Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Day On and a Day Off

It was a tough job but someone had to do it!
 An hour's ride on a speed boat and we arrive on Rabi Island where Gilbertese is  the native language but gratefully they also speak English.  Smiling faces welcome us when we visit this remote and minimally developed island that makes Taveuni seem like a "modern development."
"Main" and only street
The LDS Church has an active but small congregation there and we love to meet with them and help where we can. Their rented meetinghouse may not look like much but their dedication and faithfulness outshine many.
This was a good day for the toilet, which had recently had a coat of latex paint added to cover its age -- and it flushed!  The next time we visited, the tank had fallen off the wall but the bucket was full of flush water.  It's always BYOTP ("bring your own toilet paper"), since paper is a precious commodity.  And just in case you forget it's an LDS Church, there's the handy "no smoking" sign for a friendly reminder.

Ready to learn and share their progress, Annie met with these wonderful women to exchange ideas and share experiences and materials to enrich their teaching with youth and women. Tom met separately with the men to help them better understand finances and church administration.
While we met with leaders, the captain of the boat was out on the reef edge spear fishing.  Won't his family and neighbors be happy with this catch!
Note to self: bring suit and snorkel next time!
We need to be honest, not all days are spent in such challenging missionary service.  Every once in a while we plan a really fun outing and get to join other senior couples for an excursion.  This is one of those days; it followed a pretty intensive weekend of leadership training so we were ready for some diversion.

Our uptight guide ~ obviously, ulcers are not a Fijian malady
Beautiful pristine waterfalls cascade off the mountains into the sea on the eastern side of Taveuni.  Too many to count, and seen only from the sea, we headed out to take in the sights and capture a few to share.

No sharks in sight so we jumped in the warm clear waters
 The water was stunningly beautiful and our mid-day hike to Lavena Falls was worth every step. We always hate looking like tourists, but . . .

It would be easy to get lost in the incredibly lush growth of vines, trees, bushes
and steep mountain sides.  Taveuni is truly the "garden island".
So many unique creations of nature to discover

Between swimming in our clothes and being caught in the rain, "wet" was the word.
Good thing all the water in Fiji is warm so you never really worry about it.
Lavena Falls cradled in a volcanic amphitheatre
Just a short swim up the river and we'll be there.  Looks placid here but as you
approach the falls the current is pretty stiff!

Should any of you visit this pool, please take your diving mask and try to find
Tom's wedding ring.  Somewhere between the current and the falls (and a shrinking
finger?), it sadly it did not make it to our 41st anniversary. . .
. . . but we're still happily married!
Nature provided our lunch of papaya and coconut and our guide prepared it with knife, rock, and smile.  Fijian trout swarmed and snatched any morsel we tossed their way and we trust the local crab got his share.

We're told that this is the filming location of "Return to the Blue Lagoon"
These little ones don't have to "return," they live here
Shall we make reservations for you?
It was a blessed day
"Now the day is over;
Night is drawing nigh;
Shadows of the evening
Steal across the sky.

Jesus, give the weary
Calm and sweet repose;
With they tend'rest blessing
May our eyelids close."

Monday, January 21, 2013

Journal Entry

Just a passing note here:  Last week I finished reading the Old Testament.  I had a goal that on our mission I would read all four standard works and was joyous to have completed the last book just two months before we go home.  I left the OT for last and confess that I’ve never really enjoyed it much.  In the early years of seminary teaching I taught the course a couple times and then often taught selective parts through the years of teaching institute.  But truth be known, I just don’t like the book all that much and have avoided teaching it as much as possible.  Though I think it’s true (though I can’t find it written), I heard once that one of the apostles said something to the affect that: “I read the Old Testament once, and I hope the Lord will forgive me!”  I’ve used that quote as my rationale for not reading and teaching the OT over the years, though of course I’ve done a lot of selective subject research in all the standard works, including the Old Testament.

A few observations from reading the Old Testament, and really studying it this time:

1) I absolutely loved many of the books, particularly the five books of Moses.  I found them very interesting and inspiring.  They strengthened my testimony of the role of prophets and of the Lord’s endless patience with his continually wayward children.  It is also apparent that God chooses prophets from among mortals who have significant flaws and who are not delivered from their own “less than ideal humanity” only by virtue of the call.  They were a work in progress – just as all of us are who serve in the Church.

2) I saw in the wayward, inconsistent, and “primitive” nature of the OT peoples (both of the House of Israel and their neighboring Gentiles), many similarities to the clan nature of Fijians with their superstitions and lack of spiritual maturity.  So many were briefly “convinced” by miracles and followed God but then were swayed by the “old ways, and old gods” and waffled back and forth between righteousness and rebellion.  They were not developed or educated societies and superstition and tradition often ruled them – similar to much of what we experience in Fiji.

3) The constant and unpopular role of the prophets was to preach repentance – condemnation and commands to repent dominate the last half of the OT, or maybe more.  The message of nearly every book is easily summarized as: a) God chose the Children of Israel and covenanted with them that if they obeyed him, He would bless and protect them; b) Israel forsook their covenants and went “whoring” after the world and neighboring gods and protection from countries of political and military might.  They continually sought protection in the arm of the flesh rather than the promises of God.  They broke their covenant promises, changed the ordinances, and would not hearken to the prophets sent to call them back from their wicked ways; c) As a result, God withdrew His protecting hand from them and other neighboring tribes and countries repeatedly conquered, humiliated, killed, and scattered the children of Israel; d) If they would repent, God would forgive them and “gather them home” again, both spiritually and physically to the lands of their inheritance.

4) I’m still baffled and uncomfortable with the language of much of the OT in its portrayal of a seemingly brutal and retributive God, and a primitive warring people.  It has been said that at this time, “flesh was cheap,” and so much of brutality and war characterized both the people of God, and most alarmingly, God himself.  It just doesn’t seem right.  If it is right, it doesn’t seem good.  On this issue, I’m disappointed in my own lack of understanding of culture, history, and divinity that inhibits me from appreciating this period better.  I personally know that, as stated in 2 Nephi 26: “God doeth nothing save it be for the benefit of the world, for He loveth the world.”  Because I know that to be true of His nature, I check my judgmental self while reading the OT and confess that God is just and if I understood better, I would see his loving hand and just ways in all these things.  I think that maturity will have to await the full growth I hope to experience in the next world when all these things we so poorly understand now will be made manifest to us.  So this is one of those things I’ve put on my “troubling” shelf until I can take it off under a better light and more mature vision of history and godliness.

5) Thank goodness for Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible, which makes more sensible, informative, and inspiring many of the otherwise troubling passages.  Just wish he had done more!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Journal Entry

Yesterday, Teivita Alafi, daughter Pasemaca, and son Josefa were baptized in the ocean at Vuna.  The Elders have taught them for months and while the kids (about 17 and 15) have been ready for some time, their father (late 40’s or early 50’s) has struggled.  His wife has been a member for years, though not active, and he has been a minister of a large Pentecostal church.  By and by, his wife’s faith brought him around and yesterday was a culmination of his long conversion process.  Like many Fijian men, particularly ministers, he was full of pride and for months has maintained that he wanted to be baptized so he could become a bishop.  His pride also led him (and his wife) to be critical of how the church leaders in Vuna function.  They do make lots of mistakes but his criticisms came from pride more than substance.  He also maintained doctrinal positions contrary to the restoration truths and that held him up.

One early morning, about 3-4am, I was awoken to a very strong prompting to take the elders and President Lesuma and go talk to him about his pride problem.  The Lord led me to prepare a review of the pride struggles of Sydney Rigdon, Martin Harris, and Peter along with taking him a copy of President Benson’s talk on Pride.  We had a very good visit and spoke to him clearly about his pride problem and the potential it held to take him far from the path of faith.  For the first time, we really felt the message got to him and from that point on, he began to humble himself and really prepare for baptism.

I wanted to describe the unique scene of the baptism, at least to me it was so utterly Fijian that it is worth describing.  We arrived in Vuna about 12:30pm and stopped at the butcher shop – the only one on Taveuni.  The shop is about a quarter mile from the spot on the beach where the baptisms are held.  As we came out of the shop, Teivita and his wife were walking by and we joined them and others in the walk down the beach to the designated spot.  We asked where their daughter was and they said she was on her way (everyone, of course, walks – no cars).  “Where is Josefa?” We inquired.  “Oh, he’s down on the beach already,” was the reply.

We arrived at our traditional baptism location and on the way noticed several spear-fisherman snorkeling along the water, perhaps 50 yards offshore.  It’s a daily scene to see people fishing with hand-lines, nets, from dug-out canoes, and spear fishing so we didn’t think much of it.  But as we gathered for the baptismal service we noticed a group of spear-fisherman swimming towards the shore where we were.  Soon, they began emerging from the water and walking up on the beach.  Then we recognized them as members and investigators who were coming to the baptism!  They took their fins and masks off and quietly joined our group for the service.  Included in the group was Josefa who walked up to his parents and was handed his baptismal clothes that he put on over his wet shorts and prepared for the service.  I baptized the 17 year-old daughter Pasemaca (at her request), then Josefa was baptized by Elder Abplinalp and finally their father, Teivita, was baptized by Elder Mayberry – he was overjoyed and proclaimed this as the best day of his life. After the program, the fisherman put on their gear again and slipped back in the water to continue fishing.  What a unique experience! So Fijian, so typical, so amazing to me.  Life is simple here and the daily search for food goes on, baptism or not!