated the whole class a second time. We’re going to present a lot of the same material for a combined meeting Sunday in Santo Tomas.

Kids Repairing Hymnbooks

Kids Repairing Hymnbooks

Sometimes we teach little lessons or have activities that are spontaneous. When we went to Juigalpa to teach piano lessons one day, I took along some silicone glue and wide tape to see if I could repair the spines of some hymnbooks. Two of our piano students were there and jumped right into the project. They checked and collected all the needy books, applied glue, cut tape, and then put the books back in place.

When we were through, I told the children I would sign off one of their requirements for giving service in their Faith in God booklets, and then we had a nice conversation about the program. It is designed to help them learn to apply what they learn in church in their everyday lives. The booklets help them work with their parents and teachers to set and reach goals for having personal scripture study and prayer, giving service, developing talents, and improving their family living. Neither one of them knew about the Faith in God program, so I will take them both booklets and get them started the next week.

Last night in a leadership training meeting, Frank taught the leaders of their branch about the church’s personal goal-setting programs for children aged 8-18: Faith in God, Duty to God, and Young Women in Excellence. It doesn’t really change lives to learn the doctrine of Christ but not apply the principles in your life, so we hope that by introducing loving family activities, personal evaluation and goal setting, and service projects we can help people find the joy that comes from living in the light of Christ.

An Open Letter to Our Grandchildren

Dear Grandchildren, (Daniel, Leah, Jessica, Samuel, Paul, Mikelle, Rianne, Noah, Audrey, Caroline, Talia, and two more soon-to-be born precious children)

Your Grandma and Grandpa are far away, but we still love and miss you all very much. Because we love you and we love Heavenly Father, we have accepted the call to show our love and gratitude by giving two years of service, and I want to tell you about the children we are helping in Nicaragua.

Before we came on our mission, I was Jessica’s teacher every Sunday morning, so I learned all the Primary songs and all about how to have a wonderful Primary program. When I got here, I discovered that the leaders did not know how to teach Primary. Most branches had a nursery class to occupy all the children aged 1-11 years old while their parents went to Sunday school class. No one was teaching them anything about Jesus or Heavenly Father, and they did not know how to sing any songs. A few teachers tried to teach lessons, but they just opened the lesson manual and read in a boring way, so no one liked to learn. The first time I played my keyboard and sang a song with the children, they all just sat there and looked at me. I wrote the words on the board and asked them to sing along, but they were too self-conscious to do it, because they had never sung a song before! Finally I thought of a trick. I started singing and had them fill in the next word when I stopped. They could not resist finishing my sentences. “Soy un hijo de …….Dios” (I am a Child of . . . God).

Two weeks ago, we had a choir of Primary children sing for a conference, and last week there was a cultural night to celebrate the end of the week of mothers. Without any extra rehearsals, I asked the children to come to the front and sing two songs: “Baptism” and “I Belong to the Church of Jesus Christ.” They sang with great enthusiasm. I am teaching the children how to sing, and I am teaching their teachers how to have a good Primary program. cultural night Children singing for cultural night

Another thing we are doing for children is teaching piano lessons. When we came here, someone would stand up in church and count 1-2-3 and everyone would start singing the hymn on their own pitch and melody and timing. Look up the word “cacophony” in a dictionary to know how it sounded.

No one here has a real piano and there is no one in the city that teaches music lessons, so this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for people to learn to play music. With the donation of 16 keyboards and simplified hymnbooks from the Harman Fund, we teach piano lessons in three different cities a total of 18 hours every week! Everyone over the age of eight is welcome, and most of our students are children under the age of 15. They are amazing students, and we now have a full schedule and waiting list of students to play every hymn in each of the four branches we help. When a student is scheduled to play in church, we let them borrow a keyboard to practice at home that week. Their parents tell us that they love having the beautiful spirit of love and worship that comes to their home when they have the music of the church. This also helps our students know that they have an important contribution to make by giving service at church. Some children who are 8 and 10 years old are even learning to play the simplified versions of the primary songs, so the primary will still have music after we are gone. We left 16 keyboard with students who completed the course in Granada last year and will probably do the same here this year. kds on stand Our students playing the piano and leading the music–and the other pianists waiting for their turns

Grandpa spends a lot of time helping the young men like Daniel. When we came, the boys were all staying with their dads when it was time to separate for classes. No one was helping them learn how to serve in their priesthood responsibilities. Some of the boys would go out in the parking lot and sit on the motorcycles or just go home. The girls would sit on the benches in the hall and visit. None of the kids were working on their Duty to God or Personal Progress goal booklets. Now they all know that when we visit their branch they will have a class from Elder Sorenson, who really loves them. We hope you won’t feel jealous that some of them call him their adopted grandfather. Our goal is to help train other people to give the same kind of love and service when we are gone, but they haven’t learned that yet, so we aren’t done with our job. Frank teaching One more thing we do for the children is a little harder to see but it is very important. We try to help their families have love and unity by living the gospel of Jesus Christ at home. Grandpa has been teaching marriage and family relations classes, with strategies for helping people show love, eliminate conflict and anger, communicate better, and solve problems. We went to visit one family that was having problems, and they invited us to stay at their house for a family home evening. One of their daughters played the keyboard for an opening song and then they had a prayer and watched a church video. After that, the father started showing a lot of love for his family. He said that they needed to pray more and go to church as a family. Finally he said, “We need to have more love.” We really did not say anything special to teach the father. But just by being there, we helped him invite the Spirit of the Lord into his home, and the Spirit taught him the lesson he needed to learn.

grandpa and kids

Grandpa acting like a grandpa!

We can be here teaching the children of Nicaragua, because we know that you, our dear grandchildren, have plenty of loving teachers and righteous parents to teach and care for you while we are gone. Thank you all for choosing to be righteous. Thank your teachers for their excellent lessons and your music teachers, scout leaders, and parents for helping you learn how to live joyfully and receive the great blessings that God has given to our family. We love you, Grandma and Grandpa