Serving in the Caribbean Area Presidency Office in
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

30 June 2010

Our Father's Love

One of the amazing things about serving the Lord is to feel His love and concern for His children.  We realize the origin of these feelings that we have come from Him.  We have only known the people of the Vieques branch for a couple weeks, yet our hearts are filled with a deep love for them.   Let us tell you about just one - Manuel Christian.  Manuel is the Branch Mission Leader and has been a member for only five years.  He has diabetes and is going blind, but he is very faithful in getting out an helping spread the gospel.  He is almost always the first person to arrive at every meeting or class that we have.  His diabetes is affecting his feet and legs causing him tremendous pain, yet he is out and about doing his duty.  On Monday night his pain got so bad that he decided that he'd better go to the doctor in San Juan.  President Velez and Elder Button gave him a blessing in his home.  He is very poor and lives with his aunt who is blind and confined to a wheelchair.  Sister Button usually makes cookies for people to show them that we care, but since Manuel is diabetic, she made him some bread instead.  When she gave Manuel's aunt the bread her smile was something that we will never forget.  The Lord's love for these good people is more than we can really comprehend but He allowed us to feel just a little bit of it at that moment.

28 June 2010

Sunsets of Vieques

For the past few days the rain has stopped.  The result is hot days, but the nights are pleasant and the sunsets are spectacular.  These pictures don't really do them justice.

25 June 2010

Baptism of Melvin Omar Ventura Morales

On his 17th birthday, Melvin Ventura made a baptismal covenant with his Father in Heaven. We were blessed to be there and participate. Elders Losee and Tew had taught Melvin a little over half of the lessons before we arrived and then we taught the remainder with them. When Elder Losee was transferred Tuesday, Melvin asked me to perform the baptism.
The setting was beautiful and the water was perfect, but the best thing was to feel the Lord’s pleasure that one more of His children has started on the path that will bring him back home – if he will endure to the end. That is our prayer for Melvin.


22 June 2010

Preparation Day in Paradise

Today we drove out to the western end of the island. We saw some beautiful and interesting things. First is this huge tree whose trunk has grown wing-like roots that seem to be growing out of the ground up to the level of the branches. Interesting!

Next as we were driving we saw several beautiful sights. Here are two-

The population of these two types of creatures exceeds the human population on Vieques:

1) Horses – they roam freely on the island. When people want to ride they just put a bridle and blanket on them and off they go. They ride bareback in an interesting fashion, leaning way back and holding the heads of the horses very high. The horses never gallop, instead they run like I’ve never seen before. It’s really interesting.
2) Crabs – The English explorers called Vieques “Crab Island.” There are crabs everywhere, including inside of our church building. We stopped to take a picture of this little guy. Many of the ones we have seen are 10 times bigger than this little fellow. People catch them and then feed them in pens like chickens until they cook them.

Interesting History of Vieques

Back during the 2nd World War the US Navy established a base on the western end of Vieques to train Marines on amphibious landings. They used the eastern end of the island as a bombing target and test range for naval vessels, helicopters, etc. Although a segment of the island population heartily supported the arrival of the Navy with its inflow of money, the natives who truly loved their island home felt violated by the bombs and the influx of Navy personnel. Over a period of more than 50 years, tensions grew with increasing levels of protest against the Navy.
The pictures in this post are from paintings in the home of Prieto and Bethsaida Ventura. They depict the history of the fight against the Naval occupation of Vieques.  Prieto is a very proud Viequense (person from Vieques.)  Prieto, among others, staged civil disobedience protests such as blocking entrances to Naval property and entering bombing ranges to disrupt operations. Prieto was jailed at least once and sent to the prison in Puerto Rico. Eventually the plight of the people of Vieques came to the attention of some powerful people in the United States. In about 2003 the government finally abandoned Vieques as a military site.

1) The first picture depicts the island in chains reaching up to God to save it from the Naval ships and aircraft.
2) The second picture depicts Vieques breaking its chains and fighting against the devil represented by pictures of Bill Clinton and Al Gore.
3) The third picture depicts a free Vieques being born after the departure of the US Navy. In the clouds are the pictures of many of the famous Viequenses that opposed the US Naval occupation but had died before they saw their dreams realized. One of those was Prieto’s father.
4) The last is a picture of one of the abandoned Naval bunkers now overgrown with weeds.

20 June 2010

Angels helping us

We took our car on the ferry from Vieques to Puerto Rico to get supplies. The Lord blessed us with angels to help us get there and back. We forgot our own telephone in Vieques and our mission phone wasn’t working so we had no way to know how to get to where we needed to go. But the Lord provided an English speaking man in the car next to us on the ferry who showed us how to get to Sam’s Club. After doing our shopping we returned to the ferry to cross back over to Vieques. When the ferry arrived it was high tide and the gang plank off the ferry was at a very steep angle. We had to wait for the bigger trucks (half a semi in size) to board first but the first one high centered on the gang plank and got stuck. It took almost an hour to get it unstuck. It then tried again at a different angle and almost tipped over. Other passenger cars then made their way onto the gang plank scraping the under-carriage and fenders of their vehicles. One thing I failed to mention is that you have to back onto the ferry which compounded the difficulty. By the time my turn came, the ferry was pretty full and I didn’t have a good angle at all to get on. I was worried about the car because it belongs to the church and I didn’t want to damage it. All the other cars were really scraping bad. But I had no choice so up I backed into this little cubby-hole of a space. Miraculously – and I’m not using a figure of speech – the car went up without a scrape and into the perfect spot. I know that angels were driving the car for me.

Our apartment

Our home in Vieques is located in the city, Isabell II. We live in an apartment behind this home. There is one wall a/c unit in our bedroom. (We love our a/c unit!!) The other rooms have screens and shutters. We have adjusted to the climate – warm and humid.

Vieques Chapel

The Vieques Branch of the church meets in an old warehouse across the street from the dock where the “lancha” (ferry) comes in.
Monday and Thursday mornings we teach piano and music conducting lessons. Wednesday evenings we help the young Elders teach English lessons to people who want to learn. The members of our “Rama” (branch) are very friendly, loving people. We are trying to find our way around so that we can visit and get to know them better.  Each of the first two Sunday's were an adventure.  The first Sunday we got to church and found a swarm a bees inside the chapel so we had to meet in one of the classrooms.  Then today we came and found that the classrooms were flooded from the rain last night.  We can't wait to see what happens next Sunday!

Our Mission President

President and Sister Dewsnup, our mission president and his wife, were at the airport in San Juan to greet us when we arrived to Puerto Rico. We spent our first night in the mission home where we had a delicious dinner and breakfast, as well as a great orientation to the Puerto Rico San Juan East Mission. We feel very blessed to have the opportunity to be part of the Lord’s work here.

18 June 2010

Vieques - our new home

We arrived in Vieques on Tuesday, June 8 on the ferry.  Vieques is an island about 8 miles off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico is amazingly beautiful, certainly worthy of its name "The enchanted isle."  Vieques is known as the "Little Sister Island".  Vieques is about 5 miles wide from south to north and about 20 miles long from east to west. 

We have much to tell about Vieques, but as of yet we don't have internet in our home.  We had to come to the main plaza in town where they have WiFi to post this.  We are hoping to have internet soon which will allow us to update our blog more often.  But "hasta manana" is an apt saying for Vieques, so it may still be awhile.

We appreciate all of your love and support.  We feel your prayers in our behalf.  Our love and thanks!

03 June 2010

A Wonderful Love Story

One of the best things about being in the MTC is the opportunity to meet wonderful people. The couple you see here is the Wortham's from St. George, Utah. What first intrigued us about them is that they are beginning their 10th mission together. They have served all over the world from Europe to South America and currently in St. George, Utah. At dinner last night they told us their story...
Sister Wortham grew up in Belgium where she was raised Catholic and loved the Lord. As a teenager she had many questions about religion which she took to a professor of theology. He talked for a long time but never answered any of her questions. Finally, he asked "Are you satisfied?" She answered "Yes, Thank you." What she meant was that she knew that the church she had grown up with could not answer her questions. She later married and had three daughters. Her husband was not a spiritually-minded man. When he died, leaving her a widow with three young daughters ages 5, 7 and 8, she again desired to have the answers to her spiritual questions. A Seventh Day Adventist gave her a Bible for which she was very grateful because at that time bibles could not be purchased in Belgium. She started to tell stories of Jesus to her children. One day two young Mormon missionaries knocked on her door. They asked her if she believed in the bible and that God talked through prophets in those days. She replied affirmatively to both questions. They then asked her if she believed that we needed a prophet at the present time. She had never thought about this but to her it was logical that people needed a prophet to guide them and she answered "yes". Then the Elder said in broken French "I know that there is a prophet of the Lord living on this earth today." She felt that he knew something that she did not know. In their first appointment they answered all of the questions that she had. Later, as she prayed to know if the Book of Mormon was true, she said that she had an overpowering spiritual experience that convinced her that she had found the true church of Jesus Christ. She was baptized with her oldest daughter and they lived the gospel faithfully...

Meanwhile in Idaho Brother Wortham's wife passed away, leaving him with six children ranging in age from 14 to 3. He was a pilot in the military reserves, stationed at Boise, Idaho. The church and his extended family helped him care for his children. His oldest son was called to serve a mission in Belgium. While on his mission, Elder Wortham (the son) got to know and was impressed by a widow who was a recent convert. He told this lady that his father was a jet pilot. Because she was fascinated by jets, she asked the elder to have his dad send her a picture of the plane he flew, but the elder said that she should write him and ask. So, she wrote a short letter. When Brother Wortham received the letter he decided that it would be alright to have a pen pal, so the two started writing to each other - he in English and she in broken English. Her letters were handwritten and relatively short. His letters were typewritten and very long. She would receive his letters and then have to translate them into French. It took her many hours to do this. She asked a few times Elder Wortham (the son) to read his father's letters for her to make sure that her translation was correct. After the third or fourth letter, Elder Wortham said "My dad is going too fast". Brother Wortham (the dad) said that although her letters were written in very simple English, he could spiritually sense the depth and goodness of her spirit. After writing back and forth a a few times, they decided that at a certain time each day each of them would kneel down and pray "together"- her in Belgium at night and he in mid-morning in Idaho. They said that as they did this, they grew to love each other and a spiritual bond grew strong. After their seventh letter, Brother Wortham proposed to her and she accepted, never having seen a picture of each other. When they finally exchanged pictures, they were grateful to find that the attraction they had for each other was more than spiritual. It took them almost two years to arrange for Sister Wortham and her daughters to immigrate to the US. They were married, blending his six and her three children into one family. The cultural and language differences were bridged as their children quickly came to love each other and their new parents. That was 34 years ago...
As Brother and Sister Wortham told this story their eyes glistened as they looked at each other. They are still sweethearts living a truly great love story!

Mission Reunion

For thiry years I have had a tender place in my heart for two great people.  Called to preside over the Mexico Monterrey mission in their late thirties, President Richard and Sister Janice Gomez moved their four young children from Salt Lake City to the base of this mountain called the Cerro de la Silla (Saddle Mountain) to serve the Lord.  They were wonderful examples of faith, strength and hard work.  I came love them as my own parents.

Yesterday we had the wonderful opportunity to speak with them by telephone for about 30 minutes.  As I heard their voices, sweet feelings flooded my heart.  The same reverence and love I felt for them 30 years ago is now compounded by the realization of how profoundly my life and the lives of my wife and children have been blessed by my first mission and these sweet people who guided me through it.  I pray the Lord to bless them because in my life they have stood as tall and strong as El Cerro de la Silla.

01 June 2010

"A distraction doesn't have to be evil to be effective."

The poet Tagore described the tragedy of procrastination and lack of focus in life: "I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung."

We are all on earth for an eternally important purpose.  The true gospel of Jesus Christ helps us know what that purpose is.  To accomplish it requires our best efforts and constant focus.  Avoiding evil is not enough.  All good people must be aware of distractions that would divert our precious time and resources.  Let us instead spend our lives doing that which matters most eternally.