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!