July 17, 2013 Hermana Valencia’s (missionary from Lima, Peru) story is worth repeating. We noticed that neither she nor Hna Cazaut (her missionary companion from Argentina) could read the slides from the Zone Meeting when we were taking turns, because neither could see well enough. Sister Cazaut was wearing glasses but they don’t work well enough. Sister Valencia was wearing none. When we inquired if she needed some, she said no, she was fine without, that she had glasses but had left them home in Lima, Peru when she left on her mission. We asked why she did not have them sent. She said her parents were not members of the church, and they were not at all happy that she had joined the church only 18 months ago and had gone on a mission. She said there was no way she would ask them to send her glasses. That was WAY too much to ask from them since they were already upset she had left. As we pressed further, she agreed her friend, a member, could probably send them. We encouraged her to contact her bishop if her friend needed money to be able to send them. It seems a shame she should have to serve her whole mission not being able to see because she was too afraid to make her non-member parents mad by asking what would seem to us such a small favor. I felt impressed to tell her to keep writing to her parents faithfully every week and that if she did, their hearts would soften. Her mother does write her occasionally, so that is a good sign. Sister Valencia is a young lady, and such a great example of strength, commitment and testimony. After being in the mission only 6 months or so, she is already training new missionaries (Sister Cazaut). They are a fun pair to be around. They are always laughing, giggling, talking and smiling. They begged the mission president to leave them as companion when the last time for transfers came around, and he did.
I made a trip to Canela without Carolyn to take the District Leader Elder Condor (Lima, Peru) to do a baptismal interview after Thursday’s zone meeting. It is a very small town of 1700 on a good day, in a narrow mountain valley. To get to the person’s house I had to drive the elders up an extremely narrow and steep dirt road carved into the side of a mountain. A cliff on one side all the way up and little hut houses on the other side of the 10’ wide road. Literally, the front door is 10 feet from the cliff. The road is washed out and bumpy and caving in/off here and there. We get to the house and a car and a truck and coming down the mountain wanting to get past. I did NOT want to back up a mile. The house has a little indentation dug into the side of the mountain where they park their itsy bitsy car. Somehow, I got off to the side close enough to their car for the truck to pass with about an inch clearance.
After the interview, we did not have enough gas to make the complete trip home, about 30 miles, with none on the way. The only gas station in town was being refueled. Here, they block off the whole gas station when doing this. The Elders and I went looking for something to eat while we waited and found a small hole in the wall place that made sandwiches. Got a churrasco italiano… a grilled beef (that cannot be chewed up it is so tough) with avocado, tomato and mayonnaise. Really, it was somewhat hard to find the meat and avocado amongst all the mayonnaise and bread, but that is the way they always are made. It’s pretty standard fare served up at just about any of the small little shops that sell candy, food and ice cream bars, etc.. Had to pay cash for the gas because they did not accept credit cards. At $1.75 per quart, it can really set you back.
Jul 21, 2013. Today Carolyn got to go with me to Canela, an hour away through some mountains (normally 1 hour). We took some seminary/institute teachers there for a monthly training meeting. They each have only have about 1 or 2 students. They meet for training once per month, rotating towns, to be trained by trainers that come up from Vina delhours away. On this day, there just happened to be a Catholic saint festival going on the little village Asiento Viejos just out of town on the main road to Canela, so the Carabineros had the whole highway shut down because of the traffic and mobs. After an hour in traffic, and an hour late for the meeting, we still had not made it out of Illapel. Carolyn and I assumed we would just bag it and say we tried, but no, these ladies called ahead to make sure the teacher would wait, and then insisted we take the dirt road starting out in the other direction, through the mountains to Canela. It actually was not too bad of a road. Kind of like a small highway with guardrails here and there, but all dirt. The scenery was beautiful. The mountainsides were beautiful bright green, littered with cows and goats and sheep and saguaro cactus, the cactus really liking the fencerows. We got to Canela around , 2 hours late. The two CES instructors patiently waited, taught us, and then we found out what we think was the main reason the sisters did not want to bag the meeting. Apparently every time the training is held in Canela, a small branch of 18 members (active), one of the members invites the whole group over to their house for “once”, pronounced like the number 11 in Spanish. They served pork spare ribs from the pig they and the Canela missionaries had slaughtered the day before, with rice and sliced fresh tomatoes, fresh “hand kneaded” bread, and then diced, canned peaches and canned cream for dessert. For second desert (I was too full by then, but Carolyn indulged), some kind of cake that is not sweet. Most of the cakes and deserts here are not very sweet.
Carolyn had the women at her end of the table in stitches laughing all night with her corny jokes in broken Spanish mixed with English. I wish I had a picture of the house where we ate. If there ever was a Dr. Seuss-like house in real life, this was it. It was a hodge podge of built-on/added on rooms connected as one ascended up a steep mountainside. To get from the living room to the kitchen, one steps through a uneven concrete steps to a drain and broken up piece of concrete at the foot of the stairs with a PVC sewer pipe running on top of it right where you step down and turn to go up some other stairs and into another room of the house, the kitchen. It was hard to tell what was inside and what was outside. Everything was the same temperature (cold).
Jul 24, 2013 Sister Valencia and Sister Cazaut arrived w/ Kelly, aroundfor a planned discussion (that is considered to be on time). Kelly brought her dog Maya, a rambunctious 7-month-old cross between a black lab and a golden retriever. Maya was a mess, running all over. We tried to put her in the storage room but she was crying and jumping all over knocking stuff down. We put her outside and she kept running from window to window jumping up and looking in and barking. Diana (the dog in charge of our fenced in area) and the other animals here did not know what to make of her. Maya finally settled down and played with Dianna, allowing us inside to have a nice discussion with Kelly on the Plan of Salvation. The spirit was very strong, and she accepted the challenge to be baptized. The sisters did a great job teaching, and they called on Carolyn and I a few times to share comments. Carolyn did a good job bearing testimony in her broken Spanish, especially considering we had only been here 2 wks and most of the time she was very sick.
4 Aug 2013, Sunday. A LONG Chronicle, just to document a normal day for us, up to now.
I will describe what a normal day was for us here. I am afraid though, as I get started writing, it will be a long journal entry. We started our day with ameeting and got back home around Carolyn and I then reflected on what we had seen and heard. These days are very different from any we have had in the United States.
First, we started this Sabbath day of fasting with a prayer. Fasting (no food or drink for for 24 hours) is normal in the church for the first Sunday of the month. This month our entire family is fasting and praying for divine intervention in the pregnancy of one of our daughters who has a condition very rare and very dangerous to both mother and child. At, the District President met us at our house for our weekly Presidency meeting. We had a comfortable meeting in our living room where it was a toasty 60 deg. Instead of 50 deg like at the church. (That is why we asked to just meet at our house, since there was just him and us for the meeting this time).
Carolyn has been trying for several weeks to get materials ordered for the Young Women programs for the various congregations in our district. No one seems to know how to do it and she has been getting nowhere but frustrated. She has been progressing quite well with her Spanish. She has gone from using one-word sentences and lots of sign language like her grandkids use, to stringing two to 3 words in Spanish together in succession (One day last week in a prayer in English, I heard her using a Spanish word “y” instead of the English word “and” by mistake. It just slipped out). Anyway, at the end of this meeting with the District President, her materials were still unordered and she was not going to let this stand. So she began to tell the district president, very fast, in language that was half a weird kind of convoluted Spanish and half a weird kind of convoluted English, how complicated the process had become and how she still didn’t have her stuff. I about cracked up laughing aloud it was so funny to watch her intently going on and on with the gibberish that I could not even understand, not to mention the President. He was intently trying to understand her. When she was all done, I asked what she was trying to say so I could explain it to him. They both said no, it is ok, he understood. And he did. I was the only one who did not. This was the first time I have seen her speak in sentences and paragraphs, instead of a few words here and there. It WAS funny though.
Ok, after the meeting, atwe headed to Los Vilos to attend the church meeting there. It is an hour’s drive through a very mountainous and curvy road, up over some mountains and to a pretty little beach and fishing village of about 20,000. We received a warm welcome from everyone there, which were less than 50. I sat next to the President or leader of this small “Branch” of the church, on the bench behind the pulpit where his two counselors also sat. He is about half my size, has a smile about as wide as he is tall, and walks with a limp. He needed much help from behind from one of his counselors, in directing the meeting. And he often leaned over and asked me if he should do this or that, before he stood up to conduct business. One of his counselors was obviously much more capable in leading and directing meetings, but he offered help to the President from behind in a quiet, patient tone that nobody in the congregation could hear. I sought this man out after the meeting to thank him for being such a great support to the Branch President. In the ensuing conversation it was obvious how capable and experienced of a leader this counselor to the branch president was, compared to HIS leader, the Branch President. It was also very evident and expressed how much he loved the Branch President and supported him and how he would do anything needed to make him a success in his calling to serve as the Branch President. I thought what a rare individual, unselfish, and humble leader the counselor was.
During Sunday school, I sought out the Elder’s Quorum President and asked if we could talk. This man was also obviously very experienced in many leadership positions in the branch and district for many many years. He also made it very clear how much he loved and respected the Branch President, who was short on confidence but doing the best he could. It was also clear from what he said that he and every other leader in the branch would and were doing everything necessary to make sure the Branch and Branch President were successful. Between the branch president’s counselors, Elders Quorum president and other leaders in the branch, they made sure all the important leadership and planning meetings were being held, and that the members’ needs were being handled. As a result, this little branch was functioning quite nicely and has important objectives they have set for themselves for improving and reaching out to the less active members. It appears to be functioning as nicely as any small unit in the church anywhere… despite a new Branch President short on confidence and experience.
Priesthood meeting was well- taught, by an instructor that had never taught a class before but appeared to have spent all week preparing his 30-minute lesson. He had big, hand written charts with the important points neatly hand-printed on brown paper with hand drawn guidelines. He was nervous, but everyone was SO supportive it made him feel really good.
After priesthood meeting ended, I asked to meet with the branch President. We had a great conversation in which he told me about some of his concerns and how things were going. I learned this little man had been a fisherman his whole life (he is in his late 50’s) He has a small skiff similar to what the other fisherman use. He teams up with his brother. They collect all sorts of shellfish, abalone and other fish that they sell to local restaurants. They deep sea dive for some of them, down about 100 feet. They only have about 10 minutes for each dive to get down there, find the big long orange fish they look for at those depths, catch them and bring them up. Otherwise, they will get the bends and could be seriously injured.
He was telling me about all the delicious kinds of fish he would catch and how much they were worth at the market, and his eyes would just light up as he explained it all. I commented he must eat very well then, with all that delicious fish that he caught. He said that he did, and promptly asked if we would come home with him for dinner. He said I will call my wife right now and tell her you are coming, and he did.
After we were done with all the meetings and locked the church up, we drove him home. His house was a typical house in this village and in the other towns in our district. Houses line both sides of the street, right up to the street.. Usually there is no sidewalk. The streets between houses are usually extremely narrow “passaje ways”. Two cars can barely pass, if going very slow. A car parked in the passage way is a huge obstacle. Houses usually touch each other and are usually only 10-15 feet wide, many times two stories high. But to get to the second story by a steep set of stairs or winding staircase that usually is in the middle of the kitchen or living room.
The living room has barely room for the three standing up. A small doorway about up to my neck led to the kitchen/eating area. The table took up the majority of the room and was pushed against the wall to make room to walk between the table and stove. The table was about the size of a card table, but not as wide. It was wedged in the room and under the steep spiral stairs that led to a bedroom? in back. No doors in this house..no room for them to swing open. ..a piece of cloth or plastic is used for privacy.
There were six of us sitting around this very small table. We completely fill the room, crammed against 4 sides and every one of us could probably have touched at least two walls while sitting down. It was quite an ordeal to get in behind the table, sit down, and then slide the table up to our chests so there was enough room for other people to sit on the other side. The president’s wife served the food off the stove without having (or being able to) to stand up from her chair. The stove also served as a place to put the food because our plates took up all the room on the table. The stove, sink, counter, are all miniatures, like the plastic ones for kid’s play sets back home.
They served us on nice china/plates, with small ones on top of a big ones, 3 courses, starting with 3 small abalone-like sea creatures called locos. You squirt mayonnaise on (mayonnaise comes in quart plastic bags here and they put it on everything, even rice) them and eat them with a knife and fork. They were hard and firm but chewable and not like any other food I have ever eaten. The flavor is OK but texture different. These sea creatures were an obvious delicacy and treat for the family. President Alfaro explained how you find them, peel them off the rocks and then scoop out the flesh, how much he sells them for at market, how much a plate like this would cost in a restaurant ($30), etc..
Carolyn could only eat 1 of the 3 on her plate. But I thought she did pretty good to eat one and cut the other up into enough small pieces so that it looked like she’d eaten most of it too. We both felt bad about leaving one untouched, but it was too different for her. She’s born and raised in New Mexico like me, far away from any food like this. After this appetizer, was served shredded cabbage with oil and vinegar dressing, and a cold potato/mayonnaise salad. Sister X was obviously in charge of proportioning out the food. The older returned missionary son in the family had to eat upstairs above the table because there was not room for him in the room below with us. He would bring his plate down and hand it to his mother to get more food (because he couldn’t get close enough to it because we were packed in so tight. It was obvious she was the one in charge of doling out food in this house.
The final course was rice with shredded chicken on the side. All of it was very tasty. I could not help but notice, however, that when the Pres. went to the refrigerator/ freezer to show us two other kinds of seafood he catches, (he did not need to leave his chair to open the freezer door on top the refrigerator) that the things he showed us were the only things in the freezer and refrigerator. It was completely empty except for a fish head he was saving for soup, and two other small locos like the ones we had all just eaten, smaller than half a boiled egg each. I am pretty sure they boiled up and served to us about 90% of their frozen food reserve supply just for us. It made us feel pretty humble for opening my big mouth about how good he must eat. I do not think they actually do much fishing except during the tourist season starting in Dec., so things are probably pretty tight.
They showed us photos taken when the chapel was being built 29 years ago. This man and his wife were there helping brick by brick with their own hands, just like they are still doing today.
His 13 year old daughter proudly showed us her three best seashells. For living only a few blocks from the ocean, I was surprised that for us they would have been normal ole shells. She carefully polished her favorite one inside and out with a soft cloth and gave it to Carolyn. MAYBE one of our grandkids would pick up such a shell as this at the Lucky Leaf, but I doubt it (it was not whole and was with extra holes). But it was a unique and special to her. And she unselfishly gave it to Carolyn as a present. Carolyn had attended her class at church as well. Carolyn is going to give her one of the small shells she brought with her from the LL.
On the way out, President Alfaro proudly showed us his garden, a small 8’X8’ area between the fence/gate on the street and his front door. He must have had at least a hundred different varieties of plants, flowers, herbs and spices and home remedy plants in that small area, some in pots stacked on top of pots. It including two peach trees that hung half over the fence, and a geranium that formed one hedge-like wall of the garden and was about 8’ tall. Most of the plants would be classified as indoor plants in North Carolina.
OK, this is getting long. To speed things up, we then met the sister missionaries later that evening at the church to meet someone who had a house to rent. We went with him to look at it. His price was $600/month for a very, very small half of a duplex house just like the one we ate lunch in. Both housing and food are expensive here compared to the States, in terms of US$. The house would not even qualify as a slum in the U.S.
Went back to the church to use the internet to try to order Carolyn’s supplies and complete some reports. The internet did not work (not unusual) so after an hour or so we gave up. We went outside and found our car battery dead. I left the lights on. You get a ticket if you do not drive with your lights on. The car does not shut them off automatically like the MDX.
Well, while we were sitting there wondering what to do next with it getting dark in a strange town that had already shut down for the night and a long mountain ride back home in front of us, the sister missionaries came walking by. They were an answer to our prayers because they mentioned they had just seen Diego, one of the few members with a car, driving around with his family, house hunting. They gave us his phone number. No answer. But he called back a few minutes later. No jumper cables. They are very rare. But he came quickly to the church and started calling people, found some cables and left and returned in 30 minutes without his family but with his dad, a set of jumper cables, and an old feed sack full of loose, misc. tools.
Our car was boxed in on the street… no way to jump. They did not hesitate to take the battery out of their truck, and carry it over to our car. But our car still would not start when connected to theirs via jumper cables. I suspected the cable was bad. They thought it was the battery. So then they then took the battery out of their car and ours, put theirs in our car. Then it started. Then, with our car running, they took their battery out and put ours back in… with the car still running. Then, they took their battery back and put it back in their truck. They did all this with a freezing ocean breeze blowing about 20-30 mph and no coats. I had a suit jacket and overcoat on and I was freezing. They sent us on our way and told us not to turn the engine off until we got home!
Now how many people are there, that you do not even know, that you could call and have them drop their personal family affairs on the spur of the moment, and spend the rest of the evening swapping batteries around, including taking their own battery out of their own car and putting it in yours, in the dark, and in freezing weather, just to give you a jump? Then, he called us an hour and a half later just to make sure we got back to Illapel OK.
We ended the day once again with a prayer for our daughter and unborn grandchild. In addition, we reflected on all the blessing we have received and continue to receive each day. There was a lot to reflect on. The branch President, his wife and daughters (who were not their real daughters, just some they’d taken in), his counselor in the branch presidency, the very supportive Elders Q. President, Diego and his dad and the battery, the Sister missionaries, the members who are helping finding lodging, etc. They are all so willing to give and help, and serve. None of them really knows us. They were all so unselfish and kind, and humble and generous and loving, helpful.
This is what we are experiencing here, and it is different. Neither of us have ever even seen such humble circumstances in the U.S. in our entire lives, even growing up in a border town in southern New Mexico. But I do not expect we will ever be in a better home than the one today, or see better examples of Christ like service and living by all the other people we met today, like Diego and his dad, or the guy teaching the priesthood meeting lesson, or the other leaders in the branch.
Oh, I forgot to mention. When we saw the sister missionaries outside the church it was already dark and cold and it was very windy. We were ready to be on the road and get home and end the day. We asked where they were going. They said they had no more appointments for day so they were going, no, not going home to end the day and get warm, they were going to go “knock on doors” till theircurfew. Wouldn’t you think more people would be interested in knowing what was so important to make them want to do that?
Also, we counted it as one of those frequent miraculous “coincidences” we keep having here, where things just click together to make sure we move along our way and meet and talk to those the Lord would have us meet. It could have been a very different story with a dead battery in a strange town in Chile that had already shut down for the night. Then Diego calls us when we get home to check on us to make sure we arrived OK. We don’t even know the guy.
14 August 2013 Lots of the missionaries were transferred today. Most companionships in our zone changed. Elder Nunez and I teamed up for a couple of hours in the evening while Elder Saldivar went with E. Beloqui and our wives went visiting sisters. Not too many people answered their doors, but one did, Hno F, an inactive Elder who is partially crippled and walks with two canes and runs a junk store that looks like a hoarder’s house. We made our way into a back room and after chit chat, asked him why he thought the Lord inspired us to drop by and visit him. After a long pause, he said it was because he needed to make some changes, be more committed and strong in the gospel, and he’d been praying for the strength to do that. He asked for help. We challenged him to accept a calling as a home teacher and help the other families he would be assigned to visit, and to attend church meetings, and to read his scriptures and pray regularly. He was so happy to have a calling and he accepted the challenge. He came to church theand we matched him up as a home teacher with another crippled guy in the ward who is in a wheel chair and also recently went blind, and is very despondent. They were so happy to meet each other. Hno F. lives close enough he can walk to Roberto’s house. They were all smiles to meet each other.
Burros on a walk
House on street with double trouble door
Combarbala gearing up for Independence Day
Kelly and bad dog Maya
Waso on the Los Vilos beach in front of house
Grandpa Frank would like these ram horns