Thursday, December 15, 2016

Finishing Up our Mission

Finishing up the mission -- It's been GREAT! 
Hard to believe it is December 14, 2016 and this is the last day of our mission assignment in the Texas San Antonio Mission. We have mixed emotions; mostly sadness. Not sad to be leaving Austin, but to be leaving our good friends from the last year. We have helped some people learn to read better and prepare for their Citizenship test. We helped members of a Haitian family get employment as the Austin Housing Authority is trying to kick them out of the low income apartment their mother has lived in for years because when her 2 daughters and grandson were finally allowed to be reunified the Authority says, "You have too many people living in this apartment. You have to vacate immediately!" But with two people working they can now get their own place and we have given them a list of "affordable" apartments in Austin (unfortunately truly affordable housing doesn't exist in this city). And in the last 2 days we helped  a Liberian friend to pass several tests to qualify him for a new job that will significantly improve this couple's living standard. And the mother of our friends from Nigeria has recently gotten a job and has started riding the bus which terrified her. Her oldest son is trying to get into the BYU Idaho Pathway program. So we feel good about our closing weeks. But it is still very hard. That's the bad news.
Pounded Yam and Chicken

Farewell Dinner with the Adetuyis, from Nigeria

Us with Joseph, Jennifer & Veronica Adetuyi

The good news is, we have been investigating the possibility of serving a 6 month mission at the Manhattan Temple in New York City. We talked to the Temple President and he told us the earliest we could do that would be next October, but Elder Moody, who oversees the Senior Temple Missionary Program said if we hurry and get our papers in, get the medical portion of the application taken care of and get it all in fast we could possibly go as soon as June or August! We will see what happens.
Literally wore out the tires on our Honda...40,000+ miles
Africans call her "White Grandma"

But right now, we will spend our last day just cleaning our apartment and packing up as we get ready to welcome two new grandchildren into the world on December 19th and 24th. So we won't have time to sit around and probably won't be going home to Kansas for a while as we have many family members to visit in Utah, Idaho and Washington. So to our Pittsburg, Kansas friends we'll just say, "We'll see you soon, but we don't know how soon!"   Riiiiiing!!!  Oops, I misspoke. We're taking 4 girls canoeing at Yaktman's tonight. Looks like we're be missionaries to the  end!!! 💑

We've loved our mission. Thinking about another!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Wooten Elementary School Gets Mormon Makeover

Africans & Missionaries Help With School Renovation

Saturday, October 8 was a beautiful day in Austin. Warm but not hot. Low humidity and low pollen count for allergy sufferers. No chance of rain. Sunny with just enough cloud cover to keep everyone from over heating. In short----a perfect day for the annual Austin Stake service project at Wooten Elementary School which is located in an impoverished neighborhood with mostly Hispanic, African American and refugee children from various countries. We left the house before sun up to coordinate picking up people to come and help. The Ninnie family and the Saylees from Liberia and the 4 Adetuyis from Nigeria were all there to participate. All the missionaries from our zone were also there.

It was great to show up at 8 a.m. and see over 700 volunteers in bright yellow Mormon Helping Hands vests already getting to work on many projects all around the outside of the school and the inside of the school. People were tearing up sod and laying down mulch for flower beds. Many trees and shrubs were being planted all around the school grounds. Painting of support posts and walls was going on everywhere. The school sign was restored and a bench refurbished in a new seating area that was our group’s main project.

Jennifer, Veronica and Eileen prune a bush.
Many new shrubs and trees were planted to beautify the school
Nigerians get the job done!
Sisters Newell and Taylor, always smiling
McDonald and Karr breaking ground
Shoal Creek members work on this bench to become a center piece of the school
Eileen and I weren’t needed for the heavy work outside so we found a first year teacher who was hired just before school started and had no time to prepare her room properly. She had several people working in her room on bulletin boards, teaching materials, etc. She assigned Eileen and I to develop
We created an in class library of a few hundred new books
an in class library. She showed us some bookshelves with books piled on them and plastic tubs filled a few hundred more books of all genres. She gave us a box with many rolls of colored tape and we coded each genre with a different color of tape and then put colored tapes on each bookshelf so students could easily put books back on the shelf by matching the tape we put on the spine of each book with the tapes on each of the bookshelves.
Eileen put colored tape on every book before putting it on a shelf with the same color tape on the front of it so kids could easily put their books away in their proper location.

 Dan looked up the genre of every book to figure out which color of tape it should be tagged with. A tedious task for sure.


There was a great sense of satisfaction on the part of all those involved and the school was literally transformed in just 3 short hours.
    This is the bench that Shoal Creek Ward members and missionaries sanded, painted, and landscaped. This is now a centerpiece at the entrance to the school.                                        


As my mother might have said, “Many hands make light work.”
This is especially true when there are refreshments at the end. 

Snow cones, popcorn, and ice cream make for a perfect day 
after a work party. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Baby on the Back

African Women Carry Their Babies On Their Back
Her name is Fatima and she is American. Born her in the United States. She lives in a house with her grandmother, her mother, 2 other aunts and a group of cousins who float in and out of the house. Her grandmother and the aunts were all born in Republic of the Congo but lived several years in a refugee camp in a country that was called "Ivory Coast" at the time they were there but is now called Cote de Voire (French for Ivory Coast). One day some immigration people came to the camp and told the grandmother, Odile, that she would be going to the U.S. the following day. They pointed to her three daughters and said they would go with her. She asked, "What about my three sons? I can't go without them." They simply told her that if she wasn't willing to leave the boys then none of them would go. The boys told her she had to go, not to worry about them, they would be all right. To this day the family sends money back to the camp to keep the boys alive. Odile is elderly and speaks almost no English. She does child care and still carries the babies on her back African style. It is really much better than doing it American style. The babies or even toddlers fall asleep, never cry, it doesn't hurt the mother's back and her arms are free to go about her work. She can bend over without fear of losing the child and the cloth never comes untied. Most of the folks we work with still practice lots of African traditions. This is one of them. The day we visited Odile's house, Odile wasn't there. Fatima's 12 year old sister was babysitting. Fatima brought the large piece of material with an African print on it to me and asked me to help her tie it like her Grandma does so she could carry her baby on her back. So cute I had to take a picture.


The Family Circle Is Now Complete -- 
On July 23rd the father of a Nigerian family that became members of the church on April 30th was baptized. It's a long story but the gist of it is that he was a pastor in a very large congregation in Nigeria. Before he could join the Church he felt he had to return home, tell his flock that he was leaving them and that he hopes they will eventually follow him. So true to his word he returned home to Lagos immediately after his family was baptized and returned several days ago. In the meantime his son was ordained a Priest in the Aaronic Priesthood and given the authority to baptize his father. 
English is the national language of Nigeria but there are three tribal languages that are spoken by Nigerians, depending on which tribe they belong to. This family are from the largest tribe in the country which speaks a language called Yureba. In their home, with friends or at other times the family speaks Yureba. At the close of the service we gave Rufus a Book of Mormon in Yureba. We encouraged him to use it to teach other Nigerians. It is always more reassuring when you can read something in your own language.    

Monday, July 18, 2016

3 Baptisms

New Members of Shoal Creek Ward
We're not proselyting missionaries by any means. We are MLS missionaries which stands for Member & Leadership Support. In terms of working with refugees that means we are all over the map as far as what we do. We get them to the doctor. We help them fill out job applications when they can't read or write. We get them to immigration attorneys to work out visa or citizenship issues. We teach with the young missionaries when needed. We teach some to read, and more. We cheer them on during the conversion process and we attend their baptisms when they are ready. We have had 3 baptisms so far and will have our 4th this Saturday, July 23.
Geortund was the first. She's from the Republic of Congo
 We got a text message referral from Salt Lake on April 9th or so. It looked like a normal referral for a Book of Mormon. It just said she is a "French speaker." A minute or two later we got a second text that said, "She would like to be baptized on April 23rd." So we scrambled to get her a French copy of the Book of Mormon and get her hooked up with Elders Herriott and Christman and our go to French translator Jim Law who is a Ph.D. student in French Linguistics at University of Texas. Geortund was one of those "golden contacts" that missionaries dream about. She was already converted from on line conversations she had with online missionaries in Salt Lake. We helped teach her a few times and she was baptized in French by Brother Law.
The Audetuyi Family from Nigeria were next!  
 Bishop Anderson was smiling as the Audetuyi (Ah-dee-too-ee) family was baptized after attending every meeting and activity since October. I baptized the mother, Veronica. Elders Herriott and Christman baptized Jennifer, Joseph and Daniel. The father, Rufus, will be baptized this Saturday, July 23rd by his son Joseph who is a 17 year old Priest. We see great potential from this family as leaders where ever they go.
Kiki Auguste, a 17 year old young man from Haiti
Kiki (Kee-kee) came to Austin with his mother Natasha about 6 months ago. Natasha joined the Church in Haiti several years ago and came to live with her mother Marie Alexis. Neither Natasha or Kiki speak English. Being from Haiti they speak French Creole. We have French translation in our meetings for those who speak only French. Kiki is learning English at school and he does speak some but it's summer now progress right now. He was baptized in French by Brother Law.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

19 Countries

The Man From Ethiopia: One Man's Immigration Odyssey 
On Sunday, May 29 we went to Casa Marianella in the Evening because they would be having their monthly potluck get together. Our goal was to see if Neckson (Central African Republic) and Regeese (Congo) were still there. Neckson is a Mormon and Regeese was studying the Church. We also wanted to see if we could find Valentin (Angola) who came to church one time. It didn’t take long and we had reacquainted with all of them, and then had a bit to eat. We saw Afiwa there too and she was glad to see us.

Soon we found ourselves seated at a picnic table talking with a man from Ethiopia. We asked him a little about himself and soon he was telling us the most amazing story of his immigration to the United States. He had only been in the U.S. for 22 days. But his journey to get here took 7 months and spanned 19 countries. His wife has been here for three months and is so common, he is living at Casa Marianella and she is somewhere else in the city. She was not there. I’ll attempt to relate his story as best I can.

He never told us his name, just that he and his wife had fled from Ethiopia in November. They traveled from Ethiopia with two other men from Eritrea and Somalia, three countries in the “horn of Africa” region. They had no visas or specific plans except to keep going no matter what. He said they traveled any way they could; by bus, by truck, by plane, but mostly on foot, walking thousands of miles to security, freedom and a new life that would be better than the one they left behind.

The first leg of the journey took them from Ethiopia to Somalia. Then following the coast line they made their way south through Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and finally to South Africa. This leg of the journey was long and very difficult. But compared to what was to come the first six countries of their odyssey may have been the easiest part of the journey. 
Following the East Coast of Africa

In South Africa they were able to get together a stash of money to buy plane tickets to South America. From Johannesburg, South Africa they flew to Brazil where the trek would take them through five more countries as they made their way toward Central America. 

Through 5 more countries in South America  

From Brazil the small group began to make their way toward the United States, mostly on foot! Starting in Western Brazil they ventured to Bolivia and Peru but had no time to visit Machu Pichu or Lake Titicaca. They continued through the mountains to Ecuador and then on to Colombia where things took a turn for the worse. Because they had no visa border agents took them into custoday and they spent 45 days in jail.

As if things weren’t bad enough when the group languished in a Colombian jail for a month and a half, the worst part of the trek was about to come after their release. From Colombia they walked for 10 days through the mountainous jungles of Panama. He told us how hard it was for them to walk through the jungle without even a machete to chop their way through. He said it was too dangerous for them to be caught walking on the roads and they slept on the ground at night with no protection from the elements.

From Panama they made their way north through Costa Rica which had better roads and was safer for them than Panama or Colombia. But there was no time to rest and they just kept going until they reached Nicaragua.
Sneaking into Nicaragua did not go well for this man. He was captured by government officials and once again found himself in jail for another 45 days. His wife was not captured though so she kept heading north on her own. They had no way to communicate for a long time.  

After a month and a half in confinement in Nicaragua he was released and allowed to go on his way. He crossed into El Salvador and then Guatemala. Finally after over 5 months of travel he got to Mexico and started making his way toward southern Texas, which was still hundreds of miles away.  

 The route to the U.S. through Mexico was only slightly less dangerous than the rest of the trip had been. Never knowing where to sleep or whether his wife had made it to the border. He and his two friends had to trust smugglers and coyotes. They could be captured, killed or robbed at any point. But after several more days they came to the border and crossed illegally into Texas. They were soon spotted by U.S. Border Patrol and were arrested. They were taken to a detention center for men (basically a minimum security prison) in Pearsall, Texas which is about 60 miles south of San Antonio. After processing and several days in Pearsall waiting to see if they would be deported. He had an immigration hearing, was checked out medically, given 3 good meals a day and sets of new clothes before being taken to Austin where he was reunited with his wife. He now stays at the men’s shelter at Casa Marianella. His wife is staying at the women’s shelter that is part of Casa, and the two of them are hoping they will soon be given work permits and they can eventually get refugee status and begin building a new life. He did tell us though that his pro-bono immigration attorney forgot to file his application for a work permit so now it will be at least a month before he can get that and start working. After that his immigration journey will not be over. If  he is given refugee status it will be another 4 years before he will be able to get a green card and a few years after that so he can apply for citizenship. But if we are still a free society, it will have been worth it.

As we parted he emphatically told us how God protected the group so many times and even though they were often in danger, lost or putting their lives in the hands of smugglers. He was grateful to be in the United States and praised God for helping them get here. He was optimistic and looking forward to the new life that he and his wife would have here.