Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Banja Luka Youth in Bosnia and their day of service...


In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Church welfare plan, the First Presidency invites members worldwide to render service to the poor and needy. The length of this service may be flexible depending on the service rendered and may be undertaken at any time during 2011.
September 24, was chosen by the youth of the Banja Luka, BiH Group and their missionary leaders, Elder and Sister Erickson, to remember and celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Churches Welfare plan. We began with a short lesson on how important it was to learn to serve. How serving others and our communities strengthen us as well as our neighborhoods. We discussed how The Lords welfare plans benefits those in need as it develops self-reliance for the recipients and it benefits those who serve by giving them an opportunity to look beyond themselves and think of others.

Our service project was to go into our neighborhood and pick up garbage along the road side. It was a beautiful morning for the project. Wearing gloves, and each carrying a garbage bag we started down the road. “I never thought that there was this much trash along this street” said one of our participants. As we progressed, several people stopped us and asked what we were doing. “oh, thank-you for cleaning our neighborhood” one lady told us. Another man, a soldier who was guarding a nearby army facility said something to our youth, but it was only after we completed our project that they translated what he said to the missionaries. He asked them what they had done wrong to be sentenced to picking up garbage. They told him they had done nothing wrong, that they were doing it as an act of service. He didn’t believe them and still insisted that they had done something wrong. It was at that point that the youth told us that in their country picking up garbage was only done by the really bad teenagers. As missionaries we just wanted to hug them for their willingness to serve and do what they had been asked to do, even though as it turned out, culturally, we had subjected them to be viewed as the worst of the worst instead of the best of the best! Never complaining and only telling us after the project was completed. Our youth are bright shining stars in our eyes, obedient and willing to serve as they strive to live and learn about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Vedrana, Victoria, Vanja and Valentina Tadic

Friday, September 23, 2011

Well cleaning project in Croatia....

I’m quite sure that after my last couple of blogs you have asked the question, “Do they ever work?” The answer to that is an emphatic, sometimes! Yes, during the week we really do try to keep our shoulder to the wheel and give our humanitarian work priority over having fun. But even then the work is so amazing and chock full of wonderful experiences that we find ourselves wondering, “Is this really work?” For instance, this week we had arranged with the Croatian Red Cross to go look at some of the well projects that the church funds. We have for the last 3 years funded teams to go into the remote villages and clean wells. It is an ongoing project with much to be accomplished. It’s an unusual water project because usually we try to bring clean water into a community by either tapping a spring and buying a holding tank for the community, buying pipe to hook up to an existing system or creating a new water source by digging wells. But the terrain here in the Eastern part of Croatia does not lend itself to any of those possibilities. It is an agricultural rich area. Not much industry with farm houses quite far away from each other and no close towns to distribute clean water from. Many of these people left during the war and in the last 5 years have been coming home. The wells have been polluted; either intentionally or by neglect and non-use. We were told by our field guide and host that the area we were in on Tuesday was a border area over disputed land between Serbia and Croatia. As a result the area was heavily planted with land mines by both sides. As we drove around he cautioned us if we ever came by ourselves to never go off the paved roads. He also showed us the signs, what they looked like and what they said. Okay, that was enough to worry us a little. He said that unfortunately the locals are a little lax in obeying the signs and are sometimes walking in the forest; a very dangerous thing to do.

That being said, the teams that go down into the wells to clean them never know what they are going to bring up. They do find land mines, grenades and unexploded ordinances on occasion. When they do find stuff like that they bring in professionals from the army. They also find carcasses of dead animals and human remains. During the war, they were thrown in the wells to intentionally pollute them. As we watched the process we wondered how they would ever know WHAT was WHAT that got brought up! Everything was covered with a black tar like substance, decomposing “something”. It was pretty gross looking and smelled just putrid! No wonder the well water was polluted! But my point is: it would be pretty difficult to identify a grenade, for instance, in all that gook. The men who do this really are brave and work in a very dangerous profession. We aren’t sure what they get paid, but suspect it’s about $2.50-$3.00 an hour. Not much, but they are happy to have a job.

As we stood there watching the process of cleaning this well on Tuesday. I couldn’t help but wonder, “What would I be doing today if I was home? Would I be sewing in my beautiful sewing room with my sisters, would I be babysitting one or two of my darling grandchildren? Would I be doing laundry, cooking a family dinner, putting my garden to bed for the winter? They all sounded pretty good to me, but how amazing was it that here I was, clear across the world, standing in front of an old farm house with chickens running underfoot, watching this extraordinary act of bravery and love take place; Seeing the faces of grateful recipients as they watched the process in disbelief that someone from another part of the world would care enough about them to donate money so that they could have clean water again. If it seemed incredible to them, it seemed almost surreal to me. I was having one of my many moments in time that I hope to never forget, when the work that we do crystallizes into something more than humanitarian aid, it really becomes the pure love of Christ. It leaves me so humble to be a servant and a representative of our Savior. It leaves me so grateful to those who love and support us on this mission. It leaves me so happy to be serving a mission in this amazing place and I realize that as full and active as my life is at home, I have been blessed beyond measure to be here.

We had our Banja Luka water project approved this week and had an appointment with them today to tell them the good news. The Red Cross director was so excited to hear that our project had been thourougly examined by our U.S. short term specialists and had been approved by both Germany and Salt Lake. When can we start? They are so excited and have waited a long time for funding to come for this particular project.

This coming Monday we will also visit the rehabilitation hospital here in Banja Luka and get some more pictures. We will be closing that project after we give the play room 4 new baby dolls, wooden cars from the Happy Factory, road carpet for the cars and the director of the facility will get our signature framed picture of Christ at the pools of Bethesda. We bought wooden furniture for the play room as well, but they have been using it for awhile now. We just haven’t gotten back with the toys yet.

Our little library project that we have done needs to be closed as well, but it’s a four hour drive to the school, so we hope to get up there next week. The books have been delivered to the school and they seem very pleased and happy with them! We love to go and see the end results of our projects.

We are going to order our first container of humanitarian goods from the Salt Lake Humanitarian Center. We got some extra funds from our wonderful file leaders in Germany and with much thought and prayer have decided to use those sacred funds to bring in the requested in-kind goods from the center. We will order, new-born kits, hygiene kits, blankets, crib blankets and perhaps some medical supplies. The Red Cross will be the ones to distribute the goods. They have arrangements with many of the local municipalities that if they provide the new born kits the municipalities will add diapers, formula or whatever their budgets can afford to the kits for the new babies. Several years ago they brought in a container and have run out of the new born kits so the cities have been asking, “Where is your end of the bargain?” We can’t say enough about the good work that the Red Cross does. They are pretty amazing and do so many great things. We are very proud to be a partner with them.

So all you wonderful sisters, brothers and youth who have put together hygiene kits, new born kits and tied blankets or crib quilts, this is where some of them will go! We have seen so much need in the out laying villages. In the big cities, the need is not so much, but as we travel into the more remote areas we see a tremendous lack of even the most basic necessities. Warmth for both adults and infants will become available through the Red Cross and through your willing donations.

When I think of you in your cultural halls, walking around tables putting tooth paste and soaps into hygiene kits, I love you! When in my mind I see sisters on their hands and knees, marking a quilt, or sitting around one tying it, I love you! When I see you going through your fabric storage to donate it, I love you! And when I see you marking that tithing slip in the Humanitarian line- I adore you! My heart swells with love and respect for all of you that share your bounties of life with others. As this container is ordered and received, I will try to post pictures of some of the recipients for you to perhaps share at your next humanitarian activity.
On our way to Glina, Croatia. It is a remote area in eastern Croatia. The town itself has about 10,000 residents, but there are many small communities around the town.

This is a little fuzzy, but it’s a land mine sign. Saying, “stay out of this area”

The well had been mostly pumped dry by the time we got there. The church has purchased and equipped 5 teams to work on well projects. Underwater submersible pumps are part of the equipment.

Our Red Cross field guide spoke wonderful English so we didn’t have to bring a translator with us. Here he is trying to explain the process to me. The lady in the back ground was a neighbor who came to watch. The other one lives in the house.

Our two heroes of the day- the well team from Glina and the Red Cross Glina manager.

This house was built by the owner’s grandfather. It is over 100 years old; in the winter they can’t live upstairs because there are too many windows broken so it’s too cold. They just use the main floor. They left during the war and returned 5 years ago.

This is the well and one of the team members. They have not used the well water since they returned. They found a small spring in the woods behind their home and although it gives spotty amounts of water that is what their water source has been. They had run a pipe from the spring and the spigot by the bath tub is what you are seeing. Note the mirror on the well wall. That is where the man of the house shaves. No inside plumbing.
I believe it's worth saying that after the well is clean, there will still be no running water into the house, it will be brought up one bucket full at a time and carried in.

Jim and I with our new friends!

She was so happy! She kept hugging me and saying, "hvala, hvala!" Thank-you, Thank-you!
After the well is pumped out they spray a mixture of water and chlorine to clean the sides.

Looks pretty gross, doesn’t it?

This little tool cost about $1,000. It detects gas levels in the well. A pretty important piece of equipment I think.

While this guy checks for gases…..

This guy suits up for the dirty work. We wondered if they drew straws and he lost!

This is the bucket of high tech tools that will be sent down to the guy in the well.

Note the safety rope. Once he got down there he took it off. They said he can’t move around with it on. Hope they never need to get him out in an emergency!

The first load of black grossness that came out. An old bucket and boards from the well enclosure.

The well started filling up again, so they started the pump and this is what came out!

After about 5 or 6 buckets of black tar decomposition gunk, you could see the bottom of the well. If you look really hard at this picture you can see a  wood cross at the bottom. It was the support for the first layer of rock. No cement was used, it was all just rock fit together by grandpa.

Death of old friends…My walking shoes were pretty disgustingly dirty so I put them in the washer with the Croatian version of bleach, hummm, you think it’s a solvent for shoe glue???? I grieved as I threw them away, but have embraced my new pair of Croatian walking shoes that will do quite nicely until I come home!

Car Washing- Vedran and Vanja come every week and wash our car. We pay them a small amount, about $7.00. Last time they got paid, Jim said, “okay, today we are having a lesson about tithing….” You can guess the rest, but they were so excited to know how to pay tithing! They probably would have paid it before but I believe they didn’t know how to figure the 10%. Wow! Do we love these kids! They are such a joy to us! We love our week-ends being here and having church with them.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Making Catsup...

What do we do on our preparation days? We always have wonderful options besides staying home and cleaning. One of our favorite things to do is get into the culture, visit new places and see how the local population really lives. We aren’t always great at it, but not too long ago we had a spectacular day at some of our friends’ house learning to make catsup. Now, this isn’t just any catsup! This is by far and away the most yummy, flavorful catsup that I have ever tasted! Last Christmas they gave us a quart of it as a gift and I fell in LOVE with it! Jim teased me and said, “why not have a little egg with your catsup?” Really, I’ve never been much of a catsup fan, but I could eat this like tomato pudding! I asked way back in January if she would teach me how to make it because it’s one of those things I want to bring back to America. Believe me, there is nothing to compare it to back home. So they remembered our plea, with the help of their soon to be son-in-law, Predrag who just happens to be our translator in Bosnia. We arranged a Saturday when the tomatoes were ripe and yummmm! It took all day, but the result was heavenly, red, thick, delicious, the best ever catsup! I got the recipe for all you adventuresome souls and will post it at the end of the blog. But if it doesn’t work for you this year, hold onto your hats! I’m sending seeds home to my sister for the required paprika peppers and by the time we get home in July next year, hopefully the peppers and tomatoes will almost be on and I can just see us now in her back yard mixing up our precious red treasure!

These are the ingredients: tomatoes, onions, red paprika peppers,(they are very sweet) green peppers, celery,ground pepper, salt, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, pasley root, bay leaf and vinegar.

When we arrived at 8:30 A.M. our host, Gordana and her twin daughters had already chopped the peppers, onions and tomatoes and had let them cook for about two hours. They were cool when we arrived. No slipping skins they just chopped them in large chunks and cooked them.
We fed the cooked vegies through this machine. The ground up juice came out where the spout is and into a waiting bucket. The skins all came out of theendof the tube thing and into a dish to throw away.

Now we really get to help. Jim is catching the juice, I'm squishing it into the feed and Gordana is hoping we don't mess it up this soon into the process!
Next we stir as it cooks down. This is an all day procedure. Stirring is very important!
This is time lapsed photography... You can see how much it has cooked down from the begining line to the almost finished product. At this point our hostess started putting in the spices and going about taste testing it. It all tasted pretty good to me, but she was particular and made sure it was to her seasoned satisfaction.
Jovana, Predrag, her Mom and Dad,. It's almost done!

It's getting late and this picture isn't the greatest, but I wanted you to see this cooker. It's a 55 gal drum; they have cut out the front of it and put in a burner that is fueled by propane. In the back there is a small cut out for a smoke outlet. The pan itself is a cast iron pan that is lined with alluminum. It's really heavy, lifts in and out and has lasted them for years. The propane was interesting, because it didn't burn clean like our propane does, it leaves a tar like residue on the burner grates and burner that every once in a while needs to be knocked off with a metal tool of some kind. We look like we are ready for Halloween, what do ya think?
We left this to the pro! Mostly because it was really, really hot and she just handled the bottles like they weren't hot at all! They put the clean bottles and lids in the oven for about 15 minutes at about 200 degrees. Then while they are still hot she poured the catsup into the jars and screwed on the lids tight. Tada!!! The catsup is ready for our glorious consumption! We had such a good day, I'm sure they were ready to get these crazy Americans out of their hair;but they were such gracious, kind and understanding hosts. How will ever repay such goodness! Ahhhh someday maybe they will find their way to the U.S. and we could show them how we do catsup...Sam's Club here we come!!!!

This has nothing to do with any thing, but I've tried for sometime now to get a picture of  a horses head at the meat counter. I either don't have my camera with me when they have one or I have my camera, but they don't have a head. So this week it worked! They had the head, I had the camera. Poor little horse, now you see why I eat chicken.

Bosnian Catsup

Tomatoes- 22 lbs

Red paprika peppers- about 50 peppers or 11 lbs

Celery – one whole stalk with leaves

Parsley roots- 7-8

Parsley leaves- 1 bunch

Bay leaves-6-7

Sugar – 2 cups

Salt- 1 cup added to taste

Vinegar- ¼ cup –add more to taste

Cinnamon- to taste

Nutmeg- to taste

Cook down vegetables for at least 2 hours. Run through juicer taking out bay leaves, celery stalks and parsley before juicing.

Cook on medium heat at simmering point, stirring often to prevent burning for 5-6 hours.

Add spices, sugar, salt and vinegar to taste.

Bottle and process; In Bosnia they don’t process, but in U.S. you would be wise to check with local experts.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

"Ahh, why did I not tell them that? "

One of my favorite authors of all time is the woman who wrote, “The Secret Garden and A Little Princess”. Those childhood nuggets of literary ecstasy kept me up in the great walnut tree in front of our house for hours. It was my reading place, high in the sky among the leaves where I could hide and stay away from the world until either my conscience got to me, the book ended or mother called from the front door. She knew where I hid but never gave me up. Not until I got in trouble for throwing green walnuts at the post man did she ever scold me for climbing the tree. I devoured books like a starving child, one after another and they nourished my imagination, my vocabulary, and my soul. I especially loved “The Secret Garden and A Little Princess”. The author of these two works wrote something that I happened upon this week. And I couldn’t help but be impressed with how very true it was about any story that is told. She wrote:

“I do not know whether many people realize how much more than is ever written there really is in a story- how many parts of it are never told- how much more really happened than there is in the book (or blog) one holds in one’s hand and pores over. Stories are something like letters. When a letter is written, how often one remembers things omitted and says: ‘Ah, why did I not tell them that?’ In writing a book one relates all that one remembers at the time, and if one told all that really happened perhaps the book would never end. Between the lines of every story there is another story, and that is one that is never heard and can only be guessed at by the people who are good at guessing. The person who writes the story may never know all of it, but sometimes he does and wishes he had the chance to begin again.”

Frances H. Burnett

How many times as I start a new blog post do I say to myself, “well, do I write about this that happened? Or do I go this direction and write about this experience? Knowing full well that either direction I go I cannot fully give you, my readers, anything but a small glimpse of the amazing life experiences that we are having here in Croatia and Bosnia. I realize that if I attempted to tell you everything, it would be a book, and cease to be a simple blog. So with that being said, my decision of the day is to post as many pictures as blogger would let me and try to give you an idea of what we have been up to the last few weeks. A picture is worth a thousand words, not sure where that came from, but I'm pretty sure it's true!

In August we had our short term water specialist came from Arizona. We visited our little Muslim Village to check on how the water project was going an this is some of the activity that we saw going on.

We bought the pipe to get the project moving, it had been in limbo for about 3 years for lack of funds. The largest city close to this village agreed to supply the labor and equipment if we would get the materials.

This pipe will hook up the villiage to the city water supply which is clean and tested on a regular basis. In the background you can see a Muslim cemetary and Mosque.

It's very important to do two things while engaged in a water project. 1. Stand out in the middle of the street with city officials and discuss important issues. And....

2. Look into and inspect what is down in man holes.

After all that discussion, lunch was in order so we went to a near by city for lunch. Elder Petersen and Predrag were pouring over plans for our other water project that we are going to submit this week. Their conversation was halarious!
Elder Petersen: " I understand these drawings, but I can't read a thing they say"
Our Translator Predrag: " I can read every thing they say, but I don't understand the drawings at all!"
Perfect team! What do you think?

I found a place to swing in shade. See how much I contribute to this mission??

This water project is just outside Banja Luka, they would like us to help them hook up to the Banja Luka sewer system. The city can't afford the hook-up costs and it impacts the students that go to the school below. When it rains all the children are sent home because the septic system can't support the use. Clean water project???? This is the leach field, it goes down hill and pollutes the small creek that runs at the bottom of the hill and also into the yards of the homes below. Clean water? Sewer? According to Elder Petersen they go hand in hand.

This is the school that is closed when it rains.

As a side note, when we questioned the school principle what would be done with the field that the leach lines are on if the project was approved we got the following response: “We would make a play area/park for the children that would be a memorial park that would commemorate the 52 children that were killed from our school during WW2. During that war, the Nazi’s allied with our government. One day they came into our school, separated the Jewish, Roma, Muslim and Croatian children from the other Bosnian children. They took them to another part of the school and bludgeoned and stabbed them while the other children heard the terrified screams for help.  A total of 52 children never returned to their parents that day. It is a sad part of our schools history, one that we would like to remember with honor the lives that were lost.”  We were struck by his sincerity and awed that after over 60 years the pain of that day was evident in his face.

We took a preparation day and went to the coast of Croatia, Pula with our short term specialists.
This is on the Adriatic Sea.

They were building a ship. Pretty cool.

We went on a boat ride that included lunch. It looked pretty yucky, but if you got over the eyes staring at you, it was really very tasty.

A still functional light house.

This is a roman coliseum, it’s a bit smaller I understand than the one in Rome. But much more complete. They still use it for concerts. The guy in the striped shirt in the corner of the picture was quietly talking to his wife and all of the sudden Jim tapped him on the shoulder and started talking to him in some strange language I didn't understand at all! When did he start speaking in tongues??  It was Finish!!!! He recognized what language they were speaking and just chimed in. How funny is that? A Finn in Croatia, speaking to an American that knows Finish. What are we doing in Croatia and not Finland? At least one of us would know the language.

It was really pretty amazing. They said it was in use during the time of Christ.

Our water specialist, from Arizona, Elder and Sister Petersen

Underneath the coliseum floor there was this huge cave dug out. This was a press of some kind. I can't remember what for, Olives?

Pottery that they have reclaimed, they said they were for olive oil. That's why I wondered if the press was for olives?

A cart to deliver stuff. This space was also where they kept the animals that were used in the coliseum. Horses and Lions??? They also brought the dead and wounded down here. It was a long day for us, but we haven't been to the coast our whole mission so this was a real treat!