Thursday, July 18, 2019

Uganda - Family Humanitarian

It is hard for me to journal when my heart is so full of experiences and impressions that cannot easily be put into words.  Our trip to serve the people of Uganda was beyond my ability to describe, and pictures cannot capture the feeling of the moments. Our hearts were touched, and we were changed as we set out to make the lives of others better.  We saw beauty that is indescribable, and we saw poverty beyond imagination. As we said “Uganda forever” at our closing celebration I wasn’t sure if I should burst into tears because I wanted to stay and help more, or if I should shout for joy because of all of the lives that had been changed for the better through the efforts of Family Humanitarian (FHe) or if I should bow my head in gratitude for all of the blessings I have been given. 

The Desire to Serve

As do most expensive family adventures, this dream started with selfish desires to experience a new culture and to create memories with Josh and my kids alongside my sister Cathie’s family.  Like our trips to Guatemala, we knew the benefit for ourselves and our children in serving those who are rich in very different ways from us.  Africa has never been on my bucket list. I didn’t think I could handle the poverty, the starving children, the difficult conditions, the knowledge of the disease, corruption and evil that takes place and how it hurts innocent people. I didn’t know if my heart could handle flying away knowing we had only helped a few, but somehow (even though I have a rule of only traveling to places on my bucket list) the desire to serve in Uganda began to swell in my heart. Even though there were challenges in working out the finances, when we left Guatemala at Christmas, my heart was sturing with the desire to go to Africa this summer.  I am grateful Heavenly Father was willing to push me outside of my comfort zone, into a developing country, where I could learn and grow and return home to become an ambassador for those who lack for life’s most basic needs. 

Travel There – Entebbe

Travel to Entebbe, Uganda from Utah is no easy feat. I had no idea how far away it was!! After 24 hours of in-flight time and two nights in the air (plus layover time) we arrived, exhausted and frazzled but willing. 

In Entebbe we were greeted by three people who became most dear to us on the trip.  Emma, is the Uganda in-country coordinator for Family Humanitarian (FHe).  He is 27 years old and a brilliant leader and humanitarian.  He is one of just a couple employees of FHe.  He supervises every project funded by FHe in Uganda and west Africa and makes sure they are completed with integrity. He finds orphans who are in need, he works with villages to make plans for boreholes that will be sustained. He makes sure that every dollar spent is worthwhile.  I couldn’t have been more impressed by his willing and humble, yet confident and sure way of leading. 

We also met a couple of the men that would become our drivers for the nine days we were in Africa. Isma, a humble father of eight who loves his wife and children. He brought joy to us each day as he participated in activities with us, playing soccer at the orphanage, blowing bubbles and jumping rope.  He even opened his home to us on culture day and introduced us to his wife and extended family.  We loved him! And Freddy, Emma’s best friend who was ever giggling at our dumb jokes and smiling a heartwarming smile.  

Nile River and Travel to Mbale

After a good night sleep in Entebbe we took the 6-7 hour drive to Mbale, the city which would serve as our home base for six nights. We were thrilled that our group was willing to leave by 6 AM so we could stop and white water raft the headwaters of the Nile River as it poured out of Lake Victoria in Jinga. We had breakfast at 5:30 AM before we departed, and then again when we arrived at the Nile around 9.  This was our first indicator that we were going to be fed very well on this trip. The food was so much better than I imagined it would be! I ate more curry that I’ve had in my life. We enjoyed really great fresh fruit, and we especially loved our dinners at a restaurant in Mbale. 

It was so fun to get to know the expeditioners as we rafted the Nile.  I felt like I needed to be pinched out of a dream. I kept thinking, “I’m rafting on the Nile, who does that!!??” We were on the river for 4-5 hours.  We had a few crazy moments, including the “womans raft” that I was in getting stuck on a rock on a grade 5 rapid.  Even though it was an extremely difficult situation that lasted for more than 5 minutes the guides were very experienced and professional and got us safely out of the pinch. They had a system of kayakers to keep us as safe as possible if we ever fell out or flipped.  They did lots of training with us and it was a most incredible experience.  

I rode in a boat with most of the women and got to know them, while Josh took one for the team and went with the kids. One of the highlights of these humanitarian trips is serving hand in hand with really incredible people. This group was much smaller than we’ve experienced before, but just as great. There were only 20 of us. My family was 5, my sister Cathie’s family another 5, Chris and Tera Call with their three boys, Easton, Emmett, and Trent, one of my favorite friends for Guatemala this year, Emily Smith and her two oldest girls, Olivia and Sarah, and two fun-loving, single best-friends, Ali and Christa. Everyone was so kind and accepting of each other. We laughed together and we cried together.  I will forever love these people. 

The first three nights we stayed in a guest house that was comfortable enough, but nothing like we’d find at home.  Over each bed hung mosquito nets, as is protocol in Uganda. The hot water for the showers worked occasionally, the power worked sometimes, and there was occasionally internet available. That said, looking at the conditions of the people all around us, we were so grateful for clean sheets, a flushing toilet and a place to lay our very tired heads. Emma was not happy about the service we were receiving at our first guest house so we moved to a place that took better care of us for the next three nights.  I was very comfortable in our accommodations. 

Orphanage and School Building

It is impossible to express the swelling of the heart I experienced as we pulled into the orphanage school and the children in tattered and dirty cloths, with babies on their hips sang the words “we are happy to see you today.”  Even though I left a bit of my heart in Uganda, it is okay because my heart is now bigger. We spent our first two days serving with these children.  They loved with all of their hearts.  They were hungry for hugs, love and any extra care. We spent each morning carrying and laying bricks for their new school building which is being funded by FHe. The children would sneak over from their current school location to help us or just to peak and watch. 

It was a terribly humbling experience to hide behind the vans to eat our lunch, knowing that many of the children just around the corner would likely just receive one bowl of a mix of beans and a boiled ground corn for their single meal that day. After lunch we’d walk over to their current school and be greeted by them running down the road to meet us.  They would take our hands and walk us into a glimpse of their lives. Words cannot express how my heart went out to these children or even to their teachers who were tirelessly caring for so many with almost no resources at all. 

Culture Day

After two days of service at the school we celebrated the 4thof July by spending the morning at the homes of the extended family of our friend and driver Isma. His darling mother came hustling from her hut to hug each one of us as we arrived.  She greeted us with such joy that it brought me to tears. We then divided up to do some household chores.  We went to gather water.  (You wouldn’t believe how heavy the water jugs are.)  We had to take turns carrying them even though the families we were with lived relatively close to the borehole. It is hard for me to imagine gathering water being part of my daily responsibilities.  Some of us gathered and podded beans for drying. We also tried some hand washing of clothing. Their cloths get so clean with their hand washing methods.  It makes me think I should hand wash some of our cloths, and then I remember how easy it is to throw them in the washer and dryer. 

One special moment is when a couple of the women asked me if I’d be willing to get dressed in a traditional dress.  My understanding is that each African woman owns one dress used just for special occasions.  These dresses are sometimes given at the time of their wedding.  It was fun to have the grandmothers of the compound dress me in one of their special dresses. Time just went so fast and before we knew it the morning was over and it was time to move on. 


We spent the afternoon of our culture day at Sipi Falls.  The drive was breathtakingly beautiful, but the thing that really got our hearts pumping was repelling from the 320-foot waterfall.  It was an exhilarating experience.  Caleb tried twice but panicked and couldn’t quite get himself off the edge. He was very disappointed.  I knew myself well enough to not look down until after I was hanging over the edge and there was no going back.  With the mist from the waterfall splashing on us it was unbelievable. 

Hike and Accident

Our project for the 5thof July would only take a few hours so we decided to hike Wanale Ridge (the mountain behind us in the picture) in the morning and then go out and teach sanitation and give water filters in the slum in the afternoon.  We thought the whole group wanted to go, but when it came down to leaving early in the morning and the 1200 foot 1 mile incline it ended up being just my family and my sister’s family.  Andy hadn't felt great but he wanted to go. He was so tired he fell asleep on the 10-minute car ride to the trailhead so Emma insisted on taking him back to bed. The Coombs are real hikers so waiting for us might have been a challenge for them, but we are always up for adventure and did our very best.  The hike was super challenging for us (not for the Coombs) but the reward of the view and the pools at the end made it worth the effort. It was mind blowing to see natives planting onions and doing all types of farming on this incredibly steep mountainside.  

At the top we enjoyed the pools and the view before Emma came with most of the rest of the group. They decided to skip the hike but still take in the view.  The two-wheel drive van parked about 1 mile from the waterfall and Emma brought his four-wheel drive SUV closer to the waterfall to deliver drinks and treats. Josh, Cara and I were glad to jump in with Emma in order to avoid another mile of uphill hiking to ride in the van. We were so tired. We were bumping along the mountaintop, listening to music and talking about how great his car is, considering that he works on a Ugandan salary.  Little did we know that our prayers were heard, and our lives would be saved by angles just a few moments later.  

Being that it is rainy season the red clay ground was slippery. At one point on the path Emma stopped to back up just a few yards to get a running start at a steeper hill.  We made it about half of the way up the hill and the mud caked tires began to spin. Taking off her seat belt, Cara asked if we should get out and push, but Josh and Emma told her that the weight is better in the car. As Emma put the car in reverse the expeditioners following us gave him way more than enough space to back up. (Miracle number one, none of them were hurt as the car slipped back.) After he rolled back a couple of feet, we began sliding off the edge of the very steep hill. I closed my eyes and buried my head in fear. Even though we were hardly moving, the steepness of the hill caused us to begin rolling.  As our roll picked up speed, I hardly had time to think.  We did one full roll and began to roll the second time when we miraculously stopped.  We had hit one of only a few eucalyptus trees right on the center of the roof of the car. The tree was only 5-6 inches in diameter but was enough to keep us from continuing to roll down the 200-300 yard ravine.  It was nothing short of a miracle.  All of our windows were down.  Cara and I were human pretzels in the back, as neither of us were wearing seat belts. The only words I heard spoken as we rolled were Cara saying “mom, are you okay, mom, are you okay” as we slammed against each other.  I couldn’t even think clearly enough to speak.  

When the rolling stopped I wanted each of us and especially Cara out of the car and to safety as soon as possible, but I was afraid that if we moved a muscle the car would continue rolling.  I held on for my life while Cara crawled through the open window. Josh went next since he was on the up side.  I was so scared that as he got out the redistribution of weight to the downhill side would cause the car to continue rolling.  Josh held on to the car with all of his might and kept his weight on the uphill side as I began to crawl out the top.  Emma came out last.  He was panicked in part because his phone was gone.  I didn’t even realize we’d also lost mine and Cara’s phones through the open windows.  As I got out of the car the one RN in the group, Ali, was right there to hold my trembling body and to lead me to Cara, who was okay but crying, up the ravine. There is no doubt in my mind that we were guarded and protected by angles.  That tree didn’t stop us on its own, and we were not kept in the windows on our own. (The picture doesn't even begin to show how steep the hill was.) Cara and I both have had some headaches and sore muscles and I have a bruise on my hip like I’ve never had before, but for all four of us to walk away from an accident like that was divine intervention. 

It was a shocking experience for those who watched the accident as well.  We all had tears in our eyes as Keith gave Emma a priesthood blessing at the top of the hill. It was also incredible to see how within seconds, before I even got out of the car every man from the fields and village had answered the cry of help and run to the location of the accident.  We left before anyone could access a rope or chain.  I was sure the car would be hanging from that tree or at the bottom of the ravine forever, but before we’d gone to bed for the night the village, using man power alone, had got the car up the hill and Emma’s friend’s drove it to his home to drop it off, another miracle.  The village children continued to look for Emma’s phone and found it the next day, still in working condition. 

Life experiences that remind me how short and precious life is help me to reevaluate and focus on the things that are most important.  I am so grateful for a loving family and the safety of my husband and children.  I hope that they will know that I love them every day from my actions and my words. I hope to honor my relationships and most of all to fulfill the life mission that Heavenly Father has planned for me. I am so grateful for the series of miracles that preserved us and kept us safe!

Water Filters

After the accident I was shook up, but so grateful to be okay. As we traveled down the mountain, I asked Emma what we could do to support and help him.  He said, “let’s just have a happy rest of the expedition.” That was what I fully intended to do. After showers and a short lunch, we stayed on schedule and the group headed out to the slum to teach sanitation (hand washing, and the importance of drinking only clean water) to an HIV support group. I chose to stay back at my room to rest and get my bearings. This project was a favorite for some because of the way the people fully engaged in what was being taught.  They really wanted to learn! They received the filters with such gratitude. Their lives will be changed because of the gift of water filters. 

The slum of Mbale is home to 6000-7000 people. 80% of them test positive for HIV. FHe has put in one borehole but the government will not allow more because they want the people to pay for water.  With so many people being serviced by one free clean water source they wait all day long for their turn to fill their container or simply resort to dirty sources.  The filter systems will work for 20+ years and provide unbelievable relief to the families who are given them.  With so many in need, it is impossible to choose who receives filters.  The man put in charge of deciding who would get them used the HIV support group that met that morning.  Each woman that attended the group was told to stay through the afternoon to receive this special gift. 

We split into two groups to teach about germs and hand washing, with 20 families (women) in each group and then we called them up one at a time to put the filters together and teach them how to use it. Their expressions of love and gratitude were heartwarming. What a blessing for our group to be able to give 40 families the gift of clean water!

Cara and Emi spent their time playing with some children.  They came back with darling homemade bracelets one girl had given them. They were touched that these little girls, who literary had nothing would give them their little treasured bracelets. 

Borehole and Goat Giving

Our final day in Mbale happened to be mine and Josh’s 17thwedding anniversary.  When I saw the agenda for the day, before leaving on the trip, my eyes filled with tears of humility and gratitude because we would be going out to experience two projects Josh and I had specifically dreamed of and worked toward. When we returned from Guatemala, we decided to start buying a goat to give away each month. The first two goats were given in a male female pair to grandparents who were raising their grandchildren in extreme poverty. One of the children had club feet and required extra medical care, and the finances were not available for any of them to attend school. On our anniversary our group had the opportunity to give away the four goats we purchased in March to June to four widows in the village where the borehole was dug. The village leaders had picked the four most destitute widows to each receive a female goat.  (There is a male who wanders the village to make his services available when needed.) Then the leaders told who the first-born female baby would go to so that person would know to keep an eye on the goat. The chain will continue as potentially hundreds of widows and families receive goats as a result of the first ones gifted, each one giving the first-born female. It is unbelievable to think how such a little sacrifice from us can provide desperately needed income and nutrition for them. It was awesome to see the joy of the women receiving this gift. 

The second project we had raised funds for was to put a borehole in a community. It is a humbling experience to sit before a village as they dance and sing to express gratitude for the clean water they will now have because of the money given by my very own friends. How did I get to be so lucky to be the one to cut the ribbon as they cheered? As I’ve mentioned, going to Africa was not on my bucket list, but as my heart and desire to go grew I pondered what I would add to my list in the event that we could make going work. My vision and desire became giving a community clean water. The most basic of all human needs. Women and children are kept from school and work to spend their days gather water from dirty water sources, water that makes them sick and water that they know will kill about ¼ of their family. Clean water – the water I shower in every day. The water I use to water the lawn and so easily turn on and impatiently wait for it go run warm, or cold. Could we really get clean water for a village for less than $1 per person!!?? Because FHe is run mostly by volunteers and because of Emma’s gifts FHe can install a borehole for about $1500, which is about ½ the cost of other NGO’s. Each borehole services about 2000 people. Clean water for life for less than $1 per person. It’s unreal! 

As an expression of gratitude the village presented us with a live chicken.  We were thrilled to give it to Isma's wife.  She had taught us how to make Chapati, a traditional African food, on our culture day, and she had also opened her home to allow us to see in. 

Naming Ceremony 

Our final event in Mbale was a traditional naming ceremony. We loved learning about Ugandan traditions and it was a fun party. Everyone danced to go get their name, and we had some good laughs. 


Bright and early Sunday morning at 6 AM we were off to our Safari in Kenya.  We paid the price to get there. It took us almost 15 hours of slow bumpy roads with only quick stops at the border, for lunch, and a couple potty brakes.  To say we were wondering if it could really be worth the long drive and slow bumpy roads is a vast understatement. We thought we’d never make it, especially as the roads got worse the closer we got to camp.

Upon arrival at our amazing camp with luxury tents and awesome food we were blown away. Our hot showers we created by a wood fire kept hot 24/7. We were so comfortable! We had a very brief but spiritual sacrament meeting during which time a big-eyed monkey tried to get into the kids’ tent.  It was like a scene from a movie. 

The safari was beyond anything I could have imagined.  We left at sunrise and just a couple of minutes from camp, before we reached the animal reserve, we saw a heard of giraffes.  When we got to the reserve our minds were blown with the number, the variety, and how close we got to the animals.  Within the first two hours we’d seen all of “the big five” including the ever hard to find rhino.  Our adventure to Africa was everything we imagined and so much more! 

It was sad to say good-by and hard to get in the vans to drive another 8 hours before beginning our 30+ hour journey home. I have that empowered feeling that “I’ve been to West Africa on a humanitarian trip and lived to tell” I can do anything! 

To get involved and to make a difference in an organization I trust 110% go to visit the Family Humanitarian website.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Church History Road Trip - NYC to SLC

This is a dream trip for me!  I don’t know if I’ve ever put so much time and effort into planning a trip.  My intent in creating this post is the help other people out there planning a similar trip with ideas. It was so long and there were so many details.  I wanted to be sure we didn’t miss anything really important.  Although the Sacred Grove was on my bucket list we found sites along the way that touched our hearts and were as sacred as the grove.  Really, an amazing opportunity!  

When we were not accepted to be in the Nauvoo Pageant again this year (it was our second year to apply), I considered doing something low key, something less expensive, something short, but Josh felt like now was the time to go to church history sites.  He pointed out that a big part of the drive from Utah is too Nauvoo, but the rest of the sites are relatively close so he suggested we go all the way to New York.  I loved the idea, but didn’t want to spend that much time driving so I came up with an unconventional plan.  We decided to invite a family to drive our motor home one direction for us. It was a great opportunity for them, and it was awesome for us too. It did save us the headache of a few days of driving.  (I think it would be a good idea even if it wasn’t a motor home, to let another family take your car one way.) It doesn't put on miles you wouldn't have put on anyway, it just saves you all of the extra time driving. It worked out brilliantly if I do say so myself. 

With the seminary topic for this year being church history, I am so grateful to have a closer connection and understanding of these sites.  I am grateful for this experience, if for no one else, for myself.  Caleb our oldest is 14 and struggling which is part of the reason we decided the timing was right for this trip.  Our 8 and 6 year olds were a bit young, but hopefully when questions arise their experiences on this trip will come to their minds and they will have a desire to turn to God for answers to their question, that they will DOUBT THEIR DOUBTS BEFORE THEY DOUBT THEIR FAITH. I also hope that they will remember the great sacrifices of the pioneers and of their ancestors on their behalf.  I pray that they will remember the incredible journey and story of those who stood by their convictions. 

Day 1:  We left home at 2:45 AM! Flying out at 5:30 AM was painful, but it was fantastic to get to NYC by 4:00PM, get a taxi (or two) to the hotel and get settled before dark.  We stayed at the John Hotel in Flushing, an Asian community near the LaGuardia airport. We found an awesome Chinese dim-som restaurant and started our adventure, with a very adventurous meal, and loved it. 

Day 2: The New York Pass! We did more than $250 of activities in Manhattan for $125 per person.  Everything we did (except our food and subway rides) was included in our pass so we didn't have to decide what was in the budget.  We just decided and paid once. We started with a subway ride into the city. Our only major over site in planning this day was not picking up our Hop On Hop Off Bus tickets at Time Square before going to the Empire State Building.  We took a long walk back to get them, but ended up going to the Madame Tussauds wax museum as part of the detour and we’re glad we did!

Madame Tussauds Wax Museum 

Empire State Building 86th Floor

We mostly got around on the Hop On Hop Off double decker buses. Josh was excited to shop in China town, and the kids were happy to spend the $10 they had for the day! Unfortunately they weren't as adventures about food as the night before so I ended up at McDonald's with them for lunch while Josh and Cara went out for something better. 

9/11 Memorial and Museum 

The Beast: Taking this huge speed boat, and some of the kids sitting in the drench zone, 
on the way out to the Statue of Liberty was everyone’s favorite part of the day.

Our biking in Central Park to the temple started out great and ended up terrifying 
as we took a wrong turn and ended up riding the  traffic filled streets of NYC. 

At least we made it to the temple. 

The Ride was an interactive tour with people singing and dancing from the street. 
It was a really fun mix between a show and a tour. 

Riding the subway was a fun part of the experience.  I thought we were all tired, but never too tired to not mess around. 

Day 3: Drive from LGA to Palmyra to meet the Stouts with our motorhome.  Part of the reason why we stayed near the airport was because we needed to rent a car and leave at about 6 AM.  Along the way we visited the Priesthood Restoration Site in Susquehanna, Pennsylvania to see the home of Joseph and Emma, the Aaronic Priesthood Restoration Area, and the Susquehanna River where Joseph and Oliver were baptized.  This is where Joseph and Emma lived from 1827 to 1830.  We also made a quick stop at the Whitmer Home where the church was organized. We met the Stouts at about 4 PM.  They took the van we had rented to return to the airport and we took the RV for our one-way road trip. 

Priesthood Restoration Visitors Center 

It was impossible for the kids to pick up a box that weighed as much as the plates may have weighed. 

The restored home of Emma Smith's parents, the Hale's, where Joseph and Emma lived. 

The Susquehanna River where Joseph and Oliver were baptized. It's not easy to get a good picture with this group. 

Whitmer Home 

After meeting the Stouts we had time to visit the Smith family farm, Sacred Grove, Palmyra Temple, and Hill Cumorah since we planned to spend the night at the Palmyra Walmart we really had noting better to do even though my schedule didn't have those sites until the next day.  We stocked up the motorhome and relaxed.  The beauty of being in a motorhome is the total flexibility.  

Smith log cabin 

Smith frame home

Sacred Grove

Oh how the Smith’s would love to see the temple in Palmyra just across the street from their farm.  
It is impossible for me to imagine the persecution and difficulties they endured. 

Everyone was getting tired by the time we hit the Hill Cumorah Visitors Center. 
They aren't fighting, just playing around making it impossible to take a picture. 

I really enjoyed the trail up the backside of the Hill Cumorah. Don't miss that back-door walk!   

The kids liked rolling down the steep part that has been cleared for the pageant. It wasn't very reverent, but there was no-one else around and they'd had a very long day and needed to get the ants out of their pants. 

We saw a lot of visitor centers on this trip!  I was so impressed by how many unique displays were at each visitor center and how the church does such a beautiful job at portraying our beliefs. It is incredible to think how the Book of Mormon has filled the earth, now in 110 languages.  I know that any sincere seeker of truth, who reads the Book of Mormon, and prays to know it’s truthfulness will receive a testimony of it through the power of the Holy Ghost. 

Day 4: We finished our time in Palmyra at the Grandin Printing Press where the first 5000 copies of the Book of Mormon were printed and at the Martin Harris Farm.  (There isn’t much to see here except the old farm house.) 

The visitors center is built around the original Grandin building.

The upper case and lower case letters. 

We had a beautiful drive along Lake Ontario to Four Mile Creek State Park near Niagara, 
where we spent the night.  Four Mile Creek was really nice. 
I did laundry and we loved seeing the Taranto Canada skyline across the lake.  
We stopped for a while at Hamlin Beach State Park on our drive there. 

Two seconds before the surprise splash at our pit stop along Lake Ontario.

Day 5: It was really impressive to see Niagara Falls.  It took the full morning to walk to each of the overlook sites. We walked over into Canada and had fudge under the rainbow bridge. That taste of fudge made the kids want fudge for the rest of the trip. We spent the afternoon driving to Kirtland.

Day 6: 
We went to church in Ashtabula Ohio (were we also spent the night in a Walmart parking lot) about 45 minutes from Kirtland. It was a struggling little ward, but the meetings were good.  We were able to convince the kids to stay all three hours because they happened to have a linger longer after church. 

After church we went to the Isaac Morley farm where Joseph and Emma lived for a short time and where Joseph received 13 revelations now included in the doctrine and covenants.  I particularly enjoyed the sacred grove there. 

We had a nice experience at the Kirtland temple, the original temple of this dispensation.  It is now owned by the Church of Christ and they give tours of it for a fee.  The best part was at the end when Josh asked the guide about singing and he invited our group to sing The Spirit of God in the assembly room of the temple.  The pioneers sure made incomprehensible sacrifices to build temples. (I should have checked the family picture before we left!) 

Before visiting Kirtland I didn’t really get the significance of the Newel K. Whitney Store and businesses.  This building was 80% original and I felt as if we were walking on sacred ground in that building.  I was so impressed by the feeling there. 

Joseph and Emma lived in this building, above the store for a time.
The table was original to their home.

  Joseph held the school of the prophets in the room pictured below. 
This is where the Word of Wisdom was revealed.  

Whitney's sawmill

Whitney's ashery

Whitney's store

Day 7:  We stayed at Punderson state Park and then went to the John Johnson farm south of Kirtland. The Johnson family provided a home for Joseph and his family from 1831 to 1832.  

He received many revelations there and faced serious opposition. Andy is opening the door with the original handle to Joseph's office on the Johnson farm.  

We spent the second half of day seven at Cuyahoga Valley National Park and then driving to Indiana Dunes State Park very late. (We spent more time at the National Park than we expected.  It was awesome.)  This National Park was different than anything I’ve seen in the west.  It was built around a town so as we drove we were in and out of the park. The waterfall, which is the main attraction at the park because of it's easy access wasn’t that impressive, but we spent time at a place called the Ledges, which we really enjoyed and found very beautiful!

Day 8: We had plans to stay at Indiana Dunes two nights and have a full beach day, but we were rained out the first morning so we decided to hit the road after spending a little time at the beach in the rain.   

It all worked out for the best.  We went to Chicago and had Chicago style pizza.  We thought we’d go to the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, but as we walked along the beach from pizza to the zoo the sun peaked out and we decided to have a beach day after all, with the sky line right behind us.  The best part about having the beach day in  Chicago is that we drove most of the way to Carthage rather than staying at Indian Dunes.  We ended up needing that extra time in Nauvoo, and it got us to Carthage early the next day. 

Day 9: We discovered after the trip was planned that June 27, the day we were in Carthage, was the actual date that Joseph Smith was martyred 174 years ago.  It was really impressive to see the actual bullet holes in the door and to hear the story of his martyrdom sitting near the window he jumped from.  It worked out perfectly.  We spent the night at a walmart about an hour from Carthage so we got there early which was a blessing.  Our family were the only ones on our tour and they were shutting down early for a special program in the afternoon. 

Prophets of God, throughout time, have been asked to seal their testimonies with their blood.  Joseph Smith, along with his brother Hyrum gave all for the testimony of what they knew to be true.

Day 10-11: We were glad to have  nearly three full days in Nauvoo.  We were pretty focused on seeing things and even with three days we didn’t hit everything. We stayed at the Nauvoo State Park.  It was super close and inexpensive. 

It was awesome to see my Uncle Bill on his mission at the blacksmith shop and in the Brick Yard in Nauvoo. We were also grateful for the use of his air conditioned apartment each afternoon so the kids could hang out where it was cool while Josh and I went to the temple. 

The best experience in Nauvoo for us was a program called the Trail of Hope.  They only do it 2-3 nights per week in the summer, but it is worth planning around.  They young performing missionaries performed vignettes from the journals of people leaving Nauvoo.  We would stop and watch and then move on down the road until it ended at the Mississippi River.  So touching!  It was also at sunset as the fire flies were out in the field behind the performers. 

Weaving wool

Working together to make a rope

Learning at the school house

Our experiences in the Nauvoo temple were very special. 
It was awesome to be in the temple where ordinances work for the dead began.  

Day 12: On our hot drive to Independence, we stopped at Adam Ondi Ahman. Our friend helped us find this rock. It called preachers rock and from it a voice carries through the whole valley. There are no tours or visiter center at Adam Andi Ahman so it just looks like endless fields if you don't know what you're looking for. 

We saw the cornerstones of the temple that were laid in Far West. 

This was our hot travel day so we headed to a pool and KOA camp ground as quick as we could. 
It was humid and our AC wasn't working as well as it should have been. 

Day 13: We went to church at a little struggling branch in Kansas city.  It is the branch our friends and neighbors, Steve and Kristin Price are assigned to on their mission. We had an awesome dinner with the Price's and went to the Independence Missouri Visitor Center and Liberty Jail. This jail was more like a torture chamber, yet as with Paul of the New Testament, beautiful revelations came during Joseph Smith's time of great trial, wrongfully locked in this jail. 

Day 14 to 16: One of the advantages of traveling in a motor home is that Josh can drive after everyone goes to bed.  We cranked out most of the drive through Kansas on Sunday night stopping for the night at a truck stop somewhere along the way. We arrived at my cousins, outside of Denver (in Thornton) on Monday around noon. We spent the 4th of July with them.  Had we not had family in Denver we would have gone to Rocky Mountain National park to end our trip, but it was a hit playing with cousins and making a few last memories. Before the final stretch of the drive home! 

For my friends that are planning this road trip, we decided to skip the winter quarters visitors center in Nebraska.  We'd seen enough visitors centers! If you are interested in going to the pioneer handcart sites as part of your trip I've blogged about that separate trip we did here: (You can skip over the personal stuff at the beginning to get some ideals on where to go at the handcart sites.  It is also an awesome and worthwhile trip.) I hope this helps as you plan to take your family to feel the spirit of these sacred sites. It is WORTH ALL of the effort!