Sunday, May 30, 2010

What? End of May! No way!

Poulet fish, fresh and headed to Luganville from Malekula aboard our flight

A mother and her young son out collecting their firewood for the day

Fresh caught and still alive ... how would you like fresh CRAB for dinner tonight!

One of 4 new neckties that I have made for Paul with some "island flare"!

Cute little guy enjoyed sketching on the chalkboard during Gospel Doctrine class

Visiting Osea at his farm

Seriously! Where does the time go! I cannot believe that I haven't posted on my blog since April 15th! It's not that I don't have things to blog about! It is just that I have TOO MUCH to blog about and too little time to spend putting a post together. So that is my excuse!

Since I last connected with you here on my blog we have been coming and going non stop! We even had our darling girls, Heidi and Katie, come to Fiji for a quick visit (I have been sitting on that post for over a month now! Yikes! I still plan to post about that reunion!)

Right now, I am sitting in Port Vila, Vanuatu enjoying a couple hours of "down time" and with a decent internet connection so here I am and yes, we are still alive!

Since the middle of May we have been traveling around Fiji and now Vanuatu. The middle of May we went to the west side of Fiji to the Lautoka Stake Conference because there was a Stake Presidency change which had been long awaited and much anticipated. A member of the Pacific Area Presidency, Elder Brent Nielson and our Pacific Area Seventy, Elder Wakolo were presiding which added to the specialness of the conference. Paul had the assignment to audit the stake checkbook and financial records before the change so we traveled from Suva to Lautoka a few days early. The new Stake Presidency is wonderful. There is always a burst of enthusiasm when new leadership takes over so we are anxious to see how things will take off and progress over there. The new Stake President is a wonderful man. He was serving as the Bishop in one of the Lautoka Wards at the time of this calling. He is from a 4-generation Church member family which is a very unique situation. His mother was one of the first 50-members of the Church here in Fiji. His nephew serves as a Branch President on the island of Taveuni. Solid family!

We were only back in Suva for 2 days before we flew off to another Fijian island of Vanua Levu to meet with the 5 unit leaders of the Labasa District. We were over on this island back in February but it seems like we cycle around every 3 or 4 months. We left on a Weds and returned to Suva on Sunday and we were out and about non stop! We really felt like this was one of our most productive trips with these leaders. Besides all of our meetings and training get togethers, we were able to go out and meet several individual members at their "homes".

In one of the pictures above is Paul and me and a man with a beard. His name is Osea and he has quite "the story". We had heard about him from Staggs (who served in our position before us) but we were never really sure where he lived. When we found out he was near Labasa, we asked someone to take us out to meet him. Osea has only been a member of the Church for a couple of years but what a total turnaround his life has taken since he joined. He told us that he had been a terrible man. He had done almost every kind of illegal activity, been in and out of prision many times, was a converted Muslim, heavy drinker and marijina user and at the time the missionaries connected with him, he was a mess! But the missionaries told him that his Heavenly Father still loved him and Osea decided to believe it. He is a changed man! and a very passionate believer. He shares the Gospel with everyone he meets and has helped to bring quite a lot of others into the Church as well. He is a totally different man! We were glad we were able to hook up with him and that he was willing to hike out of his sugar cane field to come and meet us.

I even enjoyed my own little bit of missionary work by sharing copies of the "Proclamation of the Family" and "The Living Christ" with Navin who is the man we rent our truck from. He is an Indian man but he is also a minister in the Pentacostal Church. He was so excited to get these two pages. He happened to see my copy of the "Gospel Principles" manual and was just in awe. He asked where I got that book and I could tell he wanted that too. I told him I could have the young Elders come and visit him and they could tell him how he could get a copy.... we'll see....

We were only home in Suva for 2 nights before we packed up again for a 10-day trip to Vanuatu. We haven't been here since January so it was definately time to come again. We love to come to Vanuatu. It is so different than Fiji (usually lots less rain!) We loved going to the island of Santo because we have some good friends there, Elder & Sister Schern, who are the only senior missionary couple on that island and it is really fun to spend time with them and compare our different situations and experiences. Plus they take such good care of use by feeding us meals and driving us everywhere and arranging our meetings and training sessions. There are about 17 units in the Luganville District but many of them are far away on remote islands. We met with the 4 units that are close to Luganville and that was very worthwhile and productive. These leaders are such an example of committment and dedication to a leadership calling even though they are infantly new in the Gospel and have never had these kinds of responsibility in their entire lives. They are so willing to accept guidance and instruction and try to do the best they can.

When we were in Luganville last January, we had all the outlaying island leaders come in to town to meet with us so this time we felt like we should go out to them. So we choose to go to Malekula Island where there are 6 branches. We got to fly over on one of those tiny little 8-passenger planes and for the first time ever, there was only one pilot! I was hoping he didn't have a heart attack or anything seriously unexpected since there wasn't a backup pilot! Thankfully the flight is only about 15 minutes and we all survived! 4 of of the units leadership (a total of 7 men) showed up for our training so we were pleased about that. Once again, very dedicated and humble men. They are kind and generous and also express so much gratitude for our presence and our messages. The next morning the plane that took us back to Luganville was a bigger plane -- 18 passengers and 2 pilots but just when I think "ahhh, this is comfortable" they surprise us and land on the grass next to the runway instead of the tarmack! You just never know what to expect!

With that last sentence in mind... in the middle of the night, actually at 4:12am we were suddenly awakened by our bed rocking and rolling! It woke us both up and we turned to each other and just said "earthquake!" and then rolled over and went back to sleep. Scherns have told us many times that they always feel earthquakes so we didn't think it was a very big deal. The next morning, Scherns told us that it had been a BIG one actually - 7.2. It had struck 200 miles north of their island and it was out in the sea. It didn't do any damage any where; just ruffled some feathers is all. Once again, you just never know what to expect!

Now we are in Port Vila which is the capital of Vanuatu. It is the "big city". We really enjoy it here. There is a lot of French influence and lots of tourists so there are really good restaurants and nice hotels. We went to Church yesterday at the Port Vila 1st and 2nd Branches and they each had about 130 members in attendance. There are 6 Branches close by here but the highlight of this trip will be our adventure tomorrow. We are going to fly over to Tanna Island to meet with the Branch leaders of the 4 units on that island. Now the interesting thing is that this island has a live volcano and thanks to Elder Schern, we know that it is ramping up its erupting activity. If you want to google it, it is called Yasur volcano. It says on the Vanuatu Volcanic activity bulletin "the increasing activity of the Yasur volcano since Jan 2010 led to an upgrade in the hazard rating of this volcano to Alert Lever 3 starting from May 27, 2010. Therefore the access to the volcano is now closed and its 500 meter surrounding zoine is strictly prohibited." OK, that sounds a little unnerving! I should have something interesting to blog about next time!

Before I end this post, one more interesting item: we noticed on under the full-time missionary opportunity category that our position has been posted as available so in case you have been considering a senior missionary experience, we highly recommend this one! Of course, we'll still be here until next Feb but then we could hand everything off to you! If not here, there are tons of other opportunities... check it out... sign up and be prepared to have the most wonderful, life-changing experiences ever! Missions are the Best!