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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July 4 – 10 A Happy 4th in Fiji

IMG_2505.jpgOne of the guys at the institute told me he was excited about the Fourth of July. When I asked why, he said it was an important day not only for the U.S., but also for Fiji and the whole world because of the principle of freedom of religion. Without it, Joseph Smith wouldn’t have been able to ask which church to join, or restore the gospel. He told me that the whole world has been blessed by the freedoms we enjoy. How true!  We have so much to be thankful for.

This week was also Eid for Indian Muslims, and Eid Mubarak! (blessed celebration) signs were everywhere. You don’t know what bedazzled is until you’ve seen a group of beautiful dark haired ladies wearing their salwar kameez dresses celebrating the end of Ramadan. They are absolutely gorgeous.

IMG_2489.jpgOf course, you can’t get much better looking than this group of young men who attend my Mission Preparation class.  They come before 10am wearing their sulus, white shirts and ties, and some stay until our evening institute class that ends at 7pm.  They are impressive young men!

We have such a great group coming to the institute. Here’s a picture I didn’t get a chance to post earlier:IMG_2493.jpg

The first multi-stake dance was wananavu! The place was packed.  That night we met with leaders and YSA committee members from Suva, Suva North, and Nausori stakes who now plan to have multi-stake activities once a month.  Hooray!  We have great hopes for the future.  The dress that night was BULA…can you tell?IMG_2498.jpg

The refreshment committee made sure all were well fed, and I didn’t bake a single cookie.IMG_2494 (1).jpg

IMG_2500.jpgRoger Sundrup, a former missionary who served in Cheyenne, was part of a group of fifteen Help International volunteers who were stranded in Suva early this morning when a bridge was closed and busses couldn’t run. We had them over for an early breakfast and made arrangements for them to stay overnight in one of Pres Qaqa’s rentals.  I loved hearing them say they felt a special spirit in our home.  It was fun to get to know them and learn about the wonderful work they are doing.  It was a great way to start the day, and extra fun to see Roger.  Elder Whitehead even loaned Roger a sulu so we could take some of his group to sacrament meeting.IMG_2503.jpg

We ended the day singing a very teary rendition of “God Be With You til We Meet Again” to the Knights at our Senior Family Home Evening. They only have a few weeks left before going home to Texas, and since they will be leaving, Pres Layton called us to take their place as the Twilight Zone leaders!  So, here we go with another new adventure…