Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I just can’t seem to get much work done in the office. Again today I spent all my time on the road doing “Diligencias” (errands) all over town. Oh well, at least I won’t get bored driving Dominican streets. The drivers here are CRAZY. Yes, that is CRAZY with all capital letters. Drivers drive on the wrong side of the road, they pass on double lines, they don’t obey any street signs & they run red lights. They will park their car in the right hand lane of traffic and walk away from it for hours, forcing all traffic to squeeze by in the inside lane. They change lanes with no warning and literally run you off the road. If there is a long line traffic waiting to turn left at an intersection, drivers will move into on-coming lanes to jump ahead of the others in line. And I don’t mean they do these things occasionally, they do them ALL THE TIME! (And don’t even get me started on the motorcycle drivers!)

But now I must explain something I have figured out since I’ve been here. This is the way Dominicans drive. Their behavior on the road is not unusual, in fact it is the norm and it is exactly the way drivers are supposed to behave in the Dominican Republic. Their driving is expected and anticipated by all other drivers. Therefore every one of them is a GOOD driver because they know and understand “the rules of the road” and they follow them. In fact, I’m the driver that stands out and doesn’t know how to drive. That’s why I get honked at if I stop when the light turns red.

I did get some good news today. Costco has FedEx’d my hearing aids back to me. Maybe soon I will be able to hear again. That would really be nice. FedEx only takes 3 or 4 days to get here. We do get our mail from the states too. I’ve noticed that most letters and small packages sent through the US Postal Service take from one week to 10 days to reach us. That is really very good service.

Hola familia!
Comó la va? In other words, how is it going? That is one of my new phrases this week. We have had another full week in the DR. I made a few embarrassing mistakes but nothing major. Keep your fingers crossed that I won’t do something major. Dad and I are well, we have walked early several mornings this week because Hermana Almonte took my blood pressure and it was a little high. I am hoping that more exercise will relieve some of the stress that I am feeling. We took a walk in one of the 5 mile parks here and during that walk we found a huge squished tarantula, an 8” centipede that was cut in half and an alive millipede and from our drive home from the campo (the misión outbacks) I saw a nice large iguana coming out of the forest and begin feasting on a melon that had fallen from one of the trucks. Dad was not able to view it for when I was talking to him about it a car was passing another car coming at us and he had to play a little chicken with him.

My interesting traffic story for this week is that a funeral procession came traveling on the wrong side of the road because they wanted to pass another car. This was in the city so it made some interesting maneuvers to avoid some mishaps. There is truly never a dull moment on the road in the DR.

How are all my nietos (grandchildren) doing? We received some fun pictures from Jared and Tere and some from Nathan and Valerie. And a fun e-mail from Grandma and Grandpa Burk and one from Mindy…THANK YOU! Missionaries love getting mail. We are hoping all is well and everyone is trying to keep cool. We love you and hope to hear from you soon.

Love, Mom and Dad

Monday, August 24, 2009 (FHE with other Senior Couples)

Today was one of those stressful days at work. You know… when everything that can go wrong, does! Things like; packages at the bus depot didn’t arrive on time which cost us 2 wasted hours, problems with Elders’ apartments, problems getting baptism records from the zones, unsuccessful errands for the mission president eating up the whole morning, petty cash that wouldn’t balance (we are $400.00 short!) and had Sister Johnson’s stomach tied in knots, etc! Well….

T hank goodness for Family Home Evening. Tonight Sister Johnson and I went to the regular FHE that is held at the MTC on the temple grounds for all of the Senior Couples. We missed last week’s because of our travel in from “El Campo”. But this week we were sure glad we were able to attend. Not only is it a wonderful chance to meet with other English speaking couples and have relaxing, nerve soothing conversations, as well as get advice, etc. But this week they had wonderful speakers lined up for us….

At the very beginning of FHE the Bro. i n charge told us the meeting would begin with a special musical number by some Elders from the MTC. Little did he or any of us know what was in store for us. About a dozen English speaking Elders from the US came in and sang “I Believe in Christ” acapella and in 4 part harmony! Wow, the music and the presence of the spirit were so strong that it touched each of us down to the inner most part of our souls. I bathed myself in the music and the beauty of the moment. I didn’t want it to end. When it was over I thought to myself… well, it can’t get any better than this! But then… we were introduced to the rest of the FHE.

Tonight’s featured guests were Elder Gary J. Coleman of the 70 and his wife Sister Judy Coleman. Elder Coleman is the 1st counselor in the Caribbean Area Presidency. They both gave wonderful, inspiring talks. Sister Coleman talked about the importance of personal scripture study, personal prayer and living as a Christian. It was a wonderful talk. I said to myself, it can’t get any better than this…. But then Elder Coleman spoke.

Elder Coleman spoke for about 40 minutes and his talk was his testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Wow, what a story he had to tell. I know I can’t do it justice here so I will only tell one part of his story. He spoke of his conversion to the gospel as a 21 year old college student in 1963. He told of being an altar boy in his own church since we was 13 years old. How he had never missed Catholic Mass on Sunday in his whole life! He said he had been invited to an LDS meeting by some college friends. So Sunday after Mass he drove over to the rented Grange Hall to see what Mormons were all about. He said that the first time he heard his friend tell him the story of Joseph Smith; the spirit testified to him that is was true.

Next his friend gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon and asked him to read and follow the 28 or so passages that were underlined. The very last passage he read was the promise in Moroni 10:4-5 that says: “… if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the trust of all things.”

Elder Coleman said that all of the prayers he kne w were memorized and spoken by rote. But that night he knelt down and in a prayer unlike any he had said as a Catholic, he asked his Heavenly Father if the Book of Mormon was true. He said he will never forget that moment. He was given an unforgettable, undeniable and unmistakable answer to his prayer that touched his being from the top of his head to the tips of his toes. The only question he had next was, “How can I be baptized into this church?”

Elder Coleman’s talk covered much more that I can’t take time to tell now but it was a great talk. The spirit touched each of us so much that we all had tears in our eyes. The whole evening was food for the soul that Sister Johnson and I needed so very badly after a tough day at the office. I sure hope our schedule will allow us to attend more of these FHE’s in the future.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Services in Neyba were similar to last week. However attendance was down a little. Only about 30 total counting members, investigators and missionaries. But regardless of the attendance the spirit was still strong as members direct meetings, give talks and teach classes. I was very surprised to find out that about half of the active members in Neyba have only been members for 4 months or less. Even so they all have callings and do a great job.

Next week we expect our mission president, Pres. Almonte, to attend with us and reorganize the Branch. Unless the president changes his mind, and he often does, I will be the new branch president. He said: Elder Johnson this change will light a fire under the inactive members. Attendance will go up to 100%! I think the president is way over optimistic. But I am willing and ready to do anything he wants me to do.

After the block we gave the elders in Duverge a ride home. It only took us about 45 minutes and was a lot faster for them then the hour and a half bus ride. We left Duverge and started the 3 hour drive to Azua. The road beyond Azua out to Neyba & Duverge is full of pot holes. I’m not exaggerating when I say that the road probably has more craters than the surface of the moon. Some places in the road are half washed out from flooding as well. It appears the roads are never really fixed. Usually someone will stick a branch of a tree in the dangerous spot, tie a plastic bag or old T-shirt to it and that’s all the warning other motorist have.

Saturday, August 22, 2009
Saturday is our “Preparation Day” (P-day) and we started with a walk in the “Mirador” park. We will try to walk every Saturday morning we can. Last week I was called in to look at on two prospe ctive apartments for elders so we couldn’t. But today was beautiful.

Mirador Park is about 5 miles long and sits over an ancient volcanic lava flow that overlooks the ocean. Tropical trees and flowers abound as well as cactus and agaves. You wouldn’t think there would be huge cactus in the middle of tropical rain forest. But the Santo Domingo only averages about 70 inches of rain a year so there is not as much jungle and more that resembles forest.

On e of the cactus we saw in the park looks like a member of the Euphorbia family. In the flower shop we sell a couple different ones. One is called Lucky Cactus and another is called “Christmas Cactus”. The Euphorbia plants we sell usually come in a 6” pot and only grow about 12” to 20” tall. The Euphorbia I saw in the park was over 20 feet tall. I will be interested to see what the blossoms look like in December.

And speaking of things in a desert, during our walk we came across a dead tarantula. Had it been alive and walking it would have measured about 7 inches across. It was huge. A little further down the path we came across a centipede. Had it been alive it would have been about 10 inches long. Everything seems to grown really large here in the jungle/forest.

One on the trees in the park is the “Limoncillo” tree. It blooms in January and its fruit is ripe in July and Aug ust. The fruit is green and a little smaller than a ping pong ball. They are easy to open and they are delicious. Street venders sell them on every corner while they are in season. They are very sweet. The taste reminds me of a peach with a twist of lemon.

After lunch Sister Johnson and I were “Hauling the Mail”. Well, let me explain. First we went to a very large department store called “Plaza Lama” to buy flat irons for some of the Elders out in “El Campo” (That’s “out in the country”). This afternoon we loaded up the pickup truck with the irons, i roning boards, 12 cases of books and pamphlets and all the mail for the missionaries out in El Campo. Since we will be going all the way to Neyba every Saturday afternoon, we will always be “hauling the mail” out to all of the missionaries out there.

Sister Johnson made an interesting observation. Tomorrow, Sunday, will be the 5th Sunday we’ve been in the Dominican Republic. Until now we’ve attended Sunday services in a different location every week. It will be very nice to get into a regular routine and always attend church with the same group of saints. Even though it will be a 5 hour drive each way, we look forward to getting to know the members in the town of Neyba. Last week we found them to be very warm and friendly, with big smiles and eager to greet and shake the hands of the missionaries. They are no different than the members of our ward back in Mesa or any place in the world.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday, August 21, 2009

Today wasn’t just another day at the office. Today while I was rummaging through one of the storage rooms at the mission office I came across a treasure. It was there amongst a lot of odds and ends, broken irons, parts to fans, etc. There it was discarded like so many other unwanted parts to broken appliances that had been heaped on the shelves for who knows how many years. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it but there it was…. an ACE Electric Etching Tool. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

For those of you who know me, you know I dearly love my etching tool I had to leave back at the flower shop. But now I have one here in the Dominican Republic to use in the office. That is important because one of my duties as the Mission Executive Secretary is to oversee all the mission’s keys. Inventory them, mark them, account for them, check them out, see that they are returned, etc. If you thought I used to carry a large ring of keys on my belt loop before my mission, you should see the one I have now. Now I can etch each key with its label with my newly found Ace Electric Etching Tool. I’m sooooo happy!

Thursday, August 20, 2009This morning a half hour before sunup Pam and I donned our walking shoes and did laps around the little park in front of our apartment complex for 30 minutes. We’ve decided that we will start a regular exercise program. We want to start walking in the early morning on a regular basis, at least three times a week and maybe more. A lot will depend on how late we have to work, if we are out in “El Campo”, etc.

On Tuesday when the President did interviews, Sister Almonte did her regular health checks of the elders & sister. In addition to checking a missionaries general health she weighs them, takes their blood pressure, pulse, etc. Pam and I had sister Almonte take our blood pressure for the fun of it. Mine was normal but Pam’s was just a little bit elevated. The president’s wife suggested that Pam start exercising. So Pam took the challenge, yesterday she started her half hour walk around the park and liked it a lot. Today I joined her and I think we will be doing this real regular now.

The little park in front of our apartment is pretty small, about as big as a football field but it’s very pretty and surrounded by a sidewalk. The trees, bushes and flowers are beautiful. On any given morning there are 4 to 6 other people walking and getting their exercise too.

Toni ght we left the office an hour early. Normally we work from 8-6:00. Today was the first day in three weeks we’ve been able to take a break. With our extra free time you’ll never guess what we did. Well…. Some of you that know Pam can guess. You see; the movie “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince” just made it here to the Dominican Republic last week. We’ve been dying to see it ever since it came out July 15, just two days after we went into the MTC. And since it’s not against the rules for senior couples to go to a movie we took our chance to see it.

We liked it a lot. Pam has read all the books and understands the story line better than I do. Since I’m waiting for my hearing aids to be returned, I mostly enjoyed the cinematography and special effects. One thing that helped me is the fact that the movie was in English with Spanish subtitle. Even though I’m not the fastest reader in Spanish I was able to follow the story line a little better because I was able to read the words at the bottom of the screen.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Today was a real work day in the office. We got a lot done with few interruptions. We thought it was going to be another hectic day but as it turned out the second day of interviews with the president weren’t held at the office today, they were held at a ward building about 2 miles away.

This evening we got to phone Samantha on her 5th birthday. She really loves her grandma Johnson. She is so excited to talk with her on the phone. She told her all about the birthday presents she received and the swim party she is having on Saturday when she will have her real b-day party. Both Pam and I had a nice visit. We love our family and the support they are giving us while we are in the mission field. We want to thank each of them for their dedicated service. We wouldn’t be able to serve a mission if it weren’t for our sons and their wives who work so hard to make this mission possible.

It is a really blessing for us to have this “Vonage Phone” to use and call home for free. The young elders and sisters can only call home twice a year. Not so for senior couples. We can call home as much and as often as we like. And we really do love to hear how they are doing.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Today should have been a normal hard working day in the mission office. However we discovered when we got to work this morning that the Mission President was having interviews with all of the missionaries in the capital today and tomorrow. The mission office was like Grand Central Station! But it was great. We got to meet and talk with all of the missionaries. We got to put a face with the names on paper we’ve been working with. We really enjoyed the whole experience. These young people are full of enthusiasm for the work of the Lord. They smile ear to ear and they radiate the light of Christ. We really love our missionaries in the Santo Domingo West Mission.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Monday, August 17, 2009

This morning we drove in to the capital from Azua in about two hours. It was an uneventful drive for the most part except for the two wrong turns that only cost us a few minutes. We are learning though. At least I’m not making the same mistake twice.

Since Saturday we logged about 10+ hours on the road. Duverge is one of the furthest points away from the capital where we have missionaries.

We were back in the office and working by noon, after unpacking and grocery shopping. Missing even a half day of work in the office is costly. We’ll have to make it up somewhere else. We are coming up on a very busy 3 days in the mission. First is Tuesday September f irst, that is the day all of the missions finances are due. And there is a ton to do on that day and the day before. Second is August 31, September 1st and 2nd. These are transfer days. Not only will a lot of missionaries move and require a lot of paper shuffling but we are expecting about a dozen new Elders & Sisters to arrive plus about a dozen will leave for home. All of this activity requires a lot of bookwork by the office staff. Well, mostly by Sister Johnson. Usually transfers and end of the month accounting don’t hit on exactly the same day but this time they do and it’s going to be a killer in the office.

(This will give you a different prospective on some of the same subjects I've been writing about. enjoy!

Hello family,

How is it going with everyone? We are now having some tropical storms and wind and lots of humidity (nothing new). We are settling in a little more into our office assignments, it is still a little overwhelming to me. I pulled off some more missionary recommendations off tonight and we, right now that is, are getting in 25 new missionaries in Oct. Sept I only have 12 and there are not many leaving at the moment. So, the missionary pool is growing. My Sept is really going to be busy getting things up to speed with all the new ones coming.

This last weekend we received an assignment from the President. He sent us out Sat afternoon to go to two different areas. We traveled to Azua(oz-wha), which is about 2 hours from here. We stayed a night in a office/house for the southwest part of the mission. There is an open reception center next door and the party was on Sat night. The music was really playing till pretty late. Then the roosters were up and at it between 4:30 and 5:00am, so needless to say sleep really did not happen that night. We left about 6:45 am to a town called Neiba (Nay-ba). We arrived there at about 8:30am. Neiba is in a desert region of the DR. The president asked Elder Johnson if he would be the branch president and he said he wanted to call him next week. There were about 45 members there and they had a really nice church building to meet in.

Then we were off to a farther town called Duverge(doo-ver-hay). To get there we went through some marsh land and on some very interesting roads, (did I say roads??) We found the house that the missionaries were getting ready for the 4:00 meeting. We arrived there about 1:30 so after preparing the house for sacrament meeting, we went and visited 6 families. Can I just tell you that these people have practically nill and they are so happy and gracious. All but one of the families we visited came out, so there were around 40 members there. They wanted to know if we were coming every week but for right now we told them every other week (unless the president changes his mind)

We left around 6:40pm, they only have two parts in the Duverge meeting. And we got to the Azua house around 9:30pm. That was an experience because the motor bikes are still on the road but more than half do not have lights. You really have to watch the road because it often disappears. We only got lost once but it was an easy fix but we almost hit a horse, he just came out of nowhere. They really do not pen or corral their livestock very much so you see lots of livestock by the roadways. The couple we replaced had a run in with a Brahma one night and the car did not want to run after that.

We got back into town this morning and after unpacking and replenishing some food/water, we were back in the office. I think our weekends will be traveling, visiting, church services, interviews and such. Which I hope we can call every other Sundays to some of you. So this upcoming Sunday if we only go to Neiba, we should be able to. Tell Samantha though I will be calling on her birthday. It was fun to call and talk to Catherine on hers and Dan as well. You can’t believe how good it is to get an e-mail or to be able to hear you guys on the phone.

We took two elders, our trainers, out to eat on Friday, my trainer is going home in 2 weeks and it was the other elder’s birthday so we took them out. There is a Hotel on the other side of the park and across the street from us so we tried it out. It was unbelievable. It was gorgeous and the buffet was fabulous. It was a 5 star place and it was less than $15 per person. I am sure we will go back to that place.

OK family, it is your turn to write back and tell us what’s going on with you all. Please have the kids e-mail me if you want. We love you and pray for you, individually, every day. You are what makes our life worth living. Hugs and kisses to all of you and if someone would print this and take it to Wes I would greatly appreciate it.

Love, Mom y Dad

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Today’s travels went off without a hitch. We left the house/office at 6:45am and returned at 9:45pm. We spent a total of about 6 hours on driving and attended the 3 hour block in Neyba and the 2 hour block in Duverge. We also found time to visit 6 homes of members as well as did pickup runs to shuttle members to church. It was a very long day.

Yesterday and today’s drive was remarkable in another way. We started in Santo Domingo where it is hot and humid. The vegetation is very tropical. As we got closer and closer to Neyba, we saw less and less forests and more and more mesquite trees and cactus. Yes, we drove from one tropical extreme to another desert extreme on the same island. The Dominican Republic truly is a wonderland, with emphasis on “Wonder”.

In spite of the hours we spent it was a very good day. We really enjoyed the members in both congregations. The Branch in Neyba was attended by about 50 members and investigators. The branch president they have now is Francisco Vasquez. He’s been president for 4 years but his health is failing. That is part of the reason he is being released. He is a wonderful man and works very hard for his branch. I hope I can fill in his shoes and do as good a job as he has done. I pray that I can. I know the members there will help me a lot and they will be praying for me too.

Our two hour block (no Sunday School) of meetings in Duverge was attended by about 30 members and investigators. The congregation in Duverge isn’t even a Branch yet. There was a small branch there many years ago but the Elders were pulled from the town and the branch closed because all of the leadership moved to the big city looking for work. Four months ago 4 Elders were assigned to work there. They found a few of the members that hadn’t moved away and they’ve had tremendous success finding, teaching and baptizing new members. It takes at least 5 melchizedek priesthood holders to form a branch. They already had 2 and 2 more were sustained and ordained today. Maybe soon a branch in Duverge can be reorganized. It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when.
Saturday, August 15, 2009

Saturday is supposed to our preparation day. But we had little time to prepare anything. I started the day with Elder Bates and Ovalles at 7:30 as we had appointments all morning with potential duanos (landlords) for Elders that need to move and need new apartments. None of the apartments we looked at were very good. But maybe with some work on our part, electrical, plumbing, paint, etc. they could be acceptable.

One of the sets of elders that want to move say they want to because they only have one faucet in the apartment that works. It’s the bathroom sink. With it they fill a bucket and carry water to the kitchen sink to wash dishes. With the same bucket they shower and also use it to flush the toilet. There is an open sewer that runs by their bedroom window that stinks so much they can’t sleep. There apartment is overrun with cockroaches and rats. Upon hearing all of this, Elder Bates who is in charge of all of the apartments for all the Elders said, I don’t think there is a problem, this apartment is not worse than all the other Elders apartments in the city! Then he smiled and said maybe we can do something to help these elders out. “We’ll buy you a cat, at least you won’t have rats and cockroaches anymore!

The reason I’m going with Elder Bates to evaluate all of the houses is that this will be my job in the future. I hope I can negotiate half as good as him. He drives a hard bargain and always gets the landlords to give the church discounts, etc. He’s a very good barterer.

We didn’t get back to the mission office until noon, just in time to get the call from President Almonte that Pam and I will be leaving in 3 hours for Azua, about a 2 hour drive. We will spend the night in the house/office the president rents there and Sunday morning drive another 2 hours to Nayba to attend church at 9:00am. Then we will drive on another hour further to attend with the members in Duverge at 4:00pm. The president told me that I will be Branch President in Nayba and the pseudo-president in Duverge. Pam and I will be making this trip every Saturday and Sunday from now on. I think my weekends are going to be very busy in the future.

Friday, August 14, 2009

For the past 2 weeks the Assistants to the president and I have been looking for a Bluetooth ear piece for me. It will really help me on the cell phone. I’m so deaf that a Bluetooth is the only way I can use a cell phone and be able to hear. Well, yesterday I finally found a BlueTooth…. oh Joy! It was just the one I wanted. But then… today my cell phone slipped off of my belt and under the car as I got in the driver’s seat. I didn’t know it until I backed out of the driveway and crushed my new Phone/PDA…. oh despair!

Bu t all is not lost. The phone still works! This afternoon Elder Ruggio went to “Orange” the cell phone company and had it fixed. It only took them a half hour (and about $50.00) to replace the crushed front glass and keypad. It’s as good a new.

Tomorrow is Elder Bate’s 20th Birthday. To celebrate Pam and I invited him and his companion Elder Ovalles out to dinner at the “All you can eat” buffet at the Mirador Hotel. It is only a block from the mission office and across the park from our apartment. It is a very nice hotel and the buffet was wonderful. I think we will be going back in the future. This is the same restaurant that Pres. Almonte takes all of the departing missionaries to the night before they leave the mission. It is a tradition everyone really looks forward to.

Thursday, August 13, 2009
It looks like we are settling into an office routine, although routine is a relative term. We are continuing to learn more and more of our jobs, which means we seem to know less and less. But we are learning.

Elder Ovalles, a native Dominican who speaks some English, has been Sister Johnson’s primary tutor in her office duties even before the Larsen’s left for home. He does a very good job. But then once and a while, there is a duet of Ohhhhhhhh Nooooooo from them as some wrong button was pushed and hours of work end in frustration. But then, later there will be a squeal of glee and clapping from Sister Johnson and Elder Ovalles as she learns something new and she actually makes it work on the computer like it is supposed to. So the cheering and clapping are happening more and more often and the Oh Nooo’s are happening less often.

Today the other office Elder (Elder Bates) and I did our usual pick up of packages at the Customs office plus a few other errands. At the bank I noticed a flower vender with buckets full of flowers. I couldn’t resist, I bought a bunch of Peach roses for Sister Johnson and took them back to the office with me. She loved them. She took them home with her for lunch and arranged three vases full. Two vases she left at our apartment and one to take back to the office. Maybe you’ve heard; Sister Johnson is a very good flower designer!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Wednesday, August 13, 2009
It’s great to get some work done in the office. Pam is preparing for next month’s new arrivals and transfers, processing credit cards, creating “mail merge” letters and a dozen other things she couldn’t do 3 weeks ago. Well…. She not only couldn’t do them, she didn’t even know they existed. She has really learned a lot. I am so proud of her and the progress she has made in the office.

Today I got to go out and inspect a possible new apartment for 2 elders that had to move suddenly. It seems that a local gang (they are called “tigres” in the DR) were extorting money out of the local apartment landlords by cutting power lines and doing o ther vandalism. It was really unsafe for the Elders so they had to move in with 2 other Elders in a different area until we can find a new place for them.

The apartment we inspected is OK and the neighborhood looks much better than their last. Hopefully they will be able to move soon but first the office Elders and I have to do a lot of paper works.

Today I got to send my damaged hearing aid by FedEx back to Costco for repair. The hearing dept manager said on the p hone that I have a 2 year repair and/or replacement warrantee so the repair will all be free! I’m really happy about that. I hope to get them back in a couple of weeks. I really do need my hearing aids. They really help me hear better and I will need all the help I can get if I’m to be working with native Dominicans and their very fast style of speaking Spanish.

Tuesday, August 12, 2009

Today we had a surprise arrival from the MTC here in Santo Domingo. His group of Elders and Sisters weren’t supposed to arrive for another 6 weeks of language training. However when a missionary is already a Spanish speaker his time is cut short at the MTC so today we received Elder Miguel Rugerio.

I had a nice long talk with Elder Rugerio, who is from Mexico. In fact he is from a small town called Ecatepec, Estado de Mexico. Ecatepec just happens to be the last area I served in 38 years ago. However, when I served there the branch had less than 100 members. Elder Rugerio told me that now there is a Stake with 7 wards. Wow, the Lord has truly blessed his children in Ecatepec with faith to blossom with increasing numbers of good members. I wouldn’t have imagined 38 years ago that there would be a Stake in the place of the small branch where I was a missionary.
Monday, August 10, 2009
We really got some good work done in the office today. Except for some interruptions Pam got all of the new missionary packets finished. That’s a major project with half a dozen mail merge pages in each one and collated. She is really learning the office duties fast. Her teacher, Elder Ovalles, was gone all morning to a dentist appointment so Pam was on her own for most of the work. She only needed his help on a little of the merging tasks when he returned. She thinks she can’t do the work but she’s doing a great job.

One of the interruptions was the Duania (our landlord, Dr. Nieves de Henriquez) had the AC repairman come by today and fix the drain leak so we can finally use the AC in the guest bedroom. I got to meet her husband for the first time. He’s a lawyer and worked as legal counsel at the Dominican Embassy in Washington DC for a couple of years. She’s a cardiologist! He said that she has saved his life several time.

This evening we fought traffic for almost an hour and only drove 4 miles to the MTC on the Temple grounds for FHE with all of the Senior Couples that serve as temple workers or have other mission calling here in the capital. We met many couple and I’m sure we will get to know them all very well as we plan to always attend FHE with them. Pam was delighted to meet her office counterpart in the Santo Domingo East mission. She will be a big help to her when she has questions about the Churches computer system.

Saturday, August 8, 2009 (Daniel Johnson’s Birthday)

Today is our first real “Preparation Day” (P-day) since we left for Provo over 4 and a half weeks ago. Pam and I started off with an hour walk in the city park named “Mirador”. Our apartment is about 2 block from the western end and it is about 5 miles long and a quarter mile wide. It is not well kept up at all but it is beautiful none the less. It is a piece of jungle right in the heart of the city. We really enjoyed our time walking on the path through the park. We plan to do it at least weekly if we have the time on P-day.

We finally got to do some long overdue shopping. Elder and Sister Larsen who we replaced “willed” us a lot of household supplies. Now that they are unpacked and we know what we need to make our apartment livable he spent the morning at a very large supermarket called La Serena. It is comparable to a Super Wal-Mart only prices are in Dominican Pesos. We’ve also discovered that it’s not cheap either. Prices are generally a bit higher here than in the states for generic household products. If we want to buy name brand products, we can expect to pay about one and a half times more than in the states.

This afternoon the AP’s (Assistants to the President) and brought me my new phone. I’m tickled pink! It is similar to the old “Smart Phone” I used to use at the flower shop and it uses the same operating system so all of my contacts, calendar and files transferred. It also means I don’t have to learn a new system to use my phone/PDA. The really great thing about the phone is that it can receive the internet. Then when I plug in the “Hot Sync” cable to my laptop, the laptop is connected to the internet too. That means anyplace I have phone coverage I can send/receive e-mail, update my blogspot and check the family website. Wow, how cool is that. I haven’t tried the webcam yet. I’m afraid it may be a little too slow for that but it still is great.

When the Assistant to the President brought the phone over he tried to set it up for me. He worked on it for over an hour and finally called in the “Mission Tech Support Guru” Elder Baldwin. He’s the Elder that set up the mission president’s home office computers, the Mission Office (where we work) computers, and networked them all. Elder Baldwin’s companion is Elder Dalton. He’s not a computer whiz. While Elder Baldwin set up my laptop internet connection, Elder Dalton helped me fix a broken door knob.

To show our appreciation for their hard work, Sister Johnson and I took them both out to dinner. We said, you choose where you want to eat Elders. Well, of course we went to Pizza Hut. They each ordered a medium combo pizza. They were stuffed when we left and even took home enough for their lunch tomorrow.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

We’ve been given a new car. It the blue Toyota Corolla driven by the Larsen’s before they went home. It will be much easier to park in our tiny parking space at the apartment. But we still will be using the pickup when we go out to the “campo” or I have to haul missionaries and luggage. Another great feature is the door locks are not self arming. I won’t be so appt to lock the keys inside again. Plus it’s an Automatic, with the crazy Dominican drivers everywhere; not having to change gears may make the difference between a hit and a near miss.

This Sunday we attended services at the Piantini Ward in downtown Santo Domingo. The ward boundries include the Temple so all of the temple missionaries that live on site attend this ward. It was unusual to see so many pale skinned people in attendance. Usually the only light skinned people at a Dominican service are the missionaries from the US.

In attendance at today’s meetings were the entire Area Presidency and their wives. We got to meet Elder Wilford Anderson and his wife. He is the 2nd councilor in the Area Presidency and former Stake President of the Maricopa Stake in Mesa. I got to say hello for you Stuart! Stuart Quist was on the Stake High Council when Elder Anderson was Stake President.

Of course Sacrament meeting was entirely in Spanish but Sunday school was divided into two classes. Since so many of the temple workers only speak English there is a second gospel doctrine class in English. However English wasn’t the only language at this class. In attendance were a couple dozen people that had traveled great distances and at great expense to spend a week getting their endowments and then doing sessions for the dead. Most of them spoke French. They were from Trinidad, Barbados, Haiti, the West Indies and a couple other places in the Caribbean that I can’t remember now. It was great. As we all took our turn reading from the D&C, at least half of the class read their part in French. That’s one of the miracle of the gospel, it doesn’t matter what language is being spoken, everyone of us could feel the spirit as scriptures were read and testimonies born. It was great.

Friday, August 7, 2009
One thing I can say about working in the mission office is that I can never count on anything to stay the same from one day to the next. Today we had a full of scheduled work to do. When we arrived at the office at fifteen before 8:00am we were on schedule. By 8:05am the rest of the day was completely topsie turvie! Painters had arrived! By the end of the day a complete remodeling of the office was in full swing. President Almonte arrived to oversee the planning. Shelves cupboard and storage racks were ripped from their mounts on the walls. Holes, cracks and chips were patched and painted over. By the end of the day everything had been moved and/or shuffled at least twice from room to room. It looks to me like the project won’t be done for weeks!

Oh well, the work in the office must go one so we’re figuring out ways to keep the computers up and running through the whole process. It is another grand adventure we are on and we truly are loving it. We love the people we work with, the Almonte’s, our assignment in the office and we love the missionaries. We are so blessed to be serving here in the Santo Domingo West Mission. The Lord has blessed Pam and I in so many ways since our mission call. Patience in adversity is another blessing we’ve learned on our mission.

In the afternoon Elder Bates and I had to run several errands that must be done on Friday. We dropped off our weekly report at the “Centro de Servicio” the churches Caribbean Area Offices. We went to the “Aduana” (Customs office were packages from the US are held for inspection) to pick up packages and mail for our missionaries. We dropped of payment checks to several of our venders the mission contracts with.
And we a couple more stops along the way. One stop was at one of my favorite places to shop, the office supply store. Ya, I’ll be spending more time there. We didn’t stop but drove by “Price Smart”, the Dominican equivalent of “Price Club”. Ya, I’ll be spending more time there too!
Thursday, August 6, 2009

Today really was our first full day of work at the office. We’ve been in the D.R. for a week and a half and our total time in the office has been very scant. We really needed more time with the Larsen’s. But it is too late now. Here we go, fling solo!

This evening I went with the AP’s (Elders Ruggio & Jimenez) to the “Orange” store. That’s the name of the cell phone company in the D.R. the mission uses. It is an affiliate of Alltel. I was put on the account as the new “Persona Responsible” along with Elder Jimenez. One of my duties will be handling the account for the 90+ cell phones in the mission. It’s a full time job all by itself.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Finally we were able to spend a full day in the office. However it wasn’t until 2:00pm that the Larsen’s and the office Elders, Bates & Ovillas, came to continue teaching us. We were able to work from 2 to 7:30 straight so that was a good training session although it will be the last with the Larsen’s.

The President and his wife invited us all over t o his home for a departing devotional & Almuerso (late dinner) for the Larsen’s at 8:00pm. The office Elders, the AP & his 2 companions, Larsen’s, Almonte’s & Johnson’s were there. It was a very good meeting. The spirit was very strong as everyone shared their fervent testimonies and their goodbyes to the Larsen’s. The office elders and the Almonte’s had gifts for them too. Of course the food was wonderful as usual. Sister Almonte served very large platters of cheeses, cold cuts, rolls, and sliced fruits.

It was a late night. We didn’t leave until after 10:30. The Larsen’s have to wake up at 3:00am to be at the airport at 4:30! I guess they will have to catch up on sleep on the plane. We will really miss them and their wisdom, insight and office skills. Brother Larsen was a really good driving instructor too. When another car would do some crazy/dangerous thing, I would say, did you see that?! He would calmly say, “Welcome to the Dominican Republic”. I will miss him a lot. We will be hard-pressed to fill their shoes.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
This morning at 7:00am we were off to the town of Azua for another Mission Conference. This one was with all of the Elders & Sisters serving outside of the city. The format of the meeting was the same as yesterday. We were introduced and bore our testimonies. Then all of the Elders and Sisters who wanted to bore theirs. The meeting lasted four and a half hours. A half hour longer than yesterday’s but it is wonderful to hear the testimonies of these young and enthusiastic missionaries. The spirit is very strong at these meetings. I just love being here and being part of this mission. I am so glad to be called and to serve in the Dominican Republic.

Before leaving for the 2 hour drive back to our apartment I left the keys in the ignition of our pickup truck to load more stuff. Well, I found out the hard way that this truck locks its self automatically when the doors are closed. So…. This afternoon I got to learn how to use a strong wire to break into my vehicle’s driver side window. It seems that all of the Elders that drive cars in the mission have the trick down to a science.

But the heat! While Pam and I waited for help we were in the 3:00pm sun, in dead calm/no wind, 95 degrees and 90% humidity. I was soaked with sweat. I was sure glad to get on the road again, back inside our air conditioned car. What a relief.

On our way home we witnessed a rather unusual and very dangerous event. Well, it wasn’t so unusual for Dominican drivers because they do things like this all the time. We were on a busy stretch of 2 lane highway between towns when we caught up with 3 trucks. The truck in the front was a fully loaded 16 wheeled tanker slowing climbing a hill at about 10 mph. Right behind him was a large fully loaded 10 wheeled truck. Behind him was an empty tractor trailer. At the same instant both trailing trucks decided to pass the leading truck up hill and on a curve. The lead truck pulled as far to the right as he could to let the others pass. But the third empty truck wasn’t content to wait his turn; he swung clear over to the left to pass both of the other trucks at the same time. So, picture this in your mind’s eye. There were three very large trucks abreast of one another going up a steep hill at 10 to 12 mph and ON A CURVE!!! Luckily there no other cars approached from the other direction or it would have been a real mess. Finally the unloaded truck managed to get in front of the other two without incident. And we were on our way again.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A miracle happened at 4:30 this morning. I woke up to use the restroom and as I laid back down to sleep the spirit whispered to me “the hearing aids did not fall out of your pocket”. I was rather surprised by the revelation but I knew they were gone for good and I tried to go back to sleep. Then the spirit whispered to me “retrace your steps”. I argued with the spirit that I had already retraced my steps a dozen times on Saturday. We even re-hiked the trail and found nothing. At some spots we crawled on our hands and knees looking for the tiny devices. Besides I didn’t want to think about it now because the mental exercise would wake me up so much that I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep and I would lose an hour of sleep.

Then a second time the spirit whispered “retrace your steps”. I remained motionless on my pillow and argued with the prompting again, I don’t want to lose 2 hours of sleep. A third time the voice came into my head, “the hearing aids did not fall out of your shirt pocket, retrace your steps”. Well that was enough! I finally decided that I wasn’t going to win this argument and I began to retrace where I was, what was I doing and completely rethink the problem.

I don’t know how much time went by as I lay there thinking but it was long enough that I was wide awake. Then, all of a sudden, thoughts raced through my mind. I wasn’t wearing the white shirt I was wearing the blue shirt. The hearing aids were in the blue shirt picket that I took off so I could put my swimming suit on. I took it on and off a couple of times at the pool side. Back in our room I took it off and hung it over the shower curtain bar. Later I wadded it up the put it in the dirty close bag. Yesterday evening Pam washed all of the clothes.

Still lying motionless in my bed I contemplated the very remote possibility that the hearing aids hadn’t fallen out of the pocket. Could they still be in the pocket after a wash load? I thought to myself, I’ll go to sleep now and check the pocket in the morning. It seemed forever as I lay there but I couldn’t stand the suspense anymore. I got up and went to the line in the laundry room were the wash was hanging. I reached into the shirt pocket and there they were. My two lost hearing aids were found. I raced back into the bedroom and woke Pam up to tell her the good news. She was so excited she couldn’t go back to sleep. We both lost 2 hours of sleep!

The hearing aids are not cheap. They cost $1000.00 each at Costco. I was sick for the next day contemplating the cost of their replacement. This morning when I prepared to leave for the office I took them out of their drying/warming tray put new batteries in both and tried them on. The right side worked but the left side didn’t. I will be able to send the one in for repair. This will sure be cheaper than replacing both of them.

Well we thought we were going to get a full day of work in at the office learning more of our duties but we found out at 9:00am that we were supposed to be at the “La Paz” chapel here in Santo Domingo for an all city conference of the mission. The La Paz chapel is the only air conditioned chapel in the whole Dominican Republic.

At the conference there were about 90 or so of the Elders and the sisters of the mission. There are another 80 or 90 in “El Campo” that were not here. We found out that their conference will be tomorrow morning at 9:00am. Our presence is required at that conference too. Training will be put off again!

At the meeting Elder & Sister Larsen were bid “buen viaje” and they bore their testimonies. Next Sister Johnson and I were given the “bien venida” and we also bore our testimony and introduced ourselves to all of the Elders and Sisters. Pam (I mean Sister Johnson) did a very good job with her testimony in Spanish. As she introduced herself and told everyone a little about us she would use as much Spanish as she new and then fill in with English when she didn’t know the right words to say. She did a very good job. She really is trying very hard to learn the language.

After the meeting, everyone was treated to Chinese takeout Dominican style. The office elders, Bates & Ovilles picked up 95 individual carry out dinners from “Pica Pollo”. We eat there last week and it is very good.

As a farewell dinner for the Larsen’s the President and his wife invited all of us out to Dinner at “Tony Roma’s Famous BBQ”. It’s not for from the Mission Home and it is exactly like the Tony Roma’s back home. The only difference is the menu is bi-lingual. I had a half rack of BBQ ribs with French Fries. Mmm Goood!

Sunday, August 2, 2009 (Our second Sunday in the Dominican Republic)

We attended Fast & Testimony meeting with the Larsen’s in “Nizao”, the little town they were assigned to since they’ve been here. Nizao is near the coast due West of Santo Domingo about 45 minutes away by car.

The members are wonderful here and they have a very large Branch of the church. I estimated that there must have been 100 to 125 people at today’s services. There was not an empty seat in the chapel. They were literally standing in the hall to listen to the testimonies. They have at least 20 active priesthood holders and the Larsens and the 4 full time missionaries there basically stay in the background and let the members run everything. The members were excited to report to me that there are plans in the works to build a new chapel on the same grounds and double the size of the facility.

Sunday school and priesthood meetings were just like any I’d attended in my home ward in Mesa, Arizona. Well planned lessons were given and lively discussions were contributed by the members throughout the classes.

This evening we called a few of our kids and grandkids, the ones that were home at least. We used a phone in the mission office called the “Vongage phone”. It can be called from any place in the world for the same rate as calling Utah. We can call on this line for free anyplace in the world! It uses “voice over the internet” so once the small monthly subscription fee is paid, we have unlimited long distance calling anywhere in the world. Ya…. That’s cool!
We also were able to see Jared, Tere & kids with our webcam. Ya… That’s way cool too. We will be using the web cam a lot in the future. We really enjoyed talking to and seeing our family. It makes us feel like we aren’t 4 thousand miles when we really are. We enjoy our family so much and making the discussion to serve a mission was difficult but things like the internet and the webcam really makes serving the Lord anyplace in the world a bit more like home.

Saturday, August 1, 2009Up bright and early, well not so bright and 8:30 isn’t so early, we were treated to breakfast Dominican Style. Two kinds of boiled green bananas, fried salami, scramble eggs with chopped peppers & onion, and backed sweet potatoes “batata”. As usual Sister Almonte makes wonderful food and it was delicious.

Next we were off on another hike. This time we headed in the other direction away from the river up on a ridge overlooking his valley and the Villa. We encountered more beautiful flowers and wonderful vistas in every direction. The second half of the hike was cross country and down very steep mountain sides. The footing was very precarious. All of us took many slips and stumbles. But it was a grand adventure and we had a lot of fun.

Back at the Villa we were very hot and sweaty so those of us that had swim suits put them on and went swimming in the President’s swimming pool. I didn’t know this until a month ago but senior couples don’t have to follow the same rules as the young elders. Unlike the Elders & Sisters we can go swimming! So… Note to self “when called on a Senior Couple mission, always pack your swimming suit right next to your 12 pair of black socks and 12 white shirts.

On the hike this morning I lost my hearing aids. I put them in my shirt pocket after about a half hour because they were malfunctioning due to all the sweat. When we got back to the villa I discovered they were not in my pocket anymore

After an exhaustive search of the President’s house and grounds we said a prayer and the President, Elder Larson and I headed up the same trail to see if we could find the hearing aids. President Almonte kept saying, you have to have faith. Well, we hunted for hours. We searched the only two areas on the hike that I had bent over and may have found them but no luck. We retraced every step of the hike but finally we had to give up and reconcile myself to the fact that they were lost. I will have to phone Costco back in Mesa and have them replaced.

Another wonderful lunch was prepared for us and her family. There are about another dozen of the Almonte’s relatives are here with us. Both of Sister Almonte’s parents are here too.

Mid afternoon we started our drive back to the capital through the pot holes and Rain. Driving in the Dominican Republic is an adventure. In the mountains, and sometimes on flat land, half of the road is just washed away with no warning and only allowing one lane of traffic. It is always a “game of chicken” with the oncoming traffic. Pam has to close her eyes most of the time. She just can’t stand seeing all of the close calls!

Late afternoon we were back in our apartment safe and sound were we continued unpacking our bags. Later in the evening we ran to the grocery store for more essentials for Sunday. At our last stop we treated ourselves to ice cream bars. They were the Dominican equivalent of a “Hagen-doz “ bar and it was delicious. It was actually the first Ice cream I’ve had since the MTC.