Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Now Hiring Extras...

We are currently sitting in a hotel room overlooking the Adriatic Sea in Optija, Croatia just outside Rijeka. Again, I've had to convince our children we are not on an 18 month vacation. One of our sons accused us of hiring "extras" to make it look like we were really working this week! We are so fortunate to have such a variety of experiences while were are serving. This might be a bit of a dry post as we have been super busy and my creative juices are zapped! But at least you will know what we have been occupied doing the past couple of weeks, besides hiring extras for our pictures.

Happy recipients of a care package. They even signed the
photo release so I could post it on the blog! 
Last Monday and Tuesday was quite a different sea breezes, salty air or balmy weather! We spent the first part of the week in Banja Luka, Bosnia working with the Red Cross to help meet the needs of local residents who had been negatively affected by the immense snowfall the country has received this winter. We were able to purchase supplies through the church's Emergency Response program to provide 175 food and hygiene packages to families living in rural areas or in unfavorable conditions. We were tested on our Bosnian language skills as we drove in our car to various homes directed by a Red Cross volunteer who only spoke Bosnian. He kept saying "polako, polako!" We had no clue what it meant until afterwards when we asked one of the missionaries. It means "slowly, slowly!" Apparently, Denny was driving a bit too fast for his liking, although mostly he said it shortly before we had to make a turn. Needless to say, it was further motivation to continue to work on our language acquisition! Sisters Higley and Adjewierden, who had just arrived in Banja Luka, helped assemble packages for the morning. During their service they were chatting with another volunteer and found out that he had previously attended the English conversation groups that the missionaries teach each week! They invited him to come back and join them again. We were able to deliver some packages personally and the Red Cross distributed them to their various area offices for further distribution. 

Food in boxes, hygiene supplies in the bags

Picture provide by the Red Cross. Unfortunately, Denny and I
were not able to do any mountain top deliveries with the Red Cross.

This was a guard turkey... the Red Cross worker that came with
us was terrified of him... He was pretty huge!

On Thursday we went to take more supplies and check on one of our water projects about an hour outside of Tuzla. The school principal and his staff always welcome us so warmly. They have begun work on the bathrooms, but are limited to after school and weekends while the students are in session. We are looking forward to visiting again soon. Denny has been invited to play volleyball for the school's team (staff team, not students) so we have to coordinate around the volleyball schedule.

Our project with Los Rosales is nearing completion! We drove down to Mostar on Friday for the delivery of the final pieces of equipment for their kitchen. They have a celebration grand opening planned for March 10th and have invited us to join them for a meal in the new kitchen. They are very excited to start serving their students in the new cafeteria and training their adult students to cook and serve in preparation for opening a small restaurant there next year. 

Over the weekend I was able to teach a couple of group dressage lessons to volunteers and staff at Riders of Hope and speak at church on the Gift of the Holy Ghost. Denny got a quick ski trip in on Monday before we caught a flight to Madrid, Spain on Tuesday. We had a special conference in Madrid with all the other humanitarian couples in the Eastern Europe area. We received some insightful training on choosing and presenting area projects for approval, learned more about the refugee work the church is engaged in and were uplifted  by President Sabin, a General Authority from our church. We took a bus tour of the city and quickly saw many of the famous sites in the limited time we had available. We also were able to attend the Madrid Temple, which was a wonderful treat since there isn't a temple in our mission area. It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, but much appreciated. We came home feeling empowered to continue in our service and ready to start looking for a few new projects to help the poor and needy in Bosnia. 

We flew home early Friday morning and immediately jumped in the car and headed to Zagreb, Croatia en route to our next project in Rijeka. We had delicious chicken enchiladas courtesy of Sister Grant and spent a little time visiting with President and Sister Grant as well as the Kreibels, who are also Senior Missionaries. It was short but sweet and we appreciated the opportunity to stay in the mission home and to share some time with the Grants and Kreibels. 

We got up on Saturday morning and set out to find two things before we left Zagreb... a data card for the iPad so we could have internet and do some work on the road in Croatia and brown sugar! Sister Grant had generously given me 10 bags (the bags here are very small) but since we were there and brown sugar keeps if it's not opened, I wanted to get more. It's unbelievable how much brown sugar I go through just making cookies and cinnamon rolls for the missionaries! But I love it! I was sad that I couldn't take the missionaries in Tuzla their requested cinnamon rolls last time because I was out of brown sugar. Guess what they get next time :) After conquering our quest, we set out to Rijeka, on the northern coast of Croatia.

We arrived in Rijeka with an entire car (small car, but still...) full of supplies for a homeless shelter. We were met at the church building by 15 enthusiastic church members and missionaries to help assemble 50 homeless care packages. The packets included basics such as toothbrush and toothpaste, soap, a small towel and small blanket along with a few non-perishable food items. We had planned to spend about an hour organizing the supplies into packages but the group, led by President and Sister Schlehuber ( the Senior Couple serving in Rijeka), was so enthusiastic and organized they finished in less than 30 minutes! The activity ended with a pizza party followed by a visit to the Catholic Church, Roses of Saint Francis. They provide outreach and several programs for the homeless as well as promote self-reliance and assist in helping individuals find their way out of the situation.  We were pleased to find an organization in the community with similar goals to partner with for the distribution of the care packages. Overall, although it was a fairly small scale project, the impact will be great and having the members of the branch and the missionaries involved made it a very meaningful project. 

They were working so fast I don't think I got one picture
that wasn't blurry!

Elder Schlehuber explaining our gift to the staff at
Roses of St. Francis church

Little did we know that today was Karnival! I should have had a clue when I tried to book a place to stay a few weeks ago and everything in Rijeka was already booked. It's like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. So after church we watched a bit of the parade as we walked through the town watching all the families in their costumes as they celebrated. The reports said that there were over 100,000 people gathered in Rijeka with 10,000 people IN the parade! I believe it because we watched for several hours and the last numbered entry we saw was 55, but apparently there were 110 entries. It truly was like the never ending parade! Two hours is about my limit for extremely loud noise a large crowds so we walked back to the car and took a nice drive along the peninsula taking in the spectacular sea views before heading back to our hotel for dinner.

It was not warm enough to be in a tutu and nothing else!
There were a few crazy people out, but it was a family affair
 this morning. Not sure where his tutu will end up later tonight...

This "beast" represents all the bad that happened last year.
In the night they set him (not this particular person of course)
on fire and throw him into the bay to get rid of all the "bad"

So now I sit in a nice soft bed, which is a rare find in Europe, in a hotel that overlooks the Adriatic Sea, although it is very dark and all we can see is the glimmer of lights in the distance. I'm thankful that everything was booked in Rijeka and we had to stay about 10km outside of the city. We can't hear the party in Rijeka from here, thank goodness! While we appreciate the opportunity to serve others, as I lay my head on my pillow tonight I know that we are the more blessed ones. 

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