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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.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Week of February 16th to Feb. 22nd 2009

16 February 2009…..Monday
When we awoke on Sunday we could see damp earth and a puddle of water on the flat roof on a home next to our apartment, so we knew it had rained. This morning we had light rain coming down mid morning and again this afternoon. The trees in the city are beginning to blossom. The ones outside our window are purple. Our friends in the two bedroom apartments all look out on the flat roofed house and another apartment building. Our view is just a few feet away, but our bedroom window looks out to a few other houses, with a 100 foot tall pine tree, palm trees, bougainvilleas and the purple trees, with tall condominiums beyond that. If the third building were not there we would have a perfect view of Agua Volcano.
Bawdens were back in the office today. Because of traveling by both of us we haven’t all been in the office together for almost two weeks. We finished getting all our folders and paper work together for next Sunday’s meeting and then we went to the bank to cash a check. To have quetzs to spend we write a check to a brother at the office. Today Dick wrote it for $400. Then we took it to a branch of his bank and cashed it for quetzs. That worked out to 3000Q. Many food items that we buy at Paiz are probably twice as much as we would pay at home. I am making cherry cobbler for FHE tonight and one can of Comstock cherry pie filling is $7. I only needed three cans because I already have three but that makes for a pretty expensive cherry cobbler for 24 people. Plus, we are putting ice cream on the top of it.
Dick brought me home after going to the bank so I can get things done. We will not be hosting FHE because Sister Clarke called and said that Joseph Allen was here for the day and would we like to have him speak for FHE. Well, of course. My lesson can wait till another time. We will meet tonight at the Clarke’s and I will furnish the dessert I had planned. Joseph Allen leads tour groups and has written books about Book of Mormon lands. So, that pressure was relieved. It gave me the opportunity to focus on packing for our trip. Tomorrow a taxi will pick us up at the apartment at 6 am and take us to the hotel where we will board a bus for El Salvador.

17 February 2009…..Tuesday
Last night was an excellent FHE. Brother Allen has been doing tours to Guatemala for 40 years. He was Elder Clarke’s seminary teacher in Idaho before that. He has wonderful insight into the Book of Mormon and the Mayan people. I could have listened to him for hours. Dessert was a success. There were 26 of us there and everyone had a good sized serving of cobbler and ice cream. I had one carton of ice cream left but every last drop of the cherry cobbler was eaten.
This morning we were up at 4:30 am. Before 6 am our driver was there to get us. He is from Gala Tours and the Church uses them a lot for transportation. Getting around at that time of the morning was easy and he had us at Holiday Inn in ten minutes where we would catch our bus. I have never heard such a cacophony of birds. The trees around the area must have had been laden with hundreds of birds as they were so loud that I could hear them despite several buses with their engines idling just feet away from me. At 6:30 am our Pulmantur bus was there and we boarded. Our suitcases were heavy! The large one had Dick’s breathing machine and all our clothes and toiletries. The medium size contained the computer, projector, and all our supplies for our meeting Sunday afternoon, plus our scriptures. It was heavier than the big suitcase.
The bus left at exactly 7 am. I was disappointed yesterday when we found out there was no first class seats available. Now I can’t imagine how much better the first class would have been. Those seats are all on the lower level of the bus. We were on the upper level. Our seats were leather and very comfortable. They reclined and had a leg rest. We had tons of leg room so it was nothing like an airplane. Before we were totally out of the city the bus pulled over briefly, I assume to pick up our food delivery. We never expected to be fed but we all got a Styrofoam container with scrambled eggs, refried black beans, a slice of cheese, fried plantains and a small piece of buttered toast. They brought juice around afterwards. Later we had a choice of a bottle of water or soda. We got a mint just before arriving at our destination.
It took two and a half hours to get to the border with El Salvador. They collected passports or travel documents and carried them into the building to get us out of Guatemala. That process took 30 minutes. Then we drove a few hundred feet and paper work was taken into a building in El Salvador. Meanwhile, we stayed securely in the bus. We got to the Sheraton El Presidente hotel in San Salvador just before noon. All in all, the trip went well. I would travel this way again but five months ago when Reynaldo talked about sending us here on the bus I was very worried about it. One post note: Yes, there is a bathroom.
Our room was not ready but we put our luggage in the room and housekeeping came in and cleaned. We walked down to the restaurant. It is covered but not entirely enclosed. We sat at a seat next to the open air and listened to birds and the waterfall at the pool. There are thatched roof covered areas by the pool and all the foliage is very tropical. We were here in September so all is familiar. I had smoked salmon, a bagel, cream cheese, tomato, onion, lettuce and capers. Plus fruit. It was generous portions of pineapple, cantaloupe and papaya.
I have anticipated this trip a lot because of one thing….the beds here at the Sheraton. We came back to our clean room and Dick called Elder and Sister Cerros and made plans for them to pick us up in the morning. Tilleys called to make sure we had traveled safely. After unpacking and hanging our clothes, I crawled under the sheets. It took a long time to fall asleep because when I am over tired, sleep is fleeting, but it finally came.
We went down to the hotel restaurant about 7:30 pm and had carbonara for dinner. That was followed by an exquisite little chocolate cake encircled with hardened chocolate, topped by a chocolate dipped strawberry and then filled with chocolate sauce which actually tasted just like Hershey’s syrup…..probably was. The night air in the restaurant was perfect and the lights around the pool and the grounds made me feel like we were on vacation in some exotic place. Instead, we are missionaries in some exotic place. This missionary work is so hard!! I think my motto is, “go on a mission and see the world.” The great joy of a mission has nothing to do with places but with people. It is service which embodies the commandment to “serve with all your heart, might, mind, and strength” and then “endure to the end!” I highly recommend it.
We have internet access for $2.50 an hour so I used half of the time and Dick took the rest. At least I feel connected to my world.

18 February 2009…..Wednesday

We had a marvelous night sleep. Although I carried my down pillow with me on the bus, I don’t need it at this hotel. The bed and the pillows are awesome. We went down for a buffet breakfast. One breakfast comes free with the room and we pay for one. Actually, everything goes on our room bill and we pay with our church credit card.
Elder and Sister Cerros picked us up at 9:30 am and took us to the Institute. They are El Salvadorans, called as CES missionaries and fulfilling the CES role in working with PEF candidates. She speaks a little more English than I speak Spanish so we were able to communicate on a mixture of both languages. The Institute is a beautiful building. There are two large classrooms with tables and chairs, a beautiful library with glass enclosed bookcases and computers, a lounge area with the traditional ping pong table and foosball, and a kitchen. It is larger than the Institute buildings in Santa Maria and Lancaster that we are very familiar with. We spent the morning in their office. Several students came in to use the computers in their office and work on their applications for PEF. We met the Institute director, Manuel Flores, a very friendly man. He received a call to be mission president in December and last week found out that he and his wife will serve in Honduras. He is very excited about it. He is 38 years old and they have three children who will be going with them. The Cerros’ son, Miguel, came by the office. He used PEF and he bore a sweet testimony to us of the blessings of the Fund in his life. His wife is from Guatemala and the daughter of a member of the Seventy.
We drove to a nearby mall for lunch at Mr. Donut. It was cafeteria style. No, Dick did not have a donut. Can’t believe it. Some of his kids dubbed him “Mr. Donut” from his many visits to Sweetie Pie donuts in Lancaster. We went back to the Institute and I discovered all of January’s Church News in the lounge. The best part was they were in English, so Dick and I sat in there and read for an hour. Then we all left for the Employment Center. There were five students on their second day of the PEF training. Four of them were missionaries who would return home tonight. Elder Cerros taught the CES part of the lesson for almost 2 hours. We were served a warm cake and juice.
We had a little sightseeing trip. It was great to drive around with natives instead of fellow Americans who don’t know where we’re going. We went up a winding road and stopped for a view of the valley and a volcano at Puerta del Diablo (Devil’s Door). Then we drove back a little ways and stopped at a view area on the other side of the hill, overlooking a portion of a lake and a lot of homes with another volcano in the distance. It was actually chilly and I wished I had a sweater with me. Reynaldo told Dick to tell Cerros to take us for pupusas and plantains. Well, they did.
We stopped at a place, similar to a fast food restaurant. It is a place I wouldn’t have eaten at if we hadn’t been with them. Pupusas are tortilla-like but thicker and made with a filling of cheese, beans or meat. I had a combo with all three. Dessert was a whole plantain that had been caramelized with sugar, honey, and sometimes cream. So, our dinner was a Salvadoran meal. It was dark by the time we finished eating. We were sitting in an open air area at a table, talking in Spanish with occasional words in English. I couldn’t help thinking that here I am, in El Salvador, eating the native food and spending time with a lovely couple. It’s an experience I want to remember. We laughed and talked. We have spent a life time living in different countries, but we have so much in common. The gospel of Jesus Christ brings such a wonderful feeling of unity.
The lights of the city were so beautiful as we drove back to the hotel. Sister Cerros had asked me earlier what I liked best about Guatemala, and I told her about all our friends, our fellow senior missionaries. When we got out of the car at the hotel I told her the thing I like best about El Salvador is our new amigos.

19 February 2009…..Thursday
We got back to the hotel at 9:30 tonight. It has been a busy day. The Cerros picked us up in front of the hotel at 10 am. We drove to Santa Ana to the west, near the Guatemala border. The roads are very good. There are not a lot of indigenous people here like in Guatemala. Therefore, we didn’t see any native dress. We stopped along the highway at one of the fruit stands and Sister Cerros bought a bag of Mandarin oranges which we ate while we were traveling. Before 11 am we were at the Santa Ana stake center. We met some good people. The Institute director was there in his office and he is also the stake president. Dick went down the hallway and was talking to a very friendly man who happens to be the stake executive secretary. He wants to take us to Livingstone any time we can go. It is on the Caribbean Ocean in Guatemala. I spent 15 minutes conversing with a young returned missionary who is ready to use the Fund. She knows a little English that she learned from an American missionary companion. My little bit of Spanish helped. She had a brother and a sister with her who also are returned missionaries. She has another sister who is serving now in Panama. She says her parents are also preparing for a mission. Their last name is Solis. What an awesome family!
Elder and Sister Cerros helped a number of young people who are working on their applications. They gave checks to some whose applications have been approved in SLC. In Guatemala the check is electronically delivered to the schools. The participants never see the check. The banking system here in El Salvador is very difficult. There is no inter-bank processing so it is also difficult for them to make payments. They have to travel to San Salvador or other bigger cities to even make a monthly payment. We took a break and the four of us went to Stake Lover’s restaurant. I had soft tacos that were good and the guacamole was excellent. I love it when they just mash the avocado and don’t add a lot of other things to thin it down. The most interesting sign I have seen was hanging in the restaurant: a picture of a gun with a / through it. In other words, no guns allowed in the restaurant.
Back at the chapel the Cerros were again working with applicants. Dick and I talked about the good things going on with the Perpetual Education Fund here in El Salvador and wrote things down to report back to Reynaldo and Elder Clarke. We have learned a lot about things that would work in Guatemala. The Cerros are doing a great work and put their heart and soul into it. They are in their fifties. They have been married 38 years and joined the Church when they had been married 4 years. Besides serving a two year mission while in their own home, he serves as a branch president at a branch an hour and a half away. He is also a patriarch. It would be wonderful to have a missionary couple like them serving in each of the seven countries in Central America. We were invited into a meeting of four sisters and one brother being trained as stake specialists by the Employment director from San Salvador.
While we were inside the chapel we could hear a bouncing basketball from the parking lot. You know you are at an LDS chapel when you can hear basketball going on. We left the chapel at 5 pm and drove west. We went through two small towns and they would detour around to take us past the LDS chapels. We arrived in Ahuachapan and again drove past a chapel. They took us on the Ruta de Las Flores (Route of Flowers). It was a winding road, many miles through the hills. There were some flowering shrubbery but they said in April and May the flowers were abundant. The hills were covered with coffee trees that they harvest by hand. We pulled over in Apaneca, a little town that impressed me because it was so clean and the small buildings looked clean and painted. The streets were cobblestone. It was dusk but I took a couple of pictures of the town and of the mountain that is planted with a premium coffee tree. We drove on and pulled over again where we could look over the valley and had a view of three volcanoes…..Volcán Izalco, Volcán San Marcelino and Volcán Llamatepeq. It was getting too dark for my pictures to turn out.
We drove through a little town that made me wonder why we were there. It was dark and the narrow streets always make me feel it might be dangerous. Then we turned a corner and there was the stake center in front of us. I knew it was because there were young men outside playing basketball. Plus, a satellite dish is always a clear indication of a stake center. It was Juayua Stake Center. We went inside and met the stake president. The stake president we had met earlier in the day who is also the Institute Director, was also there. They were all aware of the meeting we have planned for Sunday. One stake president said they were bringing a van that would hold 15 and Dick said, “if they all come.” The stake president responded, “they will!”
We drove on to Sonsonate and when we got to an area near a hospital Sister Cerros called Wendy de Sanchez so she could lead us to her home. She is the stake PEF specialist. She has a little area in her humble home set aside for young people to come use computers to submit applications. She is young with a three year old daughter. Her husband was the stake specialist but has been called as a bishop. The report that she does is outstanding. You can tell by seeing their set up and the report they have put together that these are people truly committed to their calling. Too many Guatemala youth quit school to help provide for their family. There is a lot of poverty. El Salvador does not have that problem. Most youth finish school.
We still had a long drive home. When we left Wendy gave us a cake/bread from Mr. Donut and we stopped for drinks at a Shell station and so we ate as we traveled. We got back to the hotel at 10 pm.

20 February 2009…..Friday
The Cerros picked us up at 9:45 am and we headed east to La Perla de Oriente (the Pearle of the East). That is, the east side of El Salvador. The road for part of the trip is the Pan American Highway. It is a four lane divided road. Most of the roads here are very good as opposed to Guatemala’s roads. El Salvador doesn’t have as much rain so their roads are in better condition. They don’t have the mountains and highlands to contend with and all the mudslides. We actually saw and heard a lawn mower and a weed whacker, the first time since leaving the States. The drivers aren’t as crazy and the roads aren’t as congested as in Guate. San Salvador, the capital, has about half a million people as opposed to Guatemala City with over 2 million and up to 4 million in the surrounding area. El Salvador is more progressive. In some of the outlying area of Guatemala the water pipes to homes and little communities is PVC pipe lying on top of the ground and stretched overhead across highways. They don’t bother to try burying it underground.
We saw 5 volcanoes as we traveled. We saw Lake Ilopango, a very large lake. When we are in the car with the Cerros we listen to music CDs. We heard Glen Miller and old US classics, El Salvadoran love songs, marimba music of old US hits, plus a Church CD in English. It really sets the mood to see new country and hear the marimba music. About an hour out of El Salvador Elder Cerros rolled down his window so we could smell the processing of the sugar cane. This was in the San Vicente area where he was born and grew up. We saw Volcán Chichontepec and stopped and took pictures. A little further on there were 5 or 6 roadside stands with women holding a stick with young parrots lined up, for sale. Other women were holding iguanas with their jaws and legs tied together and they were holding them by the tail. Elder Cerros pulled the car over so we could take pictures. One woman had a basket full of ugly critters that were a type of shrimp from the nearby river. Sister Cerros picked one up and held it for me to take a picture. The little lady with the basket wanted to cook one for us to eat. I really like shrimp but this thing was not appetizing to me at all. Instead we munched on bread sticks and drank juices.
We saw Volcán Chaparrastique as we came into San Miguel. That whole area of the country was devastated by a 12 year war between political factions in the eighties and nineties. At one point they had been without power for 30 days. Many of the people left the area. Their thriving cotton production was lost and they suffered a lot. Eighty thousand people lost their life in that conflict. We stopped at the stake center. The Cerros have keys to the gates and the doors of many of the chapels as they travel about the whole country to assist. It makes for great bathroom stops in areas where you wouldn’t want to use the alternative. It was hot, over 100 degrees, and windy…..a lot like Lancaster in the summer.
As we were leaving the chapel we met two men in a pick-up. One was a local bishop, the other a lawyer who had used PEF. We drove north east to Santa Rosa de Lima. We passed another chapel and arrived at 1:30 pm. We drove to the home of the Chevarria sisters, actually 18 year old twins, who have had their loan funded. Sister Cerros had their checks for them to take to their school. We were all invited inside the wide gate to a porch of a more than humble home. On the porch was a treadle Singer sewing machine where the mother was sewing. I told her that my dad had worked for Singer. One daughter appeared older and knew a little English and was friendly and outgoing. The other was shorter and appeared younger and was shy. The father was very happy to meet us and shake our hand. He looked a lot older than the mother but we were told later that he had prostate cancer. I took pictures of each daughter as she signed the paper work saying that she had received the check and a picture of the family.
There were water barrels/containers by the porch. There was a rooster running after three hens. The opening into the house showed a framed picture of the Guatemala Temple hanging on the wall. This was a great experience for us to see the great blessing that will come into the family by the education of their youngest daughters. The Fund truly changes direction for families as the younger generation is taking steps so they won’t have to raise their families in poverty. Every day we serve with PEF gives us a stronger testimony of the blessing of living prophets. Truly, Gordon B. Hinckley was inspired.
As we drove out of town we passed another chapel. We stopped at La Pema Restaurante. It was very hot and the restaurant was open sided with a high roof and ceiling fans. The menu had four choices. Traveling in the smaller towns is very limiting to the choice for food. We all had barbecued steak, rice, avocado, and cheese pupusas. The meat was very good. I eventually adapted to the heat but my clothes were really stuck to me. Elder Cerros started the car and let it run for about five minutes before we got in so it was fairly comfortable.
We drove to La Union to deliver a check for a student to a technical school…Mega Tech de Union. It is a very nice school, only two years old, and they have added several buildings recently. They have 4 other campuses in other areas and each specializes in their own local industries. This one offers culinary school and training for the fishing industry, among other things. We were given a brief tour of the facilities. We met three LDS kids who are there using the Fund. When we left we drove past a chapel and then down to the port a few minutes away. It is not a beach, as I had expected, but a big modern port with intense security. It is on the Golfo de Fonseca, part of the Pacific Ocean. As we were driving back through town to leave Elder Cerros pulled the car over and stopped because he saw two young missionaries walking. We rolled down the windows and they reached in and shook hands with us. One was from Guatemala City and one of our local stakes.
We drove back to the stake center at San Miguel. There the Cerros had a short meeting with 18 of us in the room. Dick was invited to speak a few minutes, and two participants bore their testimony of the blessing of PEF in their life. The rest were just getting signed up or receiving their checks for school. The last young men to leave shook hands with us. One said he had served in Guatemala and he recognized us from the fire station presentation in Quiche last October. That was where we met Elder Facer of Jeff’s ward in Mission Viejo. So, I took his name, Oscar Javier Molina, and I will send the picture I took of him and his email address to Jeff so he can forward it on to Elder Facer in Mission Viejo.
It was 7 pm before we left the stake center and we had a two and a half hour drive back to San Salvador. We stopped for drinks and I saw Milky Way Midnight candy bars. Jon Rosenlof hooked me on them when we visited them when they were missionaries in Alaska. I haven’t seen any since the USA. We had some rain on the way which is very unusual for this time of year, but it soon ended. We enjoyed the drive, listening to the music.

When we got to the San Vicente area Elder Cerros pulled off the road where sugar cane is processed. The only light there is from the fires underneath the huge caldrons of boiling sugar cane.
Elder Cerros went to the chain link fence and a man opened the gate for us. It was very dark walking and Sister Cerros used her cell phone to light the way. It is a small family operation. There are five huge vats of boiling sugar cane with three workers. The youngest was about 12. He was stirring the vats with a shovel. He allowed us to run our finger across the back of the stirrer and taste. It wasn’t an overwhelming sweetness at all. It has to boil for 8 hours. As we walked around to the other side there were two men throwing the waste from the sugar cane into the fire to keep the vats boiling. It was very hot and smoky in there. The liquid is poured into molds that is then sold and used for jams and other sweetening or for the production of sugar. It is called atado de dulce de penela.
It was very interesting to see this small operation and how it has supported a family for many years. We arrived back at the hotel about 10 pm and a shower was great as we put our smoky, though sweet smoky, clothes into our laundry bag.

21 February 2009…..Saturday

It was wonderful to not get up to an alarm this morning, especially since it was midnight when we got into bed. We went down to the restaurant for breakfast about 10:30 am. It was buffet so I tried fried yucca. I wasn’t crazy about it. I had plantains which I really like. I’ve got to stop all this eating!
I spent eight hours at the computer getting the last few days of traveling all recorded on my journal, my pictures down loaded onto my laptop, then uploaded to Shutterfly, and my PEF report up to date with the last three days so I can email it to Reynaldo after tomorrow’s meeting and he can print it for Elder Clarke. Then I had some time, and internet, to go on to Shutterfly and get my pictures put into my photo book. Dick worked on PEF things and preparation for tomorrow’s meeting.
One thing I really miss about Guatemala is all the wonderful fruit drinks and punches at the restaurants. El Salvador offers juices but most of the time I stick with a gaseosa (soda) because they are always a safe drink.
Blackburns arrived this afternoon and at 7 pm we met them down at the restaurant for dinner. They have been in Costa Rica for a few days, flew back to Guate yesterday, and drove down here today.

22 February 2009…..Sunday

Another great day. We had breakfast at the hotel and then the four of us met Elder Rivas, a member of the Seventy responsible for El Salvador, in front of the hotel. We followed him to his ward, Layco Ward. After our Sunday meetings he led us again about half a mile to the stake center. We were able to take our things in for the afternoon meeting. We have the computer, projector, all of our folder and handouts in a suitcase so we can just wheel it around. Then we walked down to the corner and had a meal at Mr. Donut. This time we actually had a donut after our meal. It is the best donut we have tasted in 6 months, but still not up to “Sweetie Pie” standards.
When we got back to the church we got the cultural hall all set up for our meeting. There are 18 stakes/districts in El Salvador. We requested a high councilor, a member of the stake presidency and a PEF specialist. We had 65-70 in attendance. There was a member of a mission presidency, 2 stake presidents, 4 bishops, a lot of stake specialists and an assortment of others. We ran out of our folders and they took all the handouts they could get. Some of these good people traveled four hours to be there. Blackburns also had more people than invited to the meeting. The chapel itself was overflowing out the door into the foyer with people learning about New Family Search. These people constantly amaze me. To them, we represent Salt Lake and they are anxious to hear whatever information we bring. One of the brothers in our group sat at my computer afterwards and a number of people brought him their flash drives and he downloaded our presentation for each to use in their own areas of responsibility.

"after the meeting a blue pickup was blocking us in the
parking lot. The lot had 3 times more vehicles than parking places.
Elder Cerros got in, put it in gear, and Elder Graff and Blackburn

The Cerros were there and offered to lead us back to the hotel. We would have taken forever to find it without their help. They got out of their car at the hotel and when I hugged Sister Cerros goodbye my eyes filled with tears. They gave us a view of El Salvador and the members of the Church that we would never have gained without the many hours they spent with us.

A little later we walked a half a block to Pizza Hut and had dinner. Back at the hotel we were tired but I got things packed for our trip home to Guatemala City tomorrow.

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