Friday, August 31, 2012

So Grateful !

August 16th 2012
One month after their awful car accident, Seth and Caroline, Tommy and Cali are a family on the mend.  So many of you have blessed them in the process with your faith and prayers, letters of encouragement, and generous donations.

On Wednesday, August 1st, we arrived in South Africa to a warm smile and hug from Seth but a clear message that he was ready to get out of the hospital.  Hospital food, interruptions, shared rooms, and being woken up to take your sleeping pill had taken it's toll and his surgeon, Dr. Vanheerden, agreed that he had progressed enough to graduate to out patient physical therapy.
Of the many kind visits and gestures given, one was from George and Carolyn Bonnet who offered their home for Seth to stay.  They currently live in Johannesburg and direct the physical facilities work of the LDS Church in much of Africa.  Their home and help to Seth was perfect and in walking distance to and from his physical therapy.  They also provided another room for Annie or I to stay in while we helped Seth along.
 For the rest of the family it was an evolving saga of various LDS families in Johannesburg offering homes to stay in, meals, play dates for Tommy, loaned cars, and an open offer for other assistance had we needed.  Once the flu had struck Cali and Tommy (after numerous night trips to the bathroom, Tommy declared that he was the "Vomit Super Hero"), and Caroline was scheduled for surgery on her heel, we needed an independent place to stay.  Like everything else in this blessed story, the way opened for us to have two apartments on the LDS Temple grounds complex-- just right for our needs and only a ten minute drive to meet with Seth at the Bonnet home.  To compliment the housing blessing, just when one car needed to be returned to trusting and gracious lenders, another became available until we left.  The beautiful blue skies obscure the fact that  an antarctic cold front blew through with snow and freezing temperatures as well.- quite a shock to our Fiji adjusted bodies.
Johannesburg, South Africa LDS Temple getting a new slate roof
In between Lego construction, baths and naps, we slipped in excursions with Tommy and Cali to the zoo, a bird park, a mall, grocery stores, and walks on the beautiful temple grounds to give them a diversion and provide Caroline with needed rest and opportunities to be with Seth alone.

Even though they were the ones who needed the date, one night Seth and Caroline surprised us with tickets to see Andre Rieu in concert, a world renown violinist.  It was a night to be remembered as his Johann Strauss orchestra was joined by the Sowetto Gospel Choir and others.
For a "taste", here is a bite:

Once everyone seemed done with the bug, we all got together for some afternoons and dinnertimes.  Cali was happy to be with daddy again and Tommy loved building lego creations and playing with him.

First time together at church in Johannesburg, August 19th
Five weeks after the accident, Seth had x-rays and then met with his doctor.  His vertebrae appear to be in proper alignment and mending well; they should fully calcify within a year's time.  The soft tissue swelling is reducing but combined with the nerve damage still causes a significant amount of pain and loss of muscle strength.  By mid September the brace can come off for 30 minutes a day morning and night and continue to increase that with each day.  As good as that sounds, Seth is warned that his neck muscles will spasm and be very painful as they re-learn to support his head without the brace.   Given all this we are so grateful to witness the strides he is making and he is certainly pleased as well.  Here is a little sample of his work in progress starting with his departure from the hospital:
On Saturday, September 1st, Seth is scheduled to fly back to Zambia to join his family.  Caroline's heel surgery has appeared to be successful and she and the kids previously flew back to Zambia the same day we left (August 23rd).  She has been so courageous as she coped with her own serious injury, surgery, mothering, and supporting Seth while bouncing around Africa from one hospital to another and in various homes.  It was great for us to be helpful and to fall in love again with Tommy and Cali (who we only knew as an infant).  Gratefully, Vicki Raynor (Caroline's mother), arrived the morning Caroline and the kids were flying out and accompanied them to Lusaka (Vicki's sister also arrived later that night). Vicki will stay 6 weeks with them to help Caroline and the kids. Periodic updates on Seth and Caroline's family may be found on their "Road to Recovery" website:

How appreciative we all are for all the support and love and for those among you who made our trip possible. Leaving was bittersweet but an important step as they move forward on their road to recovery. So much progress has been made and we are amazed at their courage, and we continue to acknowledge God's loving hand in all that has occurred.

Sydney, Australia was our stay-over stop on the way back to Fiji -- what a beautiful city!

Next stop - Fiji !

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Journal Entry

We are currently in the air on a Qantas flight from Sydney, Australia to Johannesburg, South Africa.  Yesterday we flew from Nadi, Fiji to Sydney and stayed overnight.  Our dear friends from years ago in Pennsylvania, Heiki and Vicki Rinne provided a ticket for us from Sydney to Johannesburg, and generous donations from Mark and Alice Rampton and Dale and Anne Kirby paid the way from Fiji to Australia.  The saying; “A friend in need is a friend indeed,” has been played out in hundreds of ways through the terrible events of the last 2 ½ weeks since Seth and Caroline’s accident.  Friends the world over have prayed, sent their best wishes and encouraging notes, and made donations to a fund set up to help S&C with the expenses they do now and will have in the future.  We have no idea how many temple altars have had their names laying upon them, perhaps dozens.  We cannot know the Lord’s will in all this but we see His generous and loving hand in the outcome.  Only in the future will we see more clearly the importance of this event in the lives of this young family and in the effect they will have on others.  Surely there must be some good that is intended in the great and mysterious scheme of God but in the words of Paul, for now we “see through a glass darkly”.

After Seth arrived in Johannesburg and before Matt went there to help, Seth Wiggins stayed by his side about 18 hours a day.  They were fast friends before but this experience will bond them forever.  Seth W. could not have done more, been more patient and faithful, or provided more needed emotional stability and optimism than he has – what a rock.  Many LDS Church members in Zimbabwe and Johannesburg have done all that could be expected and more to provide relief, consolation, and help – especially to Caroline and the kids.  Still, Caroline has in some ways carried the heaviest burden.  Though injured herself, she had to keep the family together and nurse her badly injured sister, Katie, to a state that she could be flown home to California for further recovery.  The kids have been disoriented, traumatized, and full of insecurity through all this and Caroline has had to take the brunt of their neediness.  The family is in a state of flux and may return to Zambia soon without their dad and husband.  They need the security and familiarity, and schedule of home and Seth will heal better if they are not there for him to worry about when what he must do is pay full-time attention to getting better himself.  We will have some time with Caroline and the kids before they go and hope that we can relieve some of her burden, hold her and let her cry, and cheer up Tommy and Cali.  Sadly, just as we arrive in Johannesburg, Seth Wiggins will be there to catch a flight home to Oregon. 

A few days after Seth arrived in Johannesburg, I gave him a blessing over the phone on July 19th.  It’s impossible to separate personal feelings from trying to be a voice for the Spirit in such a circumstance, but I felt guided and fervently prayed for the Lord’s help.  Annie took some notes: Seth Armstrong Sherry, in the name of Jesus Christ and in authority of the Melchizedek Priesthood I lay my hands on your head, as it were, to give you a blessing.

Dear son, it is always hard to separate our will from the Lord’s. We would have you healed in a moment and even protected you from this accident but the Lord is in charge and his hands are upon you, even angels have kept watch over you.  Just as promised in the temple and through the holy garments, angels would watch over you and protect you.  We cannot know tomorrow and we do not know His will today, but in faith I bless your body, your systems and all the particles that make up your bones even to the cells, with healing to function at the highest level.  I bless you to heal under the best care.  I bless the doctor and those who work with him to have keenness of mind, intuition and insight in future treatment.

When you wake up at night, while you know we are not there, yet we are sitting next to you holding your hand.  I bless you to know that the love we have for you is eternal. In the sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

The statement about his “systems and particles and cells” being focused on healing has come to pass in miraculous ways.  Out of a hundred people who suffer the injuries Seth has, 60% die, 37% live but are paralyzed from the neck down, and 3% live and heal with reasonable normalcy (though likely with some limitation).  But even among the 3%, the medical people who have worked with Seth agree that his recovery thus far has been “miraculous.” We will be in South Africa for 3 weeks and during that time he will likely be released from the hospital and either moved to an inpatient rehab center or to the home where we’ll be staying and have his rehab physical therapy as an outpatient.  By the end of that time things will be clearer for his future and perhaps he may even more miraculously be able to fly either back to Zambia, or to the United States for more of his long-term rehabilitation.

During the early period of this crisis, Caroline has said that she is “done with Africa.” That’s completely understandable.  But how complicated!  They have a home in Zambia, a job, and the uncertainty of the future.  Can Seth work again, and if so, when?  Should they pack up their things and move back to the US, and if so, where?  If they did move to the US, what would Seth do for work once he is able?  There are so many complications and unknowns.  But like every other step in this wrenching process, we have faith that the way will be opened.  Somehow the light will come, the path will be shown, and the many angels who have accompanied this family through the peril of the last few weeks will surely not be “off-duty” in the coming days and months.  We are profoundly grateful for both earthly and heavenly friends who have kept vigil and done all that was possible and right to bless Seth and Caroline and their children.

On August 24th, we will fly back from South Africa to Sydney, stay overnight there and the next day fly to Nadi, Fiji and then take a little commuter to Suva where we will stay until the 29th when we fly to our new assignment on the island of Taveuni.  We are switching places and assignments with the Kennerlys who will go to Ba this week.  We were told of this transfer by President Klingler just prior to the accident and he has patiently waited until things sorted out with Seth.

The whole of the last couple weeks have been an exhausting blur consumed primarily with setting near the computer to hear word on Seth and family, consult with doctors and medical friends, reply to the hundreds of emails that have come, and make plans to move.  But it is all behind us now and a new adventure awaits in Taveuni, which is called the “Garden Island” of Fiji, the crown jewel of relatively undisturbed and pristine beauty. It is 26 miles long and 7 miles wide, has one main road that goes over about half the island on the west side with the east half of the island being a natural preserve.  It will be much more rural and undeveloped than Viti Levu and Ba – even though that seems unimaginable in so many ways.  And the Church will reflect that rurality.  It is a part of a District, rather than a stake, and has 3 branches and 1 unit at the southern end of the island.  Our assignment will be to watch after and strengthen all the units, which means we will likely travel a lot and not have the intense relationships we have had in Ba – that’s the sad part of this new assignment.  But who knows just what we’ll really find and what friends we will yet make.  We do know we’ve left dear friends in Ba, people we’ve grown to love fully and without reservation.  We have had a few days of tearful good-byes and really couldn’t do that too much more, it was just so emotionally draining.  We gave our all there and experienced so much in the way of challenge and difficulty, complaint, and trial.  But that all seems small now and almost needs no mention compared to the joy of love we feel for those people.  I think that is just how missionaries the world over feel about their work.