Monday, May 21, 2012

"If You Can't Go To Them . . ."

Maybe the years do bring blessings.  Unlike the younger missionaries, while we can't go to visit our family during mission service, they can come to us.  However, Fiji is so far away from the United States that we wondered if any of our kids would be able to come.  Despite family and work responsibilities along with the cost of travel, that dream did come true when Sara and Birch "... came to us" recently.  What a treat!

Though they were arriving at 5:10am at the international airport in Nadi, 1 1/2 hours south of us, we needed no alarm to wake us.  We excitedly jumped in the truck and headed down the road to begin our short week together. We had planned two days in Ba sharing our life and friends together so they could get a real feel for what we do and what it's like here.  Then we wanted to show them the island, go to the temple in Suva, and explore some of the Fijian tourist attractions.  We couldn't wait to get started!

Sara has since done a wonderful job of chronicling our daily journey together and you can find her story on their blog.  If you have time and interest, each day can be accessed by clicking on the noted blog address.  In between, we'll add some reflections of our own.
Day One -

What better way to start the day than a swim in the ocean & pool!
We're grateful for the Westin Resort for letting us test out their facilities after we made a reservation for later in the week.  We did, however, have to change in the bathroom and use paper towels and the hand dryer to dry off!

Olivia and Tuliana made us promise that our first stop in Ba would be their home.
Faizil, Sahil, and Faiza
In minutes, Sara and Birch were like family and Olivia even demonstrated some of her Fijian home making skills.  Check out that cane knife!

Weeks ago when the second flood brought into the Church parking lot a metal canopy (carport), we immediately thought of its potential usefulness at the Nairoqo home.  The trick was getting the behemoth onto a truck and negotiating the cane roads to their home.  We shoveled the muck out of it and thought we could heft it onto our truck -- wrong!  Much larger and heavier than we expected, it was apparent we needed help both in manpower and truck-power.  Good thing we found willing hands, which included Birch, and a skilled lori driver.  Before long, the carport was sitting at the Nairoqo home.
Amidst the muck to the right, a potential treasure - are you missing it?

Weeks later with the mud dried out -- thanks for helping hands!

Safe at new home but not yet in final resting place
Back at home after a great day, an exhausted Sara and Birch couldn't wait to reveal to us the treasure trove they had been gathering, making, and weighing (it's a wonder they had any room for personals).  We're still overwhelmed with all the kindnesses that came from so many - thank you!!!  Note of disclaimer: when you read Sara's exhaustive list of what they brought, we want you know we did not ask for all those goodies!  Having such a varied assortment of gifts and resources to share has and will continue to bless so many.  What a good day.

Day Two:
Come Sunday morning, we became aware of how comfortable the temperature had become since Sara and Birch had arrived.  Was Fall in the air?  Were we to become liars after months of complaining about the heat and humidity?  Apparently so as we've never had nicer temperatures and they lasted all week!  Our "sob story" was saved however, when at least the power went out for an hour before Church.  As you can see from their blog, they were loved and welcomed and put straight to work!  How we appreciated their attitude and willingness to contribute.

Although they are 20+ years away from their time to serve a "senior mission" together, they are well equipped already.  We realized the added strength they brought as we enjoyed reaching out to many families and individuals throughout the rest of the day and into the evening (individual visits are well described in Sara's blog). Two plus two seemed much more than four when serving in such a wonderful cause, which we admit we feel isolated in from time to time.

Day Three:
Though Suva was our eventual destination, our drive across the interior brought many stops and views of village life in Fiji which you never get at resorts.
Sara included this traditional Bure unders construction, and . . .
... we saw it the next week all tidy, trimmed, and nearly finished.
In Sara's post, she showed a few pictures of the gathering, drying, and preparing of Voivoi leaves for mats.  Here's a shot of the finished product which we sit on every time we enter someone's home, they just have the nicest feel!
Soft and silky when broken in, these mats are traditional gifts at weddings and funerals
A really nice decorative mat by a skilled craftswoman -- 3 days in the making
Always looking for the native crafts (which we fear are dying out), we spotted this amazing palm frawn basket meant for carrying large loads on your back.
While Sara, Birch and Annie explored a little LDS Church building in a remote village, Tom was standing near the truck checking out the recent river flood level.  Little did he know he was standing next to the source of his greatest love - a cacau tree.  A woman crossed the road, climbed up the tree and cut off two pods.  Slicing a pod, she offered a marshmallowy, gelatin seed which we all tried -- strange but good.  After sucking off the outer cover, they roast and grind the seeds for cocoa powder.  Pretty nifty.
Not wanting to miss out on an adventure into the rain forrest near Suva, we changed into our swimming suits and explored the Colo-i-Suva Nature Park.  Sara posts some great pictures of our hike but here's some action (please focus on Birch and you may hold your applause for the senior missionaries):
Day 4:
Amidst some of the challenges we face in Fiji, coming "home" to the temple is always a strengthening respite.  A scripture describing the nature of the temple says: "Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God." It is all those things to us as it focuses on our relationship to God and His orderly plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.
One of the special things about attending a small temple, like the one we have in Suva, is that we have become friends with many of the people who serve there and we look forward to renewing our friendship each time we are in Suva. Early Tuesday morning the four of us attended this peaceful and inspiring "House of the Lord" and being together was an added blessing.
Zipping along with Tuesday -- from Suva we packed up and headed to the Coral Coast for a few days of more traditional Fiji tourism.  First stop was at Zip-Fiji, tucked away on the edge of a rain forrest -- what a thrill!

Gearing up - we were impressed with how safety conscious they were from start to finish
Check out them guns!
Before launching on any line, the workers at both ends of the cable had a system of
hooting and hollering in Fijian code to acknowledge all was clear for the next zip.
We were conservative in our zipping style but before we went off a
tower, one of the workers always went first and they did flips and tricks
all the way down.  Hmm, maybe next time?
Great equipment, great guides, great fun
To da beach -- off we went for a couple of days of swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, reading, great food, and even a massage on the beach.

Every night the local villagers would gather for rugby.  The sand looks nice but there was
lots of coral chunks in it -- ooh, ouch (not for Fijian feet though - like thick leather).
Turns out, Tom did get a little coral sliver in his foot.  Everyone told us how essential it was to get
it out immediately.  We tried and tried to remove it but were unsuccessful.  Finally he stuck the pin
back in the hole and it just fell out (hmm, little blessing?).  The motel owner gave him a lime
and told him to squeeze the juice on the wound to kill the coral infection, noting -- "it's an
old Tahitian cure."  Not totally trusting the local lore, he added some Bactracin. 
Sara and Annie off to the massage shack on the beach
We did enjoy eating out with delicious food and nice company.  Food in Ba is Ba-aad and
Ba-oooring so we never eat out (ignore those fries, Tom was waiting for his fish to arrive).
Being a tourist  for a couple days has its perks!
. . . it was worth the wait, and since it came late they did not charge us!
Perfect days and beautiful sunset evenings -- we loved our days together
We really appreciated these days with Sara and Birch.  Sara has done a great job of chronicling days 5 and 6 in more detail and we'll leave you to her blog for more:

After Sara and Birch went to New Zealand for 2 days, we had a few more precious hours together between flights while they waited for the red-eye flight back to the States.  It was hard to say goodbye but we felt refreshed and ready to get back to missionary life -- that is, after all, why we are here and for which we are most grateful.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

On Earth and In Heaven

The Suva Fiji temple stands on a prominent hill overlooking a beautiful bay at the edge of a peninsula jutting out into the Pacific Ocean.
Taken April 17th during Sara and Birch's visit
President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the building of the Fiji temple in April 1998 and it was completed in June of 2000 (prior to this, members in Fiji had to travel to New Zealand or Samoa to attend a temple).  A picture of serenity, the joy of the temple completion was marred by a serious political/military crisis (an attempted civilian coup on May 19th) that prevented the public dedication of the building.  Over 16,000 people had attended the brief open house before its cancellation due to the unrest.  After touring the temple, an Assembly of God pastor was heard to say, "This is heaven." In the end, only President Hinckley and a few others were allowed to be present at the formal dedication on June 18th. In his dedicatory prayer, President Hinckley included; "We pray dear Father that these beautiful islands may be blessed with peace, that there shall be no abridgment of the great freedom of worship afforded by the government of this land.  May thy Saints be recognized as good citizens and may thy work grow and flourish in this part of thy vineyard."  

"Heaven on earth" is about as good a description as we know of for the feeling at any temple, but we now have a real soft spot for this beautiful House of the Lord in Fiji.  One of our missionary blessings here is to help prepare individuals and families to attend the temple for the first time.  The temple is a wonderful house of faith, prayer, and spiritual education.  Another quote we like from President Hinckley emphasizes the latter: "The temple becomes a school of instruction in the sweet and sacred things of God.  Here we have outlined the plan of a loving Father in behalf of His sons and daughters of all generations.  Here we have sketched before us the odyssey of man's eternal journey from pre-mortal existence through this life, to the life beyond."  In the temple, we feel especially close to the Savior and better understand His immeasurable love and sacrifice for us.  How we appreciate that and feel increased gratitude for the expression of John the Beloved: "We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Over the last few months, we've been meeting with Viliame Nava (27 years old), and the Nairoqo family so that their first time at the temple would be more comfortable and meaningful.  On April 27th we met them and other members from the west side of Fiji after a 6+ hours bus ride to Suva.  Viliame is a terrific young man whose father died when he was a young boy.  He farms and generally takes responsibility for a large extended clan as well as looking after his 67 year old mother, Miriama.

They were so happy to be at the temple and to have their family "sealed" for time and eternity.  That is one of the great blessing of the temple, to know and be assured that God intended marriage and family to extend beyond the grave.

Little Lilly Nairoqo (6) had been been counting the days leading up to this trip and her mother, Elenoa, said each day when she came home from school she would run up and ask, "Is tomorrow the day?"  Finally, that day had come.  We cannot express the joy we had to be in the temple with this family.  Knowing all they've gone through to grow in faith, and seeing the happiness that has come from it has been a singular joy for us.
Elenoa's mother joined them for this happy day
On the way up the stairs to the temple that morning, Tom put his arm around Saimone and said, "You finally made it." A few days later, we asked him how he felt about what he learned in the temple and having been sealed together with his family.  He reflected on Tom's earlier statement and said; "Remember when you said we had 'finally made it?'  Really, I think we have just begun."  How perceptive and true.