Friday, December 30, 2011

Dinosaurs in Sousa!

Vale dos Dinossauros, Sousa, Paraiba

Sousa's claim to fame is an attraction just north of town called "Vale dos Dinossauros" where footprints of dinosaurs were preserved in stone. The valley was declared a state monument and has a small visitors' center and pathways to observation points where you can clearly see the dinosaur tracks. There are dinosaur replicas throughout the park and in the visitors' center.

Sousa is proud of this unique monument. There are references to dinosaurs all over the city. There are dinosaur bakeries, auto shops, stationary stores, candy stores and every other kind of business you can imagine. There are also dinosaur statues in parks and dinosaur paintings on the sides of buildings.

All of the missionaries in town - 2 Elders, 2 Sisters and the Petrie's decided to visit the park on a
P-day. It was fun and educational. It was great fun for us to watch the missionaries react to the things we saw there.

At the Visitors' Center
Sisters Heygood & Bee, and Elders Walton & David
Sharing a refreshing drink of coconut water

Elder Walton sleeping with the dinosaur
Missionaries with our grizzled guide

Tracks! Who was here?

Sisters exploring the tracks.

Our Guide feeding the small monkeys.

Careful - they bite!

Lunch after the adventure.

Since this is Sousa's main attraction, it will probably be our most adventurous P-Day. The normal P-Day is a morning of cleaning, washing, shopping and e-mail.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christmas in Sousa

The celebration of Christmas will certainly be different for us this year. Here the trees (all artificial) are small, the decorations are few and the focus is on a dinner Christmas Eve, not on opening presents on Christmas day. There will be an activity at the church Christmas Eve where Steve will be Papai Noel, we've been invited to lunch by a family Christmas day and we'll have the 4 missionaries in Sousa over for dinner Christmas evening. Of course we miss our children and grandchildren especially at this time of year. And we miss our dear friends a neighbors as well.

Our Sousa Christmas Tree - decorated with photos of all the family.

The meaning of Christmas hasn't changed, however, in spite of the difference in cultures and being thousands of miles from home.
Christ is the focus of Christmas.
The Christmas Tree reminds us that Christ is the Tree of Life; the gifts remind us of the greatest gift of all - the atoning sacrifice of our Savior. The lights on the tree help us remember that He is the Light and Life of the world.

His Atonement is infinite - it blesses every person who ever lived or will live. He overcame death - we will all live again as resurrected beings, never to die again. He opened the door for us to return to live with Him and our Heavenly Father by suffering for our sins and offering all mankind the opportunity to repent and obey His commandments and receive the ordinances of exhalation.

His Love is infinite - it touches every person unconditionally. His love is the source of all love which blesses our relationships with our families, our friends and all mankind.

At this Christmastime we express our profound gratitude for all our blessings - for each other, for our family, for our friends, for the people we serve in Brazil and the privilege of serving them, and for our loving Heavenly Father and His divine Son, our Savior and Redeemer.

Here is a video we want to share:

Best wishes for a wonderful Christmas!
Steve and Carol Petrie

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Seting up housekeeping in Sousa

Since having a car is essential for us to complete our assignment and the paperwork to get a car isn’t complete yet, Sister Hall graciously loaned us her car to return to Sousa to find a place to live and go to work.

We left for Sousa the morning of November 17th. It took us a little more than six hours to make the trip that President Hall drove in a little less than five. I haven’t developed the aggressive driving style yet that is required to make good time on the road in Brazil.

We booked a room in the hotel, but only had 2 days to find a place to live and move in as every hotel room in town was booked beginning Sunday. The Zone Leaders in Sousa, Elder Walton and Elder David had been looking for a house or apartment for us. No houses were available, but they had 3 apartments for us to see. The first 2 didn’t work out, but the third was acceptable: 2 bedrooms, 2 baths (shower, sink and toilet ) a nice sized living-dining area and the largest kitchen of the 3 places. The kitchen is very small, but larger than most. The apartment was just bare walls – no furnishings at all: no closets, no shelves – just bare walls and tile floors. It’s on the third floor of the building – no elevator. We’ll get good exercise walking the stairs.

Since we were going to have to leave the hotel, we went on a mad shopping spree to make the apartment habitable. The Elders were angels, taking us to stores they had scoped out. In 2 days we bought a bed, a stand-alone closet, chairs, refrigerator, stove (with bottled gas to make it work), kitchen armoire, cupboards, table, bottled water dispenser, 2 air-conditioning units, a clothes washer and a host of miscellaneous items. We contracted for Internet service, for power and for people to install the air conditioning, electricity and plumbing for the clothes washer. We’re in. A different lifestyle for sure, but we’re in.  

Kitchen - fridge, water cooler, cabinets & clothes washer

The only hot water in the apartment - a 220 volt electric shower head!

We’re comfortable here and grateful for the apartment. One surprise – we rented the apartment in the evening when it was dark. In the daylight we discovered it is next to a drainage canal with 18 inches of water and lots of garbage whose unpleasant odors only make it to the third floor occasionally. We also have unexpected visitors – small frogs about the size of a half-dollar (remember half-dollars?) that climb walls and show up at night in the kitchen or bathroom. We seem to get one or two a week. We named the first one Freddy, but now just remove them from the apartment.

View from our 3rd Floor Balcony - Drainage Canal - not exactly riverfront property!
Unexpected visitor!
  The best thing about being in Brazil are the people. They are wonderful. They are open, generous and very friendly. People we have met in the stores are anxious to help and anxious to please. The members of the church are fabulous. They are devoted and work hard in their church callings. They walk long distances to church – no one has a car, a very few have motorcycles – and serve one another. We’re privileged to be serving with them.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Back to João Pessoa - training & paperwork

We spent three days in João Pessoa and one day in Natal with President and Sister Hall in a training meeting with the missionaries in the state of Rio Grande do Norte. It was exciting to be with a large group of dedicated missionaries and see their enthusiasm and devotion to the work. In João Pessoa we received excellent training from the Assistants to the President and other office staff. We also received orientation from Sister Hall, which was very helpful.

With Elder Dellrie from Gilbert - an Assistant to President Hall

Elders Kawai and Dellrie - Assistants

Elders O'Very and Ribeiro - Exec Secretary and Financial Secretary

With President & Sister Hall
 We had to go to the Federal Police offices to validate our visas, get fingerprinted and receive official identification papers. Then there was another trip to a federal office to get a CPF card which is roughly the equivalent of a social security card. You can’t buy anything of significance in Brazil without this card. Those two tasks took a full day. Government operations here make our government offices look like a well-oiled machine. We also made a stop at the largest store in João Pessoa which is like a Wal-Mart, except the price for everything in Brazil is 2 to 3 times the price in the US. A rude awakening, for sure.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Our first view of Sousa - Home for the next 18 months

Still not adjusted to the time change and the 30 hour trip, we got up early for the 5 hour drive to Sousa to see the area where we will be spending the next 18 months. The exciting ride kept our knuckles white and our eyes wide awake as we saw President Hall deal with the chaotic race through the countryside to Sousa.

Sousa is in the Brazilian Sertão – the semi-arid area of the far Northeast of the country. No jungle, but plenty of heat. This part of the country is completely different from the south of the country. The standard of living is much lower, the infrastructure less developed and the cities and towns are more like Mexico than the European-like south. After checking into a hotel, we spent the day without success looking for a suitable house or apartment to rent. We went to the church – a beautiful modern chapel as nice as any in the US. Two branches meet here and it is the office of the Sousa District that includes two branches – one about an hour west in Cajazeiras and one about an hour east in Pombal.

View of Sousa countryside from our hotel room

On Sunday we left early for another town – Pau do Ferros – where President Hall organized a group, designating a member as the group leader. The group is supervised by a branch in Sousa and can hold Sacrament meetings and administer the sacrament. About 40 people attended, even though there are only about 10 members there. There are a lot of interested people and the expectation is the church will grow quickly there and soon be an independent branch.

Some members at organization of Pau do Ferros Group

Wrong turn! We ended up way off the highway on the way back.

We raced back to João Pessoa after the meeting so President Hall could attend a leadership meeting there. Two hectic but exciting days.

Flight To João Pessoa, Paraiba, Brazil

We left Phoenix early on the morning of November 3, flying from Phoenix to Miami to São Paulo and then to João Pessoa, our mission headquarters. It was a grueling 30 hour trip including layovers. It wasn't all bad – there were some great highlights. When we arrived in São Paulo and the people saw our missionary badges, they hustled us to the shortest lines and quickest way through customs. As we exited customs and walked into the public area we were greeted by a representative of the church who immediately helped us with our luggage and our transfer to the local airline. He really took care of us, making sure our papers were in order and that we were comfortable. 

While we were waiting we were delighted to see Elder David Bednar of the Quorum of The Twelve as he left his flight. He was accompanied by his wife and by Elder Godoy of the Brazilian Area Presidency. We were able to greet them and shake their hands and receive a big abraço from Elder Godoy.

We flew from São Paulo toC with a change of planes in Brasilia, finally arriving in João Pessoa late the evening of Friday, November 4. We were greeted by President & Janis Hall – what a pleasure to see them! He was our Stake President and they are good friends. They are an incredible team as they lead this mission. I don’t know anyone who works harder. They are loved by the missionaries and have really moved the work forward here. They took us to their home where we will be for the next few days.

How are we going to get all this luggage in the car??

After 30 hours - no sleep, no shave - but happy!
João Pessoa at night from the Hall's apartment

João Pessoa - in the morning. We won't be working here.

Missionary Training Center - Provo, UT

Our week at the Missionary Training Center in Provo was hectic – but fabulous. We flew to Salt Lake City from Phoenix on Halloween and stopped at the Bangerter’s home in Alpine for a quick visit with Sister Bangerter. President and Sister Bangerter presided over the Brazilian Mission when I served my first mission there in 1961-1963. We had a great visit with Sister Bangerter and she shared a lot of information about the history of missions in Brazil with us.

We arrived at the Missionary Training Center about 11 o'clock and were checked in with great efficiency and shown to our room. The accommodations for senior missionaries are wonderful with very new modern rooms.  After getting her missionary badges we met with volunteers who checked our paperwork and gave us a brief orientation as to the events for the week. Each day included to large sessions with all of the senior missionaries and several classes for smaller groups. There were more than 80 senior missionaries in our class who are assigned to various responsibilities in all parts of the world. For many this was not their first senior mission – as a matter fact one sister there was reporting for her eighth missionary assignment!

We were with three other couples during our small group training sessions and we quickly became good friends. The training was given by young recently returned missionaries and was excellent! The classes were focused on material in the Preach My Gospel handbook and included the preparation and giving of lessons from the handbook.

Our MTC District - Steffans, Tiffanys, Petries, Sherwoods

The five days were inspiring and motivational. It was wonderful being around the other senior missionaries and all of the young missionaries who were there as well. It felt like we had stepped out of the real world about halfway to Heaven.