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Category Archives: Trips

Patience and Flexibility in Our Nation’s Capital

As my wife and I drove our four kids to the airport last Wednesday afternoon for a trip to Washington D.C., we encouraged them to remember two very important aspects of travel: patience and flexibility. These two attributes are crucial to an enjoyable travel experience. And while our kids (especially the younger two), didn’t really take these to heart, we kept muttering the words “patience” and “flexibility” to ourselves when things didn’t go right. Our trip was filled with ups and downs, but I’m very glad we gave our kids the chance to experience our nation’s capital.

Andrew and George


You see, I’m a very patriotic American, raised by goodly parents who love this land and always taught me that God had a hand in forming this country. The Founding Fathers (Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, etc.) were among my heroes growing up. I used to perform in patriotic programs with my siblings during the bicentennial year of 1976. I’m an Eagle Scout and take seriously my “duty to country.” I’m also a Latter-day Saint (Mormon) and patriotism is basically a religious principle in my church. I even played a part in the musical “1776” at Hale Center Theater in 2004. My character signed the Declaration of Independence nightly at the end of the show. Yes, the love of country runs deep in me. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve always dreamed of visiting Washington D.C. Similar to a Muslim visiting Mecca, a Catholic visiting the Vatican or a Mormon visiting the sacred grove in upstate New York (something I still have yet to do).

Anyway, we had been saving our air miles / credit card points and found a relatively inexpensive flight to Baltimore, so I convinced Robin that we should take the whole family to fulfill this dream with me as I had never been there before. We were nervous because our kids didn’t seem too excited. One said, “This sounds like it’s going to be one long field trip.” Another said, “That sounds BORING. Why can’t we go to Hawaii instead.”

But I persisted. I booked the trip six months ago and have been eagerly anticipating it ever since.

Well, I’m writing this post from the airplane home and thought I’d just share some thoughts. We packed in a lot over 4.5 days, driving just under 500 miles in our rented minivan and exploring the area thoroughly. Here’s a quick summary.

Day #1 – George Washington’s Mt. Vernon, Washington Monument, World War II Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean Memorial

Day #2 – U.S. Capitol, Library of Congress, U.S. Supreme Court, National Botanical Garden, American Indian Museum, National Air and Space Museum

Day #3 – White House, Ford’s Theater, House where Lincoln die, American History Museum, Great Falls of the Potomac

Day #4 – Air Force Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Kennedy Family Gravesite, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King Memorial, National Cathedral, National Zoological Park, Washington DC LDS Temple and Visitor Center

Day #5 – National Archive, Natural History Museum, Holocaust Memorial Museum

Whew!! think I need a vacation from my vacation! And there was still a lot to see. I wish we could have spent a lot more time in the American History Museum and other Smithsonian museums that we didn’t have time to visit. I would have loved to have seen a performance at the Kennedy Center or taken a tour of the White House. I tried to squeeze in a visit to the Bureau of Printing and Engraving (money factory) and the Vietnam Memorial, but we just ran out of time and nearly missed our flight due to a traffic accident that delayed our return trip to the airport by 45 minutes.

Overall, it was an amazing trip, but not without its challenges. Taking four kids (16, 14, 11 and 8) on a trip like this is NOT for the faint of heart. There were lots of ups and downs. My 16-year-old son Parley was sick for more than half of the trip with food poisoning and could hardly walk on one of the days. My younger two kids (8 and 11) don’t travel well and there were DOZENS of tantrums / fights and lots of whining and crying — so much crying — (shudder). Robin says we deserve a medal. I say we should have our sanity checked. We attempted this grand adventure and decided to bring along people who weren’t all that interested in going. Many times I thought how much easier the trip would have been if it had just been Robin and me. We could have traveled more quickly and with a LOT less fuss. We could have saved a lot of money if we didn’t have to get two rooms each night or rent a minivan instead of a car (not to mention the cost of the flights and food).

So why did we do it? Was our pain worth it? As we concluded our trip, I think about the many cherished memories we created together, which hopefully will overshadow the difficult times we experienced. Here are a few that stand out to me:

Our nighttime stroll from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial alongside the reflecting pool.

Lincoln

Our feeling of admiration for the character and goodness of the father of our country, George Washington, during our visit to his home in Mt. Vernon.

Vernon

Our sense of loss at the tragedy that occurred at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865 — Lincoln’s death still saddens us 150 years later.

Lincoln Box

Our feeling of deep gratitude for those who laid down their lives in World War II and Korea as we visited those memorials.

WWII

Our wonder at the genius of the American system of government as we looked upon the founding documents at the National Archive.
Archive

Our profound connection with history as we saw the places where 42 presidents have lived and worked, where laws and been debated and created by 114 different congresses and where Supreme Court justices have interpreted those laws.

Capitol White House

Our fascination with the ingenuity of American inventors (including the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison and NASA engineers) and the courage of American explorers, pioneers, soldiers and activists who helped bring about needed change. Their stories are shared beautifully in the Smithsonian museums.

Air

Our awe at the ultimate sacrifice given by so many as we visited Arlington Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

ArlingtonUnknown

Our visit to the breathtakingly beautiful LDS Washington D.C. Temple (completed one month after I was born) and the very special spirit of the accompanying grounds and Visitor Center.
Temple

Our overwhelming sense of pride and patriotism as we saw thousands of visitors from all over the world come to see the center of American power and pay their respects to the founders, statesmen and everyday people who have labored so diligently over the past 240 years to make the American experiment a resounding success.

Perhaps the trip was worth it after all.

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2015 in Family, Trips

 

Our Mexican Adventure – Part 1

Robin and I recently returned from an amazing trip to Cancun. We had such a great time! Here are a few highlights of our adventures in a three-part post.

Day 1
After leaving the kids with Granny Vicki the night before, we got up very early Saturday morning to head to the airport for our 7:15 direct flight on Frontier Airlines from SLC to Cancun. We took a 15-minute bus ride to the Hard Rock Hotel where we were greeting by a staff of hotel employees who were literally lined up just outside the check-in area (Downton Abbey-style) and were applauding us as we walked into the hotel. Seriously. It was kind of funny.

We spent the afternoon exploring the hotel, making our plans for the week (how we would use our $1,500 vacation credits with tours, spa treatments, etc.) and enjoying a delicious dinner at one of the five restaurants at this all-inclusive resort. That’s right, all you can food and beverage was included — as Mormons, we didn’t partake of all those free cocktails, beer and wine; but our fellow guests certainly had their fill!

Our first afternoon in Cancun the wind was strong so we didn't spend much time on the beach.

Our first afternoon in Cancun the wind was strong so we didn’t spend much time on the beach.

View from our hotel balcony of the lagoon. In the hotel zone of Cancun, the ocean is on one side and the lagoon is on the other.

View from our hotel balcony of the lagoon. In the hotel zone of Cancun, the ocean is on one side and the lagoon is on the other.

Robin hanging out in the lobby on the first night.

Robin hanging out in the lobby on the first night.

Andrew hanging out in the hotel lobby near some rock star outfits.

Andrew hanging out in the hotel lobby near some rock star outfits.

Robin in front of the main entrance of the Hard Rock Hotel.

Robin in front of the main entrance of the Hard Rock Hotel.

Day 2
On the second day, we decided to get adventurous and rent a car to drive an hour south to Xcaret (prounounced Esh-car-et). It is about the size and price of Disneyland, but was well worth it. The park showcases some of Mexico’s amazing flora and fauna, including an aquarium, leopards, panthers, tapirs, monkeys, macaws, manatees, sharks, dolphins, sea turtles, native bees, a butterfly exhibit and a bat cave (where a bat came swooping at us when I used my phone flashlight to see it better).

One of the main attractions of Xcaret is its three underground rivers in which visitors can swim. We rented snorkel gear and took a 45-minute swim in one of the rivers (about half through underground tunnels and half above ground) and it was amazing. (No pictures since we were all wet.)

There were some great cultural gems, including a recreated Mayan village, some interesting ruins, a couple of real Catholic churches, a fascinating Mexican cemetery and some very cool dance and costume displays. The highlight was the evening show at a 6,000-seat stadium where we enjoyed a 2-hour Mexican Spectacular where the history of the area was told with live music, folk dances and some amazing lighting, sound and costumes. They recreated battles between the Mayans and the Spaniards and did a demonstration of some Mayan ball games.

Here's my cute $20 rental car. Manual transmission, no power doors or locks. It was fun to drive!

Here’s my cute $20 rental car. Manual transmission, no power doors or locks. It was fun to drive!

Entrance to Parque Xcaret, an amazing park showcasing Mexico's rich natural and cultural heritage.

Entrance to Parque Xcaret, an amazing park showcasing Mexico’s rich natural and cultural heritage.

The park has five big buffet restaurants (take your pick of food style). Robin opted for the seafood buffet (not my favorite) and she got this whole fish to creep me out.

The park has five big buffet restaurants (take your pick of food style). Robin opted for the seafood buffet (not my favorite) and she got this whole fish to creep me out.

Re-creation of a Mayan ball stadium.

Re-creation of a Mayan ball stadium.

Beautiful view of the beach at Xcaret.

Beautiful view of the beach at Xcaret.

Another view of the beach area of Xcaret.

Another view of the beach area of Xcaret.

A very cool view from the entrance to one of the restaurants.

A very cool view from the entrance to one of the restaurants.

Mexican cemetery. 365 graves in a spiral configuration (like a beehive) with a catacomb underneath.

Mexican cemetery. 365 graves in a spiral configuration (like a beehive) with a catacomb underneath.

That's a lot of candles under the cemetery and a lot of melted wax.

That’s a lot of candles under the cemetery and a lot of melted wax.

A young sea turtle. We saw some that were 7 feet long!

A young sea turtle. We saw some that were 7 feet long!

A fascinating Catholic church that incorporates the Mayan tree of life into the decor.

A fascinating Catholic church that incorporates the Mayan tree of life into the decor.

IMG_1554 IMG_1549
IMG_1546

Above are some pictures from the Mexican Spectacular show at Xcaret. They handed us all candles at the beginning of this amazing performance and we lit them and had a moment of silence for world peace. You’d never see thousands of open flames like that in the states! As I mentioned, the costumes, regional dancing and various kinds of Mexican music were really impressive. After the two-hour show, we drove back to the hotel and had dinner at Frida’s Mexican restaurant. It was delicious.

My next post will be about Day 3 and 4, where we visited the Mayan cities of Chichen Itza and Tulum.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Trips

 

Family Trip to Arches National Park

Since we didn’t do a family road trip this summer because of our move, Robin and I decided to pack up the kids and head for Arches National Park on Thursday through Saturday of this week. We had a fantastic time together. The drive on Thursday morning took about four and a half hours, including a stop for breakfast at the McDonald’s in Price, Utah. We arrived at the Arches National Park Visitor Center about 1:00 and were eating lunch by “Balanced Rock” by 2:30. The temperature was in the 40s for most of the time, which wasn’t bad when the sun was shining. (Although when the sun went behind the clouds and the wind was blowing, it was quite uncomfortable.) Thankfully, the sun was shining for most of the day on Friday and Saturday and the park wasn’t too crowded since we’re in the “off-season.” I grateful that I listened to Robin’s advice and didn’t try to do too much sightseeing and hiking on any given day so the kids wouldn’t be worn out. We were also careful to keep the kids well fed, watered and pottied so that spirits remain high. And it seemed to work very well. We hiked about 10 miles total over the three days and saw pretty much everything we wanted to see.

On Thursday we visited Balanced Rock, the Windows, Turret Arch, and we hiked to a viewpoint for Delicate Arch in the distance. On Friday morning we hike around the Devil’s Garden area and saw Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch, Skyline Arch, Tunnel Arch, Pine Tree Arch and Landscape Arch (this one is as long as a football field; very impressive.) We then drove out to Dead Horse Point (about 45 minutes away) and saw some pretty amazing views at the edge of the canyon. Saturday morning we hiked up to Delicate Arch and really enjoyed the views. We then drove west along I-70 in a three hour trip to Manti, where Robin’s grandfather and grandmother were celebrating their 90th and 89th birthdays respectively. By 7:30, we arrived back in our Lehi home after having driven nearly 700 miles in our old minivan.

The Moab hotel where we stayed had a hot tub, so each of the two nights we were there, we soaked in the jacuzzi for a while, which was welcome after hiking throughout each day. The hotel offered a free hot breakfast each morning and we did picnic lunches in the park each day, followed by dinner in a restaurant each evening. Friday night’s dinner was particularly interesting at the Sunset Cafe, in an old mansion on top of the hill overlooking the city. Built in the 1950s by Charlie Steen, a prospector who found a vien of much-sought-after uranium, this old home, now restaurant, has a very interesting history. The food was decent, although pricey enough that I just got the soup!

Anyway, we had a great time. Here are a few pictures from our trip. Just click on the picture for a better view.

Parley and Brianna in front of Turret Arch.

Lily May in front of North Window Arch.

Kids at the base of Balanced Rock.

Andrew admiring the breathtaking scenery.

Parley and Brianna in front of Turrett Arch.

Robin and James all bundled up for our hike.

Robin and kids in front of Sand Dune Arch.

Brianna in front of Broken Arch.

Lily in front of Landscape Arch. It's amazing.

Lily, Parley and Brianna at Dead Horse Point.

James hanging out near Delicate Arch.

Fearless Lily ready to hike over to the base of Delicate Arch.

Someone's thumb and our family near Delicate Arch.

 
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Posted by on November 14, 2010 in Trips

 

An Enchanted Land

I’ve heard about the beauty of Hawaii all my life. My grandpa was a travel agent and always raved about the beauty of the islands. I’ve watched LOST for the past few years (filmed on Oahu) and have been blown away by the breathtaking scenery of the island. So I had high expectations for my first visit there last week. And I was no disappointed. It really was incredible — so lush, so many exotic plants, flowers, waterfalls, beautiful sandy beaches, craggy volcanic rock clusters, impressive cliffs and huge waves. The weather was perfect, high 70s to low 80s. I especially loved the weather in the morning and at night.

Our accommodations during this trip were top-notch. We had two nights in a penthouse condo in Waikiki beach in Honolulu. Being on the 37th floor was very cool and we had some great views. We got a great deal on the room because our friends Steve and Liz are the owners of Koko Resorts and they manage several rental properties. We had a blast with them and with Robin’s brother Chris and his wife Shannon who we spent time with in Oahu.

During our three nights in Maui, we stayed at the Four Seasons of Maui at Wailea. This property was first-class. It was a five-star resort and everything about it was incredible (including the prices). Fountains, pools, huge columns, marble walkways that opened onto the beach, exceptionally manicured landscaping with grass, huge plants and colorful flowers.

We relaxed a lot and we played a lot. While on Oahu, I walked the beach, swam in the ocean, jogged five miles around the Diamond Head volcano, hiked to the top of Diamond Head for a breathtaking view, visited several beaches, enjoyed excellent entertainment at the Polynesian Cultural Center and got to see BYU Hawaii and the Laiea LDS temple. On Sunday, we attended a Catholic Mass at St. Augustine’s in Waikiki (awesome music with the Hawaiian guitar). Later, we got to see Pearl Harbor and remember the sacrifice of our soldiers in defense of freedom before catching an inter-island flight to Maui.

While in Maui, we walked along the beach every day, went snorkeling twice, sailed on a catamaran, went SCUBA diving (awesome), played in the waves, paddled an outrigger canoe, played volleyball, tennis and croquet, tried doing Tai Chi with an Asian instructor, swam in the various pools, ate excellent meals, explored the surrounding resorts and shopping areas, and I even tried on a Rolex watch and pretended that I might be interested in buying it.

It was a great trip. Much of it was paid for by my company for winning a sales contest and so I feel especially grateful. I hope to be able to take my kids back there someday. Check out the slide show for some cool pics.

http://www.slide.com/r/-Axeo_R_3z8c33A-5xRe4DZMx81Gnf9m?previous_view=mscd_embedded_url&view=original

 
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Posted by on May 29, 2010 in Trips

 

Homecoming: My Return to Brazil

Note: I wrote this blog entry after a one-week trip to Brazil in January 2010 in which I visited my six mission areas in São Paulo. It is somewhat lengthy and religious in nature, but hopefully worth a read.

Homecoming: My Return to Brazil
In 1994 and 1995, I had the privilege of serving as a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Brazil São Paulo East Mission. It was a life-changing experience for me that has shaped my life ever since. When I was set apart as a missionary, President Jerry Black, my stake president, promised that I would make eternal friends in Brazil. How right he was! Unfortunately, over the past several years I have lost contact with most of those dear people. So a few months ago, I decided to return to the land of my mission to renew those friendships. I booked a relatively inexpensive flight and applied for entry into Brazil. I was excited and yet nervous. Due to the language barrier, child care issues and extra expense, Robin graciously stayed home with the children. (Thank you, sweetheart. I owe you big time!)

On Wednesday, January 13, I flew to Los Angeles and then boarded a plane bound for São Paulo, Brazil, the third largest city in the world. I quickly made friends with Simone, my Brazilian seatmate and during the 12-hour flight, we talked about many subjects. She spoke to me in English while I practiced my Portuguese on her. I told her that I planned to visit certain unremarkable cities in the state of São Paulo. She asked, “Why in the world are you going to spend your vacation in these weird little towns? Why not spend more time on the beautiful beaches of Rio de Janeiro?” I replied that this was not a vacation for me, but more of a spiritual journey back to places that meant a great deal to me. I expressed my love for her country because it was there that I matured emotionally and spiritually. It was in Brazil that I grew from boy to man. It was there that my testimony became fixed and immovable. Simone confessed to me that she had made a goal to become more religious in the coming year. As I told her about our faith and its teachings, she became increasingly interested. I invited her to seek out the missionaries and hear their message.

Well, the plane landed in the hot and humid air of a southern hemisphere summer. As I stepped on Brazilian soil, I felt an indescribable joy. I was back! So many years had come and gone, but I had finally returned to that wonderful place. I could hardly believe my good fortune. Back in missionary mode, I struck up conversations with just about everyone – it was so fun to speak Portuguese again with real Brazilians. My first destination was the mission office after having traveled all night. The missionaries serving in the mission office welcomed me like the prodigal’s son, especially since I had brought them some beef jerky, which just isn’t available in Brazil. I talked with several missionaries awaiting interviews with President Morreira, their fairly new mission president from Portugal. Then the mission president’s wife pulled me aside and asked if I would talk with a sad, solitary missionary seated in the hallway of the mission office. He’d been in Brazil for just a week, was very discouraged and was thinking about going home. I sat down by this young man and told him about how difficult it had been for me when I first arrived 16 years earlier. Learning a new language and culture is challenging, and missionary work is tough. I assured him that things would get better – he would pick up the language and learn to love the culture. I knew that the Lord had a work for him to do in this land. I hope it helped.

That afternoon, I had a wonderful time visiting some members in the neighborhood near the mission office. Later, after a very happy reunion in a pizzeria that evening with dear friends, I returned to the missionaries’ house and stayed in an available room offered to me at no charge. Of course, you get what you pay for. While the price was right (free), the bed had no sheets and no pillow, and came with a somewhat dirty blanket and a flea-bitten mattress. I itched all night. Some things never change, and the filthiness of missionaries’ apartments is an eternal constant!

The House of the Lord
The next morning, I felt a strong desire to visit to Sao Paulo temple, the first temple built in South America. Originally dedicated in 1978, that temple had been refurbished and rededicated in 2004 by President Gordon B. Hinckley. When I was a missionary in Brazil, it was the only temple in the country; now there are five with two more under construction. The growth of the church there has been astonishing. There now are approximately 1 million church members in Brazil with hundreds of wards and stakes and 28 missions. When I got off the bus in front of the temple, I chuckled that a Wal-mart had been built right across the street. Ahh, American economic imperialism! As I entered that sacred edifice and participated in the temple session in Portuguese, I was overcome with feelings of peace and love. I knew that this sacred place is where families can be united together for eternity. President Howard W. Hunter, who was president of the church for a mere nine months during my time in Brazil, encouraged members to make the temple the great symbol of their membership. He referred to it as the “supernal setting for their most sacred covenants.” Indeed temples around the world are a place of refuge and worship, even in the middle of a busy city of 27 million people. The temple was important to me as a missionary. It continues to be important to me today. Attending the temple brings me spiritual direction and helps me see the big picture.

Establishment of Zion in Pimentas
Fortified by my visit to the temple, I took a bus, a train and another bus to Pimentas, my third area. When I served there in 1994, it was a fairly new neighborhood with a lot of poverty. Houses were simple and unfinished. Rivers of raw sewage ran through the streets. Most of the roads were dirt, which meant lots of dust on sunny days and tons of mud when it rained. I recall a time when my greenie, Elder Gilbert, and I were walking home after a rainstorm. Despite his best efforts to remain upright, he slipped and fell backwards, getting mud all over the back of his brand new Mr. Mac suit. Then, moments later, he fell forward, covering the front of his suit with mud. At first he was mad, but then we laughed and took pictures. Pimentas was considered the armpit of the mission. It was a dangerous area where murders and drug deals were common. We had a small ward that met in a rented hall with a roll-up metal garage door at the entrance.

While I was a missionary there, we started a program of neighborhood family home evenings, where we talked about the establishment of Zion. I told the members stories of the prophet Enoch who described himself as slow of speech and one who was hated by all the people. In Moses 7:13, we learn that the Lord turned Enoch from a weak lad to a mighty leader. It reads: “And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God, and their enemies came to battle against them; and he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course.” I taught the people that, according to their faith, they could become powerful in declaring the word of God in that neighborhood. They could be instruments in the Lord’s hands in establishing Zion there.

That is exactly what has happened in that neighborhood. Those faithful pioneering saints have wrought a great work. Today there are not one, but two beautiful new chapels full of faithful Latter-day Saints. There are two thriving wards which are a part of a newly created stake. Ward members who have been faithful tithe payers through the years have been blessed economically. The streets are now paved and the people have been blessed with prosperity for their sacrifice and service. Brother Pedro, who was living in a rented home for years, has since built his own home of brick and cement. My old ward mission leader, Brother Augusto, owns two thriving businesses. I was reminded of the Lord’s promise to his children recorded in the Book of Mormon: “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper in the land.” I saw this first-hand in the lives of the people of Pimentas, both spiritually and temporally. As Brother Augusto drove me around the neighborhood in his car with hymns playing on his stereo, I felt very happy to see the progress of the people. Most were astonished that I was back in Brazil.

That night my brother Matt arrived on a plane from Rio de Janeiro and we were very glad to be together. He had served as a missionary in the Brazil Brasilia mission in 1991 and 1992, and it was a real treat to visit my areas with him and speak Portuguese. On Saturday morning, drove our rental car to my first area, the city of Jacareí. It was wonderful to be back on the cobblestone streets of that old city. It brought back vivid memories of my first few weeks in Brazil as a missionary in January 1994 – it was hot and humid. Mosquitoes buzzed in my ears throughout each night. We often rode our bikes up steep hills just to have our appointment fall through. My Brazilian companion didn’t speak any English, so I felt pretty alone. But in that first area, I learned so much. Visiting my old house and the chapel was great, but the best part was visiting members who I had known and loved. As we drove the streets, we saw two missionaries walking down the road and I had to pull over to say hello. I told them I had been in their shoes many years earlier and I thanked them for their service.

Ubatuba: Reunion on the Beach
Sunday was an especially meaningful day with visits to of my two favorite areas, including a beach town called Ubatuba. In 1994, the church was in its infancy there. My companion and I were some of the first elders to work in the area. There was no branch, just a group of 10-15 people. We had no chapel, so we met in the garage of an investigator. We were the group leaders and we did everything from blessing the sacrament, giving talks and leading hymns to extending callings and teaching primary and Sunday School. What an incredible training opportunity it provided me as 19-year old missionary!

So 16 years later, I had the chance to go back. Weeks before, I had emailed Elder Delvaux, the Brazilian companion who had served with me in the area, and told him I would be returning to Brazil. He said he’d always dreamed of going back to Ubatuba, but never imagined we could go back together. He decided to get up really early Sunday morning and drive five hours to join me for sacrament meeting. Matt and I arrived in the city Sunday morning, about an hour before the meeting began, and so I took him to a few beaches to watch the waves crash onto the shore. (I never got to swim in Ubatuba as a missionary, and since I was there on a Sunday, swimming wasn’t an option on this return trip either. Oh well.)

As Matt and I drove to find the little chapel, our rental car was suddenly and unexpectedly rear-ended by another motorist. The sacrament meeting was about to begin just blocks away, and I felt sick knowing that perhaps I would be unable to attend while we were waiting for the police to arrive. We pulled over and got out to inspect the damage. Miraculously, there was none; both cars showed no signs of trauma. I thought of the scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 84:88, which reads: “For I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angles round about you, to bear you up.”

We arrived at sacrament meeting just in the nick of time. There was Elder Delvaux, my six-foot-five Brazilian companion from so many years ago. We embraced and then sat down in that little chapel, which was no longer in the garage of an investigator. The branch president, having heard that we were some of the early pioneers in that area, invited us to bear our testimonies to the congregation, which we did joyfully, recounting some stories from our days there. As I bore my testimony in Portuguese, tears welled up in my eyes. What joy to see the fruits of our labors so many years later! A thriving branch is now established in that town and we had been a part of the establishment of Zion in that far-flung place.

Journey to Guaratingueta
After a delicious lunch with Brother Carlos and Sister Sandra, some old friends from that area, Matt and I headed out of the city and up a treacherous road through the jungle with extremely steep grades and dozens of sharp switchbacks. A light rain had begun to fall, cooling the countryside and watering the landscape. We drove for nearly two hours, making very good time as we prepared to visit one of my favorite areas called Guaratingueta. (That’s a fun word to say: Guaratingueta.) This city is located next to one of the largest Catholic cathedrals on planet earth, second only to St. Peter’s basilica in Vatican City. Despite the strong Catholic tradition, the LDS Church has two large wards housed in a beautiful stake center situated in a quiet neighborhood. Gauaratingueta is the area where I had the most success and I was very anxious to go back. I had emailed a good friend there who had set up a reception in the chapel for me on Sunday night. Since the time for my visit was limited to that one evening, I had really hoped to see a few friends there.

However, the light rain turned into a torrential downpour resulting in a huge lake of water which covered the highway and brought traffic to a standstill. Here we had traveled more than 8,000 miles only to be stopped in our tracks just 15 miles from our destination. The time appointed for the reception in the chapel came and went, and I was stuck. I had no way to get to the place I had so longed to visit. And I was SO very close! I was heartbroken. We tried using Matt’s cell phone to call the members and let them know we were stuck, but we couldn’t get a signal. They were waiting for me at the chapel, but I had no way to tell them I was delayed, possibly for several hours. Then I realized that even if the traffic did start moving, I couldn’t remember how to get to the chapel. After all, it had been 15 years. What’s more, the gas level in our rental car was seriously low and I didn’t know if we’d be able to make it.

We decided to pray and we poured out our hearts to God in that little rental car, asking him to help us reach our destination. Since the car had been stopped on the freeway for more than an hour, I got out to stretch my legs and I struck up a conversation with a woman in a nearby car. Upon hearing of our situation, she let me use her cell phone to advise the members of our situation. Then she offered to lead us to the chapel since she was heading to that very neighborhood to visit her sister. What a blessed coincidence!

My prayers were answered – well, almost – if only the traffic would start to move and the gas in my tank would just last long enough! Thankfully, the traffic did start moving, slowly at first. As soon as we passed the lake of water on the freeway, we followed our guide and made excellent time. All the while, I was watching the gas gage, offering silent prayers that the fuel would last. When we finally arrived at the chapel, I figured everyone would have gone home. I was more than two hours late. But instead I found a chapel full of old friends who had patiently awaited my arrival. It was incredible. We took photos. We hugged. We exchanged email addresses. We told stories from the past. We laughed. We shed tears. I was overcome by a feeling of joy that I can hardly describe. It reminded me of the feelings that Alma felt when reunited with the sons of Mosiah after 14 years (just about the same period of time I was apart from these Brazilian saints). In Alma chapter 17, it says that: “Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord.” This is how I felt on that very special Brazilian summer evening.

As my trip came to a close, I made one last mad dash to visit some people I had taught and baptized before departing. The reunions were sweet and rekindled such feelings of love and joy I can hardly describe. However, I tried to do too much and almost missed my flight. With the help of my Brazilian friends, I got to the airport just in the nick of time in the pouring rain. As I got out of the car with my luggage, my old ward mission leader, Brother Augusto, hugged me. Eyes welling up with tears, he said, “Elder Lambert, chances are we won’t see each other again in this life. But let’s both work hard so that we can see each other again in the celestial kingdom someday.” I assured him that I would.

Completely exhausted, I collapsed in my airplane seat and slept for most of the 12-hour flight to Los Angeles. As I waited for my flight to Salt Lake City the next day, three missionaries who were coming home from Korea were waiting for the same flight back to Utah. I congratulated them on successfully completing their missionary service. They were filled with the spirit and I could tell they had served faithfully. The light in their eyes was undeniable. I told them a bit about my trip and encouraged them to always maintain contact with their friends in Korea. Back in Salt Lake, my reunion with Robin and the children was very happy. It was so good to be home, despite the cold weather. I came home a changed man; my experience had rekindled feelings long since dormant. I will never forget my visit there.

Returning to my mission field a decade and a half later was an amazing experience. It was like traveling in time. Children that I knew back then are now adults with children of their own. Time continues its relentless march forward. And the Brazilian saints have gone through life’s challenges just like the rest of us. One dear woman that I baptized died of a heart attack, while another had been killed in car accident. A very dear friend in my first area had died of breast cancer, leaving her husband and four children motherless. A few couples had gotten divorced and a number people had fallen away from the Church, including some dear friends and even some influential church leaders. The church had grown a lot in some areas and not much in other areas. Life, with all of its warts, had continued for these people. And yet, a great deal of good had happened. Many of the youth had served missions and gotten married in the temple. They are now the leaders in the Church in their wards and branches. Some of the people I taught and baptized have served missions and some have served as bishops, branch presidents and Relief Society presidents.

I felt a great deal of gratitude from the members for my visit. They never expected me to return and were touched that I hadn’t forgotten them after so many years. I was grateful that they remembered me. Many people had kept letters and pictures I had sent them shortly after my mission. Many still had a copy of my wedding announcement from 12 years ago. One family even had that invitation framed on the wall of a bedroom in their home! What a lasting impact missionaries can make. I have thought many times how much I would have missed out on had I chosen not to serve, or had I quit during the first few weeks like that young, sad elder I met in the mission office two weeks ago. I hope he sticks it out. The impact on his life and on the lives of others is incalculable.

That impact was brought to my mind once again a few days ago when I received an email from a young woman who was four-years old when I met her family in the beach town of Ubatuba. Her mother and grandparents were members of the church, but her father, Ricardo Martins, was an alcoholic that wanted nothing to do with the Church. In fact, he had even thrown some missionaries out of his house in the past. Naturally, we were very cautious when we first struck up a non-religious conversation with him on the street in front of his house one day. Slowly, Ricardo’s hard exterior melted through our friendship and he invited us to a family home evening at his house. Incredibly, he gave the lesson and the spirit was strong. We invited him to hear the discussions and he accepted. Weeks later, he was baptized in a river near a waterfall. He has since served as a branch president and his oldest son Vinicius just returned from a mission. His daughter Barbara wrote the following to me in an email this week: “You and your companion will always be remembered by our family. You were angels sent by the Lord that saved our family. We now see the fruits of your effort and will yet see many more fruits.” You can count the number of seeds in an apple, but you can’t count the number of apples in a seed.

A mission is hard. But it is worth it. I’ll never forget sitting on a bumpy bus at night during my first few months in Brazil. I was discouraged and frustrated. I then found this scripture that changed my attitude forever. It’s in Alma 28:8: “And this is the account of Ammon and his brethren, their journeyings in the land of Nephi, their sufferings in the land, their sorrows, and their afflictions, and their incomprehensible joy.” I love that — sufferings, sorrows and afflictions go hand-in-hand with incomprehensible joy.

I believe we are engaged in a great cause – the establishment of Zion. Whether it be in a Brazilian beach town or in our own living room during family scripture study, we are involved in a marvelous work and a wonder. Never underestimate the power and influence your choices can have on yourself and others. As Brother Augusto said, “Let us work hard so that we can all meet again in the celestial kingdom.” What a marvelous reunion that will be!

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2010 in Spirituality, Trips

 

Amazing Rio de Janeiro

Last Monday, January 18, I celebrated Martin Luther King Day by visiting the city that will host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games — Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was amazing. The city was fascinating, the views atop Corcovado Mountain were breathtaking and the beaches were beautiful. I had only one day to enjoy the beauty of this magical place… and I was on my own. My wife Robin was home with the children holding down the fort while I visited many dear friends I had made during my service as a missionary in Sao Paulo in 1994 and 1995. I had six full days in the country, and spent just one of those as a tourist in Rio (about six hours by car from Sao Paulo).

I intend to publish some experiences from touring my mission in a future post, but for now, let me just post a few pictures from my visit to Rio. Statistically speaking, it’s a very dangerous, violent city with lots of crime, but I never once felt any fear. I rode the public buses, walked the streets, mingled with the people and had a great time. Of course, I avoided dangerous areas and didn’t go into any “favelas” or participated in any drug deals! I swam in the ocean at Copacabana Beach, rode the cable car to the top of the famous Sugarloaf Mountain and visited the iconic Christ Redeemer statue overlooking the city and surrounding areas.

Sporting my new Brazil t-shirt that I had just bought on the beach, I had this picture taken atop the Morro de Urca.

Here’s me with the city in the background. I was soooo tired and you can see it. I averaged about 3 hours of sleep per night (never overcame my jet lag) and had gotten only 2 hours of sleep the night before.

It seemed the thing to do atop Corcovado Mountain was to take a picture with arms outstretched in front of the Christ Redeemer statue. This statue is only about 15 feet smaller than the Statue of Liberty and it is quite impressive.

Another view atop Corcovado. Snack bar below on the right (all those turquoise umbrellas).

Sunset at the atop the Sugarloaf. Very cool.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2010 in Trips

 

Beautiful San Francisco

Last month Robin and I celebrated our 12th anniversary and so we decided to take a trip without the kids to San Francisco and the Bay area. Over the past several years, we have tried to have a couples vacation at some point during the year and it’s been very fun. We’ve been on two cruises — one to San Diego, Catalina Island and Ensenada and the other to Miami, Key West and Cozumel. We have also been to San Antonio, Las Vegas and last year we went to New York. We’ve also done some local stays at Little America and the Armstrong Mansion in SLC, the Silver Lake Lodge in Park City and the Homestead in Midway. Thanks to wonderful grandparents, relatives and friends who are willing to help with child care, we have been able to do some fun things together as a couple.

This most recent trip was a blast; here’s a quick summary:

Oakland Temple Grounds and Visitor Center – very beautiful and peaceful; amazing views of the Bay Area.

Berkeley Campus – very busy; didn’t stay long.

Muir Woods – amazing old growth Redwood forest not far from the city.

Stinson Beach – nice views with a fun drive coming and going.

Wicked – excellent musical with great sets, costumes and special effects, a good plot, wonderful acting and singing (note to self: get more sleep the night before; I struggled to stay awake)

Alcatraz – fantastic tour of this famous island/prison; cell house audio tour was a highlight.

Chinatown – lots of fun shopping and dining experiences.

Coit Tower – amazing views of the Bay Area.

Streets – 45 degree angle streets were certainly fun to drive; and a little bit scary.

Ghiradelli Square – lots of tasty, overpriced chocolate.

Fizherman’s Wharf – charming and fun place for a stroll; lots of energy and movement.

The Franciscan Restaurant – excellent food with impressive views of the bay from their wall of glass.

Golden Gate Park – huge park with lots to see and do.

China Camp State Park – old Chinese fishing village; fun to learn about shrimp fishing in the 1800s.

Bodega Bay – beach town where they filmed Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

Coast Drive – craggy rocks, crashing waves, very beautiful.

Sonoma Valley – vineyards that go on for miles; charming towns.

We kept the cost of the entire trip to less than $1,000 thanks to a travel voucher from Delta that we earned last year on our trip to New York. It was a great three days to spend together sans kids/distractions. It makes me more grateful for my sweet wife.

Here are some photos:

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2009 in Trips