Well, until Friday, it’s been another hectic week– particularly for Flo. After we’d processed and sent our emails Monday morning we hurried to get the stuff done that we’re responsible for in the office. In the afternoon we had another of those marathon shopping sessions – some for us but most for the mission. By the time we got back to the piso and unloaded our stuff, finding a spot to park the car was another nightmare – I finally found a spot and got out by wading thru a mud puddle. Flo spent that evening and much of the next day cooking and baking stuff for the rest of the week. And to show appreciation for the help they’d given us in trying to get a refrigerator bought, we agreed last week to fix tuna melts on Tuesday for all those in the office. Seems like every day this week we’ve gone to the office with a load of stuff to carry then carried more stuff home in the evenings. Flo spent Tuesday afternoon at the piso preparing food for Wednesday and beyond and Tuesday evening we loaded the mission van with as much stuff as they could haul then filled another car that we were to drive to the conference. And added to all that, it rained hard and often into Wednesday so it was miserable trying to haul stuff and load cars. Elder Caussé of our Area Presidency has been here for a tour of our mission so he presided at the zone conferences held this week. The first was a conference in Vitoria for the Bilbao & Vitoria zones so we drove ourselves, the Secretaries and a load of stuff to Vitoria – took us about 1:15 because of slow traffic and cost us ca. $6.50 each way for half an hour on the toll road. We immediately began setting up to warm the food to be ready at 2:00 (we assume there’s an outlet for the refrigerator but there are no other outlets in the kitchen that we could find and this is at one of the two free-standing chapels in our mission). The conference was in Spanish except for Elder Caussé’s part – it was great to be able to understand the things he taught. They had US missionaries translate for the Spanish missionaries who don’t speak English and it seemed to go well. About 12:30 Elder Caussé asked if lunch was ready – we scrambled for about 10 minutes to finish getting things ready, served soup, spinach salad, Flo’s rolls with chicken salad and lemon cake – there wasn’t a lot of anything left. The meetings lasted till nearly 4:30, they organized a quick picture, we packed up and drove home (we could see snow covered mountain tops close by as we drove) – it was a lot easier coming back than going but the parking problem was the same as always (search then park in the mud).
Thursday they were in Gijón for a conference for the León & Vigo zones with Elder Caussé – we weren’t at that one but they said it went well. As part of the meetings with Elder Caussé, they held zone leader conference (8 zone leaders plus the Elders in the office) on Friday at our mission home so Thursday we were hustling to get ready and most of the food responsibility for that fell to Flo. While she worked on that Thursday evening (cinnamon rolls, Hawaiian haystacks, banana split cake) I went for a walk (up the river this time) to see if I could find the car dealership that services our cars – we have four cars due now. Google Earth showed the address in an open field so it didn’t make a lot of sense but I found the place – appears to be a fairly new facility and isn’t far from us. Flo made a couple of crock pots of corn chowder, we hauled it to the office Friday morning and spent a quiet day with just the two of us there – chowder odors floating thru the air. To celebrate my birthday we went to our local Chinese restaurant and had a nice dinner. This time, we were the only customers in the restaurant for the entire time we were there. The food we’ve had has been very tasty and the service was courteous and quick so I’m not sure why there aren’t more customers. My only complaint about the place is the 2.80€ we have to pay for a liter of water (about $16/gallon) – we might have to learn to eat without drinking anything. The zone leaders’ conference moved to the offices about 6:00 that evening but we weren’t needed so we came home and went for a long walk along our usual waterfront route. The Elders told us that, when they’d tried to use their van to transport missionaries this morning, the battery was totally dead – wouldn’t even unlock the doors.
Saturday morning after we’d had breakfast I went to the offices, got out a short backsaw and half a sheet of particle board planning to cut some pieces to patch two openings in walls in the Hermanas’ piso in Bilbao. The workshop consisted of a couple of chairs to put the board on, I cut off what I think I need, cleaned up the mess and left. I met the Assistants at the van and we tried to diagnose the problem with the battery. We finally had to read the manual to even find the battery – it’s under the footboard of the driver. We found a pair of jumper cables and tried to jump start the engine off a second car and could get it to turn over but it wouldn’t start. We tried to call the dealer for help but they’re closed on the weekend so we were left without knowing what to do. As I’ve thought about the problem I guess we should try to pull the battery, take it to a shop for charging and testing to see if it’s only battery or if there’s something else wrong. What I know about these cars is next to nothing and I seem to be regarded as the authority. We’d been told about a fairly new mall close to us so, after we’d cleaned the piso, we drove to it to do some shopping and looking. Flo got a couple of things at a discount clothing store in the complex and we wandered around the inside of the mall – it’s by far the largest mall we’ve seen here. One side is occupied by a huge Eroski Center and the other side is lots of specialty stores including a McDonalds. After our tour of the mall we returned to McD’s and had lunch – my advice would be to buy stock. The menu is much like home, the prices are about double and the place was teeming with activity all the time we were there.
When Pte & Hna Clegg came into the office on Monday morning they announced that his cousin (a former mission president) had received a call to our mission for a proselyting mission – to come in March. That’ll add a couple more adults in our mission and I’m sure the areas they’re assigned to will benefit significantly from their presence. The branches we’ve visited all plead for senior missionaries to help them in their branches.
I’ve wanted to tell you a little more about things we saw on our trip to León two weeks ago – it was very interesting to us. As we traveled the freeway we often saw signs referring to the Camino del Santiago and, as we got closer to León we could see sections of the trail - sometimes with people walking along it. Apparently, for hundreds of years, devout Catholics have made pilgrimages from many parts of Europe from their homes to Santiago (on the west coast of our mission) joining this trail at whatever point is convenient. In some places they’ve improved the trail to make it an easier path to walk even to the point of planting trees along it to provide shade to the travelers. And because the Cathedral in León has become a stopping place for the travelers, they have provisions there to host the many people that come thru. The present cathedral had a couple of predecessors that fell into ruin and this one was built on top of those ruins. It was begun in the early 1200’s under the direction of a Spanish king and completed about 100 years later. Because of the unstable foundation on which it was built it has undergone several repairs and improvements to make it stable. One of the most impressive things about it is its massive size and structure. There are two main towers visible from a long distance – one is 63 and the other 68 meters high. We walked thru a massive door into a large, open area where the ceilings range from about 60 to 90 feet from the floor with a few supporting pillars 40-50’ apart. There are a lot of large & beautiful stained glass windows high up the wall and into the arched ceilings. Since we were there in the evening it was starting to become dark and we didn’t have direct sun on them but I’m sure it’s spectacular. 100-150’ from the door we came in was a chapel where a wedding was just concluding so we soon were mingling with guests as they left and we looked. Surrounding that chapel were smaller alcoves – most the size of a large living room and all with restricted access – with lots of sculptures, carvings and scenes from Old & New Testament accounts including a lot of gold leaf in many of them. I am so impressed that, in a period we call the Dark Ages and without power tools and modern construction equipment, that they could build such a massive but intricately sculpted structure – maybe they’d learned from the Egyptians or the Mayan-Incan civilizations. I’d sure like to go back when it’s light and we have more time to look and take pictures of the outside (no cameras allowed inside).
Thanks very much to all of you who sent birthday greetings – I find I look forward to birthdays for an entirely different reason now than I used to, the alternative just isn’t appealing to me. Even though most days seem to be busier than ever, we’re loving being here. As we integrate into the branch (mostly a matter of understanding and speaking) we’re finding so much love and concern for us among the members – they truly love the Lord and are doing their best, some under very difficult circumstances. It’s the work of the Lord and it’s moving forward – with 15 months to go, in our mission we’ve already had more baptisms this year than we’ve had in any year in the past ten+ years. That with fewer missionaries - it’s pretty exciting! We love and pray for each of you (sometimes it’s a little ragged but HE has the gift of tongues), we’re making progress with the language and hope everything is well with you.
Love, E&H Belnap