Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Friday, January 5, 2018

Come Listen to a Prophet's Voice

Thomas S. Monson was called as an apostle in 1963, the year I was born. As a child forced to watch General Conference, I could always looked forward to Monson's talks. He told these amazing stories that were interesting and spiritual. Unlike other speakers who would tell a quick anecdote to introduce their topic, often Monson's stories were the main point of his talk. He invited his listeners to relive these stories with him and learn from them the same way that he had. Jesus taught by way of parables, Monson by way of the story.

Thomas S. Monson, the president and prophet of the LDS Church, passed away this week. It was expected since his health had been failing for some time now. It was just a matter of time.

He was an apostle for six decades. What I have decided to do, to honor him and his life, is to take a talk from each of his six decades and apply his prophetic voice to our life here as missionaries in Bosnia. 

Thomas S. Monson at the KC temple dedication ceremony. Monson's personality appeared as he interacted with the children in the audience. He is able to walk the fine line of being funny without being offensive. Affable is a good term for President Monson. In the background is Sister Hardy, the temple matron whom it was a pleasure to serve under as temple workers in KC. 

October 2012 - Beginning at Age 19

I will never forget this session of conference. I was sitting at the airport preparing to board a plane to London. I had about 20 minutes before the plane boarded. Then I got a call from my youngest daughter, Briel. She had turned 19 just a few weeks before. She was in tears. When she told me the news, a tear came to my eye as well. Because this was her miracle.

Saying good-bye to my daughter Briel as she enters the MTC.

She knew she needed to serve a mission. But 21 was a long ways off. She was considering taking a semester off and doing a service mission somewhere. The age change gave her clarity of purpose. She called her Bishop and started the paperwork almost immediately. She was the first 19-year sister old missionary to leave from our stake. She was the first 19-year old sister missionary in her mission (Iloilo, Philippines).

The missionaries share a taxi. Makes the trams in Sarajevo look luxurious.
You can never leave Sister Newton!
The number of sisters serving missions has doubled since the age change announcement. It is hard to imagine the Adriatic North Mission with 50% less sisters. Sisters brings an unique form of energy. We have been filming some video of Elders and Sisters contacting on the streets here. People seem to respond more warmly to the sisters when they approach. We have been joking that we are going to make a "greatest rejection" video with the Elders.

Sisters Russell and Christensen were here for some early December snowfalls. 

We have served with 12 different sisters here in Sarajevo. In our public affairs calling, we have served with 3 additional media sisters. They have brought joy, love, and energy to Sarajevo and the mission. And a little comic relief (Sister Rogeau at the alpine slide, for instance).

Sisters Andjewerden, Higley, and Rougeau. All three served in both Sarajevo and Banja Luka.
I know kissing is against mission rules...but who could resist a smooch from Elder Hole's "action otter." We served with Sister Locey the longest...three full transfers.
Holding puppies is another "illegal" activity...but what can you do when Elder Newton hands him to you. We found a litter of about 8 puppies up near Pino and it was hard to resist playing with them. Fortunately Sister Newton does not have to follow the "no puppy" rule since we have a whole portfolio of pictures of her with stray dogs.
Esma has gotten to know almost all of the Sister missionaries. This pairing, Sister Martineau and McColm was probably one of my favorites because the two are such opposites. It was fun to watch them learn to live with each other.
Last summer we had 3 sisters in Sarajevo. Sister Turner and Bues brought tons of energy...except when riding in the car. 
Sister Orchard was the other part of the threesome. 
Sisters Heder and Russell are going to send us off and welcome our replacements, the Coopers.
With regards to the age change, it is likely that the idea did not originate with President Monson. It seems silly in retrospect but large organizations typically find this type of change difficult. Practices become traditions and traditions become institutions. It is classic organizational behavior. Members had defended the 21-year age for so long that no one was really questioning the logic behind it. So thank you President Monson for giving us a breath of fresh air.

A few moments later, President Monson also had this to say..."we continue to need many more senior couples. As your circumstances allow, as you are eligible for retirement, and as your health permits, I encourage you to make yourselves available for full-time missionary service. Both husband and wife will have a greater joy as they together serve our Father's children.

Can you tell the "greater joy" I am experiencing by the look on my face?

October 2009 - Anger Doesn't Solve Anything

President Monson's character exuded joy and hope. What makes this amazing is that he did not live a sheltered life. He was at countless deathbeds. Old and young. He was specifically assigned to serve "behind the Iron Curtain" and minister to the Saints in East Germany. He often heard tales of the worst in human nature.

But those stories never broke him. He never gave into the pangs of anger. There has been much recent talk about "righteous anger" by those whose desire is for political change. Unfortunately, anger just breeds more anger. Contention leads to contention. Monson, however, believed in peace and love.

The buildings and streets in Bosnia still bear the scars of war. The funny thing is...nobody saw the conflict coming...most Bosnians took pride in how well the different cultures coexisted. 

Monson's address entitled "School Thy Feelings" speaks directly to the situation in Bosnia; a place where there is too much anger and not enough hope.

Fortunately most of the landmines have been cleared by now. Still remember my father warning me about jogging in Bosnia because of the landmine danger. 
Monson talked of counseling a couple whose anger had caused a family tragedy. During the early years of their marriage, they were driving on vacation with their young son (18 months old). This was back in day before car all three of them we sitting in the front seat. The parents got into a heated argument while driving and the husband got so angry that he picked up a toy from the floor and threw it at his wife. He hit his son instead. The impact was so hard that the child would be brain damaged for the rest of his life.

Bosnia has not healed from the war. Too much anger remains. The three cultures are segregating to an alarming degree. Anger and distrust is taught at home, on the street, and even within the schools. Quiet whispers prevail. "You should not have a Serb friend, remember what they did to us." "There isn't any justice for us here." 
Imagine the guilt that the parents would feel the rest of their lives. The result of uncontrolled anger. And imagine listening to this story from President Monson's perspective. How do you counsel someone in this situation? How can a marriage overcome this?

Institutions that should be leading reconciliation efforts in Bosnia are, quite frankly, not. Churches and mosques are not providing the leadership needed to quell the anger. And the politicians continue to fan the flames of distrust. 
President Monson said that he thinks of that couple whenever he reads the words "Anger doesn't solve anything. It builds nothing, but it can destroy everything."

And then he added his own witness. "To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry. I testify that such is possible."

How does a monstrosity like Srebrenica occur? It cannot occur if there is not some form of institutional anger which has been left to fester.

Too many people here in Bosnia choose to remain angry. Horrible things happened here. Genocide. Rape. Starvation. Torture. But healing cannot occur when anger remains. Bosnians choose, as a people, to remain angry. And if that does not change, "it can destroy everything."

Even something as simple as a football match can become dangerous because of anger. When we attended darby, the police were out in full riot gear. And we were warned about the dangers of walking in the wrong places either before or after the match. Our guide, Haris, made sure to take us on a safe route. 

October 1990 - Twelve of Whom Were in Attendance

When he was younger, Tommy Monson served as a mission president in Canada. The first president of the KC temple, was a missionary under him and often referred to him as "Tommy." The area was always dear to Monson's heart and he mentioned it often during the stories he would tell. 

In a 1990 talk entitled "Days Never to Be Forgotten," Elder Monson described a visit to the St. Thomas branch, located about 120 miles outside of Toronto. He was invited to attend sacrament meeting and give a talk to the members there.

Elder Shaw and Sisters Orchard and Russell practicing a song for church. The missionaries are called upon to do something every Sunday...speaking, performing, teaching a class, music, and cleaning.
"As we drove along a fashionable street, we saw many church buildings and wondered which one was ours. None was. We located the address which had been provided and discovered it to be a decrepit lodge hall. Our branch met in the basement of the lodge hall and was comprised of perhaps 25 members, 12 of whom were in attendance. The same individuals conducted the meeting, blessed and passed the sacrament, offered the prayers, and sang the songs."

Monson met with the branch president who pointed at picture of a church and said "we need one of those here." Monson replied that it would come in due time once the little branch had enough members to support a building (this was back when local members paid 30% for the cost of a building). President Wilson remarked "we need that building and we need it now!"

Sreten prepares to bless the sacrament in Tuzla. 
So Wilson requested six additional missionaries for St. Thomas. "He called the missionaries to a meeting in the back room of his small jewelry store, where they knelt in prayer. He then asked one elder to hand to him the yellow-page telephone directory, which was on nearby table. President Wilson took the book in hand and observed, 'if we are ever to have our dream building in St. Thomas, we will need a Latter-Day Saint to design it. Since we do not have a member who is an architect, we will simply have to convert one.' With his finger moving down the column of listed architects, he paused at one name and said, 'This is the one we will invite to my home to hear the message of the Restoration.' President Wilson followed the same procedure with regard to plumbers, electricians, and craftsmen of every description. Nor did he neglect other professions, feeling a desire for a well-balanced branch. The individuals were invited to his home to meet the missionaries, the truth was taught, testimonies were borne and conversion resulted."

Within two and a half years a building was constructed. And that branch is now a thriving ward.

The Pruess family lived in Sarajevo for 3 years. Love crazy-pose pictures!

"When I reflect on the town of St. Thomas, I dwell not on the ward's hundreds of members and many dozens of families; rather, in memory I return to that sparse sacrament meeting in the lodge-hall basement and the Lord's promise, 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.'" (Matthew 18:20)

Elder Leach speaking to a large crowd in Tuzla.

Monson's description of  St. Thomas reminds me of the branches here in Bosnia. The buildings are small and certainly not on par with the wonderful mosques and Orthodox/Catholic churches here. Only 2 members (and 6 missionaries) attended the Sarajevo branch this past Sunday. Tuzla has had weeks where there was not a single member in attendance.

Elder Smith and Fadil share a warm embrace.
But we all know that there will be larger numbers here someday. There will be bigger buildings. The branch will become a ward. We just need to find our President Wilsons. Established locals through whom the light of God shines.

The Sunday of Christmas Eve we had over 30 attendees at church in Sarajevo. We were excited with the numbers. Many people lingered for over an hour after the meeting was over. 

October 1981 - Tell Me What Happens To My Spirit When I Die

In the face of death and tragedy, where do we find hope? In 1981 Elder Monson addressed that question in a talk entitled "He is Risen." Another story answers this question and also tells us much about the man that Thomas S. Monson is.

One of our favorite photos from Bosnia. Just can't remember where we took it.
"Many years ago I stood by the bedside of a young man, the father of two children, as he hovered between life and the great beyond. He took my hand in his, looked into my eyes and pleadingly asked, 'Bishop, I know I am about to die. Tell me what happens to my spirit when I die.'

I prayed for heavenly guidance before attempting to respond. My attention was directed to the Book of Mormon, which rested on the table beside his bed. I held the book in my hand, and, as I stand before you today, that book opened to the fortieth chapter of Alma. I began to read aloud:

'Now my son, here is somewhat more I would say unto thee; for I perceive that thy mind is worried concerning the resurrection of the concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection--Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body...are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace; where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.' (Alma 40:1, 11-12)

My young friend closes his eyes, expressed a sincere thank-you, and silently slipped away to that paradise about which we had spoken."

During the middle ages, Bosnians created these massive headstones called stećak. There are an estimated 60,000 of these within BiH.
The beginning of 2017 was difficult for us. On New Year's Day, our good friends, Kerry and Pixie Calderwood, lost their youngest son Connor by overdose. A few weeks later members of my family experienced a life-altering event which we are yet publicly discussing. But everything is different on my side of the family. And here in Sarajevo, many members have lost loved ones this year.

Connor (left) with his sister and parents. 

Alma's promise of a paradise where our loved ones "shall rest from all their troubles" in a state of peace brings me comfort.

The second largest Jewish cemetery in Europe is located in Sarajevo. There used to be a sizable Jewish population in Bosnia but Tito allowed them to emigrate to Israel in the mid-70s. Most of them left at that time.
As I learn more about President Monson, I realize that he never shirked from the role of comforter. It is hard to know what to say to someone that is grieving, to someone that is sick, and especially someone who is dying. I admit that there are times when I don't reach out because I am not sure what I can do. Or I do not want to intrude.

Another thing that this story tells us about Monson is that he confidently relies on the Spirit. He was only in his early 20s when this story occurred. He did not have scriptures memorized for occasions like this. It is impossible to have an answer to every question regardless of how hard you study, how much you know, or how educated you are. But he had faith that the Lord would guide him to the right answer.

October 1975 - Suffer the Little Children

According to his biographer, Thomas S. Monson learned an invaluable lesson that defined his life when he was a young Bishop at the age of 23. "He had the distinct spiritual prompting to leave a priesthood leadership meeting as his president was speaking and visit an elderly member of his congregation in the hospital. It seemed rude to stand, shuffle over 20 people, and exit as his presiding leader spoke. Instead, he sat uncomfortably until the talk ended, then bolted for the door before the closing prayer. At the hospital, he ran down the corridor. He stopped when he saw commotion outside the room of the man he was to visit. A nurse told him the man had died, calling Bishop Monson's name as he passed away. Shattered, the fledgling bishop went outside and wept, sobbing. He vowed then, in the parking lot of the old Veterans Hospital, that he would never turn a deaf ear to another prompting.

According to Jeffrey R. Holland, "It's the most impressive story I know from him about his ministry to the one. As far as I know he kept that promise ever since. It became fundamentally characteristic of his life and what sets him apart from others, that he committed to this idea of following a prompting, and the focus almost always was a single person."

Young Esma, born 3 months premature, was resuscitated using techniques taught by LDS Charities through the efforts of George and Marcia Bennett.

In 1975 Elder Monson gave a talk that reinforced his commitment to listening for and following promptings. The talk is called The Faith of a Child. 

He tells of the Methvin family from Shreveport, Louisiana. Ten-year old daughter, Christal, discovered an unusual lump on her leg. It was cancerous and the leg was removed. But the cancer had spread to her lungs. They did not despair but decided to seek a blessing from a General Authority. Since they did not know any personally, Christal randomly picked Elder Monson.

Sister Melonakos plays with a young refugee baby in Kutina.

"Christal never made the flight to Salt Lake City. Her condition deteriorated. The end drew nigh. But her faith did not waver. To her parents, she said, "isn't stake conference approaching? Isn't a General Authority assigned? And why not Brother Monson? If I can't go to him, the Lord can send him to me.

Meanwhile in Salt Lake City, with no knowledge of the events transpiring in Shreveport, a most unusual situation developed. For the weekend of the Shreveport Louisiana Stake Conference, I had been assigned El Paso, Texas. President Benson called me to his office and explained that one of the other Brethren had done some preparatory work regarding the stake division in El Paso. He asked if I would mind were another to be assigned to El Paso and I assigned elsewhere. Of course there was no problem--anywhere would be fine with me. Then President Benson said, 'Brother Monson, I feel impressed to have you visit the Shreveport Louisiana Stake.' The assignment was accepted. The day came. I arrived in Shreveport.

Our Croatian Red Cross friend, Mario, plays with some refugee children. Mario wears his heart on his sleeve and considers many of the refugees as his own pseudo-children. Especially the unaccompanied minors.
That Saturday was filled with meetings--one with the stake presidency, one with priesthood leaders, one with the patriarch, then, yet another with the general leadership of the stake. Rather apologetically, Stake President Cagle asked if my schedule would permit me time to provide a blessing to a ten-year old girl afflicted with cancer. Her name: Christal Methvin. I responded that, if possible, I would do so, and then inquired if she would be at the conference, or was she in Shreveport hospital? Knowing the time was tightly scheduled, President Cagle almost whispered that Christal was confined to her home--more than eighty miles from Shreveport.

I examined the schedule of meetings for that evening and the next morning--even my return flight. There simply was no available time. An alternative suggestion came to mind. Could we not remember the little one in our public prayers at conference? Surely the Lord would understand. On this basis, we proceeded with the scheduled meetings.

Dionne with a young refugee in Porin, Croatia.
When the word was communicated to the Methvin family, there was understanding but a trace of disappointment as well. Hadn't the Lord heard their prayers? Hadn't he provided that Brother Monson would come to Shreveport? Again the family prayed, asking for a final favor--that their precious Christal would realize her desire.

At the very moment the Methvin family knelt in prayer, the clock in the stake center showed the time to be 7:45. I was sorting my notes, preparing to step to the pulpit, when I heard a voice speak to my spirit. The message was brief, the words familiar: 'Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God.' (Mark 10:14) My notes became a blur. My thoughts turned to a tiny girl in need of a blessing. The decision was made. The meeting schedule was altered. After all, people are more important than meetings. I turned to Bishop Serra and asked that the leave the meeting and advise the Methvins.

Tarik is a wonderful young man that lives in Zavidovići, BiH. It has been a pleasure to see his growth this year. In the background is our infamous European leader at LDS Charities, Gilles Francois. 
The Methvin family had just arisen from their knees when the telephone rang and the message was relayed that early Sunday morning--the Lord's day--in a spirit of fasting and prayer, we would journey to Christal's bedside.

I shall ever remember and never forget that early-morning journey to a heaven the Methvin family calls home. I have been in hallowed places--even holy houses--but never have I felt more strongly the presence of the Lord than in the Methvin home. Christal looked so tiny lying peacefully on such a large bed. The family surrounded Christal's bedside. I gazed down at a child who was too ill to rise--almost too weak to speak. Her illness had now rendered her sightless. So strong was the spirit that I fell to my knees, took her frail hand in mine, and said simply, 'Christal, I am here.' She parted her lips and whispered, 'Brother Monson, I just knew you would come.' A blessing was given. A faint smile crossed Christal's face. Her whispered 'thank you' provided an appropriate benediction. Quietly each filed from the room.

Four days later the pure spirit of Christal Methvin left its disease-ravaged body and entered the paradise of God.

Esma is alive because of the selfless service of members of the church. There are hundreds of other children alive in Bosnia today due to the efforts of the newborn resuscitation team.

October 1965 - A Humble and Pure Heart

There is a common theme throughout all of the Thomas S. Monson's talks. Once you come to know God, he will guide you as you strive to do his will. And God's will always involves helping others.

The sisters are witnesses even at the bottom of a deep river valley near Jajce.
How do any of us develop a deep faith in God? Monson answered that question back in 1965 when he proclaimed:

"The formula for finding Jesus has always been and ever will be the same--the earnest and sincere prayer of a humble and pure heart. The Prophet Jeremiah counseled ' shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.'" (Jeremiah 29:13)

President Nelson visited the Bosnia prior to the church being formally recognized here.
Be careful, however, if you truly seek God. Because once you find God, you will desire to become part of God's work. And "our opportunities to give of ourselves are indeed limitless, but they are also perishable. There are kind words to say. There are gifts to be given. There are deeds to be done. There are souls to be saved. "Go, gladden the lonely, the dreary; go, comfort the weeping, the weary; go, scatter kind deeds on your way, oh, make the world brighter today!"

Elder Rasband meeting with the Federation President.
There is a subtle theology that runs through President Monson's talks. He learned about God through experience, not singular study. He listened to the promptings of the spirit and God instructed him as he took the requisite action. A few years ago Elder Oaks gave a talk which describes well President Monson's theology. Elder Oaks argued that what matters in this life is what we "become" as we respond to the grace of God. Oaks did a wonderful job of using words to describe this theory of salvation. In my opinion, President Monson has done an even better job of explaining this theory. His life serves as an examplar of progressing from grace-to-grace and we are all the beneficiaries of his life's work.

Newly called apostle, Thomas S. Monson.
Thomas S. Monson Talks Through the Years

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Countdown...

We had a very Merry Christmas here in Bosnia. We hope you did too! 
Santa found them all the way on the other side of the world!
They must have been good boys and girls this year!

For Christmas Eve we held our traditional BINGO night. We
had 21 people crammed into our little apartment. Not only was
the room full, so was my heart! I will miss these amazing people.

Emin (owner of the barn) and his adorable son Eren. 

It took three separate pictures to fit in all the bingo prizes. 

It was the first time several of our visitors had ever played BINGO!
Ema, in the red dress, won the first game and chose a WHOOPIE
Cushion as her prize! She had fun with it all night long!

Emir, Dijana, Tarik and Ema, part of our Bosnian family.

Christmas is now over, the new year is upon us and the countdown has begun. Our replacements, John and Karen Cooper, will arrive in Zagreb on Saturday, Jan. 13. We will pick them up in Zagreb, Croatia on Monday, Jan. 15 and begin introducing them to project partners such as Croatia Red Cross, Medicins du Mond, Jesuit Refugee Services and more. We also have two meetings scheduled with church leaders in Zagreb about new projects they would like to have considered for the upcoming year, but these projects will fall into the hands of the Coopers so we wanted to wait until they arrived for any serious discussion of the proposed projects. It is evident that the humanitarian work will go on, even without us! But it's going to be hard to let it go, to say goodbye and move on to the next step in life, whatever that may be!

We have spent the past week trying to finish up loose ends and start trying to get everything organized for the Coopers. I have a pretty good system, but I don't want them to have to sift through all my "stuff" to find relevant information, so I'm on a mission to throw out anything that isn't necessary, pack up things that must be kept but won't be needed (like financial records) and organize what's left. It's kind of a sad thing to sort through the last year and half of our lives, knowing it will be ending soon. But at the same time, it's also very rewarding to look through all that we have been part of during our time here. As we near the end of the year and the end of our mission, I wanted to share some of our mission highlights:

We have been involved in a total of 29 projects: 11 Area Initiatives (These are projects we have personally sought out, planned, submitted for approval and implemented since our arrival.)  10 refugee projects, 5 water projects and 3 Major initiatives in over 40 cities, towns and villages throughout the Balkans. 
Although this does not include all our projects, this map on our
apartment wall might give some idea of how spread out our
projects are. We estimate we have traveled nearly 80,000 kilometers
during our time here. (That's about 50,000 miles!)

  • 8 of our area projects were in partnership with organizations that assist individuals with special needs. They included:
    • Funding for a commercial kitchen that is now being used as a Culinary Vocational Training program for adults with disabilities. The individuals in the program prepare, cook, serve meals to the 150+ students and staff at Los Rosales. They are also hoping to open a small restaurant to the public in 2018.
The skills they learn will help them learn skills that will
help them be more self-reliant at home and in the workplace.

The completed kitchen, just waiting for the cooks to arrive!

    • Donating three large greenhouses for another Vocational Training program at Zastiti Me (Protect Me) in horticulture. They grow all the vegetables used in the cafeteria as well as flowers that are then arranged by students and sold at the local markets. 

    • Roof repair and cosmetic renovations were made at Mala Sirena (Little Mermaid), a small non-profit center that offers services to children with disabilities and an inclusive kindergarten program.  The painting was completed by missionaries and members of the LDS Church from across Bosnia. 12 young missionaries (plus 2 old ones- haha!) and 8 members painted the exterior entrance as well as the inside waiting areas to brighten the space after it had been damaged by the leaky roof. 
The interior went from dingy, pale green to bright and cheerful!
I had to create a design that would allow for people to paint a small
section at a time. It turned out better than expected! 

Our creative painting crew, with Adisa, the
director of Mala Sirena on the far left. 

    • We also did a pilot project with Mala Sirena which provided them with adaptive technology, including large key keyboards and iPads. The results we saw them have with the children we so impressive we opted to expand to other centers. 
The iPads allowed Tarik to show the world how smart he really is!
    • Along with iPads, a full day training workshop was offered to twelve different centers to ensure they know how to use the iPads effectively with children with a wide variety of disabilities. One of the best things about this project was that the two young educators from Mala Sirena actually taught much of the workshop. We had successfully implemented a "train the trainers" type system that will help it be sustainable in the future. Many educators/therapists were surprised at what was available to assist with their work and were eager to go back to their centers and teach others how they can increase the impact they have. It was so successful that we were able to get an extension to the project approved to include more centers than we originally planned. 
Edita and Jasminka from Mala Sirena did an outstanding job
teaching the workshops. Their enthusiasm was infectious!

Some very happy educators and therapists at the training in Banja Luka

    • Our largest, most in depth project was in partnership with EDUS (Educate Us - Education for All). 40+ special education teachers/therapists from throughout Bosnia attended (or will attend the weekend right before we leave) a three day workshop which taught them the basics of how to administer an initial assessment, create an individualized education plan based on the assessment and techniques to increase the skill acquisition of children of all abilities. Our hope is that this project will slowly begin to change the way children with special needs are educated in Bosnia.  
The workshop participants enjoyed the hands-on practice!

    • The attendees of the EDUS workshops were also provided with a "tool kit" of printed materials as well as items to help them successfully implement what they had learned. We spent weeks gathering the materials, which included a set of 1200 picture flashcards that we created using Google images and a great local printing company!
The box on top contains 1200 flashcards and the box on bottom holds a
wide variety of manipulative items to work with the children.

  • In cooperation with Muslim Aid and BIMA (a volunteer medical organization), 160 women in rural areas of Bosnia received extensive gynecological exams. Approximately 30% of these women were found to require further testing and follow up for problems identified during the exams. We also were able to get approval for an additional 75 exams in another rural city in 2018. These exams will ensure women get the treatment they need to live healthy lives. 
In addition to the exams, there was also an educational presentation
on the importance of regular gynecological screening for all women
who received the free exams. It was a packed house!
  • With the assistance of about 15 church members and the missionaries, we provided supplies and assembled 50 hygiene and food kits that were then taken to a local Catholic organization that distributes needed supplies to the homeless in the area. 
    Many hands make light work...
  • 6 schools in Bosnia now have adequate water and sanitation. 4 schools received bathroom renovation, including replacing leaking pipes, moldy tile, non-functional toilets and sinks. One school also has a new septic tank and a school in a very rural area has running water for the first time in nearly 5 years. 
From this.... this!

  •  In addition to our Area Initiatives, we have also executed 9 projects to assist with refugee services in Croatia. There is a special budget for refugees.The projects provided the following:
    • Medical supplies and medicine
    • School supplies for refugee children
    • Shoes for children and adult refugees
    • Bedding (blankets, sheets and pillows)
    • Hygiene supplies
    • New exterior doors
    • Electrical and plumbing work and commercial washers and dryers
    • Renovations to a rundown office space that now houses Refugee Integration Programs
    • Funding for medicines that are not covered by the government medical plans for refugees

Women from Zagreb enjoyed a day of service with Sharon Eubank,
Worldwide Director of LDS Charities. 100 backpacks were
filled with school supplies for refugee children.

These little girls were very excited to go to school after receiving
their new backpacks full of school supplies and new shoes to wear!

One of several shipments of clothing, bedding and other supplies.

  • We have also been able to support four Major Initiatives. These are projects that are planned by LDS Charities specialists and are offered throughout the world. We are just the in-country coordinators and assist as needed.
  • A Croatian couple standing by their well. It had not been cleaned for over 20 years and the water was contaminated.
    • Greenhouses - LDS Charities works in cooperation with Muslim Aid and various municipalities to provide 1000 greenhouses each year. The greenhouses provide families with a way to be self sufficient by growing their own food as well as making income from the sale of their produce. 
    • Major Water - We have had two major water projects; one in Bosnia and one in Croatia. One has been relatively easy (working with the Croatian Red Cross to clean the water wells of 1,000 rural houses whose water is not drinkable) and one really difficult (bringing clean drinking water to the Bosnian village of Hrasno).
    • Vision Care - Vision Care projects began in Bosnia in one canton (similar to a county) and we just got the contract signed for the sixth canton to participate in this program. LDS Charities works with local ophthalmologists to teach school staff how to administer eye exams. The exams are administered in the schools and, if needed, are referred to the local ophthalmology clinic for follow up care. The clinic receives specialized medical equipment to ensure appropriate follow up care is available. 

A student participating in vision screening at a rural school.

    • Maternal Newborn Care - Newborn Resuscitation started in Bosnia about ten years ago. At the time the infant mortality rate was quite high, often due to infants not breathing at birth. Medical specialists who volunteer their time with LDS Charities train local doctors and nurses in current newborn resuscitation techniques and then those who have been trained conduct training for other medical professionals who deal directly with newborns. In November, we were able to assist the specialist from the U.S. with the training of over 100 medical professionals. Over time, the infant mortality rate is now on par with that of the U.S. and the number of professionals trained continues to increase as local staff teach others at their clinics and hospitals. 
At local doctor overseeing some of his staff practicing newborn
resuscitation techniques at the training in Banja Luka.  

The rough estimate of beneficiaries from these projects is 73,000 people. It is impossible to put the true impact of the work that LDS Charities does into a number. Each of those 73,000 people will probably have a positive impact on others as they reach out to others with their new found knowledge, hope in the future and ability to be more self-reliant. It has been very humbling to be part of this work, being God's hands on earth, even if but for a short time. We will always treasure the lessons we have learned, the humility we have gained and the love we have shared with so many during this journey. We wish everyone the happiest New Year!