Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Monday, December 28, 2009

Our “Whirlwind” weekend kicks up so much dust now everything is a blur. Our Mondays are always a blur. We were up and at it bright and early and back to the capital and in the office to work by 9:30. We had a lot to do and a lot of work to catch up on. We didn’t stop until after 6:00pm. On our way home I told Hna. Johnson that it seemed like 2 or 3 days ago we were in Azua… but it was just this morning. Oh well, there is always tomorrow, maybe we will get all of our work done then… but probably not. I don’t think we ever really get done.
Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Sacrament services in Neyba were very good. Elder Batista and Elder Rojas were the first two speakers and I got to give the final talk. I asked the Elders on the spur of the moment. With no time to prepare they gave great talks. Of course they are missionaries and missionaries are always prepared! The talk I gave was one I had prepared for last Sunday to be given at the end of the Christmas Cantata however the cantata was too long and I decided to use the talk today. It worked out perfectly. Hna. Johnson gave the closing prayer. It was in Spanish so it was a simple prayer but it was a very good prayer because “missionaries are always prepared”.

I canceled Br. PEC meeting today so I could finish the “Ajuste de Diezmos” (Tithing Settlement) interviews. When the last appointment was done we headed for Duvergé to deliver the mail to the Elders and also supplies for the Duvergé branch. All of the Elders got some mail but Elder Arreola was the winner, he got 3 packages.

We took a new route back to Azua. We were told not to use it because the road was bad. But we could tell from the map that it would cut off a lot of miles. Since it was full daylight we decided to give it a try and we were glad we did. Yes, there were a few bad spots in the road but nothing to compare with the terrible road to Neyba. It turned out the new route was shorter, faster and much easier to drive. I think we will be using it a lot in the future.

The new route took us through some very picturesque farm land of mostly sugar cane fields. Last week we noticed empty rail road box cars on the siding of the railroad tracks on our way back to Azua. Today we actually saw those box cars loaded with sugar cane on their way to the processing plant.

The rail road track is very interesting too. It is “Narrow Gage”. That means the tracks are closer together and the rail cars, as well as the locomotives, have to be smaller than modern rail. Narrow gage railroad tracks went out of service in the US back in the first half of the 20th Century. But here in the D.R. they are still hauling the freight.
Saturday, December 26, 2009

Yesterday was our first full day off (not working) in 5 months. Today we were back to work in the office and on the road again. Hna. Johnson had 5 hours of work just to meet the deadline for a report for the financial secretary in “Centro de Servicio” (Central Services). She got the reports done but we were off to “El Campo” right after lunch.

We had another loaded pickup truck with supplies and lots of mail for the missionaries all over “El Campo”. We only had to make three stops on our way to the Azua house. Since it is the day after Christmas the traffic was very light, so our travel time was a little shorter than usual.

We had an interesting load in the back of the pickup today. It was about 10 mattresses. The Elders in Vicente Noble were thinking ahead. The mission president doesn’t want the Elders out on New Year’s Eve (just like Christmas Eve), it is too dangerous. They requested all of the extra portable/small mattresses from the office because their zone is having a “sleep over” with all of the Elders.

Since Christmas morning Brunch with the Elders yesterday, Hna. Johnson and I have been enjoying leftovers. So tonight in the Azua house we had leftover ham and we also had left over fruit. It was really good especially since the power was on and we could use the microwave.

I opened a can of peas to warm up in the microwave to have with the ham. But to our surprise they weren’t peas like we have in the US. They were called “Gandules Verdes” (Green Pigeon Peas). The picture on the can showed green peas but they were brown. They must turn brown when they are cooked. The biggest surprise was sitting on top of the brown peas; a worm (over an inch and a half long) had been canned inside with the peas. Hna. Johnson shrieked and ran out of the kitchen when she saw it. Hna. Johnson’s sons always teased her that she would serve her mission in a third world country and have to eat bugs. Well she came close tonight!

Tonight we got a webcam call from Nathan, Valerie and their 4 daughters. We got to talk to them yesterday along with everyone else. Tonight was great because we could talk with them and not have to share the time with 40 other people. Besides we never get enough of seeing our grandkids on the webcam. We love the webcam and how it brings our family so close to us.
Friday, December 25, 2009 (Christmas Day)

Bright and early Hna. Johnson and I were preparing the final dishes for the 10:00am brunch with the 6 office Elders. They arrived right on time with 4 extra chairs. Our apt. doesn’t have enough seats to accommodate 8. The brunch was great and enough for everyone to have seconds and leftovers.

Last week we made the invitation to all of the elders to have brunch with use on Christmas morning. When we did we apologized to the non Americans that it was going to be a traditional American breakfast of eggs, bacon, pork sausage, and biscuits & gravy. Elder Eric Staff, a Panamanian, shouted for joy at the news. This morning he really enjoyed eating so much good “American food.” His grandparents are of German decent, that’s where the name Staff comes from. He’s 6’1” and 225 pounds with a healthy appetite. He’s a great missionary and very helpful to Hna. Johnson and I. It is a pleasure to have him working in the office with us.

After brunch we cleared the tables and played games. There were 4 players at Hna. Johnson’s table playing “It Came to Pass”. On the box is says: “A heart-pounding, card-slapping game of strategy and fun for Latter-day Saints.” The game uses Book of Mormon words and phrases like: Unbelief, Repentance, Pride, Secret Combination, Charity, Mercy, Justice and Desolation. The Elders and Hna. Johnson really had a good time playing it.

The other table had 4 of us playing “Go to Heck” (Which is sometimes called: Stabbed in the Back by a Loved One). This game is a “Heart-pounding, card-slapping game of strategy” too. However it has nothing to do with anything connected to any book of scripture. It is a lot of fun to play even when you get stabbed in the back. The Elders and I had a real good time.

We finally said our goodbyes and all the Elders were off to appointments with investigators or contacting or to phone their parents. When Elder Staff said goodbye he gave me a big Dominican hug. Then with tears in his eyes he said, “Give that hug to Hna. Johnson for me. And tell her how much I appreciate both of you for taking the place of my family at Christmas time. It was a very special moment. Little did Elder Staff know that the feeling was mutual, because he and the other 5 elders were taking the place of our 6 sons and their families that we were missing so much at Christmas time too.

Hna. Johnson and I were in the Mission office where we have access to the internet. By 2:30 (11:30 Ariz. time) we were making our webcam call home to our family. All 6 of our sons and their families had Christmas brunch at Jared and Tere’s house. Grandpa and Grandma Burk prepared all the food like they always do. It’s a huge undertaking for them. In addition to our sons and their families, Pam’s brother Gary and his family were there as well as her sister Debbie and her family.

The webcam call was great. We talked to everyone for a long time, then we started over and talked to everyone a second time. It was great. We spent about an hour and a half on the webcam talking to all of our family. Christmas is such a special time in our family. It means so much to Hna. Johnson and I to be close to them even though we are thousands of miles away. It was very hard to say goodbye and finally click the button to end the call. But we did and we will treasure these moments and images for the next year to come.
Thursday, December 24, 2009 (Christmas Eve)

We were up early to do our shopping for tomorrow morning’s brunch with all of the office Elders. Our first stop was at “The Pastry” bakery. We bought some great sweets for us to eat after the brunch. This is the bakery that bakes the “Pan Sobado” we had for lunch on the 19th. It’s a very dense and soft bread. Each loaf is about the size of submarine sandwich bread but with a very soft crust. Next we went to Jumbo to finish our grocery shopping.

We only worked a half day at the office and then we headed home to clean, cook and set up for the brunch.

This evening we were invited over to Christmas Eve dinner with Pres. & Hna. Almonte at the Mission Home. Also invited were the Capital AP’s, Elder & Hna. Finlayson, Elder & Hna. Roberts, as well as Fred & Tracy Thacker and their 4 sons. We started off by singing several Christmas Hymns accompanied by Hna. Roberts on the piano. The Dinner was traditional Dominican Fare and it was wonderful as was the whole evening. In spite of a language barrier we enjoyed each other’s company, told stories and took pictures. It was a delightful and warm Christmas Eve with the Almonte’s.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Elder Fred Thacker and his companion Elder Peterson were serving in the city of La Vega, Dominican Republic in 1987; about 10 years after the island nation had been dedicated for the preaching of the gospel. They were tracting door to door when they happened upon the home of Juan & Victoria Almonte.

The Almonte family was in a state of crisis. Their business enterprises were failing, they argued and fought over their situation and there was the real possibility of divorce. Hna. Almonte had been praying that morning for help and guidance with her situation and with her family.

With the knock on the door by the two Elders, Hna. Almonte would normally have turned them away but this time she let them in. She listened to their message and an appointment was made when her husband and family could be there for the first lesson with the Elders.

Lessons were given, the spirit testified of the truth and the Almonte’s knew without a doubt that what the Elders had brought to their home was the true church of Jesus Christ restored in these latter days. Their baptism would be a special day for them to enjoy and remember but there was a problem. The Almonte’s had not been to church yet. Before a new convert can be baptized they must attend church.

The Almonte’s were enthusiastic and eager to join the church but each Sunday morning they would pack up their family and head to grandma’s house and a standing invitation for a large family gathering there. During each of the missionary’s lessons they would say they would go to church the following Sunday but old habits die hard. So every Sunday they would forget their promise to the Elders and leave for grandma’s house bright and early.

Elder Thacker and Elder Peterson knew the Almonte family wanted to go to church but their Sunday morning tradition was too overpowering for them to remember. So the Elder hatched a plan. The next Sunday morning at 7:00am they went to the Almonte home surrounded with an 8 ft. wall topped with glass shards and razor wire. They climbed on top of a parked car next to the wall. They managed to get over the razor wire and jump down into the front court yard below.

The Almonte’s were very surprised to hear someone knocking at their door at 7:00am. Discovering the two Elders at their front door the Almonte’s assured them that this Sunday they would definitely go to church and they would see them there. But Elder Thacker and Elder Peterson were not taking any chances. They stayed with the Almonte’s the rest of the morning and went with them to church at 9:00am.

In Juan Almonte’s words, “We have never missed a Sunday since.” And now the legacy of that day lives on. Not only did the Almonte family join the church but many of their extended family as well. Juan Almonte became Elder Quorum President then Branch President and then the First Stake President of the La Vega Stake where he served for ten years. In 2008 he became the first native Dominican to be called as a Mission President. Today Pres. Juan E. Almonte presides over a mission of nearly 200 Elders, Sisters and Senior couples. He is a Spiritual giant as he leads, teaches and inspires. He is a great mission president.

Young missionaries serve their missions then go home to lands far away and often wonder if their work has made a difference in the lives of the people they taught. Yes Elder Thacker and Elder Peterson, you did make a difference in the lives of one very good family in La Vega. That single family has brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to thousands and has influenced the lives of tens of thousands more.

* * * * * * * * * * * *


Dear Family and Friends,

On this Christmas Eve we can’t help but think of the Savior at this special time of the year. He is the reason for the season. I recall last year’s December issue of the Ensign and the First Presidency’s message “The Best Christmas Ever.” Pres. Monson said: “Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. Enemies are forgiven, friends remembered, and God obeyed. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than things. To catch the real meaning of the “spirit of Christmas,” we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the “Spirit of Christ.”

One of our favorite family Christmas traditions we enjoy is Christmas morning “Brunch” for all of the family hosted by Hna. Johnson’s parents Jim and Betty Burk. This year our family is far away but we still have them in our hearts and in our prayers. Hna. Johnson and I will continue the tradition here in the Dominican Republic. But instead of having our family near us we will have our new family, all 6 of the office Elders, over at our apartment for Christmas morning brunch.

Hna. Johnson and I are truly blessed. Not because of the presents we receive for Christmas but because we have the love of family and friends to enjoy and share at this beautiful time of the year when we commemorate the birth of the Savior. Especially this year as we serve the Lord and His children here in the Dominican Republic we know we are doing what we are supposed to be doing, where we are supposed to be and when we are supposed to.

At this special season of the year when we commemorate the birth of the Savior, may you and your family find happiness, piece and joy as you celebrate His birth. And may you have a safe and prosperous New Year.

Elder and Hna. Johnson

PS. I can’t begin to tell you in this brief letter what we’ve been doing in the Dominican Republic while we’ve been serving our mission. So I hope you can take a few minutes and follow us as we serve on our blogspot: davidypam.blogspot.com

Friday, December 25, 2009

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and we can’t help but think of the Savior at this special time of the year. He is the reason for the season. I recall last year’s December issue of the Ensign and the First Presidency’s message “The Best Christmas Ever.” Pres. Monson said: “Giving, not getting, brings to full bloom the Christmas spirit. Enemies are forgiven, friends remembered, and God obeyed. The spirit of Christmas illuminates the picture window of the soul, and we look out upon the world’s busy life and become more interested in people than things. To catch the real meaning of the “spirit of Christmas,” we need only drop the last syllable, and it becomes the “Spirit of Christ.”

The work in the office goes on but there is definitely a change in the season. It is actually cooler here in the Dominican Republic. Day time highs are still in the 90’s but the evening and morning are definitely cooler. And today a big storm rolled over the island and we had gentle rain most of the day. It was a very pleasant change. There will never be snow on the ground in the Dominican Republic but it is beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

This morning Hna. Johnson’s contact and financial expert at Centro de Servicio, Hna. Dayanara Almanzar, came to the office to teach her how to account for petty cash using journal vouchers. It was training Hna. Johnson should have gotten 5 months ago. As it turns out the mission has been out of money for a month because of journal entry errors. Now they can be corrected and the mission will be in the black again. That is a very good thing.

President Almonte has asked all of the missionaries in the city to stay in their apartments after dark until after Christmas. It is too dangerous to be on the streets with the drunks on the road. However the AP’s and the office Elders did “intercambios” (companion exchanges) with the other Elders in their Zone this afternoon. Intercambios are good for missionary moral and good for training as well.

This afternoon I had “Diligencias” (Errands) to run. While I was out I picked up flowers for Hna. Johnson. She arranged them for Hna. Almonte and her dinner she is planning for us and the other senior couples in the mission. This evening we went by the mission home and dropped off the flowers.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009

This morning early I took my mission car, the blue Toyota Corolla in for its 40,000 kilometro maintenance/service at our local Toyota dealership, “Delta Comercial.” They are a little more expensive than the non-dealership auto service centers but we have to use them to maintain the manufacturer’s warranty. The car has been in use by the mission since it was new a year and a half ago. That is when the Larsen’s used it and now Hna. Johnson and I get to drive it. The car costs us $50.00USD per month plus gas. The church pays for all maintenance and insurance. This year the price for senior couples went up to $150.00USD per month worldwide. Fortunately Hna. Johnson and I are locked in at the old price so we won’t have to pay the increase.

Today was the last multiple zone trip to the temple in the mission until after the New Year. Sometimes I get to see them all at the mission home for the big lunch after the temple session but this time I was grounded since my car was in the shop. But many of them walked over to the office to pick up supplies so we got to see and visit with quit a few of them anyway. It is a special time when we have lots of the Elders and Hnas. Crouded into the office. Their spirit and enthusiasm is wonderful. They are all great servants of the Lord and work tirelessly at their callings.

And speaking of being grounded…. I had planned to go to the “Aduana” today but couldn’t. Elder Small and Elder Almonte ran today’s “Diligencias” (errands) for me. They came back from the “Aduana” with 20 packages, a record, for the Elders & Hermanas in the mission. Elder Almonte and Elder Small are already working on a plan to get all of the packages here in the capital delivered before Christmas. Unfortunately the Elders and Hnas. in “El Campo” will have to wait until Hna. Johnson and I go out there on our usual weekend trip to Neyba.
Monday, December 21, 2009

Our weekend isn’t over until we arrive home. But today we went straight to the office when we got back; it was 3:00pm. We didn’t get home until after 6:00pm. And even though the weekend is finally over we can’t slow down; but we really enjoyed our weekend branch parties and church services.

We got very little sleep again last night because of all the noise in the adjoining rooms. And I figured out why we can hear every sound from every other room in the hotel. There is no ceiling above each room. It was hard to believe at first but it’s true. There are ceiling tiles above each room but they are not “Acoustic ceiling tiles” they are just a false ceiling. Above them is nothing and there is nothing to buffer the sound. The bedroom walls stop at the ceiling tiles so if a TV is on in the next room, it is just as loud as if it is one in your own room. A man in the room across the hall from us got up at 3:30am and turned on his TV very loud. It was as if someone had turned the TV on in our room. It woke both of us up and I could tell he wasn’t going to turn it down so I went across the hall and knocked on his door. He looked very surprised to see me but he did turn off his TV. Hna. Johnson was never able to go back into a sound sleep for the rest of the night.

We were on the road home at 8:00am. But the road home included half a dozen stops along the way and really slowed us down. First we had to load all of the borrowed table and return them back to the Branch President, Teddy Figueroa, in Vicente Noble. He is a great Br. Pres. It is very interesting how a Branch can flourish or wither depending on the leadership. Since Pres. Figueroa has been the president, the attendance at Sacrament meeting has tripled! I found out that 12 years ago when he served his mission in Santiago, DR he was the companion to Hno. “Hijo” Norberto Tejera who is now living in Neyba and is full of enthusiasm and is working so hard for the branch. My prayer is that he will be my replacement as the next Br. Pres. Yes… My assignment in both Neyba and Duvergé is to work my way out of my job.

We dropped off mail to the AP’s in Vicente Noble. Elder Clouse is going home in 3 days so Elder Morillo will be in a threesome companionship until the next “translado” (transfer). Elder Clouse was wearing his signature tie. It has been signed by all of the missionaries he has served with or worked with as an AP or ZL during his mission. Every inch, front and back, is covered with signatures. What a great keepsake from his mission.

We also made mail & supply stops in Azua, Bani and Madre Vieja. While in Azua we stopped for lunch at “La Esquinita”, the best hamburger restaurant in the Western Hemisphere. Really, I’m not kidding. The food is not cheap by Dominican standards but I can say that they serve the very best hamburger I’ve ever eaten! Hna. Johnson and I have eaten there many times now and it is our favorite place for lunch or dinner.

Our mail run to the little Pueblo of Madre Vieja takes us through the town of San Cristobal. Normally it is a 15 minute side trip but today it took an extra half hour. Streets were blocked and the detours we had to take were choked with cars, truck and busses. It was a mad house. It turned out that today is the annual Christmas “free box of food” government welfare give-away all over the Dominican Republic. People were lined up for blocks. The Dominican Army was out in force to maintain order! We saw the same thing in the little town of Galvin, the sister city to Neyba.

I talked to Elder Small in the office about the “free box of food” program. He said that a person can get back in line and get more than one box if the supplies last. He also said that last year each box of food includes 2 or 3 bottles of wine. The next morning the streets and gutters of town were littered with empty wine bottles.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sunday, December 20, 2009

I knew this hotel was very “Spartan” but I didn’t know we would get so little sleep overnight. We didn’t get to bed until 11:30pm. Then, just as we were sound asleep the room next to us started their party as midnight. It was loud talking and laughter and everyone sounded very young and having a good time. Finally I had to dress and ask the manager to have them stop. They did but it started up at 6:00am again. Oh well, I guess we don’t really need sleep.

Today’s meetings in both Neyba and Duvergé were great. We had the same special musical “Cantata” in both branches. But as it turns out the word “Cantata” is not a Spanish word, it’s Italian, no one understood the title on the program! But that didn’t matter, everyone got to participate, we sang every Christmas hymn in the Spanish hymn book; all eleven of them. Each of the hymns were preceded by a reading of the scripture passages that pertained to the particular hymn. It was great; everyone really enjoyed singing for Christmas.

Ever since we arrived in Neyba and Duvergé all of the singing in church meetings has been acapella. There is an electronic keyboard but no one can play it. Many of the members in both branches have been members for many years but they’ve never heard a hymn sung with musical accompaniment. That is until today. We set up the CD player in both chapels and played the Spanish version of the accompaniment so the members could hear the real music. Wow, what a difference. For the first time we sang hymns that really sounded like hymns. After the meetings everyone commented on how much they enjoyed singing with the CD player. We’ve got to figure out a way to have a CD player available in both chapels all of the time.

The rest of my time was spent in tithing settlement and other interviews including a new young member of the church in Duvergé that will be ordained a teacher next week. He’s a bright and sharp looking 15 year old. His name is Dairon Bello Rocha.

As bad as the “Spartan” hotel is in Neyba, we are really glad to be spending the night here. In the past we would have driven the 3 plus hours back to Azua to spend the night. But tonight’s commute back from Duvergé was only 30 minutes and we only passed one other car on the whole road. We were in our hotel room eating dinner by 7:30 instead of after 10:00. It is really nice to not be driving for 3 plus hours at night. Especially during the Christmas season on weekends in the Dominican Republic, weekend drinking parties are notorious here.
Saturday, December 19, 2009

This morning we didn’t have to be at the Branch building until 11:00am so we got to sleep in, for the first time in I don’t know how long. We really enjoyed the free time too. After a very cold shower we asked the manager of the hotel where we could find a restaurant to eat breakfast. We found it after we enjoyed a walk around the central plaza of Neyba to get there. Our breakfast was a traditional Dominican, fried egg, salami, boiled green bananas, boiled Yuca root all covered with sautéed white onions. Mmm Goood! We really liked it.

When we got to the branch we discovered that there were only 3 members that signed up on the tithing settlement sheet. I was able to use the spare time to work in the branch office on the computer updating lists entering releases, entering callings, etc.

We didn’t have to be to Duvergé to pick up the tables until 2:00 so we had time to eat lunch. We started with dessert first at the local ice cream shop around the corner from the hotel. Next we finished our lunch eating a loaf of “Pan Sobado,” This is bread we brought with us from the capital. Each loaf is about the size of submarine sandwich bread they use at “Blimp’s” or “Quiznos”. It is a very soft and chewy. It has a slightly sweet taste and is very good. We each had one and it made a great lunch.

In Duvergé we picked up table, ice chests, and other supplies we left last night. I showed Elder Jimenez how to set up and run the generator. He is so happy to have a source of power now whenever the lights go out in Duvergé, which is very often. The Duvergé branch has been struggling without power in the evening for months. We were very fortunate last night. The power never went off once which was a wonderful blessing and an answer to prayer.

We drove back to Neybe with the tables and helped set up for the party tonight. We finished setting up and had enough time left to run back to our hotel room for a little rest. The AC works in the hotel room and we were very hot. Hna. Johnson even took a cold shower to help cool off. She felt so much better after being able to cool down.

The evening’s activities at the Neyba branch started with a baptismal service for a Haitian couple named Suze Dalleg Romd and Anselme Bien Aime. Their native language is Creole and French. They were taught in Spanish although they don’t speak it very well. They can understand Spanish when it is spoken to them and they can read Spanish pretty well. The baptismal service was a very well attended since most of the branch was there for the party that was to follow.

The baptism service started at about 6:30pm and finished at 7:15. After talking to the Hna’s in the Relief Society we found out that all of the food hadn’t arrived yet and we probably wouldn’t be starting the ward activity until about 8:00pm. That was my first indication that this was going to be a very late night. The program part of the branch party started at 8:00 and didn’t get over until 9:30 that is when the dinner started. We didn’t even start cleaning up until 10:00. At 10:30 we called a halt to the cleanup and went home. There were only a couple of class rooms and then end of the hall left to clean and the 4 Elders said they would finish it at 7:00 tomorrow morning.

But in spite of the late hour of the program and dinner it was a great evening for the Duvergé branch. I did a quick head count and came up with about 130 members and investigators in attendance. The R.S. sisters were planning to feed about 100. But as it turned out there was plenty of food to go around and even leftovers. Everyone had a wonderful time. Many of the old time members commented to me that this was the best branch Christmas party they had ever had.

We had some members come to the party that hadn’t come through the front doors of the chapel in years. One father of 3 of the girls that preformed in a couple of the dances that was so proud of them, he kept coming over to me and saying, “That’s my girl there on the left”, etc. His name is Luis Guererro. His whole family are members but he hasn’t been out to church in years. This whole evening of baptism, program and dinner was a wonderful missionary and activation tool. The Hna’s in the R.S. are really to be commended for a great job.