Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Welcome Home (#80) (Ending our blogging days with an even number!)

We are back in Texas and have been basking in the fun of friends and family. We were able to speak in church the first Sunday that we were home, and heard Karen share a few thoughts about going to Palau, and also her experiences as a missionary helper.

Gail talked about how missionary service sanctifies us, and also about the growing need  for Senior couples. Then Becky Rosenlund Brassard sang a beautiful song for us.

Unfortunately by this time, we were out of time so Gary shared his Palau rescue experience which totally captivated all his Scouts. His well prepared homecoming talk, which has been cut twice for length was not given. So here it is in its shortest version. ENJOY!


The Book of Mormon—Heavenly Proof

The first 2 sentences in preach my gospel under the book of Mormon heading teach that, “The Book of Mormon is powerful evidence of the divinity of Christ.  It is also proof of the Restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith.”  In the next few minutes I’d like to give you a few of the powerful ways that the book of Mormon has proven itself to me.  

First, I believe the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was a miraculous feat.  Joseph Smith received the gold plates containing Mormon’s abridgement of the religious record of his people in late September 1827, when Moroni, as a resurrected being, delivered them to him.  As was common in rural areas in those days, Joseph Smith was largely uneducated.  To assist him with the translation, God provided for him an ancient translation instrument called the Urim and Thummim.  He was also blessed by the help of scribes who wrote what he dictated as he translated.  Among those scribes were his wife, Emma, Martin Harris, a prosperous farmer; and Oliver Cowdery, a schoolteacher.  Emma described what it was like to serve as Joseph’s scribe: “No man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired, for, when I was acting as his scribe, Joseph would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him.”  How could anyone have done that? Unfortunately, most of the translation work done by Emma and Martin Harris during the first 15 months that Joseph had the plates was lost.  The bulk of what we have in the Book of Mormon today was dictated to Oliver Cowdery between April 7, 1829 and late June that same year.  That’s 65-75 days total at a rate of 7-8 of our current pages per day.    The Book of Mormon is not a simple text.  It is a complex, thousand year history of an ancient civilization.  It proposes geography; contains a numbering system based on eight rather than ten; talks of government, politics, war, theology, economy, prophecy, history, and poetry.  It uses many different styles of writing and incorporates figures of speech, simile, metaphor, narration, exposition, description, oratory, epic, lyric, logic and parable. Layer after layer of meaning unfolds to the careful reader, too much for an uneducated twenty-four-year-old to have invented.  No plausible evidence exists that anyone else wrote it, so where did it come from?  The implication, of course, is that it came from God and actually was written on gold plates. Considering the Book of Mormon’s theological depth, historical complexity, consistency, clarity, artistry, accuracy and profundity the prophet JS translation is a phenomenal achievement—even a miraculous feat and he did it in less than 3 months!

Secondly, the Book of Mormon proves itself to me because it makes geographical sense.  Take for example the Book of Mormon stories of Lehi’s family leaving Jerusalem in the early sixth century BC in search of a new promised land, and compare that account to ancient historical sources from the period.  The book describes their journeying down the Arabian Peninsula paralleling the Red Sea turning eastward, at a place the Book of Mormon calls Nahom, toward the southern coast bordering the Indian Ocean. This is where they began building a ship before beginning an ocean voyage to the New World.  
In 1829 when the Book of Mormon was written there was no Gazetteer in existence that mentioned Nahom.   That’s because it wasn’t until 1994 that archeologists discovered it and dated it to 600 years before Christ.  It’s a striking bull’s-eye to find in the Book of Mormon the exact name, at the exact time in the exact place predicted by the Book of Mormon geography.  Nahom being mentioned is spectacular substantiation.   

Next, the Book of Mormon account describes Lehi’s party coming to a small green oasis on the Arabian coast where they found trees they could work into lumber for the ship.  At Joseph Smith’s time the entire western world believed that the entire Arabian Peninsula was empty. In fact, it was known as the Empty Quarter.  There is no green spots mentioned in the bible, nor were any known to exist.  Nevertheless, such a green spot does exist along the otherwise barren Arabian coastline.  The Dofar Area of Arabia is no doubt the green spot that Lehi’s party called Bountiful.  Moisture from cool water rising from the Indian Ocean is picked up by monsoon winds. When that moisture laden air hits the cliffs it drops that moisture creating a tropical monsoon forest.  Fruit trees, eatable plants, honey bees and trees large enough to build ships all exist in abundance.  Predicting that a bountiful land could exist along what was thought to be the barren Arabian coast is another stunning bulls-eye for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

You will remember that when Nephi got to Bountiful he only had one question for the Lord when he was told to build a ship.  That question was where do I go to obtain ore to make tools.  It turns out that there does exist in the Dofar area in Arabia a couple small deposits where iron ore has been extruded from the metamorphic rock.  It comes right to the surface of the ground.  The ore has a soft laminate and Iron Carbonate combination that makes it super easy to smelt and being exposed to the air the iron oxide is highly concentrated—it’s as though the Lord prepared it far in advance so it would be ready to go when Nephi needed it to make his ship building tools.  None of these ore deposits were known to exist in Joseph Smith’s day. Even today, they have not been commercially developed because of their relatively small size.  Finding geological evidence of iron ore in the land, Bountiful, is another striking bulls-eye for the Book of Mormon account.  Remember, all of this is from an uneducated, Joseph Smith, who at one point in the translation, asked Emma, who was serving at his scribe at the time, if Jerusalem really had a wall around it.

These accounts of convergence between Book of Mormon details and historical scholarship are convincing proof to me of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon account.  

Third, I believe the testimony of the 12 witnesses to the Book of Mormon. First we have the Prophet Joseph Smith himself who said, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”  8 of the witnesses held the “gold plates” in their hands, and they saw the engravings. They hefted the record and attested that they know for a surety that Joseph Smith had the record.  Were they coconspirators?  Were they pressured to sign the statement?  To the contrary, most of them suffered greatly for their witness but none disavowed their testimony.  Finally, let’s look at the 3 special witnesses, who testified that “an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates and the engravings thereon” furthermore, they testified that they heard the voice of God declare that they were translated by the gift and power of God.  All three of those special went to extraordinary lengths to affirm their testimony before their death’s, and avow the truth of what they had seen and heard.  In a court of law two witnesses are sufficient to establish the truth of a proposition. How solid, then is the testimony of 12 men?  In my mind, their testimony is rock solid proof that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity.  

Fourth, I believe the Book of Mormon is true because of the artistry of it’s construction.  Biblical scholars are impressed with Book of Mormon poetic forms equal in value and style to biblical poetic verse.  The most impressive types of Hebrew poetry are called parallelism.  The Book of Mormon is replete with parallelisms.  The poetic patterns serve, as they do in the Bible, to emphasize messages, define and expand them, make them more memorable, and structure them.  One form of parallelism, chiasmus, has been extensively studied, but there are an abundance of other parallelisms, more than 25 different types, in the Book of Mormon.

My favorite type of parallelism is chiasmus.  The history of the discovery of this type of parallelism is instructive. In 1967 John Welsh was serving on a mission in Germany.  One p-day he and his companion attended a lecture were the speaker discussed Hebrew poetic forms in the bible and paid particular attention to chiasmus.  About two weeks later Elder Welsh awoke with a start. It was 4:00 a.m. and the thought that was in his mind was this, if the Book of Mormon really is what it claims to be, a religious text composed by writers familiar with Hebrew Poetic styles, then, he thought, I should be able to find chiasmus in the Book of Mormon.  So Elder Welsh began his search that morning; in his personal study he was reading in Mosiah. He began right where he left off the day before. After a few minutes of study he came upon Mosiah 5:10-12.  (chiasmus is like a big X. the items in a list are repeated in reverse order, 5,4,3,2,1,1,2,3,4,5)  You can imagine how excited Elder Welsh and his companion were—they started telling people about chiasmus in their door approaches that very day.  

Next let’s take a look at Alma chapter 36 where the entire chapter is a chiasmus.   It is, in my opinion, the single most brilliant example of the Hebrew poetic form in all of recorded scripture.   In that chapter Alma the younger retells his conversion experience to his son, Helaman.  What Alma talks about in the first verse is repeated in the last verse, the idea in the second verse is repeated in the second to last verse and so on.  The chiasmus pattern continues and focus our attention on the pivotal point in Alma conversion, he remembers his father prophesying unto the people concerning the coming of Jesus Christ (in verse 18 we have the turning point) and as his mind caught hold upon this thought he cries unto Jesus, have mercy on me.  Like King Benjamin, Alma uses the chiasmus form to focus our attention on how the atonement of Jesus Christ was the pivotal moment in his life.  He uses the poetic form to emphasize the doctrinal truth. The indisputable existence of intricate, deliberate, and artful chiasmus in the Book of Mormon raises a big question about it’s origin: how could it possibly be the product of an early nineteenth century writer?  To me, the great number of parallelisms is evidence that demands that we at least seriously consider the possibility that the book is a document from antiquity.  

Finally, let’s look at the evidence provided by the Book of Mormon of the divinity of Jesus Christ. While serving in Palau my favorite assignment was teaching the youth SS class.  Consequently, in 2012 I was able to study the Book of Mormon as only a teacher does.   There is an amazing consistency throughout the book as various prophets testify of Jesus Christ.  All ten of the major prophet writers consistently taught 7 things about Jesus Christ.  Leave it to Alma the younger, who served for 8 years as chief judge, to summarize those seven ideas in a single verse.  (Read Alma 33:22).  That’s the seed mentioned in Chapter 32 that Alma wants us to plant in our hearts (see vs 23). It’s not just the seed of faith, it’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ! Accompanied by the power of the Holy Ghost, reading and pondering the great sermons on Jesus Christ in the Book of Mormon bring a certain witness of their truthfulness.  The Book of Mormon is replete with examples of disciples and prophets who knew, understood, and were transformed by the enabling power of the Atonement in making the journey of mortality.  

Now let’s consider those many writers in the book of Mormon who saw Christ Personally.  The brother of Jared, Nephi and Jacob saw the premortal Christ.  Mormon and Moroni saw the risen Christ.  In addition, multitudes were present during the Savior’s brief, but powerful ministry among the Nephites (see 3 Nephi 11-28) Think of the evidentiary value of 2500 people testifying that “we saw him, we felt the prints of the nails in his hands and feet, we know he is the Christ!” The testimony of the Book of Mormon confirms the testimony of the Bible that Jesus is the Only Begotten Son of God and the Savior of the world.  

I was not present to sit with Oliver Cowdery under the sound of a voice dictated by the inspiration of heaven as he wrote uninterrupted as Joseph Smith translated with the Urim and Thummim.  I did not journey with Nephi past Nahom to the Land Bountiful, and watch him build a ship with tools he had made himself.  I was not with Alma when he shared his masterful account of the pivotal moment in his life with his son, Helaman.   Nor I was among the Nephite crowd who touched the wounds of the resurrected Lord.  But my testimony of this record and the peace it brings to the human heart—given to me through the whispering of the Holy Spirit IS sure.  I testify of this book as surely as if I had, with the Three Witnesses, seen the angel Moroni or, with the Eight Witnesses, handled the plates of gold.  I know it’s true!
I invite you to open yourself up to the possibility that what I’ve said today could be true.  I invite you to choose faith instead of skepticism and doubt. I invite you to read, ponder and ask God if these things are not true.  I invite you to not just cling to the iron rod of which the Book of Mormon is a part, but hold fast to it—for it will lead you to the Savior.  When you reach the tree of life which is a symbol for the life, ministry and atoning sacrifice of the Savior I invite you to fall down and worship at His feet. I invite you to partake of the fruit which represents receiving of ordinances and covenants whereby the atonement can become fully efficacious in our lives. I invite you to taste the fruit which is a symbol for the blessings of the atonement, not just the redeeming and cleansing power but also the enabling powers of the Atonement that we may all move from bad to good and good to better and become a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord.  In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


The LAST week of our mission! It is incredible that it is here! We have been SO busy! Tuesday we gave the Elders their final car and apartment inspections. They passed with flying colors! Their apartments and vehicles were the cleanest they have ever been. Way to go Palau Zone!

Wednesday we had a service project at Sister Paz’s house, and helped her move things from a storage room in the back of her house. Everyone worked hard as you can see from our pictures.  One of the things we moved was a heavy accordion room divider. Well, maybe it wasn’t THAT heavy!

Wednesday was our LAST seminary so Sister Johnsen made homemade cinnamon rolls. It was spring break and Daniel suggested that we not hold seminary. He was right on! Only one person came, but more people came to Young Men and Young Women so the cinnamon rolls got eaten.

Thursday we hosted our LAST district picnic. The elders suggested we go under the KB Bridge, and it was a lovely spot. We had pizza from Payless, and everyone said it was the best pizza they had eaten on the island.

We had our LAST district meeting after that. That night we also had our LAST institute meeting where we talked about grace. Elder Johnsen reminded the class of Elder Bednar’s BYU devotional address reprinted in the April 2012 Ensign, where he defined grace as the divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ.  Elder Bednar also quoted the bible dictionary definition that reads “It is likewise through the grace of the Lord that individuals, through faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ and repentance of their sins, receive strength and assistance to do good works that they otherwise would not be able to maintain if left to their own means. This grace is an enabling power that allows men and women to lay hold on eternal life and exaltation after they have expended their own best efforts.”  Elder Bednar went on to say that, “Grace is the divine assistance or heavenly help each of us desperately needs to qualify for the celestial kingdom.  Thus, the enabling power of the Atonement strengthens us to DO and be good and to serve beyond our own individual desire and natural capacity.”  Both of us have not only seen the Savior’s redeeming and cleansing power, but also have seen and felt his enabling power as we’ve served in Palau.  So when we say WE did it, we really mean by the grace (enabling power) of the Lord Jesus Christ, we DID it. He was our companion in this work; He deserves all the credit.  (see Jacob 5:71-72)

During our spare time on Thursday both of us worked on our homecoming talks which will be delivered at 1:00 in the Klein Ward on March 24.  (Will it be the LAST missionary homecoming talk we’ll ever give?)

Friday, Sister Johnsen had several personal appointments to get ready to come home, and Elder Johnsen worked on his LAST Priesthood Service Night updating maps and getting the First Presidency message ready. Then, after Elder Johnsen’s LAST missionary haircut, w e went to Meyuns and took Sister Johnsen’s picture.  Here is the one we took on our FIRST week.
The interesting thing about that FIRST picture is that we had barely been in Palau a week, and had just visited a member. We drove down to the dock near that member’s home and sat on a bamboo bench and wondered what we were going to do in Palau. We tried to come up with a list of things, like attend church, pray for the members, and speak in Sacrament meeting.  Elder Johnsen took Sister Johnsen’s picture. We don’t know if you can tell by looking at it, but she was not that happy that day!!  Within two weeks of that first picture we were so busy that we were not sure we could finish all that we planned to do in 18 months.

After the picture at the dock we came home and tried to pack. We have too much stuff! It is going to be interesting to see how we can get it all home.  On Friday night we made mint brownies which used up the LAST of our chocolate chips and bottle of Hershey’s chocolate syrup. That’s what we call provident living!

Saturday we had work at home, but it kept us pretty busy, and we listened to the rain! It was pouring a ton! We had the Kesolie Family to dinner and also our new friends from Hurricane, Utah, Betty and Claire Hall. We played Buzz Words for the FIRST time!

Sunday was our LAST Sacrament meeting with the biggest congregation since we arrived in Palau, we had 84 in attendance, and the LAST time we sang in sacrament meeting with our little Palau choir. It was Elder Johnsen’s LAST time to teach the Palau youth Sunday School class, “How can the Book of Mormon help me strengthen my faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ”. We got to feed the Elders, Eli and Daniel one LAST time, and WE finally had to sit in the HOT SEAT and answer questions! What goes around comes around…
Monday was our final packing day and our special farewell FHE at the church. They asked us both to speak and to sing. Sister Johnsen sang, I Have Not Seen, But I Believe,” with an accompanying slide show about the Savior.  It was the LAST thing we did in Koror Branch.
After our usual games and final batch of famous Johnsen popcorn, our faithful elders drove us to the airport and stayed with us until we walked up the stairs, (just to make sure we didn’t break any rules before we left) and we were on our way home after 18 months!

Will it be the LAST time we ever see Palau? We don’t know, but we wish the Carters well as they begin their missionary service here and pray that the grace (Enabling Power) of the Lord Jesus Christ will attend them, as He has attended us, during their service!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Isn’t the Gospel Wonderful? (#78)

For over a year now Elder Johnsen has been teaching the youth Sunday School class.  In 2012, the lessons were from the Book of Mormon, and he totally loved teaching that material; he was sure nothing could top that experience.  It has been an unexpected surprise for him to find how much he’s enjoyed teaching the new, “Come, Follow Me” lessons to this youth SS class.  It’s been an even greater joy for Sister Johnsen (who normally teaches in-service) to find that Elder Johnsen can use the material for our monthly in-service lessons. This past Tuesday we invited all the branch leaders and teachers to join the seminary and institute teachers for our monthly in-service lesson.  EJ reprised a lesson he taught in youth SS. To begin, he had Eli and Daniel demonstrate how US babies are fed in a high chairs (most Palauan families don’t have high chairs).  They really hammed it up; it could have been a skit from one of those TV comedy improv shows. The class was laughing SO hard.
Then he had the class read D&C 88:122 and contrasted the teaching styles, where a teacher just spoon feeds the learners, to a class where everyone is engaged, and students and teachers are edifying each other.  After the opening EJ assigned each participant a section from page 4-5 of “Teaching the Gospel in the Savior’s Way.”  Each student was to find a scripture that supported the “Savior’s way of teaching” discussed in their section. Then each person taught their section to the rest of the class. The lesson didn’t end until 8:30 (about 30 minutes longer than usual).  To close the meeting EJ asked each participant “What will you do in your next lesson to emulate the Saviors methods?”  SJ made an insightful comment about something she read about how people learn and how the brain works from an interesting book called, Evolve Your Brain.  She pointed out that the book suggests that research shows that we learn better when new information connects to something that we already know. Sister Johnsen said that this shows how brilliant the Savior’s teaching was. He always connected his teaching with something that people knew. He shared simple stories, parables, and real-life examples that made sense to them.  He helped them discover gospel lessons from their own experiences, and from the world around them.  He spoke of fishing, of childbirth, of working in the fields.  To teach about watching over each other, He told stores about rescuing lost sheep.  To teach His disciples to trust Heavenly Father’s tender care, He urged them to “consider the lilies of the field.” (see Matt 6:25-34) We felt good about the class. It was our final in-service on our mission in Palau, and we have a greater appreciation for the Master teacher, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

By Wednesday morning we had finally finished collecting all the supplies and tools needed to construct stairs down the slippery slope that leads to the Tervet family home in Ngerbeched.  The slippery slope was even more slippery than usual because it rained before we arrived, and also rained during our work.  While the Elders worked on the increasingly soggy slippery slope, Elder Johnsen was reminded of one of his favorite children books, "Horton Hatches the Egg" which is about an elephant named Horton who agrees to sit on an egg for the good-for-nothing, lazy bird, Maysie, so she can take a quick vacation. What he soon realizes is that the bird is not taking a quick vacation; she flies off to the beach and decides to never come back. Horton sits on the egg through the rain and the snow, and even when his friends ridicule him, he stays on the egg because "an elephant's faithful one hundred percent."  No matter how tough times were, Horton stuck to his word and followed through with his task until the end.  Likewise the Elders were faithful 100%, even though the work was hard and the rain poured down on them. We were pleased with the result as shown in these photos.

On Friday night we had Clair and Betty over to play games and eat food. They are two North Americans from the St. George Utah area. They are here in Palau with a mostly LDS crew working to repair the compact road (the road that circles the big island of Babeldaob).   We ended up playing Mexican train. About 1/3 way thru EJ got a call to go give a blessing to Jose Evangelista, so Clair was his companion. While the guys were gone Betty told Sister Johnsen the story of how she had just gotten up from her prayer to Heavenly Father when the telephone rang and EJ was calling to invite her and her husband over to play games. She had been asking Heavenly Father to bless her so that she could enjoy her time here in Palau more.  She felt that the Lord had heard and answered her prayer. Just a coincidence, right? We have come to agree with the idea expressed by Gerald Lund that a coincidence is when we can’t see the levers and pulleys being pulled on from the other side of the veil. Elder Bednar called those type of coincidences, Tender Mercies (see “The Tender Mercies of the Lord”, Ensign or Liahona, May 2005, 99-102).  After the blessing the boys came back to the apartment and we finished our game. The party broke up about 11:00 and was super fun for all involved.  Elder and Sister Johnsen always say, “It’s all missionary work.”

Happy Birthday to Elder Fullmer! We had our Sunday birthday dinner for him and had our usual poke and pour cake which we haven’t had for so long that Elder Dopp had never eaten one! He missed all the poke and pour fun we had!  Wishing Elder Fullmer many, many more!

The other big event this week is that we learned that our replacements will be Allan and Kristine Carter from St. George, Utah.  (Yes, they know all the construction crew that is here fixing the compact road).  Just a coincidence, right?  They are a very talented couple in drama, music, and church leadership. If we would have had 100 couples to choose from they would have been our first choice.  It is such a relief to know that our “relief” has been named, and that our little branch in Palau will have such capable senior couple assigned to assist with the Lord’s work here. We fully agree with the sentiment they expressed in a recent email to us, “Isn't the gospel wonderful, and we have this opportunity to share it with the entire world?”  We sing in chorus, “Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me!” (Hymn 193). (They say they will be keeping a blog, so you mothers of the missionaries in Palau can still keep up with your sons!)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Stayin’ Alive (#77)

With less than two weeks left here in the mission, we are continuing our work here in Palau. There is always so much to do.  This past Wednesday we had our combined YM/YW Joint Activity.  The young men leaders were in charge, and Daniel taught the attendees CPR.  We had a really fun time watching the procedure, and then some of us actually practiced on the “dummies.”
We learned that when you are giving the chest compression, you can count quickly: one and two and three and…etc. Or you can to keep the appropriate speed and pace, by using the mnemonic technique of singing "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees. Just match the chest compressions to the pace of the song. This particular disco classic has 103 beats per minutes and can stay in your head easily as you perform CPR.  

We are doing just that in our missionary work –Stayin' Alive. This week we’ve been trying to find a new apartment or house to rent in Airai for new Elders or Sisters that will be arriving at the end of the month.  Lowering the age of the young missionaries has resulted in a surge of missionaries coming into the Micronesia Guam Mission; new areas are being opened up.  We also did service at the church this week which involved weeding, patching cracks in damaged walls and spraying for bugs.

Elder Johnsen was heavily involved in priesthood service night visits. In addition to organizing 140 visits this past Tuesday night, he personally visited more than 40 families. On Friday we hosted our final “First Friday Flicks” night. We popped our final 5 pound batch of popcorn, and mixed our final 3 gallon cooler of Kool-Aid.  We enjoyed our biggest turn-out of members and friends who watched the hockey movie, “Miracle.”

For Seminary and Institute we not only attended class and provided refreshments, but also updated CSTAR for attendance and reported scripture reading.  We stayed up past MIDNIGHT on TWO consecutive evenings this week and played games and provided treats to the elders who had 2 a.m. flight departures from the airport.  The first night we stayed up because the visiting AP’s had to go to the airport, and the next night because Elder Gubler had to go to Guam for the monthly Zone Leader’s meeting. Coming and going on Palau is complicated by the fact that all the flights leave in the middle of the night!

On Saturday our month long marketing efforts paid off as we opened bids for two old mission cars offered for sale and received record amounts.  Elder Johnsen also spent several hours with Line, from the Guam Service Center, touring our building and noting not only the work that we’ve done to improve the building, but also listing the items that still need to be corrected. On Sunday we cooked a turkey dinner for the Elders with homemade rolls, baked potatoes, fruit salad, vegetables, frosted brownies and chocolate tapioca pudding.

This past Sunday was a payday! We had 79 people in our Koror Branch Sacrament meeting.  At least 10 of those were people that have been visited for 17 months but have never come to church.   We’ve felt the Lord’s guiding hand in those we’ve found and visited. We’ve felt urgency in the work, and have been blessed to not only know what to do, but also find ways to DO IT NOW.  

There is a rumor going around that Sister Johnsen is trunky, but we don’t know how that got started!

We know that the real reason we are able to stay alive both physically and spiritually is because of the Savior. He blesses us and the work, and we will continue to the beat of “Stayin Alive” during the final weeks in the mission.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

We are Sewing, Daily Sowing! (#76)

Our Topside Relief Society activity this week involved sisters and sewing machines. We pulled out the two old machines and the two new ones and polished up our sewing skills. We practiced threading the machines and sewing seams. Two sisters checked out the machines and reported with great satisfaction that they have been doing some mending at home. 
The daily sowing continues as it has in the past. Sister Johnsen went visiting teaching and caught Kebesang at home. She is often at work and unavailable.  After delivering a large plate of cookies, as Sister Johnsen does each month, they both sat down in the doorway and talked about Kebesang’s conversion.  She said that she had been a member of another church, and when she married Renny he wanted her to listen to the missionaries, but she wasn’t interested.

One day her little son was very sick. She said he could not even turn his head, and lay like he was dead on the bed (that is really just a blanket on the floor). She didn’t know what to do because she could not afford a doctor or medicine to help him. Her mother–in-law, who was a very faithful church member when she was alive, asked her if she would like to have him get a Priesthood blessing. She decided to say yes because she didn’t know what else to do. The missionaries and the Branch President came and gave him a blessing. Within ten minutes he was up playing around. She had never seen anything like it. She decided she had better investigate the church, and was baptized soon afterwards.  She has a testimony of the power of the priesthood.

Elder Johnsen had a typically busy Sunday sowing too.  He had 5 speakers planned for Sacrament meeting (none of whom had ever spoken in a Koror Branch Sacrament meeting before), but 2 were no shows—so he invited a couple of people (visitors from St. George, Utah) out of the congregation (Brother and Sister Leavitt) to introduce themselves and share their thoughts.  Then he concluded the meeting with an impromptu talk on “Scriptures-- Key to Our Spirituality” which was the theme of the meeting.  He said that the greatest tool to protect families and individuals is the scriptures.  Anciently scriptures were called Books of Remembrance, and they contained ideas that God wants us to remember.  Scriptures are sometimes referred to by other names which are very instructive.  They are referred to as a Lamp, a Rod, a Sword, Manna, and a Compass.  

Scriptures are a Lamp. The world is a dark place. We don't want to take your family through the darkness without lighting the lamp and holding it up high or they will stumble and fall.

Scriptures are an Iron Rod.  The world is like a raging river that the rod runs along.  Don't send your family along the river without a good grip on the iron rod, otherwise they'll fall in and drown.

Scriptures are a sword. The world is a battlefield.  Don't send your family into the battle of life without learning how to wield this great defensive weapon, or they may die.

Scriptures are Manna. The world is the wilderness.  Don't try to cross the wilderness without daily partaking of the manna, or you will suffer from lack of nourishment.

Scriptures are a compass. We are on a journey.  Don't send your family on this journey without the compass in their hand because they will be disoriented and lost.   

It was interesting that in EJs Sunday school lesson with the youth during the second hour, one of the assignments was for the youth to find scriptures that supported how the Savior taught. One of the stories told about the Savior which illustrated how He prepared himself to teach was by spending time alone in prayer and fasting. This story also reminded the class of how He used scriptures to deflect and defeat Satan’s temptations. After fasting and praying in the wilderness for 40 days and nights, he was afterwards an hungered, and was left to be tempted of the devil. (See Matt. 4)  For each temptation of pride, appetite and power/riches the Savior deflected and defeated Satan’s temptations by quoting scriptures. The scriptures really are a sword which can be used in defense as the Savior so ably illustrated.  For priesthood EJ again had to teach (with no preparation) as John Jr. had to go to the hospital.  We discussed “Where Is the Pavilion? This is a talk given in the last conf. by President Eyring.  

The Elders are also continuing their sowing efforts.  This past week they taught 96 total lessons.  Elder Johnsen really enjoys teaching their youth investigators in his weekly Sunday school class.  

We also are in the middle of sowing seeds of service—last week we scoped out our next big project, which is to build some safe and durable stairs down a steep hill to one of our member’s home.  We met with the land owner to solicit his cooperation and approval. We picked up the required lumber from a member of the elder’s quorum presidency whose house was destroyed during Bopha (so he had much wood laying around).  The land owner is going to look around for some rebar.  We’re hoping to get started on the project next week after we collect all the supplies and tools necessary to complete the project.    

The spelling bee may be over but our use of homonyms hasn’t ended.  Whether we’re sewing or sowing, it’s all missionary work.  Our prayer is the same as that suggested in Hymn # 216, “Thou who knowest all our weakness, Leave us not to sow alone!  Bid thine angels guard the furrows, Where the precious grain is sown.  Till the fields are crown’d with glory, Filled with mellow, ripened ears, Filled with fruit of life eternal From the seed we sowed in tears.”

Monday, February 18, 2013

Today, While the Sun Shines (#75)

We had an interesting reminder this week of an experience that we had more than 35 years ago.   Saturday afternoon we were out trying to take pictures of members. Having already captured 267 photos you can well imagine that all the low hanging fruit has been gathered, but we figure it’s like eating an elephant,  you just keep at it one bite at a time. On Saturday we finally caught Michelle at home and had a pleasant visit with her. We have never seen her at home but have given her cookies and Liahona’s for nearly 16 months at her work. During one of our first visits to her, Sister Johnsen asked if we could take her picture, but she politely declined.  On Saturday her response to this same question was, “Not today.” It reminded us of an earlier event that Sister Johnsen was able to have published in MormonTimes. Here is the story:  

“During our first Christmas together, my husband, Gary, and I did what many BYU students do, we piled into the car with siblings and drove home. Home for my husband is Minnesota, and it is a long and sometimes treacherous drive in the winter.

We had been traveling for hours when Gary’s sister, Connie, took over the driving at about 2:00 A.M. None of us thought to check the gas gauge. When she did finally notice, the gauge registered empty. Connie woke us all up, and we tried to decide what to do. We didn’t think we had enough gas to make it to the next service station so we exited the freeway, but all the stations in the nearby town were closed.

The country lane we drove down to the next town was very dark and deserted. The temperature in Nebraska that night was frigid--double digits below zero. And then, we ran out of gas, and the car stopped. What would we do now? Gary and his brother, Lee, got out of the car and walked toward some lights they saw down the road. Connie and I stayed in the car and prayed. I was 6 months pregnant with our first child.  I was cold and scared.

Gary and Lee came to a farmhouse about one mile away. They woke up the resident of the house, and told him our situation.  They asked him to sell them just enough gas to get to a station.  

His response was surprising:  “Not today.”  Not today??  The brothers went back on the road and walked two more miles to the next farmhouse, and were able to buy gas. It was enough to get us to a gas station. Thirty seven years have passed since we asked that farmer for gas. We have never been back to ask if is “today” might be the right day.

At the time, we were disappointed and couldn’t believe that this farmer wasn’t willing to help us.  Over the years, though, I have realized that often we are also like that farmer—waiting for convenient moments to serve.

My husband and I have found that there will always be opportunities in our lives to perform service, but certain moments in time, and various kinds of service only come along once in a lifetime.

We have also learned that service often requires sacrifice, and I truly believe that this is the best kind of service because it brings with it the blessings of heaven. Elder Dallin H. Oaks reminds us, “Our Savior teaches us to follow Him by making the sacrifices necessary to lose ourselves in unselfish service to others. If we do, He promises us eternal life, “the greatest of all the gifts of God” (D&C 14:7)” (Ensign, May 2009)”

Since we’re down to our last 5 weeks in Palau, we probably won’t have a chance to contact Michelle again before we leave.  In the grand scheme of things whether her picture is in LDS tools directory probably doesn’t matter, but the idea that sticks with us is that Today, While the Sun Shines we must work with a will, today, all our duties with patience we fulfill (see Hymn 229).

We had a good example of working with a will on Tuesday while we were moving dirt from one side of Diane’s house to the other side as a service project (that seems to have no end in sight).  There’s no way to get any heavy equipment in to do the work, so all the elders just pretended they were human backhoes. Using picks, shovels and wheelbarrows they moved dirt until hands were too blistered to continue.  They have probably completed 10% of the dirt moving task. It definitely won’t be done in the foreseeable future, but the plan is just to keep pecking away, one bite at a time while the sun shines.

We can definitely say that the Elder’s are continuing to work with a will. This past week Elder Gubler and Dopp taught 62 lessons, and Fullmer and Pauga taught 37.  In total they were just one lesson shy of 100.  

Another person this week who was willing to keep going was Barbara Gilson. She came to Palau to visit her husband, Larry, who is working here for the next year. Barbara arrived in Palau at 4:30 A. M., but came to Sacrament meeting at 9:00 A.M. and was our concluding speaker. She told about their long marriage, and how Larry stood by her after a car accident that left her with a serious brain injury. It took four years to recover. It was during those years that she joined the church (Larry has yet to join). She also told of her love for the gospel. Her husband was definitely an example of both work and love, as he cared for her and stayed with her while she healed.   

Our “work” is winding down here in Palau as we continue to take member’s pictures, create a “Welcome to Palau” transition booklet, prepare member thumbnail sketches and continue to do all the regular work that occurs weekly.  We know that that the sun (metaphorically) in Palau will continue to shine on the work we do here in Palau for the remaining days of our mission.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Making the Leap of Faith (#74)

This week at seminary we were studying John 10 in which Jesus is spoken of as the good Shepherd.  While we discussed verse 4 where the sheep know His voice, we heard a unique story told by Eli about the value of knowing the voice to follow. During WWII, a ship was sinking and another ship was alongside to remove the men from the sinking ship. The ships were both rocking furiously, but at exact opposite frequency—that is, at one point their sides would be together and the other point their sides would be far apart.  The rocking frequency was such that in order to make the jump from one ship to the other the seaman would have to make his jump when the vessels sides were farthest apart; then while the person was in the air the vessels sides would rock together and he would safely land on the deck of the rescue ship.  If they jumped when the vessels sides were next to each other the gap between the ships would open while the seaman was in midair, and he would fall in between the ships and be crushed and drowned in the ocean below.  Many of the men being rescued knew and trusted the man who was commanding them when to jump.  While it was difficult to implicitly trust his command to jump when the ships sides were farthest apart, those that did so were saved.  So it is with our faith in the good shepherd, we make the leap of faith at the command of the good shepherd trusting that the outcome is according to his will.  Sister Johnsen likes the saying she found in the book The Artist’s Way which says, “Leap and the net will appear.”

We had one of those trusting experiences on Tuesday night when we opened up our CES inservice lesson to all the branch leaders and teachers.  Elder Johnsen’s lesson was about teaching after the manner of the spirit.    After laying the groundwork by reading D&C 50: 13-22 and using Matthew O. Richardson’s October 2011 conference talk on the subject of “teaching after the manner of the spirit”, not in front of, not behind, but BY the spirit, we divided the attendees into teams of two.  Each team used Teaching No Greater Call (teaching by the spirit section) to create a list of things we can do to teach by the spirit. After their reports EJ concluded with ideas from Richardson’s talk where he suggested that we must teach as the Holy Ghost teaches. He “teaches what we must know and do so we may become what we must be” and secondly “the Holy Ghost teaches by inviting, prompting, encouraging and inspiring us to act.  Christ assured us that we come to the truth when we live doctrine and act accordingly.” Our final section was to have each person individually answer out loud the question, “How can you use this material to teach by the spirit.” Each person found at least one thing (from our long list on the board) that they committed to do so their teaching would be BY the spirit.   Sister J made rice crispy squares for a treat—the meeting couldn’t have gone better.  After it was over EJ received a text from the Elder’s Quorum President, “I really enjoyed attending in-service.  I learned a lot and felt the spirit. Thanks.”  For us it was a leap of faith to invite the busiest people in the branch to ANOTHER meeting, but it was gratifying that the good Shepherd would send the comforter so the instruction would model the lesson we were trying to teach.  

On Tuesday morning we were up at the church doing service. We actually had two project choices. We could put a second coat of paint on the new doors on the BP and FHC (which some of you will remember were destroyed during our church break-in about a month ago), paint the back of the shed, and do some other deep cleaning work, or we could go and move some dirt at Diane’s place on Dead Dog road. (That’s our name for the road that Diane lives on because the day we found her house there was a dead dog on the road). We finally decided to split up and do both. We feel very happy that we made that decision. As we were concluding our work and the Koror elders had come back to the church, a guy from the Czech Republic stopped by the church and visited for a while with EJ. He was just walking to the crocodile farm, saw our church sign which said that visitors were welcome, and just stopped in to see what the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was all about. He was actually surprised to learn that the church has a presence in the Czech Republic (which we knew because of our friends, the Hrncirik's served a mission there).

Elder Fullmer and Gubler actually had a “real” discussion with him, gave him a Book of Mormon and later that day had a follow-up meeting where they gave him more church literature.  Talk about divine positioning.  He’s been here in Palau for a month. This is the first time he’s stopped at the church, and this is the only Tuesday we’ve been at the church doing service this month.  He took the leap of faith as prompted by the spirit, and missionaries were at the church to answer his questions.  Coincidence?  We don’t think so!   

We just can’t stop bragging on our awesome Palau missionaries.  This week the elders in Meyuns, Elder Fullmer and Pauga taught 51 lessons and Elder’s Gubler and Dopp taught 61.  These are not just lessons for the sake of numbers, these are lessons taught to real people who are making and keeping commitments.  The elders have taken the leap of faith which resulted from recent training, and we are astounded by the way the work of the Good Shepherd is going forward.  Elder Gubler also celebrated his 20th birthday this past week, but he was in Guam on his actual birthday, so we celebrated it a week late.  When we asked him what he wanted he said, a German chocolate cake. We were impressed to find the cake and the frosting in the store here…it’s the little miracles! 

We’ve also continued our work this week with our 5 bright and dedicated Koror Elementary spelling bee students.  Since we were only called in to help beginning January 24, and the island wide Spelling Bee is this coming Saturday (February 16th) our students have had much less preparation than did our Meyuns students last year.  Nevertheless, they’ve been working hard and also taking a leap of faith that the extra hour they spend with us each day after school will pay dividends in a better spelling bee performance.  
Ralph Waldo Emerson says, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us.” As we look inside of ourselves for our own faith, we are able to move forward in ways that we didn’t previously think possible. Every day we can practice our own special “leap” of faith!

Monday, February 4, 2013

What is the definition of Success? (#73)

While we were serving on our first mission in the California North Mission 42 years ago, both Elder and Sister Johnsen became acquainted with a definition of success that has remained with them:  Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal.  This week we’ve seen numerous examples that reminded us and verified the correctness of that definition.  

First, we must discuss the completion of a successful mission by Elder Marshall who departed Palau early Thursday morning.   By 9:30 p.m. Wednesday the elders had finished their night’s work, and as is our tradition when an Elder leaves Palau, we stay up with them until they have to go to the airport.  On this night we played a rousing game of Mexican Train, and at 10 minutes to midnight broke out the sparkling cider which had been chilling in the freezer.  We toasted Elder Marshall, and then climbed in the truck to take him to the airport where we presented him with his plastic drinking cup (on which he had written his name) filled with candy.

We took our customary picture with him in holding the sign that Sister Johnsen made nearly 16 months ago with some Palauan farewell phrases.
As we watched him climb the stairs to pass through security, we were reminded of how much growth we’ve seen in Elder Marshall over the year+ that we’ve known him.  Naturally quiet and reserved, we’ve seen him blossom into a testifying and challenging missionary.  In his final talk in Sacrament meeting he made the comment that two years is “not long enough”.  He went home wishing he could have stayed longer—he loved the people he taught! 
Earlier in the day on Wednesday, Garland and Charity, two of our young women were at our apartment frantically using our dial-up internet connection to complete their BYU-H college application before the February 1 deadline.  Their work got pushed to the last minute because they had it in their minds that the application deadline was April 1. It was only divine intervention that brought the actual February 1 deadline to their attention.  We are glad to report that they were able to complete their applications, had an interview with President Kesolie, came back to our apartment the next day for a Skype call/interview with the Mission president, and are all done with the whole thing.
Speaking of the sign that Elder Marshall held in his farewell picture at the airport, we were also successful in giving both girls a serious laugh.   While they were here waiting to Skype the Mission President for their second and final interview, they happened to see our well used farewell sign and were reading it. They both said, “We’re done?” And Sister Johnsen said, “We’re done, as in finished with our mission.” They started laughing so hard.   We asked them what was so funny.  It turns out one of the Palauan phrases that we thought means “I’m Finished” actually means, “I’m full” or “I’m finished eating.”  The girls just roared with laughter.  

On Sunday night we had Elder Marshall read and answer all the questions in the bowl (another tradition with our departing missionaries). One of those questions is “Describe your worst language faux pas.”  Elder Marshall didn’t have a funny language mistake to share, but now we do!  But after all was said and done though, it was great for us to be able to help these two fine young women progressively realize their worthy ideal.  

We’ve also started working with five 6th grade students at Koror Elementary School for the island wide Spelling Bee which is coming up at the end of March.   We were surprised that we received help from the Holy Ghost this week to make our bee preparation run more smoothly.  EJ had an idea pop into his head that he should bring his lap top computer to our Tuesday – Thursday classes so that when the students ask, “Definition Please” he can quickly type the word into his dictionary look-up program and be able to give them an accurate, precise, and concise definition, rather than just giving them something he makes up.  SJ got some inspiration on how to manage our practice sessions so that every student is continuously engaged and involved on every word, not just on the words where they are the speller.  It surprises us that the Holy Ghost would be interested in the Koror Elementary Student Spelling Bee, but we guess we shouldn’t be surprised because He’s helped us in every aspect of our work here in Palau, why not spelling?  We love seeing our bright students progressively improve—all of us feel successful!

With Elder Marshall’s departure, Elder Gubler has been named the new Zone Leader in Palau.  Early Saturday morning he headed off to Guam for the monthly zone leader training meeting that’s held at the mission office.  We have been so impressed with the work that he and Elder Fullmer have been doing in Meyuns. They have another baptism lined up for this coming Saturday.  It is no surprise to us that the mission president appointed Elder Gubler as Zone Leader and Elder Fullmer as District Leader.  Their work has helped to transform Meyuns back into some of its former glory when it was called Mormon Town.  Progressively they have been accomplishing much good together. Now with Elder Dopp joining us, Elder Gubler will move back to Koror where he originally began, and serve with Elder Dopp, and Elder Fullmer will stay in Meyuns with Elder Pauga.  We foresee good things ahead in both areas as the elders begin this new assignment.  

Today was fast and testimony Sunday.  Melody, a recent convert bore her testimony and told of a recent telephone conversation that she had with her daughter.  During the conversation Melody’s teenage daughter was complaining about a neighbor.  Melody advised her to handle it in a very kind and Christian way. After that comment her daughter exclaimed, “Is this really my mother?  What has happened to you?”   We know what has happened.  Melody has become a light, not a judge. She is filled with the spirit, and it just oozes from her in every way imaginable.  The contrast is obvious.  Sister Johnsen has been working with Melody the last couple of weeks on learning to lead music and to play the piano, and Melody has made quick progress.  She led the music today in Sacrament meeting today for the first time and we all enjoyed the feeling of her success as she develops her talents.

Later on during our 3 hour block Timothy, an Elder, who has recently returned to activity, described in Priesthood the change that has come into his life since he started meeting with the Meyun’s missionaries.  He said that he has started reading the scriptures every day, and stopped drinking and chewing.  He says that the men who live around him have greater respect for him, and his mother is proud of him. He says his children are showing love, rather than fear toward him, and he’s happier with himself than he has felt at any time in recent memory.   He said that AA meetings (which he tried and failed at many times in the past) didn’t help, but prayers and daily reading of the Book of Mormon has transformed his life.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ, when acted upon does change people lives for the better, and isn’t that what success in life is all about:  the progressive realization of a worthy ideal-progressively becoming more like Savior!