Christmas came today! There was the stuff covered in a paper bag in the package that said to open December 1st, and we've been so excited to see what was in it that we totally spaced that the pretty wrapped layer might be supposed to wait until the 25th. But we were yelling that Santa came anyway, and it was a festive occasion! Both of us say thank you very much, and I loved the pictures of the tree! And as always, you guys have excellent taste in ties.
So this week was the grand opening of the rainy season, and it did not disappoint. Wednesday opened up the festivities with a completely out of the blue downpour. We were at Nei Nana's house on the far end of our 200 yard-long village, when the wind started picking up from the West. Westerly winds mean storms. We jumped on our bikes and sprinted home, leaves and branches coming off of trees as we went. We whipped into the Church compound, threw our bikes in the shed, Smith went for the house and I went for the outhouse. I took care of business, and the rain started to sprinkle (like, 12 second process). Walked out, heard a roar behind me, started running, as Smith yelled, "It's coming!" Sprinted and Indiana-Jones-jumped up onto the little covered landing we have next to the front door, as a wall of rainwater swept across the yard right behind me, instantly soaking everything in its path. I escaped with just a light sprinkling. Felt pretty heroic!
The rain dumped for hours, and kept up that night. At about midnight, we woke up to a huge flash and a sound like artillery. Lightning struck inside our village, and it kept up for about two hours. And the next day was doing house construction in Tabonibwa, our southern village, so we were EXHAUSTED. I've actually slept for 3 hours today because I was so tired.
So I think that last week I mentioned Akamatang, a university kid from South who asked for lessons. 18 years old, and hiding it from his hard-core Catholic parents. We had two lessons with him and his brother Birati this week, and it was AWESOME! They totally followed all of lesson 1 from front to back, which we usually have to break into 3 and review over and over. Gave them a Book of Mormon and a Restoration pamphlet. By the time we were back, Akamatang could teach the first three principles in the pamphlet better than I can. Way pumped to teach him some more!
Random fact: Diana Boren married Elder Smith's uncle. Go figure.
And Elder Smith says, "Thank you very much for my present." The first time wasn't enough. Just so y'all know, the bouncy ball is being used for Smith's back therapy, the paddle ball is being used for me to attack him with, and I beat him 4 times at chess before he was tired of it. (I can't go easy at chess.)
So it's been about 2 months since I've gotten a letter from you folks. I hope you're getting my letters, and I hope you're all healthy and happy! I was told by ZLs that I have stuff in Tarawa, but I guess senior couples just don't like me. So that's why I'm not specifically responding to any letters yet.
Apparently, at midnight on Christmas Eve, all the pigs stick a leg straight up in the air. One of our investigators claims to have seen it. We're going to watch.
Elder Smith just drew a picture of a Kiribati Elder. He's dirty, sunburned, stained shirt, filthy feet, carrying a machete and walking on water. Yup, that's us! In the army of the Lord, we're the back-woods guerillas, spending half the time fighting and half the time surviving. And . . . LOVING IT!
Hope Christmas is fantastic for you all! Many loves from the Pacific Ocean. I'll soak in some extra rays for you all! Merry Christmas, and Happy New Years.
Love, Elder Marks
P.S. Almost forgot! Tabwaia and Utita got baptized this week. Nothing better than seeing somebody you really care about all dressed up in white!
November 24, 2014
Dearly Beloved Family and Friends,
Well, my idiot companion just started talking about brownies. Hot, with ice cream on top. We're both pretty emotionally disturbed right now.
(10 minutes later). OK, I've been trying to overcome that shock and think abotu what else I could even write about. Thoughts like that are NOT good for missionaries serving on the outer islands of Kiribati. Anyway...
We have been TIRED this week. That picnic last week was fun, but didn't really provide the rest and relaxation that two hard-working Elders in Kiribati need to keep up the pace. So today has been a well-deserved lazy lounging day so far.
We had a Kiribati week this last week, getting Smith ready so he can train. He's way good at Kiribati, but it really is not the language for a Canadian and an American to use to communicate the kinds of things that we talk about. Kiribati just has a completely different mindset, so even though we both have the language capacity to express ourselves . . . I don't know, it's weird. We ended up not talking a lot. So it feels good to speak English today.
So we're pretty sure we're just going insane out here. Like, it's been almost two months since I've gotten any letters, and I kind of think the world doesn't actually exist any more. I told Elder Smith that singing and the Book of Mormon are pretty much the anchor of my life any more, because nothing else even exists.
One cool thing, Nei Nana, a great member lady, is getting a grandchild. She wanted to give it an imatang name, so she asked Smith and I our first names. Well, Sterling and Spencer are basically impossible to say in Kiribati, so we mashed together Timit and Mareko, our Kiribati names. If it's a boy, it will be Mareti, if it's a girl, then it will be Tireko, so that's cool!
Frikkin' brownies . . .
So this week I've been connecting a lot more with my Heavenly Father through fervent prayer. I think I'd let my prayers get a little dry, just being so tired that I wasn't praying with all the energy of my heart. But this week, I've really been working hard to change that, and it's made all the difference. I found a lot of scriptures in the end of the Book of Mormon (which I finished again on Saturday) to help me out with that, an important one being Moroni 7:3, which says that if we pray, and not with our hearts, it is actually evil! We aren't talking a neutral deal, it is actually an active sin, which makes sense thinking about it, because your'e mocking this incredible opportunity given us by the Almighty Creator of Everything. So I was already making that a focus, and then found that scripture and some others that really helped bolster me in that. And it is AMAZING the difference that it makes.
Spencer W. Kimball said that when he felt like deity was far away and he was feeling abandoned by God, it was because he was getting casual in his prayer habits. And . . . well, whaddya know, the prophet's right!
Also this week, yesterday we got home after a pretty rough Sunday. It got announced on the radio that Joseph Smith had 40 wives before he turned 15, and they claimed that this had been confirmed from Salt Lake City (For anybody wondering, this is NOT true.) But our branch president seemed pretty shaken up about it, and a lot of other stuff happened to make it a rough day. Got home and cracked open the Bible to where I've been reading, in the Pauline epistles. And holy crud, Paul is the MAN of not letting troubles get him down. 2 Corinthians 7:5 pretty much explained exactly how I felt, and then verse 6 reminded me how to be comforted. I love the word of the Lord! The Catholics can tell people we're werewolves, our branch president can believe random lies on the radio, but if we will place our trust in Christ, we will be comforted.
Even when our companion starts talking about brownies.
Love you all! Keep on keeping on! Say your prayers, and many thanks for the ones that go up in my behalf! The Lord lives, Hurray for Israel!
Love, Elder Marks
P.S. Found an old Liahona with pictures of Draper, Oquirrh Mountain, and SL Temples, all beautiful buildings. Temple Tour 2015!
October ?, 2014
Dearly Beloved Friends and Family,
I am exhausted. This has been one of the busiest, if not THE busiest, weeks of my mission. We have been working like there is no tomorrow, and it’s been glorious! And I just finished a bag of M&M’s. We had our first baptism! Toba Taniera. And we have a baptism planned every week of November. And this week, we ended up teaching a total of 40 lessons. Thus, I am tired. But Uncle Mark says the harder you work on your mission, the prettier your wife is, so we’re going to push harder next week!
We just got back from getting Waro, giant white prawns. The best way to do it is put some fish on a short line, go find their holes when the tide is right, (out, but still a bit of water where the holes are) and dangle the fish over the hole in the water. They have sharp arms, and so you coax them out of their hole and then get them from behind with a small hand net. However, we had neither a fishing line nor a small net, so we went old school. You have the fish in your hand, stick it in the hole, when you feel it strike, slowly coax it out, and then grab the sharp hands from the side, so it can’t nail you. Unfortunately, though we had lots of strikes, they all got back in their holes before we could grab them. So we’re going to try again later.
So, did I mention that I’m tired?
OH MY GOSH! BANANAS WITH PEANUT BUTTER! We got some itsy bitsy finger length bananas, put peanut butter on them from the package. So good! We also found some Indonesian strawberry jam, only expired a month ago. Haven’t tasted it yet, but pretty excited.
This evening we’ll be attending a family home evening. FHEs are funny here, because the majority of the folks in a given village are related, so sometimes they’ll all just combine and make it a big party. The folks in Nuatabu invited us today, they want us to teach them a Christmas song they can sing at the branch Christmas party in December. Going to teach them “Iaon Iuta te Aba ne Ravoa” (Far Far Away on Judea’s Plains) because it’s in the song book, but nobody here seems to know it. So we’ll teach them!
Anyway, I’m going to take a nap, because I’m too tired to think of what more to write. I love you all, and wish you all the best! Keep on keeping on, and say your prayers EVERY DAY, no matter how tired you are! And make it legitimate communication with your Father in Heaven, who loves you even more than I do! But not that much more! Best of luck, you’re in my prayers!
P.S. The stars in Kiribati are glorious!
P.S.S. If y’all could get the attached pictures to the correct recipients, I’d be much obliged.
October ? 2014
Dearly Beloved Friends and Family,
First of all, remember the strawberry jam I told you about a while back? Well, I’ve been using it with peanut butter and these little rolls that people make here to create my own little pieces of heaven out here. And, I’m munching on them as I write this letter.
And It’s been another week out here! Elder Smith was sick on Tuesday (so we stayed home all day. And there is NOTHING worse than taking a day off AFTER P-Day. Made me as stir crazy as an investigator trying to mix a drink out of 6-month-old clumped up Tang. Trust me, it’s a lot of stirring. (Random note: “Tang” in Kiribati is pronounced with a long a sound, and means “cry”.)
So that put us behind for the week with all the folks in Tabambara that we’re preparing for baptism, but oh well. Things up in Tearmibai and Nuatabu are going SUPER well. The lady that I think I talked about last week, Karita, has kept getting powerful answers to prayer. We still haven’t been able to sit down and lesson with here, because her husband has been getting so much work that he hasn’t gotten back yet, but in our times of swinging by, seeing if he was back yet, she was always just gushing about how she used to be this lazy person, but now she just has so much energy and wants to do stuff. People have asked her what happened, and she says, “I’m no good at preaching or explaining” (like her husband, who was apparently already talking about the Restoration with their neighbors) “so I just tell them my story, just from me. I’ve been praying, and God’s been dropping blessings from heaven!”
And I’m just thinking, a heart-felt testimony like that is all you need, sister. We dropped a Plan of Salvation pamphlet off at noon on Saturday, she read the whole thing that day up to the questions in the back, and then decided to go through the questions and looked up the connected scriptures for her Sabbath. Holy crud! I don’t think I’ve ever had an investigator read all the way through to the questions, much less actually go through the scriptures and answer them! We’ve legitimately had lessons twice, and she’s already got one of her neighbors wanting to have lessons. Awesome!
And then there’s Thomas and Tiim. They’re the ones that used to be hard-core Catholics, his Dad wasn’t going to let them change religions, but their hearts told them they needed to come to Church, and they thought it was more important to listen to the Holy Ghost than to his Dad. They used to be hard core Catholics, so all their friends told them that if they converted, they were becoming werewolves and would burn in Hell. But they know where they feel the Holy Ghost, so they’re not caring about those folks. That’s a pretty common thing for Catholics to say out here, and on Maakin they even tell people that they’ll be damned just for talking to the Elders. But even despite all that persecution, when they DO listen, and they read and pray, they feel the Spirit, and then things people say don’t really matter.
Like Taabita, daughter of a Catholic Father. Prayed to know if Thomas S. Monson was a true prophet, and said, “I was amazed, maybe 3 days after I prayed, I just knew! I knew it was true.” Now she’s starting to read 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon, and walks an hour to church every week, with her 6-year-old, her two-year-old, and carrying her little baby. Pretty sure she’s the best member on this island, and . . . Getting baptized on Saturday! Along with Thomas and Tiim! Such happiness!
Anyway, we do have lots more people, but those folks are the superstars that make all the hard times worth it. In other news, we found out that the mail hasn’t left Tarawa Ieta in 3 or 4 weeks, and we haven’t gotten anything either. So who knows, maybe we’ll hear from each other by the time I get transferred! I love you all, eat some ice cream for me, wishing you all the best! Beomi te mauri, te raoi, no te tabamoa, kam bati n rabwa!
P.S. OK, Smith is a basketball guru, but doesn’t know squat about BYU football. How’d we do this year?
Dearly Beloved Family and Friends,
It’s been another CRAZY tiring week. After already being exhausted from the super busy week last week, we had service down south moving somebody’s house, which was an all-day, heavy-lifting process. That meant that 4 days out of the week, we made the hour-long bike ride down and the hour-long bike ride back. Fasted Friday and Sunday (special fast in the Pacific on Friday) so we were spending hours biking with nothing in our stomachs, so, last night, we got home, finished daily planning, gave each other a big high five for actually surviving the week, then stuffed our faces on crackers and peanut butter. So we’re feeling fantastic now!
On top of that, we’ve had some great stuff happen this week. We showed up at the house of Euri and Karita, a couple we just started teaching. He ended up being in South Tarawa, working, so we were going to just drop off a Book of Mormon and come back later, and then she started telling us a story. Before we started teaching them, she was part of another church, which doesn’t use the same mode of prayer that we get from John 16/3 Nephi 18. She said she prayed and prayed, and nothing ever happened, until she was tired praying. We started lessoning with them, and she started praying every day again, but this time to the Father in the name of Christ. And she was amazed at the difference. She and Enri used to be angry with each other every time he’d get back from working in South. But this last time he got back, and they weren’t angry! At all! Before, they’d get in arguments every day, but ever since they started praying that they wouldn’t be angry, they haven’t been. He got another job in South (He’s a job-to-job electrical contractor) but they were out of food and out of money. She told him to just go and she’d figure things out. She stayed with their two little kids. They prayed, and were trying to figure out how they were going to get food, and people just started coming by and dropping off food for them. So she said, “Before I was tired of praying, but now I know that if we just put everything in the hands of God, He’ll take care of us. Maybe this is His way of telling us this is His way.”
So that was way cool. I love when people can really feel the blessings of the Gospel in their lives. That’s what makes it all worth it! It’s interesting to me (interesting isn’t the word I want, Kakukurei is. Ah well) how it doesn’t matter that a Kiribati person’s needs and concerns are completely different from an American’s, but God is willing to give all of us the help that we need.
In other news, we just learned how to make hammocks. Thinking that could be a great way to make some money when I get home. Does anybody know the going rate for hammocks?
Right now, I’m writing this letter from a member family’s house in Nuatabu. Maroo says, “A Kamawingkami kain Nuatabu. Kam na tekeraoi iroun te Vea, ao ai moara rik, Kam na tekeraoi n te Kiritimati ae booa!” (The folks from Nuatabu say hi. Good luck in the Lord, and Merry Christmas!) (Except it sounds much more formal before translation.) Takimati and Takaru also say hi.
Funny story. So, there are LOADS of dogs in Kiribati, and they chase you at night. However, slam on your brakes and they run like little girls. Lately, though, they’ve been nipping at our heels, not running, so we got some sticks. They start chasing and barking, BOOM! Elder Smith and I have each gotten one. Last night, one started chasing us that used to be pretty aggressive, stayed about 15 ft. back. He learned his lesson!
Anyway, I love you all! Hope things are going well back in America! Best of luck on everything and when life gets dark and dreary, don’t forget to pray!
P.S. – The folks here are all incredibly impressed that I’ve actually played pool, and there was even a table in my dorm at BYU. I miss playing pool at college!
November 17, 2014
Dearly Beloved Family and Friends,
Right now, I’m lying on a hammock under a noni tree next to a beach overlooking the Pacific Ocean. A soft ocean breeze is blowing, the coconut leaves are rustling softly, the kids all just got back from swimming, and the men of the branch are out with fishing nets catching lunch. I figure that by the time this letter gets home, you’ll all be freezing your tails off, and sick and tired of snow and ice. Not that I’m making fun of you or anything.
Niibo, an adorable little 7-year-old girl from the branch, says hi to my grandparents.
Today, the branch is having a picnic at Naa, the very farthest end of Tarawa. They were going to do it on Saturday, but when they found out we could only come on Monday, they changed it, which was way cool. Showed up at our house, in a flat-bed truck at 10, and we all headed out. So here we are! Glorious times.
It’s been a great week too. Had a great big marriage, 6 couples got married, and then Taabita. There are some young girls that are jealous of Niibo. Utita says hi to my mom and dad, and Tioba says “Honour thy father and thy mother.” (We taught them all the 10 commandments.) Taabita had a great baptism; she has been waiting SO long for that. (Tabwaia, little boy, says he loves all of my brothers.) She broke down crying bearing her testimony afterward. I was ridiculously happy for her. (Teroataa, 6th grade girl, says she loves my whole family.) And we’re going to start working with her husband so he can quit smoking. (Tabera says hi to my whole family and wishes them luck in the Christmas this year.) So it’s going gloriously out here! (Taane, mother of some of these girls, says she’s going to make mom a purse for Christmas, she says hi to my mom, my grandma, my grandpa, my dad, my brothers which are twins, and my whole family. Good luck in the Christmas, and in the new year.)
It’s been another tiring one, to be honest. Had a woman give birth next door, maybe 10 feet from our window. Not that I know much about giving birth, but it sounded like a tough one, she was groaning/yelling from 10 PM to 2 AM, and possibly longer, but I fell asleep at that point. But the little baby’s out now, and he seems healthy!
Also this week, AP’s came to visit! They were on their way out to Abaiang, but they stopped by to say hi, see how we’re doing. Elder Smith, my old MTC comp, is AP, so that was way cool to see him! They let us know that we’ll probably both be staying at least until New Year’s, and they aren’t pulling us in for Christmas. So, I guess we’ll skype at some point after that! Also, there’s a zone conference that just happened, with another 70 who came. So that means that there’s only going to be one more zone conference my whole mission. If I miss that, I’ll have served a zone conferenceless mission. Also, Elder Smith said that President Weir is really happy with the work we’re doing out here. That was cool, it’s nice to get a pat on the back every once in a while.
So that’s life out here on Tarawa Ieta! Despite the warm sun, the ocean breeze, the fresh fish and lobster, and all the other crippling trials we face, we’re still pushing on! I REALLY hope you’re all actually getting these letters, cause if you aren’t it’s going to let down a bunch of Kiribati children! Hope you all have a fantastic Christmas as well, go skiing for me, enjoy seeing friends and family, and tell them all that I love and miss them! I love y’all very muchly, pray for you always, and wish you nothing but the very best! Have a glorious Christmas and a brilliant New Year!
P.S. Met a swede this week who was just chilling here on vacation! From Europe to Kiribati is a long way! Champion!
September 13, 2014
Dear Family! (and everybody else too!)
So, it occurred to me this week that I really should be writing letters every week, even if it does take forever to get back there, so sorry for taking so long for the first one! I'm repenting now. Also, I forgot to bring anybody's addresses out here, so . . . I guess if you want to hear from me personally send something with your address on it to the mission home! Preferably a letter! And pictures are AWESOME too!
Well, this has been a fantastic week! Started off pretty rough work-wise, so many lesson fall-throughs, but we made a stunning comeback, worked our scrawny little tushes off, and did so much on Saturday that Elder Smith got heat stroke [I think he means heat exhaustion] and we had to stay home on Sunday. He's fine now, though. Staying home was cool, though, because I got to see Sunday morning session of the April General Conference, which was great! LOVED Elder Uchtdorf's talk about being grateful. There should definitely be a link to it on the website. So true what he says about gratefulness being more of a state of mind than being grateful FOR things. I remember being on Nonouti, having a tough time, and thinking that I needed to be more grateful, and I had a hard time because I could only think of being grateful FOR things that I DIDN'T have anymore. It really doesn't help anything. Just having our hearts drawn out in gratitude at all times, however, does wonders. So ya, watch that talk! [insert link here, if possible]
Sorry, Greg and Justin, the baptism for yalls's birthday didn't happen, they never actually managed to get the book with the papers we need out here, so it's postponed for two weeks. Late Birthday Present!
So, one of the great things about working here is that since we don't have internet, we get to report stats over CB radio every week. When we do that we get to chat with all the OTHER missionaries with no internet, so we get MISSION GOSSIP! Or something like that. So here's what's going on in the Kiribati mission. Basically, President Weir wants to open up every island in the mission, including little tiny ones, because whenever he does, there is always huge, instant success there. For example, Kuria (little tiny island) just got opened up, and had 70 progressing investigators in less than a month. People that are from the Church but move to islands without it can come back, and it's just hugely successful. So, he's requested a 50% increase in the force here, to allow Elders to get to every island. So whereas before, new missionaries came every 3 months, now they're coming once very 6 weeks, and there are a lot of them, 30 something of them now that are 6 months or younger. And after the intake goes home in early December, my intake will be the oldest here. So, SUPER young mission. Just counted, 20 of us over 6 months right now. So everybody is training and opening new islands, and President has his sights set on even MORE outies, that nobody ever thought would be opened. So it's an exciting time to be a missionary here!
Other news . . . Totally learned how to find clams/oysters (koumwara? don't know in English) this week! Tasty when boiled.
So ya! Here's hoping this letter gets to y'all this month! Sending you love flavored with coconut milk! The Gospel of Christ brings joy and peace to all who follow it! Pick something to be better at this week so that by the time you get another letter from me, you'll have received more blessings!
Love, Elder Marks /signed
P.S. Hymn 263, Go Forth with Faith, is a brilliant missionary hymn! P.S.S. You folks should definitely let me know how long it takes for these letters to get there! It took about about 2 weeks from there to here!