Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound
Lyrics by Marta Keen Thompson

“In the quiet misty morning
When the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing
And the sky is clear and red,

When the summer’s ceased its gleaming,
When the corn is past its prime,
When adventure’s lost its meaning,
I’ll be homeward bound in time.

Bind me not to the pasture;
Chain me not to the plow.
Set me free to find my calling
And I’ll return to you somehow.

If you find it’s me you’re missing,
If you’re hoping I’ll return,
To your thoughts I’ll soon be list’ning,
In the road I’ll stop and turn.

Then the wind will set me racing
As my journey nears its end,
And the path I’ll be retracing
When I’m homeward bound again.

Bind me not to pasture;
Chain me not to the plow.
Set me free to find my calling
And I’ll return to you somehow.

In the quiet misty morning
When the moon has gone to bed,
When the sparrows stop their singing,
I’ll be homeward bound again.

This has long been one of my favorite songs. It's on my "favorites" playlist on my phone. It speaks to me on my levels.

As I contemplated Mother's Day this past week, I listened to this song and thought of my children. I am a slow learner, and one of the hardest lessons I've had to learn is to let go of my of children, and let them find their own way. No longer can I control them as I could when they were little. I cannot make their decisions for them. I cannot make their choices. I must set them free to find their own path. 

I hope they are influenced by our (their parents) examples, and by the things we tried to teach them, and by our love for them. When I see them making choices I know will not ultimately lead to true happiness I must step back and let them find their way, and trust that they will remember, and at some point, return home to what they know is right, and will know they are always loved.

As I think of my feelings about my children, and the message of this song, my thoughts are naturally drawn to my Heavenly Father, and my relationship with Him. He loves me so much that he has set me free. He has given me agency....ultimately so that I will choose on my own to follow Him. But, even when I don't, He does not, and will not, take that agency away from me. And He loves me always.

In my mind's eye I see Him looking down on me, His heart aching when I make a choice that takes me away from Him. He longs for me to remember the path home to Him. And He is anxious that I follow that path, so that I can return to Him. I see Him with His arms open wide waiting to pull me to Him and hold me tight in His embrace. His love for me is intimate, personal, and eternal.

I want to love my children as my Heavenly Father loves me. Being a mere mortal and very flawed I don't even come close to loving my children as they deserve. But, I do love them more than I love anything or anyone else on this earth (except perhaps their father). I love them enough to let them make their own choices in this life. And whatever their choices, my desire is that they will not doubt my love for them, that they will see by my actions how much I love them, and they will feel my love for them as we make memories together. And like Heavenly Father, my arms will always be wide open, ready to enfold them and hold them tight.

As Garth and I have recently listened to this song, our thoughts have reached forward approximately a month from now, when WE will be returning home from our mission...home to friends, home to family...and home to our children, where we can once again embrace them, hold them close, and tell them in person how important they are to our happiness, and how much we love them.

Monday, May 11, 2015

An Island is Born

In December 2014, approximately 28 miles northwest of Nuku'alofa, the sea exploded. A submarine volcano between two small islands (Hunga Ha'apai and Hunga Tonga) began to spew first steam and, and then steam and ash up to 30,000 feet in the air on some days. The volcanic cloud could be seen from Tongatapu. Local and international flights were canceled.

Picture taken from Sopu. The eruption is not coming from the island seen in the foreground.
From Queen Salote Wharf - downtown Nuku'alofa
The island of Tongatapu bottom center. The plume of steam from the volcano can
be seen almost due north about 1/3 of the way from the top of the picture.
The discolored water zig-zagging down from the plume towards Tongatapu was
felt to be caused by smoke and ash released beneath the surface of the water.

By the end of January it was over, and a new island was born. It was estimated to be 1 km wide, 2 km long, and 300 meters high. The explosion completely denuded the nearby island of Hunga Ha'apai.
Aerial view of Hunga Ha'apai-Hunga Tonga before
A new island being formed
The local ferry company advertised a trip aboard their ferry to see the new island. On April 25, 2015 we, along with many other senior couples, boarded the 'Otuanga'ofa (the same boat we took from Niuatoputapu to Tongatapu Christmas 2013) and set sail. Of course, being in Tonga, we left the dock 1-1/2 hours late.

Looking towards the bow of the boat - stage is just to the right, BBQ is
straight back against the railing, and the big blue tub with a #4 on it
is the tub of chipped ice. The two women on the bottom right are not
sitting on chairs - they're sitting on cases, and cases, of beer

The deck was arranged with tables and chairs, a stage was created at the back of the boat where a DJ played music (VERY loudly) during the entire cruise. There was even a BBQ set up, complete with fire, at the very, very back of the boat. I suppose the location was in case things got out of hand, they could quickly throw things overboard? They withdrew the gangplank just slightly later than the departure time, but still we waited. We found out we were waiting for the chipped ice to arrive (to keep the beer cold, of course).

While we waited passengers continued to arrive. Instead of putting out the gangplank again, the passengers just climbed aboard one of the forks of the forklift, and they were lifted on board. I believe that's known as "Tongan Ingenuity." :) It worked!

We FINALLY departed. Nobody was quite sure how long it would take us to get to the new island - some of the workers thought two hours, some three. It actually took almost four. There was talk that perhaps they would let us get off and walk on the island, but no guarantees. They would need to let the survey team (who was also aboard) land first, check out the safety of the island, and then they'd let us know.

We finally saw all three islands in the distant haze, and the excitement grew as we drew closer. That is, it did among those who were not partying down on the bow of the boat. Soon after departing the dock, the passengers quickly divided into two groups - those that were there to party, and those that were there to see the island. Those that were there to see the island went up top, towards the bow of the boat, and as far away from the music and partying as they could get. We were part of this group.

Hunga Ha'apai-Hunga Tonga, with the new island in the middle
Senior missionaries scoping out the islands in the distance

We were excited to see the new island as it grew closer and closer. As we approached you could see that the rim of land holding the lake inside had washed away and was open to the sea. The survey crew was dispensed. However, it looked like much of the away team was made up of Friendly Islands Shipping (ferry) crew.

Back side of Hunga-Tonga (I think) - the island to the right of the new island.

They decided to circle around to the back of the island, so we followed.

The back side of the new island

The survey crew cruised from one side of the island, stopped without landing, waited. Then cruised to the other end of the island, stopped without landing, waited. Then went back to where they originally started, finally landing. Those of us waiting on the boat thought they'd look around to see if things were safe, and if so, they'd send the boat back and start transporting passengers back and forth. That is NOT what happened. The crew started hiking along the ridge towards the top of the crater. Then they  hiked along the rim of the crater all the way across to the other side of the island. Then they disappeared. We waited, and waited, and waited. Meanwhile, the party below decks was going stronger, the dancing less inhibited, and the drinking steady.

Frigate bird(s)
We waited some more. It was a pleasant wait, however. You could see birds - probably hundreds - soaring high above the tops of the trees on the closest island to us. (The other had been completely denuded by ash from the erupting volcano.) The currents carried the birds high into the sky. But several came to check us out, and we had some up close and personal encounters. They were mostly frigate birds and I THINK some giant petrels. Whatever they were, they were fun to watch. AND, I saw a bird I've been wanting to see. It was a fleeting glimpse, and there was only one. But, I saw a white Tropicbird. Life is good.

Finally, after a couple of hours, we saw people hiking back along the rim of the crater, back down to sea level, and they boarded their small boat. By then we were pretty sure no one else was going to be able to board the island, but we were still hopeful. We still had an hour or so before sunset.

But, no. They took the boat back across - away from the ferry - to the opposite end of the island - where they'd already been once before - and just sat there. We were wondering if they'd decided to anchor up.

They FINALLY decided to return, and steered the boat back towards the ferry. By then we knew for certain no one else would be able to get off and walk on the island. But, by then, we were so tired of waiting, that we were just glad to be heading somewhere, even if it was back to Nuku'alofa.

Dad and Sister Wood

This is where Dad spent most of his ride to and from the new far up the front of the boat as he could get. It could have been because it was the farthest away from the loud music. But, I think he secretly loves boats, and wishes he could ride the high seas, wind blowing through his hair...oh wait. Too late for that. He did come back with the top of his head pretty red.

The breeze was pleasant, the evening warm, so we decided to stay up top for the return home. We were favored with a beautiful sunset.

And a very nice gentleman who was part of the landing crew had felt bad that we weren't going to get to set foot on the island. So, he gathered some small rocks in his hat, and began to pass them out to people. Garth was one of the lucky people who got one of these rocks!! Although we didn't get to pick it up ourselves, we have a piece of the newest island on earth.

It's very likely the island won't last much longer. It's made up mostly of ash and small rocks...nothing substantial. The sea has already carried away a good portion of the lower rim, and the waves as they crash against that part of the island are murky and dirty.

Even though we didn't get to put our little feet on virgin land, fresh from the depths of the ocean, we did get to SEE what is undoubtedly the newest island on the earth, and we have a little piece of it that will endure, even after the island itself is gone.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Switching angels - from Nephi to Moroni

During the summer school break - November to January - members of the church flock to Liahona to visit the temple. Entire wards, and even stakes, bring their families from all over Tonga and stay in Patron Housing which is right across from the temple. They stay an entire month, or longer, attending the temple as often as possible.

Often groups of primary children will visit the temple grounds, brought by their parents and primary leaders, to enjoy the spirit that can be felt at this sacred place, and to learn more about the temple. The temple president and matron, or other members of the temple presidency, will spend time with the children telling them stories of the temple, and answering questions.

Sister 'Uasila'a, the temple matron, told a story during a stake conference, of an experience she had on such an occasion. Members from the island group of Vava'u were in Liahona attending the temple. Parents had brought their young children to the temple grounds, and they had visited with Pres. and Sister 'Uasila'a. While walking the grounds, Sister 'Uasila'a watched as a father leaned down so he was on the same level as his child. He pointed towards the top of the temple and said, "You see that statue up there? All the temples in the world have that statue on top of them. It is the angel Nephi. When you come to the temple you can always see the angel Nephi on top of the temple."

After the chuckling died down, Sister 'Uasila'a gave some very good advise. "If you think that the angel on top of the temple is Nephi, then you need to come to the temple more often."

But maybe the Tonga Nuku'alofa temple DID have the wrong angel on top? It wasn't too many months after this experience that a huge crate arrived to the temple grounds.
Pres. and Sister. 'Uasila'a

Pres. Taufa - counselor in temple presidency

Huge cranes converged on the temple.

And the angel on top of the temple was removed, and replaced with another. Garth, always the comedian, approached Sister 'Uasila'a and said, "It looks like we're finally getting it right. They're finally going to take down Nephi and put up Moroni."

Spectators gathered beneath any available shade to watch.

Of course, it was ALWAYS Moroni on top of the temple. The old Moroni was just....well....old, and getting worn out, and needed to be replaced.

Since the new Moroni was erected, almost every time Garth sees Sister 'Uasila'a he has to ask if she's SURE that it's really Moroni on top. "Now it looks more like Gabriel to me," he will say.

We have never lived so near a temple - it is literally just across the street from where we live and where we work in the Mission Office. We try to attend the English session every Thursday evening, and have missed very few weeks. We feel privileged to be so close to the temple, and LOVE that we get to see the angel Moroni every day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

"Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men"

When we lived in Juneau we met an amazing senior missionary couple. Elder George and Sister Dyan Welch. I learned a lot about unconditional love from them.

 Elder Welch loves to fish. He LOVES to fish. Whenever possible, he will make the drive from his home in Corinne, Utah, to one his favorite fishing spot, Devil's Creek Reservoir, north of Malad, Idaho, and spend as much time as possible fishing it's waters. 

The only thing he loves better than fishing for being a disciple of Christ, and being a fisher for men. "And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Like the apostles of old, Elder and Sister Welch followed Christ's commandment, "And they straightway left their nets, and followed him." The Welches sought those who had fallen by the wayside, who were seeking for truth. They did not do so in a pushy or forceful way. They just loved. They loved ALL of us. Many children in Juneau claim the Welch's as their adopted grandparents. 

After returning home from their mission in Alaska (they actually served two missions in Alaska) the Welch's planted a HUGE garden in their back yard. Elder Welch tenderly cares for the garden, which he calls his "Missionary Garden," during the growing season. During harvest season they pick, and pick, and pick and pick. Sister Welch  cans what the two of them will need for the coming winter, which is about 10% of the garden. The rest goes to feed widows, neighbors, anyone in need, and show a welcoming hand to people the Welch's think might be interested in hearing more about the Gospel. The Welch's don't know how NOT to from their garden, and food for the soul.

I always felt that the Welch's were special, and that I would likely never find anyone who could measure up to their example. Fortunately while serving in Tonga, I have found a few more people, who happen to be senior couples, who are unique like the Welch's. I love these couples so much. 

The Funaki's

Elder Inoke and Sister Malia Funaki are both originally from Tonga, but have lived in Hawaii for many years. Elder Funaki at one time coached high school rugby, and is retired from teaching psychology at BYU-H.

Elder and Sister Funaki were initially called to serve with the young adults. And, of course, because of who they are, they jumped right in visiting all the wards in the stakes in which they were called to serve, having young adults over for FHE, and loving everyone. In trying to find other ways to help the young adults, Elder Funaki began meeting with some of the young adults and helping them with college applications, tutoring, whatever they needed help with. 

The Funaki's looked for other ways to help. They did not feel bound by the perimeters of their calling as Young Adult Specialists. Sister Funaki felt it was important that someone be able to play the hymns in sacrament meeting. Most congregations in Tonga sing without accompaniment. Sister Funaki felt that having someone play the hymns while the congregation sang, would add to the spiritual feeling of the meeting. So, she started teaching piano lessons. Sister Funaki was part of an elite group of three women....senior missionaries.....who were teaching group piano lessons. The initial plan was to help some of the older youth and young adults learn to play hymns for sacrament meeting, or primary, or wherever a pianist was needed. They found, however, that people of all ages started attending classes. It was not uncommon to have 20+ students attending each class, as young as six.
Sister Funaki dancing at FHE
The miracle in all of this is that  Sister Funaki does not play the piano herself. She reads a little music. But, with her persevering spirit, and desire to help the people of Tonga..HER people...she soon had students playing hymns in sacrament meeting. I studied piano for years. I thought I was really something when I was called to play the piano in primary at age 11...but then I'd only been studying piano for a mere 5 years. Can you imagine being able to play hymns in sacrament meeting after perhaps just six months of lessons? That's exactly what has been happening as a result of these piano classes.

Sister Funaki also felt a desire to help the children near her village of Mu'a to become more proficient in reading and speaking English. So the Funaki's started a small lending library at their home, supplied with used children's books sent from the US. They sit around tables on their covered veranda in the evenings, surrounded by children engrossed in reading. A small number of very trusted children are able to check out a book and take it home with them for a few days. But, most come once or twice a week and spend the evening reading.

The Funaki's assignment changed part way through their mission. They now work with the Bridging program. This is a beta program where returned missionaries who have not graduated from high school come to Liahona High School in the evenings and work on completing high school. The Funaki's teach classes, proctor tests, and encourage their students as they move forward in their education. They are truly a blessing in these young people's lives. The piano lessons and evenings spent reading with the children continue.

The Va'enuku's

Elder Siaosi and Sister Katalina Va'enuku were also born and raised in Tonga, but moved to Utah where they raised their children. 

Elder Va'enuku loves to play the guitar or ukulele, and sing. In fact, he loves it so much he found he was spending a great deal of his time away from his family playing with bands anywhere and everywhere. Sister Va'enuku had always wanted to serve a mission, but Elder Va'enuku seemed to be too busy having fun to seriously consider this. But, because he loved his wife very much, he made a promise to her that he would put away his guitar and singing, and prepare himself to serve a mission. 

The Va'enuku's soon found their niche. Sister Va'enuku would wake early in the mornings and bake muffins and cakes, which she and Elder Va'enuku would then deliver to people humbled by lack of physical necessities, or inactive members they were helping back into activity, and many interested in finding out more about the Gospel. 

During the aftermath of cyclone Ian in 2014, the Va'enuku's ward sent a large container of food....flour, sugar, pasta, oats, etc...... to the Va'enuku's in Ha'apai, where they were then serving. They divided the food up into small boxes which they then delivered to villages all over the islands of Ha'apai. They piled their car full, piled the mission boats full, and hand delivered every box. 

When they were reassigned to Tongatapu, they would borrow the mission van on weekends because their small car was just too small, and deliver home baked goods to anyone they found in need. They'd also use the van to drive members and investigators who because of infirmities, or because of distance, were unable to walk to church. And then because of the  number of people they took under their wings, even the van became too small. The mission eventually assigned them a van full time because they were so busy driving youth to YM/YW, or investigators to missionary lessons, or to young adult activities, as well as driving missionaries when needed. Always the back of the van was full of food.....baked goods made by Sister Va'enuku, as well as food they would buy at the store, repackage, and divide up among their needy families.

The Va'enuku's mission assignment was complete in March 2015, and they returned to their home in Utah. They felt such a desire to continue serving the people of Tonga, that even before they returned home they were busy filling out new mission papers so they could return and serve another mission in Tonga. By the time they return to Tonga...this time as church service missionaries....they will have spent only two months at home. Their grandchildren are sad that they won't get to spend much time with them, but the people of Tonga will be forever blessed because of their service and love.

The Huni's

Elder Nunia, who is Tongan, and Sister Loueni Huni, who is Fijian, have lived most of their lives in Tonga. They were originally called to serve in PNG, but because of some health issues their assignment was changed to stay at home and serve in Tonga. 
The Huni's (left) and the Va'enuku's (right)
The Huni's are quiet and unassuming. But, their testimonies and faith are strong and unshakable. Elder Huni has always been a fisherman of fish. On the weekends he would don his flippers, grab his spear, and off he'd go. The fish he caught were then sold at the market. This was the family's main source of income.

Elder Huni continues to be a fisherman of fish, as well as a fisherman of men. After spending the week with Sister Huni finding, contacting, and teaching new converts and fellow-shipping the inactive, Elder Huni dons his  flippers, grabs his spear, and heads off every Friday evening to fish. The fish he catches now days is no longer sold at the markets for income. Everything he catches he gives away to those who cannot afford to purchase meat for their Sunday meal. 

The Huni's have also exchanged their car for a mission van to help transport their many new friends to church activities throughout the week, as well as to church on Sundays, and, of course, missionaries.

I was talking with Elder Huni one day after I returned home from my mini medical leave in Brisbane. He told me how one night he woke to find himself all alone in bed. Then he heard a noise. He  saw Sister Huni kneeling at the edge of their bed, with tears streaming down her face. She had been worried about me, and was pleading with the Lord to make me well. There have only been a couple of times when I knew someone was praying for me....the first Sunday after Jon died, the person giving the prayer in sacrament meeting prayed for us....and Sister Huni. I'm sure there have been other times when prayers have been said in our behalf, but these two times were very personal. I can't express the feelings of humility and amazement I felt on both of these occasions. Amazed that we mattered so much to someone that they would pour their hearts out to the Lord on our behalf. And humility for the same reason. And I knew that because of the faith of those praying for us, those prayers were answered. Forever more I will feel a special love for Sister Huni because of this act of humility and care on my behalf.

The Lord IS hastening his work. The work these couples are doing is evidence of that. 

"Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks."

When I grow up I hope I am even just a little bit like these wonderful couples. They have had an impact on so many lives. But I am most grateful for the influence they have had on my life. They are my heroes.
Sister Huni, Sister Va'enuku, and Sister Funaki