Sunday, February 26, 2012

Letter Home

Dear Kids,

I realized it has been way too long since we wrote a real letter to you.  Blogging has been our mode of sharing but it doesn't take the place of words from the heart.  Although we try to be honest we also are aware that we sometimes limit what we talk about and what we say knowing it is going to a broader group and some are not as interested in what we might share with each of you. So if you prefer pictures and less words I apologize since this will be just words.

I'll start by saying how nice it is to have power and water.  I know, I know, you want to remind me that I have always wanted to be a pioneer.  Can I switch that and say, if I am a pioneer I want to be clean by bathing in fresh streams and cooking by the fireside with supplies that were intended to weather the conditions of the trail?  Three-cup baths are not all they are cracked up to be and planning the 2 times we will open the frig to grab out a rapidly dying piece of food puts a crimp in the fun of food preparation. So the good part after having these experiences is that normal days in Fiji just got better even if nothing really changed.  That's a good thing, right?

We find our days are filled with 2 themes: preparing and teaching lessons (regular missionary lessons to investigators, temple prep lessons, Sunday classes on occasion) and then our efforts to strengthen the ward.  This has taken several directions.  Now that we have the church's computer at home we are trying to clean up the very out dated membership records.  There has not been a functioning membership clerk for many years and so it has become an ineffective record.  As we track down information we are moving records out, finding where inactive members are and checking on them, moving out members who have died, and correcting wrong information.  We are just amazed at the immense amount of wrong information that is found even among active members.  This is nice albeit challenging because we can SEE progress right away once we get the right information.  We still have much more to do but little by little it is coming along. 

Dad spends an IMMENSE amount of time and effort working with the bishopric.  It's a shuffle forward and them a big slide backward-so slow.  Order, planning, preparing ahead, counseling together-it's all counter to their way of doing things here culturally and without it you can imagine the outcome.  Too often classes are not prepared for, talks are not assigned in advance, callings are not issued and details are not even considered and the results are not pretty. He'll think they have got it and then wham, we're back to square zero. They are holding bishopric meetings at our apartment now that the building is not useable and so I get a little residue of his loud speaking (the bishop doesn't hear too well).  Sometimes it is almost humorous because it sounds like he is talking to kids trying to help them understand some very important yet basic principles and he'll use pretend examples to demonstrate the point. With some over exaggeration and then the reality of what we are dealing with, I have to admit how funny it can be. 

Working with our yet-to-be members has been very fulfulling as of late.  We still have Tuliana and her married sister, Olivia.  Tuliana is very outgoing and comfortable with people in general.  We met her the first day we arrived in Ba as she works at the store we bought our stove from but currently is laid off while the store is getting back up following the flood.  Last week she and another sister dropped by for a visit and we had a great time just talking for 1 1/2 hours learning about her and her family, Fijian ways and whatever.  She had told us about a waterfall we could see from her home and when we expressed interest in going up, she arranged having her dad and his friend (who owns it and the land around it) to show us the way.  We'll be posting a blog about it, but we had a such a great time and it helped bond us all.  Although talking with her dad was a bit difficult because of language barriers, I think he saw us differently after we hiked up.   He has not been totally supportive of her investigating beforehand. She has come to church the last two weeks and although we know she won't be able to come today, we're encouraged by her personal efforts and interest.  Olivia (her married sister) is in a different circumstance.  She married very young (15) to a Muslin man who works hard at the gold mine to provide for his family.  His parents and he are not supportive of her interest and although they haven't said, "No, you can't!" she knows they don't approve so it has been more difficult for her.  So far she has not been able to attend church (it is her husband's only day off) and she is less free with being able to envision her future by her own choices.  We have been struck with how many obstacles have been in place as we try to get together each week or so.  Tricky schedules, missed buses, missed meeting places, sickness, misunderstandings, unexpectedingly her husband coming home early--we think satan is really trying to thwart her desires.  She has been more spiritually invested from the start and continues to do her part.  We are all praying that her husband/his parents will be softened in their feelings towards her interest in the Gospel.

Viliame, our faithful ward clerk who had never been on a computer before now is preparing to go to the temple.  He is 28, single and lives with his widowed mother, his abandoned nephew, Simi,(whom we love -- Matt, this is who you spoke with when you were flying from NH), and then much of the time up to 15 or more other family members etc. Soon after he first met us, he gave us a stick with Fijian decorations and our names carved into it.  I could tell he was into detail and was taken by his quiet ways.  When certain callings were being considered, his name for ward clerk occurred to me (our role here allows for more involvement in these matters than they would elsewhere) and fortunately it has worked out so well.  Last time we were at the temple, I asked his mother if she was sealed to her husband who died many years ago.  When she said, "No", I asked her if she would like to be.  I'm not sure why this has never happened before now, but the time is right and Viliame is preparing to be endowed himself and then will be sealed to his parents.  He walks over to our apartment an hour before bishopric meetings where we have a temple prep class with him and then the meeting is held afterwards, so it works very well.

We are teaching a second set of young sisters (Mere 13 and Mili 9).  They live with their extended Bainivalu family during the school year.  Their father was actually one of the first Ba members but went into inactivty during his adult life.  We are having a really special time each Wed. at 5pm. Their cousins were all baptized a year ago so they come as well and participate and even have shared their testimonies.  Vacaseva (the artist) is their auntie and she also sits in the circle and is very involved.  One of the weeks we showed the Joseph Smith movie.  They would comment about the agricultural activities and we could tell how much they could relate because of the similarities for them here.  We were explaining about the maple syrup gathering. Of course they had no reference for it.  Amazingly, we got a package from Jackie and Tina the next week and they had included some maple sugar candy so we cut it up so they could all have a taste. We try to do a variety and simplify things.  Last week when teaching the Plan of Happiness we used dad's book as a starting point.  It is rewarding to interact with them, they are hungry to learn and love the attention.  Mere and Mili were not as warmed up to us but little by little we are gaining their friendship and trust.  We continue to have much hope for this family.  We are seeing some life from the adults in that village as well, and one of the moms even came today to church.  Dad has given blessings to 2 of the fathers.  Although they are not yet attending they too are warming to us and we see that as progress.  One is very artistic and makes silk screens for the school uniforms. Since we had given some paints to his sister, Vacaseva, he borrowed them one day and produced a beautiful landscape painting.  The next time we came he said he wants to paint us a special painting to take home.

This last week we started an Institute class here in our apartment.  Mistakenly we held it Friday night not realizing that the buses stop at 6pm.  Six kids came and now that we have moved it to Sat. afternoon we think it will be even better.  Most come into town Sat. to shop and so this would mean only one trip and then they can use the bus to get home.  Dad had not intended to teach but we were feeling badly that the YSA have very little going for them and yet they tend to be a rather strong group or at least potentially could be.  Several say they want to prepare to serve a mission and we hope this will help strengthen them. The class is "Teachings of the Living Prophets" and we think will be a real help to them.

The Nairoqos are ready to go to the temple but just have no money to do so.  Thankfully the temple patron fund will help them and Viliame as well.  We've had some great times together with them and count them as dear friends.  Bro. Nairoqo has such a fun sense of humor, even with another language.  There is one small problem that we are trying to help remedy - When checking the families' records we found that Sis.Nairoqo is not listed as a member.  She was baptized when she was 8 yrs. old but has nothing to prove that.  There are a couple different approaches and we are hoping one will work.  Being re-baptized would not be good because then they would have to wait a year to be sealed.
Happily we will be leaving the industrial garage and moving church this week to the Catholic church.  They have graciously allowed us to do this while our building is not useable.  It will be a better location, cooler, easier to hear and have division between classes.  Since the Stake started providing private bus service the last 2 weeks we have had 80-90 people.  Primary went from about 10 children to about 35!  At least our 8 month pregnant Primary president now has a music leader AND one teacher.   Since many of the new kids have not been attending church it is all new and even more of a challenge to direct them.  Today one of these little boys (about age 3) was following his older brother around while he passed the sacrament.  We weren't sure if he was just curious, hungry, trying to follow in his footsteps, or what, but it was cute.  Later that same little guy came over to me and hopped up on my lap and before long was asleep as I fanned him. 

So although we aren't maybe as traditional in what we are doing, we feel like we are fulfilling our role here.  We still are not immune to the frustrations of living in a culture that is so contrary to efficiency and success but that doesn't mean we can't experience regular joys in our life here with some of Heavenly Father's children. They don't take the place of any of you but they help fill our life with purpose while here.  We were told in the MTC (as I"m sure you must have also been told) that Heavenly Father was already preparing individuals for each of us even before we arrived at our assignments.  We feel that has been so true.  Immediately we have connected with some families and individuals and feel like it is a special privledge to have this time to share with them.  

We love you all and miss you but our gchats and skype sessions help us to stay connected and we really enjoy them.

Love -- Mom

Sunday, February 19, 2012

We're In Good Company

We work with some wonderful missionaries.  All of the young women missionaries are on other parts of the islands so we only have young men and they are hard working, dedicated, and love the Fijian people whom they have been called to serve.

Like most missions, we regularly review things that direct our attention to the fundamental purposes of why we are serving.  For example, our mission scripture theme is from the Book of Mormon: "Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life" (3 Nephi 5:13). And when we're together in groups, we sing the mission song.  Here are the missionaries we have served with in the "burning west" (the hot side of Fiji), singing:
After the song, two Elders let us take a picture of their legs which evidence one of the joys of serving here -- the incessant mosquito bites.  We are amazed that none of the elders seem to complain even though some react much worse to the bites than others:
We think of these little guys as "stealth drones" -- they are small mosquitos that make no noise and fly very fast.  It's rare to know they are biting you until after the fact and they are so quick that it's hard to kill them.  But oh do they enjoy our white flesh!  Sometimes the bites drive us crazy and we wonder if the Fijians are getting as many as us or are we just particularly tasty. When we inquired, one Fijian friend told us that he spreads coconut oil on himself so they "don't smell the blood," and that seems to work but we're not processing coconuts often enough to make this practical!  While these little guys are annoying, we are so fortunate that on our island there is no malaria so we're spared the double discomfort of bites and medication.  Missionary on some other islands in the mission are not so fortunate.

The young missionaries do not have cars in our area so they bus and walk through mud and water into remote areas each day, covering many miles a day -- and their feet take a beating.  Elder Walton and Haiman stopped by our flat the other day on their way home.  Their feet told the story of another long, dirty day.

Elder Walton has been out for something over a year.  His feet show the tell-tale signs of
sitting cross-legged, Fijian style, on the cement floors of every home.  Nice callouses!
Although missionaries come with the same desire to serve the Lord, they also come from very different backgrounds and circumstances.  Here's a brief sketch of the variety just in our area and some of the diversity we've become acquainted with:

  • an elder who was on track to become a professional surfer but left it behind to serve because he hopes his love of the Lord and example of service will strengthen his family as well as the Fijian people.  His detailed notebook is a reflection of his desire to seek quality and to organize his life to be most effective.
  • an elder who left his own little island country to serve on this island where he has been called to learn two languages - Fijian and English.
  • an elder from a family of 16 children who learned early how to be responsible and do his part to make the family work.  The mission president has recognized his ability to patiently help others succeed and often assigns struggling missionaries to serve with him.
  • a super enthusiastic elder who can make lemonade out of any lemon dealt him.  Perhaps this comes from his Jewish background as he blazes the way as the first missionary from his family.
  • an elder whose mission was delayed after a severe water-ski accident where he learned the patience and perseverance through a difficult recovery and that has made him a great leader in the mission field.
  • an elder who has observed and lives the Fijian ways that he easily becomes a friend and teacher to all.  He just plain knows how to relate to these people on their own level and style. They respect him and open their doors and hearts as he shares the message of Christ and the Restoration of His gospel.
All of have left family, friends, jobs and schooling to serve a mission.  Each is paying a hard earned price to learn the language and willing to put away the comfort of their native tongue. With genuine love and respect for the Fijian people, they are helping to fulfill the scripture that "every man shall hear the fulness of the gospel in his own tongue, and his own language, through those who are ordained to unto this power. . ."  They also exemplify the admonition: "O ye that embark in the service of God, see that ye serve him with all your heart, might, mind, and strength, that ye may stand blameless before God at the last day."

We count it a privilege to serve with them.  Being in their midst has heightened our admiration for our own children who served missions, and of the thousands of others who serve our Heavenly Father's children throughout the world.
Neither rain nor flood daunt our faithful missionaries 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Beautiful little ones

Who could not be drawn to the beautiful children of Fiji?  They live in such simplicity and although there is much to be desired, for all that they do not have we marvel at their guilelessness, their timid curiosities, their loving and respectful ways and the fun they so easily have with so very little.  We hope these pictures will begin to capture some of what we perceive from these young Fijians.
Ten year-old Ulamila Bainivalu lives in difficult circumstances yet
glows with optimism.  Her Fijian mother died from cancer when
Ulamila was a baby and her father was never in the picture so she
is being raised by extended family. She gives the best hugs!
Six year-old Ana is not only a great sister, she is also a budding cook.  We
found her sitting on the floor one day with a large knife cutting up eggplant
for dinner like she was a seasoned chef.  No cutting board, just rapidly slicing
the vegetable in her hands while carrying on a conversation.
Lilli Nairoqo is 5 years old and a beautiful bundle of dancing energy.  She
was so shy in the beginning but is warming up little by little.
One day, while visiting the Nairoqo family, one of the children threw a ball up on the roof.  Soon, we heard the patter of feet on the roof and looked up to find 7 year old Simi retrieving the ball.  How did he get up there? And how would he get down?  

Aunti Mere and Uncle Ben with baby Ifereimi.  Fijian tradition has baby boys growing their hair until their first birthday but this was the hot season and he happily got a reprieve from custom.
Interestingly, his dark curly locks grew back into a light brown after being cut.
Though we only met this family once when they were at the home of an
investigator, we were taken by their happy countenances.

A beautiful little girl at the market.  Indian families dress with bright and
fashionable clothing.  They go all out when they come to town. 
Olivia spent hours braiding Faiza's hair
Luci Nairoqo (15) and Ben Mateiwai (13) dressed up for church
Pauliasi Uluvosa - happy baptismal day.
Cane knives and children always seems like a bad idea but it is quite common - and they
really know how to use them!  We found these kids cutting the grass by a ditch.
Speaking of cane knives, we wanted to share a touching story of a 13 year old boy whose family have become dear friends.  He was coming to the traditional age for circumcision but his family had no money for the operation.  Earlier, during his school break time in December, he had worked in the cane fields to earn money.  This is very hard work and cane knives are large and heavy, but he worked all day for three weeks and earned enough that he was able to pay for his family's transportation into town and food for the family as well as the operation (a total of $50 Fijian - about $28 US).  After taking a bus to the town, his mother and siblings stayed behind at the open market while he and his father took another bus to the hospital.  His family had been at the market most of the day when we providentially met them.  After his mother timidly shared the story of what was happening, we just couldn't imagine this young man having such an operation, taking a bus back to the market and another out to the country where he would then have to walk some distance to their home. How grateful we were to be guided to contact this family at that particular time and be able to take them right to their doorstep.  What admiration we have for this courageous, independent, and responsible young man.

We found these boys enjoying a swimming hole with great enthusiasm.  This
scene is repeated almost everywhere we travel -- when there's a deep enough
hole in the creek, people are swimming, bathing, and washing clothes.
Jumping off bridges is their specialty!
Congratulating each other on a great jump . . .
. . . and so pleased that we took an interest in them!  Wish we could find them again to
share a copy of the picture.
Alvaretti Bainivalu (12) is the most engaging
young man.  One day at a party, he sat down
with us, "Tell me," he said, "about your generations."
And he meant it, he wanted to know about parents,
children, grandchildren, etc.  What 12 year-old
asks that kind of question?
A great Fijian smile worn perpetually by Epa Mateiwai (8)
Church was a just a little too long and everyone is used to sleeping on hard floors.  We put away
the chairs in the chapel and she slept right through it all.
8 month-old Isaac in a nifty home made swing
Epa Mateiwai long anticipated his father (Waisei) baptizing him
No fair -- first, chicken pox and now a slip in the mud!
Lucky to have big sister come to the rescue.
Ba Ward Primary Children on the day of their special church program
The Sunday before the flood, a thought occurred to Annie during Church of an idea to connect our Corvallis primary children to the children at church here in Ba. Plans were made to create a banner with the Primary program theme for 2012: "Choose the Right."  The banner would be created here in Fiji and then sent back to Corvallis for the children in the Church there to have. They, in turn, would create something for the children here in the Church at Ba.  Talented Vaceseva Bainivalu, happily accepted the invitation to create the banner:
Vaceseva (left), created the blue mock up of the banner for "approval" before doing the 2'x4' fabric banner.  She combined ideas from the Fijian flag design and the Primary Children's theme. She is
joined by a few of her extended family including her 74 year-old mother on the far right.
We should note that when we brought the paint, brushes, and fabric to Vaceseva plus a table and chair to work from, she kept exclaiming: "Oh Lord a mighty, Oh Lordy Lordy."  All this because this talented artist really has no supplies with which to express her talent except those we've brought and she was so grateful.

A few days later we picked up the beautifully completed banner and then began going to homes of children to add their stamped hand prints, agreeing to "choose the right" and send their commitment to the children in Oregon. This captures a portion of the activity in one of those visits.  Just one note, the father in this home is a police officer and was sure he knew best how to get a good finger print of each of the kids.  We think he enjoyed his role:

Load up!  If you're lucky enough to have a "transport" home rather than
walk, you jump in fast and hang on!
Shopping along side the road is common whether you're on foot, passing by in a car,
or riding your favorite horse
Handsome Simione (10) loves to hold your hand and have a long conversation
about anything, but especially our family.  He doesn't live with his parents
but is a great helper to his grandma.  He always greets us with a tight hug.
Handsome boys showing off their Sunday best
Fijian 007 and his bodyguards

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Is it on, or is it off?

 Two days ago, we sent the following brief letter to our family:

We wanted to write a quick note because of the unpredictability of things down here.  Our power and water has been off 2 days and heavy rain and a cyclone are predicted to move in soon.  Church has been canceled and our much looked forward to meeting with the Kings  on Tuesday is now in jeopardy because that is the day the cyclone is supposed to hit.  We still have water to use but no where to refill now that the power is off unless we went to the village which I guess isn't so bad.  Hopefully we will be able to recharge the computer from the kindness of the corner store man.  Plenty of food but obviously the frig has limited time.  We have a baptism to go to in a bit that will be done in a rather brown river.  We were down there a couple days ago scrubbing off the muddy chairs when we were preparing for this Sunday.  It will be memorable for all I am sure.

Now we have time to relay more of the "rest of the story":

Power and water have become such a factor in how we accomplish our day's tasks.  Is it on or is it off? Just when we think we are safe and can quit planning around the possibility of losing either one, we find ourselves back at working without the basics.  I'm not sure which is more unsettling to be without, but both at the same time is less than desirable because every household need and personal care task is altared or not possible.  Yes, we like and admire the simplicity of  pioneer life but we're having second thoughts about the realities of what it meant day in and day out to live wondering where your water would come from, is it clean, how shall we store it,  are clothes dirty enough to put in the dirty clothes bin, and how will we accomplish a task for which we do not have the means to power.  It gets dark early, food spoils much faster, clothes need washing and sweeping just doesn't do the same job as a vacuum at picking up all the tiny bits of dirt, bugs and whatever else we are constantly cleaning up.

As we tromp up the muddy trails and swollen creeks to visit families, we smile thinking that a few months ago we could not have imagined ourselves doing this.  Missionaries wear nice shoes and have clean feet and walk on sidewalks, right?  Not here!  I was on the phone with a friend from Suva last night on our way to an appointment.  As we stepped out of the truck into the mud and 8 or so inches of water, holding a flashlight, an umbrella and my filled bag, I tried to keep my mind on the conversation.  Hearing the splashing water, she asked, "Are you doing the dishes?"  "No, I giggled, we are just headed to our next appointment." When we got to the home, they offered us a bucket of water to wash off with and then we were ready to begin the visit.  It's only been 4 months since arriving in Fiji but life seems extra fine these days when we can turn the spigot and get water and flip a switch and have power.  In the last 2 weeks, about 80% of the time we've not had these luxuries.  The weather reports have been ominous speaking of more flooding and possible cyclones but in reality, we a have had only days and nights mixed with rain and clearing in between.  This has allowed ongoing clean up from the flood to take place and lives are being put back together.

In preparation for our Sunday services that were to be held in a church member's borrowed industrial garage, we gathered together some willing hands to retrieve some of the chairs from the church.  That sounds like a rather simple task until you experience the setting, think several inches of VERY slippery, stinky mud.  Just two weeks ago we had spent hours with the ward members cleaning and shining up the building to give it a sparkle, now here we are skidding across the same floor in several inches of gooey mud.There was some joking about all the "chocolate" we were surrounded in.  Imagine iceskating across the chapel and loading chairs from quite some distance.  We formed a fire line and passed the chairs one to another so the treacherous walking was more limited.

Practicing for the Fijian mud skating Olympics
Bishop Ratu guided us to a location along a river where he thought we could wash them off.  Along the way, I noted men dressed in orange jumpsuits carrying large hunks of wood on their shoulders.  It occurred to me they were from the nearby prison and were out to accomplish a purposeful task of retrieving firewood.  A bit further, we noticed a group of people rummaging through piles of muddy garbage.  Bishop Ratu explained that the stores had dumped flood damaged goods there and salvageable items were being gleaned.

 On to the river...if it looks muddy it is, but it served us well.  Without running water, it's all we have to clean with.  Add a good scrub brushing and some elbow grease and we were able to accomplish the task.  There was a mixture of play and work and the bishop in his thoughtfulness offered me a chair to sit on while I cleaned.  He also wanted me to understand that Fijians use sand to scrub their pots and pans when steel pads are not available. (I already knew that from my camping days but I didn't let on.)

Bishop Ratu and Lusi
By the time we finished, the rains had returned and we loaded all the hard workers into the back of the pick up and with rain pelting down, we headed back up the extremely potholed road.  They loved bouncing along in the back and Tom may or may not have hit a few extra pot holes to give them an extra thrill.

You may recognize Lusi from the chair cleaning activity
The Elders have been teaching her for quite some time.  She has suffered from lack of stable family life until recently when when she took up lodging with the Bishop's family.  I'm actually not sure of their relationship but it has allowed her the blessing of hearing the gospel.
She was determined to be baptized rain or shine and in the end it was definitely in rain and wind.  Her baptism was brief yet special to witness this young woman desire the follow Christ's example and admonition.
A quick congratulatory hug from Mataiasi Ratu
On the way home, we stopped by the grocery store because the Elders wanted to celebrate this special event by providing lunch for Lusi and the bishop's family.  They were soaking wet but big smiles on their faces knowing this young woman is on a path that will bring her much happiness.

So tonight the power is on and we are getting a very small trickle of water.  Our clothes got washed albeit taking hours to fill the basin, we vacuumed, the frig is cold and I even heated some water for my "bath".  Life is good, we're just hoping the cyclone keeps heading south out into the South Pacific and away from us.