November 21 – 27

IMG_3353.jpgHappy Thanksgiving! We celebrated ours with the senior missionaries and some guests at the mission home on Saturday. We may have had chicken instead of turkey, but it was almost like home. Reading and contemplating Abraham Lincoln’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation gave it extra meaning. We have so much for which to be grateful! And we know from whom our blessings flow.

IMG_3359.jpgElder and Sister Harper invited Bro and Sister Creamer to join us. Sister Tami Creamer wrote the music to the Primary song “I Know That My Savior Loves Me.” As we sat across the table from her at dinner, we listened to the story of how that song came to be. When she spoke to the group later, she showed how important our individual gifts are by playing a hymn without using two of the piano keys. She then played it as it is written using those keys, and it was beautiful. We all have something to contribute. She ended by accompanying us as we sang “I Know That My Savior Loves Me.” Moved to tears, I could hardly sing the words, “I did not touch Him or sit on His knee, Yet, Jesus is real to me.”  What a beautiful experience!

Monday night we had our exit interview with Pres Layton, followed by our farewell dinner. It is so hard to say goodbye.  Pres. and Sister Layton have been wonderful.  We will miss being with our fun fellow missionaries!IMG_3320.jpg

Elder and Sis Clark, Stanfords, Olsens, Elder Willis, Shavers, Andersons, Sis Alldredge, Greenburgs, Sis Willis, Elder Alldredge, and us.

Afterwards we stopped in Fatburgers to snap this picture, since this is the year we’re both 66. I used to wait for the bus when I was a kid along the side of Route 66.IMG_3322.jpg

We also said goodbye this week to Bale, who is on his way to Australia to play rugby with a professional team. We wish him well!IMG_3325.jpg

What do we say to someone we think we will never see again? I have been asking some of the YSAs to tell me what I should tell people at home about Fiji. Joey said, “Fijian smiles are as warm as the sun. So true!

Avinesh and Shammi came to say goodbye, too. They have been fantastic landlords, and we are so thankful we’ve had the opportunity to know them.IMG_3327.jpg

Tetika brought his younger brother and sister over to say goodbye before they left for Tavalu. Elder Whitehead shared his tie with Tibau, and taught him how to tie it, so he could wear it when he becomes a deacon and passes the sacrament.IMG_3338.jpgIMG_3333.jpg

 

Sunday we attended Tamavua 2nd ward. It was the first ward we attended when we arrived in Fiji, so it seemed fitting to make it the last. We spoke, then stood and bawled our eyes out as the ward members sang “God Be With You ‘Til We Meet Again” and put beautiful shell leis around our necks and kissed our cheeks. What a treasured memory! We learned so much from the people in that ward — especially from the YSAs, and their YSA adult leaders, Frank and Susan Stanford.IMG_3364.jpg

This will be our last blog post.

It is hard to believe, but it is true. I don’t know how it can be, but this really is the week we go home. We will teach our last classes, lock the door, and get on a plane.  We will count on having the joy of seeing our family warm our hearts enough to help us adjust to the freezing winter cold at home.  We have loved this tropical paradise, but are excited to see our family.  Family and friends are what make this world a paradise for me.  We are so thankful for their love and support.

This has been the most wonderful/challenging/rewarding/frustrating/humbling/incredible experience of our lives. For the rest of our lives, when we take turns going around the dinner table on Thanksgiving Day sharing what we are thankful for, we will include the blessing of this mission.

It has been a sacred experience to consecrate a small portion of our lives fully and completely to the work of the Savior.  He is the light of the world!  The beautiful video #LIGHTtheWORLD motivates us to try and follow His example as we prepare to celebrate His birth with our loved ones.  Surely that will help fill the hole in our hearts made by leaving our wonderful friends in Fiji.

Moce, fair Fiji!  Vinaka. Vinakavakalevu from the bottom of our hearts!

November 14 – 20

What a super week!  Complete with a super moon, no less (wasn’t that fun to see?).  We stood outside to oooh and ahhh with the Edmunds, and I thought of you all being under the same moon:)

Exams are over, school is out, and everyone is ready to have fun!IMG_3282.jpgIMG_3252.jpg

These wonderful women were our bakers this week…IMG_3255.jpg

…along with these talented tasters (you have to check for quality, right?).IMG_3256.jpg

We enjoyed another serenade, this time by Bro Nawatu, our favorite custodian and friend –IMG_3248.jpg

and learned something new from Shivani.  She shares the gospel online with about 1,000 contacts!  It was fun to see how she does it.IMG_3286.jpg

IMG_3274.jpgWe celebrated Sumeet’s 20th birthday, and loved hearing Loraini give him the scoop on all he will encounter on his mission to England.

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But the real event that made this week truly superior was being Lydia’s escort as she received her endowment in the temple.  That was a special and sacred experience.IMG_3263.jpgIMG_3266.jpg

Jeanette also received her temple endowment that evening, and plenty of friends and family were there to congratulate the two girls.  They even served pizza in the parking lot to celebrate, and to say goodbye once more to Brandon  Never heard of having a temple tailgater before, but it was a beautiful night for it.IMG_3271.jpg

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Elder Whitehead and I spent Saturday evening with Elder and Sister Greenburgs to thank them for being great zone assistants.IMG_3299.jpg

The other senior missionaries have been a huge part of our mission — which surprised us.  We really have enjoyed getting to know them all.

Talk about enjoying people — we attended Wailoku ward today, where Elder Whitehead taught the YSA Sunday School class, of course.  We loved seeing our good friends there. We have learned so much from them!  We will bless their names forever.  The picture below was the whole RS today. Sister Edmunds is assigned there, Sister Olsen (next to me in pink) was also visiting today.IMG_3302.jpg

Sister Waisu, standing on my other side, is so humble.  When we broke into groups to discuss the RS lesson, she practically whispered her comment, and did so in Fijian.  Marica (in bright orange) interpreted for me.  She said that when she faced a huge problem at home with family members, and it made her angry.  Her husband, who is not a member of the Church, told her to not be afraid but to have courage, and remember what she was being taught at church.  What a sweet reminder to us all of how we can be an influence for good.  And, what a blessing the gospel can be.

We have two more weeks to be an influence of any kind with our YSAs (makes me cry just to type that). We hope to be an influence for good in someone’s life before we leave.

 

 

 

November 7 – 13

We began our week listening to heavenly music as Michelle and her daughter sat by our institute carport preparing for a recital.  We loved it.  Michelle brought her 12 year old daughter here to learn English.  IMG_3177.jpg

One night in institute class students were asked to list lessons learned from Joseph Smith’s first vision.  One surprised me: “English is the language of the restoration.”  I am grateful I haven’t had to leave my home to learn it.

Sione taught us that Tongan sulus are longer so it’s easier for men to be modest (Elder Whitehead was so jealous).IMG_3182.jpg

He also told us that while he originally came to Suva to apply for a visa,  he extended his stay because he felt he needed a spiritual lift.  It was rewarding to have him tell us he found that in institute classes.  We have appreciated his comments in class.

We don’t have a TV, but election news was broadcast in every building I went into Wednesday.  We didn’t know the outcome until we got home that night, but everyone was interested in it.  Someone even referred to it in our Fijian Sunday School class today.  IMG_3187.jpg

While everyone was in a frenzy counting ballots at home, Elder Whitehead was teaching Brandon how to perform a baptism here in the temple.  That was a tender scene.  It was even more special when it turned out that our wonderful Jeannette was the first person to stand as proxy as he performed baptisms.  IMG_3191.jpg

Just before we sang “God Be With You” to Brandon on Thursday, he bore sincere testimony saying that once you know the gospel is true, how can you not share it?!

We bought more yarn so Racheal could crochet a hat for Elder Whitehead.  Now with his hat and my scarf, we are ready for the Wyoming winter! Almost.IMG_3201.jpg

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Saturday we joined over a hundred people of all faiths in a march to promote awareness of the problem of Diabetes in Fiji.  Many sang as we walked through downtown, and we sang some primary songs along with other LDS members.  I walked with a muslim young man who wore a long white robe, and who was very nice.  At the end of the walk and before the Minister of Health spoke, prayers were offered by Islamic, Hindu, and Seventh Day Adventist leaders.  Our Elder (Dr.) Clark also spoke, and told of  going from hut to hut helping amputees in Taveuni.  One was a 32 year old mother of ten.  Although insulin is available, few have access to refrigeration, and the effects are devastating.  All were encouraged to eat right and live a healthy lifestyle.IMG_3211.jpgIMG_3216.jpg

This was an important month in the history of Fiji for another reason:IMG_3217.jpg

I’ll never forget watching Sumeet and Racheal search online for information about the ship that brought their great grandparents to Fiji.  This nation has a wonderful, but complicated past.

This morning we attended church at the Berry Road chapel with these cute sisters from Kiritibati: IMG_3219.jpg Our Sunday School lesson was on 4th Nephi, and how the people then were not separated as tribes or groups, but lived in peace.  We hope that for Fiji, and for the world:)

 

 

 

 

 

 

October 31 – November 6

IMG_3138.jpgAfter saying so many goodbyes, it sure was nice to say hello to a new face this week.  Edwina brought in a young man from Taveuni named Jale Koy, who recently returned from the Loag Philippines mission. It’s always fun for Elder Whitehead to have returned missionaries help him practice Tagalog.

Lini was the last to leave for BYU – Hawaii this week – she came in for one last final goodbye — a tearjerker, of course!  We will miss her so much.IMG_3141.jpg

Elenoa introduced Savaira to the gospel, and both attend my Mission Preparation class. Both are such sweet young ladies, I love being with them. We started class late Thursday because Elenoa wanted to wait for Savaira to bring her a sulu to wear over her pants, as a sign of respect in the classroom. That was worth the wait!IMG_3145.jpg

And look who else stopped by – Bale, Moji and friends. Bale is waiting for a visa to play rugby in Australia.IMG_3150.jpg

 

We are gathering up souvenirs to bring home. Many of them have been made by Christine (pictured below) and her sister Elizabeth. It has been so much fun to watch them string jewelry and weave items.IMG_3135.jpg

Today we attended Suva North stake conference. Forty men were presented for a sustaining vote to receive priesthood advancement. It was a wonderful sight to see them stand before the congregation. Another of our YSAs was called to the stake High council, and another as an assistant stake clerk. These young men do so much!

Pres Farpapau is District president over a branch in Rotuma. He and his wife were called to serve as missionaries from the Suva North stake, and are here in Suva this weekend for a mission conference with Pres. Layton. When the Farpapaus started there were 12 members in the branch, and now there are over 60. He shared a humble testimony about the miracles they were experiencing in Rotuma, and how missionary service was changing their lives.

Tonight was the last Family Home Evening we were in charge of, and at the end we were released as Zone Leaders.  The Farpapaus and other senior couples who are serving off island joined us tonight — forty-four of us all together.  As I looked around the room, I was humbled to be with such a choice group of Heavenly Father’s children.  We are so grateful for the blessing of being here!!!IMG_3166.jpg

 

 

October 24 – 30 Happy Diwali!

IMG_3091.jpgThis Indian festival of lights, light over darkness, is like Christmas, 4th of July and about three other holidays all rolled into one.  I asked Rachel how these beautiful sparkly doilies were used, and she said Hindus put them on tables for special events, or dress their idols in them during Diwali.

Kids at the LDS Primary School celebrated Diwali by dressing up in beautiful dresses and jewels or Indian outfits for boys. These girls stopped their basketball game just long enough for me to snap a picture.IMG_3078.jpg

Beautiful Salwar Kameez are everywhere this weekend for Diwali – even in the grocery stores. Sarah and Ashiyana in the picture below weigh our produce at IGA. A little different from the polo shirts Albertson employees wear at home,eh?IMG_3097.jpg

IMG_3115.jpgWe were honored to be invited by Rachel to come to her home for the Diwali sweets she and her mother spent all week making. What a great experience! She has a very gentle, loving family.

 

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Sudha and her husband also invited us to come for sweets with other missionaries. Since Sudha manages a dress shop, Sister Alldredge and Sister Edmunds decided to go all out for the holiday!IMG_3127.jpg

While Hindus and Indian Fijians are celebrating Diwali with lights, sweets and fireworks, the St Joseph’s parish down the street held a huge bazaar with a competition for the best decorated booth, and the YSAs of the Suva North stake had a Halloween dance, with prizes for costumes. Seems everyone was in the mood for a party this week!IMG_3096.jpg

This week was a big one for goodbyes: Lasarusa, Lini, Sosi to BYU-Hawaii, and Kelemana back to New Caledonia. Oh, how we will miss them! The institute will be different without them – especially without Lasarusa’s and Sosi’s music.IMG_3070.jpgIMG_3075.jpg

Sosi and David have had so much fun teasing Elder Whitehead for eating Pepita seeds, he just had to get one last picture of them eating his “chicken feed” (now they love them).

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Chicken and pig’s feed aside, today we experienced a spiritual feast at our Nausori stake conference. Seats in the chapel, cultural hall and a large tent filled early with the 1,449 in attendance. There’s nothing like singing “I’m a Child of God” in Fijian, or hearing the men in a congregation singing the Fijian style harmony to “God Be With You ‘til We Meet Again.” During the conference, Pres. Qoroya reminded us that the Lord will always reward those who earnestly seek Him. Another speaker talked about the smooth stones David used to kill Goliath, and how it takes years to make a stone smooth. Years of righteous decisions prepare us to conquer our adversaries, too.  It was a wonderful day, rain and all.

 

October 17 – 23

77fe347e718f59eb412e64ae9c2a8440.jpgWe thought seeing a sun dog in North Dakota was fascinating.  Last week we were introduced to another unusual phenomena: a wet moon. Tradition is, it fills up with water, then pours out for the rainy season.  It was stunning to see — like the smile of a Cheshire cat in the sky.  Not your normal view of the moon!

We learned about another tradition this week from these wonderful people from Vanuatu. They were at the church to celebrate a granddaughter’s first birthday (A person’s first birthday and 21st birthday are very important here). I watched them put on their face paint, which is part of a tradition to celebrate someone’s first birthday. For other special events, or for honored people like a chief, they paint different designs. Such a fascinating culture! This woman was so sweet. She told me her son died in last year’s cyclone.  IMG_3045.jpg

IMG_3030.jpgWhat an eventful week! We always love visitors, especially when three of our original YSAs come in – Sean, Lini and Joey.   We also had some surprise visits from some fine feathered friends, who flew through our open lady’s bathroom window to build a nest! At first we couldn’t figure out where all the dirt and sticks came from that were on top of a storage cabinet and all over the bathroom. Then we caught them in the act! We closed the window and put up a no vacancy sign.

One of our blessings here is listening to beautiful singing. This group gathered before class and did an absolutely gorgeous (and extemporaneous) rendition of “Brightly Beams Our Father’s Mercy,” inventing their own harmony as they went. What a treat!IMG_3027.jpg

For class on Thursday, Sister Stanford put together a matching game about the prophets. The competition was intense, but they sure had fun.IMG_3035.jpg

Below is a common scene at the institute. Who needs chairs when you can sit by a friend on the floor?!IMG_3041.jpg

Saturday was a special day, not just because we were able to get ready for Sunday, but because Joti was baptized (my hand is on her shoulder). She just graduated from a nursing program she attended with another one of our YSAs, Lyanne. Lyanne invited her to church, and pretty soon, Joti was the one dragging Lyanne out of bed to make sure they didn’t miss a meeting. She bore a simple and sincere testimony about the peaceful feeling that came to her when she  attended church for the first time.IMG_3044.jpg

Going over last minute instructions before she was baptized…IMG_3046.jpg

Saturday afternoon we went to the mission home and put together gifts for the junior missionaries. For some junior missionaries, our small gifts will be all they will receive. We listened to Christmas music and had fun trying to practice what we try so hard to preach:)IMG_3050.jpg

Today we visited the Nausori Ward.  I sat next to a woman who had a huge bandage on her leg because she had been bitten by a dog.  I feel so blessed to have been safe here on the mornings I have gone walking.  A few times I have come to groups of dogs who have, in unison, turned their heads away from me. Maybe it’s because of a cat, but I have felt to say right out loud, “Thank you.”   We know we have been blessed in many ways here, and are grateful for help from those who are seen, and for help from those who are unseen.

 

 

 

October 10 – 16

Our camera broke last week. The cord to our lap top charger is wearing out, and my iPad cover has disintegrated. Must be a sign – we are close to going home.

We had a good week at the institute anyway. Our classes went well, and we hosted some fun  visa waiters from Kiritbati.  Obtaining a visa sure is a challenging process.  Prospective missionaries must come to Suva from their islands (three day boat ride for some), then wait days for an appointment in the Embassy, then wait for a boat back home.  Sometimes it takes more than one trip.

Elder Whitehead helped Vicky prepare a sacrament meeting talk, them coached him as he practiced speaking it in English.  This was his second talk, and wow, has he ever improved!  Here he is with Tetika, Elder Whitehead, and another new convert, James.IMG_3012.jpg

See those ties? I’m going to remember this picture when the wind blows in Cheyenne. What do you know, it blows other places, too — even in Fiji:)

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Elenoa has been part of my mission preparation class. She is preparing to serve a mission in Australia, and has been a joy to teach.

We have also enjoyed getting to know some of the people who sell things on the street. This is our fried pea lady.  Fried peas are a favorite snack here.IMG_2969.jpg

IMG_2993.jpgAnd this is the young man we see in the parking lot of Cost U Less every week selling rugs made by his mother. We wanted to replace the bright black and orange rug in our guest bedroom, but every time he asked us if we wanted to buy a rug, the ones he offered were colors like the one we had. Finally one day I explained why we weren’t buying them: we needed a solid blue rug. The next time we saw him, he showed me a solid blue rug made by his mother. What a salesman! We bought it, and it looks great in our flat.   See the Golden arches in the background?  There are three McDonalds restaurants in all of Fiji, and two are here in Suva.  Lucky for us.

IMG_2960.jpgIn spite of the fact that this is centipede season (Elder Whitehead’s record is vacuuming up 30 in one morning from the institute’s carpeted floor!)…this is such a beautiful time of year! Flowers are everywhere. You’d think flower girls were walking down each street because the sidewalks are strewn with beautiful flower petals. We do live in paradise!

This was our last week of cleaning in the temple.  It was a special experience to climb down a ladder to the area below the baptismal font and clean the twelve oxen holding up the font, similar to the oxen bearing up the molten (brazen) sea in the Temple of Solomon.   We look forward to the temple reopening next week, and once again feeling warmth and peace in that holy place.