Friday, November 3, 2017

Their Story Is Our Story

TSOS - if you haven’t heard of this organization, check it out:    We had a wonderful occasion to work with them recently.  Their crew, all volunteers, flew in for one week to videotape, draw, interview, and otherwise “capture” the stories and images of refugees in Greece and Italy - perhaps elsewhere in Europe as well.  

Our wonderful humanitarian missionary couple, the Herways, put them in touch with us for the Naples area.  We spoke to our African friends, who spoke to theirs.  We had from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 pm, on one certain Wednesday.  We publicized, we worked with them to find a suitable place for interviews...we and they did all we could.  At a certain point you just have to turn things over to the Universe and ride with it.

The bed and breakfast they booked - the terrace of which was designated as the interview place - said it had been booked for the next day.  Was not willing to make any allowances.  We were up the proverbial creek.  Enter Keti (Katy) the angel.  She let us invade her tiny apartment while we waited to re-direct interview-ees.  In the meantime - during which we were treated with the greatest civility and care, and offered every delicacy and comfort within her grasp - we heard her own engrossing story of having to flee Soviet Georgia in 2008.  Her story will also be included in this project.

Keti and Keti - both refugees from Georgia - apparently there's a fairly large community in this area. The one in who's home we took up a short-lived command post is on the right.
For more information just google "Georgia 2008"

The little street upon which we sat, with no success, waiting for refugees to come for interviews.  That's us on chairs.

Keti's tiny apartment, where I sat with Twila, the chief editor, writer and book designer of TSOS.  A very devoted, driven, compassionate person.

 Blaine went with half the crew to find a new place...nobody came...He suggested changing places to a nearby neighborhood where we know there are lots of refugees.  Here are fellow members of the crew, with Blaine,...waiting...

There’s a member in that neighborhood who’s a barber, Blaine figured maybe he could line some of his friends up.   He wasn’t there...but his barber partner is a refugee and was anxious to tell his story.  Blaine went back to the first place to get the rest of the crew, took a shortcut, and ran across another of our African members, who had initially not liked the idea of being interviewed.  Before Blaine knows it, he’s joined by the two crew members he’d left behind - who for whatever reason felt they should follow him - and they convinced our friend to come.  He said he’d be there by 2:00 with a bunch of folks.

We joined them about then, and we all waited...  No one came...  The crew had to leave at 5:00 to make it to Rome for another interview.  At 3:30 a dozen people showed up.  Most did not want their pictures taken for fear of reprisal.  Eventually most agreed - although it is never a requirement.   Some asked that their faces/voices be distorted.  All the stories were heartbreaking.  There was only one woman there.  Her story was so horrendous that the interviewer thought maybe she was exaggerating...until she heard later in the day from reliable researchers that her story is, in fact, typical of what goes on in Libya.  We have heard enough stories over the last two missions to know that ourselves. The interviews and the photos/drawings took place in a kind of a cul-de-sac, crowded with cars and comings and goings. The crew finished with everyone's stories, in the nick of time. We all felt uplifted and edified, as if in the larger sense, everything had gone exactly as it should have.

Our responsibility as missionaries is to strengthen the Church, specifically these two branches of the Church, and specifically the Italians themselves.  Therefore, we have felt a little dubious about the trajectory our work is beginning to take.  The many serendipitous events of this day showed us that the Lord’s hand is in this trajectory.  Somehow, perhaps as new branches strengthen the roots of an old tree, the growing presence of refugees in the Church here will bear fruit, even among the Italians themselves.  We're starting to see that.

Now for photos from the last six weeks or so. Lots of photos.

The drum circle waxes and wanes. This one was super.


If you saw a recent Facebook post, you saw a video of our Napoli missionaries eating African food, fufu and a "soup" of meat, okra and other vegetables.  We had the same privilege, thanks to Richard, one of our many Nigerian friends and an awesome missionary in his own right.  You take a clump of fufu, ball it up with your fingertips, dip it in the soup - and swallow.  No chewing.  It was a great cultural experience!  And good food.

A baptism is always a wonderful experience.  This one was extra special!  The sister missionaries taught Susan, and she asked that Blaine baptize and confirm her.  She's wonderful.

Okay, these next few are so fun!  We missed our old friend and Blaine's long-time coworker Milt Canovan, but were able to host his wife Kathy and her friend Mary for a couple of days.  We were able to take some time off to enjoy Naples and Sorrento together.  It was a real refresher.

The ferry ride to Sorrento was refreshing in itself.

We happened upon a wedding processional in Sorrento.  

This sweet elderly gentleman, Gaetano, makes beautiful inlaid wood creations.  

Blaine masquerading as Pulcinella

In the middle of town, a slice of history:  "In the town of Sorrento ... there's a deep canyon, also known as 'The valley of the mills'. There, [among] thick vegetation [is] the old mill, functioning since the beginning of the 900's and used to produce flour. The mill was abandoned around 1866 when the creation of Tasso square isolated the mill from the sea, provoking a rise in the humidity, which soon forced the mill's abandonment."

Recently we took the missionaries (all five, thanks to a member in the branch) hiking near Formia, up the coast an hour or so.  It was a perfect day for a very picturesque jaunt.

I took this photo because it was as if some sea rock made a nest...little fledgling sea rocks...

These two crack me up!  I am not a Halloween lover, but I couldn't resist them!

And our dear friends the Williams are finishing up their mission this week.  For one last visit together we went to Sant'Agata de' Goti, one of those medieval mountaintop towns that are so fascinating.  This one did not disappoint.

We dined at the Osteria del Conte; the two guys ate wild boar.  I had some of Blaine's, it was divine.   Now that's a cultural experience.  We were led to this place by a sweet, chatty elderly woman named Anna.  I am not a tall person.

The inn-keepers (they have a bed-and-breakfast too).  They were eating their dinner when we entered; it was still early for dinner by Italian standards.  But they hopped right up, cleared up their repast despite my remonstrations, and served us a fabulous 3-course meal.

And speak of fabulous meals!  A young couple in the Napoli Branch, Nicola and Antonella, brought us fresh-caught (that very day) mussels, not farmed!  It was the first time I'd ever fixed mussels all the way from fresh.  When I did it before, several had to be tossed because they were already open - not this batch.  And I don't like clams, oysters, mussels that much ... but these were taaastyy.  We ate them all in one sitting!

Occasionally we are called upon to repair or install stuff in missionary apartments.  Here Blaine is installing a shower curtain, which had to have a wire come down from the ceiling to support an angle in the rod.  We don't always know when we'll have the time to do this sort of work, so he wasn't exactly dressed for the occasion.  He improvised with a kitchen apron and a plastic bag.

hanging on a wall, looking glorious.        Ciao y'all.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Everyday Giants

I guess I'm a philosopher by nature.  I feel like I ought to fill this blog with details of our everyday senior-missionary life, like getting an oil change and enjoying the wall art...but then what I'm learning from it kind of takes over.

This time, though, I think I will just give y'all an idea of what we do.  We work with five pairs of young missionaries, two in the Pozzuoli/Flegreo area, and three in Naples.  One of those pairs is comprised of sister missionaries - in Pozzuoli...the mission president just can't bring himself to move sisters to Naples!  And even though there were four of us sister missionaries in Naples when I was here in 1973, I can understand this caution.  Naples is truly the best city I know - but it is not a "tame" place.  It is the mission president's responsibility to provide as much safety as is within his power.

What do we do with these missionaries?  We go with them to teach people who have expressed interest in the teachings of the church.  We are not the primary teachers; the elders and sisters have that stewardship.  What we are "good at" is sharing our own personal witness of the various principles being taught, as well as experiences from our looong life. 

For us these teaching opportunities are nearly always accompanied by awe, that these young men and women, so inexpert in so many ways, nevertheless carry a wisdom and an authority beyond themselves.  It is a marvel to behold.

They attain this wisdom and authority by being 1) "set apart" through priesthood authority for that calling and 2) by much daily scripture study, prayer, planning and studying together, and by practicing strict obedience to the regulations set up for missionaries.  They avoid distractions by focusing solely on the work that they gave 18 months-2 years to do, full time.  They are happy to do it (for the most part; some come because they feel pressured to do so, and until they undergo some kind of metamorphosis wherein they become self-directed, they can feel pretty miserable sometimes).  They also grow, very much, through service.  They try to help folks out in any way needed.  They are just the most light-filled, light-hearted young people I know, and it is a delight to work with them.

We also have fun.  We laugh a lot.  We eat pizza a lot!

The sisters in our zone, along with pre-mission Gioele

When we aren't with the missionaries, we are often visiting members of the Church who, for any variety of reasons, are no longer "active" members.  I think I've mentioned that work every now and then.  We get to know them, we try to see things from their perspective.  We learn to love them.  We try to encourage them.  We are all just brothers and sisters, "working out our salvation."

Sometimes we feel a fair measure of frustration with attitudes that get in the way, among active members as well as others.  Sometimes it feels like we're offering a major banquet, holding a door wide open and a chair ready, but one thing or another holds them back.   It's distressing...but it's also a great crucible of learning and growth.  How often I have walked - and do still -  those same paths.  Encourage and stay encouraged, that's the key.  And this cannot be done alone, no matter how spiritually strong a person is.

We all learn to walk by faith.  And power and grace come as a result.  What a marvel.

Last Saturday, another baptism at the sea.  Sapele, baptized by his friend Peter, a returned missionary/refugee, who is continuing the work he started in his native Nigeria.

Last week, we were so preoccupied with the goings on in TX, given that Andrew, Sara and their family were right in the middle of it and we hadn't yet heard how the night had gone for them, whether their house had been flooded or not - we had a hard time concentrating on anything.  So we drove about an hour and a half into the hills and went hiking.

At a certain point, we took a wrong turn and came upon this luxury resort/spa.  I loved the juxtaposition of the Rolls convertible and the vintage Fiat 500!

Had one of the most enjoyable meals yet, in Telese Terme, at Locanda della Pacchiana.

A week or so earlier, we went to Posillipo, overlooking Napoli on one side and Pozzuoli and environs on the other, here at the huge Parco Virgiliano.

Pozzuoli side, with Bacoli, across the bay, and the islands of Procida and Ischia in the distance.

Napoli side, with the Amalfi peninsula and Capri in the distance.

Here Sorella Abbate (born in Napoli, raised in Como) and I are gesturing toward Bacoli, Procida and Ischia from the patio of our church in Pozzuoli, showing our new Sorella Contreras (from Veracruz, Mexico) a bit of the layout.

Just have to put in this photo of our GPS.  It kind of shows why driving in Napoli is Blaine's greatest stress!  We always enjoy August in Italy, because practically everyone goes on vacation, meaning traffic and parking are, if only temporarily, a breeze.

I took the two photos below when we were out walking on a not-too-hot day, and there were clouds in the sky.  Silly me!  I thought that meant rain!  But I can say that yesterday, probably about 3 weeks later, we did finally get some good rain.

So Blaine has never been a cat person, really...but this is getting serious!

Yes, we are actually feeding her.

This bush grows multicolored, multi-patterned flowers.  In the heat, with no rain.  Amazing.

No words for this sweet photo

A few pics of those wonderful missionaries I was talking about, plus some others in the Napoli zone with whom we do not work on a regular basis, but see them at least once every six weeks.

That guy smiling directly at the camera is Anziano/Elder Draghi, who is about to finish his mission.  We knew him a year ago here in Pozzuoli - but we knew him even before that, because he comes from Rimini, which is in the area where we served our first mission.  He helped us there with the camps we put together for the Young Women and Young Men.  Man we love these guys!

In the pic below are two special people (besides Blaine of course, and good ol' Anziano/Elder Friedman, who is now starting a new adventure at BYU):  Gioele, a Napoli girl who will leave this month for a mission in Lyon, France; and Sam, who is the branch mission leader in Napoli, and always comes to zone conference.  Great guy.  He's from New Zealand; his wife Lori works at the US Embassy.  Missing is Giuseppe, a Napoli guy who leaves in November for the Milan Mission.

 Below is Mamadou, from Senegal, though I'm not sure I spelled his name correctly.  We met him selling hand drums and other wares at the Fourth of July spectacular in Carney Park, the place where the US military holds all their activities.   We ended up buying ten djembes from him last month, with monies from the church humanitarian fund.  There are three (at least) refugee camps near the church in Naples, with around five or six hundred Africans who have virtually nothing to do but wait for their documents.   The week before last we started a drum circle in church on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, followed by Italian class.  We've had about 8 - 10 participants so far.  If it takes off we'll buy more drums and other instruments.