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 10, 2012

The Heart of the Matter

Although, the idea of "late" does not exist in Fiji, our "Palagi" mind set sometimes chides us if we leave a bit later than planned.  We gather our "supplies" for the day near the front door anticipating what it may or may not hold for us -- think of Michelle Pfeiffer's purse in the movie, One Fine Day.  Recently, we laughed as we climbed in the truck and took inventory of all we had loaded: lunch, first-aid kit, Family Home Evening lesson, drinking water for the day, garden seeds for distribution, toy for a young child we'd recently met, plumbing supplies for a project in southern Taveuni, shovels, large cane knife (like a machete), Leatherman multi-tool, insect repellant, computer and teaching aids, shopping bags, scriptures, mail to be distributed (only one post office on the island), curriculum supplies, reading glasses for distribution, sewing machine and fabric, cameras, handi-wipes, phone, hymn book, and various pamphlets about LDS beliefs. Some, but not all these things fit in Annie's purse so if it takes us longer to load up and get away than expected, why worry?  Again, "late" just does not exist so we wonder why we sometimes get ruffled over the loading time and delayed departure.  By the time we're off, we really appreciate the blast of air conditioning the truck provides -- a true luxury that we never take for granted.

Somedays, we know what to plan for but other days just develop as we go.  Taveuni has brought new friends and varied opportunities to serve, but recently we had the opportunity of hosting a dear friend from Ba, Adi Tabualevu.  As an infant, her eye was injured when a piece of dry vegetation from the ceiling of her bure (hut/home) fell and stuck in her eye.  Her well-meaning aunt tried a home remedy and some combination of the two events caused her to go blind in that eye.
Rotary International paid her way to come to Taveuni for a free eye clinic they host each year where they do over 200 eyes surgeries, restoring the gift of sight to many.  Unfortunately, her condition was inoperable but the trip brought renewed friendship and a wonderful few days together.  We're not sure if she has ever had a "day off" or any kind of vacation so the sadness of her eye assessment was eased by our opportunity to be together and explore some of the natural attractions of Taveuni.

Adi's humility and goodness under difficult life circumstances was always an inspiration to us as we shared the gospel and helped her prepare to attend the temple for the first time.

Adi and her family (3 boys) live in a modest tin home that has never had electricity.  She and her husband, a good man who cuts cane for a living, had saved and saved to be able to afford a power line to their home.  Her dream was to just have "one light and one power point" (outlet).  When it looked like purchasing the required pole, supplies, and government approvals might be out of reach for them she said she just went in the corner of her home and knelt down to ask Heavenly Father to intervene on their behalf.  Soon thereafter, a relative said she would give them a pole, left over from the flood damage in their village.  The Tabualevus couldn't afford to get the pole transported from that village to their home so we were able to get it with our faithful truck that has performed so well in many unexpected circumstances over the months.
The pole had been submerged in flood mud and weighed several hundred pounds
If it weren't for this guy's ingenuity, we never could have balanced the
pole on the truck - a feat that took a lot of engineering
Secure but shaky, we crept along the road to the Tabualevu house a several miles away
Final resting place of the power pole near their home -- happy day!
Once the pole was in place, our mutual electrician friend Rafele Vutaga (see previous blog) donated his expertise to do the wiring.  

Wired but waiting until $62 more can be earned for the final permit and fees
before their dream will become a reality 
Electricity won't modernize the kitchen where cooking is done over the
open fire.  Thirteen year-old Sikeli stayed home one day when his mom
was not well and fixed a breakfast of casava and lemon leaf tea
Sunday was a special time to have her travel with us to the southern tip of the island where she jumped right in teaching and speaking in church.  On Monday we headed to discover some of the beauties of the island, all new to us as well.

Lots of rain had swelled the river over the road but we just headed through

On way to Bouma Falls

Apparently not wanting to be unidentified if I drowned,
I unintentionally kept my name tag on 
Her first time to swim in the ocean, collect seashells and have a picnic -- she loved them all
On our way home we passed this medical facility that is about as big as this picture
and the cutest thing we have seen here.  Thanks to Rotary International for giving
this village a valuable resource.
Headed for the ferry to return to her home, we stopped at the International Dateline.
Friendship across time and culture
 As Adi left Taveuni, we felt again that though we have many varied opportunities in Fiji, the heart of what we do always centers around people.  We've grown closest to those we've served and taught.  While helping to improve the temporal circumstances of people is always fulfilling, in the end, the most important thing we do is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ which improves and gives meaning to life now and lasts for eternity.

Our primary purpose as missionaries is to: "Invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end." Our mission theme scripture further highlights our commission: "Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life" (Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi 5:13).  This is truly the heart of the matter -- the thing we do that is of most worth.

On our first visit to the southern district of Vuna, we met Ela at church.  She had been invited by a friend in the village and we were immediately taken by her bright smile and sincere interest.  She was drawn to Tom's conversion story as a young adult and requested that we begin teaching her. At our first lesson, her sister Ana joined us and thus began a wonderful relationship we'll always treasure.  Their young brother, Apatia was already a member and he sat in on occasion for the lessons.
Ela (21), Ana (16), and their brother, Apatia (12) -- a family of bright countenances
On the way to their home one day, we passed by an open door to a neighboring home where we found Litiana. No one seemed to be concerned or took notice of her culinary experimentation.
Learning to prepare roti can never start too young
Ana and Ela frequently take care of little Litiana and she loved her balloon ball
kindly made and provided by friends in America
We loved teaching these two sisters who were so intent on learning
Often extras joined us as we taught them.  This day, the sounds from a movie
we were playing drew them in.
Several months of meeting culminated with their desire to be baptized.  It was simple, and wonderful to gather by the sea with friends to witness their baptisms.  We might acknowledge their concern when they were sure they saw some large creature swimming nearby which they assumed to be a shark.  The young boys threw shells out at it so all would be safe and also checked the sea floor for spiny things.  All went well and we lost no one, and we added a beautiful daughter of God to His fold.

Because Ana had been sick, a few days later she was baptized in an evening service just as the sun went down.

Each week our bumpy rides to Vuna have brought blessings to us to know and love these young women and the wonderful members there, many of whom live and work on the copra plantation.  As the saying goes, "these are days never to be forgotten."