FULL CORRECTION TO BLOG #3 I have been told that once I have posted a blog I cannot undo it. What I am posting here is an edited, meaning easier to read, Version of what is called blog number three and blog 3B. So if you logon to read this blog before you have read the next blog you will not need to read the next one. But you're certainly welcome to read both.
We are here. We have made it to Spain. The countryside, which we have barely seen, is very much like Santa Barbara California. Now a quick review of why we haven't seen much of the countryside after five days. For those of you who know us well, know we should have been out walking and exploring and seeing what's around us. We have done none of that. But let me try to give a quick recap.
I tried to give a review of our two weeks in Provo at the M T C or missionary training Center but it is still in the draft stage and I don't know when I will get to finish it. I do not have the words to describe the spiritual enthusiasm that overflows on that campus. We entered with a group of 143 senior missionaries, 70 of which were senior couples and three Single sisters. While we were there there were over 1600 total missionaries. Seniors arrive on Mondays while young missionaries arrive on Wednesdays. Missionaries are leaving almost continually. Some senior couples were only there four days. We were there exactly 2 weeks the longest period for any of the couples that arrived in our group. Young missionaries may be there three weeks or up to it as long as 12 weeks if the language they are learning Is more difficult..
We were not prepared for the spiritual depth, breadth and height that we found. The first week was used to acquaint us with the missionary reference book “Preach My Gospel". The second week we were instructed in both specific detail and yet in a generic manner of our duties when we reached our different missions. I should have guessed that I would be called as mission Financial secretary, which I have been, but I was not told before arriving here in Spain. Missionary couples have such a wide variety of the things they do, even in the office, where we are assigned, that we tried to attend and listen to several responsibilities that we might receive. There was a lot to learn and the environment was wonderful.
On Monday, 14 December in a heavy snowstorm we were transported, Sophia and I, to the Salt Lake airport. After boarding the plane late, probably 20 to 30 minutes, we went to be deiced. There was probably close to 6 inches of snow at the airport and 2 to 3 inches on the wings. Deicing Took over an hour. We never made up that lost time and arrived in Paris in hour And a half late. The Paris airport is huge we only had to travel a crossed perhaps a fourth of it to get to our departing flight. We scurried as fast as we could but we had to be sure that in the passport review Area each of our passports was stamped with an entry into Europe. As we got into that line only two baggage inspection lanes were open and only three passport review kiosks were manned. The line wound down and back in front of the probably 20 unmanned kiosks. From one end of the line to where it did a U-turn was from 50 to 100 feet and there were at least for U-turns in the line as it wound down and back. We so wanted to catch our departing flight but it was not to be. Emotionally the line seemed to go on forever.
To help my emotional State my carry-on bag was one of those selected to be carefully inspected and reviewed. From my CPAP Machine to the small hand weights that I was caring for Sophia the inspector both passed her wand and checked each item carefully. She was pleasant but she only spoke French and wanted to be sure that each item was what it should be and that I wasn't a terrorist.
We again rushed the next half mile with carry on luggage in hand and made it to see the plane being pushed away from the walkways and there was no way for us to get on. I would have preferred our connecting flight leaving early than to miss it by just a few minutes. It was just another frustration in our almost catching the flight.Our instructions told us that we needed to first Book our next flight and then to contact both our mission president and a travel dispatcher in Salt Lake City. Numerous flights had arrived late and the line in front of the KLM and Air France customer service Took over an hour. Actually it's not that the line was so long but how methodically and slowly the 6 clerks behind the line attended to each person. Some people we're loud and irate but the clerks stayed at their prescribed speed. They were trying to be of help but there was a lot of frustration. An Italian gentleman, I use that that term very loosely (and not about his country of origin), was humorous and very emotional. There was a Brazilian who was equally funny and sad to watch. One Muslim family, all adults, Took at least an hour.One woman who had entered Paris on our flight was so totally annoyed at Delta with causing her to miss her next flight. And this because of the deicing. I would just rather arrive safely and have the plane deiced correctly than to take off early have ice form on the wings not arrive at all or to be forced down at some other airport for a late deicing which would have taken so much longer.
Once we had a flight booked to Malaga, it would leave from Paris at 8:40, which was six hours later, that night we try to follow the next two steps of our instructions. In trying to use the Paris telephones, we did not have our cell phones since we turned them off before we left Salt Lake, I did not have a phone card. Nor did I have any euros but I did have plenty of dollars. It was kindly explained to me that the foreign exchange areas were beyond the area that we we're in and that I should have Exchanged my money before trying to catch the next flight. This meant I could not go to exchange my dollars nor to buy a phone card. When I tried to use my credit card to buy euros from a machine I was told that my password was incorrect. Paris public phones did not have the alphabet below each member and I had to remember each passwords numeric equivalent. Next unreal problem was I was told my credit card did not have sufficient capacity for the phone call, my credit card limit is over $10,000 and I knew the total charges on it at that point we're less than 1000. How could I be turned down unless Paris phone calls are a lot more expensive that I realized.
I could not phone, so then i remembered email. It would not be as fast but it still would advise both the mission president and Church travel that we would not be arriving on scheduled. We were not functioning nor thinking well. We had been on an 11 hour flight that had begun at 5:30 in the afternoon, we had an eight hour time change. We had the stress of racing across Paris airport with carry-on luggage, then my carry-on bag inspection and as I pull out the apple computer it is discharged. Of course the Paris airport has plugs, European plugs not American and as voltage it's 220 not 110. My iPad still worked and had a charge. I had never sent an email from my iPad but apparently it works as I got two emails sent and Pres. Anderson later told us he had received my email after not finding us at the airport. We would be arriving into Malaga Spain at 11:00 PM. A long day but still not over.
We boarded our next flight and had a very stressed out Seat companion. With jet lag on us not eating dinner nor lunch we may not have been the best of Seat companions ourselves but she was unique.
Arriving in Malaga what more could go wrong? How about our four 50 pound suitcases not coming off of the conveyor belt. We waited, we waited and we waited. Everyone else from our flight had picked up their bags and left. Ours were not. But a ray of light, looking through the glass wall we saw our mission president waiting for us, it's 11 o’clock Plus at night. We waved to him through the glass, At least we have a ride two somewhere. Back to the suitcases fortunately air Europe, the airline that brought us to Malaga did have an attendant still at his window. our bags were being held by customs. I don't know if that is because our bags had flown in on the earlier flight or if for some other reason customs needed to inspect our arriving baggage. Customs is behind a one-way door, Actually a double door you go through one, then you're screened before you can go into the next area. There's a conveyor belts and it's very similar to the baggage pickup area but to get out there is a x-ray screening area and customs officers to inspect your bags. All four bags are waiting there for us. As We approach customs the customs officers leave. It was approaching midnight and the three of them just left the area, what do we do? Fortunately a few minutes later a new Group came out, asked where we were from and said go on a out. No inspection required.
We gladly did so. We are in Spain and we have transportation and the mission president is excited to see us. We learn from him that he had a very similar travel experience back in June their airplane also had arrived late into Paris, They had missed the connection, but as they arrived in Malaga their bags did not and still have not been found.
When our mission president saw through the glass our lack of luggage he was afraid a similar misfortune was occurring with us. Fortunately we found our bags. Further he had neglected to have his passport stamped in Paris. As he tried to apply for his Spanish residency they could not document his arrival and therefore he was considered an illegal immigrant. So both he and his wife were flown to England so they've might reenter Spain legally.
The next morning we went to the mission office and met the staff and the departing senior couple we would be replacing and several missionaries who are in from various parts of Spain. Honestly Wednesday was a bit of a blur. Thursday was much better, we exchanged houses with the Coombs who are returning to the US. Their apartment is very pleasant, they left it very clean and they left us with some foods. Friday we were again trying to learn our positions and responsibilities in the office.
Friday night was a ward Christmas party and it is in the ward that the mission office belongs to. We were invited so of course we attended. The party was to begin at eight and by 915 it finally started. They had a small drama, several musical numbers, and a sitdown dinner that began with four different plates of appetizer. This was followed by two plates of salads for the entire table. we used toothpicks or our fork to eat from the common salad plate. After that came a plate with Rice chicken and a vegetable. At 10:30 desserts still hadn't been served and we were too tired so we left. I forgot to mention that to get to the ward building we had two elders Guide us as we drove. They usually walked and therefore never noted which were one-way or dead-end streets for cars. Although the building was only perhaps 2 miles from the mission office it took us close to an hour to get there. This was my first time driving and I'm grateful I didn't get lost.
Saturday morning we left early with the mission president and went to the Granada to pick up a sister missionary and then over to Sevilla to pick up another. At Sevilla the ward was having a late Christmas Saturday luncheon and we arrived to enjoy that. Then we left with the two sisters and drove to Cadiz. Cadiz is on the Atlantic side of the rock of Gibraltar. The Ward was having the baptism of a full family that the two sisters that we had brought down had first contacted and taught. The baptism ended at at about 830 at night. Then I drove the vehicle back to Sevilla dropped off one sister and back to Malaga. It was too late to return the Second sister back to her home so she came to our apartment and spent the night. We arrived home at 1:30 in the morning.
I neglected to tell you the Pres. Anderson determined that we should be assigned to a small branch about an hour and a half to the north of Malaga. We will attend the branch each Sunday and then one afternoon during the week Will drive up to assist the branch president in whatever he would like us to do. But our principle duties Will continue to be in the mission office. So Sunday morning we rose early to arrive at our assignment. Unfortunately our car is without a GPS. And to find the little branch of Nerja it took heavenly intervention on at least three occasions. It is a tourist town right on the Mediterranean sea. we arrived just as the meeting was to begin. But what a surprise. There was wall-to-wall people. There were people from Germany, Australia, norway, and England. The family from Norway were in their 60’s and had their three adult children with them. There was a visitor from the stake and then the three of us (the young missionary sister was to be with us until the afternoon).
After dropping off the sister missionary at 3 o'clock we arrived home close to four. For those of you who know Sophia pretty well she was so tired that I offered either going down to the beach and walking along the Mediterranean or taking a nap and she chose taking the nap.
It has been a wonderful and full week. Next week we are again traveling to the two extremes of the mission for zone conferences. We will be gone two full days and will have to make up the work when we get back. It is thrilling to be here and to be trying to do the good that He wants. We love you all. Ciao Joe and Sophia
P. s. I will try to include some pictures this week.
After I posted blog three, please realize I did not have the time to completely edit it. So if you read it shortly after I posted it I apologize for the computers mistakes. I use apples Voice recognition program to type the blog. But it is not a perfect rendition of what I've wanted to say.
Blog three does recount the events that happened to us, but it does not communicate the wonderful spiritual experiences that we are feeling. As we sat in sacrament meeting in the Little branch of Nerja both hermana Hopkins, that is how I refer to Sophia here in the mission field, and I Felt the quiet peace that this is where we should be. It is a quietness that distilled or encircled or enveloped us even with the crying children and the noise from the moving chairs. It wasn't that we were at home, but that this is where we should be. I wish I could more accurately put into words that peaceful feeling.
Since we aren't being assigned permanently does this little branch the branch president ask each of us to bear our testimonies. I believe Sophia was quite fearful but she did a wonderful job. Of course she bore it in Spanish. Very well done hermana Hopkins
For those of you who are aware of hermana Hopkins’s stomach/ intestinal cramps, although our schedule has been a wild, we've had much less sleep that normal our lovely apartment is still full of suitcases and things that need to be put away and we seldom have good meals. She has not had one intestinal issue since we have been here. What a sweet kind bless from a loving father.
At the baptism we attended on Saturday in Cadiz both of the preteen daughters we're baptized first. Then the mother and finally the father. He is a Spaniard and has had a very hard Life. His wife stood on the top of the stairs entering the baptismal font to watch her husband's baptism. She was dripping wet yet there was a Joy in her face I cannot accurately describe. She watched almost with an awe as his ordinance was performed. Her countenance had a glow. He climbed the stairs and they hugged with such a sweetness and hope for the future. What a wonderful gift to receive from the Son of God now at this Christmas season.
We desire to very joyful christmas for each of you. We are busy and happy trying to serve him who gave us this season to rejoice. Elder and Sister Hopkins