Monday, April 18, 2016

Return to Samoa

We are back on the road again - with our second trip to Samoa.

Here is a summary of what we have been up to.

FRIDAY-April 15 (Travel Day)
This was probably our smoothest exit so far of any of our international trips. We had a shuttle picking us up at noon, so we had the whole morning to get ready.   With ten overseas trips under our belt over the past 16 months, we no longer have frantic last minute scrambles. 

We had our bags packed, weight checked, and apartment in good order in plenty of time to leave room for quiet reflection and prayer, asking for guidance for who we should meet with in Samoa. 

 Denny Afualo and his wife picked us up at the airport.   (Denny is the service center manager in Samoa). He took us to our accommodations at the church campus.  This time rather than putting us in the patron apartments next to the temple, we were in the Upper Village in house 42.   It was a huge house with comfortable furniture, a spacious kitchen, and best of all a BATHTUB!   We were delighted.   The Afualos had also done a bit of shopping to be sure we had some basic foods in the house (bread, milk, eggs, butter and jam, cooking oil, fruit, juice, bottled water) which we very much appreciated.   We got settled in and then went to bed early to get a good night’s rest.

SATURDAY – April 16

We got up bright and early the next day  so we could attend the 7:30 AM session at the temple. It felt good to begin our time in Samoa getting spiritually grounded, opening our minds and spirits to whatever direction the Lord would have for us.

Apia Samoa Temple image found HERE

We took care of errands – changed money, did some grocery shopping, and gave some other Senior Missionaries from Auckland a ride back to the airport. (Our good friends, the Hendersons, who we serve with the in Pacific Area Office who had been in Apia on assignment). 

One of the things we always need to think about where ever we travel is the exchange rate of local currency so we know what we are really spending.   Prices of a lot of things in Samoa SEEM outrageously high, but when we remember that one Samoan Tala is worth less than forty cents in America currency, suddenly prices aren’t such a shock.  A box of cereal cost us $18.20 tala – about $7.00 in US dollars.  We could buy local produce and fish relatively inexpensively, but anything imported would come at a premium.  

Images of Samoan money found HERE

Image of  currency exchange HERE
We stopped for a bit of lunch at the Fish & Chips place Mike had shown us on our previous trip.  We also did some grocery shopping at the various markets.  As usual, Elder Bennett did a great job of navigating the island. We were able to find our way around well based on our memory of our time there the previous year.

Meal preparation in the islands always requires a bit of creativity since what is available to us there is generally different from what we are accustomed to.  That night for dinner I baked a concoction of eggplant and bok choy in tomato sauce with sardines and served it over ramen noodles.   It was surprisingly tasty!    The one thing I had forgotten to bring on this trip was my spices, which I regretted.  Still, even without the seasonings we would have preferred, we enjoyed the meal and were in high spirits as we anticipated all that lay before us. 

SUNDAY – April 17
We attended the 5th Ward of Pesega Stake, as we had last time.  Previously this congregation held their meetings in the assembly room of the church school.  Since our last trip, however, they had changed locations.  They were now meeting in the Lotopa Chapel / Stake Center up the road.  This was more comfortable and more reverent.  However,  in order to fit their meetings in with the other congregations that already used that building, 5th ward was scheduled to begin at 7:30 AM.  So we had another early start to our day.

Two things stuck out to me from the teachings in church that day:

First – in Sacrament meeting the topic was Prophesy and Personal Revelation. One of the speakers gave an example of making overseas calls, something all of us here in the Pacific Area can relate to.  I thought this was a great example that she used very well to illustrate the point she wanted to make.
She stated that sometimes we get good reception on overseas calls and sometimes we don’t.  When the line is not clear, we sometimes move around to find the best spot to stand to improve reception until we can hear more clearly.  (In our apartment back in Auckland there is a sweet spot closest to the glass doors to the balcony where we often need to go if we want our calls out to be clear.)   In life, we must stand in holy places to receive messages from the spirit. That can be the temple, church attendance, or our own homes.  I wrote in my notes:  “What choices am I making to keep my home a holy place?”

She also reminded us that to make an overseas call we must have sufficient credit on our phone account.  We must develop “credit” with the Lord through fasting, prayer and obedience to the commandments to establish our preparedness to receive inspiration / personal revelation.

Second – in Sunday School class we were discussing the teachings of King Benjamin from the Book of Mormon.  It was pointed out that King Benjamin FIRST taught his own sons, and then he went on to teach the nation.  No matter what we aim to contribute to the world, our first responsibility is to righteously lead our own families.  

That reminded me of the talk Elder Pearson recently gave emphasizing the importance of strong teaching in the home.

After Church we met with Bishop Pauga.   We talked with him about the past family history activities in his ward and asked about how they are working on current goals.   He invited us to come present to the full ward council on Tuesday night which we were happy to accept

That evening our old friend Brother Ah Hoy came over to our place and we had a wonderful time catching up on how he and his wife had been since we saw them last.  Of course we discussed family history, so I opened up FamilySearch on our laptop and we did some work with him on his family lines.  While Poao has a strong testimony of the importance of family history and temple work, he is not computer literate at all so he has relied on others to do the actual work.  We showed him some basic things about the program and encouraged him to learn more.


onday morning we went into town for Elder Bennett to get his temporary drivers license from the Post Office.    As long as we were in town, we decided to  walk down to Farmers to buy a couple small towels for Elder Bennett to carry.  Samoan heat and humidity in April were  not quite so intense as  when we were there in February/March 2015, but it still felt a bit like walking though a sauna.  In Samoa Larry carries a cloth with him where ever we go to wipe his perspiration.   We also picked up a great shirt for him that we both liked a lot and I bought a brightly colored piece of fabric from one of the street vendors.  It was a beautiful morning.  We enjoyed getting refamiliarized with our surrounding and comparing notes of our perceptions from our previous visit..

Most of downtown Apia was very familiar to us.  There were a few changes.  We were surprised to see the main grocery store there was now vacant (we learned later they moved to a different location) and a restaurant we had once eaten in was now out of business (that one was NOT a surprise…it won’t be missed).

Image of Downtown Apia from Pinterest

Monday morning we went over to the Service Center to meet with Denny.  We again expressed our appreciation for all he had done to ensure we had a comfortable place to stay.   We talked about our schedule and reviewed the list we had of contact information for all the Stake Presidents.  He let us know of a few changes that had taken place already and a couple others who would be changed in the next month.   That was a big help.

Next we met with Elder & Sister Shaeffemeyer, the technology specialists for Samoa.   We had a great discussion with them about the work we planned to do. They gave us the contact info for a man in Savaii who we could contact to set up meetings with the Stake Presidents there.   We discussed equipment in the various FHC’s and the general progress of the work.  
That afternoon both Poao and Atalina Ah Hoy came over .  Again we got onto FamilySearch and I was able to show Atalina some of the same things I had shared with her husband the night before.  We talked with them both about their role as Area Family History Advisors and did the best we could to be of support to them.

Atalina and Poao AhHoy
That evening we went out to dinner with the Shaeffermeyers at a restaurant on the harbor called Swashbucklers.  We enjoyed sitting out on the deck of the restaurant, wantching the light shift and seeing boats go by.

Elder & Sister Shaeffermeyer - Technology Specialists in Samoa

It felt good to be back.  While much about the place and the assigned work was the same as when we had been there before, we couldn't help but notice how much WE had changed.  When we had come to Samoa the first time, we were very unsure of what to say or do.  We were still very green missionaries, only having been out a couple months.   This time we came as seasoned servants of our Heavenly Father.  We had been through so many experiences that had taught us a lot.  We were excited to share this knowledge with the good people of Samoa who we had learned to love.

What we noticed more than anything was how much we had truly come to love the people we were serving, and how much they loved us in return.   Working in the office in New Zealand we generally felt respected and appreciated.  In the Islands, however, we felt overwhelming love.   Part of that was because of how closely we worked with the Area Advisors in each island group. Part of it was a product of working entirely by the direction of the Holy Spirit to know what to do or say, which surrounded us all with sacred sense of purpose.  Beyond that, the hearts of the Polynesian people were so open and close to the Spirit,  that the love the extended to us was unlike anything we had known before the mission.  It was truly a remarkable feeling.

The beauty of the place, the closeness we felt to Heavenly Father, and the sweet kindness of the people there all converged to overwhelm us with emotions.  We knew this was the last time we would ever be there.  We wanted to do all that we could to make ever day of this trip count.                                            

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