Nonouti! 2nd biggest outer island in Kiribati, with a roughly 2 hour bike ride from the airfield in the center to the farthest village (I know, because we did it right after I got off the airplane, before we even went to the house.)
Pronounced No Nose, with a hard s as in ice at the end (big joke before I came here was that people felt sorry for people from Nonouti, because they didn't have noses. Kiribati people love an English pun.)
Just reopened to missionary work by my current companion and the Elder I replaced, after being closed for 20 years (apparently a landlord got mad, missionaries got kicked off, villagers got mad, mwaneaba got burned down, and it was a mess.)
And freaking awesome! :)
So, I always thought I was having an adventure on Kiritimati Island, but anything I had before has pretty much been blown out of the water by Nonouti. :) I think I have more than I'd ever be able to tell in one sitting at the computer, so we'll all have to chat about it when I get back, but I'll give it a shot.
But where to begin... might as well start with the start! I flew here from Tarawa in a little 6-seater airplane, one seat for the pilot, one for the copilot, 3 for missionaries, and one for our bags. Not made for tall men. :) We stopped on two other islands first, I got to see some old buddies from the MTC, and we landed here.
Met my companion, Elder Grover, who is a 5' 3.5" ball of missionary fire, had a quick lunch with a member, and started off for Tabuange, a village on the far North Side of the island. Biked for two hours, and finally arrived. Grover taught me to katua (the game to play on Nonouti, where you throw a decent size rock at a fallen coconut tree and try to hit it and get it to bounce over) while we waited for our investigator, and I believe I became the third white person to "tua" (actually do that, it's way hard.)
So then we biked back home in the dark, and I finally got to see our house, which is actually a platform of sticks with a roof of Pandanis leaves on top. It's pretty nice! We have hammocks, our own kias (coconut leaf mats) and mosquito nets, along with a solar powered lightbulb.
Granted, no running water, so no shower, and no bathroom, but it's all right, you get used to it. And I got some American shampoo while I was in Fiji, which is pretty exciting. :) We do have a kerosene stove, and my companion is boss at making milo pancakes (milo! holy crud! It's like, hot chocolate/ vitamin and mineral supplement! AMAZING!)
We don't have a dinner list or anything, but we get LOADS of food. All the time, we'll just show up at a house for a lesson, or just passing by, and they'll tell us to eat. It's largely fish, rice, noodles, breadfruit, and some kind of bread or cake occasionally, but I've also had oysters, and there's a lady outside selling turtle soup that we'll eat when we're done. We're thinking of going fishing for Varro, a kind of giant white shrimp, when we're done, but we can only do it if the tide is out, so we'll see. Elder Grover often tells me about the crazy foods he's had out here, but he's been out here 6 months to my week, so I'm guessing that'll all come later.
As far as the work... Holy crud! It's crazy! Because the church is so new here, Elder Grover and I are basically the Branch President. (Just saying, I'm working in Other Side of Heaven type situations with an Elder Grover. Awesome, ya? Also, his first name is Ammon. So, I'm working with, like, the two most famous missionaries in the world. :))
Yesterday, we biked the whole island holding church, and had to split with 2 of the 3 melchizedek priesthood holders here so that I could hold church in Tabuange while he held church in Rota. We preside, conduct, are the main speakers, and in Matang, the biggest village, teach Sunday School afterward. We're trying to get lots of teaching done (45 lesson weeks are about normal out here) and also trying to build two mwaneabas (local meeting houses) so that we actually have places to meet besides people's houses. It's crazy!
Heck, right now we're about to go teach Taekan te Aro, the Kiribati equivalent of release time seminary for everybody, because it's only done on Mondays. So I need to roll!
Love, Elder Marks
March 23, 2014 Letter
[Here's Spencer's latest. I had asked him if his mission was the biggest in the world. I told him it looks like all of Texas would fit in his area]
Ya, it is the biggest geographically, if you count water like land. :) And actually, my first area is the biggest in the mission, because it technically covers all of Christmas Island east of this rusty barrel on the side of the road, and then curving around the rest of the island. Ya, our boundaries are great. :)
As far as living conditions where I'll be, it's new. There may be a few light bulbs running off of solar, but it's going to be bucket wash for clothes, and bucket showers (which are super annoying...) I just got a list from Pres with 200 something names on it of people I need to find and contact on Nonouti that have their names in the records of the church. Going to be crazy busy, way excited. :)
No telephones, but... INTERNET! Elder Sias, my trainer who is now Zone Leader, says they get stats from Nonouti by email almost every week. So, you guys will still hear from me! Me and Elder Grover will be the only missionaries on the island, but everybody says he's the man, so I'm excited. We'll rock it out there.
My trip here was exciting! Church travel... Well, ya, funny stuff in the Pacific, so I ended up having a 4 day layover in Fiji. (There was another plane that would have made it a 12 hour layover, but that would have been too easy.) But it was a blast! They have AWESOME FOOD!!! I ate at McDonald's twice, got pizza and fried chicken, ate Bananas, drank milk and soda, had a hot shower, drank Milo (amazing drink, sort of like Australian Ovaltine, I got addicted on Kiritimati but the island ran out for a month before I left.) and basically had the time of my life! It was seriously like a vacation.
We did manage to get some lessons in (airport elders are crazy busy in Fiji, we had a lot of runs to and from the airport for missionaries coming through, so it's actually way cool to get some lessons) and I learned how to bear a little bit of testimony in Fijian, say hello, how are you, I'm doing great, and goodbye, and then most Fijians understand English anyway, so I got to do some teaching! It was great! I realized how much I missed the mountains, and the green! AAAHHH!!!!! SOOOO GREEEEENNN!!!!! It was glorious. :) I didn't realize what a desert Kiritimati is until I got here.
So then, Sunday, I got here! Great time on Tarawa so far, already had more lessons here than we had on Fiji, and I got to see the Japanese guns in Betio! Got a picture next to one of them. :) I just stared them down and thought, "If you had done your job better, my grandpa would have died and I wouldn't have been here. IN YO FACE!" :) Made me happy. :)
But ya... Tarawa's great... But I'm ready to work! I'm getting a tiny little taste of Zone Leader life, and I'm not liking it. I WANT TO TEACH IN NONOUTI! So, tomorrow, I'll be flying out, and I'm pumped!
March 16, 2014 Letter
As far as living conditions in Nonouti, tell Grandma not to worry, I'll be totally fine, missionaries are pretty much constantly miraculously saved out here, from anything bad that happens. When we get sick, we don't get as sick as we should be, and our nurse is amazed that we're all as healthy as we are. We're definitely protected!
That said... I don't know anything about living conditions on Nonouti. Most outies, you can talk to somebody who's worked with somebody who's been to the outy before, but since Nonouti just got opened, there's nobody in the mission who's worked there except for the two Elders who are there right now. Odds are, it's pretty sketchy, but that's all right. It's going to be awesome! I'll take lots of pictures.
I just got an email from President Weir about Nonouti. He says that we have records for over 200 members out there. He's going to give me the records before I go, with a list of which village everybody lives in, and it's going to be my job to clean up the records in preparation for a branch to be set up out there.
When I saw that, I chuckled a bit, because that is going to require MOUNTAINS of organization, which isn't really my thing, but I guess that's what the Lord wants me doin, so that's what I'll be doin! I'm honestly PUMPED, because that'll give us a chance to meet EVERYBODY, and really get a feel for the area really fast, visit every village. I'll get really good with my bike! :)
So, here I am, 8.5 months into my mission (counting the MTC) and I'm just about to have my very first transfer. I'm on my 5th companion in the field, but my first area. In the mission right now, you usually stay in one place 4 or 5 months, and then get transferred. The 7 months I've been on Kiritimati is crazy. But I'm grateful for the chance I've had to be here, it's really an incredible place.
Driving around Banana yesterday was like driving around Sandpoint just before I left. I'm going to miss this place, and more than that, I'm going to miss these people. The people in Banana have really become a family to me, and I love the heck out of all of them. But I've come to a bit of a realization the last two weeks. I have met so many people here who were prepared to meet ME. Their needs matched my talents (or my weaknesses in a way that helped them, like Tiota), and through that, they were able to receive the Gospel and grow closer to God. And that's not my doing, that's His. He prepares His children, and puts us in the right place at the right time so we can meet the right people to help us do the right things. It's a pretty all right gig. :)
And now, He's ready for me to be on Nonouti.There are people there who are ready to receive His Gospel through me, and I'm excited to be there to help out. I'm going to miss the heck out of everybody in Banana, but my purpose here is fulfilled, I'm ready to roll!
As far as the email situation goes, we've got about 75% of people saying that there is at least one place I can email on Nonouti. And it sounds like I'll have a bit of time in Tarawa anyway, waiting for the plane, so odds are you'll be able to hear from me next week.
Random note, just based on the distance, being transferred from Kiritimati to Nonouti is comparable to being transferred from Philadelphia to LA. I love my mission. :)
95% sure I'll get to email before I head out to Nonouti, but if not, know that I love you! I love what I'm doing! I love helping people receive happiness! It hit me at the baptism on Saturday (Tiota and Tinia got baptized! :) ) that baptism is such a tiny act. Maybe 30 seconds for the baptism itself. And the results are ETERNAL! It's amazing! Everything we do here is so small, but the effects are so lasting! Thank goodness we can rely on God to make everything work out, I'm pretty sure I'd die of the pressure otherwise. :)
I love you loads, hope everything keeps going well for you! Best of luck!
March 9, 2014 Letter
So, I've had a lot of questions about outer islands, otherwise known as "outies", this week, so you should probably put this on the blog. So, how Kiribati works, is that there's the Gilbert Islands in the west, where almost everybody is, the phoenix islands in the middle, uninhabited, and the line islands in the east, where I've been chilling my whole mission.
Tarawa is the main island, where the majority of the population is, where all the development is, and where all the trashy nastiness is. Technically, anything else is an outer island, but nobody really considers Christmas an outy, because living conditions here are so good. Essentially, outies are a lot closer to the Other Side of Heaven gig, with some outies being better or worse than others.
The outy I'm going to is called Nonouti, which got opened up to missionary work 3 months ago, and it's HUGE. More people than Christmas, with only two Elders to work there. Also big as far as size goes, maybe the second biggest outy. There are 8-11 villages (depending on who you ask) and the church is new, so I'm going to be WAY busy! I'll be flying out of Christmas on the 19th of this month.
At this point, I don't know if there is email there or not, so next week MAY be my last week to email. I really don't know on that one. Also, it's in the south, and Kiribati has a definite Southern accent. So I'll be learning to speak Kiribati with a southern accent. :)
As far as this week goes, it's been an AMAZING week. Elder Paora came up and interviewed Tiota and Tinia for baptism (pronounced sort of like Soda and Senior, but Senia) and asked them about their conversion story first. It was SO COOL!!! When we first met them, they were living in the same house as Rosary (in the village, during the time when we thought we'd lost her) and were VERY anti-Mormon. Figured that the Book of Mormon was a person's book, that we worshipped Joseph Smith, not Jesus, and it was just a church for rich people. We asked them once if they wanted to hear lessons, but they said they weren't ready. Really, they really didn't like us.
But they were impressed that it didn't matter to us, we were still friendly to everybody in that house (which was full of anti-Mormons.) Tiota said that usually, people are only nice to you when you're nice to them, but for us, it didn't matter whether they were from our religion or not. And that impressed him. So later, they got kicked out of that house because of some family issues, and ended up moving in with Rosary in her actual house. We were teaching their daughter in that house, because she was having husband issues. So at first, when we would teach their daughter, Tiota (the man) would just get up and walk out, or play cards in the back while we taught. Tinia listened, but only because she wanted help getting married, and we said we were happy to help her with that.
So then one time, we taught a lesson to Teruta (their adult daughter) and Rosary about faith being like a seed, out of the Book of Mormon. They said they understood, but after we left, when Tiota questioned them about it, they had no idea what we were talking about. So he got mad, said they were wasting our time, and pulled out the Book of Mormon to turn to that spot and teach them about it again until they got it. So then he started looking into the Book of Mormon a bit more.
After a while, they moved out to Taeka's house, a way awesome member lady, and when they were moving, we asked if it was all right for us to visit them. They looked at each other, and decided it was all right. So then after that, we started visiting them, and he started really reading the Book of Mormon. He said that he realized the Book of Mormon really was the same as the Bible, and he wanted to study it more. And I remember when it clicked for Tinia, when she finally read it, and the next day in our lesson said "I just now realized that this is God's book, not a person's book."
They say that before, they thought our church wasn't God's church, but lessoning with us, they realized that it was really close to other churches, except for one thing. In our church, we have prophets and apostles. We have leaders that have been chosen of God. As Tiota said, we have a captain for our ship. (We shared Ephesians 4:11-14 with him, which shows the importance of that.)
And that was when it really clicked for them. It was super cool, because they were telling Paora this story, and I was sitting right there (the interview hadn't started) and they kept saying things like how impressed they were that we never gave up, that we were always friendly, that we always could answer their questions with scriptues, and how happy they were that we called them our grandparents (Rosary is my mom, and he's her uncle, so in the Kiribati language that makes them my grandparents. :) ) It was SO COOL!
And it was also super humbling. Cause man, the whole thing started because we taught a lesson that wasn't at all understood on faith. Testimony builder! God knows our weaknesses and when we're going to fail, but if we're trying to do our best, he'll even turn our failures into miracles.
Another miracle on that! Yesterday, totally missed a lesson, just being a space-case. went to our 5:00 at 4:00. And we caught this lady on her way out of her house, the inactive wife of one of our investigators, and had an AWESOME talk with her about reading the Book of Mormon, and her testimony about how it has guided her life. She hasn't been reading lately, but saying that, she said she was recommitted to read every day so she could get that guidance again.
God knows our weaknesses, uses them to His advantage. And then yesterday again! RANDOMLY met with this investigator that dropped us from 6 months ago! Her father in law, who she lives with, is WAY antimormon, and didn't want her to have lessons. But she's been praying, reading in the Book of Mormon, and says she has a way strong testimony and really wants to have lessons! So we had one on the spot! And it was great! And the Lord totally made that happen, cause that ALSO wouldn't happen if we'd showed up to our 4:00 (who is really great anyway and will be all right with rescheduling.)
I LOVE BEING A MISSIONARY!!!
Anyway... KILLER long email this week, but it's been a good week. Hope things keep going well for you all! Loads of love! Talk to you next week!
Love, Elder Marks
March 2, 2014 Letter
As far as this week goes, it's been pretty fantastic! Elder Davis is a really hard worker and so we've been able to do a lot! We got a 29 lesson week this week, which is about what the weeks were like when Elder Sias and I were working Banana before. So I'm feeling like I'm doing the work I should be doing, and we're seeing the results in the people we're helping! It's going to be WAY hard to leave Banana, leave these wonderful people that I'll probably never see again, but it's all right. I finally feel that my work here is complete, and I'm ready for whatever comes along next. That being said, all the Elders besides Zone Leaders, District Leaders, and DL comps are on outer islands right now, so there's a pretty good chance that I'll only get one more week of email before I have a couple months of no internet. So ya! Not much to report this week, but that's it. Love you lots, hope that everything keeps going well for you! Love, Elder Marks