Sunday, January 29, 2012

Expect the Unexpected! (#20)

Elder Early and Elder Wright (the Zone Leader)

Elder Adams (our District Leader) and Elder Marshall

As we stepped out of our apartment Tuesday morning to take our usual early morning walk, we had no idea that one of us wasn’t going to be walking that day. In front of our apartment there are a row of garbage cans. We noticed that the neighborhood dogs had been foraging in the garbage cans and had left a mess of scattered paper, tin cans and wet garbage strewn around the entrance to our apartment building. The garbage cans are only partially protected by a covered enclosure which is open on the front but has a big heavy steel hinged cover. Elder Johnsen opened the lid and stooped down to set upright the overturned garbage can and as he stood up the heavy steel lid decided to come down and caught Elder Johnsen on the corner of his left eye brow, then hit his shoulder before settling in its customary closed position. The heavy blow caused Elder Johnsen to stagger around, and Sister Johnsen tried to hold him up. Immediately a HUGE bump appeared on the left side of his forehead, and just above his eye. But did he swear? He did not! Sister Johnsen continued her walk while Elder Johnsen went back to the apartment to apply an ice pack. By the time Sister Johnsen was back from her walk Elder Johnsen thought he had been cured. The bump was down and he had only a small abrasion and a sore shoulder. But now everyone is asking him how he got the black eye. He just says, “You should see the other guy”. Elder Johnsen is quite the walking wounded guy, his right ear is still plugged and now everyone in the branch is jokingly asking if Sister Johnsen punched him out.

We were also surprised this past week when President Mecham closed Ngaraard and moved Elder’s Adam and Marshall down to Meyuns. This has been a big blessing to us because we now have another set of hands to not only help find our lost members in that area, but also make follow-up visits and re-teach them. We have found so many members that we’ve been wondering how we were going to be able to get all the work done that we need to do. But as usual, the Lord knows what we need and has provided the answer to our prayers. We spent about 2 hours going over the names of the members that we’ve found in the Elder’s new area, and also the names of the members that we hadn’t actually met; during their first week in the area they were able to make contact with five of those “lost” members, and also set up a lot of appointments to teach nonmembers and less active members alike.

After searching for a couple weeks we were finally able to track down a 26 year old woman who was still listed on the branch roster as being at home with her less active mother but in reality has established a household of her own. When we walked up to her house we heard a man singing church hymns. Then we noticed that he was in a bed in the summer kitchen. The young woman told us he was paralyzed. Sister Johnsen asked this sister what her favorite hymn was and she surprisingly said, “God be with you, till we meet again.” So we asked her if we could sing it to her and to the paralyzed uncle of her husband, and she said yes. Sister Johnsen sang solo on the verses, and I came in with harmony on the chorus. It was a sweet experience for both of us and also we hope for both of them. We were surprised that this sister knew the name of a hymn and even sang along with us.

Elder Wright, our zone leader, told an inspiring story in District meeting this past week. While he was studying the Book of Mormon he felt a prompting that he should re-read Alma 36. That’s where Alma testifies to his son Helaman of his conversion by an angel. We love that chapter because it a beautiful example of the Hebrew poetic form called Chiasmus. Dutifully, Elder Wright re-read the chapter, but couldn’t see why he would feel impressed to read it. Later that day, while Elder Wright and Early were teaching, he felt prompted to change what they had planned and pick up the book of Mormon and read Alma 36 with the investigator. He said that as they read together they all felt the Holy Ghost in a strong and affirming way testify that what Alma so beautifully wrote was true. As he related the story we all felt edified and enlightened as he testified of the great value of following the spirit in our teaching. He then read the following scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants 100: 4-8. “Therefore, I, the Lord, have suffered you to come unto this place; for thus it was expedient in me for the salvation of souls. Therefore, verily I say unto you, lift up your voices unto this people; speak the thoughts that I shall put into your hearts, and you shall not be confounded before men; For it shall be given you in the very hour, yea, in the very moment, what ye shall say. But a commandment I give unto you, that ye shall declare whatsoever thing ye declare in my name, in solemnity of heart, in the spirit of meekness, in all things. And I give unto you this promise, inasmuch as ye do this the Holy Ghost shall be shed forth in bearing record unto all things whatsoever ye shall say.” It is incredible to us how these scriptures come alive as we immerse ourselves in this work. And often surprising what will happen when you just listen and follow the inspiration you receive.

Every Sunday night we are surprised that another week has gone by, and that we have been in the mission field almost four months. There is always so much to do and we are very surprised at the overwhelming feeling of joy that surrounds this work that we do and the happiness we feel at being in Palau and being able to serve the Lord here.

What will the new week bring??? We just expect the unexpected!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Little Miracles (#19)

Sister Johnsen and I have been thinking a lot lately about the little miracles that we see every day here in Palau. Sometime these little miracles happen to us and go unnoticed by us, so we have decided to watch more closely for them as we visit the members and meet new people on Palau.

Joni (the branch president’s wife) told the story in testimony meeting of President’s Kesolei’s car being rear ended by a big truck. When she related the rest of the story to Sister Johnsen and I during our FHE with her family on Monday, we felt sure that they had been the recipient of a tender mercy.

Joni explained that she was about to head out in her little car with her 9 year old daughter to pick up the laundry. Inexplicably, President Kesolei said, “I’ll go with you” so rather than going in her small car they drove in his SUV. After the short trip they were about to make the left turn into their driveway when they heard a screech of tires behind them, a drunk driv
er in a big truck failed to see them in time and despite the last minute application of his brakes slammed into the rear of their big car. Joni thought that it was a miracle that none of them were injured and even their vehicle sustained little damage since the truck nailed the spare tire mounted on the rear door of the vehicle. The rest of the story was that President Kesolei NEVER goes with Joni to pick up the laundry. He was relaxing in front of the TV set watching news when Joni said that she was leaving, and he had a distinct impression that he should go with her and he followed the prompting.

This scripture came to our minds after hearing this story. “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” 1 Nephi 1:20

We had a wonderful time in Guam for our Senior conference. We got to meet all the other couples who are working on Yap, Chuuk, Kosrae, Saipan, Pohnpei, and Guam. Some of them live in very primitive conditions. On several islands there is more than one couple so they have each other for support as they do the work. Several islands, including ours, have just one senior couple, so we thoroughly enjoyed being able to spend time with the senior couples from different areas in our mission and learn about their service.

We got to stay in the Marriott Hotel and they has hi-speed internet. It was heaven! And we walked along the beach and did some shopping while we were there. They gave us money for our meals and so we enjoyed that.

Each couple was to prepare a 15 minute presentation. We built ours around the scripture in the Book of Mormon about being instruments in the hands of the Lord (Alma 26: 2-3) Elder Johnsen had prepared slides and we wrote the dialogue together and so we felt like we were well prepared. One of the little miracles that occurred was that we were the last couple to go before lunch on Monday. At the end of our presentation we sang Sally DeFord’s song, “An Instrument in thy Hand.” It fit our presentation perfectly, but surprisingly the words mentioned things that other couples had talked about. The spirit that we all felt after that song was very real and was evidence to us of the power of music to bring the spirit. We felt very blessed to be able to share that music with the group.

President Mecham challenged us to pray for miracles every day and so we came home and put up some signs in our apartment. We decided to keep a miracle journal and to read a miracle scripture every day.

One of our “little” miracles this week was discovering a sister who is not on the island but actually lives in Florida. We have sent her records there and now she is in a position to be rescued by members of the church. Even though we have sent about 70 names off the island, each one feels like a miracle. It is interesting the help we get as we search for these lost members.

This past week we found a woman who was very sweet and warm to us. She said that her aunt took her to church when she was 6 and she was baptized in Saipan at age 8. She then they moved to Palau. She attended the Meyuns Branch of the church until she was 12. Then that branch lost its lease and was torn down. Many members who attended there lost their ability to be able to go to church because they needed something within walking distance. They eventually became “lost” to the church. Someone told us recently that there were so many members in Meyuns people called it Mormon Town. One sister who has been off the island told the missionaries that she can’t believe what has happened to the church and the membership since she left and came back. There are only a handful of members who attend church in Meyuns now since the Mission President opened a new unit there. The work of rescue is important in these islands. We are grateful the Lord has called us here to serve. That is a “big” miracle in our lives.

Elder Johnsen came back from Guam and has had a cold and a plugged up ear. But because we have our own Branch doctor, Mitch Hibbard from North Carolina, serving here for 6 months on a military assignment, we have lots of help. He came up on Sunday (he never has a day where he doesn’t doctor someone) and tried to help us unplug Elder Johnsen’s ear. It was a miracle to us, to be able to get help in such a personal and timely manner. But the Elders and Sister Johnsen were totally entertained during the entire procedure because of the faces produced by Elder Johnsen. Fun times, at least for those of us who got to watch!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Family History Fun (#18)

Even though we had a typical week of attending church, holding choir, making Bishopric visits, doing clerk work, attending seminary and institute, visiting the sick, visiting members, finding lost members and packing and preparing for our Senior Conference in Guam, we had one overarching goal: get the Family History Library up and running.

We expected some setbacks and we love setbacks because we like to call them “adventures.” Our adventures this week felt somewhat like running really fast into a brick wall.

Sister Johnsen was determined to make our little Family History room into a “real” family history library. She cleaned out all the junk that everyone throws in there, bought a shelf for the things that people seem to think are essential to the location, organized and sorted through all the materials, threw away a really old fax machine, and hung the four friendly and appropriate family history signs that have been in mailing containers for who knows how long.

Next, Elder Johnsen came in to save the day by getting the computer up and going. We have a working flat screen and a keyboard, but apparently both of the hand me down former MLS desktop units were not able to boot up. He brought them home and found time between so many other responsibilities to get one of them up and running. The first problem was the mouse where someone had obviously tried to jam in the plug without getting the connectors lined up and had bent the prongs flat. Luckily he brought to Palau his handy Boy Scout backpack and had just the tool necessary to get everything straightened out. But even with a working mouse the computer still wasn’t able to boot up properly. So Elder Johnsen deduced that we must be having a memory problem which he resolved by taking all the memory out of one old computer and adding it to the other. Finally, miracle of miracles, we had a computer running XP with enough memory to boot up and run all the software . . . except for the family search software. What’s up with that, after all that work we still can’t run family search with all those data CDs? It turns out the family search software is so old that XP is way too modern to run it. Furthermore, we were told, that those old family search disks can all be thrown away because the church does everything related to family history over the internet. So just as an experiment Elder Johnsen tried to do a little family history using our home dialup (since he’s hasn’t been able to get the modem in the hand me down computer at the church to work yet). And as you might have expected it takes high speed internet to make doing family history fun. New family search using dial-up speed is S O S L O W!

So why don’t we have high speed internet at the chapel? The answer is cost. The most the church is willing to pay for high speed internet is $200/mo. In Palau internet service is provided by a single internet provider owned by the government called Palau National Communication Corporation. According to the PNCC rate schedule at service rates for website.pdf we could get DSL operating at 256kps for $660 per month. So what is the solution? There is a laptop that is available to members who want to try to connect up with someone who has the key to get the laptop out, and then they can take it to a local hotel or other hotspot and try to do their family history. Mostly though, this is not allowed. But the real point is, why do we have a family history library if you just have to leave the building to try to do family history. The bottom line is that we’ll be using new family search at dial up speed into the foreseeable future.

While we were cleaning out the library we found an article called “Census Takers Need An Education” which was found in the Family History Center In Tri-Cities, Washington:

Ocupayshun ---- Cencus Taker

  • "I am a cencus taker for the city of Bufflow. Our city has groan very fast in resent years & now, in 1865, it has becum a hard & time consuming job to count all the peephill. Thare are not many that can do this werk, as it is neseasarie to have an ejucshun, wich a lot of pursons still do not have. Anuther attribeart needed for this job is good speling, for meny of the pepill to be counted can hardle speek Inglish, let alon spel there names!"

So next time you head to your local family history center think of us pour pepill in Palau.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Boonie Chickens (#17)

One of Sister Johnsen’s piano students, Esmeralda, is moving to Sandy, Utah in February. She was asking Sister Johnsen if there are chickens in Utah. Basically, “Do chickens run all over the neighborhood and the town like they do here?”

The answer is, of course, “No!” It’s an island thing. The roosters start crowing about 4:30 in the morning and they are all over outside when we start our walk at 6:45. Every morning we see the mother chickens coming out of the jungle with their little babies following behind them. I ask Sister Johnsen the same question every morning, “Why did the chicken cross the road.” Her answer has become, “Because they want to be chicken soup?”

At 4:45 P.M. the process is repeated. The boonie roosters start crowing and continue until nightfall. Those chickens are out there pecking and scratching every morning and every night. It occurs to us that we are like those boonie chickens pecking and scratching to make a difference in Palau. We are up at the crack of dawn, out crowing about the gospel and hoping that we can “wake up” the members to the glorious message we have. We keep at it all day and are still crowing when the sun sets.

Every day our schedule is full to the top, but this week was a little different because we had Zone Conference on Tuesday. President and Sister Mecham came from Guam, and we had training and interviews. Elder Wright asked us to sing something and so we chose, “An Instrument in His Hands.” Elder Johnsen was also asked to give a talk on hope. He said that Alma the Younger in the Book of Mormon was the poster child for hope. Was he deserving of being snatched out of everlasting burning? No, but nevertheless, when he “caught hold” of the idea of the atonement (Alma 36:17) the Lord reached down and rescued him.

Elder Johnsen said that he could relate to needing to be snatched from destruction. He described a time when he almost drowned during a trip we made to Hawaii some years ago. He described how he went swimming when the waves on the north shore of Oahu were super big. He described how fun it was to be treading water and to be lifted up 20 feet from the bottom of the wave to its crest. All the other swimmers in the water around him had fins, and Elder Johnsen figured out why when he finally got tired and headed to shore. The waves were crashing to shore with such force and then the water was rushing back to the ocean so that each time he made the attempt to reach the safety of the shore the big waves would pound him into sand, and then drag him out into the water again. What he wouldn’t have given to have had a hand to snatch him like Alma the younger described in Mosiah 27:38.

Besides training, President Mecham interviewed everyone, including the senior couple. When Elder Johnsen was interviewed the Elders really enjoyed it because they could hear Elder Johnsen and President Mecham laughing even though the door was closed. It made the Elders laugh too.

We have been preparing for our Senior Conference that is coming up next week in Guam. We leave Palau at the 2:50 A.M. (Which Elder Johnsen calls, 0-dark thirty.) We have been asked to prepare a 15 minute presentation about our work in Palau. By the Senior conference we will have been on Palau 3 months. We had a goal to meet all the members by this conference. We started out with 356 members, and now have a truer list of about 290. We have visited about 200 of them and know where another 50 are. We only have about 40 lost ones now. We know we still have lots to do.

Sister Johnsen cleaned out the family history library, and purchased a shelf for all the miscellaneous items that get stowed in there. She hung up the 4 family history posters that were in a mailing container.

I brought home two broken computers and have tried to find time to look at them. No one can do family history because the computers don’t work, but they don’t want to buy new ones in case the old ones can be fixed.

We went out to find more lost people and even taught a lesson to a member who asked us to come back. We showed him the Restoration video. We have an appointment to see him again next week.

We have planned a full week of visiting members and finding others. Last month we visited 72 members of the church. It really helped the home teaching averages. The Elder’s Quorum President has come up with a plan of how 8 to 10 people can visit about 100 families. We are trying to help him.

So we will be out there crowing all week with the boonie chickens! It’s the island way!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Snowballs in Palau and Old Habits, New Year (#16)

After having such a great Christmas last week and meeting about 25 “new to us” members of the church, we had a slow start this week because Sister Johnsen didn’t feel well on Tuesday, and couldn’t quite leave her bed. Fortunately, Elder Johnsen had so much Branch Clerk and Executive Secretary paper work to do that he was busy the entire day. At least one of us was working.

We have been asked to do a 15 minute presentation at the Senior Conference that is held in Guam every six months. This one is January 15-17th. Each couple gets an opportunity to talk about the work in their area, and so we have been putting together some ideas for our presentation.

Because it felt like we were a little behind in our work, we decided to go out in the rain and try to meet some members that we didn’t know. But the rain turned out to be akin to a tropical storm and despite the umbrellas, we were totally soaked. We came back to our apartment and still found plenty of work to do while we dried out.

We were so excited to get our air conditioned car back this week. But on Friday, when the Elders were supposed to bring it, we got a call that they had also encountered the same rain storm and our car had slid into a tree and gotten a broken tail light and a dent in the side. When they brought the car back though, this didn’t seem to be the worst of the problems. The Elders had forgotten to roll up the windows on one of the rain days, and they said the car didn’t smell very good (a serious understatement). Actually the elders said it kind of smelled like a baby’s dirty diaper. When Sister Johnsen got in the car she thought it smelled like 4 Texas footballs players after a summer practice, and we drove around with her holding her nose. We stopped to try to find some way to deodorize our car, but ended up coming home empty handed. Sister Johnsen decided to use the delicious mistletoe candle that our son, Clark, gave us for Christmas to see if that would help. We have been driving around with Sister Johnsen holding a lit candle, but oh does our car smell fab-u-lous! Problem solved!

The highlight of the week was the New Year’s Eve party at the church. The food was really good, and Sister Johnsen was in charge of the games. We talked everyone in to coming outside for a snowball fight. They were a little reluctant at first, and some of them just watched. One of our young women, who decided to watch, was laughing so hard at everyone that she finally decided to join in. Sister Johnsen asked her what was more fun, watching or being in the snowball fight, and she said definitely being in was better than watching!

After that we went into the church and played balloon volleyball, Do You Love Your Neighbor, Big Booty, I Never, and finally Honey, Do You Love Me? We all laughed so hard! It was the most fun. Afterwards we watched Turn Around, an Alma the Younger story, and at 11:30 it was time to clean up and go home. President Kesolei told us that we could go and they would finish cleaning and getting set up for our services on Sunday and we didn’t make him tell us twice!

We’ve spent the last two weeks trying to get used to having everything backwards on our car. We have done a little dance of “Which side are we on?” because I keep going to the wrong side of the car and so does Sister Johnsen. Our rental car was right hand drive, and after two weeks I had finally gotten accustomed to turning on the turn signal with my right hand and NOT turning on the windshield wiper at every corner. Now we’re back in a left hand drive car and I’m back to operating the turn signal with my left hand unfortunately I’ve made a new habit in the past 2 weeks, so I’m still turning on the windshield wipers when I make a right or left turn. That got Sister Johnsen and I thinking about the power of habits. I remember where I would sign and date a lot of documents; at the beginning of a new year, it took nearly the first 3 weeks to begin to instinctively write the New Year down—when you do something one way for 365 days it’s tough for the muscle memory to do something different. We can override it, but it takes conscious mental effort. As we establish those new habits however, we perform the action instinctively without conscious mental effort. It reminds me of the adage, "That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed, but our power to do is increased." Author: Heber J. Grant Maybe that’s the whole idea in setting New Year’s resolutions: if we can press forward long enough with sufficient persistent effort we can actually make improvements which become second nature to us. Just like making a left turn normally doesn’t require any particular thought to activate- that’s the point we need to get to in all our good habits.

As we begin our New Year, we feel grateful and blessed to be able to serve here in Palau. There is so much work to do in the church, and we feel honored that the Lord would call us to serve in a place where we might help to build up His kingdom. Happy New Year to all of you!