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The Unseen Hand of God
Recollections of a Utah Missionary: 10/22/21
Steve is a short muscular man who partnered in a concrete business with a friend, a business in which all six of their sons worked to pay their way into college. He raises cattle to feed his family, as does John, who runs one of two local lumber operations and is a big man who asks practical questions about Steve and his wife's mission to the Cape Verde Islands. I cannot recall all of his two-hour monologue a week out, but will try and quote as accurately as I may some of his words.
-10/26/21, Oakland, California
We went in as facilitators. We wanted to do this when we retired and we let The Lord decide where we went. The next time my wife will have something to say about that!
[laughter]
The Church keeps a low profile and partners with government organizations, Catholic Charities, The Red Cross and let those others take the credit. When we brought 140 teddy bears for the children, they remember the Church. I've been to the Temple and seen all of the humanitarian goods before, and then they were gone. It's nice to see where they go an the effect that such basic things have on a people's spirit.
They speak Portuguese, which with my command of Spanish was not difficult and the people were very patient. They also speak English and a smattering of Creole—different from Louisiana creole. Their language skills are very elastic and they speak quickly, just throwing words together from different languages, whatever the fast word to say is they will take it from that language and mix it up with the rest.
The projects range from water systems, chicken raising, money management and a dozen other programs. We were not supposed to get bogged down in one program, but facilitate, provide the money and materials and even pay a trainer. For instance, we had a sewing program. Once one woman learns to sew we hire her to teach others.
We were there for a year right before Covid. The facilitators now work from home on laptop.
The first thing we did was the bathrooms. They're building material is basically cinder blocks, You can break these blocks with your hands. But they have this machine, an extrusion device [explains to teenager there that it is like an icing tube] that stamps out these blocks. Their are a few places were it is green from springs. Otherwise it is a desert and whoever named it Verde was drunk at the time. They paint the block with very gay colors.
The best job there is embassy guard. The well off folks and foreign ambassadors have guard shacks outside their houses and big planters.
The water is all desalinated—there are about 300,000 people over ten Islands and when we were there we were the only whites. The Church has three chapels there run by men who have been taught trades by the Church. It is so nice not to have to prosthelytize and just help people—I think that is the strength of our Church, that we help so many people with their material needs and are there for them with practical advice.
The first thing we did was the bathrooms. There would be one bathroom to a school and the cliques of boys—I hesitate to call them gangs—would not permit the girls or teachers to use them. So we built more bathrooms, two to a school.
It is a total cash economy, no credit, and you can only get $200 a day out of the bank. So I would have to go to the bank and my wife and I would each get $200 a day out and I'd squirrel it away in my quarters hoping that it didn't get burgled, until I had enough money to make a supply run.
We are housed on a second level and kept safe. But you can't take a picture on the street. One of the Sister Missionaries did that and out came a knife and she was relived of her smart phone.
[John brings up the cooler of heads found on the mission in Mexico and Steve smiles, “Thankfully nothing that bad!”]
The water is brought in twice a week by truck and the women take their jugs and fill up, walking back with the jugs on their heads. There are a couple of fathers with their families, generally members of the Church. Mostly its single mothers and their kids living with the grandmother.
All their food and fuel is imported. The shipping is very corrupt and the Church does not play the bribe game, so we have to wait for unloading.
The most successful program is the chicken program. People who take the course on money management are given chickens. We explain how you keep so many eggs to eat, sell the rest to buy feed, raise new chicks and grow your business. About 70% are successful. The other 30% just eat the chickens. Some of the people are proud of the chicken coops they build and for that 70% its a great improvement in nutrition and cash flow.
For ten islands they have one prosthetic clinic. These guys are working with less equipment than a man around here would have in his home garage. So we provided them with a van that had the necessary fabrication equipment so that they can take the ferry to the other nine islands and fit people with these devices—spend a week or two on that other island. The medicine is very primitive, so amputation is still something that is done for instance.
We provide dental supplies, for instance so this one mother with no teeth could get dentures. It was very frustrating at times, seeming like nothing was coming together. Then it was like the Unseen Hand of God intruded and the help or materials we needed was there. For instance, you can't buy a hose with clamps or valves, the clamps and valves you have to find elsewhere.
They have goats, mostly for milk. They have a great fishery, but they have no means to get the fish other than a few small wooden boats and trawlers from other nations just come and tale the fish. There is some European sport fishing on Salt Island. So perhaps that's an avenue to approach the problem. I believe talks are in progress now over how to gain access to their own fishery. The hope is eventually a cannery.
John interjects: “You know, even around here, in this country we built, there are so many outside influences and interests telling us what we can do with our own land and business, I could only imagine how hard it is going to be for those people to get any say in how their land is used.”
Yes, it was humbling to be in such a barren place helping make things happen, after having made things happen back here.
[John give him a respectfully reluctant look that says, “You know these problems are headed this way too.”]
Steve and his wife showed us numerous pictures of the country and its people, a nation seemingly inhabited by only women and children and a few middle-aged men practicing a rare trade.
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Glasgow NedMar 8, 2022

Lots of Cape Verdean people in Massachusetts. They don’t like being called black, they’re Cape Verdean man!
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