April was the first month that I haven’t posted at least once in the fourteen months we’ve been here. I hope I can remember some highlights and figure out why I didn’t blog.
The couples who are serving missions here are all people you would be happy to call your friends. Each contributes their unique personalities, talents, interests and testimonies to the enrichment of all, including Sister Carolyn Kamerath, who had the spunk to come here alone to serve as mission nurse years after she had been active in nursing. And we can’t forget our volunteer dentists – yes, dentists. With the arrival of Mark and Jane Thomas, freshly retired from his practice in Salem, Oregon, we now have two dentists to care for the entire population, and they do it for free. Elder and Sister Layne are most thankful for this help. Dr. Layne was not really prepared for the patient load after being in semi retirement in Florida before coming here to serve an 18 month mission with his wife as his assistant. It was quite a shock to find a long line of people waiting for the clinic door to open at 8:00 a.m. each day.
Close friendships form within this group of dedicated people; usually it seems to be geographic, neighbors sharing with neighbors. In our case, it is the same. We are closest as far as time spent together and shared experiences with those who live in temple housing, namely the Lamoreaux’s and Sister Kamerath, as well as the Lavata’i’s. Our time spent (outside the temple) with Lavata’i’s is limited due to the fact that they have lots of family close by. Their Sundays especially are spent with family, while we palagi’s become family to each other. We attend the English speaking ward together and often share Sunday dinner, as well as occasional evenings playing dominoes, crazy card games or watching a movie together.
So when Sister Kamerath got word that her beloved young adult grandson Justin, a recovering addict, had died of an overdose, we were with her. That was April 1st. We lived through that trauma with her. She has shown great faith and courage to finish her mission, saying that is what Justin would want her to do. And she does it with grace and good humor.
Other April news of significance (to us) is that with all the growth of the church and a new stake being formed recently, the meeting house we had attended was aligned into a different stake and the Pesega Lima ward was assigned to hold meetings in the Pesega High School (not called that here, but that’s what it is). We hold sacrament meeting in the gymnasium and classes are held in the air conditioned classrooms. It could be worse. This English speaking ward first began in the high school gymnasium, so it has come full circle.
April saw the end of an abundant avocado harvest of which we were the grateful beneficiaries. Mark and Pat Moors, members of our ward and Mark is a temple worker, have a grove of avocado trees that kept us and all the missionaries supplied for a couple of months. Moors delivered bags of avocados to us regularly to distribute to other missionaries. And these are huge compared to the ones we get at home. They keep far better, retaining their color and texture for days in the refrigerator.
General Conference was - as always - anticipated, appreciated and devoured. We saw some sessions live on BYUTV and attended all sessions of the delayed broadcast the following weekend in our stake center. We’ve enjoyed revisiting some talks online at lds.org. I am finding Elder Corbridge of the Seventy to be one of my favorite speakers. His messages are delivered with passion and punch. Why, indeed, did they not leave Joseph alone? Truth is always opposed. I was touched by Elder Packer’s talk and his rare show of emotion. How long will he be with us, we wonder.
The senior missionaries are organized into a zone under the mission president with three districts. We are district leaders of the temple housing district. It was our turn in April to provide the lesson/activity of our bi-weekly FHE. We did a Samoan cooking demo and served the food after. Can you guess that I demo-ed how to make cocosamoa and supoese? We also had demo’s of fa’alifu talo, baked taro, and palusami. It was very well received and lots of fun. There were several Samoan senior missionaries there and I was the first to demo. I was a bit intimidated, so I began by relating a scene from the movie, ELF. Do you remember the conversation between Will Ferrell and the little girl in the doctor’s office waiting room? She compliments him on his elf costume and he corrects her. “This isn’t a costume. I’m an elf…. raised by humans.” She responds, “I’m a human, … raised by humans.” Then I explained my reluctance to teach with Samoans present by saying, “I’m a palagi, … raised by palagi’s.” It was a good evening.
Sunday dinners, including Easter Sunday, with Lamoreaux's at Sister Kamerath's (she always hosts because she is the only one with a dining room table) sums up the highlights of the month of April.
Since today is Mothers Day with all of you, may I share our experience of yesterday, which was our Mothers Day? We were invited by one of the temple workers, Brother Tiatia, to attend his ward at Mulifanua which is about an hours drive to the west end of the island. Most of the other seniors are assigned to regularly attend Samoan wards. Since we fall under the authority of the temple president, we were free to attend whatever ward we chose. Pesega Lima draws its membership of English speaking saints from anywhere on the island. We are grateful to have callings and serve in Pesega Lima ward.
Yesterday was our first experience attending a Samoan speaking ward. We gained empathy for the missionaries who never hear a talk, a lesson, or sing a hymn in English. Since it was Mothers Day, as sacrament meeting began, all the mothers and grandmothers were asked to go to the back of the chapel and form a line. As we walked in, a young man of the priesthood shook each hand and placed around our necks an ulu (lei in Hawaii) of candy. I learned that some years it is made of flowers and some years it is candy. Leon just took it apart to share the candy with our home teaching family, so I can’t show you, but it is all wrapped in plastic wrap and tied between each candy with a short piece of curly ribbon. Rather than return to our seats, we sat in front seats reserved for the mothers. I saw that Leon had been asked to sit on the stand. A mongrel looking dog wandered down the aisle from back to front three different times, exiting at the open door at the front of the chapel. No one even noticed. Sharing that with Laynes later that day, they reported that in the ward they attend, the bishop’s dog wanders in and out of the chapel or sits in the door during the meeting.
After church, we were invited by the Tiatia family to have dinner with them. Their home was just three houses from the church on the sea side of the road. I wish we would have taken pictures. Their property is gated. The large palagi-style home sits on maybe four feet of concrete with a semi circle of steps leading up to a tiled deck of approximately 20 X 30 feet, with a 10 foot ceiling supported on three sides by pillars.The eves are decorated with geometric patterns of terra cotta on the light tan of the structure. The floor tiles, also terra cotta and light tan, are eighteen inches of detailed geometric design, set on the diagonal. These tiles continue into the large, open living area and kitchen of the house. The many louvered windows on all sides of the home, and the fact that the property sets right against the seawall, contribute to cooling breezes and a comfortable temperature inside as well as on the deck.
These living conditions were totally unexpected. Most people live in far more modest dwellings. We learned that Sister Tiatia’s father, whose property this is, is in the travel and tourism business and actually has a travel agency in Riverton. He owns extensive property by the wharf, has subdivided and sold many parcels, and plans to build a hotel. Here is another example of a successful Samoan saint who uses his wealth to benefit and serve others. He purchased a full sized bus and gives free transportation to ward members. His family donated the land upon which stands the near by LMS Church. The full time sister missionaries were also invited dinner guests, as they often are.
But here is the most amazing part of this family. Sister Tiatia’s first name is Kelly Joyce, and therefore I thought before meeting her that she was a palagi. Not so. She was born in American Samoa, educated in New Zealand, and while still single, worked in Victorville, CA, as a county case worker with foster children. Among her case load, she was responsible for the five American kids that are now part of the Tiatia family. It seems that there was a shortage of foster homes (a problem in Utah as well), and when it became apparent that there was nowhere to place these children, she decided to adopt them. When she moved back to Samoa, she brought with her five very fair children as her own. When she and Brother Tiatia began dating, she made it very clear to him and especially to her five children, that there would be no marriage unless everyone involved was in favor of it.
And so it was that in 2012, Savea Tiatia and Kelly Joyce ___________ (we never asked her father’s name!!!) were sealed to each other and to their five palagi children in our beautiful Samoan temple. Since then they have had a baby boy who is now 17 months old, making them parents of six children in two years. The ages of the other children range from eight to twelve. They speak Samoan at home, so it has become their first language. From their drug infested homes in America, they are now enjoying an idyllic childhood of simplicity and peace in a loving home and a most beautiful setting. Sister Tiatia proudly told me that they are doing very well in school. She drives them to the Pesega Middle School and Pesega Fou, which is the elementary school. So that is an hour drive each way every day.
On this Mother’s Day that seems a fitting end to this post. If you happen to open this today, Happy Mothers Day to you!