Thursday, September 26, 2013

Alone but not alone...

Many, many changes here. Our old Paraiso congregation is doing well. The awesome thing about serving in a foreign language is that everyone there is there by choice and it makes for an outstanding group of brothers & sisters. Everyone was sad by the sudden cancellation of our congregation but they also want to serve Jehovah as fully as possible so like when an RBC project is finally completed we think “What next?” For all of us the next thing was to attend the English district convention in Merida. Some did decide to forego the cost of attending and chose to attend a Spanish convention in Villahermosa. But for those who did attend it was an opportunity to see old friends and to exchange contact information so as to stay in touch. Lots of group pictures were taken. Lots of hugs. Some tears but not much. The interesting thing was there was an air of excitement…a new chapter in the theocratic lives of many was starting. Some are choosing to return to a Spanish congregation that needs help. Some will be supporting their family in a Spanish congregation. Some are going to help in the indigenous language congregations or in sign language. Throughout the convention the new changes in the English congregations was referred to...very nice to hear and not just have it ignored.

Merida was nice. We stayed with relatives of friends here. It was a very busy household with eight house guests. Wonderful host family, wonderful brotherhood! The convention was held at the assembly hall. We took an ADO bus to Merida from Paraiso and the host family picked us up at the bus station. Merida is a beautiful city with all of the stores you are accustomed to shop at along with traditional local artists/crafters shops in a colonial setting with cobblestone streets.We had thought that we have a low attendance at the convention but it was about 200 more than last year with a high around 900. The drama was the most beautifully costumed drama I have experienced so far. Lots of rain. Very loud on the roof so that the sound volume had to be increased. ADO buses are great! Not at all like the Greyhound. Clean and well run. 

Interesting scene in Merida is---are you familiar with the vendors and beggars who are always trying to sell you something, clean your window or just get a handout when you are stopped at traffic lights in Mexico? In Merida Mennonites sell their cheeses that way!! Strange to see red headed or blonde tall men in overalls and straw hats between the cars! Apparently there is a large Mennonite community in the Merida area.

Most of our Paraiso Ingles congregation are attending a Spanish congregation here in Paraiso who have started a new group in El Chivero which is between Paraiso & Comalcalco. They want to help make the group into a congregation. The territory is rural, in the jungle. We will be working with them in service on Wednesday. For now Robin and I are isolated pioneers in the Villahermosa Ingles congregation. Villahermosa has their meetings on Sunday at 4pm and on Monday at 7:30pm. It is an hour and a half commute for us. We took a bus to our first meetings because there is a huge amount of construction on the highway. They are building a bridge and redoing how the roads run. You can run into construction/traffic jams that can add 30 minutes or more to the commute time. It costs us 40 pesos each to ride the bus one way. Once in Villahermosa we get a taxi to the Kingdom Hall. The friends have given us a ride back to the bus station after meetings. 

Some of you have had some questions regarding the changes in the English field here in Mexico. Sadly we have had to experience the downsizing twice. Our new congregation had to make changes on Monday. This is how they handled it, I hope you find it encouraging and that it helps to answer some questions that you might be asking.

“The Monday night meeting was normal until the How Did We Do Last Year? part. The congregation had accomplished much over the past service year. The brother explained how the goal had changed a little...we are now looking for native English speakers and not people who speak English. 2 Tim. 4:5 So different service activities would be set up including public witnessing using the carts, letter writing on Saturdays, telephone witnessing, witnessing at the airport when flights from the U.S. come in, at English schools, getting referrals of other native English speakers from native English speakers, evening witnessing and during your daily activities whenever you hear English start a conversation with them. Get contact information if possible from the person such as phone number, email address, home address or where they work. This all calls for courage to approach strangers. 2 Tim. 4:17 ...if you hear English find out if they are native speakers and if so, get their contact information The Bro. thanked the 43 publishers for their hard work as seen in the figures for the last service year: 43 publishers, 18,800 hours, 230 books, 300 brochures, 6,200 magazines and 55 Bible studies.

The next part started off with Luke 21:1-4 The Bro. said that all in the congregation were like the their all. To remember that Jesus noticed what she did and he notices what you do. You are all cheerful givers. He referred to Jehovah’s chariot as described in Ezekiel’s vision and that it feels like it took a sharp turn but that is really not the case. We are being told to re-focus. Acts 2:8 It does not mean that the work has been done wrong all these years it is just a readjustment to narrow our focus. He read from a letter that said “deported and those who have learned English are not part of your territory.” So, calls will have to be turned over to the Spanish congregations as well as Bible studies. It does not have to be done immediately but he felt sure all of the changes could be made by the end of October. He said to continue conducting your studies and take someone who will take it over for you. Take someone from the other congregation on your calls to introduce them to the new person. He also said that the letter said “in the vast majority of cases” so there would be exceptions as to turning over calls and Bible studies. The English speaker database will shrink considerably since now only native speakers will be on it, so the need for a large congregation will shrink too. Spanish speaking brothers and sisters are being encouraged to return to Spanish or other fields that need help. He announced that some of the Spanish speakers in the congregation will be asked to stay in the English field if possible but that after meeting the brothers and sisters were asked to meet up with their service overseers to learn who was being asked to stay. It was sad but very lovingly done. The congregation is now made up of only 18 brothers and sisters. 8 are native English speakers from other countries. 10 were asked to stay from the Mexican English speaking brothers and sisters.

Many have asked why we don’t just go to a Spanish congregation? Our directives from the C.O. is to stay in the English. So, for us that means we have to move. We still have not decided on where. We plan to move from Puerto Ceiba at the end of the year. Until then we will have to travel back and forth to Villahermosa for meetings. We will try to do our service here in the Paraiso area.

We have to decide on moving to beach cities or to a city on a mountain that is popular with tourists and ex-patriots. One brother has offered a house he owns as a rental to us. We are pretty sure that we will take his offer. It is a condo with a modern kitchen. Right now we are thinking maybe we would like to try living in an “american style” home in a gated community where we should be able to walk our dogs and not have stray dogs around. If we tire of it we can always move to a regular house in town.

For now we have to work on getting to Argentina. The practical thing would be not to go but we would lose our cost of the tickets and that was big...close to $2,000 dollars. So we will go on a shoestring budget. When we come back we will face the expense of moving.

We are going to have to be creative with our ministry here. We are only allowed to speak to foreigners. We are calling on our old calls and Bible studies letting them know who will be calling on them and that there is no longer an English congregation in the area but there is one in Villahermosa. So Rob and I are alone in service most of the time. We will be stepping over and working with the Spanish on Wednesdays.

We just got a call from the Immigration office and need to be there in Villahermosa on Monday morning at 10am. Robin’s paperwork has been such a headache. I will be so happy when he is done with it if ever. They asked us to take someone who can translate Spanish for us because no one in the office can do that for us and nothing is in English. We are not in Kansas anymore where everything is in English & Spanish!

I had waited to photograph our new home so that I could make some changes. Otherwise you might have questioned our choice. But now I will stop working on it since I am leaving. I had really wanted to put in a vegetable garden.

All in all it is exciting to be part of the changes in the English field in Mexico. We know Jehovah will bless it. We are excited to see how the congregations develop and grow.  We have loved getting to know the friends here in Tabasco both in the English & Spanish field and in sign-language. We love the beauty of Tabasco. We love the people of Tabasco. We have been shown tons of support and lovingly cared for by the friends. This first assignment has not only enriched our lives it has made our love for the brotherhood grow. Most importantly it has helped us to see how time and again Jehovah keeps his promise to care for his people no matter where they are serving in the world. We look forward to the next chapter in our theocratic lives.

Speaking of which, Mexico was invited to apply for international conventions next year in the U.S. Rob and I will be applying but the choices are less than our favorites. We have New Jersey, Texas and Hawaii to pick from and there are only two that will have English all of the others are in Spanish but by then our Spanish should be getting pretty good. We thought since we will be going state side to visit family why not attend one if possible?

Love you!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


How are you? We are doing well. Still adjusting to living here. Life is better with internet and cable with some English stations! I get to the point that I hunger to hear English. The congregation is made up of Mexicans learning English. One sister is from Belize so she speaks with a British accent. One young couple who are on their way back from the U.S. speak English, the wife is from CA and the husband is from Wales. We are divided into two service groups, Comalcalco and Paraiso. We are in Paraiso since that is where we live so it also makes us the only native English speakers in our group. Not being able to hold a regular conversation with our new friends can make us frustrated. Rob may have imagined a new audience for his jokes but it has to wait until they can understand...and many jokes are based on culture so if you do not know the culture you will not understand why a joke is funny. Poor Rob. One of our young pioneer sisters has just become a private English teacher. She giggles whenever we mention it but she reminds us that she only needs to know more than her students and she is right.

Having internet is wonderful because it gives me the opportunity to communicate with all of you but especially with my children and grandchildren! Love chatting with them and hearing how their lives are going. I have not set up Skype yet but I am almost there so keep us in mind if you use Skype.

We feel overwhelmed at times with the amount of interest we find. Rob could be conducting so many more Bible studies if he just had the time.  We are working hard to cover our area searching out English speakers. We go door to door and ask if they speak English. We really do need help!

We have started an English Watchtower study here in Paraiso at the Kingdom Hall here. We have been having an average attendance of around 16, 10 are from our congregation who live here in Paraiso but the extra 6 keep changing each week. If all of them showed up we might have 30 in attendance.  The surprising thing is that there are many more men who would like a Bible study than women. More men speak English. Strange.

We have decided to take a bus to our English convention in Merida in an effort to save money and wear-and-tear on our car. We do lots of driving while in service. We drive to Comalcalco at least twice a week. The topes (speed bumps) and potholes are hard on the car. We would really like to have two cars, a smaller SUV for personal use and travel. The mini-van works well for service and meetings.

We have our special assembly day in November in Tuxla, Chiapas.  We will probably take a bus there too. Chiapas is very green and mountain-y. Beautiful. Tuxla is a large city with familiar stores and restaurants. It should be a fun weekend.

We will be going to Argentina in October for a special convention in Buenos Aires. We are very excited.  We will be seeing some dear friends from Clifton there. It will be nice to see old friends and share new experiences.

It is the rainy time of the year here. Rain almost every day. Our house has a couple of is where an a/c unit that went in the wall was..there is a piece of wood sitting there. Rob had run a bead of silicon around it. It only leaks if there is a heavy downpour.  The rain has mostly happened at night with lots of thunder. Our roof is a laminate so it sounds loud.  I like it. Weeds grow like weeds! I am trying to decide if I want to have grass in the front or gravel.  I will have to research which choice mosquitos like then do the other.

We still like our new home. The neighborhood is friendlier than the last one. Americans are still a sort of rarity here especially to have one just living next door. Some people do not like Americans while others tolerate us but most just respond to friendliness. So if you are friendly they are friendly towards you. Our house is older and has lots of little quirks but all in all it is working out. I now have a 4-burner propane stuffa. I still do my laundry by hand.  Water has to be pumped up to the water tank, tinaco. Electricity is not 100% of the time but more than where we lived before. We can walk to a store and restaurants from here. We also have a library and a mercado where we can buy fresh vegies and such. We can also get rides in a pochi movil. I haven't touched the yard yet but I have plans to have a vegie garden and an herb garden. Bottom line is that we live in a 3rd world country. To be fair, we do believe that just as in the States, it all depends on where you live and we live where people are slow to make changes.

Sad to report, crime and violence has affected us but it is nothing in comparison to what many of you think of Mexico as being. Our car was broken into. Our belongings were scattered all over the floor board. Rob's precious GPS unit was taken. Michelle Garmin. She was very useful in getting around and finding gas stations while traveling. Rob's service "manbag" was taken too. Usually he has his Bible stuffed into it but this time he didn't so happily he still has his Bible. All of our car chargers were taken along with our ipod player that plays through the radio. We aren't sure of what else was taken since we are unsure of what we really had in the car. Our literature was left, sunglasses left, bug repellent left, territory maps left, inhalers left, umbrellas, left. Brown jacket and blue shawl taken. One of our neighbors who grew up in Pasadena and does not have a car now offered her driveway as a place to park.  Our carport is short and the van would block the front door. Right now the car is parked at the neighbors. This experience just reminded us that we must be diligent about locking doors and bringing valuables back into the house when we come home.

We are still dealing with the immigration office. There are people who work as brokers for you with the immigration office. The problem is that it is hard to find them and if you do not speak Spanish it can be extra difficult to locate one. Once in the immigration office you become aware of people who seem to know many who is the brokers greeting their clients. I think you might want to find out how much they charge and seriously think about obtaining their services so that your immigration paperwork can be completed in a timely manner. Since we are trying to save money & put less wear on the car we tried taking a bus to Villahermosa which is a little over an hour away but has lots of road construction going on. Anyway we went on Thursday to pick up Rob's permanent resident card but we were wrong...after our bus ride we have to find a taxi...once there we waited for our number to come up and then we were told that it was not possible to continue working on his paperwork since he still owed another $1,000 pesos. No one had told us. The office closes at 1pm and it was 12:50 so we said that we could not go and come back in come back tomorrow  was the reply. Ughhh So we canceled our service plans. On Friday we headed back out our front door. Catch a bus to get into town and then get the bus to Villahermosa. Before leaving for Villahermosa we went to Bancomer bank and paid the $1,000 pesos...all bills can be paid at banks, the immigration office does not take payments. So we arrived in Villahermosa, got a taxi, got to the immigration office, shocked to see it filled with waiting people...end of the month maybe? Anyway, our turn came up and then we were surprised again. No, they could not accept our payment...the receipt had Robin's Mom's maiden name on it...same as was on the first payment of $3,900 pesos receipt but no, this one was no...they explained that they were wrong to have accepted the first receipt and could not possibly make another error. So we needed to walk to the Bancomer branch about 4 blocks away and get the name changed. They would tell the guard to let us back in. I'm thinking...they could have done this yesterday. So, off we go. Once at the bank there is about a 50 person lane for those without accounts who are just paying for something.  So we wait and stand. Did I tell we did not have breakfast and now no lunch... Our turn! and then it was a "not possible" this was not made at this need to go back to Paraiso and have them change it.  It is 1:30 by now and the Paraiso bank closes at 4pm. Oh, the helpful teller must do this today because only today can this be changed or cancelled. Can they call Paraiso and have them cancel the transaction? Oh no, not possible. I point out that they are the same bank but she points out that she is in Villahermosa and the receipt was done in Paraiso.Rob decides to pay again so that we can go back to the immigration office today. So we pay and we walk back and let the staff know that we could not change it...they still said no, they could not accept it. So, we gave them the new one...they took it and said that Rob would still need to get his fingerprints done ...could they do them today? No, it is not the time for it...25 days  from the day when the receipt is accepted...which receipt? the first one for $3,900 or the $1,000? the staff person says oh, yes, that would be from today when we finished paying. So Rob and I will be going back 25 days from the first one just in case she is wrong. After that Robin will have to wait 2 weeks to get his card. But this is not the end....we race out of the office, get a taxi back to the bus station, get a bus to Paraiso...we run into construction traffic and then heavy rains. We got back to the bank with 8 minutes to spare. There were about 30 people in line. Finally our turn, and, you guessed it, no, not possible you must go to the teller that made we go stand by his window. Our turn, "not possible to do not have an account with this bank" Ughh! we ask questions but still the answer is no not possible. I ask if we can speak with the bank manager. She ignores us but there is a man in an office at the end of the room with a desk and a suit on...the suit only, not the desk. We asked if he was the president of the bank, he responded by asking why we were asking. He spoke English! We told him about our problem and how at no point did Villahermosa say that Paraiso would only refund if we had an account there. He said "no problem, please wait..." He went out and spoke to the teller. Came back and said that because we did not have an account he could not give us cash but had to refund with a check. He took Rob's passport info and had him sign the check and then he cashed it for us! What a day! Then we had to find a bus to bring us back to our home, Puerto Ceiba. We had our first food of the day at 7:30pm. I will be so happy when we are done with immigration. The sad thing is that after we are done with Rob we will start with my immigration status.

Today we ran errands. Found a dry-cleaner who happened to also be a lavenderia...where they do laundry. I had planned to find one to leave my sheets, towels and bedspreads at...these are too heavy and large to do by hand. There are no laundromats in our city or in Colmalcalco. No machines to feed and do your own laundry. Your options are to do it at home or leave it at a laundry place where they will wash, dry and fold for you. You are charged per kilo. We tried out a corner comedor---Lupita's which turned out to be a very nice restaurant that offered regular food and not tacos or pollo asado or empanadas. We paid our rent & cable/internet ...found coffee filters...they are sold next to the irons and small appliances at the grocery store who does not sell coffee makers but does sell coffee but does not place the filters next to the coffee because they belong in the small appliance section  because they are for a small appliance...okay.

We have found out that we are pretty adaptable and resilient. We can change course when necessary and it is often necessary. One surprise is that there is a slight change in weather to make us think that a change is coming...maybe a sort of fall. Decorations are going up all over the place for Mexico's independence day. Last weekend we missed the Oyster festival because we did not know about it and the funny thing is that it was here in Puerto Ceiba! It was only one day, Saturday and we spent it going in service, coming home for Robin to work on the talk he was giving that evening at the kingdom hall, then we went to the kingdom hall and out for tacos! Totally missed the oyster festival! This week we may be getting our windowscreens put in on all of the windows but the two that already have screens so we will be able to have a cross breeze! It will be so much nicer to open more windows. You learn to appreciate simple things like window screens. After Argentina we are planning on working on getting our house together...washing machine, mattress, bed frame, etc. Until then we have that camping feeling while living in our house! complete with a propane stove!

Thats about it for us for now.  Tabasco is beautiful and so is the rest of this area we would love to have you come visit but if you can't please write. Hearing from you on one of our bad days can make such a difference. Love you