Friday, August 28, 2009

More Hibiscus Festival photos

Here are just a few more photos to go with the post below. Enjoy!

Hibiscus Festival

This is a huge citywide event that comes to town once a year and lasts for a whole week! The first week we were here we noticed lots of amusement rides and vendor booths being set up in the large downtown park... I think it is called Albert Park. There are signs and advertisements everywhere. Right now all the kids are on a 2 week break from school so this is the perfect place to spend a few hours or a couple of days. It is very similar to a State Fair. We decided we better head on down so we could get in on the excitement.

Crowds and crowds of people were enjoying themselves. We just mostly walked around and people-watched. That was the best entertainment for us. First we walked through the amusement rides. Now I love a fun-filled day at Lagoon on the ferris wheel and the bumper cars and the roller coasters but there was NO WAY I was going to risk my life on one of these brought-in, "tinker-toy" looking rides! I was just hoping none of the rides would crumble down in front of our eyes! The locals sure were enjoying the high risk, however!

There were craft booths with lots of handmade items for sale. Things like woven baskets, wood carvings, jewelry and to my delight and surprise, even some quilts! They were actually just quilt tops since a quilt over here does not need batting. That would be way too hot. They were very simple but very colorful.

They had a mini Las Vegas going on where people were playing these board games. The people would put coins down on certain squares and then the "dealer"-guy would put a couple dice in a plastic cup, shake it up and roll it out and I guess if your coin was on the winning square, you would win some money. I never did see anyone win but people just kept putting down coins. I guess gambling is the same everywhere!

The most interesting part of the event for me to check out was the food vendors. Lots and lots of booths with really unique, unfamiliar to us for the most part food items. We stuck with brightly colored, sugar-coated popcorn and candy cotton, which is called "floss" over here. That was our outing for last Saturday. This Saturday, which is today, will be the last day of the festival and there is supposed to be a huge parade with floats and a Hibiscus Festival Queen contest. We may get brave and go down again and check that out as well. Some of our friends went to the talent portion of the Queen competition last week one night. They were fascinated with the unique "talents" that were displayed. The very first contestant did CPR as her talent! Too bad we missed that!

(Be sure to click on the individual photos for closer-up viewing!)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sweet Story

This week there are about 30 or 40 people here at the Temple Patron housing where Paul and I are temporarily living. These people have come from the other big island of Vanua Levu. It is about an 8 hour boat ride to get here to Suva. It costs about 160 fijian dollars ($80 US) for a roundtrip ticket so this is not a trip they take very often. They have come here to do Temple work and for several of the families it is their first trip to the Temple.

Last night we were privileged to get to attend a sealing session where 3 families were sealed for time and all eternity. One of the families had 3 little girls who were about 7, 5 and 3 years old. They were just little angels. Sister Stagg shared the sweetest story with me about an experience the Staggs had with the oldest daughter just the night before. It just brought tears to me eyes to realize how humble and precious these people are.

The Staggs had to run some errands so they took a few of the kids that are hanging around here with them just to get them out and around the city for a while. As they were driving along, the 7 year old daughter said "Sister Stagg, have you ever had a hamburger?" Of course, Sister Stagg replied that yes, she has had a hamburger lots of times. She asked if the little girl had ever had a hamburger and she replied "no, I never have". Well, it didn't take Elder Stagg long to flip a u-ie and heard straight over to the nearest McDonalds (I've only seen 2 here so far - they aren't exactly on every corner) and got every one a hamburger. Two of the kids just pounded down their hamburger but Sister Stagg noticed that this little girl just ate about half of it and then wrapped it up again. Sister Stagg asked her if she didn't like it because she hadn't finished it. Her reply was, "oh yes, I really like it but I want my little sister to get to eat a hamburger too so I'm taking this back to her."

I'm sure I'll never take a hamburger for granted again!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sunday afternoon drive

One of my favorite things to do on a Sunday afternoon is to go for a drive. So after having spent 5 hours at Church attending 2 different wards, eating leftover Chinese food and having an hour nap, we decided to head out on an afternoon driving adventure. The traffic over here is just nuts and intense during the week but on Sundays there is hardly anyone out and about. The perfect time for us newbies to go and get the lay of the land without the constant fear of danger around every corner.

We had been told of a really pretty valley not too far away that we should check out. It is called Wailoku or Green Valley. It totally lived up to it's name. Everything here is just so lush and thick with trees, bush, vines, flowers. We road winds down a very steep decline...thank goodness it doesn't snow here because you'd never make it out of that valley in the winter! The road was paved until we reached the bottom and then it was a very, very bumpy, rocky dirt road. The roads here are soooooo narrow. Even the main roads through Suva have such narrow lanes. The cars are really small and still it is a tight fit to squeeze past the oncoming cars.

We knew there was a chapel for our church down in this valley and sure enough, there it was right over the first bridge! It is a unique design. We recognized it from the model at the Standards night on Friday. It is in the post below with the Sabbath Day Observance theme. It is the only 2 story chapel around here. We stopped by to take pictures and visited the missionaries that are working in this area. What great young men they are! One of the Elders is waiting to travel out to his new assigned area. He will travel by boat but there is not a regular schedule for when the boat goes to this waaaaaaaaaay remote island so he has to call every day to see if it is leaving yet. He thinks it will be a few more weeks before it leaves. It will be a 2 1/2 DAY boat ride! Thanks goodness, we will always get to fly to our assignments!

After we left the Church we drive around the bumpy roads for about 45 minutes just seeing what life is like in this remote village. There were lots of people walking on the roads and in their yards and the Fijian people are extremely friendly. Every one waves hello and greets you with "Bula". I think we white-faced foreigners are a sight to behold. They actually refer to us as polangies which means white face. It is a term of endearment not of disrespect.

I loved this pig pen that we came across. It was just sitting just off the road. Paul stopped so I could take a photo and just then the pigs started going wild... squealing and honking and I wondered if I'd scared them some how but as I turned around to go back to the car I saw the farmer coming with buckets of feed and the pigs were just getting excited for lunch!

All in all it was a really enjoyable, authentic lifestyle experience. They really don't need much to make them happy. Basically just a roof and some walls and some paint. Lots of the homes are very colorful!

When we got back to the Temple patron housing which is where we are still living (for another week), we were talking to a young man who works here at the security gate and he told us he lives in Wailoku village. We asked him how he gets back and forth from there. Most of the Fijians don't have cars. He said he just walks. We were so shocked and asked how long it took him to walk one way. He said it only takes about 45 minutes and he loves the walk because it gives him time to think and plan. You can't believe how knarly that hill in and out of that valley is. I'm still amazed that he does that at least twice a day!

Tonight was a momentous occasion for us. We conducted our first training meeting with the Bishops of the Suva Stake. We are implementing a new way to handle disbursements of fast offering funds. We are meeting so many new people and trying to remember very unfamiliar names and faces but we are finding that everyone is anxious to help us out by spelling their names and pronouncing them multiple times. Paul is doing lots better than me and remembering them. I'm sticking with Brother and Sister mostly for the time being. We have even planned our first outing to another island for the first part of September so that will be a great experience. There are about 6 or 7 families here where we are staying that have come over from various islands this week for Temple work. It is great to meet them and know that we will get to go over to their home territories before too long. What fabulous people! As you can tell, we are just so happy here. What a blessing to be serving in Fiji!

Friday, August 21, 2009

On the Go.....

Let me begin by mentioning what we have realized since we have been here now for 1 week and 3 days (not that we are counting)-- on a mission you are kept very busy! Of course we thought we were busy at home but this is a whole new form of busy! We have been waking up at about 6:30 each morning and going out for a 45 minute walk, which is so pleasant. Then we need to be to our office at the service center somewhere close to 8:30 for the morning prayer and a review of the day's activities. So far we have only made it there on time twice. But then the day just kicks into gear and before we know it, it is 5 or 5:30pm. After work there have been nonstop activities and outings each night as well and then we arrive back into our flat around 9 or 9:30 and just crash into bed by 10! We have never been happier!

Last Monday evening we were invited to Family Home Evening with the Chand family. It was a "goodbye" party for the Staggs. This is a wonderful Indian family. A father, mother, 2 daughters: 17 & 14, 2 sons: 12 & 10 and a sweet little 6 year old girl they were just in the process of adopting. I was very impressed with the actual lesson portion of the home evening. The 17 year old girl conducted and it was very well organized. The young full time missionaries were there with us and they actually taught the lesson for the evening. This was held on the family's outside front porch and was so delightful: the temperature was perfect, we were surrounded by lush foliage, there were usual neighborhood sounds in the background and we were sharing the principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What more could you want! After the lesson we were treated to an authentic Indian dinner of curry and rodi and mango chutney and rice pudding. There were some other things but they were a little too authentic for our american taste buds. All in all it was such a delightful evening.

Tuesday night was a cooking class involving all the senior sister missionaries. It was held at the Mission President's home and there were about 9 or us there. One of the sisters here is a gourmet cook. She is self-taught but she is well taught! It was an Oriental menu and we all got involved making spring rolls and wontons and 2 different stir fries. It was very delicious and a treat to visit and socialize with all these women from all over who have very interesting backgrounds and stories.

Thursday night was really a treat! Rugby is the National Sport of choice here! They play hard and tough and take it very seriously. I guess about 4 years ago, a certain Stake President was concerned about his young men and their involvement in the Church so he came up with a rugby team for his Stake. This team is called "the Saints" and they play all around the islands. It has been a huge success. The Staggs have loved being involved with the time during their stay here so the team wanted to throw them a goodbye party and so we came along for the fun. And it was a lot of fun! There were about 20 good size young men there from the team. They certainly pack in the energy! I have some photos here but they don't do this experience much justice. Paul took some video clips on his Flip camera and when we figure out how to download it to my blog we will treat you to a clip of their HAKA (you know, that team "cheer" they do before a game). It was loud and intimidating and unexpected! I really hope we can post it. You will be impressed! We were treated to 3 different dance performance by 3 young girls. They even made the effort to change costumes for each song. I asked them if they took dance lessons and they told me No, they just teach themselves. They are very talented and resourceful here!

Last night was a real highlight of our week. It was the Suva North Stake Young Men/Young Women's Standards Night. Just like the Chorus Contest last week, this stake took this very seriously. There were about 7 wards that participated. Each ward was given one of the standards in the "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet and asked to make a "float" and prepare a presentation that explained their standard. What a lot of creativity! I wasn't sure what to expect a float to look like since I knew this activity was going to be held in a gymnasium. I was blown away when one ward rolled in their model of a Temple on a serving cart. The Temple even included an Angel Moroni and lights inside the Temple! All the kids were dressed in white and looked stunning and pure. It was impressive! Each group took their assignments very seriously and gave them much thought. There were probably 200 plus kids there. I was thrilled to see the future of the Church here in Fiji right before me eyes!

Well, I'm sure I've worn you out with this long report. I just hope you can get a sense of how wonderful it is here and what a wonderful opportunity it is to serve a mission with these dedicated Saints of these islands. We are so blessed!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Today's adventure

What an exciting life we are living! Each day we get to go and do and see new, amazing things and places. Today we got to go over to the LDS College School. This is the equivalence of our high schools. This school was established in 1976 and is one of the best and most beautiful schools in this whole country! It sits on the most beautiful spot of any schools we have seen. Once again, it is up high on a hillside overlooking the ocean. I would not be able to concentrate on school if I were there because I would be so distracted by the view!

There are about 350 students in attendance and they are from 13 to 18 which is about 8th grade to 12th grade. They teach everything from academic courses to technical/computer courses to trades like woodwork and automotive and agricultural -- pretty much something for everyone.

The grounds were so manicured and spotless. The buildings were white and very clean. In the center of the property is this big bure (which is the traditional Fijian village home). The outside looks very authentic, Fijian culture traditional structure but inside is a lovely class room. It is made with bamboo walls and coconut palms for the rooftop and inside it is decorated with Fijian mats and weaving. It was so unique to see the old and the modern culture come together in one spot. Outside there is a smaller structure that doesn't have any closed in walls and just these 2 hollowed out logs sitting on the ground. Apparently, they beat on the logs to denote the end of a class just like a school at home would ring a bell. School was dismissed for the day by the time we got there so we didn't get to hear the log bell.

There were mobs of kids criss crossing around the campus, all in their blue and white uniforms. I really like the uniform concept. It makes everyone look so neat and connected. I think it helps focus the students on why they are at school.

We asked what it cost to attend this school and we were told it costs $36 a quarter if you are a member of the Church but non-members can come for $150 a quarter. By the way, those are Fijian dollars which are equal to about half that amount in American dollars. This is still kind of a stretch for families over here. There are 3 quarters a year. School goes from February to November with 2 week breaks between the quarters. The "winter" break is starting on Friday and the kids are really excited to have some time off (the teachers TOO!)

Our other adventures today included going to a new restaurant for lunch called The Mango Cafe. It is so interesting over here because all the shops and restaurants look so junky on the outside but then they are so nice and pleasant once you go inside. It is not what you expect when you pull up to the curb! The food here is fabulous! We have eaten out at least once a day since we arrived and if we aren't careful we are going to be packing on the pounds. Food is more expensive than I expected. I guess meaning, that I expected food to be cheap. I guess if we were to eat at the stands along the streets it would be cheap but I don't think we are going to get that "authentic". They do have LOTS of Fiji water and it is lots less expensive than you pay for it in the States. Oh the pros and cons!

Tonight we took the 100-step trip to the Temple across the parking lot from our flat! We enjoyed a session with about another 25 or so members. It felt just like being at home. I know the other members had to sacrifice more in terms of time and transportation to get to the session. That was a very humbling experience to see their faith and dedication. It was a privilege to be in their company. There are 4 Temple Senior Missionaries plus the Temple President couple. All the other ordinance workers are locals and that was a treat to be in their midst.

We are on our own for a couple of days while the Staggs have gone across the Island to say farewell to friends over there. Paul and I are trying to get some driving experience on our own. It takes a prayer and a lot of faith to load up and take off. So far, so good. Thankfully we are on an island so somehow we will just have to keep circling around if we get lost.

So there you have it, we have been here a week today! Wow, how time flies! as we take it one day at a time!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Navau Ward

Sunday was our first introduction into an authentic Fijian Ward. We got up early and left our flat about 8:15 am for a 45 minute drive to the Navau Ward. Not quite the same as leaving 5 minutes before Sacrament meeting and driving about 9 houses down the hill to our Chapel back home which is what we are so used to (and spoiled by). This Chapel sits high up on a hill top and on a beautiful, large plot of land with lush grass and lovely tropical flowers and trees. The hybiscas (sp?) in the photo was about the size of a salad plate! The setting couldn't have been any more pleasant.

We were graciously accepted and introduced and enjoyed meeting and greeting all the members. There were probably about 40 - 45 people in attendance. Even with a comparatively small group, they sang the hymns with enthusiasm and volume like we had experienced at the Choir competition. Thankfully the whole meeting was offered in English. The Relief Society Presidency were the speakers in Sacrament meeting and they gave wonderful talks. They were as good as any talks I have heard at home. The Gospel Doctrine Sunday School teacher was a sweet Indian woman and she did an excellent job with her lesson. (about half the ward was Fijian and the other half was Indian.) She asked me to present a 5 or so minute portion of the lesson and I really enjoyed that opportunity. There were 13 women in Relief Society and the President had to give that lesson also (in addition to speaking in Sacrament meeting). She did another awesome presentation. All in all it was a sweet and spiritual experience.

After the block of meetings, Elder Stagg and Paul had to do a financial audit which was an on-the-job training opportunity for Paul. It went smoothly and we felt a great sense of accomplishment when it was completed.

While the audit was going on, I enjoyed walking around the Church grounds and took the above photos of the surrounding village bures (homes). The village environments are very rural and agricultural. The people live in very humble homes typically built from wood and tin and some cinder blocks. There are usually no windows or doors that can close... the homes are just shelters but there is not much privacy. All the windows usually have curtains but they are tied together with a knot in the middle so the breezes can flow through. Most Fijians don't own cars so there are a lot of dirt roads and people walking to get around. A lot of the people in this area were barefooted even. But they are happy, happy, happy people. They always have smiles and are laughing and they greet everyone with eye contact and a genuine Bula (hello).

After we got back home to our flat by mid afternoon, we were finally able to rest up from our intense 4 or 5 days worth of "welcome to your new life in Fiji". We really were ready for a Sunday afternoon nap! We are slowly getting a lay of the land. In fact, we were given our own car today and we went for a ride, just the 2 of us, to the grocery store and we only got lost ONCE! I think we are in for lots more adventures! Stay tuned!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Two more photos

Here are 2 more photos that should have shown up on the post below but somehow didn't quite make it. (I'm trying, Katie) These are the adult choirs.

"American", oops, I mean "Fijian Idol"!

Friday night was a really exciting event! Our first introduction into the musical talents of these sweet Islanders. We, along with 2 other Senior Missionary couples, were invited to be judges at the Nausori Stake Chorus Contest. This is an annual competition and the wards and branches take it very seriously. There were a total of 10 units (wards and branches) that participated. There were 2 choruses from each unit and they each sang 2 songs so it was quite a long evening but we enjoyed each and every song.

Each unit had a children's Primary choir and an adult choir. All the units sang the same songs so that they could be compared and judged. We did not judge the children's choirs because they were ALL so sweet, we could never have chosen one above the other. The children's choirs consisted of between 8 or 9 participants up to about 14 or 15. Some choirs had children as young as 3 years old who just stole our hearts. Each choir choose to dress in some similar, matching, coordinating way and it was fun to see their uniqueness. By the way, I'm sure there are no Orthodontists here in Fiji because EVERYONE has the most beautiful, white smiles. Their teeth are perfect and they just glow! Amazing! They are such beautiful, attractive people! Anyway, back to the competition. Each children's choir also had a child conductor -- so sweet, again! The choirs would march into the chapel and line up on the podium and then their cute little conductor would walk in, bow to the audience and to the judges and then climb up on this 3 step conductors platform, raise their arms and begin their song. I wasn't sure if all the conductors were actually leading the songs or just shaking from their nervousness but they almost stole the show from their choirs.


The adult choirs were so awesome! They take this event seriously and they want to win! We were instructed to choose 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners plus a Best Conductor award. The Fijians typically sing a'cappelle because very few Fijians play the piano. There was one choir out of the 10 that had an accompanist and though the pianist was fabulous, it didn't make much of a difference without one.

The Fijians have a very interesting way of beginning any singing whether it is in Sacrament meeting, Relief Society or these wonderful choirs. They have one person, usually the person leading the singing, sings the first sentence then says rua, tulo which is 2, 3 and then everyone begins singing. I think it is very creative and I like it alot. We judges had a very difficult time choosing the winners. Hopefully those that didn't win won't hold it against us. But everyone seemed very happy and gracious when the winners were announced. It was kind of like the end of basketball season when the losing team says "just wait until next year!"

All in all it was a hugely successful event for this Stake. They had probably some where around 350 - 400 people there that night. I was pretty amazed. The funny twist to the evening made us laugh when we found out that the person that we awarded the Best Conductor award to was a Minister of a different faith who had been recruited by a ward to be their conductor! Maybe he will be interested in continuing to come to Church so he can continue conducting!

Katie: Count how many photos are on this post! What do you think?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

I Love To See The Temple


I never imagined that I would live closer to a Temple than I have all my life in Salt Lake City! Where we live at home we are so spoiled to live close to 4 Temples now that the Draper and Oquirrah Temples have been built along with the Jordan River and the Salt Lake Temples but here I am living next to this beautiful Temple which is just 50 yards from our temporary apartment. When we move into the Staggs apartment we will be within 1/2 mile still!

Suva City is quite hilly (which surprised us) and the Temple sits right at the top of a promenient hilltop. It is stunningly white both day and night. When people see our badges they will ask if we are members of the Church with the big white Temple. The Temple is open several hours every day except Sundays and Mondays and they seem to keep quite busy. We haven't been to a session yet but are looking forward to attending one next Wednesday probably.


Do we look like "deers in the headlights"? Here we are just minutes after arriving. These darling children quickly came to our aid and helped us get all of our luggage into our flat. There is a Church sponsored school just down the street from the Temple and these children had just come home from school. All schools over here have their children wear uniforms. Every school wears something different but they all look clean and sharp. All the boys (and lots of the men) wear the traditional sulasula which are the "pants skirts". It is perfect for this climate. I think Paul will be joining in the style before too long.

Here we are with our dear friends Elder Ted and Sister Pat Stagg who have been serving here for almost 18 months and are the couple that we will be replacing. They have done a fabulous job and they know everyone! They have been so kind and nurturing to us ever since we arrived. It will be really hard to see them leave and then for us to try to take over will be a huge responsibility! Elder Stagg gave Paul the chance to get behind the steering wheel yesterday which was an intense adventure. Did I mention they drive on the left-hand side of the road over here? For such a laid back culture, they sure drive like they are in a rush! Paul did great! It will be a while before I'm ready to tackle that.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

Touch Down!

We survived! We have arrived!!!

We touched down here on the beautiful island of Viti Levu (translated as Fiji Big) at 5:05 am on Wednesday, August 12th after a very surprisingly pleasant 10 1/2 hour flight from LAX to Nadi, Fiji.

We were so blessed all along the way. Beginning with our curbside check in at Delta Airlines in SLC. It took us ALL DAY Monday to pack our suitcases. We were allowed 2 fifty pounds bags each but if we went over that amount we would be charged $150. All day Monday we packed and unpacked and added and deleted until we were as close as we felt confident we could get away with (or without). I was stunned when at our curbside check in, the Sky Cap didn't even weigh our bags!!! I was kind of disappointed and relieved all at the same time! We had also expected that we would get the first bag free but the second bag would cost $50 and once again, he didn't even charge us for our 2nd bags. What a relief!

When we got to LAX we had to change terminals and we were amazed at a few more blessings that come our way specifically because we were wearing our missionary badges. When we checked in with Air Pacific for our 11:30 pm International flight, we casually asked the agent how much it would cost to upgrade to first class. When she told us it would be $750 a person we quickly humbled ourselves back into reality and she printed out our boarding passes. As we headed away from the counter to proceed to our departure gate another agent from behind the counter called out to us. She asked where we were flying to and when we told her Fiji she asked for our boarding passes back. She told us the flight was not full at all and she wanted to assign us each a separate row so that when the plane took off we could spread out and not be restricted to just one seat. She told us she was a convert to the Church from Samoa and had served her mission in Alabama. What a blessing!

Next as we headed to the security line the woman who was directing passengers to specific lines opened an access to an extremely short line and moved us to the front of the crowd. She didn't say anything, she just moved the rope and pointed us ahead. Wow! That has never happened before! Finally as we were exiting the x-ray area there were several TSA agents standing together chatting with each other and as we approached one man started singing "put your shoulder to the wheel push along, do you duty with a heartful of of song, we all have work, let no one shirk, put your shoulder to the wheel". Now that was about the last thing I could have ever imagined to have happened to us in that environment. I stopped and sang along with him and we had a pleasant handshake and laugh together. You can imagine we were on "cloud 9" before we even got on the plane.

As a result of all of these "coincidences", we truly had the most pleasant flight we have ever had. As soon as our plane took off, I took a little 1/2 ambien, laid down on my own private row of seats and sleep for a complete 8 of our 10 1/2 hour flight! Paul rested well though he didn't sleep like I did. We arrived rested and ready to get going!

Our flight arrived at 5am and a wonderful brother from our Service Center was there to pick us up. Originally we were to have about a 2 hour layover and then catch a 30 minute flight from Nadi to Suva. He took us to a hotel about 5 minutes away from the airport, checked us into a room and let us sleep for about another 3 hours, take a shower, change our clothes and took us to a delicious Fijian buffet breakfast and then proceeded to give us a very scenic 4 hour Welcome to Fiji drive across the island instead. What a wonderful opportunity to experience our new environment up close and personal.

Fiji is beautiful! It is so lush and green and a lot more mountainous that we had expected. They do drive on the opposite side of the road over here as a result of their British background so that has been an adjustment. Just wait until we get behind the steering wheel...yikes!

The highlight of the whole day was driving into the Service Center where we will be working for the next 18 months and being reunited with our good friends, Pat & Ted Stagg who we will be replacing. Yes, it truly has been another day in Paradise!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Leaving on a Jet Plane...

Hello, Hello again... Yes it is really me. I know I have been so AWOL (absent without leave) for sooooooooo long but I have survived my chaotic summer of mission preparation and TODAY is THE day that Paul and I fly away to FIJI! We are sooooo ready to go ----- just still not soooooo actually ready. We still have lots to do in the next few hours but I couldn't leave without connecting with my blogger friends and letting you know that I intend to keep you posted on our many experiences and adventures for the next 18 months!

Last week, Paul and I went to the MTC (Missionary Training Center) from Monday through Friday. We had the most wonderful, inspiring, uplifting and exhausting experience! It was intense but so worth it. There were about 35 other Senior Couples there that week and it was very humbling to hear where everyone was going and what they would be doing. There were couples going to Russia, Philippines, Greece, Czech Republic, Samoa, Kiribiti (formerly known as the Gilbert Islands and extremely remote, by the way), Puerto Rico, Milan, Finland, St. Louis, Georgia, Oklahoma -- literally, going to the four corners of the globe! There were quite a few couples lots older than us too. It made us very grateful for our assignment.

We have been taking some over-the-phone tutoring in Fijian for the past 3 weeks. It is a super simple language. They don't even use all the letters of the alphabet but they have thrown in some tricks just to keep it interesting like g and q are pronounced as ng and c is pronounced as th and you add a m sound before b letters and an n sound before d so that has been very entertaining. Paul has a real talent and a gift for picking up new languages. His brain just works that was. I can hear and pronounce it somewhat but I have trouble retaining it all. But we have learned to say hello -- Bula Vinaka -- and goodbye -- moce and where is the bathroom --
evei nu valeleilei -- so we should be set for a couple hours! Many of the other Senior Couples were also having language training at the MTC in Greek and Russian and Italian and Tagalog and it made our Fijian language look like a piece of cake. The last night we were there we participated in a precious and tender experience where every foreign language learning missionary bore their testimony in their new language. Even though I couldn't understand any of those other languages, I received their heartfelt messages straight to my heart by the beautiful, sweet spirit that was so strong.

Another highlight of the week was when we attended the much-anticipated weekly Devotional and participated in singing "Called to Serve" with the other 2200 missionaries in the auditorium. What power and conviction. To be in the presence of so many young men and women willing to devote 18 months to 2 years of their lives to serving their Heavenly Father and their savior Jesus Christ, was truly a once in a lifetime experience!

We are so grateful for this opportunity to go forward now and share our testimonies of the message of the Gospel and serve the people of Fiji however we can. I am so appreciative of the kindness and support we have received from our friends and family. Our children have just gone over and above all expectations to help us in our preparations. We have had nonstop fun and family-together events all summer long but especially the last 3 weeks and we have wonderful memories and feelings to accompany us as we depart.

Feel free to check back here once in a while and hopefully you can get a sense of our new life and share in our new cultural experiences! We'll just take it one day at a time and give you reports on "another day in Paradise"! (keep us in your prayers!)