Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Week 76 in Tarawa


The blog of our last week in Tarawa was delayed because the internet was down over the weekend. So while this blog deals with the last week of February 2016 in Tarawa, I'm actually writing while at home in Ogden, UT.  Maybe I'll include a few pictures of our arrival and make this our last blog for Wayne and Janet in Tarawa.  This picture was taken on Wednesday, Feb. 24th at the Moroni High School assembly we spoke at.  It was hard to hold back tears as we told them to always show their love and to be true to their trust (the school motto).

On Wednesday evening we were invited for dinner by the Solomone family.  From left to right are Isaac, Armine, Tipo, and Samuel.  Missing is Leilani, who was conducting the Young Men/Young Women meeting as YW president.  Tipo is one of our two Vice-Principals.  During the renovation of houses 8 and 9, they were asked to move to house 5, right next to us in house 6.  We wish we had gotten to know them better earlier on our mission.  They are a wonderful family.

On Thursday the last two boxes of books sent by our daughter, Janet, arrived.  Unlike the first box, these books arrived while school was in session, and the students' delight at the new books surprised us.  They were genuinely excited and could hardly wait for the books to be labeled and catalogued so they could check them out to read.   While unboxing the books, I saw a biography of Julius Caesar which I read on the spot, much to the chagrin of Sister Sumner.

The faculty surprised us Friday after school with ANOTHER farewell, this time just for us!  The singing, dancing, and food were great even though we felt embarrassed at all the praise they heaped on us.  We told them that they must like to see us cry.  We turned their praise back at them, telling them that their work and the sacrifices they make each day are just as important as ours, and probably even more so.

Saturday was spent cleaning, packing, and giving away stuff.  On Sunday we were asked to speak again briefly in Sacrament Meeting, bearing our testimonies and saying goodbye for the 7th or 8th time.  After church we had Elder and Sister Waldron and Tioromaia, Eutita, and Gloria (asleep on the couch between them) over for a fried chicken dinner. Tioromaia told us it was the first time they had even been invited to dinner by I-matangs (white foreigners), which made us sad.  We should have invited them over long ago.

This is the last sunset we saw in Tarawa. The pastel colors only added to the melancholy we were feeling.  We want to hold on to these memories for fear that all our experiences here will become as if they were all just a dream.

After our last faculty meeting Monday morning, Boutara, the head of our English Department presented Sister Sumner with a Tita, a type of blouse common in Kiribati.  The embroidery across the top says "SUMNER".

At the airport, just as we were about to enter the boarding area, Sister Cross came running up with more gifts, including freshly made garlands to honor us.  She is an amazing Kiribati sister who is so proactive in going about doing good.  What a great example she is to us and her fellow Kiribati citizens.

Leaving on the same plane with us were the members of the dental team who volunteer their services for three weeks every year.  Under relatively primitive conditions they perform an amazing amount of dental work on the missionaries, prospective missionaries, and the faculty, staff, and students of Moroni.  We wish them Godspeed.

Taking pictures in front of the ATH (telephone/internet company) poster at the airport has become a tradition in the past 3 months.

We boarded the plane right behind Elders Johnson (left) and Miller (right) who were being transferred to Christmas Island over 2000 miles away.

Our last picture taken in Tarawa shows the Bonriki International Airport. We hope they continue to upgrade this facility to make it more accommodating for passengers.  There's nothing like starting a 27 hour trip covered in sweat!

Nothing we can say or show you can express the sweetness of the past one and a half years.  We have been blessed beyond measure with increased love for each other, for our families, for the people of Kiribati, and for our Savior, Jesus Christ.  We see more clearly now than ever before how our many material possessions often keep us from the love of God and of our fellow men.  We pray this perspective will keep us determined to serve God and our fellow men all the rest of our lives.

Seeing Jeramiah, our 4 year-old great grandson, coming running up to us almost before we left the secure area filled our hearts with great joy.

Being greeted by 30 people holding a giant poster and wearing matching Kiribati T-shirts was also a joyful experience.  There was a whole lot of hugging and a few tears as well.  Families make life so worthwhile!

Going to the Provo Tabernacle Temple open house the next day with our daughter, Kim, and her family was a great reminder of the eternal nature of families.

OK, OK!  So I'm hamming it up just a little, but is was really great to have a real salad again!

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Week 75 in Tarawa

This week has been filled with giving DIBELS tests to Moroni High School students.  The work is hot and sweaty because we are in the classrooms with the teachers and students.  I doubt if American teachers would be willing to work in such circumstances.  The information from the DIBELS testing will be given to the teachers who will hopefully provide additional help to the low readers.  Testing each student takes about 10 minutes, so we can only do 6 or 7 students per 80 minute class.  With the teacher, Taanari, and Elder and Sister Sumner all giving tests, we can do most of a small class in one period.  Larger classes take 2 periods.

This picture shows Taanari giving a DIBELS test.  She is a returned missionary who helps out around the campus, sometimes working as a substitute teacher as well.  This picture shows a typical classroom on our campus.  Note the open louver style windows.  They are left open during the day to allow cooling sea breezes to blow through the classrooms.  Unfortunately, they also allow insects and noise into the classrooms.

One of our school goals is to have every student pass their National and Regional Exams at the end of the school year.  One of the things our new principal has started to help reach that goal is providing 2 hour-long study halls 3 times per week on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and on Saturday afternoon.  Two teachers are assigned to be at these study halls on a weekly rotating basis.  This means that about once every 10 weeks, teachers are required to put in an additional 6 hours besides their regular teaching and contract hours.  This would not go over well in the U.S. I think.

This is one of our math teachers, Maerere, teaching during a study hall.  Since I taught math in high school, I have been very interested in observing the math classes here.  They learn exactly the same things I taught in algebra 2, pre-calculus, and geometry in Utah.  They also learn 1st year calculus. These students, however, take their math classes more seriously than their American counterparts.

Boutara is teaching English during the study hall session, which lasts from 7 to 9 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  She is our English Head of Department (HOD), and one of the teachers who earned her BYUH teaching certificate while we were here.  As we have given hundreds of DIBELS tests to the Moroni H.S. students, we understand what a great challenge she and the other English teachers face.  While most students can decode English words reasonably well, they understand only poorly what they read.  I wish reading and reading comprehension were taught here as a separate course to give students more exposure to the English language.

On Wednesday, February 17th, our last Zone Conference was held.  As usual, the senior sisters put together a wonderful meal for about 40 people.  From left to right are Sisters Jenks, Waldron, Olson, and Sumner.  Their cooking is as beautiful as their smiles.

Here they are hard at work.  Notice the use of plastic gloves!!  We had to ask for them to be brought from New Zealand since we couldn't find any store in Tarawa that sold them.  Sister Olson, in the read dress, used to be a kitchen manager for a school lunchroom, so she is a natural when it comes to organizing these things. With Sister Alldredge's departure last week, and after we leave next week, they'll be down to three sisters left to do the cooking.

Chow time!  Ladies first, of course.

Even though we had chairs enough for everyone, many still choose to eat on the floor the Kiribati way.

After the lunch, missionaries departing before the next zone conference were given the opportunity to bear their testimonies.  This is always a tearful time but richly filled with the Spirit.

Thursday evening the candidates for the Counseling Certificates presented a fireside for parents to make them aware of all the helps available from the counseling department.  This picture was taken just before we started.  Fortunately we had more come as the program progressed.

On Friday I was asked by the group of volunteer dentists who are here to wire up a transformer so they could operated their 120 Volt AC electric dental chairs on 240 Volts AC.  Earlier I was able to help them figure out how to get an air compressor working properly.  I had to smile when Wayne Chisholm, one of the volunteer dentists called me "McGyver"

Saturday afternoon we were invited to join President and Sister Weir and the other departing missionaries for a lovely brunch and farewell meeting.  After the meal, we listened to a marvelous talk by Jeffery R. Holland, "The First Great Commandment", that he gave at the October 2012 General Conference.  It was a powerful witness of the Savior and His mission and what it means to love the Lord with all our heart, might, mind, and strength.  We again shared testimonies and felt the power of the Spirit.

Our week ended, as so many do, with a sweet baptismal service.  The Elder on the left, Elder Iera, is getting ready to leave for the MTC, but in the meantime, is doing splits with the full time missionaries.  We are so very proud of him.  He is a wonderful young man whom we got to know quite a bit last year when he served as the class president and Salutatorian.

Here Beretemwa (Elder Iera) delivers a talk on baptism in the maneaba right next to the ocean where the baptism was performed.  We will truly miss the bright young faces and testimonies of the elders and sisters and their new converts.  The Lord is pouring out his spirit on these people.

Yesterday we were all invited to view a live presentation of the cultural program prepared fort the rededication of the Fiji Temple.  The program was cut short and many who had prepared did not have a chance to perform.  They were anxious to get people home before the curfew enacted because of Cyclone Winston arriving.  We followed the progress of the storm on the computer, wondering if they would have to postpone the dedication.  As the cyclone touched land, it turned and went another direction, sparing Suva from the worst of the storm.  Many will say that it was just a chance of nature because of the mountains on the land,.  We, however, believe that it was another small miracle sent by the Lord so that the dedication could proceed. "The winds and waves still know the voice of Him who ruled them while he dwelt below."

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Week 74 in Tarawa

While our days this past week have been filled with DIBELS testing of English students (boring!), our evenings have been filled with farewells.  On Monday, prep day, the young elders and sisters prepared a farewell program for Sister Alldredge and us.  We, meaning the senior missionaries, in turn prepared a wonderful pizza dinner for them.

This is the cake they had made for us.  They also made a separate cake for Sister Alldredge, but I couldn't get it to download.

Here we are, in the maneaba, with many of the young elders and sisters who bid us farewell.

On Tuesday evening the Moroni Ward held a combination welcome and farewell dinner.  We welcomed the dentists who have come as volunteers to fix and clean our teeth, and bid farewell to Sister Alldredge and us.

On Wednesday evening the Moroni High School teachers, administrators and staff held a farewell for Sister Alldredge and us, inviting all the senior missionaries to participate.  The singing, dancing, and food was excellent, although the final farewell song brought tears to many eyes.

Thursday morning, Janet and I drove Sister Alldredge to the airport, where the other senior couples joined us in wish her a fond and tearful farewell.  When you work so closely together for so long, you become lifelong friends.  We look forward to staying close friends upon our return home in two weeks.  This picture was taken in front of a telephone company ad poster which had a picture of people raising their hands in the air.  We thought it made a wonderful effect.

On Thursday afternoon, Elder Waldron took me to visit the bouilla of Tioromaia, Iutita, and their infant daughter, Gloria Richard.  About a year ago, we and Elder and Sister Rasmussen donated some money to help them put a new roof on their home to keep it dry for their new baby.  They are very proud of their home, but Americans would see it as little more than a shack.  They have no electricity, no running water, and no gas.  They cook outdoors over an open wood fire on top of a car tire rim.  They have no way to secure their possessions when they leave home, and often find things missing when they return.  In the U.S., they would be considered the poorest of the poor, yet I would dare say they are happier and more content than most Americans.

On Saturday afternoon, we were invited to meet some of the people who are here searching for the lost remains of marines who died in the Battle of Tarawa.  It was touching to hear their stories of grateful relatives of the dead soldiers whose remains they have recovered.  There are still around 500 soldiers listed as missing from that battle which took place in November of 1943.

We were asked not to photograph the remains which were being prepared to be returned to the U.S. for burial, but were allowed to take picture of some of the other items that have been dug up.  Shell casings, helmets, rusted pistols and rifles, and empty coke bottles were some of the items on these shelves.  All in all, it was a fascinating and humbling experience to learn of these young men who gave their lives for our country.  We hope to arrange an assembly presentation by these folks for our Moroni High School students.

We had the missionaries over Sunday afternoon to rehearse for the musical fireside that evening.  I had to prepare accompaniments for 7 numbers, most of which I was not familiar with, and one of which had only a recording to go off of.  But I enjoy doing that, as everyone who knows me knows.

We didn't get a really good picture of the fireside itself, but this picture shows many of the young elders and sisters who participated.  One of the sisters was in tears at the rehearsal just minutes before the performance, but she braved her fears and was able to perform her song.  We were very proud of her.

What would Valentine's Day be without pink, heart-shaped pancakes?  We feel that serving the Lord on this mission has brought us closer together than we have ever felt before.  The unity of our purpose in serving here has strengthened the unity of our marriage.  It's great to still be in love after 46 years!!!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Week 73 in Tarawa

Last Monday, February 1st, on the young elders and sisters P-Day, I spent some time rehearsing musical numbers with Sister Tanuvasa and Elder Ah-to for the fireside scheduled for Sunday, February 7th.  I've also been asked to speak.  It is a joy to hear them sing, they both have such beautiful voices.

On the same Monday, Michael Carthew, the Pacific Area School director, presented Bwenaua with her ITEP Teaching Certificate.  We are so happy for her.  She started taking our classes when she was a long term sub, but was then hired as a permanent teacher.

Tuesday evening we had a welcoming dinner with all the senior missionary couples for Elder and Sister Henderson.  They are the new ITEP supervisors over all the ITEP couples serving in the Pacific Area.  This was their first ever visit to Kiribati.  From left to right: Elder and Sister Henderson, Elder and Sister Jenks, Sister Olson, Sister Alldredge, Elder Olson, Sister and Elder Waldron, and Sister Sumner.

As we drove them around to see some of the sights on Tarawa, we got stuck behind one of the hand-powered wheelchairs the church provides for some of the diabetes victims on the island.

We took them to visit several of the chapels here, all of which have amazing scenic views of the ocean.

They were amazed at the beauty of the island...

...and also amazed at the poverty.  This picture shows a "bouilla", a home that so many of the people build for themselves to live in.

Tuesday was the opening assembly for the first day of school.  In this picture, taken from where we were seated on the podium, you see our new principal, Banririe, addressing the student body.

On Thursday, we drove the Henderson's to the airport for their return flight to Fiji and Auckland, New Zealand.

Friday night we went on a group date to eat at the "Pacific Chinese Restaurant".  Their food and service was the best we've had on Tarawa, although their facility left much to be desired.

On Saturday, February 6, our 46th anniversary, we were invited to attend another baptism in the ocean behind our apartment.  This picture shows everyone gathering under the tree and along the fence to watch.

We've gotten to know the Zone Leaders, Elder Miller on the left and Elder Ah-to on the right because we see them so frequently.  They often come to us for missionary needs since I keep the petty cash for the mission.

I think we will never tire of witnessing baptisms in such beautiful surroundings.

This afternoon we were visited by Tioromaia, Eutita, and Gloria, who is just learning to walk.  She is still very shy around us, but at least we were able to get her to smile on this visit.  She turns 1 year old tomorrow, February 8th.

Their visit was a short visit because Elder Sumner was asked to speak at a missionary fireside in Bikenibeu. He spoke of the subject of Service.  He quoted from a talk given by Elder Marion Romney in 1976 in which he said that service is not just something we do to prepare for entrance in the Celestial Kingdom.  Service is the very fiber of Celestial existence and is the source or God's happiness as well as our own. We are grateful to be able to serve here and hope that this pattern will continue for the rest of our mortal lives.