"A man filled with the love of God is not content with blessing his family alone, but ranges through the whole world, anxious to bless the whole human race." Joseph Smith

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Earthquake in Nepal

On Saturday, April 25th, 2015, a violent 7.8 earthquake struck near Kathmandu, Nepal, destroying thousands of lives, ancient buildings and heritage sites, homes, infrastructure and communications.Buildings crumbled into heaps of stones and bricks, large cracks destroyed roads, and a deadly avalanche crashed down on climbers preparing for the trek to Mt. Everest.

There is a small LDS church congregation in Kathmandu, the only one in Nepal (pictured right).We have one senior missionary couple in Nepal, and no young missionaries. Elder and Sister Valentine were contacted by the Mission President in New Delhi, India, as soon as possible following the quake. Elder Coffey and I were also able to reach them via Skype very briefly. Their apartment has sustained considerable damage and it is not safe for them to remain inside.  They, with tens of thousands of others, fled to the streets where they set up temporary shelter.  The Valentines found refuge near the church building, which may also have some damage, and were camping outside near the church with food and water. To the left is a photo of the Valentines (standing) with the Wasuitas, seated, who completed their mission several weeks ago.There was no electricity and their batteries were getting low, so communication ended at that time.

Today we heard from them that they are now at the US Embassy in Kathmandu.  We believe all the members of the church in Kathmandu are also safe.  What a tragic, horrific experience for the people of Nepal, as well as for the Valentines. We sorrow for the loss of life.  Elder Coffey and I were just in Nepal last November.  It was a wonderful place!!  We mourn for the suffering that will continue for months and years as they begin again to rebuild their beloved homeland.

As is usually the case, there is a tremendous outpouring of supplies, support, and assistance coming in from all over the world.  We are grateful that LDS Charities will also be able to send in assistance as soon as possible.  Many of the world heritage and cultural treasure sites have crumbled into heaps. In November we visited Swayambhunath temple, also known as Monkey Temple, one of the most famous temple sites in Nepal, pictured below.  It now lies in ruins.  I don't have any earthquake photos, and don't want to use any copyrighted images from the Internet.  But I've included some we took when we visited in November.
Swayambhunath Temple was one of the most famous temple sites in Nepal.

Swayambhunath Temple, now  lying in rumble
and ruins following the earthquake.

The view from the Valentine's apartment where we stayed in November.
  Many of these homes, typical of homes in Nepal, sustained significant damage from the earthquake.
Update:  We received this from our humanitarian couple on Monday, April 27th: Note - in Nepal our members attend worship services on Saturday, rather than Sunday.

"Saturday, April 25, in Nepal the Lord watched over His saints. The tender mercy when the 7.9 earthquake hit was the members of the Kathmandu branch were sitting together in the chapel having sacrament meeting. Being together made all the difference. For a very small branch in a city with 4 million people, being together at the time the quake hit meant they knew who was safe immediately. Communication in Nepal is often spotty at best so this information was critical. The members evacuated the chapel and huddled together away from the buildings. The members sang hymns as non-member neighbors lingered near by drawing comfort. The priesthood organized others to find those who were absent. By the end of the day, the saints were accounted for and sent home to be with families or friends. Elder and Sister Valentine, the welfare missionaries, were with the branch and safe. The branch buildings received minor damage, but are still standing. Tremors and after shocks have continued. Nepal has endured 1000's of deaths throughout the nation and sustained massive destruction. They will need international disaster relief. Please continue to pray for Nepal and especially for the welfare of the little Kathmandu branch."
Elder Valentine and I are fine - tired, mosquito bitten from a night spent outside, dirty from no shower and no change of clothes, but we are safe and well taken care of here at the embassy. I have no desire to return to our apartment but we will go quickly to get some clothes.The rest we will leave. There is perishable food all over the floors and in the refrigerator, but we dare not stay long enough to clean it up. I know the Lord watches over us, but he does not expect us to be stupid. So we will spend minimal time in the apartment. Thanks for helping us."

Friday, April 24, 2015

Half Way Through Our Mission

Wheelchair distribution in Nepal
Our humanitarian work takes on many dimensions.  LDS Charities has major initiatives or types of projects that are its signature programs:  wheelchairs, clean water and sanitation, vision, maternal-newborn care, and agricultural production. These have been shown to be among the most universal needs throughout the world.  In addition, LDS Charities helps with immunization programs, asthma training and other health-care related programs.

Experts called Technical Specialists are called in for short term assistance and training in these projects, working closely with the in country couples. Technical Specialists are people who are skilled in a specific field, who are usually still employed, but who volunteer their time to travel to various countries to lend their expertise and guidance.  You can volunteer to be a Technical Specialist even if you are still working and have kids at home – what a great way to give of your skills to those in need around the world! Click HERE to learn more!

Blind student working at the specialized
 JAWS computer program in Nepal
Besides these major initiatives, LDS Charities volunteers can also do local specialized projects.  In Thailand and Myanmar, for example, LDS Charities donates thousands of mosquito nets to school children in rural villages, thus helping to stem the tide of malaria and dengue fever.  In Nepal they are helping with bio gas digesters for fuel and heat, and partnering to teach blind people how to use the computer and then find employment.  In Myanmar and Lao, at the request of the government ministries, they are teaching English to government employees, helping prepare the country to join ASEAN and better develop their economies.  With most of our humanitarian projects, LDS Charities strives to teach principles of self reliance so that those on the receiving end can better provide for themselves and their communities.

Our job in the Area Office is to work with the humanitarian couples who live in those countries – helping them develop their projects, get them through the approval process for funding, and help to provide support and expertise.

Weekly Area Welfare Team Meeting - working to approve all those
humanitarian projects that our in country couples keep sending us!!!

We also do a lot of research – finding needs in the countries and how we can best support the local governments with their objectives.  It’s a busy job!  And lots of fun , too, actually. We develop special projects, make all kinds of presentations to Area leaders, and really enjoy working with the in country couples. We have amazing couples in India, Nepal, Myanmar, Lao, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and other countries.  And we nearly always have openings!  We need someone right now in Mongolia  and Nepal – want to sign up?

It’s always something new in the humanitarian world!

And not to forget the amazing branch we serve in - the Peninsula 3rd!  What an awesome group!  We love them!
Elder Coffey serves in the Branch Presidency with President Collins, Elder Wilson (1st counselor)
 and Elder Crockett (Branch Clerk)

Elder Coffey and I are half way through our mission!  We celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary on April 22nd.  Life has been a great journey!

Teaching English to a room full of people in Myanmar

Handing out newborn kits to new mothers in Myanmar
Handing out newborn kits in Myanmar

A new mother in Myanmar waits patiently for her newborn kit.

Monday, April 6, 2015

If a Man Die, Shall He Live Again?

Easter is a federal holiday in Hong Kong, thanks to British colonization and influence over the years. Other than not going to work, very little recognition of the "holy day" is seen.  But on the 15th day following the spring equinox, which this year is also on Easter, or April 5th, is the very popular Qing Ming Festival - or Tomb Sweeping Day.  Millions of people who have fastidiously avoided cemeteries throughout the rest of the year will gather to pay their respects on this most special day. 

Graves will be swept, weeds removed, and the family might bring paper money, cars and other items, as well as food to offer to the deceased. After the gifts have been offered, the family will often eat the food right there as at a picnic, a way to celebrating together with their loved ones.

In cultures around the world, people find ways to pay respects to their dead.  Some believe in an after-life in a glorious place.  Others believe in reincarnation.  Some do not believe in life after death. Some fear an after-life in a place of fire and demons.  

As thousands of Chinese pay their respects to loved ones carefully interred in tombs, the Easter message is about one tomb that is empty. For this we are grateful - the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that this world has a Savior, that there is a victory over death and over hell, that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was resurrected - leaving behind an empty tomb and heralding in the great answer to life's most imposing question - "If a man die, shall he live again?" (Job 14:14)

We celebrate with Christians all over the world the glorious message of Easter - Click on the link He lives!  to see a video of our Easter testimony.  And because He lives, we will also live again. And on that day, all graves will be empty. 

In a part of Hong Kong called Happy Valley, cemeteries abound. The early fathers originally wanted to build a major city center there, but the swampy land was a breeding ground for malaria, and many people died.  The land was thereafter designated for cemeteries.

So one Saturday, Elder Coffey and I did the Cemetery Walking Tour – visiting the Jewish Cemetery, Hong Kong Cemetery, Parsee Cemetery, St. Michaels’ Catholic Cemetery, and the Islamic Cemetery. 

Jewish Cemetery - Many thousands of Jews were able to flee to Shanghai during World War II.  From there many eventually came to Hong Kong. As we walked the rows of graves in the Jewish Cemetery, we were intrigued about the line up or piles of little stones found on many of the graves. A little research explained that this is a tradition of ancient date.  Visitors will place a stone on the grave as a way of saying "I still remember you" or "I am thinking of you."  What
a sweet tradition, for when other visitors come, they can see the piles of stones and know that this person has not been forgotten. Jewish Cemeteries will often have a small basket filled with stones so that visitors can use them when visiting loved ones and friends.
Jewish Cemetery

Rocks are also used in Chinese cemeteries. A common tradition among many Chinese is to take paper money or "joss paper" and set it on the tomb with a rock to hold it in place.  You can find rocks on many of the tombs where last year’s offerings have worn away from rain, weather and wind. Note the rock on the top of this tomb.

Notice all the rocks with faded paper remnants under them from last years remembrances.

Today, bodies typically can only remain buried for 7 years or so.  After that, they are dug up (in the cities, professionals are called in to do this), and the remains are cremated and interred in small niches.  There isn't enough space to allow very many permanent graves, although with enough money one can still find a permanent resting spot.

In many of the temples, walls are lined with small niches where the remains of loved ones are remembered with red paper, flowers, fruit, snacks and incense.  It is believed the food and remembrances will assist their loved ones on the other side.  While many people follow this belief, many also no longer believe the spirits can use these items, but still continue to offer traditional respects.  To pay honor to your parents and ancestors is of prime importance. 

In older times, the remains of loved ones would be exhumed after the customary number of years, and the bones cleaned.  These were then placed in large urns with a lid on top, and placed where they can be venerated for years to come.  Elder Coffey and I, on a recent hike on the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail, came upon these urns on the outskirts of a very remote village.

Bones are carefully placed inside for safekeeping.  

The age old question that has haunted mankind since the dawn of civilization - "If a man die, shall he live again?" has been answered clearly and eternally.  The Savior Jesus Christ suffered for all of us, died and was resurrected - the first to break the bands of death.  And through His matchless love, He gives to every man, woman and child the free gift of immortality.  We, too, will live again.  We will at some point be resurrected, with a new, glorious, perfected body, to live forever.  And through His Atonement, that life can be a glorious one in the presence of Heavenly Father.  How grateful we are for the matchless gift of the Savior's Atonement!  Happy Easter from Hong Kong!

Parsee Cemetery:  The Parsee (or Parsi) is a group of believers from Iran who follow the Zoroastrian faith.  They emigrated to India between the 8th and 10th centuries to escape religious persecution, and a few later found their way to Hong Kong. There are only several hundred in Hong Kong today. Their belief in the eternity of the soul is reverently celebrated by the beauty of their cemetery.  

Parsee Cemetery

Hillside in the country with typical
horse-shoe shaped tomb sites.
Family paying respects to their loved ones.