September 12 – 18

IMG_2849.jpgRachael helped prepare a bride for her wedding by painting mehndi on the bride’s hands with henna. Some of the henna got on Rachael’s hands, and the tradition is that when that happens you have to paint your hands, too. Such an intricate, beautiful design! Another tradition is that if the henna goes dark, the marriage will be a long and loving one.

IMG_2858.jpgTomasi asked me to type out a fireside program in Fijian. That was a first for me! The program included the words to hymns, and it was a little bit of a trick deciding if groups of letters were separated syllables or a different word, but Tomasi proof read it and only had to make a few corrections. Wananavu!

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We enjoyed meeting Shinvani, who just finished serving a temple square mission in Salt Lake City.  It was fun to see  her greet old friends. She joined us performing baptisms at the temple, too. We look forward to getting to know her better.

Speaking of missions, Jeanette received her mission call! She will serve in Kobe, Japan, and is SO excited! We are happy that she will be here with us until we go. She will report to the Provo MTC Dec 7. James Sharma also received his call: Australia, Brisbane mission, and will report to the MTC in Dec.

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We visited the Nacinu 2nd ward today, and were surprised to see one of our YSAs, Elder James Johansson! He entered the mission field back in April, but has been serving here these five months while he waited to receive his visa to the U.S. The ward sang “God Be With You” at the close of our meeting (I love that tradition!). He will be leaving for Las Vegas this Friday.  What a culture shock that will be for him…but a blessing to the people he will serve.

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We were introduced in the Nacinu YSA Sunday School class and then (as it has happened in other wards) were invited to teach the class because they had no teacher.

We team taught and it worked out fine. I just happened to read some scriptures early this morning that went with the lesson, so that made it easy. Sure would be great to see these wonderful YSAs being taught each week by a teacher they could depend upon, though. There are some strong young adults in their group – I’m sure they could have led a discussion by themselves if we hadn’t come. I’m impressed by their strength.

We ended the evening watching the re-broadcast of Elder Quentin L. Cook’s World Wide YSA Devotional.  Our days are full of ups and downs, but days like today make up for it.  We’re thankful to be here:)

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 5 – 11

IMG_2829.jpgClasses are going well, stake institute classes and activities are building up, and multi-stake YSA activities are being organized under the direction of priesthood leaders, so life is good.

We have made every effort to help strengthen the stake institute classes, including changing the courses we are teaching so we don’t offer the same classes at the same time.  If a YSA chooses to attend both their stake institute and the Institute of Religion, we want them to IMG_2830.jpg be able to receive credit towards graduation. So — Elder Whitehead is now teaching Doctrine and Covenants Sections 1-76,  Bro. Stanford is teaching Church History in the Fulness of Times, and everybody’s happy.

We labored on Labor Day same as any other day, but Wednesday we closed the Institute and celebrated the nation’s first ever Fiji Constitution Day.  An ex-British territory, Fiji became independent in 1987.  After much upheaval and military coups, a fourth Fijian constitution is now in place, and was honored for the first time on September 7.  This latest constitution is supposed to abolish old ethnic based provisions of the electoral system, lower the voting age to 18, put a check on seats in parliament, and the requirements of Senate.

IMG_2820.jpgFijians used to honor this day by requiring those 21 years of age or new to Fiji to register to vote. I’m not sure if that still happens, but even in the rain, everyone enjoyed a day off.

 

We drove up to Pacific Harbor, marveling all the way at this glorious paradise.IMG_2825.jpg

IMG_2813.jpgI took Sister Jensen shopping this week for items the senior missionaries will put into little Christmas bags for the junior missionaries, and for material she needed to make a table cloth.  Almost every other store downtown is a fabric store, which tells me more people here sew than those at home.  We had fun going in and out of all the Chinese shops in the rain.

We have come to love some of the store clerks, especially those in the grocery stores we see as we shop each week.  One we will really miss when we leave is Sarah, who weighs our fruits and vegetables in the produce department at IGA.  We didn’t see her for a while after the cyclone because her home was damaged, so we’re especially thankful she’s back to work and doing ok.IMG_2814.jpg

Which brings me to the bitter-sweet news that our plans for traveling home have arrived! We had some glitches and difficult moments getting the itinerary right, but we will leave Fiji Dec 2.  We love so many people here.  I keep telling the YSAs I wish I could put them in my suitcase and take them home with me.  One of our missionaries shared this quote:

“I wrote your name in the sand,

But the ocean washed it away.

I wrote your name in the sky,

But the wind swept it away.

I wrote your name in my heart,

And there it will always stay.”

We have 83 days to add more names, and will leave with heavy hearts:)

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 29 – September 4

IMG_2793.jpgAre you sitting down?  Sumeet received his mission call to…Leeds, England!  What a shocker!  With most of the missionaries from Fiji being called to serve in the Philippines, we thought for sure that would be where he would go.  He is so excited!  We have learned there is a large Hindi speaking population there, so this will be a perfect fit for him and a blessing to those of Indian descent who are ready to hear the gospel.

IMG_2794.jpgIt was another busy week helping students apply for BYU-Hawaii, enroll in classes we teach, or just taking the time to encourage them as they came in between work and other activities.  We love to know they are busy.  Tetika has been busy with a new attachment (internship) and translating materials into Gilbertese for the Area Presidency, so we were happy he had a minute to stop by.

We also are happy when YSAs volunteer to bake!  We all love to have refreshments after class, but it’s even more fun when they are made and served by our YSAs.  They are the best!IMG_2795.jpg

Bro. Stanford invited some of his Super Kids to his class Thursday night.  We had a great discussion about Ephesians 4 and the church being being built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.  Getting everybody home was a trick, so some rode in style in the back of Bro Stanford’s pick up truck.IMG_2796.jpg

Today is Father’s Day (again!).  Elder Whitehead really lucks out: he’s had four Father’s Days since we left home.  Rachael was sweet and brought him a cake to celebrate.  It is a tradition for a child to feed the father/grandfather a bite, so we had that little ceremony and then cut it up and shared it with everyone there. Then when we attended the Naulu ward today, he was given a cute paper tie.  What more could a father ask for?!  It’s great to be a father in Fiji:)IMG_2798.jpg

 

August 21 – 28

IMG_2756 (1).jpgWe had a great time welcoming Pres. and Sister Cziep to the mission this week.  Bro Cziep will be a counselor to Pres. Layton in our mission presidency.  They are from Idaho, but own a home on the island of Taveuni so they can come snorkel and scuba dive.  Now instead of being snowbirds, they will stay for a whole eighteen months.

Taveuni was one of the places hardest hit by cyclone Winston, and they told us amazing stories about it. They said that one group of people took shelter in a very narrow space under a house.  When they came out after the storm, the entire house was gone.  Others broke through some cinderblock of a large water tank, packed in like sardines and stood in a foot of water until the storm passed.  Seeing sheets of metal wrapped opposite directions around trees right near each other was evidence that the eye of the storm passed over them.  What an experience!  The Czieps told us of miracles, lives and property spared, and evidence that the tender and watchful eye of the Lord was also over them.

IMG_2759.jpgWe are back to school!  Elder Whitehead taught the first class of “Jesus Christ and the Everlasting Gospel”, I taught “Mission Preparation,” and then substitute taught “Teachings of the Living Prophets” for Bro Stanford.  Our numbers are down, but it was a wonderful week.  Many students went home to villages during the break, so we hope to see more this coming week.

During Bro. Stanford’s class, Raymond, Shanal and Misi presented a portion of Hugh B. Brown’s “Profile of a Prophet.” Undergirding and overarching all the rest, they did a super job!IMG_2763.jpg

It’s been raining almost every day, but how can we complain when we are surrounded by so much beauty?!IMG_2769.jpg

As Twilight zone leaders, we set up a temple session Saturday morning followed by lunch at the historic Governors restaurant.  What a wonderful way to start the day.  It was a special experience for us all.  We also welcomed Elder and Sister Harper, who will serve as Self-Reliance missionaries in Nadi.  We are getting to be quite a large group!IMG_2777.jpg

IMG_2780.jpgToday we went to the Kuku ward in Nausori with Pres. and Sister Olsen.  We were asked to bear our testimonies before the Olsens spoke.

In the YSA Sunday School class, we met Alipate, a recent convert.  Last February missionaries invited Alipate and his family to attend the Suva temple open house.  Two flat tires made them so late to the open house that everyone had gone home –except Bro Maiwiriwiri, who gave them a personal tour.  Alipate felt the Spirit there, and decided he wanted to feel that again.  He was baptized four months ago, and just glows!  After church today he helped fill the baptismal font with buckets of water so another person could feel that same Spirit, too.  I am certain the Lord has something in store for him.

Relief Society was fun, even though it was almost all in Fijian.  I followed along with the lesson by reading it in English, made a few comments, and was asked to offer the closing prayer — which I did in English.  I’m thankful Heavenly Father knows my language.  It was a great day.

August 15 – 21

IMG_2753.jpgEverybody loves a parade, and they sure put on a big one today for the Hibiscus festival. Float after float of beauty Queens and their teams all dressed in matching colors, balloons galore – it was quite the spectacle. IMG_2722.jpgIn our neighborhood, Hindus had a parade of their own.
This week they celebrate the birth of Krishna. FYI: Don’t know if you can see the Fijian flag on the hood of the white truck above, but because so many Fijians showed pride in their country after the Olympic rugby win by displaying the flag, the Prime Minister announced this week that Fiji will keep its flag’s current design (He wanted to change it).

IMG_2714.jpgNot to be outdone, we celebrated the Olympic win with cake (and we ate it, too). Otherwise it was a very quiet week at the Institute: school break and the Hibiscus carnival downtown kept lots of YSAs busy.  Many were also busy being ordinance workers for extra temple sessions scheduled for visitors from off island.

IMG_2724.jpgWhen I walked Monday morning, I saw a large group of people sitting on the ground in front of the Service Center near the temple. They had all kinds of bags with them spread out on the lawn, so I asked them what brought them here. They were from the island of Taveuni and had traveled through the night by boat, arriving at 6:30am. They were here to spend the week in the temple, and were on the grass because Temple Patron Housing hadn’t open yet. Many came to receive their endowments, and a number of families came to be sealed in the temple.  Our temple missionaries told us it was an incredible experience for everyone.  A few of the YSAs who came with their families from the island of Kadavu spent a couple of hours with us at the institute.  It is humbling to be with people who sacrifice so much for their love of the Lord.

Monday night we had a wonderful visit with Elder and Sister Callister, the Greenburgs (our assistant zone leaders) and Shavers (temple missionaries).  The Callisters will be Seminary and Institute Coordinators in Lautoka, on the west side of Fiji.  Their first week here has been a little bit of a challenge because of training glitches (didn’t help that it  rained every day and was g-l-o-o-m-y), but they will be great! IMG_2718.jpgIMG_2721.jpgElder Greenburg’s Family Home Evening message to us was that he had expected that because of our age and experience, serving a mission as a senior couple would be easy.  But it is work, and we have challenges, but they help us grow.  Sister Shaver shared a quote from Pres George Q. Cannon, saying that we aren’t meant to go about day by day like a door turning on its hinges without any feeling on the subject.  The Lord has more in store for us, and will gladly bless us if we will but make the effort to turn to Him and follow His example.  The best part is that He even helps us make the turn! I am so thankful for heavenly help.  We spoke at the Suva Stake Institute enrollment fireside Friday night, and that was the message I shared with them.  Two more days and we begin our last semester of institute!

 

 

 

August 8 – 14 Olympic gold!

 

IMG_2713.jpgThe whole country is celebrating an Olympic win in rugby! Schools closed, business stopped and everyone watched the Fijian Sevens win gold. Cheers erupted from nearby homes, people poured into the streets, horns honked, and fireworks were set off right in the middle of the day, continuing into the night. Fijian flags are everywhere — on cars or carried or worn by a very happy people.  It is the first ever Olympic gold medal for the country of Fiji, earned by winning the first Olympic Rugby Sevens competition in history. (Rugby union was played at the 1924 summer Olympics.  Sevens has different rules.)IMG_2712.jpg

Add in the start of the annual Hibiscus Festival with a King and Queen, and the magnitude of celebration around here is off the charts (so is the traffic).  But it’s a great time to be in Fiji!

We had some things to celebrate at the institute as well. We finished off another great semester with even more course completions than last semester. In fact, while all the Olympic hoopla was going on around us, we were in our little office counting make-ups and sending in reports. Now it’s done. We are so proud of our students!  The best part is when we hear that something they learned in class helped them make a right choice, or anytime they applied a principle of the gospel and they felt Heavenly Father’s love.   The four future missionaries below can’t wait to share that message.  We love to hear their testimonies. IMG_2698.jpgIMG_2701.jpgIMG_2706.jpg

IMG_2708.jpgWe also celebrated Rachel’s birthday. What a great week!

Sunday we held our senior couple Family Home evening at the mission home, and were pleased to meet Elder and Sister Callister, who will serve in Lautoka as Seminary and Institute missionaries.

Instead of having a speaker for our Family Home Evening, two couples from our group shared miracles and tender mercies they have experienced here as missionaries.  We certainly are not alone, and are grateful kind heavenly help.  This day, and always.

 

August 1 – 7

We finally said goodbye to Veta.  Singing “God Be With You” and seeing him go out the door with friends to be set apart was an emotional experience.  He and his friends came back after the setting apart so he could attend one last class taught by Elder Whitehead.  What a joy it has been to get to know that young man.  We are thankful he will be serving in Fiji because that means it may be possible for us to see him again before we go home.

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One day we heard an eruption of hellos in the lounge area — another young man the students at the institute all know is serving a mission now in Fiji, and was sent to the institute to pick up some teaching materials.  It was heartwarming to see the big bear hugs during that reunion of friends.IMG_2667.jpg

And now we have one more missionary picture to put up on our board:  Brandon received his call to serve in the Philippines! Yay!  As you can see on the map, most missionaries from Fiji serve there. Elder Whitehead and the rest of the returned missionaries who also served there have been helping him learn some words.  There are many dialects, but fortunately there is some common vocabulary.IMG_2673.jpg

We are coming to the end of another semester.  Just one last week to go, so we are seeing lots of make-up work and Elevated Learning assessment questions being answered so students can receive credit.  We are so proud of these guys!2016-07-28 12.01.18.jpg

This week we celebrated Tomasi’s 21 birthday,IMG_2687.jpg

…and had the wonderful experience of witnessing five special baptisms — all in one night!  They called it the “Big Baptism Day.”  It was a big day, a sacred, special day in the lives of those who chose to enter into the waters of baptism.  It was so neat to see a whole row of people wearing white. For us, it was the perfect way to end another awesome week in Fiji.

July 25 – 31 More hellos and goodbyes

IMG_2665.jpgIt was hard to say goodbye to our good friends and neighbors, Elder and Sister Knight.  We had a farewell dinner for them Monday with all the senior couples in Suva, enjoyed some last moments together during the week, then packed their suitcases into our car (using every inch of car space) and took them to the airport Friday night.  Unfortunately there was a little bit of a glitch: their tickets had been reserved but not paid for, so they couldn’t check in.  Pres Layton saved the day by calling Salt Lake, and with fifteen minutes to spare they received tickets.  Just getting on a plane would have been way too boring — now they have a story to tell:)
IMG_3222.JPGThe Knight’s replacements and our new neighbors are Elder and Sister Edmunds, shown here at the open market.  We had fun taking them shopping downtown Suva (in the rain, of course).  They even got to see a parade put on before the change of guards at the presidential residence — it was quite the day.

Elder and Sister Clark also arrived this week.  They are Humanitarian missionaries, and as part of LDS Charities, will work in the community promoting diabetes awareness and help local agencies solve problems related to it.  With an average of an amputation here every twelve hours, they are sorely needed!

Wednesday we went as usual to do baptisms at the temple.  Elder Whitehead and Veta sat at the side of the font as witnesses, and as they watched, Elder Whitehead pointed things out, teaching Veta how baptize.  Then Veta took his turn, and performed a baptism for the first time in his life.  Those are moments we’ll treasure forever.

And talk about special:  it isn’t often you get to help prepare a missionary, send him off, then see him in the field!  Today we attended church in Navua where Sumeet is serving a six week mission as a “Ward Missionary”  while he waits the arrival of his call as a full-time missionary.  He’s doing a great job, and it was good to see him.

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We love visiting the members in Navua. Some come to church riding on “transports.” I think I’ll put riding in one of those on my bucket list.  This group was obviously happy about the ride!

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The young woman who taught our YSA Sunday School class today told us that she was introduced to the restored gospel by her two brothers.  At the institute, we see Oni with her younger brother who she introduced to the gospel, and who is about to be baptized.  In Jeremiah 3 the Lord says he will “Take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion.”  It’s as if we are seeing one way that is being fulfilled here right before our eyes.  This is a great work, and we are thankful to be involved in it!

 

 

 

 

July 18 – 24 Happy Pioneer Day!

IMG_2601.jpgWe are so proud of our modern-day Fijian pioneers. Many young adults who come to the institute are the first in their families to accept the gospel, and are paving the way for others to follow their example. They may not push handcarts, but they do a great job of forging their way through cultural challenges.

On Monday we welcomed Willie home after serving a faithful mission to the state of Washington. It was fun to finally meet him in person after seeing his picture on our wall for a year.

IMG_2602.jpgWe had a sweet experience helping Steven prepare names for the temple, then performing the baptisms for his and for Rachel’s ancestors. Someone said that each time you hear the sound of the water in the baptismal font splashing, that is the sound of the gates opening for someone to return to their Heavenly Father. By Friday afternoon we were able to complete all the ordinances, including sealing the couples together for all eternity. We hope those in the Spirit world will now choose to accept the ordinances we vicariously performed for them.  We are thankful for a Savior who performed the ultimate in vicarious work for us all!

Fiji National University had their “Open Day” this week to encourage enrollment. Guests were treated to traditional dances performed by FNU students from Kiritibati, Solomon Islands, and Tonga. What a great event! We loved seeing Tetika dance again.   High school students from all over arrived on busses to tour the university, and it was fun to see their different colored uniforms.IMG_2610.jpg.IMG_2628.jpgIMG_2608.jpg

Elder Whitehead taught Veta, Josefa, and Brandon how to consecrate oil for administering to the sick. It was a special experience, and instruction they used just hours later! Tomasi came in saying he felt so ill he couldn’t go to work, and asked for a blessing. Using the oil, Josefa and Brandon laid their hands on his head and gave him a blessing. It was wonderful to see all three exercise faith, and to see the priesthood work in their lives.IMG_2605.jpg

IMG_2607.jpgThe mass exodus to BYU-Hawaii continues. The latest applicant was Arisi, from the island of Kadavu. He learned English and Tagalog while serving a mission in the Philippines. We have enjoyed having him at the institute so much I’m sad to see him go.

Saying goodbye to Mema’ofa brought me to tears! He will leave for BYU-Hawaii this Sunday, and oh, how we will miss him. We had no idea how emotionally difficult it would be to constantly be sending YSAs on their way to missions, school or work. Whoever comes to replace us better bring a bunch of Kleenex!

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But then there are moments that make it all worthwhile – like the experience Friday of attending the temple with Veta as he received his endowment. Those moments are priceless. It made for another wananavu week here in Fiji!IMG_2636.jpg

 

 

 

July 11 – 17 Happy Kiritibati Independence Day!

IMG_2529.jpgThe people of Kiritibati are so proud of their country. We may have had 203 more years to practice celebrating our independence from the British than they have had, but they sure know how to make up for lost time! We all love, and deserve, to be free.

IMG_2596.jpgPeople with Kiritibati ancestors and those from Kiritibati who now live in Suva came together for their yearly independence celebration on Saturday.  Even though it was a national celebration, it was definitely also a religious event.

Tetika invited us to attend the celebration, which included a speech from the Kiritibati Ambassador to Fiji and several honored clergymen. We sang the national anthem, watched as each island group marched before the honored guests, listened to each group sing, enjoyed a morning tea of sandwiches & juice or water, then watched some of the best dance performances we have seen while in Fiji.  Later a huge lunch was served, complete with roast pig.  Our U.S. ambassador and other officials were invited to go to the island of Kiritibati to celebrate there.

IMG_2546.jpgWe tried to be inconspicuous (kind of hard when you are the only two polgis in hundreds of beautiful islanders), but were invited to sit in front next to the ambassador. Not because we are pologis, or missionaries…but because we are old! It’s true! All the “ancients” in attendance were the honored guests.   It was way better than getting a senior discount somewhere at home!IMG_2558.jpg

We loved seeing our YSAs Ulima, Akeena, Lupe, and Tetika and their family members participate.IMG_2531.jpg

Skirts were made from polished green grass, boiled black grass, brown dried grass, or woven.  Brightly colored specially made sulus identified the different island groups.

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These little kids were absolutely darling — and actually knew some of the dance.

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IMG_2551.jpgBefore each dance,  women sprayed perfume on the dancers to show their approval and
appreciation.  The ambassador told us that they didn’t do that originally, but it may be an adaptation of the way Fijians now tuck money in dancer’s costumes and candies in mouths while dancers are performing.
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IMG_2511.jpgAnother of this week’s highlights was helping Rachel print out temple ordinance request cards for her family. It is so hard for those of Indian descent to trace their family history. Rachel, Sumeet and I read together about the ship Leonides bringing girmitiyas, or indentured laborers, from India to Fiji in 1879. What a hard life those laborers had. But, oh, how excited Rachel is to now be able to perform a service for them.

IMG_2510.jpgThis week was full of all kinds of celebrations: Farewells for Liahona, and more 40th anniversary events for the LDS Church college. Lini and Jeanette were among those who modeled fashions created by students or alumni.  There were two dances, and all kinds of fun. Which meant we had a pretty empty institute this week, but we knew they were all in a good place having a great time. During some quiet hours I was able to find some of our family names to take to the temple, too. Yay! We love performing baptisms each Wednesday in the temple with our YSAs.

Today we attended church in the Tamavua 2nd ward.  As Sister Fuji offered the Relief society prayer in Japanese, I felt the sweetest spirit witnessing to me  that we are all    — every nationality, everyone of us — children of a Heavenly Father who loves us.  We will try to reflect that love as we serve here.

 

 

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