Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Arts and Letters

A long time ago, in a far away land, I learned as a college student the joys of core curriculum in the study of Arts and Letters.  One recent morning, waking to a sweet tribute from a Midwest missionary niece to her deceased grandfather, I discovered letters to be a true form of art, filled with love and light to tug at the deepest sentiments of family connectedness.  Are we not blessed to have such dewed spider web of beauty at our fingertips?

In the art category, our bishop neighbor is an architect and artist.   Upon conversation with other artists in our city, he mentioned his love for a Book of Mormon that commemorates the saving of the culture of peoples of Central America.  Upon request, we gifted the book and have enjoyed visiting Juan Carlos Lemus Dahinten, a celebrated photographer whose office lies within blocks from our office.

On days of cultural celebrations, Lemus' team captures the "traje" or cultural outfit of more than 130 special costumes within Guatemala, one at a time, four minutes each.  He shared from thousands of digital shots and presented us a book he had published with page after page of Guatemalan women in their traditional clothing. 
Some of his works (photo above) are featured in a nearby restaurant, "Cardomomuss"
 (Elder Starkey is still working to decide which art is more exquisite--the art on the plate or the art on the wall!

Our visit came just after another spark was generated by Bishop Wuilfred.  Paintbrush in hand, he offered materials to our common neighbor José Cote, who is visiting grandchildren and hoping to set up a livelihood in the area.  With paints borrowed from Bishop Lopez, José replicated a favorite neighborhood scene with canvas and oil to help us cherish memories from the little street where we now hang our hat.                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

   Bishop Wuilfred invited us to come and see a life-sized commissioned painting he had nearly finished featuring a Guatemalan quetzal in forested greenery.  The scene reminded me of a beauty we stumbled onto on our way back to Honduras after visiting Elder Starkey's first mission chapel (then a small branch, now two stakes with a temple) in Costa Rica.   

I told him I would share our Quetzal again.  Here you go!  Almost as pretty as his...but his is "the big picture, where you can see the forest with the trees."

    Speaking of beautiful friends above--José is sure we have guardian angels.  If the job is given to family members [as we once heard parents of kidnapped Russian missionaries promised a deceased cousin would watch over their son]  we have decided it is a good idea to "porta bien" (behave well) simply to keep from embarrassing our help!  
Here is an invitation to a guardian angel--to keep watching!
      Speaking of acting well, a week ago last Saturday, we wrapped up a music and family history class...
[Here are a few of our students...several in the same family!]

 [The same day of the class, I got photos near a restaurant...this is how some of our students feel when they have to sit longer than twenty minutes!]

Later, as we wound down, ready to rest, Elder Starkey realized a significant loss.  One of the USB contraptions for his computer, and his computer mouse were missing.  After combing the trunk, the middle seat, the front seat, the boxes of extension cords and cables, and the 16 zippers of his backpack; after praying, calling a young friend in the branch, and nearly giving up hope that the items could be found, Elder Starkey opened one last zipper, and voila! 
               You never know where you'll find hidden treasures! 
I keep little notebooks, like my Dad did.  I am sure mine are not half as organized.  They do not contain physics formulas for water tables or measurements of rainfall.  But I like to track vocabulary and friends. Breezing through scans of old notebooks last week hunting temple names, I found hidden treasures--email addresses of families we met at the Tegucigalpa temple.  

[Right, is Christopher Ruiz, a friend we met during a lengthy wait in the Honduras temple waiting room, or guardaria, waiting with his sister to be sealed to his family.  His brother Jonathan had been a missionary, their sister Jennifer had been deathly ill, hospitalized for a year, when missionaries visited, blessed, helped. Jennifer lived-(below right middle) the missionary's family joined the church.  Father, José, has since served as Elder's Quorum president; mother, president in the women's organization, now  presides over seminary.  José drove for us in Masaya, Nicaragua.   Christopher soon after, accepted a call to El Salvador,  just before his brother returned from Colombia. We were so happy to receive news that they continue to enjoy the blessings of serving.]

So, here is what we treasure--some people collect postcards, thimbles, jewelry.  But if God's people are his jewels (see Malachi 3:17), you might understand why our faces sparkled to see the Central American couples devotional, mission conference, and Sisters Devotional  broadcast from Tegucigalpa,
which featured remembrances of families of friends we met in holy, treasured places. We rejoice to hear success in schooling, growth in family, successes in jobs, missions, callings, and simply remembering that we "are still brethren (and sisters) in the Lord."
[President Russell M. Nelson and his wife Wendy Watson Nelson were scheduled to visit together to offer an encouraging devotional on the family and a broadcast for missionaries...I felt like Lucy Mack Smith asking missionaries to pray for our signal to become "authorized" as we sang hymns and hoped to listen.  

I begged our San Jerónimo's Relief Society president to come back, as we had indications that it might be connected soon.  Her whole family, some members, some not, had traveled by bus and waited nearly 3 hours to beam as they watched their daughter direct the music.  

Sorry, I cannot find the reference for this
but I thought I found it on lds.org.
I want to look like this, when Elder Starkey
is in his late 80's early 90's!
Due to a minor accident prior to the trip, Sister Nelson, became unable to do the travel and prepared a video conference for the sisters.] 

In light of gatherings--15 August, Coban First ward had an open house, where Elder and Sister Starkey taught about what missionaries do.  Below are a few slides from our powerpoint:  

When I have grown a foot or two."

We are still growing!


The above left is the Guatemala Center for Capacitation of Missionaries or CCM, right next to Guatemala City temple, where missionaries say goodbye to mom, dad, video games, smartphones, girlfriends, and learn to serve, teach, love, and speak Spanish.
 Over 100 attended the open house, including a "group" in Chisec, two hours north  preparing for their own chapel, and watched carefully to learn about programs with 
    Sunday school, and priesthood.
How do you like the decorations, Aves de Paraiso--"Birds of Paradise"
A week ago Sunday, Ronald, our young school teacher neighbor visited Sacrament Meeting and played a powerful arrangement of "Master the Tempest is Raging."  As we listened to waves rippling up and down on the shore, and heard winds and storms intensifying, it was possible to imagine a master's voice piercing the tumult to soften thunder and calm hearts.

Before and after our friend Ronald's hands crafted the sounds of the sea, we heard our neighborhood friend Claudia Vela testify of the blessings that she had learned as the child of a widowed mother.  From her mother's celebrating openly their daily gifts, she learned it is possible to crack the windows of heaven when we exercise faith by returning to Heavenly Father one tenth of our earnings: 

 "Will a man rob God?  Yet ye have robbed me....even this whole nation!"
I hear words from an African American spiritual sung by one of my Florida mission companions echo as I remember the story of one of our children:

One spring, I received a phone call from a daughter worried that her husband was without work and having no visible success in pounding the pavement to find a job.  

"After praying together, I felt like there was something I could do.  One word came into my mind:  Tithing."


From knee high to a grasshopper,  this child had paid tithing.  When you don't have many pennies, there aren't many to pay, but they can still feel like a lot of pennies. 

As she worked for a snow shoveling crew at Brigham Young, the pennies came in faster, but there was tuition looming on the right and rent on the left.

She married.  With couples, finances are often managed by one partner. Or both.  And sometimes the focus is relegated to a back burner. 
"I counted up what I had earned from the time I had married.  The amount should have been tithed was something like $282.  I looked in my savings account.  You will never guess what was there!   
$282, to the dollar."

Poor, and without job prospects, the daughter drove her tithing check to the post office.  Within one week, her husband found a job--temporary but welcome. Before many weeks passed, an ample, adequate permanent position was offered in a different venue and was accepted as the seedling family settled its roots into a thing called faith.

Windows of heaven have included little ones tumbling earthward with smiles and temperaments to teach and ether.

Zach has since decided to further his education in the health field.  Our daughter continues to teach us faith, as she ventures to visit family and gathers learning to add to a vibrant partnership now in season to watch babies dance, learn French, and give up diapers.  

We shuffle to match our steps, as we watch them manage pennies, plan Friday dates a year in advance, and garnish weekly companionship inventories with chocolate and popcorn.

                                           Here are a few shots of where Elder Starkey takes me for our (usually Saturday night) dates.  We have not found popcorn; he has yet to yield to regular chocolate, but occasionally we find time for companionship inventory.
                      We are working to strettttttch, to reach for the best gifts...                                  
 found in tight families, wanting better things each day for their children.  
Here are a few of our new friends in Baja Verapaz.  Luis (far right) eight, was baptized the day before we visited. His father works hours and hours from home, common for San Jeronimo.  A little different--Aurey, a schoolteacher, gathers her boys each Sunday morning to travel to Guatemala City to see her husband and spend time as a family.  
We are learning to:
                                                 Lift up thy voice, as with a trump

Our branch president in San Jerónimo lives in a paca (like a thrift store.)

Elder Starkey figures that with 5 to 6 "pacas" on every block of 200 blocks in Cobán, it would amount to hundreds of thrift stores within walking distance. 
Grandma Gee would be in her element!

Before our last concilio de lideres (leadership council)

Elder Elder and Sister Bake celebrated their 40 plus anniversary
And were we in for a fun surprise! 
In Spanish, "Despicable Me" translates to "Mi Villano Favorito" (my favorite villian.)
No villians close by...but Elders, sisters, and friends are inclined to look for hidden treasures
Elder Bake, longtime instructor in Arizona, introduced a new method of sharing information...
 he and his wife teach the younger missionaries about appreciation for companions.

We drink in enthusiasm from our sisters-- training leaders and others--
which in our zone comprise just over 1/3.
Sister Gomez and Sister Miguel have added testimony, faith, and sunshine into our home...
They prayed with us when our neighbor José looked daily to find work.  He decided that all the prospects he was looking at to begin his own business would cost more than he had. The best idea he could come up with, in the notebook that Elder Starkey had given him for brainstorming, looked to be selling lottery tickets.  Sister Starkey explained that you can't pay tithing with lottery money.  It is not exactly church approved.   Elder Starkey softly detailed that lottery sales are geared to people who have less money and generally do not better a family's financial situation.  José might choose another idea. 

During a lesson from the above sisters on putting our burdens before the Lord, José wrestled internally with the fact that he had just purchased two books of tickets to sell.  He did not feel right about selling the tickets, but he could see no other prospects.  The following morning, he stood outside the door of a prospective customer.  

For a half hour, like Tevya of Fiddler on the Roof, José had a conversation with God: 

 "I don't really want to sell these tickets.  I feel like I shouldn't, but I don't have a choice."  

"We talked last night about laying our burdens before the Lord, that we do not have to fight our battles alone.  But I want to do something!"

"On the other hand, if I believe heaven has all power, I wonder if I could make a pact with God."

"I will put aside the tickets and cast the problem of my lack of work at God's feet trusting that He will help me."

He pocketed the tickets and headed another direction.  Within an hour, he had three calls: one from a former employer offering him a dealership in his jewelry business, another inviting him to sell a line of fragrances he had been investigating, and finally, an offer to sell at a kiosk downtown without rent until he established his retail.

José and his neighbors have our eyes opened as we exercise faith and watch for what the Lord can do when He follows through in his promises as we follow through with ours.  
Here are a few more students from Barrio 1.  
They enjoyed Ronald's musical number.  
So did we. 

Abi & Ronald

On their way out, we found out that the bishop's wife has an aunt that is great aunt to Ronald's wife, Abigail:  

                                        "Everyone is related in Cobán!"  

Then we heard more of the story of Yessica Lopez and why she is the bishop's wife.  Bishop Wuilfred Lopez is grandson of Valentina Arroyo, one of the first members of the Church in Guatemala. 

Yessica, a fellow architect student whom he was dating, had a Book of Mormon, but did not read it. 
She had read a few things that prejudiced her against wanting to read it. She had felt something special about the Book of Mormon when she touched it. But it had scared her and she was unsure about reading it.   "I had a testimony of the Savior.  I knew He was real.  I wanted to find His church.  My mom told me not to worry about it.  No church is really right.  They are all good.  Just choose one." 

Yessica experienced disappointment in her search and over time grew sad.  Her friend Wuilfred offered a blessing of comfort in which she felt Heavenly Father aware of her challenge. After encouragement from missionaries, she finished the book in weeks, received an answer to her question and prayers, alerted the missionaries of her decision--received all the lessons in one day, and was baptized.  

A peace radiates from the walls of their home, not just from photos of their wedding day in front of the temple, but something tangible, quiet, and comforting, even in times of personal trial--like the three months of 5 hour voyages back and forth to Guatemala city nursing a premature little boy.  

This, after deciding to move to Cobán without a home or firm work, and accepting call to serve as Relief Society president.  On the brink of celebrating this tiny son's final arrival home, they agreed to shoulder the responsiblity for father/husband in volunteer position, to shepherd a ward of hundreds with boundaries which cover a growing group as far as two hours away.   

Faith, the size of a mustard seed
brings good fruits for all who choose to look.
 "The range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searcheth after every green thing."
"And if you will lay hold on every good thing...
ye certainly will be a child of Christ."  Moroni 7:19
What kind of fruits are smiling at you?

A friend from Nicaragua suggested that we count blessings that come in serving. 

In Spanish, we count: 

 1-uno:  a son-in-law* scoring remarkably high on a state nursing entrance exam, 

2-dos:  another son-in-law being offered a day shift after years of night shift and many prayers for time with his children;  3-tres: a daughter having three choices of assistant teacher positions after walking away from a lucrative job where she would have little family time;

4-cuatro: four new grandchildren, three in Seattle, another hoping to join three siblings in Utah; 

 5-cinco:  five cheers for a completer of one of the longest RAGNAR runs in the Northwest Passage;

 6-seis: six busy family business helpers with a profiting bed store in Washington; with time to coach reading packets and home learning along with scouting cub day camps or Girl Scout overnights with new daughter ready to join the fun, swaddled in cotton. Amazingly, they attest to have "Quality Sleep!"


7-siete: seven people in an airforce apartment, to laud a pilot graduating in October;     

8-ocho: eight grandchildren starting school of various kinds;  


 9-nueve: nine kudos to a bridge designer championing light rail amid Puget Sound congestion;                                                                            
 10-diez: ten deep breaths at the begining of a senior year featuring concrete design, hydraulics, Zumba, yoga; 

11-once: eleven votes of confidence to appreciate a competent lab technician (with two high fives for helping--and an extra clap to second the motion--after we have lived first hand effects of  nonfriendly cultures.)                                                                  
 12-doce: twelve hoorahs for relative health, in bodies, spirits, immediate families.  
And more we see as we open our eyes!


Sharing art, letter, love-- and "looking" with you!!
from your Guatemala Cobán mission fan club
Mom, Dad, Grandma, Grandpa, Sister and Elder Starkey

*This week, the words of Lehi struck me--when he called the spouses to his daughters "my sons, who are the sons of Ishmael."  This is 
exactly how we think about the spouses to our children!  Children to good parents, but ours, nonetheless!

**Also, I received permissions to share the three above stories...waiting to hear if there are any corrections.  Anxious to hear yours!