Changing of the guard
- The departure of Area President Elder Don R. Clarke and his wife Mary Anne. The Clarkes had been here five years and are headed to Salt Lake City, where as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy Elder Clarke will work with the Missionary Department. We were part of three farewell events with the Clarkes--one a Monday evening dinner and program with senior missionaries at which we sang some silly home-made lyrics to the tunes of Allá en el Rancho Grande, Adios Muchachos, and Cielito Lindo; another event for employees and stake presidents at a local chapel, with an elaborate program; and a lunch with just the Clarkes, Elders Falabella and Martino, Virginia and I, and the two secretaries who work with the Area Presidency. The Martinos are also gone for the month of July, and one of the secretaries is taking vacation time, so it's quieter than usual around the area offices.
- The departure of seven of our fourteen mission presidents and the arrival of seven new ones. We had a one day seminar for the new mission presidents and their wives a week ago.
- A lot of recent stake youth activities for which I've had some responsibilities as a counselor in the branch presidency--mainly to help arrange transportation (including in our car) and to help chaperone.
- My call to continue serving as a counselor in the branch presidency, but with a new branch president, this time a North American brother who is a military advisor to the Guatemalan military, attached to the US embassy.
- Chartering a bus to the El Salvador Temple open house last Monday. It was a very nice experience, despite its taking us about seven hours to get there, due to a nearly two hour wait for an accident to be cleared and a one hour wait to get business attended to at the immigration offices on both sides of the border. The El Salvador Temple is lovely, and seems larger than the Panama Temple, though the ordinance rooms are no more spacious. They are running a lot more people through the open house than we did in Panama, though I think we may have got more comment cards filled out with more referrals, as we were more aggressive in inviting people to write something. Behind the recommend desk in the El Salvador Temple is a very lovely original painting of the Savior with one arm around a Lamanite child and the other around a Nephite child. I hope they print it in a magazine eventually.
- Continuing to work with missionary applications (mainly Virginia), agendas, minutes, applications to the First Presidency, recommendations for new bishops and boundary changes, reports, answering emails, etc., etc., which has enough variety to it that one is never bored.
- Teaching an institute class in English to about 40 returned missionaries who are in an intensive English language course at an institution called FUNVAL, sponsored by an LDS foundation. A local call center hopes to hire all of their graduates. It's fun to have such a large class and to have them as interested and attentive as they are, though the language at times is a bit of a barrier--especially for those with only a month or so at FUNVAL. Virginia interviews the students individually for about twenty minutes (3 per week) to give them additional conversation practice while I'm teaching the others.
- Reading (a little at a time) the book A Land of Promise and Prophecy: Elder A. Theodore Tuttle in South America, published by the BYU Religious Studies Center. As I worked for over a year in Elder Tuttle's office, it was fun to relive experiences from my first mission.
- Getting regularly humbled in my 5 a.m. racquetball outings, though I must mention that I actually won the last game we played yesterday, which must make me ever so briefly the reigning champion (until Friday).
- Following with interest the beginnings of the 2012 presidential campaign, hoping that Mitt Romney continues to do well. At the very least, with both him and Jon Huntsman in the race, there should be a lot of attention focused on the Church for a while!
- Following with at least minor interest the current Guatemalan election campaigns, which are even less civilized than those in the US. Thus far there have been some thirty violent attacks on candidates at various levels. Two candidates for the mayor of a nearby town (Santa Catarina Pinula) have already been murdered (one in a barbershop while Sister Clarke was shopping in the adjoining grocery store, a mile from our place, where we also shop). A third candidate for the office has been arrested for the murder of both. At the presidential level, the wife of the current president divorced him to try to circumvent the law which prohibits a close relative of the incumbent from running, but the supreme electoral court has invalidated her candidacy. She of course is appealing. But she was a fairly distant second in the polls to a former military general, who promises a tough stance against crime but who himself is widely suspected of complicity in some of the massacres which occurred during the country's 36 year civil war. Another eight to ten candidates split the rest of the prospective electorate. Unlike the US, which has two major and rather permanent parties, Guatemala has multiple ad hoc parties, generally springing up for just an election or two. No party in Guatemala has ever won the presidency more than once. They have a preliminary round of elections in September, with runoffs as needed in November. Demonstrations, traffic disruptions, etc., are routine, in addition to the lamentable violence. It should make for an interesting next few months.
- Getting to baptize a new convert sister in our branch, probably because she didn't know anyone else's name, and getting to attend the baptism of our office shoe shine boy, Marcos, whom Elder Clarke baptized.
Santa Fe youth and leaders prior to talent show performance