Saturday, June 23, 2012

“When You Are In the Service of Your Fellow Beings, You Are Only In the Service of Your God.” (#41)

This has been a SUPER service week. So we pray that the service we have rendered is of service to our God.

We had a Missionary Workshop for the members last Friday night.  The idea of having a fireside to teach active members ways they could share the good news of the restoration came from our Branch Mission Leader—he conducted the meeting, but our District leader, Elder Early, handled the introduction to role playing.  Then all the missionaries took a group of 3 to 5 members into a separate corner of the chapel and we practiced introducing the gospel to someone, or inviting a friend to hear a gospel message from the missionaries in our home.  Elder Johnsen’s group, of course, was the nosiest; he dreamed up some scenarios which the participants thought were fun and funny.  After the role playing was complete we all gathered back together for a discussion of friendshipping led by Elder Johnsen.  We originally wanted to keep the meeting to just an hour but our role playing and discussion was so interesting that people just wanted to keep going.  Meanwhile, Sister Johnsen, who provided a “nursery” for the children, was practically dying—her games and activities ran out when the meeting was scheduled to end—her service felt more like work, while Elder Johnsen’s service felt like fun.  

On Sunday, Elder Johnsen was asked at the last minute to be the final speaker in Sacrament meeting. The topic was on Father’s (since it was Father’s Day).  He began be telling one of the things that his father (Earl) had often repeated while he was growing up—that was get all the education you can.  Earl always felt that his career with the Minnesota State Highway Department was limited because he didn’t have a college diploma.  Elder Johnsen then described how he followed his Dad’s council and got a master’s degree from BYU, and how that had helped him to better provide for his family.  Then Elder Johnsen said something that caused a hush to fall over the congregation—he said that he hadn’t always chosen the right path—at that point Sister Johnsen was praying that she wasn’t going to hear a belated confession about some malignant sin—then, after a dramatic pause, he shared his story about being lost while driving home from the Chicago temple.  He explained that after a 4:00 a.m. departure from Litchfield Illinois, a long drive to Chicago, to visit a museum, and then spending several hours in the temple doing baptisms for the dead the youth and leaders of the Litchfield Ward were finally driving back home.  Elder Johnsen had been sleeping while another ward member was driving the vehicle. When he took over driving duties at Bloomington he was still a little groggy.  Just outside of Bloomington the road divides.  Interstate 55 and the way home to Litchfield goes to the right and another freeway goes to Champaign/ Urbana, and eventually Indiana.  Elder Johnsen explained how he was in the fast lane (left side of the road) and wasn’t aware that he missed the I-55 junction.  While passing thru Champaign he figured he was going thru Springfield and about the time he figured he should be arriving in Litchfield the Jr. Trivia game was ending and he began to notice that none of the surroundings looked familiar.  The final nail in the coffin was the sign announcing the Indiana boarder.  He was incredulous! How could he have gone over 100 miles on the wrong road?  How could he have missed all the road signs along the way?  How could this have happened?  You can fill in the gospel messages and parallels that can be drawn—bottom line, our life is a journey—we’re all on the road of life trying to safely reach our heavenly home—we’d better observe the road signs posted (by both earthly and heavenly fathers in the scriptures) and always choose the right!  In addition to speaking in Sacrament meeting Elder Johnsen also taught the youth Sunday School class, and then taught the YM lesson during the 3rd hour—a service Sunday.  

Later that day President Kesolie asked Sister Johnsen if she would rotate teaching adult Sunday School with Rilang so that she doesn’t have to teach every single Sunday. Rilang has so many other responsibilities.

Monday we had the Kesolie’s to dinner. We had decided to ask them, and then President Kesolie happened to ask Elder Johsen if Sister Johnsen had a good recipe for homemade Chicken Pot Pie. So Sister Johnsen spent a large portion of her preparation “day off” baking homemade rolls, 2 chicken pot pies, and brownies. The Kesolie’s had planned to have Elder Wright and Elder Early for dinner on Monday so we had the whole group here. The Kesolie’s son, Jae, came because the Kesolie’s wanted him to spend some time with the Elders since he is not a member of the church.  There were 9 of us.  Elder Johnsen taught a lesson on the 5 Love Languages: quality time, service, physical touch, gifts, and words of affirmation. Sister Johnsen decided we could play “I Never.”

Tuesday morning we met all the missionaries at the hospital so we could wash hospital windows. While we have visited people at the hospital we have seen the very dirty windows. When we volunteered to wash them the hospital administrator said that they are supposed to be washed by the employees in the particular area, but they are so overworked they can’t get to it.

After cleaning windows for an hour, Elder and Sister Johnsen went home, had breakfast and then went to the church to clean out the shed. The storage shed has been a sore spot for Sister Johnsen for the past 8 months. You can’t find anything and all the “A” items are located all over the place.

Every morning from Tuesday-Friday we have been at the church working on the shed. Sister Johnsen was not entirely thrilled to share the space with the Hunter Spiders, but she continued on. Just one more thing left to do: sort and organize the nails, screws and misc. small parts. It’s the hardest part of the job.

A sister who needed financial help this week talked to us, and we had to repeat that missionaries are not allowed to loan money to anyone. However, she had given us some bananas and Sister Johnsen made  5 batches of banana bread and gave the sister 6 loaves (she was so delighted). We gave two to Elder Early and Wright (they actually “re-gifted” one, the one that actually was for Elder Gubler and Pauga), and we shared one with our new member that moved in at PCC (she just loved the chocolate chips in the bread).  Thanks to plans sent by Randy McQuay, Elder Johnsen had the young men build a giant tower utilizing their pioneering skills; ½ of one loaf of the banana bread was a great treat to celebrate the topping of the tower—but don’t feel too sorry for poor  Elder Johnsen, he did get one half of one loaf all to himself!

Finally, we held a party for the kids. Because we are trying to cultivate two children of a less active member whose husband and family belong to another church--we thought a regular event would help them to feel comfortable with LDS church members. We ended up with 12 kids here. Last time we had about 6 kids when we had popcorn and a movie.

This time we decided to have “make your own pizza” and play games.  We found a pizza dough recipe and made it on Friday afternoon. Then we had to decide whether to precook them or just cook them with the ingredients on them. Elder Johnsen decided to go with the pre-cook, and frankly they looked more like pita bread than pizza. Sister Johnsen suggested that in the future we use less yeast, but Elder Johnsen liked them, and the kids had a good time putting their own toppings on them, and of course eating them.

We played Balloon Volleyball, Do You Love Your Neighbor, Musical Chairs, and Statues (you dance until the music goes off and then you become a statue.) They liked the last game best although you couldn’t tell from how much fun they had all evenings.

We served popcorn and strawberry cupcakes and at 8:00 P.M. we were glad that they all belonged to someone else and we could REST! It’s been a great but frankly, tiring week.  But it always feels great to be of service!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Divine Positioning (#40)

Have you ever experienced the blessing of Divine Positioning? Sometimes the Lord seems to find a way of putting people in the right place at the right time to accomplish His purposes.   This week was filled with examples of that Power:

We’ve been spending more time in the Palau Community College Library lately because Sister Johnsen has been checking out books to share with two of her piano students.  Several of those books were due at the library, and so while Elder Johnsen was double parked outside,  Sister Johnsen ran in to drop off the nearly overdue books.  Having successfully completed that mission she glanced over at the newspaper rack, and decided to stop and look over the paper.  Since Elder Johnsen was waiting in the car and not even in a legitimate parking spot, this was not something Sister Johnsen would ordinary do. After reading for a couple of minutes, Sister Johnsen decided she really had to get back to the car and left the library. As she walked down the sidewalk, a young college student said, “Hello, Sister.” By the time Sister Johnsen realized what the girl had said, they had past each other. Then Sister Johnsen turned around and so did the girl. Sister Johnsen asked the young woman if she was a member of the church, and it turned out that she was. She introduced herself to Sister Johnsen, and said that her name was Audrey and she had just moved to Palau from Chuuk to begin school.   Sister Johnsen got her contact information and we were able to arrange a ride for her to church on Sunday. If Sister Johnsen had not stopped to read the paper, she would not have passed Audrey on her way into the library. We think it was Divine Positioning.

Tuesday night Elder Johnsen and President Kesolei made their usual visits to members.  Their first stop was to the Remasch residence where it turned out that the grandmother, Caron,  was celebrating her birthday and there were about 5 other less active families gathered to celebrate with her. President Kesolie and Elder Johnsen were able to wish her well and also deliver their message to a wider audience than was originally anticipated.  Another case of Divine Positioning.

Later that evening President Kesolei asked Elder Johnsen where they should go for their last visit. Into Elder Johnsen’s mind popped the name Lomisang. He is an inactive member of the church.   After thinking of him, they headed over.   As they visited,  Lomisang told them that just before they had arrived he had picked up his scriptures to read. He also told them that he had experienced a spiritual experience as they visited the grave of his son who died in Afghanistan several years before.  On Memorial Day they had attended a service that was held at the grave site.  The minister who was supposed to have given the opening prayer was late, and Lomisang said that the  person who was conducting asked him if he would say the prayer—he was nervous but said he would—he told them that as he opened his mouth to pray that the words to say just poured into his mind.  He told Elder Johnsen and President Kesolei that he didn’t think it was a coincidence that they just happened to stop in to see him—he feels that the Lord has been working on him to get him to come back.  Another instance of Divine Positioning.

For the past several weeks Sister Johnsen has been trying to arrange a piano lesson with Rilang who just returned from a mission to Australia.  Since her return she has been so busy that she’s had no time to pursue her own personal goal of learning to play the piano.  Earlier this week Elder and Sister Johnsen were up at the church while Elder Johnsen was working on finding a solution to a financial problem related to a 2011 financial transaction that was “sent” but not “cleared.”  Sister Johnsen was waiting for another piano student, who was late.  Just then who should come by the church—you guessed it, Rilang.  She was coming up to the church to use the computer to do some translation work—instead she finally got the piano lesson that she had long desired.  Her lesson finished just as the originally scheduled piano student arrived.   Does the Lord really care about whether a faithful returned missionary achieves her personal goals?  Apparently He does and he also gave us the opportunity to experience the blessing of Divine Positioning.  

Sunday night Elder Johnsen and the YM president were out teaching one of our less active members and stopped by another member residence on the way home to check on them.  The mother was sitting out on her porch—she had been praying that someone would come by and help with her son.  After hearing the story and finding out where her son was, Elder Johnsen and the YM president drove over to the Branch President’s home and told him the story—he went out and found the YM and challenged him to go home and straighten up. They were at the right place at the right time and the Lord was able to answer this mother’s prayers through Divine Positioning.  

In Elder Johnsen’s Sunday School lesson this past week there is a record of both Alma the Younger’s and Amulek’s account of how an angel of the Lord appeared to them and arranged for a Divine Positioning meeting which resulted in Amulek helping with the Lord’s work in Ammohnihah.  Almost every student in the class had a story of how they have also seen the Lord prepare a way for them or someone else to help do his work or answer the prayers of another person.   

Finally, we included a picture that we took of Sister Johnsen this week which does not involve Divine Positioning,  but in which she is positioned divinely to enjoy a dinner at the Sea Passion Hotel.  We hope all of you are positioned just where the Lord needs you to be to accomplish His purposes.  

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

This is His Brother (#39)

Elder Johnsen used the following story from the New Era to introduce Alma 5 in his lesson to the youth Sunday School class on Sunday. In this story the children saw something in Mike that he hadn’t seen in himself.  This initiated a change in him toward actually becoming a disciple of Christ.  This is the same way that Alma viewed the people of Zarahemla.  

“When I was 18, as I was preparing to serve a mission, my bishop called me to teach the Sunbeams. I had never before learned to love others more than myself until I had served those children in such a simple assignment. With time and patience I learned how to keep those seven children in their seats and listening to a simple lesson.

“One day I invited Mike(name changed) to come to church and sit in my class. Mike was my age but had stopped attending church completely by the time he was 12. We had remained friends over the years as I had served as the deacons quorum president, the teachers quorum president, and first assistant to the bishop in the priests quorum. He had been the topic of many fellowshipping discussions and was often part of my prayers as the years had passed. Once in a while Mike would accept my invitations to come to an activity. It always surprised me when he did, so I kept inviting him.

“At that time, Mike had long, black hair and a beard. His complexion was dark and pleasant. I don’t remember when I invited him to my Primary class, but one day he showed up.

“’Class, I would like to introduce you to my friend Mike,’ is how I began my lesson. ‘He is visiting us today.’

“Mike sat next to me in front. The children sat in a semicircle with their eyes fixed on him. They were much quieter than usual. I was about five or six minutes into the lesson when one little boy got up from his chair and walked across the room and stood directly in front of my friend. The boy paused for a moment and then climbed onto his lap. I continued with the lesson as I watched the two of them from the corner of my eye.

“The boy sat looking into Mike’s face. Mike was quite uncomfortable but did not interrupt the lesson or turn the boy away. The other children watched the two of them for a few minutes.

“Then one of the girls climbed off her seat and approached Mike. I was intently interested in seeing how Mike would react and did not want to instruct the two children to return to their seats. The girl stood with her hand on Mike’s knee looking into his face.

“Then it happened. The boy on Mike’s lap reached up with both hands and turned Mike’s face directly to his. I stopped my lesson to see what was about to unfold.

“With the innocence of a child, he said to Mike, ‘Are you Jesus?’

“The look on Mike’s face was total surprise. It seemed, as I glanced at the children’s faces, they all had the same question on their minds.

“Mike looked at me as if to say, Help, what do I say?

“I stepped in. ‘No, this is not Jesus. This is His brother.’

“Mike looked at me as if in shock.

“Then without hesitation the boy in Mike’s lap reached up and wrapped his arms around Mike’s neck. ‘I can tell,’ the boy said as he hugged Mike.

“The rest of the children smiled and nodded in agreement as their simple question was answered. Mike blinked back the tears in response to the love he felt from this small Sunbeam. The lesson went on, but that day the teacher who taught the most was a three-year-old child.

“Mike spent more than a year getting ready to serve a mission. It thrilled me to learn that he left for the mission field a few months before I returned. I still think of the scripture in Matthew 18:5: ‘And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.’  (Ken Merrell, New Era, May 2000)

Last Monday we spent our whole preparation day cooking and preparing for a farewell open house for the Carlson family.  Eric and his two sons departed for Utah very early in the morning on Tuesday. The remainder of the family will follow in a month or so.  We had nearly 50 branch members join us for the light dinner and festivities.  Why did we do such a hard thing?  These are all His brothers.  The action photo that we’ve included was Eric playing a trick on Elder Early.  Eric was chief Unga Bunga and whatever actions the chief did the inductee had to do but with greater fervor.  The trick was when chief Unga Bunga stood up a wet sponge would be placed on the chair of the inductee—however, as you can see the chief also got a wet surprise when he sat back down on his chair.  

President Mecham, our Mission President and District President, joined us on the island this Wednesday to conduct temple recommend interview and to prepare men for advancement in the priesthood. Elder Johnsen spent hours and hours on the phone calling members who may be interested in renewing their temple recommend those we couldn’t call we visited one night in pouring rain. These are all His brothers (and sisters).

We prepared a special party for one of our inactive members who has two children. We invited several young members over to have dinner with them and to watch a movie (Pollyanna). Elder Johnsen made his famous popcorn and we had a good time getting to know these young children. They are definitely His brothers.

Sister Johnsen was at the Behavioral Health Center twice this week listening to teachers give life skill lessons to the underage drinkers. She was able to observe their teaching skills and will be able to give some teacher training classes in the near future.  All of this is for our brothers and sisters.

Elder Johnsen had a long Sunday as he started out at 8:00 A. M. with a Branch Presidency meeting and had to teach Sunday School, and then the young men in Priesthood. He sang with the choir in Sacrament meeting, and attended choir after church. After a short break for lunch he had to go back to the church early to prepare for the PEC meeting and also for Branch council. Home at 5 for dinner with the Elders and then out again to teach an inactive member and to plan the upcoming Wednesday night activities for the young men. He felt a bit tired Sunday night and as he left the house for the last time said that he “WAS weary of well doing” but he went out anyway.  He was doing it for one of the Savior’s brothers.

Sister Johnsen made a bookworm for one of her other piano students and took her to the library to pick out some books. She is preparing some rewards for reading the books. Her student was very excited and thinks that Sister Johnsen walks on water, just like her Brother, the Savior, did long ago.  

We had no air conditioning in our living room this week because the repair job that was preformed lasted approximately 5 minutes. We were patient with our “brothers” though and have used our standing fan and our bedroom air conditioning to try to keep the whole apartment cool.

Elder Johnsen also thinks that Sister Johnsen is his “brother” and took her out to dinner on Saturday night to Rip Tide the swimming resort just outside of town. It was a beautiful evening and there was a lovely view. The food was affordable and quite good too. 

We have been given 4 assignments for the upcoming senior missionary conference in Guam next month which will focus on our Church Educational System needs. We want to prepare the best presentation we can for the other “brothers and sisters” senior missionaries who will be attending. We look forward to these senior conference and getting together with the other missionaries and hearing about their progress and their ideas.

To all our brothers and sisters in the gospel, we hope you had a great week too!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Our Wake Up Call (#38)

Sister Johnsen was awakened from a sound sleep at 4:00 A.M one morning this week. She wasn’t sure why she was awake, and lay there for a few minutes before deciding to just get up and go to the restroom. After getting back in bed, the thought came to her that she had a text message. Unfortunately her cell phone was in the other room. She had forgotten to plug it in near her bed, which she tries to do every night. So she grudgingly got up again!  And a text message was there, from Karen.

Karen had taken the family car in for repairs, and needed a response about those repairs ASAP. She sent the text and then prayed that Sister Johnsen would see it first thing in the morning. It was a pretty powerful prayer because it woke Sister Johnsen up!  

Later Karen apologized when she realized that it was in the middle of the night for the Palauan people. But for us it was a wake-up call AND a sweet reminder that the Lord still hears and answers prayers!

Speaking of phone calls, Elder Johnsen has been installing the new Encyclopedia Britannica DVD data into the computers at the Koror Public library. He needed another hour to complete the installations and called almost every day, but the nice ladies at the library were never available to have him come back in. Maybe next week…we are learning to be patient with the Palauan time schedule!

On Wednesday, the joint activity for Young Men and Young Women was two leadership activities that Elder Johnsen shared with the youth leaders. The first one was the spider web, and the spectators had as much fun (or more) than the people trying to pass through the web.  The object of the exercise is to have each team member pass through a different “hole” in the spider web without touching the web. Once the hole is used, or the web is touched in an unsuccessful attempt to pass through it, that hole is closed and cannot be used again.  You should have seen the antics when Brother Carlson and President Kesolei attempted to lift Elder Early over the entire web, and he came crashing down on top of the web and onto the grass below. Luckily it had been softened up by lots of recent rain.  Yes, Elder Early got muddy, but not hurt!  Neither team was able to complete the spider web challenge—both teams got stuck getting their last man through.  For both teams it was a wakeup call to realize that they should have reserved the easiest hole in the web for the last man. This exercise is about leadership and communication.

Our Branch President contemplating how he can get through 
Elder Early right before he crash landed on top of the spider web

Ulang successfully makes it over the web- we allowed over the web to be one usable hole and under the web was a usable hole

Elder Early finally made it through

The next activity was the Lava Crossing. In that challenge the two teams have 2 to 3 magic boards which are impervious to the hot lava that we pretend covers the church parking lot.  The teams are too large and the boards too small to ferry all team members across the hot lava at once. If a team member falls off the “magic” boards into the lava, the whole team must go back to the beginning and start over.  Both teams had multiple times when they had to start over, and it was a wake-up call to realize that haste makes waste! Even though it’s a race, planning and communication are needed to complete the journey. It’s not always the fastest, but the most prepared tortoise that wins this race!

It is almost summer here in Palau, and it has been raining so much. The day of the joint activity it just poured off and on all day. But for one solid hour during our activity there wasn’t a drop of rain. What a blessing.

Sister Johnsen is teaching piano lessons to two young Palauan non-member sisters who have two siblings who have joined the church in the last year. Since they do not seem like they have a lot to do, she decided to include a craft with their lessons and brought some homemade salt dough. (Elder Johnsen tells everyone how HE made it.) While one is having her piano lesson, the other makes things with the salt dough and then they trade places. Sister Johnsen also started them on James and the Giant Peach which they took home to read this week.

The salt dough creations, baked and painted.

After looking at both the libraries in Koror, Sister Johnsen printed out a copy of all the Newberry winners since 1950 and is going to find out how many both of these libraries have. Their children’s collections lack many great books and stories. Perhaps a way can be found to increase their children’s book sections. Looking through their collections was a wake-up call for Sister Johnsen because she felt like something could be done to improve these libraries for the sake of these children.

The Carlson’s are beginning their move to St. George, Utah and Eric Carlson, the father of the family, bore his testimony on Sunday. It was his last Sunday here.  He told a story about borrowing his father-in-law’s boat, and then losing the gaff overboard. He was so alarmed at losing it that even though the tide was strong and the current difficult, he jumped in to save the gaff. He knew he was in trouble when he found that the water was about a foot over his head.  Although he quickly reached the gaff, now he had the problem of swimming back to the anchored boat against the strong current.  He nearly exhausted himself in the attempt to swim 50 feet, and after 10 minutes of furious swimming with the gaff in hand, he was still 50 feet away from the boat.  Realizing that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, he changed tactics.  Diving down to the bottom he used the gaff to pull himself forward underwater.  Of course he lost ground against the current when he came up for air, but now at least he was making real progress.  Finally, exhausted he reached the boat, but had so little strength remaining that he couldn’t pull himself over the side.   After about 10 minutes of rest he gained enough strength to pull himself out of the water and into the boat.  He drew many spiritual lessons from that experience. He expressed that sometimes when things are difficult, and you are out of strength, you just have to hang on.  However, our favorite lesson from the experience was that it was a wake-up call for him to realize that he almost lost his life over a gaff.  He felt that we ought to judge more carefully the importance of the decisions we make in our lives, and be sure that our choices are made thoughtfully. Is that choice really worth it? He suggested that sometimes we make choices, and find that we have a difficult time extracting ourselves from dangerous circumstances.   

President Mecham sent President Kesolie a note this week to say he is coming to Palau for just one day. He will be here to do temple recommends and priesthood advancement interviews, and Elder Johnsen has been making phone calls to line up those interviews. Some of our young men who we were hoping were preparing for advancement have not been as faithful as they should been and suddenly, the call comes to move forward and they are not ready. How unfortunate.  Hopefully, our own personal wakeup call comes well before we have no remaining will to repent and it is “everlastingly too late”.

Graduations have been happening all over the island this last week. Everywhere we go we hear “Pomp and Circumstance” and see cars lining the streets of the schools.  Graduation marks the end of an era, and the hope of better things for these young graduates. However, on Sunday morning a few Palauans set off on a Freedom Walk and a young graduate also got into his vehicle after a lot of heavy drinking. He hit one of the walkers, a 62 year old woman, who was out walking to improve her nation and her health. She died at the hospital, several hours later. It is always a wakeup call when we remember that life is fragile, and the call to leave this earth can happen at any moment.

The young man is in jail charged with manslaughter. Just when he should be starting out he has brought tragedy into the lives of so many families. Even with complete repentance his future is forever altered by the consequences which will follow.   While we might be able to escape the eternal consequences of some choices by repentance, there is a much smoother road in life to follow.  May we heed this wakeup call, “O that ye would awake; awake from a deep sleep, yea, even from the sleep of hell … awake … [and] put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.” (2 Ne. 1:13, 23.)