Thursday, February 23, 2012

Week 76

February 20, 2012

Dear Family and Friends, 

How is everyone this week? We were so excited this week because there was a ‘glitch’ in the internet connection and we happened to talk to Jon, Tamina and family on SKYPE uninterrupted for about an hour! That was a miracle and we are still amazed at how that happened. It was so good to talk to them since we have not really had that opportunity since we arrived here.Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! We are hopeful that we can do the same this week with everyone else!!

This has been one of those ‘routine’ weeks. We are still struggling to find our exact fit here in Narra in knowing how we can best help this area. We have conducted a lot of training and have traveled a lot but we are still trying to find why Heavenly Father has brought us here and what He wants us to do. In the meantime we just keep on doing whatever we can. We have finished all but one of the special assignments. The last one will be completed by the end of March. We will go back to Manila for another Presidency meeting in early March so we will see what other fun things we can help with.

Having said that, this week was one of those fun weeks that just make you want to laugh. First off the rains brought a mouse or mice into the house. Oh boy! Mom was rather nervous so I set two mouse traps. What do mice eat in the Philippines? We decided that peanut butter would be best. The next morning the ants had eaten or carried off the peanut butter form both traps. Hmm! Now what do we do? Well, a day or two later I hear this scream from the bathroom. I thought the mouse was back, but this time it was a spider. It was about the size of a one cup measuring cup. After I took some pictures, it was curtains for that spider – if you know what I mean. 

Yes, I know I will pay for every ant, bug and spider I have squished over here, but right now I am willing to pay that price.  Mom said that she was now officially scared of our house (but not really)!

Our branch in Narra had a Branch Activity at the beach on Saturday. We had to drive down this one lane muddy, bumpy road and at the end of the road – there was the beach – literally at the end of the road was the beach! No place to turn a vehicle around or anything. The activity was really fun. We arrived after the games and the branch was sitting under some trees and learning first aid techniques. We love the members here. When they have an activity they always teach something – it always seems so organized and formal. But they know how to have fun together. 

After the activity we walked the beach and of course picked up shells. The shells were just small ones but they were really cool. Mom washed them off in the ocean and put them in her pocket as we walked. 

When we got back to the apartment mom arranged them on the bookshelf. They looked nice. 

 We went off to Aborlan (about a 45 minutes drive – depending on how many slow trikes you happen to get stuck behind) to a baptism. The baptism was wonderful. A young father from a part member family was baptized. He shared his testimony at the baptism and it was wonderful to see how happy he and his wife are now. 
Elders Roberts and Christie in the back
 When we got back home we settled in to do some reading and to check e-mail. Mom was working on the computer and heard something like a rock hit the floor. She asked me what that noise was and I said that I didn’t know. We looked around the room and found that one of the sea shells had fallen off of the shelf on to the floor. 

Yeah - that little critter was still in the shell! And he was trying to find the ocean.   Not only to we have critters trying to get into the house but now we are even bringing them in with us. We look back on this and just have to laugh. Whenever something happens we just say or think to ourselves – only in the Philippines!

Sunday we had a branch fireside about member reactivation and retention. The fireside was long but to help break up the meeting our full-time missionaries had an intermission activity. They had an animated ‘froggy dance” on the computer for everyone to do. It was so fun to watch everyone participate – young and old- even the very old! I just laughed and laughed. Everyone had a good time. The members like to just have fun whenever they are together – and it is just a simple fun. We have learned a lot from them. 

One last experience! We were in the town center doing some things and I asked some people if they could tell me the location of the post office. The first person said no problem and began to ‘flag down’ a trike that would take me to the post office. I said. ”No, I have a vehicle I just need to know where it is”. He said that it is at the municipal office building. The second person gave me pretty much the same answer. Well, we found what we thought was the municipal building but it wasn’t. The man inside this building pointed through the back of his building. So I went into his building and asked where the post office was located. Every person in that room walked me out of that building and pointed me in the right direction. Well, we made it to the municipal building. 
Municipal Building

 A very nice lady showed me where the post office was but it was closed. I waited around for about 10 minutes but no one came. Another lady came by and asked me if she could help me and I showed her the letters that I wanted to mail. She said that the post office was closed. “When will it open”, I asked?  She looked at me as if I was asking a trick question. When she saw that I was serious and I wanted to mail some letters, she said, “Maybe Monday.” I said, “Maybe”. She said, “Yes, maybe Monday?”  Can you see where this is going? If I mail the letters on Monday what will be the chances of those letters actually leaving the post office on Monday or maybe Tuesday or maybe Wednesday or maybe …  We love this country and the people. 

We hope that all is well with you. We love you and miss you very much. We love being missionaries and enjoy having the time to study and ponder about the gospel. The time seems to be going by so fast. This next week is transfer week again. I can’t believe how quickly the transfers come. We are down to 3 transfers and then we are coming home. Wow! Well, we love you. Take care of yourselves and have fun. Remember to BE good, DO good, and BE men and women of Christ. And always remember to say your prayers. 

Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Janene and Grant

Monday, February 20, 2012

Week 75

February 13, 2012

Dear Family and Friends, 

Well, we are trying our best to ‘break’ or at least ‘break in’ our new van. The roads are bumpy and rough and if there is a hole in the road I can guarantee that I will find it and hit it. The nice thing about the van is that it is white. Let me explain. Most residents do not own cars. They travel here around the island in jeepneys or shuttle vans – mostly in shuttle vans. 
The jeepneys are used to haul goods and materials and they are loaded to the limit. If there is any room for passengers they ride on top or they hold on to the side or back of the jeepney. You can only imagine how difficult that ride would be due to the road conditions. Well, the vans haul lots of people and they drive fast. The drivers are paid by the number of runs they make in that day and the number of passengers they carry – crowded and fast. The people and even the animals know this and so when a white van comes down the road, they get off the road. It is so nice not to have to honk at people and animals to move off the road so we can pass. Now, as we drive by in our white van we zoom by (at 25 -30 miles an hour) and look at the expressions of fear in their eyes. Oh, the power!!! It is sad however when they flag you down for a ride but we can’t stop for them. I feel bad that we can’t help them. 

 We have had another busy week. We were able to meet with the District President and assist him with his building projections and needs. It was fun to get him to look into the future 3 to 5 years and project what he wanted to have happen in the district. We love to see that excitement and it is delightful to get them to ‘see the big picture’ and what we are trying to do with the church. Sometimes we all get bogged down in the daily grind and don’t see the overall picture. He invited us to a training meeting with the branch presidents and clerks on Saturday. 

Elders Kummer & Morales, President, Sisters Gupta & Dyer
 We drove to Puerto Princesa on Friday for our Zone Conference. The conference was very spiritual and fun. It is good to see the missionaries, even if there are only 28 here on the island.
Elders Halterman, Villa, Cooper, Jensen, Morales, Cayago, Mahinay

Sisters Dyer, Gupta, Peterson; Elders Comish, Kummer, Villa, Buasen, Cayago
 We were able to do some additional shopping in Puerto since the market in Narra isn’t fully operational. We were so excited that they had some yoghurt. Even in the large grocery store in Puerto, the dairy section is found in 2 coke coolers. Most of the store consists of canned foods and bagged treats. 

On Saturday, after the District Training meeting, we headed out for an overnight trip to Brookes Point Branch. The trip takes about 6 hours of round-trip driving on a good day. If the weather is not good we were told to add another hour or two each way. Well, along with the Petersons we arrived late Saturday evening and stayed overnight in a mountain resort. 
Mt. Maruyog Farm & Garden Resort

our cabin

It was really quite nice. We found that the room was full of bees and I killed my fair share of those little critters. The resort personnel came in and put plastic bags over the lights – the bees were in the attic and were coming down through the lights. We were serenaded most of the night by the angry humming of bees in a plastic bag. The different colored bags did provide us with ‘mood’ lights.

The resort was very pretty.
They had a large playground with animals to climb on, slides and even a teeter-totter where kids could play (when is the last time you have seen a teeter-totter?).  The flowers and trees were beautiful. It was a nice break. 


We had dinner that evening under a canopy and as we ate we watched the bugs and the lizards fight it out. We were delighted when a larger tuko (about 12 – 14 inches long) came out to watch us. The Filipinos that were also in the dining area moved – they were afraid of the tukos. We love to listen to them. They sound like a ‘wind-up’ toy as they say tuko, tuko, tuko. 

Sunday morning we attended church at Brookes Point. When we walked in, the Branch President was happy to see us. The four of us became the program for Sacrament meeting. It was nice to have the missionaries translate for us as we spoke. The teachers in Sunday School and Priesthood kept calling on me to answer questions or give comments. I did my best to speak Tagalog and I think I could be understood. I have been asked to speak in most of the meetings that we attend.  In our meetings in Rizal I asked that one of the Filipino elders help translate for me. He was very shy. I know enough Tagalog to know if they say what I have said. He did really well. After the meeting, his companion came up to me and told me that we had just witnessed the gift of tongues because his companion does not speak English and avoids every opportunity to speak English. He was excited for his companion that he was able to translate so well. 

We are working on completing our assigned projects. We should have them done after this week and then we will get more serious about visiting more members. We are doing well here. We are not starving nor have we been lost in the jungle.  We haven’t seen any snakes yet but the members assure us that there are plenty of snakes. It is better that I don’t see them!

 We hope that you are all doing well. Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!!!! We have sent postcards and cards but we have no clue how long things take to get there from here. We need to coordinate our mailings with the times we go to Manila. Everyone tells us that the mail here on the island is not very reliable. How is school, everyone? Are you becoming educated? We love you and pray for you always. 

We really enjoy the pictures on the blogs. We have had many of them printed. We took the little plastic sleeves in the picture books we have bought and we taped them together into three large pictures. We put the pictures in the sleeves and have hung our three large pictures on our wall so we can see everyone every day. It is fun for us to look at your pictures. Everyone is growing up so fast. 

Thank you for your love, support and prayers. We love you and miss you. Please be careful and be happy. Remember to BE good, DO good, and BE men and women of Christ. And always remember to say your prayers.

Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Janene and Grant          

Friday, February 17, 2012

Week 74

February 5, 2012

We were also excited this week to return to Manila for Mission Presidency meeting. We woke up especially early on Wednesday morning to drive to Puerto Princesa. We left the car at the Peterson’s apartment and went to the airport with them. When we arrived in Manila we experienced one of those wonderful ‘Manila taxi’ rides out to the Philippines Area Office. Elder Peterson and I were able to meet with Brother Abraham there in the Facilities/Meetinghouse Division to talk about building requirements, space needs and other important matters for the members here in Palawan. We also had an opportunity to talk with the Membership and Records Division about transmitting reports. There is a real problem here in the Narra area because there are many areas where there is no internet service (we have 2 Branches in the Narra District that are affected by this problem) and other areas where the internet service is too slow and it takes hours to send and receive the weekly membership and financial records to Church Headquarters. We are very familiar with this last problem since it is very difficult for us to maintain a connection to SKYPE all of you. It is frustrating. We were very fortunate to have met with the membership people and we believe that we have found a solution to our problems (sorry, the SKYPE solution was not fixed!). The trip to Manila was worth it just for these meetings.

After our meetings in the Area Office we were able to go to the Temple. 

We are so very blessed to have the Manila Temple in our mission and President Stucki lets us go to the temple at least once during the transfer cycle. We love the temple and even though the sessions are in English, it is delightful to have so many Filipino Temple workers there. Sometimes when I stop and ponder about the things we are seeing and have experienced here, our hearts are filled with gratitude to see that we are all children of our Heavenly Father and the gospel message is being spread to every nation, and all people will have every blessing of the gospel offered to them. It is remarkable to stand back and see ‘the hand of the Lord’ in all things. That evening, Sister Stucki grilled hamburgers for us. They were so good! We have come to appreciate the ‘simple pleasures’ in life. 

Thursday was our day to get to the grocery stores and other stores for the things that are not available in Palawan. Of course we were limited in the amount we could buy because of the weight limits of the baggage on the return flight. On our flight over to Manila were brought one suitcase inside a larger suitcase. That way we can fill up the extra suitcase with cereal and all of the other important things (ant killer, chocolate, and cheese). That evening we had dinner at the mission home with all of the senior couples and then had Presidency Meeting. President Stucki extended a call for me to serve as the Mission Clerk and gave me 4 big assignments to complete within the next 3 to 4 weeks. This will keep me busy. One of those assignments is to prepare and submit the Mission Historical Report for 2011. The report is not that difficult but now that we are in Palawan, I don’t have access to the records that I need. This should be a fun assignment.

Friday morning we attended the Zone Leader’s Council at the Mission Home. President Stucki asked me to talk about what the missionaries could do to build trust with their Stake or District President. It was a good experience. We love working with our missionaries. After lunch we were back on the road to the airport for our return to Palawan. This time we had the four Zone Leaders with us on the flight. We were excited to receive a text message on Friday that they had a new vehicle for us. We now have a brand new Hyundai 12 passenger van. It is big and white and it is much better to drive over these roads.

Thursday morning our Narra Zone Leaders received a text from the other Narra missionaries telling them that the palengke (market) in Narra had caught fire and burned down on Wednesday night. While we were waiting in the airport they told us about the fire. We began thinking of how bad things would be in Narra without a market – you know, widespread panic, hunger, looting etc. We began playing out scenarios in our minds about trying to get food to the missionaries and the members and how big a disaster this could be. Once we arrived in Puerto we got into our car and drove home – well, we stopped at Shakey’s and had pizza first (you have to get your priorities in order and we hadn’t had fast food in a very long time!). When we arrived in Narra, we drove by the market to take a look. Even though it was dark, we could still see the shops and things in the market area. They didn’t have any signs of fire damage. We immediately thought it was a practical joke from the other Elders. Very funny you guys! The next morning at a baptism, we teased our Elders. Elder Antonio was serious and said. “It’s true and I have pictures to prove it!” Well……. remember when we said that there is not a real grocery store in Narra and that there is only a market? Well, now there is less than half of the market. The center portion of the market burned and we couldn’t see it from the street as we drove by.

 They think it was caused by an electrical short (that is not a surprise). Two members lost their shops in the fire. There were others that were more fortunate and had no damage. This will have a big impact on many people here. Over here a building fire is called ‘urban renewal’. As soon as the embers cooled, the people began to tear down the remains of the buildings and will begin to rebuild. 

Saturday the Elders in Narra had a wonderful baptism. A family of four (husband, wife and 2 children) was baptized. It was a beautiful baptism. They also had a child of record baptism for a family that they are reactivating. 
Elder Antonio in back in white, Elder Kuntzler back right, Elders Chiong & Peterson
 On Sunday in Fast Meeting the new convert sister and her daughter both shared their testimonies. The family will be a great strength to the branch. 
Again, thank you all for your prayers and support. We love you all and miss each of you. We are doing well and are finding our way around this part of the island. We have had numerous training opportunities presented to us. We are excited to begin working with the reactivation of the members. It will be a real challenge since most of the members do not speak a lot of English (some don’t speak Tagalog – but speak the native Palawan language). It should be interesting to try and teach them. We are excited to try. We hope that all of you are doing well. We have not been able to SKYPE as much as we would like and it seems such a long time since we have been able to talk to you. We continually pray for each of you. Please take care and remember that we love you. BE good, DO good, and BE men and women of Christ. And always remember to say your prayers.

 Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Janene and Grant


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Week 73

January 30, 2012

Dear Family and Friends,

Another week has slipped by. The time seems to be going faster and faster and there is no way to slow things down. We are enjoying our assignment here in Palawan. There are some things that we learn or will learn to go without but for the most part life continues on. This assignment is a little different from our other assignments. The branches are spread out and travel time becomes a big factor in what we are able to do. 

We had a fun experience this week at the open market (palenke). Our branch Relief Society President has wanted to help us learn about the area so we ventured out to the market with her. We asked her to show us some of the places that she ‘trusts’ so we could purchase our food. When I was growing up in Logan we had several very small neighborhood stores that had a limited stock of canned goods, candy and some fruits and vegetables. When the large stores moved in the little stores went out of business. Here in Narra there are many of these small family owned stores. Saturday, the vegetable vendors and the fish vendors come into the market to sell their goods. When I walk through this market I have flashbacks to when I was a little kid and mom would send me down to Roger Allen’s store or Tim’s Market for a can of tuna or soap. It is like I am stepping back in time to the late 50’s and early 60’s. 

The Relief Society President made sure that she introduced us to the members that had stores in the market. Most of the members here are rice farmers or fishermen. There are some that work for the church. Our District President is the only meat inspector for the southern half of Palawan. He works every day (including Sunday) but he has a good job. Early in the morning he must inspect all of the animals that will be butchered that day and then again that evening he inspects the meat that was butchered that day and will be sold for the next day. He works about 3 hours each morning and 3 each evening and he makes a good living for his family. 

That morning we went to one of the vegetable markets to look at what was available. The woman was very nice and we told her that we were just looking but that we would come back. At the end of our market tour, we went back to the ‘vegetable lady’ to get some things. She was surprised to see us but happy that we came back. I was able to speak some Tagalog to her and she ‘melted’. We became instant friends and I told her I wanted the best vegetables that she had. We purchased some green beans, potatoes, cauliflower, onions, garlic and some other things. She was impressed that we were trying to speak Tagalog and learn the culture. It was a fun experience and we will go back. We had some delicious steamed vegetables that night for dinner. We also went to a little fruit stand. The owner of this stand was a young mother.  She had a little toddler and she appeared to be pregnant. The only things she had to sell were mangoes and bananas. I couldn’t figure how she could make any money especially since the mangoes were really quite expensive (about $1 a pound).  The Relief Society President said that she tried to buy some things from her since they had become friends. We couldn’t resist buying some mangoes from her. They were delicious but they ripened too fast. We ended up eating them all within a couple of days so they wouldn’t spoil. We hope to be able to become a part of the community while we are here and maybe the market will be a good place for us to start. (We also found bread and milk and ice cream at some places. They really do have some groceries, they are just in different little stores along the way.)

Well, I think that the ants are letting me think that I am winning the battle. We have not had as great an invasion over the past week but this afternoon I went to get some bread out of the container and it was full of ants. We had to throw out the bread – so I brought out the poison and went back into battle mode.  We like to hear the tuko call out every morning about 6:30 – he is more dependable and much quieter than all of the neighborhood roosters! 

Sunday we traveled to Rizal to have Branch Conference. Rizal is a small fishing village on the other side of the island and probably the furthest of the branches in the Narra District. From what I have been told, this is the first branch conference they have had in a long time. Travel is difficult and expensive here on the island. We took our car and Peterson’s took their van and we transported 12 members of the District leadership to the Rizal Branch Conference. The National Highway road is really rough and there were times when I doubted the wisdom in taking a Toyota Corolla over those mountain roads, but we made it. It took us 3 hours to get there. We didn’t get stuck anywhere or drive off the side of the road and we only hit bottom twice during the trip. 
National Highway

National Highway

 The roads had just been grated when we took this 

 Many of the holes and rocks have been filled in and covered, until the next storm in a few hours.

 Driving through the jungle was awesome. There are so many trees, vines, and little villages. There seemed to be a carabao (water buffalo) on every street corner (figuratively speaking since there are no street corners here). 

The conference went well. It was sad however because the Branch President passed away early Saturday morning in his sleep. He was 34 years old. He had a beautiful family – a wife and 2 children – they were the only endowed couple in the branch.  He raised seaweed in the ocean for a living. They had so very little but they are an eternal family. It breaks my heart to see the poverty of these people. They always have a smile for you but you know that behind that smile most of them don’t know how or where their next meal will come.

In Sunday School one of the little babies kept looking at the ‘strange white people’. I got him to smile at me and then to laugh. He was so cute. After the meeting the mother came up to us a showed us that the baby had severe ‘clubbed’ feet and would probably never walk. Sometimes it is so hard. We are going to try to refer him into the Mabuhay House to see if they can help repair his feet so he will have a chance in his life. We have grown to love these wonderful people. They are always so happy to see us and are so kind to us. I wish I could just help them all and take away their sorrows and problems. I have come to rely greatly on the marvelous Plan of Salvation and our Redeemer. He is the only one that can comfort and bless them. While at the Branch Conference, the District President and President Peterson were able to call, sustain and set apart a new Branch Presidency. The work of the Lord rolls forth. The previous Branch President was released by our Father in Heaven and he will continue his work on the other side of the veil.

On a lighter side, we have come to accept those little ‘disruptions’ in meetings that occur rather frequently in the Philippines. These things just happen because there are so many people in such a small amount of living space. They vary from animals, people singing very loud karaoke, ice cream vendors and just members doing what they think they should do whenever they want. Well, Sunday we had a large white goose that was roaming around the church building. 
not the actual goose, this one was out with some turkeys
 The neighbor next to the church had a Myna bird. The goose wandered around the door of the church and began ‘honking’ or calling very loudly. It was really funny. And then it seemed that when the goose would stop the Myna bird would imitate the goose and that would get the goose started again. 

It was really quite funny. Sometimes are harder than others to maintain your concentration in the church meetings. 

This coming week we have the privilege of going back to Manila for a couple of days. We will be able to go to the temple, attend Mission Presidency meeting and the Zone Leader’s Conference with President Stucki. It will be good to go back to the mainland to see the other couples and to bring the remainder of our things over here to Palawan. We are grateful for this opportunity to serve here. We have been able to learn a great deal about our purpose and what we can do to establish the church here in the Philippines. It is a marvelous experience. 

We love you all and we miss you. Our internet connection is still not the best. I had them install a 30 foot antennae so we could get maximum signal, but that is not even strong enough to carry the Skype signal for longer than 1 to 2 minutes. It is frustrating but I really should not have expected anything more out here. We will adjust. 
our 30 foot antenna
We are doing well. We are healthy and happy and we enjoy being missionaries. We hope that everyone will soon get over their ear infections and other flu bugs that you are enjoying this winter. We love you and pray for your well being every day. Please take care and remember to BE good, DO good and BE men and women of Christ. And always remember to say your prayers.

Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Janene and Grant