Monday, January 28, 2013

Twenty Years in the Making! (#72)

On Saturday we were able to witness a very special baptism. After twenty years and numerous sets of missionaries, “Grandma” was finally baptized. Elder Fullmer and Elder Gubler were the right missionaries, at the right time, with the right message. Now in her 70’s and crippled, she was carried into the water by the two missionaries.  Because they had carried her into the water and had to hold her in their arms, it took three attempts to finally make sure she was completely buried in the water. On the first attempt she had her hand on Elder Gubler’s back so that didn’t go under. The next time both elders tried to kneel down and get her covered, but they couldn’t make a space between them. Finally they figured out a way to baptize her. As she was wheeled back into the chapel after her baptism, she was glowing. There was a noticeable difference in her countenance.  It doesn’t surprise us that they are having success for the past 3 weeks they’ve averaged 40 lessons taught each week!  
We talked today in Sunday School about the lost 116 pages of the Book of Mormon which Martin Harris convinced Joseph Smith to give to him. But the Lord, who knows the beginning from the end, had prepared the Book of Mormon to be complete by inspiring prophets thousands of years in advance to include portions that needed to be there.  The Lord knows that some things take thousands of years and some take only twenty, but the Lord knows how to get his work done.  We read that, “The works, and the designs, and the purposes of God cannot be frustrated, neither can they be come to naught…remember, that is it not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men” (D & C 3:1, 3).

We found ourselves perfect examples of that principle of the work of men being frustrated this week because we forgot to prepare someone to take Karen’s place to post our blog. It was pretty frustrating! Now our last two blogs are back to back because we did not find anyone to help us. Karen has been out on a cruise with our son, Clay, and she is the one who helps us. We appreciate how the Lord’s work is always accomplished.

This week Sister Johnsen went out to give our newly baptized member, Melody, an orientation for her calling as branch music leader. With a name like Melody, it is the perfect calling. She loves music, but it turns out that she can’t read music at all. So now, Sister J has to go back and start teaching her from the church’s keyboard workbook and see if we can help her. Because she loves music so much and enjoyed Sister Johnsen’s musical number in Sacrament meeting when she sang Sally DeFord’s song, "Whole Again," Elder Johnsen burned her 10 songs from the Sally DeFord collection with both the vocal and the minus track, and Sister Johsen printed all the music. Melody was thrilled to have that music, and wants to learn all the songs.

We also started working with the kids at Koror Elementary on the Spelling Bee. It is kind of late, because last year Meyun’s Elementary started before Christmas and it is the end of January. We will just have to do whatever we can to prepare them the upcoming Spelling Bee in late March.

We continued our “new” tradition of having a picnic on the last Thursday before the end of the transfer which occurs on Sunday, the 27th. We found a new location, and it was so beautiful. The boats streaming by, the Rock Islands, the beautiful blues in the water created a pleasant atmosphere for our meal together.  There was plenty of good food prepared by Sister Johnsen, and all of it was free (to the Elders). Elder Johnsen is always reminding us that this is the BEST kind of food-free food!

Our lovely day was especially appreciated because we have had rain every day this week. SJ mentioned to EJ on Sunday afternoon that we hadn’t had rain for a while, and it started raining Sunday evening. We walked in rain almost every day, and one day it was like a monsoon. We were super wet walkers!

We also had another police experience this week because we found on Monday that the lock on the church gate was broken. EJ and Brother Thing went out and bought a new lock which wasn’t too expensive, but they had to purchase gate keys for the leaders and this cost an additional $18.  Unfortunately on Wednesday when Brother Thing came back to the church, the lock had been broken again, so they had to go an buy another lock after contacting the police and filing another report. Elder Johnsen is going to be on a first name basis with the policemen soon!

Baptism, broken gates locks, beautiful district lunches, and Spelling Bees. Kind of a mixed bag, but making a memorable week for the Palau missionaries!

Tender Mercies of the Lord (#71)

This past week Elder Johnsen had a unique experience.  It all began on Tuesday when we were on our usual early morning walk. A woman suddenly drove in front of us, stopped her car and pulled over and got out of her car.   The young mother introduced herself and  commented on how healthy and thin we both looked—she said that she has watched us over the months we’ve been on Palau, and was happy to get to know us.  While we were chatting she gave us an invitation to a spiritual revival to be held each night at the SDA church.  Elder Johnsen was already scheduled to teach first aid at the Relief Society meeting on Tuesday evening, Wednesday is his branch presidency meeting, seminary, YM/YW and Sister Johnsen’s birthday dinner and on Thursday we have institute, but we decided that on Thursday we’d just divide and conquer. Sister Johnsen handled institute and Elder Johnsen would attend the spiritual revival.  Paul Brace, from Boston, was the guest revivalist.  Elder Johnsen was seated next to Paul and his wife on the flight from Guam to Palau as we returned from the senior conference.   He carried on a lively conversation with them on that plane flight.  When Elder Johnsen walked into the SDA church building on Thursday he was surprised to see how many people he knew, so as he walked in he went over and said hi to them.  When the Brace’s spotted him they both came over and warmly greeted him and Elder Johnsen was seated next to Mrs. Brace.  During Pastor Brace’s opening remarks he had Elder Johnsen stand and introduced him to the congregation.   It was the warmest possible greeting anyone could have received.  Pastor Brace comments were about preparing for the Lord’s second coming, and Elder J didn’t hear any doctrinal differences that made him uncomfortable.  

After the meeting the local pastor, translator and many other members warmly thanked Elder Johnsen for coming.  It is easy to see why the SDA church in Palau is flourishing if all visitors are treated as warmly as Elder Johnsen was.  When he returned home Sister Johnsen asked him what he felt about the meeting.  EJ commented about the warmth of his greeting and farewell, but sadly noted the lack of the spirit present.

Elder Johnsen contrasted that lack with what he felt the next morning as we opened our little zone conference meeting. There were just 8 of us present, the mission president and the 6 missionaries. As we sang the opening song he felt the spirit so strongly come into the room, tears came to his eyes.  Just as Elder Bednar said in April 2005 conference talk called, “The Tender Mercies of the Lord.” To Elder Johnsen’s mind came this verse from the Book of Mormon: “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.” Like Elder Bednar, Elder Johnsen knew that he was experiencing just such a tender mercy.  A loving Savior was sending him a most personal and timely message of comfort and reassurance.  This IS God’s work and we are in His service.  Elder Johnsen was first on the zone conference program. In his talk he quoted Alma 33:22-23 where Alma told the Zoramite poor what the seed was they should plant—faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and in his atonement.  He also related that teaching to Alma’s great Chiasmus in Alma 36 where the turning point of the chiasmus is when Alma the Younger’s mind caught hold upon the thought of Jesus Christ—that He could deliver him from the pain he was experiencing.  Alma deliberately is using the focusing power of the Chiasmus to direct our attention to the central message of the importance to him of the Savior and His atonement—as it should be to each of us.  

After his talk EJ sat down but immediately had to get up he felt like throwing up—so he went home and slept for the next 4 hours straight and missed the rest of the Zone Conference and spent all the next day in bed.  

Zone Conference Role-Playing
It was another tender mercy that Sister Johnsen was NOT incapacitated by the flu.  On Saturday she continued her work with Pam Tervet who was scheduled to sing, “I Have Not Seen but I Believe” (which she performed beautifully on Sunday)  For the past 16 months that Sister J’s been serving as branch music leader we’ve had a special musical number almost every available week.  Every week she works with a solo or ensemble group to prepare for an upcoming performance in addition to insuring that our branch choir performs monthly.  Music has continued to be a big part of our service in Palau and while we have both occasionally performed, 95% of the music has been performed by locals who we have found to be very happy and excited to share their talents.

Speaking of tender mercies we served taco’s for Sunday dinner to the elders.  Now to those people who live in the USA, tacos doesn’t seem like much of a miracle Sunday dinner, but on Palau it takes about 3 separate miracles to happen at the same time—we NEVER (except for this one time) have fresh good iceberg lettuce, we rarely have tomatoes, nor sour cream. No one sells taco seasoning (Sister Johnsen got some from the states), only about ½ the time we can get flour tortillas but on this one week all the tumblers aligned in an improbable jackpot of tacos.  

While President Mecham was here for Zone conference we also were able to confirm with him our departure date so we can begin to make our arrangements for returning home to Texas.  We have a backlog of doctor and dental appointments to line up.  We feel that it is also a tender mercy that we’ve been sustained physically during these past 16 months.  

Sister Johnsen celebrated her second birthday in the mission field. We went out to dinner at Sarah’s Yum Yum which was reported to be good and where we have never been before. We won’t go there again; did Elder Johnsen’s flu come from the grilled salmon?  Sometime a restaurant gets a bad rap from coincidence.    

It week of little blessings and mercies and we were glad to be able to experience them.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Under His Wings (#70)

All the senior missionaries were gathered together under the wing of President and Sister Mecham this week in Guam for our semiannual “Senior Missionary Conference”.  Elder Olsen shared the following story as a spiritual thought during the conference:

“After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers began their trek up a mountain to assess the inferno’s damage.  One ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched statuesquely on the ground at the base of a tree.

Somewhat sickened by the eerie sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick.  When he struck it, three tiny chicks scurried from under their dead mother’s wings.  The loving mother, keenly aware of impending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered them under her wings, instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise.  She could have flown to safety but had refused to abandon her babies.  Then the blaze had arrived and the heat had scorched her small body, the mother had remained steadfast . . . . because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live.  

In singing praises to God, King David wrote, “He will cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:4).

The Savior mourned over Jerusalem, “ . . .how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:37) see also: 3 Ne. 10:4-6; and several others --Topical Guide – Wings

The scriptural references to “a hen gathering her chicks” will have new meaning if we remember the mother bird in the Yellowstone National Park fire.  

Let us have the Faith of little chicks.  Even though the storms (or fires) of life may rage about us, we must trust in the love and safety of the Savior.  Remember, He died that we might live.”

During our trip we also fell under the wings of Hollywood—on Saturday afternoon.   E/S Johnsen went to Les Miserables which was a touching and wonderful movie.  Tuesday evening after dinner with other seniors  we saw Lincoln (which we understand has been nominated for 12 Academy Awards).  One of the many things that we miss on Palau is a movie theater with current releases.  Although there is one Palauan advantage, we can usually purchase current DVD releases for $3.  

Speaking of birds--Monday was an eventful day for us in Guam.  In the morning Elder Johnsen got his golf need satisfied—a foursome of seniors headed to Anderson AFB to play on their 18 hole golf course.  Elder J had the hot hand on the front nine—you should have heard the “Oohs” and “Awes” when he knocked a 5 wood 195 yards to within 4 feet of the pin on the par 3 8th hole.  Of course he missed the birdy putt on the high side a sliding side hill putt—it was close— the ball made a complete 360 around the hole before popping out, but that’s golf!   He doesn’t want to talk about the back nine, we’ll let you draw your own conclusion, but one par 5 tells the whole story—after two brilliant shots he was in the greenside bunker 10 yards away from the pin after 4 more strokes he was finally out of the bunker but now 20 yards from the pin down a steep embankment—it was a miracle that he only recorded a triple.   He found every sand trap on the back nine and didn’t have one clean hit out.  Nevertheless, it was so much fun for him.  

Monday afternoon we both got our teeth cleaned and later that evening we were at the Mecham’s with all the seniors for a great meal and family home evening.  The spiritual activity was to make a one word sermon.  Both Elder Johnsen and Sister Johnsen were chosen by their group to deliver the sermon—SJ discoursed on the word GO and EJ talked about BEHOLD.  It was a fun exercise.  After that we played a jeopardy game composed of questions about individual seniors present.  EJs group did well because they won the daily double and got the question right.  After that we played four on a couch.  That was super fun and funny. (everyone takes a new name of another person in the group--object of the game is to remember the new name of every person and get 4 people of the same sex on the couch).  You have never seen so many “senior” moments!  The women won!  

On Tuesday the conference began, President and Sister Mecham spoke and wowed us with their enthusiasm.
For the first time in many years the mission beat the baptismal goal—the Lord is clearly accelerating the work in Micronesia.  We heard also from our seminary/institute director and from the office and service center staff.

On Wednesday each senior couple made a report of things they had been doing.  E/S Johnsen reported on their work to update and use the new LDS on-line tools, priesthood service night, our transition plan, and also some things that we really enjoy about serving in Palau.
EJ was very excited to update LDS tools while he was in Guam and actually get on his iphone the complete Palau branch directory, with pictures and locations all of our members.  He just thinks it’s way cool to see all our work so concisely accessible. Thursday was the concluding day of the conference, it consisted of a hike to a beautiful island location where we had a great breakfast followed by a testimony meeting.
It was a lovely way to end the conference sheltered under the outstretched limbs of trees less than 50 feet from the ocean.  While the weather threatened we were able to complete the program without disruption.   By Friday night we were back in Palau, back in the saddle again.  

We now have only a few more weeks before we are sheltered back under the wings of the Klein Ward.  We have lots of work to do before we leave Palau and come home!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Be Prepared (#69)

Monday is usually our preparation day, but this past Monday was New Year Eve and Sister Johnsen was in charge of games and also prepared a large supply of snacks and treats for the big event at the church. Instead of personal preparation, we were preparing in another way.  The party was set to begin at 8:30 p.m. and go until mid-night.  At 7:30 we began loading our car with 4 gallons of purified ice water, 40 frosted cupcakes, a tray of brownies, a tray of rice crispy treats and about 5 gallons of Johnsen famous popcorn.  The loading continued with two trash bags filled with Palauan snowballs (crumbled up paper surrounded by a white piece of paper securely fastenened with wide cellophane tape), Sequence, 3 decks of cards, old maid cards, dice, beans, straws, Banana Grams, balloons and a host of other supplies.  Upon arriving at the church we hauled all our supplies indoors and set up game tables, the food table, the drink dispenser, and then got the volleyball net up in the parking lot.  By 8:30 all was ready.

With volleyball going on outside and board games happening inside everyone was able to find something fun to do.  At 10:00 we stopped all the play, moved the volley ball nets and got set up for Palau’s second official annual snowball fight.  For those of you that have never had a snow ball fight with wadded up paper snowballs here’s how it’s done. The court is divided in half; the snowballs are dumped in the middle of the court along the center line.  Two teams of equal ability are chosen; all players line up on the back line of the court and at the sound of GO run to the center, grab snow balls and start pelting members of the other team, like dodge ball.  The only difference is that when you get hit instead of leaving the playing court you just switch sides and become a member of the other team.  It gets pretty wild—our game had about 20 contestants on each team.  Play continues until everyone is on one side or the other—however, after 30 minutes of hard charging play the Second annual Palauan snowball fight ended due to exhaustion of the players.  We have never seen so many smiles—the smaller children love trying to pelt the adults with snowballs.  In fact one little boy who didn’t quite understand that he was supposed to stay on his side of the court basically circled President Kesolei and pelted him nonstop with “snowballs.” It was the most intense barrage we’ve ever witnessed.  Both participants and watchers on the sideline were literally laughing out loud. 

After the snowball fight ended, we played some outdoor tag games which we very fun.  About 11:00 the teens got a game of basketball going while most of the crowd went back inside to continue their board games, play musical chairs, and balloon volleyball.  Elder Johnsen and 3 of the teenagers had an intense game of sequence going when the clock struck midnight. It was an amazing way to welcome in the New Year.  We felt so blessed to have a perfect night. The moon (on the breast of the new fallen snow-- balls) was nearly full, no rain, just enough of the breeze to keep the outdoor pleasant.  We got to bed at 1:00 and enjoyed our preparation day on Tuesday which was a very rainy day followed by a very rainy night.

We moved our service project to Wednesday because of New Year’s day. We found that the lights, air conditioner filters and ceiling fan blades were much dirtier than we had expected.  It took a couple of hours for four of us to clean them.

Elder Johnsen and Elder Fullmer worked on replacing the ceiling tiles in the Young Women’s room. The tiles were ruined by a water leak (which we repaired earlier). When we were finished all the Elders stopped at Sister Paz’s house to see what they could do about her roof. Bopha had blown off one of her corrugated sheets of roofing so we found and reattached it.  

On Thursday Sister Johnsen delivered her spiritual thought in district meeting which was based on the parable of the sower (or better named the parable of the different types of soil) she made the point that you don’t know the quality of the soil until you sow the seed.  So it is with missionary work, we prepare and then try to share the gospel with everyone—as Peter taught, “ . . .and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you “ 1 Peter 3:15

We were heading for the church on Friday morning to do our usual weeding when we got a call from Brother John Thing. He said that there was something wrong at the church. He asked us to come over. We were not prepared for what we saw. The church had been broken into. There was broken glass and torn door frames.  An attempt on the Branch Presidents office yielded no treasures so the family history center was tried. There a laptop was stolen. We were grateful that the other three computers were not disturbed.  Here’s how Elder Johnsen described what happened:  “Sometime between 3:30 p.m. 1/3/13 and 9:30 a.m. 1/4/13 the church building in Koror was broken into and the branch president’s office and the family history center doors were forced open and the FHC laptop was stolen. Thankfully the data projector was still at our apartment (we used it during the Christmas party which was held here) and thus it was not taken from its usual storage spot in the branch president’s office.  As far as we can tell nothing else is missing. The bad guys entered the building by breaking a louvered window by the side door (between the chapel and the aux class room building) reaching around and through the broken window pane and unlocking the door lock and the dead bolt lock.  We met with the police shortly after 9:30 and at 9:45 I filed a statement with the police.  We’ve replaced the glass panel, cleaned up the glass debris and also the debris around the forced doors.  The door into the BP office and the FHC will need to be replaced and the trim replaced and repainted.”  This was sent to both President Kesolie and to church leaders in Guam. It wasn’t the morning that we expected. We learned that that the extra glass in the shed does come in handy another example of being prepared!  

We are showing The Wizard of Oz for First Friday Flicks before we take off to Guam for our Senior conference. Our suitcases and those of Elder Marshall contain the equivalent of 9 large flat rate boxes worth of contents to mail home, all addressed to Karen Johnsen. Thanks, Krn.  We only have 10 weeks left and we thought this was our best chance to get our things home with less expense.  (All mail goes out of Palau at $.46 per ounce.  Do the math that’s $7/lb.   We literally have 130 lbs to bring to Guam that we’ll be shipping in 9 separate boxes.  From Guam we can use flat rate boxes and we will spend about $1/lb.  Now that’s being prepared to live providently!  

Bon Voyage to us! We are prepared for our trip to Guam!