Our flight to Guam from SLC was not direct by any means. On Tuesday, October 11, we boarded a Delta flight for LA. It turned out we were seated beside a Captain in the US army who was on his way to LA (Culver City) to be a contestant on Jeopardy. The 2 hour flight passed quickly as Elder Johnsen peppered him with questions about his military service, rank advancement, family background, Jeopardy preparation and Jeopardy strategy for determining the wager in final Jeopardy. We ended our discussion by sharing a family related pass along card. After a 5 hour layover in LA we boarded our Delta flight to Japan. During the flight we basically skipped Wednesday. Our final Delta flight to Guam from Japan took 3 hours and 18 minutes that’s the only leg of our flight which we wished was longer because we were upgraded to business class and were actually able to sleep. When we arrived in Guam it was midnight (Thursday morning) October 13th. President and sister Mecham were waiting at the gate to take us to the mission home located in Barrigada Heights.
After a hearty breakfast prepared by Sister Mecham, president Mecham shared his perspective of what our work in Palau would consist. He felt that our success would come from working with the members—with 350 members on the rolls and only 50 attending regularly, he felt certain that there was good work that could be accomplished. At 10:00 we had an appointment with Fredivic Nicerio at the Micronesia-Guam Service Center. Freddie is the Region Coordinator for Seminaries & Institutes and he briefed us on our CES role in Palau. It was especially fun for Sister Johnsen and I to visit with “Liz” Gittens who we knew from our earlier days in the Talisay Branch. Her husband Chris was the branch president when we lived Guam 11 years ago. He has just been called as the stake patriarch. After our training Freddie treated us to lunch and dropped us off at the mission office. After running a few errands we were back at the mission home for Dinner with the Mecham’s.
Friday evening, October 14, we departed Guam for our field of service in Palau. Upon arrival we were greeted by both sets of young elders that are serving here in Palau. (I took two vehicles to haul our 4 suit cases to our new apartment). The missionaries had made an attempt to clean the apartment before we arrived, the power and AC was on but, of course, there was much to be done.
On Saturday morning we awoke early 5:00 a.m. and spent 3 hours cleaning, reorganizing and stowing our gear. The elders picked us up at 8:00 to go to the grocery store—having lived on Guam for two years we were prepared for the sticker shock of Palau prices, the only product reasonably priced was rice which most locals eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. At 9:00 we met members at the branch building which is less than ½ mile from our apartment, this was their general conference weekend which we watched from a DVD. I had already downloaded the text of the talks onto my iphone—it was fun following along, which also seemed to help me stay more alert.
Sunday morning we were up early again, (jet lag) Elder Johnsen took an hour walk (the jungle still is a little freaky to Sister Johnsen). While on the walk EJ met and chatted with the proprietor of a restaurant that is just around the corner from our apartment. Nick has been on Palau since 2009, we talked about his business, the theft of 5 laptops which was the basis for his original internet café business plan and the struggles of starting up a new business. EJ told him we’d come back and try his cuisine. Just down the road from Nick he ran into Dwaine, a black man from LA married to a Palauan woman. He mentioned that he knew an LDS couple who were living in a hotel (he couldn’t remember their name) and wondered if we knew them. Today we’ll ask around at church to see if anyone knows them, if so we’ll try to make contact and thru them try to visit Dwaine again, if not I’ll visit Dwaine again to get more information—it’s always good to enlist NM help in tracking down church members—either way we have a friendly opening to make another visit.
Sunday’s conference broadcast began at 9:00, at 11:00 the branch hosted a potluck with the final conferences session beginning at 12:00. It was fun getting to know the active members—we spent most of our visiting time with the Carlson family and Bro. Hubbard, a Dr. on temporary assignment at the SeaBee base. His assignment is interesting, he is a reservist who was called up to serve in Afghanistan and after his tour was over there they assigned him to a 6 month assignment in Palau. He had to leave his family and practice in South Carolina. After church the Koror Elders drove us around the islands in the state of Koror, we visited one inactive member and also went to the SeaBee base which is on the big island just past the airport and visited with Dr. Hubbard, he will be in the islands until February. Both sets of young elders joined us for Sunday dinner and then we spent 2 hours going over the branch list with Elder Barlow (who has been in Palau the longest). We have question marks beside more than ½ the names on the list.
**While we were preparing to come on our mission, we read about some of the conditions on the islands in the Micronesia Mission. Sister Johnsen was extremely concerned, and didn’t feel like there was any way that she could serve in some of those locations. I would lovingly call it Meltdown #2. She made a call to the Missionary department with questions that resulted in a call from President Rawson. Elder Johnsen ended up visiting with the Stake President on the phone and during the conversation President Rawson said that the people of Palau had probably prayed us there. This did comfort, or at least calm, Sister Johnsen down somewhat.
This first Sunday in the branch just before the General Conference DVD was started the counselor in the Branch Presidency announced the new missionaries, Elder and Sister Johnsen, and after welcoming us and saying how happy they were that we had come, he said, “We prayed that you would come!” So President Rawson was right, they did pray us here.
Monday, October 17th, was our preparation day we spent our time making arrangements to have our “home” phone installed and I also got a sim card for my iphone which Steven Rosenlund helped me jailbreak and unlock before we departed Houston. I’m happy to report it readily accepted the sim card from PNCC; we’re good to go. Staying in the Republic of Palau for more than 30 days requires that we file paperwork with the immigration office so we stopped there to do that (that takes a week) then next Monday we have to get a social security number, with that we can get a Palauan Driver’s License which is required to drive after you’ve been in the Republic for more than 30 days. We spent a goodly amount of money buying more groceries and some things for the apartment. After setting some goals and doing our weekly planning we headed up to Nick’s restaurant and had some pizza, he was happy to have our business. It is now 8:30 and we’re both so tired. The good news is that we’re able to sleep about 30 minutes longer every night at that rate it will only take until next week for us to wake up at the specified missionary day starting time of 6:30 instead of 3:30 a.m.