We live in Bogotá, on the border between the Bogotá North and Bogotá South Missions. While the South Mission is the largest of the four missions of the Church in the country, it has the smallest area where missionaries can safely serve. The rest of its territory is the "Red Zone," where the risk from the FARC and other groups is too high to send missionaries.Periodically, the Mission Presidents travel to visit missionaries and Church leaders, and to hold Zone Conferences, where a number of Districts (6-10 missionaries) in the Zones (2-4 Districts) get together for instruction.
President Casablanca and his wife Lucy, originally from Puerto Rico, kindly invited Paula and I to tag along on such a five-day trip to the "Tierra Caliente," or "Warm Land" part of their mission.
Paula, who is a warmth-loving creature, packed her bags.
The drive through the mountains of Colombia was gorgeous, and the rest room at the lunch stop rated a "10" on the IBRS (International Bathroom Rating Scale).
Our first stop was in Girardot, where we stayed at a hotel originally built by the drug cartels as a nice meeting place, but which was taken over and run by the government after the crack down.
It was warm and elegant. Did I mention that it was warm? Paula told me to emphasize that.
From there, it was on to Ibagué, a city of 750,000 nestled up next to the Andes at about 4,500 feet.
Ibagué benefits from its location on the main highway between Colombia's Pacific port and Bogotá, from the agriculture in the region (rice, coffee, rice, tobacco, sugarcane and rice), and from what can only be described as a perfect climate.
Daytime highs are in the low 80's, and nighttime temps drop to about 60 degrees. When conditions are right, snow can be seen on the Andes in the distance.
We only half-jokingly talked about moving my office from rainy, cool Bogotá.
Each morning was lovely, with the birds raiding the fruit on the serving tables. One morning we watched as a small dove settled in the dry oatmeal bowl and ate until one of the waitresses kicked her out.
So, Ibagué was a nice place to visit, but there was actual work to be done. President Casablanca and I visited three clinics/hospitals, seeking contracts with them that would allow the missionaries to be seen and treated first, and the Mission would then be billed.
In one recent instance, a missionary was injured in a bicycle accident, and President Casablanca had to drive down with cash and pay up front before the hospital would operate on the badly broken arm. In another instance, everyone had to max their ATM cards before a clinic/hospital would start repairing facial injuries from another bike mishap.
However, I will admit that after the work, we were able to take advantage of the facilities.
One of our days was taken completely by a Zone Conference. When asked about what he'd be addressing with the missionaries, President Casablanca said, "I'm going to talk about faith in the Lord Jesus Christ." His wife Lucy said, "I'll be discussing learning to rely on the Spirit." They turned to me to see what my talk would cover: "Diarrhea," I replied.
The next day, we packed up and headed out of the beautiful city.
We stopped by Girardot on the way and talked to another clinic, who said, "Sure! Send 'em to us!"
Finally, just before Bogotá, we stopped in Fusagasuga and bought bikes. Specifying different wheels, the shop guys built them up while we waited, and we didn't have to wait long. I have built several sets of bike wheels, and it's a cross between a puzzle and knitting metal. However, these guys laughed and talked while they did it, and shamed me by completing each wheel in about 7 minutes, approximately 2.7% of the time I usually require.
All in all, a great trip. We thoroughly enjoyed traveling with President and Sister Casablanca; I always learn a lot from the Presidents.
Anyway, it rained this afternoon in Bogotá, and we had to wear sweatshirts around the apartment...
Dave & Paula