Monday, April 30, 2012

Pigs and Poke & Pour Cake (#33)

Pig #2: I thought it was hot in the courtroom, but this room is like an oven.

Pig #3:  Do I small bacon? Oh wait—that’s just me.

Yes, our Koror sixth graders are still working on “real drama.” We’re down to the last week of rehearsals for “12 Angry Pigs” and our other plays, choral readings, skits, and individual poems which will be performed during the second week of May.  The students really look forward to having Elder and Sister Johnsen come and teach their class—for some reason they would rather work on drama than math problems . . . what a surprise!

Speaking of Pigs . . . no one on Palau is permitted to own a firearm of any kind, except the police.  However, as we delivered a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies to a less active sister and her non-member husband this week, we learned that there’s more than one way to keep the Palau Pig Population under control.  As we chatted with the couple, he brought out his pellet gun.  It had a HUGE scope, wooden stock, and a heavy barrel.  It looked like a firearm to Elder Johnsen, except for a cylinder under the barrel that was about the same size as you might see on a pump shotgun.  There was a fitting where he hooks the gun’s pressure chamber to compressed air; he says that he can get the pressure up to 3000 psi.   He’s killed lots of wild pigs at considerable distance.  Now that WOULD make a pig angry!  

No one was angry at our baptism this past Sunday, but maybe a little nervous. First of all, the water in Koror has been going off at 11:00 A. M. every day, so the Elders went over at 7 A.M.  to start the water running in the font. But when they came back at 9, just before church, the water was barely dripping from the faucet, because the water pressure was already too low. The water was only about a foot deep.  Sister Johnsen wondered if anyone has ever been knocked out by having their head hit the bottom of the baptismal font.

It was finally decided that the baptism would be performed in the ocean. The baptismal program was held at the church, and then we were all supposed to get in our cars and drive to the location where the baptism would take place. During the last talk, it started to pour outside.  Sister Johnsen started to pray that it would clear so we could perform the baptism. (Later she asked the Elders if they had started to pray; they all said they had been praying too.) Shortly after the service ended, we got in our cars and it was now just sprinkling. By the time we got the ocean, the sun was out. It was beautiful. However now Maylyne, who was being baptized, was nervous (she was shaking and kept saying, “Ok. Ok.”)  Cullen Carlson, who is her boyfriend, and was performing his first baptism, was pretty nervous too because he couldn’t remember the words of the prayer.

Then Cullen made everyone there nervous because someone had instructed him to make sure that Maylyne was fully immersed, and so he put her down in the water and didn’t bring her up until he had looked over to make sure she was fully immersed. The whole group laughed nervously when he finally brought her up.  It was only a second, but it seemed like forever.

Cullen’s mother, the branch Relief Society President, gave a beautiful baptismal talk.  In it she described an experience she had after she was converted, and then baptized and confirmed a member of the church.  She said that people were trying to get her to look up so they could take her picture, but she kept looking down at her feet—she said that she had the strangest feeling that she was floating about a foot above the ground, and kept looking down to make sure she really was firmly on mother earth.  

Besides the excitement of plays and pigs, and making lots and lots of chocolate chip cookies to take the inactive members, Sister Johnsen has been making different kinds of Poke and Pour cake for the Elders who come to dinner every Sunday night. We started out with the traditional cake: yellow with lime Jell-O and vanilla pudding on top. Then we tried the same thing only with strawberry Jell-O.  Elder Early started wondering what it would be like if we made a chocolate cake with raspberry Jell-O and chocolate pudding. Everyone liked that pretty well. This week we tried yellow cake, with lime Jell-O and pistachio pudding. This was the favorite so far. Who knows where our imaginations will take us next week.

(Elder Early and the newest Poke & Pour creation)

We think maybe our poke and pour cake is a little symbolic of our work here. We “poke” the people by reminding them that they are members of the church, and then we try to “pour” the gospel into them by means of 17 points of the true church, the restoration pamphlet, showing them videos, reviewing the plan of salvation, and bearing our testimonies.  We always feel thankful that we have this opportunity to come to Palau and experience these amazing adventures.

Bring on the pigs and the poke and pour!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Of Birds and Boney Fish (#32)

Elder Johnsen has faithfully been watering the plants that Elder and Sister Hansen left behind, and a few more recent additions that were given to us by a sweet Filipino member. He likes his plants and has nurtured them carefully. Recently he noticed that a bird had built a nest in a small  potted tree by our front door. Now the watering and nurturing took on a completely different meaning.  Inside the nest the mother had two eggs.  Just 2 weeks ago the eggs hatched and two small birds were tucked into the tiny nest.  We’ve be watching them grow and before we headed to Guam Elder Johnsen noticed that the babies had developed feathers.  When we came back from Guam they were gone! The mother and the little birds have flown.  The cycle of life continues.

Six little missionary birds have also flown this week…all the way to Guam. Our early morning Friday flight which usually leaves at 2:35 AM left early and we arrived in Guam at 4:24 AM instead of 5:10. We all made it to our destination thanks to the faithful Senior couple who serve as the office staff, Elder and Sister Anderson.  The Elders slept and Elder and Sister Johnsen put on their exercise clothes and went for a walk. We were kind of tired and Elder Johnsen felt a little dizzy.  We managed a shower, breakfast, and a quick trip to Kmart before our conference with President and Sister Mecham and the newly called Area President, Elder Ringwood. His wife attended with him. We found out after the conference that she is the daughter of Russell M. Nelson.

One of our favorite stories from the conference was about a young Elder who was tracking with his companion, and at one door the man told them that he wasn’t interested and don’t come back. The Elders left and then one of the young Elders turned around and went back and knocked on the door. The other Elder had no idea what he was thinking. When the man opened the door the man said, “I thought I told you to never come back.”  The young Elder pulled out a picture of a horse from his shirt pocket. He said, “This is my horse. I loved him more than anything, but I sold him so I could pay  my way on a mission and share the message of the restoration of the gospel with you.”  The man let them come in. We loved this story because it captured the sacrifice and blessings of coming on a mission.   We were really surprised and touched when Elder Ringwood singled us out at the end of the conference by commenting on the great work we were doing as a senior couple.  He mentioned how much we had sacrificed and done for the young Elders and for the work we were doing to strengthen our little branch in Palau. It was as though the spirit had just shared some information with him, and he suddenly had a window into our life on these little islands. He expressed his appreciation to us.  It felt like the Lord was speaking to us.  

In the Book of Mormon, Moroni talks about praying with real intent.  In the conference Elder Ringwood suggested that real intent can be defined as “really intend to change.”  It’s like our little birds that  were transformed from eggs to little fuzz balls with beaks, and then to birds capable of solo flight in just a few weeks.   They definitely had real intent to change.   

The conference was inspiring and helpful to all of us. We all heard something that we needed. We had interviews with President Mecham (Elder Johnsen got his temple recommend renewed) and then we ran out to do a little shopping, and grab a quick dinner before leaving for the airport. We had barely enough time to make our flight.  Why is it that the TSA staff always selects you for special screening when you’re LATE? We were the last people on the plane. When we got back to Palau we were all pretty tired and went right to bed. We were really grateful to have the unique opportunity to have the Area President spend an entire morning with just 6 missionaries.

We have been delivering cookies this week. Sister Johnsen makes a fresh batch of four dozen chocolate chip cookies every morning as she studies her scriptures, and we take a dozen cookies and the 17 Points of the true church to four members whom we have prayerfully picked. Sister Johnsen has been working on a book about Floyd Weston and the 17 Points of the True Church on her Preparation Day, and so we are sharing these with the members that we have recently found.   

One sister, Anne, was found a few months ago and she told us at the time that we she was happy with her spiritual life and that she wasn’t interested in the church (she wouldn’t tell us where she lives) and she felt no need to make changes in her life.  Undaunted, we found out where she works and last month Elder Johnsen ran the first presidency message up to her. This week we delivered the cookies, the 17 points and a note to her. She was so pleased and surprised when she saw Elder Johnsen coming into her office with a plate of warm cookies. She asked, “What’s the occasion?”  He said, “We were thinking about you, and we love you.”  She was really delighted.

We had our 38th anniversary this week and didn’t really plan anything special which was a big mistake. At the end of the day it felt like we really should have done something. Elder Johnsen ended up in his usual Branch Presidency meeting, and Sister Johnsen went to seminary. Opps! An anniversary really should be CELEBRATED! We found that like the birds, the years really have flown.

We have decided to see what we can do to be of service to the Koror library, so we went in to meet the head librarian. She is really young. We asked her if we might find some scout troops at home to make some donations of books. She said that there were some off island library groups donating books and that she didn’t have room for even those. We asked her about expanding the library and she said that she had asked about that, but the land on the sides and the back of the library cannot be used. She was told that she would need an upper floor. When she inquired about that she was told that the foundation was not solid enough for a second floor and that a new library would have to be built. When she inquired about that, she was told that there were no funds for a new library.  In this case, the funds have flown.   I see why they sometimes give up in their efforts to make improvements. Their reference books are over 20 years old but Elder Johnsen has found some materials on DVD that he can buy for a minimal cost. He can load these onto their computers (they have five brand new computers but they are not networked together, plus the internet is so slow even if they were networked together basically the WWW would be of no practical use).  We hope there is more that we can do.

Some members of the branch sent some boney fish with Elder Wright and Gubler last Sunday night and they brought it into our apartment; it smelled really bad to Sister Johnsen.  She held her nose until the fish had flown. Elder Gulber and Elder Adams tried the fish and didn’t think it tasted too bad.   You should have seen Elder Gubler try to down the fish head, eye balls and all!  


We had an area wide broadcast conference today that was just for the islands in this area of the pacific. It was wonderful and completed an amazing and exciting winged week on the islands of Palau.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Modern Day Miracles (#31)

What is the definition of a miracle? How do you know when you have seen one? Sometimes they are described as wonders, or marvels. If someone from even 10 years ago was to view our modern life they would definitely feel that they had seen a miracle. We had an experience that reminded us what a miraculous age we live it.

We have been working with the 66 Koror Elementary kids on 3 plays, but one of the plays was not working. Wednesday morning we knew we had to do something but we couldn’t figure out what to do since Sister J had already spent countless hours on the computer looking for a replacement play and hadn’t found one.

During the morning walk (7:30 a.m. Palau time) Elder Johnsen remembered a melodrama he had been in when he was high school called, “Flora of the Flower Shop.” (Miracle #1) Then he went online and found it in a book (Miracle #2). Sister Johnsen decided to look at the online catalog for the Barbara Bush library in Houston and the book was there and checked in (Miracle #3 and #4). Scott and Theresa Ricker agreed to run to the library at 8:30 p.m. (Houston time) and got the book before the library closed (Miracle #5). They copied and scanned it (Miracle #6) and emailed it to us (Miracle #7-even though this technology is not new, it is still so amazing; we live in Palau!) We received the play and were able to make copies and arrived at the school (1:00 p.m. Palau time) with 3 minutes to spare (Miracle #8). We couldn’t have imagined this kind of thing when we were in college and still typing our papers on typewriters and making copies with carbon paper. (I know-we are old!). We live in a modern, miraculous age!

On Wednesday the Young Women came to our apartment because they wanted to learn to bake. Sister Johnsen realized that most of them do not have ovens. She was happy and excited to have them come. However, she was surprised to learn that only one of them had ever baked and none of them had ever made cookies from “scratch”. Several of them were asked to use the mix master and they were really scared. They had never measured ingredients or mixed up cookies or used the oven. Sister Johnsen thought that most of our Young Women in the United States take for granted what was just miraculous to these Young Women. The snickerdoodle cookies they baked were the hit of the potluck luncheon held between conference sessions on Sunday. Don’t we just get so used to all the miracles in our lives?

Because we have the internet we read a story this week about a miracle in a family whose baby died and later was found alive in the morgue. Now that is a miracle! We try to take care of our 4 babies (Elders) and make sure that they have plenty to eat, etc. We have been trying to help Elder Adams gain a few pounds before he goes home. So when Elder Johnsen recently said that the Elders were as hungry as a baby in a morgue, you will understand the illusion.

Elder’s Wright and Gubler had a miraculous amount of lessons taught this week considering that they took 12 hours out to watch conference. (We get the DVD’s two weeks after conference) and also had to fill up the fount for a baptism, which takes about 3 hours. Even with those time consuming activities they taught over 35 lessons this week. It was an incredible teaching week.

Emily Antonio was baptized this week by her brother, Tally, who was baptized last summer. It was a special event and seemed miraculous to us to see the way Emily has changed and grown as she has accepted the gospel. Sister Johnsen delivered a great talk at the baptism on Friday night. Elder Johnsen had been asked to give the talk and was consulting Sister Johnsen about what she thought he should talk about and before they knew it, Sister Johnsen had a talk all composed, so Elder Wright let her give the talk. She was supposed to be in charge of light refreshments after the baptism, so Elder Johnsen stepped in and helped her with that. Team work is also miraculous! In her talk she had written that if Emily would keep the commandments and baptismal covenants that the Lord would bless her with a life so different from what she thought she would have. However, at the last minute she got nervous about making such an unusual promise so she didn’t say it. However, when Elder Early confirmed Emily a member of the church he used those exact words in his blessing. It’s a miracle when the Lord makes sure His word is delivered exactly as He wants it.

Elder Johnsen was surprised and impressed by the fact that Elder Adams took the sheets right off his bed to hang in the chapel to darken the room so we could actually see the conference videos. No one asked him to do that. He just remembered how hard it was to see the conference images in broad daylight with so much light streaming into the chapel, so he and Elder Early got to the church and had navy blue sheets hung by the time the rest of us arrived to set up the projector and sound system. We’re not sure what he slept on Saturday night because he didn’t take them down until the Sunday session was over. Isn’t it a miracle to watch these young men become unselfish and service oriented as they mature and become even better servants of the Lord? D&C 58:27

Isn’t every day and every hour of our lives somewhat miraculous, really, if we stop and think about it?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Time Stand Still for No One (Unless you are a clock in the Koror Branch) (#30)

One of Sister Johnsen’s first acts of compassion when we came to Palau was to replace the clock in the Branch President’s office. According to some reports, it had not been working for some “time.” Elder Johnsen was determined to resuscitate it. He put it in our bathroom and reset it twice a day! Finally (4 months later) Sister Johnsen disposed of it. But recently Sister Johnsen was in teaching the Young Women a song to sing in Sacrament meeting and discovered that their clock didn’t work. Luckily it was only a battery problem. Shortly after that, we noticed the clock in our chapel wasn’t working, so we took the clock out of the Branch President’s office and put it in the chapel. Obviously we need the correct time more in sacrament meeting. Sister Johnsen brought the ailing clock home and was going to put it-where else, in the bathroom. She put in new batteries which didn’t help it, and finally resorted to the tried and true method: she whacked it. It’s been working ever since, but we are waiting another week before we put it back in the Branch President’s office. Meanwhile, Sister Johnsen found an inexpensive clock to hang in the BP office and maybe we’ll actually get that one back for our own apartment.

AND speaking of time: Elder and Sister Johnsen passed their 6 month mark on April 3rd! Amazing! They will have been on the island 6 months on April 15th and are proud to say they feel certain that they will have located all 356 members. (There are only about 290 now because records for about 80 have been moved off island to places where people really are living. About 20 others who live here but who were not on the rolls are now on the rolls.).

And speaking of where people really are, we were sad to see Brother and Sister Oie leave the island for Arizona this week. They went out to the airport on Monday but couldn’t get out because they were flying standby, and there were no seats available. This is difficult because all the flights to Guam leave at 2:50 AM. Then they went the next night and there was room on the flight, but the immigration officials said Brother Oie couldn’t go because he didn’t have the proper documentation/clearance. The Lord intervened in their behalf in the form of divine positioning. President Kesoloi just happened to be at the airport waiting for a flight to Chuuk and learning of their plight immediately talked to the local officials to see if he could pull some strings. They explained the problem, but to obtain the clearance (Bro. Oei has a Dutch passport) he had to go into the internet cafĂ©’ (for $15/hour) and frantically drill his way down to the right spot, use his credit card to pay a $14 fee then write down the clearance number. With that number the Oei’s were able to board their flight and begin their move to Arizona. All that time and expense was on top of President Kesoloi giving them $150 for a freezer (which wasn’t worth over $60) so they would have some cash for the trip. (You can appreciate this expense better when you know that everyone on the island works for $2.50/hour.)

The Sunday before the Oie’s left was fast Sunday and Sister Oie left us with her testimony. Elder Johnsen wanted to preserve a little flavor of Sister Oie and asked Sister Johnsen to write down something Sister Oie said, exactly as she said it. She was talking about her hospital stays and her illness which went mostly undiagnosed. She told us that the doctor said, “I don’t know what kind of sick what you got.”

And speaking of language, Elder Gubler is leaving us in the dust with the improvement of his Palauan skills. He says things to us in Palauan and we look at him blankly. However, he was a little confused when he met a young woman this week. He shook her hand announcing, “Hi! I’m Elder Gubler.” She replied with something that sounded like, “I’m sorry.” He wasn’t sure what to make of that. “You’re sorry, I’m Elder Gubler….?” Actually her name sounds like “sorry” but it is spelled Sauri.”

One of the things we have LEARNED though is that “time” is a funny thing. The past 6 months seem like a minute, but the year ahead seems like an eternity (for Sister Johnsen). However neither one of us are “sorry” or “sauri” about the opportunity to serve, and the blessing of being called as missionaries in the Micronesia Guam Mission!

All the senior couples in our mission!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Omens, Apparitions and Open Houses (#29)

The phone lines were buzzing this week asking us if we had seen the sun. So we rushed out to see something that we had NEVER seen before. It was a rainbow that completely encircled the sun. Sister Oei, our resident last days warning voice, called and asked us what it meant. Was it an OMEN? Was it a sign? Elder Johnsen calmly explained that it meant that earth wasn’t going to be destroyed by flood, nor would the second coming occur in 2012. The Elders told us that everyone in town was either taking pictures or pointing their fingers into the sky. It was quite the sight, and lasted for over 30 minutes.

Our APPARITION appeared as we led our 60 6th graders into creating and acting out their own skits on Friday. In one of the skits the group created a 6 legged monster covered with a sheet that was terrorizing the neighborhood. (It was our painting drop cloth). Scooby-doo and his faithful human companion came up with a plan to lure the monster into a trap where other members wrapped a 100 foot rope around the monster and saved the day. You should have heard the kids yell with delight when the monster was finally subdued. Next week we actually start working on “real drama”. Elder Johnsen’s favorite is “12 Angry Pigs” a parody of “12 Angry Men”.

Our big event this past Friday was our Branch OPEN HOUSE. For the past 3 weeks we’ve had advertisements running on the local radio station. The missionaries and members have been passing out invitations for the past month and during priesthood service night on Tuesday we distributed over 100 open house invitations along with the first presidency message from the Ensign. We have worked very hard to prepare and present how the family is the focus of the church. Elder Johnsen worked on a presentation about the new family history library, and Sister Johnsen was in charge of the food, but had lots and lots of help from Elder Johnsen. We only had 8 nonmembers there, but it was a very good program. Elder Gubler, Elder Adams, Elder Wright, and Elder Early did a wonderful job talking about “The Proclamation on the Family”, and our four little Palauan girls sang, “The Family is of God.” We don’t count our success in numbers because we have learned from reading D&C 138: 26 that the Savior understands, and we feel grateful to know that our sacrifices for the gospel places us in good company (D&C 138: 13). We press forward with the work and look forward to our next big event in October.

What amazing events will follow the interesting and exciting wonders that we have witnessed? We can hardly wait to see!