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