Monday, December 26, 2016

Monday, December 19, 2016 to December 25, 2016

Monday, December 19, 2016
We had our mission Christmas Party today at the Hilton Hotel. All of the missionaries came except for the 20 missionaries in Puerto Cabeza. The President is going there after Christmas for a Christmas Party with them. We had a wonderful time. We first took pictures of each companionship, ate breakfast (catered by the hotel), watched a movie (Captain America – Civil War), ate lunch (again catered by the hotel) and ended with a talent show. What a day.
The missionaries really got into the talent show. We had singing, dancing, and even some rapping. The Latinos really like to party. Sister Bell played a melody of Christmas numbers. It was one of the few quiet performances, but the missionaries were very respectful. The Senior Missionaries also conducted the 12 days of Christmas. We split all the missionaries into 9 groups, then organized 1 group for the leader missionaries, 1 for the Poncios and another by the Senior missionaries, for a total of 12 groups. Each group took a verse. Once they understood the song (the Latinos didn’t know the song but quickly learned), they really got into it and had a lot of fun with it. By the time we got to the end, the groups ended up having a chanting contest, with each verse/group trying to out chant the others. We lost control of the whole song in the last verse. The MC, Elder Vega, had to step in and get control again so we could finish the last verse. It was a lot of fun.
At the end of the party, The Poncios gave each companionship a fruit basket. 

After the party, the Lees, Koellikers and us went to El Zocalo for dinner. What a day.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016
Happy Anniversary to Mom and Dad Bell.
We held a training for the new missionaries, those who were still in training. The missionaries are in training for 12 weeks (2 changes) after they arrive. We have two trainings for them and their companions during this 12-week period. Today Sister Bell taught the new missionaries about how to eat a good breakfast under $C50 (about $1.50). Sister Bell showed a PowerPoint showing examples of inexpensive breakfasts. We then sang a new version of the 12 days of Christmas using breakfast foods for the 12 gifts, such as 3 Gallo Pinto or 2 huevos fritos. After learning the song the day before, the missionaries really got into the song quickly. They loved it.
We then settled into watching the rest of the training, when a missionary showed Sister Bell his knee and ankle. He had severely injured them the night before when he tried to do some acrobatics. So we ended taking him to the hospital to get it checked out. He ended up with only sprains, but that took the rest of the morning and up until mid-day.
We hosted the Lee’s and Helbergs for dinner (Homemade chicken noodle soup, salad, rolls, ice cream and cookies). The Koellikers were also in town and joined us. But they had to leave early and the Lee’s went with them so they both left right after dinner. So the Helbergs and us watched White Christmas. It was a nice evening together.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016
We had our office meeting today. We usually have it on Monday, but we had the Christmas Party on Monday and the new missionary training yesterday so we had to postpone the office meeting until today. We got a sneak peek at Januarys schedule (zone conference, new missionary training, changes, new missionaries). It will be a busy month. We had an opportunity to review the mission’s medical statistics since we came to the mission with President and Sister Poncio. The greatest number of illnesses was stomach problems, with infectious diseases number two. However, the overall number of sick missionaries went down from almost 120 calls the first month (May) to 72 this past month (November). We hope that our education efforts are making a difference. President and Sister Poncio are very appreciative of our efforts. 
Thursday, December 22, 2016
We went with the Lee’s to make a post office run. They have to go to three different post offices to pick up mail. They are not sure why because all of the letters and packages are addressed the same way. Well, we are in Nicaragua. On our way to the main post office, we drove by an area where there were about 40 large manger scenes. Here is a sample.

Friday, December 23, 2016
Today we made a Santa Run. We delivered a Christmas Present to a new Elder from the Dominican Republic.  He comes from a poor family and hadn’t received a Christmas package. His companion, said he would love a nice set of scriptures (his were an inexpensive, investigator type scriptures), so we bought a nice set and took it to him in Matagalpa, 134 km north of Managua. He was really excited to get a package. We told him he couldn’t open it until Christmas, which is celebrated on the 24th here. He was disappointed at that because he wanted to open it immediately, but he agreed to wait. (We got a call very early on the 24th thanking us for the scriptures. He was really excited and grateful. He apparently couldn’t wait any longer so he opened it as soon as he woke up). Then we went to Jinotega 34 km north of Matagalpa to pick up a cedula (Nicaraguan residence card) from a missionary who is going home next month. Then we drove to Somoto, 133 km northwest of Jinotega, stopping briefly in Condega to give bagels and jam to Elder Spence and Elder Sanchez. We also dropped off a large print triple combination for Virginia, a recent convert who can’t see the print in the regular size scriptures. She already had a large print Bible but needed a triple in large print. In Somoto, we dropped off more bagels and jam for the missionaries, dropped off some Christmas packages and mail for the missionaries in the Ocotal Zone and signed some checks so that the branch could have their Christmas party on the 24th. These were the first checks used in the Somoto Branch so I reviewed with President Alaniz and the missionaries how to fill out a check, the need for receipts and how to document the transaction. Each check requires two signatures and in Somoto only President Alaniz and I are authorized to sign checks, thus one of the reasons for our trip north today (Checks are not used much in Nicaragua. Several of the vendors don’t accept them. So in those cases, the Branch Presidents fills out a check, goes to the bank and cashes it and then gives the money to the vendor. Things are not always easy here). We also talked about the proper use of the branch computer and I left the computer with them. We then dropped off more bagels and jam in Pueblo Nuevo and Trinidad on our way home. We got home about 9:30pm after a 13.5-hour day, driving about 550 km (340 miles) and making 6 Santa stops. Ho Ho Ho…. Merry Christmas
Saturday, December 24, 2016
Today is the day that the Nicaraguans celebrate Christmas with parties, presents, dinners and fireworks. We celebrated it in quiet fashion at home. I even took a nap. We watched a couple of movies and made some chocolate chip cookies for the office Elders. We skyped with Roxanne and Grandpa and then in the evening we read the Christmas Story and sang a few Christmas songs together. It was a pretty poor concert, but since we were the singers and the audience, we didn’t care how it sounded.
Sunday, December 25, 2016
Merry Christmas…. President Hinckley said, “There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection.” Sister Bell and I love the Savior and thus we are in Nicaragua serving Him. He is my personal redeemer. I learned that very early in life, when as a teenager, I experienced the joy that comes from repentance and being forgiven because of the redemptive power of the atonement.  I only hope and pray that each member of our family (and each missionary and member of the Church) will gain a personal testimony of the redemptive power of the atonement.  That knowledge is so critical in today’s world. Without it, it will be difficult to stay committed to our covenants.
We went to the Ruben Dario Ward this morning. When they found out that Sister Bell plays the piano, they asked her to play during the meeting. The C note on the keyboard made a funny sound, so she tried to not play that note. Elder Charette lead the music. It was also good to see the other missionaries, Elder Medeiro (who is from Montevideo, Uruguay; my old mission), Elder Galo and Elder Hamson. The members treated us like royalty.
We got home in time to Skype with Kim, Dan, Synnova and Henry who are having a wonderful time touring through Europe. They were in Prague, Czech Republic. We then visited with Becky, Paul, Steve and eventually John and all of their families. We love our family and are proud of each of them. Not only of what they are accomplishing, but more importantly, who they are becoming.  It really felt like Santa had come after talking with our precious family.

This evening we hosted a dinner for some of the Sister Missionaries: Sister Willes (Utah), Sister Zafra (Virginia), Sister Martinez (Guatemala) and Sister Paulino (Dominican Republic). It was a delightful evening. We talked about their experiences as missionaries, Christmas traditions and sang a few Christmas songs. They sounded a whole lot better than our duet last night. We feed them ham, au gratin potatoes, corn, salad, apple pie and ice cream. Our neighbor had given us a citrus custard desert which we shared with the Sisters (but after we tasted it and found out how good it was, I wished we had hogged it all for ourselves).

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Monday, December 12, 2016
We went to PriceSmart today and purchased Sister Bell’s Christmas Present.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016,
Today was Service Day. The Poncio family, the office missionaries, the Sister Leaders, the Assistants and us cleaned the Loma Verde Church House. It was filthy and needed a good cleaning. We took care of that in about 2 hours.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016
I loaned my computer to Sister Willes and Zafra, the Sister Leaders today. They needed it to conduct a training for the Sister Leaders across the mission today. I felt like a young father dropping off our first born child to a new babysitter. I gave them similar instructions, like I did as a young father: take good care of it, don’t drop it, don’t let others play with it…. Etc. We went back right at 3pm to gather it back up…… yes…. It was fine…..

We put words together for the 12 days of Christmas specific to our mission. We started brainstorming the words on Saturday with the Lees and Koellikers, but Sister Bell typed it up. We will perform this at the Christmas party next Monday, getting everyone involved. Here are the words:
Las Doce Días de Navidad
En el día primero mi amor me regalo un templo en Nicaragua
En el día secundo mi amor me regalo 2 compañeros y un templo en Nicaragua
En el día tercero mi amor me regalo 3 platos de gallo pintos, 2 compañeros y un templo en Nicaragua
En el día cuarto mi amor me regalo 4 Poncios, 3 gallo pintos, 2 compañeros y un templo en Nicaragua
En el día quinto mi amor me regalo 5 familias de oro, 4 Poncios, 3 gallo pintos, 2 compañeros y un templo en Nicaragua
En el día sexto mi amor me regalo 6 terremotos, 5 familias de oro, 4 Poncios, 3 gallo pintos, 2 compañeros y un templo en Nicaragua
En el día séptimo mi amor me regalo 7 misioneros orando, 6 terremotos, 5 familias de oro, 4 Poncios, 3 gallo pintos, 2 compañeros y un templo en Nicaragua
En el día octavo mi amor me regalo 8 vasos de agua, 7 oradores, 6 terremotos, 5 familias de oro, 4 Poncios, 3 gallo pintos, 2 compañeros y un templo en Nicaragua
En el día noventa mi amor me regalo 9 perros ladrando, 8 vasos de agua, 7 oradores, 6 terremotos, 5 familias de oro, 4 Poncios, 3 gallo pintos, 2 compañeros y un templo en Nicaragua
En el día decimo mi amor me regalo 10 invitaciones bautismales, 9 perros ladrando, 8 vasos de agua, 7 oradores, 6 terremotos, 5 familias de oro, 4 Poncios, 3 gallo pintos, 2 compañeros y un templo en Nicaragua
En el día once mi amor me regalo 11 picaduras, 10 invitaciones, 9 perros ladrando, 8 vasos de agua, 7 oradores, 6 terremotos, 5 familias de oro, 4 Poncios, 3 gallo pintos, 2 compañeros y un templo en Nicaragua
En el día doce mi amor me regalo 12 investigadores en la capilla, 11 picaduras, 10 invitaciones, 9 perros ladrando, 8 vasos de agua, 7 oradores, 6 terremotos, 5 familias de oro, 4 Poncios, 3 gallo pintos, 2 compañeros y un templo en Nicaragua
Sister Bell got a call after dinner from the Hermanas in Nagarote, a small town about 30 km out of town. One of the Sisters had fainted and was still very lethargic. She is a new missionary from Guatemala. Members took her to the local clinic where they had given her some fluid to drink and checked her vitals. We drove to Nagarote and took her to the Metropolitano Hospital in Managua. They checked her blood and urine and did an EKG. They determined it was heat related; not drinking and eating enough. She got some fluids, medicine and a good lecture from the doctor and Sister Bell.
While we were waiting for the tests results, Sister Bell and the two missionaries (one Latina and the other north American) were conversing quietly. They were asking each other questions, talking and laughing. I just listened, smiled and laughed to myself listening to them converse. Sister Bell was carrying on a broken conversation in Spanish and enjoying it. We then took them back home and returned to our house about 2:30am.
Thursday, December 15, 2016
We slept in until about 10am. Sister Bell taught Yoselyn Poncio a piano lesson in the afternoon. We had to delay it for a few hours until we woke up. That evening we went to the Helbergs for dinner. After dinner, Ray Helberg asked us for our favorite Christmas Songs. He then found presentations on U-Tube so we could listen to them. We do live in a marvelous world.

Friday, December 16, 2016
We ran a few errands all day. I prepared our weekly education mailing: microwave Rocky Road Chocolate bars and tips on how to avoid the flu.
Saturday, December 17, 2016
We started in Trinidad for piano lessons. Only Carelys was ready, Maria Clara was still in bed. Apparently she didn’t sleep well the night before and therefore was sleeping in. When we were in Esteli, we purchased medicine for a missionary, then stopped for lunch at Burger King and picked up a subway sandwich to eat for dinner.
We met Elder Spence and Sanchez in Condega. We first went to Freddy and Virginias home. They were baptized this summer. Apparently, they had a fight last Sunday and didn’t come to Church. The Elders wanted to give them a lesson about marriage. Sister Bell suggested we use the story of Joseph and Mary to illustrate the importance of caring for one another in marriage. Joseph put Mary’s needs first when he decided to marry her instead of declining to marry her, which was his legal right to do. I challenged them to two goals in 2017: prepare to go to the temple and Freddy receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. They accepted the challenge. We left feeling really good about the visit.
Then we went to Virginia’s daughter home, Nuvia. She had been very active but hasn’t been to Church for several weeks. We could tell a big difference in her spirit. She is losing the light of the Gospel. She explained that she is having to work all week, including Sunday in order to pay off debts. Her husband has begun to drink again, which is also causing friction. We had a wonderful visit with her, ending with us giving her a blessing. The light was coming back into her eyes when we left. There was definitely a sweet spirit when we left.
We then went to an investigators home. She has a little store in the front of her house. She has been taking the missionary lessons now for several weeks and has a baptismal date in another week. However, her husband works every day and hasn’t listened to all the lessons. She has three daughters, two are old enough to be baptized. While we were talking to her, her brother, who was playing with his daughter in the background came up and began talking with us. He was very interested in what we were saying. We gave him a Book of Mormon and the missionaries set a date to visit him.
We then drove to Somoto. We first stopped at the Church to see if we could get the internet to work, which we couldn’t. Everything was there but we didn’t have the password. We then visited with an investigator. She wants to be baptized but is not sure she wants to marry her “live in” boyfriend of twelve years. Apparently he is verbally abusive. So we talked about how the gospel can help people change.  
We then went to Hermana Zaida’s home for a noche de hermanimiento. We showed portions of the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. They enjoyed that but really enjoyed the game we played afterward. Elder Baez directed it. Elder Simpson won….

Sunday, December 18, 2016
We attended the Ocotal Branch this morning. The Branch President had called two counselors since we were there last time (about a month ago). We attended there because we had supplies that needed to be delivered. I also wanted to talk with the Branch President to see how they are doing. Again, they needed someone to teach the Priesthood class, so I volunteered. I gave the ordinance lesson.
We then went to Trinidad for their meetings, which started at 2pm. As we drove through Esteli, there were hundreds of horses tied to trees, trailers, and trucks. They were well bred, groomed and of many different colors. Although the favorite colors tended to be greys and whites. They must be having some sort of horse show.
We enjoyed attended church in Trinidad, in their new chapel (converted home). There were some new faces but mostly the same core of members, about 15 in total. They welcomed us with open arms. It had been several weeks since we have attended one of their meetings, although we are in Trinidad almost every week giving Carelys and Maria Clara piano lessons. Sister Bell was asked to play the piano and we both gave talks. I talked about the Savior and Sister Bell talked about living like the Savior. After Sacrament Meeting, we presented our Christmas Present and took a branch picture.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Monday, December 5, 2016
We spent the morning at home, catching up from this week-end. While Sister Bell talked to a few sick missionaries, I contacted most of the zone leaders to make sure they had DVDs for the new trainers. We spent a few hours in the office and then went grocery shopping. We enjoyed watching the First Presidency devotional tonight. We will be showing it at our northern branches over the next few weeks. It is always a strength to the members so participate in devotionals and conferences.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016
We had the new missionary training today. We had 4 north Americans and 14 Latinos. The Latinos arrived this morning. Hermana Bell taught them the 10 commandments of good health. While she was teaching (with Sister Amado interpreting), I took Raudy Padillo from Puerto Cabeza to the Distribution Center to buy him garments. Raudy is leaving tomorrow for the MTC in Guatemala. He will be serving in Honduras. Then we went back to Villa Flor to get Sister Bell and then to take Raudy shopping. We bought him (the Church actually bought him these items) 10 white shirts, 5 pants, 2 pairs of shoes and a suitcase. He comes from humble circumstances and needed help to enter the mission field. We had a fun time with him. He is a humble young man, who has been planning to serve a mission for 8 years. He will be a good missionary.

Then we returned to Villa Flor and had the opportunity to help President Poncio set apart Elder Padilla and Hermana Madeline from Matagalpa. Madeline lived in our home for one week a sick missionary. She was serving as a mini missionary in Ocotal. Raudy is going to Honduras and Madeline is going to El Salvador. Sister Bell gave the opening prayer. As she was praying I felt the spirit come into the room and filled the room with a wonderful peace. President Poncio asked me to bear my testimony which I did. He then gave each wonderful blessing (I got to assist). We truly love these people. They are truly sons and daughters of God.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016
We got up early, picked up Elder Hamson, Elder Galo and Elder Padilla and took them to the airport. Hermana Madeline was already at the airport. There were two other missionaries from the South Mission going to the MTC as well. It feels like family when we see other members of the Church, especially when we are all doing the Lord’s work.

We went to dinner at the Lee’s with the Helbergs. Sister Lee had decorated her home for Christmas. Then after dinner, we tried making gingerbread houses with rye crackers and strawberry lemonade frosting. I tried building a tower without success. However, everyone else built very simple structures that stayed together long enough to take a picture.

Thursday, December 8, 2016
Today with had a 6 zone conference with Elder Adrian Ochoa. He is the first counselor in the Area Presidency and is a general authority. During the conference, Elder Ochoa had a Q&A session. One Elder expressed concern for his family, who have not embraced the gospel. in responce to this Elders question, Elder Familia, another missionary,  shared a personal experience about his family. He said that he was the only member of the Church in his family, when he left for his mission. When he got baptized, none of his family were supportive, in fact they were hostile about the Church. But he got baptized and is now serving a mission. In October, his Bishop sent him a letter telling him that his father was getting baptized. His father had only written to him one time during his whole mission, so it was a total surprise to him. His experience helps us all feel alittle more hopeful about our families. They are being blessed from our service.

President Poncio taught about the importance of repentance. This has been a subject I have been thinking about a lot lately as I have tried to understand why so many new members fall away here. I have felt strongly that new converts need to understand more about the principle of repentance and sincerely repent before baptism. This principle is passed over too quickly as missionaries try to get baptisms. I have read and pondered the experience of the converted lamanites that were firm and steadfast in the gospel. Helaman 15: 5-8, describe how they were “brought to the knowledge of the truth, and to know of the wicked and abominable traditions of their fathers, and are led to believe the holy scriptures, yea the prophecies of the holy prophets, which are written, which leadeth them to faith on the Lord, and unto repentance, which faith and repentance bringeth a change of heart unto them – Therefore, as many as have come to this, ye know of yourselves are firm and steadfast in the faith, and in the thing wherewith they have been made free.”

I believe our investigators get baptized because they feel the happiness that comes from the Gospel, but they should also recognize and feel remorse for the “wicked and abominable traditions” of their past mistakes. 

Elder Ochoa talked a lot about faith, what it is and why it is so important. He suggested we write down scriptures that have real meaning to us (which I just did above) and miracles we experience during our mission (we have tried to do this as well).

I came to the conference trying to understand why the brethren stress baptism so much. Well, I understand why… it is a requirement to enter the Church and the Celestial Kingdom. But I have been concerned that we are so focused on baptizing that we baptize people before they are ready, thus we lose a lot of our new members. So I have been wondering why there is still so much focus on baptism and not more focus on conversion, retention and activation. In fact, I have been praying to “catch the vision” of the Brethren. One of the missionaries asked Elder Achoa this very question. As part of his response, he talked about the Parable of the Sower, how some seeds fell by the way side, some on stony soil, other seeds fell among the thorns and other seeds fell on good soil. While he was talking about this, the spirit whispered to me, “this is the Lord talking. He knew this was going to happen, even so, he expects us to keep sowing”. If the Lord knows and accepts this problem, then I can too. We still need to do all we can to help prepare the soil so the seed can grow and flourish. But it is still up to the new member to determine what kind of soil they are growing in.

Friday, December 9, 2016
We left Managua about 11am, stopping to get a cake at the Colonia, a memory stick at Radio Shack, to drop a mirror off with the Elders in Ciudadela. When we got to Cuidadela, we found that one of the missionaries had an ear infection so we then took them to Tipitapa to get medicine. Sister Bell had told this missionary to get medicine for an ear infection, but when we saw him today, he had not even looked for medicine. He said he didn’t have money. So we took him to a local pharmacy, but they didn’t have the right medicine. Therefore, we took them to Tipitapa and found the medicine at a pharmacy there.

Sister Bell gave piano lessons to Carelys and Maria Clara in Trinidad. While Sister Bell gave the lesson, I talked with her father who is the Branch President. We enjoy being with this family.

We arrived in Esteli in time for the birthday dinner for Elder Lee. He turned 70 today. Sister Koelliker cooked a birthday dinner. We brought the cake. The Lees drove up this afternoon for the dinner and an excursion tomorrow. They are staying with the Koellikers so we are in a motel. The Hex was sold out tonight (there is a concert in town) so we stayed at the Panorama. We had stayed here once before. The room we had before was roomy and pretty nice. However, tonight, they put us in another part of the motel. Our room is very small and smells of chlorine. The sheets on the bed are bright pink with large peace signs and hearts. The walls are purple. I will probably have nightmares tonight. We also are paying $65.00, which is double the normal rate because there is an “event” in town. We are really glad we have a room at the Hex tomorrow night.

Saturday, December 10, 2016
We woke up early (4:30am) to no water in the room. So I got dressed and found the guard. He climbed to the top of the building and turned on the extra water tank…. We then had water. We had breakfast with the Lees and Koellikers at 5:30 and then drove to Serva Negra, a working farm/resort. It is above 15 minutes north of Matagalpa. It is a beautiful location with a large pond, restaurant and motel. It is a working farm, which grows coffee and other crops. We went there to find Howler Monkeys. We walked all over the forest above the resort. We think we heard them for a brief period, but did not see any. We had lunch and drove back to Esteli.

We went to Condega for their Noche de Hermanimiento. We showed the first Presidency Christmas Devotional. We then talked about some of the things that stood out to each of us. I talked about Presidency Hinckley’s quote that said, "There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection." I also assured them that they are a part of a large family. Even though there are few members in Condega, they are not alone. There are over 17 million members of which they are a part of.

Sunday, December 11, 2016
We started today in Pueblo Nuevo. Sister Bell gave a wonderful talk in Sacrament Meeting. She used the “Light of the World”, 25 days of Christmas program. She is getting much better with the language and visiting more with people.

For our Christmas to our family, we gave each of our children and their family $100 with instructions to use this money to create a “lasting memory”. For our “lasting Memory”, we purchased three 16” X 20” prints of the Savior painted by Del Parsons and framed them to give to Somoto, Pueblo Nuevo and Trinidad. We would have loved to give one to Condega, but they don’t have a meeting place where they can hang it. We will have to wait until they have a chapel. But today, we gave our “lasting memory” to Pueblo Nuevo and Somoto. They loved them and the pictures are now hanging in their meeting houses.
Pueblo Nuevo, Dec. 2016

Somoto Dec. 2016

In Pueblo Nuevo, I taught the Priesthood Lesson, while Sister Bell attended Relief Society (the first RS meeting in Pueblo Nuevo) and the missionaries taught primary (the first Primary meeting in Pueblo Nuevo). I reviewed the same material that I taught last week, because most of the brethren that were in church today, were not in the lesson last week. I taught about the Ordinances of Exaltation.

In Somoto, Sister Bell played the piano and I gave a Prayer. Other than that, we sat back and enjoyed Church. After Church, I helped process tithing and then left for home, arriving about 9:00pm.

We have been in the mission eight months.  We took stock of our experiences so far and realized that in that short time, we have seen two of the four groups that we work with become branches and establish meeting houses.  We have seen all groups progress in the gospel with baptisms, priesthood ordinations and leadership callings.  We have seen relief societies, primaries and priesthood groups organized.  Little by little the church is growing in Nicaragua.  We feel so blessed to be a small part in that progress.  The gospel will continue to grow until it fills the earth and we are seeing happen before our eyes.  What a privilege to be part of this holy work.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016 to December 4, 2016

Monday, November 28, 2016
We decorated the office today for Christmas (after our office meeting and piano lessons for Yoselyn). Elder Galo and Hamson helped Sister Bell, Sister Lee and Yoselyn. I took a few pictures and tried to stay out of the way.

We have an uninvited guest in our home.  His name is Oscar and he is a small lizard.  On Friday he zipped into the house and I enjoyed watching Elder Bell chase him around the kitchen and the living room.  He was very fast and he finally jumped on the couch and disappeared.  Elder Bell turned over the couch, but Oscar was not to be denied his new home.  He is now our roommate and is happily eating bugs at night.  Since his arrival, we have noticed very few bugs around the house.  I guess he is earning his keep.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Today we had our change meeting to review and prepare for the new changes that will occur next week. We have 14 missionaries leaving and 18 coming. Four are north Americans and 14 are Latinos. They come Monday night and Tuesday morning. With this change we are closing one apartment in Managua and reentering another and finding a new one in Jalapa. Jalapa is a small town about 6 hours north of Managua, past Ocotal.  The work is progressing there, because they are adding another set of missionaries. We have not been there yet but would love to someday. Maybe this will give us the chance to go.

We helped the Sister Leaders put up their bunkbeds, then did a little shopping before we went home. We hosted our Senior Missionary Dinner tonight with the Lees and Helbergs. We made crepes, then watched Christmas with the Kranks.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

We spent the day in the office because our car was in the shop getting serviced. This was the 80,000 km service and it cost over $400. Fortunately, the Church pays for most of it. We only pay for the oil and filter service. While I was checking in the car, a young man came up to Sister Bell and began talking with her. He was a return missionary from Panama, having been home for about 6 years. She carried on the conversation very well, understanding what he was saying and talking back in Spanish. She felt very good about the experience.

I worked on our next newsletter. I included a recipe for potato chips made in the microwave and information about back pain, mostly a result of carrying heavy book bags. Most have fanny packs that have shoulder straps and a waist cinch. Many of these fanny packs are made in Guatemala. We have had several missionaries, mostly Sisters, complain about back pain. When we have talked to them in person, we find that they are wearing their packs wrong. They don’t cinch up the belt so that all of the weight is on their shoulders. Their packs are really heavy causing the pain in their backs and shoulders. So we included some suggestions on how to remedy that.

Sister Bell had her final tutoring session with Whitney Allen. It ended with both being in tears. Whitney has been helping Sister Bell with her Spanish for about 9 months. She not only helped her with her language but they have become wonderful friends. Whitney is getting married this month (December). We wish her well…..

We began to decorate our home alittle for Christmas.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

We invited the sister leaders, office secretaries, our zone leaders and the assistants to breakfast this morning. Elder Gonzalez and Sister Walborn are leaving next week. We wanted to invited them to breakfast before they left. We fed them blueberry pancakes, eggs, juice and fruit. They ate heartily. Elder Gonzalez is a serious, obedient and dedicated Elder from Honduras.  He will be a great leader in the Church. Sister Walborn is a fun missionary. She is happy and creates enthusiasm with everyone around her. She is from Michigan. I tease her that she would be a great farm wife. I tell her this, but emphasize that this is a real complement, because farm wives are down to earth, hardworking, and loving people. They are the salt of the earth, just like she is. Sister Bell says that she will be a wonderful Young Woman Leader. We will miss both these missionaries. 

From front left: Sister Walborn, Sister Zafra, Sister Martinez, Elder Hamson, Elder Neilson, Elder Perry, Elder Galo, Elder Mitton, Elder Gonzalez, Sister Bell.

After cleaning up the kitchen, we bought a box of donuts and loaded up 2 mattresses in the car and headed north. We dropped the donuts off with Hermana Knowlton and Hermana Jimenez in Nagarote. They had the cleanest apartment in the Leon Zone.

Then we continued north to drop off the mattresses in Grasca, a little town a few miles south of Chinandega. We met the zone leaders, Elder Lopez and Elder Rendon. The missionaries were taken out of this area about a month ago, but the Church kept the lease on the apartment because President Poncio knew we would reenter the area again. With the changes coming up next week, the President is putting two sister missionaries in this apartment. The old mattresses were dirty so Sister Poncio wanted them to have new mattresses.

One the way home, we took alittle detour to Puerto Sandino and Miramar. They are cities on the ocean (Pacific). We were looking for a nice resort to take our kids when they come. But neither of these towns had anything that we would be looking for, but there was a beautiful sunset.

Friday, December 2. 2016

We spent the day catching up on things and preparing for the week-end. Sister Bell had several calls from missionaries, mostly colds. We might have one case of Zika. We thought we were out of the Zika season, but maybe not. I am working with our contractor and the missionaries to get furniture to the correct apartments to be ready for the changes on Monday and updating our furniture inventory. We are running out of a few items like fans and cocinas. They get used a lot and don’t last very long.

 Saturday, December 3, 2016

We had a long day, starting at about 7am and arriving at the Koellikers in Esteli about 9:30pm. We stopped in Trinidad, Matagalpa, Ocotal, Pueblo Nuevo and Esteli, mostly to drop off packages and supplies. The missionaries are getting Christmas Packages. A long day.

Today, we passed 5 accidents on the highway. Normally, we don’t see too many accidents on the highway, which is surprising because of the way people drive here. We see a lot of accidents in Managua, mostly minor accidents involving motorcycles and cars. However, today was different. A couple of these accidents were very serious, one at least included fatalities. It sombered us and brought tears to Sister Bell's eyes. I drove very carefully after that.

We have been listening to a book, The Contrite Spirit, which is about the relationship between the temple and the atonement. The book is written by Elder Bruce Hafen and his wife. They wrote a chapter about missionary work and the temple, which emphasized that our missionary goal should not be baptisms but getting converts to the temple. We have been pondering this for several weeks and have felt inspired to emphasize going to the temple in our work up north. The Esteli District is having a district temple excursion this week, but none of the people in our branches are ready to do. So Sister Bell and I are approaching several of the branch members and inviting them to prepare to go to the temple next March. This is when the District is hosting another temple excursion. So this week-end we approached Hermana Nuvia in Pueblo Nuevo, President Alaniz in Somoto, Noe and Suyapa in Condega and the Branch Presidency members in Trinidad and invited them to prepare to go to the temple in March. Everyone accepted the challenge. We gave them a copy of the Liahona Magazine from 2010 that was about the temple and told them we would begin teaching temple prep classes beginning in January. We coordinated this with President Acevado, the District President. He is very appreciative of our efforts.

Saturday Evening, I taught a Priesthood Preparation Class in Pueblo Nuevo. We only had two men there. One of our regular attenders is still struggling with drinking and another was sick. We taught about ordinances. After the class, we talked with the missionaries teaching these classes during the third hour of the block on Sunday. They are in agreement. I suggested they call Hilario as the Priesthood instructor and to call Sister Nuvia to teach RS at the same time. Pueblo Nuevo is progressing, little by little.

Afterward we stopped by Sister Nuvias home and talked about the temple. She is very excited, but will need to save her money to have enough to go in March. Her daughter, Dania, wants her Patriarchal Blessing. So I will help President Alaniz in Somoto (PN is part of the Somoto Branch) complete the recommendation. She will need go to a Patriarch in Managua as we don’t have a Patriarch in the Esteli District.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

We started in Somoto with a leadership training with President Alaniz and the missionaries. Elder Santizo got a call Saturday night from President Poncio informing him of his new assignment as a Zone Leader in Chinandega. He is really sad to leave, but will be a good zone leader. The members will miss him; he has a lot of enthusiasm which is contagious. Sister Bell and I will miss him as well. In our training, we talked how to improve our Sacrament Meetings, Patriarchal blessings, temple preparation classes, renovations of the chapel (which began over the week-end) and ordering next year’s materials (which President Alaniz had already done).

We then went to Condega. We met the missionaries, took chairs to the factory and helped set up for church. There were only about 15 people there. Elder Spence and Elder Sanchez are discouraged because of the low Sacrament Meeting attendance. But even though our numbers were few there was a real strong spirit and there is a lot of love with those that were there. Sister Bell and I both bore our testimonies. Sister Bell did it without notes. I talked with Noe and Suyapa about preparing to go to the temple in March. They accepted the invitation. The Elders asked me to teach the SS class. Rosa usually teaches but she said she didn’t feel comfortable teaching it because it was about the priesthood (she had also had an argument with her brother the night before and didn’t feel she could teach because she didn’t feel the spirit). So I taught it. Then Noe taught Priesthood (about setting good examples as fathers) and Suyapa taught RS (Faith). I am happy to report that Rosa felt much better after the Church meetings and was back to her usual happy self. 

The missionaries have been praying and pondering how they can get more members to come back to Church. They have come up with a few inspired ideas. The missionaries, Freddy and Noe are planning a day to visit the inactive priesthood holders and invite them back to Church. They are also planning a Christmas Party for the group. (Elder Spence’s father is wanting to pay for the party.) They have found and are teaching 4 families (unfortunately none came to Church this week-end). We scheduled being in Condega Saturday night for the Noche de Hermanamiento to show the First Presidency Christmas Devotional. These are all reasons (except for the fact that none of the investigators came to church) to be optimistic about Condega. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday, November 21, 2016 to Sunday, November 27, 2016

Monday, November 21, 2016

Happy Birthday John… we got to sing to John this morning while they were waiting for Gustavo to buy snow chains just in case they needed them on their trip to Utah.

We hit the road again today. After the morning office meeting and piano lesson to Jocelyn Poncio, we loaded two mattresses in the car and drove to Jinotega, a little mountain town three hours north of Managua. We have a sister missionary who has been struggling with chiggars and bedbugs, thus the need for new mattresses. After unloading, we took them to dinner and then drove home.

One of the missionaries is Hermana Amado. Her grandfather is Elder Amado. I had the opportunity to be interviewed by him about 15 years ago in Spring Creek, Nevada. He was the visiting authority assigned to reorganize the Spring Creek Stake. I was serving as a Bishop and was interviewed by him. It is a small world.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

We have started to get instructions on dealing with Hurricane Otto, which is projected to hit Nicaragua on Thursday. The instructions include to have food and water for a week in our homes and be prepared to stay in if we need to. The chapels can be used for emergency shelters. Our biggest concern is with the 20 Missionaries in Puerto Cabeza. However, all the current projections are that Otto will go south of us, in southern Nicaragua and Costa Rica.  However, we should have a lot of rain.

We decided we wanted to do something a little different for Christmas this year. So we asked John to send $100 to each of our children (we transferred money to Kim) and have each family use the money to create a “lasting memory” and then share that experience with each other. We worked on our “lasting memory” today, but can’t disclose it yet…. More to come on this.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

I got a new computer for Somoto. It was delivered to me and I will take it to Somoto when they have internet at the Chapel and an office that can be locked. I can’t leave it though until they have an office that they can lock. We also went to Pricesmart to get groceries. We were instructed to have a weeks’ worth of food and water so we stocked up a bit.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Birthday McKay and Happy Thanksgiving. Sister Bell made 7 pies this morning: 2 banana crème, 2 chocolates, 1 strawberry, 1 cherry and 1 apple. She had to make the crust without shortening as we couldn’t find any shortening here. She used butter instead, and it turned out wonderful. We took the pies and ice cream to President Poncios home. We had thanksgiving dinner there with the Lee’s, the leader missionaries and the Poncios. There were 16 for dinner. We had turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, salads, relish tray, rolls, corn and squash. It was delicious. The Elders showed 5 videos of dancing elves with faces of the Poncios and all the office and leader missionaries (including Sister Bell and I).  The missionaries can be very serious and focused on the work when they are working, but when they have down time, we realize they still are young people that like to goof around.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Hurricane Otto hit us while we were sleeping. We had about 3 hours of light steady rain. That was it. We watched White Christmas…. So the Christmas season can now officially start.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

We drove about 8 hours today. We started from home and first went to Trinidad. Only Carelys was there for the lesson. Maria Clara was in Managua with her mother. We delivered a box of donuts to Elder Hatch and Elder Nonu. They had the cleanest apartment in the Esteli Zone. 

Then we headed for Matagalpa, an hour to the east. We delivered donuts to Sister Jenson and Sister Sanchez, two more happy winners.

We then headed to Jinotega, an hour north over some of the most beautiful country in Nicaragua to bring a package to Hermana Amado.  (Remember we had just been to their house on Monday) We then took a road we had not been on through some beautiful mountain country.  It was really enjoyable driving on a new road. We arrived in Pueblo Nuevo about 20 minutes late for our Priesthood Preparation Class. We found the missionaries and a recent convert walking just on the outskirts of town. Apparently, they gave up on us. So we loaded them in the car and went back to the Elders house. However, they didn’t have any lights, so we talked with candlelight and lights from our cell phones. The new convert is getting the Aaronic Priesthood tomorrow, so we focused on the basics: what is the Priesthood, the history of the Priesthood through the ages, the restoration and the difference between power and authority. We ate dinner in Condega on our way back to Esteli to stay with the Koellikers. We are glad to be out of the car….

Sunday, November 27, 2016

We started out in Ocotal, 1.25 hours north of Esteli. We arrived about 15 minutes late (we stopped in Condega to give Elder Spence some materials), but they were just starting. The missionaries were happy to see us (it was a surprise because we didn’t tell any of them that we were coming). After Sacrament Meeting, I visited with the Branch President. He has been serving for 3 weeks and is a little overwhelmed. He doesn’t have counselors or a secretary. (I got permission on Monday to authorize the branch president to use the missionaries as counselor, secretaries and other branch leaders). The missionaries are doing a lot now. They blessed and passed the sacrament (Elders Valle, Bendeck and Hodges), played the piano (Elder Packard), led the music (Sister Barrios), gave talks (Elder Valle and Sister Silva) and taught three lessons during SS (Gospel Doctrine, the youth and gospel principles). The Elder’s Quorum President left after Sacrament meeting and didn’t return. He was supposed to teach the priesthood lesson, so I volunteered to teach the class. I noticed that one of the sister missionaries (Sister Silva) was teaching the RS class. President Poncio has a goal to prepare the Ocotal Zone to become a district. It is now part of the Esteli District. However, for that to happen, we need a lot more Priesthood holders in Ocotal, Jalapa, Somoto and Pueblo Nuevo.

Sister Bells SS experience:  I had an interesting experience during Sunday School class.  The teacher was a missionary and or course he was speaking Spanish.  I usually don’t understand much of the lesson, but he was using the whiteboard very effectively, and I could follow the scriptures and the lesson because of that.  The lesson was about milagros (miracles) and the scripture references were from Mormon 9.  Anyway I began thinking about the miracles in my life and that I have small miracles happen all the time and that I need to recognize that what I sometimes think of as coincidences really are small miracles.  The thing that was unusual was that I was thinking in Spanish and making sentences in my head in Spanish.  Well, the teacher called on me specifically and asked me a question.  I could not understand what he was asking, but with his patience and a few English words, and with help from the sister missionary sitting beside me, I finally figured out what he was asking.  The answer to the question was exactly what had been going through my mind in Spanish a few minutes before and I was able to answer in Spanish easily.  I just repeated the words that had been going through my head.  Hermana Silva looked at me in surprise and said, “Usted es una misionera.” (You are a missionary.)  I smiled and agreed, “Soy una misionera” (I am a missionary).  It was such a unique and personal experience, but it helped me realize that I really could have the gift of tongues and the help of the Holy Ghost when I needed it.  

Now back to Elder Bell’s narrative.
I talked with the Branch President about how to help prepare some of the men to receive and magnify the Priesthood. I explained that we are teaching Priesthood Preparation Classes in Somoto, Pueblo Nuevo and Condega and gave him copies of the lesson manuals we are using. I also gave him a list of members of the Somoto branch whose records are still in the Ocotal branch records. Somoto used to be part of the Ocotal branch before it was made a branch and many of the Somoto records have not been transferred yet. He said he would work on it. Ocotal needs strengthening. I don’t see how we can help them much unless we begin to come up on Friday, which we are not prepared to do yet.
We finally got out of Ocotal at noon. We eat our P&J sandwich on the way to Somoto. We arrived in Somoto at 12:30pm. Elder Santizo and Elder Simpson were in the Church waiting for us. Cristin arrived shortly after so Sister Bell gave her her first piano lesson. Afterward I talked with her about YW (she is the new YW president) while Sister Bell gave Elder Santizo a piano lesson.

One of the frustrating things about Somoto is that they are always very late to everything. Church was supposed to begin at 2pm, but didn’t start until 2:40. Even the missionaries show up late. It is very frustrating to me. However, the highlight of the Somoto Branch meeting today was when Hermana Celia taught the RS lesson. She is the 40-year-old daughter of the RS President and serves as the RS Secretary. She is extremely timid, doesn’t smile a lot and doesn’t look people in the eye. She appears to me to have been treated badly for most of her life. So I was extremely happy when she accepted the assignment to teach RS. She was well prepared and taught a wonderful lesson. She showed pictures in the lesson manual, had others read portions of the lesson, and asked questions. I was very proud of her and she seemed to be very proud of herself as well. She wants to teach again next week in order to finish teaching all of the material in the lesson.

Another side note; during Church in Somoto, the community had a parade that went right in front of our little chapel. There were a lot of horses, but also bands and loud speakers with music, which was very disturbing to our meetings. Some of the people have beautiful horses in Nicaragua. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of the parade because we were in Church, where we were supposed to be.

We arrived home at 9pm and were in bed by 9:30pm. We are getting too old for this …..