Wednesday, December 22, 2010

"P" is for Christmas

"Priceless, Precious, Personal, Performances & Participate"

So far these are the highlights of our Christmas season!

Our participation began last weekend with the Annual Missionary Fun Day on Saturday. This event is really for the young missionaries to come together from all over Fiji and get to spend time together in games and sports and meals! It is a huge hit! The Senior missionary couples were involved by preparing and serving lunch and dinner. Those 2 meals were huge hits also. Thankfully I wasn't in charge but I did get to contribute brownies and enchiladas and dish them out to 90+ hungry young men and women. The evening event was a talent show put on by groups of missionaries from the various Zones. I did get coersed into, I mean, asked to be one of the 3 judges which was really not easy! The performances, including clever costumes, were original, enthusiastic and very well performed. Most all of the items were Fijian dancing and singing done by non-native participants. A few months in this country and they can perform like they grew up here!

Sunday evening was the spiritual event, the Fiji Suva Missionary Fireside. It was a wonderful hour and a half of Christmas hymns sung by all the missionaries in their white shirts and colorful ties and spiritual Christmas stories and testimonies including talks by Elder Wakolo, an Area Seventy and Pres. Ostler, the mission president. The Stake Center was filled to capasity with members and investigators, friends and friends-to-be.

Monday was another choice experience. One of the SM couples, Mike & Cherie Tait organized a service project. When we heard about it, we jumped right on board. Taits had found this small institution called The Hilton House for Handicapted Children. After visiting to check it out, they determined it would be the perfect place for us to offer some Christmas help. This facility houses about 20 or so severly disabled children who live there full time. During Christmas most of the children had returned to their families and villages for a couple of weeks. There were 5 children who have no family... basically abandoned at birth so they were still there.

Here are the residents we got to visit with. A variety of ages and disabilities. From l-r in the back, boy:19, boy:6, girl:32, girl:18 and upfront, girl:16 Very humbling to say the least! But we tried to bring a strong feeling of love and Christmas joy as we sang Christmas carols and visited and ...

showed them how to blow bubbles. The 2 girls who could handle this were thrilled!

That's the Taits standing on the left and the woman on the right is the dear person who runs the facility. They were so appreciative of our tiny effort and we left feeling that joy you do when you get to serve somewhere that you know needs whatever you are willing offer.

The next day we got to participate along with all the employees at the Service Center in a gift brought to the office from one of their customers.

This group just showed up unannounced. They were all decked out in their tropical island Christmas attire: colorful suluvakatogas (skirts) and salusalus (floral lais).

Then they came inside to the reception area and enthusiastically entertained us with Christmas carols in those beautiful Fijian voices,

expressed appreciation for business from the Service Center and handed over this yummy cake,

then concluded by inviting us to dance along Fijian-style! I wasn't going to turn down that kind of celebrating. Paul stayed back to snap photos!

The next big event in the office that afternoon was a Goodbye Party for the Service Center Finance Department Manager, Arama Puriri. We have been very lucky to have made his aquaintance and work with him daily for the past 17 months. He is a really high-quality person not only at work but in his Church callings and as the father of 6 young children (5 boys and one girl named Nauvoo - I love her name). He is of Maori decent and he and his family are moving back to New Zealand as he has a new job at the Church's Pacific Area office.

Yesterday, Wednesday was another really great holiday outing. This time the Service Center employees set up a Christmas caroling outing. About 15 individuals including Paul & I went to 2 special locations and enjoyed bringing a little attention and warm Christmas feelings to people who sometimes get neglected. The first location was a Catholic Church-sponsored old folks residence called Home of Compassion. There were only about 8 residents and 5 staff but they seemed to enjoy our songs and smiles. Almost all of the dear elderly folks were in wheelchairs or had some kind of obvious physical challenges but they smiled and were very welcoming. Next we drove to an area that Paul & I had never been to. There we visited a place called House of Hope. This is for unwed, young, mostly teenage mothers and their infants. We were told that the youngest mother living there was 13! There were 2 dormatories with 8 rooms in each domatory. One domatory was for moms and infant sons and the other one was for moms and infant daughters. The newest baby was 2 months old. Once again we could tell that we had cheered them up with the familar sweet Christmas messages. It was reciprocal; it cheered me up to be around so many sweet little ones.

Finally, do you remember my story of going Visiting Teaching with the 2 new VT sisters? That was back in October. Last Sunday, the 3 of us decided we would go visiting again this week and take some Christmas love to the women they visit. Once again, it was a very dear experience. Swati (on the left) and Jyoti (on the right) are the two companions. Jyoti invited her husband to come along. The woman they visit is such a dear soul! Her name is Kailash Pati. She is around 82 years old but still in quite good health. She speaks some English but it was best when all 4 of them conversed in Hindi. Swati read from the book of Luke about the birth of the Savior and then Bro. Chand translated and shared the message to her in Hindi. What a special experience.

So that is how we have been enjoying this wonderful season. We know this is a very unusual year and are trying to make the most of focusing on the purpose of the Birth of Jesus Christ and finding ways we can make our gifts reflect His Gospel through serving those we are blessed to come in contact with.

We miss ALL our loved ones -- family members and dear friends -- during this Happy Holiday season but we are so grateful to know the purpose of that infant, Jesus Christ that was born in a manager who's birth the world acknowleges at this season. We are so grateful to be serving Him at this time and sharing His love with those who are seeking for peace and looking to the Savior to find it.

"For God so loved the world that he sent his only Begotten Son"

Thursday, December 16, 2010

What's for dinner?

We just never know what we are going to come across!

A few weeks ago we were driving between Suva and Nadi and we passed this building along the side of the road that we have noticed for months but this time we decided to stop and check it out. It is called "The Prawn Shop". We love to eat prawns though we haven't had them very often so we decided we'd splurge... we bought this frozen tray of about 30 prawns.

First I thawed them in a bowl of water. They were huge! and came fully decked out, including their eyeballs! It was actually quite a bit of work dismantling all those long, prickly parts along with their skulls. There wasn't much left by the time I finished. Of course, they looked just like the scaled shrimp we're used to buying at home. So we moved forward and soon we were enjoying our delicious dinner....


Good thing we didn't discover this any sooner because we would want to have it for dinner every other night no matter how much effort it would take. Coconut Shrimp has always been a favorite dish to us!
Still is!!!

Now we weren't the only ones coming up with food for dinner along the highway that afternoon.
This group of men were very involved in their culinary efforts of preparing for...

a whole pork feast!

We could see this group of men all gathered together next to the highway and we wondered what they were doing. So as we got closer, we were amazed to see this poor pig hanging from the tree. We actually stopped and turned around and drove back so we could see up closer what was taking place. When they saw us pull out our camera, they burst into cheers and whistles and were happy to give us a great shot!
Before we drove away we made sure we asked what time dinner was!

(we didn't join them for dinner but we'd have been more than welcome!)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Making the most of our LAST trip to Vanuatu!

We always look forward to our trips to Vanuatu for many reasons! First and foremost, is to be able to visit with our dear friends that we have come to know and love but secondly, is because it is usually sunny and bright! Not this time!!!
Before we took off from Suva, it had been raining for several weeks. We so looked forward to drying out in Vanuatu for a week but as luck would have it, the rain seemed to follow us. This was really a heavy intense that as our jet began to descend to land in Port Vila it suddenly shifted up and caught everyone off guard. The pilot then told us that we'd have to be in a holding pattern until the downpour subsided which took about 15 minutes. In all of our flights, this had never happened before. Another first was everyone getting handed an umbrella as we stepped out of the plane and headed to the terminal. Oh well, what's a little rain! It took about 5 days before we finally got a totally clear, sunny day. We couldn't complain as we kept reading warnings that were going on in Fiji regarding a potential cyclone that was headed their way... now we were really glad we were in Vanuatu! (thankfully, the potential storm never did increase to the cyclone level! Though we did get to "enjoy" a tiny, little earthquake one afternoon while in Port Vila!)

After 4 days in Port Vila, we went back to the airport and caught a flight to Luganville. This is the domestic terminal. It is really very entertaining to sit and watch all the various people coming and going. Their tourism must be growing because they are reconstructing and remodeling this area which serves as the check-in location, the waiting room and the snack bar.

We were in Vanuatu the middle of October and did training in Luganville on how to keep track of Branch budgets. The District Presidency was very anxious for us to come again as soon as possible. They wanted to bring the Branch leaders from the outer islands over to Luganville to have this same training. I didn't think this would work because we seemed too close to the end of our time but it all seemed to come together and here we were, back in Luganville. There were Branch Presidents and clerks (if they had one) from 11 Branches from 2 outer islands. Paul did 2 separate sessions for each of the individual islands. It took the whole Saturday. These men are so willing to be taught and are anxious to do what they are supposed to do. Sometimes the language is a challenge but everyone seems to work together and it all gets explained. The young Elder on the far right of the photo, in front, is the new Branch President on one of these outer islands. What an experience he's having!

This mission assignment is just perfect for Paul! Numbers, adding machines, checks and reports!

That took care of Saturday... so Sunday after Church, the sun was finally shining so we decided to go out and about to 2 remote Branches in "the bush". Palon and Fanafo are about a 40 minute drive (along a rocky, bumpy, pothole-riddled dirt road). There is a new Senior Missionary couple, the Albrechts, who are serving in Luganville now so they were our transport.

Life is pretty simple here in the bush. So is the usual attire. We drove onto the property of the Fanafo Branch President's home and he and his friends and family were out playing a little volleyball.

Here is the Branch "meetinghouse". This structure is also on the Branch President's property. He told us they had had 43 people in attendance at Church that day. I think they are going to out grow this facility very soon!

As it is, they hold Primary here in the Branch President's home. I admire them so much. They just make do with what they have! Actually, there are plans to build a R-85 (rural Chapel) for them on the property just beyond the volleyball court.

I didn't do a very good job of getting very many pictures of all the people that came out to meet and greet and visit with us but I thought this baby was so cute!

The Branch President's wife, Sister Stevens, came around handing out some refreshments -- pieces of breadfruit. I have never eaten any breadfruit. It seemed to me that I had been told it was not really very good, just kind of tasteless and so I have never really tried to check it out.

They had trees loaded with huge bundles. Very accessible. She just cut one off and sliced it open and started pulling out chunks and passing them around.

There are these huge seeds inside that they just pull out and toss away and then extract the flesh that surrounded the seed. It was actually quite nice. It had a very soft sweet flavor and was about the texture of a piece of cantelope before it gets soft. They don't eat all the insides, just the part around the seeds. The probably do lots of other things with it but that was just how they were serving it to us.

These guys were caught on the paved portion of the road as we drove out to Palon. Elder Albrecht told us that he sees them all the time. So this time he decided he wanted to stop and catch a couple of them. They were not happy to have been caught and put into a plastic bucket. But they were very entertaining. I think they are called Coconut Crabs. I wasn't sure what Elder Albrecht was going to do with them if he took them home. Maybe he wanted some pets. We stopped at the Luganville Chapel before we went back to the Albrecht's flat and we met up with another set of young missionaries. When we showed them these crabs, they told us they had a big bucket full of them that they had caught that afternoon and they were taking them home for their dinner. We decided to give them these 2 as well. We declined their dinner invitation.

Here is Elder & Sister Albrecht. They have been on their mission for about 10 weeks now and are getting adapted and settled in to this unique part of the world. They are CES (Church Education System -- or something like that) or S & I (Seminary & Institute) missionaries. He just retired as an Elementary/Middle School Principal so they are perfect for this calling. They teach English classes 4 times a week and teach Institute 2 times a week and then they do Inservice Training with all the Seminary teachers on 3 islands in this area. He is picking up the Bislama language and starting to feel at home. We admire them so much! They are the only Senior couple on this island.

We just never know what we will run across. Did you know there were Boy Scouts in Vanuatu? And girls that also belong to the Boys Scouts? This group was waiting for some special person at the Luganville airport. I was impressed with how formal and serious they were taking this event.

One of the highlights of our Vanuatu trip was getting to have an almost normal Thanksgiving dinner! There is an American woman that runs a cafe in Port Vila called "Jill's Cafe, the American Way". When we heard that she was serving turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce, we made sure we got there for the special event! It tasted SOOOOOO good! We missed not having any sweet potatoes or yams or pumpkin pie but we were not going to complain about anything!

We even got to share our meal with 3 other Americans! Sister Allen and Sister Sewell are missionaries serving in Port Vila and the young man is Christopher who served his mission in Vanuatu about 5 or 6 years ago. He had just come back to Port Vila the day before so he was happy to be included in the celebration!

So we finally had to pack up and call our dear taxi driver, Pierre and accept that we will probably never be in Vanuatu again. We have made some really dear friends including people at the hotel we always stay in. The cleaning maid knocked on our door one morning and when I opened it, she said "oh! you're back!" I told her this was our last trip and that soon we would go back to America. She then surprised me by hugging me and telling me that all will be well with each of us as God has a plan for us and he watches over us! I appreciated how much she respected our work as missionaries.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Another Weekend in Taveuni

A couple of weeks ago, we finished helping to set up MLS within the Taveuni District. There are 4 Branches on these islands of Taveuni & Rabi and now they are all set to electronically transmit their weekly financial reports.
That's what we like to call "Progress"!

Our training began at 4 pm and finished around 7 pm. By then everyone was famished...

but these dear Sisters had spent this same time (plus a couple more hours) fixing a delicious dinner of roasted chicken, chicken curry, fried fish and lamb stew. The meal was polished off in about 20 minutes!

Here is one of the most devoted ward clerks anywhere! Bro. Ram Chandra loves his calling and he actually listens to what we train on and DOES it!

I think the wet season has kicked in early this year! It rained constantly the 4 days we were there. Here is the main river that runs through the Somosomo town. Not a problem ... in fact, it ramps up the entertainment factor.

Lots and lots of kids showed up on the bridge near the center of town. This became the fijian version of Cowabunga Bay!
First, these kids attached a rope to the railing along the side of the bridge.

This was seriously observed from those below...

then the rope was thrown down to a "secure" location. I don't know how these kids didn't totally just get swept away.

Now the brave (or crazy) guy wraps a swatch of fabric around the rope, counts to three and jumps!

Yee Haw!!
so fun and FREE!
All the kids kept doing this over and over...there weren't too many adults nearby. I sure hoped I wasn't going to have to jump in for any kind of a rescue! (basically I was worried about who would save me!)

Then I noticed there was a mom right to the side of the river taking advantage of the high level of the raging stream (also referred to as the local laundramat).

The next morning, we took off on a trip to see the other side of this island. We got our plans interrupted by another river that was overflowing the road where a concrete portion is in place for crossing the river. The depth of the flow was about 10 inches but the current was really strong. When we pulled up, there was already one car stopped with the driver considering how dangerous this could be.

Then these 2 men came walking across.

They actually seemed quite calm about the whole situation.

The rest of us weren't quite as willing to take the risk so we got back in our truck and changed our plans.
We were in the company of a new couple, Jean and Jack Sunderlage who have just come to this mission and have been assigned to Taveuni. They weren't about to get swept out to sea after just a short 5 weeks into their 18 months.

As we headed back along the main road, we happened to pass the home of this family, Br & Sis Lai. We were so excited to see them! On our first trip to Taveuni, over a year ago, he was our taxi driver so we spent a lot of time with him. Last December they came to Suva to be sealed in the Temple and we had done something for them that must have meant a lot to them because when they saw us they told us they had a gift for us that they had been hoping to give us but they hadn't seen us for so long. Then they went into their home and come out with this beautiful tapa cloth. Br. Lai told us that he made the cloth by hand and his uncle painted the picture on it. What a treasure it is for us! Both their friendship and this sweet gift!

We kept on exploring and soon ran across the home of Pres. Aumule (sp?)of the Qeleni Branch. When we told him we had planned to go take a boat outing to see the area of the island that is said to have 200 waterfalls running down the mountainsides into the sea, he told us he would be happy to take us in his boat! He instantly dropped everything he had going and the guys all pushed the boat into the water.
All Aboard!

How could you not want to spend ALL DAY in this setting?!

Paul was more than happy to help drive the boat while Pres. kept the gas tank full.

There were waterfalls EVERY WHERE! No one lives on this side of the island. The only way to access it is by the sea.

The falls come from fresh water springs that are abundant on this side of the island.

We even disembarked a short distance from the shore in one place so we could enjoy a picnic lunch and then hike up to another waterfall that was about a 30 minute hike inland.

It was not exactly a "white, sandy beach". These rocks were really tricky to wade over and reach the shore.

Not much of a problem for the locals. Everyone walks barefooted around here...on the road, on the beach, through the bush, around town and even at Church... shoes are soooo over rated!

As we hiked up to the inland waterfall, we passed a dalo farm. This vegetable is grown everywhere and is the main staple of the Fijian diet. The main vegetable is the root of this plant but the leaves are also cooked and eaten. Dalo tastes a lot like potatoes only they don't serve it with butter or sour cream so it is pretty bland.

When we got to the impressive waterfalls, there were a few other people that were swimming and hanging out. Such an interesting world we live in: we met 2 British people who live in California and 2 Germans who live in Hong Kong! And they got to meet 4 Americans who live in Fiji!