Monday, July 10, 2017

Temple Trip

[9 July 2017]
Cochabamba Temple. Photo taken by Angel Vasquez, a friend from the temple.
When you think of a temple trip, what does it mean to you? Take off work a bit early, dash home, get a bite to eat, pick up the babysitter, drive maybe 20 minutes to the temple, and get home by 10:00 pm? On the way home, you stop for ice cream, maybe? Pay the babysitter when you get home, and find the kids all in bed, asleep? OK, maybe the babysitter and the kids in bed asleep are a fantasy, but otherwise, in terms of time, cost, real sacrifices, etc., the trip is less expensive than a date night out with your spouse would be. A movie, dinner at Arby’s or Texas Roadhouse if you’re feeling flush?

Now, let me give you the perspective of a member here in Tupiza. Not taking into account many things, like how difficult it might be to get a week off from work, imagine that the temple is 20 hours away by whatever means of transportation you have available, and the cost to you is between 2 and 4 weeks of your gross salary – not net. To maximize the time you can spend at the temple, compared to the time in transit, you leave on Monday before noon and arrive at the temple Tuesday morning at 5:00 am, having traveled all night without really any sleep (I assure you, sleeping on a train or bus in Bolivia isn’t as easy as you might think), planning to leave Friday afternoon so you can get home early enough to wash clothes and prepare for Sunday.

Imagine, too, that you are a single mother with four children, ages 8 to 16. You can’t really leave them home – you don’t have the luxury of babysitters, and your extended family all live hours away.

Knowing that you have limited sessions and a number of family names to do the work for, you show up at the temple at 9:00 am to do baptisms for the dead with your teenage daughter or son. It’s their first experience, even though they are sixteen. They have helped get all the information needed into FamilySearch, so they feel connected to these grandparents and great-grandparents.
The train station in Tupiza.

Molly next to the train in Oruro.
Continue to imagine that you come back to the temple Tuesday afternoon, Wednesday morning and afternoon, and Thursday morning and afternoon to do as many sessions as you can, so that you can do sealings on Friday and complete the work you have planned. You know that you might not be able to come back until next year, or even later, due to the cost, family circumstances, etc.
Real leg room on the train.
That’s a small view of what last week was like for us. What a joy to be able to go and help at the temple for members from our branch here in Tupiza.

We left Wednesday afternoon on the train from Tupiza to Oruro. We had seen the train, and read about it, and felt like it would be more comfortable than one of the flotas or buses with restricted leg room. It did have ample leg room, bathrooms, and even a dining car where we had a very nice, but simple dinner.
The downside of the convenience of the train, though, is time. The distance from Tupiza to Oruro is about 310 miles (522 km). The distance in time was 14 hours 40 minutes. That’s about 20 miles an hour. The speed, I’m guessing, is due to the quality of the tracks. Due to lack of money for maintenance, the train goes slowly to avoid problems. It swayed and bounced incessantly. It was very dangerous to try and get up and walk between cars to get to the dining car, for instance. Very interesting, and well worth it once. We did it twice – the second time to get back here to Tupiza.
Just outside of Oruru, we passed a lake filled with flamingos. This picture doesn’t do it justice – there had to be thousands of them.

The dining car on the train.

Once we got to Oruro, we took a taxi to the bus station, and took a flota to Cochabamba – about another 130 miles, and we went at an astounding speed of 30 miles an hour. The road to Cochabamba was under construction most of the way, through mountain passes at 14,000 feet. Very beautiful. It was amazing to see little tiny “towns” (collections of two or more adobe houses) miles and miles away from anywhere else. Sometimes they would have potatoes spread out on tarps so they would freeze overnight. They call those freeze-dried potatoes chuño. Not the tastiest of things, even when adequately re-hydrated.
The young men from Tupiza.

Some members from Villazon. 
We got to Cochabamba Thursday afternoon, and checked into the hospedaje at the temple. What a paradise. Hot and cold running water (to experience the joy of this, wash your hands in cold water – near freezing just to make it real – for six months every time you would normally wash your hands. You can have a bit of respite by using hot water to do your dishes, but you have to boil that water yourself. Then one day, you can turn the hot water tap on when you wash your hands. What a luxury.)
On Friday and Saturday, we took care of some things that we needed to get done – like buy pillows and a mattress pad that we have been seriously missing in Tupiza. We also went to the temple for a session, and met many of our old friends there.

On Sunday, we attended Sacrament Meeting in our Barrio Linde and Barrio Rosedal wards. What a joy. Three of the people that we taught the temple lessons to came up to us to tell us, joyfully, that they had been to the temple, two of them being sealed with their families. Our dear little friend, Eva Cruz, was there. Despite her paralysis on her left side, she comes faithfully every week. She told Molly that she was going to get her long, luxurious hair cut short like Molly’s, because it was so heavy and it is difficult to brush and braid it with one hand.

On Monday, we visited Elva Lopez. She looked healthier this time, and it was such a joy to visit with her and tell her all about the branches in Tupiza. She lives with her daughter Ivana and her family. She has a grandson, Benjamin, who is maybe six years old. He was so excited to show us how he helps take the garbage out to the garbage truck when they hear the truck playing music as it comes down the street.

On Tuesday, through Thursday morning, we went up to the temple to help in the Baptistry with all the youth. Since this is the winter school break, or vacations, many branches and wards send their youth to the temple. The baptistry was full every day. One stake from La Paz had brought 120 youth, and most every one of them had a family name card to do the baptism for. Quite impressive.

Wednesday afternoon, Hna. Rivas, from our branch in Tupiza, asked Molly and I if we would stand in as proxies for her grandparents to be sealed. We were happy to do that for her. She is such a faithful member, with her four children. She is working hard to provide for them in every way possible – temporally and spiritually. They are such dear, dear friends.

On Wednesday, as we were going up to the temple, one young boy (13 years old) from Rama Villazón stopped me and asked me if I could help him figure out why he couldn’t print off family name cards for his grandparents. He told me that he had entered everything in FamilySearch, but it wouldn’t let him print that ordinance cards. I tried to help him on my phone, but decided it would be easier on my laptop, so we arranged to meet in the comedor (cafeteria) at 7:30 Thursday morning to figure it out.

He was so excited. When he showed up, we logged in and found out that he had created his account with a wrong birth year. As a result, it wouldn’t connect with his member account. So we created a new account for him, connected him up, checked the box for showing LDS ordinances, and wallah! It worked. We located his grandparents, connected them to him in FamilySearch again, and printed off the ordinance cards. Only after they printed did I realize they were in English! No worry, the temple work is not constrained by language, so he just took them up to the temple and did the work. He was so appreciative.

Thursday evening, we washed our clothes, packed our bags, and tidied up the apartment. Friday morning, we took a plane to Oruro (30 minutes vs. 4 to 5 hours on the bus), and caught the train back to Tupiza, arriving at about 3:00 am. Fortunately, taxis are still running at that hour here. We dropped into bed at about 4:00 am, not caring that much that our apartment temperature was only 51 degrees. We turned on the heater, and fortunately it warmed up to the mid 60’s by 9:00 am or so when we got up. Quite the change from Cochabamba. What an exciting week.

So, compare that temple trip to yours. When we lived in American Fork, and were temple workers, it felt like such a commitment to be at the temple at 5:00 am on a Saturday morning, serving until noon. Quite the comparison. We sometimes talk about sacrificing to go to the temple. Now I have a much clearer comprehension of what sacrifice really means in that context. We have so much to learn from these sweet people.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Tribute to Adolfo Tejerina

[27 June 2017]

A couple of blog posts ago, I wrote about a sweet family here in Tupiza – the Tejerinas. We had gone to visit the mother, Clementina, thinking her husband was in La Paz receiving medical treatments, but found that he had just come home – they couldn’t do anything more for him in La Paz. He didn’t look very healthy, but he was such a pleasure to visit with.

At that time, we talked about his conversion, his riding his bicycle to Quiriza (14 miles one way over rough, dirt roads and trails) to go to church, his mission here in Bolivia, and his teaching and baptizing Rubén Peña, one of my favorite memories from Santa Cruz when I was there on my mission. All that was just the tip of the iceberg of a wonderful life, a ferociously strong testimony, and a beautiful family. As is too often the case, we only learn about all of the other things after someone passes on to the next life.

This experience started due to a missed contact, leaving us with some time on our hands. On Tuesday about noon, we had gone to try and meet a lady who was baptized with her mother and sisters 27 years ago, when she, Ana, was nineteen. She served a mission in Chile, leaving within a month after turning 21. All indications from the records are that theirs was a strong family. Yet, from what I can gather, they have been inactive in the church for years. So, we went looking for her, to make sure the dates and relationships are all documented in her records, but also to invite her and her family to receive Visiting Teachers and Home Teachers, and to consider coming back to share the gospel with the members here in Tupiza.

As it turned out, we found her, but she was busy cooking at the pension (a type of restaurant open for lunch only), and her niece told us to come back later in the day. So, with a bit of time on our hands, we decided to go and visit Hna. Clementina Tejerina, and ask about her husband, since she lives very close to where we were (of course, nothing in Tupiza is very far away.)

When we got to her house and knocked on the door, her brother-in-law, Pascual, answered. With tears in his eyes, he told us that Adolfo, his brother, had passed away that morning in La Paz, where he had gone to receive more treatments. Clementina, and their daughter Nohelia, were there with him when he passed.

So, we thanked him for the information, and immediately bee-lined to the Relief Society President’s home, and to the Branch President’s home to let them know and to offer our help. One thing we were asked to do was to get in touch with President Hansen so he could call the Mission President in Peru where Adolfo and Clementina’s son was serving.

As we mentioned before, the law, and cultural practice here in Bolivia is to inter between 24 and 48 hours, since no embalming is done. Since they were in La Paz, they wouldn’t get to Tupiza with the body until Wednesday about noon. Adolfo’s brothers wanted to have the “velorio”, or wake, at his home, which is customary, but Clementina told them that Adolfo’s instructions were clear – he wanted his body to be taken directly to the chapel, where we held the “velorio”.

His casket was the smallest one I’ve ever seen for an adult, and it was about a foot too long, at that, as you’ll see later. Very narrow, and short enough to fit completely in the back of a small hatch-back car that brought him to the church. He wasn’t much taller than his wife, and you can look back in the blog to see me kneeling next to her in one of the pictures. Even kneeling, I was pretty much her height.

They set up lights and flowers around his casket in the cultural hall at the church, with probably 100 chairs, which ended up being full all afternoon, through part, if not all (we didn’t stay all night, but some did) of the night, and all morning on Thursday. There was a brief service Wednesday afternoon, which was conducted by one of Adolfo and Clementina’s sons. The District President spoke briefly, we sang some hymns, and it was over. It seemed a bit unusual, but we’re still trying to understand the culture and practices here around death and such.

The next afternoon, though, was something special. At about 3:00, the cultural hall was full. We understood that the wake would finish, and all those in attendance would accompany the hearse (not what I’m used to calling a hearse by any means) with the casket and body to the cemetery for interment. What we didn’t anticipate was that this was the real funeral service.

The same son that directed the previous service directed this one. We sang, had a prayer, and Nohelia, the daughter spoke for about 20 minutes. It was possibly the most powerful funeral sermon I have ever heard. And, as happens too often, we really learned about Adolfo. Here is his story, as best as I can remember from her telling.

When he was twenty-two years old, around the end of November, 1969, he was sitting on a hill behind his house when a good friend approached him with a book. They had shared books between them, since they both enjoyed reading, but this book was special to his friend. He gave him the book, and told Adolfo that he needed to read it. Adolfo opened the book, and turned a few pages, and felt what seemed like a hand touching his head, and a voice telling him it was true. He told his friend that he would read it, and would give all the books he had in his possession at home to this friend in exchange for this book that felt so special to him.

Adolfo spent the next 24 hours reading the book – the Book of Mormon. He knew it was true. He asked his friend how he could learn more, and the friend told him that he would have to talk to the missionaries, who lived and worked in Quiriza – 14 miles away.

So, Adolfo took his bicycle, and pedaled his way to Quiriza. If you recall, in our account of going to Quiriza, it took us an hour in a taxi. Missionaries at the time came to Tupiza once a month on horses to get supplies, and would stay a couple of days, since it took hours to come and go.

Adolfo found the missionaries, and asked to be baptized, but they told him that they weren’t looking for single young men, they were looking for families. But Adolfo was persistent, attending church each week.

On the first of January of 1970, he again asked the missionaries when he could get baptized. Whether they were new missionaries, or just tired of his question, they asked him, “When would you like to get baptized?” He said, “Why not today?”

So the missionaries got the baptism clothes for him, took him down to the river, and baptized him. After he got out of the water, they had him sit down on a fallen tree trunk, and confirmed him. He said that as they laid their hands on his head, he felt that he saw a vision, telling him that his sins were forgiven.

Since that day, he bore strong testimony of the Book of Mormon to everyone he met. He would buy cases of the Book of Mormon to hand out to his friends.

Sometime after being baptized (I’m trying to find out for sure, when), he served a mission here in Bolivia, as I wrote about earlier. He came home, and served faithfully. He was ordained a High Priest in 1980, and married Clementina in 1989. They have four children – Nohelia, Angel Moroni, Juan Rafael (serving a mission in Peru), and Daniel. They all went to the temple in Cochabamba within the first year after it was dedicated to be sealed as a family forever. Nohelia would have been about 11 years old, and Daniel, the youngest, about four. Molly and I can imagine just how special it would have been for them, all in white, surrounding the temple alter to be sealed, as we have been there to share that special event with other Bolivian families.

After Nohelia told about her father and his testimony, she then bore powerful testimony about the Book of Mormon, the Plan of Salvation, and eternal families. I can’t imagine how there could have been any dry eyes in the congregation of members and non-members, or how they could not have felt the spirit in great abundance.

After Nohelia spoke, one of Adolfo’s nephews spoke, and told about his uncle, his bicycle, his testimony and example, and how it had affected him in his life. Then the two sons spoke as well. The overwhelming feeling of love for this tiny, special man, with a huge, powerful spirit and testimony was clear. Theirs truly is an eternal family.

After we closed the meeting, we all gathered in the street in front of the church, and followed the hearse to the cemetery, a little less than a mile away. The nephew that spoke dedicated the grave, the casket was lowered into the vault, and a cover was placed with corrugated metal and rebar. I’m assuming that concrete was later poured to seal the grave.

What an amazing family. We feel so blessed to have been able to know Adolfo, and to be able to continue to work and serve with his wife and daughter. His two sons that were here are going to school in Cochabamba, and his son in Peru returns home next February.

Speaking of him, Rafael, the Mission President in Peru did contact him, and according to the word we heard from his mother, he had had a dream Tuesday morning, about the time his father passed away, in which his father came to him and said “Good-bye”, and told him all would be well.

So, a very different culture, a very different kind of funeral and interment, a very different kind of cemetery, but a very special family. With the reasonably close proximity of my own father’s passing in February, I couldn’t help but feel tender, sweet feelings towards this special family in their time of need, and time of sharing their strength with others. May God bless them deeply, as I’m sure He will.

Here are a few random pictures from our last few weeks.

Saturday night we had a fireside following a baptism in Rama América. President and Sister Hansen were here for the last time, for their last weekend in the mission, for a branch conference on Sunday. The new Mission President arrives in Cochabamba Friday morning, and the Hansens fly home Friday afternoon.

After the Hansens spoke, we were all entertained by some of the branch members dancing in traditional clothing. One of the couples that danced, Vanessa and Marcelo Reynaga, are preparing to go to the temple early next year for him to receive his endowments and be sealed as a family. They danced so beautifully. Rosita Chirinos, one of those baptized earlier in the afternoon also danced, along with Sirley Huarachi, a returned missionary, Juan Pablo Calla, a member for about a month, and Ivan Ibañez, another returned missionary with a cute family here in the branch.

Molly with Sister Hansen, Rosita Chirinos, Tayler Vargas, and Sariah Davila.

Us with Vanessa and Marcelo Reynaga, Juan Pablo Calla, and Sirley Huarachi.
Molly with Juan Pablo and Sirley.
Molly with Rosita and Sirley.

President and Sister Hansen with President Miguel James,
First Counselor in the Mission Presidency.
Yours truly with Rosita Chirinos, newly baptized, and Noelia Mamani from Villazón.
Vicki, Jared, and Sariah Davila from the Tupiza Branch.
The Michelin Man – on the way to Charaja, in the middle of nowhere.
The Martinez family dog in Charaja. A wonderful guard dog! Typical here.
The oven at Adrián and Gladys Martinez’s home in Charaja.
Yes, that’s meat hanging on the line to dry.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Faithful People

[18 June 2017]

We have come to love so many dear people here. One family is the Rivas family. They are, mother Anabel, Nicole 15, Natalie 11 and twin 8 year old boys, Benjamin and Lucas. There is no dad in the home. The only family they have here close is their aunt, so the Branch has become their family. They attend every activity that is held at the church. Anabel is the Young Women’s president and Nicole is her secretary. The three younger children are happy to play with each other while mom and Nicole are at their meetings.

Anabel Rivas and family
I am often waiting for a meeting to start or for Charlie to be done with a meeting. The 3 younger Rivas children and I have shared many times together playing tag games, singing at the piano in the chapel, reading Aesop’s fables from little books that Charlie bought me. Telling each other stories. My (Spanish) ears get a real work out when these little boys tell me stories. I have heard “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Hansel and Gretel”, as well as Book of Mormon stories of Captain Moroni, Nephi, when Jesus came to the Nephites, to name a few.  These children are so respectful and loving. They remind me of my own grandchildren.

One Monday night we had them over to share a meal and to have Family Home Evening with us. They all helped me in the kitchen serving and cleaning up. They were a delight to have in our home.
On another occasion, I asked Anabel how she raised such kind, happy, loving children. She told me a story that is just one of many faith-promoting experiences their family has had together.

A couple of years ago before Anabel got her current job, she would make food items and Nicole would sell them in front of their house. There was a time when they had no money and no food in the house at all. Anabel told her children maybe they should use their tithing money. Nicole, very adamantly, told her mother that that money didn’t belong to them, it was the Lord’s, and they couldn’t use it to buy food. So, they all decided to kneel and ask Heavenly Father what they should do. Each one in turn said a prayer. 10 minutes later there was a knock on the door. Two women from the neighborhood had been discussing Anabel and her family and how they could help them. They both had jobs in offices with lots of people. They asked at their work if anyone would like to donate money to help by food for a family. They collected enough money to buy the family 3 months’ worth of food.

They have had many miracles like this happen and the children have faith in God and in His children. They appreciate what they have and they are grateful for the help others have given them. Their mother is teaching them good things.

Another dear sister is Mirtha Reina. She lives in a little pueblito halfway between here and Quiriza. She walks three hours to come to church on Sundays. Church starts at 9:00 am, so she leaves when it is still dark and quite cold. She is always smiling and doesn’t seem to mind the long walk at all. She is a real inspiration to us. I told her we wanted to take her picture after church. She seemed quite happy about that. When I showed her the picture I had just taken of her she got very excited. I told her I would bring her a copy. She was so happy to be able to give the picture to her mother.

Mirtha Reina
There is so much we take for granted, like having pictures of family members, and enough food to eat, and cars that get us to church.

These people are happy and appreciative of what they do have, and don’t complain about what they don’t have.

Charlie is making progress with the records. He is also making some progress in training the clerk and the counselor in the Branch Presidency how to clean up and maintain the records. We have been able to make visits to people to verify their records, which I really enjoy. I have said before, and I will continue to say it, I love watching Charlie interact with the people here. He loves them and they feel it. He makes them feel comfortable and he testifies of truth.

We finished our classes for preparing for the temple. The District is planning a temple trip the first week of July. They will go by bus. We are planning on leaving a few days earlier so we can get some things done in Cochabamba. We will go by train and then bus. We are looking forward to attending the temple with some of the members we have taught.

I am so grateful to be here with Charlie, serving these dear, humble, appreciative people. I am also grateful for the opportunities I have to invite others to come to Christ through my words and actions. I'm thankful that He is always there to help me with the words.

[Elder Lyon]
One additional picture. We went down to Villazón to visit the branch there. In the courtyard of the chapel they had this big cactus, so I took a picture of Molly to remember it.

Molly next to the cactus in the courtyard at the chapel in Villazón.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Wonderful Day! and Feliz Día de las Madres

[27 May 2017]

Today was one of the sweetest missionary days we have had.

We started out checking the hermanas' apartments. We’ve done this once before, when Sister Hansen asked us to see how livable all the missionary apartments were. This time we were asked to just check on the sister’s apartments, again, as a more routine check of cleanliness, etc. None of the sisters that are here now were here when we did the previous check. The apartment that was not as clean last time was the cleanest this time. It’s interesting to remember how young the missionaries are, and that they really aren’t that different from our own children at these ages. Some of them were tidy, some weren’t.

Right after that, at about 10:30, we took a rapidito to Charaja. We needed a signature from Patrona to complete the process to get her son, Willian, on the records of the church. As we noted earlier, he was baptized back in November of 2012, but his record got lost somewhere. After receiving instructions from the mission, we just needed one of his parents’ signatures to finalize the paperwork.

When we got there, the whole Martinez family of Adrian and Gladys were out in the yard working. So, we said “Hi”, and they got chairs out for us to sit on. We visited a while and then went and got the signature from Patrona. I held her little one while she signed.

Then we went back to visit with Adrian and Gladys. He and two of their sons were doing the laundry. They had 5 plastic wash tubs with increasingly cleaner water in each one. Adrian did the scrubbing with his hands and a brush and put the clothes in the next one where the son was rinsing. Then, after wringing the clothes he put them in the next basin for another rinse and wringing. The second son would get water from a source that I didn't actually see, on the edge of the yard, to fill up the next basin with clean water. Such a process, especially with 6 children.

Charlie was visiting with Luis, a nephew who actually lives with his Uncle and Aunt, Eleuterio and Patrona, next door. He had some great questions for Charlie. He got baptized about the same time Eleuterio and Patrona did about 5 years ago, and has been to the temple to do baptisms for the dead. He will graduate next year and then go on to serve his year of armed service. It isn’t exactly mandatory, but without it, it is nearly impossible to get into a good university and program leading to a profession. He wants to become a mechanical engineer, so Charlie told him our Matt is a mechanical engineer and enjoys it. Luis clearly wants a better life/job than what he sees from his uncles. Adrian told us that he leaves for the mine he works in at about 4:00 pm Sunday, and comes back home at about the same time the following Saturday. To get to church in Tupiza, they have to leave at about 8:00 am on Sunday, and would get back home at about 1:00 or 2:00 pm, not leaving a lot of time for other things. For Mother’s Day, he got to be home on Saturday, and it was impressive to see that he spent the extra time off working so hard to help his wife and family.

While Charlie and Luis visited, I offered my services to Adrian. It was fun to help him do the laundry. We had a good conversation. He told me a little about working in the mines. It is dangerous and the roof has caved in on him before, but he is tranquilo about it because he knows he has to feed and clothe and keep a roof over his family, and he trusts that God will protect him.

I asked him if we were on the last rinse, and he said the mother of the house would have to decide that. They needed another rinse according to Gladys, so the son brought another bucket of fresh water. The boy that had been helping rinse was hanging up the clothes on the bushes and the line. We didn't hang all of the clothes out because the wind had picked up and would make them dirty. Charaja, like Tupiza is very dusty. So they took the wet clothes in the house to hang and maybe bring them outside later. Adrian is a happy person, as is Gladys. What delightful people!

While I was helping Adrian, Gladys was off doing things, cooking, etc. We had been there quite a while and we knew they had lots to do, so we told them we needed to go. They had already brought us some purple jello, but she said, "Won't you share our meal with us?" So we stayed.

She cooked it in a big, round top, outdoor, oven that they built. The door was the right height to open when standing. It had storage spaces underneath. It was made of adobe, as are their homes, fences etc. She and the other children had been cleaning, sweeping, etc., getting ready for us to eat with them as well as preparing the food.

The food was very delicious, very traditional Bolivian. She brought us a big bowl of soup of clear broth with vegetables (squash, peas, potatoes, onions and lima beans) and noodles, with perijil (parsley) on the top. Oh,  and a good sized piece of meat. It was good and plenty filling for us, but we knew more was coming. Adrian brought us a big plate heaped with a steak sized piece of meat (probably beef), and a piece of chicken, with three kinds of potatoes (sweet potato, regular and the finger ones), choclo (their corn), and a big helping of salad (lettuce, shredded carrots, and slices of tomato) that she served with salt and oil that you could put on yourself. We opted to share the plate. They seemed ok with that. It was way too much food for just one of us.

"Finger Potatoes" - we don't really know what
they are called, but they look like "fingers"
(or big grubs).
We ate at a card table size plastic table in the room where mom and dad sleep. The boys sat on the bed. She has a lot of crocheted things in the room that she has made – very beautiful – such as lace edges on table cloths, and lace doilies and a blanket that I helped rinse earlier, to name a few.
Adrian asked Charlie a lot of questions about going to the temple and about coca leaves and the Bolivian practice of chewing them, etc. His dream is to take his family to the temple. Their family is a bit complicated, because out of the 6 children that they are raising, only two of them are their biological children. The others are from previous relationships. They would need to be adopted legally to be sealed to them.

We caught a rapidito back and got to the church about 3:30 (I needed to use the baño, no surprise, we were in Charaja for over 3 1/2 hours). We helped Noellia Duran, Nicole Rivas and Isela Vargas blow up balloons for the fiesta for el Día de las Madres that was scheduled to begin at 5:00 pm.
We ran home, and came back between 5:30 and 6:00 pm, knowing that it would not have started, yet. But, there were quite a few people there. The balloons looked beautiful on the walls and curtains. They were also strategically placed on the floor like a runway. We watched as Luis, the Branch Secretary, and Presidente James, the first counselor in the Mission Presidency who spends a significant amount of time here, related to his work, got the music and food ready. It finally got started about 6:30.
Hna. Rosa Martinez (she really does smile) with Molly

 It was such a sweet tribute to us mothers. The men went in the kitchen and prepared the plates with food that members of the branch had made, and then served us. It was yummy – chicken, rice and a very yummy potato salad with cooked carrots and mayonnaise and (surprisingly) no egg. They also had llajua (Bolivian salsa)  that Pte. James passed around. It was all very good and very traditional Bolivian.
Everyone who comes into a room hugs and kisses everyone. I love that custom. I sat by Hna Rosa. She is 64 and is a happy, smiley, tough cholita. She raised 3 girls and 3 boys on her own after her husband got sick and died. She worked in the campo growing vegetables and selling them. Her children helped her when they weren't in school. All of her children are active in the church. She has 9 grandchildren. One of her daughters, Hna. Roxane, lives in our Rama. I love her. We laughed and talked a lot.
The Día de las Madres card

Molly with her “children”
The program was emceed by Pte. Gutierrez, the Elders’ Quorum president. Pte. James gave a brief talk about mothers and then invited all of us mothers one at a time to take our walk of fame on the runway, after which one of our children or one of the children in the branch, or our spouse, as in my case, gave us our memento. It was an artificial rose and a home-made card with a sweet quote from Pres. Faust. "No existe un bien mayor en la tierra que el que proviene de la maternidad. La influencia de una madre en la vida de sus hijos es incalculable". There were 3D flowers on the front, with the quote inside and a picture of the mother with her children and some stickers of hearts and flowers, and “Feliz Día de la Madre.” My picture was with my missionary children, the missionaries here in the branch.

Hna. Patrona Martinez on the “Walk of Fame”
It was very sweet and very well planned. Every mother was recognized and took their walk. There were about 15-20 mothers there with their children. The Martinez family from Charaja were on their way and got there just in time to take their walk. It was so sweet. They brought an investigator with them that they have brought to church a couple of times with her children. Tonight, her husband was with her as well.  She and another investigator were honored after their walk with a crown and a bouquet, and Noellia, the sister in charge, bore testimony to them of the friendship and love in the church, because it is Jesus Christ's church. She said many other good things about mothers, as well. It was so sweet and made us all feel very special.

After all that, we played a musical chairs game with some of the mothers and a dance with all of us mothers –  “The Macarena”. By this time it was almost 9. I don't know how much longer everyone stayed, but we went around hugging and kissing everyone to say our good-byes and walked home.
Some of our young friends in the branch

A cute little elephant
One thing you can say about these dear people is that they know how to love and give and serve. What little they have, they will share with you. They work hard. They make an effort to make everyone feel welcome. What a sweet day! I love these people and I love being here with my husband and I love being a madre.

Adrián and Gladys Martinez with four of their children.

The investigator family from Charaja.
One last picture. Remember (or not) that we told you about the barbershop that was really small? Here's the proof:

The tiny barbershop (Peluqueria). Just big enough for the client and the barber.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Villazón, Potosí, Connections and Miracles

[11 May 2017]

Our view of Elephant Mountain just after moonrise.
We are really loving our mission here in Tupiza. We are now into Autumn. It is getting colder at night, but the days are still lovely and warm, usually in the upper 60's to low 70's. We bought a heater to keep the edge off at night. It has gotten as low as 50 degrees outside and will get colder we're told. We also found a lovely, heavy wool blanket to add to our other heavy blanket, so we stay cozy.

We enjoy teaching the Temple Prep Class in both branches. Charlie is such a good teacher. He loves our students and he loves the Lord and His gospel and they can feel it. I love to hear him teach. I always bear my testimony as well. We are getting close to these good people.

Last Friday the Vicente family were baptized in Rama América. They are a beautiful family with 4 children. The parents and two oldest children, an 11 year old girl, and a 9 year old boy were baptized. Charlie talked to them about going to the temple with the District in July and doing baptisms for the dead for their own ancestors. They came to our Temple prep class the very next Sunday. They are so happy to have the gospel in their lives and want to participate in everything.

Along with the Vicente family was a young man, Pablo Calla, who is about 18 years old. His parents are both members but have not been to church for many years. He remembers going to church with them when he was very little. He specifically remembered the bread and water of the Sacrament being passed. His father was at the baptism and seemed very proud of his son. There were a lot of members from Rama América there to support these new members. The chapel was full.
Pablo with us after his baptism.

Pablo and his father.
The room where you watched the baptism was over full, with people standing all around the back and sides.  The branch choir as well as the Young Single Adult choir sang. Food is a big part of every activity and after the baptism, we were brought red jello with slices of banana in it and a piece of cake and a fruit drink.

Two weeks ago, we were invited to speak about Temple and Celestial Marriage at a YSA-Young Single Adult (JAS-Jovenes Adultos Solteros) fireside. We enjoyed a more relaxed presentation with them and shared our experiences as we prepared for and followed promptings and sought answers about getting married. We enjoyed it and we made them laugh and hopefully gave them some ideas of things they can do now to prepare.

Last Sunday we traveled to Villazón with President and Sister Hansen to their Branch Conference. We will get to work with them as well and had not yet had the opportunity to go there, so we were grateful to be able to go with President and Sister Hansen. Villazón is about an hour away to the South, right on the border of Argentina. The city is bigger than Tupiza. It is about 1500 feet higher in elevation and about 10 degrees F colder. The chapel was very cold. They don't have central heating. They do have little heaters, but I think they were not functioning that day. It was very good to be with them. We were asked to bear our testimonies in Sunday School and we attended their branch council, which was very well attended.

After the block of meetings the Relief Society served everyone a hot drink. It is made from boiling cut up fruit like apples, pears, and raisins, and cinnamon sticks in water, then adding coarsely ground corn meal (semolina) and stirring until it thickens. It was served hot and it was very yummy and warmed us right up.

We love the people. One of our favorites is Jeannette, the young mother that sells us produce and almost whatever other thing we ask about at the Mercado La Paz. She is always so helpful, smiley and friendly. We always go to her first when looking for something. She just had a baby a week or so ago and is back at work. Her mother, as well as her father, go with her to work sometimes and hold the baby or man the business while she takes care of him. We have met her husband and children. They are such a happy sweet family. This baby makes the fourth son and his name is the same as his dad's, Oscar. We have talked to her a little about the church and have given her a pass-a-long card with our name and phone number on it. We hope to visit with their family sometime.

There are many other people that we look forward to seeing as we do our shopping down town. I hope they look forward to seeing us too and that somehow we can have a positive influence here. Charlie always leaves everyone smiling or laughing.

I have really enjoyed getting to know the children. Sometimes, when the parents bring their children to our temple prep class and the children are needing some attention, I get to take them out and play with them. We have done a lot of hide and seek, origami, singing, and even soccer. I love it when they come up and give me hugs. One night while I was waiting for Charlie, an 8 year old boy, Lucas, talked to me for about 45 minutes. Once a grandma, always a grandma.

We enjoy our time with the young missionaries. We have District meeting once a week and Zone Conference every 6 weeks. Our last Zone Conference was this week. It was with two other zones and it was held in Potosí. Our zone leaders arranged for a bus to take all 16 of us, ten missionaries from Tupiza, two from Quiriza, and four from Villazón. We met at the church at 4:50 am. The Villazón elders had a problem getting here on time so we left at 5:30 am. We made the trip in 6 hours, averaging 25 miles an hour. It only takes 4 hours to get to Potosí from Tupiza in the smaller rapiditos, but we would have needed three of them.

Here's a graph of the bus speed vs. altitude as we went from Tupiza at about 9700 ft, to Potosí, with the pass just before getting there being 14,300 ft. in elevation. Gasp.

We got in to Potosí about 11:30. Zone Conference started at 11. We had the bus go a more direct route to the chapel. However, the very narrow streets of the neighborhoods we were in could not accommodate such a big bus. At one point, I could almost touch the door of the house through the bus window and the other side of the bus was almost as close. We ended up backing out of that street. It was crazy. We eventually, left the bus and walked the 10 or so blocks to the chapel. We were an hour late. The streets in Potosí are sometimes very narrow, often with very narrow to non-existent sidewalks. The one-way streets are sometimes only wide enough for a car or truck, so you have to be ready to step into a store or doorway to avoid problems. Ahhh, Bolivia.

Zone Conference was amazing! We learned a lot of good things and heard wonderful testimonies from missionaries and the Hansens. I am so impressed with these young missionaries, their dedicated service, enthusiasm and love for this work is inspiring. My favorite part was singing with all those missionaries in that big beautiful chapel. The Spirit was powerful and it sounded good too.

The return trip took longer than the trip there by 30 minutes or so, so we made it home at about 1:30 am. Luckily, a taxi came by the chapel just as we got out of the bus, and we didn't have to walk the mile home.

[Elder Lyon's turn, now]
Just two things to add. We went to visit a couple who have been here in the branch for a very long time, Adolfo and Clementina Tejerina. He was baptized in 1970, when there was only a branch out in Quiriza (about 15 miles away, over very rough terrain.) Back then, all he had was a bicycle, and he negotiated the bike path to get to church each week. He was the only one of his family to join the church. Given that it takes an hour to negotiate the 15 miles now, I can just imagine how long it took him.

As we were visiting, he indicated that he had served his mission here in Bolivia, and served first in Santa Cruz. This would have been a couple of years before I got there. So I asked him about Ruben Peña, one of the very strong members there at the time. He frequently fed us lunch, and told us about his missionary efforts on his trips to Argentina. He couldn't wait until the temple in Sao Paulo, Brazil was finished (still three years away when I was there.)

As we talked, and I expressed how much I appreciated Hno. Peña, Adolfo told me that he had baptized him while there as a missionary. Small world. It made me very happy to make another connection with one of the sweet, humble, faithful members here in Bolivia.

Hno. Peña feeding the missionaries lunch. 

Hna. Clementina Tejerina. She's a bit shorter than the normal Bolivians.
And lastly,  here's one of the incongruities that you see pretty regularly in Bolivia. Here is a picture of a dentist's office:

Note the name. Here's a blown up version so you can see it a bit better:
Consultorio Dental - Señor de los Milagros
I'm sure some dental work here requires miracles, but I'm not sure I want to go to a dentist who advertises that it'll be a miracle if he figures out what to do with your teeth.

'Til next time....

Monday, April 24, 2017

Charaja and Temple Preparation

[24 April 2017]

Last week, the sister missionaries in the Tupiza Branch asked us to go with them to visit an investigator and a member family in Charaja. We eagely accepted the invitation.

Charaja is a small community about 30 km (18 miles) southeast of Tupiza. It consists of a few streets, and probably less than 100 families. Here’s a picture from Google Earth:

Charaja, Bolivia
If you look closely, you can see two stars. The one on the lower left indicates the home of the investigator. The one on the right, in the middle, is the home of the member family (Coordinates -21.578760,-65.588777 if you happen to want to look more closely in Google Maps yourself). The straight-line distance between them is 433 yards. The road, highway 14, is the main route between Tupiza and Villazón, which is on the border between Bolivia and Argentina. It is another 60 km down the road to the right.

To get to Charaja, we met the sisters at the bus station, and walked around the corner to a rapidito stop (the rapiditos are basically minivans – three rows of seats that can hold 8 people besides the driver). It costs 6 Bs (about $0.90 USD) per person. So we all squeezed in with some other people and headed off.

When we got to Charaja, we walked across a cancha (fútbol field – it looks like there is a road through it above, but not really – it’s just a shortcut for the few vehicles in Charaja), past a couple of houses, and to the door of the investigator’s house (or door in a wall of adobe bricks). Her name (spelling may be off) is Severa.

We knocked and waited and waited. Finally, Severa came to the door, holding a small, butchered pig that she had to deliver to a neighbor. We waited for her to come back, which she finally did. She invited us in. The room served as the bedroom for her family, it appeared. There were three beds – a double bed on one side of the room, and a set of bunk beds on the other. Her baby and her 7-year old son were there with her. Her husband was working in the mines (about 15 km away), and her 9-year old daughter must have been in school.

All she had for us to sit on were little tiny plastic children’s stools. The sisters taught her the lesson, and Molly and I contributed when asked. Severa doesn’t read very well, but her son and daughter help her. The sister invited her to come to church on Sunday, and she committed to do that. Which is really quite a sacrifice, as I’ll explain later.

It was a sweet visit, and Severa is a very humble, caring mother. We left, and walked the 700 yards or so (we didn’t get to go the straightline distance, so it was a bit more) to the member’s home. When we got there, the mother, Gladys Martinez, was there with two of her children. The older three, a 13-year old, a 10-year old, and a 9-year old must have been in school. Her husband, Adrián, was at work in the mines.

Their house was more recently constructed, and was built from bricks covered with stucco. We visited in what was the parents’ bedroom/dining room from all appearances. Beside the bed were church manuals, the Book of Mormon, and a Bible, and there was a picture on the wall of the Cochabamba temple. We visited with her and left a message, and then headed back to Tupiza.

To get back, we had to walk to the highway, and wait for a rapidito with room for the four of us to pass on its way from Villazón to Tupiza. Fortunately for us, one came by very quickly, but I can imagine that that isn’t always the case. We piled in and drove back to Tupiza, arriving just in time to participate in the Branch Council at the chapel.

The transportation situation is part of the difficulty for members and investigators in Charaja. The cost, 6 Bs, doesn’t seem like a lot to us in the United states, but for them, a two-way trip, possibly with children, is very expensive. And, they have to start 30-40 minutes earlier than someone living here in Tupiza to get to church on time. It’s a bigger commitment than we may realize, living within walking distance of our Ward buildings in the states. The Martinez’s have a car, but I’m not sure how reliable it is. I later talked to Hno. Martinez (Adrián), and he said the brakes had a problem. I’m still not sure if they drove it to church or came in a rapidito.

So, that next day, a Sunday, all of them came to church. Adrián and Gladys were there with their children, as was Severa, with her baby and her 9-year-old daughter. The next Sunday, yesterday, they were all there again.

We had a few minutes after the Sunday School lesson, so I visited with Adrián and asked him about his family and how they came to be baptized. The usual pattern here is that the mother and children are introduced to the missionaries by a friend or family member, and sometime later, if ever, the father decides to get baptized. But, in Adrián’s case, he was baptized first, so I asked him about it.

He said that he was introduced to the missionaries more than a year ago, I think by his sister, who is a member here in Tupiza. She and her husband went to the temple to be sealed about four years ago. Adrián said that as he listened to the missionaries, he felt very good about their message. When he prayed, he said that it brought tears to his eyes. He was baptized in April of last year.

I asked about his wife. He said that when the missionaries would come to the house, she would escape and go up the hill behind their house to avoid them at first. But, in November, she was baptized with their 9 and 10-year old sons. They have a 13-year old who doesn’t want to be baptized, yet, and two younger ones – I think about 3 years old, and a baby. I’m sure Adrián’s testimony and faith helped his wife significantly.

All of them, minus the 13-year old, were in church yesterday. I was so impressed by Adrián’s openness and humility. He really has a testimony, and they have a desire to go to the temple as soon as they are able. They are such a sweet family. They are friends with Severa, and it was them that introduced her to the sister missionaries. So, they are already a missionary family. So sweet.

Speaking of the temple, Molly and I are teaching a number of people who are preparing to go to the temple. There is a temple trip planned in July. The members will go by bus or train, and it will take about 15 hours to get to Cochabamba. They will stay the week at the hospedaje, leaving on Monday and returning on Friday or Saturday. We’ll be there with them!

Among those we are teaching are three couples where one of them is endowed while the other is not.
One of them is the Vargas family. The father, Gerson, is a returned missionary. He is the first counselor in the Branch Presidency. His wife is from Tarija, and they met while he was there studying. She is a member of about seven years, and they have three children. They live in a little one-room apartment, with mattresses on the floor. He takes pictures of events at schools for a living. They are planning to go and be sealed in July.

Another family is the Duran’s. He is the second counselor in the Branch Presidency. His wife, Nohelia, is a returned missionary, and they have a baby. He was baptized in September of last year, and they are planning to go to the temple in December when he has a break from work.

The third is from Rama América. She is a member of many years, and has been endowed for a couple of years. He was baptized in November of last year, and I’m not sure what their plans are, yet.

There are a number of others in our classes, and they are eager to go to the temple. Teaching the lessons (the groups don’t line up really well, so we’ve ended up teaching to three different groups) has been very inspiring and enjoyable. I learn more each time I teach, and appreciate even more, now, the blessings the temple brings to the lives of faithful members. We’re excited to be participating in this way with the members here in Tupiza.

And, one last note of interest. We are trying to correct some of the records here in the branch, and we became aware of a member whose records didn’t show that they had passed away. It was the brother of a member here in the branch, so we asked him to meet us at the cemetery and show us where his brother was buried.

We met on Saturday morning, and he took us to the “niche” where his brother’s body is interred. It’s difficult to say “buried”, because it is just a “niche” in a wall of niches. It was on the top of four rows of niches, with many on either side. Each niche measures about 18 inches high by 24 inches wide.

Hno. Vargas had to climb up to move some dried flowers and decorations from in front of the plaster wall that closes the niche after interment. Here’s a picture of that plaster wall:
Initials and date of death of Hno. Vargas' brother.
H.N.V.D are his brother’s initials, and the 11-06-09 is the date of death – 11 June 2009. I should have taken a picture of the whole wall from further away to give better perspective.

We asked Hno. Vargas about the customs and practices surrounding death and burial, since we had just passed the Catholic church on our way to the cemetery, and a group of people followed us from the church to the cemetery. But there was no casket being carried in their procession.

He told us that the law mandated that the body be buried within 24 hours. Then, for the next eight days, the family mourns, puts out food (for the deceased?), supposedly giving the spirit of the deceased time to prepare to depart. At eight days, the family has a mass for the deceased, when the spirit supposedly leaves, and they go to the cemetery to place flowers and pay their respects.

The spaces in the cemetery, especially the niches, aren’t purchased, they are “rented”. The family pays an annual fee of 30-40 Bs ($4.50 to about $6.00) for the niche. I don’t know how much it would be for a regular plot. If the family fails to pay, the niche is emptied and the content placed in a common grave/pit behind the cemetery. We hope that things are documented in the government offices, since it would be nearly impossible to document deaths, relationships, etc. from grave markers as we sometimes do in other countries.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Some Extra Pictures from the Quiriza Trek

[19 April 2017]

Here are some extra pictures taken by others in the Youth Conference Group. I figured you might like to see another perspective:

The ascent.

Hno. Diogenes Martinez pointing out pueblos in the valley below.
The Youth Conference Group.

Molly sharing her experiences and testimony.
The descent – yes, those are people down there, and it is as steep as it looks.
Back home safe and sound, and ready for talent night.