Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blog # 10 – June 28, 2010

Here we go again with what will probably be another long posting. As I looked through my photos since I made the last posting, I had forgotten some of the things we had experienced since then. I keep saying that I must create shorter postings and do them more often, but our time is so filled with missionary activities, that I just don’t take the time after each experience to record it.

We are really making a lot of visits to inactive families in four different wards, and have had a few small successes that I think I told you about in the last blog. One man that I might have mentioned before is an ex-patriarch who had become inactive. We’ve been visiting him and his family on and off for a couple of months. John finally started just dropping in and shooting the breeze with him about Samoan stuff. He’s not only a talking chief, but a high chief of the village over all the other lesser chiefs, sort of like a mayor. After several of these short friendly non-church visits, John up and invited him to church and he accepted. He and his family came with us the next Sunday and hopefully will start coming all the time. We’ll keep visiting them here and there, but because the Mission President has asked us to start moving out into the other wards both north and south of here, we’re going to have to make the local visits a little further apart. We’ve decided to give up the English classes because they do take a lot of time away from our more important calling and because we’ll be spending more time out of the area, it’s just not feasible to have to keep coming back twice a week for those classes. We have very mixed feelings because we’ve loved working with the kids, but it has also been a lot of preparation and stress to be ready for them every week. We’ll still see them once in a while when we come back to make a visit in their villages or at church. We are actually quite relieved to not have to worry about those classes with all the other families we are having to visit and plan family home evenings with and help to transport different ones to church.

When we started visiting in Salelologa Ward, we visited two families whose fathers are brothers, twins in fact. One is named Liai (Lehi) and the other is Nifai (Nephi). They are part of a very active family, including their parents, wives and kids. The brothers, however, say they are the bad boys in the family because they both smoke and stay away from church. We went back for a family home evening with Nifai and had a great time with his family. We were supposed to do the same with Liai yesterday, but when we got there, the kids said their sister was sick and they’d had to take her to the doctor, so we’re scheduled with them again next week. It’s amazing to see these two brothers. They are identical twins and they look soooooo much alike, except one has longer hair than the other, or I’m not sure we’d be able to tell them apart. At some point, I’ll take a picture of them together, but we’re not really taking pictures of the inactive families we visit, until we become good friends. We don’t want to act like a couple of tourists.

They both accepted our visits really well and asked us back. Neither has been to church yet, but we’re going to hit them both with a word of wisdom lesson sometime soon, because I think that’s what keeps them away. Another large family in that same ward has a father that had his feelings hurt a few years back, so he’s quit coming to church, though the family does attend a little. He’s a very reserved person and doesn’t speak a lot. He has a condition that John thinks is Bell’s Palsy, where one side of his face seems paralyzed. When we first visited them, he was gone up to his plantation and his wife said he was seldom home, so she wasn’t sure he’d show up for a family home evening. He actually did drive up just as we were leaving that day and John had a nice chat with him and seemed to break the ice. He was home for the family home evening and participated quite a bit. When we got ready to leave, he gave John a big hug, which surprised everybody, and he’s been there each time we’re scheduled to come back and they always fix a big Samoan feast for us. We’ve been going every week, but will have to cut back to twice a month for now, to allow time for the new wards we’ll be visiting. We’ll have to do that with the other families we see once a week as well. They always love having us come and treat us like royalty when we do. Hopefully we can help the fathers in these families to come back to church and maybe set a goal to take their families to the Temple. There’s a lot of work to do, but we do feel hopeful.

Last month when we took our monthly trip over to Apia, we took an afternoon to go up to a lovely little historical village/school named Sauniatu. I started to give a brief description of the history, but decided to just reprint here a copy of an old Ensign article about the school up there. It is lengthy, so feel free to skip over it, but it’s a great story and I wanted to have it in our blog, which will also be our journal, so here goes:

Brian K. Kelly, “Sauniatu: Preparing to Go Forth,” Tambuli, Jan 1978, 36

“We loved them. That is the way to make them work.”

“Each one of us had a job, a goal, and an objective. We knew we had to make Sauniatu stand up and be independent,” said Ed Kamauoha as he began relating the incredible story of a service project that has continued for years and dramatically influenced hundreds of lives.

The village of Sauniatu is tucked in the crater of an extinct volcano 20 miles east of Apia on the island of Upolu in Western Samoa. Most of the island’s roads parallel the sea coast; very few lead into the interior. And though it is only four miles from the coast highway, Sauniatu is isolated. You can almost walk as fast as a car can drive up the bouncy, twisting volcanic path that appears to be a giant green tunnel through the lush growth on either side of the trail.

The Samoan word Sauniatu means “a place to prepare.” The early Saints who established Sauniatu had a vision about the importance of this place in the Samoan history of the Church. They knew they needed a place where they could prepare and build strength. In 1904, when they established Sauniatu, they had been expelled from their villages, persecuted, and unfairly taxed for being Mormons. Later they started a school at Sauniatu, and it became one of the Church schools in Samoa. From time to time, during the ensuing years, the people of Sauniatu and the various school administrators talked about the advisability of keeping such a remote school operating.

In 1921, when Samoan officials were wondering about continuing the village, Elder David O. McKay and Hugh Cannon visited Samoa on their around-the-world tour of the Church. It was on this visit that Elder McKay pronounced an apostolic blessing on Sauniatu and its inhabitants. Among other things, he blessed them that they would have an abundance of food and clothing, that their plantations would be fruitful, and that peace would abide in their hearts and homes. (See Improvement Era, May 1966, p. 366.)

In December 1967, Brother Ed Ka-mauoha was appointed to be the new headmaster at Sauniatu. For years, Sauniatu had been functioning as a school, but when he arrived, the future of Sauniatu was once again in question.

“There were real administrative questions about the efficiency and quality of the school,” he explained. Everyone in Samoa is required to take a standard government education test when they leave high school, and the Sauniatu scores were an average five points below the scores of students from the other Church schools in Samoa. In addition to the low test scores, it was costly to operate the remote school. Many of the students were from very poor families and could not afford to pay more tuition. Enthusiasm among students and teachers was low.

“I felt bad about the school,” he said. “As an administrator, I understood the problems, but I also understood what the tradition of Sauniatu means to the Saints in Samoa. I knew the place was not what it could be because it was not living up to President McKay’s 1921 blessing.”

Ed Kamauoha believed Sauniatu had a prophetic future yet to be fulfilled if each person living there cared. His mind remained restless and his wirey Polynesian body became charged with nervous energy as he began planning to meet the many requirements needed to make the students of Sauniatu self-sufficient and proud and to help the community of Sauniatu reap the promised blessings.

The projects he outlined for the betterment of Sauniatu were big projects. In many people’s minds, they were too big for a handful of teachers and a few dozen school children to handle. Yet Brother Kamauoha felt they could do it.

“Getting everyone to work on big projects is like starting a large machine. You just can’t let it idle; you have to really rev it up and keep it going,” said Brother Kamauoha.

He also felt that the students’ performance in school would improve and the morale among the teachers would also improve if they knew they had some control over their own future. “We had been waiting for others to help us at Sauniatu,” explained Brother Kamauoha. “I tried to teach the people that they had depended too much on outside help and assistance from others. I told them the Lord gives us brains and a pair of hands but they won’t help us unless we use them. And so we started building roads, and we did it by hand.”

As soon as the roads were passable, the young people at Sauniatu began working on other major projects. Groups worked simultaneously on a trail down the side of a cliff to the swimming hole, on roads, a nature trail, improving the plantation, and on the construction of a traditional Samoan village, including a special chief’s house in memory of President McKay’s apostolic blessing.

It took one year to build concrete steps down a volcanic cliffside to the swimming hole and the beautiful waterfall below. Four boys worked on this project. They had two picks, two crowbars, and one sledgehammer, and they worked every night after school and every Saturday for six months. Little by little, they chipped the rock away until they had a pathway wide enough to support some concrete clear to the bottom of the waterfall. It took them another six months of backbreaking labor to make the steps. They hauled sand from the beach in an old pickup truck. They added cement and took gravel from the river and mixed the concrete by hand in a shallow pocket hollowed out of a large stone. Then they shoveled the wet concrete into buckets and lowered them down the cliff with ropes attached to a long bamboo pole. One step at a time they worked until the trail was completed.

While the waterfall project was underway, Brother Kamauoha challenged the young girls to make a path that would lead people from the village to the waterfall. They planned one pathway, but upon inspection they could see it wasn’t right, and so Brother Kamauoha challenged them to try another one. This still wasn’t any good. They reported to him, and he confirmed that it wasn’t right and told them that the reason it wasn’t right was because they hadn’t tried hard enough. “The third time they did their best, and the planned path was perfect. It curved properly, they had avoided the boggy spots, and the entire path was ideal,” he said.

Every evening after school, the girls carried baskets of pebbles up from the river and placed them on the path. Each of them would carry 25 to 40 baskets of rocks each evening, and with everyone working, it took only a few months to complete.

Then the boys and girls brought young trees from the mountains to plant beside the trail. They also brought orchids, tree ferns, and other plants to make the trail beautiful. And they named their trail Losa (Rose) Lane.

Other students were spending their evenings and Saturdays making the school plantation more productive. They planted 22,000 taro plants, 4,000 banana trees, and many pineapple plants and coconut trees.

The young men working on the nature trail learned important design principles as they tried to clear away some of the undergrowth and trees so a person walking on the trail could see other foliage. At first, when the nature trail crew looked at the solid wall of green before them, they came back to Brother Kamauoha and told him they did not know what to cut and what to leave.

“I told them this was their responsibility and I wasn’t doing their thinking for them. Then I asked them, ‘When you are in your fale (Samoan house) and the paule (woven blinds) are down, what do you do when you want to see out?’ And they said, ‘We move the paule aside so we can see.’ After learning this principle, they cut away some of the trees and undergrowth and created beautiful natural windows where students could come and study the plant life or just walk and think.”

Work was also progressing on a model Samoan village to commemorate President McKay’s 1921 visit and his apostolic blessing on Sauniatu. A special chief’s house was built and named the McKay house. After it was built, it seemed bare, and so the young people went to the forests and cut teak logs. Getting each log was a big project. After finding a good tree in the forest, they had to cut it. Then each one had to be trimmed and winched onto a trailer and taken to a sawmill. After the log was sawn, a native craftsman began carving a Samoan folk legend on it. It took many months to get the log and make the carvings. The money to pay for the first few carvings had been donated by Sauniatu missionaries or others who were impressed with the vitality of the people at Sauniatu, but the young people earned the money to pay for most of the 20 carvings. They transplanted a special river grass to the swampy areas of land. By hand, they put starts of this pasture grass in acre after acre of the swampy land, and in return they were paid in cattle, which they sold to pay for the carvings.

When the carvings were completed, Brother Kamauoha asked the carver to do a bust of President McKay. The pictures that he gave the carver to work from were all of President McKay in his later years. When Brother Kamauoha went back to pick up the bust, the carver was frustrated and related the following story.

“Ed, I am going to tell you something. This is the first time in my life that I haven’t been able to carve what I wanted to carve. Normally, I can do anything, but somehow when I worked on this man, I couldn’t control my hands. As you can see, the carving is not like your finished pictures.”

Brother Kamauoha took the carving back to Sauniatu that evening. “The sun was just setting, and I hurried into the McKay house and put the carving on the pedestal we had prepared for it,” he said. “An old Samoan who had lived most of his life at Sauniatu was there, and I asked him how he liked the bust of President McKay. I stood back and looked at it, and this old man didn’t answer me. And so I turned around and asked him, ‘What is wrong? Don’t you like the carving?’ Then as I looked at him, I could see the tears running down his face. And he said to me, ‘You know, I was here when [President] McKay left his blessing. That is how he looked when he came here in 1921!’

“On another occasion, the carver told me, and remember he was not a Mormon, ‘Ed,’ he said, ‘with all sincerity I am telling you, this carving is not my work, it is not your work, but it is the Lord’s work’.”

The Spirit was in evidence on many other occasions. At one point, it was discovered that someone was stealing the taros that had taken so much labor to plant. No one at Sauniatu seemed to know anything about it, and Brother Kamauoha became very concerned. That night, he prayed for direction in solving this problem. His prayer was answered with a dream in which he saw two villagers stealing the taros from the plantation. He saw how they were digging them up, cutting the leaves off the roots, and sticking the leaves back into the ground. He saw where they were hiding the taro roots and how they would come back for them later in the night. The next day, he called the two men into his office and asked them why they had been stealing the taros. They were belligerent and asked, “What makes you think we are the ones?”

Brother Kamauoha replied, “I know you are stealing the taros because the Lord showed me in a dream.” Then he related step by step just how they had done it. “They cried, were very sorry, and learned a great lesson about lying: You can lie to another man, but you cannot lie to God.

“I have had many experiences that have made me realize that the Lord will help you to do the impossible. When you operate like this, you learn that keeping the Spirit is the most important thing.

“One day, we had a work crew organized, and we needed 13,000 fathoms of sennett (rope made from coconut husks) to tie the pieces of the roof on the McKay house together. I had received promises from many people that they would supply the rope, but when I went to pick it up, no one had it ready. After driving all over the island, I had collected only about 30 fathoms. I was discouraged, and so I complained to God. In my prayers, I said, ‘We are working hard, and yet I can’t get the help I need.’

“I had to stop at the mission home to confirm another appointment, and one of the supervising elders said, ‘Brother Kamauoha, I have some sennett you can use.’

“I thought, ‘How nice,’ but I was sure an elder’s little souvenir roll of sennett wouldn’t really help us. He went into his room and came out with this big roll. He handed it to me and said he had about 13,000 fathoms as he wanted to build a Samoan fale (house) with it when he got home to the U.S.

“You can bet I hurriedly went back to the Lord and retracted my complaining. I was truly sorry for ever being discouraged.”

When the various projects were well into their second year, Brother Kamauoha reported that the people really learned that a job is not done until it is complete. After building roads, bridges, and the steps to the waterfall, the people at Sauniatu had to put in a culinary water system. They wanted to pipe water from a spring. They had no money for pipe, so they dug up some old pipe that had been used years before and cleaned it in the river. Then they painted the usable pieces. They only had enough good pipe to make a straight line from the spring to the village. Seventy-five feet of lava bedrock lay in the path of their trench.

“I told them, ‘We have enough good pipe to make a straight pipeline. So if you want water and you want it badly enough, then you’ll have to cut through the bedrock to the spring!’ A big Samoan man named Faleow Itopi, who had worked extra hard on every project said, ‘Why, after what we have done, this little bedrock is nothing.’

“We worked into the nights with lanterns. Faleow’s hands were bleeding, but he set an example for the students and showed them how to work. He was that way in all of his projects. When he built roads, he always built them too long rather than too short. He never took a shortcut because his heart was in the right place.”

From Ed Kamauoha and Faleow Itopi and other leaders like them, the young people of Sauniatu learned that despite being poor and often scorned by other men, they are important to the Lord, and he will help them be “Number 1.” Wherever they have gone as they have left Sauniatu, they have established the reputation of working hard and being the best.

Most of the young men who worked on Sauniatu went on missions. Elder Pouono Lameka is now serving a mission in Western Samoa. He spent three years at Sauniatu. He worked on the farm and the waterfall besides going to school. When he talks about his experiences at Sauniatu, his eyes shine and his face looks happy.

“I expanded at Sauniatu,” he said. “Brother Kamauoha encouraged me in school so that I improved and graduated from high school. He was my teacher—now he is my friend.”

Most of the students said they are grateful that they learned how to work, and they feel that this experience has helped them to face almost any problem. Mati Fuifatu said, “Ed taught me how to do things and then made it my responsibility to get them done.”

While the projects were being finished, the Sauniatu students’ academic ratings rose. They gained feelings of independence and pride and in three years raised themselves from the bottom of the standard test to the top scores in all the Church schools.

Poao and Atalina Ahhow met while they were both single teachers at Sauniatu. After they were married, they decided to go to BYU—Hawaii Campus and get additional schooling. Atalina said she learned about being a good mother and teaching a family from watching the young people work on the various projects.

“I also learned that you need to check after a project is done. If it isn’t right, do it over,” she said.

Her husband, Poao, said that he learned leadership skills, and once he caught the vision of doing the impossible, he felt he could go away for additional schooling so he could become a better teacher. “I learned that sometimes when the work is very hard, if you make a joke and smile, it seems easier.”

Poao and Atalina struggled at BYU—Hawaii because they didn’t have much money. “We had learned to sacrifice while at Sauniatu, and the Lord blessed us for it. When we needed money to do our washing, we would visit a pool near the temple. Every time we needed a quarter for the washing machine, it was waiting for us in the pool. Sometimes more was there, but we only took enough to do our washing. When we didn’t need money, we never saw money in the pool. This is one way the Lord helped us,” Poao said.

Brother Folau Neria and his wife, Leute, think of Sauniatu as a place of blessings because they have seen the Lord’s hand there. They were dorm parents while most of the work was being done, and Sister Neria worked with the girls who made one of the roads.

Brother Neria explained his feelings about Sauniatu. “I love that place. That’s where I met my sweetheart in 1942. Some of the first schoolteachers there taught me. I learned to take care of the work of the Lord there.

“We built that place with our hands and made it beautiful, then the Lord blessed it for us. Taros, bananas, everything grows better there than in any other place in Samoa.

“We learned how to work together and to teach each other to work. I was serving as bishop, and I learned that if we show people how to work and start first, they will soon follow.”

The spirit of Sauniatu seems to affect everyone who goes there. Brother Isamaeli, who works on maintenance at the school, said that he didn’t want to come at first. “But,” he said, “after I had been at Sauniatu for a while, I felt the Spirit of the Lord upon my family. I knew it was a blessing to be here. When my family is sick, I administer to them and they get better. Before we came here, my wife and I quarreled many times, and sometimes I lost patience with her. But I’m glad to say that now we have a very happy family.
“It is nice to live in a place that is far away from town and other big villages. It is very quiet, and we are free from drunkards, robbers, and other people who cause trouble.”

Today Losa Lane aptly fits President McKay’s description of Sauniatu as “the most beautiful place o n earth.” The young people walking beneath the palms and orchids are beautiful. They love the Lord and work hard to improve themselves and live the gospel. And every year, a few of them are prepared to go forth into the world. They take the lessons of Sauniatu with them. And there is a great principle of leadership training that was used to teach all the lessons of Sauniatu: “We loved them,” said Brother Neria. “That is the way to make them work.”
This first picture is of the main street of Sauniatu looking toward the ridge of the old volcano.
The second picture is of the “old swimming hole with waterfall” where they built the steps down a cliff to gain easy access to it. After climbing down the steps on that cliff, we gained a huge appreciation for what they went through to build them. Unfortunately, my photo of the steps didn’t turn out, but trust me, they were amazing and very steep.

When we were coming back up from the swimming hole and headed back to the village, we could hear a lot of noisy children playing off to the side of the trail. As we walked through the trees and toward the sound, we saw about a dozen kids playing in the river above where it feeds over the waterfall and into the swimming/bathing hole. They were sliding down a mud slide and into the water, or jumping off the side of a small cliff to make a big splash. They just had their regular clothes on, as all the Samoans do when they swim, and were obviously having a marvelous time. I’m not sure if they were from the village just below Sauniatu, or the children of teachers who live up on the main street pictured earlier.

The David O. McKay story and the apostolic blessing he pronounced upon Sauniatu is a very important part of the history and tradition of the place. The first picture is of a special Samoan fale that was built in his honor and the second one is of the inside where there are several intricate wood carvings depicting aspects of the history and culture of the area. When we were here before, the carved ‘miracle’ bust of David O. Mckay that was mentioned in the history above, was mounted on a pedestal either near or inside the fale. We couldn’t find it this time around. It could be that they moved it inside a museum or something. I forgot to ask about it before we left. The floor of the fale is covered with small smooth stones, averaging about 2” in diameter. When we were here five years ago, we were told that part of the legend is that if you take a stone home with you, you’ll be assured of returning someday. We all picked one up to take with us. I put mine in my purse and didn’t think about it again until I went through security at the airport on the way out of Samoa. Apparently, it looked too much like a small weapon (this was 2005) and was confiscated by the security guard. I was disappointed to lose my souvenir and the assurance that I’d return, but I came back anyway. When I mentioned that story to the Missionary couple that showed us around up there, they said they’d not heard of that tradition. I guess maybe they got tired of having to keep replacing the stones on the floor.

There’s one Senior missionary couple that lives up there and helps to manage the cocoanut and banana plantations and the other fund-raising projects that help keep the school self-sustaining, like taro patches, vegetable gardens, cattle, pigs and chickens. A portion of these commodities help supply the school, but a good many are marketed and bring in good income to the school. The students do most of the labor, some in exchange for their tuition and expenses. It’s quite a remarkable place and set in the most beautiful location imaginable. Apparently the Church is planning a huge expansion of the nearby area for tourists, with a large camping and recreation area scheduled for this next year, and if it stays on schedule, the first phase should be completed before we leave here. I’ve forgotten what all the other plans were beyond that first phase, but I do remember that they sounded pretty amazing.

Tourism is the #1 or #2 source of revenue in Samoa, so I’m sure the new projects in Sauniatu are intended to capitalize on that. We disagreed on which was first or second, so I’ll say that interestingly, the other #1 or #2 source of revenue is money from people who’ve left Samoa to work overseas and send money home. Most families we meet have someone from their family living and working in New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, or mainland America and all sending money back to Samoa. The job market is pretty minimal here, especially here on Savaii. Many young people have to go over to Upolo or American Samoa to find work. There are plenty more of them here on the island, just barely making ends meet by working on the family plantations. Fortunately, a family can survive fairly well by growing their own food and catching fish and all sorts of other exotic creatures from the sea; but getting ahead or enjoying any kind of technology or luxury is almost out of the question for many families. They do amazingly well, however, and are incredibly resourceful with what they have. I can hardly believe how many everyday items are made from the vast array of plants and trees at their fingertips. They’ve been creating these Samoan houses, floor and sleeping mats, baskets, fans, hats, roman-like shades, etc. and etc. for generations. They are beautiful, functional, and bio-degradable when they are worn out and discarded, and then replaced from the never-ending supply of natural resources that surround them. I could write a book on the creativity I see in their making do with what’s available to them. The things I’m talking about may not always be what you’d call aesthetic design, but in terms of function they put surprising pieces of so-called junk together to solve some sticky problems. We laughed at first, but now we are just in awe of their resourcefulness. I’ve got to try to get pictures of some of this stuff, and especially some of the little boys’ toys we see around and what they’re made of. It’s all really quite wonderful.

We started our visits in a new ward up north today and had a great time. The Ward Mission leader is a very enthusiastic guy, who served his mission in Honolulu and speaks very good English. Halleluiah for me. We visited one family where the mother was widowed with children and took care of her aging mother-in-law. We were told by the mission leader that we could expect a lot of talking from the old grandma, even though she is completely blind. He was right. She not only talked a blue streak, but sang several songs for us, in both Samoan and Engish. We’ll continue to make visits to them periodically over the next couple of months. I’m not sure that getting away to church is realistic for the mother right now, because of caring for the old grandma. When we have situations like this, we like to take copies of the Liahona for them to read and try to schedule Family Home Evenings to bring a little of the gospel into their homes.

These next pictures were taken at a Stake Young Single Adult (YSA) talent show. It was so much fun to watch these young adults, some of whom we’ve thought of as being quite reserved, just open up and really put on a show. Each ward in the stake, of which there are 12, had their YSA perform some sort of talent. There were a few very small groups, but mostly large groups, that participated from each ward. This group put on their version of Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs. It was actually pretty well done and was just hilarious.
The Fusi ward YSA put together a lovely ballroom dance. It was so interesting to see them all dressed in formal attire and doing a pretty fair job of a classic Waltz. A few groups did traditional Samoan Dances, but the men’s group really stole the show

There’s a great number of very active single adults here on Savaii. The average marrying age is probably above 25. John and I were supposed to give a dating seminar to a group of high-school-age young men and women a few weeks back. What a challenge for us, since they don’t really date at that age like they do at home. In the first place, there’s really nowhere to go, no movies, ice cream parlors, bowling alleys, miniature golf, etc., and if they did have a place to go, practically none of them have cars. When we asked different married couples we knew how they had gotten together, they’d say things like “Well, we were from the same village and we just talked to each other a lot and decided to get married.” Several said that most of their “dates” were just a long bus ride together, or an appointment to meet at the big market and spend some time together. The Bishop gave us a New Era that was completely devoted to dating. The fireside was up in Vaiola, where everyone speaks English, which made it a little easier for us. We finally realized that what we had to focus on with that group was for them to set goals about what kind of person they would like as a future partner, and what they could do for themselves now to make themselves “datable” to the right kind of person. Gratefully, we accidently had the help of the Bishop who is now the new Seminary teacher up in Vaiola. We were turning the corner on the road that heads up to Vaiola, when a man with a big back-pack kind of waved us over. We stopped and he asked if we were going up to Vaiola, probably because any Palagi that was headed that direction must have something to do with the school. We were actually only going a little way up that road to another chapel, but were a little early and told him we could give him a ride. We didn’t know him from Adam, but figured if he was headed for Vaiola, he was probably okay. He was way more than okay. We found out he was going to be teaching seminary at the school, but was still based over in Apia because he was a bishop there and his family would be staying there until the school break. He was commuting every weekend by ferry, and the bus had brought him as far as the Vaiola road. After finding our who he was and what he was doing, we started telling him about this dating fireside we would be giving at Vaiola and were stymied as to how to do it. He spoke up and said “Oh dating—my favorite subject.” He told us how he had been so concerned about their youth and their lack of opportunities to get acquainted with potential dating partners and a lot of times people got married without really knowing each other very well, and then the marriages fall apart. He consented to assist us with the fireside and was a huge help. It actually turned out pretty well, to our great relief.

Samoan custom makes it very difficult for young people to get acquainted. There is virtually no showing of affection between male and female in public--no hand-holding, linked arms, or arms around each other—and that includes married people. We still don’t know which of many of the married couples belong to each other at church, because they never sit together, with the exception of a few newly married young couples. The men sit on one side, the women on the other and the children sit down through the middle, boys with boys, girls with girls, and small children wandering from mom to dad, then brother and sister and neighbor. We’re slowly putting families together, but not because we actually see them together in public. This all makes the dating scene practically non-existent. The YSA activities are where they finally start mingling a little with the opposite sex, and let me tell you the attendance is huge at those activities. When they are finally 18 and can start to participate, they go anyplace where young single adults might be, at church, MTC class, Institute class, dances, firesides, YSA conferences, etc. Thank heaven the churches give the kids somewhere to go to be together that is acceptable to their parents. No wonder the YSA is such a large active group.

One of the young adults that we’ve made good friends with is Etuale. He’s a young man about 23 yrs. old, who was from an inactive family and was doing some pretty crazy things himself—smoking, drinking, etc. Somehow he just decided he needed to straighten up and get back to church, and so he did. Now he’s planning on going on a mission, has turned in his papers and is just waiting for a call. Because the Ward Mission Leader in that ward is so busy working trying to make ends meet, he suggested that Etuale go with us and show us where the inactive families lived and then he joins us in the visits. We think he’s kind of alone a lot. He’s an only child, all of his old buddies are still drinking and smoking, and he doesn’t really have a job or the money to go to school. Once he serves his mission, he’ll be eligible to apply to the Perpetual Education Fund for a school loan. He does go to all the YSA activities, but also spends a lot of time with us, including fixing and bringing us dinner once in a while.

He still has some experience to acquire where cooking is concerned, but he tries so hard to please us and we try so hard to enjoy the chicken that’s not quite cooked, the ramen noodles that are too salty, etc., etc. We’re thinking that the sooner that mission call comes, the better for us all. He has some experience to acquire where ward missionary work is concerned as well. We’ve been grateful for his help and he is so enthusiastic about it, but he doesn’t really have the right information about which families would be good potentials for reactivation. Some that we’ve visited have actually been very active and seemed to wonder what we were even doing there. Other visits, we didn’t know who we were visiting, what their status was in the church, and in one case we ended up giving a long lesson and testimonies to one young teenage boy with a blank look, that John was sure was the father of the family. He didn’t look any more that about 16 to me, and we never got the right info from Etuale. So we never found out who the young man was, until Etuale took us back to that fale again and we met the parents this time. We’ve had a really terrific man, who is high priest group leader, offer to take us on those visits because he knows the mission leader hasn’t been available, but we haven’t the heart to hurt Etuale. So we’re just working in other wards right now and when he leaves on his mission, if there isn’t a new mission leader, we’ll take Bro. Faleni (H.P. group leader) up on his offer and maybe get some better results from those visits, like we have in the other wards.

One thing that we really see a lot of in Samoa are big old churches. Many of them are quite well kept up and others could use a facelift. We had driven by this old church several times and commented on how much it needed to be fixed up.

One day we were driving by and noticed the scaffolding being put up around the front and figured that it’s time for a makeover had finally come. We drove by it every couple of days for over two months and watched the work slowly progress.

Finally we were able to take this picture of the spectacular results. Every square inch of surface, from the rooftop to the foundations, stairs and balustrades has a new coat of paint. For a person who loves to see old buildings rejuvenated, this was a joy for me to watch. I’m sure it was for the members of that congregation as well.

One weekend last month, some elders in our zone, who are laboring in another stake area, invited us to their big stake music festival over in Fa’aala Stake. We had spoken at their stake conference earlier and the music had been just fabulous, so we juggled our schedule around so that we could attend and it was well worth the effort and the trip. A choir from each of about 10 wards in the stake performed some really wonderful music. Each choir was required to perform a rendition of the same hymn and the different interpretations were just great. Then they each sang another special number of their choice. Now Samoan choirs take their musical performances very seriously. Not only do they perform difficult, but well rehearsed, music, but they are all dressed in some special way. It may be nothing more than all dressed in a white shirt or blouse with a matching beaded chain around their necks. Other choirs went all out and it really added to a bombardment of our senses to not only hear the great music, but see how creative they were in their choir dress.

Most choirs had small children and they were so enthusiastic and well taught, several in bare feet, and just as comfortable as you please.

This choir had fancy satin choir robes and a very animated dancing conductor. I wish I could have had a video of his conducting. It was amazingly choreographed.

Another huge choir of over 90 singers (we counted all that we could see) were decked out in spiffy green and white outfits.

The next group all had similar styles of dresses, and all made from the same print fabric, including the accompanist.

The final choir was conducted by the same man who conducted the Stake Conference choir that I raved about a few months back. He stood in front of the choir, with the keyboard at his fingertips and accompanied the choir while he conducted them with his head movements. As you can see, they were all dressed in purple and white and black, with fancy dresses for the women, vests and bowties for the men. Their special number was a rousing rendition of “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning,” featuring a children’s choir who sang a beautiful descant to the final chorus that really raised the roof. It was thrilling.

We had wonderful seats, not because we had arrived early in order to get good seats, but because we arrived just as it was starting and the huge stake center cultural hall was totally packed. When we walked in the entrance and peaked in the hall to see where the seats were, we were motioned up front where they had pulled two chairs in from the hall when they saw us and plunked us right down on the front row. There are some real advantages to being Palagi (white) missionaries who are also very old. I’m sure we were the only Palagis on the premises, which we’re starting to not even think about anymore. Needless to say, we had a wonderful time and were thrilled by their performances.

Last week we had the privilege of taking on the role of tour guides for a young family who came to Vaiola to do volunteer service training for the new counselor at the school.

They are Randy and Janelle Evans from Orem, Utah and have three darling children, Kristen, Spencer and Rachel, ages 6,4 and almost 2, I think. Randy works as a counselor at a Jr. High in Orem and took advantage of this opportunity to live in Samoa for three weeks as the only Palagis up at the school. They paid for their own transportation and food, but their housing was all covered by the school, as well as access to a car part of the time. We had a great time showing them around Savaii. We spent time at a couple of beaches—the black sand beach where we played in some treacherous waves. They didn’t look too big, but they had a very strong undertow.

John went out with Kristen just to wade, but they both got pretty wet, especially when a surprise big wave knocked Kristen down and John had to pull her out. She was actually very fearless up to that point, but I think she was a little cautious after that. The other kids got their feet in, but were a bit more wary. We also went to Aganoa beach, where we usually go snorkeling, and let Randy and Janelle use our snorkeling equipment for their first snorkeling experience. John helped them get started and I stayed on the beach with the kids. Fearless Kristen had to be watched closeIy to keep her from diving right in. Spencer, however, (who looks amazingly like Peyton) wanted very little to do with the water, but had a great time in the sand. Rachel would get wet if someone was holding her, but was nervous about the water. It took awhile for Randy and Janelle to get the feel of breathing through the snorkel tube, but after they did, I think they really enjoyed it. I think they were a little nervous about trying this new adventure, but I was proud of them for not giving up and finding some joy in it.

Another place we went was a place called Swimming With the Turtles. I had pictures of our first visit there in an earlier blog segment, but this time when we went, there were several people actually in the pool and swimming with the turtles. They had snorkel gear on, which made great sense, and I think I might be talked into trying it that way sometime. They were having a great time, everyone from teenagers to parents. When we met them, it turns out they were mormons from Idaho. They were relatives of the Samoan Temple President, Phillip Hanks, who we’ve known for years and is the brother of our dear friend David Hanks. The father of the swimming family is a doctor, who it turns out is a good friend of one of John’s old medical students, Reed Harris, who is also his stake president. Reed and Kathy were a great addition to our ward in Kirksville and an impressive couple. As usual, no matter where you go in the world and in the church, you keep meeting people you know, or people who know someone you know. After we had visited with them for a bit, Randy and Janelle came over to meet them and asked if they knew either of his brothers who live in their town. It turns out that the doctor’s wife, who was still swimming at the time, is the visiting teaching companion of Randy’s sister-in-law. We all had a good time laughing and visiting about the chance meeting, and they all wanted pictures of us and the Evans to show to their friends that we all know back in Idaho.

After we finished our second day of sight-seeing, the Evans family came back to our house for a Mexican dinner. They brought home-made tortillas (yum) and we had all the other fixins, most of which I picked up in Apia on our last trip. It was great to get to know them and spend time with them. It also turns out that they live not too far from where our first house in Orem is, just off the Provo Canyon Road. Hopefully, we’ll be able to connect with them sometime when we get home and see how their kids have grown in that much time. They have another baby boy on the way, so that baby will be about a year old when we get home.

These last two pictures are of John sawing away at a board in our makeshift ‘wood shop’ in the living room, and of him standing among the big beautiful plants in his garden. The tall ones in front of him are tomatoes, surrounded by huge vines of squash and cucumbers, plus cabbage and green peppers. We’ve had a lot of cucumbers already and there is one lone tomato showing itself so far and lots of blossoms. Several workers here at the hotel, including the retired owner, have been intrigued with his garden and I think he’s inspired some of them to start their own. He’s shared seeds, starts he’s grown from seeds, and fertilizer with all of them, and also a neighbor who is starting a new garden plot right over the fence from us. Roger, the retired owner, has had a big greenhouse over by his home, where he grew vegetables for the hotel when he was running it. He’s back in the kitchen as chef this week because his son Poi, who runs the hotel now, is off in New Zealand with his wife who is having a baby. They have one beautiful little girl, Adria, and the new baby is to be a girl also. Poi’s mother is native Samoan and Roger is a sandy-haired Englishman. They have very handsome grownup children, 5 boys and one girl. Roger’s wife works in Apia during the week as the Samoan Minister of Health and comes home on weekends. She is a very beautiful and sophisticated Samoan Woman. We love being here on the grounds of the hotel. It’s very secure and beautifully landscaped, and though our house is small, it’s adequate for us right now.

Lest you think that we are doing everything but missionary work, I’ll let John finish this off with some more details of what‘s going on with our mission.

JOHN – We have stopped doing our children’s English classes so that we can expand our home visits to other villages. It was not something that we really wanted to do, but we have come to realize that it is virtually impossible for us to make contact with all of the inactive church members on this island, so we must obey the mission president’s council and move on. We have begun to visit in villages further up the coast, and in fact, one of the villages is the one where I lived when I served here over 50 years ago. I mentioned the name of the old branch president to some of the people here, but no one remembers back that far, and most actually were not even born back in 1955. Our response is very encouraging in our initial visits up there. We are told that our visits are wanted and, in fact, they have told us that they have been waiting for us to come. We visited one matai who is the chief of his village, and who has a problem with the Word of Wisdom (smoking) and does not come out to church anymore. He accepted our visit very well and wants us to come back to visit after he can talk to the other family members, because he wants us to bring a Family Home Evening program, including songs, games, and a lesson. We are waiting for a phone call to let us know when to do it. We met another matai while we were doing our morning jogging up a different road the other day. The road is unpaved and rough, but absolutely beautiful with all kinds of trees, flowering trees, etc., and on our way down the road he came out, and in the traditional Samoan manner, welcomed us to his house for a rest and “tea”. We accepted the invitation, and went into his home where he had prepared banana pancakes, a pineapple pie, and Samoan cocoa. We had a nice visit with him. He is a member of the same LMS church where I spoke a few months ago, and he remembered meeting me then. He talked to us in both languages so that Karen could understand him.

Typically, when you visit a home here there are no doors to knock on and no numbers on the houses. Most streets have no names. Addresses include the name, village, and island, and that is it. There is no postal delivery system. A post office on the island is where mail comes, and the sender calls the recipient to alert him that a letter is being sent. It sometimes takes 3 weeks for mail to get here. There are post office boxes in the post office for people who receive mail regularly.

When you visit a home you ask from outside if it is ok or if they are too busy. They will almost always invite you in. You sit on the floor or sometimes they have a chair for you, and the man makes a formal greeting to which you respond with appropriate wording that includes his title (high chief, talking chief, etc.) and then you ask about his family and do some small talk. They you say a word that indicates that you are about to state your business. When you leave you make a short speech, and then he makes a speech of thanks which includes asking for God’s blessing on you and your work, etc. It is very impolite to just say thanks and goodbye. The same protocol holds true in all meetings except for formal church meetings. At the end of a fireside a member of the visiting party gives a high chief type of thanks, and this is followed by the host talking chief’s speech. Much of what they say is proverbial and metaphorical, and often only the matais know the true meaning of some of it.

KAREN – Well, I guess he’s done, which means I’d better finish up too. I was determined to get this completed today, Saturday, so that I could send it off to our daughter Kelly, who puts the finishing touches on it before it’s posted. She and her husband, Kevin are just waiting for a phone call to tell them that all the red tape and paper work are completed so that they can make a trip to Ethiopia to pick up their two beautiful new children, four-year-old twins, a boy and a girl. We expect they’ll be leaving sometime in the next couple of weeks, and once they’re back home they’ll have their hands full for a while, so I want this finished and out of her hair before she has to get ready to leave. Please know of our love for you all and thanks so much for your support and especially your emails. We love hearing from you and finding out what’s going on in your lives.

With love from John and Karen


Silvey Mothership said...

Love,love, love all the experiences you share and pictures as well. I know you are working hard and loving every minute serving as missionaries! It was fun to hear of the visitors you've had and to be able to associate a name we know with them too. Congratulations to you as new grandparents again and especially to Kelly with her new children! Thanks so much for sharing!

coheiress said...


My name is Francine L. Neria-Palepoi. I am one of many grand-daughters of the late Folau Neria and Leute Neria mentioned in this piece having served as the Girls Dorm Parents. I am grateful to have found this blog online. I am excited to share this with the rest of my family.

Thank you so much for this. Take care.
Alofa atu.
The Neria Family

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