Friday, August 24, 2012

Banaue, Zone Leader Council and a disappointment...:(

One year ago last week our plane landed in Cauayan City, Isabela and our experience in the Philippine, Cauayan Mission began.  It has been a year of many joys, many sorrows, many laughs, and many tears but all-in-all, I would not go back and do anything any differently.  I have done the very best job that I know how and although I feel many times that my offering does not measure up or is not exactly what is needed, I am just plugging along doing what I feel is right and hope the Lord accepts my service.  This past year has gone very fast and in less than 10 months, we will be hugging our short people again, having this whole 23 months only a marvelous memory.

Up to this point in our mission, we have only taken one 'P' day.  Last January, President and Sister Carlos went with us to Magat Dam for an afternoon.  Oh, I take that all December, we went to Banaue the first time with President and Sister and spent part of a Monday also...I lied...sorry...our THIRD 'P' day of our mission!!  At any rate, this past weekend we traveled to Solano to do our Music Workshop while the men did leadership training.  The Gottfredsons and the Mills chose not to go this time so the three of us did the workshop by ourselves-that was a little bit of a challenge but we did fine.  After the workshop, we went to a local Greenwich for pizza then found our hotel for the night.  Bali Gloria turned out to be a fantastic place and we totally enjoyed the time we spent there.  They have a restaurant that is marvelous-we played cards while we waited for our dinners then retired for the evening.  Before going to bed, we took a little stroll around the property and were in awe of the glorious, resort feel.  We will definitely stay there again, especially with a nightly price tag of less than $20 and it has a/c, hot water, internet and a marvelous restaurant. [it is amazing what, because it is rare, has become more important this past year-hot water is something we have not had up until we moved into this new home...haven't used it much yet but plan to when the cooler weather hits!]
Notice this little fella we found on our walk-he was moving sssooooo ssslllllooowwwwlllyyy
just like I supposed a HUGE snail would-that is MY foot [size 10 shoe] so you
can see how large they grow these in the Philippines..

This was our home for the night-ours was on the bottom left..

Sunday morning we woke up and went to church in Lagawe.  That little branch is about half way up the mountain to Banaue and we love the people there.  In Banaue, the local residents are all descendants of the Ifugao people.  They are the marvelously industrious people who, 2000 years before Christ, found their way [the legend says they were lead by a 'great white God'] up this beautiful mountainous region to build the 8th Wonder of the World-the Banaue Rice Terraces.  This is the first time I have seen this area in the early planting season.  Most of the Philippines bukid areas have three rice plantings/harvests a year.  They use commercial fertilizer and weed killers, something the Ifugao people do not use.  Their rice is strictly organic and thus, takes a little longer to grow.  Early in the cycle, I love the color of the rice-it is a brilliant lime green and seeing this in Banaue last weekend was the most glorious sight!!

This picture doesn't even begin to show the beauty of the colors..

The land owners actually live right down there and grow their own
food, raise their own meat and totally live on the side of the hill

A goofy bunch..we had such a grand time together.  We chartered a Jeepney to take us up the mountain
to the shopping and lookout areas-much safer than us driving ourselves!

This is a hut [called a bahay kubo] where a farming family lives.  You
can see their vegetable crops on the next plateau down from the house.

This is mainly for my cousin Judy-the foliage here is so different from
the US-this is a flower [probably the size of a serving platter] that
grown on a bush-they were all in bloom and were amazing!
This past week the senior couples were invited to participate in the ZLC training.  It is a quarterly training with all of the Zone Leaders.  They meet with President, Sister and the Assistants to do intensive training to help them be more effective leaders in their Zones.  The day started with an activity and we were all invited to participate [a live 'Clue' game where we were the characters-the senior men dressed like the prophets in the Book of Mormon- and we gals were distractions]  As they were divided into teams and ran around the mission home/office/district center building trying to gather their clues to solve the puzzle, us gals were all dressed and were 'selling' tempting things like juice boxes, bread sticks, fruit kabobs or homemade cookies.  They had been given 'Zarahemla Bucks' so had 'money' to purchase if they wanted.  It was fun to watch the inner struggle as these 'kids' wanted the food and the 'missionaries' wanted to win!

King Benjamin on his 'tower'
Sister Laker was selling fruit kabobs and had
quite a few 'takers'..
Sister Mills was selling juice boxes..
Elder Laker was complete with Abinadi
I made cookies and offered a game of chance-a roll of the dice could
provide your entire team with homemade chocolate chip
cookies-some actually succumbed..
Alma was near the Waters of Mormon....ala Elder Mills
Elder Mioli was a great Captain Moroni

Elder Gottfredson is a good sport as Samuel the Lamanite

Sister Gottfredson's fresh out of the oven cinnamon
bread sticks were very tempting for all...

Elder Huffstutler made a great Nephi
Later in the evening, we were invited back for the presentations where the different groups put on their adaptation of the scripture and prophet they were assigned.  It was such fun to see these normally serious young men enjoying each other as they acted out their scenario

Elder Elgan with his shield of faith

Elder Oliver was the good shepherd gathering his sheep [Elder Nay and Elder Averion]

I loved the headdress!  This was Elder Nay's first time to attend
Zone Leader Council.
I have told you all about my know the preparation that we had to do, the work involved getting things ready to plant, the wait as our son Chip sent us a box from Utah that included some seeds from American vegetables we love as well as precious Crystal Light..who would ever guess I would be a crystal light lemonade fan???  Anyway, being from Nebraska, [the Cornhusker State!], we were so excited to watch our corn grow.  I babied it and talked to it and about 2 weeks ago, it began to look sick.  I consulted my authority on Philippine gardens [Pres Q] and finally, last week, I decided to pick the corn.  WWWEEELLLLLL..the jury came back in and the decision was made-I left it on the stalk too long.  I was waiting for the corn to get high like it does at home instead of watching the progress of the individual ears.  It was awful!!!!!!!!!!!!  Cobby, tough, and downright disappointing!

Last Friday was spent pulling up the stalks, burning them, turning the dirt and preparing the area for something else.  Three weeks ago I planted six more rows so this time, I will be more educated and hopefully will have a bountiful harvest!

Out with the old, in with the new..
After our Music Workshop in Solano, the six of us went to Greenwich for lunch.  The Lakers had not eaten there yet and were hungry for pizza.  While we were sitting there waiting for our lunch, a beautiful butterfly landed on the window outside of the restaurant and just stayed.  He would slowly open,,then close,,,then open again his beautiful wings but was in NO hurry to leave and miss the happenings inside.

There are so many times in my life, mostly my 'life before', when the everyday minutia takes over and I know I missed the butterflies.  Here, in this marvelous country with the most beautiful people on earth, things are normally at a much slower pace.  They are not in any hurry...most are late to arrive to appointments, church, meetings...they gather along the side of the roads, on benches outside of their homes, in little Tindahon stores along the way and visit, laugh, talk, and enjoy one another.  I remember as a child growing up in the 50's without air conditioning, the evenings when the entire neighborhood would be in the street, in the yards, on the driveways, visiting, watching their children catch fireflies, and just socializing.  In the US, we have gotten away from that..we don't know our neighbors for the most part and most families spend no more than 20 minutes a day, bolting down a quick dinner so they can rush off to whatever.  Where is the world of the past when everyone on your block knew you, wanted to visit, wanted to share their day, brought you a plate of whatever they baked for their family...where is that slower paced but more humanly connected society???  I can tell you where-IT IS HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  The Philippines is comparable to the US in the early 1900's in technology [except for cell phones] and they are a social culture who love each other, enjoy each other and for the most part, support and defend each other to the end...wish we could go back to that 'at home' because I think families would really benefit..that is what this life is about-families.  Families are the pattern of Heaven and I, for one, want mine for eternity!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Unexpected guests and a fresh water pond..

My oh my do these people like to party!  

Picture this...early Sunday morning, I received a text from Pres Q from Cabatuan.  'Sister...can my family join with you tomorrow for FHE?'

It is not unusual for these people to invite themselves to events.  They are a curious and direct bunch as I mentioned last week and their social boundaries are different than mine.  Knowing this, I texted back that I would let him know later in the day as we had a daytime birthday party in Mallig on Monday and that might conflict.  We love this family and really were fine with them coming to our home.  

Arriving at church, we found out the birthday party was occurring that very afternoon [the schedule changed and although the family was encouraged to let US know, they neglected that small detail which left me with 2 kilos of uncooked chicken that was planned for that event.]  Thinking I needed to use the chicken and wanting to have some of Elder Llorin's [you remember him from Mallig a few month back?] Curry Chicken, I texted Pres Q and asked him what he had in mind for Monday..who was coming, how many, etc.  His response was that he only had planned his family [of 4] and the sister missionaries who live on our property in the guest cottage.  Knowing how much chicken I had, I visited with him and asked him if he had a small less-active family or possibly an investigator who might benefit from an evening with the sisters, his family and us.  I had enough food for possibly 12 people and thought I would just share the spoils.

Within an hour, he texted back a thank you and would be in touch.  Monday is our 'P' day so my plans are always laundry, a little cleaning, shopping, the stuff that makes up my life and daily happenings in America.  I knew it would be no problem to put a pan of brownies in the oven, pick up some ice cream and make some homemade dinner rolls.  Last week we ate at a local chain restaurant called Chic Boy.  They serve many things but my favorite is their roasted chicken.  Of course they have rice and the usual fare for Filipino restaurants but as we sat there, I saw a waitress walk by with a plate of something that smelled heavenly and looked delicious...and quickly had a plate ordered for us when I found out it was a veggie.  I love vegetables [and my hubby eats them because he knows they are good for him] is called Kangkong [pronounced CON-cone] and looks a little like spinach when cooked.  God is so creative with this earth-this vegetable is so unusual because it grows in the swamps [is called water grass] and the stems are like allows the water to be drawn up into the stems while it is growing.  Anyway, I found it at the palenke and purchased 4 bundles to round out our meal.

Fast forward a few hours...
Pres Q: 'Sister, I think the idea of inviting other family is good.  I will reply later'
Me:  'Great!  Just let me know so I can set the table and such, Pres.'

Monday morning..
Pres Q:  'Sister, I think we will be 15 people tonight.  Thanks Sister'
Me:  "15 people!! Wow!!  Ok, just let them know dinner is at 6 and FHE at 7 American time, not Filipino time!!!  Elder and I need to be up early Tuesday morning to drive to Nueva Viscaya for apartment issues and we need to be finished by 8'  

Thinking I might not have enough chicken after all, I harnessed my companion and into Cauayan we went to Monterray Meats.  Now purchasing meat here can be a scary thing-lots of people [not the Americans for sure] purchase their meat in the palenke from the meat vendors.  Quite a while back I posted a picture of one of those stands where the meat hangs in the heat, with flys buzzing and landing but THIS woman sticks with Savemore or Monterray Meat. [I truly respect Elder Llorin and he insists that Montertay is the ONLY place to buy meat] I went to Monterray and purchased another couple of kilos so we were good.  

Monday noon..

Sisters:  'Hello Sister.  Pres Q told us we could invite someone we were working with so we have invited three boys whose parents are inactive members.  Just so you know..'
Me:  ' many have you invited?  just the three?'
Sisters: 'Yes Sister, just three'

Ok, that puts our head count to 18...better make two boxes of brownie mix and use a bigger pan, send Elder for another container of ice cream and get hoppin' on those rolls.  Glad I got four bundles of kangkong...

You can count 20 and there were 5 more that showed up!  The sisters had to dash
to their house for more plates but the evening was so great!  Many hearts
were touched by the sisters and Pres Q.  We love this little branch although
we do not serve there-we have become friends with the people and love interacting with them.
Kangkong after it is washed..

Sister Cajigal and Sister Klein

Another kangkong shot-see the tube stems??
Every six weeks we have what is called 'transfer week'.  President Carlos says this exchange of missionaries is like 'a fresh water pond'.  Every six weeks we say goodbye to the valiant ones who have served well and are now heading home to the rest of their lives with a renewal of spirit and conviction.  That exit normally occurs on Wednesday evening after they have shared their testimonies at the farewell fireside.  Families and other missionaries are welcome to the fireside to bid fond farewells to those who have touched their lives.  They get on a bus at 8:00 pm in Cauayan and at about the same time, a new batch of enthusiastic and anxious missionaries are boarding a bus in Manila.  Somewhere along the way, their buses will pass, just as the water in the fresh water pond.  On Thursday morning we get up at the crack of dawn and meet that bus full of tired, sore, scared and enthusiastic young men and women who will become part of our mission family for the next 18-24 months.  It is so refreshing to see the 'newbies' as they bring fresh excitement to the mission.

They will arrive, take a nap, have a shower and then breakfast with President and Sister Carlos in the mission home.  President will then interview each incoming elder and sister while Sister Carlos meets with them to discuss issues pertaining to their safety, their health, etc.  By mid-morning, the 'others' start to arrive.  President and his assistants have prayed, fasted and feel confident they are making changes in the mission companionships that the Lord wants.  

Transfer meeting can be such fun as we watch the Elders and Sisters embrace, laugh, cry and visit with past companions, batch mates, or others who they have become friends with while they serve the Lord.  All arrive on various vehicles, depending on the distance they need to travel.  Our mission is huge-as Elder Shaner and I have traveled it with our apartment responsibility, we estimate to drive from one end to the other would take over six hours.  For that reason, some Elders and Sisters will travel part way and have a 'sleepover' with another set of missionaries then come to Cauayan on Thursday morning to be here in time for the 10:00 meeting.  

Yesterday morning as we were driving to Cauayan from our home, we pulled up behind a jeepney and came upon this scene:

Elder Coleman, Elder Robinson, Elder Ilagan and Elder Reher on
top of the Jeepney-the coolest place to ride..
Those of you who read this blog often will know these fine missionaries.

Elder Griffin and Elder Nay
We have had the privilege of serving alongside them for quite a while and have loved these two young men.  They have impacted our lives and with the new transfer, they both are being relocated to other areas to bless yet more people's lives.  

After the Farewell Fireside on Wednesday night, we invited them and their companions to dinner before they moved on...they were allowed to choose where we went and they both [being Americans] chose PIZZA!!!  We were not surprised and enjoyed a great dinner at Greenwich.  They have very good pizza and sometimes, we just get the craving...

Elder Griffin, Elder Nay, Elder Oyardo, Elder Delector and the old people.
We are exited to become acquainted now with Elder Ronstedt [who was actually batch mates with Elder Nay and in the MTC with us!] and Elder Galang.  Both are great missionaries and will have a grand time serving in Roxas.

An interesting thing happened this week-I got a message posted on last week's blog from a family that had apparently been following our comings and goings since January.  They told me that their son was arriving in our mission with this new batch and I was so happy to see him at the bus and surprised when he said 'hi Sister and Elder Shaner'...what was even funnier was the look on Elder Griffin's face when Elder Robertson walked up to him in the chapel and said 'Hi Elder Griffin'...

In transfer meeting, the faces and names are loaded into a power point and are put up on a big screen from President's computer.  When I found out who would be a trainer for Elder Robertson, I squealed!  I was so excited-MY ELDER LLORIN!!!  well, ok, not MY Elder Llorin but he is getting a great trainer.  Elder Nay has also been transferred and has a new assignment but I promised him I would not 'steal his thunder' because he won't be able to tell his parents until next Monday so Nay Family...check your email next week!!! 
Elder Robertson and Elder Llorin
Life is like the fresh water pond President talked about.  We change, we grow, we mature,...but we can also be like a stagnant pond that backslides with the distractions of the world.  Being on a mission has been a marvelous experience for me because there are NO distractions...we are missionaries 24/7.  His work is all that matters.  His work is our focus.  Sometimes the minutia of life can put our lives out of focus and try to trap us into it's snares...the computer, tv, social media, books, shopping, etc. but if we focus on our most important task in this life-becoming closer to and knowing Christ as our Savior, our Redeemer and our older brother, our focus can become clear.  We only have one chance...this life is IT!  If we blow it by the distractions put in place by the adversary,  we will have eternal remorse.  Our choice...

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Our lives are full of choices...

"Happy Birthday to YOU" are four of the most used English words in this country!  As I have said before, these people are party animals!  If there is a party happening, they are all there.  For the most part, Filipinos are fun-loving, happy, content, industrious people who LOVE to eat and LOVE to be together.  Any excuse for a gathering will do.  

Recently the Russell's returned to their home in Oregon and upon arriving in the states, Sister emailed me to let me know they were safe.  The thing she mentioned that was the strangest being home was there were NO people.  I know that sounds weird but in the Philippines, there are people everywhere!  Because of the heat and humidity, most gather outside year round.  No homes have grass, only dirt so they normally will build a little 'buhay kubo', like a raised, covered gazebo type area in the front, by the road, where they all gather to visit and watch the world go by.  Children play right next to the highway, a sight that scared us to death at first but it is amazing to see these little children, 18 months old on up, just toddling right next to the highway.  Last week we drove to a nearby town to negotiate with a potential landlord.  I think I mentioned that we are now in charge of all of the housing in the mission, young missionaries and us old folks too.  We find [with the help of the local missionaries and members] then we work with the potential landlords on a contract.  It is very time consuming but an interesting diversion.  Anyway, we were in their front porch area which was behind a 6' wall.  From the street, we were not particularly visible but our truck was parked out front.  As we were explaining the contract to the husband and wife who owned the apartment complex, I noticed some movement out of the corner of my eye-I turned my head and there, next to the porch, was an audience of onlookers.  Nobody has boundaries here for privacy.  It is amazing-their curiosity gets the best of them and in they come, standing in the 'wings' observing and listening to the conversation.  My American upbringing was appalled at that in the beginning-'who are they to snoop like that?' was my thought but it doesn't bother the Filipinos.  It is just part of their culture-'if you are curious, just hang around, eavesdrop and your questions will be answered.

Anyway, back to birthdays.  This past week, President Munoz grandson turned one and he invited us to the party.  We bought a small gift and away we went.  The mother and baby live with her parents as her husband [President Munoz' son] is working abroad.  Her parents are quite well-to-do so the party was grand!  They live in a barangy [little city/neighborhood/housing area] and everyone was invited!  They people came and ate and ate and ate.  We enjoyed just watching the people...I have always been a people watcher and that is one of my favorite pastimes here.  Angry Birds was the theme and the food they served was typical.  Lionythuz had a good birthday and so did all who attended.  [his mom says his name is English...personally, I have never heard it before but I didn't want to be the one to tell her that!]

Lionythuz with his mom, Michelle

This is a typical 'treat' dogs and marshmellows on sticks
displayed in piece of the trunk of a banana tree.  YUCK!

Angry Bird balloons for all..

Rice is always the center of attention.  Notice the spaghetti
up in the corner-they LOVE is different
from ours but a common food at parties.

The plastic purses march on!  Last Saturday we had an activity in Roxas for 'branch 2' to learn how to crochet the plastic purses.  These ladies are SO funny-they absolutely LOVE this project and every group that has learned is going nuts making bags.  This is the first branch we attended and although we are no longer participating with them on Sundays, I still visit and will teach occasionally.  There are six units in our District and I will work with each one as needed.  

Cutting the bags..Sister Russell left her 'equipment' so it gives us
two cutting stations and the work goes faster.

Have you ever met a missionary who is full?  Not hungry a bit?  Neither have I and our cute fella's from Roxas 2 smelled the food and crashed the party.  They are beloved by the members and the ladies were thrilled to feed them.

Elder Griffin giving his stamp of approval to the daily fare..

You must admit that Elder Delector looks wonderful modeling his pink purse.  Elder Griffin refused
to join in the modeling...a little shy guy..
When Elder Shaner and I were assigned to Mallig last month, we pondered and prayed about 'where do we start??'  We got the answer 'the youth'.  If we can train the youth and build up their program, we felt sure the parents would follow and return or come to church.  Last Sunday we had the first EVER in the history of the Mallig Branch 'Combined Young Men/Young Women Activity'.  We invited the parents and showed a DVD about the youth program that is outlined in the handbook.  Elder Shaner discussed and explained the Duty to God program for the young men and I focused on the Personal Progress for the Young Women.  The DVD was in Tagalog so all could understand it and by showing the 'ideal' program DVD to the parents, we got them to buy into the program and will in turn, encourage their children to attend and help them with their individual goals in their respective areas.  It is a little like the BSA for those of you not of our faith-they set goals, choose areas to work on, and when they complete their projects, they sign-off with an advisor.  We don't have merit badges but there are nice pieces of jewelry for the young women that they can earn by keeping their focus on their goals, keeping their standards, working on their projects, etc. 

Part of the youth group.  These are great kids!!
Mexican food...what do you think of?  Salsa?  chips?  cheese?  tacos??  There is a real void in our lives for Mexican food here.  A couple of weeks ago, I made a Mexican feast for the senior couples, courtesy of Sharon Russell.  With her house came a plethora of food.  In the cabinet were cans of refried beans, green chilis and salsa.  I made chicken enchiladas and we all ate until we were sick!  One day when Pres Q came over, he told me of the avocado trees on this property.  AVOCADOS????????????  As in Guacamole?????  We love guacamole and I have made it many times in the past month but this past week, we had 12-14 avocados that needed to be used so I made a big bowl of it and froze most for a 'rainy' day.  I do love the produce here-I think I have mentioned that before but the fresh produce is amazing and when I return home next summer, I will definitely miss the availability and the cost of the finest fruits and veggies I have ever eaten.
Making the Guac!

My quality control...
We have come to love Elder Griffin-he is from St George in southern Utah and will be returning to his family this October.  He will be missed by so many people but welcomed home to his great family.  He reminds me a little of our youngest son Rob.  Both are tall, great eaters, soft hearted and such tender men.  When Elder Griffin and Elder Delector had an investigator who wanted to be baptized, they had a dilemma...Sister Helen had a stroke a few years back and as a result, has tremendous pain when she gets cold.  Now in the Philippines, the baptismal fonts are filled with water from the tap and NOBODY has heated water.  Most new converts are told that and are ok with it-it is like their normal lives but Sister Helen was terrified of getting chilled SO....enter Elder Griffin.  I am not sure how he accomplished it but through his prayers and pondering, he came upon the idea to check into portable water heating systems.  He and Elder Delector worked and worked and accomplished it!  The baptism came off without a hitch, Sister Helen was baptized and is now the newest member of the Roxas Branch 2 family.

Sister Helen with the missionaries and her grandson [EJ is behind her-the first one
to become a member in his family] and her new friends from the branch.  Don't you love the
socks?  She is one of the 'pioneers' in this area-almost 90 and one of the first members.
The main agricultural product of this area of the Philippines is rice.  That is a staple in the Filipino diet and is a source of income for probably 90% of the people in our mission.  They either own a farm and raise rice [we know 4 or 5 that do this] or they work the planting and harvesting of the rice [most of the people we know are involved in this part of the rice growing] and some will harvest and help to dry, bag and sell the rice.  A few are lucky enough to have had capital at one time and they actually own or operate buying stations where they purchase the rice and distribute it for sale.  Rice is the core product both in production and consumption.

However, there are other things that are grown...tobacco is second in production and distribution.  When tobacco is being grown, it is beautiful.  The leaves are very large and provide a vibrant green field.  There are sheds that are constructed in the fields where they actually dry the leaves.  It is sad to think that something so gorgeous can be so deadly and addictive.  But isn't that the way it is with most of Satan's tools???  He makes them so tempting and enticing that it is difficult for us to turn our back on them or to deny ourselves.  Life is like that-rice to feed our bodies or tobacco to destroy them.  Our choice.  Life is full of choices and the ones we make today will impact us and our posterity for eternity.  
Tobacco field and drying shed...looks so innocent..
What choices are you making?  What choices are you teaching your children to make and can you live with the consequences of those choices??  I am so grateful I chose to spend two years of my waning years in this marvelous country.  There is NO place on this earth I would rather be for the next ten months.  I know the work we are doing is inspired and I feel so humbled that my Father in Heaven would trust ME, a silly midwestern girl with these precious choice today is to be the best I can be!!  I promise!!