Thursday, September 20, 2012

Real Missionary Work

Editorial note: It appears that we left this blog unposted.  We are attempting to post it again.  it was from the middle of the month of September, I believe.

      One Sunday morning we went with Elder and Sister Call to visit a Maternity hospital.  A family from the States was visiting Guatemala and had hundreds of gift packages for newborns that the Young Women in their ward had assembled.  Each kit was in a large Ziplock bag and contained a receiving blanket, a hat, a onesie, socks, a couple of diapers and a stuffed animal toy.  On that particular day there were about twenty women and their babies in the facility.  We gave the gifts and saw that many of the women were teenagers with their first child, but there were several older women who had other children at home.  The expectant mothers come to these government hospitals just to give birth and are allowed to stay for 24 hours for free.  The cenyer is wonderful because it is clean and provides safe delivery, rest, care and training by trained doctors and nurses for one day.  If there are complications, the patients are sent to a regular hospital for treatment.  One baby died on the morning we visited, and I thought how difficult it must have been for the woman to be there with all the others and their babies and she alone.  I think the young girls from the visiting family were struck with the realization of  how these teenage mothers had ended their childhood and limited their life possibilities at a very young age.
     A couple of weeks ago we invited the sister missionaries, Sis. Espinoza from Nigaragua and Sis. Bates from Wyoming, serving in our ward to come to dinner after church and then we would go visiting with them to people they were teaching.  I was excited to have company for Sunday dinner and decided to fix Dr. Pepper Pork (pulled pork sandwiches) with these beautiful,flavorful, moist and delicious wheat rolls.   We made a fresh green salad with all the "biocided" vegetables, and for dessert I made lemon cake.  When we arrived at church we ran into the missionaries and made plans to meet after the meetings.   Sister Bates said, "I forgot to tell you about my allergies.  I'm allergic to pork, flour, corn and beans."  I couldn't believe that her allergies matched my menu so perfectly.  I spent the two hours in Stake Conference worrying about what I had to feed Sis. Bates instead of trying to understand what the speakers were saying in SPANISH.  We ended up making an emergency and delicious dish of rice,   canned chicken and Ortega chilies so Sis. Bated didn't starve.
     After dinner we visited three families.  The first visit was an eye-opener for us.  We went to an industrial part of town and parked the car near what looked like a broken down cinder block fence.  Covering the rubble was a large piece of corragated tin which we moved aside to enter into a littered path.  As we walked along we saw small ratty, skinny and cowering dogs, and dirty barefoot children playing.  We passed three rooms, for lack of a better term, which were made from the stacked, cinder blocks, more pieces of tin, plastic tarps, cardboard, and any piece of wood the people could find.  When we got to Jorge's house, we were greeted by his mother and sister and were invited into their home which was the size of Zach's bedroom.  We sat on a bunkbed, upside-down buckets, and one chair while we visited and sang with this family.  The only light in the house came through cracks and gaps between cinder blocks and the tin and the tarps; no light or lamp.  There was a small table and a hot plate to cook  on, no cupboard or refrigerator.  On the table were a few dishes and pots and a package of tortillas covered with large ants.  We talked to the mom and then her son came in. He is 17 years old and is the only member of the church. He goes to school, works part time, and goes to seminary every day.  He is clean, handsome and bright and the breadwinner of his family.  I hope he can break out of the poverty, by staying in school and eventually serving a mission so he can see a different life, learn about cleanliness, develop work ethics, and set goals.
    The next family lived in much better conditions.  This time we opened a gate in a wall along a clean sidewalk.  We see these walls and gates everywhere, but never knew what was behind.  We found a dirt lane with small houses along both sides.  This time we entered a small path through a small yard with a vegetable garden.  The house was very small, but was clean, light and orderly.  The whole family were members of the church and they were very welcoming.  We all sat down and sang a song and read the scriptures and shared our testimonies of the Book of Mormon.  We read together from 2 Nephi where it talks about why Jesus was baptized even though He was perfect.  Migda was studying with the missionaries and preparing for her baptism.  I loved being there; it was why I wanted to go on a mission: to teach the gospel.
     The next family lived in a normal neighborhood on a culdesac.  As we approached the houde, we saw neighbors visiting and children riding bikes and playing ball.  They all greeted us and made us feel safe and welcome.  The home belonged to the Alfaro family and the missionaries were teaching Jon Carlos who was the daughter's boyfriend.  We watched the DVD about Joseph Smith's First Vision and then talked about prayer.  At the end of the visit, Jon Carlos told us that he wanted to be baptized and then said a sweet, simple prayer.  I didn't understand all the words he said in Spanish, but his prayer touched my heart and brought the Spirit into that home.  As we left, I felt happy that I was there, but the missionaries were "over the moon."  They had been on their missions for over six months and that was their first baptism commitment.
     On Sept. 1 we loaded up the vans and headed on another remote site trip to Esquipulas in the southern part of Guatemala near the border with Honduras.  We arrived at the home of the Danielsons and loaded everything into one van and left that car in their driveway.  That way the dental equipment was safe in their gated and guarded community.  We all piled into the other van along with the Danielsons and took off for Copan, Honduras.  We crossed the border at about 5:00, but it was raining so hard that it could have been midnight.  The skies were black.  We had traveled through the storm with low visability and the fear of rock slides.  All along the roads huge rocks the size of the car together with smaller rocks, gravel, water and mud forced traffic to travel from one side of the road to a single lane on the other.  Any dangerous road condition is marked by tree branches and bushes dragged out into the road across the lane.  The weather cleared just when we got to the border so the guys were able to take the passports and visas to show to the border patrol without walking in the rain.  We arrived in Copan at Don Udo's Hotel just in time for dinner followed by a fun game of Mexican Train until 11:30.
     While we were there Wayne met a man who was the District Governor of Rotary.  He lives in Belize and is over all the clubs in Central America.  We visited with him for awhile and of course he wanted to know what we were doing in  Guatemala and Honduras.  When we told him about our trips to treat people all over, he invited us to Belize.  We explained to him that we aren't licensed to practice dentistry anywhere else but Guatemala.  We mentioned that we were going to Melchor, Guatemala in November, a town right on the border of Belize; he gave us his card and invited us to his ranch.  That will give us an opportunity to see the ruins and other attractions in that country.

Marvin, our guide.
     On Saturday we headed for the ruins, found a guide and took off hiking.  Our guide's name was Marvin and he was amazing.  He spoke German, French, Spanish and English and had been doing tours for 20 years.  He knew much about the land, vegetation, and the Mayan culture and history.  We were the only people in his group so we had his undivided attention as we walked for four hours amidst amazing ruins.  For every temple, stadium, residence, stellae and statue that we saw, our guide pointed out the huge mounds of earth overgrown with jungle that were also Mayan ruins which hadn't been excavated or restored.  This village was inhabited by the Mayans from 426AD to around 1200AD.  The leaders of the Maya were thought to be semidivine.  They had strange names like Mat Head, Yax K'uk'Mo', Waterlily Jaguar, Moon Jaguar, Butz' Cahn, Smoke Imix, and 18 Rabbit, Smoke Monkey and Smoke Shel.  Each of the kings built upon the last king's temples and buildings etc.  So that's why they keep finding more and more ruins.  The ruins have drawn archaeologists from all over the world.  They come for years and some just move to Copan and spend their life digging, tunneling and studying.  They found a staircase which they named the Hieroglyphic Staircase which is a history of the Mayan dynasties.  Two things caused the end of this city.  One was overpopulation.  The population of 25,000 kept growing and the people expanded into the surrounding fertile land and then there was nothing to feed the people.   They left because of erosion, droughts, and floods.  When 18 Rabbit was captured and beheaded the people began to question the divinity of their kings.  When the Spanish discovered the city in 1524 the people lived in small villages.  Our guide told us that once the jungle in Copan used to have jaguars and monkeys and boa constrictors.  They had many Macaws, but they were kept in cages to protect them from the boa constrictors, the only surviving animal from the past; we were glad we didn't see one.
     One of the most interesting parts of this area was a large public gathering place with an athletic field where they played a game like soccer, except they used a hard ball of gum rubber the size of a basketball weighing about 25 lbs.  They were only allowed to touch the ball with their shoulders, hips or knees; no heads, feet, or hands.  Another interesting feature of the game was the prize for winning.  The captain of the winning team was painted blue and beheaded on an altar in the public square.  This was an honor filled with glory and the guarantee that he would live in heaven with the gods.  I think I'd settle for a 6" plastic trophy.

   We wound through the mountains on a hillside road which dropped into a small town in the valley.  We saw a beautiful white basilica, that reminded me of the Salt Lake Temple.  It was surrounded by the town and the green countryside.  Later in the week we went into the basilica to see the town's most popular attraction, The Black Christ.  We tried to find out the significance of the large crucifix with the Black Christ, but no one seemed to know.  One theory was that the figure of Christ was carved out of normal brown wood, but it miraculously turned black.  Some people believe that it is evidence of his love of the dark skinned people of Guatemala.  Every weekend bus loads of people come on pilgrimages to see this sacred shrine.  As we walked through the quiet church with the beautiful altar, paintings, and stations of the cross, we felt the reverence there.
     Every morning at 6:AM the bells in the basilica rang, and rang, and rang.  It started out with what we expected to be the time, but the chime stopped at five and was followed by a random, rapid ringing that lasted for almost a minute, and then was followed by another chime or two.  Those bells were the wake-up call to the whole town, because afterward we heard trucks, vendors, dogs, and noise in general.  The view from our room was of the rooftops of the buildings across the street.  On one building there were at least 30 satellite dishes and receivers, and on another were two guard dogs who snarled with bared teeth and barked at every passerby. Our hotel was just a block and a half away from the basilica and so we got up with the rest of the town.  Interestingly enough, the whole chiming sequence rang out again at 6:00PM.

     On Sunday morning we went to church in a small chapel about 5 blocks from our hotel.  The people were friendly and welcoming.  We attended all the classes exactly the same lessons we would have had in Guatemala City or Downey.  As our Sunday School class began, a man came in with a backpack filled with suckers.  He passed them out to everyone who wanted one.  The dental team all exchanged glances and had a glimpse of what we should expect the next day.
     We worked all day on Monday on the members who came there.  We get there early to be ready, and already the line is out the door.  We worked from 8:00 to 6:00 and still there were people who were waiting.  We told the ones left that we would see them at 7:00 the next morning so we could get them done before the orphans came at 9:00.  All the leftovers were there accompanied by others who hoped to be seen.  We got them all.  Our most outstanding case was Jorge, a 12 year old with caries evident when he talked and glaring when he smiled.  We ended up doing 17 fillings in 12 teeth.  His mother and he were so excited to see the change in his mouth and also in his countenance.   After our 2 1/2 hours of work, his older brother told him that he had a new mouth and a second chance.  I hope he can keep his mouth healthy.
     Another patient, a sweet little old lady who wanted teeth pulled was so grateful  that we got her out of her pain that she tried to give me this beautiful gold ring she was wearing.  It was probably a wedding ring, but if not that, it was a treasure.  Of course, I wouldn't take it, so she just gave me a kiss instead.

     Then came the orphans.  We treated 41 orphans from the Catholic orphanage in town.  These children were darling, clean, quiet and well behaved.  We saw five who had no cavities.  For each one we made an announcement and everyone clapped and cheered for their clean mouths.  We also saw others who had four or five cavities, but we could tell these kids used a tooth brush and ate  wholesome meals, not lollipops.The Johnsons had some little swaddling dolls that had been sent to them from the states to give to the girls and some wooden cars for all the boys.  The children loved them.  We were lucky to have help from the full time young missionaries serving in the area, Elder Wooton and Elder Martin.  They were good at directing traffic, translating, loading up and just helping in any way they could.  The children loved them.
  After we finished seeing the children, the nun invited us to visit the orphanage.  It was beautiful and clean and happy.  The children flocked around us and wanted us to hold their hands.  One little girl remembered that we were the ones who treated her and showed us her doll which she and Wayne had named Estrellita.  We saw the nun holding a four month old little boy who had been left on the doorstep in a box.  In Guatemala children who are abandoned will be put into orphanages and can never be adopted.  The country had a problem with people stealing and then selling babies, so now all adoptions have to be arranged before the baby is born or the child will be put in an orphanage and will stay there until he is 18.  The nun told us that they had found a newborn baby girl on the doorstep in the morning after a huge rainstorm, but she died the next day.  We all thought of all the people we know who would love to raise those children, but couldn't.  Americans absolutely cannot adopt Guatemalan babies because they believe that Americans only want the babies for their organs.  Those children in that orphanage were lucky to be in that beautiful facility where they were loved and cared for so well.
     When we arrived home, we heard about the volcanic eruption of Fuego.  We previously sent a picture of that volcano from La Reunion, the hotel we stayed at in Antigua.  It was sending up smoke then, but on Friday it erupted spewing out smoke, ash, fire and lava.  Thirty-three thousand people were evacuated because of the gases and ash including all the people at La Reunion.  Today at church we talked to a couple who are serving near Fuego and they said it's back to normal now and all the people have returned home.
     Because of the problems in the Middle East with riots and the raids on the American Embassy where the ambassador and three others were killed in Lybia and the American School was looted and destroyed in Egypt, and the rioting in Sudan, we were advised to stay indoors on Friday and Saturday.  The area office and the embassy felt it was not safe for Americans.Things were already unusual in Guatemala because Saturday was their Independence Day.  On Friday we went to the temple at 6:00AM and there was no traffic at all.  At 9:00 we screened missionaries at the CCM (MTC) next door to the temple, and then stopped at the market on the way home.  We were home by 12:00 and felt safe all the time.  Later in the day we heard fireworks, which is normal here and didn't see or hear anything unusual.
     On Saturday morning ten missionary couples went over to our ward building at 9:00 to have a Guatemalan breakfast and to celebrate Independence Day.  We were the first to arrive and helped set up tables and chairs.  We thought about going to McDonalds for sausage Mc Muffins because the breakfast turned out to be lunch and finally started at 11:15.  They sang their national song, and then had little presentations about each Central American country and then we ate foods from those places.  We were a bit afraid to eat the food, but because we were very hungry by this time and because it looked good, we all ate.  None of us had any problems and the the food was delicious.  That afternoon we all gathered on the rooftop and celebrated Independence Day with a potluck dinner.  It was fun to sit and talk and eat Wayne's black beans prepared in his new bean pot seasoned with a green banana before use.  Everything else was yummy too.
Goat milk mustache
     I have to include one thing that we have been trying to take a picture of since we came, the goat man.  Most mornings we see him on our way to work, leading his four or five goats along the sidewalk.  He stops at the house's of his customers and they give him a cup and he fills it with milk.  He squats down, lifts a back leg of one of the goats and starts milking.  I think it is an unusual sight that is strictly Guatemalan.
     Another regular on our route to the clinic is an old one-legged woman who begs from the same spot every day.  Dr. Johnson always slows down to give her a quetz and she makes her way nearer the curb to get his coin.  Now we give her money too, because she recognizes the car and expects it.  She always says, "Gracias," and follows it with a blessing that we never hear the end of because we are forced by traffic to keep moving.

     Love and miss you all, but we keep busy enough to enjoy life like never before.



Jennifer said...

That was an epic post!!!! It took me almost 20 minutes to read it. I think the goat man is so cool!!!! It breaks my heart that there is so much distrust about American's stealing babies. But I am glad that the orphanages seem to be a good place to grow up. We had the same conclusion about the soccer games while visiting Chitzenitza. Who would ever want to be the winner!!!! So fun to stay up with your adventures;-)

lindylu said...

Wow!!! What an adventure you guys are on. I just spent 2 hours catching up on all your adventures. I think this is wonderful what you both have chosen to do. It sure looks to me based on the pictures, you're working harder than you ever did at the office. Be kind to Dee Dee as it looks like she has turned out to be a wonderful assistant.

Woody and I are in Seattle for his mothers 95th birthday. We left 3 weeks ago and might head home the first of next week.

I have some bad news, Susan's mother Helen passed away. The blog page is to read all about it.

Enjoy every day and keep up the smiles. We sure do miss you guys and I especially miss my trips by the office.
Love & Hugs always,
Lindylu & Woody