Monday, June 24, 2013

Our Week in Review

Warning: It may take you a week to get through this. It wasn't easy for us to get through it either.

Remember the little quote that went around awhile ago that went something like, “Dear God, today I haven’t said an unkind thing, been sarcastic, passed up an opportunity to help, or said or done anything I regret.  But the alarm just went off and now I’m going to get out of bed.  I’m going to need all the help I can get.”  I used to think that was funny.  Now it sounds a lot like my prayers. I've had a few revelations lately about the distance between who I am and who I thought I was. A good friend told me that her children said that they learned a lot about themselves on their missions. It certainly is true for me. I’ll spare you the details. 
I started writing an email a week or so ago, sharing the progress I’ve made and the confidence I had gained in using the Samoan language in the temple ordinance. “Fate” intervened and the email disappeared before I could send it. Today at church, a Samoan brother who serves in the temple said good-naturedly to me, “Sister Crowley, you need to learn the Samoan language.”  At first I didn’t realize his reference because I didn’t recognize him as one who had been at the veil with me this past week when the patron needed help and all of a sudden I needed help. It seems I am still in the learning phase. So much for confidence. I could go on and on, but neither you nor I want to relive any more of my revelatory moments.

This past week was significant in our lives here and has left me humbled to the core.  On Monday after our housekeeping chores at the temple, we gathered for a potluck at the Fitisemanu’s home Sister Fitisemanu invited us by phone on Saturday, saying that a man and his wife were going to entertain us with music after lunch and that this would serve as our scheduled FHE.  As it turned out, the ‘man and his wife’ turned out to be every man and his wife. Something obviously got lost in translation. It was evident that the others were aware of this. Fife’s and President and Sister Pauga (counselor and assistant) both had lyrics to their songs printed up to hand out to all of us.  President Pauga (say Pa-oonga) conducted in Samoan and we somehow missed that we were to follow the Fife’s contribution. Neither of us caught that. But we did get the drift that at some point it would be our turn to sing, so we whispered our plan to each other and relaxed and enjoyed listening. All of these temple missionaries sang songs from the hymn book as Sister Fitisemanu accompanied on the piano. It was a sweet time and we were enjoying it very much.  Then Pauga’s led us in  a rousing song that you are no doubt familiar with, but I can’t for the life of me tell you what it’s called.  It is a song that repeats the chorus, adding a musical instrument each time after a verse, complete with pantomime. Sister Pauga is quite a character and everyone was laughing and having a great time.  Then President Pauga called on us. I said, “You want us to sing after that??”  Everyone laughed as the mood had changed and it seemed to be a fitting end to a song fest.  We were willing and ready anyway, but he took that to mean we were declining to participate. He quickly called upon President and Sister Fitisemanu to sing the final song and then asked Leon to offer the benediction. We were stunned. Not forewarned, but willing, then passed over, being the only people in the room not contributing. Again,“Sister (and Brother) Crowley, you need to learn the Samoan language.” 

Tuesday was a busy day with 4 proxy baptisms, back to back, with ward youth groups of approximately 24 boys and girls participating in each.  That generates a lot of laundry, which was still going on at 9:00 p.m.. Leon and I took pity on our faithful counterparts, the Sauni’s (next door neighbors) and Sister Moaga, who hold up such a standard of service and consecration that we are working in their shadow, and will never be able to keep up with them. They work both shifts at the temple every day.  Brother Sauni is also included in the demanding schedule they choose to keep. He celebrated his 80th birthday one week ago. Sister Sauni, his wife will celebrate her 46th birthday this Thursday. I could do an entire post introducing these valiant souls to you. 

I realize that I never let you know that the Ho-Chings (counselor in the temple presidency and assistant to the matron) were released after their emergency flight to the states for her surgery and are back living in Arizona. We have been w/o a fully functioning temple presidency since then.  I’ve written about Chuck and JoAnn Fife, temple missionaries who with the Ho-Chings helped us transition into mission life.  In yet another hurried departure, the Fife’s caught a midnight flight home Friday and have been released from their mission.  Their son, Tony, has somehow beaten the odds of pancreatic cancer life expectancy by living more than a year since his diagnosis shortly before his parents received their call in the spring of 2012. On Wednesday they received word from their children that they were needed at home. Now. They came by our apartment with the news that night and the thing we feared was now a reality.

I woke around 2 a.m. Thursday with the ramifications of their leaving swirling in my head.  We invited them to lunch and prepared a nice meal that morning.  That was inspiration as that was the only quality time we had with them in the very busy two remaining days of their stay. Soon after our shared lunch, Leon and I reported at the temple where we served until the temple closed at 9 p.m.. It was a difficult day which was made more difficult by challenges to our focus and purpose which I choose not to elaborate on, only to say I exerted great energy to remain focused. It was on this day that I lost that focus at the veil, resulting in the comment quoted above of the need to learn the language. 

Though we were working the afternoon/evening shift this week, we reported Friday morning at 5 a.m. in order to attend a missionary buffet at the Tanoa Tusitala Hotel, which was already scheduled and would serve as an opportunity for all the senior missionaries to say their good-byes to the Fife’s before catching their midnight flight home. There is a brief preparation meeting in the matron’s office/bride’s room at 5:20 a.m.. When I entered the room and sat down, Sister Fitisemanu welcomed me and immediately said with great enthusiasm, “You will be our shift coordinator today.”  Please understand, dear reader, that this has been my greatest fear. I have witnessed the great challenge of covering all the ordinances and other service given to the patrons with very few workers to cover these assignments. It is a game of robbing Peter to pay Paul and I have observed Sister Moaga in particular, working every moment to see where she can borrow from one area to cover a more immediate need. Those who have known and served with me in our home ward or stake know that I spend great effort in planning and preparing well in advance of any assignment.  This is a situation where you  must do the best you can with who you have to work with and what the schedule is for the day.  You don’t know the schedule until you arrive, and never how many workers will be there that day. With guidance and support, I successfully navigated the shift with no apparent disasters.

You can stop reading any time.  Later during this Friday morning shift, Sister Fitisemanu called me into her office again and said she would like me to take this as a regular assignment on Friday mornings.  As she saw the terror in my eyes, and listened to my concerns, she relieved me of that assignment and left it as just for today. Then once more I was summoned and asked if I would accept an assignment as assistant to the coordinator on Friday mornings, serving with Sister Merrick.  Brother and Sister Merrick are here w/o an official mission call.  Brother Jim Merrick has leukemia and Sister Fiesta Merrick has congestive heart failure. Knowing they would never pass the physicals required to be issued a mission call, they came on their own to serve in the temple. They have been here less time than we have. She accepted the call, knowing less than I do since her main assignment has been in the baptistery and laundry with assignments in other areas. When offered the assignment, Sister Merrick responded, “Yes, Auntie, you know me. I will figure it out. But I want Sister Crowley to serve with me as my assistant.” [Fiesta is niece to President Fitisemanu.)  I told Sister Fitisemanu I was happy to be an assistant and to serve with Sister Merrick.

I have shed tears over my lack of faith. I have thought of the Savior who did not ‘shrink’ from the awful suffering required of Him in order to protect my agency. I am ashamed that I shrank from the assignment. I will say that I told Sister Fitisemanu that I would accept if that was the Lord’s will, and was surprised that she reacted to my reluctance and concerns by removing the request.  He who hesitates loses out.  So, while I am comforted by sharing the assignment with a sister I love dearly, I realized as we talked that I understood the assignment better than she. That may have played into her willingness and my reluctance. Nevertheless, the Lord will help us both to grow and help His work go forward.

Saturday is the longest shift we work: 4 a.m. until the temple closes at noon.  My assignment was the baptistery. We had 3 baptisms, and the laundry to go with it.  I was often alone, which was fine as I was able to sit quietly in between duties, and enjoy one-on-one quiet conversations with workers who came and went by assignment. I learned many things as I asked about their lives and also about the original temple, which burned down and led to the construction and dedication of this temple in 2005. I was thankful to serve in the baptistery for the first time because as assistant coordinator on Fridays, that will be part of my responsibility to oversee. 

At church on Sunday a visitor introduced herself in Sunday School as Ann Howell from Holladay, Utah, on a tour of the islands of Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa and American Samoa. After the meeting, I asked her to tell me more and we sat together in Relief Society. I learned that she was widowed 2 years ago after caring for her husband for a number of years due to a stroke and eventual dementia. She is traveling alone and had no plans for the rest of her Sabbath, so we invited to spend it with us. She is a delightful soul who loves to travel, mostly because of the people she meets. What a privilege for us to be part of her memory of Samoa. After lunch, she and I made a pot of a wonderful Samoan treat, supoese. [ Say soup –o- essay]  Mostly we heard about her experiences on this tour, gave her a ride back to her hotel that she described as a Motel 1 [think Motel 6]. 

That was our week # 13.5 in Samoa. Below are pictures of people I’ve mentioned in this post. No post should ever be this long. I apologize. The good thing is you can just stop any time and I’ll never know.

Brother and Sister Sauni, two of our heroes.

Sister Nele Moaga (She teaches us Samoan words and laughs at us.)

Brother and Sister Fife, now of Idaho Falls, ID.

Ann Howell, our Sunday visitor.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lessons From the Ship

“There’s a ship lies rigged and ready in the harbor, and tomorrow for old England she sails.”  That line from a song of  Roger Whitaker’s keeps running through my mind.  There was a ship in the harbor for the past  two weeks and on Monday it did sail, not for old England, but for Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti and the Marshall Islands. My heart was a little sad at its leaving.  When we were in town Monday I asked Leon to drive down by the harbor to see if it had gone.  The harbor looked empty without the silhouette of the USS Pearl Harbor against the sky.  I can’t explain why it made me sad.  Maybe it was the connection we felt to  Dr. Scott Hurd who became our friend so quickly, a brother in the gospel, and an important part of the ship’s mission.  Maybe it was the energy it evoked with its multi-national passenger list of young men and women, and some not as young, who ‘went about doing good’ among these islands, promoting good health practices, dental hygiene, clean water and food preparation.  The marines on board rebuilt a bridge that was out after the cyclone of last December. There were disaster management sessions, which drew on the experience and knowledge of local agencies as well as those who came to teach and to learn from others.

Twenty two of us senior missionaries took a tour one week ago of the USS Pearl Harbor, a relatively new ship christened in 2005 and which is the only ship to ever have borne that name.  It was well worth the hour we spent on board.  I believe we saw 90% of the ship. The only area I know we didn’t visit was in the belly of the ship where the ammo is kept for the defensive weapons on board and also where they store the munitions for the marines they transport in times of war.  The ship is amphibious, which means it is capable of loading and unloading landing craft, machinery and men by lowering one end of the ship up to 15 feet into the water.  It has the capacity of handling 2 helicopters on its landing deck, mostly for refueling as it has no hanger on board.

If Leon was writing this, I’m certain he would have a different perspective and would have been impressed with things I likely have forgotten or barely understood.  What struck me was what we learned in the bridge of the ship. That’s where all the navigation takes place.  As you might expect, there was lots of  electronic equipment for gathering useful information and translating that into action.  There was also a white board of sorts (it was actually black, but same idea) with lots of hand written notes and symbols.  The advantage here, it was noted, was that receiving information directly from on board crew members and writing that information on the ’white board’ avoids the possibility of hackers intercepting the message.  There was an area for paper charts and hand written calculations and notes next to the sophisticated tracking devices that help the ship to avoid natural dangers, such as shallow waters or underwater obstacles,  as well as enemies (or as our young lieutenant tour guide referred to them, our ‘frienamies’, since in today‘s political climate we have no enemies).  These calculations are made by a crew member trained to do just that, and not as a result of consulting the technical data, thereby establishing a principle that should sound familiar, i.e., providing a second witness to confirm the data.

We exited the enclosed bridge through a door on the right and we were standing on a forward deck, which name we can’t recall. It is a small area looking out over the bow of the ship from its elevated position.  There are huge binoculars through which you could see clearly anything on the horizon.  There is against the railing a vertical metal pipe or tube about  6” in diameter with a cap attached. By lifting the cap and speaking into the tube or pipe, your voice is carried to other areas on the ship, including the captain’s quarters.  The lieutenant explained a set of flags which are carried on board all sea-going vessels, which are universally understood.  When other types of communication are ill advised or impossible, the flag can signal the ship’s intent, it’s cargo, whatever pertinent information it wishes to communicate for its own safety and protection as well as other purposes.

After showing and telling of these various time-honored, universally understood, simple tools, he concluded by saying that by employing this knowledge, it is possible for a ship to navigate safely when other more sophisticated methods are inadvisable or unavailable.  A ship can safely sail with just the knowledge and practice of its crew working together with their combined and shared understanding of the ship, the sea, and their ultimate destination.

Do you remember hearing the prophets refer to the gospel as The Good Ship of the Gospel?  The counsel is to stay with the Good Ship of the Gospel.  The simple basics of daily personal and family worship, attending our meetings regularly, partaking of the sacrament, attending the temple, serving each other, and following the Prophet, taken together will ‘guide us safely home’. All of these practices are within reach of every one of us.  It is simple and basic and it works.  That is what I remember most about the USS Pearl Harbor. That is what it taught me.

The Good Ship lies rigged and ready in life’s harbor. (I feel an old gospel song coming on.)  Sing with me, brother, oh yeah, we are on the Good Ship!  Man your stations!  Anchor away!  Full speed ahead!  Woohoo! I am soo grateful to be sailing with you!

 USS Pearl Harbor, anchored in Apia Harbor, June 2013
Supply boat inside the ship used to unload w/o a dock. 
 Looking at the flight deck.
Looking over the bow of the ship from the deck to the right of the bridge.
The flag says, "Don't Tread on Me"

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Princess, a Doctor, Aussies,and a Mutant Bomb

Hello from the island paradise of Samoa where we have just celebrated 51 years of independence! Today is a holiday.  There is a US Navy vessel in the harbor, the skies are once again blue after several days of rain, and we are enjoying our P-Day, awaiting the hour when we will take a tour of said ship. We have been saddened by the news of terrible destruction and loss of life in Oklahoma from hurricanes.  We hope all is well with you.

This is the season when senior missionaries come and go.  In my last post I shared with you about the mission nurse and her husband, the Hanson's, now back home in Payson, UT, enjoying their family again.  Last week the Johnson's, auditors for the church here in Samoa and in American Samoa, said their good-byes. and flew home to Detroit, MI. This was their fourth mission, and as Sister Johnson said, this was the icing on the cake.  At their farewell dinner last Monday night, we were all introduced to the Goodlets, our newest missionary couple who hail from Australia in a very rural area, the nearest city is Perth.  Their property backs up to a 45,000 acre reserve.  They have kangaroos hopping across their property all the time. Elder Goodlet says "Kangaroos are delightful animals. They destroy the garden; you have to choose the garden or the kangaroos. We choose the kangaroos."  Elder Goodlet's assignment is to oversee the technical classes.  He is a retired large equipment diesel mechanic.  Sister Goodlet will look after home economics classes.  Delightful describes the Goodlets.  He has a mop of white hair and until this mission had always sported a handlebar mustache.  He feels quite naked w/o it.  She has rather wild yellow hair, long and contained with clips, and a whimsical face, with a turned up nose and beautiful blue eyes with brows that ask a question.  He said the students asked if he could speak Samoan. When he said, no, he is pretty sure they said, "Good".

So, do you want to hear about the Princess?  Good, because I want to tell you about her.  She is four years old.  At that tender age, she has learned to do the traditional siva (dance) done by the daughter of the village chief or matai.  Her name is Whitney. She is the granddaughter of the mission cook whose name I cannot remember.  She, the cook, became close to the Hanson's as they were in and out of their office in the  mission home and tending to sick elders.  When she was off island for a couple of weeks, Hanson's stepped in and fed a huge number of missionaries during her absence.  She and her husband were guests at the Hanson's farewell dinner.  They surprised us all by bringing little Whitney, dressed in the traditional village princess attire, who danced for us to the accompaniment of her grandparents and her mother who sang and played as she danced. Little Whitney sat directly across the table from me after her dance and let me tell you, she is a good little eater!  We loved each other with our eyes and my heart was full, thinking of my own precious grandchildren. Her grace in dance at such a tender age was truly remarkable.

Two weeks ago, a visitor at church introduced himself as Scott Hurd, here in connection with Pacific Partnership 2013, a medical humanitarian project. We spoke with him after the meetings and invited him home with us for lunch. He spent the afternoon with us and we felt that we were old friends by the time he left.  Dr. Hurd is stationed at Virginia Beach, where he is responsible for readying the troops before they are sent to Afghanistan and such places, by educating them about how to maintain their health and how to treat themselves when necessary. He is a preventative medicine doctor.  He is also a faithful latter-day saint, father of seven and husband of the newly called stake relief society president in their stake. His job here was to take care of all the logistics and make all the connections to prepare the way for the medical team that arrived late last week to conduct educational health clinics all over the islands of Samoa.  The ship in the harbor brought all the needed equipment and the medical team.  With Dr. Hurd's help, we organized a tour of the ship for the senior missionaries this afternoon.  That will be a subject of a future post.

And then there is Henry.  And his Mutant Bomb, aka 199_ Mitsubishi.  Henry is probably the youngest temple worker in the Apia Samoa Temple. He has an irresistible grin.  He lives far away and upland on the mountain, which requires him to walk an hour just to get to the road where he can catch the bus for another hour ride to the temple. Leon became acquainted with Henry by enlisting his help in learning the veil ordinance in Samoan. Then Henry came home with Leon and had lunch with us after the temple shift. This has become a pretty regular occurrence. As they became acquainted, Henry began telling him about a car that had been given to his father and that it needed brakes.  The more he shared about the car, it became apparent that it needed more than brakes. A lot more.  Finally, Leon suggested that Henry take pictures of the car's innards, so he would have a better idea of what it would take to fix the car.  On his most recent visit, Henry brought pictures, and a friend, whose English is better, to translate.  I felt like I was in a doctor's office with the doctor and the family of the patient. The doctor was as diplomatically as possible explaining to the family that the patient was terminally ill and the best and most humane thing to do would be to pull the plug and end the suffering.  There was that look on Henry's face that said he had not realized it was that serious. It was shock and what I thought was acceptance.  Not so. Within days, a wiry little bit of a man with a grin that strongly resembled Henry's, knocked at our door and handed me a key.  It seems that against the doctor's precise orders that the patient, - er- the car NOT be moved, for goodness sake and for the sake of all involved, that it not be driven OR towed off the mountain, because with all its other failings, the car definitely did NOT have brakes, it had indeed been driven, towed, levitated, however in the world it was done, the car was now at the Pesega School Auto Shop awaiting a miracle cure. The end of the story will have to wait.

The vibrant colors of Samoa are not restricted to the vegetation, the sunrise and sunsets. They are in and part of the human experience here in this unique and beautiful part of the world.  

This little area between the mission home kitchen and the conference room served as Whitney's stage.

Doctor Scott Hurd. He's the one not wearing a missionary tag.

Do you ever have to stop and think about on which side of the car you are currently driving is the gas tank located?  Not a problem in the Mutant Bomb. It's inside the car.  Yep. fill 'er up, Matey. I'll hand it to you. Now you understand the Bomb part of the name of the car.

What a beautiful temple!