Sounds like a blast back there! I'm going to be doomed when I try to play the word game again, I'm pretty sure I've half forgotten how to speak English. No reading besides scriptures, and a comp who I need to use basic English with... I'm doomed. :) My biggest fear is that for my last area I'll get stuck on an outer island with a Kiribati comp, speaking nothing but Kiribati all day every day! But ah well, as the Lord wills it, it shall be.
As far as this week goes, well... Heartbreak is seeing an investigator who just passed a baptismal interview drunk at a bar. :P Had to do a bunch of baptismal interviews this week in preparation for our baptismal service on Saturday, and I decided I don't like it. Here, we have to interview our own investigators, because they can't fly out a district leader to outer islands every time there's a baptism. It's not fun.
I did gain a testimony of the Gift of Discernment, though. That guy who we later found at a bar? I had a definite feeling that he wasn't ready yet on Word of Wisdom, but I didn't know what to do, because he said he was fine. After he passed the interview, I talked with him about the importance of baptism, how it's the start of the road we're going to live on for the rest of our lives. I'd already interviewed his wife, who was also going to have to wait on Word of Wisdom, and when we finished the interview, before the lesson, I said he could wait for next month to be baptized next to her, but he said he wanted to be baptized this month. (We do them monthly, as people are ready.) After the lesson, he said he wanted to be baptized next to his wife. And then we found him drunk at a bar. (Quick explanation of why we were at a bar, the bars here are actually just the houses of people who know how to make alcoholic drinks, and two of our star investigators are the grandsons of a lady who makes the alcohol. We don't just chill in bars. :) ) But ya, hard times. But ah well, life of a missionary.
In happier news... CONFERENCE GOT HERE!!! And due to the fact that I live in a sketched out country, still haven't gotten to watch in English, except for the first part of Jeffrey R. Holland's talk in the first session. And it's REALLY hard to follow in Kiribati. But I loved the talk of the guy who talked about how this life is our 4 minutes, and how we prepared forever before it, and we'll receive the rewards forever after it! WAY good talk, definitely put a link to it in the blog. :)
Also, I got to hear Jeffrey R Holland's talk because I was translating from English into Kiribati before we figured out how to switch it. TRANSLATING ON THE SPOT IS SO HARD!!! ESPECIALLY FOR HIM! Holy crud, could there be a more rhetorical, dramatic speaker? And trying to cram that into the super simple island language of Kiribati? As I'm hearing it, trying to keep up? Holy crud. Luckily, we managed to get it switched to Kiribati about halfway through, and we think we'll be able to watch the first session this afternoon. :)
Anyway, that's the week! Hope that everything is going splendidly back there, tell the whole family I love them, love you loads! Drive safe on the way back! You're in my prayers!
Letter from May 18, 2014
As far as the keys go, and with my mission president coming here, turns out, he isn't coming until October! So, I may or may not be here when he finally gets here. And right now, we're a basic unit, not a branch, so saying I'm a branch president is no good, I'm just a unit leader right now. What all that means... I don't know yet, because everything we have at our house says that you jump straight from family to branch, and you only need two families in an area to form a branch, but we'll see what I hear from him next week. For now, we're just going to keep hacking it the way it is.
We got packages this week! And holy CRUD, American food tastes good! Those little rice krispy treats? Mind blowing. And jerky!!! I tried to describe jerky to some members yesterday, and mentioned that there was spice. Took about 10 minutes trying to describe spice in a way that a Kiribati person would understand, ended up relating it to salt, because that's the only food flavorer out here. Anyway, SO GOOD! Camera didn't come, but I think that it's probably just held up at the airport in Tarawa and will be here this week. So next week I might be able to send home pictures!
Also, FINALLY got General Conference this week! But didn't have any way to watch it at the house. :P We're charging our little portable right now, that's what we'll do for P-Day today. SO PUMPED!!! :)
So, stuff to clarify from the Skype blog post. First of all, ya, it's just an outhouse. But it's got a real porcelain toilet! Bucket flush. And it's got walls! So it's pretty glorious.
With the thing with the Catholics and the KPC, I want to clarify first to any Catholics reading this, the catholic church here and the catholic church in America are NOT the same thing. Here, they take statues of the Virgin Mary and walk down the streets chanting prayers to her. In both of those churches, the ministers rely on money from their congregations, and there are these constant fundraising things going on where people go back and forth working for their religion. The church in Tarawa will send out the amount of how much money it wants to get to the people on the islands, and then they all get split into groups and have to get enough money to fill it. And it's a lot.
People in America think that the 10% that the Mormon Church takes is a lot, but here, if you join the Church from the KPC or the Catholic, then everybody makes fun of you because you're just running away from the fundraising. I'm talking, like, people spend their lives fundraising for their church and then their kids go hungry. And in the meantime, the ministers spend their days drinking nangona. Also, the Catholic missionary has told all of his people here that they aren't allowed to even talk to the Mormons, which isn't very nice in our culture, but super incredibly ridiculously unheard of in Kiribati culture. So, we still try to be nice to them, but the ministers won't even look at us on the road (in a country where you say hi to EVERYBODY) so... Ah well. Life of a missionary. :P
Really looking forward to sending home pictures of our house. :) It's gotten normal for me, but after you asked about whether we just sleep on a "basic mattress", I'm pretty excited to show you all. :)
Anyway, thanks for everything! Love you all loads, hope everything is going well back home! Have a great week, talk to you next week!
Report of Mother's Day Skype Visit from Doug Marks (May 17)
We didn't get a regular letter from Spencer this week, since we were Skyping for Mother's Day. So I thought I would just tell you about our conversation.
Spencer looks great. He's very tanned, very thin, but not scrawny. He said the people on Nonouti are just as friendly as can be, and he gets fed all the time, so he's eating a lot.
They do about 40 miles of biking every day, since their island is so long. Most of their focus is on the north side. I think their hut is toward the middle of the island, and it's a long way to the north side, where several of the members live. One couple is putting in what Spencer called a "condo," and they're going to invite Spencer and his new companion to spend the night there on days when they're teaching in the north. That will save about 20 miles of biking and make it possible to teach a lot more. That same member made the missionaries a toilet last week. I don't think that means they have plumbing. It's probably just an out-house, but at least it's a start.
Spencer looks so much more grown up. He was a lot more serious about things when we talked. He's still the fun-loving young man we know and love, but you can tell he's had some rough knocks by the way he's just a touch more subdued. He's been serving as the branch president. It's kind of strange to think of him, only eight months in the country, directing the work on that island, but not so strange when you think that what the Lord needs in a servant is a person with willing hands and a contrite heart. Age and experience don't matter so much, I think. A lot of the members stopped coming to church when Elder Grover left, and I think that was really hard on Spencer. But they'll come back, I'm sure. Spencer understands he can't do it all and feels like it will be good for the members to take over where he can't do it all. They have to stand on their own, since the missionaries will always come and go.
Spencer thought the mission president would be coming to the island soon to set apart a local branch president, which would be great for Spencer and his companion. They could spend more time preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and less time administering the Church. They're teaching about 37 lessons a week, so that's still a lot of teaching. They have a problem I wish I had experienced on my mission in Paris--they don't have enough time to teach all the people who want to hear what they have to say.
He said people always invite them in and want to talk. Some want to actually hear the gospel, and others just want to visit. Spencer and his companion often have to leave before a person wants them to go, because they want to be teaching, not just chatting. But the people are just so nice, they always welcome the missionaries and feed them, whether or not they want to read the Book of Mormon or hear about the restored gospel.
Spencer couldn't go on enough about his new companion, Elder David. He absolutely loves him! He is a really hard worker and excited about the work. Elder David is from Micronesia, and he has dark skin. Spencer said it's a little funny to have people look at Elder David and assume he will speak Kiribati, and then find out that white-faced Spencer is actually the one who speaks the language. Elder David speaks English as a second language. He also speaks three other languages, so Kiribati is his fifth language. Spencer said Elder David (who has only been in the field for a week or two) will sit in their lessons with his dictionary and look up the words he doesn't know. By the end of the lesson, he is able to testify to what Spencer has been teaching and will leave with a powerful testimony.
It was fun, as we were talking, because if there was ever something confidential Spencer wanted to tell us, he would type it in the comments bar on the Skype page. One of the things he typed was, "We're basically in a shooting war with the Catholics and the KPC." KPC is the Kiribati Protestant Church. He said they have had many occasions when they would teach somebody, and then the pastor from the person's former church would come and tell the person that they need to go back to their old church, and the people sometimes do! I think Spencer realizes that's fine. He knows he's there to give people an opportunity to hear about the truths of Christ's restored gospel, not to force them into believing. He listed some of the people who had been baptized so far on his mission and said that even if nobody else joined the Church on his mission, he would consider his time well-spent. So I think he has the right attitude.
At one point I asked him if he has an actual mattress to sleep on. He just laughed. He said on Christmas Island they actually had beds when they got into the Captain Cook hotel. He said when they first walked into their new room, they just pumped the air with their fists with joy at having actual beds. They put their hands in the air, turned around, and flopped back on the beds with glee. But they don't have any such luck on Nonouti.
Well, thank you all for your prayers and thoughts on Spencer's behalf.
Letter from May 4, 2014
We have an investigator that we talked about baptism with, and talked about how it would cleanse him from his sins. And he told us about how a few years ago, he had died of a stroke. (ya, what an opener for a story, huh? I was confused too.) He said that he was dead for two hours, no pulse, no breathing, nothing. And during that time, he went to heaven (or the Spirit World, guess what our lesson next time is? :) ) and he said that it was amazing. It was peaceful, clean, flowers everywhere, everybody was dressed in white and laughing and singing, it smelled good, and it was amazing. Then a lady came up to him and told him that he wasn't ready to be here yet, he needed to clean himself of his sins first. She gave him a flower, and then he woke up. His wife was sitting there next to him, and she told us how she'd been crying and crying, and all of a sudden he started moving again. So, point of the story is, the life after this one is REALLY AWESOME. WAY better than this one! (Honestly, it got me a bit excited to die, but don't worry, I know I've got work first. :) )
In our mission, we refer to going home as "dying." And it's a pretty apt analogy, because once we die, our work here is done and we go to a better place, a place with good food, toilets, air conditioning... But first, the work! And that work is going to make it so that the people here in Kiribati will be able to go to a place even better than America, forever. :)
WOW what a week! My new comp got here on Wednesday, his name is Elder David. He's from Pohnpei, a little island in the Federated States of Micronesia (I should qualify little, it's huge compared to what we're on now. But it's smaller than America. :) ) He's brand new, straight from the MTC, which is always exciting. And he's so great! He's super eager to learn Kiribati, and way humble. Always asking questions, always trying to get better. He's my Micronesian brother. (Honestly, he reminds me a lot of a Micronesian Josh Oppelt.) :)
He's a pretty big guy, short but built. People say he's fat, but... Well, I'll just tell a story. When you have a moimoto (a green coconut) you have a couple options for how to open it. The way that's harder to do but makes it easier to drink, and gives you what you would think drinking from a coconut would be like if you're from America, is to peel off this great big husk and then cut the top of the moimoto. But, that takes a lot of work. If you're just thirsty, and in a hurry, you can just bash it against a tree until you crack the outside and the inside. Grover and I did that a few days before he left, because it was hot and we were dying. We bashed our moimotos against trees maybe 10 or 15 times to get them open. David? Nah. He grabs a moimoto, BAM against the tree, there's two cracks in the hull and he broke the inside too. Perfect for drinking.
So, people here say he's fat, but I think they just don't realize that it's a bit of fat over built muscle. And he's just a great guy. English is his second language, so sometimes we have some communication problems, but he's really pretty good and it's not an issue.
Besides that, this week has been, well, very interesting. Been taking the reins from Grover, which has been tough. He'd been at it here for 7 months, so he got pretty pro, and now people are kind of expecting me to pick up where he left off. But crud, I'm a missionary! I can teach lessons like a beast, but I don't know how to run a ward bootaki! So I'll be learning about the other side of things. In the meantime, I'll just keep working my legs off biking and working my heart out praying! :)