Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bau Branch Chapel Groundbreaking

Here is the site of the current Bau Branch Chapel.
This is a very humble structure and the land it sits on has had some issues with the land owner
so the Church has been looking for another site to build a new place to worship for this growing Branch.

Last week I got to attend a really choice event - the groundbreaking for a new Chapel for the Bau Branch. This event began at 10 am and it was a very rainy day but despite the less than perfect weather, lots and lots of members showed up to be part of this historical and anxiously awaited event.

The location of this property is just down the road from the current building but on a very large, spacious and level piece of property that the Church has leased for 75 years. The new building will be enclosed with louvered windows. The design is called a R85: R stands for rural design and 85 means it will accommodate 85 people. As of the 3rd quarter attendance report for this year, this branch has an 80-person attendance at Sacrament Meeting! I hope they don't outgrow this facility too soon!

Young, old and everyone in between were in attendance this morning. Thankfully they had anticipated the rain (truthfully, it has been raining almost non stop for about this whole month!) and had set up this makeshift structure just for this service.

Here were the "important people" for the presentation.
From left to right:
Paul Whippy, our Service Center general manager: In his remarks he mentioned that the Church completes one new Chapel some where in the world EVERY day of EVERY year! Seriously, that is 365 buildings a year! Amazing!
The man in the blue shirt (I don't know his name): He is the Chief of this area. He is not a member of the Church but he was representing the villages in this area and he is the one who the Church dealt with for the land lease. He didn't speak but Paul Whippy also mentioned that it was this man's great-grandfather who was the Head Chief of Fiji that ceded Fiji to Great Britain back in the 1800's. He is a pretty important guy. I did make a point to shake his hand!
Next is the Pacific Area Physical Facilities director (I forgot his name, whoops). I asked him what his responsibility included and he told me he was in charge of EVERY building (chapels, Temples, schools, service centers) in the WHOLE Pacific Area. Believe me, that is a huge responsibility!
Next to him is the Stake President for this Stake. His name is President Tagidunu. He is such a wonderful, competent, committed Church leader. We are blessed to get to work with him quite often. His talk was all in Fijian so I have no idea what he said but it was powerful!
The last man up front is the Bau Branch President, Pres. Koroi. What a dear man also. He is so humble. We just love and admire him so much also.

During the speech-giving portion of the program, there was rain just poring down nonstop but just before the men got up to go out and start digging their shovels into the soil, the rain cleared up! I have to tell you that it didn't surprise me at all. I felt like that would happen. It was really impressive to see it actually take place!
Paul Whippy also said in his remarks that it will only take 10 weeks to complete this construction! We may even still be here for the dedication!

After all the first men completed their shoveling, lots of individual Branch members went out to join in and dig out their portion of the ground. This picture is for Barry & Jackie; there is your favorite Bau Branch member right in the middle of all the action!

This event wouldn't have been complete without traditional Fijian refreshments! Aren't they beautiful! Very yummy too! Thanks to all the Bau Branch sisters!

It is so exciting to see growth and progress in this country. So many of the Saints are so committed and humble and strong in their faith and their testimonies. They are a beautiful example of serving our Heavenly Father with everything they have to offer. There was a really sweet spirit at this event. Even the Head Chief told Bro. Whippy that he felt something really different and touching during this meeting that he had never felt before! I know I felt blessed to be among such faithful and deserving members.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Vanuatu again! Lucky Us!

Vanuatu is wonderful!
We just got home last night from our 6th trip to that unique, fascinating, entertaining and enjoyable country!
This trip included traveling to 3 different islands: Efate, Tanna and Santo so we were kept busy and got to meet and greet and teach a lot of the Branch leaders.
These first 3 pictures are taken from the non-stop activity that we enjoy watching take place in the harbor of the capital city of Port Vila. This seaplane sailed right up to the shore, picked up the passenger and then headed our way before he then headed out of the harbor and took off into the blue sky! We'd never seen that before!

There is always a plethora of ships coming and going.....
small, medium, large and ....

.... unique!
This one is a catamaran that serves as a kind of taxi-service between a lot of the outer islands. It is cheaper for the locals to travel by boat than by air but it is not as speedy as flying. It takes about 12 hours to sail to Santo Island from Port Vila where as it takes just 45 minutes by plane. But why rush?

Here is what we came for: MLS roll out for the Port Vila District!
Six units plus the District were given computers and training on how to do their weekly financial reporting and membership record keeping online and on their hard drive. This was a huge step forward! and all the leaders were so excited and anxious to become "tech savy"!

Our MSR manager, Sefo, trained on how to report their weekly donations. They practiced with fake donation slips and fake bills and coins but the process was REAL.
Here Paul is working with the Etas Branch leaders. Then Paul trained on how to enter expenses (checks and cash spent) and how to keep track of the Branch budget. I even got to train on how to input and update membership record information.

Here is the District Presidency working together.
You need to meet these wonderful men. From left to right:
Pres. Tokalolo, District Pres; Pres. Souvai, 1st Coun; Paul Hilliman, counselor to the mission President; Pres. Massing, 2nd Coun and Paul Kaun, District Clerk

Mele Branch and Blacksands Branch were working together. Their Branches are next door neighbors so they are actually going to share their computer. The Mele chapel is not secure enough to leave a computer there so this computer will be housed in the Blacksands chapel.

Sitting down are the 2 leaders from Port Vila 1st Branch. Paul Hilliman and Sefo Farpapau, our MSR manager are standing behind them. We work with Sefo everyday in the Service Center. If we had a boss, he would be our boss but we technically don't have a boss. Sefo is also the Bishop of our home ward, Samabula 1st.

Last here is the Port Vila 2nd leaders near the table with the Blacksands Branch clerk sitting behind them. It was exciting to see how quickly they were picking this all up.
The training only took about 2 1/2 hours and the next day, Sunday, everyone of the units were able to input their reports and send them off! There were a couple of snags but by the time we flew away on Tues. Sefo had sorted everything out and he felt like his goal was achieved! We were just happy to have been a part of this exciting move forward.

Sunday we decided to go to church at the Blacksands Branch. All the units in Vanuatu are conducted in the national language which is Bislama. It is a really simple, pidgeon-English language but still I didn't think I'd get much out of Relief Society and Gospel Doctrine classes so I choose to attend Primary.... which was the best choice for sure!

They were actually practicing for the Primary Sacrament Meeting program which they will present the end of November. It was so much fun to see these sweet, shy children come up in front of the group and recite their little remarks. There were about 25 children all together. The leaders had assigned groups of 2 children: a younger child to display a picture representing what the older child was talking about in their presentation. Then between each group of children, all the kids would stand up and sing a Primary song. Most all the songs are sung in English so I thoroughly enjoyed being able to sing along with them!

I think I was kind of a distraction (or maybe even a concern) to some of the children. Aren't they beautiful! Seriously, look at those huge, gorgeous eyes! I did get him to smile but he did seem quite concerned about why I had joined their group!

She didn't seem to mind!

I was actually watching this little guy quite closely because he pulled that pack of matches out of his pocket and I was afraid he was going to start striking them into flames but then he just started chewing on them which made we anxious for a whole other reason! You can't really see very well in this picture but he had the longest eyelashes!

These two girls show the 2 typical hair styles: either puffy or braided.
Those braids would have taken some time!

After church we headed back to the airport to catch our next flight over to the island of Tanna.

We really never thought we'd get back to this island again but as a result of some of the information that showed up on the mid-year audits for the 4 units on this island, we were asked to return and do some more training so we JUMPED at the chance!
The young missionaries suggested this hotel/resort for our accommodations. It is called Tanna Lodge. I guess tourists are flocking to Tanna right now to visit the active volcanco so it is actually quite hard to get a reservation here as there aren't too many overnight accommodations on this island (that we'd feel comfortable stay at).

Not bad, huh!
They had about 10 of these individual little villas (that's what they called them). You can see it was right next to the ocean. I love being lulled to sleep by the waves crashing on the beach.

The vegetation was so lush! I was afraid we wouldn't be able to find our villa after the sun went down!

Our villa actually had 2 rooms; one with a large bed and one with 2 twin size beds. There was no A/C but it did have a really good ceiling fan and it actually got kind of cold during the night. There were some blankets on a shelf in our room and we ended up using them! Something I never thought I'd need in this tropical environment. There was indoor toilet facilities and 2 sinks in the bathroom but the shower was OUTSIDE! That was another first for us! It was surrounded by a tall, stone wall so it actually was very private. See the metal box on the wall? That was a very effective gas heater and the shower was perfect! To choose how hot you wanted the water, there was a dial on the unit that gave you the choice of "big flame" or "little flame"... bislama is delightful and simple!

Because this is a volcano island, the sand is black and very rocky...

but not a problem for the locals who were totally enjoying their evening outing in the sea.

And not a problem for us as we watched the sunset.

and choose our dinner off the menu board.
We went for the stir fried chicken and it was delicious! Oh yeah, and the banana split with ice cream! Where are we?

We were accompanied on this outing with Brother and Sister Koipoi. He is one of the District auditors and she is the Family History specialist. We needed him to help us with the training we had planned because he was the one who did the audits and he knew what the problems were that we needed to cover and he also did the translating when our English wasn't getting understood.
Brother Koipoi served his mission in Fiji and Sister Koipoi served her mission in Vanuatu. She told me that Tanna Island was her first area on her mission and this was her first time back since then. They have been married about 4 years and have a little boy who is about 3 years olds.

Did you know that some watermelons are yellow? I didn't!!! I've never seen this anywhere else. It tasted just like the red watermelon! I should have brought home some seeds... I just now thought of that... a little too late!

Paul had quite a lot of training to do. He has been trying very hard to simplify some way for these unit leaders to keep track of how they spend their branch budgets. The District gives them cash because there aren't very many places on this island that you can cash a check. But seldom do they document or record how the money is spent so this is a constant topic of discussion. But they are very anxious to do what they should and they are very willing to listen and try to do what they are instructed about. Finances are like learning a foreign language. It just isn't something that they use in their daily lives. They live off the land and seldom do they even deal with money in their personal lives. Our hearts are so full of love and admiration for them and their willingness to accept this responsibility especially when they themselves are just quite new in the Church.

Here is another of the Branch Presidents and 2 of the 6 young missionaries that serve here on Tanna Island. They were fully involved in making weekly records that hadn't been made or submitted for about 6 months! We were really happy with all that was accomplished on this less than 24 hour visit.

So that gives you just a brief, quick glimpse into some of our visit to Vanuatu. Even when we think we have had a very productive outing, we come back home and think "we need to go again; there is still lots to do!"