Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Giving Thanks (#63)

Now that we’ve completed our second Thanksgiving in the Republic of Palau, we thought it would be a good time to enumerate some of the many things for which we are thankful.  

First, we are thankful for Humor.  Almost daily we’ll find something “lost in translation” about which we get a good laugh.  The best gem from our week was a menu at the Rip Tide restaurant—lots of things here are decorated with flowers, but we don’t really believe that they intended to say that their sweet and sour chicken was “cooked in flower and fried . . .”

Secondly, we are thankful for sunsets.  Usually we miss them because we are back in our apartment at dinner time and our western view is obscured by trees, but occasionally we are out and about and are treated to some of the most colorful evening skies.  
Third, we are thankful for generous friends.  This week while our daughter, Karen, was visiting us from the states, President Kesolei and his daughter, Kali, took us all out in his boat where we cruised through the Rock Islands and visited all the usual tourist sites up the east side and back down on the west side.  Elder Johnsen was reminded once again of why he said 12 years ago, when he visited Palau on a business trip while we worked for ExxonMobil, that Palau was the most beautiful place God caused to be created.  
Fourth, we are thankful for people to serve and the elders with whom we serve.  On Tuesday we did our usual weekly service project.  This week we were back at widow Paz’s home and filled up the back of the Elder’s new Tacoma with trash that we collected from around her house.  We also completed the base board project that we began several weeks ago.  Not only was Sister Paz grateful for our help, but we all felt such a sense of friendship and camaraderie for each other while we worked together.  
Fifth, we are thankful for good food and good people with whom to share it.  This week we had two Thanksgiving feasts. On Thursday Sister Johnsen set a fine table decorated with local “flowers” not flour.
At 2:00 p.m. the Elders joined Karen, Eli, and Daniel and us in our apartment for a meal to remember.   Getting our big 22 lb. turkey stuffed and in the oven seemed easier than usual.  The turkey was reportedly the best we’ve ever made.  Was it the coating of olive oil and sea salt, or the fact that the power was on all day this year as compared to last Thanksgiving?  Dinner was very delicious.  Eli and Daniel actually prepared a good amount of the food; they brought a cherry pie, mashed red potatoes, green bean casserole, carrots, gravy and a yam soufflé.  That coupled with our turkey, dressing, rolls, pumpkin pie,Johnsen’s famous Jell-O salad, celery sticks w/peanut butter and raisins made the perfect meal.  After the dinner was over we cleared the table, rinsed some of the dishes, and played “Oh Heck” and several other games which were very fun.  But the big Thanksgiving feasts were not over.  On Saturday evening we had a baptism at the church followed by our branch pot luck Thanksgiving dinner.
We had a huge crowd, thanks to fliers made by Elder J and delivered by the Elders, and also about 30 text message reminders sent out by Elder J on Saturday morning.  Perhaps most gratifying was that the next day in Sacrament meeting, we had one of our largest congregations of the year attend our meetings.  

Sixth, we’re thankful for Family and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.   We feel so blessed to have had Karen make the trip from the states to make a brief visit in Palau.  As we have taken her to see many of the places where we’ve worked and served during these past 14 months, we were reminded of how much we love her and how we’ve grown to love the people we’ve served here in Palau. 
This week also saw the passing of our brother-in-law, Jerry Hitchcock.  There were also deaths and serious injury in our extended church family back in Texas—all these incidents remind us that the certain door of death lies ahead for all of us, but because of the Savior, Jesus Christ, that door can lead to limitless possibilities together with our loved ones forever.  We truly have so much for which to be thankful!   

Monday, November 19, 2012

Down the Via Dolorosa: Our Own Little Miracle! (#62)

It’s been quite an eventful, inspiring, and fun week. We had a visit from the Freddie Nicero who is our CES leader, and he brought Brother Kinjo with him, who is the head of CES for the entire region. Karen Johnsen, our daughter and stateside missionary facilitator/companion, arrived for a brief visit. We had an inspiring district meeting, and Melody was baptized. 

So let’s start with the last first. Melody is a Filipina in her early 40s.  She is the house keeper for one of our less active members.  Saturday night was her baptism.  Her conversion has been marked by inspired teachings of Elders Gubler and Fullmer, and frequent stories related by them of her amazing progression.  We have followed her progress from hiding from the missionaries to become a member and fellow citizen with the saints with awe and wonder.  Sister Johnsen had the privilege to sing Via Dolorosa at her baptism.
Two weeks ago Melody had a dream, and in the dream she heard beautiful singing by a large group. She was enchanted by the song that they were singing, but she’d never heard the song before so she asked (in her dream) one of the singers the name of the song.  They told her it was Via Dolorosa.  She promptly awoke, and later told Elder Gubler and Fullmer about the dream.  So when Elder Gubler told us that story he asked us if we knew what the Via Dolorosa was.  Of course we knew not only about the place, but also about the song.  We got a copy of the sheet music over the internet, but we couldn’t find a minus track so Elder Johnsen played the melody while Sister J sang the song as a surprise to her at the baptism.  As Sister J was singing during the baptism, we noticed that Melody leaned over to Elder Gubler and excitedly said something to him.  Later we learned that this WAS the beautiful song that she heard in her dream.  Melody is such great convert that her boss Rinehart Silas attended the baptismal service with his wife (a nonmember).  Rinehart is such a quality educated man and he seemed touched by the story Elder Johnsen related in his baptism talk (Scott Anderson’s story about the 74 year old 3 PhD professor who converted to the church in Germany). Nevertheless, Elder Johnsen was surprised and happy when Rinehart came to Sacrament meeting the next day, stayed for Sunday school, and participated in Priesthood meeting on Sunday.

Here are the words to this beautiful song about the Savior:

Down the Vía Dolorosa in Jerusalem that day
The soldiers tried to clear the narrow street,
But the crowd pressed in to see
The Man condemned to die on Calvary.

He was bleeding from a beating, there were stripes upon His back;
And He wore a crown of thorns upon His head.
And He bore with every step
The scorn of those who cried out for His death.

The blood that would cleanse the souls of all men
Made it's way through the heart of Jerusalem.

Down the Vía Dolorosa called the way of suffering
Like a lamb came the Messiah, Christ the King
But He chose to walk that road out of His love for you and me
Down the Vía Dolorosa, all the way to Calvary.

On Wednesday our fearless CES leaders came to visit us. In the morning we talked about the work, and then went to Kramer’s for lunch. We sat outside so we could see the beautiful view of the ocean. It was a lovely day. We all really enjoyed our food.  We found an interesting sign hanging near the door as we left. (This person has interesting priorities).
Then we lent both men exercise clothes and tennis shoes and we took them and five institute age young adults to the waterfall at Ngardmau. It was fun and a great hike. We got some outstanding pictures.
On the hike back up, Sister Johnsen was determined to beat the tram that was carrying our visitors to the top. She had to hustle because there are over 250 steps from the bottom to the top. But she beat the tram by about 5 minutes. Both Freddie and Brother Kinjo called her Iron Woman for her climbing feat.

On Wednesday night we ran out the airport to get Karen who we decided to bring to Palau on impulse decision. She has helped us so much on our mission with errands, packages, shopping etc., that we thought it would be nice to have her come. Sister Johnsen was nervous all day about having Karen make her connections in Hawaii and Guam because they were pretty close, but she made every one of them. We were so excited to see her.

Karen came with us on Thursday to our district meeting. Elder Gubler asked each one of us to talk about a different Christlike characteristic that are mentioned in Preach My Gospel. After the meeting we showed Karen Koror High School where we taught the drama class, and Meyuns Elementary where we did our spelling bee. We took her out to Palau Pacific Resort where Elder Johnsen stayed when he was working in Guam and on a business trip to Palau.

We have had a wonderful and miraculous week here in Palau.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rodents of Unusual Size (#61)

This past Wednesday Elder’s Fullmer, Gubler, and Johnsen worked at Sister Paz’s home cutting and installing six inch baseboards around the edge of her bedroom and her living room.  She had been having problems with rodents (of unusual size) entering her house and making themselves at home.  After we put up the baseboards, Sister Paz called us the next morning and said that she got her first good night sleep in over a year because she knew she had no worries about the rodents.
That got us thinking about movie quotes from the Princess Bride.

Inconceivable! (You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means) But Elder Early made his departure from Palau and safely boarded the plane for Guam with his final destination in California.  His Micronesia Guam mission has come to an end, but with his amazing knowledge of the scriptures, his leadership abilities, and his testimony we know he will have many more opportunities for service.  Because the flights leave at 2:10 A.M. we all stay up and take the departing missionary to the airport. We didn’t get to bed until 1:30 A.M that night!

As we were leaving to take Elder Early to the airport, Sister Johnsen saw an apparition in the heavens that night—there was an unusually bright object near the constellation of Orion. While the rest of the missionaries only saw a bright white light, she saw a pulsing red ball surrounded by green rectangular rays. Later that night when we arrived back at the apartment, she again spotted the object and also found six more similarly bright and colorful orbs in the midnight sky.  Since none of the Elders could discern what she clearly reported, all that they could say was: “Inconceivable!”

Thursday we got a lot of extra work done because we didn’t have our regular district meeting. We visited Malee so Elder Johnsen could ask her to speak in church next week. We got to see her new baby fruit bat that was hanging on an old diaper, and sucking food from a cotton ball. (Sister Johnsen is not that comfortable around bats, babies or not).

But Sister Johnsen was happy to finally see the twins girls that our member, Pauline Jerry, had a few months ago. Here she is pictured with one of them. Pauline was grateful for the box of baby clothes that Jocelyn shared from our storage area at home and had mailed to Palau. 
We also managed to hand out balloons to some cute little girls in a neighborhood where we were searching for a branch member. They were just too cute not to get a picture. 
Later on Thursday the elders got a call that Elder Marshall was indeed returning to Palau after being away for 8 months. We also found out that he would be our new Zone Leader.  The elders went to the airport at 8:30 P.M and then found out that the flights now come in at 9:10 P.M. Then they found out the flight had been delayed and it was around 11: 00 PM when it finally arrive. By the time Elder Marshall had collected his bags and come out it was about 11:30, and the elders had been at the airport for three hours.  We have a tradition of welcoming the new elder to Palau, but it was so late, and we already knew Elder Marshall, so we had to decide whether to have the elders stop up at our apartment for a few minutes when they dropped Elder Marshall and Elder Pauga off. We thought we better stick with tradition and we since also had some left over poke and pour cake (Elder Early’s favorite-from the night before) we had then come up and we visited for a few minutes and then said goodnight. We got to bed at 12:30 that night!

Sunday morning the branch had their annual primary program. President Kesolie leaned over and suggested that Elder Johnsen be prepared to speak because they had always needed to speak at these programs. Elder Johnsen assured President Kesolie that neither one of them would have to speak because Sister Johnsen had helped the primary write the program, and it was long enough this year. It was so long that 3 of the scheduled adults didn’t even speak. The children (about 8 of them) loved singing the songs and doing their parts. We were very proud of the entire effort.

After the program Elder and Sister Johnsen parted ways to teach the gospel doctrine lesson to their respective classes.  The lesson this week was “How could you have departed from the ways of the Lord?” and has the quote by Mormon, “O ye fair ones…” Sister Johnsen got a particularly interesting insight as she retired to bed the night before with the question on her mind, “Why would the Lord require two righteous men, Mormon and Moroni, to live in such a wicked environment. Why didn’t he protect them? Why did they have to see the entire destruction of their civilization? “  She awoke feeling like she may have the answer:  “The Lord needed witnesses to testify of what they had seen.”  It’s interesting how some of our best insights come in answer to questions.

Elder Johnsen got some good discussion as his youth SS class discussed Mormon 5: 18 “But now, behold they are led about by Satan, even as chaff is driven before the wind, or as a vessel is tossed about upon the waves, without sail or anchor, or without anything wherewith to steer her; and even as she is, so are they.”  Our students in Palau know quite a bit about boats and wind, having power or being adrift in rough sea without an anchor.  For example, the students knew that boats drift sideways and can be in danger of swamping in heavy sea but a sea anchor will cause the bow to swing into the wind greatly lessening the danger of capsizing.  So it is in life we are much safer sailing in the turbulent sea of life under power (with sail) and able seaman at the helm (steering) and with an anchor handy if power and steering are lost.  Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me over life’s tempestuous seas!  

Inigo Montoya: You know, Fezzik, you finally did something right!
Fezzik:  Don’t worry. I won’t let it go to my head.

We feel like we might have done something right this week too, and we promise, we won’t let it go to our heads either!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Kia Kaha (#60)

In the movie Forever Strong, during an intense conversation with his dad, the reformed Rick Penning passionately says, “ I don't do anything to embarrass myself, my team, or my family; not anymore, Highland Rugby Kia Kaha.”  We had our biggest crowd to date when we showed “Forever Strong” this week during First Friday Flicks. (By the way, when President Mecham was here he mentioned that Highland Rugby coach Larry Gilwicks was called as a mission president  the same time as the Mechams were).  We also have stayed strong this week as we’ve continued our efforts to provide both physical and spiritual service.

Tuesday at 8:00 a.m. all the missionaries gathered at the church to prepare for another morning of service.  Our project was directed to one of our less active members who lives at the end of a long and usually muddy trail that Elder and Sister Johnsen affectionately call “Dead Dog Road”.  The day we found Diane’s home tucked back in the jungle there was a dead dog lying on the trail.   About 100 feet before the home there is a sharp 8 foot rise in elevation where prior to our service project there were only muddy steps (barely toe holes) carved into the clay hill.  We thought it would be fun to create something more durable and impervious to the 160 inches of annual rainfall.  As you can see the project was masterfully completed with member donated materials, and tools from the church.  The only thing we needed but didn’t have was a hack saw to cut the rebar.  Sister Johnsen made a quick trip to Mason’s hardware and scored a deal of the century, she purchased 3 hacksaw blades and saw handles for $1 each.  Unfortunately, the blades were not filled with the spirit of Kia Kaha and quickly broke in pieces. But no worries, the elders just hammered the rebar a little deeper into the clay.  Kia Kaha!

After the project on Tuesday the elders helped Elder Johnsen finish cutting our 4x8 foot sheet of galvanized steel flashing into 1x8 foot strips.  On Wednesday, the Koror Elders along with Elder Johnsen were hard at it again, this time on the top of the roof at Sister Paz’s dwelling installing the flashing along the drip line of her current roof.  The runoff from the roof was actually running down the side of house and rotting out the windows—the Elder’s pulled the roofing nails which held down the steel roofing material, slid about 6 inches of the flashing under the steel and then re-nailed thru the roofing and flashing to extend the drip line and keep the water off the house.  You would be surprised how hard it was to pull the nails out of the old roofing and the underlying wood—Elder Johnsen thought they’d be done in 30 minutes but the job took 2 hours.  But they persisted until they succeeded, Kia Kaha!
Tuesday night was also our Priesthood Service Night.  Elder Johnsen prepares Liahona’s and first presidency messages for each of 7 different routes for members living in Koror.  On Tuesday we were able to cover 6 of our 7 routes—each companionship visits about 20 families.  We’ve been doing PH service night for 9 consecutive months now—sometimes you don’t know if that regular contact with the church priesthood holders makes any difference but this past Sunday one of the members on Elder Johnsen’s Meyuns 1 route actually came to church, brought her non-member son who the elders have begun teaching, and she actually bore her testimony in Sacrament meeting.  Kia Kaha!

This Sunday also was Elder Early’s last Sunday in Palau.  He has reached the end of his two years of missionary service.  He says that his mission has been “everything that he needed but nothing that he wanted.”  Elder Early converted to the church in his late teens.  Despite his family’s opposition he decided to serve a mission. He just recently learned that he has been accepted as a student at BYU-Idaho.  As is our tradition with departing missionaries, Elder Early sat in the hot seat and answered our version of 20 questions—all having to do with his mission.

He is one of the most thoughtful and articulate departing missionaries; so his answers were very insightful.  He noted that one of his greatest desires was to come back to civilian life the different  person than the one that left for the mission field.  What Elder Johnsen likes best about Elder Early is his ability to extemporaneously discuss any subject with passion and insight.  He was always the go to guy when no one had prepared a priesthood lesson.  Elder Early has the gift of spending 60 seconds looking at material and then presenting a lesson that seems like he spent a week preparing it.  We think Elder Early is well on the road to staying strong.  Kia Kaha!   

When life presents us with obstacles or problems, whether physical, spiritual, or emotional, we need to be forever strong, Kia Kaha to all of our faithful readers!