Sunday, February 26, 2017

Rockin' the Tupenu

L-R ... Elder Cho (Taiwan)
Elder Tai (Los Angeles)
Elder Tei (Malaysia)
Today is Sunday Feb 26th.  We had the office missionaries over for lunch after Church today.  Elder Cho from Taiwan and Elder Tei from Malasia.  An additional Elder (Elder Tai – from L.A.) was visiting with them from Ha’api and joined us as well.  He has a football scholarship to BYU when he gets off his mission (MLB) and we did our best to help him put back on some of the weight he has lost while here.  They seemed to enjoy the ham, rice, carrots, lui (tastes and looks like spinach when boiled) chips and guacamole (see photos of avocados below, they are bigger than softballs and we just pick them up when they fall off the tree out back).  In traditional Becky fashion, we also had cupcakes and ice cream.  We really enjoyed our visit with them.  The missionaries always bring a special spirit with them.

How do you like the size of them avocados?!?!?
The big event in Tonga this week was the passing of Mata'aho the queen mother (click here to read about it).  She was beloved by the people of Tonga and was known for her charitable work especially with the physically and mentally handicapped.  Her funeral will be held on Tuesday or Wednesday (we’ve heard both days) and the streets are lined with decorations of black and purple in her honor.  It is really something to see.  School students line the streets painting, weeding and cleaning up everything.  We included one picture but it doesn’t do justice to the scope of all the efforts and decorations.

The past few days have been very hard to take with temperature hovering around 76 and humidity around 50%.  There’s not much different between days and nights temperature wise.  We did have several days this week where we didn’t get home until after 10:30 P.M.  The other days weren’t quite as long but we enjoy getting out to do our work through the days and there is enough contrast between our two different areas of responsibility that keep things interesting.

I keep saying this but the people here are so wonderful.  They really treat us well and genuinely try to make sure we have everything we need.  We have to be careful that we don’t mention some of the things we miss or they may just go out and find them for us.

Things are pretty much in full swing now for both of our callings as we care for the missionaries with the standard ailments here (headaches, tummy aches, boils and diarrhea etc. One case of constipation that is unheard of here.) and work on making progress related to technology in the meetinghouses (some outdated equipment, untidy data cabinets, unreliable circuits, missing components, etc.).

Elder Bingham from Plain City on far left.
We were able to attend a Tongan baptism yesterday where they asked us to sing with the missionaries on the program (in Tongan).  We’re starting to do better with matching the words to the melody now as long as it’s something we recognize.  There are several Tongan hymns that are not our regular hymns and the Tongans have a unique sound when the sing which is very enjoyable to hear.  They really do invite the Spirit with their heartfelt singing.  It makes me wonder what they might think of our hymn singing in the U.S.  (I’m trying to do better with my heartfelt singing now).

L-R ... Sister Pauni, Sister Kapp, Sister Moeata just before the papitisimi (baptism)
Toppled tree that just sprang roots
from the branches ... now growing
on its side.
While visiting some Elders on the far side of the island we did take a few minutes to visit Ha'amonga a Maui (see photo below blog).  It is a historical monument that was built about 1200 A.D. by Tu’itatui, the eleventh Tu’i (king) Tonga. The two vertical stones are about 5m high, 4.25 m wide and 1.4 m thick and weigh between 30-40 tons each.  The lintel stone is about 5.8m long, 1.4 m wide and .6 m thick.  It is believed to have been a lunar calendar.  We also drove along one of the beach areas and took a couple of photos looking out at nothing sPacific  You can see that lots of small islands are everywhere and many are uninhabited.  Kids swimming or bathing or both, some trees along the coast that had been toppled but just sprang up new roots from the branches and continued to grow.

Friday night we went to dinner with the senior missionaries to say goodbye to several who are leaving soon.  We will miss them and have grown to love them in the short time we had serving together.  We had pizza and listened to a local 3 piece band play music.  It was an enjoyable evening and it was fun to hear a Tongan twist on John Denver, Don Williams, Neil Diamond and various other artists.  I did capture some of that audio and will find a way to share that soon as well.

Saturday morning (5:00 a.m.) Becky attended a session at the temple.  She figured she would be safe from the missionaries for a couple of hours at that time as they should all be tucked safely in their beds.  The temple is beautiful, but very small.  There is not chapel so you wait in the dressing room until it is time to go into the session.  The session was packed (50 people) and they made room for her so she didn’t have to wait until 6:00 for the next session, even though she was okay in doing that.  They were all very gracious about her invading their session as she was the only palangi in the room.  When she got home at about 7, there was already a text.  So much for that thought.  The text wasn’t anything serious so everything worked out.

Since we have been here a month, I decided to wear my tupenu and taulava (picture below) for the first time in public.  Since almost every male dresses like this for church, I didn't feel out of place of self conscious at all.  I was missing my suspenders but survived the day.  Unlike at our house after our farewell, there were no comments like ‘nice legs’, or ‘you look ridiculous’.  Guess I really do look like a Tongan Tu’i.  I had the missionaries check before we went to church to make sure I had it on right.  It is quite a bit cooler than pants and I think I could get used to the 'breeziness".  Maybe I will become a trend setter when I get back home.  

Lui - talo leaves used to make wraps but we boiled it
like spinach.  I'm not sure if I could tell the difference.

Part of my finger, Becky and
Ha'amonga a Maui (lunar calendar)

President and Sister Tui'one
We have grown to love them and their family in a very short time.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Elder Renlund

Elder and Sister Renlund shaking the hands
of all missionaries prior to our meeting.
We had the opportunity to attend a special missionary meeting on Saturday where we were able to shake hands with Elder and Sister Renlund, with Elder and Sister Hallstom, and Elder and Sister Haleck.

All of the LDS missionaries on Tongatapu were present and we filled the chapel.  President and Sister Tuione (our mission president and his wife) spoke first and bore powerful testimonies.  We have grown to love them and their family in a very short time.  They are so loving, accepting and kind.

Then we heard testimony from Elder and Sister Hallstrom.  They were last minute replacements for this trip with Elder Renlund but gladly accepted the assignment and made the trip on short notice.  What a wonderful people they are as they testified of the divine callings of our Prophets and Apostles.  

Sister Renlund got the audience involved as she told of her connection to Tonga.  Her mother was born here as her grandparents served as missionaries (on multiple occasions) helping teach the Gospel and build Liahona as well as lay groundwork for the Church to expand here.

Elder Renlund gave a wonderful address as he reminded us (missionaries) that God loves each of us and is happy we are serving.  He told us each of our callings is inspired of the Lord.  He detailed some of his experiences extending calls and how the Spirit directed him.  Some very special stories. Then he testified of the divine nature of the calling of Mission President for President and Sister Tuione and a few of the details of how that calling was made.

He demonstrated on a chart (to the left) that as missionaries, when our attitude is positive and our work is hard, we are working in the "quadrant of miracles".  It puts a new perspective on what we are doing and really makes us want to do more to improve and work even harder.   I think this pertains to all areas in our life as it relates to God, if we give it our all and do it with a good attitude we can expect to see miracles.  He told us that by nature he operates in the upper left quadrant and it takes effort for him to show a joyous attitude even though he is always grateful.

He then pronounced an Apostolic blessing on all missionaries in the room promising blessings from the Lord as we served not only on us but on our loved ones at home.  He promised us that as we keep the mission rules we will be protected and blessed with health and strength.  It certainly brought both Becky and I to tears of joy as we felt the Spirit so strongly and knew that although we miss so many at home, they would also receive blessings.  

We have only been set-apart as missionaries of 5 weeks now but have had some of the most amazing experiences of our lives.

Vowel Mouthed

One of the few street signs.
Say that fast 3 times!
We are starting to know our way around much better now that we've been here a while so I decided to start learning some of the names of the roads from the map like, Hala Aviavahamama'o - (Aviavamama'o road) one of the main roads I use to get around Nuku'alofa).  I thought this might help me as a referenc point from time to time.  As I was explaining this to one of the locals who works here on Liahona campus he said, "You already know more road names than I do, we don't use them here".

We received a text message today from an elder with 8 vowels in his last name (7 A's and one U).  He is on one of the outer islands and was sent some meds 2 1/2 weeks ago.  He told us they just arrived today.  He is doing well so no worries but we have to find a better way to serve them in the future.

We had a very spiritually uplifting week.  So many times we ended up exactly where we needed to be  at exactly the right time.  We noticed this as we started our inspections of MQ's (missionary Quarters).  We have an area that takes in about 9 MQ's we are now responsible for inspecting for cleanliness.  It's great since it gives us a chance to make sure they are maintaining a healthy environment as well as getting to know them better.   We have some Blow-pops and Jelly-bellys for those who keep the MQ's clean.  Most of them do surprisingly well but there are a few that need more training.

We think we get the best of both worlds, we get to interact with many of the locals as we go the meetinghouses to look for opportunities to improve Technology self-reliance as well as meet all of the young missionaries and feel of their wonderful spirit.  There are some great young men and women serving here in Tonga.  They all seem to be trying so hard to stay close to the Spirit.

We also had the opportunity to team teach the Gospel Doctrine class this week.  It is a bit challenging for me to understand all of the different english dialects coming at me ... New Zealand, Tongan, England, Spanish Fork, etc.  Becky helps keep me on track if I mishear or don't understand someone.  I am really enjoying being with her pretty much 24x7, and at least to this point she hasn't voted me off the island.

I wish I had photos of our experience this week as we assisted one of the couples on a welfare mission.  They had set-up a diabetic screening clinic for one of the wards.  It took us about 2 hours to do the screenings and when we finished and went out to our car, the locals opened our back seat doors and literally filled it with fruit.  Papaya, watermelon, coconut, pineapple, apples, and oranges.  We had to give most of it away to other senior missionary couples so it wouldn't go bad.  It was all delicious!!

One of the few times since we've been here that Becky and I had a scheduling conflict sent me about 15k west to Malapo.  They had a computer issue we've been working through with them and I set up a time to meet the ward clerk after he got off work.

Viliam, Evani and Ien.
The best 9-10 year old friends Blow-pops can buy.
I got there a few minutes early (surprise) and was greeted by three boys (around 9-10 years old) running through the unlocked rooms and playing with the chairs.  I signaled to them with a gentle no nod of my head and they immediately stopped.  As I stood there waiting outside buy the clerks door, one of the boy brought me a chair and signaled me to sit.  I appreciated the gesture so I did.  He immediately got three more chairs and all three boys sat with me.  One on one side and two on the other.  As I tried to make conversation with them using the broken Tongan I do know, they just looked at me like, "what planet are you from"?

I think they got a kick out of my effort so I decided to get them each a Blow-pop out of the car.  Of course, they seemed to really like that and sat there quietly eating the suckers.  One of them saw my phone and wanted to see photos of "Amelika".  I started looking but found I mostly had pictures of a parade (clowns and floats) and some of wildlife in Alaska.  I hope I didn't skew their view of "Amelika" too much!

We  have had so many "chance" encounters with people who either had connections in Utah or a need for something we just happened to have.  It is really out of character for either of us to stop and introduce ourselves to others but Sister Kapp made friends with Sister "K" (below) waving through a fence.  By the time we got around the end of the fence and actually met her it seemed like Sister "K" and Sister Kapp were long lost friends.

We had a great experience with Elder Renlund which I'll post in a separate blog next.  We love you and miss you.  Thanks for the kind thoughts prayers offered in our behalf!

Elder Hutchinson and Elder Faleao from Brigham city and  Provo respectively.
Elder Hutchinson or "Hutch" (6'5") played basketball for Casey Blacker's
sophomore team at Box Elder a few years ago and knows Casey and Sadie well.  
Another just by chance meeting - Ola Vaitai - piano teacher at Liahona, she is
looking for some simple arrangements of Jani's music for her students to learn.
Sister "K" - Naasipa Kalonihea... I wonder why they called her Sister "K"?
Just by chance we ran into this young lady who we found out served with
Dusty in Oregon.  She told us how much she loved serving with Elder Clark.
Hospital Radiology waiting room (covered but outside)
Saturday morning just before opening at 9:00 am

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Koe ko Bat Man au!

We are doing great!  We have some challenges to overcome with our individual areas of responsibilities but that’s why we’re here.  We have made a commitment to each other to work together in everything we do so it does create some long days for us but we are loving the work.  I really admire Becky, she is such a hard worker and so committed to doing the right thing every time.  She is so good when working with the sick or injured.
These Fruit Bats are huge with a wingspan of about 2 feet.
Sometimes eaten by locals but now protected by law. 

We have driven most of the island now as we give tender loving care to the young Elder and Sister missionaries.  We love them and they seem to have taken a serious liking to Sister Kapp.  Her phone text ring is a whistle and I'm not sure I like them whistling at her.  One of the places we have missionaries is in the village of Kolovai (west end of the island).  This photo was taken in Kolovai from the car window as I pulled off to the side. You could see them everywhere you looked.  I tried to get a photo of one flying but there is nothing to give any perspective as to how big they are.  Probably comparable to a hawk in size.
We had an interesting experience yesterday as we were walking in the town.  A young lady came up to us and started hemming and hawing so I naturally thought she was going to ask us for money.  Instead she asked us if we could pray with her.  We talked with her for a few moments and determined that she was having a marriage crisis and wanted us to pray that her husband would not leave her (she was not LDS).  She said she would be talking with him in the evening so we prayed with her (right there on the street) that she would be able to communicate her love and desire to remain together to him.  She then asked if she could go to church with us.  We told her that we would find some young missionaries that could help her and sure enough, we found them right around the corner.  We’ll try to follow-up but we’re not sure we’ll ever know the outcome as neither of us could remember her name but it was an interesting experience.

One other special experience we had this past week was all Sister Kapp’s doing.  Being new here and really not knowing what it expected of us completely, Becky got a text to present a 3-5 minute thought in the next Mission Presidents managers meeting (she had almost 24 hours to come up with a topic to prepare her though).  She thought and prayed about what she should talk about but finally settled on missionary hygiene and MQ (missionary quarters) cleanliness.  She related it to D&C 88:119.  After she presented her thought we found out that the Mission President’s entire agenda for that meeting (no agenda printed of posted) was exactly on what she had said.  He thanked her for being in tune with the Spirit and then went on to discuss the topic in detail.  We were then given an additional area of responsibility to inspect the MQ’s and train the Elders and Sisters in the North District in how to clean if necessary.  We’ll make it work.

We want to issue a challenge to any who are willing.  We ask you to share your simple testimony with us in an email.  It may be about the things you have learned in life and your individual perceptions but we would love to hear your thoughts whatever they are.  We’re not asking for anything long or lengthy.  We know you may all be busy and we respect that but if you feel you can we would love to read them.  Our email address is: 

We sing opening and closing hymns in almost every meeting which is fun except … sometimes it is in English and sometimes it’s in Tongan.  We frequently don’t have hymn books and we don’t know the Tongan lyrics.   I decided to just start singing (a little bit softly) just singing a-e-i-o-u.  Funny thing is … I think I got about 75% of the words right!

Thank you to those who have taken the time to email us.  We read and reread each email as they are precious to us.  We miss you all and wish we could see you and talk to you in person.  We have already developed a greater appreciation for family and friends.

There was a 5.2 earthquake last night about 4 km off-shore to the north of Nuku 'alofa last night.  We were watching a movie at our home when it happened.  Not major just noticeable  ... more like a good rugby tackle.  Also, a major thunderstorm rolled through a couple of nights ago.  It was fun to lay there and listen to the thunder.  I had to get up and go outside just to watch for a while around 3:00 am.   Did I mention how much I love the rain?!?!

Who ordered the chicken?  He actually came strutting right through the
restaurant but I didn't have my camera ready.  Not uncommon at all!
Family of pigs off the side of the road near Nukunuku.
They roam everywhere and the little piglets are so cute.

An unusual crooked Palm tree with even more rare three tops.
40 kph speed limit sign on main highway ... yes main highway.
I always obey the speed limit too.  Too many animals everywhere
to go any faster.  Driving is really not bad here, it's just slow.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Yea Metric System!

Uike ua (week 2) and all is great in paradise.  I think I could actually learn to like the metrics system as well. Without really much effort I have already lost about 22 grams (just my best guess) and I am right close to 173 cm tall.

This week was a busy week.  The Area ICS manager from New Zealand flew in to work with us this week.  We had several meetings with local people to lay the ground work for the work we will be doing related to meeting-house technology.  I will be working closely with the FM group (Facilities Management) as we inventory, add/update/repair and train.  Our main focus for 2017 will be on the main island of Tongatapu.  We are anxious and excited to begin this work and see how we can meld the medical and technical missions together as we support each other.

This week we were able to handle everything for the most part on our own.  We did have one medical issue with a young Elder cutting himself while opening a coconut that we were unavailable to help.  Becky put in a quick call to her backup for the week and she took care of it for us.  Becky was great to cover everything medical this week even though she was in meetings with me.  For the medical stuff, I'm mostly just a driver and missionary companion but she dove in and was doing it all.  This led to some long days but we are happy to be here and want to do whatever we can to cover our responsibilities.

Becky, Ian and Paul during one of our precise survey visits.
We are trying to get a feel for the set-up and equipment that
currently exists in most of the meetinghouses through out Tonga.
(Becky just eats this up.)
The Area ICS manager (Paul) is a great guy and we had fun getting to know him.  He has a great sense of humour and a humble manner about him.  He has a great vision and there is some experience  to draw from now from couples that have served similar missions in Fiji and Samoa.  Both of them are now home so we are the lone couple in the Pacific islands as serving ICS missionaries.  Ien is the local IT manager and has been a great resource for us.  He is working on getting us keys to the buildings, smart phone access and also helping us get our internet at home connected (still not there but we are assured it is close now).

Also, the internet is all prepaid with restrictions on usage.  There are serious overage fees so you have to watch closely.  I still don't have it at the house but I think we're getting close.  Most meeting houses are capped at 1GB per month so there is no wireless provided in any building.  One of our first technical assignments is to start working on circuit contracts and see what can be done to get better pricing and options.  Hmmm ... deja vu ...

During one of our lunch discussions, we were discussing a lady that had just been bitten by a dog.  We asked Ien what they typically do about dog bites here.  He matter-of-factly told us, "If a dog bites me, I mark that dog and give my friend $10 TOP  (about $5. US) .. and he will provide if for my dinner tomorrow night".  Evidently, he really likes dog as anytime he speaks of it you can feel his excitement.  Most of them seem to run wild and they can get a bit aggressive (I don't thing they are as ferocious as Cinco is John).  We haven't had any problems and we try to make sure we have an umbrella with us if we walk up to a door where dogs are out.  I don't think it's a big problem though and we've been told that there are no rabies here in Tonga.

I also got a message from a frustrated Bishop that he was having printer problems.  This would not typically fall under my todo list but we were home in the evening and it was only about a 20 minute drive so Becky and I decided to see what we could do to help.  I called him and told him we would be there shortly.  When we got there around 7:30 pm he was there (still in his work clothes) with his young son.  I could tell he was frustrated at not being able to print but he was still happy and friendly.  When I looked at the print queue, it was backed up with print jobs going back almost 2 months.  Lots of tithing settlement documents.  I can only imagine how we would be in the U.S. if this same thing happened there.  He has been a bishop for almost 7 years now and is hoping to be released at the next ward conference ) in 6 months.

Typical Missionaries Quarters in Tonga ( Church owned)
I think I mentioned that there are no addresses here in Tonga and few, if any, road signs.  One of our biggest frustrations is finding the MQ's (Missionary Quarters).  Instructions include, look for the old brown boat in the yard on the right and then you should see a blue house with  brown stairs on the right ... turn left down the alley and you'll see the MQ behind the house with the blue canopy.   The trouble is that old boats in yards disappear, houses and stairs may get painted and blue canopies have been taken down.  We have had to just sit back and relax while we call the Elders and find some common landmark so they can guide us there.  Frequently, they just come out to some main road so we can see them.  I have been marking them with GPS coordinates so we can find them the next time.  I think Nate said that one we get them all marked we can send them to him and he'll generate a map for us.  That will be so handy!


Typical Meeting house in Tonga.  I'll show much more in a later post as they are definitely unique.
Gymnasiums are out doors.  Often there is a tennis court as can be seen.
Most Baptismal fonts are outdoors, many are covered but not all.
For any chicken lovers out there.  We see her frequently on
our morning walks with her brood (we think there are 7 chicks)