Friday, December 23, 2011

Felicitations from Fiji !!!

And a new star appeared, giving light and life to the world
     As we come to our first Christmas away from home we think of you all and what a difference you have made in our lives.  For every moment we have shared together, for every Church meeting, service project, play day, family gathering, and yes - even the teary days, we thank you all.  You have made our lives more rich and meaningful.

    You can imagine our great mix of feelings.  We are devoted day and night to the work of building people and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ which is so much more meaningful to us just now.  As you know, when we submitted our mission papers we secretly hoped for a cute little cottage in Ireland or Scotland -- but we were committed to go where the Lord wanted us to go.  When we received our call we were shocked at the assignment to Fiji and had no idea whatever about what it was like here.  A few times, our lofty ideals of "go where you want me to go," have been put to the test. We have had our days of struggle and sadness, of despair and complaint.  If it would really do any good, we could spend a lot of time murmuring.
     In retrospect, we are usually embarrassed at these shallow moments and are inclined to remember the tender poem, "A Little Place"

Where shall I work today, dear Lord            
and my love flowed warm and free.
He answered and said,
"See that little place?
Tend that place for me.”
I answered and said,
"Oh no, not there,
No one would ever see
No matter how well my work was done,
Not that little place for me!"

His voice when He spoke,
Was soft and kind,
He answered me tenderly,
"Little one, search that heart of thine,
Are you working for them or Me?"
"Nazareth was a little place,
And so was Galilee.”

     One day while we were in the temple at Suva, a humbling insight came.  It was related to the experience of Adam and Eve soon after they left the Garden of Eden (see Moses 5).  They had been directed to worship God and "offer the firstlings of their flocks" and had been obedient to the command. But they really didn't understand why they were doing it, nor what it's full meaning was. "And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto [them], saying: 'Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord?' And [they] said: 'I know not, save the Lord commanded me.' And then the angel spake, saying: This thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten of the Father, which is full of grace and truth."
     At that moment, an overwhelming feeling came that in the smallest of ways, we too had sacrificed to come on a mission because all adult Latter-day Saints who are able have been invited to do so.  We came not really understanding what we were coming to and we had given up the comforts of home, family and friends to do so and perhaps we too were walking in the "similitude" of our Savior. On a much more divine and grand scale, Jesus gave up all that he was in the kingly courts on high to be born in the humblest of circumstances.  He was "despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53). He was obedient to his Heavenly Father and triumphed over sin and death that joy and eternal life might be available to all.  And He did all this willingly "for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world" (2 Nephi 26:24). The apostle John said that "We love him, because he first loved us" (2 John 4:19).
    Jesus's statement to Peter; "If ye love me, feed my sheep" has become more meaningful than ever to us.  Being with these humble and wonderful Fijians, serving and loving them always brings us back to reality and we experience a joy we could never have imagined. We quickly forget ourselves and are humbled by their cheery nature and unbounded sharing of anything they have. So we have been spending the last few days finishing up preparations for our Christmas visits to those we have come to love.  Annie has been busy baking loaf after loaf of banana bread and muffins and we've assembled gifts of hymn books, gospel art books, scriptures, and a few other specifically tailored gifts: art supplies for a wonderful person who sits in a destitute cement home barren of anything and who draws with a pencil on scraps of paper; a clock for a home without; some cornmeal for a family that loved Annie's cornbread and have never tasted it before; pictures of Jesus and children for the little kids in villages; etc.
And now a glimpse of some of the people we'll be delivering Christmas remembrances to -- 
how beautiful they are!
Olivia and her children with sister Tuliana whom we first contacted at a store where she works
The Nairoqo family whom we are helping to prepare to go to the temple
Eloni is a co-worker of Tuliana and she brought him to a lesson at our flat.  He was so kind and humble and
wanted us to begin teaching him at his home in another village.  
A nephew and niece of Eloni

Daniel and his wife and child (Isaac).  He works at a hardware store that we frequent
and approached us about what we do.  We are teaching his family & two brothers.
Laisiasa is a relative of a member and a new investigator and obviously a great uncle
Next are a few pictures from the ward Christmas party.  It was a "lovo" which is Fijian for cooking stuff in the ground.  We had chicken, fish, cassava, taro, taro leaves stuffed with something awful, and fruit.  Most of these kids belong to families we'll be taking Christmas gifts to:

Some of the mob who run together on Sundays.  In truth, everyone lives in extended families and all are welcome
anytime.  So kids and people just hang out together and take care of each other as family all the time.
The beautiful Mateiwai family with a couple extra
 Now if you thought we were done -- NO, we have saved the best for last.  The creme de la creme is of course our own beloved family back in the states.  Since many of you won't see their Christmas pictures, we thought we'd finish with the kids and grandkids we love most:
Lizzie, Matt, Jessica, Sofie ~ Salt Lake City
Sara & Birch with kids (left to right): Tyler, Alysee, Chloe, Nate, Cooper, Alex ~ Yakima, Washington
Ryan, Sage, Emily, Mila ~ Yakima, Washington
Isaac, Kate, Leah, Lucy, Geoff ~ Mapleton, Utah
Tommy, Seth, Cali, Caroline ~ Zambia, Africa
Laura, Isla, Jared ~ just moved to SLC!
Luke (and niece Kate) ~ BYU
We leave you with our love and prayers for blessings to you in the coming year. Christmas is all about the Savior of the world and the little family where it all began as depicted in this simple scene at the Suva Fiji temple grounds and in the sweet song of the missionaries:



Strahls said...

Merry Christmas!!! The beautiful singing reminds me of the early days of the Church when there were only words in the hymnbooks- so there were many different hymn tunes used. We are blessed to have Todd working from home still, and everyone is here for Christmas. Charlotte is now in Pharmacy school, with 2 quarters down. (Three year program - year round..) I have really come to know from our adventures in the last two years that the Lord has an individual plan for each of us which will bring us happiness and joy. We just need to "wait upon the Lord" and let Him work the miracles in our lives at the time He knows will be for our greatest good. Your family will be blessed for your service - loved the pictures of all of them, and you both will have a greater and deeper love for the Savior. Thanks for sharing your mission with us. Keep up the love and hard work. :) The Strahl Family

Ditto Family said...

Gosh, I think each post I am about to write "this is my favorite post yet." They truly just get better and better. I'm so excited to meet all these wonderful families but nervous that I might have to eat something. The music video reminds me so much of BYU-Hawaii with all the wonderful Polynesian singers. Your Christmas gifts to each family are so sweet. Birch and I have been thinking of some special things to bring with us when we come visit. And last but not least...dang, we are a good lookin' family! Even the hairy dude at the end looks good. Love you guys!! Merry Christmas!

emily a. said...

Just when I was proud of myself for not getting teary that we are so far away from you both, you go and do a post like this. It's true, the real meaning of Christmas was most real when I was a missionary. It's one of the many blessings of having such a clear vision of what is most important.

95' weather and humidity or 30's and snow, it doesn't matter- Christmas is Christmas. We love you guys!

Matt said...

Every post I say is my favorite, but this one takes the cake. So neat to see the beautiful families you are teaching and working with. Our love to you and them this christmas day.

AndreaF said...

It's Andrea Clavin...Thank you for your beautiful, uplifting posts. What a wonderful experience you are having and I know since I have been served by you both so much in my youth that they are very, very fortunate to have you there. What an incredible experience this must be for you! Thank you for sharing. You are in our prayers. Love to you both.