Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Life Imitates Art (#50)

This week it seems like we’ve observed quite a few examples where life imitates art and art imitates life. We’ll give you a few examples.

This past Sunday our Sacrament meeting theme was the power of example.  Speakers discussed people who have been good examples to them and reminded them of the Savior.  For our special musical number Courtney Trevet sang a primary song called “The Things I Do”.   The words to the song are as follows: “I’m much too young to go abroad To teach and preach the word of God.  But I can show I know it’s true, Quite simply, by the thing I do. The people in my neighborhood Will judge the gospel bad or good By how I act at work and play, And not just on the Sabbath day.  I’ll take my friend to church with me, Where I will act with dignity, My reverence and my happy face Will tell him it’s a sacred place.  In everything I do he’ll see I am what I profess to be.  Then when the elders find his door, He’ll say, ‘Come in and tell me more.’”
Elder Johnsen had a hard time reaching 8 year-old Courtney on Saturday to follow-up on her progress with the song but the phone was finally not busy about 9:00 p.m. –the family shares a phone with the neighbor, it must be cordless because when Elder J asked for Pam he could hear the phone being carried down the hill and as the phone approached the house he heard Pam (Courtney’s mom) playing the electronic keyboard. The piano stopped and then Pam came on the line. Elder J asked her if Courtney was ready—she said that Courtney would never let them forget a singing assignment. She asked me if I wanted to hear a few bars of the song—of course, I said yes. Then Courtney came on the line—and in perfect pitch and great articulation (with no accompaniment) she sang the first 9 bars of the song—it was so cute and fun.  On Sunday morning the whole family was in their seat 15 minutes before the meeting began.  Courtney introduced Elder Johnsen to a friend that she had brought to church (just as the song lyrics suggest) life imitating art!  The sacrament meeting performance was as flawless as was the rehearsal was over the phone. 
Speaking of Life Imitating Art, Elder J had some fun with his youth SS lesson this week thanks to an idea that came from LDS Living and the 3 pigs.  (BTW we're getting a lot of mileage out of the 3 pigs on this mission, 12 angry pigs, etc, what's up with that, ha).

He read to his students a brief version of The Story of the Three Pigs (the version in which the mother sends them into the world by telling them “Whatever you do, do it the best that you can because that’s the way to get along in the world” and the first two pigs are eaten by the wolf), and invited them to take a look at Helaman 5:12 and find the parallels. 

"And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fail." (Hel. 5:12). 

The word parable comes from the Greek language and means “side by side.” A parable is really two stories, side by side, one is told, the other, is implied. We had fun in class trying to make the application of the elements of the Three Pigs to our own lives in mortality. 

-Who is the parent who sends his sons out to seek their fortune? 

-What is the road down which the pigs travel?

-Who are the pigs?

-What are the elements with which they choose to build their houses—the  
straw, sticks, and bricks? 

-Who is the wolf?

-What is the huffing and puffing which causes some houses to fall? 

As we reviewed the first 5 chapters of Heleman we tried to notice the kinds of houses (figuratively) the Nephites were living in at different points in the narrative. For example, 

-Helaman 4:13 is probably a straw house.

-Helaman 3:1 might be a stick house.
-Helaman 3:24-26 seems to indicate a brick house. 

It's sort of interesting to consider these 3 types of houses in terms of living 3 realms lives also, telestial, terrestrial and celestial. This matter of building on the Rock of Christ is referred to throughout the scriptures, as are the storms (the huffing and puffing) of Lucifer. Perhaps the most dramatic passage is found at the end of the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon at the Temple: 

“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matthew 7:24-27; 3 Nephi 14:24-27).
Of course, not everything built out of bricks is best,. For example, cartoonist Steve Moore, notes: “The pig watched his two friends run into the surf with boards made of straw and sticks.  Later however, his smug sense of security – along with his board of bricks –vanished in about 40 feet of water.”   

Elder Gubler and Fullmer had an interesting experience this week a guy who had been heavily drinking and was threatening suicide approached them with a question, “My wife is committing adultery, what should I do?" What they did was walked and talked to the guy, went down to the beach near the Palau Pacific Resort and skipped rocks into the ocean. After about 45 minutes of walking and talking and skipping rocks the crisis was past--they had a return appointment with him scheduled it will be interesting to hear the rest of the story. They really felt that encounter was a case of divine positioning. Elder J thought the scenario seemed like a script from a movie, Life imitating Art. 
Some of our blog readers may know that our son Clark who is a singer, actor, and dancer on Broadway is currently performing in the wildly popular Tony award winning “The Book of Mormon” musical.  This past week he was interviewed on national TV (NBC’s Rock Center) Mormon in America segment where he described not only his experience playing a missionary in the show, but also how he actually served as a missionary in Mexico.  He happened to mention that Elder and Sister Johnsen were currently serving in Palau on a mission and our picture (taken in Peleliu, during youth conference) was displayed.  So many people have commented to us that Clark did a great job sharing his feelings about his missionary endeavors in Mexico as one of his life greatest experiences and how he relives that experience 8 times a week in the show.  In his case, Art is imitating Life.
We are very reluctant celebrities, however, we affirm, with Clark that serving a mission is one of life’s greatest experiences.  Our life is imitating his art. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Doing it Wright in Palau! (#49)

We have learned something important about enduring to the end as we send Elder Wright home to Arkansas. Palau was his very first area and his very last and there were no other islands in the middle. He was Zone leader here for so long that at last count he had made 20 round trips from Palau to Guam.  We are very proud of him and the great work he did in Palau. We want to spotlight his last week here with us.

On the last Sunday before an Elder leaves us to go home, we have a special dinner, and have them sit down and answer questions. For his special dinner Elder Wright only requested that Sister Johnsen make the poke and pour with the white cake and the lime Jell-O.  We ate more than that, but that was all he specifically requested. One of the questions was “Describe your mission low point”. It was interesting to hear him tell us how the hardest week (the week where his grandfather died, and several beloved investigators dropped) was followed by the best week. That contrast reminds us of one of our favorite movie quotes from Shadowlands, “Why love, if losing hurts so much? I have no answers anymore: only the life I have lived. Twice in that life I've been given the choice: as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then. That's the deal.”   We think that sometimes we have to endure some hardship to get to success. We have to endure the bitter to taste the sweet.  The memory of the sweet is entwined with the memory of the bitter. That really does seem to be the deal.   In last week’s Gospel Doctrine lesson the Book of Mormon contrasts two figures:   Amalickiah who resorts to all manner of wickedness to gain power, and Chief Captain
Moroni of whom Mormon writes, “if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very power of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.”  We can’t appreciate the great goodness of Moroni without seeing in contrast the great wickedness of Amalickiah. 
Elder Wright reading and answering questions
On Monday night the branch wanted to have a FHE for Elder Wright. Sister Johnsen set up a craft table so that everyone could “Write it to Wright!” expressing their appreciation to him, and saying their goodbyes. Here is the table of workers, and the pages all ready to be assembled. People really liked having an opportunity to say something to Elder Wright as he was leaving.
Several people also stood up and paid tribute to Elder Wright, and then they asked him to speak. We got lots of group pictures that evening.
Tuesday, John Jr., our branch Elder’s Quorum president and Seth Carlson, the branch mission leader, came over to our deck with a feast. They brought Palauan caught mangrove crab and furnished a great lunch. Everyone wanted to do something special for Elder Wright. (If you ever come to these islands you MUST try the mangrove crab—it’s outstanding!)
Wednesday night we all stayed up until Midnight so we could give Elder Wright a big sendoff.  He beat us all in one last game of Mexican train.  He ate his last helping of famous Johnsen Popcorn and chips with Avacado dip.  At the airport, we took a district picture that we didn’t have time to take last Thursday at District Meeting, and gave Elder Wright his “special” cup that we keep in the apartment with his name on it.  Sister Johnsen fills the cup with treats for the plane ride back home.  (Each of the Elders has their own cheap plastic 16 oz. cup with their name written on with a sharpie; that’s what makes it “special”, ha) He also got to have his picture taken with the sign that we used for Elder Adams.  If you look carefully you can see that Elder Wright’s name has been pasted over Elder Adam’s name. We’re all about provident living!!  It’s now part of our “send-off” tradition. 
We wanted to get one last shot with Elder Wright before we hugged him and sent him on his way! We know everything is going to go Wright for this young man! Good Luck Elder Wright in all you do! BTW, we didn’t get into bed until 1:30 A. M.
Of course our week didn’t end then—on Friday morning we headed out to Camp Katuu for the charge of charge ceremony.  The U.S. keeps a contingent of about 15 military personnel on Palau who serve here for 6 months performing needed community service and infrastructure projects.  The departing team (Community Action Team) was from the U.S. Navy, Seabees.  They were replaced by an incoming Air Force team.  Every 6 months there is a formal “change of charge” ceremony.  We like to attend so we can get the name of the “Doc” (which provides free medical care to our elders and members) and also hob knob with Palau’s movers and shakers—when else would we be seated right next to the President of Palau and the U.S. Ambassador?  Actually the main reason we go is that Elder Johnsen likes the free food.  He always asks, “What is the best kind of food” his answer is “Free Food!”
On Friday night we also had our own change of charge ceremony here in the Palau zone.  Elder Fullmer arrived, Elder Early became the new Zone leader, and Elder Gubler has been called as the new District leader.   
The work continues. “The standard of truth has been erected.  No unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.” We hope we can continue to do a Great Work here in Palau, and that we can do it “Wright!”

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rising to New Heights in Palau (#48)

Our Tuesday morning service projects have become part of our weekly routine. We get to the church about 7:30 A.M. and paint until about 10:00. The church is looking better in so many ways, and in so many places. We are very pleased with the work that we have done. This Tuesday after the Elders left, we just planned to work a little longer, but we didn’t get back to the apartment until 12:50. Sister Johnsen was doing some touch-up work on the fascia and had a little more paint in her bucket so since the ladder was leaning up against our class room building she thought she’d climb up and paint the peak.  The only problem is getting up to the peak is a lot easier than getting down.  Elder Johnsen tried to talk her down in imitation of Amalickiah trying to get Lehonti down from the mount Antipas, but finally had to go up the ladder and guide her down.   We are rising to new heights in our service!
On Wednesday the Young Women came to our apartment to learn how to cook something.  Sister Johnsen showed them how to make simple yeast dinner rolls. They all loved it, and each girl helped with one part. While our rolls were rising to new heights, they learned how to make a poke and pour cake (the cake was baked in advance.)  Then we went out on our patio and ate. Evangeline, the YW president, had gotten some other food and we had a little feast. By the time we were done with that, our dough was ready to form into rolls; this was so much fun for the girls. They didn’t get to stay to see them bake, but they ate them on Saturday night during our CES Kick-off event.
Before we could do our CES event on Saturday, we went to the church for a baptism for Herry Frank. This is Palau’s 8th baptism this year. We were very excited for Herry, and Sister Johnsen’s chocolate chip cookies were gobbled up as they usually are.  

Our CES kick-off event was held at the very end of the village of Nermid, at the dock area on Neco Bay. There is a covered waiting area there, and also lots of water. This year’s course of study for Seminary and Institute is the New Testament. We started the evening with an opening song, “Master the Tempest is Raging” and then had an opening prayer. We had arranged to have a boat there to take our kids out on the water. Since the boat operator was ready to go, out we went.  When we got out in the middle of the bay, Joni, our seminary teacher, talked about the scriptures in Matthew 14 where the Savior came walking on the water and Peter said to him “bid me come unto thee on the water”. Then Peter lost his faith and began to sink into the water. He called out, “Lord, save me.”  The Savior took his hand and raising him out of the water, saved him.

We know that sometimes no matter how strong or committed we are, or how much faith we have, we still sometimes call out, “Lord, save me.” And he takes us by the hand and helps us rise to new heights. It is one of the great miracles of our lives!

After our boat ride, we ate our dinner of tropical chicken, rice, jello with tropical fruit, corn and (the young women’s ) homemade rolls. We served brownies for dessert.  

We have a finicky oven and so when we put four casserole dishes containing our tropical chicken into the oven, two on the top and two on the bottom, we just had to hope they would cook correctly while we were at the baptism. Unfortunately, the baptismal service ran a little long and when we came home to get them and go to our Seminary Kick-off, the bottom two looked kind of crispy. Everything in our oven burns if it is not on the top. Fortunately all the kids liked the look and taste of the caramelized chicken the best. It went first and fast. Who knew?

After dinner, Sister Johnsen continued the program and talked about how the Savior had to get into a boat to teach the people because they were pressing, or trying to get nearer to him, to touch him. (Luke 5). After teaching, he talked to Peter and told him to launch out into the deep and let down his nets. Peter told the Savior that they had been fishing all night and had not caught any fish, but that he would do as the Savior suggested. When the net was rising out of the water it began to break because of the large catch of fish. Partners were called to share the fish, and their boats began to sink because there were so many fish. We know that following the Savior will lead to huge blessing beyond our ability to contain them, and that we will be able to share those blessing with others.

Elder Johnsen (borrowing an idea used by S Michael Wilcox) concluded the meeting by going back to the story that Joni told, only he described how the disciples had been toiling all night in rowing and had only gone 25 furloughs (about 3 miles) because of the contrary winds and high sea. Their 6 miles trip, which should have taken about 2 hours was now in it’s 9th hour (the forth watch is from 3:00 a.m. – 6:00 a.m.) and they’d only made it ½ way. Then the Savior came “in the 4th watch” and calmed the storm.  He shared from Joseph Smith First Vision how the Lord didn’t come to save until “this moment of great alarm” and also how the widow of Zarephath was fixing her last meal for herself and son when Elijah commanded the barrel of meal and the cruse of oil to fail not.  The Savior is a first watch God when we are repenting, but sometimes when we are facing adversity and trials we just need to “keep on swimming” (Finding Nemo) or keep on rowing even when the wind is contrary and the sea (of life) is threatening to swamp our boat.  Sometimes our hands are blistered on the oars—the attendees laughed when Elder Johnsen suggested that when we reach the end of our rope, tie a knot and hang on a little longer—the Savior will come in the 4th watch and lift us to new heights.  
We’ve had a memorable week!  

Monday, August 6, 2012

Preparing for the Battle of Life (#47)

After raining most of the day on Friday and into the early hours of Saturday morning, we awoke to a mostly sunny sky and NO precipitation.  7:30 a.m. was our scheduled meeting time at M Dock for our youth conference trip to Peleliu; the theme for which was Preparing for the Battle of Life.  We were up at our usual 6:00 a.m.  Elder Johnsen was busy getting 10 gallons of ice cold filtered water into the big Igloo water cooler.  Both Elder and Sister Johnsen hurriedly made food for the day.  (due to the cost of the trip the attendees were to bring their own food and water bottles). By 8:30 the boat had arrived and our large group of 39 was safely boarded on the boat which was loaded to capacity.  Pushed along by twin 150 HP outboard motors, we made the 20 mile trip to Peleliu in about 50 minutes.
M Dock in Koror
Elder and Sister Johnsen just after landing in Peleliu. 
From there we boarded a bus and a flat bed truck and made it to our first site:  orange beach, one of the landing beaches for the marine corp invasion of Peleliu.  The plan for the day was to visit seven battle related sites.  Elder Johnsen, who has read extensively about the battle for Peleliu, would describe what happened at each site and then a speaker would use that Peleliu battle incident as an object lesson in our own Battle of Life.

At Orange beach, our first stop, Elder Johnsen described how the Japanese had, after their losses in the Solomon, Gilberts, Marshalls and Marianas, assembled a research team to develop a new island defense strategy. They chose to abandon the old tactic of stopping the enemy at the beach. For their new strategy they would only disrupt the landings at the water’s edge, and depend on an in-depth defense farther inland. Colonel Nakagawa, the Peleliu Japanese commander, used Peleliu’s rough terrain to his advantage, by constructing a system of heavily fortified bunkers, caves, and underground positions all interlocked into a "honeycomb" system. The old tactic of the banzai charge was also discontinued as wasteful of men and ineffective. This new strategy would force the Americans into a war of attrition requiring more and more resources. 

Unlike the Japanese, who drastically altered their tactics for the upcoming battle, the American invasion plan was unchanged from previous amphibious landings, even after suffering 3,000 casualties and two months of delaying tactics against the entrenched Japanese defenders at the Battle of Biak.  The marine commander predicted that the battle would be completed in 3 days—he missed his prediction by 70 days.  The battle for Peleliu had the highest casualty rate for U.S. soldiers of any battle in the Pacific War. The National Museum of the Marine Corps called it "The bitterest battle of the war for the Marines”.  Even after 2 days of heavy pre-D day bombardment the strong, well hidden fortifications were largely untouched.  Within the first 10 minutes 26 amtracks carrying men and equipment had taken direct hits as they crossed the reef; within the first hour and half sixty were damaged or destroyed.

Elder Johnsen then pointed out to the youth that unlike the Americans which didn't update their battle plan in response to what its adversary was doing, the church just updated “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet.  “Work and Self-Reliance” has been added.  A lot of youth are spending so much time with new technologies—social networking, Internet browsing, video gaming so that they never really learn how to work.  He described how each of the standards will protect us from enemy of all righteousness.  One of the boys found a couple rounds of ammo right next to the beach.  

Elder Johnsen displaying the ammo 
The next stop was the main prize of Peleliu, the airfield.  By the end of the first day of fighting the Marines had advanced to the airfield.  At 4:50 in the afternoon the Japanese counterattacked.  A bombardment was followed by 20 tanks and about 500 supporting infantry rolling out of the hills behind the airfield to challenge the marines.  Fortunately, the attacking force was spotted by an aircraft pilot who relayed the information to US ground troops.  Also fortunately, a platoon of US Sherman tanks were on hand.  The Japanese tankettes were no match for the Shermans.  As they came out into the open the Shermans made quick work of the tanks and the supporting infantry.

Elder Early then described a story in the Book of Mormon where Lehonti was persuaded by the wicked Amalickiah to come down from his high place of security and fell into a plot that resulted in his death by degrees from poison.  He described how, in our battle of life, the adversary wants us to come down from our celestial or terrestrial high places and enjoy the pleasures of telestial living. Elder Early used such examples as premarital sex, betel nut, tobacco, alcohol and thus Satan poisons us by degrees, binds and enslaves us in his army.

 Elder Early beside the airstrip
Next, we headed to a favorite local site which has a 30 foot deep hole in the coral which is filled with about 20 feet of salt/fresh water.  We ate lunch and let the youth enjoy the water into which they jumped numerous times.  After an hour of fun and food, Sister Johnsen described an experience from the New Testament where a woman meets the Savior at the well.  She related to the youth how they know when their physical bodies are thirsty, but it is harder to know when our spirits are thirsty. We need to be giving them living water every day by learning about the Savior and following his example. She shared with the group a story about her son, Clark, who was in Russia doing 42nd Street. Shortly after arriving there, a theater was bombed. Some of the cast were so frightened that their theater would be in danger that they came back to the US. Others stayed but were scared to go to the theater every day. One young woman asked Clark why he was so cheerful and never afraid. He said he understood where he came from, why he was here on the earth, and where he was going when he died, so he has a sense of peace.  This is the living water that the Savior provides for his followers.
Sister Johnsen talking about living water
Jumping into the water hole

After lunch was over we headed to a memorial site where Elder Johnsen explained the staggering cost of the battle in deaths and battle wounds.  As we stood at the Japanese memorial, Sister Ramari described how the Savior offers first aid for our wounds during our battle of life.  We found, once again, in the Book of Mormon, a perfect example in the sons of Heleman who did not doubt—their fear was replaced by faith which protected them against their enemy.  The Savior has promised us He will support us in our trials in the battle of life.

Then up the hill we went to Bloody nose ridge; named by the 1st Marines who fought and died there.    Elder Johnsen described one particularly bloody battle for Hill 100.  Captain Everett Pope and his company penetrated deep into the ridges, leading his remaining 90 men to seize what he thought was Hill 100.  It took a day of fighting to reach what he thought was the crest of the hill, which was in fact just another ridge, occupied by more Japanese defenders.  Trapped at the base of the ridge, Pope set up a small defense perimeter, which was attacked relentlessly by the Japanese throughout the night.  The Marines soon ran out of ammunition, and had to fight the attackers with knives and fists, even resorting to throwing coral rock and empty ammunition boxes at the Japanese.  Pope and his men managed to hold out until dawn.  When they evacuated the position only nine men remained.  Pope later received the Medal of Honor for the action.

Rodney, our young men’s president then described the battle of David vs. Goliath.  David, armed with only stones and a sling defeated Israel's enemy.  He described how we can face and defeat our own Goliath's with our 5 rocks of courage, effort, humility, prayer and love of duty (see Monson's address in January 1987 Ensign).  

The last two spots we visited contained a hollowed out cavern in which the Japanese had placed a 150mm Howitzer; nearby was a U.S. LST armored vehicle.  The Howitzer was an example of the clever use of camouflage.  There are certain things that the adversary wants to hide from our view, including the “rod of iron”, the “straight and narrow path”, the “tree of life”, and the “river of filthy water” (that is the consequences of sin).  What the adversary wants us to focus on is the “broad and spacious building”.  We all recognize those images as coming from Lehi’s dream found in 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon.  Evangeline, our YW president, encouraged our youth to not be deceived, but to hold fast to the word of God.
At the Howitzer
In front of the Armored LST, Rilong Roberto discussed each article of protective spiritual gear as described by Paul in Eph. 6:11. 
Elder and Sister J at the LST
After 7 stops and 7 talks by 7 different leaders it was time to have more fun.  We re-boarded our boat and on our way back to Koror made two different stops for swimming in the rock islands.  In the first location we had a sandy beach and beautiful clear water. Everyone had a great time swimming.

Our last stop was at a rock island location called the Milky Way—so named for the milky white clay that lines the bottom of the waterway and gives the water a milky blue appearance.  Again the youth swam, they dove down and scooped up handfuls of the white mud and spread it over their bodies.  Everyone who did so looked at least 5 years younger the next day!
The Milky Way
Milky Way mud
Beauty treatment with the Milky Way mud
Twenty minutes after Elder and Sister Johnsen arrived home another storm blew in, and it poured rain all night and the next day.  We felt so blessed to have a whole day of perfect weather.  It was also gratifying to have a number of the youth bear their testimonies on Sunday.  We hope they (and the rest of us) will remember the lessons taught and will always be preparing for the Battle of Life.