Kam na bane ni mauri, au koraki ake kam tangiraki irou!
Well, first and most importantly, happy birthday, Greg and Justin! Don't know yet what the timeline is going to be for this letter, getting back there, so I'm writing early and hoping it's not too far off! Love you both loads, and hoping your 17th birthday is your best birthday since you 16th. (We're going to celebrate your birthday with a baptism of 4 people.)
Beyond that, it occurs to me that it's been some time since you have all heard from me, so I guess I'll say a bit about life out here in Tarawa Ieta.
First of all, I have acquired a machete with a cubit-long blade fastened to a wooden handle. It was in the lawn and garden section on Tarawa. I am sharpening it in between paragraphs. Its name is "the word" (Eph. 6:17) (actually, it's kiribati "Te Tacka").
Tarawa Ieta is awesome. There are two branches an hour apart by bike. We live next to the bush chapel of the northern one in Tearinibai. Our house is AWESOME. About the size of the family room, with two rooms, being a kitchen and a bedroom. All of our water is rainwater, which we have three tanks for. And a cement outhouse with a legitimate porcelain toilet bowl! And a gas/propane stove that has its own built-in lighter! AND ELECTRIC CEILING FANS! Crud, it's by far the nicest house I've lived in, except no fridge. . . . Well, nicer than Nonouti.
My companion is the MAN. Elder Sterling Derick Smith of Champion, Alberta. (Yes, Hubbard family, Spencer and Sterling are comps out here.) He's a hard-working Canadian farmboy, and we're having a blast together. And crazy enough, he was born in Payson, Utah. So we were probably born in the same hospital room! I'm super glad to be working with him, get a chance to brush up on my English (it scared me a bit when he first got here how much I had lost), and remember my own culture. Reminded me of home for the first time in awhile, which was a bit hard for a bit, but I'm good now. It's great to be able to throw Brian Regan quotes at somebody and have them throw some back!
As far as the work out here, I couldn't be happier. We have some people that were left before they were baptized by missionaries before, and we've been finding on our own, as well. So many less actives here. We'll get working on them soon, but right now we're rushing to get 14 people prepared for baptism next month. We had 13 at church yesterday, aiming at 16 next week. Just a note to future missionaries, KEEP THE [FLIPPIN] (he crossed "FLIPPIN" out and wrote "not missionary appropriate") AREA BOOK LIKE YOUR OWN CHILD! Ours is not in that good shape, but even the little bit that is in there is yielding results. If previous elders had done their job? Man. We have papers in there with a name and age, and nothing else. DON'T BE THAT GUY!
What else . . . CHICKEN. Chicken is so good! AH! We don't actually have ice cream out here, but chicken blows my mind. We're close enough to Tarawa that people can go on shopping trips down there, so we occasionally get chicken, sketchy Kiribati sausages, OR OH ME GOODNESS! POTATOES! LETTUCE! CUCUMBERS! This village's thing is gardening, and some members let us pick some grape tomatoes. OH MA GAWSH! So, I'm by no means fat yet, but I'm starting to put on a tad bit more weight again. Probably good for me.
So, I'm super glad. I almost closed it off there last week and sent it off, but I didn't. AND PACKAGES CAME THIS WEEK! So yeah, so much happiness! It was especially great to get the letters, and it was way cool to hear from Christian. I read the part about the Newfie companion to Elder Smith, and he said, "It's so true." So there you go! And he gave a super great talk too.
Got the package from Grandma and Grandpa, had Capri Suns in it. It was actually delivered to some members first, (how those packages got here once in Tarawa?) got loaded in the church boat, the Liahona, and we picked it up from them. Nei Nana, the wife, was there watching when we opened the first one, with the Capri Suns, and I offered one to her. She took it, thinking it was like a cool-aid packet, and then was surprised that it actually had liquid. She didn't know how to open it, so I stuck in the straw for her, explained how to drink it, and demonstrated. Neither she nor her husband would even try, they were afraid of the straw! It's a different world out here.
Elder Smith says that his stomach says thank you for the food.
So reading Christian's letter kind of reminded me about things that an elder can write home about. So more stuff. Our branch president's name here is Io (pronounced Yo). Nice guy, really willing to help, we're currently having some problems, because he told our star investigators that they had to be baptized before they got married, rather than married first like we were telling them, but the man has a good heart. His first counselor is Bekoauca (literal translation: Shark King), who is just as awesome as his name suggests. Great branch, everybody loves us and is willing to help, we get so many referrals, it's hard to find the time to teach them all, whereas I've maybe had five or six referrals before this area.
One thing we found out is really true here from what we heard before is that there is a lot of anti-Mormon stuff. Apparently, a few weeks ago, a team came from the Catholic church in Tarawa to try to get their people back who have gone to other religions. So they had this seminar, invited everybody, and just went to town on both the Mormon and the KPC. Said that if you're Mormon, then you're worshiping a turd. When I heard that, I just started laughing. These are people who have gone to school studying religion for however many years, they're handpicked by the father, and the best they can do is come down and say that Mormons worship a turd? Well, all right.
Something that actually is hard is people not letting their relatives choose for themselves. We have a great couple, Taomwati and Tiim, who lessoned with elders before, came to church, and said that they felt a big difference in their life. Elders got pulled out before they were baptized, and then his dad came and told him he had to come back to the Catholic. He said, "It's weird, I went back, and I just went back to my old life. I wasn't living Christian any more." So he said we couldn't lesson, because his dad would kick him off their land. His dad lives in Tarawa, Taomwati is in his late twenties or early thirties, but that's how Kiribati works. So we couldn't lesson, but it was OK for us to come over and service. He told us, "Maybe I'll be Mormon when my dad dies." So we came over for service, ended up making rope out of coconut husks, which is an easy job, which makes it easy to just chat. And we had a great talk about the gospel, answered some questions he had. He ended up having us for dinner, and we got to share a brief spiritual thought about prayer. Sunday rolls around, and low and behold, they both came and brought their kid! And here, coming to church is usually a much harder step than being baptized. SO PUMPED! Absolutely amazed! I asked him what happened, and he said, "Well, our hearts told us that we needed to come." Met with him again later, were talking, and he said, "So, we're thinking that maybe we want to be baptized." OK! So we're getting things set up for their marriage!
Oh, way cool random thing, Dad! I figured out Adam and Eve! Remember how we couldn't figure out why God commanded Adam and Eve to not eat the fruit, when He totally wanted them to and knew they were going to? Figured it out. Too long to write out completely in a letter, but the hint that should get you there is to think about what a disaster it would be for him to NOT forbid it. I love how much the gospel all fits together in such perfect harmony!
Teaching wise, we've been making some breakthroughs lately that have been game-changing. One problem we always have in Kiribati is the learning style. Most elders, myself included, struggle to help these folks understand the abstract principles of the gospel, because they aren't used to learning through discussions or vocal teaching. Especially on outer islands, they don't have the education background. So we struggle through the lessons, do our best with explanations and examples and stuff, then rely on the Holy Spirit to help their hearts to be changed. Luckily, that works a decent amount of the time, but they don't actually retain the knowledge of the restoration, the plan of salvation, and the gospel. (Note: there are people who understand, and varying degrees of understanding in the different topics, but especially in outies, not nearly enough people really get it.) So that's been a problem I've been struggling with my whole mission, and the solution finally came! PICTURES! Kiribati people are VISUAL learners, not audio! We started using pictures to illustrate more abstract concepts, and they got it! Not only did they get it, but we could then go into discussions on it, and they'd ask thoughtful questions! They'd participate! They really understood, and had that picture reference to cover the entire lesson! So we'd chat more, and when they understand, they are perfectly capable of discussion. Then to finish up, we just do a quick summary of the whole thing, based on the pictures and then leave the picture with them to help them remember. It's so exciting how effective it is! Looking forward to applying it more.
One more exciting thing happening with our teaching. Elder Smith says that in the MTC, they are trying to help people teach in a way more applied to life, rather than just presenting information. We've always tried to do this, but it's hard, because there really is abstract information that is important to know that doesn't immediately and automatically entail changes of lifestyle. One thing they're doing, however, is having them, while in the MTC, use not "we" and "us" but "you." So we tried it out, and it is incredible the difference. "Christ suffered and died for us" and "Christ suffered and died for YOU" portray a completely different meaning that really helps people realize, the gospel is not just this abstract thing that's kind of important to know. It's real, and it's happening for you. It's the way that you can receive peace in this life, it's the way you and your family can enjoy more peace and love and joy in the home, and it's the way that you can return to live with your Father in Heaven who loves you and has set up this whole thing so you can be happy." And then as we, as teachers, have that driven home to us as we're teaching, it helps us to do better at following the Spirit and teaching that specific person, because God did it for them. I love it so much.
Seriously, I love the gospel so much. We had just finished a great lesson, we were about to leave, and I just sighed with happiness. Our investigators asked why, and I said, "I just love the gospel so much! It just all fits and makes sense and gives me happiness!" They laughed at me, and that was OK.
Other news, we have three coconut trees here. A major local industry (really THE only major local industry) is copra, which is coconut that's been taken out of its shell, dried, under the sun, and thrown in a gunnysack. Goes for about $40 a bag. I figured it out, this means that each coconut is worth about 16 cents, once dried. Money being hard to come by out here, and coconuts being not, most stores will accept a coconut for 10 cents (of stuff, not actual money), and then process it themselves. SO! back to us having three coconut trees. Pretty much every morning we buy 10 donati for breakfast. Not actual donuts, but fried bread about half the size of my fist, delicious when dunked in hot chocolate. Ten cents a piece, one dollar. But our coconut trees have been dropping ben (coconuts) lately, and right now we have eight ben in the tent/shed. Once we have ten, probably tomorrow morning, we're bringing them all down to the store and buying our breakfast with ben.
This is Elder Smith's first ever tasting Nutella. His mind is blown.
So, when we first came out here, we came with outie ZL's which was cool, because one was Elder Grover from Nonouti, and the other was Elder Maisey from the MTC. We were all chatting with people, getting to know them, when Elder Maisey told somebody he was going home in June. Woah, hold the phone, June?! I thought we had till July! But he's been ZL for there or four months, so I figure he knows what he's talking about. So I asked him about it later, and he says, "Yep, they've already got it figured out. The intake replacing us will get here June 22, and we'll be going home." Well, shoot! That's two less weeks than I thought I had! So I'm not too happy about that, and then I actually start thinking about how much time I have left. It's really not much! Like, it's a lot in normal person time, but in the weird Kiribati/missionary time warp, it's not that much time at all. I am SO glad I'm not a sister, my time would pretty much be up! So that's puttin' a bit of fear in me, helping me work hard. My biggest fear is that I'll get to the end of this thing and feel like I could have done more, so I'm pounding it out now. Thank goodness I have Elder Smith as a comp, he's totally willing to pound it too. We had 29 lessons this week, and that counts one day where it was pouring rain and one of our tires went flat three times, and we're working in the southern branch (an hour away) and spent several hours walking. So, no lessons that day, and still had 29 lessons this week. And they've all been awesome. I love this area!
Just saying, it looks like I'm going to miss another General Conference. So that will be over a year without hearing the words of living prophets and apostles. It's hard! Along that line of thought, I miss the temples. That's seriously the first thing I want to do when I get home, maybe just shower at DeAnn's house and then go tot he temple. The Spirit is SO strong there, and I miss it. More than anything, I feel like Kiribati has turned me into a spiritual sponge, and I just want to soak up all I can get. You folks who are still back there! Do NOT take what you have for granted! Every conference talk on demand, on little mobile things, temples, endless books on gospel topics, great sacrament and Sunday School lessons. . . HOLY CRUD, we are so blessed where we are! So use it!
Anyway, that's a lot, but I want you all to know that I love you! And God loves you more! He's restored, through a living prophet, the Plan of Salvation, which shows how we can be saved through the Atonement of Christ. I witness that Christ is our Savior, and that through His sacrifice, we can be cleansed from Him, and we can join Him in the Kingdom of our Father. I have received a spiritual witness through the Holy Ghost that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and I testify that anyone who reads and ponders and prays about it can receive this same witness. God speaks to His children today, and I invite everybody who reads this letter to come, see for yourself, and receive the blessings that God wants to give you.