Friday, November 22, 2013

 Diwali in Tobago

Arrangement of diyas on Diwali night

The Tobago Missionaries were invited by the Ramkissoons, who are members of our branch to join them in celebrating Diwali.  

Sister Ramkissoon is from a large Hindu family.  Her father owns a lumber store where they held the celebration.

Not knowing what Diwali is, I looked it up in Wikipedia where I learned that Diwali is a five-day Hindu festival of lights.  For Hindus, Diwali is one of the most important festivals of the year and is celebrated by families participating in traditional activities.

The family was very kind and friendly and we had a wonderful time enjoying the unusual but delicious food and the traditional Hindu culture.  Sister Ramkissoon's father took me on a tour of the lumber yard and I was stunned by the volume of exhotic woods of teak, mahogany and cedar.

Diwali is called: The Festival of Lights


Diyas are an oil lamp, usually made from clay, with a cotton wick dipped in ghee or vegetable oil

Diyas and decorations on the stacks of exhotic wood and lumberyard floor

I asked the owner of the lumberyard if he was worried about starting a fire in all of the lumber.
He didn't seem concerned

Split bamboo arches with diyas.  We walked under the arches as we came into the lumberyard

The delicious food was served on banana leaves and eaten without utensils

Top left is bread of puri used to pick up the food.
Left side bottom is chana.
Right side top is katri.
Right side middle is nutrella vegetable meat.
Right side bottom is mango chutney. 

All vegetarian - Meat isn't served during Diwali

Sister Schindler with one of the family members dressed in a traditional Hindu gown

A picture with Sister Linton

A beautiful young Hindu girl in traditional clothing

Mother and daughters/nieces

A darling girl that wanted to make a special pose

Another adorable child

And another in pink

All of them loved having their picture taken

Beautiful child

Her mother in the lumber yard

Scorpion Orchid

It was in the yard of Brother Campbell who is an investigator being taught by our sister missionaries.
He told us to pick one - Sister Reddy put it behind her ear.

Sister Reddy, one of our West Indies Missionaries, is from Fiji
The orchid suites her well

Sister Reddy brought her indian salwar kameez clothing that was given to her by her grandmother before leaving on her mission

Sister Reddy dressed Sister Schindler in the red sari that Sister Linton purchased in Trinidad from an Indian store

The companions trade clothes - a Diwali dress-up day at the Linton's apartment

Thursday, November 21, 2013

February 16, 2013
Festus & Nathaniel Chadband Baptisms

Sisters Reddy and Schindler, Elders Hill and Petersen
Sister Schindler and Elder Petersen  were both transferred to Trinidad  the following Wednesday

In the process of changing into baptismal clothing


The Williams family enjoying the wonderful Caribbean weather prior to the baptism

Elder Linton, Festus Chadband, 
Elder Petersen, Nathaniel Chadband, 
Elder Hill and Rocky Bowens

 Three elders 
with the Williams and Chadband Families

Elders Petersen and Hill
  Two fine elders who taught the two baptismal candidates

Portraits over and it's time for the baptism

This is the Tobago Branch baptismal font

Elder Linton preparing to baptize 
Festus Chadband

Festus is baptized and 
he thinks the 80 degree water is cold

Rocky cheers a successful baptism

Rocky congratulates his future father-in-law

Rocky prepares to baptize Nathaniel

Rocky is a bit nervous and asks for assistance

He is carefully instructed

Another successful baptism
  Nathaniel is out of the picture enjoying the warm Caribbean Sea

A baptism day is a beautiful day in Tobago

Festus wore a white robe over his baptism clothes.  I told him he looked like an angel!

Nathaniel on my right and Rocky on my left

Nathaniel is so happy.  He had asked several times over the past couple of months when he could be baptized.  He was very prepared for the occasion

Anderson is playing in the sand, oblivious to all around him

Sherlon, who  visits our home regularly, was baptized four weeks ago.  Everybody that sees him says he is a different boy. He knows the Linton's love him.  He decorated our Christmas tree

Philippines Miracle
as reported by a Sister Missionary

The following is an email sent to us as received from a friend who is also our Bishop's wife. The sister missionary, Jessica, is one of 10 sister missionaries trapped in one of their apartments during the typhoon. It gives a detailed description of their experience.

I am sending this to those who have expressed love and concern about our daughter, Jessica. I don't know quite where to begin.Jessica was finally able to call us and we talked for over an hour. She is alive!! The miracle of that simply cannot be overstated! It is only by a series of divine interventions that she is alive. What our dear daughter went through was more traumatic than anything I could have ever imagined; worse than any movie I've ever seen. She has seen war-like carnage, and no mother wishes that for her beloved daughters!
Jessica had been relocated to weather out the storm right in the center of the city of Tacloban, to the house she had lived in for the first several months of her mission. They did not think the storm would be that bad in that area - so they had the missionaries just gather in apartments, not church buildings like we had assumed. She was with a group of 7 other Sister missionaries, which I am so grateful for - that it wasn't just 2 of them going through what she would have to endure.
As you all know, if you've looked at pictures of the devastation, the city hardest hit was Tacloban, with 80% of the buildings being destroyed. She was right in the middle of it. They heard everything being torn apart all around them outside throughout the entire night as they huddled in the upper bedroom. By 8:00 in the morning, they could see the water outside had risen up to the second floor. They went downstairs to try to get out, but the lower level was filling with water too rapidly and they couldn't get the door open. There are bars on all the windows to keep them protected from intruders, so they couldn't get out that way either. They struggled to no affect, unable to touch the ground because of the depth of the water, and so Jessica felt consigned to die by drowning as the waters climbed the second level. She pled with Heavenly Father to not let her die this way - not by drowning - that had always been her greatest fear.
Eventually one of the sisters found she could break a piece of plexiglass in a sort of green house window in the ceiling.
They were able to climb up through that to the roof where they laid side by side hanging on to each other to not be blown away in the torrential winds of this category 5 typhoon. The water continued to climb up to the roof line. Once again Jessica was faced with the reality that this was most likely the end of her life. The sister's prayed intently to Heavenly Father to recognize them - that the water must not raise any higher because there was no where else they could get to for safety. At that moment the waters stopped rising and started to recede. They huddled on that roof that way for 3 hours in the cold rain and torrential wind blowing debris everywhere.
Once the water was low enough they decided to try to get into some shelter in a nearby school where others had gathered, but they couldn't get out of their yard gate. The homes have walls and gates around them to keep intruders out as well. A kind man helped them pile things up to climb over and out and they used a rope to hold on to each other to be able to stay together in waste deep water and support each other to get to the school. This is all still during the typhoon winds still going on.
Within 1/2 hour of reaching the school, their beloved mission president came to their rescue. He had stayed at his home as well (which had only been flooded to the second floor, not completely under water as we'd been told earlier), and as soon as the waters receded enough he came out into the storm in search of those 8 Sisters. The 10 minute walk from their apartment to Pres. Andaya's house took them 1 1/2 hours to make. The Elders had been right next door to the mission president's home, and so they had made it there before the storm got too bad, and had come to help find the Sister's. There they waited for the remaining hours of the storm to pass.
The affects of that storm is immense on those poor people. They looked to the 'white' people expecting them to have something to give them - not recognizing that they were in the storm as well, and had nothing to give. They were the first to offer help to distribute some supplies the military had brought in, but it was very frightening because of the way people looked at them and acted towards them. She just cried as she described how the people had turned into animals - killing each other for food and water just trying to survive. She heard gun shots everywhere. They were still not safe.
Days later, Pres. Andaya somehow got them to an airstrip to try to get them out as instructed by church headquarters, but even with all the US military planes and helicopters there (that had promised to help), they would not take anyone out - because of 'protocol'. They stood there for 12 hours. Finally, a military man, who was a member of the church, recognized them as a group of LDS missionaries, and he personally put them in his military plane that can take off straight up (there's no runway left), and flew them to Manila. Once again, the Lord performed a miracle in His missionaries behalf.
She called us at 9:00 p.m. her time Tuesday night, 6:00 a.m. our time this morning. She had arrived safely in the MTC in Manila and said she will be well cared for there. She is very cut up and bruised and will need medical attention. She had lost her shoes and was walking through all that debris and flood waters bare foot - for days. The only things she has left are the clothes on her body. They are concerned about systemic infection from all the open cuts on her feet in that filthy water and will be treating her for that. She hadn't eaten all day, and who knows how long before that, so she finally, tearfully, and hesitantly ended our phone call to go eat and be taken care of.
She is very affected by all this. What she has experienced was very much like being in the middle of a war zone. She has seen so much death and carnage, and her tender, sweet heart and soul have been severely traumatized. They will give her and the other missionaries counseling and keep them there until they are stable. She feels her companion will not be able to handle staying out to finish her mission. It's been too much. She was just new, and Jessica was her trainer. Pray for her too, her name has been removed because of privacy issues, so please pray for Jessica's "New Missionary" who is contemplating leaving her mission.
After Jessica is stabilized, they will re-assign her somewhere near Manila. She doesn't know if this is permanent, or if she will eventually be sent back to Tacloban when things settle down. The terrible thing is, that Tacloban is going to be hit by another typhoon tonight. It's only a category 2, but the people have NO shelter now, and it will pick up all the debris - killing many more people. They already have no food and water either. She knows the reality of what all that implies since she's lived it first hand - and those thoughts are devastating to her. Please pray for those people.
I'm sorry this is so long. I just know you want to know how she is and what happened. At least now we know a 'little' bit about what she went through. It was very healing for her to be able to talk to us and cry to us and get out much of what she has had to hold inside for many days now. I am so grateful they let her call and talk to us for so long.
They will allow her to call us again tomorrow and we will try to skype so we can see each other. The hardest thing for her in all this was that she felt so alone and abandoned through all this. She didn't think we were aware of her and what she was going through, because she knows we don't watch the news. Even her leaders didn't think it was going to be that bad, and so they had not sufficiently provided appropriate protection for them.
The only thing she could hang on to was her faith that Heavenly Father was aware of her, and even then, she felt He was going to let her die. She just kept pleading with Him to spare their lives. That He did - even though they were threatened time and time again.
Now she KNOWS Heavenly Father is there and that He DOES hear and answer our prayers. She already had great faith before, and even though she lost it for a while there when she felt so abandoned and hopeless, she has come through this with a firm faith that God IS in charge. I am so grateful for her to know that, but what a traumatic way to learn that truth. My heart just aches for her, and I can't hold her and comfort her. All I can do is pray and trust her to the Lord's care and comfort. I know He has, He will, and He will continue to do so. Please keep these poor missionaries and Filipino people in your prayers. They are not out of the woods yet, it is not over, and it will not be over for quite a while.
One more miracle. I sent her her Christmas package quite early. I remember thinking, "Oh I hope it didn't make it there yet, because I know it will have been washed away in the flooding of Pres. Andaya's home."
Fortunately it DID make it there. Through all the flooding, it was still in Pres. Andaya's home. She knew I would send her something, and so while she was there she went searching through the debris and found it! All the clothes were ruined but the European chocolates were still sealed, and the missionaries melted them and put it on rice to make 'sweet rice'.
Also, all the vitamins and essential oils I sent were still sealed! That was one of my greatest worries (since I really thought Jessica had been removed far from where the storm hit hardest), that she would lose her vitamins and oils she had taken with her to stay healthy. She is the only missionary she knows that has not been in the hospital with some disease or infection, and I wanted to keep her from needing to go to one of those 'haunted house hospitals', as she describes them. Even though she lost all she had with her before, she got the ones I sent her for Christmas!!!!!
I am so happy. I am so heart-broken. I am so humbled. I am so grateful. I am so overwhelmed with every emotion and feeling - just like it describes in the Book of Mormon after their terrible wars. Joy for those who survived. Sorrow for those who have lost loved ones. Happy that those who died in the faith of their Lord and that are now safely in His care.
Desperate for those who are left to themselves to struggle for survival - knowing there is nothing we can do. Grateful that the Lord knows His sheep and He gathers them in. Etc., etc., etc.
This is long, I know, but it is only a fraction of the reality of her days. Please, please, please, do not stop praying for Jessica, all the missionaries and their families, and the Filipino people who are in such desperate circumstances. There is power in prayer. I know that. I felt all your prayers in our behalf when we were still waiting to hear if Jessica was OK. They sustained me. She still needs to be sustained and she will feel that strength as we continue to pray for her and others, and her heart and soul WILL be healed.
I love you all. I am so grateful for your love and support.
Suzanne, MM to Jessica

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The following article was taken from the Deseret News November 16, 2013
Documented  by Deseret News journalist Jesse Hyde and photojournalist Revell Call

“It was such a terrible thing we witnessed, but I learned so much about how people will come together to help others, expecting nothing in return. I saw that from other missionaries, and I saw that from the Philippine people. It's a lesson I hope I never forget.”
Amanda Smith, LDS missionary
In the darkness of early morning, Amanda Smith moved away from the window to shield her face from the slashing rain. She had shut it just moments before to ward off the raging storm whipping through the palm trees outside.
But now the wind had ripped it open, and the wooden shutters were slamming violently against the wall again and again. Sister Smith, an LDS missionary from Elk Ridge, Utah, couldn’t see anything outside, but she could smell the sea, which seemed to be getting closer and closer. They had to get out of here.
She had heard about the storm three days before, from a driver of a pedicab. It was typhoon season, and tropical storms were common in the Philippines. Still, the last storm warning had produced nothing but blue skies. Some of the missionaries wondered if this time would be any different.
There were nine missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with her in the house, a two-story structure made of cement blocks. They were young women from Utah and Alaska and the Philippines, all about her own age, 19. They had done what they could to prepare, hastily assembling 72-hour kits, and had even bought candles and rope, just like their mission president had asked, even though no one in the house thought either would be necessary.
Now, as water roared down the streets toward them, Sister Smith realized no preparations were too small. The worst storm in generations had just hit landfall.
More than 300 miles to the north, in an apartment in the capital of Manila, Elder Ian S. Ardern sat watching CNN. A former mission president with salt and pepper hair and an easy smile, he couldn’t help but feel a looming sense of dread about what was unfolding. On the screen, the typhoon churned, a monster on a path no one could stop. Winds would eventually reach 200 miles per hour.
As first counselor in the Philippine Area Presidency, Elder Ardern worried directly about the 675,000 LDS Church members living in the Philippines, particularly the thousands living in the eye of the storm in and around a city of 235,000 called Tacloban, as well as the entire population.
A native of New Zealand, he had seen his fair share of typhoons, and knew firsthand their destructive power. He hoped the members, and the young missionaries, had heeded the call to prepare.
Days before the storm hit, his office had been sending out warnings to the 21 mission presidents in the Philippines, with maps regularly updating and charting the course of the typhoon. Prepare emergency kits, they had advised. And get to a safe place, which for many members meant a chapel.
The area presidency had asked each of the mission presidents to call in when the storm subsided to report damages and the status of their missionaries. Elder Ardern watched the news as the sun began to rise over the Philippines and waited for the first phone call to come in. He braced for the worst.
Sister Smith had always wanted to be a missionary, ever since she was a little girl growing up in Minnesota, toting her scriptures to Primary, learning to play hymns like “I am a Child of God” on the piano. She’d put in her mission papers as soon as she turned 19.
Surviving the typhoon: Fear, faith and miracles for 10 LDS sister missionaries trapped in the Philippines
For 10 LDS sister missionaries trapped in the rising waters of Typhoon Haiyan, fear gave way to faith in a dramatic story of survival
 “It was such a terrible thing we witnessed, but I learned so much about how people will come together to help others, expecting nothing in return. I saw that from other missionaries, and I saw that from the Philippine people. It's a lesson I hope I never forget.”
She had been excited to go to the Philippines. But in some ways, she seemed too delicate for this place, with her long, willowy build and fine porcelain skin. The Philippines wasn’t exactly clean, and some things had taken getting used to — rice for every meal, the choking smell of exhaust on the clogged streets, cold showers from a bucket. But she had also fallen in love with the place — the sweet smell of mangos, the effervescence of the people, the way the language of Waray-Waray had started to roll off the tongue.
One day she sat down on a stool to teach a lesson in a dirt-floor shack and out of nowhere three fuzzy chicks materialized and walked around her legs, the way birds landed on Cinderella’s shoulder, and she thought: What is this magical place?
She had been out five months, her latest area called San Jose, where some of Tacloban’s richest and poorest residents live, some in nice apartments, others in shacks of bamboo and cardboard, a tarp stained by the smoke of cooking fires the only thing passing for a roof, roosters and stray dogs running at their feet.
San Jose sits right on the sea, and so a few days before the storm, just to be safe, the mission president’s assistants (two young men, elders who help the president) asked her and her companion to come farther inland, which is where she was now, with nine other sister missionaries, in a house quickly filling with a black, mucky water.
As the storm worsened, she could feel the house shaking, metal poles outside snapping, animals howling and squealing.
At first, the sisters had all gathered in one central room on the second floor, thinking it the safest place in the house. But the water was now rising to their knees. Metal bars covered every window, preventing an escape outside. With no other choice they would have to go to the first floor, where the water nearly reached the ceiling, and try to open the front door to get out.
They knew the current could pull them out into the ocean, but if they stayed where they were now, they would drown in what had essentially become a box of cement walls.
One by one the sisters slipped into the freezing water on the first floor. A few couldn’t swim; they held tight to their companions. Some of the women started to cry.
Sister Smith was scared too, but she was determined not to let it show. She wanted to stay calm for the others.
The front door was locked with a metal latch on the bottom and the top. One of the sisters dived under the water and unlocked the bottom latch; another reached the top and did the same. But when they tried to open the door it wouldn’t budge. The water pressing from the outside and inside had sealed it shut.
What had been ebbing as a low level panic reached hysteria for some of the sisters, who began weeping and sobbing. Sister Smith could feel the panic rising in her chest too, but she had to stay calm. With a few of the other sisters who had become leaders of the group, she started to sing hymns, their voices muted by the stinky water rising to their chins. They quoted scripture. They prayed. Sister Smith put on a brave face, not daring to say aloud what she was thinking:
“I never thought this is where my life would end.”
As the storm subsided, the phone in Elder Ardern’s office started to ring. One by one, the presidents of the 21 missions in the Philippines called in, reporting that all their missionaries were safe and accounted for. Except for one. The president from the Tacloban mission never called.
As Elder Ardern waited, the phone rang. Parents from Idaho and Texas called in, frantic for news of their children. The wives of the area presidency took most of the calls, assuring parents that as soon as they had word they’d let them know the status of their missionary children.
More than 24 hours passed and the area presidency still hadn’t heard any word on the status of the 204 Tacloban missionaries. Elder Ardern was pacing when an email finally came in from the mission president. The 38 missionaries in the city of Tacloban were safe. He had negotiated with local government officials to send an email on the only functioning Internet portal in town. As soon as he found the rest of his missionaries he’d be in touch, he promised.
For 10 LDS sister missionaries trapped in the rising waters of Typhoon Haiyan, fear gave way to faith in a dramatic story of survival
 “It was such a terrible thing we witnessed, but I learned so much about how people will come together to help others, expecting nothing in return. I saw that from other missionaries, and I saw that from the Philippine people. It's a lesson I hope I never forget.”
Cell service was still impossible, and would be for days, if not weeks. Elder Ardern was relieved, but also worried about the rest of the mission.
The area presidency dispatched every church employee in Cebu and Manila — security and building maintenance and church welfare and others — to go to Tacloban to search for members. They would travel the six hours from Cebu to Tacloban to count survivors, return to Cebu to find a working phone or Internet connection to make a report to church headquarters in Manila, and then head back out in to the wreckage to find more survivors and help.
In one Mormon congregation alone, 95 percent of the members saw their homes destroyed. Scores had lost family members, many carried out to sea with the current, never to return.
The sister missionaries worked together. Sister Schaap punched a hole through an opening in a flimsy wall, and the group of 10 swam through the murky water that would soon carry their journals and clothes and pots and pans out to sea. Those who couldn’t swim clung tightly to their companions.
The sisters used the rope to reach a nearby roof. Sister Smith stood on the rain gutter, the other nine sister missionaries shivering beside her, the rain still coming down in sheets. Hours had passed since the beginning of the storm, and yet the sky above Tacloban was still gray, shrouded by fog.
Sister Smith said thoughts of dying left her mind. But some of the sisters appeared pale and their bodies were shaking. The water was still rising and they feared it would engulf them.
One of the sisters suggested they pray. They huddled closely together, bowed their heads, and with the rain dripping down their chins, asked God to make the water stop. And then, in what Sister Smith could only describe as the greatest miracle of her life, the sea stopped rising.
By the time Elder Ardern arrived in Tacloban four days after the storm, the water had receded, leaving a putrid scene of destruction in its wake. Bloated bodies lay exposed on the sides of the road, some covered by a blanket, or rusty corrugated roofing, others by a moldy piece of cardboard. The stench was sickening.
At one point, the city had tried to conduct a mass burial for 200, but had turned its trucks around when they heard gunfire.
The city had descended into chaos and lawlessness. Survivors of the typhoon had broken into stores that hadn’t been flattened to steal televisions and toys, food, even light fixtures, despite the fact that there was no electricity.
Hours after the storm, the president’s two assistants had made the walk from the mission home to the house where the sisters had been staying. The house was destroyed but they had to kick through the door to get inside. When they found no one, they feared the worse, a sense that only heightened when a neighbor told them they’d seen four sisters leaving for a nearby elementary school.
“There were supposed to be 10,” one of the elders said.
They found all 10 at a nearby elementary school, and soon learned the story of the escape from the house and the hours spent on the roof, praying for someone to find them.
With the sisters now accounted for, the assistants and other missionaries assigned to the mission office fanned out through the city, trying to find the rest of their mission force. A dense cloud cover prevented even satellite phones from working, meaning the missionaries had no way to communicate with missionaries serving in outlying areas.
But these missionaries, they said guided by the spirit and survival instincts, made their way to the mission home. Some walked for four hours. Others hitched a ride on a motorcycle, relying on the kindness of strangers unsure how to feed their own children. One group of missionaries cobbled together more than a thousand dollars and made their way to Tacloban by boat. All 204 missionaries were now accounted for.
The two assistants to the president, one from Dallas and the other from Fiji, stayed with the 10 sisters and others at the mission home, supporting each other, especially at night when gunshots rang out.
With their own food running low, the assistants, under the direction of their mission president, decided they had to make their way to the airport. So before dawn, four days after the storm but again in pouring rain, they headed out with their flashlights pointing the way through the darkness.
“It was the hardest thing,” said one of the assistants. “People had gotten so hungry they had begun to attack each other. The worst part was the smell, the stench of death.”
Some sisters, their feet blistered, could barely walk. The looting had become more severe, and the missionaries had heard rumors that prisoners at the jail, which had lost its electricity and its guards, had simply walked out. The assistants stood at the front and back of the long line of missionaries — dozens and dozens — as they made the long march to the airport.
As they walked, Elder Ardern tried to arrange a flight out. He had booked flights in Manila, but thousands of other survivors had mobbed the Tacloban airport. The ticket agent told him if he wanted a flight out, he’d have to pay more to get his 204 missionaries to safety.
As Elder Ardern tried other options, the missionaries milled about what was left of the airport terminal, its walls blasted out by the gale force winds of the storm. And then,  a final miracle.
An Army sergeant with a C-130 airplane, assigned by the U.S. government to fly Americans out of the disaster area, said he had a feeling he should walk through the terminal one more time. As he did, he saw out of the corner of his eye what looked like the nametag of a Mormon missionary. The sergeant, a Mormon himself, asked if the missionary was American. When he said he was, the sergeant told him he could arrange flights out for all the Americans and foreigners in his C-130.
Before the day had ended, many of the missionaries Elder Ardern had come for were flying out of Tecloban. By week’s end, all of the missionaries in the area would be evacuated to Manila, where they would await a new assignment in other missions in the Philippines.
It’s a Saturday afternoon in Manila, a week after the storm, the air hot and sticky. Sister Amanda Smith and the nine other survivors are sitting on a bench on the well-manicured grounds of the Philippine Missionary Training Center, talking to a television crew from New York. Their story of survival and resistance will inspire millions, they are told.
Still, it is hard for most of them to talk about their experience, and the things they saw. They said night terrors awake them. And so, just as they did during the storm, they sing hymns and say quiet prayers, hoping for peace, and an ability to leave behind the terror of what they witnessed.
And yet, there is a part of them that wishes they could go back, to help those members and non-members alike, who are still stuck. They are comforted to know that the church has never stopped searching for those that are lost, and that in the coming weeks church officials, from Salt Lake and throughout the Philippines, will continue to push food and medical supplies, blankets and tents, into the areas most affected by the typhoon, to provide relief to Filipinos, whether they are Mormons or not, part of a rescue operation that includes dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGO's), faith groups and governments from around the world.
When the interview with the TV crew is over, Sister Smith and the other sisters hurry to a parking lot, where the missionaries evacuated from Tacloban are boarding vans that will take them to their new area. They hug and cry, bonded by a tragedy they never saw coming, but one they were surprisingly prepared for.
“It was such a terrible thing we witnessed,” Sister Smith said. “But I learned so much about how people will come together to help others, expecting nothing in return. I saw that from other missionaries, and I saw that from the Philippine people. It’s a lesson I hope I never forget.”

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Letters from home

Kandis, our daughter in law, sent us this e-mail about our grandson, Lance, who is 4 years old.

The other day Lance was at my mom's and she told me this story: 

Lance took a carrot outside and just sat on her deck looking straight ahead towards the mountains, just quietly eating his carrot. 

My mom came out and asked him what he was doing. 

Lance said:  I'm looking at the West Indies.

Mom said:  You can see the West Indies from here?

Lance said:  Yes, when I eat carrots it makes my eyes long and I can see all the way to the West Indies!!

So cute, he mentions the West Indies quiet often in different references.

Last night he and I were talking about his school and I asked him who Gracie was:

She's my love mom.
Honey, your too young to be in love.
I'm not too young to love Gracie!
Enough said!

He is so funny! He makes us laugh all the time. Lance is doing great in school. As you saw in the letters we sent, he is writing his own name now. He doesn't like homework!! It's going to be a long 12 years in school. We will work on that.

I was telling him what a punishment would be for disobeying and I said to him "how does that sound" he replies "that sounds great mom" .

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Islamic fundamentalist faced violence and threats after Mormon conversion

The following was written by Jeff Benedict and was published in the Deseret News on November 11, 2013.  I felt this remarkable story of Momen Tito and his conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was inspiring and trust it will likewise affect others that follow our blog.

I know countless Christians. But until three years ago, I had never met one who had been persecuted — beaten and threatened with death — for believing in Jesus Christ.
Nor had I given much thought to how my own beliefs would hold up if I faced imminent violence and my only escape was to deny my religious convictions.
Then, something happened that forever changed the way I look at religious liberty. I learned about a Nigerian-born Islamic fundamentalist named Muhammad Awal Momen. He lived in Ghana and was looking for someone to help write his life story.
His father had groomed him from birth to be a powerful cleric capable of leading a jihad, or holy struggle, to convert non-believers to Islam. He even dubbed his son “the chosen one.”
The boys that Muhammad had grown up with in his village had eventually become followers of Osama bin Laden. But Muhammad ultimately became a Christian and legally changed his name to Tito (the Italian version of Titus, Paul’s missionary companion). For that, he was branded an infidel and reported to the authorities. After being arrested on unrelated charges, he was persecuted for his Christian beliefs and spent 15 years in prison.
Three weeks after first learning about Tito, I flew to Ghana to meet him and commence work on his memoir. I knew very little about Islam. I had never read the Quran. I don’t speak Arabic. But Tito and I bonded quickly.
With a video camera rolling, I suggested we start at the beginning with his earliest childhood memories. He said he grew up in a compound and he could see the mosque from his bedroom window. His training started on his fifth birthday. That was the first time he entered the mosque to pray with his father. From that day forward, the ritual of praying was repeated five times per day.
Muhammad also got a birthday gift from his father — a stack of notebooks and his own Quran. His father instructed him to memorize the Quran by copying it word-for-word in the notebooks.
All other reading was forbidden. No nursery rhymes. No children’s stories. No books about African history, animals, world geography or sports. Muhammad’s childhood revolved around memorizing scripture and prayers. He never saw television, never colored a picture with crayons, never was photographed, never listened to the radio. Art, photography and music were all considered evil.
Muhammad never saw his father kiss or hug his mother, either. Nor did he ever hear his father say the words “I love you.” But he had seen his father strike his mother on plenty of occasions. Marriage in his village was not predicated on love; it was about duty and discipline.
Muhammad hated seeing his mother cry after being hit. But he learned to accept it. That’s the way it was in his village. He figured it was that way everywhere.
At 17, Muhammad’s father sent him to a private boarding school in Syria, where harsh clerics with extremist ideas indoctrinated him and other young men to despise Christianity, Judaism and anything associated with the West. But when Muhammad arrived in Cairo a few years later for college, he made a startling discovery. There were lots of Muslims who were quite different than the ones he’d grown up with. They read the Quran, attended mosque and believed in Allah. But they also wore Levi’s, listened to Michael Jackson and watched Hollywood films. Some of them even smoked cigarettes and consumed alcohol.
Muhammad’s new Muslim friends introduced him to Western culture. Through them he also met some Christians. Most of them were Coptic Christians. But one of them belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was the only one who didn’t smoke or drink. Curious, Muhammad asked if he could visit his friend’s church.
A week later, Muhammad attended his first Christian service. He was stunned to see people of all races in the congregation. Even more surprising was the sight of women and children praying and speaking from the podium. Where he came from, women were forbidden to enter a mosque and young boys were prohibited from speaking.
When a little Nigerian boy no older than 9 stood and expressed his love for his family and God, then closed by saying, “I bear my humble testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen,” Muhammad watched in amazement. He thought back to his father drumming into him that Christianity was evil. Yet this little boy was humble, meek and sincere. Muhammad’s views about Christians were unraveling before his eyes.
That day, a member of the congregation gave Muhammad a Bible. At first it made him uneasy just to hold it. His father had convinced him that the Bible was not the word of God.
But when he got back to his apartment, Muhammad began reading. When he read the New Testament, particularly the words and actions of Jesus Christ, he felt something he had never felt. It was hard to describe. But it kept him up at night and compelled him to keep reading.
Then he read the Book of Mormon. When he got to the passages about Christ, he got that same feeling he had while reading the Bible.
By then, he knew he was in trouble. Deep trouble. He started to doubt all the things he’d been taught about Christianity. The gospel of Jesus Christ centered on love and forgiveness, two themes that resonated with Muhammad.
But there was no way he could embrace the Bible or Christianity. His father might kill him. Literally. At a minimum, he’d be branded an infidel. That’s not just some loose term; not where Muhammad comes from.
But the more he studied the life of Saul and his eventual conversion on the Road to Damascus, the more Muhammad felt compelled to make a change. In 1989, he legally changed his name to Tito. His father reacted by holding a public funeral for him back in Nigeria.
Then Tito got baptized, making his conversion to Christianity official. His father blamed Tito’s mother. She took so much abuse from her husband and other male members of the village that she committed suicide.
In the meantime, the ramifications of Tito’s decision continued to mount. In 1991, he was arrested in Egypt on charges of drug possession and falsifying his identity. He denied the drug charges. But he had forged a passport in an attempt to flee Egypt. He was sentenced to life in prison. He would have died there if it weren’t for the efforts of European-based Christian organizations dedicated to protecting the human rights of those persecuted for their beliefs. They orchestrated a massive letter-writing campaign that attracted participants from around the world. Diplomats got involved. A group of Christian women even made regular visits to Tito in prison.
Eventually, after 15 years in confinement, Tito was released in 2006. He relocated to Ghana.
In my initial visit there with Tito, we did roughly 40 hours of interviews. But it was much later in the process on one of his extended visits to my home in Virginia that he told me about the last time he saw his father.
A few years after being released from prison, Tito was contacted by one of his cousins back in Nigeria. “Your father is dying,” the cousin told him. “And he wants to see you.”
Tito didn’t believe it. In his father’s eyes, Tito had died in 1989 when he took on a Christian name. Still, Tito decided to make the trek back to Nigeria. Inside a hospital, he found his dying father sleeping on a bed.
His mouth was open, his breathing labored. His face was hollow and his eyes sunken. His paper-thin skin barely covered his bones. He was bald, emaciated and frail.
“This is the man I feared my whole life?” Tito thought.
As Tito stood there gazing down, his father opened his eyes. A peaceful smile came over his face. It was the first time Tito had ever seen his father smile that way.
“My son,” he whispered.
They stared at each other. Then the father reached for Tito’s hand.
“Now that I see you,” his father whispered, “Allah has answered my prayer. I asked Allah that if what you believe in is true, I should see your face before I died. Allah has shown me your face. So I believe in whatever you believe in.”
Tito wondered if his father was senile.
“Is it too late for me?” his father said.
He sounded so desperate, so pathetic.
By that point Tito was an emotional mess. His father had made him cry so many times in his lifetime. But this was the first time the tears were born of sympathy. He could see the fear in his father’s eyes.
“It’s never too late,” Tito told him. “Father in heaven is a God of mercy.”
He squeezed his father’s hand. “Christ died for everyone,” Tito continued. “Everyone can be redeemed, father.”
“The Lord you’re worshipping will take care of me?” he pleaded.
Too choked up to speak, Tito nodded affirmatively.
They spent two hours together that day. Tito’s father died later that afternoon.
I remember the day that I helped Tito write the closing chapter of his memoir. The emotions were so raw that writing was physically exhausting. But these words about Tito’s father and redemption emerged on the page: “The next time I see him will be on the other side. I do believe he’ll be there. At that point he won’t be a Muslim and I won’t be a Christian. We will simply be children of God.”

Monday, November 11, 2013

Letters from Home

Sister Sarah Pinnock
Bahia Blanca, Argentina
October 2013

Oh Hi!
So this week.... holy... this week.... where do I start?

My companion... solid... she really enjoys the work and she rocks at spanish so that is a way good thing!  She is also encouraging my spanish which is good because I am como se dice.... terrible.  The other two girls in my apartment are hilarious.  One reminds me of Chelsea... and all I´m saying is I think if Chels wanted to serve I think she would be pretty amazing.... she should come join the ranks... tell her I said that and also if she says no I’m not mad because I can't receive revelation for her.  The other sister in my apartment is hilarious!  She also loves to cook... I don´t hate it... on Halloween she made apple pie.... it was goooooood.  She gets done with her mission in a couple of months and is pretty homesick but we try to keep her focused.

Spanish = hahaha I don´t even know.  I promise I´m trying so hard but the three responses I usually get are:  1. Que lindo (which is kind of like saying, "how cute"... p.s. everyone in Argentina thinks I’m 16 and it´s fine haha like 10 people have asked me if I am 16… I guess that will pay off when I’m 110 years old and I want to look 100)  2.  They laugh (this is a common response from missionaries) or 3. They look at my companion and say, “Como?"  Haha… I have learned that the best way to cope with your failures is simply to laugh.  

Let’s be honest.  I am probably the worst missionary ever with my spanish but I have decided to pull an “Other Side of Heaven" and read the whole Book of Mormon out loud... dun dun dun!  My goal is to be done by Christmas so I can speak to David.... so Dave get ready for my amazing spanish.  

Some funny spanish experiences...  when I gave what I thought to be a really great prayer in a less-active member’s home and when I got done he said, “Yep you really need to work on your spanish"... or when I didn't know what scripture to give so I just opened my scriptures and read one that was marked... bad bad idea.  When I got home and read it I cried of laughter all night... Look it up 2 Nephi 9:28.  Haha I just laugh and laugh and pray and laugh.

Our investigators are pretty sweet.  In lessons I´m useless except for giving my testimony and prayers (haha) but I try to speak up and add a little something every once in a while.  

My companion is a huge talker though so sometimes it´s hard.  The work here is sooooooo different... like soooooooooo different!  I’m happy I got to serve in Arizona because it gave me such a strong spiritual foundation.  Here we walk and walk and walk and walk and walk.... it is like shopping with Jane times 10.  Falling asleep has never been so easy.... it takes all of five seconds til I’m out.  This last week it rained and I loved it.  We also did a service project which was fun.  I wish I could take a picture of all the houses because they are amazing.

Well I can honestly say that I am soooo happy!  Not every day is the best day but every day is worth it!   It´s crazy how much I am learning about myself and about Heavenly Father.... I can´t wait to give HIM a huge bear hug!  I love you all!!!!

Hermana Pinnock

I'm loving all of it!