Sunday, February 27, 2011

Blog # 14 – January 30, 2011

Wow, these blog entries are getting further and further apart. We keep so busy that it’s hard to find time to just sit down and write. Actually, so much of what we’ve done lately is pretty much a repeat of what we’ve been doing for the past year, with a few exceptions. We continue moving from ward to ward visiting inactive families and hopefully helping them to be strengthened in their activity and testimonies. It’s very gratifying, and discouraging like most mission experiences, but the good experiences make the others seem minimal. Unfortunately, we don’t always learn the outcome of our visits until several weeks or months later after the Home teachers and ward members have picked up the fellowshipping after we’ve moved on. In fact, we don’t know whether their success has come from our visits or the follow-up visits of the local members. It doesn’t really matter, as long as their families are moving toward becoming an eternal family.

Several months ago we told the story of visiting two brothers (identical twins named Liai (Lehi) and Nefai (Nephi) along with their very large families. The mothers and kids were active, but the fathers both smoked and didn’t want to give it up to go back to church. We felt so discouraged after several visits and some family home evenings with each family, that the fathers just didn’t want to change. Their bishop told us they’ve been trying to help reactivate them for years and that we should probably move on to another ward. We’ve dropped in to see them occasionally and were well received. After not seeing them for a couple of months, we drove by the house of Liai the other day and his wife was crossing the road with her children. They all waved happily and we stopped to visit. She told us with a big smile on her face that Liai had been coming to church lately for the first time in years. We were so delighted to hear it, even though I think most of the credit probably goes to the new bishop and his family who have become really close to them since we left. If we could hear that Nephi had finally made the effort to come back as well, we’d be especially delighted. They’re both great men and good friends and it would make our mission if we could accompany their families to the Temple before we leave at the end of the year.

We’ve learned to really love these people and their unique and special culture. We’ve certainly looked forward to being back home again as well, but the longer we stay, the harder it will be to leave at the end of this year. We’re actually saying things like “Maybe we’ll want to come back and visit again in a couple of years.” We’ve made such wonderful friends and want to see them again, and the chances of many, if any, getting up to our neck of the woods are pretty remote, I’m afraid. I just can’t imagine not seeing them again.

You’ll be glad to know that we’ve seen (and taken pictures of) virtually everything there is to see on this island, a few times over, since we have plenty of visitors from the other island who want to come over and have us show them around. So, the travelogues will be diminished quite a bit from this past year. Aren’t you glad? We are fine with the tour-guide thing because it gives us a chance to spend time with new people and get to know the missionaries from the other island better. We’ve been the only senior missionaries on this island for several months until two weeks ago, when another Senior missionary couple has finally moved into the spot up at Vaiola College, about 20 minutes from us. Hooray!!! We are so delighted to have them here and we’ve already had dinner together a couple of times. As is usually the case with the couples we meet here, we have family/friends in common with them. They are the Gouldings from Hurricane, Utah, where he was the high school principal for several years and she taught Special Ed. Before they came, we heard from our daughter Kelly that her neighbor’s aunt and uncle were coming to Samoa and it turns out they’ve landed on our very island. They are just beginning to get the feel of things around here and still have plenty to adapt to before they’re really comfortable. Sister Goulding’s feeling about the way I did a year ago at this time when we first came, and I know just how she feels and can tell her that it does get better, but I’m not sure she believes me yet. Fortunately, they will do most of their work up there in English, except their church meetings, so I think it will be easier for them. They will be working with the teachers up at the college (high school), helping any of them that do not have their bachelor’s degree or teaching certificates, to acquire those and certainly better their job and salary opportunities. It’s a free program for them, except their time after school, and many who need it take advantage of it. Those teachers pretty much all live right up there at Vaiola and so they don’t have far to go to get those extra credits. It’s a wonderful program the Church has provided for those who teach in the Church Schools all over the South Pacific.

Also, I’m sure most of you are familiar with the Perpetual Education Fund that the Church started a few years ago for the benefit of underprivileged people who hardly have enough money to feed their families, let alone get an education that would assist them to better themselves and their living conditions. If you’re not aware of what the program does, it provides very low interest school loans to deserving people from ages 18 to 30 (some even older), who want to better their education. Once they’ve finished their schooling and are able to get better jobs, they are obligated to slowly pay the loans back into the Fund to help other students have the same opportunities (Thus… Perpetual Education Fund because is just keeps perpetuating itself.) I know that 1000’s have taken advantage of it and are now working at good-paying jobs and able to help others do the same. We’re working with one fellow right now, Ualese, who is one of my piano students, who I teach by himself, because I can’t start another class in that ward. He has wanted to play piano most of his life and just couldn’t afford to get lessons. He was so motivated and so I just added one more private lesson to my schedule and explained that I’d expect him to work toward serving the Church with what I teach him and then be willing to teach others after I’m gone. He was very excited about the chance to learn and is doing quite well. He works as a library assistant at a local college (high school), speaks good English, and is also the executive secretary to our Stake Presidency. He has a small family and has asked us to find out if there is some way for him to get some help with more education, so that he can get a better paying job. He has a pretty responsible job now, but because he has no degree, his pay is minimal. We spoke to the Senior missionaries over in Upolu who oversee the institute program at the University and also administer the Perpetual Education Fund and other grants there. When we told them about Ualese’s desire for more education and how deserving we felt he was, they informed us that he would need a special age exception, because he is 40 and the age limit is 30. They said it’s not impossible, but he’ll need some good recommendations, and then approval from the area presidency. We feel that he could certainly qualify if he could get the Stake President, who is also the principal at Vaiola College, to send a recommendation letter in his behalf; he may have a chance. He is so well organized and works so hard, and actually calls us whenever we need to confirm appointments, or he’s going to be late or unable to make the lesson. That is very unusual in this culture, and no wonder he does so well as the Stake Executive Secretary. We’re doing everything we can to assist him and hoping and praying for the best.

Since I’ve not written on the blog for a couple of months, it doesn’t mean that we haven’t had plenty of new experiences and taken a lot of pictures. The pictures are what help me keep track of what I’ve written about. Since the seasons are all opposite from the USA, the end of the school year happens the first of December and the “summer vacation” is all of December and January. The last week of school, we had the opportunity to attend the awards and prize ceremony up at Vaiola College, where we are acquainted with many of the students because they all live in the different wards we’ve been working in. The program lasted almost four hours, and I had thought our own kids’ awards programs went long. It was long but really interesting to see how they honor their students, and teachers as well.

This first picture shows some of the faculty making presentations. Notice the candy necklaces around the neck of the speaker. The program went so long because every time a student award was announced, their family would come forward to congratulate them and present them with some candy necklaces, and also give one to several of their teachers. Each award became a new celebration with people moving all over the gym before they could go on to the next award. Once the students have several candy ropes around their necks, they will often join the celebration and give their own necklaces to others of their fellow classmates who are getting awards. By the end of the program, when they announced the Valedictorian and Salutatorian awards, those two students had so many candy ropes around their necks that you literally could not see their faces. My camera battery died before the end of the program, so that I couldn’t get pictures of those kids buried in candy necklaces.

There were also a number of musical performances by groups of students as well as the faculty.

These two pictures are of the Viaola Principal (Siakasoni (Jackson) Taleni, who is also our new Stake President) along with the vice principal, Jeannie Obley; and the other one is of one class of students performing on stage, with the faculty sitting in front of them. All Samoans are great singers and that was a major part of this program. Another interesting thing that happens when the families come up to congratulate their children and grandchildren, some of the parents and grandparents really get carried away, kind of dancing their way up to the front, putting on a little show and dancing back, hugging whoever happens to be along the way, whether they know them or not.

One family, who are friends of ours that own the resort where we do a lot of snorkeling, the Martins, had a daughter that must have won more than a dozen awards, and when her family came up, the Grandma put on a real show each time. The first picture shows her doing her little jig as she comes back from putting on quite a performance up front. Her daughter, Mrs. Martin in the picture right behind her, was a little embarrassed, but very tolerant. The second picture shows the Grandma planting a kiss on the cheek of one of several unsuspecting people along the aisle on her way back to her seat. Mrs. Martin is full blood Samoan, but is married to a handsome blonde Australian. Their children are just beautiful and very smart and talented. They are not members, but their mom or dad drives a good 45 minutes or so each way to take their kids clear up to Vaiola every morning, and then do the same every afternoon. Vaiola is supposedly the best school on the island and all classes are taught in English, so people have to get on a waiting list to get their kids in school up there, because their standards are so high. Because 3 of the 4 Martin children still go to the primary school, they can’t ride the bus and their parents have to provide their transportation. As they drive around the island on the way to school everyday, the Martins pick up several other primary children and end up with a dozen or so standing in the back of their pick-up for the ride to school and back. Their truck has a fancy frame all around it where they carry their Surfboards and other equipment, so the kids just hang onto the frame and have a grand old time, rain or shine. Even though the program was long and tedious, we actually enjoyed ourselves just watching the way they honor their children, and seeing so many of the kids we worked with in our English and piano classes get awards.

One day when the mail was being delivered to us from Upolo, there were also two auto tires (or tyres as they say here) that needed to be taken to the elders in the South Zone, where they had two completely worn out tires that needed to be replaced. We loaded up the mail and the tires and took them way around to the other side of the island, only to find out the elders had no way to mount the two new tires on the rims. So we loaded up the tires and the old rims and a couple of missionaries and transported them back the other direction quite a way to a tire shop (tyre shop) where they had the old tires removed and the new ones mounted on the rims.

These three pictures are of the Tyre shop, outside and inside, and the shop with the big old tyre painted as a sign out in front. After waiting for the man to replace the tires, quite efficiently I might add, we loaded us all up and took the elders and their new tires back to their place so that the tires could be put on their van. We spent the good part of a day, and plenty of gas, to get that project finalized and the elders back on the road again.

While I was waiting for the tire repair, I could see a beautiful flame tree just down the road, so I slipped away with our camera to snap a picture. These trees all blossom out just before Christmas every year, and then drop their blooms about the middle of January. During that month, however, they are truly beautiful and we see them everywhere.

Just a little while before Christmas, the Stake Primary had a big program, where all primary kids in the Stake performed a musical number/dance with each of their ward groups all dressed up the same, as with other Samoan programs and performances we’ve attended. I took several pictures that day, but so many of them were like others we’ve taken at other programs, I decided to just show you the one ward primary group that was all dressed in primary colors--red, yellow, & blue.

While John and I were washing dishes at the sink window one day, we noticed some men working to build a new fale roof. We asked if we could take pictures periodically as they progressed over a few days. They build the roof structure on the ground first. Notice the intricate structure of the wood poles they’ve put together. After that’s completed, they gather up several big strong men, including John, to lift up the roof framework while others prop and attach the corner pillars with big long nails. (Years ago the whole thing would have been tied together with afa, which is a strong twine woven from coconut husk fibers. John says back in the old days when he was here, before hammer and nails were available to them, the old men would sit all day long weaving and braiding the fibers, because all of their construction projects were held together with that special twine.) Once the corner posts were secured with rocks in a hole in the ground, they were wedged with diagonal supports until all the other posts are added and the whole structure is held together by cross-members, where they eventually attach the floor, about 18 inches above the ground. Then they start adding the pieces of thatch to cover the roof, woven ahead of time, probably by the women, in several overlapping courses. The thatching is attached with twine from the inside to the roof framework. When the thatch is finished, it is often covered with a large piece of netting the keep the thatch from blowing away in some of the tropical storms that hit the island periodically. The top part of the roof is covered with corrugated metal to make it more waterproof, even though the thatch does a pretty good job of keeping out the rain.

They used to weave small mats into what works like a roman shade to keep the rain from coming in the sides. Each pull-up shade is made up of several hand-woven mats held together by a system of ropes inside that can pull them up or lower them when needed. Now, most of the newer fales just use large plastic covered canvas tarps. When you realize all the manpower, or probably womanpower, that was used to make and tie up these shades, it’s easy to understand why one big tarp would be revolutionary, even though they don’t look as picturesque.

This little fale now serves as the house for a young couple, probably newly married, who belong to the family in the larger fale nearby. Very few newly married couples live anywhere except with one of their families in the same fale, or a smaller one within the family compound, like the one pictured above.

About the 16th of December, we went over to Apia for a few days, when the mission had scheduled the Christmas party for all the missionaries on Savai’I and Upolu. President and Sister Halleck left later that week to go over to Tutuila (American Samoa) where they live and where there is another part of the mission. They had another party planned for the missionaries over there right before Christmas and then stayed to enjoy Christmas with their family before coming back to the mission home in Pesega. (I may have sorted out all of these names before, but just to make it clear again. Upolu is the most inhabited island, and Apia, located on Upolu, is the capital city. Pesega is a sort of suburb of Apia where the mission home, the temple and Pesega College are located on a large compound there. Savai’I, the island we live on, is the largest island but the least densely populated of all of them and we think the most beautiful. Actually, to be honest, there are some really beautiful areas over on Upolu too, once you get out of the big city). Back to the mission Christmas party.

This first picture is of two sister missionaries all dressed up for the Christmas party in the same outfit. A new rule has allowed the sisters to wear some color other than white blouses now, so each sister companionship showed up in twin colored outfits for the party. Sister Laulu on the left was in our area for quite a while and was the sister missionary who had to play piano in two different wards because there were no other piano players in either ward. When she was transferred, I made arrangements with the Bishops of both wards to start some piano classes to help train some new pianists and organists. Each ward now has about two people who can play in each ward, since I was able to give them all a copy of the Hymns made Easy book after they’d had several months of lessons. I’m really proud of them all, but can hardly take the credit for their playing. Three of them had played a little before, but felt the regular hymn book was too difficult for them. With a few brush-up lessons and the easy hymnbook, they are able to help out quite a bit in their respective wards. The one I’m most excited about is a little ten-year-old girl who just started from scratch with my lessons and has been so motivated that she practices in most of her free time every day, and has been playing in Sacrament meeting for several weeks now. Let’s see, where was I? Oh yes, the Christmas party. My mind does seem to wander a lot. The reason I wanted a picture of Sister Laulu is that she reminds me so much of the pictures of Sophie, Kelly’s new little daughter from Etheopia.

As is typical of all Samoan wards, the Relief Societies put together a wonderful Christmas dinner buffet for us, with all kinds of Samoan and Palagi food.

The cultural hall was all decorated with Samoan Christmas trees, made out of palm fronds.

Sister Halleck, with the help of several other senior missionaries in Pesega put together wonderful little individual gift bags for every missionary and all the bags looked so festive piled on the tables.

Each gift bag had candy, caramel corn, and a wonderful DVD made up of pictures from all of the missionaries from all three islands, which was made up for and shown at the special Christmas program before dinner. Another amazing gift for each of us was a personalized little fold-out booklet with several personal pictures of each missionary and their zone, plus pictures of President and Sister Halleck, the Samoan Temple, the First Presidency etc. I understand that Sister Halleck spent hours and hours and way into the night for weeks to get them finished. I’m thinking there are well over 100 missionaries, plus all the senior missionaries. What an undertaking, and what a special memento for each of us from the Hallecks, who will finish up their three-year mission in June, 5 months from now.

As usual, while we were in Apia, we had the opportunity to spend time with some of the other senior missionaries and several of us had dinner out at a new restaurant near the compound. Pictured from left are the Webbers, the new dentist from Provo, who was a dental student in our ward in LA over fifty years ago; the Kelly’s from Canada, and originally England, who were in the MTC with us and are responsible for keeping all the missionaries alive and well; and the Merrills who are originally from Vernal and retired to St George, who now run the mission office; and then, of course, you-know-who. Several of our good friends have recently left and gone home and will be sorely missed, but have been replaced by another group of incredible couples. We are so fortunate to be numbered among them and do wish they all lived within easy driving distance to Wallsburg so that we’d be able to get together with them more often after we all go home.


The stake we’re working in consists of 12 wards. We have done visits to inactive members in 8 of them, and many of these people have come back, and are again active, attending church each Sunday. Two of the wards have no inactive members, as they are affiliated with the church school in the village of Vaiola. The Vaiola ward is made up of school teachers, administrators, and support and maintenance staff, and all of them are active members of the church. The adjacent village of Tapueleele is also all LDS and all active. The other wards are strong, with good leadership and members with strong commitments to the gospel. The one exception is the Puapua ward where a handful of very strong members struggle to keep the ward functioning. One of these is a returned missionary named Savaii (same name as the island), who is ward clerk, ward mission leader, seminary teacher, aaronic priesthood teacher, and young singles leader. He served his mission a few years ago and then went on over to American Samoa and got a job, and a girlfriend, we understand. Somehow he found out what struggles were happening in his old ward in Puapua and felt duty bound to give up another couple of years of his life to try to help the young people to take hold of the Gospel and bring some priesthood strength to that ward. In the meantime, the job and girlfriend back in Tutuila (Am. Samoa) wait until he feels he’s done all he can. He’s been back here a year working his tail off and plans to stay for the rest of this year before he tries to go back and go on with his own life. He is an inspiring young man. He is assisted by another RM who is the Elders Quorum president, the ward organist, Stake Young Adult leader, and he also teaches piano lessons using Karen’s materials and her help. Both of these young men are giving up other opportunities for work and education elsewhere while they remain and try to build up the ward. The Relief Society is strong, and they do their Visiting Teaching and other RS duties. The High Priests Group Leader is inactive. There is no home teaching program. Another man who is a former Stake Presidency member teaches the High Priests class. The bishopric members don’t attend the aaronic priesthood classes, and they go across the street to the inactive high priest group leader’s home to play pool during Mutual times. I have tried to teach the bishopric their duties, but they seem to be too steeped in old ways of doing things. I asked the bishop is he would interview the HPGL and ask if he is willing to continue or if we should release him, but the bishop said the man doesn’t come to church so he has not had an opportunity to interview him (even though the bishop plays pool in the man’s house each Mutual night). The two young missionaries assigned to that ward tell us that there hasn’t been a convert baptism in that ward since last April. We realize that if the ward isn’t functioning properly it will be hard for new members or re-activated members to be properly fellowshipped. One of the people who has come back to church is Savaii’s sister. Another young mother of one-year-old twins has come back together with her husband, so at least some progress has been made there. I talked to the Stake president about the problems, and he advised us to move on to another ward. He said the Stake leaders would take care of educating the bishopric and putting in place the proper leadership for the High Priests Group. It is a ward with great potential. They are planning on building a new chapel. The old one is right on the beach, and it is common for rain and even high winds to bring water into the building. When the recent cyclone just missed us last month we had sea water being driven up against the building during the Sunday services, and we had some water come through the windows into the chapel. This ward reminds me somewhat of the old branches of the church when I was here 53 years ago. Then there were no benches in the chapels, the women openly nursed their babies during meetings, and the small children sitting cross-legged on the floor in the front rows put their heads on the floor and slept with their legs still crossed. In Puapua ward the dogs still come in and sleep on the floor at your feet during sacrament meeting, but I haven’t seen that in any other ward here now. We want to go back to this ward toward the end of our mission to see how much improvement has been made. Hopefully it will be a lot.


Just one little note about the Puapua Ward that John just told you about. We met up with the Stake President at another meeting this week and he told us he had visited with the High Priest Group Leader who was inactive and told him that he was really needed and asked if he’d be willing to step up and help get the home teaching moving ahead in that ward. (For those who are unfamiliar with Mormon jargon, Home Teaching is a program where every family within the ward boundaries, is assigned to several different men who check up on them to make sure the family is well and has everything they need, including encouragement and assistance when they have problems, difficulties, or become less active. The home teachers and visiting teachers—the same type of organization for the women where they are visited periodically and assisted with meals, and other help when the need arises--become almost like members of those families they serve, if they’re doing their jobs right. Because we have a lay ministry, there is no way the Bishop can keep on top of all the problems and needs of all the families in the ward, so he is backed up by these men and women who take responsibility for keeping him apprised of where the needs are. Because our job as missionaries is to visit and invite members who have slowed down, or completely stopped in their activity, to come back to church and enjoy the blessings and fellowship that come with embracing and living the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we depend on the home teachers and visiting teachers to continue their encouragement of these members once we move on to another ward, just as the proscelyting missionaries depend on them and the other ward members to fellowship and strengthen the newly baptized members.) Back to the story of the High Priest Group Leader, he responded in a very positive way to the Stake President’s invitation telling him that he really didn’t realize what his responsibilities were. He told President Teleni that he’d be happy to help. We hope that’s the case and that he wasn’t just telling the Stake President what he thought he wanted to hear. The Bishop is a fairly new member, who is trying to learn his duties as well, so hopefully the Stake Presidency will help to train them all so that their ward can function as it’s meant to when everyone is doing their part. We hope to be called back to work in Puapua once the Stake has finished their training.

This family is one we’ve grown to love and admire so much. The daughter, Seminari, just left to go to the Provo MTC and then on to her mission in Columbus, Ohio. What a weather and culture change for her. I suggested I take some pictures of the area around her fale, so that she could show the people in Ohio where she lives. Their fale sits right across the beach road from the ocean and the beautiful picture I added to my Samoan Christmas letter was taken from inside their fale. She has been assisting me with my piano classes, speaks very good English, and will make a top notch missionary. Besides helping in two of my classes, she keeps practice keyboards at her fale and helps the people who come to practice during the week. Her neice, Leuma, pictured in the last picture, is the ten-year-old who’s already playing in church meetings and has been teaching her younger sister, Nuera--as in New Era-- to play as well. Her nephew’s name is Paionia (pioneer). Seminari lives with her widowed mother, in the bright blue dress, and her brother’s family. Her brother is the young men’s president in their ward and has been a huge help with our piano class in that ward by helping to set up tables, make copies of music and always sits through the whole class each week. I’ve really missed Seminari since she left, but she had invited another young woman, 19 year old Araisa, to join the class earlier on and then encouraged her to take over as my assistant after she left. Araisa seemed very shy at first and I wasn’t sure that she’d have the assertiveness that Seminari had, but has turned out to be an excellent help, and has now started a new class at her home because we couldn’t take any more new students into the existing class. I must get a photo of Araisa. She’s a beautiful girl and looks like an American Indian princess from out of the movies.

The piano classes still take up most of Thursday—two ward classes and one private lesson—and another ward class on Friday afternoon. The numbers have dwindled to a manageable size, for which I am grateful and hoped would happen when we first started. Many who came the first few times thought they could just attend a few lessons and be ready to play. They found out that it takes a lot of time in class and a lot of practicing outside of class to become proficient, so they just stopped coming. The ones who are left are really motivated and several are already playing in church, priesthood, primary and at baptisms, even though that class hasn’t been completed. Very few have advanced to the point of playing everything out of the regular hymn book, but they all have copies of the Hymns Made Easy collection and do just great with that. The more they play out of that, the quicker they’ll be ready for the harder book. I could tell stories about each student, buy I’ll just relate one for right now. His name is Star, Sitalini, and he is about 16 years old and looks a lot like our grandson Isaac. When he first started coming to class, he wanted to just fiddle around and tried to play everything by ear, without really focusing on reading the music. Actually, he’s very talented that way and so he learns quickly. In class he’d want to move ahead of the lessons and the other kids and I’d often have to stop the instruction because he wouldn’t stop playing while I was talking. I think he just wanted to do it himself without being bothered by having a teacher. He finally stopped coming, which I thought was too bad because he really is talented, but I didn’t miss his disruptive behavior. After a few weeks, I waIked into an empty chapel where I heard someone playing quite well and there he was practicing hymns out of the hymnbook and not doing too bad a job. I told him how impressed I was with what he was doing on his own. I had given him a talk earlier about how wonderful it was to have a good musical ear like he has, but if he would also take the time to learn to read music really well, there’s nothing he couldn’t do on that piano. I’m not sure if I got through to him, or he just figured it out himself and was doing a pretty good job. I told him that day that there were a lot of other good things he could learn if he came back to class and he readily accepted. He’s there every time now and still forgets to listen to new instructions but one little toot on my whistle wakes him up and he’s with us again. I’m making him sound like a delinquent, but that’s not how he is at all. He’s actually a very sweet boy, and I’m convinced he has a little ADD, because when I’d try to stop his playing and finally get his attention with a loud “Woo Hoo”, he’d look up to see what was going on and realized that we had stopped. When I’d start in on my instruction again, he’d forget and just start fiddling around again. I finally resorted to buying a referee’s whistle just for his benefit. It works just great for him, but the others kids hate it and tease him about it. He’s doing much better now and has been playing for priesthood meetings every week and often does prelude or postlude for Sacrament meeting. The first time I heard him playing prelude, I was a little shaken because it was so loud and choppy, even though almost all the notes were right. Because the regular piano/organ in that ward is broken, they use the little keyboard piano from the primary and there’s no sustaining pedal. Because our practice keyboards in class have no pedal, they’ve not learned how to make the music more smooth. I took him into the chapel after a lesson last week and showed him how to play like an organist would, by holding onto one key or chord, until your other fingers found the next one. When he played prelude music this week, he did an amazing job of sustaining the notes, but for some reason had the microphone standing by the piano speaker and the volume was deafening. I think he just didn’t hear the little part of our lesson about prelude music needing to be quiet and reverent. I visited with him about that this week in our lesson and hope he got the message that he didn’t really need the mike. I think we’ll actually make a creditable piano/organist out of him. He’s actually doing most of it himself, but has become very receptive to my coaching him on his technique. I walked into the church the other day after picking up some kids for my class and heard someone playing what I thought was the organ in the chapel. It sounded lovely. Once inside the building, I found out it was Star just practicing on the keyboard that was set up for organ and playing just as smooth as if he were playing an organ and sliding his fingers from key to key. I was delighted and he seemed to be also when I complimented him on it.

It’s really satisfying as a teacher to see some success with several of the students and feel like I’ve made some little contribution to that. Five of my students have filled out their applications for a free keyboard. I just have to finish filling out my part and pass them on to the Stake President to sign and I can fax them to the Church Music Department for evaluation. I hope there’s a chance that some of them will be rewarded for their hard work. Several others will be advancing to the point that they can apply fairly soon.

I couldn’t resist snapping this picture of John trying to get past the gate at the home of a member of our mission presidency. Now that we’re delivering all the mail that comes over from Upolu, we were not able to reach these folks by phone and when we got up to the house, which is way up in the mountains beyond Vaiola, the gate was locked. We didn’t want to make another trip back so he just climbed over the gate. He got hung up just a little, but made it over, and decided when he came back to crawl under the gate to get out. I thought I had taken a picture of that too, because he looked even sillier slithering under the gate, but for some reason it didn’t make it to my laptop. I guess we could go back up there and restage it so I can get a picture this time. Somehow I don’t think he’ll go along with it.

One Thing John would definitely go along with was pictures of his flourishing garden. The first picture is of the tomato “tree” that grows by our front door, surrounded by a squash/pumpkin patch that doesn’t quit. The next picture is of the side of our house where there are two tomato trees and more pumpkin patch. The tomatoes are growing so fast and tall that John has to climb up a ladder and tie the stems to a rope to keep them from falling over. Notice the beautiful red tomatoes ready to pick and a harvest of two “pumpkins” and some tomatoes. We can’t begin to eat all we grow and have enjoyed giving away much of the harvest. There’s a big cabbage patch behind the house that I didn’t get pictures of and will do so later when they are more mature. We are certainly not hurting for fresh vegetables. This gardening is all happening at Christmastime so that’s quite a twist for us.

Speaking of Christmas, because we were pretty much alone over here that weekend, we decided to have a skyping party for the elders on Christmas Eve. They are allowed to call home over Christmas and they have longingly watched us skype our family through the year as we all come to the internet café on P-day. We promised that we’d provide the skyping session for them on Christmas. They came from all over the island and were spread out over most of the day. We spent from about 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. that day coordinating their skype schedule and allowing them each about 30 minutes. It was a long day for us and we were able to fit our own family skyping in between their sessions, but we had a great time listening in on their Christmas visits with their families and enjoying our own as well.

These were most of the Palagi elders who skyped, because the Samoan elders’ families don’t have computers and skype. Each Palagi elder introduced the Samoan Elders to their families and everyone seemed to have a great time, including us, even though we were worn out before the day was over. Once we finished, we had to head home and start making our preparations for the Savaii Elders Christmas dinner the next day at the McKay wardhouse. They were all excited to be able to get together and eat, exchange gifts, play games and just visit for the day. I realized after that I didn’t get single picture because I was running around all day trying to get everything organized and everybody fed. The elders brought some snacks, but John and I provided most of the dinner, home made Chicken Noodle vegetable soup, garlic bread, cut up vegetables and fruit, not to mention bread, peanut butter and jam, graham crackers and milk and other goodies from home. They were a big hit and enjoyed by all. When we were spending the morning trying to get all the food ready by ourselves, two of our teenage friends in the ward happened to stop in and ask if they could help and we were happy to accept. We would never have made it without them. They helped cut up all the fruit and veggies, made homemade noodles (strange shapes, but still delicious) dished out ice cream and cake and then helped us and the elders clean up after. What a huge help they were and we really appreciated their help on Christmas day and they would not take a reward of leftover food for their families. They just wanted to serve the missionaries. The party was a lot of work, but really filled the day for us while we were missing the family so much.

Earlier in the week, we went to two ward Christmas parties. Our own ward, McKay ward, and the second ward we worked in was Fusi, where we had our first English class. We’ve gotten really close to some of those families and it was great fun to celebrate with them.

Our first party in was in Fusi Ward, where they held a 3 hour dance, program and then dinner. It was held at the Stake Center cultural hall, where their ward meets, and everybody was there, with all ages dancing and performing, including John and me. Many couples and families came dressed alike, which seems to be a big deal for celebrations and programs with the Samoans. We had a great time reuniting with those families that we worked with our first three months in the mission.

The next night we attended the McKay Ward Christmas party, our home ward. They had some dancing, but spent a good part of the evening performing musical numbers from different neighborhoods. The party was held outside on the basketball court and part way through it began to pour rain, so every one moved inside and just hung out for an hour or so until the rain stopped. No one seemed too alarmed about the wait and just took the delay in their stride. After the rain stopped, they spent some time mopping up the basketball court and then started the program again. The program and dance and dinner that followed must have gone on for 5 hours (including the rain delay and a visit from a very young, skinny Santa), but no one seemed to notice and a great time was had by all, including us, except we were worn out by the time it was over.

I just had to add a few last random pictures here at the end, just to make sure I had them in this blog.

The Samoans have these little tiny neighborhood stores all over the place, but this new one really caught our eye. It was being beautifully hand painted by the proprietor and I had to have a picture of it. Most of the big stores in town close down everyday at 4:00 p.m. and then noon on Saturday. These little family enterprises can be open as late as midnight, as long as people are still needing supplies, or just a place to go socialize when there’s nothing else to do. We see more and more of them being built and wonder how they all make a go of it. Often there are several in what we would call a one block area. Our guess is that since they can buy the supplies wholesale, they can cut their own family budget down, even if they don’t sell a lot.

As we were showing some Upolo Senior Missionaries around one weekend, we took them up to see the waterfalls and found all kinds of people swimming in the beautiful clear little pools around the base of the falls. The place looks like the garden of Eden and the swimming looks wonderful, not to mention the fun the kids were having jumping from high rocks into the deeper parts. It’s a definite must visit place if and when family members come to see us down here.

One last shining example of the ingenuity of some resourceful elders trying to dry their white shirts in a hurry. As we stopped to deliver some mail to these elders we couldn’t help but notice the white shirt spinning around on the ceiling fan. Apparently they will dry much faster that way than on the clothes line, especially if it’s raining. It was such a priceless image, I just had to snap a photo of it.

Well, I’m going to call it a day and finish off this segment, even though I have much more to show and tell, but that can wait for next time. I’m determined to send this off at the internet café tomorrow before we head into another very busy week. Here’s hoping and praying that all is well with you and your families.

Love to all from the Kroghs