Friday, May 14, 2010

#8. April 18, 2010

Well, here we are again with an overdue blog entry. We are getting so busy that it’s hard to find time to sit down and work on this project. I actually look forward to writing it, but it never seems to fit into our schedule, except after John goes to bed—like right now for instance. Dad fell asleep half an hour ago and I’ve been trying to finish up a little puttering before I could sit down to this. It is good to be so busy. I am beginning to feel more at home here, in spite of the heat and humidity. Either it’s not quite so hot, or else we’re adapting to it better. It’s not that we’ve stopped sweating 24/7; it’s just that we don’t think about it so much any more. Like everyone else in Samoa, we carry around our little white sweat cloths (like a small terry cloth hand towel), and just keep mopping our brows and faces all the time. We can buy these little cloths at most any store for about 80 cents American and they actually say “sweat cloth” on the label. We probably own over a dozen now and we go through 3 or 4 per day. Sounds pretty high class, huh? We’re getting more and more Samoan day by day.

We’re still teaching two English classes and spend some time helping high school kids with their English homework. One girl that I’ve been working with individually on some of her final Senior projects is Eliza (pronounced eh-lee-sah). She’s the Bishop’s daughter at one of the wards we work with, and we’ve become great friends. She’ll soon be graduating from the Church College (high school) up at Vaiola, where we lived for the first month we were here. She’s gone there for 7 years now and speaks quite good English, even though she’s needed quite a bit of help polishing off some of her final term papers, etc. I really enjoyed helping her, especially with an essay she had to write about the importance of gaining life skills through education and other life experiences. She didn’t know where to start and I just suggested that she go back as far as she could remember about the things she learned from her parents and family before she even started school, then on to all of her school experiences, etc. She actually has a pretty good flair for writing, but needed help with making the English more perfect, mostly in terms of tense, which is really different between English and Samoan. When she finished her paper, she asked if I had a camera she could borrow to take some pictures to go along with her paper. She would need to keep it for about 5 days in order to get the pictures taken and then back to school after the Easter holiday to have her teacher put them on the computer and print copies for her. I was very reluctant to let it out of my hands, but we’d become such good friends that I hated to say no, so I made her promise to guard it with her life and keep it away from her younger siblings. I guess it sounded a little selfish, but she was very understanding about it and did take good care of it.
In the picture, she is sitting right in the front of her group of friends in their school uniforms, with our camera bag wrapped around her neck and ‘guarding it with her life’. She’s turned 18 now and goes to YSA (young single adults), so we don’t see as much of her in our classes as we did before, but we’re still great friends.

We had another very busy weekend last week, when the Mission nurse and her husband escorted the area medical advisor around the Samoan Islands to do a medical evaluation on all the missionaries in the whole mission. It took them the better part of a week, and they spent two days here on Savaii. Friday they spent the whole day seeing all 30 missionaries on this island, with a short break at lunch time for a general lecture on each missionary taking good care of him or herself. His talk was based on President Hinckley’s profound advice to all the missionaries at the MTC when he said “just don’t do anything stupid”. I guess when you consider that he was talking to hundreds of 19-year-old boys, that doesn’t seem too far off base. After the lecture, I helped Sister Kelly, the mission nurse, fix a light lunch for them all—missionaries and medical workers--and then they went back to work for several hours after that and we went home. The next day, however, they had asked us to kind of give them a guided tour of some of the local sights on the island and we had a great time with all of them. We discovered as we were visiting over lunch on Friday that the Area Medical Advisor, Elder (doctor) Fuller was the father of one of John’s old medical students, who had also lived in our ward in Kirksville. The son, Dr. Mike Fuller and his wife Rachel and 3 kids, are very dear friends of Lee and Janelle. The older Fullers had met the Vorkinks when they were in Kirksville for Mike’s graduation from Medical School. It seems that no matter where you go in the Church, you always run into someone you’ve known somewhere else, or somebody who knows someone you know. It is such a small world. One of the other Senior couples who just arrived in Savaii to take the place of the Montgomerys, had asked us where all of our children lived. We told them and when we said that three of the families lived in Grantsville, they were shocked. Several of their grandchildren went to Grantsville High School when they were living in Stansbury Park, until this year when a new high school opened up in Stansbury. After talking about our grandkids, we decided that we had probably been in the same auditorium and gym at the same time watching musicals and ball games. Their Son-in-law is the new principal at the new school and we forgot to ask the names of their grandkids to see if any of our kids know them. The missionaries’ name is Checketts, but their daughter is married to the principal, so we don’t know her married name. We’ll try to get some names before we finish the blog and send it off. (I was able to get the last name, Toppam or Topham or something like that, and the only first name I could remember was Kimberly Tophen (?). Do any of you Grantsville people know them?)
One of the sites we took them to was what they call the “blowholes”. It’s a place right on the beach where the volcanic rock has formed caverns underneath the surface, and as the surf crashes into those caverns, the water shoots up through holes in the rock to make like a geyser effect on the surface. Someone said they shoot 80 to 90 feet high. When you get there a little old Samoan man comes up with a basket of cocoanuts, walks up to the hole and, timing it very exactly, throws a couple of cocoanuts in the hole just before it blows and the cocoanuts blow even higher than the water. It’s hard to get a good picture of what it’s really like, but I tried anyway. After the little old man used up all of his cocoanuts, he comes up and informs us that it will be 30 tala for the show, even though we had paid 5 tala each to get past the gate by the road. We gave him the money and had a good laugh and it had actually been a very good show.

We really enjoyed our day with those people, even though we were kind of going by the seat of our pants as tour guides. Luckily we were able to find and show them some beautiful sites and then took them back to a wonderful little beach hotel, where we do most of our snorkeling, and had a terrific buffet lunch just above the beach, where several of them went wading after the meal. If our kids are ever able to make it down here at the end of our mission, like they’ve talked about, that little hotel with the snorkeling and surfing and the little fales right on the beach is where we’d like to have them stay for a few days. It is just perfect—a little primitive, but still just perfect Samoa.
Mom with Kellys, Checketts, and Fullers

Elder and Sister Kelly, the mission nurse and her husband, were in the MTC with us and they are just a peach of a couple. They were born in England, then moved to Nova Scotia and on to Canada, where they joined the Church and they live now. They have never lost their English accent and they are just an adorable couple. They are the little short ones on the end in the picture. The Fullers are next to me on my left and the Checketts are on my right. We had to end the day about 2:30, so they could make it back to the Ferry to make the trip back to Upolo, and then the Fullers would finish their evaluations of all the other missionaries on the other islands and head back to New Zealand, their home base for the whole South Pacific region.

Dinner at our house with Kellys and Montgomerys

The Kellys had come over to Savaii about a month ago to do checkups for all the missionaries. They have fed us several times when we’ve gone over to Apia, so we invited them along with the Montgomerys, to have dinner at our place the first evening they were here. The Kellys are the ones closest to the camera, opposite each other, and the Montgomerys are next to Dad. The six of us were pretty packed around our little table, but we made it work. We had to borrow two chairs from the hotel in order to seat us all. I love these times with the other senior missionaries. They are all just like family to us.

One of the other things we did when the Kelly’s were here on that trip was to go visit some elders in their little house on the Fa’ala church grounds and hang some curtains that the Kellys had brought over from the Mission Home.

Elders Smithing and Tonga with sox

Missionary house with laundry

As we took the elders’ picture with their new curtains, we also had to show how they hung their newly laundered stockings on the louvered windows to dry. The two elders in the picture were some of our favorites. Elder Smithing on the left is from Layton, Utah and Elder Tonga is a native Tongan, who actually lives in Australia. Unfortunately, they were both transferred to Upolo this week, so I’m not sure when or if we’ll get to see them again. The other picture is of their little house, with their other laundry hanging on the line, each piece having been tied on, because they had no clothespins, I guess. Almost every ward building has a missionary house on the grounds that houses two missionaries, elders or sisters. They have a tiny living room/kitchen, one bedroom and a bath. They’re pretty compact but very nice.

The following weekend the Mission President asked us to go along with his counselor in the Presidency to visit a Stake Conference over in Fa’ala Stake, about a half hour’s drive south from us. President Tonumaipe’a, the counselor, asked Dad to speak at the Priesthood session on Saturday morning and asked me to speak at the Parent’s session later that day. We would need to speak in Samoan for the most part, which is a piece of cake for Dad, but a real headache for me. I composed my speak in English first and then had it translated into Samoan with the help of Dad and a lady in our ward. It was all hand written and double spaced, with a lot of open space between each word so that I could find my way easily. I made all the punctuation marks in orange, so that I could keep track of the phrasing and pronunciation. I agonized over that talk all week and ended up having to cut it short because I would be reading it so slowly and carefully. We had to arrive at Fa’aIa quite early because the Priesthood session was at 8:00 a.m. I dropped dad off and I found a nice tree to park under and sit in the car and read my talk over several times.

Buses unloading Priesthood men and boys

While I was sitting there in the car, several buses pulled up and unloaded men and boys in their white shirts and ties headed for the meeting. Very few people have their own cars, so they mostly walk to church. Since this was a stake meeting, they had to come much further, so they hire buses to carry them all the long distance to the Stake Center. More buses would come later loaded with all the women and families. When the Priesthood meeting was over, I went in and joined Dad in the Stake President’s office, which was gratefully air-conditioned. We visited for a few minutes with him and the Temple President and his wife, President and Sister Hanks, who had come over from Upolo to be guests of honor for the Conference. President Phillip Hanks and Dad were missionaries here at the same time 55 years ago, and we’ve seen them off and on over the years at missionary reunions. President Hanks is also the younger brother of our dear old Friend from Kirksville, David Hanks (small world again). We were all then invited into the High Council room where a lovely brunch was laid out for us all. One great thing about Samoa is that you’ll never go hungry. They always have to feed you and there’s always too much. As soon as we finished eating, it was time to go into the next session where I would be speaking. Before we went into the chapel, some sisters put beautiful flower leis around our necks. As we sat in our seats on the stand I could see that the whole chapel and cultural hall were filled with people. I had been pretty nervous before the meeting, but I got worse as I realized that I had to make myself heard and understood by all these faithful Samoans who had come to be inspired that day. If it hadn’t been for the incredible music performed by two different choirs, I would never have calmed down. I have to say that whenever you are in a Samoan congregation, the singing is just so heartfelt and harmonious.

The music prepared for this conference was absolutely amazing. They have some incredibly talented music people in that stake. The chorister and organist for just the hymn singing were amazing. We’d sing the first verse of the song, then the chorister would nod to the organist and she would play a little interlude and then modulate the music into another key as we moved on to the next verse. When that verse was over, they did it again to another key. I just loved it!! When the choir did their performances, there was another man who came forward and led the choir (who always sit in the front several rows of the chapel because there would absolutely not be room for them all in the choir seats). There must have been at least 100 people in the choir. The choir conductor sort of lead the choir with his head as his hands played the accompaniment on a keyboard that was positioned right between the pulpit and the first row of benches where the choir was sitting. The music was all sung in English and was beautifully arranged and performed. I was overwhelmed by their expertise and the great spirit of their singing. The final number they did was the arrangement of Battle Hymn of the Republic that the Tabernacle Choir sings, accompanied again by the conductor, and I have to say that they were almost as good as MoTab. By the time they sang that number, I had finished my talk and could relax and joyfully almost sing along with them.

Earlier, when I had to give my talk, I was feeling more calm and soothed by the incredible music and it actually went pretty well. I had to read it word by word in Samoan in order to keep from making mistakes, and if my eyes ever left the page to look up at the audience, I had to keep my finger on the place I had stopped, or I would never have found my way back to the right place again. I did tell one little story in English, because it was about a very powerful spiritual experience I had had doing sealings in the Samoan Temple, and I was afraid that if I tried to say it in Samoan I’d not be able to convey the spirit of it, because I would be too worried about saying the words wrong. Probably a third of the people there couldn’t understand me, but I hope they felt the spirit at least. I felt so good when I had finished without any major mistakes and could then just sit back and enjoy the next 24 hours of the conference in peace. After that second session of the day, they fed us another big delicious meal and we went on home knowing that our speaking responsibilities at this conference were behind us.

The next morning, Sunday, they had us come an hour early so that they could feed us breakfast again. After breakfast, we were each adorned with another beautiful flower lei, and then the Stake President told us about the speaking schedule for that morning’s general session and John and I were expected speak again. Now that would be no problem for John, but I had practically no time to even panic, because I had to come up with something in about ten minutes. Fortunately, I keep notes in my purse for a couple of other simple little talks and a testimony in Samoan, because John told me that I would often walk into a meeting and be asked to speak. I also included a little story in English, one that I had cut from the talk I had done the day before, and was able to come up with a short--very short--talk and testimony for that meeting. There were plenty of speakers for that session and I was happy to leave them all the time they needed. After the session, they had prepared a big lunch for the visitors again, but John and I had to beg off because we needed to be at another sacrament meeting right away.

The Tonumaipe'as, the Hanks and the Kroghs

Before we left, we gathered together for pictures. The first one is of President and Sister Tonumaipe’a, President and Sister Hanks, next to me, and Elder and Sister Krogh, of course. The second one is a close-up of the Lovely flower leis we had worn for the second day of the conference. Wow, was I happy to have that weekend behind me. We did, however, have a remarkable and uplifting time at that conference overall, in spite of the worry over our (my) talks.

This past week has been filled right up with all kinds of missionary activities. Since our major focus is finding and visiting and hopefully helping to reactive inactive families, it appears we really have our work cut out for us. We’ve received a list from the Bishop of the ward we live in, and it was really scary. He had marked every inactive family in blue and it looked like more than half were marked blue. When we got together with the list and the Ward Mission leader, however, he was able to cross several of them off the list because they had moved out of the area. We’ve spent several days going with him to find and meet these members. Often, we don’t find them home and will have to try again at a different time of day. We have found some at home and at first they seemed a little uncomfortable with us there, but after visiting with them for awhile, things loosened up a little and we had a nice visit. The one couple said they still had testimonies of the gospel, but they were under pressure from their family and village to be available for the big Sunday feast, that was at the same time as church. We asked if we could stop by at other times and maybe bring them a message. They seemed okay with that. They live right close to the road where we travel a lot and so we’ll just honk and wave every once in a while and then maybe stop for a visit again. (I’m writing this about two weeks later, and we’ve had some wonderful things happen with this family. We went to visit them again on a Friday morning and left them a copy of the Liahona and asked if maybe we could come the following Monday night and have a family home evening with them. The wife, Pa’i, was the only one home, but she accepted quite readily which surprised us. On Sunday morning, two days later, we had just gotten seated in the Sunday School class, when I turned around and noticed that they had come into the church and were sitting a little way behind us with their littlest boy, Fiso, 3 yrs old. We waved at them and then went to sit by them for Sacrament meeting. Their other children had gone into Primary and Young Women and came in to sit with them for Sacrament meeting. I was so surprised and excited to see them there. We had a really great time at their home the next evening for family night. I told them that I was so happy to see them at church on Sunday, because I know what a sacrifice it was for them to come on such a busy day when they had the other village duties. The husband, Manono, humbly confessed that the real reason they had not been coming to church was that he had had his feelings hurt a couple of years ago when his mother died. I guess it’s kind of a custom for ward members to come to the home of someone who has died and sing outside their home. For some reason, no one came when his mother died and he was really hurt by it. We were touched that he would share that with us and were reminded of an editorial on the back page of a Church News we’d been given a copy of. It was entitled “Let it go” and was about the very subject of being offended by other church members, and leaving the church because of it. We told him about it and promised we’d bring him a copy to read, which we did a couple of days later. They came to church again the next Sunday for Mother’s Day, and it turns out that the Primary President has sent the missionaries over there to visit them because their 9 yr-old boy has not been baptized yet. That baptism is now scheduled for next Saturday. What a joy to experience some success, after so many disappointments. Sounds like a typical mission, right?)

Another family who said they still had good feelings about the church, were taking care of a 95-year-old grandfather who was a powerful matai and would not allow them to come to church. These people have strong ties to their families and it’s difficult for them to go against their wishes. They said that as soon as the grandfather dies, they’ll head back to church. We asked if it would create problems for them if we visited once in a while and they said no. Yesterday, we stopped back over there and left them a copy of this month’s Liahona so they’ll have some contact with church messages. One young woman that we visited and invited to church told us it was too far to walk with her tiny baby, so we offered to pick her up. She accepted and went to church with us one time and then to a general conference session the next week. Her husband is a member of another church and she is nervous about letting us visit with him or invite him to church. Last Saturday we stopped over there to see if she wanted a ride again the next day, but found she had a black eye. She said she was too embarrassed to go to church that way. When Dad asked what had happened, she said she was hit with a cocoanut. He blatantly asked her if she had been beaten, but she said no. When we reported back to the Relief Society counselor who had planned to pick her up for us that day because we were going to another stake conference, she was a little suspicious that she had been abused, and possibly because we had been visiting her and taking her to church. I guess it’s not uncommon for such beatings to take place. We felt really bad. The Bishop’s wife has been assigned as her visiting teacher and will visit her soon to make sure everything is okay before we go back again. Whoa! This is getting really interesting. We’ve visited several elderly women who just say they are too old to go to church, or their husband is LMS and they go with him, or the church is too far away and they go to another church which is right next door to their house. It’s pretty discouraging, but we feel we’re on good terms with most of them and will continue to visit occasionally.

We’re almost finished with the first visits in the Mckay first ward and have made a few visits with the ward mission leader in the Fusi Ward. We’ve had some really nice visits, but the most interesting one was with a family where the father had been a Stake Patriarch, was offended by someone and is completely inactive and pretty bitter. He wasn’t home the day we visited, but we had such a lovely visit with his wife and grown daughter, who both have some pretty positive feelings about the church, but their father and husband won’t allow them to go. We bore our testimonies to them and they shed some tears as we did. The old mother is quite feeble and practically stone deaf, but her daughter translated for her by speaking loudly right in her ear. She appears to be senile, but when I asked the daughter if she understood, she said yes. Knowing what it’s like to not hear everything that’s going on because of my own bad ears, my heart went out to her because she has so little communication even with her family. She seemed so sad and lonely. I was shocked when the daughter told us she was 71 years old. That’s my age and she looks almost 90. They seemed to enjoy our visit and we intend to go back and visit again and maybe catch the father too. The elders say he is a hard man and has been quite rude to them when they’ve come to visit. I guess we have that to look forward to. Somehow I feel that Dad will be able to get through to him at least enough to make him more friendly toward us than he is toward the elders.

Another family we visited is a single mother with 4 children who has joined the church, but another cantankerous grandpa won’t let her go and certainly won’t let the children be baptized. She’s been very receptive to us and allowed us to come along with the elders and do a family home evening. When she heard we taught English classes, she asked if we could come and teach her children English and she wants to spend time speaking English with me, because she speaks a little English and would like some practice. We’re hoping when the old grandpa learns that we’re helping his grandchildren, he might be willing to meet us and then I think Dad can charm him with his age, his kindness and his Samoan. He really has a knack of breaking the ice with these old Samoan men. I’ve seen it happen several times and it’s so fun to see their reaction to this old white guy keeping up with them and joking with them in Samoan. I think he can soften the hardest hearts. As we move on from ward to ward, we’ll go back occasionally and visit some of our first contacts and hope the fellowshipping we’ve encouraged among ward members will help to soften more hearts. Eventually we’re supposed to visit with all the wards on the island and hopefully enlist the ward members to join us in our visits and take over after we’ve moved on. There are five stakes on Savaii and we are the only senior missionaries on this island working on reactivation. The numbers are staggering when we think of them and wish we had several other couples to help, but nobody seems to want to live in such an isolated setting.

JOHN – A big issue here right now is whether to allow other new religions to come into Samoa or not. Public opinion meetings were held all over the country last week to get input from the people. After talking to some of the locals, I think the real concern is that Muslim extremists might come here and cause problems in a country that is probably almost 100% Christian. The Samoan constitution provides for religious freedom, and so this should make it so any new religion would be allowed in. There is talk about changing the constitution to give the village matais the right to exclude any religion they wanted to from their own villages. Some of our church leaders have suggested that this might allow some matais to exclude us from their villages. Our church leaders have presented our official position on government (D&C 134) and many other explanations of our beliefs regarding religious freedom (Article of Faith #11), and their presentations have been very well received by the government leaders.

Our comfort level here has improved greatly. Karen is much more comfortable. She even goes jogging off in a different direction from me some mornings. She shops by herself at times, and asks questions of people on the street. She used to panic whenever I was out of sight. She has finally realized that these are good, kind, and fun-loving people, and she is not afraid at all when she walks up a jungle road and passes between a group of machete-wielding men on their way to work in their plantations. She still is reluctant to talk in church, even though she knows most of them understand the gist of what she is saying. She works hard each day to learn more words, and I’m sure there are few other palagi women senior missionaries in this country who would put themselves in a position so uncomfortable as she has. We are the only white senior missionaries on this whole island right now.

KAREN – John is right about my comfort level. I am feeling so much better physically and mentally, especially since Benj helped me adjust my meds. I don’t wake up every morning dreading the day and am finding real joy in our work here. I had a very difficult time at first. I had pretty severe stomach problems. I don’t know if it was from the change in diet and water, or just anxiety that was causing the constant stomach ache, but I was really miserable for a while there. I actually lost 35 pounds over a period of two months, because of eating very little, and I was obedient about my early morning exercise, certainly not because I wanted to get up at 6:30 and go jogging every morning. I’m thrilled to have the pounds gone and hope I can keep them off, but I wouldn’t want to lose them that way again.

I really must end this now. It’s way overdue and we are going into town to send and pickup emails this morning and have a very busy few days after that. We have some other success stories to share, but if I start them now we’ll never get this blog sent off. So… we’ll save them for next time.

We send our love to you all and hope life it treating you well.

Elder and Sister Krogh.


Norm and Heather said...

Karen: About the wieght you lost....I think we found it.
Its amazing that your experiences with the inactives parralel our experiences a half a world away.Common problem of denying oneself of the blessings,and inviting adversity into their lives. Great to hear how you are doing and your progress with the language -- not doing the well with magyarul!
Love Norm & Heather (Hungary Budapest Mission)

elkmeadow said...

We love hearing about your daily experiences. It sounds like you are having great success. You can't bring them all in. Save some for the rest of us! We're really proud of you, and we miss you! Love, Helen and Tracy

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