Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Holiday Season in Tupiza

[27 Dec 2017]

For Thanksgiving, we decided with the missionaries to celebrate it together with a dinner (pot-luck style) the Monday after. On Thanksgiving Day, we enjoyed a simple meal together and being thankful for our many blessings. But, before we could celebrate with the missionaries, we found out that we needed to go to a Zone Conference in Potosí.

The Rivas Family
Because I had extra food in the house, we invited the Rivas family over for dinner after church on Sunday. They walked home with us. We love this family. We’ve mentioned them before, twin 8-year old boys, an 11-year old sister and 15-year old sister. The mother, Anabel, is like a daughter to us. She helped me prepare the food while Charlie entertained the three youngest childreTn. Nicole was with her Dad. That became our Thanksgiving, a feast of lasagna, lots of fruit and a salad of fresh carrots, onions, cucumbers and tomatoes. For dessert, we had our favorite brand of chocolate ice-cream.

The Christmas season started out with Charlie giving the combined (all youth and adults) Sunday School lesson to introduce the church’s Light the World Campaign. I love to hear him teach. He showed some of the videos. I don’t know if anyone followed through with the campaign, but it made all the difference in the whole Christmas season for me. Here are some of the things we did to light the world here in Tupiza, Bolivia:

* We had all 4 Young Women and their 2 leaders over to teach them (at the request of their Young Women President) how to prepare a healthy dish. It was fun to have them here in our little kitchen. Everyone helped. I appreciated being able to share my testimony of how much the Lord cares about everything in our lives, even what we cook. He has helped me many, many times to know what and how to cook for my husband and me with food different than I am used to. After our meal of a vegetable, rice and chicken dish, fruit and Oreo cookies, they all insisted on cleaning up. They even swept the floors. What sweet Young Women.

* We watched the First Presidency Devotional together, in English on our computer, in our own home.

* We made three kinds of cookies and took them to our neighbors. We were able to meet the daughter of one of the sisters on our list. She is a member of the church but has not attended for quite some time. We had a good visit with her and her daughter and even had an extra plate for them.

Origami Baby Jesus in an Aguayo.

* I learned to make an origami baby Jesus. I had in mind to teach the Rivas twins. We bought some wrapping paper that looked like an aguayo (colorful blankets used to carry babies and everything else). If Jesus had been born in Bolivia, He would have been wrapped in an aguayo. I brought my papers to Noche de Hermanamiento. The Rivas twins were not there, but I taught 3 boys ages 10, 12 and 20.

* The next week for Noche de Hermanamiento I was able to teach 6 children ages 5-12, how to fold niño Jesús in aguayo.

* Sylvana is a 10 year old girl who is investigating the church. She comes to everything and is usually one of the first ones there. She taught Elder Morgan how to make Niño Jesús in Aguayo the following week at Noche de Hermanamiento. I gave her the rest of my papers that I brought with me. We had to buy more paper.

Drying laundry on a sticker bush in Charaja.

* We went to visit our friends in Charaja. The families were busy cooking in preparations for a graduation celebration with the community. We helped the boys take down their laundry as it was starting to rain. We waited for them in their home and visited with their 17-year old niece. She was a delight. I had my aguayo papers with me and Charlie suggested I teach her. She seemed to enjoy it and took the rest of my papers to make them for her family. I shared about our tradition of making each other gifts for Christmas and that these baby Jesus in aguayos would make a good gift.

* I got to teach the RS sisters in Rama Tupiza how to make chocolate no-bake cookies. After we made a batch (it makes a whole lot), they decided to make another and some of these were taken to sisters who were not there.

Our Zone at the Christmas Concert

* We enjoyed a Christmas Conference in Sucre with missionaries from the Sucre, Potosí and Tupiza Zones. It was a talent show with every zone performing 3 numbers, some crazy (complete with hats a Santa outfit and an elf outfit), some quite beautiful. President Montoya gave a wonderful lesson. We had some time before our dinner of mashed potatoes and gravy (with tender yummy beef), so we basically sat and watched the young, enthusiastically animated missionaries, talk, laugh and take lots of pictures. It’s like being with our kids when they were teenagers.

* We stayed at the Hotel Parador, a really, really nice hotel. Did I say really nice? It was. Beautifully decorated, very comfortable with a grand entry way, a sitting room, two windows with little balconies that looked out onto the street, a chaise lounge and a jacuzzi. The breakfast was lovely as well.

* We also stayed in Potosí the night before the conference in Sucre. We’ve found our bodies do better in the high altitude if we take things more slowly and get a good night’s rest. We found a new restaurant in Potosí, The Silver Fork (El Tenedor de Plata). It was very lovely and the food was very tasty. We also enjoyed watching the Christmas decorations get put up in the plaza just outside the restaurant.

Selfie at the “Tenedor de Plata” Restaurant.
Inside view of the “Tenedor de Plata” Restaurant.

180 degree panorama from our hotel in Potosí.

* We had some interesting experiences in our travels this trip. It seemed no one wanted to go when we were going. With the rapiditos, as soon as the minivan fills up with passengers, you can leave. After waiting what seemed like a very long time Charlie decided it was worth it to pay for the other seats so we could leave. It’s interesting to sit in the vehicle waiting and watch the workers nearly attack a person that gets out of a taxi, all of them trying to woo the person into taking their rapidito. They also say in a loud, sing-songy voice, “Tupiza! Tupiza! Tupiza!” Or whatever city they are going to.

* On the way home we visited with a very nice man, who knew quite a bit about the church. He gave us two pieces of fruit called acachairú. He said it is only found in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It was pretty tasty. We looked it up online, and found that it is also known as the Bolivian Mangosteen.

* We had the Aleman family over for Family Home Evening and even acted out the nativity story while Charlie read it from Luke. It was fun.


* We searched all over for nativities to give to some families. We even had help from a couple in the branch who know people that sell things like that, but to no avail. Nivia, the wife, said they don’t usually sell those kinds of things until a few days before Christmas. We kept looking and found a cute little store with a lot of home-made crafty things. We enjoyed talking with the lady who makes them. She is from Spain and her husband is from Tupiza. They’ve been here about 5 years. She is familiar with the missionaries and has studied many different religions and likes to listen to their broadcasts on the radio. She happily took our card and a pamphlet on the Restauration. She loves the calm, peaceful atmosphere of Tupiza. She makes games and knicky-knacks for all occasions, even Nativities, one out of foam pages and another out of dowels and fabric. They were cute, so we bought them. I didn’t get a picture of them, but I did get a picture of the paper nativity that we also bought.

* Charlie continues to teach piano. He has a couple of students right now who seem more sincere and dedicated to practicing. He arranged some hymns that we sing often here that are not in the simplified hymnbook. He did a really good job. They sound good and they are easy to play. We had them copied and bound and gave copies to his students. We enjoy visiting the young man that makes the copies. He was baptized about 10 years ago and then married outside of the church and has not been back. He is a good, smiley man.

* Charlie is working with the leadership of Rama Tupiza, encouraging, teaching and lovingly supporting them. I am working with the Relief Society Presidency and together we are learning the new curriculum for the third hour. I get to lead the discussions for the first Sunday lessons in January and February.

The Vargas family: Isela, Taylor, Francie, Gerson, and Annie

We continue working with families in their homes to help prepare them for the temple. One family that we taught, the Vargas family, went to the temple this last week and were sealed with their three little children.

Christmas is a bit different here. Aside from being summer and not having snow, it is not as commercialized. There are a few decorations and a tree in the Central Plaza and some shops have decorations and even trees. Some families have Papa Noel come on Christmas Eve, but not everyone and he only brings things to the children. I don’t think neighbor gifts are exchanged. They do have neighborhood parties. My friend Merly, and her husband, were in charge of their neighborhood party for the last 2 years. They had food, a big tree, a gift for all the children, dancing and a “May Pole” type dance. Most neighborhoods have a plaza or gathering place.

On January 6th they celebrate the day the wise men came and brought gifts to Jesus. They get more into this holiday and everyone gets a gift. Some may set out shoes or stockings for the wise men to fill. Always lots of food and music.

I enjoyed listening to Christmas music on my phone all season long. Our favorite part of Christmas though, was seeing all of our children on Saturday night as they got together at Seth and Shalana’s. We use VSee to communicate and it is great for adding others, so we even got to see Holly and her family on the same screen at the same time. We love our family and are so grateful for the good people that they are and that they like to be together and look after each other while we are away.

Our Christmas tree!

With notes of all the gifts we have received in the past year or so.
Merry Christmas to all! We hope you have a very happy, wonderful New Year!

Here are some additional notes and pictures garnered in the last month or so:

The lady we buy our fruits and vegetables from has her baby, Oscar, with her at the market every time we go there. Here’s a picture of Charlie with them a month or so ago, and her baby last week. He’s really growing up. He was born in April.

Jeaneth at her stand in Mercado La Paz.


We buy our Agua Pera, Agua Manzana and Agua Pomelo (pear, apple, and grapefruit juices – lightly sweetened, so they call them “aguas” or waters) across the street at a little store. We buy 6 2-liter bottles each time, and have gotten to know the owner pretty well. We took some Christmas cookies to them, and his son made these little clay figures as a thank-you. He also wants us to teach this son English. It will be interesting.

Clay figures made by the son of our “Agua Pera” vendor.
 Typical Christmas gifts/snacks/goodies in Tupiza.

The above picture shows a display of typical cakes, breads, cookies, and snacks that serve as gifts in Tupiza between families, or for workers at their places of employment. For the most part, there is very little commercialization around Christmas here. We didn’t really see much by the way of presents for kids, people with arms stuffed with presents, etc. The commercial aspect is pretty low-key, it seems.

And lastly, just to give you a feel for Potosí, here is a picture of Molly walking up a little street between the Stake Center and our hotel. Yes, cars go zipping up this street all the time, so you have to be watchful and careful, and ready to step into a doorway (if you can find one) when they pass. Single file is obviously recommended.

Molly on a Potosí street.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Springtime in Tupiza

[18 Nov 2017]

Well, springtime is lovely here – days in the high 70’s, nights in the 60’s. So far, we haven’t had any significant rain in six months or more, but we don’t seem to be the worse for wear.

Tupiza is very dusty – when the wind blows, you get grit in your eyes and teeth, but other than that, it’s pretty nice here.

We’ve made three trips since we last wrote – one to a Zone Conference in Potosí where Molly got motion sickness from the bus, and altitude sickness from Potosí (it’s only 13,500 feet in elevation or so.) We made it through the Zone Conference, and then got a room in a fancy hotel in Potosí so she could sleep. The other missionaries headed back to Tupiza on the same bus we came on, arriving at about 2:00 am. So, the hotel (which actually had a second tap in the bathroom for hot water! In most, there is just a tap for cold water, and the water in the shower is heated by an electric coil in the shower head) was a welcome relief. By morning, she was feeling fine, so we took a “rapidito” – basically a minivan – back to Tupiza.

A week or so later we went to Uyuni, which is only about 12,000 feet above sea level, to speak in their Sacrament meeting. Uyuni is about 120 miles away, but it took us 4 hours to get there, and seven to return. We went in a rapidito, but couldn’t find one coming back, so we took the bus. That’s the difference in the two trips. While we waited, the daughter of the owner of the touring company where we were waiting entertained us.

The flota/bus we returned to Tupiza in.

Dyana entertaining us.

Uyuni is a real tourist destination because of the salt flats there. If you google it, you’ll see all kinds of interesting pictures people have taken, using the lack of a horizon and perception of depth to make up amazing photos. We’ll get out there someday, but this time we had to come back on Sunday because the citizens of Tupiza were threatening to blockade the roads in and out of Tupiza due to problems the government is having in getting adequate water supplies lined up for Tupiza. We joke that the blockade (bloqueo in Spanish) is the national pastime here. It seems that everyone uses it to disrupt things when they have an issue with local or national leaders.

Mom at the Uyuni Clock Tower
The Uyuni branch is small – but seems to be pretty strong and well run. We really love their Branch President. He’s always smiling, and working hard. His 13-year-old son is learning to play the piano, so we encouraged him (and his mom to keep motivating him to practice). Everyone here is so kind and loving, even the first time they meet you. And, as you all well know, it only takes them about 3 nanoseconds to fall in love with Molly.

The third trip was to visit the branch in Villazón. We were impressed to see the chapel full before the Sacrament was passed. There were even 9 or 10 investigators in attendance. The missionaries are doing a good job and so is the Branch President and the leaders of the branch.  We attended their Branch Council. It was a lively, well attended meeting, with assignments reported on and new ones given to help families in the Branch. We enjoy our time with the Villazón Branch. We caught a rapidito about 7, got into Villazón about 8 and grabbed a taxi to the chapel and church started at 9.

We continue to wash our clothes in a washing machine instead of by hand. However, Molly likes to wash my white shirts by hand. She says they come out whiter and she doesn't have to iron them. The washers here only use cold water (it's too costly to use hot water just for washing clothes). So she scrubs them good by hand. She claims that rinsing them in vinegar water makes them soft, gets the soap out and keeps the wrinkles away.  A member who lives here close has been so generous to let us use her washer each week. It is a treat to visit with her, her daughter who is the Relief Society President and three-year-old grandson while we wait for the clothes to wash. Her husband is in the district presidency, and has a truck! Which he has used to help us get from place to place a few times. That’s probably the thing we miss most here – mobility. The taxis and buses and motos and rapiditos are great and get us anywhere we need to go, but it would be nice to be able to not be constrained to their schedule always. It would be nice to go to Quiriza, for instance, and stay until late in the afternoon before coming back. Small complaints, really.

We continue loving to work with the members to strengthen them, encourage them, give them ideas on how to do everything from family home evenings to cooking treats (Molly does make very popular cookies down here – both for the missionaries and the members).

We enjoyed visiting with a sister Hna Tania Garcia. She lives in La Paz, but has a family home here. Her father was a land owner before the government stepped in and shared the land with everyone. The house was like a museum. She grew up here and her family was very active. She knew a lot of the people we have been wanting to visit so she went with us one night. It was sweet to see her interact with these people and it got us in the door. It's always better to go with someone they know rather than have this tall white man and his white-haired wife show up on the door step.

President Huarachi seems to enjoy going visiting with us and we love it when he does. He has been the branch president 5 different times. Everyone knows and respects him, and he loves all of them. We have also been accompanied by other members of the branch as well.

We have also assisted the missionaries as they teach their investigators and new members about the temple.

The young missionaries are doing good work here. One Saturday there were 5 baptisms in Rama Tupiza and 2 in Rama América. We hope they are involving members as they teach to help with fellowship and retention.

We've had a few interesting cooking opportunities lately. Molly will fill you in.

[Molly] As we have mentioned before, the only meat we buy is rotisserie chicken. There is one place in particular where we like to get it. The place looks clean and the chickens have always been fresh and well cooked. We are a little squeamish about buying raw beef or chicken and we haven't gotten sick from the food yet. A couple of sisters that I trust have mentioned a place where they buy their beef. It is clean and the meat is fresh and they told us the day it is the most fresh. The store is called Moises, in the Gil Duran market. So one Wednesday morning we got daring and bought some. I asked our produce vender how to clean it. With her instructions I took the thinly sliced beef home and rubbed lime juice on it and put each filet in a bag and then all of the pieces in a zip lock bag and froze it. I have cooked two of these packages now.

The first time I made a Bolivian dish milanesa de carne. It's basically breaded steak. It was pretty tough but tasted Ok. The meat here tends to be tough. I read a lot on line how to help beef not be so tough. One method was to put coarse salt on the raw meat and leave it on an hour for every inch of meat. So, the next time I tried the salt treatment, rinsed off the salt after an hour, sliced it in strips and made fajitas, with home-made tortillas. I haven't seen any tortillas to buy. It turned out pretty good.

Jeaneth and her baby with Elder Lyon at her tienda in Mercado La Paz.
Our produce vendor, Jeaneth, will encourage us to try new things every once in a while. One day she gave us a type of tuber called “ajipa”. It is Andean jicama. I tried cooking it a couple different ways and it wasn't the best, but sweet of her to share.

We fed the sister missionaries for two weeks when their cook or "pensionista" couldn't do it. When they told the Elders what they had for lunch, the ones from North America were jealous (because it was American type food) and begged Charlie to let them come eat with us. You know how that goes over with my companion. So, to keep them from bugging us every time we saw them, Charlie told them we would have all of the missionaries over once every transfer (every 6 weeks). 

The grinding stone at our house.
I wanted to fix funeral potatoes and Becky's Macaroni and cheese with broccoli chicken for the missionaries. The Macaroni chicken was easy enough to find the ingredients for, but the funeral potatoes were a different story. I enjoy being creative in the kitchen, but not when I am trying to make someone else's recipe. I have a good recipe for Cream of chicken soup, but I had a bit of trouble with my sour cream substitute recipe. We were feeding them on a Sunday and luckily I started cooking on Saturday. It took me all day to get it right. Missionaries are easy to cook for, and as long as there is plenty of food they are happy to eat it all. We also had fresh fruit, fresh veggie salad and apple crisp with whipped cream for dessert.

Our landlord has a grinding stone that he uses nearly every day. It is right outside my kitchen window. I like to talk to him while he is grinding. He is good to tell me what he is doing and how he is going to use it. I think he enjoys cooking. I have never had a reason to use it until recently. Bolivians love to cook with cinnamon, but the cinnamon that we buy does not seem to have much flavor. A sister told me it is because they add flour to it and it is best to buy it in the stick form and grind it yourself. We bought some and I asked René if I could grind it on his grinding stone. He seemed pleased and showed me how and stayed with me till I got it right. It was fun. I think it does taste a little more flavorful.

Here are a couple of people pictures to wrap this up.
Matias Duran – the baby of one of the families we are helping to get to the temple.

A lady on the bus in native attire.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Another wonderful adventure in Quiriza!

[19 October 2017]

When we were visiting the Quiriza Branch last time, we met  one of Diogenes sons, Miguel, along with some of Miguel's children. Charlie has been trying to find information on the children of Diogenes (the records say he has 3 children and we know there are more). Miguel's son was going to be baptized the next Saturday. Since there is no baptismal font in Quiriza he was going to get baptized in Tupiza. Charlie asked him if he wanted to get baptized in the river like his father and grandfather. He looked at his dad and said yes. Elder McCashland who was going to do the baptizing didn't look so excited and asked him if he wouldn't rather get baptized in nice warm water in Tupiza?

But the seed was planted and growing and Eynar was going to get baptized in the river like his dad and grandpa. He also talked his 8 year old nephew, Dareo (another decendant of Diogenes), to get baptized in the river. As the week went on, Elder McCashland got more and more excited. He even scouted around for the best place in the river to do it. The river is very low right now, so it wasn't easy finding the right spot, but he did.

Elder McCashland asked us if we would like to go with them and if Charlie would be one of the witnesses. Of course, we would love to! They didn't really need us, but I'm so glad they let us tag along.

We got to the Elder's apartment at 9 in the morning. We were getting a ride with the Branch president, Rolly Flores. His vehicle was a little boxy thing with one and 2/3 seats in the back and a jump seat connected to the middle seat that folded out of the way. On the way out Charlie and I sat in the way back. There is no luggage space, so your head is basically against the back window and the ceiling was very low and the seat in front of us was very close. You can imagine Charlie's tall frame doubled up. At least he could stretch his legs out even though his head had to be bent. That is until we picked up a girl going out to one of the small villages on the way to Quiriza. That meant the jump seat came down and Charlie not only was doubled over at the neck now he had no room for his long legs. He didn't complain. But it wasn't comfortable. Especially since there was also no padding in the seats or on any part of the vehicle. So it was like we were in a stuffy tin can that rattled as we bumped along the rocky wash board road. It usually takes us over an hour to get to Quiriza in a taxi. It took us 40-45 minutes this time. We flew over those wash board roads and we felt it. Elder McCashland was sitting in the front seat which occasionally would lose the back and he had to readjust it to stay put.

President Flores dropped us off at the church and Elder McCashland changed into his P-day gym shorts and T shirt. When Pte. Flores came back with his truck we piled in and he took us out to the river. Elder McCashland did find a lovely place where a canal from a spring flowed into the river. The water was clear and there were some beautiful trees that Hna. Mabel (Branch Pte's wife) told me were called "Sauce" trees, and a beautiful field of garlic.

Elder McCashland and President Flores got in the river with shovels to make it deep enough for a baptismal font. They put the dirt from the river bottom to one side and it made a nice walk way through the river. Charlie said "I bet you want to put your feet in the river." I really did, and with that suggestion, I found a spot to sit down (Elder McCashland let me sit on his shoes - he wasn't using them at the moment). I stood in the canal which had lovely tall grass that was laying down from the current making a lovely cushion for my feet. I stayed in until I started getting brain freeze in my feet. It felt so nice.

Digging out a place for the baptism.
To the left of the "font" there were lots and lots of good sized tadpoles swimming around. Pte. told me they were sapos (toads), the adults were hiding somewhere.

We hiked back to the truck and President Flores took us to the church where we ate the lunch we brought with us. I made us cheese sandwiches, cut up apples with lime juice, an orange, penny carrots, and cookies. We bought some Fanta and a little bag of potato chips at the store close to the church (there are two little stores in Quiriza). The chips were very fresh and tasty.

Then we went with the Elders to the home of Lilian and Ernesto. She is the Relief Society President and he is the Young Mens President. She is a daughter of Diogenes. Mabel, the Branch President's wife was also there. President Flores is a grandson of Diogenes. Another sister, Carmen was there as well. Carmen  is a grand-daughter of Diogenes, her brother was one of the boys getting baptized. I got to help these dear sisters make salteñas (my personal favorite). Usually it takes three days to make salteñas, but we did it in one. They are a very juicy meat pie. They use unflavored gelatin in the filling which sets up in the frig and when you cook the pie it becomes juicy. The setting up time is what takes so long. So ours were not juicy, but they were very delicious. I pulled the meat off the hot, freshly boiled chicken and shredded it with my hands. I flattened the dough or masa to be rolled out. I rolled out the masa, I filled the masa with some shredded chicken, some hard boiled egg, and then some hamburger mixed with potatoes, peas, onions, parsley etc. I folded  the masa over the filling and braided the edge. My edges weren't quite as pretty as the others but got better as I went along. We made so many, at least 100. They put about 25 on a big cookie sheet and baked them in a big oven across the patio. To keep them hot while we were at the baptism, they lined big pots with newspaper and stacked them on top of each other with the lid on. The newspaper kept them from getting soggy and they were hot and fresh when we ate them a  couple hours later.
Cooking the salteñas.
I learn so much from these dear sisters. They are patient with me and I think they like to teach me. The four of us worked together in this little kitchen that had a small cloth covered table and a small stove that the filling was cooked on. There was no running water in the kitchen, we had to go outside and use the faucet out there. We made it work and we enjoyed being together. The oven in the picture is in a different building.

While we were cooking Charlie and Liliana's husband Ernesto were talking about family history and church records. It was so fun to hear Ernesto get excited about what Charlie was telling him. Charlie was able to get a lot of information for the records as well.

The whole branch got involved in the baptism. We all piled in and onto two trucks along with three pews from the chapel and a bunch of hymn books. We helped carry the  pews through the weeds and streams.
Singing the opening song at the baptism.

Panorama view.
After the freezing boys got dried and dressed we had two talks. President Flores talked about Baptism and Charlie gave a talk on the Holy Ghost. He knelt down to talk to the boys who just got baptized and talked directly to them asking about who their best friend is and then he told them about one of his best friends, the Holy Ghost, who can be theirs too. He is such a sweet kind loving teacher. Everyone loves him, especially the children.

There was such a sweet reverent feeling. We were grateful we could be a part of it all .

We all piled back in the trucks and went  to the church for salteñas, and cake that Elder McCashland brought with us from Tupiza. We all ate at least two salteñas apiece and there were still plenty for people to take some home.

This little girl Aldana, is 6 going on 16. She reminds us of our Zoey. I showed her mother a picture of Zoey and she laughed and could see the same flirtatious spunk. Her mother is Carmen who helped with the salteñas, making Aldana a great-granddaughter of Diogenes.

We were grateful to be able to watch General Conference at the church in English. There were 5 English speaking Elders that watched it with us in the clerk's office. I love being able to hear the voices of the Brethren. Their voices are familiar and dear to me. When you listen in Spanish you miss that.

Marta's flower shop
We have a dear friend Martha Martinez who has a flower shop in the Gil Duran Mercado that we visit quite often. We went to ask if she would do the flowers for District Conference in a few weeks. Charlie had to run home to get something and I stayed there to wait for another sister that was going to talk to Martha about the flowers as well. I loved watching her work. She is very talented. I also took some pictures.
Mercado Gil Duran - note the meat on the right.
One Saturday we went with the Ventura family to the dance festival at the school. Two of their children were performing. Tupiza has a lot of schools and they all have dance festivals regularly. The costumes are very elaborate and the children know their dances really well. The program started at 2:30, we got there about 3:30 and our kids didn't perform until about 6 ish. It was an all day affair, but very enjoyable. One of my favorite dance groups was little girls dressed like cholitas (native dress) with aguayos on their backs with baby dolls in them. We love the Ventura family.

The Ventura family.
Carla, Beymar, and Paola.
We had another Zone Conf in Potosí. We took the luxury bus 4 hours on very windy roads. Potosí is about 14,000 feet. The altitude along with the motion of the bus tends to make at least one of the missionaries sick. This time it was my turn. I'm glad we stayed in a very nice hotel that night to rest up before we made the trip home. It is a very nice hotel, with lovely carpet, hot running water in the sink, full flow hot water in the shower and a lovely breakfast.

One of the highlights of the conference for me was our Tupiza zone with missionaries serving in Tupiza, Villazón and Uyuni sang a special musical number, "Savior Redeemer of My Soul."There were 11 singing, an Elder played the beautiful violin part, Charlie accompanied on the piano and I got to lead them. One of the Zone Leaders is from Puerto Rico and he got us all little lapel Puerto Rico flags to wear in honor of his people back home who are experiencing the effects of the devastating hurricane.

Last Sunday we had District Conference. President Montoya and his wife and both of his counselors were there as well as President and Sister Garcia from the temple in Cochabamba. It was good to see so many people from each of the branches there. The ones from Uyuni (5 hours away) and Villazón (1 hour away) came for the Saturday night session and stayed overnight in a hostel. So many good faithful dear people.

Marta's flowers for the District Conference

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Alejandro Vicente Rivera - Faith and Trials

[20 Sept 2017]

The most impactful event of the last few weeks was the premature passing of one of the newest members of Rama America - Alejandro Vicente Rivera.

We met Alejandro and his family shortly after they were baptized in Rama America, back in May. 

Sometime around March, Alejandro and his wife, Marina, had realized that they needed to make some changes in their lives. Alejandro, 37 years old, was a miner, which is a good job here, but very dangerous. Before joining the church, he drank with his fellow miners, chewed coca, played futbol on Sundays, etc. Miners have a set of very indigenous beliefs in Pachamama (Mother Earth, basically), meant to protect them in the mine, and have very little use for some nebulous God. They have a strong brotherhood with other miners, and strong cultural pulls to share their spare time with their miner brothers.

As they talked they decided they wanted to find a church to go to. They truly wanted to change. They knew some members who were their friends, knew that they didn't drink coffee or alcohol, and knew that they were happy. So they contacted their friends, and they passed the reference on to the missionaries.

They next day, the missionaries knocked on their door, and the Vicentes were so excited to see them. In the first lesson, they expressed to the missionaries how they wanted to change. They had actually been waiting for a while - Alejandro had wanted to go knock on the missionaries door.

Upon hearing the gospel and joining the church, they left their old life behind. Alejandro studied and learned, and accepted assignments with joy. He was ordained a Priest, and helped with the administration of the Sacrament each Sunday when he didn't have to work. He bore his testimony every chance he got - sweet, and powerful. He and his wife, Marina, attended our temple preparation classes, with a goal of going to the temple and being sealed as a family next May. They had a Family Home Evening at their home for the entire branch a couple of weeks ago, and Alejandro stood by his younger brother's side while he taught a well-prepared lesson. His brother, Cristian, was baptized in August, and Alejandro ordained him a priest a week ago. He was planning to be alongside Cristian as he learned how to administer the Sacrament this last Sunday.

We had had his wife and children over for a Family Home Evening at our apartment a couple of months ago. Alejandro couldn't be there, but we had such a sweet experience with his wife and family.

His assignment last Sunday, was to speak in Sacrament Meeting about Faith. Molly and I weren't able to be in Rama America, but those who were told us how strong his testimony was. One member told me that he had chickened out on his first speaking assignment three times after being baptized, and was so very impressed by Alejandro. You could see and feel the light and joy that had entered the lives of this sweet family - Alejandro and Marina, and their four children - Alexander (11), Danitza (9), Maritza (6), and Jhael (4).

On Thursday of last week (Sept 14), we were walking downtown when we met President Huarachi, the president of the branch. He was carrying a boquet of flowers with a card of condolences. When he told us it was for Alejandro, who had been killed in a mine accident that morning, our hearts broke. So many thoughts went through our hearts and heads.

We went to the "funeral parlor" where his velorio was being held. It was full of miners and their families, Alejandro's family, and Marina's family. It was an interesting experience. At one point, all the miners came to the front and surrounded his casket. They sang a song, and then each of them placed the wad of chewed coca in their mouths into a bag at the foot of his coffin. This is part of the Pachamama belief and ritual.

President Huarachi gathered the members of the branch who were there around the casket a little later, and we had a little service - an opening prayer, some songs, a few words by him, and a closing prayer. I'm sure not many really heard us in the bustle of the large crowd, but Marina later said that she had felt a sense of peace while we were there.

On Friday, Molly and I went over to the chapel to make sure things were ready. We were told that the miners had stayed with Alejandro through the night. That morning they had accompanied his body to the Taxi Drivers Union Hall (?), and had some sort of service there. He was a taxi driver before getting the job at the mine.

At about 3 or so, we heard the band accompanying his procession outside the church, and within minutes, the chapel was filled with family, branch members, and miners. We had a wonderful service, with a couple of members giving sweet testimonies. Then, Hna. Vicente asked President Huarachi if she could speak. It was a powerful testimony. She told us that she had felt peace and love, that she felt like Alejandro was with her throughout the night, and that she knew that the gospel was true. It would surprise me if there weren't a number of family and friends touched by the Holy Ghost that afternoon.

After our service, we accompanied the hearse, on foot, first to the Vicente's home for some last culturally important event, then to the cemetery, some three miles up the highway. At the cemetery, the miners took the casket into a little shelter, and from what we could tell, railed on God, life, and anything else that came to their minds in their fear and grief. What a different feeling from just moments earlier in the chapel. At dusk, they finally brought the casket out and prepared to place it in the crypt. President Huarachi, in the midst of a very large group of people, very few of which understood the magnificence of what he was about to do, asked for a moment of silence, and then proceeded to dedicate the grave by the power and authority of the priesthood. I was so proud of his faith and courage.

The funeral procession on foot, through town. We
were about halfway back in the whole procession.
You can vaguely see the raised hatchback of the car
being used as a hearse in the distance.
Others might be tempted to curse God, as Job's friends encouraged him to do, and as Alejandro's miner friends did, but not Marina, and not his family. In a very short period of time, this young father had demonstrated his faith, his trust, and his obedience. Marina knows that raising her children without their father will be hard. But she has faith as well, and strength, and testimony. And the love and support of this sweet branch here in Tupiza and all the members.

We can learn from these experiences, these trials, and recognize that God's plan will bring us joy throughout the eternities if we have faith. I look forward to someday being able to see the joyous reunion between Alejandro and Marina and their children. We will do everything we can to help them reach their goal of being sealed in the temple.

We Love Being Missionaries

[19 Sept 2017]

We've been very busy these last three weeks. We've had visits to members' homes, helping them with their Family History work and updating their records. We've listened and encouraged a couple of families having problems to be patient, listen, love first, and work to understand God's plan for us and all his children. Piano lessons are becoming a bit more successful with two members - Claudia from Rama Tupiza and Gelvin from Rama America. Both are very motivated. We've had lunch with the missionaries at a member's home, dinner with the missionaries here at our apartment, and get to help the sisters with lunch each day this week. We've been to baptisms, a birthday party, a funeral, spoke in church in Quiriza again - what a fun trip - and continue to be able to wash our clothes in a real washing machine due to the generosity of a lovely sister here in Rama America.

Megan Cuiza at her birthday party. She was baptized
earlier in the day. She is one of Molly's dearest friends.
 So, on to the details.

It's always enjoyable going to Quiriza. The scenery is spectacular (looks like southern Utah, especially Capitol Reef Nationl Monument) and the people are wonderful. They always appreciate us coming. This particular trip was a bit of an adventure. We were about half way to Quiriza on a windy, narrow, dirt road when we saw some rocks strategically placed in the middle of the road warning us not to go any further. Our taxi driver got out and looked up the road a ways. He didn't see any problem so he moved the rocks and we continued on the road. It wasn't long before we found the reason for the roadblock. A piece of the mountain had fallen onto the road making it impossible to pass. We were able to find a spot to turn around and headed off into the river bed. We had to cross the river twice, luckily it wasn't very deep. There was one place that had some deep sludgy mud that would have been easy to get stuck in, so our driver got out and scouted around and found us a better route through some tall weeds. It was fun and we made it to church with time to spare. We took a different route home. We had to cross the river again. We went through some little villages with cute names like Chacopampa, Espicaya, and Pilquiza. It was beautiful and we enjoyed the scenery from a different perspective.  

Rocks blocking the road to Quiriza - no way around due to the cliff.
Off-roading through the riverbed.
The Quiriza branch.
Diogenes and Isabel Martinez - two of the first members in 
Quiriza, along with a great-granddaughter.
Miguel Martinez, son of Diogenes and Isabel, with three of his children.
The son in the middle is getting baptized this week, and wants to
be baptized in the river like his dad and grandpa.
Two cute sisters after our meetings, eating the sandwiches
provided by the sisters of the Relief Society.
The attendance in the Quiriza Branch was even more sparse than usual. A lot of the men were out hunting wild oxen (kind of like our deer hunt, I guess). There were 5 sisters in Relief Society, counting me. I enjoyed participating with them and hearing their comments and testimonies. The Relief Society President is a good teacher and inspires a lot of sharing. Charlie got to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting, and it turned out completely different from what he had prepared.

After the meetings, a sister brought us all something akin to a hot dog. Some of the members walk a couple or more hours to get to church, so the sisters in the branch often provide a light meal.

We got home in plenty of time to put the chicken lasagna in the oven for our dinner with the missionaries. Elder Fiero, who has been our District Leader is going home this week and since we haven't had this group of missionaries over before, we thought it would be nice to invite all 8 of them for dinner. It's always fun to spend time with them. They are like our children. I gifted him with a song that is always sung when missionaries go home, "Placentero Nos Es Trabajar", played by me on the zampoña (a simple wooden Bolivian instrument.)

Today, we spent some time with Hno. and Hna. Mamani. He is the Elder's Quorum President, and is doing a great job in organizing Home Teaching, and encouraging the brethren to be involved. She has a great desire to do her family history, so we went over and helped enter her grandparents and an uncle in FamilySearch. She has some dates to verify, so she is going to take us to the local government offices and show us how you find death dates, birth and baptism dates, etc. As we were talking about death dates, I told Hno. Mamani that we needed to find dates for about eight people that I had been told were dead. He told us that he had lunch yesterday with one of them, so that crossed him off our list (we want to meet this fellow!), and told us that he had known the other seven, and that they really had passed away. So, that will help quite a bit.

We spent this evening with Hna. Vicente and her family and brother-in-law. Her husband was killed last week (see the next post) in a mine accident. Since Elder Fiero is leaving tomorrow, she wanted to share dinner with all of the missionaries here in Tupiza. She is working towards taking her family to the temple next summer (they were baptized in May), getting Alejandro's work done, and being sealed as a family. She is an amazing member. 

Hna. Vicente with two of her children
(and two of the missionaries).
The caption on the picture of the temple is "Our Goal".
We love being here. Some days, we try to just be in the background, encouraging, listening, and enjoying it all. Other days, we are in the middle of things, speaking in church, teaching, feeding missionaries, and enjoying it all. Either way, we feel like this is where we need to be. We are learning while we teach, being loved while we love, and appreciating more each day the beauty of the gospel plan in the lives of all of God's children. Especially these humble, wonderful people in Tupiza.

Flowers blooming at Plaza Leon. Spring is coming.