Living Water

water from mountain

Next to a curving road, hidden in the mountainous back country of the Chontales district of Nicaragua, a line of women and children is always present during daylight hours, filling their buckets with the fresh, clean water that gushes from a natural spring in the side of the mountain. To me, it is as miraculous as Moses striking a rock and having water flow out. Lest anyone forget its source, there is a church sitting on top of the rock, aptly named “La Iglesia de Agua Viviente,” The Church of the Living Water.

In the US, we never thought to thank God for water to drink, as the people here frequently do. In a place where it is always in the 90’s and there is limited infrastructure to deliver water, most people buy and carry drinking water. While we are in the dry season, skeletal cattle and horses graze on bits of dry grass near empty arroyos and wander through the city lapping up the remains of dishwater running in open gutters. We are reminded that water really is the basis of life.

In Juigalpa, anyone with reliable water has their own big holding tank sitting on top of their house, because the municipal water supply, and electricity to deliver water, are both spotty at best. But even that is not drinkable, so while we use it for washing dishes and taking showers, we also buy five-gallon water bottles for washing vegetables, cooking, brushing our teeth, and drinking.

cistern behind church

In Santo Tomas, where we will be teaching this afternoon, there is no municipal water supply for the 21,000 inhabitants. The courtyard behind the church building has an open concrete cistern that catches rainwater from the roof. When we use the bathroom there, we first go to the cistern and dip out a bucket of water to pour in to flush the toilet. We also carry disinfecting wipes, so we can clean our hands, a luxury most locals don’t have. Since there has been almost no rain for over five months, the cistern recently ran dry and the Church had to call a water truck to refill it.

Is it any wonder that people here have a short life expectancy? Chronic dehydration leaves everyone with kidney problems, disease-bearing mosquitos breed in open water tanks, there is no pure water for hand-washing, and the poorer people have no choice but to drink whatever water they can get, along with the parasite infections that follow. People also drink massive amounts of beer, wine and soda pop, all of which are perceived as healthier, because they are clean.

Living in a more primitive environment, we have discovered that many Biblical references have come alive for us. We understand plagues of drought, famine, disease, and insects. We understand heat and dust and lame beggars. And we understand the life-giving necessity of wells, springs, and miraculous rivers of water.

We also understand the power of Jesus’s image when He said to the Samaritan woman, “whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” ( John 4:14). He, who created all things, pours water into the buckets of Nicaragua. He provided water for Israel, walked on water, turned water into wine and said, “I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely” (Rev. 21: 6). He is the source of our water, both for this life and for eternal life.

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Bank Note Footnote

Alas, the amazing tale of our debit cards has a sad footnote.  The card that so dissolutely made its way across so many borders before it finally landed in our hands was accidently made out to our son, Frank E. Sorenson, rather than his father Frank O. Sorenson.  We didn’t think this was a problem, since Frank is a signer on our bank account during our time abroad. So we started the month with withdrawals to pay our rent and car lease.

This worked very well for us.  Too well, in fact. After a few days, during which time we noticed that the bank was slow to take the money out of our account, we got a phone call from Frank.  It turns out the money was being withdrawn from his checking account at the same bank, rather than ours.

After a phone call to our bank asking for another new card, the errant card was immediately cancelled, as was Frank’s own card.  So now neither Frank has a debit card and we are starting the process over again.  Fortunately we don’t think Ellen’s card was cancelled, so if you get a call claiming to be from us needing money, don’t fall for it—as least not yet.

We have noticed that Frank did not name his own sons with his own name, and he has often complained about confused identity in phone calls, mail, financial affairs, and even medical records.  On the other hand, at the age of 22, as a college student home for the summer, he was able to walk into a car dealership and purchase a new Nissan, no money down. At the time, I said, “Don’t ever complain again about having your father’s name.”  I now hereby withdraw my objection.

Debit Cards, Free with our Account; Express Mail Package, $46; Tracking History, Priceless!

Journey

Since a lot of places here aren’t equipped to accept credit cards, we depend on debit cards to get cash for our rent, car lease, market, and doctor or pharmacy visits.  Thus, we were concerned when our old cards were deactivated before we received new ones.  (They were deactivated because the bank couldn’t let them be forwarded from our house to our son Frank’s, a few blocks away, even though he is now a signatory on the account, but that is another story altogether.)

We made arrangements for Frank to pick up new cards personally at the bank, after which he took them directly to the post office, where he used United States Postal Service International Express Mail to send them to the mission post office box in Managua, Nicaragua.  The cards were mailed March 9.

Ever since we arrived in Nicaragua, mail has taken 4-6 weeks to reach us—if it arrives at all.  Watching the tracking information that appeared every few days, we began to understand why.  The cards went from Naperville, Illinois to a sorting center in nearby Aurora and then Chicago, where they hopped a plane for Miami.  Being the United States, the Postal Service sent them straight to Managua, Nicaragua on March 13th.  Being Nicaragua, the postal service here immediately sent them to Honduras. Wanting us to get full value for the $46 Frank paid for the package, Honduras sent them on to Brazil (March 15), where they were promptly scanned and sent on to Argentina (March 16). Really, I’m not making this up; I’m not that creative. The laugh factor alone is worth the price.  Our cards have traveled way more than we have.  (Don’t the advertisements say we’re supposed to see the world with our credit cards?)

The cards left Argentina March 16th, and went into hiding for nearly a week.  Were they on the proverbial slow boat to China? Off to see the pyramids? In the hands of some nefarious criminal?  We started to think we might have to participate in one of those phishing schemes: “Friends, this is Frank and Ellen in Nicaragua, and our debit card won’t work. We need you to wire us some money right away.”

March 22nd the cards reappeared, this time in Quito, Ecuador.  Not knowing what to do with them, Quito sent them to Guayaquil, where they got on a plane back to the US.  On March 26th, they were scanned in Louisville, Kentucky, dangerously close to finding their way back home to Illinois. (Are there direct flights from Guayaquil to Louisville?) From Louisville, they went to Sacramento, where, being the United States, someone again put them on a plane to Managua, Nicaragua. Being our lucky day, they were delivered to the post office box that afternoon.

The next day, we made the three hour drive to Managua to pick them up rather than putting them into the hands of a local courier who would pack them into a potato sack and throw them up on top of an old school bus that stops in Juigalpa as it wends its way toward the autonomous jungle east of here.  Who knows where they might have been blown off?

My literary references have deteriorated; I can think only of Flat Stanley.

Frank, who eagerly followed the course of the package, made a map of its peregrinations and calculated a journey of 18,000 known miles traveled.

USPS Tracking EZ079184453US

March 9, 2015, 1:55 pm Acceptance Naperville, Illinois

March 9, 2015, 4:49 pm Arrived Aurora, Illinois

March 10, 2015 3:53 pm Processed through Chicago, Illinois

March 11, 2015 11:43 am Processed through Miami, Florida

March 13, 2015 9:44 am Departed Miami, Florida

March 13, 2015 1:56 pm Departed Managua, Nicaragua

March 13, 2015 2:53 pm Departed San Pedro Sula , Honduras

March 15, 2015 9:37 pm Departed Sao Paulo, Brazil

March 16, 2015 12:18 am Departed Buenos Aires, Argentina

March 22, 2015 1:56 pm Departed Quito, Ecuador

March 22, 2015 2:53 pm Departed Guayaquil, Ecuador

March 26, 2015 3:42 am Departed Louisville, United States

March 26, 2015 5:32 am Departed Sacramento, United States

When our packages take four weeks to arrive, where do they go?  Can I still expect to see the box Jenny sent over a year ago?

 

 

 

Communicating in a Foreign Culture: It’s Not Just About Words

woman with bowl on head

Before we came to Nicaragua, we knew we would have to learn to communicate in Spanish, but we didn’t realize that we’d need to learn a whole new set of hand gestures for communicating here.  For example, no one shakes their head to indicate “no.” Maybe because people carry baskets, bowls, or bundles of firewood on their heads while they walk around or stand talking to others, they indicate “no” by wagging a raised index finger. It looks like scolding in English. (Notice that the woman in the picture doesn’t have a hand up to hold the bowl.  People also don’t use their hands to hold on if they are carrying a baby while riding on the back of a motorcycle, or eating oranges while perched on top of a moving bus or truck.  Americans who try to imitate natives often have fatal accidents.)

Another gesture we had to learn was the sign for “come here.”  It is the strangest gesture, from our perspective, because it is opposite the American hand up sweeping the air toward yourself. Instead, turn the hand down and flex the fingers only, as if sweeping a few crumbs together on a table.  If you really want someone to come right away, exaggerate the gesture, pump your whole arm down repeatedly while you wiggle your fingers.

We still struggle not to think it offensive when someone flattens their hand palm down and pushes toward us as if to stay “Stop! Go away.” in our past life. Here, it means something more like “Excuse me a minute; my phone is ringing.”

Once I figured this out, I started wondering if I was unknowingly saying or doing anything rude, so I asked.  Apparently my thumbs up is ok. Handshakes and fist bumps are also the same in both cultures.

There is a local vocabulary, as well.  For example, no one here uses the word muchacho, the word we learned for boy and girl. Here, you would commonly say chico or even chavalo, a word that our dictionary says is offensive and means street urchin.  One day, someone privately advised Frank when he used what he thought was a common word that turns out to be offensive here—a word he had learned in school.

We’re getting used to other cultural differences, some of which we really like.  For example, in a restaurant, no one ever brings the bill until we ask for it. We could sit and linger over an empty glass—or order more—all evening if we had the time.

This is a small country with only 6 million people, but they seldom move from the city where they were born, and extended families live together or near each other.  There is a strong regional identity, and even stronger family identity.  If one person in a family is offended, the whole clan is often at war with the other, a convention that can have long-term negative consequences for church attendance or neighborhood relations.  On the other hand, if someone is your friend, the whole family would gladly take you in and feed or house you if you needed help.

Our friends in Granada continue to email us or use a few minutes of their precious phone saldo to call and tell us “thank you” for our service there last year.  We hope we are communicating our love for people here.  I come home from church every Sunday with lipstick on my right shoulder, because women commonly embrace and “air kiss” beside their right cheeks in greeting.  At five feet, five inches, I am a giant here, and so they end up kissing my shoulder.

Feasting on the Word

cows

As “full time” missionaries, we almost glimpse the reclusive life. Isolated from the usual business of living, we have no regular jobs to take us out by 6:00 or 7:00 am, no walls to paint or garden to plant, no family nearby to entertain or visit, no shopping, concerts, or pedicures. We live in an isolated mountain community where the electricity, water, phones, and certainly internet often fail. Cowboys on horseback herd cattle down the international highway, and women with bowls on their heads vend rice or homemade cheese in the village streets. Barefoot children come into the church and say, “I want to learn to play the piano,” and their fathers stop by and ask, “How can I help my marriage?”

At home in the mornings, we pore through handbooks and lesson manuals that the members have, but never open, we talk our way through lesson plans for people who do not ever participate in a discussion, and we make sample lessons, discourses, or lists of ideas that we end up using the very next day.

And we study the scriptures. Not just the 15 minutes of sleepy reading every night before bed which has characterized most of my life, or the purposeful searching and cross-referencing which have often accompanied an assignment to teach a lesson or explain a concept. As important as those habits have been in guiding our family and anchoring daily decisions, they haven’t offered the same consistent spiritual feast that being a full-time missionary has allowed. Nearly every morning, we have an hour or more to read and talk about the scriptures.

We are both on our second time reading all the scriptures cover-to-cover, and we find that they have the answers we need to respond to every day’s challenge. As President Boyd K. Packer taught in October conference, 2013, “it really doesn’t matter” which scriptures we read. In whatever we read, we stumble upon exactly the message we need that day.

For example, a few weeks ago I was thinking about all the problems that the members here have with keeping the commandments and applying the principles that they know are true, when I read Mark 4: 26-28.

“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. For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear.”

I realized that I was the one who lacked vision and faith. I don’t have to know how the church will grow and change the lives of the people here. I just need to have faith that the wonderful, good seed of the gospel of Jesus Christ will grow in the hearts of the people here and transform them and bless their families. This is Heavenly Father’s work, not mine. Now that I have greater faith in the kingdom of God, I can teach with more confidence and do a better job helping the members have a vision for their future.

A few days ago, I was planning a talk about the blessings that come to us when we give service to one another, in both our daily actions and in more formal church assignments as teachers or leaders. My daily reading brought me to the parable of the sower, and I read it and the Savior’s explanation differently than ever before. In Luke 8:14, the Lord explains:

“And that which fell among thorns are they which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.”

In the context of my talk, I realized that these people are not those who reject the word of God or even become inactive in their church participation; they are the people who don’t bring forth any fruit. They are the people who come to church, but don’t contribute service. They are Christians in name only, who don’t have time to visit the sick or don’t think it is pleasant enough to take a turn in the nursery. They believe in the word of God, but they don’t have enough faith to give and receive all that the Lord has promised.

Even as I write this, I realize that other people might not read these scriptures the same way I do today, which is why everyone needs to read and study and pray about the scriptures for themselves every day. One of the great gifts of our mission is the time to immerse ourselves in the scriptures and gain new insights and personal inspiration to direct our work here.

“Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.”               2 Nephi 32:3

Superman

Frank piano

On being married to Superman

If you’re going to live in a third world country, you want to be sure you are married to Superman: a man who can speak foreign languages, wash and wring clothes by hand, drive through herds of cows on their way to summer pasture, and perform concerts without notice.

Last night, President Perez told us there were people coming into town from Bluefields, a city accessible only by plane or boat, and he wanted us to perform a concert for them—today. Suddenly, we are apparently soloists and a performing duo. Since an early morning phone call took us to Boaco today, we planned our program in the car. We sang some hymns a capella, and I sang some solos while Frank played. I think it was fine, despite the fact that the president announced it as we went along, a little differently than we had planned, and we were selecting additional hymns between numbers. This is what you can do if you are married to a Superman who has been practicing the piano for 60 years.

Tonight after the program was over, Frank was asked to play the piano for the choir of the sisters from Bluefields in church tomorrow. Of course, there are a few minor complications. The sisters didn’t have any music for the song, “Consider the Lilies,” which is not in the hymnbook. That was fairly easy to fix. The church has Internet, and I have an account with Jackman Music, so we purchased some music to download. But then there was this: the sisters have never sung the song with an accompanist; they don’t read music, and they don’t know any of the modulations or variations from verse to verse. In fact, they need someone to play their melody part as they sing, which is not the way the music is scripted. This is when Superman swooped down to spend a good part of the night rearranging the music to keep it all in one key, with melody added and some nice accompaniment to fill it out—between the time we left the church at 8:30 pm and the time we have to be back to rehearse the song at 8 am tomorrow. Fortunately he can write this all out by hand, because the electricity is off tonight and we are working by candlelight. (We bought a supply of matches and candles our first night here.)

frank washing clothes

Before the computer battery dies, I’ll mention a few other traits that make for a good Superman: scratches backs, irons shirts, remembers where to find scriptures (important when you can’t do a search because of the accents in the aforementioned foreign language), stands up and gives gospel discourses when announced without notice, wakes up cheerful in the morning.

He has not yet figured out a device for generating electricity, so I’ll have to add some pictures and post this tomorrow.

The Licencia Code: Or the Quest for a Drivers’ License.

conducir 

It is a quest worthy of the best Dan Brown novel: to crack “The Licencia Code” and get a Nicaraguan Driver’s License. We have read so many books with successful resolutions, that we innocently undertook the task, naively believing the church transportation coordinator who said, “Just show your US driver’s license and your residency cedula.” That was before the days we spent going to the bank for a pile of receipts and sitting in driving school learning the laws here—basic rules like “stop for red lights” and “stay in your own lane”—conventions that most local drivers ignore. After passing a written test for a certificate of graduation, we spent one day in various lines at the Red Cross getting our blood typed and having vision and psychological exams.

Supporting characters

One day Betty, our lawyer, took us to the police station to take a written test. Richard, our driving school instructor, was there to shake hands with the police officers and assure that we had identical passing scores, despite my still-limited Spanish and the fact that we know we answered the ambiguous questions very differently from each other. After that, we were finally ready to go to Managua to take our driving test.

It was a Dark and Stormy Night

Since we recently moved to Juigalpa, a three hour drive from Managua at rush hour, we left Sunday evening to spend the night with friends in the city. All the power was out when we arrived in Managua, and there are no street or directional signs, so we turned too soon and spent an anxious hour running our gas supply lower and lower, wandering through the narrow streets of a pitch dark barrio, where we certainly couldn’t admit we were lost. We finally arrived at our destination nearly four hours after we left Juigalpa.

The Secret Location

Monday morning, we met Jafet, Betty’s son, at a centrally located gas station and followed him to the driver’s testing area—a very wide road that was not marked with any indication that it was any kind of official testing location.

Greasing the Palms

Richard was there to meet us. He smiled and shook hands with police officials, and we did not have to accomplish the task we stood and watched numerous competent drivers fail: backing around into a narrow space between two cones from a distance of only one meter out. We went directly to the practical test on the street. After 50 years of driving, we both passed the test, though I got the only black mark—for stopping in a no parking zone when the tester told me to pull over there and change drivers.

Into the Ancient Maze

Next we followed Richard and Jafet across town to a police station where we paid about 40 cents to get into a dirt lot where a jumble of trucks, buses, motorcycles, and cars were all jockeying to invent their own system of parking spaces. We were still there when we got a phone call from Richard, who was inside with our papers. The man who needed to examine and sign them was out to lunch, and we needed to come back at 1:30.

The Great Escape

Getting out of the parking lot proved a lot harder than getting in. The jam was so complete that one driver got a bucket of water and started washing his bus in the line. A large truck pulled up onto the grass to pass a broken-down bus, and officious drivers got out of cars to tell everyone what to do. Half an hour later, we were finally out on the street when we got a call from Betty, telling us to go into the police station immediately. So we parked in a neighborhood, divided our cash into several different stashes in our underwear and bags, and trekked back across an arroyo and past gangs of loitering young men into the police station, a large complex of buildings and lines, where we searched in vain for Richard. When we called him, he again told us to come back at 1:30. Apparently Betty had not talked to him.

The Over-worked and Sometimes Bumbling Assistant

We decided to park our car at the church office and take a taxi back to the police station, but before we could leave, a phone call from Richard brought a new plot twist. Our pile of papers had someone else’s blood type reports. Apparently, when Betty picked up our blood test results from the Red Cross, she mixed up the papers. Another phone call established that she had our results, so we arranged to meet her, this time at a different police station. Jafet again led us across town, where we met up with Richard and Betty. We paid a teenager to “watch” our illegally parked car and went inside.

The Obligatory Car Chase

We actually got to the front of the line this time, only to discover that with the Christmas holiday and delays taking the written and driving tests, our vision and psychological exam certificates had expired by four days. Now with our car escorted by Betty, Richard, and Jafet, we raced to a bank and bought new vouchers for vision and psych tests, then followed our team across town to the Red Cross to repeat the tests. I sailed through without a hitch. The psychologist recognized me and gave me a new certificate without making me retake the written or oral tests. (Really, anyone who can handle the license process can certainly keep their cool in traffic.) But alas, Frank’s vision voucher was in fact a blood test voucher. Betty managed to persuade the tester to accept it, since it was actually for a greater amount anyway. Back into the cars, with new certificates in hand, we followed Jafet back to a police station, only to find that it had closed early.

The Sinister Villain

Somehow confident that we were now ready to sail through the process on our own, Betty handed us our papers and told us to go to the police station in Juigalpa the next day to get the licenses. We stood in different lines morning and afternoon, and with the advocacy of a sympathetic lawyer who was there with his own client, finally reached the office of the police chief, who needed to approve our papers. He poured over them. We had completed driving school and two driving tests. Nothing was expired. Everything was ours. All the receipts were paid.   So he invented some new requirements. He told us we needed to go to immigration in Managua and get a stamp for our residency cedulas proving that we live in his Chontales district. Also certificates of good health—the first time anyone has heard of them. We called Betty and arranged to try again in Managua the next week.

Why did we do this? Because we don’t want to face the red tape of surrendering and then tying to reclaim our US licenses if we have a traffic stop. We would like to put them in the mission safe with our passports. We are frequently stopped by the police for “document checks” and random harassment. One day we came around a corner in the right lane and saw a police car and officers on foot in the road ahead. So we changed lanes to move around them. We were waved over and fined for changing lanes illegally. Fortunately, we had cash with us and paid the $30 “fine” directly to the officer rather than losing a driver’s license.

Dénouement

Yesterday, after another day going to Managua, we got our licenses. We calculate it took six full days of effort. Trámites means business transactions; it also means red tape. You decide.

Happy New Year from Juigalpa, Chontales, Nicaragua

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.

carriage liahona

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!

Church Last Week; Church This Week

The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the same wherever we worship, but it is certainly a great gift to be able to celebrate the Savior in a beautiful, clean, bright, new chapel, with a real organ, adequate classrooms, and working toilets.  A week ago, we went to church in an old rented gymnasium, without windows, air conditioning, or a place for activities.  This week, thanks to the gifts and sacrifices of members all over the world who have faithfully contributed their tithes and offerings, we participated in the dedication of a beautiful new chapel.   Our piano students played hymns on a marvelous electronic organ, and everyone could see and hear the proceedings.

Tuesday night, we watched the youth play soccer in the court outside while branch presidents had planning meetings in their offices, and on Saturday we will be holding a piano recital in the Relief Society room.  People passing on the street stop in to ask what this beautiful new church is; it is absolutely the most modern and beautiful building in this 500 year-old city.  We thank everyone who contributed this great gift to the Lord, and to the people of Granada.  This year we will celebrate the birth of Jesus in a place worthy of His sacrifice for us.

Church Last Week

 

old church frank old church outside old church pulpit old churchprimary kids in the cave

 

Church This Week

new chapel new church Dharma New church Ellen and Azyhadee new church primary New church rs room

Mango Medicine and Natural Healing

view from Mombacho

The view of Granada and Lake Nicaragua from on top of Mount Mombacho

People who live in simple homes with dirt floors and open walls are a lot closer to nature than we ever were in Illinois, and they have taught us a lot of the natural remedies and non-toxic solutions that are a part of their lives.

When I broke my foot our first month here, everyone we knew told me to eat mangoes to reduce inflammation. We’d never had a mango before, but they were plentiful and in season here, so our friend Lorena showed me how to wash, peal, and slice a mango. (If they’re too ripe, you just have to peel and eat them like a peach and let the juice run down your arms.) Lorena is the same person who taught us to put garlic paste in all our corners and all around the house to keep out the scorpions.

Then when I had a cold, Marbelly brought me a bag of herbs: leaves of zacate de limon, eucalipto, and oregano to boil in water and make a tea. (You really need honey or sugar for this bitter drink.).

We know that part of the difference is that most people can’t afford to buy remedies from a pharmacist, but our friend Joel, trained as a pharmaceutical chemist, mixed a brew of oregano and honey for his baby who had a cold, so we think perhaps these natural remedies might just be better.

Or maybe handier. Yesterday we took a guided tour of Mount Mombacho, the extinct volcano we’ve looked at for 11 months. We remembered to use sunblock, but forgot mosquito repellant. Never fear! Our guide showed us a broad leafed plant from the pepper family. When crushed, the leaves can be rubbed on your skin and provide a natural repellant.

The view from on top of Mount Mombacho was another kind of medicine, this time for our souls. After months of negotiating the crowded and broken streets of the city, we were thrilled to look out on the lake, city, and volcanic lagoons from another, more beautiful perspective. And we discovered that the volcano isn’t really as dead as it appears. We felt the hot steam rising from fumaroles and smelled the sulfurous gases coming from the craters and vents. We watched a sloth feeding on a low branch, saw a baby porcupine in the path, and touched a rare  salamander, found nowhere else in the world. Ah, nature! What a beautiful place this is.

cold remedy peppery plant

Herbal cold remedies and broad-leafed mosquito repellant

Mombacho salamander

Mombacho Salamander