Sunday, April 6, 2014

Missions, Reunions, Potluck, and Eternal Friends

Missions, Reunions, Potluck, and Eternal Friends

Our mission in the Caribbean Area Welfare Office was one of the choicest experiences of our entire lives. We were able to travel the Caribbean, training Church leaders and doing humanitarian projects. Who wouldn’t want to do something like this?

While the travel and training were incredible elements of our mission, the real value was developing relationships—relationships with Church leaders and members, community leaders and community members, young missionaries from both the United States and countries of the world, and especially our senior missionary friends who have become eternal friends.

We loved to get together. And that hasn’t changed since we have been home. There is something magical about being with people you know and love.

We had that experience on Saturday, April 5, 2014, right before the Priesthood Session of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We met in the Rodney and Marcia Ford’s home in Bountiful, Utah, one large enough to accommodate 12 couples or 24 people.  

We began gathering around 4:00 p.m., just after the last session of General Conference. Soon, we were giving abrazos (hugs) and commenting how wonderful it was to see everyone. With smiles on our faces and our hearts full, we welcomed Los Mahon and Los Schmitz, both recently home from their missions.

Everyone brought something to eat. Los Ford served delicious roasted pork, with marvelous little potatoes, and sautéed mushrooms. So with the plentiful potluck dishes, we sat down to fine china, around two tables. The chatter and the clatter of voices, food, plates, and utensils echoed throughout the home.

Soon, though, Hermana Ford called out that it was time for the brethren to be off to the Priesthood Session. 

While we were gone, the Hermanas talked and talked and talked and prepared the dessert for a sweet homecoming. We barreled through the desserts like we were starving—cheesecake topped with a strawberry goo, German chocolate cake, carrot cake, and an assortment of other postres.

What’s a gathering without pictures. We took group pictures and couple pictures. Others took candid pictures of people talking, people handling guns (1863 version, perfectly safe, no load), and people just catching up on life.

In attendance: 

President and Sister Bair came from Washington. They served as Santo Domingo President and Matron for three years; so, their mission spanned all of our missions.

Los Snow were there. They served as Area Auditors and traveled the Caribbean, too, doing audits and training local leaders about Church finances. Their office was just across the partition from us in the Area Office. Frequently, chocolate kiss bombs came flying over to buoy us up. They also served in the Quisqueya Branch one of the small branches in the East Mission.

Los Ford, our hosts, served as the Santo Domingo West Mission couple. Their job was literally to keep the mission running, making sure the young elders and sisters had safe housing, organizing and transferring missionaries safely, working the finances of the mission, and doing a host of other activities. They were always busy. 

 Los Rees, ranchers from Morgan, Utah, served as the Caribbean Area Music Specialists. Ironically and according to them, they didn’t possess lots of musical skills, including not being able to play the piano well before the mission. Elder Rees said he took piano lessons when he was a kid, but the teacher basically kicked him out and told his mother to never bring him back. He literally re-learned how to play the piano, and they taught dozens and dozens of Dominicans how to play the piano and lead music.

Los Low had come from Canada, not necessarily just to attend our reunion but also attend his 50-year Tahitian reunion. They also served there as a couple. He served as one of the attorneys for the Caribbean Area Office while she worked in the temple and taught piano lessons.

Los Despain served as temple workers and in a small ward. Brother Despain plays the guitar and ventured to have one made; Sister Despain plays the piano. They were a huge boost in their ward, teaching in the Young Women’s program and lending support to the leaders.

Los Leavitt served as temple workers. If that wasn’t enough, he was called to be the Branch President in Los Llanos, a very small branch in the East mission. They traveled every Sunday and  most of their days off during the week to Los Llanos on some of the most horrible roads in the Dominican Republic. Plus, later in the mission, he was called to be part of the Santo Domingo Temple Presidency.

Los Schmitz had also recently returned. They were the ones who took the Ford’s place in the West Mission Office.

Los Brown came late. They are a wonderful couple who served in the West Mission Presidency and lived out in the middle of the mission and drove thousands and thousands of miles while visiting missionaries, leaders, and others and attending meetings.

Los Eickbush came strolling in, laden with dozens of loaves of his famous banana bread. How we all missed that. Often at Family Home Evenings or any time he was baking, we all received a fresh loaf of banana bread. Bananas (guineos) were plentiful, and he took advantage. They served as the East Mission Office couple and did everything los Ford and los Schmitz did and served in the Branch Presidency in Los Llanos. They were always busy.

Los Mahon had just returned from the mission and are acclimating to the climate and, as Hermana Mahon said, “Wearing pants” as she never wore a pair of pants while she was in the DR. They served as Church Education missionaries in the Dominican Republic and in the Missionary Training Center Presidency.

And, of course, Joanne and I were humbled to be in the presence of these great people. We served as Caribbean Area Welfare Specialists and in the Missionary Training Center Presidency.

It is amazing how close you become with people you meet and associate with for less than 18 months when serving a mission. I noticed the same camaraderie my parents experienced when they wintered in Quartzsite, Arizona. People come together under the most interesting experiences and continue being friends forever. And that’s how we feel about our friends who served simultaneously in the Caribbean Area Office and the Dominican Republic.

 Muchísimas gracias a Ustedes!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

“Where much is given, much is expected”

“Where much is given, much is expected”

Sunrise in Puerta Plata
 Returning to the Dominican Republic (DR) is always an awe-inspiring experience! And that’s just what I did recently.

Three generations: her mother, and her daughter Sarahi
For 12 days, I returned to do some consulting with Dr. Claudina Vargas and MACILE/COSOLA, a non-profit organization that is seeking to develop a Center for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (C-STEM). Here in the United States, STEM has become an integral component of K-12 and higher education. Unfortunately, in the DR, STEM subjects are not necessarily the focus, and many young people are not prepared in any of these subject areas as they enter high school or even when they enter college.

Dra. Claudina Vargas y Dr. Carlos Zómeta
We spent time visiting with teachers, Church leaders and members, community members, and other organizations and groups like the Asocicación Dominican de Rehabilitación Dr. Carlos Zómeta, the DR’s version of Vocational Rehabilitation; Wagner Paniagua from the Centro de Auto-Suficiencia (Center for Self Sufficiency); President and Sister Rodríguez, Mission President of the Santo Domingo West Mission; Presidents Olivero and Brito, stake presidents in Santo Domingo and San Cristóbol, respectively; and many others. What was exciting about visiting with each of these groups and people was that everyone was excited about what we were about and expressed support for our projects.

Teachers who attended the school newspaper workshop
 I also had an opportunity to meet with several teachers from three different schools in the Itabo region who are developing a school newspaper so their students can learn better writing, investigative, and publishing skills. Ironically, the power went out exactly at 5:00 p.m., and my beautifully organized PowerPoint presentation became a verbal show and tell. Power is a challenge in the DR. Some schools don’t even have power during the school day. Others have power intermittently throughout the day with a specific shutdown time.

A classroom in the DR
I salute the teachers in the DR. That is one reason we are developing a Teacher Training Institute to help them with a variety of issues. Interestingly, when I asked a few teachers what are the biggest challenges, I was surprised by their answers although I shouldn’t have been because they are almost the same as we have here:  classroom management, community relations, communication strategies, competency-based education, assessment, and many others. Sound familiar, teachers?

Teacher in Puerta Plata and Tekarra, a future teacher (Louise ZoBell's daughter)
We will be looking for master teachers to teach in the Institute in these subject areas as well as in the STEM subjects. So, if you are a master teacher who speaks Spanish and can deliver workshops in Spanish, please contact me at We are gathering a cohort group who can travel to the DR to help us develop and teach in the Teacher Training Institute.

Yelissa y Omar Rijo (Omar is a Bishop in La Romana)
 Of course, I had the glorious opportunity to attend the LDS temple in Santo Domingo! It is one of the most beautiful temples in the world. While there I was able to connect with our wonderful friends Omar and Yelissa Rijo from Puerta Plata; Daniel Joachim and Katherine Gutiérrez, two teachers in the DR Mission Training Center; and Wilson Segura, Julio César, and Alicia Gómez who work for the Area Office.  Additionally, I received abrazos from numerous friends from our mission in Puerto Plata, Santiago, Haina, San Cristóbal, and Santo Domingo—too many to name. Gracias por sus abrazos!

Daniel and Darrel
Darrel, Katherine, and her novio
Claudina and I were invited to have lunch with La Doña Idalita and Clari Tavares, an incredible family who is so supportive of MACILE and the projects we are doing in the DR. Clari’s son is engaged to the former 2012 Miss Dominican Republic, Dulcita Lieggi. Her mother, Dulce, and grandparents were there, too. The grandparents were some of the first LDS converts in the DR. 

La Familia Tavares
What wonderful people they are! It was a delicious luncheon, but the company was even better.

Darrel and Dulcita
Of course, I had to have my picture taken with Dulcita, the 2012 Miss Dominican Republic!

Claudina, Bonnie, Louise, and Darrel
Dr. Vargas and I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Puerta Plata, a city on the north side of the island, where we spent time with Louise ZoBell and her incredible family from the DominicanStarfish Foundation. They are doing just great work there, building homes and schools. We visited a few of the new built homes and the families who live there. 
Jenny and her happy family in front of their almost-completed new home
 One of the families is single mother of four whose mother now lives with her. To see their old home brought tears to my eyes. But the excitement Jenny exhibited when she showed me her new home, which is under construction. Louise and others have developed a house plan to build a house for about $5,000 (US). They aren’t large, but they are sufficient and a huge change from the former homes.

Hill to climb to the school
We also went to a school, up this very steep road. One teacher has two classrooms, one in the morning and one in the evening. While their supplies and resources are dismal at best, the teacher was so positive and welcomed us with home arms.
Teacher in a private school
Overall, the trip was a successful one, filled with wonderful visits, opportunities for growth and progress, and a feeling of hope. One of my sole reasons for going to the DR was to seek help and support, including financial, for the work we are doing in developing C-STEM. So, if you are looking for a place to send your money that support excellent causes, I know so many places. You would be surprised how comforting it is to know the good you do for others when you give of your means. We have been given so much. I understand even better the phrase: “Where much is give, much is expected.”

The real reason why we are all doing what we are doing: helping students succeed!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

"Dedé Mirabal: The Essence of Historical Elegance"

Note: The elegant Dedé Mirabal passed away last week. I wish to repost this blog I wrote about a year ago when we had the privilege of visiting with her at her home. It was, indeed, an incredible experience.

"Dedé Mirabal: The Essence of Historical Elegance"

          Sometimes we meet someone who leaves a great impression. That happened Wednesday. Elder and Sister Haws, Jenny Jacobs, and we went on a journey to visit the Museo Hermanas Mirabal (the Mirabal Sisters Museum). The events that percolated out of that one single event made the entire trip and may be one of the most eventful happenings of our mission so far.

          The Mirabal Sisters—Patria, Dedé, Minerva, and María Teresa—are extremely famous here in the Dominican Republic. They were part of the revolution that ultimately brought down the Trujillo regime. Unfortunately, three of them— Patria, Minerva, and María Teresa—were assassinated in a sugar field on November 25, 1960. Their story has been depicted in the movie: In the Time of the Butterflies, starring Salma Hayek as Minerva, Edward James Olmos as Trujillo.

          Perhaps, the best part of the trip was having the privilege of sitting down with Dedé Mirabal, the surviving sister. 

Dedé Mirabal

She met us on her back veranda. She was already seated in a white chair, a warm smile and a shock of gray hair lying gracefully in a long lock on the left side of her head. Dressed in a blue and white pattern blouse with a string of pearls hanging from her neck, she greeted us with the typical Dominican greeting, a kiss on the cheek for the hermanas, and a graceful extended hand to us, her eyes glistening with joy and love. She beckoned us to sit. I sat beside her, cognizant of who I was sitting by. I wanted to breathe in her aura, capture every word she said.

                She shared with us salient parts of the story. One important part was the fact she raised her three children and the six children left behind by her sisters’ death, which she called “a tragedy.” She currently lives in the home, now painted yellow with white shutters, where she and her sisters were raised. 

Museo Hermanas Mirabal
She talked about her experiences with the Museo Hermanas Mirabal, which the family foundation runs. She said thousands of students come to visit the Museo, and she has the opportunity to visit with them. They like to ask lots of questions. They ask about the tragedy, but they also ask about her age and how she feels and what it is like to live now. 

Orchids in in the gardens
For an 87-year-old, she looks incredible. Plus, she said, “I feel great!” Each morning, she walks through the gardens, thinking and pondering her life and often the past, checking to see which mariposas (butterflies) have landed on her many flowers, including the stunning orchids in the entryway. 

                She was so gracious in receiving us and allowed us to take pictures of her. When I took a close up, she commented how close the picture was. She wanted to see it; so, I showed it to her. She was pleased with the photo.

Dedé Mirabal and los Hammon

                Soon, we felt it was time to go. She had given us many precious moments of her time and her life. She signed her book for the Haws and Sister Jacobs. Reluctantly, we rose from our chairs. We wanted to linger even longer than we did. We could have sat for hours and listened to her. 

                As we bade her good bye, we couldn’t help but feel we had just been with someone whose history seeps into the free thought of every Dominican. As we walked to the car, we asked ourselves what one word described her. Just one word came to mind: elegance. She was elegant—is elegant. 

Orchids in the garden
                 Walking into the street in front of her home, I personally felt a bit of air rush from my body. Perhaps, it was a sense of greatness swelling within in. We had just been with someone who played a starring role in the great history of the Dominican Republic. She allowed us in, actually took us in, bathed us with her stories, her energy, her love, her kindness, her memories of a time past, yet still very present in the community of Ojo de Agua (Eye of Water). 

                We climbed into the Toyota Forerunner and sat for just a moment, trying to hoard the moment, trying to comprehend what we had just experienced. We spent precious time with la hermana sobreviviente (the living sister), Dedé Mirabal. Los Dominicanos all know about the Mirabal Sisters; now, we know about them, too, or at least a mere slice. We knew we had been some of the privileged ones to see her, talk with her, and feel of her presence. 

Jenny Jacobs, los Haws, Dedé Mirabal, los Hammon on the veranda

Thank you, Doña Dedé Mirabal.