Sunday, February 17, 2013

Puerto Rico Conference

Sometimes it is hard to write.  I don’t know that this is equal to writer’s block, but it takes a lot of effort.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone is reading what I write.  Oh well, maybe somebody will read it someday.  I think this is probably how everybody who ever kept a journal has felt.  I do know how much I enjoy reading my ancestors’ journals and my kids’ blogs, so I will keep trying.
Puerto Rico stake center
Last weekend Gaye and I went to Puerto Rico for a conference.  Elder Neil L Andersen of The Twelve and President Ronald Rasband of The Seventy were there with their wives.  
Rasband's, Alvarado's, Andersen's
Also attending were two of the area presidency and their wives. Add in President and Sister Alvarado and there were plenty of high-powered speakers for a weekend.  We were not disappointed.  We met the other senior couples from The Islands and had a meeting with every missionary on Puerto Rico attending.  I must admit that one of the high points was when everyone stood and sang the mission song.
We are on the left side, third row back.
I didn’t know the words or the tune, but that didn’t matter.  The emotional and spiritual power of the moment made singing very difficult for this old guy.  The message was that we never stand alone when we stand with God.  It made the hair on my neck stand up and water run down my face.

We stayed with our friends George and Sharon Peterson.  Actually Gaye and I took the ferry to St Thomas on Thursday, stayed at their apartment, then flew to San Juan Friday morning.  That was aboard Cape Air.  
Co-pilot in front of Gaye
The planes carry eight passengers plus a crew of two, or of one.  Often one of the passengers will be sitting in the co-pilot seat.  The passengers are told where to sit based on weight.  They put me over the wing.  Hmmm.
Stowing Baggage

We never got above 1500 feet and every little disturbance in the air was transmitted to the plane. It is good that we don’t get motion sickness.  The return trip was in reverse order.  We went that way because of a mixup with tickets.  When we first got here we were given some Cape Air commuter tickets to put in a safe place to be used when we would be brought back into the mission office.  I put them in a safe place.  I just don’t remember where that place is, so we had to go through St Thomas because it cost significantly less that way.  Some day those little tickets will show up and we will frame them.

Because there were so many missionaries coming in who would need transportation from the airport and around the city to the various conference sites, the office asked us to rent a vehicle.  It was at our own expense, but I found a good deal for a mini van for the whole weekend.  Splitting the cost with the Peterson’s made it very reasonable, and it gave us freedom to come and go as we wanted.  That made it all worthwhile.  

We were housed at the apartment of Ed and Julie Collazo, a pair of senior missionaries.  They are from Puerto Rico but moved to Utah 30 years ago.  What an experience we had with them!  They are a whirlwind of enthusiasm and activity.  He said they are active, not passive, missionaries.
Elder and Sister Collazo
Elder Collazo carries a backpack full of copies of the Book of Mormon with him so he will have enough to give one to the people he meets.  He keeps his baptism clothing with him in the car so he will be prepared.  I could go on for a long time, but suffice it to say that we enjoyed our experience with them immensely.  

We took a little trip up into El Yunque National Forest.  That is up on the highest peak on Puerto Rico and is a tropical rain forest.  It was fun to go there, way up in the clouds, to see the waterfalls and feel the cool mountain breeze, and to hear the little coqui frogs chirp away.  The frogs are the unofficial mascot of Puerto Rico.  About the size of a thumb nail, they stay hidden from sight but send out their clear two-note call all night. Just hearing them sing is the essence of the Puerto Rico experience.  

We also spent Sunday night at the Ritz Carleton hotel near Old San Juan. By the way, we got a super rate for the hotel.  Normally around $600 per night per room, we got it for $125 because the branch president in St Thomas works for the hotel chain.  It was a nice room in a lovely hotel right on the beach. The conference was over at noon, so we drove out there to check in, but we were too early for check-in so we found a Chili’s for some lunch.  The young man who served our meals accepted an invitation to have someone call on him from the Church.  We sent his name to Elder Collazo.  Then we drove to Old San Juan.
Old San Juan is where the first settlement was founded.  Columbus discovered Puerto Rico (from the European view of history) on his second voyage.  
El Murro Fortress

Later the Spanish established a strong fortress at the entrance into the harbor and defended it against efforts of the British and the Dutch over the next hundred years.  It is now a national historic site, very well preserved and a popular attraction to locals and visitors.  In front of the fort is a huge field of grass that is now used by hundreds of people to fly kites.  With a constant breeze blowing from the east it is an ideal kite-flying venue.  There was actually a kite festival scheduled for February 17.  That would be quite a sight.

Monday morning we got up and went to the beach.  The others hopped into the hot tub but I was just sitting on the side, when Elder Andersen and his wife strolled past on the beach for a morning walk.  They are a cute couple.  Those authorities who travel constantly throughout the world have a huge responsibility. Their main role is to keep the doctrine pure, according to President Hinckley.  I am beginning to understand more acutely what that means.

Our branch president has been away for three weeks with his family.  They are originally from Hawaii and Cook Islands but ended up here because of very good employment.  They returned to Hawaii to take their two oldest girls through the temple as they get ready to go on their missions.  Hina, the youngest of the two older girls, was dropped off at the Provo MTC on their way back to Tortola. Hina is going to Ventura California Mission, Spanish speaking.  The oldest daughter, Hail’a, stayed in Hawaii to work for a few weeks before she enters the Provo MTC in April on her way to Quezon Philippines Mission.  We managed to make arrangements for the Kalama family to use our van while they were in Utah, so some of our kids had the opportunity to meet them.  It all worked out great for everybody.  Isn’t it fun to be able to do something significant for somebody else!  It is good to have them back.  

While they have been gone the members have looked to me for instruction and doctrine.  I am comfortable with my experience and my ability to assist them, but I have no authority beyond being an advisor.  That is how it should be.  I am understanding better what it means to be a member and leader support missionary.  Our job is to assist and train the local leaders to get along just fine without us.  Along the way we form deep and strong bonds of friendship and brotherhood.  In that process our lives are raised to a new level.  When we finally depart this mortal sphere we will leave everything that is of this world here.  I checked.  There are no U-Haul trucks going to heaven.  But we do get to take the most important things with us, including experiences and relationships.  I suspect the other stuff will continue to diminish in importance anyway.  We should invest our time and effort in areas of life that will cross the divide.

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