Sunday, December 18, 2016

Medical Trip to Manila

Here is our wish for you!  Merry Christmas From the Mindoro Zone.

Look at our sweet sisters

Only in Manila would you see remembrance of the Savior on top of sky scrapers.  They are there year round not just at Christmas.  During our four days there last week we were surrounded by angels.  The Spencers from the mission home drove us there.  Driving in Manila is not for sissies and since we hadn't driven there before they made the five hour round trip to take us.  We were taken to the Missionary Recovery Center (MRC) located across from the temple and welcomed by Elder and Sister Peel, the senior couple.  We were taken to  a beautiful room, offered food and a tour of the MTC.  We were taken care of by Elder Laceste who drove us to appointments, took care of getting approval from our insurance and stayed with us to interpret when needed.  In the Philippines there is no such thing as a doctor's appointment so you sit in the line at the clinic.  We were four hours waiting but when we finally got in, the doctor was impressive and kind.  He arranged to have the imaging for my eye for the next day (instead of the next week) and shuffled his schedule to give me my treatment the day after.  We were able to attend the temple and loved being with the young missionaries who were there. To top it off, Elder and Sister Howard made the five hour round trip to take us to our car at the mission home.

Elder Peel had a very busy schedule but took the time to drive us to the American Cemetery Memorial.  It was an amazingly beautiful, sacred place.  

Those of us who weren't alive during WWII need to be reminded of the history and enormity of  the sacrifice of so many.


Looking out at the grounds.

Elder Bellessa is noting the inscription for his relative, Glen Viano, who died when his plane was shot down in 1942.

There are more than 78,000 individual names in the Memorial of those who died.  The names include 17,000 Filipino guides.  There are 20 sets of brothers who were killed, including the five Sullivan brothers.   They were the subject of a movie "The Sullivans".

It is in the middle of Manila's prime real estate.  We were so thankful to have been able to be there and experience the magnitude of sacrifice and to honor those who gave their all.

This is a beautiful sight in more ways than one.  It meant we were going to get on a boat to ferry across to Mindoro.  We had spent ten hours waiting in line in our hot car. (no water, bathroom or food)  When we drove to the pier we saw about a mile long line and were told to get in it since there were no ferries running because of weather but hopefully there would be soon.  Every once in awhile we were able to move forward a few cars so we stuck with it.  We were about to bail when we finally made some headway into the pier where we were met with more lines.  We tried to pretend we were on a road trip.  We read stories and had a lot of time for conversation.   It is times like these Elder Bellessa's good humor and patience really come to bear.

We liked the message on the T shirt ("Not all who wander are lost") of the member in front of us in sacrament meeting.

District Conference in Victoria shows the amazing growth of the church in the Philippines.  The  members are full of faith and appreciation for their membership.  If you look close you can see one "foreigner" with gray hair.

We're going to see Star Wars tomorrow.  Usually when we go to the movies we are the only ones there.  This was "Moana", a first run movie.  We think more people will be there for Star Wars. (You have to look close to find Elder Bellessa).

This was beautiful scene on our morning walk.

We pass this lovely church as we drive to visit the missionaries.  When we see it we know we are almost home.  We've been here almost five months and have yet to see anyone in it.

The Mindoro Capital light show just down the street from our home is quite impressive.  It is fun to take a stroll to see the amazing display and be with the locals.

Here is our surprise Christmas!  A box of goodies from the Barkers which included out favorite treats, vitamins, skin care,  photos and notes from the children, Dallas Cowboy mug, and much, much more!  We can hardly wait to get home each day to have a snack.  Elder Bellessa takes a few gummy worms in his pocket every day.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Twenty Days to Christmas

We received this photo of Lula asking her mother to show her again where we were in the world.  We miss our grandchildren and hope our service will bless their lives.

If we were at home, Sister Bellessa would be spending hours adorning this very large, over the top tree.  It is a labor of love as she places each memory ornament while listening to Christmas music and church talks.

Our mission Christmas tree is simple (very simple) but contains the most important message of all.

These sweet faces are boys from our neighborhood who came to sing us Christmas carols.  They are hoping for a small handout of appreciation.  When they were finished, we thanked them profusely and gave them some coins.  We made sure they knew it was a one time donation but no sooner had they thanked us and left, there were seven more boys coming to sing.  You snooze you lose.  Click to enjoy the sweet Tagalog song.

The closer to Christmas it gets the more elaborate and noteworthy the decorations become.  This very large tree is made entirely of Sprite bottles.  There is a light inside each bottle which will make quite a show at night.  We were admiring it from the balcony of the town hall with the Elders and a nice breeze came though bringing welcome cool air.  When we said how wonderful it felt their comment was "Christmas was in the air" because it seemed cold to them.  (at 85 degrees F).

Making use of tires and bottles

On our way through Socorro were amazing and creative Christmas decorations made by each barangay(neighborhood) .  This one made from dried palm fronds and bamboo was particularly beautiful and creative.  At night they are lit up.

 Brother Reyes has been wanting to be baptized for some time but has not had the ability to do so since he cannot walk and attend church.  He couldn't afford a walker but fortunately someone purchased one for him which brought him to the day he had longed hoped for.   He entered the waters of baptism assisted by two of the Lord's servants.

Baptism not far from Pinamalayan Branch building.

Brother Reyes, the newest member of the Pinamalayan Branch.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Hope Springs Eternal

This is the sad tale of the little dog who loved us (or hoped we would feed it):  It was so skinny and sick it would slip between the bars of the gate and sleep beneath our car or at our front door.  It was so weak it could hardly walk and was covered with fleas and skin disease.  It was the hardest thing ever not to feed it.  We were told not to get close or touch dogs because of the health hazard it posed.  One day it didn't come and we haven't seen it for a whole week so we supposed it died.  What a hard thing it was to see it suffer.  Elder Bellessa knew he could be in trouble when Sister Bellessa started referring to the dog as "our dog".

The Stratford kids will be surprised to see that there is a whole aisle at the store just for different kinds of Mentos.  These candies are what Grandma Stratford gave them during church to keep them quiet.

The Tagalog translation is "Have a good time."

A daytime image of the Capitol Christmas Tree.

This Mindoro South District Meeting photo includes three of our new Elders.  To Elder Bellessa's right is Elder Jalova.  To Sister Bellessa's left Elders Duque and Yagomyom.  It takes us a while to learn how to pronounce the missionary's names.  To the right of Elder Jalova is Elder Fransico.  When Elder Fransico introduced his companion he said they were " the small and terrible elders from Pinamalayan" meaning that while they weren't very tall, they were mighty (and they are).

We had been planning on a very quiet Thanksgiving just the two of us but received an invitation on Tuesday to come to the mission home to share Thanksgiving dinner with the other senior couples.  President and Sister Mangum were in Manila for an area mission presidents training so Sister Spencer volunteered to do the food.  We were so happy at the thought of being with friends we love and admire.  President and Sister Mangum were able to join us as well.  We got to the Calapan pier in plenty of time so Elder Bellessa took a walk and ate some peanuts purchased from a vendor going car to car.

We appreciate the huge statue of the Savior watching over the pier and the usual prayer offered on a video as we depart.  When we arrive we are always met by these greeters.

Here is our group of senior missionary couples as well and President and Sister Mangum.  We feel so blessed to be serving with such wonderful friends.  Sister Spencer (front row on the end to my left) graciously volunteered to cook the meal which was delicious.  We loved visiting and sharing our love and adventures as well as seeing how our transferred elders and sisters were doing in their new areas.  We were served a delicious breakfast on Friday morning then made our way to the Batangas pier for our trip home.  When we got there we were told there would be no ferry that day and  perhaps none the next day because of a typhoon on Mindoro.  We had to go back to Batangas to find a hotel and spent the night (which was a treat).

King size bed, CNN, hot water, internet, very posh.

We got to the pier early Saturday morning...holding our breath, hoping the ferry was running and that we would get on.  This fellow standing next to our car presented a perfect image.  We're not sure where he got that shirt but thought it was appropriate for our circumstance.  Thankfully we got on the boat and made our way home.

Saturday evening we were able to teach our English class in Baco.  On our drive there we saw flood waters and raging rivers.  When we spoke to our class, we asked if anyone had been affected.  One of the girls said her home had been flooded up to their chests.  The water came all of a sudden, probably from a breached dike.  She was very matter of fact about it and said they had known the typhoon was coming so they moved everything to higher ground.  In her case, they had a second story and didn't seem to be worried.   She shrugged her shoulders and just said it would be okay but a lot of work to get their home clean again from the mud that would be left behind (photo from Google Images of a previous flood).  Resilience is one of the great qualities we admire in people we meet and observe in the Philippines.

Monday, November 21, 2016


How better to greet the Thanksgiving Holiday than to add a photo of a local turkey.

Don't "pig out" too much.

We are celebrating the 60th anniversary of  Mindoro Oriental.  Instead of floats as we would have in the US, there are about twenty five clever displays honoring different countries from around the world.  At night they are all lit up and quite fantastic.  As you can see, here is the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty (holding a Christmas gift), and the Empire State Building.  

My weekly chronicle of pop bottle creations. This twenty foot high tree is made with Mountain Dew bottles  Check out the musical instruments from a video we took in the city of  Socorro

The crowning decoration at the Mindoro Capital is this beautiful tree.  It is decorated with large stars of different colors that are made from bamboo then covered with various colors of plastic with a light inside.  We wish we could bring some home..but alas they wouldn't fit in our suitcase.

Elder Bellessa had minor surgery to deal with an ingrown toenail.  When he was waiting for the doctor in the operating room he spied this poster and hoped the doctor was going to give him a drug to deaden the pain.  Gratefully the doctor told him it was okay and a local was given.  Some drugs we are thankful for.

There is a neighborhood not far from our house that has intrigued us as we've gone by.  There is just a driveway in but  the number of meters at the entrance, indicated many homes were tucked back in among the vegetation. We hesitated going in since it seemed "guarded" by these rather intimidating men.  We were brave and walked up to them.  When we asked if we could take photos they were totally friendly and wanted to talk.  All the little children ran away since someone like us probably hadn't come before.  The women also disappeared.  

The men all gathered together and had a good time getting their photo taken, especially when we told them how guapo (handsome) they were.

We often see men carrying and petting their special roosters.  Cock fighting is a very big sport here.  We imagine if your rooster was able to earn you some money he would have the right to be strutted around town to show your friends.

A boy with his homing pigeon:  This is a hobby we've become aware of.  While we were there this young man threw the pigeon in the air then clapped his hands for it to come back.

Here is our newest arrival, Sister Masangcay.  She is fresh from the Mission Home and full of enthusiasm.  She is a college graduate and speaks English very well and is adorable.  Six new elders also came off the boat on transfer day.  We'll be able to get acquainted with them starting this week.

 Elder Reyes and Elder Mesias are in the mission van on their way to their next areas.   They have a special place in our hearts.  So hard to see them go.

We have a strong bond with Elder Labastida who was transferred to a new area and is waiting for his visa to the North Denver mission.  He has been on Mindoro ever since we came and there were a few tears as he left.  He is an amazing young man who has endured more hardships in his life than any of us can imagine.  He will still be on his mission when we get home so we plan to see him then.  We won't be seeing most of these missionaries again since they are from far flung areas of the Philippines but we hope we can keep in touch by email or FaceTime.

Elder Acedilla (purple tie) is sitting between his and Elder Pocong's two wonderful converts.  He is home with his family now but reports he is reading his scriptures and offering prayers and looking for the right bride to take to the temple.  We think he gave away most of his clothing to the new converts because both are planning on missions.

A happy ending to our week was seeing the Sosa family at church.  They live a considerable distance from the chapel and find it difficult to attend because of the lack of transportation.  The father works construction in Manila and was home for three days so they came together.  We love the Sosas and enjoy being their home teachers.