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

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Annie's Homecoming Talk – Corvallis 3rd Ward (April 28, 2013)

          I prepared for my talk today in the old-fashioned way – with paper and pen.  Being frugal, I pulled out an old spiral notebook – a cast off from Seth’s middle school days.  As I looked through for some blank pages, I came across the talk I shared with 3rd ward some 18 months ago.  Recognizing that you may not remember all that I said at that time, I wanted to include a bit of it today.  I am amazed at how accurate I was then as to what our mission to Fiji would include:
            “Hopefully there will be opportunities in Fiji to assist our brothers and sisters there, in realizing the fullness of the blessings available through the Gospel of Jesus Christ . . . I foresee us having opportunities to share heartfelt concerns with humble families and individuals who are seeking a better understanding of life’s purposes.  They will love the Lord and will want to more fully understand His teachings as restored through our Prophet Joseph Smith, and continue to be taught by our modern day prophets.  If we can extend and multiply the kind of relationship and experience we have had with the Bohan family s they have come sincerely seeking eternal truths, then we may not want to come home.  Perhaps we will be asked to assist newly called branch or ward leaders who are young in the Gospel.  As a lay church, we ask so much of members.  Isolated off on some little island, maybe we can lend some support.  Hopefully some things we have experienced along the way here will help someone there.  I hope we will be able to be instruments in the Lord’s hands to help fill whatever needs we can.”
            We arrived in Fiji with a desire to serve.  Just how we would fulfill that desire unfolded each day.  Our mission president gave us some guidelines and then left the rest up to us.  In our quest to be the Lord’s hands to these oh-so-humble people, our lives were blessed as well.  As most of you know already, as we give service we are in turn strengthened and our conversion to gospel principles grows.  This was true for me!
            Before we had even left the United States we had a wonderful tender mercy from the Lord in the SLC airport.  We had several hours to wander and take in the fact that we would be leaving our home, family and country for 18 months.  We were emotional and unsettled with the unknown.  As we were finding our way to our gate, we noticed a woman walking close by who also wore a missionary name tag.  We were drawn to her and asked where she might be going.  She explained that she and her husband were serving as mission president and that she had traveled with a sick sister to return her back to her family so she could heal.  As a professional nurse she was just the right person to comfort this ailing sister and for us she was just the right person to comfort our worried hearts.  She hugged us and reassured us that she understood our fears but that Heavenly Father would watch over all. We shed a few tears that came easily and know that it was a tender mercy for us.
            This was such a special, personal reassurance from Heavenly Father.  We knew the He knew we needed a hug – not just a physical hug, but a spiritual one that said; “I know you and love you.  I will be at your side.”  We were leaving behind our family and friends, but we were not forgotten.  This reminds me of Elder Bednar’s insightful address on “tender mercies”:
     “The Lord’s tender mercies are the very personal and individualized blessings, strength, protection, assurances, guidance, loving kindnesses, consolation, support, and spiritual gifts which we receive from, and because of, and through the Lord Jesus Christ.  Truly, the Lord suits his mercies according to the conditions of the children of men. We should not underestimate or overlook the power of the Lord’s tender mercies.”
            Throughout our mission, we could see the Lord’s hand.  We would find people with directions that included things like: “Go towards the hill until you see a mango tree.  Turn until you get to the coconut palm on the inside.  Turn past the cane field road and then in the village ask for her.  What is the name of the person you’re looking for?”  Ulamila Bainivalu, we replied. “Oh yea, everyone will know her.  Just ask someone in the village.”  As we sought to find the lost sheep, God guided us to them.
            One of the amazing tender mercies we would experience regularly was just running into individuals we needed to see.  They would just “happen to be” where we would be.  While we had our 5 short days of preparation in the MTC, one of the promises we were given was that the Lord was preparing those who we would teach even before we arrived.  For us, this was realized on our first day in Ba.  [relay the story of Tuliana]
            These tender mercies were surely an ongoing blessing then, and remain in place for us all at any time in our life.  Acknowledging and thanking Heavenly Father is important as we grow in appreciation for the way He personally blesses us.
            As we went about getting acquainted with the members in Fiji, we would go to their homes.  Usually, that would include sitting together on a hand-woven mat on the floor, singing some hymns, and having a prayer.  We would try to learn their names and figure out who was in the immediate family, who was extended family, and who was a neighbor who just happened to be there to join in.  As we talked and listened, we became aware of struggles and trials they were dealing with.  One or the other of us would often feel prompted to ask if they would like a priesthood blessing.  That opened many special opportunities to extend Heavenly Father’s hand to those humble and faith-filled people, as well as a personal way to see faith and priesthood power bring about miracles.
            One Sunday night, when our daughter Sara and husband Birch were visiting us, we stepped into a humble home, with low ceilings and a dirt floor.  A kerosene lamp was burning and the family was sitting around talking. We sang some hymns and visited with the family when we found that 15 year-old Miriama had a very bad foot infection.  Birch dressed her wounds and he and Tom gave her a blessing.  Her mother wept and the visit contributed to their eventual interest in learning more of the Church.  By the time we left Fiji, all were members.
            Later, we would help Miriama’s grandmother also become active again and prepare to go to the temple.  Sister Mate was a special person and we felt we were on holy ground when we visited her little tin shack where she helped us teach Miriama the lessons.
            Other tender mercies included helping Temesi Naio; and most personally, the blessings we experienced when our son Seth and his wife Caroline and family were in their terrible auto accident in Africa.  [share stories]
            Challenges of living in Fiji tested us to the max.  It is so hot and humid, there are bugs and geckos and mice and rates and they feel as welcome inside as out.  True, it is a tropical paradise but it was no vacation!  Our commitment to honor the covenants we have made in the temple were put to the test.  Would we be willing to give our all to the building of His Kingdom?
            In the process, I need to be honest that we were not free from some murmuring.  Efficiency and effectiveness are pretty much non-existent in the Fijian culture.  The absence of working phones, clocks and calendars, etc. make for big challenges as well.  Resetting our expectations of what, how, and when we could accomplish tasks and training had to be much reduced.  We wish there might have been more measurable progress.  But the lasting gift of grace that came as we sought to extend the Lord’s hand to these sweet people was felt and appreciated.  Especially as we helped them prepare to go to the temple so that they too could make sacred covenants with the Lord.  Within a congregation, there are few who will seek these blessings so it definitely was a privilege to be a part of it.
            On our last day in Fiji, we were able to return to our first area of service and say goodbye to our first Fijian friends.  We were happy to be able to give away much of what we had brought (clothing, shoes, tools, etc.).  One of the dear, dear families we had been to the temple with and who we had become particularly close to, responded after giving them some things: “If you had never given us anything, you have given us the best gift we could have” [by helping them become active, receive the priesthood, and be sealed in the temple].  After all is said and done, we leave dear friends who know we love them and care about them.
            As I reflect on some of these blessings that have been in greater focus since our time in Fiji, I am most grateful for the conviction I have of Heavenly Father’s love for all His children.  He has a perfect plan of happiness that is extended to all.  His mercy reaches out to those in distant island lands, as well as developed and privileged continents.  All will be made right.
            It was a privilege to serve along side my dear husband.  We were pretty much "it" when it came to local support and I could not have made it without him.  Serving, surviving, and sacrificing together has strengthened us even more.
            Thank you, thank you for embracing our family during some real difficult times.  As we represented the Lord, we also felt like you were on our side.  I know the true gospel has been restored to the earth by the prophet Joseph Smith, and that Jesus Christ is our Savior.

Tom's Homecoming Talk – Corvallis 3rd Ward (April 28, 2013)

1) So good to be home, thanks for all your support – mission & home

2) Nearly two years ago, in May of 2011, Annie and I opened a large white envelope and read a letter over the signature of the Prophet: “You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  You are assigned to labor in the Fiji Suva Mission . . . Your purpose will be 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.  As you serve with all your heart, might, and strength, the Lord will lead you to those who are prepared to be baptized.  The Lord will reward you for the goodness of your life.  Greater blessings and more happiness than you have yet experienced await you as you humbly and prayerfully serve the Lord in this labor of love among His children.”
         There is nothing quite like receiving such a letter, it changes you forever and soon you walk among those who wear the black badge – who dedicate all their time, energy, and resources to magnify their callings and work full-time in the service of their fellow beings in some divinely chosen spot of the world.  Ours was on a little set of islands among a beautiful brown skinned and smiley people whom we came to love with such emotion that we are scarcely able to speak of them without tears.

Here’s a passages that describes something of our experience and which has become fondly embedded in our minds and hearts:

“And they fasted much and prayed much that the Lord would grant unto them a portion of his Spirit to go with them, and abide with them, that they might be an instrument in the hands of God to bring, if it were possible, their brethren, the [Fijians] to the knowledge of the truth.  And the Lord did visit them with his Spirit, and said unto them: Be comforted.  And they were comforted.  And the Lord said unto them also; Go forth among the [Fijians], thy brethren, and establish my word; yet ye shall be patient in long suffering and afflictions, that ye may show forth good examples unto them in me, and I will make an instrument of thee in my hands unto the salvation of many souls.” (Alma17:9-11)

We study our scriptures and see that we must "becometh a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [us], even as a child doth submit to his father" (Mosiah 3:19); and we think we are just beginning to understand what that might really mean.

“Then we go to some little home, so barren of any possession that it is startling, and we have the sweetest sharing time.  We hear an old woman, Sister Mate, telling how she was inspired by a scripture to pray that she might just make a dollar or two that day at the market so she could afford to go to church - and the Lord answered her prayer.  We hear the Nairoqo family telling us that we were their "saviors," and we get a tearful kiss and grateful smile from a little old Indian woman who speaks no English - simply because we visited her and brought a pair of reading glasses from the dollar store (thanks Sara & Birch). We share a lesson on the plan of salvation with a 58 year-old man who lost his wife last year and he says, "I have never heard of these things before, but they sit right with me." And we wonder how we could be so ungrateful as to [have felt at times that our mission was] largely a waste of time.” (Journal Entry – 9)

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, “Our needed conversions are often achieved more readily by suffering and adversity than by comfort and tranquility . . . Father Lehi promised his son Jacob that God would ‘consecrate [his] afflictions for [his] gain’ (2 Nephi 2:2).  And the Prophet Joseph was promised that, “thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on High” (D&C 121:7-8).

We came home with a big mixture of feelings.  It was a hard mission, a wonderful mission, and a refining and eye-opening mission.  We had moments of such difficulty and discouragement that we wondered if we could go on, but we also had moments of such deep and indescribable joy that we hope to never forget.  Our testimonies have grown and our dependence on, and love for the Lord have certainly become deeper.  We heard one missionary share his testimony upon departure, using an allusion to the Lord taking Peter, James, and John “a little further” into the garden of Gethsemane from the other 8 apostles so they could “watch” with Jesus as he suffered.  The missionary said that he felt his mission had taken him “a little further into the Garden.”  I loved that thought and feel just the same.


The following weekend, we gave a more thorough account of our mission to the Corvallis community in an informal "fireside" presentation.  That pretty much tidied up our mission experience as we settled back into family and community ~ forever grateful.
Perhaps we will close with the sentiment of other "returning missionaries" in the Book of Mormon, as they recalled the blessings of their difficult but oh so important mission: "Therefore, let us glory, yea, we will glory in the Lord; yea, we will rejoice for our joy is full; yea, we will praise God forever.  Behold, who can glory too much in the Lord?  Yea, who can say too much of his great power, and of his mercy, and of his long-suffering towards the children of men?  Behold, [we] say unto you, [we] cannot say the smallest part which [we] feel" (Alma 26:16).

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Taking Off "The Badge"

When we finally arrived home from Fiji, and traveling to visit our children, President Craig Cole (Corvallis Stake President) formally released us from our mission service.  He also presented us with a letter from our mission president, Kenneth Klingler, along with certificates in English and Fijian.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Journal Entry ~ Home at Last!

We arrived in Salt Lake City at 9pm on March 23rd and made our way from the terminal to the baggage claim area.  As we came down the escalator we heard a shout and looked out at a happy gathering of my Mom and Rudy, Leah, Matt and Jessica, Laura, and Luke all holding a big banner: “Bula Home.”  We could barely wait to get to the bottom of the escalator before running into their arms and feeling the joy of being home with family – we made it, we did it.  Is not that a perfect forecasting of what it will be like to return home to our Heavenly parents, Savior, and family?  I think so.

After hugs and tears, laughter and chatting, we gathered our things and parted paths.  We went off to Laura’s home to begin our days visiting each family.  The next day was especially wonderful as we went to Church with all of the Watts family, Matt and Leah’s families, my Mom and Rudy, and Luke along with a few other invited friends to bless Sawyer Lee Watts.  We were delighted to find Philip and Debe Barlow among those who had been invited, and to renew friendship with these dear friends from the past who now live in Logan.  After sacrament meeting we went back to Laura’s to visit and feast on wonderful salads and soups.  It was a great day.

On Monday, we went to our first stores --- SHOCK!  We determined that it may not be an exaggeration to say that there is more merchandise in one Walmart store in America than there is in all stores combined in the country of Fiji (particularly if you exclude Suva).  We are just aghast at the luxury, availability, and over-the-top worldliness that abounds here.  It makes us uncomfortable.

We enjoyed our days with Laura, then went to Matt’s for a couple days (including a surprise BD party for Matt), then down to Leah’s and now back to Matt’s.  We have enjoyed each day though living out of a suitcase and adjusting to the time differences have been difficult.  Yesterday was the beginning of General Conference and it has been wonderful to see the sessions and last night go to the Conference Center for Priesthood with Matt and Luke.  Afterwards, Annie joined us for dinner at an Asian restaurant and a good visit together.  It was just amazing to be at the conference session.  Such a blessing and my heart was drawn out to our friends in Fiji who may not ever actually see this conference, or much of it.  They will never see the strength of 21,000 members gathered in one place, who can actually see the Prophet and apostles and other General Authorities in person.  Oh how much they need that strength so much more than all of us here who have it so readily available every six months!  I longed for their blessing all during the conference session and thought of their privation in so many ways.  God bless our dear friends in Fiji!

Today is Sunday and we will watch the morning session at Matt’s house with Laura and family joining us, then a quick lunch and we’ll be off on our drive towards Spokane to be with Emily for a few days.  We will stay in Missoula overnight and then arrive Monday about noon in Spokane.

This morning holds a special time for us as we prepare to give Matt a blessing.  His transplanted kidney seems to be showing initial signs of potentially ending its functional life.  The very drugs a person takes to prevent the rejection of a transplanted organ also are toxic to that organ and have the potential of eventually killing it.  We don’t know, but such a scenario may be in the works and Matt’s doctor is concerned enough to have raised the possibility.  As of today, Matt is keeping this private until further evidence confirms or refutes this concern but we are preparing to give him a blessing today.  I have prayed fervently that I may be guided by the Spirit to speak the will of the Lord and not have my fatherly love dictate the desire to have Matt healed over the plans of the Lord if that is not to be so.  Blessings are always like that, the struggle to be open and receptive, to be bold in the power of the priesthood without being driven by self will.  It’s a tricky balance, but what a privilege to hold the priesthood and be worthy to administer the ordinances enabled by it.

Post-note: Matt’s close friend, Gary Stapely, and I did give Matt a blessing and at this point in time (2018) we are so grateful that Matt has been blessed with his kidneys continuing to function well.  We later left and had pleasant days in Spokane and Yakima.  We arrived home in Corvallis on April 17th.  The years have flown by, and my – how happy we are to be home!