Saturday, September 10, 2016

Our final trip to Fiji

While we have loved all of our mission experiences (well...ALMOST all),  we have especially enjoyed the times we spent in Fiji.   We were grateful we got to go back one last time before returning home.   Here is a summary of this trip:

WEDNESDAY – 31 August  Travel Day

We left Auckland at 9:45 on Wednesday morning, so we got into Nadi shortly after noon.   We picked up our rental car and headed for Suva.   We had a bit of a delay by getting turned around in Sigatoka.  We stopped briefly for a “pit stop” and then took the wrong road on the way out.  After travelling about a half hour we hit gravel road so we knew we were in the wrong place.  After back tracking to town we recognized where we made our mistake and got ourselves back on track.

We arrived in Suva  a bit after 6:00 PM.   Having been there several times before, this time we knew right where to go to find the temple and service centre.   The office was closed, but our key to the apartment where we would be staying at Patron housing had been left with the gate guard, so we were able to settle in with no problems. The accommodations were simple, but very comfortable. It was wonderful to have the option of staying there which was so convenient for our trainings and for attending the temple.  We made a quick trip to a supermarket nearby to pick up a few groceries.   Then we tucked ourselves in to bed early as we had a big day ahead the following day.

Nadi to Sigatoka to Suva, not showing the wrong-turn-detour we took

Fiji countryside along the way

THURSDAY –  1st Sep  Mission Council & Temple day
As always, it was wonderful to connect again with our dear friends,  Brother & Sister Senikuraciri.  That morning the four of us had a meeting with Elder Johannson , the Area Seventy for Fiji.  He gave wise council on the importance of teaching the doctrine and shared thoughts on how the work was going forward.  We had a good discussion about the needs of the leaders in Fiji in terms of understanding their responsibilities for Family History work.

Us with Elder Adolph Johannson

Next we gave a presentation to the Fiji Mission council.  The Mission council is made up of the Mission President and his wife, the Assistants, plus  all the zone leaders and sister trainers.   There were about twenty people present.   

This was the same training we had presented twice at the MTC in New Zealand, which includes videos showing young missionaries teaching about family history with investigators and also with a new member.   

We stressed the important role of having all new converts engaged in taking family names to the temple as soon as possible after baptism as this has been shown to be a key factor in new member retention.  Everyone there was very receptive and engaged throughout the training.  Afterward President Layton thanked us, saying he was very pleased with the message we had shared.  He and his wife had a training discussion planned with the group for later in the day about how to give effective presentations.  He felt our training was a great example.   We felt good about how things went and hoped it would help strengthen the family history efforts in Fiji.

We didn't take any photos from this training.
This is a picture of  us with President and Sister Layton from
 our previous visit in July 2015.

That afternoon we went to the temple.  This was our fourth time in Fiji, yet the first time we were able to attend the temple here, since the Suva temple  had been closed for an extended time for renovations during all our previous mission visits   Even though the things we do and what we hear in the temple are the same where ever we go, we always enjoy feeling the special spirit that is unique to each one.  We were grateful to add Suva Fiji temple to the others we had experienced throughout our mission.

MormonNewsroom Photo
FRIDAY – 2 Sept   Planning day
We spent much of Friday prayerfully revising our presentation for a tri-stake training of leaders from Nausori, Suva and Suva North.  Following the council we had been given from Elder Johannson, we wanted to stay very close to the doctrine and do all that we could to be sure Priesthood leaders fully understood their responsibilities.  We added  videos that  focused specifically on the  responsibilities of the Stake presidency, bishop, high council advisor and high priest group leader as well as the role of ward and stake councils. 

That afternoon Bro Senikuraciri and their daughter, Maggie, came to the service centre and had lunch with us.  (Sis. Senikuraciri had a previous commitment).  They brought the ingredients to make my favorite Fiji dish - fresh seaweed salad.  It was yummy!  

That evening we did another session at the temple (again taking family names).  This would most likely be the last time we would be attending the temple during our mission so when we were asked to serve as witness couple it felt very special.

SATURDAY – 3 Sept Tri-Stake Training
Saturday morning we met with leadership from Nausori, Suva and Suva North stakes.  We enjoyed catching up with folks who we had met before.   Several of them asked me about how my hand was doing since they remembered me being in a cast when I was there in July 2015 since I had fallen and broken my wrist.  I was glad that this time around  I had full use of BOTH hands!

The training was very well received with lots of good questions.   One of the bishops in particular commented that he had not fully understood his role in this work and he firmly committed to do things differently in the future.  At several points in the training we felt very much that the Lord was guiding our words.
Elder & Sister Bennett with Seruwaia and Tueri Senikuriciri

 After the meeting there was pizza for all and some  relaxed, happy visiting.  Then we got back on the road for another long drive, returning to the west side to do trainings in Lautoka Stake.  

After the busy morning in Suva and then the 4+ hour drive to Lautoka we were pretty beat by the time we arrived.  The four of us went out to dinner, then returned to our rooms at the Tanoa Waterfront to get some much needed sleep.

SUNDAY – 4 Sept  Lautoka Stake training   
We went to church in Lautoka the following morning.  It was Father’s day  so all the men were given candy leis.  

Elder Bennett and Brother Senikuraciri with their Father's Day leis

That afternoon we presented  a training for  leaders from Lautoka stake.  We had planned to do the same presentation we had used for the Tri-Stake training in Suva, but when we arrived both Larry and I strongly felt that was not the training they needed to hear.  We really did not have a back up plan, we just knew we needed to adjust what we said.  We prayed about it and then followed the guidance of the spirit, putting together something on the fly from previous Find/Take/Teach presentations.   We both felt this was the right approach for this particular group.

Lautoka Stake Training
After our part, President Reddy (2nd counsellor in the Stake Presidency) bore a strong testimony about the importance of family history work and how our presentation had taught him the essential role of sharing stories.  We also had several people in the group come up to us and tell us how much that training had impacted them personally.  Both Larry and I were feeling very grateful for the guidance of the spirit and learning to trust the Lord as we teach.

Pres Reddy - 2nd Counselor in Lautoka Stake Presidency
(photo taken on our earlier visit in October 2015)

This was a reminder to us that none of the work we do is about us or what our priorities may be.  It is the Lord’s work, and we need to stay close to the Spirit so we can receive the inspiration we need to know what is most needful with each group we serve.

Lautoka Sunset

Big trees on the road into Lautoka

MONDAY – 5 Sept Nadi
We had an early breakfast in the hotel the next morning and then headed out to Nadi to help people in the Family History Centre.  We had hoped to get several people to submit family names.  That was not how it turned out.  The only people who came were the FHC director, one of the bishops and his wife and mother-in-law.   However, what we lacked in numbers we made up for in spirit.  

We focused on helping the bishop and his wife both learn how to sign on as helpers and made sure they understood how to use the basic functions of FamilySearch.   Then I helped  the mother-in-law,  a 76 year old woman named Sister Tubu.  We added a photo of her to her page and then put in personal memories.  She told me stories of her parents and of her life which I typed into the memories section for her.  She was very joyous to be able to do this.

The Bishop did find a name to submit and the FHC director had several good questions. Some important concerns were expressed and we were glad to could be a resource for them.

TUES – 6 Sept Lautoka FHCThe next day was a rather discouraging day.  Both Larry and I were feeling  some stomach distress, probably due to the change in diet and water.  We were tired.  Also, after the strong spiritual highs of other trainings, this day left did not feel nearly as powerful. 
We spent several hours in the Lautoka FHC.  The director and two consultants were the only people who came.  I spent most of the time there helping one of the consultants merge MANY duplicates in her tree.    Elder Bennett worked on generating PKI reports.

We talked with each other later that evening about what we might have done to be more effective.  We made the suggestion to Bro. Senikuraciri that in future some FHC  sessions be planned for evening rather than the middle of the day so whoever was doing the training would be available to people who have work commitments.

WED – 7 Sept  Tavua FHC

From Lautoka to Tavua

We had a WONDERFUL experience on Wednesday working with the Simpson family in Tavua.  This family are all new converts, having been baptized the previous March.  The two older youth (Alexander and Melba) had attended one temple trip.  The next brother  in line, Stanley, was planning to go on the next one.  The younger sister, Channell, was so eager to be included but since she was not yet 12 we had to tell her she could get a FamilySearch account after her birthday.   Their mom, Georgeann, knew limited information about the first three generations of her family, but nothing beyond her grandparents.   They were all eager to learn whatever they could.   
The Simpson Family with their Family 15 chart

We took our time setting each of them up with emails so we could open new FamilySearch accounts for them individually.   Then we began the slow, careful work of putting in whatever information they might know.  Georgeann  called her father on the phone to get some information about his grandparents.  With that, we were able to connect to some existing lines in the system.

Each one of the youth identified a family name to take to the temple.  We talked about the principles of vicarious work for the dead and what it meant.  We showed them the video on Promised Blessings of family history.  Then we went back to the computers and did a bit more work.  With a couple merges of duplicates a whole new line opened up including photos of the great-great grandparents.  The children were thrilled and there was much excited chatter.  Stanley was sitting with me when the photos first appeared.  His eyes grew big and he smiled bigger than I have ever seen anyone smile.  He kept saying over and over – that’s my FAMILY!

Melba said “ I LOVE doing family history!  I could do this all day!”

Georgeann said: “ most of my family disowned me when we joined this church so I felt  like I don’t have anyone.  Now I see I have way more family than I ever could have known.” 

Excitement over family information and names submitted for temple work
Just as we thought we were finishing up,  Elder Bennett started working with one of the kids on the Sorby familly line.   By adding just one more name that connected with previously entered information,  the tree populated all the way back to the 1500s.   If we thought they had been excited before, that was nothing compared to the sky rocket of emotions when they saw all these names appear.  

After finishing all we could do with the Simpson family I worked with another young girl who was living with the Bishop and his wife.   This girl was quite young, (about 13?) so I was not sure how much she would be able to tell me about her family tree.  She simply said “I know them.  My Aunti Tubo has taught me”.  She then proceeded to fill in her Family 15 from memory.   In addition to names, she knew many of the places and dates.    I was VERY impressed by her knowledge and her absolute desire to take family names to the temple.    

By the time we were all done with the work in Tavua we were exhausted, but exhilarated.  It was a very good day.    This taught us that when things are not going as we might hope (as they had the previous day) that we need to keep faithful, not get discouraged, trusting that the Lord has further doors to open.


THURS – 8 Sep  BillionGraves  and Nadi FHC
Thursday morning we went to the Lautoka cemetery to document graves to add to BillionGraves.  While we were familiar with the service, this was our first time using the app.  It took us a bit of time to figure out exactly how to use it.  Once we got the hang of it, however, we were very pleased with the result.  By taking pictures of headstones using the BillionGraves app, each image is tagged with the GPS coordinates of where they are located.  Then after the images are uploaded, the website provides fields to input the information on the stones so that all the names a properly indexed and searchable online.  We took photos of about 60 graves and then indexed them.

That evening we went back to Nadi FHC where we met again with the Bishop and his wife that we had worked with previously.   Sister Colata  had been unable to get into her account for several months because it had been locked when she did not update her password (as an institute teacher she is required to do this periodically.  She had not understood why she needed to do this and had ignored the email prompts she had received).   We went through all the steps to get her a new password, needing to call the Global Service number to have it reset.  She was thrilled to have her access restored.

We then worked with Sister Senikuraciri  who had forgotten her password.  We made sure both of them knew all the steps for password resets as this is a very common problem.   Once they were able to get in, both of these sisters found names to submit and felt very blessed.   

Then, Elder Bennett worked with another lady who had come in to do some family history work.  She was able to submit her own parents and grandparents for ordinances.  Tears rolled down her cheeks as she held the printed cards.   It is always wonderful to help people to identify kindred dead who they can do temple work for, but when it is immediate family it is especially sacred.  

By the time we got back to our hotel it was nearly 10:00 PM.  We were exhausted, but feeling very grateful.

After having worked hard every day we decided we would  take our last day in Fiji to enjoy some of the beauty.  After breakfast we drove out to Denarau and took a day cruise on the ship OO LA LA out to Savala island.   We very much enjoyed taking time to relax, reflect and reminisce about all our many experiences in Fiji throughout the different trips we have made there on the mission.

Port Denarau

Our ship - the OoLaLa

After a relaxing sail over to Savala island we set anchor in the deep water.
Then everyone transferred from the OoLaLa
over to the island by a small boat that could go right up to the  shore

One of the many beautiful boats we saw on the water that day

When we got back into port we had a nice dinner at the Mexican restaurant in the Wyndham hotel.  It was truly a lovely day that help us to rejuvenate and seemed a fitting goodbye to the country that has been so special to us.

We met that evening back at the hotel with the Senikuraciris to transfer some resource files onto their laptop and do a final debrief before leaving.  

They had gone back to Lautoka FHC that evening and had helped several people, two of which needed to have passwords retrieved.   One lady had not been into her account for four years because after she forgot her password she didn't know what to do about it, then became discouraged.    Sister Senikuraciri was glad that we had just taught her the steps for this so she could in turn show others.

When adding these new folks to the collection of those we had already worked with it added up to 18 people we had helped find family names to submit for temple work.  In addition there were quite a few leaders and missionaries  who now had a better understanding of their role in supporting family history work.  All in all it felt like it had been a successful trip.

We again emphasized the short term family history workshops which could be done with individuals or families by invitation and we went over the goals and priorities for the area.
Finally it was time to call it a night, knowing we would be flying back to New Zealand the next day.  Sister Senikuraciri and I both shed some tears as we expressed our love for one another and hoped that we would see each other again.

Saturday - 10 Sept   Return to Auckland

Saturday went by in a blur of final packing, travel to the airport, then the familiar three hour flight back to New Zealand.  Then came the unpacking, doing laundry, getting resettled into our Takapuna flat.   It's starting to really hit me that in just 23 days all this will be over.  We will be going back to America where we will take off our badges and be just regular people again instead of full time ambassadors for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

My emotions have been on a roller coaster as I have anticipating saying our final goodbyes.  There is so much I will miss about this mission.   I worry about losing this sense of purpose and deep spirituality when we are back to regular "civilian" life.   Even though we are both committed to staying as close to the gospel as we can,  I know it will be different.   I know I will miss my badge and my chances to touch people's lives in such powerful ways.

When we had our last meeting with the Senikuraciris on Friday night Seruawaia told me about a conversation she had with a lady who came in to the FHC there in Lautoka.  The woman spoke about the training we had done on Sunday evening to members of her stake and how it had motivated her to want to come in to get help with getting her password back.  She said how it made her feel "alive" when she heard us speaking.   I know that it wasn't just us and how we present that gave her that feeling.   We work in absolute partnership with Heavenly Father in each and every one of these trainings.  I believe what the woman experienced was feeling an outpouring of the spirit.  The only way she knew how to describe it was to say when she heard us talk she felt "alive".   I know that feeling well.  I hope I can hold on to that long after this mission ends.  

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