We just got back from a week in Guyana, where we are always reminded of how humble the circumstances are, of so many of our members. It is amazing to see entire families that live in these homes on stilts that would be about the size of a bedroom. Most sleep in hammocks that they can quickly tie up to make room for people to eat and get dressed for the day. Outhouses are fairly common and showers are usually taken under the house. Many cook outside where they are close to their little gardens and pets that eventually become dinner. (chickens, pigs, goats etc)
We now have 36 missionaries and two senior couples serving in Guyana. Zone meetings were held with our 12 missionaries in Berbice first. We spent the night in Berbice with the Peterson's, our newest couple, who are from South Jordan. They have 10 children and 38 grandchildren and are tackling the learning curve in the most rural part of this mission. They purchase many of their needs from the market place which is always an interesting experience. Fresh fruit, veggies, meat, eggs and toiletries.
There is one place in town to go out to eat. Church's chicken is a fast??? food restaurant that usually has at least two of the items displayed on the board of over 15. You basically ask...What do you have today? and then order the meal. They ate there once, but couldn't distinguish what part of the chicken they were consuming and then made the executive decision to cook at home.
Then we were off to Georgetown where we have 24 missionaries and a senior couple, the Fry's, from Evanston. It was a much larger group. After the meeting Dad interviewed and I went to a baptism with the Fry's. Camilla has been going to church since March, but when she began reading the Book of Mormon on a regular basis she knew it was true and had to be baptized. She tearfully expressed her great love for the gospel to and the joy she felt about being able to have the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost.
Dad stayed busy the entire time interviewing and counseling elders, members and leaders. He was exhausted mentally and energized spiritually by the simple faith and trust that the members have. It feels good to be back in Trindad, but as usual we feel behind in a job that never seems to be done.
We are grateful to be reminded of the simple things that it takes to be truly happy in this life. There won't be much of a Christmas for our Guyanese saints but they are happy to have a leaky roof overhead, food on the table, and the gospel. They say "I am so blessed."
When you pass people on the street they say BLESSIN'S. We just need to remember to count them!
We hope that you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and are enjoying the countdown to Christmas. Our week in Aruba with Marissa and Greg was fantastic and we even found a turkey dinner with most of the traditional trimmings at the hotel. It was delicious and I especially enjoyed the clean up! While Marissa and Greg were visiting, we actually had some much needed relaxation and beach time combined with mission opportunities.
Greg and Marissa were able to go out teaching with us and our missionaries. Dad and Greg each went with a companion and Marissa and I went with the sisters in a foursome. We taught the last lesson before baptism to Ari. Marissa was a great help as she shared her thoughts and testimony in her beautiful Spanish. Ari is from Venezuela and is working in Aruba to support his family back at home. His baptism was the next day and then he was confirmed on Sunday.
Sunday was also the Primary program. The kids did an amazing job and brought the spirit and tears to everyone's eyes. The translator kept saying "I think I am going to cry right now. These little children are so special." It was a great Sunday to be visiting the branch. After church we had to get Marissa and Greg to the airport to make their flight home. It was hard to say goodbye but we were grateful to have them visit.
We have challenged the missionaries in our mission to not just dream of a "White Christmas" but to make it a "White Christmas" as we prepare investigators, dressed in white, to enter the waters of baptism. We have many baptisms scheduled for December and it looks like the forecast is for snow in the Caribbean.
We are grateful for the Christmas season and proud of the generous things that you are doing to bless the lives of others. Thank you for joining the church campaign to Light the World with your Christlike examples. We love and appreciate you so much and declare glad tidings of Christmas joy. A Savior was born and we testify of His reality.
We have been on a whirlwind tour of the mission with the new Caribbean Area President, Walter F. Gonzalez and his wife. We began in Trinidad. Something really special happened there with one of our elders. Ever since he was a little boy, his mother had taught him to pray and to read the Book of Mormon every day. This council had been given to her in a letter she received from her mission president's wife as she departed from her mission. Elder Carillo was sitting in Zone Conference in Trinidad, when the Gonzalez's introduced themselves and said that twenty two years ago they had presided as a Mission President and wife in South America. He realized his mother had served in their mission and emotionally explained his connection to their church service and the letter that his mother still had from Sister Gonzalez. It was a really sweet moment to be part of.
Then we were off to Suriname and the ABC islands....all in a 72 hour period.There we had more Zone Conferences and firesides. On one day we held meetings in both North and South America. When we arrived in Curacao, your Dad asked if Sinterklaas had come to the island yet. (You may remember he chased him over the bridge last year when we happened to be visiting. He was on his white horse flanked by his zwarte piets.) Anyway, the receptionist at the front desk grabbed the activity calendar for the hotel and said, "He is in the plaza right now. If you hurry you will be able to see him." Of course we went running over to take a peek at the festivities.That was Dad's spiritual experience for the week as he knew the Lord was mindful of his love for Christmas.
We are missing the Thanksgiving season with all of you. Somehow, I was able to fit in Thanksgiving for 50, following the Zone Conference in Trinidad. Three turkeys, potatoes, gravy, dressing, carrots, green beans, rolls and apple cake. No pumpkin to be found in Trinidad. At least they all left with a full tummy and a few more calories.
We will hope to find a turkey dinner being served somewhere in Aruba to celebrate the holiday this week. Please know you will all be on our list of the things we are most thankful for. You are our greatest blessing!!!
Last week was spent in the Dominican Republic at the Mission Presidents Seminar. There were 7 other mission president's and their wives in attendance and we were presided over by the Caribbean Area presidency. We have a new President of the Area, President Walter Gonzalez, who used to be in the Presidency of the Seventy. It was nice to get to know him and understand his vision for the Caribbean Area. The Presidency had received instruction while they were in SLC, the week before conference, to pass along to us. All Area presidencies then take it to their specific regions of the world. A pretty organized way to disseminate information world-wide. The main focus was Preach the Gospel, Sabbath Day Observance, Self-Reliance and Temple and Family History.
It was great to be with other presidents and their wives and share some common mission concerns and discuss some possible remedies. One of the mission president's (James Nuckols) is good friends with Karla's sister and brother-in-law. It's a small world in the church.
We were able to go to the temple in Santo Domingo twice.When dad served as a bishop, he always taught the importance of Temple attendance and how you can feel the power both physically and spiritually. If you touch the temple, the temple will touch you! It was wonderful to be able to be in Lord's house.
The mission seminar was held at a beautiful resort with conference rooms about and hour a half outside of Santo Domingo. I think my favorite part of the seminar was when we had a breakout session with the wives. They asked 2 sisters to bear their testimonies. One sister was serving in Haiti. She related a story to us about a sister in her city who lost all 6 of her children and her husband in the earthquake a couple of years ago. She hadn't seen her for awhile and was worried about her. She said when I went to her branch and saw her, I began to cry. She told me "Sister Raphael, do not cry for me. If I did not know who my Savior was, then I would be beyond hope, but I know Him and He knows me. I could not have gone on living without the gospel." Needless to say, it was very moving and emotional for all of us.
We just got home yesterday and will leave for the last leg of our zone conferences tomorrow in Guyana and Suriname. We've had a lot to accomplish in 48 hours, but the Lord blesses us when it comes to His work.We are excited to wrap up our Zone Conferences this week and then get back just in time to greet another group of 8 incoming missionaries and say goodbye to 3 that are going home. We could not do this without your prayers and support and we are aware of that everyday. We are hoping that the hearts of immigration will soften so we can get our missionaries into Trinidad. We haven't had a missionary permit granted for Trinidad in almost 6 months, so feel free to offer an extra prayer.