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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, May 18, 2009

Week of May 11th to May 17th 2009

11 May 20009…..Monday
Today begins a busy birthday week with Maren celebrating 27 years. This morning I started something new at the office. Reynaldo showed me how to take the report that comes every other week from SLC after the loan approval meeting and break it down by countries with the necessary information. Then I email it to the director of the Employment Resource Center in each country. It takes new computer skills but it didn’t take very long for me to do.
I had an email today from Lewis Pettingill of the old Pomona Ward. I had emailed him when I found his name on a PEF email. He and his wife are serving with PEF in the Dominican Republic. I actually went “steady” with him about 1954 for a whole week….wearing his ring on a chain around my neck. It was a fashionable thing to do. My friend Nancy Schmidt had worn it for a few weeks before I did. He thought it was pretty amazing that we were both serving with Perpetual Education Fund. (Small world!)
We got everything prepared at the office that we will need for the next few days while we are with the returning missionaries. Then Dick took me home so I could make preparations for Family Home Evening tonight. First we got furniture moved and arranged. Then he went back to the office. I made honey butter and went through my lesson again. I did some packing for our stay at the Casa de Húespedes on Tuesday and Wednesday night.
We had good attendance for FHE, over 20. Our little apartment accommodates the group very well. Before the meeting started I asked Kings if they had the May “Ensign.” He went upstairs and got it. There on page 2 of the Conference issue was a picture of Jessica and her friends at General Conference. I did a little show and tell and made sure that everyone got to see our beautiful granddaughter. I taught a lesson based on the book Eve, Mother of All Living by Beverly Campbell. We compared what Genesis says about Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden, to what the Book of Mormon says plus the inspired words of our prophets in these last days. It has been a long time since I have been able to teach. It was pretty amazing to me at the conclusion, that I had two General Authorities participating in my lesson, Elder Clarke and Elder Christiansen. Then I cooked scones with the help of Rexene. I hadn’t planned on scones until Friday when Elder Clarke mentioned my scones and honey butter.
Dick said when he stopped at Paiz on the way home from the office they had an employee at the door with sanitizing gel in a pump, putting it on the hands of the customers. Also, they wiped the handle of the grocery cart with sanitizer. As far as I have heard, there is only one instance of swine flu here in Guatemala.
As I was reflecting on our little trip Saturday, I was thinking about a story Sister Baldwin told us. When we were in Santa Lucia we met Elder Meza, a missionary from Honduras. He has been an assistant to the president and the Baldwins said someday they fully expect him to be a General Authority. He was baptized when he was 24. He was a professor at a university. He decided if he wanted to learn all he could about the gospel he needed to go on a mission. His parents were very upset with him. Just before leaving, when his suitcases were all packed, his mother went in his room and cut up his ties. Well, he came on his mission almost two years ago. There was no contact of any kind from his family. Last Christmas, when he had been here 18 months, he received a package from his mother. She sent him a box of ties. That brings a tear to my eyes. Sister Baldwin says when they find out who has been called to their mission she makes contact with the missionary to give them information. She always tells the young American sister missionaries to prepare themselves for an 18 month camping trip. One young sister serving here in the highlands recently told her: “you were right, Sister Baldwin. I am washing my clothes in a bucket.” She says the American young women are very strong and obedient.

A future reference for me: I can’t find buttermilk here but the first two times I made scones I substituted yogurt with a little milk and it worked as well as the buttermilk. This time I bought yogurt that I thought was plain, but it was fruit flavored when I opened the container. Fig. Since it was Sunday night when I mixed it up, I had to make do, so I used the old standby of vinegar in milk. It just isn’t the same. The texture and the flavor were different. Most people didn’t notice or didn’t care but I knew it wasn’t up to par. After everyone left, some taking a few scones with them, Dick and I took a plateful downstairs to the guards, along with honey butter, strawberry jam, and the rest of the gallon of orange juice.

12 May 2009…..Tuesday
Today is Shaylee’s 2nd birthday! We loaded our things in the car a little after 9 am and headed to the Casa de Huespedes.

I was so excited. We are back on the second floor in the room with two great queen size beds. The room has a refrigerator. It is the room we had in November but they said they were re-doing the room the last six months. It doesn’t look that much different to me, but I am glad to back in it instead of the rooms with all the bunk beds. The shower is still scummy.
Our group of returning missionaries started coming about 10 am. First we had a sister, then an elder who have been home three weeks but weren’t able to take the class before. We ended up with 5 in that category. Then we had a group come by bus from the Quetzaltenango Mission. Last to come, and later than we expected, was another bus from El Salvador. We have a total of 21 missionaries here with us. The biggest group ever here at once. We brought some crackers, fruit and juice for them as some leave very early in the morning without much to eat. We all got on the last bus and went over to the Employment Center for their classes. Lunch was first on the agenda.
dinner at the Employment Center

There were two American young women at the Employment Center. They are from BYU and fulfilling an internship for the next three months. They both speak Spanish. Another small world alert: one is Sarah Richardson from Ukiah, CA. She served a mission in Quito, Ecuador and she was there the same time as Al and Carolyn Richmond. I took her picture to email to them. The other young woman responded that her grandfather works with PEF. I asked if Elder Carmack was her grandfather and she responded “yes.” He is “the” man when it comes to PEF. She said she is from the Mission Viejo area. Her name is Katherine Kinnison. I asked if she knew Kaitlin Graff and of course she does. Now I have a picture of her that I will email to Kaiti.
We boarded the bus after 7 pm to return to the Casa de Huespedes. I went to our room and unpacked. Dick was in the parking lot when a yellow school bus (old used ones from the US) pulled in with 13 American missionaries, fresh from the MTC in Provo.

13 May 2009…..Wednesday
Today would have been Josh’s 41st birthday. I thought of him a lot when I was preparing my FHE lesson. We talked about the world blaming Eve for partaking of the fruit, and bringing death into the world. Eve was using her agency, based on the teachings she had in the Garden of Eden. She made a informed choice. Elder Hales called death an “escape clause.” It is our way back to Father. We are not stuck here on earth forever. Death is the way back home, not a curse, but a blessing.
I was awake by 5 am, listening to the repeated song of a bird outside our window. We were downstairs waiting for our bus before 7 am, but after a few phone calls we finally had two large vans arrive, over an hour late. We arrived at the Employment Center and had breakfast and then class began again. I had loan reports to work on. I always stay in the room where the class is taught but with such a large group this time there was not an available table or chair.
our biggest group ever of returning missionaries

I spent most of my time in one of the offices but the good thing is I had internet access today. I finished the loan report and emailed it to Reynaldo and Claudia.
In Central America they write today’s date as 13/5/2009 and of course we would write it as 5/13/2009. It is very confusing. But, in the several hundred loans I entered yesterday I only did one backwards…..well, I only noticed one mistake.
This was a great group of missionaries…..2 women and 19 men plus Sarah and Katherine from BYU. They were all enthusiastic and attentive and real participants in the process. We took a group picture at the end. Five of our group left with families. They are the ones who have been home a few weeks. We loaded the vans back to the Casa. President Torres of the North Mission was there waiting for us so he could interview and release a missionary from Poptun district. The missionary’s parents were also there and they attended the temple with us. We walked over to the temple and filled the ordinance room with all of us, plus a few others. Dick and I were witness couple, again. As long as I stay focused I do a pretty good job of understanding the Spanish. I was able to use Spanish for the veil with a lot of help.
Watching the families and the missionaries re-unite after a mission is always a joy. Some moms just put their arms around them and won’t let go. The tears flow….mine, too. I know the feeling. I talked to one family of a mother, grandmother and aunt. Yes, I talked and we did communicate very well. We also smile and hug a lot. That helps. I told them how I love the many abrazos (hugs) that I get in Guatemala. One sister missionary’s family wasn’t there. She said they were meeting her at the CCM so it was dark and I didn’t want her walking alone, so I walked with her. She saw them on the other side of the Shell Station, waiting for her. After witnessing that reunion I went back to the temple grounds.
Dick and I were the last to leave the temple grounds after all the missionaries had come out. In front of the CCM they were loading their luggage and saying final goodbyes to friends. Many of the missionaries have a hard time saying goodbye to one another.
the kitchen at the Casa and the missionariesstaying for one more night..plus a dad

We had 6 left with us for another night. Patty from the Employment Center had sent pizzas and sodas with us so we gathered in the kitchen and had our meal about 8 pm. One missionary and his parents were there eating also, and another missionary brought his dad in to eat. He had come many hours to get his son. It was fun listening to him talk about being the first missionary to serve from Huehuetenango in 1971 and he served in Ecuador. He and Dick were telling stories. I told the young elders that someday they will sit around with their missionary sons and tell the same type of stories from their mission experiences.
Today we met two missionaries from Quetzaltenango. They are here in the city because one of them is having surgery tomorrow. Elder Jensen is from Sandy, UT, and Elder Snow is from Payson, UT. I told him we were moving to Salem and he said half of his ward lives in Salem.

14 May 2009…..Thursday
We had a very good night sleep. Wish we could take the Serta mattresses from the Casa back to our apartment. The rest of our missionaries were gone by 10 am. The last to go was waiting patiently for his dad and bishop to come. Finally, a car pulled up and his dad saw him and came running. When we met him he wiped his tears and hugged Dick and then hugged me. When they left he hugged us both again. Most of the parents think we are their child’s mission president till we tell them PEF….or FPE.
This morning was the day that the Latin Americans report to the CCM. They pull into the parking lot and say goodbye at the gate. One pick-up truck had about ten people in the back. As our last young man was leaving, others were hugging their child and wiping tears as he came through the gate for two years of service. I cry with them, too. As I have long known, we send off a boy as a missionary and when he comes home he is a man.
We packed our car. This time I was careful not to leave anything in the closet. I can’t afford to lose another skirt. We drove up the road to the small Spanish market and bought a few things we can’t get elsewhere. Then we went to Price Smart. After shopping we had a “Costco” dog. There is something comforting about Price Smart from the time you walk in. You know you’ve found Costco. We arrived home at 1 pm and it is good to be home. It has been an intense couple of days but full of great experiences and great people. We had a wonderful rain and thunderstorm tonight, which is getting pretty common and is welcome after the six months of dry season.

15 May 2009…..Friday
Last night as I was ready to crawl into bed, we got a call from Linda telling us that Mother is in the hospital. It is very worrisome. Jill is staying in touch with Linda and keeping all of our family informed. We found out this morning that the sirens we heard yesterday just after we got back to the apartment were because a small commuter plane heading to Belize had crashed while taking off, killing all 6 on board. Sister Justice saw it all from her apartment window. She and her husband own a local school and have lived down here for 30 years.
This morning we took the Hermanas to Central Mission office. We got back to our office and first thing I saw on my desk was the “Ensign” (English, of course) with a sticky note saying “Sister Graff.” I have no idea where it came from since they are hard to come by here. It had to be from someone who was at FHE evening last Monday and saw the picture of Jessi. I’m thinking Elder Clarke might be the source. Anyway, we are so thrilled to have our own copy. Everyone who came by my desk today got treated to the picture of our granddaughter at Conference. As soon as I turned on the computer I noticed a stack of mail….yes, a stack. We got pictures of Mark’s girls and a family picture. There were Mother’s Day cards from Mark, Alison and Cyndy. We got a graduation announcement from Kayla and a picture of her and others of Dennis’ family. I had the assortment taped up or laying around my desk. Rene Oliva and his wife walked over to look at all the pictures. He picked up Kayla’s picture and they said, “how beautiful.” They want her to meet their son so we can be family. I love pictures of my family and yes, I show them off.
We got home from the office before the rain and thunder started. The rain is so pounding and loud we have to turn up the volume on Fox News. We have gone two days this week with no birthdays, but we will make up for that tomorrow. We just talked to Jill with an update about Mother. She might be going home tomorrow. Jill sends an update to all our family every time she gets information from Linda.

16 May 2009…..Saturday
Birthday time! Today Aimee is 6 and Benjamin is 4. We are not through with the May birthdays yet. We got the apartment cleaned and laundry done. Tilleys came in for a short visit and Blackburns came down. I showed off the pictures of our grandchildren that I brought home from the office. Dick went to the cleaners to get his suit for Sunday.
Jill talked to Linda this morning. Mother has regressed since yesterday. They are moving her to the first floor of the hospital in Torrance to a care facility where they can give her some therapy. Her oxygen levels are low so they have her on oxygen. It has been like a waiting game here, waiting for word to come from home. I am so grateful for modern technology so I can be informed. Jill and Robert drove to Torrance to see Mother and called us last night when they got home. I knew it would be hard for Jill to see Mother in that condition. She emailed our family and asked all to join in a family fast tomorrow.

17 May 2009…..Sunday
We attended Church in La Sabana Branch. I was anxious to get home to find out how Mother is. Jill called Linda after they got home from Church and then called us. She is worse today. Her whole body is in pain. They will run some more tests. When we left on our mission my desire was that Mother live till I get home next year. Now, my desire is that she doesn’t have to go through any more pain and suffering. I just want Daddy to go get her and take her safely back to our heavenly home. I have tried calling Linda tonight with no success so we won’t go to bed until Jill gets an update for us.

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