Thursday, January 26, 2012


A few weeks ago we got this e-mail.
From: John Leonard

Date: Wed, Jan 18, 2012 at 12:57 PM

Subject: RE: Your replacement

To: Humanitarian Service of the Church of Jesus Christ of

Dear E/S Erickson,

The missionaries assigned to be your replacements for Croatia are Elder and Sister Winters. They live in Sandy, UT. The Winters would be excited if you could contact them, here is there contact info….

God bless you,

All along I’ve looked at the ticker on the right side of this blog and pretty much ignored it, thinking we had plenty of time…..REALLY??? It’s only a little over 5 months before we are coming home? Where has the last year gone?

As the time will go quickly and before we know it we will be on a plane headed home my mind has been swirling with things yet undone. We haven’t done a project in this city, or we haven’t contacted these people in this organization, or we need to get another shipment of this on it’s way… It’s a little like cleaning a kitchen with ten people in the house. As soon as you get the sink clean and dishes put away from lunch, it’s time to start dinner or some kid comes in and asks for a toasted cheese sandwich!

We Skyped with our replacements the other day, telling them to bring this or that and trying to be excited about them coming, we really are, but honestly I can’t even bring myself to think about saying good-bye to all those who we have grown to love so much, so true to my Pollyanna outlook on life, I won’t. There will be a time for that and as for the here and now, we will just try really hard not to be too trunkie over the next few months.

We still have not heard about humanitarian replacements for Bosnia or for the member leadership support missionaries that we hope will be called to take care of our little Branch/Group here in Banja Luka . I will keep you all posted on any new developments.

One of the things that we have not done is develop any projects in Southern Croatia along the coast. We have neglected that part of the country for a couple of reasons. One, there has been so much need in Northern and Eastern Croatia that we have stayed pretty busy. Two, we didn’t really have any contacts down on the coast so it means cold calls to people who might or might not want to see us. And Three, we tried to avoid the tourist season at all costs; we have heard that it’s pretty crazy down there during the summer and not necessarily missionary approved beaches. So this week we took a road trip to the coast, we made three cold calls, one was very receptive and I think we have a potential project with them, the other two were very kind but projects with them are not likely. We went to a city, ZADAR, and just fell in love with it! No wonder their tourist season is so Hugh! The blue, blue Adriatic sea, the beautiful sunset, and the kind accommodating people we met made for a wonderful two day road trip for us. The only downer was that the wind was blowing like crazy and the wind chill was sooooo low that we almost froze to death! They also closed the freeway on our way home and sent us trough all these mountain passes with switchbacks and semis driving REALLY slowly. We found out later that the wind had caused the closure. I loved the ride because I saw so much of the country side, but Jim complained most of the way home….now what’s the matter with driving 30 mph on switchbacks for about 3 hours? Just slow down and smell the roses, right? He’s such a man!

This is in Zadar at the Kresimir Cosic Park. He was born in this city and they claim him as their local hero.
Bigger than life, what do ya think? Tihana (our Croatian translator) and I look pretty small!
Basketball is everything here in this city, For those of you who are too young to know this guy, he played for BYU and filled the Marriott Center every time! He also brought the church to Croatia and started the translation of the Book of Mormon.
Our current mission office is in the space where that translation took place and was donated to the church by Kresimir.

Tihana and I ran for the car, but Jim braved the wind and got a picture of the arena and our hero's back side!

This is the sunset from our hotel room, it was just breath taking and a pretty great view to wake up to as well!
There was a whole row of ambulances parked in the parking lot, we thought that was strange until the hotel manager told us that they were mine workers, we thought, "I wonder what they mine, coal, silver, gold???" and then it dawned on us. Oh ya, there's been a war here, they are still cleaning up LAND MINES!!!!  Thus the ambulances, we felt pretty dumb!

This is the "Old City" in Zadar, we had time to walk around in between appointments, but it was soooo cold we took a quick look and ran back to the car! Maybe next time! It really looked fun and had a ton of great looking shops, but not today!

This is the city from the dock, It really is a beautiful city.

Today we are back in Bosnia, we’re hoping to meet with the Red Cross tomorrow and then have the weekend to do seminary and church on Sunday, then back to Croatia on Monday. Last Saturday, our preparation day, we got the stairway about half way painted. Up to the 2nd floor of the house, this Saturday I hope we can get up to the third level. We are making progress with our house painting project! The missionary apartment is all done and ready to be occupied, but so far we haven’t any word on missionaries being allowed to come into the country. It is our constant prayer that it will happen sooner rather than later.

This is my Vanja, the kids all call me "Grandma Debby", none of this stuffy "Sister Erickson" stuff here! I can't remember when it started, but I love it, that's one thing that's been hard on a mission, not being Grandma, so it feels good!

I know The Lord directs His work and in due time it will come about. He’s trying to teach Debby Erickson to be patient. All our love from your (trying not be trunkie) missionaries from Croatia and Bosnia.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Orthodox Christmas in Banja Luka...

  On January 6th, Jim's Birthday, we came into Banja Luka and  were again excited to see the Badnjak trees on every street corner. read here about Bosnia Christmas traditions

One of their traditions is that after staw is spread out on the floor the oldest woman in the family comes in and clucks like a chicken and begins throwing candy into the straw. There is a scramble for the candy by the children, but they all ended up sharing what they had gathered. I had the honor of helping Nada, but they had to give me clucking lessons!

I wish this was a better picture, this was Christmas Day, January 7th,  We had Sarma, refried beans, pork from one of their pigs that they slaughtered, (I asked if that made them sad, they said, "no we feed it to eat it") corn bread, pickles and peppers that had been preseved earlier in the fall, goat cheese, and some wonderful cakes and home made coconut candies. I'm bringing home that recipe!


This is their traditional bread that has a coin baked in it. Whoever gets the coin has good luck for the whole year.

The Mission Presidents niece and their nanny, Jamie, Sister Robinson, (they came to say good-bye as well because they went home to Utah last week) Grandma Nada, Tihana, our Croatian translator, Sister Tanner, the mission nurse and her companion, Sister Rowe.
The Tadic family invited guests from Zagreb to eat Christmas dinner with them, they stayed at our house and attended church the next day. Grandma Nada brought all the women a pair of Bosnian slippers Sunday. Our guests were thrilled!

Pretty cute feet, don't you think?
We had a great Bosnian Christmas, New Years followed and now we are trying to get going again on humanitarian projects. We have several in the works, but January is pretty much a loss. Most offices have been closed all month or are just making due with a skeleton staff. The new year will bring us many opportunites to serve and hopefully we will see the Church becoming legal and the young missionaries arriving! Oh happy day! We really are praying that it will happen before we go home!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Providing food for the poor.

Year End Projects..

L.D.S. Charities provided enough money for each family to receive a bag of staples for Christmas.
The Red Cross chose what to put in the bags. Oil, rice, pasta, sugar, milk, hotdogs, and coffee. They made 400 packages like this and distributed them at two locations in the city.

This is the director of the Red Cross. She told us that because the price of milk had gone up so high, many of the people haven't had milk for a long time. This is one reason we depend on local partners. They understand the needs of the people they serve. We never would have thought to put milk in the Christmas packages. Or coffee.

This is a project that has been in the works for quite some time. We put in a wheelchair order in the fall for the Red Cross. 250 wheelchairs are on their way, but the Red Cross building is not handicap accessible. Soooo, we built into the cost of the project enough money to have a ramp built. If any building in the city should have a ramp, you would think access to the Red Cross would be a priority. Now they will be able to fit the wheelchairs to the recipients IN the building and not in the parking lot.

This was a project that we did with the Caritas organization in Banja Luka.

Caritas is the Relief organization for the Catholic Church here in Europe.
We went with the directors assistant to the grocery store and paid for the goods, the store manager was so pleased to meet us, evidently they don't get too many people that come in from
America and buy such large quantities of food to give away. Delivery was free!
This what we bought that day at the store. 3,000 kg of flour, 240 kg sugar, 240 liters of oil, 120 kg salt, 120 kg rice,
 and 144 kg pasta.. 

It  made enough for 120 food boxes for the poor that come to the Caritas soup kitchen.

The Caritas organizations choose to put more into each gift box and do fewer boxes. It was so appreciated! They gave us a beautiful thank-you note that had been meticulously translated into English. We came home after visiting these two organizations and both expressed how humbled we felt, how blessed we were and how very grateful we are to be a part of this amazing work. To know that people had just a little extra in their pantries this Christmas, or that they might not go hungry on at least this one day, well, it certainly gave us a reason to quit being babies about being away from home this Christmas and to ponder a little more the true meaning and significance of that day.

The third soup kitchen we worked with was the Caritas soup kitchen in Varazdin, Croatia. they chose to buy meat with the money we provided them to add a little more nutrition into their usually meatless soups. We went to the butcher, who gave us a great deal, and bought the meat. They serve over 300 meals a day to many who depend on them for their only meal of the day.


    Christmas Eve, Saturday afternoon/evening, we had our Sacrament Meeting in Banja Luka with our little branch. I'm sorry to say that I didn't get very many pictures and the ones we did get were not great, but I will post what I have.  It was an absolutely wonderful day. The Tadic girls came over and helped me cook, turkey from Slovenia, (Elder and Sister Taylor gave it to us), mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, salad, pies and boiled custard. Our landlord and his wife both came to our meeting and stayed for dinner, along with all of the Tadic family and our investigator, Goran. So including Jim and I we had 15 people in attendance. My favorite memory of the day was our meeting. We tried to plan something special, the kids all practiced and practiced their musical numbers and sang just like a choir of angels. "The Stars are Gleaming" and "Away in a Manger".  Vedran our 14 year old boy sang the echo part in "Away in a Manger" and was just adorable!  Our two translators sang, "Picture a Christmas, Vickie had worked hard to translate it into Serbian and it was also amazing. Vickie and Maja took turns translating the video "Joy to the World" and Mika gave a wonderful talk about how Mary must have felt becoming a mother of the Christ child. It was one of those meetings where we were just so proud of all of them because they really did it themselves. Someday they will be the leaders of this branch and they certainly showed their abilities on Christmas Eve. But most important was the spirit that they brought with them, they are truly amazing people.

Mika (the mother of the Tadic family) and our landlords. It was fun to have them come to our meetings and then stay for dinner.

Mika with her beautiful smile!

We don't usually wear our badges when we are in Bosnia, (because the church is not legal yet) but I had put mine on because as soon as we cleaned up we were out the door and on our way to Croatia and I was afraid I would leave it sitting on the counter. We had an interesting experience on our way back to Croatia that night. It was late before we got going, Christmas Eve and the border station was pretty dead. We zipped right through on the Bosnia side and only waited a couple of minutes on the Croatia side to check our passports. As we stopped at the customs booth the usual questions were asked, anything to declare? Cigarettes, Alcohol? Jim said no, we don't smoke or drink, I think the customs guard was a little bored because he asked us another question which they don't usually ask, "what are you doing here in Croatia?" I'm sure it was strange, having two American old people going into Croatia on Christmas Eve. Jim explained that we were humanitarian missionaries assigned as country directors to both Croatia and Northern Bosnia. We bring in wheelchairs, help supply clean water and do area projects in both countries. He got a little emotional and said, "Thank-you, thank-you for being here for our people! Have a Merry Christmas!" Then he leaned all the way out of his little booth so he could shake Jim’s hand. What a gift he gave us! We are so blessed. I will never forget this Christmas Eve and the grateful heart that touched ours.

This is why we made this trip back to Croatia on Christmas Eve. We spent the day with the Young Elders so they could Skype their parents on our computer and have a day with a little something that was familiar to them. Elder Marks was the only one of us that got a package through on time for Christmas, so we watched him open it . I also fixed another dinner so pretty much I spent the whole holiday cooking....hummmm sounds like home doesn't it?

Our package from home came on January 3rd, at first we thought that it hadn't been opened by customs because all of the papers on top hadn't been broken, but when I went to throw the box away I realized that it had been opened from the bottom and retaped with the blue customs tape. We didn't have any custom charges though, so that was good.

I knew immediately what I had when I saw this mailing label! Hurry Jim! Let's get home!!!!
Then I got a little sick when I saw how much it cost to mail the package, not to mention what was inside!

Ahhhh! a Kindle! We are so excited to have an e-reader! It was soooo worth the wait !  We sure have great kids! They also sent See's chocolate, really did a number on my diet, peanut butter, sweaters and socks for Jim and tons of Splenda, diet pudding, sugar free jello, Crystal light  along with ingredients to make more monster cookies for the Tadic kids! Does anyone see the irony in all this????   See's chocolate and Splenda in the same box? I have to wonder! A little note about my Kindle,  my children have created a Kindle monster, I stayed up most the night last Sunday reading, I finished the book I was reading, but I think I broke a few missionary rules. Self control is the goal for the new year, diet and missionary rules! Sleep is good, but highly over rated. Thanks kids for a wonderful little bit of love from home!


Monday, January 9, 2012

Christmas in Croatia...

I think I wrote this sometime in the last part of December, but never got it posted, so it's pretty late news but I thought I would go ahead and post it before I started a new post. Sorry for my late, "Merry Christmas" to all of you! We hope you had a wonderful holiday season!

It's true, Jim and I are officially homesick! I think there are two reasons for our official state of wishing we were home in the arms of our sweet family. The first is that it's Christmas, not just any Christmas, but our second one away from our family and we are just really feeling it more this year.

 The second is that we ran out of humanitarian project money around the 1st of December for local area projects in both countries. This means that we have had a little more free time on our hands than we are used to and more time means more thinking and more thinking means more missing those little hugs around my neck and those sweet sloppy candy kisses that are so liberally shared. It means worrying from afar that Christmas will be wonderful for them all and somehow that silly song, "I'll be home for Christmas", keeps playing on the Mormon channel and every time it does I get a little teary eyed and remember "if only in my dreams..." Yep, it's official, we are homesick, but hopefully will abate in January.

Our new budget turns around the 1st of January. Jim has been doing all the year end budget reports, making sure our church card is balanced out to 0 and sending in completion histories on all of our finished up area projects. I have been painting. Still no word of when the church will be legal in Bosnia, but when it does, there sure is a nice little apartment waiting for missionaries to occupy! Jim says it's nicer than anything he ever stayed in when he was in Finland. I just wish there were a Michaels around,( I realize I'm not just writing to an American audience..Michaels is an amazing craft store in the U.S.) I could REALLY make it cute! Hummm, it's always good to have Jim around, he brings me down to earth, from my painting ladder, and reminds me that it's not my house.

We have a mission Christmas party tomorrow. The Elders are coming over this afternoon to make cinnamon rolls. They were assigned to bring something sweet and I told them I would help. I'm assigned to bring a crock pot of soup. It should be a fun party. We love to get together with all of the missionaries. I feel so bad for them this year. I'm not quite sure how things are working out this week at the mission office, but as of last Monday the post office was refusing to release Christmas packages for the missionaries. On Monday they were afraid that some of the packages that had come for missionaries had been sent back to the U.S. Others are just being held captive. I'll be careful not to wax political, but my heart goes out to these sweet young men and women. They are such wonderful servants of our Heavenly Father and it breaks my heart to think of them not getting their packages from home.
Our mission presidents twins and I taught the missionaries how to do the "Hokey Pokey".
It was pretty fun to see all those missionaries "Shake it all about"!

A few of our "Seniors" just chillin!

We had a really nice dinner, played games, exchanged white elephant gifts, had a spiritual testimony meeting, took tons of pictures and left with our hearts and spirits lifted!
Our Varazdin missionaries making cinnamon rolls in our apartment.

Elder Bridge and Elder Marks were quick learners and did a great job!
"Our Mission"