Here we are in the beautiful land of Samoa. We have been working hard since we arrived. We flew to Apia on Monday, 16 Feb. By the time we cleared customs and got from the airport to the LDS campus where we are staying it was about 10:00 PM. We were very tired from travel so we pretty much went right to bed.
When we woke it was POURING rain. I honestly don't think I've ever seen that much rain before, ever. It came down in vast sheets of water as if the heavens were pouring great buckets on top of the land.
When I peeked out the window of our apartment I could see the spire of the temple which is next door to where we are staying. Somehow the image of Moroni standing with his horn through all that pouring rain reminded me that even though life will have storms, so long as I can look to the temple I will find peace.
That first morning we were scheduled to meet with Brother & Sister Ah Hoy, the Family History Advisers for Samoa, at 8:30. We had a long drive ahead of us to get to the other side of the island to do a training in the Upolu Saleilua Stake. Brother Ah Hoy did the driving that first day since Larry did not yet have his Samoan license. We were both grateful for that. It rained hard nearly all the way. The windshield wipers on the car we hadwas worn down to the metal, so it squeaked terribly and didn't do much to keep the glass clear. At times we could barely see where we were going. But we got there, safe and sound.
|Elder Bennett with Atalina and Poao AhHoy as we were leaving the Service Center|
|Road trip in the pouring rain|
We really were not sure who we were going to be talking to or what sort of training was expected. So we just prayed hard and hoped our past training and the spirit of faith would carry us through!
There were about 70 people who showed up for the training - Bishops from all the wards, High Counselors, members of the Stake Presidency and others. It was powerful! We talked about the "My Family Fifteen-in-Fifteen" goal set by the Pacific Area Presidency and explained it. But mostly we focused on the WHY of doing this work, bearing strong testimonies of the power of learning about our ancestors and doing temple work for family names. It was our first time teaching through interpreters, which was a bit of a challenge. It made it harder to get into the flow of what we had to say. Still, we felt a strong connection with the leaders who participated.
|Upolu Saleilua Stake presidency|
President Kofe in center
Afterward they had a lovely lunch prepared for us in the High Council Room. We were served a variety of traditional island foods. My favorite was a sort of soup made with mackerel and onions in coconut cream. It was delicious! There was also chicken curry, breadfruit, beef sausages and Cocoa Samoa (which is boiling water poured over cocoa beans and left to steep - not my favorite, but hey, I was at least willing to try it.)
When we wrapped up our work with that stake we went back out into the rain to drive to the Apia West Stake.
That meeting had far fewer people, but most of them did understand English, so we were able to talk directly with them which was great. Also, being a smaller group, we were able to have a more engaging discussion. They asked some great questions.
We had some powerful lessons from that training. Even though the numbers were fewer, the level of engagement was incredible. One experience in particular I want to always remember from that session. As I was answering a question I felt prompted to share the story about when we wanted to have my sons from my first marriage sealed to Larry and I the year after we we were married. The only way we could do this was to get permission from their biological father, who was no fan of the church. At first he was pretty opposed to the whole idea, even though he had no ongoing contact with the boys. He was opposed to organized religion in general and he did not like the idea of us raising the boys LDS as he thought we would be teaching them he was "bad" since his lifestyle was not in keeping with the standards of the Church. Our family began a period of fasting and prayer, asking that my ex-husband's heart might be softened so he would permit the temple sealing to take place.
I talked about how it looked like it was impossible for this to ever happen, but then just a few days before we were scheduled to go to the temple, we received a letter with the required permission. Our prayers were answered. There was no explanation. He simply signed the letter and stuck it in the mail. I bore my testimony about the power of eternal families and that as we extended our faith and efforts to the best of our ability to find the necessary information to complete temple ordinances, the Lord would open doors that seemed closed.
Brother Ah Hoy responded with words that I never would have expected. He said: "Do you know that you were sent by God to be on this island at this time? When I hear you tell that story it touched my heart and now I know more that this work is true." That blew me away. Here was a good, faithful member of the church who was already trying to be obedient to the principles we were teaching. Yet because of something I shared, he had a personal witness of the importance of temple sealings and that God will indeed hear and answer prayers. That felt pretty special.
On Wednesday we did not have any teaching appointments, so we were able to do some running around town to get our business taken care of. One of the men from the LDS Service Center drove us around to show us where things were. First things first, we went to get a new windshield wiper for the car. Even though the sun did seem to finally come out, we are in the rainy season here and know there will be plenty more downpours, so we wanted to be prepared for that. Next, we went to have Larry get his Samoa driver's license. Like in Niue, all he had to do was pay a fee. There is no test of any kind. So long as you have a valid driving license from overseas, that qualifies you here.
We stopped at the visitor information office for maps and got oriented to where we would find stores, bank, post office, etc. Then we dropped our driver back at the campus and took off on our own to take care of our various errands. What an adventure. Apia is a busy city with lots of traffic. All the sights and sounds of the city were a little overwhelming, but we did find our way around.
Going to stores here was an interesting experience. Suffice it to say, they are not quite what we are used to. The availability of goods is pretty limited (no whole grain breads, few vegetables, and many products just no where to be found.) Besides that, the prices were way higher than we are used to, even in Auckland. We had to keep reminding ourselves that because of the exchange rate, really high prices were actually only costing us the equivalent of about half as much in American dollars. Still, we had some serious sticker shock, combined with frustration at not being able to get a lot of things we normally would buy.
But even with our limited budget we were able to cobble together enough basics to get us through our first several days here. We will do some more exploring later see if there may be any other options for shopping that will give us either better selection or better value.
Wednesday evening was pretty special because the Senior Missionaries were having a pot luck dinner which gave us a chance to meet many of them for the first time. The food was fantastic and the company was good.
Then today it was back to work, doing a training for the Upolu Faleasi'u Stake. We are getting the hang of what things to cover a bit better now, and know our stuff well enough to be flexible according to who happens to show up.
We felt this training went especially well.
Afterwards we stopped for fish and chips for lunch and then took a drive to go see the Robert Louis Stevenson museum, which was fascinating. We also stopped by Papapapaitai Falls, which was positively breathtaking.
By the time we got home we were both just plain pooped out, so we took a brief nap to recharge our batteries before heading over to the temple for an evening session.
As I sat in the endowment service it just hit me so strongly how grateful I am for these sacred ordinances and I was filled all over again with a surging sureness of the truth of the things we are taught there.
So as the days go tumbling by we are most definitely busy. But it is a good kind of busy. We feel we really are accomplishing what we were sent here to do, We are having remarkable experiences. We get to see so much beauty. Most of all, our testimonies are growing deeper, richer, more certain than they have ever been before. Even though it is not always comfortable, I would not give up this experience for anything in the world.