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Guatemala City, Guatemala
We have been called as missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve with the Perpetual Education Fund in the Central America Area. We are living in Guatemala City, Guatemala and we work at the area office. Our assignment is to visit with the Stake PEF Specialists in all seven countries, to train and assist them in this inspired program.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Week of September 16th - 21st, 2008

September 16, 2008…..Tuesday

We were in the office all day, eating a sandwich at our desks for lunch. Dick’s computer is fully updated and mine was brought back to me just before 4 pm. We now have all the reports, statistics and lists of priesthood and PEF leaders throughout Central America. It will be good to go back in tomorrow and start the things we need to do.
We rode home from the office with Tilleys. I girded up my loins and went in the kitchen and cooked. First I soaked the avocado in bleach water. Then I soaked two nice Russet potatoes and micro waved them. I peeled off several layers of three onions and sliced them, then sautéed them in olive oil. We had some good hamburger patties. The baked potatoes tasted really good with butter and sour cream. It took me an hour to put the meal on because I am so fearful of feeding us something harmful. I’m glad we live in a day of anti-bacterial cleaners and dish washers to sterilize our dishes. It’s the biggest meal I have cooked since we got here. I have lost seven pounds since we left Lancaster (without trying), so a little hot chocolate in the evening made from the Ghiradelli chocolate chips I found at Price Smart (our Costco) seems like a good plan. We bought some Haagen Daz ice cream. It tasted good but wasn’t very smooth because no telling how many times it has thawed and frozen in transit.

September 17, 2008…..Wednesday

Another busy day. Claudia, the assistant to Reynaldo, put a report on our computers that is the best thing we have seen. Almost all of the stake specialists in Central America were called from the Call Center and asked what they did in August for FPE (the Spanish version of PEF…..Fondo Perpetua para la Educación). Then they were asked what they planned on doing in September. Their replies were all put into the report. It is great. Today we checked the ones in Guatemala City. There are 19 stakes in the city. About eight had really grabbed the bull by the horns and were very involved in firesides, activities, speaking to wards, one on one contact with potential candidates, etc., and then had good plans in place for September. Some of them had done some things for August but had no plans for September. A few had done nothing at all and a couple expressed they haven’t been trained or don’t know what to do. That is where we come in. We will meet with and train those who need the help. We want to meet with the successful ones to see how they go about their calling. We also have other reports that list all 1600+ participants in all seven countries that give their status with studies, working, loan repay, etc. There is so much to be done.

Today we became the owners of a 2003 Toyota Corolla station wagon and Dick is happy to finally be behind the wheel. Dean Bawden gave us a very comfortable office chair and so I am happy to sit at the computer and do my journal and my Español.

September 18, 2008…..Thursday

Today is Mother’s 93rd birthday. I’m sure she has had a wonderful birthday with a lot of attention. We have enjoyed the frequent rains and hearing it outside our window. Today I found some statistics on lds.org. There are 210,000 Mormons in Guatemala and over half a million in the seven countries of Central America. We got our email addresses set up on the Church website. Dick went up to the office of one of the employees at the Area Office. He is the stake president in Atlántico Stake. They talked about how FPE was doing in his stake and tomorrow we will email the stake specialist and arrange to meet with her.
Rexene just came to the door with some peanut butter cookies. I have never had a neighbor one step away from my doorway before. They are great people from the state of Montana and he retired (in May) from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration…..hence their calling as security missionaries. They are still in their fifties which makes them young amongst our group. The Kings, who went to El Salvador with us, have a daughter in Santa Clarita who is married to a nephew of Congressman Buck McKeon. Alison and Paul’s good friend in Saugus is another nephew. And, while I am into the small world mode, today there were young missionaries in our office getting some things so I went over and talked to them. An Elder Thomas saw my name tag and said, “Sister Graff, do you know Elder Facer.” So then I told him that my son was Elder Facer’s bishop. He said they were close friends and that Elder Facer is a great missionary. He obviously had heard that Bishop Graff’s parents were in the country. President Baldwin, the mission president came into our office today and he reiterated what a great young man Elder Facer is. So, Bishop Graff in Mission Viejo can be proud of the quality that comes out of his ward.

September 19, 2008…..Friday

It rained most of the day. Work at the office went well. We got a cell phone for Church business so we will cancel our AT&T cell phone. We actually made a couple of calls to Jill on our old phone when we needed to get some checks sent here. For lunch we took the Bawdens out to a restaurant. They have been so good about taking us under their wing. We stayed with them two nights and they fed us when we first arrived here. Marilyn is a lovely, soft-spoken lady. Dean is very out-going and funny. The rain was pounding so hard that it was difficult to carry on a conversation while we ate. Besides, I had occasional drops of water on my head from the ceiling. I had a great drink of pineapple and milk in a blender.
This evening we had an evening out with the Tilleys. We walked out our door, took a step, and into their door. We had popcorn and played Mexican Train dominoes. It was a fun evening and was reminiscent of the many times we played the same game with Rex and Margaret Thompson. Where ever we go we find such wonderful people. We came home from Tilleys with a CD player and some Church CD’s, all in Español. They all belong to the Kings. When they bought a new CD player they told the Tilleys to use their older one. Now the Tilleys have bought a new one and the Kings said to let us use their old one. I wish I had packed our beautiful Church CD’s but we were already stretching the limit with the weight of our luggage.
We have fallen into a routine this week. After dinner I spend over an hour on the computer doing my Spanish. Then we read from the Spanish Book of Mormon for 30 minutes. We take turns reading but I interpret every verse. I squeeze in some time to work on my journal and then it is time for our bedtime routine. We try to be in bed by 10 pm which is a whole new thing for us. For 47 years I could not go to bed until I had heard the news and put the world to bed, hopefully before midnight. Now I try not to doze off while I am sitting at the computer.

September 20, 2008…..Saturday

Today is our P (preparation) day. We didn’t set the alarm but my eyes opened after 6 anyway. I was happy to close my eyes again and drift away for awhile longer. It was cleaning day for me and I discovered a water leak in the cabinet under our bathroom sink. Dick went downstairs and came back with a young man who worked on the problem for an hour and a half. I guess the beauty of an apartment building with only 15 apartments is almost immediate attention when we need it. While the repair was going on, I ironed. I was as slow as he was. I did get 10 white shirts ironed. We will start taking them to the cleaners/laundry and save me some time. Cleaning day makes me grateful for a one bedroom/one bath apartment. We are both very grateful for our clean and comfortable apartment.
Around noon we went with the Bawdens so he could show us how to get to the area of the Atlántico Stake. The map is really bad. There are few visible street signs. We have a good idea now how to get to the area, about a 30 minute drive. The stake president told Dick to call him when we get over there and he or one of his counselors will come lead us to the building. We have high hopes for tomorrow. We also stopped at Paiz while we were out and I was lucky. I found cornstarch which others have said is hard to find. I also got two pie tins. Now I can make lemon pies for Dick´s birthday in November. Dick found the vanilla. It is artificial flavoring, but at this point I was glad to get it. I also got cans of pumpkin so I can make pumpkin crisp. I bought a large glass bowl to use as a mixing bowl. It cost 24.95Q……under $4…..but it looks like one from the 99cent store at home. There are still things on my list but as we branch out a little I hope to find them, too. We keep reminding ourselves that we have only been here two weeks.
On the way back home we stopped so Bawdens could buy flowers for their apartment. They got beautiful roses at $3 a dozen. They paid $8 for a large stem of Stargazer lilies. Kristen grew Stargazers in Quartz Hill that were gorgeous. The blooms here are at least 4 times bigger than I have ever seen and their scent is very intense. I would love some fresh flowers in our apartment but both of us have had strong allergic reactions to flowers in our home the last couple of years, so we will just admire them from afar.

September 21, 2008…..Sunday

It has been a good Sabbath day. We have seen a lot more of Guatemala City today than we intended. First we drove north to the area of the Lomas Norte Ward in the Atlántico Stake. We parked in an area where the major road divided into two and called Presidente Davila, the stake president. All we got was a recording so we left a message twice. We didn´t hear from him so twenty minutes later we started driving. We drove through an area of businesses and small homes. We kept looking for a steeple above all the buildings. Often the church buildings are tucked away at the end of a road. They are all surrounded by walls and security fences. We have hit more potholes today than in a lifetime of driving in California. They love one way roads here so getting places often takes a road other than the one we are on. At one point we were in a very hilly area. As we went up the hill I saw a woman in a dress walking and carrying scriptures. We couldn´t turn around because it was a one way road. We went over the hill, then down, then circled around the hill to go back to where I saw her. This time there was a small group looking like they had scriptures and were heading for church. By the time we got back around the hill they were out of sight but we turned at the corner where we had seen them. The road was one car wide and in fifty feet became a dead end. To the left was a school bus and to the right was a church…..just not one of ours. A young man holding a baby pointed off in a far direction when Dick asked about the “Mormones.” So we started driving again and then the phone rang. It was Presidente Dávila. He had been in a meeting, of course. So we went back to our original waiting place and he was there a few minutes after us and led us to the nearby building. We were about 20 minutes late but they have Sacrament Meeting last so we didn’t miss out on taking the sacrament.
In Relief Society I sat by a young sister missionary. After the meeting I told her I had been here 2 weeks and she said she had been here 3 weeks. Her home is in Washington, thirty miles or so from Dennis and family in Lacey. She asked if we lived in the apartment building with other senior couples and then asked if we knew the Tilleys. When I told her they were our neighbors she said they had been her neighbors a few years ago. After Sacrament Meeting we talked with two women who were visiting from Idaho. One had served her mission here twelve years ago and the other was her friend. Since January she had raised $5300 from her ward members and others in Idaho. They are going to Polochic, an area we have not visited but I have written about it. There is no power, no running water….time has passed them buy. There are over 500 temple endowed members there. Most own one pair of temple garments because they cannot afford any more. These two sweet sisters purchased garments in the right sizes for every one of them. The rest of the money will be used for a temple trip to Guatemala City because there are 60 adults ready to go to the temple and receive their endowments. They will go as soon as the stake president can finish all the interviews required. We take so much for granted. We have it all at our fingertips and others long for the spiritual blessings in their lives. Being endowed in a temple of the Lord is of more value to them, and should be for us, than running water and electricity.
Our Sundays in Central America have been so uplifting and fulfilling. Today was no exception. After Church we went into a room to visit with Evelin Vasquez and her aunt. Evelin is the stake specialist for FPE. We found out today that she is not only the specialist but has participated in the program. She graduated yesterday from a four year program, using the funds from FPE. Her aunt wanted to know how old I was and what I used on my skin. Dick mentioned a couple of products but when I said, “Mary Kay,” they both lit up. It’s available in Guatemala. The real secret is genetics, thanks to my mother. Our time with Evelin was very informative for us. We learned a lot on the way home, too. We were within a mile of being home when the big boulevard was closed off. There were hundreds of people on the boulevard with bicycles, running, walking, children skating, etc. Just a perfect Sunday afternoon. The trouble is, we don’t know how to get home any other way. And so, for an hour we drove. Two more times we got back to the boulevard, only to be diverted off to another road because of all the activity going on. We were in some areas of the city that we probably shouldn’t have been in. We pulled into two different gas stations. They all point and rattle off things that did us little good. The second time we saw the sign for the airport we went that way, just to see if it would bring us back via a different way. As we were coming along we saw the “obelisk,” our landmark that is right near the office and we only live about a mile south. I knew we were right back where we had already been diverted three times, but, gratefully, they had started clearing off the barriers so cars could drive on the boulevard. We were home minutes later. It takes us a good five minutes to park in this small, pillar filled, parking garage. We have a very narrow space against a wall and just inches away from a pillar on the other side. I get out of the car before Dick backs it in. He scrapes his clothing against the dirty wall every time he gets in or out. I guess we are lucky. Elder King has to climb in and out through the passenger door to get to the steering wheel.
We chatted with the Tilleys when we got back home. They just got back from El Salvador where they went yesterday for the ground breaking of the temple in San Salvador. The heavens let loose with all 700 people there and the rain poured. The area authorities were under a canopy but the rest of the people, even with umbrellas, were drenched. It mattered not to anyone. The Salvadorans are so thrilled to have a temple being built that nothing could dampen their spirits. I’m so glad we had the opportunity to be there last week.

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