Sunday, April 28, 2013

What is the Meaning of This?

Today is your Sabbath. We hope you enjoy it fully and are spiritually nourished.  We certainly were yesterday, our Sabbath. The Pesega 5th Ward which we are attending is the 'palagi' ward, but that is misleading.  What it really means is that the meetings are in English.  Most of the members are Samoan. The bishopric is Samoan, the priesthood leaders are Samoan, the auxiliary leaders are either Samoan or spouses of Samoans.  We palagi's are by far in the minority, but most of the palagi senior missionaries attend this ward.  Before we came to Samoa we intended to attend a Samoan ward, meaning a Samoan language ward, which would be any of the other wards on the island.  However, we soon realized that we have the same need now as we did at home to be nourished by the word.  To regularly attend church in a language we don't understand would not be helpful to us at this point.  

Within the past week we have learned the meaning of two important words: palagi and Samoa.
President Ho-Ching explained that 'pa' means 'burst forth' and 'lagi' is the Samoan word for 'heaven'.  Their point of reference for a white man is their 'tradition' of a White Man who 'burst forth' from (or suddenly came down from) heaven.  Palagi.  That is a humbling thought.  Sadly, the experience some Samoans have had with our ethnic group has not been all that positive, so it is not always thought of with respect.  

As for 'Samoa', we always assumed and laughed at that assumption, that since 'sa' means sacred, and 'moa' is the word for 'chicken', that for some unknown reason, this nation was called "Sacred Chicken".  It made no sense since Samoans don't consider chickens to be sacred, but in our ignorance we never bothered to ask.  Until some days ago. President Ho-Ching explained that the center of the body is referred to as 'moa'.  Samoans believe that the first people to inhabit Polynesia sailed with the current from South America and landed in Samoa, which they refer to as 'The Heart of Polynesia'.  He remembers as a youth of 12 years old in the early '50's, living in American Samoa, watching as a man arrive on his raft, as the Samoans and the media welcomed him after he had done exactly that, ridden the ocean current which landed him there.  He remembers that the same man repeated the voyage with a similar result.  This was a confirming witness to them.  They believe that from Samoa the people explored the South Pacific and spread to the other islands.  Scripturally, they site the voyages of Hagoth in the Book of Mormon and others who followed (Alma 63:5-8); "And it came to pass that they were never heard of more. And we suppose that they were drowned in the depths of the sea." v. 8.  

We obviously have much to learn.

So much for ancient history. In recent history, we have all been blessed by the visit of Elder Dallin H. Oaks, and members of the area presidency over the South Pacific.  They began their tour of the islands, including New Zealand and Australia, right here in Samoan. They arrived Thursday night, April 18th. During the following 3 days, we heard them speak at a mission conference, a cultural celebration, and a stake conference.  What a wonderful thing it is to be in the presence of an apostle of the Lord.  As a Special Witness of the Lord, Jesus Christ, he not only bore his witness in the form of a testimony and inspirational, enlightening teachings, but by his very personality and love for all of us, his cheerfulness and good humor, he bore witness of the reality of a personal God that, if the veil were lifted and we could taste the joy of His presence for just a moment, we would do anything necessary to qualify to live eternally in that Joyful Presence.  Those qualities are apparent in every apostle or seventy that we have had opportunity to meet.  They all reflect a joy and a love that comes from Him.

I'll share one glimpse with you of Elder Oaks' inspired teaching.  At the mission conference, he entered the chapel, walked to the front and stood in the aisle beside the front row.  Row by row, each one of us passed by him and shook his hand, looked into his eyes and felt such gratitude for the opportunity.  He began his remarks by referring to that experience from his perspective.  He quoted from D&C 121:45, asking, "What does it mean to have your 'confidence wax strong in the presence of the Lord'"?  He answered his own question, searching for the right word, he said, it means to feel like you 'belong'; that you are 'comfortable' in His presence.  He then said that with almost all of us, he sensed that we were comfortable in his presence, that we felt that we  'belonged'.  In a few cases, however, he said some of you didn't make eye contact, and it was apparent that you couldn't get away fast enough. You didn't feel that you belong.  He emphasized that it didn't change the love he felt for each and every missionary, but said, "I don't know why you felt that way, but YOU know. My counsel is whatever it is, 'fix it'".

We have only one picture of Elder Oaks, which Leon took at the cultural celebration, so we'll include that.  

Have a wonderful Sabbath and week.

Elder and Sister Crowley

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Broader View

On our P-day, Monday, April 15, the Ho-Chings invited us and the Fife's to travel across the island with them in the mission van. It was a very memorable day.  We drove over the mountainous region, which was shrouded in clouds. This was the first overcast day we had experienced since arriving on the 20th of March. Actually much of this week has been overcast with much rain. The rainy season officially ended with March, confirming that weather patterns here are as unseasonable as yours at home.  Our first stop was to enjoy lunch at a lovely seaside resort called Coconuts.  As we ate, we watched huge breakers crashing on the reef far off shore.  We wandered through the gift shop and I pretty much wanted 85% of what I saw, most to give as gifts, but some to enjoy for myself.  Beautiful offerings, not anything like the crude souvenirs we brought home with us 40 years ago.

We drove next to a national park. I can't recall the name, but Leon took a picture of the sign, which we will include below.  We parked the van and then walked a path lined on both sides with tropical flowers and dense vegetation.  It was so incredibly beautiful as to make you stop in your tracks and take it all in.  It followed a river which lead to a waterfall.  On the other side of the river was a high cliff, green with dense vegetation.  Twice, we passed a wide swath of bare earth, where heavy rain, or perhaps another evidence of  the December cyclone, had washed the vegetation into the river. At the top of one such place, a huge tree was precariously rooted to the very edge of the cliff.  We walked some distance before reaching the waterfall, which was below us on the river, wide as the river.  Sister Ho-Ching observed that they had brought their grandchildren here before the cyclone to swim in the pool at the base of the waterfall. At that time, the water was crystal clear; now it is muddy brown.

As we arrived back at the van, President Ho-Ching pointed out to us a noni tree bearing much fruit. There is a picture below. On our very next shopping trip I saw a bottle of noni juice on the shelf and bought it.  I have to believe that the drink that is so popular with health seekers at home has been 'added upon'.  It tastes nasty!

Soon we were back on the south coast, driving back home around the east end of the island, where in 2009 a tsunami struck killing 100 people as they ran to the densely covered cliff, clinging to trees and grasping at anything available to get above the 46 foot waves.  The Ho-Chings pointed out that the homes and other structures on the seaside of the road were all built since 2009.  The coast was washed clear of any structure. The homes that remained further inland were severely damaged. We saw fales with only posts remaining.  They told us that the homes were full of fish and sharks and eels were left in their yards.  One of our temple ordinance workers, Sister Ese, found herself clinging to the top of a palm tree with no memory of how she got there.  It reached American Samoa, and Tonga as well.  Total loss of life was 189, mostly children. A survivor of the tsunami wrote a book, Tsunami, which I will buy and read when opportunity permits, which records personal accounts from the survivors.

Will we experience any of these deadly storms during our stay on the island?  There is no way to know.  It is not a concern that keeps us awake at night.  One of the incredible couples we've met and have occasion to associate with, are the Roth's.  He is a successful dentist from Utah. He is here serving the Samoan people, the missionaries, whoever he finds lined up at his clinic as he arrives early in the morning.  His wife is his assistant. Their clinic is housed in a warehouse bordering the school malai (grassy field) at the top of church housing.  The equipment is donated by two dental associations of which the Roth's are members. Their service costs the church nothing.  They provide basic dental care and teach dental hygiene. I'm sure you are wondering why I brought this up in the context of extreme weather.  It is because of what he said to me.  He said he has never been happier in his life.  No money is exchanged.  He serves people from all walks of life, all levels of society.  He said if it were possible he would stay forever.  He said that he told his children that if during their mission, something terrible should happen to them, "Don't you dare blame God, or turn away from Him. We are here because this is where we want to be. We made the choice to be here and this is where, of all the places we could be, this is where we want to be."  I say the same to our children and loved ones at home.  I find it difficult to explain the peace I feel every day, even in challenging and new situations.

It's time to get ready for church. I'll leave to my tech expert to download pictures to add to this epistle.  God bless anyone who has read the entire  post.  As Leon says, I was born with more words than he. ;)

Tofa Soifua until next time. Alofa atu.
 Elder and Sister Crowley

Lunch at Coconut Resort -left to right: Karen in back, Pres. Sonny Ho-Ching to her right,
yours truly, JoAnn Fife, Chuck Fife.

Swimming pool at resort right on the beach

National park

Falls and the nice swimming area below the falls
People you might know 
Noni fruit

Monday, April 8, 2013


Beautiful sunrise.

$7.30 tala for a head of lettuce on special

The back of the temple one evening.

Our apartment.

Our 4 A. M. Walk to the temple. It is hard to see but a crescent moon was sitting right above Angel Moroni. Very beautiful in person.

A local Samoan banana. They are small but so good. 

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Then and Now

Dear Friends and family,

Many changes have occurred in the last 40 years, and they weigh heavily on the positive side in our limited perspective of only being here 18 days at this writing.  Regarding any disadvantages we may be experiencing  here, at this point in our stay, the things most common, i.e., bugs and humidity, etc., have not been the problem we experienced the first time we were here.  The bugs are still here, but living in church housing, we haven’t had the problem to any significant extent.  They spray for bugs, and 90% of the bugs we do encounter in our apartment are dead bugs – and they are at a minimum.  The apartments are air conditioned and ceiling fans are placed in all the living areas.  When we are out, we feel the humidity, but I’ve been surprised at how insignificant it seems.  Of course I was seven months pregnant the first time we came!  Another major challenge we dealt with before was the regular power outages which sometimes lasted for weeks.  Living in church housing protects us from that inconvenience.  Their generator kicks in w/i ten seconds and the power is restored.  I would say that the only thing that has taken us back a bit is the cost of food and other commodities.  The exchange rate is definitely in our favor, but given that, prices are still very high.

We have found an abundance of American food products on the shelves, while before it was a rare thing.  We have tried New Zealand products, which are generally less expensive, and we like what we have tried.  We remember three downtown Apia stores in the 1970’s; now there are many grocery stores, at least two pharmacies, and many other types of stores and shops. Apia is hardly recognizable to us. Samoa has grown up.  In the 70’s there was one hotel/restaurant, Aggie Grey; now there are hotels and resorts, and a variety of restaurants to choose from.

The Apia Samoa temple is absolutely beautiful.  We’ve been told that it is the same plan as the Newport Beach Temple in California.  The floor tile, windows, flower arrangements, and some of the paintings reflect the Island culture and landscape.  The temple presidency, matron and assistants are just as loving and welcoming as you would imagine. The workers are dedicated, friendly and kind.  It sounds familiar, yes?  There are 4 full-time companionships serving temple missions here.  The Ho-Chings who serve in the presidency are also here as missionaries serving 3 years in that assignment.  There is a need for more ordinance workers.  Please pass the word along.
The patrons come by busloads as wards or stakes by assignment. If they come from long distances, they stay in patron housing, just outside the mission complex.  Some come by taxi, some walk, but most of the population is outside this ‘suburb’ of Apia, called Pesega.  (Pronounce the ‘g’ as an ‘ng’ as in sung or ring).  Attending Sunday meetings here, as well as observing the temple attendance of the members,  has witnessed to us the maturity of the Samoan saints understanding of and conversion to the gospel.

We love serving in this beautiful place.  The sunsets are gorgeous.  One of my favorite things about Samoa is the ever-changing sky.  It is the most beautiful blue and the billowy white cloud formations are just so beautiful.  March ended the rainy season, and though It still rains, it doesn’t last long and skies are mostly blue.
We were able to spend last Monday with the other temple missionaries and presidency on a private beach, owned by Brother Su’a, who is over patron housing.  There are many lovely beaches around the island.  This one required us to travel up over the center of the island to the south coast.  We saw the uprooted trees and other signs of the devastation caused by the cyclone last December. We also saw lush beauty, waterfalls, beautiful villages with their well maintained fales and the large ‘lawn’ area, common to the village, and colorful flowers.  We played in the ocean, which is protected by the reef, so no huge waves.  And yes, we did get a little burned. Our hosts prepared wonderful Samoan food, including a small roasted pig, BBQ chicken, and 2 crabs caught right there and cooked right on the beach.
We send our love. Thanks for your comments and emails. We love hearing from and about you. 

Alofa atu, Elder and Sister Crowley