I'm also jealous of pancakes and eggs. And orange juice. Sometimes they leave the karewe here a bit long, it gets old, and they say it tastes like orange juice because it has a bit of a bite to it, but... Well, they've never tasted orange juice. I'll be expecting our house to be fully stocked next year! :)
Anyway, for this week, I'm going to start off with Monday of last week! Because it was CRAZY!!! We took a day trip to Nomatong, an islet on the far North side of Nonouti, famous for being a bird sanctuary. SO MANY BIRDS. We hopped on a small boat (public boat, so it's legal), and took a couple hour journey up there. We got there, and were amazed at how many birds there were! And then we actually set foot on the island. :)
We started on the North side, but traveled south to where they laid their eggs. And holy crud! Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds, Kiribati style. It was crazy! Their eggs were in the process of hatching, so they were pretty angry at us, and Tokarerei and I both got stick to beat them away. I got video, you'll all have to wait for that. :) But it was amazing! I'm sending pictures home today that should give you a little bit of an idea. And it was so loud!
So then, when it was all over (Tokarerei was legitimately scared that the birds were going to peck out our eyes. I couldn't really blame him, so we left early) we hopped on the boat and went back. I sat up front, and it was amazing! These are coral islands, so in the shallower parts of the lagoon you can see the reef from your boat. I saw 2 turtles, 5 rays, and hundreds of other fish! And I think an eel, but it moved to fast to say for sure. It was SO COOL! And just the beauty of it all... Not gonna lie, I almost cried at the beauty of it, I was feeling so grateful to God. He really did make everything just about perfect for us! All and all, it was a great day.
So then, this week. For Taekan te Aro, our release time seminary, I took a page out of the book of a great seminary teacher of mine and started filming a movie. :) The story of the first couple chapters of 1 Nephi. You'll all have to see it when I get home!
And we got a new bike! It has brakes! My amazing companion let me have it. It's newly oiled, the seat pad isn't shredded, and yes, it has brakes. So I'm happy. :)
Funny story. Karewe (pronounced Kareve) is the favorite drink here. It's the sap of the coconut tree, and they'll drink it straight, or mixed with water, or boiled and then mixed with water, or any number of other ways. One night, we had dinner with a family, and they gave us cups of water and then some straight karewe to mix in with it. Elder David put his in first, it wasn't very sweet, so he added in quite a bit more. I put in just enough to be polite, I don't like it very strong. We drank it, and you could tell it was kind of old. Usually, not a big issue, but one thing about karewe, if it sits for three days, it turns into super strong alcohol. So as we were going home, I could feel a burning all the way down my throat into my stomach. And my companion said his head was spinning. So... Ya. First time I've drunk alcohol my whole life was as a Mormon missionary,
being fed by members.
Also, the Kiribati Protestant Church, KPC, has pretty much declared war on us. The Catholics have told their people for a while not to talk to us, and now the KPC is actively targeting our people with what we'd call reactivation efforts. And we found out about it, and I was pretty frustrated about it. We're biking along, and I'm thinking, "Gosh dang it. They have money, mwaneabas, cars, around 8 paid and schooled missionaries on the island plus various support people, and the full weight of Kiribati culture and tradition behind them, along with the help of the government. And what have we got? Two Elders who are willing to bike their behinds off for the... oh, right, the Truth. We've got the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, along with His Holy Priesthood, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and the Book of Mormon. Okay, we can do this." :) Good realization.
Things are still going to be tough here, but it's going to be all right.
Anyway, this is another big one, hope things are going well back there! Love y'all, keep rocking worlds! The Church is true!
Love, Elder Marks
Letter of July 21, 2014
Ya, I remember changing parts to follow you. :) Always a good time. I daresay, I got pretty good at it, especially considering that sometimes you'd switch parts every beat. :) [When Spencer learned to sing parts, he would sing the part I was singing in church, and I would change parts to give him a workout on his own part, but he would often follow me, knowing full-well what he was going, and it got to be a game. That's what he's talking about here.]
And through the ages! Holy crud! I've been craving that game SO BAD this last week! Not gonna lie, glad you guys aren't playing much, I was worried I was going to get creamed when I got back. :)
As far as this week, holy CRUD it's been craziness! I'm going to just see how far I get with the time, and then finish the rest next week. :)
First of all, remember how last week I was involved in a Kiribati singing contest? Turns out, I got third place! Which has a money prize! Also, turns out that I was signed up by a KPC Fundraising group, and they heard I came in third before I did, so they got the money. Ah well, easy come, easy go. :)
Then the big important stuff from this week. When President Weir came here, he said that the biggest thing we need here is a stronger Melchizedek Priesthood. There were two men who received the Melchizedek Priesthood at that time, and he wanted us to prepare everybody else. And we have several men who really should be, but they aren't worthy. So, we planned a Priesthood Meeting to End All Priesthood Meetings. :) Invited ALL men of the church, personally, most of them multiple times. Studied the Priesthood, in the Standard Works, Missionary Reference Library, and both 2013 Conference Reports. Found the Come Follow Me youth curriculum CDs, and lined up a TV and DVD player. (Holy crud, that sounds so easy to an American ear. :P ) And the electricity to make them run! Asked two men to give experiences they've had with the Melchizedek Priesthood, healing the sick, one of them a less active returned missionary. And lined up rides so that everybody from the North would be able to come. Now that I'm actually writing this all out, I'm amazed that it happened.
No telephones, and we have a broken bike so we've been borrowing bikes. But the day came, we had the meeting (not without many problems the day of, but it worked out) and people came! Including 4 less active men, one of whom has a beautiful, faithful family that is in desperate need of a dad who doesn't drink and smoke all the time. And we watched the Restoration, talked about the Priesthood, and people GOT IT. Especially that guy with the family. I was talking at the end, bearing my testimony and exhorting them to do anything they had to to be worthy, and I looked into his eyes, and I could see it. He came to church the next day, along with EVERY SINGLE ONE of the less active men who had come. AAAAAAHHH!!!!!! SO HAPPY!!!!!!! Honestly, I feel like that meeting may have been why I was assigned to Nonouti.
I personally learned so much about the Priesthood, and gained such a great respect for it, and I think that through that meeting, lives were changed out here on Nonouti. So now we just have to follow through, get those men busy building their faith, and I think that we'll have a powerful force of God's servants here on Nonouti.
So, one of the events that kind of intertwined with that one, because it was the same day. There we are, running around trying to make sure that everybody is going to come, and we run into Kaiea, one of our strongest members, who lives way up North. Turns out, he was down South because his wife, a teacher, was at a workshop (yes, teachers even workshop in Kiribati!) and he was driving the motorcycle. BAD NEWS, because he was giving our returned missionary who was going to speak a ride. And then Tamwati (thomas) who was kind of our back-up, was also in town because his wife is ALSO a teacher. Well, crudnuggets. So we run around town, find Tamwati, see what his plan is, and it turns out that Burenton, that returned missionary, is actually not in his house twenty miles to the North, but at the hospital in town with his sick wife, who is about to be flown to Tabiteuea for emergency surgery.
So we run over there to check on them. We find them there, and not in good shape. It's Saturday, they're waiting for the Monday flight, and all they have for food is a quarter of a pot of rice, a little bit of sugar for their drink (Kiribati people don't drink straight water, they always put sugar in it.) They have relatives in town, who they thought would come and help, but they haven't showed up. Well, that won't do. It's almost time for the meeting, but there's going to be a potluck after, so we say that we'll get food for them from that. And we look around, assess what else they need (they don't have a blanket, or money for their 3 year old daughter to join them on the airplane, or some other stuff) and run off. Seriously, as we were looking around, I thought, "so this is what being a bishop feels like." :P
Anyway, we run, have the SMASHINGLY good meeting, and ask everybody there if they can bring two or three dollars the next day for the ticket for the little girl. We also fill a great big mixing bowl up with food from the potluck, and then David and I went to the store to buy some sugar, soap, candy for the girl, and other stuff they needed. Then we went to their house and dropped it all off. We chatted with them for a bit, and Burenton started crying, talking about how their relatives (his wife's brother) weren't doing anything for them, but we were doing everything we could to take care of them, and how they said they loved them, but we actually did love them. And it's true. I've never seen Burenton at church, but I love the crud out of the guy. And this is what we do. We help people in need, whether it's spiritual or temporal. It felt good. I'm really sad to see them go.
So then Sunday, all of our people came to church! :) It was glorious! And we didn't bring enough crackers, so up North we used coconuts for the sacrament! Grand times. :)
Anyway, yesterday was also crazy, but that'll have to wait until next week. Until then, love y'alls! The work is grand! The Savior lives and loves us! He's restored His Gospel, and given us the power to do His Work on the Earth! I LOVE THE GOSPEL! And I love y'all too. :) Have a fantastic week! Love, Elder Marks
Letter of July 13, 2014
It's good to hear about all that! Man, scout camp... Those were the days! :) Glad everybody had such a great time, and tell Steve Burnett that he's the man! :) [I told Spencer about Steve winning the scoutmaster belly flop contest with his Captain America routine.]
The Temple! Shoots, when I get back, we need to go! We're out here, trying to get people all set up to go to Fiji for two weeks for the temple, and I lived an hour and half drive away from one! ARGH!!! So, repenting when I get back!
The last two weeks have been, well, really something! :) Didn't email last week because it was Kiribati Independence, so all communications to the island were shut down for a week so the council could go on break. :P Couldn't get much work done because everybody was busy partying, but we did what we could!
Thursday, we were doing our comp study, and one of our investigators from down south showed up at house, said, "hey, you going to the mwaneaba (big public meeting house) today?" "Um... Why?" "You aren't going to sing?" "Uh... (me knowing that there's a great big karaoke competition today, which is more like battle of the bands here.) I didn't sign up..." "Oh, it's okay, we already signed up for you!"
Oh great. :P We didn't have any plans for the day anyway, because all of our people were going to be at that competition, and he was looking pretty hurt that I didn't seem like I wanted to do it, so I just said what the heck and said I'd do it. So, I wrote a song in Kiribati, but didn't have a keyboard to practice on. (For the competition it was me singing and also playing my own keyboard. Everybody else had their own keyboard player, but you kind of need to practice for that. :P )
So three hours after knowing I was performing, I was standing up and singing a song I'd just written in a language that I didn't know existed a year and a half ago! Then when it was done, they told me, "Oh, that was just a warm-up, you need another song to sing for the actual competition." So while the other competitors were going, I wrote patriotic Kiribati words to "Rockin' Robin", and performed that too! What a day... :P
Also, for OUR independence day, well, I'm the only American on the island, so I woke up singing all the American songs I could remember! Felt kind of weird, knowing that it wasn't the fourth in America, though... So I waited until evening, when we got home and when it was morning over there. I remember a wise scout leader once telling us boys that if we ever didn't have a flag and wanted to do the pledge of allegiance, we could always just do it to the moon, because we're the only country with a flag up there. Back then, we figured we'd always have the flags on our scout shirts, but I was grateful for the counsel, and pledged my allegiance to the flag on the moon. :)
I'm told that I've reached "Hump Day." I was sick, our bikes were broken, and we only got one or two lessons the whole day. Rough... But we celebrated by eating the second snickers bar from the package. So, ya, that's a year! Mostly it's just weird, I've been out for a year. I was thinking about all the changes. I honestly don't mind drinking Karewe any more (coconut tree sap, the favorite drink out here) I actually am totally fine with it and prefer it to straight water. Don't even notice any more that I'm taking a shower in well water with a cup that has a great big crack down the side. Crabs don't freak me out any more, and I feel like I can express myself well in both Kiribati and English. And I haven't had a dream about food in America for two months. :) But ya, so that's halfway, can't say I'm trunky, but I can definitely say that I feel like I've got a lot more to do before this year is over!
Funny story, we set up visiting teaching, and there was one companionship with two fantastic women, one who was just baptized, and the other, our 1st counselor, who has been a member forever but hasn't been able to be part of the church because it wasn't here on Nonouti. They were picking out the message they wanted to teach, and picked Matthew 15:1-4. Then they wanted something from the Book o Mormon to go with it, but didn't really know how to find something that applied, so they just went to Mosiah 15:1-4! Makes sense that they would talk about the same thing, right? Ya... Lot of work to do out here. I'm going to be super sad to leave!
Anyway, ya, that's been life out here! Hope things continue to go well for y'all back there, I'm praying hard for you! Love you loads, talk to you next week!