Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Hospital Closing Ceremony and English Class

Today we had a closing ceremony at the Varazdin Hospital. We weren't sure what to expect because our partner organization usually organizes and executes the closing ceremonies. In this case the hospital staff has always been extremely busy and we have only really got our foot in the door as far as the head nurse and the secretary that is over donations. So although we felt strongly that they were good partners, we didn't really have much experience with them. But the ceremony was wonderful! Very low key, very warm and well, just perfect! The head hospital administrator was there and so was the head doctor. We had an opportunity to sit down and talk with them both and discuss the possibilities of our further serving the hospital in other different ways. They made us wonderful treats, which were NOT on our diets, and all in all we were extremely pleased with their closing.

Left to right....Head Doctor of the Hospital, Head Nurse, Me,(yes, I am on a diet) Administrator of the hospital, Jim, and Tihana (our translator)   We gave them 300 new sheets that were made by the high school students in their sewing program.
   After the closing ceremony, we decided to take the missionaries to a place where they had been wanting to go for a long time. The HORSE restaurant. Now really, this place was not hard for me to stay on my diet! I had a tomato and cucumber salad called, Shopska, but the others had horse meat. Baby horse meat. Yuck! Jim said it wasn't much different than beef, but what did he really know? He chose to have his covered with mushrooms and onions. The Elders were much more brave, I don't think any of them will really want to go back. But now they can say that they have eaten it.
   Meat is always an issue here. I have found that I feel pretty safe with chicken, and some of the pork products. But turkey is hard to get, beef is almost impossible to get and if you can it's very expensive. Fish is horrendously expensive so we never even look that way and so to get our protein it's usually, chicken, chicken, chicken and a little pork. I have also learned to eat the eggs even if I have to bring them home from the store and wash the poop and feathers off of them. They do have something called "Mixed Meat" , I have never been a big fan of it, thinking that it's kind-of like the hot dogs at home. A mish-mash of what ever leftovers they want to throw in, but then our translator told us that mixed meat has horse in it as well. Now I don't think I will ever be able to eat that. So eggs and chicken, yep! That's pretty much our diet.
Our Elders enjoying their horse!

The Elders horse meat platter.

    This week we went to a home where there are 100 disabled children, and 150 disabled adults. It was a sad sight to see. Although they were clean, well cared for and living in a beautiful heart went out to so many of them that could be loved and cared for in their own homes instead of warehoused in a facility. But the culture and economy is so hard here that it is a necessity for both parents to work, therefore, when people discover that their child has a problem, they drop them off and sign away their parental rights. And child lives his or hers entire life in a home surrounded by others in like condition and nurses.
   I was especially touched at one point by two brothers who just clung to me, loved on me and the nurses had to literally pry one of the brothers arms off of me. She apologised and told me that they thought I was their sister. So hungry for family to love them. Their sister lives in Slovenia and comes to visit about once a year. It made me think of my own brothers, how dear they are to me and how I cherish the relationship I have with them....I have so many blessings in my life. It was hard for me to see how starved for that kind of relationship they were, and then to realize how much I have taken it for granted for so many years. To my dear brothers, I hope you won't mind if I add two more brothers here in Croatia to my list to be thankful for. We hope to write up a project for this home, they need sheets, wooden chairs, and wooden toys for their "children" . I think we can and will be able to help with those needs. But other than that, the needs are so great and our ability to help the individual so finite. I feel so inadequate that all I can do is pray and remember that they are all our Heavenly Fathers Children and he loves them and will bring them home to him someday. Maybe "my brothers" will see me on the other side and hug me again....

Our visit to the Children's Home

This young man was so excited to show us his weaving project.
They were busy doing art projects, puzzles and playing with games.
One of the many, many rooms of cribs for children.
This little girl is there youngest patient. She is three. Such a little sweet heart!

Couldn't you just hug them????

  On to a happier topic. Every Tuesday and Thursday the Elders teach a conversational English class. We go and help by having conversations with the students. The Elders don't really need us, but we like to go and have made some good friends. At the end of each transfer they have a little break so that the new transferred Elders can get their feet under them for a week or so before they start teaching English classes again. So at the end of each class there is a party. Here are a few pictures of our last party. Often we are in Bosnia on Thursday nights, but we usually make it to the Tues. class. It is a really fun part of our mission
English Class students teaching Elder Lee to play the accordian. He's pretty good at it!

Elder Anderson, Elder Knighton, and Elder Lee
My English Class Friends

We are going to Bosnia tomorrow morning, on Friday we have a wheelchair closing with the Red Cross and on Saturday we are going to our translator's "Slava". It's a celebration where each family celebrates their particular Saints Day. It should be fun to see some more Bosnian culture. We will also hold church on Sunday at our house. We love and miss you all. We'd love to hear from you. Our e-mail is at the right of this blog or feel free to leave a comment. Our mail box is empty!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Roma....

Every day we see them, dressed in strange, never seen before, colorful clothing. They ride bikes every where. They share their bikes with loaded down, filled to the brim plastic bags. Filled with any thing that they have deemed valuable from the dumpsters that they have visited. We aren't sure how they figure the dumpster thing out, do they have a specific route they take?  Do they ever fight over the "best dumpsters"? Why do we usually see just the women? What do the men do? We see them cross the bridge on the way to their camps, sometimes we see them in the grocery parking lots, begging. We seldom see their children, unless they have a baby in a sling while they are begging. But unlike the little ones in Mexico, that follow the gringos around at the bus stops, we don't see the kids. Finally got the answer to that one. The Croatian government pays the parents more welfare if their children are regularly attending school. If they miss too much school, with no medical excuse from a doctor, they don't get the added amount of money. That works for the kids until they get into high school, and then the high school principle said that the girls start really well, integrate well into the school and then one day they just don't show up, they never see them again. Come to find out their parents sell them to what ever gypsy family can pay the most for a daughter-in-law for their son.  Education over. Riding bikes and going through dumpsters begin. So sad! They do have more children than the normal Croatian families, so Croatia will soon be populated more by Roma's than by Croats. The government really seems to be trying, but like most of the Balkan states the Roma's are not an easy population to deal with.
  We brought little cars for the kids from the Happy Factory in Cedar City, Utah. If you want to know more about them look.. HERE
   These people are wonderful! Early in December I e-mailed them and requested 100 cars for our little Roma project that we were planning. About a week and a half later someone rang our door bell. It was Fed Ex with two big boxes! They were labeled from the Happy Factory so I knew immediately what they were. I asked the delivery guy if he had children, he said, " yes, a son, three years old"  Ahhh perfect, wait, just a minute. I have something for him. So I opened the box on the spot and gave him one for his son! He went away one surprised and happy delivery man! They had sent us 200 cars! We didn't have to pay anything for them, they even paid for postage. What a great organization they have with good people who really care. We can't thank them enough! We gave about 35 of them away today at our Roma preschool...and these are the smiles they produced.

They got apple juice from the man that brought us to the preschool. They were pretty impressed with that as well as the cars.

Could they get any cuter?
He just captured my heart!
Even the girls got a car. They got really excited when the teacher told them that they could take the cars home with them, that they were not just for the school. Yeah!
This is the Roma village. All the home are heated with wood, so you smell like a bonfire if you stay outside very long.
More of the village. Last year the city next to them brought in asphalt roads. Before that our tour guide told us it was just pure mud. No gas lines, our project is to hopefully bring heat into the school. But it would mean the city has to cooperate with us to bring in the gas lines for a boiler. A wood burning stove would not be a safe thing for a preschool with 30 kids!

                          THANK-YOU HAPPY FACTORY!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Church in Zagreb....

Today we went to church is Zagreb. We needed to pick up a computer and monitor that we are borrowing for our Banja Luka house from the church, so we thought we might as well go to our meetings there since we aren't in Bosnia this weekend. Wow! I didn't realize how much we missed going to regular meetings! In Zagreb they have a lovely chapel, Sacrament Meeting, Sunday School and Relief Society/Priesthood meeting. Of course it's all in Croatian....but I had a lovely little lady that I had met just once before that snuggled up next to me and said, "can I sit here and translate for you?" What a wonderful gift she gave me!
I was able to follow along in Luke 2 as they discussed the birth of the Savior, the people around him at the time of his birth and the faith of those amazing  Book of Mormon people in the Americas. I could feel and hear the sweet testimony of the teacher. I marveled at her poise and her knowledge as she delivered her lesson. It was the first Sunday School lesson that I had really heard since we have been in country. Usually I sit in the class and do personal scripture study as the strange syllables and guttural sounds of Croatian flies over and around me.

In Relief Society I was brought to remembrance how important it is for us to keep the Sabbath Day as a day set apart to remember our covenants and worship our Heavenly Father. I remembered as a young mother how I would dash around the house on Sunday morning, looking for lost shoes, filling a diaper bag, changing a diaper that always got dirty right before we were to get in the car, I would be doing girls hair, sometimes very impatiently, struggling to get the kids out the door while their dad was always already at the church and no help to me. I wondered how many young mothers were there in that room with me today that wondered the same thing I did in those rushed and hectic mornings, "And now I'm suppose to teach a primary, Sunday school or young women's lesson and have the Spirit with me???"  It took me years to learn how to do that, how to spend my Saturdays making sure the shirts were ironed, the shoes and socks were found from under the beds, the slacks hanging in the closet and diaper bag packed. I even learned to do my cooking on Saturday so I only had to put it in the oven and turn it on as I walked out the door. Jim laughed at me one Saturday and said, " I believe, my dear, that if you could get them all ready for church on Saturday night and then polyurethane them, you would!" I responded with a happy, "You bet I would!" but alas hair still needed to be done and diapers changed. Eventually, I think, as I worked at it our Sabbath Days became a little easier and the Spirit lingered a little more in our home, but as I look back on it I wonder... if I ever did enough?...what could I have done better?.. what would I do different if given the chance? and I have to say nothing..I just did the best I could, one Sabbath Day at a time.
   What a wonderful gift I was given today... Church, a friend, and sweet memories. It doesn't get better than that.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Christmas in Bosnia...

 Last week we went to Bosnia just in time for Christmas....again! They celebrate on the 7th of January in accordance to the Juliane calender. We had been invited to our friends house, The Tadic family, for Christmas Day dinner. We were so honored that they thought enough of us to invite us to such a special day. We were even more surprised when Vickie called the day before and asked if we would please come to Christmas Eve dinner as well, they wanted to show us the traditions of the Serbian Orthodox people! Wow! two wonderful occasions to see how another culture celebrates the birth of the Savior.
   As we came across the boarder into Bosnia, the streets were jammed packed with traffic. They always are a little congested, but this was pretty bad. We kept hearing what we thought was gun shots or really LOUD firecrackers...and then we saw this up ahead.
Are we in a parade?
This passed us by and then we realized that there were several tractors with trailers like this one still coming down the street, and then one turned off the street from our lane as well, now we knew why the traffic was such a mess.
We were in a parade!

  We had read about the Badnjak Tree, but never dreamed of anything like this. How lucky was it that we went through the boarder just in time to be in the parade and see this amazing sight? For those of you who are not up on the Badnjak Tree Tradition here is a little background for you.

Early in the morning (Christmas Eve morning) the head of each family, usually accompanied by several male relatives, selects and fells the tree from which the log will be cut for their household. The group announces its departure by firing guns or small celebratory mortars called prangija.The Turkey oak is the most popular species of tree selected in most regions, but other oaks, or less frequently other kinds of tree, are also chosen.Generally, each household prepares one badnjak, although more are cut in some regions.

When the head of household finds a suitable tree, he stands in front of it facing east. After throwing grain at the tree, he greets it with the words "Good morning and happy Christmas Eve to you", makes the Sign of the Cross, says a prayer, and kisses the tree. He then cuts it slantwise on its eastern side, using an axe. Some men put gloves on before they start to cut the tree, and from then on never touch the badnjak with their bare hands. The tree should fall to the east, unhindered by surrounding trees. Its top is removed, leaving the badnjak of such a length that allows it to be carried on a man's shoulder, up to about 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) long. Once in the home, each badnjak is leaned vertically against the house beside the entrance door.
In the evening, a man of the family brings their badnjak into the house. If there is more than one badnjak, the thickest of them is regarded as the main one, and is brought in first. Stepping across the threshold, right foot first, the man greets his gathered family with the words "Good evening and happy Christmas Eve to you." The woman of the house greets him back, saying "May God give you well-being, and may you have good luck", or "Good luck to you, and together with you for many years to come [may we be]", or similar, before throwing grain from a sieve at the man and the badnjak he carries.

Upon entering the house the man approaches the fireplace, called ognjište.. He lays the badnjak down on the fire and moves it a little forward, to summon prosperity for the household. Any other logs are brought in by other males and laid on the fire parallel or perpendicular to the first.The head of the household takes a jug of wine and pours some on the badnjak; in some regions, he may strew wheat grains over the logs. He then proposes a toast: "Grant, O God, that there be health and joy in this home, that our grain and grapevines yield well, that children be born healthy to us, that our property increase in the field, pen, and barn!"  The head drinks a draught of wine from the jug, after which it is passed to other members of household.

The moment when the badnjak burns through may be marked with festivities, such as the log being kissed by the head of household, and wine being poured over it accompanied by toasts. A reward may be given to the family member who was the first to notice the event, and in the past the men would go outside and fire their guns in celebration. Once the log has burnt through, some families let the fire go out, while in others the men keep watch in shifts during the night to keep the badnjak burning.

We also learned that each Cathedral has tree large trees brought to it by parishioners, then sometime in the late afternoon those three trees are ceremoniously lit on fire and there is a big celebration at the church.
This is what we found ourselves involved in when we came across the boarder. The trees were going to the local Cathedrals, There were two churches in this little town. Every thing is done in threes here, representing of course God, The Father, Jesus Christ and The Holy Ghost. So three trees went to each church.

Another type of the badnjak that has developed among the Serbs has mostly replaced the traditional log, whose burning is usually unfeasible in modern homes. It is a cluster of oak twigs with their brown leaves still attached, with which the home is decorated on the Eve. This cluster is also called the badnjak, and it is usually kept in the home until next Christmas Eve. For the convenience of those living in towns and cities, such little badnjaks can be bought at marketplaces or distributed in churches.

Since the early 1990s the Serbian Orthodox Church has, together with local communities, organized public celebrations on Christmas Eve. There are typically three elements to such celebrations: the preparation, the ritual, and the festivity. The preparation consists of cutting down the tree to be used as the badnjak, taking it to the church yard, and preparing drink and food for the assembled parishioners. The ritual includes Vespers, placing the badnjak on the open fire built in the church yard, blessing or consecrating the badnjak, and an appropriate program with songs and recitals. In some parishes they build the fire on which to burn the badnjak

 The Serbian name for Christmas is Božić, the diminutive form of the noun bog, meaning 'god'; Božić can be thus translated as Young God.

As we went along our way into Banja Luka we noticed oak trees at every house. It was so fun to put together what we had read with what was going on around us. Then to our great surprise when we got to our house we found out that our land lord had placed a badnjak in our front yard for us! We had our very own tree!!
Jim and our Badnjak Tree.

Badnjak Tree at our Bosnian Hosts

That evening we went to our friends house and enjoyed a wonderful traditional dinner. They stood as they prayed, then they brought a piece of  fire from the badnjak tree and put it in an incense burner that smoked, the Grandma, being the oldest gave everyone an opportunity to bring the smoke closer to their face, with three quick movements in succession they waved the smoke into each face until it went all around the table.
The evening was a fast dinner so it consisted of  everything that they produced themselves from their family garden, with the exception of little fish with heads still on them, (they told me I didn't have to eat the heads, but I noticed that they all ate the whole fish) potato pie, beans, squash pie, potato salad, and a special bread that was beautiful and delicious. Grandma brought it in, everyone stood and with every ones hands on the bread it was turned, once, lifted up in the air, turned again, lifted up, and then lifted up a third time and then broken apart. Jim got a coin in his part of bread which meant he was going to be lucky all year! It was then that we told them that it was his birthday and they all clapped and said Happy Birthday and Good Luck to you! During their fast times they are prohibited to eat any meat other than fish, any milk products or eggs.

The center piece is made out a planter with wheat grass growing in it and a gold candle, promising prosperity for the coming year.

Our Friends the Tadic Family. This was taken Christmas Day so the Father was not there, he had to work.
No holiday pay,  just lucky to have a job.  I love the candle glowing in the picture, they are so kind have have a wonderful "glow" about them, We will always have wonderful memories of our Bosnian Christmas with them!

Christmas Day we went over about 1:30 in the afternoon and once again enjoyed another feast this time including meat, pork and chicken, cheese and wonderful desert cakes.

This is Sarma...A traditional main dish, made of ground pork, rice and spices, wrapped in sour cabbage, with a yummy sauce that it is cooked in. Sometimes it is served with mashed potatoes or with cornmeal mush.
Now, least you all think that all we do is eat and play. Let me assure you that we really are doing some work. About a week after our Christmas we were able to take a wheelchair to a little family that has a five year old daughter that has cerebral palsy, she cannot walk and has limited brain function. She is getting big enough that to carry her around was starting to be a real burden for her parents. Our translator Predrag is hopelessly in love with this little girls cousin Jovana, and he asked if there was anything we could do to help. So of course we went to the Red Cross and asked for a 12" wheelchair. They gratefully agreed since we had just given them 250 wheelchairs.

What a wonderful afternoon we experienced. Here are a few pictures, but there is no way to capture the amazing feeling that we had, seeing this little girl get her very first "wheels" , seeing the little brother excited to push her around and realizing how grateful the family was for our churches humanitarian efforts. Wow! Just a great day!

Milica and her family.

Jim and the father putting it together.

A few adjustments...

And here is our little princess in her new set of "wheels"! She went to the doctor this last week to have an insert custom made to help her keep her body straight in the chair and her head supported.

Jovana and Milica's little brother. Is it any wonder that our translator is gaga over this girl? She is a darling girl, and really, although she looks like she is 12, she is 21 years old.

This is our Bosnian translator, Predrag

After all the excitement settled down a bit, our little host family invited us to lunch, we loved spending just a little more time with them and getting to know them a little bit more. We noticed however that Jovana's parents, had disappeared and when we asked where they went we were informed that they had gone home to prepare for us to come visit them! So after lunch we went to their house to have "sweets", and tea. I'm learning to like the herbal teas they have here but the sweets take no getting used to, they were delicious.
We loved getting to know this family as well and they invited us back for lunch the day after Christmas...sooo, here we are at another Christmas Feast!

This is the Aunt and Uncle of our little Milica.

Jovana is a twin and each of the girls decorated a salad for us. So cute!

Jovana and Predrag and amazing food with wonderful new friends. Jovanas dad said he was going to join our church and come to Salt Lake City on a mission! The gold candle again, only this time it had the colors of the Bosnian flag. We also had Sarma again and if any of you are wondering, yes the diet started on Monday!
If you are interested in reading more about the customs of the Serbian/Bosnian Christmas Traditions this is a good link. Try This
We are not going to Bosnia this week-end, but are traveling to Osijek, Croatia tomorrow. Hopefully to make a few new contacts and do a little project development.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Newspaper articles....

We got these translations today from various newspaper articles in Varazdin and Banja Luka. Thought you might like to here from someone other than me tonight. You can call them, "guest bloggers". The first is the local paper here in our little town.

The Church of Jesus Christ helps Caritas of Varaždin Diocese

Soup Kitchen receives a donated stove worth 17 thousand Kunas

Couple Jim and Debby Erickson, from the American federal state of Utah, donated on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a big gas stove to the Soup Kitchen of Caritas of Varaždin Diocese. The stove is worth 17 thousand Kunas and thanks to it the capacity of the Soup Kitchen was increased significantly, up to 500 portions a day.

Spouses Debby and Jim, representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ for Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, came to Varaždin three months ago for the sake of humanitarian work and networking with humanitarian organizations in order to help those in need. According to Mr. Jim Erickson, the procurement of 250 wheelchairs from China that will arrive in the spring of next year as a donation to the Diocese Caritas for the disabled is in progress.

This one is from Banja Luka, Bosnia newspaper. No wonder when we walked into a restaurant last week the waiter said, "I saw a picture of you and an article in the newspaper, thank-you for coming to Bosnia and helping our people."

Americans donated the stoves

Representatives of the humanitarian organization of ‘Latter Day Saints’ – Jim and Debby Erickson - from the USA have donated two stoves to the soup kitchen of the Red Cross.

- This is not the first time that the LDS Charities helped us. At the very beginning they donated a kettle and a refrigerator. This time they bought us two stoves – a gas and an electric one – worth around 7000 marks – said the general secretary of the Red Cross in Banja Luka Mrs. Željkica Savić.

The donors from the USA expressed their great satisfaction that they are able to help the Red Cross in Banja Luka.

- In our next project, Banja Luka will receive a shipment of 250 wheelchairs, which will be delivered to the Red Cross next month – mentioned Debby Erickson.
On the spot with the users if the Soup Kitchen of the Red Cross, with increasing number of children

This is my favorite! How grateful I am to represent the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints!


Thanks to the donors and people of good will, two soup kitchens manage to feed the hungry…

Every morning, at early dawn, as soon as I get up, my mother prepares a bucket and a bag; I sit on my bicycle and head to the soup kitchen to get the food. It’s all very tasty, even the rice, but when its turn for the bean soup I go smiling and can smell it from the door, says twelve year old Saša Burić from Banja Luka.

Saša has a mother at home, who’s unemployed, and three brothers. Mother and father, he says, are divorced so we live alone from the Child benefits, and the food we get from the soup kitchen we ration for the whole day.

- Ladies from the kitchen pour my soup in the bucket, and they give me bread, then I pack it all in my bag, put it on the bicycle and carefully drive it home, where my mother and brothers await for me with impatience – says young Saša and adds that the schedule changes only when he has to go to school in the morning.

While waiting in line for his meal, he admits that he sometimes wanders and starts thinking about candies and sweets that they don’t have in the kitchen, not even at home, but that he’s happy with what he gets.

The staff that has been pouring food in buckets and pans and looking in the sad faces for 20 years knows the stories of their users, and they share with then the good and the bad.

- I’ve been working in the kitchen for 26 years, I’ve seen a lot of teary eyes and hands reaching out for food, and I always ask them how they are, and welcome them with a smile – says Dosta Marjanović.

Apart from everyday users, there is always a piece of bread and a plate of soup for those who are not on the list, but whose number is increasing since the crisis struck.

- We often have people who will stop by from the street, people who are in trouble and with an empty stomach, so we open our doors and are happy to feed them as well – says Nedeljko Šikarić who’s been working in the kitchen for the past 20 years and he added with a smile: - once I’m retired I’ll be eating here as well but I’ll be on the other side of the counter, waiting in line with the rest of the users.

Two soup kitchens of the Banja Luka Red Cross prepare and give away 400 meals. Rice, potatoes, bean soup, cabbage and peas are on the weekly menu. Chefs say that they are trying to prepare everything to be nice and tasty, but that the food would be much better if there was enough money to buy more meat. Thanks to people of good will, soup kitchens survive and feed the hungry every day. In this effort, thanks to the help of the Church of Jesus Christ from the USA, 30 year old kitchen appliances, were replaced so the food can be cooked faster and better.

Have a wonderful New Year!  I look forward to many wonderful experiences during the coming months. We love you and only hope we can represent you well!!