Sunday, December 29, 2013

Manuia le Kerisemasi !

This Christmas in Samoa was unique and memorable for its simplicity and its island flavor.  Almost daily, friends and co-workers sent us home from the temple or stopped by our apartment with papaya, pineapples, avocadoes, taro and palusami. Whether these were gifts inspired by the season, or just the result of generous hearts and abundant harvests, it was very much appreciated and certainly enjoyed.  Samoans love to celebrate. Celebrations always involve lots of food and lots of singing and dancing. There was plenty of that. We attended the annual Christmas party held for all the temple workers and the temple presidency, where they sang spontaneously their Samoan songs with their calls and claps. They danced  their traditional siva, so elegant and lovely, to me the loveliest of all Polynesian dances. They piled their plates high and returned to the bounteous table for seconds and thirds. We temple missionaries with the presidency sang a Samoan version of the twelve days of Christmas (for which we had numerous practices, no doubt for the benefit of the Lamoreaux's and the Crowleys.) It brought the house down.                                 
                                                                                                                               The Siva

On Monday the week before, the senior and temple missionaries were invited to meet in the conference room at the mission home to assemble gifts that Sister Winter (serving with Elder Winter, auditor for the mission) had painstakingly prepared over the past many weeks while she had been laid up with an injured ankle. Her experience in being directed to do this, is one I will tell in detail at a later time.

On Christmas Eve, all the senior missionaries and temple missionaries enjoyed a lovely dinner of turkey, ham and umu roasted pork (the whole pig), with all the trimmings you would expect. Guests of honor were South Pacific Area President James Hamula, his wife and four of their six children (17 year old fraternal twin boys, and two young adult daughters), Mission President Leota, his wife and two daughters (Rachael recently returned from her mission in the USA and a younger sister whose name I do not know), Regional Church Historian Brett Macdonald, his wife and three young children, delightful people all. The two assistants to President Leota and a third young elder did an inspired reading from the Bible and Book of Mormon, interspersed with Elder Amituana’i’s tender guitar accompaniment and their voices singing a Michael Mclean song. It left us all in awe of God’s gift to us of His Beloved Son.

Christmas morning before it was light found many of us senior missionaries in the mission home kitchen, preparing breakfast to feed an army, or so it appeared.  The Hamula’s Christmas this year was devoted to serving the children housed by the Samoa Victim Support Group “House of Hope”. The residents from very young to eighteen years of age are assured of a safe and loving environment there, protected against their abusers by a high fence and a locked gate. We did not understand at first that we were all invited to go with Hamula’s, Leota’s and Brett Macdonald, to serve the breakfast we had prepared to the children and the small staff. The next couple of hours were humbling. These children, mostly girls from preteen to mid teens, some pregnant, greeted us with “Merry Christmas” as they smiled and kissed our cheeks, one after another.

Sorry, my head is in the way. That is Sister Moaga prepared to serve. She resisted my insistence that she come with us to visit the children, but thanked me afterwards.

After breakfast, there was singing by the children. They sang with gusto, as is their heritage. When they sang a song of thanks for our visit, their young leader wiped her eyes repeatedly while maintaining her impressive conducting of the music. At one point someone handed a little boy, maybe 12 to 14 months old to Leon. The little guy snuggled into his arms and stayed until he was retrieved later by an older child.

There she is, her back to us, leading the singing of the children.

The Hamula’s had been there for several days, serving the children and getting acquainted with them. They brought gifts and clothing, donated or gathered as part of the twin’s eagle project. When some time was given to them at the end of the festivities, both boys broke down in tears as they expressed to the children how they loved them, how much they had learned from them, and how this was the very best Christmas of their lives. They told them they would never forget them, and surely they won’t. None of us will.

The Hamula's daughter, Jennie. See the girl in the foreground. She is wearing one of the tie-dye tee's that Jennie and her sister dyed for the boys and girls.

One of the items Sister Winter prepared and we assembled were binders full of colored prints of scripture stories taken from past issues of the Friend magazine. Each story has a page to color. You can also see that the tie-dyed tee's were enthusiastically received.

Tomorrow is our New Year’s Eve. 2014 will bring changes to our mission. We will say good-bye to Sister Moaga, whose temple mission ends on January 6th. Losing Sister Moaga is no small loss. I can hardly think of it. She is a stalwart at the temple, one you can always turn to for help, advice, or clarification. The Lamoreaux’s and we are taking her to lunch tomorrow.  She has never married and never attended university in order to care for her widowed mother who passed away before she came on her mission. I’ve been hammering her to get into school when she returns to Sydney, Australia. I’ve also cautioned her to stop hitting people because if she is going to marry a temple president one day, she cannot serve as the temple matron if she goes around slapping the sisters. Granted, it is playful, but really? Sometimes it even hurts!  She just laughs and says, “Whatever” in her Aussie accent. Leon says it to her all the time, mimicking her accent – “Whativah”.

We wish each of you a very HAPPY 2014.  May we all focus on the things that matter most, strive to be better than we are, and accept others as they are, children of God, so loved of Him that He sent His Son to atone for all our sins. Oh how we love Him and His Son, our Hope, our Advocate and our Friend. 

Light dawns on a new day and a new year.