Thursday, January 31, 2013

We've Arrived

I don't know what Columbus said when he got off the ship for the first time in the New World, but I think when I first got off the plane (i.e. "ship"), I think it was something like, "Yea!, we're finally here!"
Going through customs was actually a breeze.  I was living in fear of it based on all the instructions and warnings we had received on what to pack, what NOT to pack, how to pack it, when to pack it, what to say to the customs officials if they asked any questions, etc., etc.  The reality was, we didn't even have to see or talk to any customs officials.  We just picked up our bags off the baggage return, stood in a very short line to get the stamps in our passports, pushed our luggage carts through the doors.....and just like that we were in Spain.  Of course the process of getting our residence status OK'd takes 3 more months, but it's nothing to worry about.  Just bureaucracy.  Same everywhere.  Maybe a little slower in Spain, but not much.  It's just that they're not quite as technologically advanced but the style of work looks and feels pretty much like a government official anywhere I've been in the world.
Our flight arrived 1 hour early because of a 130 mph tail wind.  Not bad.  But no one told President and Sister Jackson or the missionaries with the van, so we had to wait an hour in the airport lobby.  They were a welcome sight.  After a short ride, about 30 minutes, we arrived at the Mission Home where President and Sister Jackson reside.  It's probably the nicest residential area in all of Spain.  Antonio Balderos (or whatever his name is), "Zorro", has a home just down the street.  Of course in this area it's all gated and walled homes.  We had a little welcome greeting from the President and then were given and chance to rest up in some bedrooms (the mission home has about, I don't know, maybe 7-8 bedrooms) and then we were treated to a very nice meal.
Next we all piled into the cars and drove to the largest park in the city, called Retiro park.  Every Saturday the missionaries from the Madrid MTC go to the park for several hours to "practice" tracting, and then at 4 PM they gather at a large fountain near the center of the park and sing.  It's really a lot of fun and Vivienne and I joined in with them.  People gather around to watch and listen and the missionaries "meet and greet" and hand out copies of the Book of Mormon and pass-along cards.  It was interesting because in the Madrid MTC right now are 10 Italian and 5 Russian speaking missionaries.  No Spanish.  And few of them speak any Spanish.  So before they went to the park they got about 2 hours of Spanish.  It's amazing to see what happens.  One of the Russian Sisters managed to find people speaking Russian and gave away 2 copies of the Book of Mormon in Russian.  By the way, our missionary choir sounded awesome.  They were very happy to have 2 ex-members if the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with them (I was just going to type the initials, but realized that in the church, MTC means more than one thing)
Finally we arrived at Temple Square Madrid.  It's a "mini" Temple Square and what a wonderful sweet oasis it is!  We love it here.  There's a large stake center on the complex as well as the Missionary Training Center, a large Institute,  an employment office and Church distribution center.  The MTC takes up floors 4-6.  Floors 1-3 are housing and offices for the Temple and then the ground floor is reception, distribution center, employment office and entrance to Young Adult Center and Institute.
For Bishop Milne, I haven't found Daniel yet to convert him but I'm working on it.
Our calling has been changed; we're now in charge of Young Single Adults for the city, which has 3 stakes and about 1500 young single adults on the rolls.  Our job is to find them, feed them, fellowship them, get them on missions and then get them married in the temple.  Sort of like the old 3-F Club at our house, only now it's 5 nights a week instead of once a month.  We could use some help if anyone reading this is interested.  We've also been assigned to be part of the Church's employment center here in Madrid.  As you might know, the national unemployment rate in Madrid is over 25% right now, and among youth ages 18-30, it's actually over 50%.  It's really unbelievable.  I've never seen anything quite like it in my lifetime.  Challenging as it is, we need to find a way to make the youth more "employable" and teach them how to find decent jobs.We have loved our time staying at the Madrid MTC with these Italian and Russian missionaries.  They are really incredible young people; so dedicated to the Gospel.  Way ahead of where I was at their age. And I must say, in my opinion, ahead of many of the American missionaries we saw at the Provo MTC.

Waiting to meet with Dr. Lago, Honorary Spanish Consul, at UVU to get our visas.  
There were 50 visas that come through for Spain all at once.

 Dr. Lago.  Convert to the Church.  
Daughter currently in Provo MTC

Our plane out of Atlanta to Madrid

Finally on out way.  6 missionaries

Waiting at the airport

 President and Sister Jackson

Dinner at Mission Home with Jacksons

At Retiro Park.  
Very large park with 
interesting landscape

 With Jay and Joan Sitterud, my old boss
at Beneficial Financial.
President of Madrid MTC

The Madrid Temple 
from our dormitory window

Overlooking part of Temple Square
from our dormitory

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Are We There Yet???

That often repeated family phrase included in almost every family trip is ringing in my ears...."Are we there yet?"
We are on our 4th flight itinerary since last October.  If all goes well, we meet with the Spanish Consul tomorrow morning at 10:30 and finally get our visas and passports.  Church travel has booked us on a flight to Atlanta Friday morning and after a 4 hour layover, on straight to Madrid.
When one takes a minute to reflect on all the events that have occurred in our life since October it's easy to see this is the right time for us to be leaving for Spain.  The greatest thing is our improved Spanish.  And to be able to attend a family funeral (Carol DuBriell) and another of a close friend (Joyce Frederickson).  To be able to participate with the little Spanish Branch in Draper during their Christmas program and other holiday events and get to know them better.  To hear some life-changing devotional talks here at the MTC, among which were seminal talks by Elder Holland and Elder Bednar.  To be here at the same time as a close sister friend and offer some needed comfort.  And then to be able to say goodbye to so many wonderful people, once, twice, ten or maybe even 20 times!  Even when we had to leave our home when the Hofs moved in was not so bad.  Being housed at the Provo Marriott is very nice.  And we DO NOT miss the daily commute from Sandy .  Clean towels and sheets every day; the room is clean and picked up by someone else.  I'm going to miss it.
But every day I look at the weather in Madrid and a little part of me aches that I'm not there.  We've just lived through one of the coldest Januarys on record in Salt Lake City.  The average monthly HIGH has been 24 degrees, and it has averaged around 0 degrees overnight nearly all month.  But the real bummer has been the "sludge" we have had to breathe in the never-ending inversion layer.  Meantime the average daily temperature in Madrid has been around 48-49 with overnight lows around 32-33.  That translates to a 25 degree swing during the days and a 30 degree swing during the nights.  I am SO looking forward to Madrid!
We will miss the friends we have made in the Spanish Language Training program at the MTC.  This sister in the first picture, Sister Karolyn Cropper, recently returned from a mission in Siberia.  She manages the scheduling for the immersion language program for senior missionaries.  She was very helpful in setting up our training schedule every day with study buddies, TALL (technology assisted language learning), various tutors, and volunteers who come to help us speak Spanish, with no compensation; just out of the goodness of their hearts.  I'm humbled by how many good people there are around us.
Below is Sister Christina Keller, who served in the Miami Spanish speaking mission.  She was an incredible teacher.  The board behind us was filled every day with hundreds of Spanish language components on which we were drilled over and over.

The Livingstons, pictured below, were a terrific couple.  They leave the same time we do, going to Barcelona.  We had many meals together and spent many many hours in building 18M where senior missionaries receive language training.

Well, the laundry is done and we're going to go back up to the MTC and check on our travel plans.  Maybe I'll remember to take a few more pictures of the MTC.  I intend to every time we go and always forget to do it.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Visas have arrived!

So, hallelujah, the visas for about 50 missionaries to Spain arrived yesterday.  We received word that we would be receiving our visas on Tuesday, January 22 at 9:30 AM from the Spanish Consul (Senor Lago) and that we fly out on Wednesday morning for Madrid, through Atlanta.  This evening I received an email from the MTC President in Madrid, President Sitterud, welcoming us and telling us that he has already slated us to speak to the missionaries in the Madrid MTC one week from Sunday, so we'll hit the ground running (or crawling as fast as we can).
We will spend one week at the Madrid MTC while our residency papers are being processed and then we expect to get our assignment from our mission president, President Jackson.  It's kind of exciting.  Not sure what we'll be doing.  Our expectation is that the medical part of our call will not take up all of our time, in fact very little of it according to Pres. Jackson.  We'll see.
Our time at the MTC has been productive.  We can now speak Spanish.  We think.  Probably not.  But we'll find out next week!
Hasta luego, and thanks for all your prayers on our behalf.  Keep 'em coming.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

No Visa; Just Gratitude

Well, guess what?  No visas again this past week.  You might think we're really discouraged about that, and I'll admit we'd love to be in Madrid right now.  For lots of reasons:
1.  It's 4-7 degrees Fahrenheit at night and only 19-20 in the day for the past 2 weeks.
2.  The inversion layer outside is so unhealthy I have to breathe through a scarf because of my asthma.
3.  There's a norovirus epidemic going through the MTC in Provo this past week.  300 confirmed cases last Friday.
4.  I've had an upper respiratory infection for 2 weeks.  Last night I took the last Augmentin and I'm over it, just barely.  I had a Priesthood blessing last week and that night my fever broke. 
However, we are NOT discouraged.  We have been richly blessed. 
1.  Our language has improved a lot. 
2.  We were able to be here when our kids, Erick and Kristin and kids, came from Carlsbad, NM to Sandy for a funeral and we enjoyed their company for an entire week.
3.  Our companionship has grown immensely. 
Bubba and Caden, the Cuddly
Bubba & Ty-Ty
 At Carol DuBreuil's Funeral
 Freezing Cold
 Erick with Ty-Ty & Caden.  Nana seated.  Bishop John Wayne in hat.
 Bill, Carol's husband, alongside Linda Morrow and Ericka Campbell
 Cierra was sick, and miserably cold
 Kristin in center.
 Mackenzie.  Talented and beautiful