Monday, December 26, 2011

A Sweaty Christmas with Raindeer (#15)

We began this week with a goal to see 20 new members, and we exceeded our goal by two because some people came to church that we hadn’t previously met.

We were very thankful to have a car to drive, but it didn’t have air conditioning and it was a hot and humid week. As the week drew closer to Christmas the windows stopped working correctly and would roll up but not down, and then down but not back up. We drove around sweating profusely with the windows up. Then Elder Johnsen thought we could turn on the fan, but this idea was scraped when the fan felt more like a heater.

We spent Christmas Eve day baking and then driving around delivering cookies, and singing some of our prerecorded Christmas songs. Sister Johnsen found a new song, called “Do You Have Room” which was written by Shawna Edwards after hearing President Monson’s Christmas devotional talk where he asked if we had room in our lives for the Savior. We were able to download a backup track too. At a couple of places we sang “Who would Send a Baby?” as a duet. These musical messages really bring the spirit into the hearts of the hearers. Singing the song actually impacts us as we sing too. For example, as we sang these words, “Who would send a baby to heal a world in pain? Who would send a baby a tiny child? When the world is crying for the Promised One, Who would send His only Son? Who would send a baby to light a world with love? Who would send a baby, a tiny child? When the world is hoping for the Promised One; Who would send His only Son? Who would choose a manger to cradle a King? Who would send angels to sing? Who would hang a star in the sky above to shine on the gift of His infinite love? Who would send a baby to bless a world with peace? Who would send a baby, a tiny child? When the world is yearning for the Promised One, Who would send a baby? Who would send a baby? Who would send His only begotten Son?” As we sing those words we can’t but help feel such gratitude for our Heavenly Father. Sister Johnsen and I took cookies to a sister who tends her mother who is bedridden. She is in constant pain. We stepped inside their little house, and the mother was there on her bed as she usually is. When we sang the words, “Who would send angels to sing?” Sister Johnsen felt the spirit whisper that even we can be angels sometimes, and bring the spirit when we go out and sing to people. Just like in the days of the Savior’s birth, sometimes the Father still sends out “angels” to sing. We went to at least 10 different homes, and actually made contact with a bunch of new people on our need to meet list.
We certainly had a different Christmas Eve than we usually do. We came in from delivering cookies and were hot and tired. We still needed to do all our dishes, make twice baked potatoes and our layered jello for Christmas dinner the next day. We rested and watched a movie, The Music Man, and then got up and worked. Then we dropped into bed. We didn’t open any presents, or do our traditional dancing around the Christmas tree. Just as we were going to bed it started pouring rain and I turned to Sister Johnsen and said, “Raindeer on our roof.” It rained raindeer almost all night!!

We had a nice Christmas day, and we had four Christmas musical numbers at Sacrament meeting. Our huge choir of 8 people sang, “With Wondering Awe”, a sister who hasn’t been to church since we came, sang “Away in the Manger,” Elder Johnsen and Eric Carlson sang, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks,” and Sister Johnsen sang, “Do You Have Room?” Elder Johnsen gave a talk on the Savior and Christmas.

Then we came home and prepared for dinner while all the Elders talked to their families. They all came up about 2:00 and ate. Then we played games, opened presents, and talked until 10:00 that evening. The day went by very fast. We couldn’t believe that it seemed to go so quickly. It was a very lovely Christmas here on the islands!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Juxtaposition (#14)

We have been able to do some singing this week because Jon Hulme made some recordings for us. Karen “ripped” them and then emailed them to us. After the download was complete we burned a CD and took the CD player and the music in the car with us on our way to visit a couple of members who live about 45 minutes away. Sister Johnsen and I practiced a couple of them. Just before we got to Sister Vicenta’s house we felt like we should sing to her. This Sister is so sweet and faithful in the church but she is 70 and it is too far to come to church every week. Sister Johnsen sang “Shine for Me Again, Star of Bethlehem”. It was touching and beautiful and brought such a feeling of peace and love of the Savior into each of our hearts. When Sister Johnsen finished singing Sister Vicenta said, with tears in her eyes, “Thank you, Lord.” Her inactive son who avoids missionaries at all costs happened to pull up in his truck with the window open just as Sister Johnsen began to sing. He sat there and listened until she finished. Usually he runs from the missionaries but I walked over, introduced myself, got to know him and took his picture for our file. Only after our visit did he drive away. There is power in music, thanks to Jon Hulme for making that power a part of our mission in Palau!

Sister Johnsen and I sang in sacrament meeting on Sunday. It was “Who would send a baby. ” Almost everyone in the congregation came up to me after the meeting and complimented us on how good it sounded. Sister Johnsen didn’t get to hear many compliments because she went up to the other church unit which is just getting started, (they still sit on the floor) and sang “Star of Bethlehem.” I taught Sunday school today, (with no preparation of course) as the regular teacher didn’t show up.

We have two sets of missionaries and one of them had a tire go flat last Sunday and Elder Johnsen drove 30 minutes one way to help them. They put their spare on and it went flat so he took them ours. Then on Friday they limped into town because their fan blades broke off and one of them punctured their radiator. The brackets on the radiator are also broken off. We were down to two cars for three sets of missionaries.

But the Lord was watching over us, because we found we couldn’t rent a car for a reasonable price and we were going to try to share or something and on Saturday night after the branch Christmas party we were delivering food baskets and we rode with Batil who decided to drive his sister’s car. He said that he was going to sell it, and we asked if we could rent it for a week. So it has been a huge help. It’s a little different since the steering wheel is on the wrong, I mean, the right side of the car. We are having the same trouble we had when we drove in Australia. When we want to turn a corner we accidently turn on the windshield wipers. They are reversed. You can always tell a tourist because their wipers are on when they turn a corner!

We have been in Palau for 2 whole months now and we feel that the vegetation is the most beautiful we have ever seen. It is breathtaking. On the other hand, there is so much poverty. The two juxtapositoned creates an interesting feeling as one drives around the island.

Here are examples of what we mean:


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Lost Coin (#13)

It’s Christmas in Palau! A few buildings have lights up but that is because they have their own generators. We went out to buy a tree but wanted one that had white lights, and was tall enough to look like a tree, but not too expensive, and we found it! Sister Johnsen made a few red bows, and Elder Adams donated the decorative glass balls his parents sent last year. We like our little tree. The Elder’s packages from home have started to arrive, and they are putting them under our tree.

Elder Roko left for Saipan, and Elder Early came here from Saipan. They switched places. Elder Early is a convert to the church for about two years. It’s so great when young men join the church and then are willing to serve for two years in places all over the world.

Our Branch President asked us to represent the church at a special meeting of the local church leaders to discuss the spiritual health of the islanders. The leader of the group was Dr. Kortiea, and he is a very spiritual and wonderful man. He said that if something is not done differently, the young people on the island will be dead before their parents because of the lifestyle choices they are making. It was interesting and enjoyable to sit down and meet the other leaders and ministers of the churches on the island. It is a good thing to set aside the doctrinal difference and focus on what we can do in concert to help the people we’re called to serve. There will be a follow-up meeting after the holidays.

We also were invited to work with some bright elementary students in Meyuns, one of the hamlets in Koror, as they prepare for the big spelling bee that eventually leads to the National Spelling bee in Washington D.C. We work with them 4 days a week pronouncing words and having them spell them. It is such a blessing to be able to meet and work with them. Elder Johnsen helped the students understand the meaning of the word trajectory by asking: “What is the trajectory of a frog chucked into the jungle? It’s a learning curve, because they never come back”. (Well, the teachers thought it was funny).

Our CES leader came from Guam and gave us an orientation for seminary and institute. Most couples spend an extra 3 days in the MTC getting trained, but since we were called as member-leader support missionaries, we didn’t get it. However, we are over CES here, so Brother Nicerio tried to explain what we are supposed to do. He asked us how much time we spend on CES and we said, maybe 10 % of our time (he was hoping for 25%). He thought we should try to improve that, so Sister Johnsen set the goal to spend 11% of our time on CES. Brother Nicerio has no idea how busy we are.

Our power is still going off and on, but has gotten a little random. It went off at the regular time Sunday, 6:00 PM, so we thought we would just wait until 8 to make dinner because we were making chicken and rice and couldn’t do it on one butane burner. The power didn’t come back on until 8:45. We started cooking a late dinner, and shortly after we started eating the Elders came up, as they often do on Sunday evening, and we shared our dinner with them. It was perfect timing. Some people are saying it will be next July before the power is really fixed completely.

We had our two cute little Palauan girls sing The Nativity Song for Sacrament meeting. It was so sweet; it made Elder Johnsen cry. We hope to have some nice Christmas music this month.

We continue to look for people on the branch list to see if they are here, or not. This week Sister Johnsen made a call to a family and asked if we could come out and meet them. She asked about each of the children and found out that one of them on the branch list had died at 14, back in 1988. Elder Johnsen felt very discouraged by this. He knows that there are supposed to be priesthood actions list to help keep in contact with all the young people. There should be seminary lists, and institute lists, and prospective elder and prospective missionary lists. There are supposed to be visiting teachers to every woman, and home teachers for every family. How does someone die and no one notice for 23 years? As he was reading Talmage’s, Jesus the Christ, this week he felt like he understood one of the Savior’s parables in a new way, and that our experience made the story come alive. Here is what he wrote in his journal:

“Something that Elder Talmage wrote about the parable of the lost coin really struck me as it relates to what we’re doing right now in Palau. He noted that as contrast with the straying sheep, ‘the coin had been dropped, and so was lost as a result of inattention or culpable carelessness on the part of its owner. The woman, discovering her loss institutes a diligent search; she sweeps the house, and perhaps learns of dirty corners, dusty recesses, cobwebby nooks, to which she had been oblivious in her self-complacency as an outwardly clean and conventional housewife. Her search is rewarded by the recovery of the lost piece, and is incidentally beneficial in the cleansing of her house.’ Elder Talmage goes on to explain, ‘The woman who by lack of care lost the precious piece may be taken to represent the theocracy of the time, and the Church as an institution in any dispensational period; then the pieces of silver, everyone a genuine coin of the realm, bearing the image of the great King, are the souls committed to the care of the Church; and the lost piece symbolizes the souls that are neglected and, for a time at least, lost sight of, by the authorized ministers of the Gospel of Christ.’ It is interesting to note that the lost coin was silver which tarnishes when it is neglected. We are not sure that these members understand their great worth. They have forgotten that at their core they are sons and daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves them and who has a plan that will give them eternal life. The beginning principle of the first lesson we teach is that God is our Loving Heavenly father, we are his children; He loves us and will help us make right choices, and through Jesus Christ we can live with God again. Sister Johnsen and I have certainly been doing a lot of sweeping lately—hopefully, some of these lost coins will let us pick them up, and help them knock off some of the tarnish so we may rejoice together. ‘Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.’”

The leaders here on Palau and the active members are the most dedicated and strong saints we have ever met, but there just aren’t enough of them. With 1 active Melchizedek priesthood to every 30 members, it is just impossible to be able to provide proper watch care for all the members. We are beginning to see the inspiration and wisdom of Elder Holland’s call for thousands more senior couples to help with this work. Before the Savior returns to the earth we must help polish these coins and find anyone else who may be interested in the message that the gospel of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth with all its glory, blessings and authority.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Island Way (#12)

After a District Meeting with the other Elders

Elder Johnsen loves it when people give us a big bunch of bananas. They are small and sweet, and he can eat the whole thing by himself. Right now we have a huge coconut in our refrigerator, and a papaya on our counter top. Fruit grows abundantly here, and people love to give it to the missionaries.

We love the sticky rice. It’s not flaky like we eat at home, and we have been cooking it with raisins and then covering it with cinnamon. Sometimes that is our entire lunch or dinner. Elder Johnsen says that if someone would give us a fish we could have fish and rice for breakfast like everyone else does, but they give it to you with the head and everything else on, and I haven’t quite gotten used to being served fish that way.

While we are on the subject of food, I decided to have an apple during a power outage and was about finished when the lights came back on and found that there was a very good chance that there was a worm in my apple. Only packaged foods for power outages now!

We have learned a few new words, words that we can say. We heard lots of words, but we can’t say them. We do know how to say yes, which is pronounced “o-o-ee”. But it is spelled, “Ochoi.” We can say “no,” which is pronounced “dee ak” and is spelled “ngdiak.” We can say “abai,” pronounce “ah buy.” This is a gathering place for people in small communities. This week we learned “uai sei” which is pronounce “way say.” It means, “I agree”. So we have been on Palau 7 weeks and can say 4 words. Amazing progress!

The “d” is pronounced “th” so the last name Mad is math. Well, at this rate, we might know ten words before we come home. Lots of prayers are said in Palauan and when we attend council meetings sometimes they start talking in Palauan, and we miss some of what is happening.

However, you probably aren’t really an islander until you have a boat trip experience which Elder Johnsen did last Saturday. He went to Peleliu, which about 20 miles south of Koror where we live, to help dedicate a grave.

I’ll let Elder Johnsen tell the rest of the story: “After the dedicatory prayer was concluded we rode back, parked the car we had borrowed for our island tour that day, and walked to the boat that would take us back home. Our ride over was uneventful and swift. The boat was only a 16 footer with a 150 HP motor. In smooth water it was FAST, and a gentle ride. I loved the trip to Peleliu. The ride back was more of an adventure. Since the tide was in, we thought we could take a shortcut over a large expanse of sandy bottom shallow water. About ½ way across at a high rate of speed one of the passengers at the back of the boat noticed we were kicking up a large amount of sand and weeds behind the prop. For fear we might hit a rock and do some real damage, our operator cut the power and the boat immediately stopped, so for the next 20 minutes we slowly made our way out of the sand to get back into the deeper water channel.

About the time we made it to the deeper water and resumed a high rate of speed, we started into a rain squall. I was sitting at the front of the boat with my back facing forward so my back got wet but my front and legs surprisingly stayed dry while those passengers in the back of the boat had hard rain compounded by the speed of the boat pelting them full on in the face. By the time the rain passed the waves had picked up considerably. Our little 16 foot, while nimble in smooth water didn’t handle the big waves very well. We’d make good headway and then the combination of the speed of the boat, and up and down of the waves would cause the prop of the motor to come out of the water. So the operator would have to slow down again and gradually increase speed until the process was repeated.

Finally, just as we made it over the reef and had our last stretch of open water ahead of before us, the boat engine quit. All the extra time spent in the sand and high waves had exhausted our fuel supply. The wind was still blowing hard and in the open our boat was drifting fast toward the rock island we had just passed. The waves were crashing against the base of the tree- covered coral island that was looming larger as the evening light was dimming to darkness. Frantically, calls were made on our cell phones to the Koror rescue team; cell phones were working because of our close proximity and line of sight to the island (we were probably only 5 miles out). Meanwhile we all started paddling with floatation devices to slow our drift rate. The boat did not have paddles, life jackets, or any lighting devices. We were in danger of crashing into the coral island if our progress wasn’t arrested by our own efforts.

Despite our best attempts we were getting perilously close to the rock island. (next time you sing “Master the tempest is raging” and sing about fearful breakers roaring think of me) Finally, in the distance we could see the rescue boat coming toward us. I held my small, emergency scout flashlight to guide the rescue boat to us while the other members of our group kept paddling. (A scout is prepared!) When the rescue boat finally reached us we were less than 100 yards from the rocks, and by the time they got hooked up to tow us to safe harbor we were much closer than that.

I jumped into the rescue boat while my companions stayed with the boat being towed. I was surprised to see in the rescue boat one of our members who had been ordained to the office a deacon as a young man, but hadn’t been back to church for many years. We talked for entire trip to the harbor; I was glad he was doing his duty that night. Surprisingly, even in the rescue boat I was being splashed by waves that were breaking over the bow of the boat as it plowed through the water while towing the heavy load of the boat and my companions behind. As we got nearer to the shelter of the harbor the water because more calm; the stars and a bright moon began to peek from what a few minutes before had been a cloudy sky. The boat operator invited me to join him at the front of the boat where I had an unobstructed view of the path home illuminated by the lights on the shore ahead and the moon above. After about 45 minutes we were safely berthed.

Later as I reflected on that experience of being “rescued” I realized that as missionaries we are in the business of spiritual rescue. We may be imperfect, but if we will just do our duty, God can use us to do his work just as my young friend was doing his duty when he rescued me.”

There were only 3 women in Relief Society today. Sister Carlson, who is the Relief Society president, bemoaned the fact that there were so few of them. She was there, me, and Candy Co, who was the teacher today. When Sister Carlson was talking about how few of us there were, it popped into my mind to quote the Lord’s promise that where two or three are gather, there will I be. The lesson was on attending meetings, which the people who weren’t there might have needed to hear. We had 52 in Sacrament meeting today, and then everyone left and went home. They do that every Sunday.

We had a great lesson, and the spirit was definitely there and the last scripture in the lesson was, “Where two or three are gather, there will I be also.” It was a confirming experience for all three of us, and we were so glad to have been in Relief Society today together.

We aren’t true islanders yet, but maybe we are getting closer!

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Mixed-up Files of the Micronesia Missionaries (#11)

On Monday, our preparation day, Sister Johnsen decided that she would get a haircut from the inactive member that we found last week. Although the place she works is a barber shop and she is the only haircutter, it was decided that this would be a good way to sit down and have a conversation with her. She is from the Philippines, but speaks English well enough to be understood. Somehow though, something got lost in translation, and Sister Johnsen ended up with a LOT LESS hair. She happened to mention how hot her hair was on her neck (during the power outages) and we guess this was misunderstood to mean that the hair should all be cut off on the neck. Besides being too short, it looked really terrible.

New "missionary" haircut

Luckily, we had another place on island that looked like it was more modern, and we went (ran) over there. Their haircutter was much better, but eventually, Elder Johnsen had to assist to make further alterations in the hair to have it be presentable. Elder Johnsen says, “What do you expect from a $5.00 hair cut…or 2 $5.00 haircuts.” (He also reminds us of his favorite carpenter joke, “I’ve cut this board three times, and it’s still too short.”) We got a haircut, a pedicure and a facial for only $25.00. (a scout is thrifty) Elder Wright, our Zone Leader, says I got my “missionary haircut.” Now I am official!!

We went back on Monday evening to see Randa, the one and only one we thought we got right last week, only to find that she wasn’t the right Randa after all. We eventually did meet up with the correct person.

For Thanksgiving we bought a small turkey and put it in the oven at exactly 2:00 when the power comes back on. We wanted to eat about 5, but probably didn’t start until 5:30. We were watching the clock. At 6:00 all six of us, (the four Elders were here) had to finish our Thanksgiving dinner by a small lantern and flashlights. We played “I Never”, and then started a game of “Oh Heck”. We all had fun, and finally the lights came back on at 8:00. It was a mixed up, but enjoyable day.

We held seminary at 5:00 this week because we can’t hold it at 6:00, the regular time, until the power comes back on. At 3 minutes to 6:00 we said a really fast prayer and exited the building. It gets really dark in there when the power goes out.

Elder Johnsen spent Saturday morning making 50 bags of popcorn on a butane stove! Now that’s camping! We took all 50 bags to the church for the Branch Thanksgiving activity. We watched 17 Miracles with about 40 people but were able to pawn off, I mean, give away all 50 bags of popcorn, but Elder Johnsen says it was famous Johnsen popcorn so the sacrifice wasn’t that great.

Sunday, Sister Johnsen had her first choir practice. We had about 10 people there BUT we didn’t have any power, so we brought our little keyboard all equipped with batteries. We also don’t have a pianist, so Elder Johnsen played and tried to sing the tenor part (he did better singing than playing). He had helpers on the tenor part but they really don’t read music. If that isn’t mixed up, I don’t know what it. We chose “With Wondering Awe” because the piano does play it (it only plays about 160 hymns) and on Christmas when we sing it we will have to sing before 10:00 because that’s when the power goes out.

Speaking of hymns, for our opening hymn on Sunday we sang, Hymn #52, The Day Dawn is Breaking. We were OK until the chorus, but instead of reducing the pace to a quarter note at 60, it moved the pace up to 180, the piano played the chorus SO fast that no one could sing it. So the young man running the piano, tried to slow down the second verse so we came in a little slower, but we were still almost unable to sing the chorus. A few brave souls tried. So the young man slowed it down again for the 3rd verse and we came in even more slowly Still…… let………..doing….in….our…..lessons ……reviewing…..(you get the idea.) We were never really able to sing the chorus together, and all of us were laughing! So much for preparing us for a spiritual feast!

Life is interesting here, a little mixed-up, but interesting!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Dynamic Detective Duo (or the Case of Mistaken Identity) (#10)

We’ve decided that when we get home from our missions, we might want to become full time detectives!! As we have previously mentioned, during our “spare time” we’re trying to find 85 members who are unknown to the branch leadership. This week we set a goal to find two each day for a total of 12. While we miraculously achieved our goal this week, it wasn’t without some challenges.

Early in the week, we went out looking for Randa Sadang. She lives in the blue house between the house with the high stilts and the white house. Earlier when we stopped there we were told to come after 4 or 5 in the afternoon to find her. We arrived a little late, but now they said, “No, she lives across the street.” We wandered around the houses and found two women sitting outside, both chewing and spitting. We asked for Randa, and the women said she was Randa. “Randa Sadang?” She tells us got married and her last name is Andres. By now it is completely dark outside, and we can’t really see the people with whom we are speaking. We talked to her about being a member, and she said she wasn’t. She said she was Catholic. Sister Johnsen asked her multiple questions and found out that the other young woman was also a member. She is a little mentally slow though. We made an appointment to come back the following Monday. I was pretty sure she was the member, but wasn’t positive until we asked for her birth date, got back in the car and checked it. Sure enough, she is a member. This set up our “investigation” for the entire week.

Our next search involved trying to find Diliaur Davis. We got a lead that she stayed at the end of the road past the church behind the left house. So we went to that house and said her name (that’s the first problem, we don’t say the names the same way Palaun’s say the names) and they told us that she stayed in the neighboring village, and they would take us there. We followed them in their car, and when we arrived Diliaur was not there, but some other guys said that she was at the Hospital with her two sick boys. We headed to the hospital (by this time it is pouring rain). Elder Johnsen had been to the hospital and knew the way to the medical ward, so we walked back there, (by this time we’re thinking this really is a small miracle, this poor woman really needs us) and found the Davis room; we went in to introduce ourselves and found that this was not our Diliaur Davis, but another Davis woman about the same age as the woman we were looking for. We asked her a few questions about being a member of the church, and she was really confused but assured us that she wasn’t a member. We asked her a few more questions and tried to help her jog her memory. Finally we realized that we could ask for her birth date to clear up the matter. Oops, wrong Diliaur Davis! We still feel a little suspicious though, how many Diliaur Davis’s can there be on Palau? All was not lost though because as we headed out it was raining so hard we decided to wait it out a minute, and Sister Johnsen noticed that the little hospital store had warm hot dogs at the little snack bar at the hospital entry. We bought that and fruit drink for only 2.19. We need to eat at the hospital every night!

The dynamic detective duo set out again the next day for another adventure, but with the same result. It turned into our second case of mistaken identity this week. We were looking for Maygan Brian’s mother who lived in Meyuns, and who might be able to give us Maygan’s address in Guam. We needed to send her records there. The mother’s name was Marcella so we went down into this group of houses where we thought she lived and asked a little 9 year old girl if she knew where Marcella lived, and she quickly helped us find her house. Unfortunately, Marcella wasn’t home, but the neighbor knew where she worked so we headed over to the cafeteria at Meyuns Elementary School. When we got there we introduced ourselves and told her we were looking for Marcella. She said she was Marcella, but we could tell she was confused about why missionaries were looking for her. She and her companions were all chewing beetle nut and playing cards. We said, “Are you a member of the church?” We pointed to our name badges? She said she was not a member, but again, we were suspicious (as all good detectives would be) about her denial. Finally she convinced us she wasn’t the right Marcella. However, Marcella #1 knew Marcella #2 who lives at the other end of the same group of houses. She drew us a map and within a few minutes we were back near our original location; we found the right Marcella, and she agreed to help us get Maygan’s address. (Maygon’s sister had Maygan’s cell phone number handy so we also got that).

View from Meyuns

Then Carsla, our best Meyun’s helper, told us where to find Witness Umai. This was a slam dunk because she worked at the hospital in homebound services. We went in to the homebound room and no one knew a Witness. We went back to the car to get the full name. When we came back there was a woman sitting there who wasn’t there before. She said her name was Umai. We showed her the name of the person we were looking for and she pointed to the last name and said she didn’t go by that name any more. Oh! We have the right person this time. Next, “Are you are a member of the church, (again pointing to our badges).” No, she wasn’t a member. Now let me just pause and ask any reasonable person on a search of this sort…same middle name, says she has changed her last name…what would you think? We assumed she had “forgotten” like our first find. So I continued to ask questions. She said she remembered talking to the missionaries one time, but she was pretty sure she wasn’t baptized. She was the sweetest, most patient woman, and was trying so hard to help us, but couldn’t really admit to being a member of the church, when she wasn’t. Finally Elder Johnsen remembered the vital test and asked her birth date. Oops, again! Not our woman. So if you live on Palau and you see this older couple charging forward to accuse you of being a member of the church…be afraid, be very afraid!

Some of you may be thinking, those poor Johnsen’s. Trying to find all those people, on a group of islands with no street names, no house numbers, houses tucked in a jungle, different language—and you’d be right! It isn’t easy to find people here. Fortunately at almost every house people are outside visiting with each other (almost no one has air conditioning). So it’s quite easy to strike up a conversation with someone that speaks at least a little English. Secondly, people generally know that missionaries are not the police or FBI, (undercover detectives, maybe). They assume that we have good intent, so they willingly help us by drawing maps, or by having us follow them while they take us to someone’s house, or they willingly give us their birth date so we can verify their identity. Who would do that in Houston, TX? When we arrived on Palau there were 356 names on the branch roster and as of last night we had that down to 319—and we’ve actually added 4 families who are members who were not on the branch rolls when we arrived.

And thus ends the tale of the dynamic detective duo. Stay tuned for next week’s adventure!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Week in the Life of Elder and Sister Johnsen (#9)

*A SPECIAL NOTE WITH THIS BLOG! If you make it all the way through this blow by blow, you are very tenacious! We promise never to give you all the details again!

Monday was our preparation day. We were worried that the store wouldn’t have power so we wanted to finish our shopping before 10:00. We skyped family members, and even got in a couple sets of tennis before our day was over. (the tennis court left a little to be desired; Sister Johnsen says that is an understatement.) Before the power went out we visited Walter who gave us the scoop on the power plant fire—while he’s retired he previously was an operator at the power plant so he knows quite a bit about the inner workings of the plant.

We spent the remaining part of the evening calling members on the phone (or trying to call them). Those without phones, we tried to look them up on Facebook. There are 85 names on the rolls that the active members don’t know. About 20 of those have phone numbers listed. So far most of those are NOT in service or the person who answers at that number doesn’t know the person we’re looking for. So we’re trying to find them and it’s not easy. We’re having a heck of a time getting the address of members who have left these islands for the states. We have leads, we call those leads, they promise to get back with us when they get the off island member’s address but so far only one person has actually called us back. In some cases the off island member has an email address but our emails to them have also gone unanswered. Are we discouraged, NO!

Today we were back at the high school helping Bro. Carlson with the drama section of his English class. There was no power at the HS until 10:00 a.m. (when ours goes off theirs go on, I guess). It was a relief when the fans came on—the two AC units in his class room are broken so in the best case it’s super hot in his 2nd floor class room. He seemed to be pleased with some of the individual help that we gave the students as they make plans for their “movie” project. It’s fun for Sister Johnsen and I to talk about drama since we’ve both been interested in it for most of our lives.

After we came back from lunch at our hot apartment (we cooked grilled cheese sandwiches on our butane stove). Bro. Carlson came out to tell us that school had been canceled because there was NO water and the toilets wouldn’t flush. So we went over to the library where Sister Johnsen picked up a couple more books while I looked at the local newspaper to find out about the power outage.

In the afternoon we tracked down Mary, a member where the phone number I reached was working and where the person who answered actually knew who I was talking about. His instructions on how to find Mary’s place was good enough that we drove right to it. Mary got married 6 years ago to a Palauan, they have 2 children. I was actually able to get their marriage date from the courthouse,( they’re getting to know me pretty well at the courthouse, ha) because Mary couldn’t actually remember her actual marriage date. We made a return appointment for Thursday to bring them some popcorn, which the kids have never tasted, her marriage date, and hopefully some information about her brothers who are still on Yap.

We also visited Ida a couple times to pick up some cuttings. We finally made it home about 5:00 and had just enough time to finish dinner and some of the dishes before the power went out at 6:00 p.m. Jon Hulme has agreed to be our remote accompanist so today Sister Johnsen copied a bunch of music and we dropped it in the mail to him, he’s going to record the accompaniment on a CD which we’ll use for practice and performance. Lucky for us these evenings when the power is off we have lots of work we can do on the computer—my lap top has a good battery and the dial-up works since the usb modem is powered by the computer, so as long as the phone service is up we’re good to go.

Our computer project today was to make an excel file record of the hymns that can be played on the player piano/organ. Not all the hymns are loaded on it. In our last set of Sunday meetings twice the person conducting choose a hymn that was not available. So Sister Johnsen and I thought that it would be good for us to choose the music which goes with the theme of the meetings but since we only have about 160 hymns to choose from it would be good to get that recorded on a usable file.

At 12:20 we were back over at the high school to help Bro. Carlson with his 3rd period class (which was canceled yesterday do to having no water at the school). The power outage has impacted lots of things. At 1:00 we had district meeting then at 2:30 Sister Johnsen had a piano lesson with a woman in the branch, Esmeralda. While she was doing that I went with the elders to find Alfred Ham, a Yapese member who we heard about from Mary but who is not on our branch rolls. After talking to his wife Connie and meeting their little daughter Abby I went back to the church and requested their records. There is so much work that needs to be done to get these records straightened out.

We also had the elders show us were Caron lived so we could talk to her granddaughter about music lessons, we had a great visit and Sister Johnsen arranged a lesson for this coming Saturday morning. (while the power is still on) We then stopped at PNCC to pick up a new phone book (which they didn’t have) and then went to the Ben Franklin store to find a lost member who we got a lead might work there. She has left their employment, but happily, by talking to a couple of the workers there, we found that she is working at the $1.99 store. So we’ll try there tomorrow. Since there’s not much we can do making visits when the power is out.

We went home and cooked our dinner on our little butane stove and ate at the table with our little headlamps illuminating our meal. Sister Johnsen said that in her wildest dreams she never did see us doing that on our mission. Another funny thing happened today, Sister Johnsen, wore her crocks, but since it was dark (power out) when we left the apartment she put on one brown shoe and one black shoe and wore them like that all day.

Sister Johnsen is such a bull dog. This morning we traveled to Airai, which is about 8 miles up the road to visit Sister De Leon. She’s a long time active member now in a wheel chair who had reared an active family which includes several returned missionaries. After leaving a spiritual message we asked her about some “members” on our rolls who were unknown to the missionaries and the branch leadership. One name in particular, Henciana Harold. While she knew she was in Airai she gave us the names of several people who might know more.

After leaving and making several calls on the cell phone we finally talked to Sister De Leon’s daughter who didn’t know where she lived but knew where her non member husband worked. It took us another 30 minutes to track that down. By then it was lunch time, and I was ready to take a break but NOT Sister Johnsen. Undaunted we continued until we found him up, asked about his wife and where he “stayed”. Since he was on his lunch hour he had us follow him to his house where we had a great visit with Henciana. Sister Johnsen gave her a lesson, we obtained her phone number and GPS coordinates. Another lost sheep is found!

After lunch we tried to track down the member who previously worked at the Ben Franklin store. They told us she was now working at the 1.99 store, but when we went there they told us she had moved to the states. Now we’re back to square one—next step is to see if we can contact her family members (hopefully they have a phone, none of whom are members) to see if they have an address for her so we can transfer her records. Sister Johnsen did find some fabric for new curtains which she began working on last night. We also spent about 2.5 hours picking the music for sacrament meeting—we made it thru the month of May 2012. Our goal is to help our branch presidency become more organized administratively so they will feel like they have the time to minister to their congregation.

We spent the morning looking up names and getting our list organized for our visit to Carsala in the afternoon. After a nourishing grilled cheese sandwich we headed out. Carsala as usual was a fount of knowledge concerning the people that we were trying to find. She took four names on our list and agreed to try to get their off island addresses so we can send their records. She also gave us leads on where we could find some other folks. One of them wasn’t home when we visited (blue house).

We had difficulty finding the beauty parlor where the Filipino lady Nimpha Ramos worked, we stopped at Mariam’s place and she got in the car with us and we finally found a man who knew of Sister Ramos so we went to that location but she didn’t work there anymore but we got another lead. By that time it was time for us to gather some things for our party and hurry home before the power went out so we could cook. After the power went out we spent another 2 hours on the branch sacrament meeting planner and nearly completed picking all the music to go with the theme of all our 2012 sacrament meetings.

At 7:50 Bro. Hibbard arrived and we visited by flashlight until the power came on at 8:00. About 8:15 Geoff and Ida Ewing arrived and we spent the next 2 plus hours visiting. During the course of our discussion Bro Hibbard told us the story of the death of one of his brothers. The story was that he was born in the Las Vegas area during the atomic testing (both of his brothers have died of early deaths associated with cancer which could have been caused by their exposure to radiation when they were young. )

Mitch’s brother had just completed a regimen of radiation and chemo for his cancer when he was exposed to antibiotic resistant staph infection. His condition quickly declined as his abdomen filled with fluid (Mitch said that they ended up draining 7 quarts of fluid before his death). Soon his brother was on life support but the doctors said that there was no hope for him. So with the family gathered, including his brother’s young son, they pulled the plug. Suddenly, Mitch’s brother awoke from his coma sat up and had a 5 minute conversation with the family telling them where his son should stay, and giving them other instructions about his affairs all the time telling them that “they” were here to take him, and he kept pointing to the ceiling and asking if they could see “them”. Then after that 5 minute of complete alertness he fell back into his bed and within a minute was dead. What we teach about life after death IS true!

This morning we arose early to do our usual Saturday laundry, we wanted to finish before the power went out. At 8:00 there was a church cleaning project so I thought I’d help with that (and I was glad I did since there were very few people that came). Sister Johnsen arrived at 9:00 to do a piano lesson with Carein a very cute and talented 9 year old. After the lesson was over Sister Johnsen joined in the cleaning fun. We ended up leaving the church after 12:00. After another grilled cheese sandwich lunch I rested while Sister Johnsen worked (one of us must have worked harder cleaning than the other).

We then headed back to the church to gather additional info. From MLS on some of the members for which we’re looking. We got back just in time to finish cooking dinner before the power went out again. The elders came over and helped us finish our dinner. While the power was out we also completed work on the branch sacrament meeting planner which I’ll give to the branch presidency tomorrow in branch presidency meeting. We heard back from Jerry Saka, a name we found in the phone book who we thought might be related to Edmond Saka, a member on our branch records who we believed had moved from Palau. Jerry confirmed Edmond’s move and actually had his address in Aurora, Il. So tomorrow I’ll send his record out. Success after a ½ dozen phone calls trying to reach Jerry. Tonight we also printed some pictures and driving instructions for some of the members which we visited.

Sunday is a particularly busy day and this one was not exception. I was up at the church at 7:30 to get ready for our 8:00 a.m. presidency meeting. I wanted to have copies of the sacrament meeting planner printed for the branch presidency, also make copies of our branch council and presidency agenda. Neither of the counselors arrived on time so pres. Kesolei and I ran the callings list to make sure it was up to date.

Sister Johnsen and I were only able to stay in the Koror branch sacrament meeting until 9:45, because the zone leader is in Guam for a zone leaders conference I was asked to accompany elder Roco to our group meeting that meets south of here and speak. Sister Johnsen prepared a beautiful musical number which really brought the spirit into the meeting. After our one hour service, Sister Johnsen and I walked up the hill to visit with a member family who we wished would had come to the meeting. We then traveled back to Koror and finished out our meetings there.

At 2:00 when the power came back on we were back at the branch building for a music practice with Eric Carlson, Madishar, Sister Johnsen and myself, For the beauty of the earth. Sister Johnsen was forced into the unaccustomed role of singing alto, but I’m thinking our little group will perform well. At 3:00 we had a PEC meeting and at 4:00 branch council. These poor leaders here, they have so little support in their presidencies. It’s hard for us to see why we wondered during our first week here what we’d have to do. There is so much to do!

We were home at 5:30 just in time to make dinner before the power went out. This power outage we were introduced to a new problem, our water stopped working. So we were forced to wash our dishes in emergency purified water which the Hansen’s had stored. But all is well about 9:00 the water was back on and I could refill the water bottles. The elders, came over and hung out after all their appointment had concluded. We have a good time laughing with them. Sister Carlson brought over some fresh baked wheat bread that was awesome! I’ve noticed that I’m getting plenty of calories in my diet just not many vegetables. (although Sister DeLeon did give us a bunch of bananas fresh off her tree and I ate them all week, that counts as part of the 5 servings of fruit and vegetables right?)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rolling Blackouts (#8)

We’re always hearing interesting stories from members who attend our meetings here in Palau. Sister Marina Oei is a woman of great faith who is accustomed to having the Lord answer her prayers and attend to her needs in miraculous ways. In fast and testimony meeting she told the story of a time when her daughter was the only one working in the family, and she had just received her pay check which she gave to her parents to go and buy food for they had none in the house. Unfortunately, she failed to endorse the check so when they took it to one bank to cash it they would not. Sister Oei however, would not be deterred. She had the impression that they should go to another bank (of course, those with her were telling her that she’d get the same treatment). Undaunted, she had her husband drive to another bank where she was greeted at the door by a gentleman who said, “In the name of Jesus Christ, enter”. She went in and they readily cashed her check. She asked the teller who was the man who had opened the door for her. They said that there was no man. When she got back to the car no one in the car had seen any man open the door for her. Now if that experience had happened to one of us North Americans I’d question it, but not from Sister Oei. She’s tight with the Lord, and what she asks for, she gets!

Mitch Hibbard is a Doctor on temporary 6 month army reserve assignment from his practice in South Carolina. He’s been bishop several times in the states and in Priesthood yesterday told us the story of his experience helping clean-up damage from Katrina. After working all day Saturday and Sunday (after a brief sacrament meeting) they packed up their chain saws and other “Mormon helping hands” equipment to make the 7 hour drive back home. As he was pulling out he had the impression that he needed to go up the hill to a green painted house that he could see in the distance (much to the consternation of the other brethren in his vehicle because with no stops they would not be home until 2:00 a.m. Monday morning). As they pulled up the woman who was standing in the yard with her 3 children dropped a cigarette, she obviously wasn’t a member of the church. Mitch asked her if they could do something for her. She explained that her daughter had this rash which covered her practically from head to foot and her doctor had evacuated and there was no one who could help her. She said that she had been praying for help. Mitch took a look at the daughter and found that she had a serious staph infection called MRSA. Remarkably he just happened to have the antibiotic and ointment in his trunk which would help her daughter—which he promptly administered. Mitch testified that God answers the prayers of all people. He said that it was a remarkable experience to be part of God’s solution to one of His children’s problems. The experience reminded me of some instruction we received in the MTC. One of the teachers drew a triangle on the board. The top point was A signifying God. B and C points were respectively us and our investigator. In this case C talked to A seeking His blessing. A talked to B so that C’s need would be met.

The week earlier Mitch described the job he had after his mission at the granite vaults that the church uses to store the microfilmed ancestral records and all other records of the church. This vault is in the mountains outside Salt Lake City. Mitch explained that he was told that when they were carving out the granite for the inside of the vault that President Heber J. Grant came and asked them to dig a little further. When they did that, they found a spring of pure water. This water has been used to process the microfilm which has to have pure water without any chemicals to be able to be stored properly.

Just when you think that you have the hang of living in Palau, a new challenge, I mean ADVENTURE, occurs. Four of the six generators that power the island started on fire on Saturday. We lost power just before we opened our fast and had to be really creative to think of something to eat. We are now on rolling blackouts and sat in the dark all evening on Saturday and then with the 4 Elders on Sunday night. Luckily my big Boy Scout, Elder Johnsen (a scout is prepared, as well as thrifty) brought the coal miner head lamps with him and so we put those on to see around the apartment until the power came back on at 11:00 p.m. (Think camping in Houston in the summer to envision how hot and humid it gets.) We have included a picture. The President of Palau has declared a state of emergency; we understand that we’ll be without power 10 hours a day for 11 more days till the 18th of November. It could be worse, the Elders who live at the north end of the big island won’t have ANY power until then.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Adventure (#7)

This past Sunday President and Sister Mecham (the Micronesia Guam Mission President) joined us for Sunday meetings. Prior to their speaking in our Sacrament meeting Sister Johnsen and I were on the program for a special musical number. President Kesolei had asked us to sing “Brightly Beams our Father’s Mercy”. So we began with a two minute introduction describing Boyd K. Packer’s harrowing experience trying to make it through an opening in a reef on a dark stormy night with no lower light to guide them. We had no accompanist so we sang unaccompanied, but it sounded great anyway. After our sacrament meeting ended I took President and Sister Mecham to the group meeting held at the south end of Koror conducted by the Koror elders. We arrived in time for him to make some closing remarks. They then joined us at our apartment for a quick snack before we had to leave for our next appointment.

We had a new short term member come to church on Sunday, Geoffrey Ewing from San Antonio, Texas. He is a doctor and has come on island to work with the Ministry of Health. They are trying to see what they can do about the betel nut addiction problem. Mitch Hibbard, who is a doctor too, and will be here for 6 months, is also working with them to help solve this health issue, and also travels around the island serving the people as a doctor. He worked in the granite records vault in Salt Lake after his mission and told us some very unique and interesting stories. President Kesolei and I gave Bro. Ewing a blessing at the Koror Hospital later this week, he’s developed a case of pneumonia.

Our work this past week has been mainly in our apartment. We were in the building during Young Women on Wednesday. The YW Presidency wasn’t there and we were asked to be in charge of the activity. We had to think of something very quickly. Then on Thursday Sister Johnsen was asked to come up with a spiritual thought for seminary. There was no advanced warning. Sister Johnsen thought she would work on a Young Women’s file for Wednesday night activities and a spiritual thought file. Meanwhile I’ve been working on a sacrament meeting planning file for the new branch presidency which was reorganized last week by President Mecham.

I discovered from our active members that there are numerous changes needed on the branch roster, so far we’ve removed 20 names but there are still 85 families that we can’t find. Now we have to try to find them when there are no street addresses. It is challenging but fun because we are helping the branch president with the branch list.

This week, Sister Johnsen taught three 90 minute drama classes at the high school with Bro. Carlson who is an English teacher there. There was no air conditioning in his second story classroom so you can probably imagine how sweaty we were by the end of the day. The hit was student groups performing Goldilocks and the 3 bears, the 3 pigs, and little red riding hood.

I went with the 4 young Elders on Monday to a waterfall and then found out the youth were going on Saturday and they wanted both of us to go with them. So I went to the same waterfall twice this week.
We also found out that we are to do a car inspection and an apartment inspection every transfer. Since this was a transfer week we did the cars, but will wait to do the apartments until the next transfer since the other Elders live more than an hour away.

We have included some pictures from our hike today but unfortunately the ones of the waterfall didn’t come out because I got too close to the swimmers and got my camera all wet.

It is pouring rain outside and our power is off. We could have a romantic evening together if we had a candle! Luckily I have a headlamp flashlight that Sister Johnsen used on her head to finish the project she was doing. We could open our fast but we are hungry, and we don’t have any power to cook anything. This is my idea of an ADVENTURE!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Staying Busy (#6)

Elder Johnsen: While there has been a little more of a culture shock for Sister Johnsen than for myself, overall, things are going great. We’ve settled into our apartment here, learned our way around and are having great experiences going out and finding and ‘teaching’ part member/less active members. The Hansen’s (the Senior Couple who departed in August about 2 months before we arrived) had a start on putting together a computer file with pictures of members and instructions on how to find their “home”. We found that so helpful that we’re continuing to build that file—we’re up to about 30 pages now. The people seem to love having their picture taken.

President Kesolei (the Branch President) carries a lot of priesthood responsibilities with not a lot of help, so along with being the Executive Secretary which is typical for Senior couples, he has asked me to help with the Branch membership clerk job. That job takes a lot of time and that’s what we have. We have been really blessed to discover how to get death dates and also found that we could get help with removing the names of people who have left the island. We are really thankful for these blessings.

This morning we caught the former district president home (Palau actually was it’s own district some years ago when there were 3 thriving branches on the island). Do to some offense taken they haven’t been back to church in years. As I asked him questions about his service and complemented him on his leadership I felt his enthusiasm for the gospel rekindle.

We discussed how the lease on the building on Meyuns was lost and how to keep that from happening in 11 years where the lease on the land here at the topside branch expires. I told him that Pres. Mecham (the Micronesia Guam Mission President) was going to be on the island this coming Sunday and asked him if he’d come to meet the new mission president so we could talk more about his ideas/concerns regarding the branch building lease. I’m not so na├»ve to believe that he will “for sure” come on Sunday but I have “hope”.

Both Sister Johnsen and I spoke in church last Sunday and we’re scheduled to sing together this coming Sunday. Monday (a local school holiday), there was a joint activity (which lasted 4 hours). We had a great time playing with the YM/YW and getting to know the adults YM/YW leaders better. I was asked to give a spiritual thought to that gathering. I also enjoy that so much. There are some super solid people here.

Last Tuesday night we went to the Kesolei’s to view “17 Miracles” a movie that we brought along from the states. We had a great experience together. (They also got to experience Johnsen’s famous popcorn too!)