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

 

 

 

June 27 – July 3 The Rugby Game of the Century…

Seta_Tamanivalu51.jpgImagine a SF 49ers vs Oakland Raiders game being played in Canada. But make that the New Zealand Chiefs and Crusaders rugby teams playing for the first time ever right here in Suva.  Both teams have some Fijians players, so just about every Fijian in the country watched it live stream or in the stands.  Restaurants and stores were packed and roads were closed so crowds of people could walk to the stadium.  It was like Cheyenne Frontiers Days, but by the beach.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 IMG_2479.jpg                                                We joined a group of senior missionaries and sat in the stands in pouring rain.
Fortunately the rain let up right after the game started, and didn’t start again until the last few minutes of play. We went home soaked, but it was fun to be a part of history.  What an experience!

A highlight that evening was a halftime performance of the traditional Meke. Don’t know why the New Zealand teams didn’t do their Haka for us, but when the game was over, we all sang the Isa Lei song for the teams.

 

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Meanwhile, back at the institute, we are trying to get a head start on course completion by encouraging students who need to do make up work to do it now instead of waiting until the end of the semester.  Lupe and Tetika were the first to turn it in — we love these two!IMG_2476.jpg

Helping in the kitchen (and a priesthood blessing from Elder Whitehead) helped Sumeet overcome discouragement as he waits for his mission papers to get through some glitches so they can be sent from here to Salt Lake.  Tuesday Jeanette and Lini baked with him.  I am so grateful for their help — and so are those who come to class.  You can never have too many refreshments!IMG_2474.jpg

IMG_2470.jpgWe did some major Spring cleaning of our cupboards this week and Rachel was a great help with that, too. Don’t know what we would do without her. Plus, she’s really good at taking on  Elder Whitehead at Jenga. We leave the game out during the week and have a little competition going to see who can break the record for making the tallest stack.

We had some really rainy quiet days this week, but then good days, too.  It is such a blessing to get to know the young single adults who come to the institute.  For some, it is their home away from home during the day, which makes us feel like family. We worry when we don’t see them, but are so happy when we hear of those who have gotten jobs or are in school. We especially hope to see their faith in the Lord grow.  It’s fun to see the love and concern they have for each other.  IMG_2475.jpg

Sunday we attended the Naulu ward in Nausori. What a great ward!  Naulu will be our last ward assignment before we go home– it’s hard to believe.  It is an English speaking ward, but about half of the testimonies and prayers we heard were in Fijian.  The amazing thing is that the Spirit is the same, so we’re fine with it.  We have had some ups and downs this week, but still feel incredibly blessed.  This mission is truly “wananavu!” (awesome).

 

 

June 20 – 26 Warriors fans in Fiji

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This is what happens in Fiji when the Warriors lose (see the head in hands?).  But we also had a few at the institute rooting for the Cavaliers, so we saw high fives and smiles, too. Still can’t get over the fact that those teams are of such great interest here — even though only watched on a tiny cell phone.

We had fun helping Peni create his LDS account and prepare to submit mission papers this week. One day as he conducted our opening exercise before a lesson, it was as if I could see him as a future leader here.  I hope that comes true.IMG_2384.jpg

As Elder Whitehead taught a lesson on Tuesday about Adam, Eve, and the importance of marriage, he showed a picture of us on our wedding day. The class loved it when we struck the same pose we did 39 years ago. The YSAs love looking at our family pictures, and seeing us in our younger years. We all had a good laugh at how different we look now. Some were surprised that I used to have dark hair – they thought I was blond (no joke).IMG_2386.jpg                                                                                                                                                                               Wednesday we had another great experience performing baptisms.  We love doing that.

IMG_2395.jpgThursday Liahona invited me to come to the temple as she received her endowment, and it was a wonderful experience.  I’ve never seen such a happy crowd of extended family and friends to meet someone afterwards! I was thankful to see she had that much support because her parents live far away and couldn’t be there.  FYI: It is a common thing here to see people walk outside to the front porch of the temple in their white clothing.

Friday the Institute was closed for National Sports Day, so we drove two hours up the coral coast and spent Friday afternoon and Saturday at the Outrigger Resort.  We’ve never experienced anything like it, and hope to be able to go there again.

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Both Sumeet and Vicky gave talks in the Samabula ward today. Because it was Vicky’s first talk as a new convert, he asked Elder Whitehead for help preparing it. I gave Sumeet a reference for his talk. We drove from our ward after sacrament meeting to theirs so we could hear them speak, then back to ours again, but it was worth it.  We were happy to see that Sumeet’s mother came to hear him, too.  It is a rare blessing for a YSA here to have parents who are faithful in the gospel, and yet they are as committed as any of Helaman’s stripling warriors.  Single adults fill many (or most) ward callings.IMG_2456.jpg

Today was our last Sunday in the Suva 3rd ward.  I will miss meeting with these lovely sisters.  Sister Tuivaga (pink scarf) is a recent convert and has been especially kind to me.IMG_2458.jpg

We will also miss seeing these darling twin boys (Isaac and Zach, Lydia’s brother’s) in their sulus each Sunday.  What little boy wouldn’t just love being able to go barefoot to church?!  Bare feet, sulus, dogs and frogs, it’s all the same gospel, and we love it.IMG_2463.jpg