Editor's note. I am 'bleeping' out the names of the individuals who had conflicts in this letter. That way you can still see the situation and how they work through it, but will not be offensive to those who were in it.
Dear Mom and Dad,
Today is Tuesday June 16. I have no idea how reliable the mail is on this island and I can’t give it to people because this island is farther away and people don’t travel as much because it is more expensive. Anyhow, I’ll get it to you in the Lord’s timing. I just want to say that yesterday’s email time was sad. Not because you guys were busy and at Sarah’s. But because of Elder Openshaw’s sad news plus it was a hard week and I didn’t feel like email was the right place to talk about it. That email was really hard to find something positive. It was still a good week, it was just harder.
The problem with this island is that because it is so much longer and organized differently than Abaiang, if we miss 1 time with an investigator it becomes much harder to meet them again. We are slightly over scheduled with no time to go back and make up a time in the same day. If we don’t reschedule then they forget, so we really need to make every appointment. So it helps if there are no distractions. Elder Smith is the Branch president or Nonouti. (I am basically his wife, no calling, but the main advisor.) So we have a responsibility to strengthen the saints and they are all basically new and converts. Also no one has callings and we feel that it is time that the branch got some structure. So we take time out of our over scheduled day to give interviews, lessons, strengthen and support and callings to our many ward members. That’s an everyday struggle.
Another one that just came up or just got more involved is with land. I was going to write this story as a miracle in my mass letter until it took an awful twist. We are looking for a piece of land to build a church. Now we rent a really run down spot with holes in the roof. Every one tells us all the time that we need to build a spot because then the church would be more recognized and more people would join. So we’ve been looking around and asking for a place. There are no realtors, just people that find and ask. One family in the branch found us and said that they had a spot for the church. So we looked at it and saw that it was decent. The only problem is that it is a little ways of the main road in the forest. President Weir wants, and we agree, a place on the main road so it will be seen and be more official. We looked all over and there was nothing. So we asked President and he said that there is an agreement form that we need to sign with the owners and send in for approval. So we got the form and went and got it signed, then went to sent it in. We tried on Monday but ran out of time, we tried again on Wednesday, but we forgot an envelope and the post office just ran out. Then that night we went over to our last lesson/fhe with a family and found out that a lady, _____ just arrived from Tarawa. She saw us and said, “Elders, I have come for you. I have come so that the church has a place here in Nonouti! She then walked out of the house and showed us this beautiful piece of land. It was in a perfect location, right on the road, in the middle of the main town in Nonouti. It was big, and clean. Just right for our needs. As soon as I saw it, I got that big excited feeling, just like when I got my call.
Friday we went back over to her house to get the paper resigned. We prayed about it and felt such peace that we didn’t worry about it. We tried to talk with the other family, but the husband was at a workshop all day long. We did tell his wife though. So we sign it and told ____ that we were going to go send it to Tarawa right then. She all of a sudden started acting weird and said that maybe we should wait until Monday so she could talk to her brother and her sister. They all share the land. We were confused, but said ok. Then we invited her to the baptism and left.
Not many people attended the baptism. Just _____,, Mouaa (being baptized), his sister _____, and 1-2 other people. This made an unforeseen awkward situation. _____ and _____ are joint owners of the first piece of land and _____ is the owner of the 2nd and a real talker. She kept going on about how she was such a good member finding a place or the church here. We were uncomfortable, but aren’t very good at moving the conversation. We weren’t even in the conversation. Also she kept mentioning a different piece of land.
Baptism happened, it was wonderful. Then Sunday, we had church. Elder Smith gave a great talk about forgiveness and loving those that hate you and I talked about obedience and tithing. Right after the closing song ___ stood up and said that she would like to start a group discussion. This isn’t procedure for church, but very culturally acceptable. She ranted for 5 min. about how we were such bad people and that she and everyone was wronged about the land. She said, “It is true, Elder Smith and Elder Morley are liars!” I felt like I had been shot by my best friend. She is one of the nicest members and we go to her house multiple times a week to teach her brother.
Then after it was said, the whole room was in shock by her breaking culture by speaking so strongly against her religious leaders that are also white so considered to be honored guests. The only way to be more honored in this culture is to be white religious leader, old man, or to be the president. Then when we recovered, it turned into a riot. Every member stood up and gave their opinion. _____ was crying, rumors were flying. It was a mess. We stood up and clarified things and settle the problem, reminding them of the talk just given and telling them that this is not the way things are done in the church. Then set up times, (threw the lessons out the window) with anyone who wanted to be talked to more or who was still angry. We went over to ______ house and got everything settled so she wasn’t mad, nor is her family. Then we talked to ____, the next day, and she was offended but also told us that there was an even better piece of land for us. She was a ‘used car salesman’ and was never completely open or honest. From her and other sources found out that her brother was planning to use the land that she promised to us, to live on with his family when he retires. The ‘better’ land was bigger, but also full of trees and part of it is taken up by a protestant chapel. So now our poor group of struggling saints is full of contention and we have no land that is good for a chapel.
So that was one adventure, one distraction of last week. Another also started on Wednesday. We slept in Tebuange with our family, Monday night, then in another house Tuesday night, then worked all day Wednesday and about 6pm we stopped to get something from our house. To our dismay, when we arrived the house was ransacked. It is a stick house with a lock. So even though it was locked, the thieves broke the sticks and got inside. They took 85% of our stuff: food, presents, exercise stuff, our fishing supplies, the blowgun, the ipod and speaker, camera, memory cards, clothes, my garments, basically if you have sent it, they took it all with the exception of books, medicine and pictures. Some of what they left they broke.
We had just cleaned on Monday and now it was all in shambles They left a note written on the back of a broken oatmeal package. (they left the oatmeal, didn’t know what it was.) It said, “SOA Gang! We had one clue. So the following days we set out to find out stuff. The policeman was busy in the same workshop as_____ husband, so they were no help. Sidenote: People here are funny. I seriously felt like Andy Griffeth trying to calm down Barney and all of Mayberry while calmly solving the case. As much as we could we worked with kids to get our belongings back. This culminated on Friday. Lesson fell through, so we followed a lead to a person’s house with some of our stuff. There we got 3 suspects. Then on our way to sign that paper with ____ we met Mouaa. He stopped us, told us his suspects (apparently he had been playing detective too, but he was more of a Barney Fife) The suspects matched and he said he heard that the thieves were going to run away on the ship that was going to dock in 2 minutes. So we jumped on our bikes to tell the ship not to let those gang members on.
As a random note, mouaa was carrying a bag of drinking coconuts and he insisted on giving us one before we left. So here we are biking as fast as we can down the street carrying a coconut. That’s police work in the islands! Well, we found the ship and found out that the people aren’t allowed on until the next day.
That was the craziest hour of my mission. Lesson falls through, talk to one suspicious lady for our stuff, meet ova, chasing down a ship, then the rain fell super hard, so we went to _____ house where she insisted on cooking us food before signing the paper. She lives in the back of a store and the owner was busy so all of a sudden I am taking care of the store, buying her things, and helping customers buy their things and watching a baby and helping ____ cook, then getting it signed, eating, finding out she actually isn’t sure about the land that she just signed for, leaving, trying to regain the spirit and going to our next lesson. I felt like my life was spinning out of control.
Luckily, the next morning the policemen were finally free from workshop When we gave them a list of missing things and the names and location of our suspects and let them take care of the rest. By noon they had basically all of our stuff back in good condition and the thieves caught (teenage boys). Then we went to the baptism. The problem with being stolen from is it decreases trust. We didn’t know who did it, so we looked at everyone a little differently and were always minorly distracted by it.
Then we had a seminary where I single handedly taught primary kids a lesson made up on the spot on forgiveness. Also all week, Elder Smith has had a boil. The boils he gets are so bad that it affects his whole body. He feels sick, dizzy, etc. But this one was worse. It was on his back and it felt like it was piercing his heart. It hurt all week, then climaxed on Friday night. Saturday he could hardly function. Along with all the other excitement we had to bike the 2+ hour ride to Tebuange so that church could happen the next morning. We arrived didn’t teach any lessons, and he collapsed on his bed. Then there is the general strain and stress of regular work and living in a 3rd world country. Plus when we aren’t on ‘our top game’ we can’t help investigators or as much, so their progression went down. Just everything adds up. That is why last Monday I asked if there was any good news. I was struggling to think of anything positive from the week before.
We figured it out the other day. Everywhere in the world, when you are on a mission you have got district meetings, zone meetings and conferences, Sunday church with classes, devotionals, firesides, stake and general conference. All of those things, while sometimes annoying, help you to refocus and learn. But here there is literally only us and a bunch of recent converts running every phase of the work. We don’t even have the D&C or manuals in our own language! However, the cool thing is that when life is roughest, Our Heavenly Father is the closest. “When you are on the Lord’s errand, you are entitled to the Lord’s help! In the ‘When Thou are Converted’ by Elder Ballard it talks about John Tanner moving from NY to Kirtland to follow the call of the prophet. It describes how he was the richest church member but he gave so freely of his money to the church, that by the time he arrived in Missouri, that he was penniless. They had to borrow a wagon and beg for food. His daughter died. He gave or lost everything for the church. But if others questioned or criticized him, he just said, “Well, if others have come up easier, they have not learned so much.” This truly is a time of testing and trying We are being chosen and refined now. I am greatful for this time of learning that I have been given
Sorry I was going to write more, but we are running to the post office today to send off the land agreement. (cross your fingers!) Everything isn’t set yet or smooth and easy. But things are improving. Lots of fasting and prayer help. I just want to testify that I know that this work is true. I know that I am where I am now for a reason. Here is Kiribati, In Nonouti, with Elder Smith. I love this gospel and how it changes lives. I love you both and have a great day!
PS Proverbs 20:7 is true and good.