Whew! Tropical cyclone Winston was the strongest cyclone on record to strike Fiji, and among the strongest to hit land anywhere in the world. While Winston was headed for Suva, it seemed it was going to be an absolute disaster to have all but two of our 180 missionaries here. The blessing of having them here when Winston changed course, however, instead of in the areas where they would have been (and where Winston actually did the most damage) CANNOT BE OVERSTATED. We are so grateful, it brings me to tears every time I think of it. When tents arrive, the mission home will send tents to those missionaries whose homes were completely destroyed.
The 1500 saints who came in for the cultural celebration were also blessed to be here. Sleeping on the floor of the LDS College (which also sustained some damage) and Primary school, soaping up and bathing at the drinking fountains, washing clothes and hanging them on the classroom windows and fence could not have been fun. Not knowing what had happened to their homes or loved ones (the phones were dead) had to have been even harder. The LDS College received some damage, too.
Those from Savusavu knew that one home in a village, and five out of another whole village were spared, but they didn’t know whose homes those were. They couldn’t return home because the cyclone wiped out the ports. It took until Thursday to find a port where a boat could dock. They planned to then travel from that port to their villages over land, making it a 26 hour trip.
All after a week of sleeping in classrooms, and for many, when they arrive, to find that everything they owned has been lost! Those I spoke to, including a man who did know that his home was one of those destroyed, were serious, but not without hope that it was going to be all right. In fact, two groups who were not able to perform at Saturday’s Cultural Celebration because of the approaching storm and the curfew put in place, got into their costumes Monday morning and performed for the Area Presidency at the LDS College. They were amazing — and inspiring! Then a dance for young and old alike was held at the College that went until 3am (why stop when all you have to go home to is sleeping on a classroom floor?!)
Bro and Sister Stanford direct Humanitarian Relief here, and invited our YSAs to come to the Service Center to help put together 4,000 Family Hygiene Kits. Next week we hope to help put together thousands of school kits.
We didn’t have power at the institute, but we did have games…and it didn’t take long for the word to spread. By Wednesday we had a houseful of new friends. Although the Institute is for YSAs 18 – 30, we didn’t turn the children away. They were shy, but grateful to have something more to do than play rugby with a ball made of plastic grocery bags tied together.
In the middle of it all, we were treated with a visit from Mark and Paula Peterson, who served as missionaries before us and who helped make the Institute program what it is today. We are so grateful for all they did to pave the way for us! They even brought more movies and games to continue to help us along. We showed one of the movies they brought to about 60 YSAs, and everyone loved it.
Friday was a highlight. We were able to attend a temple session Wednesday after the Institute closed, but nothing compared to the session on Friday, when Saivaira went to receive her endowment in preparation for her mission. She is in my Missionary Preparation class, and we love her. We love all these great YSAs!
Plenty of service is going on. Hauling away debris, replacing corrugated metal walls that blew away, and loading and unloading emergency supplies.
A month or so ago Elder Whitehead and I helped some Young Women put together emergency kits. I think their leader was inspired!
So many were unable to attend the temple rededication, it was rebroadcast again today in the stake centers. We loved hearing it a third and fourth time. The oppressive heat this week (86 to 91.4 degrees with 82 to 90% humidity) and multiple rain showers when we had no power and no car, opened our eyes to how many of our YSAs live every day. And yet, our classes were full all week! We ended class when it got so dark we couldn’t see the board anymore. We continue to be humbled, and are grateful — even for experiences like Winston.