Sunday morning, December 2, was our Fast and Testimony meeting. The storm track was predicted to pass just south of the major populated center of Palau, which is the state of Koror, with the entire island group taking the brunt of the 155 MPH winds. During our meeting many of the members testified of the power of prayer. One testimony, in particular, given by our Elder’s Quorum President, John Jr., stands out because of a small part that was played by Elder Johnsen. John related an experience that happened to him several weeks earlier. Prior to a business trip to Fuji, John had come over to our apartment to see Elder Johnsen to get a blessing prior to his long flight. He was nervous about flying, and wanted a blessing to comfort and give him peace. Elder Johnsen, as part of that blessing was prompted to tell John to look for opportunities to associate with members of the church while he was out town—that they would be a blessing to him, and he would be a blessing to them. On the first Saturday that he was there, he hired a taxi to take him to find the nearest chapel. He learned that the members in the chapel they found conducted their service in the local language. The next day, Sunday, he hired another taxi, and they tried to find the chapel, but couldn’t. But as they were driving around they passed a woman who was walking with 4 young children. John felt prompted to stop and ask them if they happened to know where the Mormon Church was located. It turned out that she did because she was headed there right then. She got into the car with her children and led them to the chapel (not the same building that he had found the day before) and fortunately this meeting was conducted in English. He said that it was a great experience meeting with the members there. As he was getting ready to leave he again saw the woman with the 4 young children, and offered to take them in his taxi to their residence. When he dropped her off, the taxi was ready to take off, but John felt like he needed to get back out and talk to the woman. When he did she told him that she had woken up that morning feeling that she was too tired and depressed to attend church. But as she prayed she felt assured that if she would make the sacrifice to attend the Lord had a blessing to give her. She told John that her husband was working out of country, and that she had little money and practically no food in the house for her children. She said that her life was really hard. It meant a lot to her that John would hire a taxi to take her home. When John heard about her difficulties he pulled out his wallet and gave her $50 dollars to help her. When she saw the money she began to weep in gratitude—for how richly and unexpectedly the Lord had answered her prayer. Of course, John couldn’t keep himself from handing her another $50. John powerfully testified that he felt so blessed to have been an instrument in God’s hand to provide a blessing to this woman in need. In Elder’s Quorum meeting this week John told Elder Johnsen the rest of the story—the taxi driver was so impressed by the conversation that John had had with this woman, and his generosity that he promised that we would attend that ward the next Sunday. We are grateful to associate with people who really try to follow the Savior Jesus Christ not only in word, but in actual deed.
When the testimony meeting ended President Kesolei canceled the remainder of our meetings because of the closeness of the storm. At 1:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon the Elders met with us in our apartment to break our fast. As you can see Advisory 26 was still showing the storm making a beeline for Palau with most of the islands being hit with typhoon force winds.
As Elder Johnsen offered the prayer (which included a blessing on the food) he asked for protection from the storm. As he was praying he had a powerful spiritual witness that the Lord heard his and many similar prayers that were being offered by the families of the missionaries serving, the mission president, and other area authorities for the protection of the missionaries. At 5:45 p.m. the local authorities cut power in all areas of Palau but our phone line continued to work. So, at 7:00 Elder Johnsen was able to download the latest advisory. Advisory 27 shows what we consider to be a remarkable change in the storm’s direction.
Right at 1:00 p.m., while we were praying for safety, the storm made a jog straight west. The storm continued on that due west track until it was safely past Palau, at which time it resumed its west northwest track as it plowed into Mindanao, PI. So instead of Koror and our missionary apartment being hit with typhoon force winds we were only buffeted by Tropical Storm force winds—which was bad enough. For about 8 hours, 10:00 p.m. until 6:00 a.m. the wind was howling, trees were being uprooted and falling, 8 foot waves were coming over the reef and battering the northeast coast line causing considerable damage. You can see that Toby’s house, where Elder Johnsen enjoyed a little shut eye under a big palm tree a couple weeks ago, is a total loss.
The benches that he rested on have been swept away, but it could have been so much worse, all of Palau could have looked like that. Our biggest complaint was that with our windows boarded up and no power we were too hot.
The police had asked people to stay off the street, so we complied. The power was off; many roads were blocked with downed trees and power lines, so there wasn’t really anywhere we could have gone even if there hadn’t been a curfew. The elders decided to go for a walk in the neighborhood and that was when it started to rain. They came back drenched, and didn’t venture out again because it poured the rest of the day.
On Tuesday morning we headed over to the church to begin clean-up efforts. Eli and Daniel joined all the missionaries and for 3 ½ hours we worked to cut up and haul away all the downed trees and storm debris. The parking lot was covered in shredded leaves, but we found a great solution—the power washer was the perfect tool to clean up the mud, leaves, and other wet storm debris. We ended up with a huge pile of organic waste which 3-4 years from now will be magnificent black dirt!
This picture shows many of us taking a much deserved break drinking green coconut milk.
We have quite a pile of green bananas. There were so many banana plants knocked down you can basically call this our banana storm. We predict a future famine in the land not of bread or water (and not of hearing of the word of the Lord) but rather a coming banana famine—it will take months for all these downed banana plants to get big enough to produce. Meanwhile, we’ll be feasting on the plentiful supply of green bananas currently available.
On Wednesday afternoon the power came on at the church so we tried to hold seminary but less than half of our usual students were able to attend. While we were walking up the hill from our apartment on Wednesday morning during our walk we knew they were trying to get the power back on in our neighborhood due to burning ashes that were falling from the sky. Sister Johnsen looked up and was shocked to see the dried end of a palm frond resting on a “live” power line. The current passing through the palm has set it on fire. We rejoiced that evening when our power was restored. Three nights sleeping without air conditioning was a little trying.
The elders have definitely not been able to teach as many lessons as usual this week, but if we get credit in heaven for helping people clean up storm debris we’ll all be in good shape.
A powerful lesson was lived, and reinforced in our minds: that prayer is heard by our Father in Heaven. These prayers were a huge blessing to a woman in Fiji and gave peace and safety to us and to the people of Palau.