Monday, December 24, 2012

Letter Home

Dear Matthew, Jessica, Sara, Birch, Emily, Ryan, Leah, Geoff, Seth, Caroline, Laura, Jared, and Luke,

It’s Christmas Eve day here and I just wanted to write you all a letter.  Had we known just what weather and other factors were in Fiji, we likely would have left in April instead of October for our mission service.  It would have meant only one Christmas away and two “cooler” seasons instead of two hot seasons!

We think of all of you and pray for you each day.  We were told that while we served, our family would be protected.  We likely mistook that assurance to mean there wouldn’t be serious challenges – that certainly has not been the case.  So many of you have faced serious difficulties that we know of and likely many challenges of which we know not.  We wish we could have been by your side, instead of relegated to long distance contact.  Thank you all for sticking together so well and supporting each other.  That has been such a source of satisfaction for us and softened the pain of not being there.  We know that the Lord has blessed you and protected our family from worse harm.  We also know that many serious challenges are largely endured in the privacy, and sometimes loneliness, of the individual soul.  President David O. McKay once said, that; “the most difficult battles of life are fought within the secret, silent chambers of the soul.”  Thank you all for being faithful through these difficulties when no one else is aware, can completely understand, or, perhaps even give help.

As was said by one of the pioneer company: “We came to know God in our extremities.”   I have felt this to be true.  Though terribly hard to endure these difficulties and what really are awful ironies, they have ministered to me.  I often think of President Kimball, who suffered so terribly during his life when he shared a poem he was fond of entitled, “Pain Stayed So Long:”
Pain stayed so long I said to him today,
“I will not have you with me any more.”
I stamped my foot and said, “Be on your way,”
And paused there, startled at the look he wore.
“I, who have been your friend,” he said to me,
“I, who have been your teacher – all you know
Of understanding love, of sympathy,
And patience, I have taught you.  Shall I go?”
He spoke the truth, this strange unwelcome guest;
I watched him leave, and knew that he was wise.
He left a heart grown tender in my breast,
He left a far, clear vision in my eyes.
I dried my tears, and lifted up a song –
Even for one who’d tortured me so long.

(Author unknown. Quoted by Spencer W. Kimball in,
 Faith Precedes the Miracle, Deseret Book, 1973, p. 99)
Though I often cannot see it, I have complete faith and confidence in the assurance that “the Lord God … doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world: for he loveth the world” (2 Nephi 26:24-25, 33).  That promise has given me more comfort and assurance than any other scripture.  He loves each of us, in that we can have perfect confidence even if we cannot understand the challenges which beset us and may seem so wrong from our limited and mortal perspective; “for he doeth that which is good among the children of men.”

We occasionally have conversations with you, or notice on the internet, that former friends and acquaintances have apparently lost their testimonies and are struggling to find their place.  They seem to have left the faith either partially or completely, or hope to mold the Church to be what they think it should be like.  It breaks our hearts to see this, and we know many of them are close friends of yours.  Though I’ve had the opportunity during a long career to read and ponder on challenging issues of Church doctrine and history, I realize that when it comes to the most vexing issues, we often know so very little.  I appreciate the frankness of Nephi: “I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things” (1 Nephi 11:17).  However, what I do not know has not persuaded me that I know nothing.  I know that God lives and that we are His divine children and this IS His Church.

I feel great sorrow for those who struggle with their testimonies, but want you to know at this Christmas season that I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, and our divine and kind Savior.  I know that the Church is precisely what the Lord solemnly declared it to be, and that Joseph Smith was truly a prophet whom the Lord loved and guided and “gave power to lay the foundation of this church, and to bring it forth out of obscurity and out of darkness, the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, which I, the Lord, am well pleased” (D&C 1:30).  I also know that testimonies are the most delicate of all living things.  They must be nurtured by faith, study, service, obedience, and repentance.  Truly, we only know the truth of the gospel by the power of the Spirit, which “dwelleth not in unholy temples.”  Your testimonies and individual faithfulness continue to be the greatest of pleasure for Mom and I, thank you – thank you.

We are finally looking toward the end of our mission, we will be so glad to return home and see you again.  We’ve certainly had our own difficulties and challenges, we’ve had to find our faith anew and figure out how to move forward without a critical and judgmental spirit.  Mom and I have grown ever closer together and I’m so grateful for this opportunity to see this wonderful woman adapt and fully engage in our callings.  I will never forget the beauty of her kneeling on a mat, with bugs crawling all over us and bodies dripping with sweat, sharing her sweet and gentle testimony.  It is a scene I will hold in my heart and ever be grateful for.

Our love to each of you, and my deepest gratitude to you for your faithful and loving care expressed to us.  It helped and made a difference to talk with you over the months and strengthened our resolve to be faithful. Thank you.


I wrote the following poem to comfort Elder Luke Smith, who was off on a lonely island and feeling isolated and challenged:

Well Done My Faithful Son

In a lowly manger
On a dusty road,
The Savior of the world
Bore his heavy load.

He knew the road was long
He knew all would not hear,
Yet every step and every word
He gave His Father dear.

We follow in His footsteps
We labor diligently,
Our hearts and lips proclaim
His matchless majesty.

He decides the time and place
For us to labor by His grace.
We work until our time is done
And hope to hear the blessed words,
“Well done my faithful son.”

(Elder Tom Sherry, Fiji Suva Mission, December 2012)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Gifts From God

Gifts don't need to be wrapped and under the tree, they come in many simple  forms of nature, service and shared skills of heart and hand.  The best gift of all is Heavenly Father's gift of his son, Jesus Christ. We love Him and are so grateful to be in His service at this time of year.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only Begotten Son. that whosoever
 believeth in Him should have everlasting life."
John 3:16
Fiji is surrounded by God's handiwork in nature.  Flying several thousand feet above the azure ocean gave us a heavenly perspective of these jewels of the South Pacific as we recently flew between islands.

From God's perspective, perhaps a rainbow is a smile for us on earth.  For us, this sweet and infectious smile brings God closer to earth.

And she is in good company
Not to be outdone by youth, Brother Stolz has 69 years of finding joy in partnering with God in the garden and he is a master at it without any extension service or chemicals!  He continues to refine his skills, understanding, and to teach and share his abundance.

Needing a trellis to conserve space he opted to grow these
cucumbers up a tree
Grew his own bamboo to use for trellis work.  Note the lettuce that
was planted to grow in the shade of the pole beans
Grateful for his long bean harvest
This dear man is full of wisdom born of experience and thoughtful acknowledgement of God.  We asked if he was able to sell all the produce from his bountiful garden.  He responded that he couldn't sell it.  Mistakenly, we thought he was having trouble marketing but he clarified that the original seeds had been a gift from the LDS Church and what was freely received must be freely given. That's right, all that he grows with the exception of a small amount for himself is given away to others in the village.  Since he lives alone, he also provides the raw food for a resort and they provide him with a prepared meal each day.  Brother Stolz devotes his waking hours to nurturing the garden and giving it away -- such gratitude!  Heart and hand working in perfect harmony.

The next lesson came quickly when we observed that the produce had very little disease or insect damage -- a rarity in Fiji.  When asked whether he used an insecticide, he said; "No, I have a secret treatment."  Thinking it to be some organic solution, he brought us back home to his fundamental philosophy: "If you give it away, the insects don't bother it."

And give it away he does.  We left with a armful of cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and later with a truck load of his specially planted bamboo from which we made Christmas presents for our friends in Fiji.
In our own backyard, we have abundant evidence of gifts from God.  Coconut, papaya, mango, breadfruit, and banana trees grace the grounds and we're slowing learning how to harvest and use them - Fijian style.
In the spirit of community and giving, we happened onto a community fund raiser for an elementary school in southern Taveuni.  We found our friends in Vuna calmly working together to prepare a lovo meal for over a hundred with no kitchen in sight.  Everyone joined in some part of the preparation or performance hoping to raise part of $5000 needed to construct a new classroom wing.  If an expansion was needed, families would have to fund it and they happily joined together to get the job done.  We loved our evening with them and the food was delicious!

Children are honored and celebrated in the church community as well at the annual Primary program.

 Everyone came together to laud their children's accomplishments with a
traditional feast-gifts from their gardens and the sea
Cassva, roti,chop suey, fish and crab cooked in coconut milk and curry 
 Fish harvest from spear fishing the previous night and cooked over the open fire
"Community" and "Village" are not mere terms in Fiji.  They are a way of life and source of pride.  When you ask a Fijian where they are from, they will always tell you their birth village regardless of long they have lived away.  So it shouldn't have been surprising that Frances Piquemel has continued to bless her village of Somosomo, Taveuni even though she has lived most of her adult life in Australia. Quilting and people are two of her loves and the results were astounding as you will see in the video.  Planning and preparing with dear friend, Jenni Steventon and their quilting community in Sydney, they gathered and shipped  boxes of fabric, batting, handmade pin cushions,  handbags, rotary cutters, cutting boards and 20 sewing machines to Taveuni for a community quilting workshop.
Some 40 women were blessed by this private donation as they had their first taste of quilting.  In the end each woman had made their own quilt and 29 baby quilts were also made to donate to the hospital.  The colorful quilts, handbags, and eyeglass cases speak for themselves but also launched in those two intense weeks were friendships, confidence, possibilities for future, and hope.  Each time we wandered through the work area, happiness, fulfillment and success filled the air.  Between those layers and stitched pieces of fabric was love and concern carried from generous and talented women; that is what will keep these Fijian women warm.  What a gift from heart and hand! 
Laughter often filters in our windows and catches our attention as local kids find their way to the nearby river. On this day, after their swim and harvesting a bag of leaves for dinner, they were anxious to enjoy their papaya and sat in front of our house in a rainstorm relishing this treat and laughing, always laughing and teasing each other.  Though they won't be opening presents this Christmas, they continue to find joy in such simple gifts.

Bathing and playing together and no membership fees
All these joyous kids draw our hearts out to our own children and grandchildren this Christmas season.   It has been a significantly challenging year in so many ways for each of them yet we cannot diminish the Lord's hand and watchcare.  We have not been spared difficulties yet we have been strengthened in faith and family.  From youngest to oldest these are our most cherished gifts from God.
Luke Sherry-senior in Fine Arts at BYU
Jared, Laura and Isla Watts in Salt Lake City, Utah
Sawyer Lee Watts, born Dec. 3, 2012
Caroline, Tommy, Cali and Seth Sherry back home in Corvallis, Oregon 
Isaac, Kate, Leah, Geoff and Lucy Wright in Mapleton, Utah
Ryan, Sage, Mila and Emily (+baby soon) Andersen in Spokane, Washington
Tyler, Chole, Birch, Nate, Sara, Alysee, Alex and Cooper Ditto in Yakima, Washington
Jessica, Lizzie, Sofia and Matthew Sherry in Salt Lake City, Utah
"Son of God, love's pure light"
The spirit of the season was beautifully set by these two missionaries generously sharing their gift of voice and passion for the Savior at our recent Christmas mission conference.

Our love to you this Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Letter Home

Dear Ones,

While dad is out braving the storm and following Ryan's good example of working through the wind and rain, I thought I would send you a little update on what is happening here.  The storm came in late Saturday night and is taking it's time to pass on.  Although bushes have come down as well as palm frons, branches and banana trees, we are fine.  They are encouraging everyone to stay put for now so our teaching appointments have been postponed until we know what is the future. Two Elders from Rambi Island ferried to Vanua Levu just before the cyclone arrived since one is painfully dealing with shingles and had no medicine available for relief.  We had hoped to take some medicine over this week when we plan on going but there is no pharmacy on Taveuni and the government hospital here does not dispense what he needed.  So glad they got out.

As we ride out the big storm (Cyclone Evan) we are also in touch with Ba.  Sounds like they are better prepared and time will tell how hard they get hit. They are several hours delayed from us in receiving it.  It started Saturday night here and is still going although it comes and goes in strength.  All is well here, we stayed home from church because we didn't want to get caught out somewhere with trees falling down and or blocking the road to get home.  Had a great productive day with art projects, blog creation and loving the huge gales blowing through the house.
I do admit to a bad night after hearing of the terrible tragedy in Connecticut.  After personalizing it to our own dear grandchildren I just couldn't sleep.  That is a selfish admittance because the tragedy exists without it being applied to just little me.  How can we make sense of such evil?  Little children in a place that should be safe with trusting parents who sent them off thinking all would be well.

This morning as I was reading, I came upon this,  "Among all the glorious verities given of God to his people there is scarcely a doctrine so sweet, so soul satisfying, and so soul sanctifying, as the one which proclaims- "Little children shall be saved.  They are alive in Christ and shall have eternal life. For them the family unit will continue, and the fulness of exaltation is theirs.  No blessing shall be withheld.  They shall rise in immortal glory, grow to full maturity, and live forever in the heaven of the celestial kingdom-all through the merits and mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah, all because of the atoning sacrifice of Him who dies that we might live." (Bruce R. McConkie Ensign 1977)  This is such a beautiful blessing and reassurance to help grieving parents go on.  What wonderful truths in the Restoration!

We know too many of you are dealing with very difficult circumstances and we are sorry we are not able to help.  Please know you are always in our prayers. Could there have been more of a testing and trying year then this last one?  I think each of us has been pushed in ways we could not have imagined.  Thank you for your faithfulness!  We love each of us so much and continue to know that Heavenly Father will watch over us even when we wonder why we might not have been spared our personal trial. 

Love you so much,