Saturday, October 17, 2015

New Service Year!

So we are well underway into the new 2015-2016 Service Year.  A lot of things have happened over the past 8 months.

About two months ago we stopped  to get gas and a quick break in service. One of our fellow pioneers gave a man a magazine and he was so appreciative that he gave us his personal recorded CD. Note such classics as Moonshine Woman, I Can't Sell My Truck (For Scrap) and Corn Crazy. Definitely classic Appalachian Bluegrass! Also I don't know if you can make it out, but on the cover of his album the man is holding a rooster!

Our area is teeming with snakes.  This year was a particularly bad year for copperheads and rattlesnakes.  One night after the Thursday meeting there was a young rattlesnake right outside the Kingdom Hall door.  One of our brothers was able to kill it before anyone was hurt.  Mike took it home and skinned it.  We ate the meat, which tasted like a combination of fried chicken and fish.  Then Mike tanned the snakeskin and it turned out remarkably well! 

Kayaking and Hiking with a visiting speaker and some brothers he brought with them.

Friends from Tazewell, VA

Molly & Herb came to visit at our Regional Convention in July.

At the end of July we got to bring our nieces Brooke and Bailey home with us for 2 1/2 weeks.  We spent lots of time in field service, hiking and exploring!

Teaching the girls to skip rocks in the river.

Checking out a large group of butterflies in service.

One of the nine turtles that the girls saved from the roads.

Petting a mini horse.

Feeding our call's goats

Petting a potbelly pig.

The girls got to make their own batch of homemade soap! 

Family Worship night on top of a mountain.

Riding the 4 wheeler

Canoeing with Johnny & Rachelle

At the end of August I had the privilege of attending Pioneer Service School for the second time! What a way to finish out my 10th consecutive year of pioneering.  There were 39 students in my class, with a large number of second timers and three third time attendees. There was a family that had seven members attending Pioneer School together! They made up three generations pioneering! Pioneer School was a much needed booster shot for me, so encouraging and upbuilding! It felt like a warm hug from Jehovah and was just what I needed to keep pioneering. Here's some pictures from our fun week!

My phone got hacked!

Roses were left on all the sister's desks for the section on women. 

These two sisters are mother and daughter.  They hosted me and Lori Walls when we first came and visited WV-1 way back in February 2012.  I remember one discussion we had that they both spoke of regular pioneering as a goal. What a treat to be able to attend Pioneer School with them 3 years later!

This is Derek, he and his wife, Jody, sat behind me in class.

Future pioneers who came to visit their Mom & Dad in class!

This is Sandra. She and her son Louis were in my class and they recently moved to our circuit from Brooklyn!!!!

All the Brothers from our class.
Class Picture

Finally, we went on a little trip to Ft Blackmore, VA to a hiking spot called the Devil's Bathtub.  Its naturally carved out by the constantly running water. What a neat swimming hole!

A few weeks ago we got to hear the review of our congregation activity for last service year.  You might find the statistics encouraging, I certainly did!

Phelps, KY Congregation Statistics:
25 publishers (9 of which are Regular Pioneers)
6 different Auxillary Pioneers during the year
142 Books
2,934 Tracts & Brochures
9,868 Hours
4,749 Magazines
2,876 Return Visits
24 Bible Studies/Month

What an accomplishment for such a small hall!
We get to meet our new Circuit Overseer in just a few weeks.  They are Joshua and Anna Hauser from MD-11 Circuit. Maybe they will know some of the friends from back home! 
I miss all you friends from home dearly! Hope everyone is doing well!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Time Brings Change

It seems as an adult, time is more fluid. I remember when I was a child days were so long, summers were even longer.  Now it seems that time passes so quickly and with no accounting. I believe I have started this post at least 3 times and then lost all progress I had made.... sad  consequences of living in the boonies with super slow/spotty internet.

This new service year marks my 10th year pioneering..... I can hardly believe it has been that long. Pioneering here in Phelps has been some of the best of those years.  Let me tell you about some of our experiences.  I currently have 3 bible studies. My first study is an older woman in her 70s. Her name is Dorothy.  She had 11 children, 31 grandchildren, 46 great grandchildren and 5 great great grandchildren! Can you imagine??? Dorothy is what we would call a 'rough' woman.  She grew up in hard times, raised her kids in hard times and is definitely not dainty.  She normally greets me by kicking open her screen door (its tight and has no interior handle). It has not been uncommon to see a cat go flying out her front door and off the porch.  BUT, even though she is a little rough on things, animals, and in her speech, she has an appreciation for spiritual things.  Her husband was an alcoholic and beat her when he was drunk (which from what I gather was most of the time). Because of what she endured she has seizures, difficulty remembering things and a whole other host of health problems. Some days I can tell it's a bad day when she can't stay focused on the paragraph or forgets her scriptures.  But on the good days she remembers everything we talk about and can reason on it.  It really must be amazing what Jehovah sees in her heart.  With her limitations, we only study 1-2 paragraphs a week in the Good News brochure.  Much more than that and she wouldn't get the information. Through all of this, each week she is ready for her study, has her Bible and brochure by her chair and doesn't care if I wake her up to do her study.  She is quite an interesting woman.

My second study is a 15 year old girl named Kayci.  Our c/o's wife turned her over to me last year as a doorstep study.  During that particular visit last April, our c/o's wife prayed to find someone that was not blown out of their minds on drugs that would be receptive and then she found Kayci.  This young girl is not your typical worldly teenager.  She is very polite, intelligent and respectful.  What teenager do you know that doesn't have some form of a social media account? Kayci doesn't.  She also spends her summers going to visit kids with cancer and play games with them in the hospital (which is 2 hrs away roundtrip). She was not raised going to church or even really reading the Bible.  She knows it's important and has a respect for it as most people in our area do.  I have really enjoyed studying with Kayci. She really reflects and thinks hard on scriptural truths.  Over the past two months as the weather has gotten colder, our study has moved from the porch to inside the house.  Since it has moved inside, her mom has been listening in on some of her studies from the kitchen and on her last study, her mom even sat down in the living room and listened to the whole study. PROGRESS!

I'll save my third study for another post.  Back in September we had the pleasure of meeting up with some friends from the Salisbury, MD area.  They came down to work unassigned territory in the next county over (Floyd County).  From their accounts, they had a wonderful time during their week of special activity.  It truly is refreshing to meet people that have an appreciation for spiritual things.  I'm reminded of that when I go home and interact with people that are apathetic or abrupt.  Anyways, while they were down in the area we got to take them to Breaks Interstate Park. If you can't tell already, it is one of our favorite places down here.  Thank you to our friends who were troupers on an unseasonably cold and foggy September day.  Even though the weather was bad we got to do a little hiking and show them all the gorgeous canyon overlooks.  We topped it off with a visit to our little swimming hole, what we call the Blue Lagoon.  Thanks to all the rain we had gotten that week, we were able to do a little swimming with a few brave souls.  To the Pattersons, Homovichs, Hanleys, and Greg & Lauren, thanks for making the trip, it was awesome to have you guys with us!
I have always wanted to climb on this rock, Mike had to help me do it though.
Treacherous path to the Blue Lagoon
Super Hazen!

On the way to the Blue Lagoon.

In October we had I had the joy/stress of birthing 5 baby bulldogs! That was my first time doing that. For all you mommies out there, I have huge respect for you.  The babies were really dependent on me and their mommy to get them through the first month.  But what a joy it was to see them experience different stages of development. I especially loved the learning to walk stage, but once they mastered walking I was in for trouble.  They learned to escape and to play.  All in all the 2 1/2 months I had with them was tiring but fun! Here's my babies:

In November we had our first one day Circuit Assembly.  Mike had the privilege of giving one of the talks.  We really enjoyed getting to know his participant, Elijah. Mike's talk was about Pursuing Peace as a Young Person.  Let me tell you Elijah's experience, it's amazing.  This young brother is about 16 years old and fairly new to our circuit.  His father was a disfellowshipped witness who later became opposed.  His dad did drugs and would force Elijah to take drugs and even fight with him.  The father became extremely violent to the point that Elijah and his mom feared for their lives.  They had to have the help of the police to be removed from that situation and seek help at a women's shelter.  Two days later, Elijah's father committed suicide.  That's not even half of his story.  So here's Elijah going to a new high school and being confronted by another male student for his beliefs.  What Elijah didn't know was a teacher put the student up to confronting and harassing Elijah and even gave him a list of questions to confront him with.  Apparently the boy repeatedly confronted Elijah to the point where another teacher noticed.  Through it all Elijah remained peaceful and answered the questions from the Bible.  At one point the teacher who instigated all of this kept pressuring the boy to continue his harassment, but the other student refused because he saw that Elijah was peaceful and answered everything from the Bible.  As a result, Elijah got to witness to several other students and place literature with them. 

As a final treat from our Circuit Assembly, the guest speaker was Bro Shinichiro Waki with his wife Yoshiko.  Some of my Rising Sun friends might remember when they came as Bethel speakers a few years ago.  His talks were refreshing, candid and full of spiritual gems.  We also had the pleasure of watching the baptism of a young sister in our hall.  She had been raised around the truth and had studied with her grandmother who is a pioneer in our hall.  Miranda has really shined as a new publisher and is a great addition to our congregation.

with Sister Waki
with our new sister Miranda
A nice thing about the falls and springs here is the rivers swell from all the rainfall and we are able to go kayaking.  It's really a treat to go a few miles down the road and be able to take a nice kayaking trip.

One of the joys of our ministry here in Appalachia is the hospitality and friendliness of the people.  It is a regular occurrence to be invited in, offered food and drink.  We've even received counsel that we should accept a drink or food every once in awhile (apparently some were refusing and we don't want to offend). One morning we were sitting on a man's front porch drinking coffee and talking about the Bible when a doe walked up with her two fawns.  We all got quiet and just enjoyed seeing them walk through the yard.  I sneaked a picture. 

Currently we are snowed in. We haven't had a meeting in a week and a half due to snowy weather and treacherous roads.  We got 18 inches of snow on Monday and another 4 inches are expected today into tomorrow.  The snow is above my knees and most people are having a hard time digging out. To survive through winter we rely on our regular calls and rarely do door to door.  But every day in the ministry is enjoyable.  A bad day in service is better than any good day at work!!

Somewhere under there is my car!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Myanmar Special Convention

Hello All!
Sorry it has taken me awhile to write about Myanmar, but here we go!

As most of our friends are aware, Myanmar was highlighted in the 2013 Yearbook (and in the 1979 Yearbook as well).  What an encouraging experience! I had the privilege of spending two weeks there with one of my best friends, Joanna.  We met so many friends Burmese and foreign. I'll try to provide some of the best highlights.

So we set out on our travels from Washington DC and it took us about 24 hours to get to Myanmar (with 21hrs spent in an airplane). It was the longest series of flights I have ever been on.  Anyways, we arrived in Yangon shortly before 11pm on Friday January 3rd. We were a little haggard, but right on the other side of customs was a young sister holding up a Welcome Jehovah's Witnesses sign! She lead us to a welcoming group of friends that lived locally.  We met an American sister, Kendra who, with her husband, works at Bethel and an Aussie brother and a group of local friends.  We were some of the first delegates to arrive for the convention.  They were so excited to have us there.  Many times we heard that the local friends had been planning and anticipating the convention for a year and they couldn't believe it was finally here.  The greeting parties actually went to class to learn procedure of how to greet us, assist us with any airport issues and transfer us to our hotels.  For many of the friends this involved coming to Yangon about 2 weeks before the convention week.  What a sacrifice for them to give up their work and time preaching at home.  When we finally got to leave the airport for our hotel, I was shocked to see people still walking about, street stalls set up, including food carts and many vehicles racing down the roads.  In Myanmar there are many little trucks(tuk tuk) that they use as transportation, the beds are often filled with people and you jump on and off as they drive around the city.  The buses are also large, and quite packed with people.  Taxis were cheap, so we were suggested to just stick with taxis.  Anyways, we got to our hotel, an older hotel with a lot of carved teak wood. Our room was spacious and pleasant.
The blue signs on the other side of the glass were the welcoming Witnesses

Our hotel lobby

The side street next to our hotel on Independence Day. The crowd was for street Chinlone.

Just a normal street market.

Cleaning the trains at the station

Shanty town as seen from the train.

He hobo'd the train!

Just an average downtown street- electrical wires were always crisscrossed and messy.


Bro Maurice Raj- greeting visitors.

Me, Doris Raj, Rebecca, Jovana

With friends from a local congregation at lunch

Kandawgyi Lake

Playing the scarf game at Kandawgyi Lake

Shewdagon Pagoda (one of the larger Buddhist Pagodas in Asia)

With Sisters from the Myanmar Sign Language Congregation

The baptism candidates 

Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset from Kandawgyi Lake

Petting/feeding elephants

Me and my friend Caiti from Delaware

Downtown Yangon

We got to meet and pose with the sisters from the yearbook cover

Panorama of Saturday at the convention

Some interesting things about the convention and Myanmar:
We couldn't tell any of the customs officials or much less anyone else that we were there for a convention.  In fact, at the convention, the signs that usually have the theme on them said "Bethel Branch Expansion Celebration" instead of 2013-2014 District Convention.  Our name tags just had Jehovah's Witnesses on it.  The branch told us that the government was aware of the convention and permitted it, but we were not to advertise it.  Myanmar had another Special Convention in 2009 at the same location.  In Myanmar the water is not safe to drink and the food is not always bled properly (especially poultry).  So we learned to ask if the meat was properly bled and to ask for bottled water.  The electric can come and go frequently and doesn't have much power as they are not up to speed with the electrical grids/supply that we have here in the States.  I'll have to put up a picture of all the crisscrossing wires that we saw frequently in downtown.  The water usually has to be hand pumped and brought into a person's home daily, so we were spoiled in our hotel with running water, constant electricity and wifi that came and went frequently.  It is not uncommon to lose your water or electric for several days at a time.

The average income of a Myanmar person is $60 US per month.  A teacher makes $100 US per month.  Often the level of education gained is based on a family's income.  If they can afford to send their children to a better school they will.  In Myanmar they only go to school for half the day, either morning class or afternoon class.  Most people don't have cars in Yangon, they walk, take a taxi, bus or the little trucks.  Drivers are required to have a driving license, but there is no such thing as car insurance.  If you wreck and kill someone, you are certainly going to jail. All of this leads up to some crazy driving.  The drivers don't seem to mind the lane markings, don't use turn signals, beep frequently and drive quite erratically.  One day we packed four sisters across a backseat and we went around a curve, hit a bump and the door flew open and Joanna almost fell out.  The taxi driver acted like it was normal, reached back through a window and shut the door and relocked it, all while we were screaming!! :)

On Saturday, Jan 4, we had our first full day in Yangon.  Little did we know that it was their Independence Day.  We decided to walk the streets around our hotel.  We saw many street soccer matches, beer carts, open air food markets (no refrigerated meat).  We frequently saw monks(male and female) walking down the streets. We were definitely a little overwhelmed by the amount of people and the fact that we were stared at wherever we went (staring isn't rude there).  We eventually wound up at the Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the largest Buddhist temples in Asia. After we walked around we returned to our hotel and sat in the lobby for a little while.  We eventually met some Australian friends who were going to be manning the information desk in our hotel and they invited us out with them.  What a wonderful evening getting to know everyone and their spiritual heritages.  We learned that for our friends that were formerly Buddhists and studied to come into the truth, they faced serious family persecution, even being beaten with sticks because they studied the Bible.  Living conditions here are very poor.  Shared sleeping quarters, often on the floor, communal bathrooms, poor electric and water supply, infrequent air conditioning, rats and bugs.

One of our favorite things we did was the Yangon Circle Train. It took us on a 3 hour tour (yes I sang the Gilligans Island theme song).  It took us out of the city and into the countryside.  We really got to see more of daily, average Myanmar life.  We saw many villages and shantytowns, farms, pigs, occasional cows, crop fields and the like. Along the way we got to see a large market at one of the train stops. The fresh produce was really beautiful. We took a few other friends from our hotel with us on the train tour.  Afterwards we were going to take a taxi back to our hotel.  Our taxi driver misunderstood our hotel name and started taking us to the wrong place.  Imagine our shock when we were finally able to convince him where we were to go and he pulled a U turn in the middle of 4 lanes of traffic.  Not to mention we went over some bumpy parts and the side door flew open on the taxi and Joanna almost fell out!!! Meanwhile the taxi driver nonchalantly reached back, shut the door and locked it, all while we were screaming... lol!

A tuk tuk


Fish market

When the power went out


Karaoke Night

Chicken transport

During the week prior to the convention we were able to go on three tour days.  They included touring Bethel, Yangon Zoo, Kandawgyi Lake, Bogoye Market, Shwedagon Pagoda and Downtown Yangon tours.  Each took place with Myanmar friends, some from great distances away.  We got to meet several of the friends that were mentioned when Myanmar was in the 2013 Yearbook. We also got exposed to local culture, foods and practices.  One especially enjoyable night was our Evening Gathering night. It was complete with a program of traditional food, dancing, videos about the expansion in NY, and videos about the friends traveling from different parts of the country to come to the convention.  We were in mixed company with many different Myanmar friends.  They truly know the meaning of hospitality.  We were all asked to join their tables.  By the end of the night I was crying.  One experience that particularly touched me was of an older couple that daily walked 5 hours round trip to their rice fields and then would work there all day, just to try to earn enough money to come to the convention. Through the week we met many other families that traveled for days by foot, car, boat and train.

One of the things you may see in the pictures is the markets.  They have no grocery stores like we do at home.  The average home also does not have a refrigerator.  The electricity is poorly routed and often not enough to supply the demand so outages are not uncommon.  The water supply is usually pumped to a tank and has to be hand pumped and brought into a persons home.  So many luxuries we are used to are not available there.

One other touching little tidbit from the convention, 213 were baptized at the convention.  According to the 2013 Yearbook, that is more than were baptized in the entire previous service year! When we came into the convention center we noticed that there was a long line around the floor seating.  It is a tradition there to go around and shake the hand of all the baptismal candidates as a welcome to the organization.  What a long line and a wonderful brotherhood!! At the convention the Research Guide was released in Burmese.  What a precious gem for our Myanmar brothers.  They don't have access to Watchtower Library, the Publications index or Insight Books.  So any form of research would be based on when they guess an article came out. You can imagine how frustrating and time consuming that could be.  So the Research Guide will greatly help their Family Worship nights, the elders, and personal study.  Also on Sunday alone we lost power at the convention 3 times.  Miraculously the brothers were prepared. There was a backup generator ready so we may have been in darkness but we still had sound.  The translators did a wonderful job translating in the dark! We got to know one of the translation brothers named Thanny.  He was 19, a pioneer and spoke English like an Australian! We spent a lot of time with Thanny and an Australian sister named Johanna who serves in Yangon.  They took us around, out to a karaoke night and made sure we felt welcome and had fun.

There were so many other things we got to do and see, but I am forgetting them right now.  I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the last bits of summer! Talk to you soon!