Friday, January 29, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Elder Wolff has finally arrived. He’s from Chandler. Yah, another Arizonan! We are delighted to have him in the mission even though he is 3 weeks late. He couldn’t come with his group to the MTC here in the Dominican Republic because of Passport and Visa problems. After he finished his two months at the MTC in Provo he was sent to serve in the Salt Lake City Mission (Spanish Speaking). He was there for the past 3 weeks waiting for his Visa.

Usually when Hna. Johnson and I do an orientation of missionaries there are dozens of missionaries present. This morning we did the orientation of just one, Elder Wolff. He’s a sharp young Elder ready to work. He’s been assigned to serve in the area of Madre Vieja in the town of San Cristobal. It’s about 30 minutes west of downtown Santo Domingo.

The rest of our morning was hectic and just like the afternoon. Of course our switch to IMOS as the “Internet Mission Office System” is at the root of our problems. When we switched to IMOS they took away our ability to write checks. Now when we need a check to pay a bill in our mission we have to request permission in IMOS. The President of the mission has to go on line and approve it first, then someone in Salt Lake has to review the request and if it is approved by SLC the check is written by the only Citi Bank in Santo Domingo 24 hours later. One of the many problems this crazy system has is that SLC only reviews checks on Tuesday and Thursday. If we miss the 8:00am deadline in SLC on Thursday we can’t pick up a check until the following Wednesday a full week later! And then….

This morning we received a request from the Area Presidency that we pay three bills to the company that has been supplying all of the materials for the refugee center in Jimani. Of course they wanted the company paid today. Before IMOS we could have had the check in their hands by noon. But now there was no way. All of our checks were taken from us on January 14th. Elder Small and Hna Johnson were pitted against the system for the rest of the day. President Almonte called me on my Cell phone and “demanded” that the checks be ready by this afternoon. He told me that I was to personally call Hna. Dayanara, the IMOS expert at Central Services and find a way to make it happen. I called and Hna. Dayanara and discovered that Elder Almonte was already there in her office. Elder Small was under instructions from Elder Viñas, the Caribbean Area President, to “make it happen”. Pres. Viñas is in Jimani personally overseeing the refugee center.

To make a long story short Elder Small and I walked out of the Caribbean Area offices at Central Services by 4:00pm with the checks in hand. Together they totaled about seven thousand dollars. There is never a dull moment for Hna. Johnson and I in the mission field!
Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Elder Cummings is feeling much better now. He has been recuperating in the office for a week now and is anxious to get back to work. However he is now the companion to Elder Lamoure who has also been sick and assigned to the office for rest and recuperation. For the past three days they have been going to many doctor’s appointments together. Well, this afternoon Elder Cummings was in the office ready and willing to work. He kept asking Hna. Johnson for jobs to do. I asked him how he was feeling and he said fine. I said, “you look real tired.” Then with a big grin he said, “from now on when anyone asks how I’m doing I am always going to say I’m fine.” Maybe he will be able to return to his area soon and do missionary work again.

I was in for a surprise this afternoon. I was at the mission president’s home with Elder Small to talk to the president about some mission business when he told me he would like Hna. Johnson and I to go to the border town of Jimani every other Saturday to help out with the refugee center there. We didn’t have time to talk about the details right then but I’m sure we well be hearing from the president soon. The town of Duvergé where we attend every other Sunday is only about 60 kilometers from Jimani. We will probably be spending Saturday there and then Sunday in Duvergé.
Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Another busy, hectic and maddening day in the mission office. Problems with IMOS continue to cause havoc. Checks aren’t getting written on time, electronic transfers aren’t being authorized on time and venders aren’t getting paid on time. By noon Hna. Johnson was frustrated and exhausted. She exclaimed, “I need a Coke”, I brought her a cold bottle of water from the frig instead. She looked at me with pleading eyes; I think she really wanted a Coke.

This evening the FedEx truck arrived with a surprise. I received a package from Costco with my hearing aid. (See Nov. 29, 2009) It is a replacement of the one I lost two months ago. I’ve been using one hearing aid all this time for my right ear. But even that hearing aid developed a problem a month ago. It stopped receiving commands from the remote control which is the only way I have to change programs or increase the volume. Tomorrow I will use the packing materials the left hearing aid came in to ship the right one back for repair.

Last time the hearing aids were shipped to me (See Sept. 9, 2009) they cost me over $200.00 in Customs fees, tips and bribes to get them released from the holding facility at the Santo Domingo Airport. The reason they were “held for ransom” was the declared value was way too high, as if they were new hearing aids, not used ones. This time the Costco hearing department manager put a much lower value on them and they bypassed Customs at the airport and were delivered right to my office door. That was a huge blessing.

Although my hearing aids have caused me a lot of problems over the past 6 months they sure do help me hear and all the effort it takes to get them both working properly is worth it.

This afternoon I had to drive to the east side of the capital, well inside the boundaries of the Santo Domingo East Mission, to deliver documents to a Major General in the Dominican Army relating to our shelter in Jimani (See Jan. 22, 2010). On my way there I drove along the “Malecon” coast road. The entire coast road is on lava rock cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea. It is a beautiful drive and spotted several “Blow Holes” caused by high winds and surf. They were great.

This afternoon our “Dueña” (landlord) had a plumber come by our apartment and replace our hot water heater. It has been leaking for several days and had to be replaced. The plumber must not have had much experience working with PVC pipe. When I got back to the apartment he had already finished his work and was gone but his PVC joints were leaking! Hna. Johnson and I were sitting on the sofa when we heard a loud pop and the sound of gushing water. The glued PVC joints failed and water was spraying everywhere. By the time we got the main valve turned off we had a lot of standing water on the floor of the apartment. It was a mess to clean up.

When I talked to the “Duaña” she said she couldn’t reach the plumber and that a different plumber would be out to repair the pipes tomorrow morning after 9:00! Then she said she was sorry she couldn’t do any better than that and hung up. Well… we weren’t going to spend the night without running water so I was off to the hardware store to buy the parts and do the job right. So I did… and it was. We had running water by 8:00pm.
Monday, January 25, 2010

For the past week or more Elder Cummings from the area of “Madre Vieja” has been sick. He’s been suffering from dizzy spells and extreme fatigue. He’s been to several Dominican doctors as well as the Church’s doctor for the Area, Dr. Kilgore, and none of them know what’s wrong. He was sent to the office at the end of last week for bed rest.

When Hna. Johnson and I got back into the office this morning Elder Cummings was feeling a little better. He came up to the 2nd floor where the Mission Office is and used our computers to e-mail his family. He did get his letters written as well as his report to the mission president before he had to go back downstairs and rest some more.

Hna. Johnson and I love getting e-mail from our friends and family. Today we got a great letter from Hna. Johnson’s mother, Betty. Our son Dan also wrote us a wonderful letter with sage advice and some great words of wisdom. Yesterday Hna. Johnson got mail and pictures from Valerie. Yah… great pictures of the grandchildren! We love it. We love our family and the letters they write to us.

Today I received an e-mail from Nathan. It was a good letter and attached to it were the flower shop’s sales analysis spread sheets for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. Wow…. I was impressed. The flower shop is doing great. I know it is an answer to prayer and a direct correlation to our service in the mission field. And I do realize that all that business doesn’t come without a lot of sacrifice. I know our family (everyone) is putting in a lot of long hard hours to make our mission possible and I am so grateful and thankful we have sons and their families who manage the flower shop while we are serving the Lord on a mission.

It is truly a blessing to us to have such hardworking and faithful sons and daughter-in-laws. And of course we also have the rest of the extended family (both Pam’s and mine) that are equally devoted and are making huge sacrifices for us and the flower shop as well. This mission would not be possible if it weren’t for the hard work and dedication of all of our combined, extended families, our brothers & sisters, their children and grandchildren that all work for the flower shop either full or part time. They are all great and I personally owe them each a debt of gratitude. They are all wonderful. We have been truly blessed by our Heavenly Father, not only for having a great and supportive family but for the tremendous prosperity of the flower shop.

I had an interesting experience while I was looking at the flower shops sales analysis and reading Nathan & Jacob’s notes and comments. The reports were so good in spite of the bad economy that I got excited. My pulse started to race and my heart was pounding in my chest. When I noticed what was happening to me I commented to Hna. Johnson that I felt like I had just run a race. We talked for a few minutes about the numbers and my heart settled down again. But then I went back to reading the spread sheets again and without my noticing at first, it happened again. My heart was racing and pounding in my chest. It made me very excited to see and read all of the good sales statistics.

Tonight at the “Casa de Huespedes” the Senior Couple, Elder and Hna. Parker, were in charge of teaching the lesson for FHE. Elder Parker is a lawyer and former Judge. His assignment in the mission is to be a member of the legal team that represents the church in the Caribbean Area. It was fascinating to hear him share stories about his duties, travels and solving legal problems all over the Caribbean. He handles everything from fighting for the church’s right to be tax exempt to getting clear title to property the church wants to build chapels on.

Elder Parker said a few months ago the country of Guiana kicked out all of our missionaries. Many of the 50+ foreign missionaries in the country were put in jail all day. One senior couple was detained in jail overnight! Thankfully the legal problems in Guiana have been solved and we are able to have missionaries there again thanks to the church’s legal team.

Elder Parker reported that they are making a little progress in the church’s efforts to gain legal recognition in Cuba. He doesn’t know how long it will take but hopefully someday soon we may have missionaries in Cuba again.
Sunday, January 24, 2010

It is truly a miracle to see the power of the atonement in the lives of the members of the church. Two weeks ago Hno. Norberto Tejera “Hijo” had his blessings restored. Today I had an interview with Eliu Libron and his blessings were also restored. It was a beautiful and emotional moment for both men as they sat at the sacrament table and blessed the sacrament. Worthy for the first time in years to exercise their priesthood both men jumped at the chance to officiate at the sacrament table. It was great!

Under the directions of the Mission President, during priesthood meeting I had the honor of setting apart Hno. Norberto Tejera “Hijo” as the 1st Counselor in the Elder Quorum Presidency of the Neyba Branch. “Hijo” is enthusiastic and willing to serve, he will be a tremendous asset to the Elders Quorum and to the Branch in general.

After the block of meetings today Hna. Johnson and I ate our lunch. We had some free time before our 2:00pm PEC meeting so I started preparing for the meeting. Hna. Johnson started sorting boxes of manuals and other supplies for the various branch organizations. The branch president’s office as well as the clerk’s office is literally stuffed with boxes of supplies. Hna. Johnson does not like clutter so she took the opportunity to sort and put away everything. Wow, you’d think the place was hit by a white tornado. Everything got put away and there is actually room to walk around in the clerk’s office for the first time. She is great.

After our final meeting this afternoon we went over to a members home that is confined to bed. His wife is the Primary President in the Neyba Branch. He isn’t doing very well. I don’t know what he has but he’s been bedridden for months. The family has no income and he can’t get around without a wheelchair which they can’t afford. The Relief Society has been helping with food, etc. I’ve been in touch with Elder & Sis. Francom, the senior couple over humanitarian services, I’m hoping to get a wheel chair donated by the church for him. It may take a while, the next shipment of wheelchairs isn’t supposed to arrive for a couple of months.
Saturday, January 23, 2010

This morning was a lazy morning; we are still recovering from our vacation. I got to sleep in, we planned to go for a walk but didn’t and we usually clean the apartment Saturday morning but didn’t. It was a great morning.

Today the mission is completely out of cash! Due to the extra demand for money from the property in Jimani our cash reserves in “Petty Cash” are completely gone. And thanks to IMOS we won’t get to go to the bank to cash a petty cash check until next Wednesday. Now is Hna. Johnson’s chance to show off her creative accounting skills and keep the mission afloat till then.

After lunch we were back at it, loading and preparing for our weekend trip to “El Campo”. Although our load this weekend is very light compared to most. We’re not hauling any refrigerators, washers or mattresses. We made all of the usual stops to deliver the mail but our drive was a pleasant one overall.
Friday, January 22, 2010

Well, it was a nice vacation but we had to get up this morning and go back to work. And speaking of getting up…. Wow, are we sore! That horseback ride, hike and swimming yesterday took it’s toll on us! I think I broke two of my toes in the pool of water when I kicked a rock. This morning I can hardly walk because my calves are so sore and stiff. Hna. Johnson can’t walk either only it’s her thighs that are sore. Plus she can’t sit down because her bottom hurts so much from the saddle. Yah, we must be getting old! But, it was a great vacation. We really need the R&R (Rest & Relaxation) away from the office and our duties. We’ve been putting in 10 hour days, seven days a week without a break for 5 months so it was time we had a real P-day or two.

Today we played “catch up” in the office. Hna. Johnson was on the computer all day with missionary “Apoyo” (Support) money entries, “Reimbolsos” (Reimbursements) to missionaries and deductions. It is time consuming but now that we are one IMOS it takes even longer because the system is updating the main computer in SLC with every entry.

Today we ran out of petty cash in the office. Normally Hna. Johnson would write a big check, have it signed by the president and I would cash it at our neighborhood bank. No longer! Thanks to IMOS Hna. Johnson can’t write the check like before. She has to send in a requisition to SLC for approval. After someone there approves the check it goes back for the president’s approval then the check is written at the only Citi Bank in the capital. All of the approvals and red tape will take until Wednesday before I can go to that Citi Bank office and cash the check. What used to take us an afternoon now requires 3 business days.

Elder Small spent half the day on IMOS updating all of our “Dueño” (Landlord) information to prepare them to be paid. This is the one thing that is going to make IMOS better than the old system. Once the information is set up in the system, paying our rent to 45 Dueño was easy. Hna. Johnson pushed the button that said “Select All” and then the “Pay” button. She was finished paying the Dueno’s in about 3 seconds!

This afternoon we found out that President Almonte was in Jimani, which is way out west at the border with Haiti. By assignment from the Area President, Pres. Viñas, he found a patch of ground to rent and negotiated a rental agreement. With the help of our mission, the Area Presidency will use the ground to set up a tent village for homeless and displaced members of the church from Haiti. Elder Almonte is working on the rental contract for the President’s & the Dueño’s signature. Our mission is in charge of funding the project so Hna. Johnson will be busy accounting for everything used there. The Area office will reimburse the Santo Domingo West mission for everything.

The suffering in Haiti is unimaginable. To make things worse they had an aftershock the day before yesterday of 6.0. The church has been at the forefront of the relief effort there. The two stake presidents, their relief society presidents and the bishops are working miracles helping the members in Port-au-Prince. I found out this evening that the tent facility in Jimani is already in use.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This morning at 9:00am we were back at the “Casa de Huestpedes”. This time we were meeting with 10 other senior missionaries that work in the Temple and have other callings. While the Temple is closed for cleaning the Temple missionaries have two weeks of vacations. They’ve planned a 3 day 2 night trip to a resort town called Samana. They invited Hna. Johnson & I to go along with them. Yahoo! We’ve been looking forward to a short “Vacation” for 6 months.

“La Tambora Beach Resort” is way out on the end of the Samana Peninsula on the Northwest corner of the Island of Hispaniola. It should have taken us about 3 to 4 hours to get there had we driven straight through but we took a lot of side trips that added about 3 hours to the drive. We drove through several little towns where some of the senior couples are assigned to attend their Sunday meetings. They strengthen the branches there and help them with the music or teach classes, etc. Some of these small towns are 2 hours away from Santo Domingo and the senior couples make the trip every Sunday morning. They are all very dedicated and hard working Elders & Sisters.

One of our side trips was to the town of “Las Terrenas” on the north coast. We stopped there to eat lunch at a nice little open air restaurant. We were right across the street from the Atlantic Ocean. It was beautiful beach and a nice “photo-op”. The food was great and very inexpensive. We averaged about USD$6.00 each.

Our check in time at “La Tambora Beach Resort” was at 3:00pm. After we got settled in we all changed and headed down to the beach but only a couple of us went in the ocean. Elder Bowcut and I were the adventurous ones and had a very good time in the surf. I actually caught several very large waves and body surfed all the way in. Although one of those big waves caught me off guard and it drove me into the sand. It was still fun being tumbled and pummeled in the surf. I had a good time. Hna. Johnson stayed on the beach and took lots of pictures. She had a good time too.

This evening dinner was served at 7:30pm. It is late but this is the typical Dominican dinner time. The price of all meals at the resort are included in the room rate which is only USD$50.00 per person per day. The meals are all Buffet style, All-You-Can-Eat, which is a bad thing as I’m trying to watch my waist line!

After dinner we all gathered around one of the tables and played games. The Bowcuts taught us a new card game called “Golf”. We played nine holes and the lowest score wins. It was fun.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

This morning we slept in and took it easy. Breakfast is served from 7:30 to 10:30 so there was no hurry. But it was All-You-Can-Eat again so I know I’m going to be on a real diet when we get back home. And it was all great food, especially since it is traditional Dominican. We had boiled potatoes, sausages, salami, backed tomato slices, fresh papaya, pineapple, and ham with veggies omelets. It was all very good. I thought I would never say this but I love their raw sweet onions they put in everything. They put this white diced onion in the omelet I had for breakfast and it was Mmm Goood!

After breakfast Hna. Johnson and I were off to the beach and I took the opportunity to go out and snorkel for an hour and a half. There is no coral reef here so there wasn’t much to look at except for sand and rocks. But I did find schools of tropical fish among the rocks. I just enjoyed the ocean and the chance to go snorkeling again.

However…. Snorkeling in waves and surf, bobbing up & down and sloshing back & forth carries a price tag for me. After an hour and a half I was “sea sick” with a massive head ache. But I felt much better after taking two Aleve soft gels and a nap.

This afternoon the whole group of us headed back to town for a fun shopping trip at all the local gift shops (tourist traps). Hna. Johnson and I window shopped but didn’t buy anything. It was fun though because Hna. Johnson is making a list of fun things she plans to buy for the grandkids when we finish our mission a year from now. We did make one purchase though, at the “Bon Ice Cream” shop. Yah… we love Bon ice cream.

This afternoon Hna. Johnson has started reading a book. She likes it a lot and she’s already a fourth of the way through it. She said it’s a lot easier read than technical instructions for IMOS! She really needed to get some free time away from the office to relax and recharge her batteries. This trip has been great for her.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

After breakfast eight of us piled into the van and were off to “Salto de Limon” (Lemon Falls). Along the way our guide, Carlos, had us stop at a cool little shack where a nice Dominican lady sells jewelry. But more interesting to me was her outdoor kitchen with an “Earthen Stove.” In front of her house she was drying cocoa beans and coffee beans. She showed us the large wooden grinders she uses to make real ground coffee and real homemade chocolate. It was very interesting.

It took us almost an hour to drive to the staging area where we put on rubber mud boots, mounted our horses to begin the 40 minute ride to the falls. The trail was either very steep uphill or very steep downhill. The horses knew the trail well so they had no problem. The horseback ride was quite an adventure for us.

The forest/jungle that we rode through was awesome. It was very picturesque and beautiful, I felt like we were riding through a scene from “Indiana Jones” or “Jurassic Park.” There weren’t very many flowers because it is winter. (However in the Dominican Republic winter means the weather all morning was great.)

We did see some very interesting sights along the trail though. Our guide pointed out a couple of wild Cocoa Bean trees growing in the jungle. At one point our guide plucked a small rock off of the side of the slope next to the trail. He handed it to me and in English said “Here is a fossil for you.” Sure enough it was a fossilized clam. When I looked closer the exposed soil beside the trail was full of them. Later on the trail I started noticing fruit hanging from wild trees growing in the jungle. My suspicions were confirmed by our guide. They were Orange and Grapefruit trees covered with ripe fruit. He ran out into the jungle and picked a huge ripe Grapefruit for Hna. Johnson. I can’t wait to help her eat it when we get back to the capital.

When we got to the end of the horse trail we had to hike down a very steep, muddy and slippery hill another hundred yards or so to get to the falls. The falls were great, all they were promised to be. Several of us went swimming in them. One of the guides took Elder Bowcut and I back behind the falls to a hidden cave. To get to it we had to swimming though the water as it plummeted into the pool. The water was hitting our heads so hard it burned our ears. The cave’s opening was only a few inches above the water but it opened up into a large opening about 15 feet deep and about 3 feet high. The water depth there was about 9 feet deep. We had a great time.

We stayed at the falls and swam for about 30 minutes. But then it was time to head back up the hill, mount our horses and start back to the trailhead. We were under a little time constraint because we needed to be back to the resort, eat our lunch, pack and checkout by 3:00pm.

Back on the road home we drove straight back to the capital without taking any side tours. Our trip back only took 3 hours. Going and coming we rode with Elder and Hna. Roberts in their mission car. They live at the “Casa de Huespedes.”

Before leaving the “Casa de Huespedes” where our car was, Hna. Johnson designed 3 flower arrangements for Pres. & Sis. Hendricks, the Dominican MTC President. Last week Sis. Hendricks asked Hna. Johnson to design some arrangements for the MTC’s inspection and review by Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve tomorrow. Yah…. Hna. Johnson was delighted to help. She really enjoyed making the floral arrangements for Sis. Hendricks. They looked great.