Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year!

We had another baptism this past week. I was privileged to perform the ordinance. I never thought my "whites" would get as much use as they have.  I feel very blessed to assist the Rosario Branch with their small number of priesthood holders and busy schedules. The two children were baptized eight months ago and mom finally chose to follow their example. 
This is 8-month old Jacob on the back of his dad's bike in a Nica version of a bike infant seat. His dad found a small plastic chair, tied it to the bike, and uses a lace cloth to tie Jacob into the chair. We love their innovation. His wife and older son, who now have bikes, ride behind. They live in a small pueblo about 5-7 miles away. They used to ride with all four on dad's bike but now they can travel with greater ease and safety. We love this family. We are working with them to prepare to go to the temple soon.

We were in a home of an inactive member and Laurie found a parrot. He crawled right up onto her finger. She found a new friend whether she wanted to or not. It's customary to find birds such as this loose in the house. They don't believe in cages or leashes for dogs. However, we've seen more leashes on pigs than on dogs. We have to be careful where we sit and walk.
We thought it would be fun to get a picture with the cathedral clock at noon on New Year's Eve. People were all over town center preparing for the night's activities. One thing we've learned is that the Nicas know how to party. It seems like town center is closed every weekend for some kind of celebration.
We learned of a tradition in Nicaragua that is done at the stroke of midnight on December 31 of each year; "El Viejo/La Vieja". A life-size muñeca (doll) is created and then burned at midnight. We saw them all over Estelí this past week as we were making visits. Each muñeca has a sign attached which says "adiós" to the bad and "bienvenido" to the good. The Nicas believe that when they burn el "Viejo", they are saying goodbye to all of the bad things that happened in 2016. They are made of wood and cotton, dressed in old clothing, and most either have a cigar or bottle of liquor. (We hope that means they want to break those two bad habits.)
They then eat 12 grapes to bring good luck for them in the new year. Now we know why there were so many grapes in the tiny mercados on the street. 

Feliz Año Nuevo.  We hope you find joy, happiness, and the choicest blessings of the Lord in this new year.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Feliz Navidad!

The primary program was a success! It was done Nica style with decorations and the children having a luncheon afterwards. Laurie was assigned the banner, the balloons, the luncheon, sharing time, and to speak by the Branch President. Her experience in primary came in handy. Decorating for the program is common in Central America.
Our mission Christmas party was held at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Managua. It started by the pool with muffins, juice, and pictures with the president. We moved inside to a beautifully decorated ballroom where we were entertained by a movie, lunch, and a missionary talent show.  Afterwards, more pictures with the president and some of our favorite missionaries. Everyone had a "merry" time.

During our adventure in Managua we passed by "La Casa Del Whopper" which was located next to the Grand Cathedral and the National Palace. The cathedral was damaged in an earthquake several years ago and is still being renovated. Just past the National Palace the Main Street of Managua was decorated with 3 blocks of Nativities on both sides of the street depicting their version of the Savior's birth.

Laurie brought to Nicaragua her tradition of baking Christmas cookies and delivering them to our neighbors, members of the three branches, and missionaries. She had to be innovative in making them as several of the ingredients weren't available. They were a hit as we are taking orders for next year. 😜 We also wanted to help some of our really impoverished members so we made food bags (they don't have baskets) and delivered them with the missionaries. We went into each home, sang a Christmas hymn, and gave a spiritual message about how the birth of the Savior is a great gift to us from our Heavenly Father and of the many gifts the Savior gave to us during His earthly mission.
Since Christmas is celebrated in Nicaragua and most Central American countries on the 24th, we invited the missionaries serving with us in Estelí to Christmas dinner. Laurie served an incredible "American" dinner, without rice and beans, which was enjoyed by all. We can't believe how much missionaries eat! After dinner, we had a short Christmas program where we sang Christmas hymns, watched a Nativity video from Light the World, and read the Christmas story found in Luke. It was a privilege for me to read it in Spanish for our Central American missionaries. We had a great time together!

¡Feliz Navidad! Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.  

Saturday, December 24, 2016

EMAIL... Week 25

Feliz Navidad to All!
The people of Nicaragua, and many of the Central American countries, celebrate Christmas on the 24th, so we will celebrate tonight with the missionaries here in Estelí. We love and appreciate them so much, and enjoy our time with them. Some are calling home today and others will call home tomorrow. Skype is a huge blessing for those of us serving now. When our sons were serving, we only got to talk on the phone, but we loved those special opportunities to hear their voices and their love of the people they were serving and of the Lord.
We went to Managua last Sunday night for the Mission Christmas party on Monday and to get our vehicle serviced on Tuesday. Lee said it reminded him of Coronado events with the energy, everyone looking their best, and the joy of being together...most of the missionaries are still teenagers. We both have such a strong affinity for the youth, especially the valiant youth we have had the opportunity to work with inside and outside of the Church! It was fun to watch them interact and to associate with them. We also enjoyed spending time with the other Senior couples and even had the opportunity to meet the new office couple for the South Mission. After we dropped the car off for service, we were able to stock up at Walmart and Price Mart with items we can't get in Estelí. We didn't get home until almost 11 that night, but it was so worth it. We can't complain a bit as many of the young missionaries got up Monday morning at 2 to get ready and catch buses to be in Managua at 8, and then didn't get home until after midnight from their bus rides back. Oh the energy of the young!
We had many sweet experiences this week as we went with the different sets of missionaries here and delivered cookies, food, Christmas carols, Christmas thoughts and videos, and prayers of gratitude for our precious Savior at this time we celebrate His birth. All were surprised and grateful, and we left them feeling loved and remembered by our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. Our favorite was our Family Home Evening with Marvin's extended family. His mother, Sofia, is adorable and wanted us to do one for Christmas. Lee showed some videos of the Nativity, the true meaning of Christmas, and what gifts we can give to the Savior and to others. Then he had each of us tell what the Savior has done for us. The spirit was so strong as each of the 18 there testified and expressed gratitude for the Babe born in Bethlehem so long ago. Oh how we love that family and want to help Sofia and her late husband have an eternal family!
We are blessed to know Jesus Christ and to have His gospel in our lives. We have the gift of the Holy Ghost to enlighten us and help us through our daily lives and with tough things. We understand that we have a loving Heavenly Father, who is only a prayer away ALWAYS! We have the commandments and Church leaders to help us know exactly what we need to do to be able to return to our Heavenly Father's presence with our families forever. We have temples to be sealed and to gain the extra help, guidance, and peace we all so desperately need, and to help us qualify as eternal families. At this special time of year and in our lives, we are so grateful to our Dear Heavenly Father for His Plan, which gave us the greatest gift of all, His Son, Jesus Christ, Who made all things possible!
We love you all and wish you the happiest of Christmases and a glorious New Year as we all strive to better follow our Savior!

Elder and Hermana Koelliker

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Excursions... Service Project... the Christmas Party--- Nica Style

We took another excursión to Selva Negra to celebrate the Birthday of one our senior missionaries who turned 70.  We spent a couple hours hiking through the jungle looking for monkeys. I'm sure they were watching us and we could hear them but never saw them.  The trees are huge and the foliage reminds me a lot of Jurassic Park.  Most of the building and cottages have plants growing on top of the roof. It's quite unique to this area of Nicaragua.

Here's Elder Lee, our Birthday boy. There were murals on all the buildings and found one that he really liked. We've come to love the Lee's. We wish they were closer.
This past week the mission had a day of service and each zone was to organize a service project in their respective community. We helped the Estelí zone clean up the surrounding area of an elementary school. We had loads of fun working with these wonderful missionaries. They work hard but know how to have fun. We had to be very careful what we were picking up so we used plastic grocery bags as gloves. You'd be amazed or grossed out at what we found. There is a reason why we don't own a dog, or a cow or a horse.  
 I'm still trying the selfie thing.
We had a Branch Christmas party last night. It was the most bizarre event we've attended thus far on our mission. It was supposed to start at 5:30 but didn't until 7:30. They began with a song and a prayer then had a mini testimony meeting. We're still trying to figure that one out. Afterwards, they played musical chairs which we couldn't play because they ended up on each other's laps. They finally got around to serve dinner around 8:10. We took advantage of the Christmas card frame and snapped a picture. Despite the uniqueness of this Nica Christmas party, everybody that stuck around had a good time. Unfortunately, some had to leave early because they had to walk several miles to get home and couldn't wait for the food.
We were eating dinner the other night when we heard the banging of drums in the street in front of our home. When we looked out we saw a 12' "Gigantona" and an "Enano" following close behind. La Gigantona is a giant puppet figure representing the Spanish lady in all her power and majesty, her imposing stature demonstrating the power of the Spanish over the indigenous peoples. La Gigantona was first created by Nicaraguan mestizos. El Enano is a small dwarfish figure with a 3' diameter head symbolizing the intelligent mestizo. Each Christmas the Gigantonas come to entertain the people of Nicaragua. It was fun to talk with them and learn another aspect of their culture. Feliz Navidad. 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

EMAIL... Week 24

Feliz Navidad! 
Great time at Selva Negra last week! We heard the monkeys, but saw none. Oh well, it was a beautiful hike and lovely breakfast! We enjoy our occasional outings with the other Senior couples.
We're at the church decorating for the Primary Program tomorrow, and the kids are supposed to be here for the last practice, but Nicaragua standard time...only two of the "for sure" 5 are here, and their mom is the Primary President. It has been very interesting working with them this last week, as we've expressed before, there is a severe reverence and obedience problem with the children in the branches here. Most have never experienced how Sacrament Meetings should be and how sacred the sacrament time is. The branch president called Lee on Tuesday to see if I could speak in the program and tell about some of my experiences in Primary, and so this is a great opportunity to teach what it can be like and the responsibility parents have to teach their children at home about the importance and blessings of reverence. Hopefully my lack of fluency won't be a detraction from the spirit. I'm praying that the spirit will be strong for the Program and that the children will do well on their songs and parts. We are so blessed to have things in place and well modeled for us, and experienced music people! Poco, poco!
Tonight is the Branch Christmas party. Our assignment was brownies and cookies for 70...all done and bagged. Whew! Our branch president is working hard to get more unity and more people involved in serving others and in the branch. They are so young in the gospel, everything is new for them. In many ways it's sweet to watch them grasp concepts and gain testimonies of different commandments and the programs of the Church. They are truly precious people and we have grown to love them so much.
Our favorite visit of the week was with a young man, who was baptized in April, and his mother. She set a baptism date for Christmas Eve, which is when they celebrate Christmas here. They wanted Lee to baptize her, and Lee asked the young man how old he was. Holber is 16. Lee asked him why he wasn't baptizing his mom, and he told us he didn't know that it was possible. Lee practiced the prayer with him and called the branch president to find out Holber's priesthood status. He hadn't been interviewed to become a priest yet. They set up an appointment and it's on. She is so happy to be able to be baptized, and having her son baptize her is the icing on the cake!
We love our Savior, Jesus Christ! We wish the whole world could have His gospel and the joy, peace, purpose, and love that we experience daily. We love you all and are so grateful that each of you are part of our lives. In case they don't do "Missionary Moments" next week, Merry Christmas to you all!

Elder and Hermana Koelliker

Monday, December 12, 2016

Zone Conference and the Herd...

We had a sweet experience this week with Elder and Sister Ochoa at our multi-zone conference in Matagalpa. It was great to be taught by a General Authority and our mission president. Both are powerful men of God who set tremendous examples for the missionaries. Elder Ochoa let us know that the General Authorities really appreciate the service rendered by the senior missionary couples of the church. He mentioned to us several times how grateful he is for our efforts and examples as missionaries.
We also had time to sneak a picture with two of our favorite sister leaders who we enjoy having stay with us periodically as they fulfill their assignments, including the night before the conference.
We returned to work in the Rosario Branch this past Sunday. As we were on our way to church, we were stopped by a herd of cattle making their way down the highway. Flashbacks of Brianhead with the sheep. We barely made it to church on time. I guess we'll have to leave earlier next week. That's Nicaragua!

By the way, we had 56 in attendance at Sacrament Meeting, 10 of which were inactive members that we've been working with. It was an awesome day!

Saturday, December 10, 2016

EMAIL... Week 23

Hola All!
Great week working back with the Rosario Branch. They are the poorest of the 3 branches and only have 2 Melchizedek priesthood holders that come every week. They have 2 others who are active, but one works every other Sunday and the other is in the district presidency, and is rarely there. Lee will be extra busy. We are going to help them finish preparing for their Primary program next week. They have 4 "for sure" children, and 2 other "maybes". We shall see! They are so cute and I am excited to see how well they know the songs and their parts tomorrow. We're also back in time to help with their Branch Christmas Party next Saturday. Our assignment is cookies and brownies for 70. They usually have 35-45 at Sacrament Meeting, but when there is food involved, they are expecting more. We'll let you know how it goes. We are so blessed to be able to serve these precious people, who are struggling to make it temporally, and striving spiritually to progress. We count our blessing every day...including each of you!
AWESOME Multi-zone Conference in Matagalpa with Elder Ochoa, one of the 70. He and his wife were visiting the mission from Guatemala. They and the Poncios are wonderful leaders! Firm, but encouraging, and very effective teachers. It was great to see them use Mormon Messages, and other church video clips. After lunch, served by the RS there (which brought back great memories, Amy, Laura, and Sunny), Elder Ochoa opened it up for questions. He, his wife, President and Hermana Poncio, the 2 AP's, and even Lee and I were called up to answer different questions. We talked about where and how to meditate, ponder, and receive answers to prayers. It hit me hard how my number one place to be to receive personal revelation is in the temple, and how much I am missing the opportunity to be there often. What power and peace come from temple attendance!
With this change we only have 1 English speaker out of our 6 missionaries here. Talk about pushing my envelope! Honestly, this is good for me! Poco poco! Lee is kicking it! He understands most things, unless they have no teeth or speak so fast that there are no words, only blurred syllables. We had them all to lunch on Monday, and they were chatting away. We love the new ones already, but are really missing the ones who were transferred. We're planning a Christmas celebration with them, but just have to figure out which day will work the best. We are loving looking for and finding extra opportunities to serve others. The "Light the World" theme is so inspired and meaningful. Thank you all for the LIGHT you bring into our lives! Thank you to the Relief Society for the wonderful Christmas box! We have hung the cards and ornaments, which are helping bring in the Christmas spirit! Thanks you so much for your treats, gifts, thoughtfulness, and goodness.
We love you all!
Elder and Hermana Koelliker

Monday, December 5, 2016

Transfers... Boda... Christmas Time

It's transfer time! Laurie is a piece of luggage taking her turn in the back. We tried to do a Chinese fire drill but it didn't work too well. There is something about our hats that the elders really like. It takes us most of the day to get the elders/sisters to where they need to be. But it was fun to have all six of them for lunch to get to know them. We are excited to have them with us in Esteli.

We experienced our first Nica "boda" which means wedding that was followed by an awesome baptism. Juana and Jackson were anxious to get baptized but needed to get married first. It's not uncommon for couples to live together because of their culture and the costs of getting married. According to the law in Nicaragua, couples have to get married civilly prior to leaving the country to get sealed in the temple. Bishops aren't given the authority to marry people so attorneys perform the ceremony. This attorney gave them wonderful counsel. Afterwards, they changed into their whites and had a baptismal service that had a greater significance as they took their first step of their eternal progression. It was a privilege for me to help them take that first step. Their goal is to prepare to go to the temple in a year. Our goal is to work with them to get them there along with the members who introduced them to the gospel and was a catalyst in their conversion. Truly a testimony of the power of members in the conversion process.

We were out visiting less active members and as we were leaving, a group of kids started shouting and waving at us. It's not often they see "gringos" in their barrio. I guess we are somewhat of a novelty. Anyways, they wanted to play... of course I had to stop and play with them. They were anxious to have their picture taken and each one gave me a big "abarzo" before we left. It was a sweet and very tender experience. Oh how we love the children! They embrace life despite the conditions in which they live.
Feliz Navidad! What a special time to be a missionary as we celebrate the birth of our Savior. We have the opportunity every day to testify of Him, His Atonement, and the joy knowing that He died to bring us home. The message of the Savior and His Atonement is truly special and one that we love to share with these sweet people. Most of these people are so focused on their day-to-day survival that they forget or set aside things that are most important. Christmas is so different here. It isn't celebrated like we're accustomed to. Very few have lights on their home and/or a Christmas tree but because of the poverty Santa Claus is virtually non-existent. They have their parties and lots of fireworks but when we talk about Santa Claus coming down the Chimney or stockings hung by the fireplace, they don't have any idea what we are talking about. Most don't know the Christmas Carols as they aren't sung in church and when we sing them with families in their home, they aren't familiar with them. So, we take the Christmas spirit to them! We sing Christmas songs and show a video from Light the World program of the church. They are perfect for a Noche de Hogar. Plus, they provide a great backdrop to teach of the Savior.
We decided to put up a few lights but opted out of a tree. Thanks to those who sent decorations, cards, and treats. That was such a fun, thoughtful surprise and added to our decorations and the Christmas spirit. The Latino missionaries have enjoyed the candy from America.
Hermana Melendrez (left) is returning with honor to her home in Guatemala. She chose Pizza Hut for her last lunch meal with us in Esteli before heading to Managua. She was a great missionary and so fun to work with in the Rosario Branch. She will be missed.