Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Journal Entry

Caroline and Cali, Seth and Tommy loving life in Zambia
It’s Tuesday morning and again I’m up early with a mixture of exhaustion, broken heart, and what seems like an impossible dilemma.  About 3 days ago, our son Seth along with his wife Caroline, children Tommy (4) and Cali (1), Caroline’s sister Katie, Seth Wiggins, and one other friend were in a terrible car accident.  Katie was in Africa for the summer visiting with Seth and family (she just graduated from high school), and Seth Wiggins, who is our son Seth’s best friend has also been there visiting for a few weeks.  All 7 had left at 4am Saturday (Africa time) for a 15-hour drive from their home in Lusaka, Zambia to a destination in Mozambique (we assume they went for sight seeing).  After crossing into Zimbabwe, at about 11am the driver (Tim), fell asleep and when he awoke the car was going off the road.  It is assumed he over-corrected and the car rolled three times and ran into a tree just at the front passenger side where our son Seth was sitting.  They were about 1-2 hours away from the capitol city of Harare, Zimbabwe.
What we know to date is that Tommy was thrown from the car during one of the rolls and suffered head cuts and concussion, Seth was very badly injured, Katie less so but still significant, Caroline had most of the fleshy part of one heel cut off, Cali and Seth Wiggins (and we assume the driver, Tim) seem to be OK though all were banged up and cut.  Caroline tells of her horror as those able got out of the car.  She thought her sister Katie was dead, they could not find Thomas who ended up about a 100 yards from the car, and Seth was alive but obviously injured badly.  They soon found Thomas sitting up crying with his head covered in blood.  We don’t know any details about the eventual transport to medical clinics but what we do know is that the medical people first on the scene (long after the accident), were not well trained and the two Seths insisted they not touch our son, Seth, because at that point they knew he had significant injury to his neck and back.  They took the others to a local clinic that, from first reports, was dirty and unable to give quality care – we think they were later taken to the Avenues Clinic in Harare where they still remain as of today.  Hours after the accident, Seth was transported to the same clinic.

In some miracle, which we yet do not have the details of, Seth was not further injured by the transport.  We still don’t know the extent of his injuries but are told that he broke his C-1 vertebra in 3 places, along with C-7 and one other.  From the internet we learned that over half of those with broken C-1s die, most of the other half end up quadriplegic, with 3% not paralyzed and able to recover (an estimated 6-12 month period).  By some blessed process, an LDS doctor eventually was alerted and in coordination with the insurance company they were able to get a medevac flight for Seth to the Sandton Clinic in Johannesburg, South Africa where the care would be much more professional (flight time was 2 hours).  That move and the fact that Seth did not suffer paralysis in the crash, transport, and initial handling of him, are miracles.
The miracle of the Church network was soon in place and both the local bishop and his wife (Spencer is their last name), along with multiple sets of missionaries came to the Harare Clinic to give blessings and offer help – a true Godsend for Caroline who was left by herself to watch after Tommy, Cali, and Katie (not to mention her own injury).  It’s all been traumatic for everyone but Caroline has a terrible burden trying to care for the kids and Katie and be separated from Seth during this critical period.  Combine that with the fact that their car is totaled, they are in a foreign country, the clinic only accepts cash payment, and their temporary “trip visas” from Zimbabwe have expired. The bishop’s wife is caring for Cali and the Church organization is doing wonderfully to help where they can – thank goodness for that.  Caroline hopes to be able to get everyone back to their home in Zambia before too long but how to do that is unclear.  She cannot be with Seth at this time since she is caring for the kids and Katie and must get them back into their resident country.

Seth Wiggins accompanied our Seth on the medevac flight and is with him in South Africa where all tests are being re-done to get a more accurate assessment of his injuries (they didn’t trust the results from the Harare clinic), prognosis, and treatment plan.  They have been long time best friends and we can’t have wished for a more supportive, able, and loving companion for our Seth during this awful trauma.

Communication and time differences have made all this very hard.  We are trying to stay in touch with family back home in America, medical people in Johannesburg, as well as Seth W. and Caroline but Africa is 10 hours behind Fiji time and staying in touch with the rest of the family in the US means coordinating with their time which is 18 hours behind Fiji time.  Combine that with difficulty hearing and understanding (we call through our computer), and different accents in Africa, and it is all so complicated.

Annie and I are in a mixture of grief and terrible turmoil over what to do and how to move forward in a way that would best bless everyone.  Our son, Matthew, may fly to South Africa in a few days to be with Seth for a week and that would be a great blessing.  We have talked with our mission president about the situation and he has clearance from the Area Presidency for us to leave if we need to.  But should we?  It seems a terrible contradiction not to get to Seth’s side as soon as possible and yet we’re not sure if going just now is best since Seth W. is there and Matt may be there soon (too many people there at one time doesn’t seem best and perhaps staggering our visits may be more beneficial).  Should we take a 1-2 week “leave” from our mission and go there, or, end our mission altogether in anticipation that Seth’s recovery will be long term and complicated (not to mention the needs of Caroline and the kids).  We just don’t know and cannot get clarity and unity on what to do at this early stage.  The flight for us to South Africa is 45 hours long and costs thousands of dollars so that makes the decision as to what to do more complicated as well.

If we stay in Fiji – how can we ever get our heads and hearts into missionary work again while Seth and family are daily suffering?  I am so torn over this but we hope that time will help and Heavenly Father will guide us.  I’ve gone through bitter moments, angry that Seth and family were not protected from the accident.  Yet my bitter heart has been tempered in prayer knowing that this could have been much worse and perhaps they were protected after all.  I am on a rollercoaster of emotions and mental turmoil and hope that they will not get in the way of clear thinking and a humble heart.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Journal Entry

It’s about 4:30am and I’ve been up since 2:30 with a mind grinding over a call today from President Klingler.  He informed us that we would very likely be transferred soon to the northern island of Taveuni.  He’s working on a problem with another senior couple there, the Kennerlys, who have some health issues that likely will require they come to the main island.  Things are not set yet but we will likely go in a week or two.  Wow – can’t quite get our minds around that.

The young missionaries come and go frequently – every 6 weeks to 3 months and we get used to having them make a quick announcement and be gone in a day or two.  It’s been sad to see the good ones go, and happy to see others leave.  But in the midst of that, we begin to feel like “grandma and grandpa” who never go anywhere.  We were never sure if we would get a single transfer during the mission or stay the whole time in Ba.  Senior couples get sent to difficult and struggling areas and you plan on being there for a long time in hopes of making a difference.  So being in Ba for 9 months has endeared us to so many, sunk our roots deeply into the challenges and joys of these people, and began to feel “like home” (at least as much as possible when you’re away from home).

Leaving Ba will be hard – never really thought we’d feel that way, but it will be heart rending to leave behind people we’ve grown to love so much.  And we have 3 people we’ve been preparing to go to the temple for the first time and we so looked forward to being in Suva with them for that sacred and wonderful event in their lives.  We’re also intimately tied into the leadership of the ward here.  We’ve been frustrated at the slow progress as leaders come to find out just what it means to lead amidst the reality of their lack of experience, education, and a culture that is anything but organized and effective.  So we now are faced with questions of just how effective we were at enabling them to go on without a senior couple to guide them.  No doubt, we’re gonna shed some tears as we drive away from Ba for the last time (but they won’t be for the floods, heat, constant ash from the sugar mill, etc. which we are gratefully leaving behind!).

On the bright side, we get to see another part of Fiji and have a change from some things we won’t mind leaving behind in Ba.  And we are being sent to what is known as the most beautiful of the Fijian islands – Taveuni, the “garden island.”  From talking to other missionaries and looking on the web, we find that it is a preserved island with small population (about 13,000), 26 miles long and 7 miles wide.  Much of the island is a natural preserve and there are exotic birds, plants, and natural beauty everywhere.  In addition, the only road goes right along the ocean and we’ll finally be in the “Fiji everyone was envious of” when we got our mission call.  Everywhere you go there are beautiful beaches (with lots of sharks in the ocean, I might add), small villages of primarily native Fijians and only a small number of Indians.  Given its natural beauty and pristine preservation of flora and fauna, Taveuni is a tourist destination – not sure if that’s a good or bad thing when it comes to missionary life.

We have yet to be given permission to talk to the Kennerlys about their assignment in Taveuni.  Initially, we understand that the Church on the island is small and struggling.  We have thought that Ba was difficult, but perhaps we are actually going to a more challenging area, we’ll see as things unfold.  Taveuni is more remote and we understand that shopping for necessities and food is limited and expensive.  We have been told that our rent there will also be much more than we are paying here in Ba (and that is worrisome since we just found out that our renters in Corvallis are moving out and we’ll have to find someone new – bad timing).  So, lots of unknowns just now and moving will be a pain.  Even though we don’t have much as missionaries, we have stocked our apartment quite well and have lots of flood preparation supplies. We have to fly to Taveuni on a very small plane and will be swapping trucks with the Kinnerlys so that presents a challenge as to what to do with our food supplies and all the wonderful gifts we’ve been given by friends in the states to bless the lives of Fijians here.  We just don’t know if we’ll give things away more rapidly or try to box them up and ship them to Taveuni and what all that would cost.

I’m full of mixed emotions and racing brain waves and looking forward to getting this move behind us so we can begin to adjust to a new area and assignment.  It’s mind-boggling to think of another couple coming to Ba (if they assign one), and just how long it’s taken us to get acquainted with people and find our way around the incredibly complicated challenge of many, many villages spread over a large area.  With no maps, no directions, and no physical addresses (house numbers and addresses are a luxury for countries with a mail delivery system!), it’s taken us months to just find our way around and locate members spread far and wide.  How will another couple do it??? Well, about the same as we will do when we get to Taveuni – we just start over and begin to visit villages and meet people and be told the typical directions of Fijians – “go inside and in front by the big mango tree and you’ll see one house there; ask them where so and so lives and they will show you – plenty long way, Elder!”

Farewell to Ba, hello to Taveuni !

Sunday, July 1, 2012

"The Days Of Our Lives"

Need anything?  We could likely find it for you at one of the many "shopping centers" spread around the cane fields near Ba. They specialize in kerosene, wicks, hard-tack biscuits, and "tin fish" (canned mackerel in tomato sauce) -- just in case those are high on your list .
Or perhaps you prefer the privacy of a village spa:
Need a lift to the hospital? Elder Sherry is always on duty . . .
Or, do you just need your re-bar twisted?
And, where were you when we cooked for 20 hungry missionaries?
Makings for Minestrone soup (we also had sandwiches, fruit, banana splits,
and luscious coconut brownies)
How could we have known that the days of our missionary life would be so wonderfully varied and in many ways unexpected?  Our general commission is to strengthen the church and individuals, share the gospel, and spread good-will. The framework of our days include study and lesson preparation, training leaders, teaching the gospel, and interacting with the community.  It's our sincere desire to be instruments in the Lord's hands to do good wherever we can and we're often surprised by how many ways that is accomplished.  Of course there are times we don't accomplish much of what's planned but it's not because we didn't try -- Fijian foibles just get the best of us sometimes (but hey, "no worries").

Most days start with a plan, which sometimes begins to unravel.  Like today for instance: We wanted to support a young man we're teaching by attending his rugby game which he repeatedly assured us would start at 9am.  By 10:25 the whistle blew and most kids actually had arrived and some even had their uniforms on (no shoes yet, but they were working on it).
Joseph Bainivalu
Fijians are crazed with Rugby but sometimes a little low on gear -- we saw one boy take out
"the team mouth guard" and pass it to his replacement.
Ok, back to the "fall throughs": There are lessons and appointments that simply don't happen and with no phones (that work, anyway), we never know what really went on.  But here's one that should never have happened -  last week we drove 30 minutes to an area training meeting by local Fijian leaders.  After waiting an hour and a half, we were informed that they had "gotten a bit of a late start."  After 2 1/2 hours, rain had started coming down and some of our Ba leaders, who were still waiting outside to be picked up by the transport carrying the visiting leaders, said they were cold, hungry, and tired and one of them had a 3-month old baby with her.  Seemed like we had all waited long enough so we told them that we would return to Ba and take them home (another 30 minutes).  We never really knew just what held them up so long and the leaders never bothered to inform us.  Oh well, maybe next year? But there was still time to stop by a home where the couple had asked us to visit about family problems. It went well and on the way home we encountered a vehicle with a flat tire and no torch(flashlight) so we pulled up behind them, shining our headlights on the tire and held a torch for them.  They spoke Hindi so we didn't talk much but we parted with a smile, handshake, and secure tire -- at least that was successful! It was a day full of surprises.

The week before we had a day that went like this: We found out that some American ophthalmologists would be in town to do free eye exams as a cooperative with the Lion's Club.  We made arrangements with the caretakers and neighbors of an 84 year-old Indian woman to get her in to be seen if she could come by 8am.
Sister Naicker after we gave her a pair of reading glasses so lovingly donated by the Ramptons
and Sara and Birch.  We didn't know at the time that her cataracts were likely so
bad that she couldn't see with them anyway.  But she thanked us profusely so we
thought they were helping!
We arrived at 7:45am to get one of the 50 reserved spots of people to be seen that day and then at 8, Sister Naicker arrived in a car driven by her son -- and it was the first time she'd been out of the house for about a year since a hip problem.  But the exam room was up two substantial flights of stairs and she had only just recently begun to walk again with the help of a walker.  The assistant organizer helped her out of the car and then sweetly said (in Hindi); "Nani - put your arm around my neck" ("Nani" is the fond term for "sweet old lady"). Then with one whoosh, he bent down and scooped her up and scampered up the stairs.  Here she is coming down 4 hours later after her exam:

Get ready - here comes another kiss from a woman who is endlessly
grateful to everyone who helps.
Then it was off to help Rafele Vutaga with the "oh-so-slow" process of building a new home after his was lost in the flood.  We love going there each week and we're learning a lot about Fijian building methods.
Only enough money to build one column a day and fill it with cement.  Then
they knock off the wooden frame and reuse it for the next column.

In the future, we'll do a whole feature on this house going up -- so interesting!
After finishing at Rafele's we hurried back for a tuna sandwich and then were off to another far out location to meet with a 58 year-old widower and teach a lesson about the gospel and church as established by the Savior during his lifetime.  Petero is a wonderful man who is the youth mentor and music director for a Pentecostal church.  He is well read and sincere and we love sharing with him.  But alas, when we got to his little home, he was not there.  We waited for some time and then left him some banana bread -- only to find out later that he was out in the field cutting grass by hand for a thatched bure and lost track of time. He went running after us but we never were aware and left him jogging down the road -- how sad!  The next week we were successful and he was very apologetic for the missed appointment.
Petero Biligi
By this time, we had found out that Sister Naicker was in need of immediate eye surgery to the tune of $500 which she did not have.  Annie got on the phone and contacted the head of the local Lion's club, an Indian man named Birj Dayal and told him of Sister Naicker's plight.  He asked us to write a letter describing her financial situation and bring it to him.  We had no idea that he was the head of a very large and successful construction business and we had a gracious meeting with him where he felt certain he could get the price of the surgery significantly reduced, perhaps even free.  We're still waiting for the board of directors to make a decision but we are hopeful.  On the way home, we stopped at the church to work on the records, which are full of mistakes due to the Fijian custom of many names which change often and little interest in dates -- time is just relatively unimportant to them.

Then it was off to Sonica's home where Annie wanted to explore fixing her sewing machine (and she was successful).  Very few people own sewing machines and her husband was unhappy that she had spent the money and now it wasn't working. Annie to the rescue!  Sewing, even by hand, is not common here and people often ask Annie to fix something even though we have no machine here and all her work is hand stitched.  Recently we were at the Viliame Bainivalu home to take a picture, visit, and watch The Black Stallion together (their kids love horses).  Annie had observed Joseph's torn sulu and offered to fix it, noticing the offer his sister brought out a skirt that needed to be resized, then another sister came out with a school uniform that needed a new pocket.  As you can all guess, two days later Annie had everything adroitly finished.
The whole Bainivalu family with a couple cousins thrown in
We don't get bored!  And when we have unplanned time on our hands we can always deliver one of the many donated balls which came from the Kings in Corvallis, or make a swing for some of the village children.
Simione helping out with the construction
Sikeli and niece
Another privilege of visiting people in the villages is observing first-hand the faith of people who struggle with a lot of sickness, disease, infections, and injuries -- but who have no money for private doctors (and the public health system is very minimal).  Too often we'll be visiting and someone is limping around on one foot, suffering from boils, has a leg wrapped from an injury, or is down with an unidentified illness.  They either seek out or willingly accept an offer for a priesthood blessing.  Between that and their faithful prayers, it's amazing to see how many of them are healed from serious maladies, and very quickly in most cases.  This has been a constant source of miracles for which we are very grateful to be a part.

And the greatest miracle of all is to have the privilege of teaching someone the gospel, having them discover for themselves their divine heritage, and come to know that the restoration of the gospel actually occurred. To be part of helping a person travel that path is a distinct privilege.  We first met 15 year-old Miriama while visiting her grandmother.  She was conscientiously studying and doing her homework by a kerosene lantern.  We were impressed by her quiet yet intense nature and some weeks later were able to visit with her at church when she accompanied her grandmother.  She is an only child and because her grandma lives close to her school, she can attend without having to travel and pay bus fare.  The two of them do quite well together and these past few months we have been humbled to sit upon their mat and share truths and blessings of the restored gospel.  She even started attending Seminary(after school religion class where the Old Testament is being studied) weeks before her baptism.  Her mother willing supported Miriama's desire to be baptized and is now preparing for her own baptism.  As we have so often expressed, these people live in such humble circumstances and yet are ever desirous to be be nourished by the good word of God.
Grandmother, Mate Vidri, and Miriama
Miriama Saqali at her baptism, June 9, 2012
No, we never could have imagined the variety of experiences which fill a missionary's daily life.  What will be happening tomorrow?  We'll just wait and see.