Tuesday, July 31, 2012

How Firm A Foundation! (#46)

Let’s start at the end this time. Saturday night Elder Johnsen was putting the finishing touches on his Sunday School lesson, and Sister Johnsen was working on music and they heard a creaking and crunching sound. Elder Johnsen jumped up to see what was happening outside. (Earthquake?) To his dismay the kitchen floor INSIDE was rising. He called Sister Johnsen in and they watched their tile rise and their grout break apart.  Unless one wants to stub ones toe or risk breaking the partially loosened tiles which are sticking up about ½ inch from level, one has to develop new traffic patterns in our apartment.  Apparently this is not a new affliction to the apartment building where we live, and can be fixed! How firm a foundation, indeed.

Friday night a gale force storm blew in; talk about rain and wind! We thought we understood RAIN in Texas, but no, this is even more amazing! So, our big Saturday youth conference to Peliliu had to be postponed until next week because no boats were going to be running on Saturday. It is too dangerous for boats to travel in this wind, even inside the reef there was very choppy water.  Later in the day the weather cleared up, but it was too late for our trip.  Another in-firm-ity!

We had our last summer party with the kids 8-12; they felt sad to see Friday Fun come to an end. We don’t know if it’s sad that the parties are ending, or just that school is starting on August 6th! So lest anyone at home feel badly about when our schools start in the states, think of these kids. They don’t get out until the end of May either.

Senior missionaries are able to set their own schedules, and do the work they feel needs to be done. They are uniquely in a position to be “….anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of their own free will.”  Because we want to be doing many good things, we have been working on painting the chapel, the shed, and other buildings in the church yard. Apparently our work is not yet finished. Elder Johnsen happened to notice a beautiful little fern growing…out of the trim of the building. We think it is time to climb the ladder and scrap and repaint the trim on the building.  Have you ever noticed that when you start a project it seems to grow in magnitude—the untouched portions seem to cry out, “What about me?  I want to look new too!”

This week we thought we would quickly paint the storage shed/bathrooms but discovered that we had to do major scrapping to prepare the surface. Elder Johnsen scrapped right through one wire brush, so we purchased another one.  President Kesolie thinks our painting job looks so good they might cancel the refurbishing project they have planned for next year. We think that by next year it will definitely need to be done again.

We got permission to take out 4 poles that were set up just outside the entrance to our chapel. They were supposed to be like a trellis and have flowering vines growing around them but not one flower has adorned these poles since we got here over 9 months ago. When we started to take them out, they just slid out of the holes because they were FILLED with termites. The Elders helped us and just literally lifted them out. We have been given permission to paint the free standing steeple, but have been told to be careful because termites have also taken up residence there. In-firm-ity all around.

Elder Johnsen shared the following excerpts as a handout with his youth Sunday School class. It is from an article in Meridian Magazine. They studied Alma chapter 36 in the Book of Mormon this past Sunday, and this is where Alma the Younger recounts his conversion experience to his son, Helaman:

“We credit John W. Welch, a prominent gospel scholar, with the discovery of a beautiful poetic pattern that underlies the chapter.  Brother Welch noted years ago that the entire chapter is an impressive chiasm, a carefully structured pattern of mirror-image repetition used by Hebrew and Classic Greek poets in ancient times.  In the first half of the chapter, he recounts what his life was like before coming to Christ. As an arrogant young man, he “exalted himself,” persecuting the church and becoming the “vilest of sinners” (Mosiah 28:4).  He fought against the Lord until, struck down by an angel, he awakened to a sense of what he had done and became “racked with eternal torment” (Alma 36:12). 

By magnificent contrast, in the second half of the chapter he describes his deliverance from torment: “there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy” (v. 21). 
At the heart of the chapter is his appeal to Jesus Christ, and the relief that he felt when he called upon the Savior and was “born of God” (v. 18, 23).

Here is a mirror-image outline of this great discourse, as described by John Welch. Each element of the chapter is designed by a letter of the alphabet, with the mirroring verses indicated by a superscript ‘. The verse numbers are in parentheses.

A Mirror-Image Outline of Alma 36
(a) My son, give ear to my WORDS (1)
   (c)DO AS I HAVE DONE (2)
    (d) in REMEMBERING THE CAPTIVITY of our fathers (2); 
     (e) for they were in BONDAGE (2)
      (f) he surely did DELIVER them (2)
       (g) TRUST in God (3)
        (h) supported in their TRIALS, and TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (3)
         (i) shall be lifted up at the LAST DAY (3)
          (j) I KNOW this not of myself but of GOD (4)
           (k) BORN OF GOD (5)
            (l) I sought to destroy the church of God (6-9)
             (m) MY LIMBS were paralyzed (10)
              (n) Fear of being in the PRESENCE OF GOD (14-15)
               (o) PAINS of a damned soul (16)
                (p) HARROWED UP BY THE MEMORY OF SINS (17)
                 (q) I remembered JESUS CHRIST, SON OF GOD (17)
                 (q') I cried, JESUS, SON OF GOD (18)
                (p') HARROWED UP BY THE MEMORY OF SINS no more (19)
               (o')  Joy as exceeding as was the PAIN (20)
              (n') Long to be in the PRESENCE OF GOD (22)
             (m') My LIMBS received their strength again (23)
         (l') I labored to bring souls to repentance (24)
           (k') BORN OF GOD (26)
          (j') Therefore MY KNOWLEDGE IS OF GOD (26)
         (h') Supported under TRIALS, TROUBLES, and AFFLICTIONS (27)
        (g') TRUST in him (27)
       (f') He will deliver me (27)
      (i') and RAISE ME UP AT THE LAST DAY (28)
     (e') As God brought our fathers out of BONDAGE and captivity (28-29)
    (d') Retain in REMEMBRANCE THEIR CAPTIVITY (28-29)
   (c') KNOW AS I DO KNOW (30)
 (a') This is according to his WORD (30).

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Is the Center of Our Faith
The remarkable symmetry between the opposing elements of the chapter testifies to the great care Alma took in composing this message. His themes are captivity and deliverance, spiritual death and rebirth, paralysis and renewed strength, arrogance and humility, exquisite pain and exquisite joy. 
But the focal point of this grand symphony of opposition is the figure of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Brother Welch observes, “I am especially impressed with the repetition of the name ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God’ at the very center of the chapter. . . . the structure of the chapter powerfully communicates Alma’s personal experience, for the central turning point of his conversion came precisely when he called upon the name of Jesus Christ and asked for mercy.”
In this passage we understand what it means to pass from corruption to perfection, from death to life, and it is entirely due to the merits of Jesus Christ.”

And so it is with us, the Lord Jesus Christ is the center of what we do and the sure foundation in every situation (Hymn 85) and keeps us working and moving forward in Palau every day!  

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Right Recipe (#45)

See if you can relate to this story we heard during our senior conference:

My aunt and I have had a bit of a communication problem with coleslaw.  When I was living in Florida she called me about it.  “Reatha,” she said, “it’s about this coleslaw recipe you gave me.  I made it last night and your uncle said it’s not as good as yours.  Now you get your recipe and we’ll go over it together and we’ll see what you forgot to tell me.”  “Yes Ma’am,” I said.  “First you start with chopped cabbage.”  “Oh, I never chop mine.” She said.  “Takes too long, I use my blender.” “Yes Ma’am,” I said.  “Sprinkle on some sugar. . .” “Sugar?” she interrupted. “I really don’t think you need sugar on cabbage. I just left that out.  Go on.” “Yes Ma’am,” I said. “Next add some instant minced onion.”  “Oh, I never use that,” she said.  “We have lots of green onions from the garden so I used those instead and I added some green and red peppers to give it some color.  Your coleslaw looks so bland.”  “Yes Ma’am,” I said.  “Then I put in some dill weed. . .”  “Weed? Oh, I used seed, it’s practically the same thing,” she said.  “Yes Ma’am,” I said. “And then I mix in salt and pepper.” “Just plain salt and pepper?” she asked.  “I find my things taste better with seasoned salt and lemon pepper.  That’s what I used.  What next?” “The last thing I use is just plain mayonnaise,” I said, “Just enough to hold it all together.”  “Plain mayonnaise,” my aunt said.  “I think sour cream dresses up coleslaw more.  Now is that it?”  “Yes Ma’am,” I said.  “I just don’t understand it,” she said.  “I followed your recipe exactly as you told me.  Are you certain you didn’t leave something out?  Well, I’ll try it one more time but if it doesn’t turn out I’ll be calling you again.”  “Yes Ma’am,” I said.

Finding the right recipe, and then using it are two ever present challenges. We felt because of our time in Guam we learned many new recipes for performing our mission in Palau. We all shared information with the other senior missionaries about our responsibilities, especially as they relate to CES (Church Education System). We learned a lot and discovered that the work that the seniors do is amazingly valuable to lives of the people on these islands. It was incredible to hear about how much the seniors do day after day in very difficult island situations, and yet they continue to have smiling faces and great attitudes. We felt more grateful than ever for our own opportunity to serve on Palau. We feel we have one of the most ideal situations. 

Elder Johnsen has been having a serious case of golf withdrawal as evidenced by his frequent golf dreams.  He was blessed on Sunday night to get into a conversation with Elder Eldridge. He and his wife are serving on Kosrae as a new senior missionary couple.   It turns out that he is an avid golfer and also retired military, so on Monday morning they hopped in the rental car and headed up to Anderson Air force base.  Elder Eldridge got them on the base golf course; for $38 dollars each they played 18 holes of golf, with a cart and a set of rental clubs for each of them (the guys at the pro shop even gave them a handful of used golf balls).  With no warm up Elder Johnsen stepped up to the first tee, 3 wood in hand, and stroked his first ball hit in 9 months to the 150 yard marker in the middle of the fairway.  The rest of the round wasn’t as impressive as his first drive, but for him it was nice to stop dreaming about golf and actually play a round.  This was definitely the RIGHT recipe for fun! They have a date to play again in 6 months at the next senior conference.

It was great for both Elder and Sister Johnsen to be in Guam which has more of the creature comforts found in US territory.  Sister Johnsen doesn’t have golf dreams, but she does think with longing for sugar free frozen yogurt.  She snapped this picture of Elder Johnsen enjoying a full strength yogurt at the Micronesia Mall.  During the week we counted 4 different trips to various yogurt shops around Guam to satisfy our craving. 

On Sunday all the couples are invited to President and Sister Mecham's home for lunch after church.
On Monday night for Family Home Evening Elder and Sister Norton who are also new seniors invited all of us to their place on Guam for dinner. They call their place Zarahemla ruins. They served a Café Rio menu and it was just the right recipe for all of us.

Elder and Sister Johnsen sat down with Liz and Chris Gittens who were in the Talisay Branch when they lived in Guam 12 years ago. They had been asked to come and speak to us. He is now the stake patriarch. We were richly blessed by the things that both of them said. Sister Gittens transcribes the patriarchal blessings and said that on the first one she felt like she would make some changes to the words because she loves English and want everything to be said correctly. She said she could NOT move her fingers when she got to the place where she was going to make changes. She said they were frozen on the keys. When she decided she just better type the blessing exactly as it was given her hands flew across the keys easily.

Brother Gittens talked to us about how most of the work of the church is being done by Ephraim and sometimes Manasseh and a few other tribes. He told us to picture the baptismal font in the temple and how it is held up by 12 oxen. He suggested that when all 12 tribes are doing the work it will spread rapidly over the earth. What a great day that will be. For now, Ephraim is to carry the work forward and find the elect. The elect are those who hear the message and follow it.

While in Guam Sister Johnsen had the opportunity to sing “An Instrument in his Hands” in the Dededo Sacrament meeting.  She also sang “I Have Not Seen, Yet I Believe” during a break on the first day of our senior conference.  The song covers instances from the Savior’s life culminating in his death and resurrection. Elder Johnsen created a windows movie that incorporated the song’s music track and scanned images of the Savior, which matched the words to the song.  That “movie” accompanied Sister’s Johnsen’s singing.  It brought a beautiful spirit to the conference as we prepare to teach the New Testament in Seminary and Institute this coming year.  

Besides all the conference activities both Elder and Sister Johnsen got their teeth cleaned, and stocked up on hard to get items (or items that are more expensive in Palau than in Guam).   They brought an extra suitcase for that purpose and had it filled with 47.5 pounds on their return trip to Palau on Thursday night.  

Friday night President and Sister Mecham arrived in Palau.  Saturday was our Zone conference and on Sunday we had Branch conference.  Elder Johnsen was sustained as 2nd counselor in the branch presidency; this is the 6th branch presidency or bishopric in which he’s served.  So Sister Johnsen is back to sitting alone in the congregation again.   Of course, he’s still executive secretary, youth Sunday School teacher, membership clerk, and YM advisor so what’s one more calling?  

President and Sister Mecham traveled to Palau with President and Sister Hales and so we felt like we should invite them to dinner on Sunday when we feed the Elders. There were 10 of us to dinner, and we sat out on the deck and had a pleasant evening talking and getting to know each other better.

Every day we pray that we will get directions from the Spirit (the right recipe) and then that we will have willing hearts and working hands to combine the ingredients to make a delicious feast for those around us.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Paint, Presentation, Parties and Piles of Paper - We are Pooped! (#44)

We started the week out bright and early on Tuesday morning by working with the 4 Elders on painting the church building.  President Kesolie said that the paint we found in the shed in 5 gallon buckets could be used, given away or thrown out, so we decided to see what we could do to touch up the peeling paint on our building.  When we opened our second 5 gallon bucket we found paint that matched the paint on the building.  The fresh coat of paint has made a big difference. The six of us worked for 2 hours  so that totaled 12 man hours! We are pleased.  Then, of course, we had to go back the next day and touch up the places we missed that took another 4 man hours.  

We had to prepare for the upcoming presentations at our senior conference, so we wrote some of the presentations, finished up others and reviewed all of them. We felt ready to go by the end of the week, which was a good thing, because our time was up!

We started to clean out and organize President Kesolie’s church office, (because he asked us to do it)  after reviewing the church’s document retention guidelines we learned that we were to save the present year plus three years past, but we were not to throw out any membership records that were not checked.  We sorted the records into two piles, members that live in Palau and members that have moved.   Elder Johnsen sat for hours at the computer checking old records of people that are in Palau to ensure that the computer (MLS) has correct information and Sister Johnsen continued sorted through the office and brought Elder Johnsen more and more piles of papers. We had a huge stack of papers to bring Guam with us of members who have moved off island.

Even though we had been so busy all week, we had a party/movie on our calendar for the 8-12 year olds and so we prepared food and got the projector and set up a bed sheet on our patio deck outside.  We ate dinner, treats and popcorn and watched Nim’s Island with the kids from 5 to 8 on Friday night.

After our party ended we cleaned up, rested until midnight and caught our 2:30 AM flight to Guam to begin our week at the senior conference. We came a day early because Sister Johnsen was singing in the Dededo ward and needed to practice with the accompanist. As it turned out the person couldn’t play and Sister J felt so grateful that she brought her music player with all her accompaniments to play “An Instrument in His Hands” because the theme was Missionary Work.  The song was a  beautiful addition to the sacrament meeting.  Our Sabbath ended at the mission president’s home where he and Sister Mecham hosted a dinner for all the Senior Elders and Sister who had arrived in Guam for our Senior Conference.  
It has been a P . .P . .P . .P . . Pretty frantic week, but we love being pooped from doing work that needs to be done.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Always in the Middle (#43)

In President Uchtdorf’s July first presidency message he observed, “By many world calendars, July marks the middle of the year. While the beginnings and endings of things are celebrated and remembered, the middle of things often goes unnoticed.

Beginnings are times for making resolutions, for creating plans, for bursts of energy. Endings are times for winding down and may involve feelings of completion or loss. But with the proper outlook, considering ourselves as in the middle of things can help us not only to understand life a little better but also to live it a little more meaningfully.”  

Well, it’s July, and we are actually right in the middle of our mission in Micronesia Guam.  July 3rd was our “hump” day.   We have been in the mission field for 9 months, and we have 9 months to go. As we think back over the last 9 months we find that we have been blessed with good health, lots of energy, and the ability to see what needs to be done here in Palau.

Is the “hump day” the high point of the mission with everything else just falling action, or is it just the middle as President Uchtdorf says? Whichever it may be, we plan to keep working like we have in the past 9 months, and finding the joy of service here.

We have been grateful for the opportunity to get to know, work with, and pray for the members here. We love being able to associate with the elders, and to have been a part of their missions.

Last Sunday we attended a baptism and had to wait 30 minutes while the person doing the baptism tried to locate some white pants to wear. Sister Johnsen took a look at the baptismal clothes and decided to wash, reorganize, and inventory them so that each organization would have a list of what was available, and in what sizes.

We also found out this week that we might be able to assist President Kesolei in his branch office by organizing some of his files. We hope that when we are finished it will be a good thing, and that we won’t have completely messed up his system. We have been going through old records and have actually found some baptismal information that no one knew was there. Even the office in Guam didn’t have the information, so it is a huge blessing to have started this project. We plan to work on it pretty hard this week, and take records to Guam that we can’t identity.

We had a branch cleanup day on Saturday and we learned that the 25 gallons of paint that is stored at the back of the shed would not be used as part of the repainting done next year. We decided to open it up this week and see if it is any good and try to do some touch up on the building where the paint is peeling—walls and doors, inside and out.  Apparently they are hoping to get some new paint on the building that does better than this paint.

On Saturday night we got a call to ask us to speak in Sacrament meeting on missionary work. Sister Johnsen spoke about the importance of missionary work and quoted Elder Holland in his talk, “We Are All Enlisted,” in the October 2011 conference. He said, “What greater gift could grandparents give their posterity than to say by deed as well as by word, “In this family we serve missions.” Sister Johnsen related a story that Jocelyn told her recently about how Maddie was asking when grandma and grandpa were going to be home. Jocelyn explained to her about missions and how important they were and expressed some of the ideas from Elder Holland’s talk. After that Maddie told her, “When I grow up, I want to serve a mission!”

We have another busy week ahead, but we wanted to pause and thank everyone who has prayed for us, and stayed with us during the first half of our mission! Sulang!

Monday, July 2, 2012

"Stop the Bleeding" (#42)

Our most time consuming project this week was getting ready to go to Girl’s camp. We cooked, prepared for a First Aid lesson, learned and reviewed how to do at least 7 dances, (the Macarena, the Bunny Hop, the Limbo, the Twist, the Stomp, the Cotton Eyed Joe, and the Hokey Pokey.) The girls loved it, and Sister Johnsen discovered that she can no longer do the limbo, which seemed so easy when she was younger-much younger! (A big thanks to Andi Cook for getting the music to us!)  We prepared lots of games, which we never played because of the rain.

This girl’s camp couldn’t be more different than the one at home.  After a spiritual campfire program, we watched two movies the first night, 7 Brides for 7 Brothers (Every time there was  song, half the girls got up and left to do something; just like we do when there is an advertisement on TV at home. We weren’t sure they were coming back the first time they did it, but as soon as the song was over, they all came back.) Then we watched Princess Bride, and Sister Johnsen fell asleep on the hard wooden bench (she was “only mostly dead,” but true love brought her back and had her sleep on the air mattress we brought).  Saturday morning when we were supposed to play games it was pouring rain, so after the discussion of patriarchal  blessings all the girls went back in to watch A Walk To Remember, which turned out to be their favorite movie of the 3. Afterwards they kidded Elder Johnsen because he cried just as hard at the girls did.  Just as the movie ended the sun came out, and the rest of the day was beautiful—we were on the beach, the food was great, and the afternoon turned out to be wonderful! A perfect day!  

Since we were on the beach we learned about swimming Palauan style! Don’t change your clothes; just go straight into the water! That was a new idea to us.

When Elder Johnsen taught First Aid he started out talking about what to do with a cut or open wound. The first thing he emphasized was to “Stop the bleeding.” After he went through the steps (stop the bleeding, clean the wound, use antibacterial ointment, and put on a bandage, etc.)  he then got off on all different ways that step #1, “Stop the bleeding” could help us in our lives. He suggested that if we have a credit card debt that is out of control, we need to first “Stop the bleeding.” If our lives have become full of misdeeds or mistakes, “Stop the bleeding.” 

Apparently this one phrase made an impact because throughout the rest of the day, we heard people telling each other to “Stop the bleeding!” in all kinds of different situations. Good idea!  First, stop making the problem worse; then, clean up the mess.

Speaking of cleaning, we finished cleaning out the church storage shed last week. During that cleaning we found that there were rotted holes in the back wall of the shed.  As you might expect there was another huge pile of junk behind the shed’s outside back wall; so we tackled that this week. When we actually got to the bottom of the pile we discovered a huge colony of ants. No wonder the shed had an out of control ant problem. Elder Johnsen found lots of ant killer in the shed, and thoroughly enjoyed dousing them with spray.  After pulling all the debris away from the shed, we saw why the inside of the shed was losing materials to water damage, the back wall had rotted away and so water was getting in. We felt that we “Stopped the bleeding!” and we were happy about it! Now we can concentrate on fixing the problem.

We managed to finish one more senior conference presentation this week and with only 8 work days left we still have two more to prepare. We have a full week coming up and need to work on our upcoming CES back-to-school activity which we are super excited about; we also have to help with youth conference.  Elder Johnsen and Rodney, the YM President, came up with the idea to reprise something we did in Cypress Stake some years ago and use the theme “Preparing for the Battle of Life.” The plan is to travel to Peleliu, tour the WWII battle ground, and use those sites to discuss various spiritual applications.   

This week was our priesthood service night. Elder Johnsen has prepared 8 different routes containing about 20 families each.  He made copies of the First Presidency message, and then sent out the priesthood brothers to deliver the message to the families and see how they are doing.  It is actually possible for one team to see about 20 families in 2 hours.  Of course the problem is getting 16 priesthood holders to come help with the routes.  This week Elder Johnsen went out with 3 different partners on 3 different nights to get as many people visited as possible.  We are determined to insure that all these members that we’ve found are never lost again—on two of the nights it was pouring rain and he came back soaked—but very happy! When it’s raining, people are home!  Now 3 other priesthood brothers know where these families live—we’re just trying to “stop the bleeding”.   Before we started priesthood service night there were less than 10% of the families in the branch being visited by home teachers; now we’re getting a message into about  70% of the homes, and seeing at least ½ the members every month.

The work is never finished, but sometimes we get to handle a problem that “Stops the bleeding” and that makes us happy!