Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Fabulous Fall Frenzy

Well it's been a frenzy of activity the past couple of weeks for us here! As we have traveled extensively through Bosnia and Croatia, we've been blessed with a beautiful tapestry of God's handiwork throughout the countryside. Fall in the Balkans is spectacular!

We still need to get a good camera, iPhone pictures do not do justice to the brilliant foliage or majesty of the mountains. We have driven over 30 hours in the past few weeks and have enjoyed nearly every minute, minus a few hours of occasional rain and fog. We made multiple stops along the way to try to get that "perfect picture"!

Amidst the vacation looking travels, we have been doing actual humanitarian work. We have met with the administration of four different schools in more rural parts of Bosnia to assess the potential to assist with water/sanitation projects in some older schools. One school is a small field school in a rural area. Due to very old pipes and large mountains and valleys between the school and the reservoir the children are quite often without running water at the school. Two of the other projects involve replacing old pipes and bathroom fixtures that are no longer functional. The fourth project is the repair/replacement of a septic tank for the school.

We have now submitted our first two project proposals for approval! (Two of the above school projects) We will know if they are approved this week on both projects. The other two are pending further information from the schools prior to submission, but hopefully will be submitted and approved soon as well. I feel so blessed to be involved in the process of helping so many school children and the administrators are all so grateful. Most have been dealing with inadequate sanitation situations for many, many years and now have hope of finally being able complete projects that will benefit the students immensely.

As most of you know, I have a soft spot for individuals with special needs. Those individuals fall into the LDS Charities guidelines of helping the "poor and needy" so we are hoping to do some projects targeted at helping organizations that champion their causes. As part of our quest to find organizations that assist those with special needs, we met with a very progressive organization called Mala Sirena (which means Little Mermaid). It was founded and is run by parents of children with special needs. They have a passionate desire to bring joy and happiness to the lives of children with disabilities as well as their families through building a strong foundation of inclusion. They chose the name because the Little Mermaid is different, yet the same. She is a symbol of hope for inclusion. Inclusion is not common in BiH, but this organization is working hard to provide inclusive opportunities for children with disabilities in a variety of ways. They provide teaching assistants to enable children with special needs to attend public school within their own community. Additionally, they offer a variety of therapeutic services including speech therapy and physiotherapy at their center. Previously, these services were not readily available in the small town.  Parents had to travel with their children several hours to obtain services which made it difficult, if not impossible, for children to receive the needed therapies.

One of the most impressive programs they offer is an inclusive kindergarten (ages 3-6 in BiH). We spent an hour watching the amazing teachers include a child in a wheelchair and another on the autism spectrum in the activities. The other children were so accepting and loving towards their friends and there was an overall sense of total acceptance from everyone present. Attitudes are often difficult to change, yet through early exposure, Mala Sirena is able to break down those barriers, change attitudes and improve the quality of life for everyone involved! I was so impressed with the

staff, the children and the program. As we watched them do the "Hokey Pokey" and sing "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" in Bosanski I couldn't help but smile. Children are the same all around the world. They just want to have fun and be loved unconditionally. Here is a short video of the precious moments we were able to witness.

I also had the opportunity to do a little mentoring with one of the instructors at Riders of Hope last week. She is an excellent instructor who wants to learn and do things correctly and ultimately obtain her PATH certification. She was a pleasure to work with. I continue to marvel at the work they do there with such limited resources. Everyone there is remarkable. They continue to treat us like we've known each other for years! We were invited and have even been given permission to travel to Verona, Italy with them in November for Fieracavalli, which is a world wide horse expo. I must say I am excited for that trip, even if it will only be for a few days.

On Friday we traveled to the mission headquarters in Zagreb, Croatia. The entire mission gathered for a special fireside with visiting General Authority Elder Hallstrom who is one of the presidents of the Quorum of the Seventy (important people for my non-LDS friends) as well as Elder Johnson who is in the Europe Area Presidency. They were accompanied by their wives who also spoke to the group. It was an amazing sight to see 100+ missionaries gathered in one place. The spirit was very strong as we listened to the words shared. Sister Grant shared a tender talk and offered words of love to all. She is truly a special woman. President Grant spoke briefly, but wanted to allow as much time as possible for the visitors to address the missionaries.

 Among my favorite words shared by Elder Hallstrom at the meeting were "learn it, then do it"! So often we listen to people speak and feel motivated to improve, to act upon the things we learn, be it spiritual or temporal. I can't tell you how many times I've been to a work or church conference and walked out saying, "I'm going to do.... " whatever it was I just learned about. But guess what? More often than not, I don't follow through. I'm sure I'm not the only one who loses the motivation once I'm home and fall back into the same old routine. Elder Hallstrom talked about learning ways to improve ourselves spiritually and then actually putting that knowledge into action, not filing it away. So once again, I walked out feeling motivated to make some changes. Let's see how well I do in a few weeks! We also got to sing from the new Croatian hymn books! That was awesome. We have a book of about 50 hymns that we have been singing from, but this is the whole hymn book translated. To hear the voices of over 100 missionaries sing in the mission language was something special. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has nothing on that group!

As we were driving home from Zagreb with the sister missionaries from Sarajevo, I asked them, "What was the coolest or most special thing that has happened on your mission so far?" As I listened to them share their stories with enthusiasm I pondered the same question for myself. The answer to that question continues to grow as I reflect on all the special moments we have had in such a short time in Bosnia. I know my Father in heaven knows me, loves me and desires for me to be happy. Why else would he put me in such a beautiful country with such amazing people and the opportunity to serve others, including a therapeutic riding center? I am so blessed and grateful for this chance to give of my time and talents for a short season in Bosnia. I am also grateful for modern technology that allows me to keep in touch with those I love, even if it is a text message at 3:00am! What more could I ask for?

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