Monday, December 23, 2013

"We'll Be Home For Christmas . . ."
. . . and not just in our dreams ~ we are home!  To each of you, our family and friends, we send our love and warm wishes for a wonderful Holiday season and a sacred time to remember the Savior of all the world.
It's wonderful to be home again ~ home with family, home with friends, and yes, "there is no place like home." We spent 18 months and two Christmases in Fiji, a time of loving and being loved, of trial and testing, of sharp contrasts in culture and environment, yet a time of strange familiarity with people we must have known before coming to earth -- a happy reunion to be sure, with friends we will treasure forever.

Now we have gone from our Fijian Christmas tree . . . 
. . . back to a Noble Fir harvested just up from our home and now nestled in our living room in Corvallis.


From a hot and steamy Christmas season in the islands . . . 




. . . to the joy of winter in Oregon




We left village life and our "family" in Fiji . . .






. . . and came home to our beloved family in the States, several of whom met us at the SLC airport (where we began our family visits before eventually heading home to Oregon).

 And before we knew it, all 33 of us were gathered for a family reunion (seven children, six spouses, and 18 grand children - two born while we were gone).

On the island of Taveuni, we lived in the middle of two worlds positioned between "yesterday, and today" . . . 
 . . . with our yesterdays being filled with missionary life and living in a third-world island culture where we taught beautiful people about the Savior Jesus Christ, and the "plan of salvation" made possible by His love, life, and sacrifice on our behalf.
Our todays are filled with family and projects, of service in church and community, of life in the familiar and comfortable surroundings of home.  We will always remember you for your help and support while we were gone, and hold dear our missionary opportunity amongst those beautiful brown skinned and happy people.  How could we not love them?

Merry Christmas,

Annie & Tom

And now, for those of you who know our kids and would like to see an updated picture, here 'ya go -- from oldest to youngest:
Our son Matt with his wife Jessica, Sofia, and Lizzie Jane
Nate, Tyler, our daughter Sara with husband Birch, Alex
Chloe, Cooper, and Alysee
Our daughter Emily with her husband Ryan
Mila, Hazel, and Sage
Daughter Leah and husband Geoff
Isaac, Lucy, and Kate
Our son Seth and wife Caroline
Tommy and Cali
(this is the family who were in the auto accident in Africa --
doing so well now and we love having them live near in Corvallis)
Our daughter Laura with husband Jared
Isla and Sawyer
Our son Luke, with sisters Emily and Sara

Monday, March 18, 2013

Along the Way

The uniqueness of life on Taveuni never seems to become commonplace to us so we keep camera in hand everywhere we go.  We don't feel like tourists but perhaps appear that way to our Fijian neighbors when we pause to snap a shot.

We recently took "the big boat" across the Somosomo Straits to Vanua Levu Island for a missionary conference:
We weren't the only ones on the boat, but gratefully we didn't travel tethered to a post!
Now that requires patience!
The deck on the "Stinky Sofi" smelled better than the gathering room so we stayed
out there most of the 5 hours playing Skip Bo ~ a fun game!
Apparently the young missionaries didn't get the word that we could travel in P-Day clothes,
or did we just make that up?
On another boat were our friends, the Batarua family who were headed to Suva to secure visa papers
for daughter, Lusi who just received her mission call to Ghana and was so excited!
Who needs the ferry when you've got bamboo!
Each day we see men and boys coming back from the hills where their farmland is located.  Always with a big cane knife (often the only tool they really own), they return carrying something for dinner when they arrive home.
Amazing how many coconuts this guy had ingeniously
threaded onto a stick for easier transport
Visiting the farms is so interesting.  The Ranama family are wonderful church leaders in Somosomo and work hard to grow dalo, cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes and other vegetables to sell at the local resorts.  Their farm is impeccably cared for and the little house is sufficient.  The farm produces enough to meet their needs and help pay for 3 of their kids who have, or are serving missions.

A creative "cucumber house"
Beautiful Cacao (= chocolate)
Our dear friend, Timoce was returning back from the farm when we passed him on the road.  We are constantly amazed at their ingenuity for carrying things. Here, he had woven a palm frawn basket to carry bananas wrapped in dalo leaves, and you just have to bring home some coconuts!  Son, Jone had more leaves, a mainstay for "green food" in their diets.  When cooked properly, the leaves are fairly tasty.  Not fully cooked, they cause an intense itching choke in your throat so we always hope the mother is not in a hurry when we come for dinner!
While the men were off working at the farm, Losana was in labor at the hospital and by the time they arrived she had already given birth.  On the day of our visit, we asked the baby's name.  Timoce indicated that his wife had chosen the first name of Saula.  He then motioned to Tom and asked; "What your name?"  "Tomasi", he replied.  "Then that will be his name, Saula Tomasi" -- pretty cool to have a namesake on Taveuni!  Annie already had a little girl named after her in Ba so now we are both represented in Fiji.
No matter where you live, clothes washing is a universal need so while the men are at the farm, women are often seen in the rivers brushing, scrubbing, and slapping the clothes on rocks or with sticks.  Water is always warm and pleasant so it's a great social time.



Trying to reach new heights in Vuna
This is the most lovely LDS chapel on Taveuni where the Somosomo Branch meets.  Because of it's size and central location in the village, it is a gathering spot for many happenings in the community and a place we have spent much time.
On this Saturday morning Annie met with the young women to teach them how to weave bracelets.  It was a simple craft and yet it worked with what supplies we have to work with here.  The next day at church their leaders told us they couldn't stop -- it's kind of like a disease once you get started.
On any given Sunday one never knows where you might be needed.  No Primary leaders came this week but just in case that should happen, we had prepared something.  The kids are starved for anything we might offer them and loved a few activities that went along with the teachings that day.  By the time Sacrament Meeting came along we had several new friends joining us on the pew.
Beautiful children that warm our hearts
Gathered together in celebration of the 171st birthday of the Relief Society (oldest women's organization) the women and young women
joined for the commemoration. 

We were honored that an aspiring chef/baker would volunteer his time to make this
special cake that served 32 appreciative partakers (including some wandering Primary children)
"What is this?", you might ask.  A pomelo of ginormous proportions.  Finally, the promised "grapefruit" of Taveuni was found!   

  With no small amount of effort, we worked our way through the burly peel,
and were rewarded with its citrus yumminess.  Paired with fresh avocado, the two make quite a duo.
In the absence of robins and sparrows, our papaya trees feed the local parrot population as well as the giant fruit bats.  Color is their forte, not their unpleasant squawking, but we wish you could see their iridescent blue wings as they dip and dive around the yard.

Beauty comes in so many different forms, from nature to the people who work, live, and play here.  Most any afternoon when we pass by the beautiful Catholic compound we see youth of all ages engaged in sports.  Never hearing what might be said, we are still struck by the symbol of unity in their circle.   

We feel the same way about our circle of friends in Taveuni.  Included among them are Sam and Ana from the nearby village of Soqulu.  Our first meeting was around the breadfruit tree as they visited and wondered if we had enough to share.  Over time we became friends and were especially humbled one day to find Ana on our deck when we returned home.  Seeing our clothes hung on the line, she feared someone might take them so she had spent the afternoon sleeping and waiting on the deck to protect them until our return.
Radiant Ana and husband Sam have known great sorrow when their oldest daughter at age 3 died from a boil on her foot.  Health care is so minimal on the island.  Sharing the Plan of Salvation with them was particularly meaningful.  On this night, little 2 year-old Lui, sat on the floor with his plate of casava and cup of water until full, then neatly put things away and crawled into daddy's lap for bed time.
Ana loved the skirt Annie gave her
Vuna members gathered in the "Relief Society" room (young Pai loved his guava so
much that he didn't want to give it up, even for the photograph)
Eight of the members pictured above have all been baptized since we arrived.  It's a joyful day every time we gather by the sea for another ceremony.  Sister Loma has been a long time member of the Church but her husband had been a Pentecostal minister and the kids followed his lead.  Blessings and divine timing finally came together recently as his heart changed and he was thrilled with the message of the restored gospel of Christ on the earth.
After a long wait and overcoming many challenges, Muri and Mele were also finally baptized.  Muri is an expert spear-fisherman and often provides the fish for branch celebrations.  We love it cooked in coconut milk (lolo)!

Dear friend, Ela
Along the way we've loved the sights of Fiji. Our minds have been captured by them and our time together with friends will forever be etched in our souls.  What a blessing.
"And all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth . . . and also all the planets
which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator."