Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving: A Time to Reflect and Give Great Thanks

Thanksgiving: A Time to Reflect and Give Great Thanks
Elder Darrel L. Hammon

Puerto Plata in the a.m.
Thanksgiving is approaching, and we are thousands of miles away from home. No snow haunts our doorsteps--thankfully; no trees are turning their beautiful green leaves for the multicolored reds, yellows, and gold of harvest falls; no pumpkins, carved or otherwise, line our driveway or even our window sill because a) we don’t have pumpkins here and b) we don’t have a window sill. But Thanksgiving is more than turkey, cranberries, stuffing, numerous salads, and pumpkin pie. It’s about being thankful for what you have and/or what you have experienced.

Vision Project in Los Alcarrizos
                In our Family Home Evening (FHE) on Monday night, six couple missionaries sat around the living room of President and Sister Bair, the Temple President and Matron of the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple. We discussed what we were thankful for during the past year. For all of us it was hard to come up with just a few things to occupy our five minutes per couple. In fact, we went over time because we could not give "a full account of these things” And so it went.
                My thankfulness this year includes the following:

33 years--Celebration in Puerto Plata
                My lovely bride of over 33 years—We celebrated our 33rd this year in July. What a great 33 years we have had. They haven’t all been easy, but they have filled with opportunities to serve and to learn together. Thankfully, she is patient with me and overlooks my flaquezas, my weaknesses. Gracias, my Querida, for all that you do, for that you are—for you are truly one of Heavenly Father’s finest. 
Anna Rose, Christiaan, and Family
 Joseph, Hailey, and baby
                My two daughters and their growing little families—Our two daughters are spectacular, they married wonderful husbands, and they are mothers with beautiful, intelligent children. Our youngest had her first in September. We thank you two for being such incredible human beings and for your consistent and ongoing support.

                Skype—Yes, Skype! Without Skype, we wouldn’t be able to watch our grandchildren grow. Without Skype, we wouldn't be able to talk face-to-face with our children and our family members. Skype lessens the challenges for couple missionaries in staying in contact with our families. We thank you, Skype, for allowing us to communicate with our family.

Hermano Zarzuela is second from left
                Our Mission—We always knew we wanted to serve together. Our mission as welfare specialists in the Caribbean Area Welfare Office has truly been a life-changing experience. We have been members our entire lives. We thought we knew about what the Church did. In reality, we knew little of what the Church does throughout the world and its far-reaching service. Having opportunities to be a part of welfare and humanitarian projects and working in the Area Office have opened our eyes and our hearts. For example, watching Brother Zarzuela from Santiago receive a prosthesis in the a.m. and then witness his walking up the stairs in the Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple and into a session was one of the most inspiring days ever. We thank the Lord for sending us to the Caribbean Area to serve.

The Díaz/Beloni Family

Cristina, Los Hammon, y Fransica
                Dominican people—We have met some incredible people. Los que trabajan por la Iglesia en la Oficina de Área son unos de los mejores! They stop by our cubicle often and see how we are doing and then stay and visit for a bit. They have become friends and colleagues, ones we shall never forget. Additionally, we have enjoyed visiting people from different organizations who are wonderful people who want to help those most in need. We thank them for their service and for who they really are.

Sister Hammon and some of the sisters from the CCM
                The Centro de Capacitación Misional (CCM)—This is the Dominican MTC. We have had the privilege of working with so many missionaries from around the world who have come to the DR to complete their missionary training for a few short weeks. They are indeed men and women of God. Some of their stories cause lumps to emerge in our throats and tears to stream down our cheeks. Their lives have been filled with experiences beyond their years. We thank them for their willingness to serve despite sometimes severe opposition and obstacles.

Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple
                The Santo Domingo Dominican Republic Temple—The moment you drive or walk through the gate to the Temple, you instantly feel at peace from the chaos that surrounds the temple in this huge city. The Temple is gorgeous, the temple grounds immaculate, and the setting stupendous. Truly, the Santo Domingo Temple is one of the most beautiful temples build. Thank you for the beautiful temple.

Relief Society President and President and Sister Muñoz from the Las Americas Stake

                The Love of our Heavenly Father and His Son and their protection—We cannot finish giving thanks without giving thanks to our Heavenly Father and His Son for their protection during our mission. There have been many times when we have physically witnessed being protected and many more times when we know we have been protected. We can thank them often enough for all of the blessings we have received.
                And, yes, there are many, many more reasons why we are thankful during this week of Thanksgiving. Indeed, every day is Thanksgiving for us, and we wish you all a reflective and fulfilling Thanksgiving, not just this week but for the entire year.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Manabao, Yaque del Norte River, and Cabins--Yes, We're Still on an Island

"Manabao, Yaque del Norte River, and Cabins--
Yes, We're Still on an Island"
Darrel L. Hammon

                Sometimes, we travel to places in the Dominican Republic that do not reflect what one has come to think an island ought to be—beaches, soft white sand, snorkeling, palm trees, cool breeze, the gentle lapping of the water.
                What if I said, think about mountains laden with pine trees, raging white cap water through boulder-infested rivers, mudslides, deep ravines, and cabins nestled against a mountain side. That’s where we went today. It’s called Manabao, just above Jarabacoa and Los Dajaos. Absolutely gorgeous! 
Yaque del Norte River
          On Friday evening, Brother and Sister Almonte who are temple workers, invited us to their cabin in Manaboa. We decided it would be a wonderful idea. This a.m. at 6:50 a.m., several couples were ready to go on our Monday trek: Los Haws, los Hammon, los Dunford, los Rucker, los Despain, los Leavitt, Elder Larsen, and los Trinidad. A bit after 7:00 a.m., four cars rolled out of the Casa de Huéspedes’ parking lot and onto to Bolivar, up to Tiradentes (Alma Mater), and then to Kennedy to Autopista Duarte. We drove up the little gas station that has become a stopping place now, just off the Autopista. Then, we were off to Jarabacoa and beyond.
The sign to Manabao
                Once we hit Jarabacoa, we decided to let our guide, Elder Larsen, have the lead and take us where we needed to go. He led us right to it. The scenery along the way was stunning. The road was winding, narrow at times, and parts of the road sluffed off into the canyon below. On a couple of spots, it appeared parts of the mountain had slid down onto the road and created just one lane. We had thought about how much longer the road would actually be there.
                Soon, we arrive at the gate that led to the cabañas. Slowly, we turned up the driveway and motored down a long winding path, over jagged rocks, and a several holes. Before too long, we ended up passing a beautiful cabin—yes, villa—on our right. It was stunning. We rolled into the driveway and parked. Brother Almonte was there to greet us. 

Bridge over a pond
                 He took us on a tour of his home. Finally, we ended up in the kitchen and dining area, where one of his employees, Eli, had prepared green guineos (green bananas) and fried eggs for a quick breakfast. We sat down and had a delicious breakfast. Green guineos are boiled and then served. They aren’t not necessarily sweet; they taste a little like potatoes.
Green bananas and fried eggs
                After breakfast, we went on a tour of the property and the surrounding area. What was beautiful about it was the serenity. After living in chaotic Santo Domingo, coming to the mountains was incredibly refreshing. From the veranda, we could hear river sounds, just across the road and down a bit. We sauntered that way.
                Just across the street, rows and rows of poinsettia bushes line the road, leading to other cabañas. There crisp reds dazzled even in the bright sunlight. Then, we walked through a literal Garden of Eden. Trees of all types grew a long side the path: avocados, grapefruits, star fruit, oranges, bananas, guava, lime, and others. Flowers and plants dotted every spot. Birds of Paradise flowers hung everywhere. 

Elder and Sister Hammon
                Soon, we reached a covered building overlooking the Yaque del Norte River, which is the longest river in the Dominican Republic. After watching the river’s waters roll passed for several minutes, we walked down a narrow path, across the river on a bridge, and over to the other side. Hermano Almonte took us to another one of the homes there, owned by a former general of the national police force. After admiring the gardens and visiting with the gardener, an 76-year-old man named Juan, we walked down to the river front where we met a family group from the area. They were swimming in the river.

Banana tree
          Upon returning, we were treated to a delicious lunch (almuerzo). Eli had cooked up an incredible array of Dominican favorites: rice with lentils; salad with tomatoes and cucumbers; a wonderful salad dressing (salsa) with oil, lime juice, cilantro, pepper, tomatoes, onions, and few other ingredients; chicken and pork dishes. Plus, some of the sisters brought corn bread salad, macaroni salad, rolls, tortilla roll up and a Dominican banana cake. As you see, we had a feast.

Eli and her lunch
                 After a delightful meal and conversation, we strolled back to the veranda and listened to Hermano Almonte’s conversion story. When he was 28-years-old, the bottom fell out of the market, and he lost most everything. He had run up a huge debt and had to sell off most of his properties to pay for it. At the same time, the missionaries came by. He was never home, but his wife had met them. Finally, one day he met with the missionaries. They asked him to come to Church. He avoided the conversation and thought he could avoid the missionaries. 

Juan, the gardener, and Brother Almonte
                 Early Sunday morning, he heard a noise outside. Apparently, the missionaries had parked their car along side of the big wall around his home, climbed on the hood of the car, and jumped over the fence. He thought they were robbers until he saw the white shirts and ties (that’s why we wear white shirts and ties!). He invited them in. He told them it was a bit early to go to church, and they said they had come to wait for him. He thought they would give up and go home, but they didn’t. So, he felt obligated to go. And he went. From that day on, he never failed to attend a Sacrament meeting. He has been a leader, including being a stake president and a mission president.

Turtles in the pond
                 Just as we were about ready to leave, it began raining. Hermano Almonte said, “Give it a couple of minutes, and it will quit.” Well, two more minutes, and it began to rain harder. We decided it was time to leave before the roads washed out. Some went to the cars to gather up the umbrellas and returned to help others to the car. So, four cars began to weave their way up the wet drive. Brother Trinidad’s car stopped just before it crested and its tires began to spin. Slowly he backed down and started again. With a bit more precarious spinning and sliding, he finally made it to the top. When we arrived back to the main road, we all sighed a sigh of relief and thanked Heavenly Father for the safe journey.

Elder and Sister Leavitt
                 We had an excellent time at the Almonte’s place. Unfortunately, Sister Almonte was away, and we did not get to see her. But Brother Almonte was an incredible host. Thank you!

Sister Hammon and Sister Rucker
Los Trinidad
Los Despain
Los Dunford