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!