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!

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