Twenty Four.

Before coming on my mission I was always concerned about my age. The age change in missionary service had already happened and a lot of missionaries were going to be at least 3-4 years younger than myself. People assured me that I would be able to contribute so much more because I was older and had experienced a little bit more than others. This brought me some comfort but my insecurities surrounding my age still remained. From the outside being uneducated, unmarried and childless would seem as though I wasn’t really doing anything with my life. It may seem like I wasn’t enough, like I had no prospects in life (especially to myself, because of my own high expectations) but I’ve come to realise that despite being all of these things, who am I and what I am doing is enough.
Uneducated
It has always been a great goal of mine to obtain a university degree, something that I began to pursue as soon as I had finished college (or high school). During my first year of university I discovered that I didn’t want to continue pursuing what I had initially started. I decided to take a break and figure out what it was that I really wanted to do so that I wouldn’t waste my time and money. A year or so later after working, I went back to study, only then to discover that I wanted to serve a full-time mission. Determined to achieve my goal of serving a mission, I put off my pursuit of secular learning and began working full-time. The journey took almost three years and by this time friends from inside and outside of the Church were already finishing degrees and graduating. I knew that I wanted to serve a mission and it was a great goal of mine however I couldn’t help but feel a little unaccomplished, having not yet graduated from university as so many others had. Education and obtaining an education is of the utmost importance both in the Church and in the world. It was hard not to feel as though what I was pursuing, in wanting to serve a full-time mission, wasn’t as good as obtaining a university degree, especially considering my age at the time.
Unmarried
There were some years of my early YSA life where serving a mission wasn’t at the forefront of my mind – dating was. How could it not have been, when marriage, finding the right spouse and building an eternal family were all principles emphasised in some way, shape or form from the pulpit in our weekly Sacrament Meetings? Years passed, my desire to serve a full-time mission came and the prospect of getting married slowly but surely died. During that time I watched many of my close friends and acquaintances begin their eternal marriages with their eternal companions having been sealed in the eternal houses of the Lord. This brought great joy to my soul and also a great hope that one day this would happen for me. Sometimes it was hard not to feel like by the time I completed my service as a missionary, that I would be too old for anyone to marry. These concerns or feelings might seem absurd to the reader for whatever reason but they were real and I’m sure a lot of other women feel the same. On top of that, people would constantly express surprise that I wasn’t dating anyone and that I still had a desire and goal to serve a mission even after working towards it for almost three years.
Childless
My married friends started having children – sweet, beautiful little children. And some didn’t. Some just stayed married. My sister was building her family also. Children were everywhere, all around me – at Church, at home. Even here in Kiribati many people have already married, or haven’t married but have children. In the Church, being an earthly mother to Heavenly Father’s spirit children was taught as being a great privilege and the highest honour we, as women, could receive. I know that this is true. From my small experiences here and there with nephews and nieces and children in general, I know that they can bring so much joy into the lives of all they come into contact with. So needless to say not having children made me feel like I was missing out on something in life.
Conclusions
All these kinds of thoughts and reflections were what I had been thinking about leading up to my birthday. However as I began reflecting on my life and my decisions and what I had or perhaps hadn’t yet accomplished, I realised that what I was doing right now was what would prepare me for all of those things – education, marriage and children. It sounds cliche but with all of my heart I know that it is true. Our journeys are all different and Heavenly Father requires of us, different things. He gives us different experiences because we are unique. For me, serving as a full-time missionary at my age now was part of His plan for me. I believe, to prepare me to obtain an education, to be a wife and mother, and most importantly to prepare me to be a fully devoted disciple of His Son, Jesus Christ. I can honestly say that I can contribute so much more now than I could have before, had I come on my mission at a younger age. Sister Lee now – being  24 years old, uneducated, unmarried and childless, was needed, not Sister Lee the university graduate or anyone else. Just me as I am now, because who I am now is enough for the Lord.

Nine Month Mark Reflections

I’m half-way through my service as a full-time missionary and have been reflecting a lot about all that I’ve done and what I’ve learnt. These are just a few lessons that I felt were most important to share!
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Not Judging
I’m ashamed to say (but it’s necessary to admit) that before my mission I would always see missionaries and judge them based on what they did or didn’t do. I had no previous experience as a full-time missionary nor did I have any authority to judge them. I just thought that I knew better (which I really didn’t). Of course I would never tell the missionaries this, but I would silently judge. Since serving as a full-time missionary I’ve come to realise that as missionaries, the experience is hard enough without the judgments, both voiced and silent, of members. Members of the Church are supposed to be united with us in this great and sacred work. We are supposed to be partners, all of us together with God and yet, sometimes we are divided because of judgment. Likewise, as missionaries we are not called to judge members of the wards or stakes on how they may or may not fulfill their callings. We are not called to judge members on how they may or may not be keeping commandments. Both missionaries and members only see a small part of the entire picture. We only see what is presented before us and then interpret that scene according to our own understanding. We don’t know or see everything as God does, so it’s best that we just leave the judging to Him, or those He specifically calls as judges. Let us not allow ourselves to be divided because of judgment but may we become more united in the work of the Lord. Let us be people who lift each other up rather than tear each other down. Let us not be silent judgers of one another but silent prayers for one another.
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Mistakes & Perfection
Throughout my life I’ve struggled with perfectionism. I hate making mistakes or getting things wrong. This has been no different in my service – I’ve wanted to always be perfect. I’ve wanted to be a perfect missionary – to be exactly obedient, to follow the missionary rules perfectly. I’ve wanted to teach perfectly. I’ve wanted to speak perfect Kiribati. I’ve wanted to train Sister Moungatonga perfectly. This desire isn’t in and of itself inherently bad however it isn’t realistic. I’ve always known that I’m not perfect. I’m not a perfect person, nor am I a perfect missionary. I’ve come to understand that despite my desire to obtain perfection in life or missionary work, I will never obtain it. I’m going to make mistakes in my life and in my work as a missionary however mistakes are great opportunities to learn lessons and develop Christ-like attributes. Sometimes we expect so much of ourselves forgetting that perfection is a pursuit, perhaps even an eternal pursuit. It’s something that we work on day by day, week by week, month by month and year by year.
No matter how hard we try, we will make mistakes. Just a few weeks ago I made the most embarrassing language mistake of my life. While waiting for a member of the Stake High Council to preside at our baptism (it was combined with another ward) we sang with those present, trying to keep them entertained. I then thought it would be fun to play a word game. I’ve done this before and it’s quite entertaining. The game was going fine and everyone was getting into it. For the last word I thought it would be funny to do the word “shave” in Kiribati. But for some reason in my mind I had mistaken the word shave for something similar. It meant shave but shave a different area of the body that we usually keep covered at all times. Everyone was laughing and I was unsure why. I ran out of the room to confirm the meaning of the word and found out what it really meant. I sprinted inside the room and wiped the word off of the chalkboard and tried to play it off. Then I walked myself to the bathroom and cried my eyes out. I was so embarrassed and stayed outside for the rest of the baptism. At the time it felt like the end of the world and I didn’t want to leave the house the next day but now, it’s not that bad. It’s even funny now as I look back. I was talking with someone afterwards who remarked that I would probably never play that word game again now after what happened. And to be honest I wouldn’t really want to. But I told them that I would. I would do it simply to prove to myself that I’m not going to let this one mistake affect what I will and won’t do. From that experience I learnt that an important part of the process of making mistakes is the response we have to making them.
No Experience Is Wasted
Elder Orson F. Whitney wrote: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. … It is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.” Since the beginning of the year we’ve been teaching and working with a couple whose names are Teakin and Taromwa. They are the best! They’ve had trials and challenges like any other couple but we’ve been able to help them work through those based on principles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During one particular lesson I was able to share about how the alcoholism of close family members had affected my life and my relationships with them, in an effort to show how destructive alcohol can be to family relationships. As we left their home, Sister Moungatonga told me how all of the experiences in my life – both the good and the difficult – have helped me bless the lives of others. I was so touched and felt so much gratitude for my life experiences. How much more precious they are to me because of this perspective. As I’ve said before, all of these experiences have prepared me for this season of service and beyond. No matter how painful or difficult the trial everything, everything that we experience is for our own benefit and the benefit of others.
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The Refiner’s Fire
Had I known more fully before serving (which I’m glad I didn’t), what trials and challenges and pains I would suffer as a missionary, I might have re-thought my decision to serve. Missionary Work is the hardest undertaking of my short life so far. It has stretched me in every and all ways! It has been a Refiner’s fire for my life. As I was on the plane last year, making my way to the MTC, I read a beautiful book put together for me by my best friend, which included a few words of love and encouragement from all of my friends. One comment from my friend Chris Raass, always stood out to me and I guess I was kind of waiting for it to happen. In his little note, he wrote that investigators would make me cry. It wasn’t until I got to my second area, Teaoraereke, that Chris’ comment came true. He was right, investigators do make you cry. I have shed so many tears over people that we have been teaching – tears of frustration and anger, tears of sorrow, tears of rejection, tears of happiness and joy. As you teach people and come to know them, it’s inevitable that you come to love them so much that you become anxious for their progression and salvation. We have a great message to share about Jesus Christ and the lives of all people will be improved if they accept it however no matter how much we love people, we still need to respect their agency, their right to choose whether they accept it or not. Respecting the agency of others has been a great lesson in this Refiner’s fire. I’ve also become more aware of my personal weaknesses. I am just full of them! These past nine months I’ve been able to work on a few here and there, little by little becoming a better person. The process I feel, will be a life long pursuit. Although I’ve become more aware of my personal weaknesses I’ve tried to allow myself to become more aware of my strengths also, realising that my weaknesses don’t define me.
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The Greatest Lesson So far
This experience has been an emotional rollercoaster ride within a refiner’s fire. Sometimes I’ve wanted to give up (actually more times than I can count). It’s just been too hard and too exhausting mentally, emotionally and physically. Other times, I’ve felt as though I never want to go home and just love this life that I am living right now. Love the people, love the place and the culture. Love the work as a missionary. There have been amazingly joyous highs right through to depressive and debilitating lows. Sometimes I’ve felt like the worst person for wanting to go home. There are some missionaries who seem to be on fire 24/7 and then there’s me, who is just barely trying to survive some days (I still suffer from depressive states every now and then which I think are triggered by the stress of missionary life). Some days I’ve felt like a failure as a missionary because I’ve struggled with keeping all of the mission rules perfectly or for wanting to go home. But I’ve learnt that my mission is not defined by the amount of times that I’ve wanted to give up or go home, it’s defined by the amount of times that I’ve wanted to give up and go home but didn’t. And in that, I’ve been successful. If there is one thing that I want to say when I go home, it’s that I didn’t give up.

Photo Blog – Round II

Here’s the latest from the Queen of Kiribati…

Ok so these past couple of weeks have been so crazy! We had Transfers, Christmas, a Mission Tour with President Haleck (I gave birth that same day) and New Years. I thought it might be more fun and to be honest, faster, to share about these past couple of weeks with a series of photos and captions, which, let’s be honest are more like epistles.

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This photo of Sister Tutu’ila and I was taken on our last full day together before Transfers! I would be transferring to Teaoraereke (which is actually not that far from Bairiki) and Sister Tutu’ila would be staying in Bairiki. We visited Ametira and her family to read with them from the Book of Mormon. When we arrived she was busy weaving a mat so Tutu and I decided to climb the tree next door and take selfies, which is what we do best. It was so sad knowing that I would be transferred from her but at the same time I was excited for her and for this next part of her mission – she’s the new STL! I’m so proud of her and all that she has accomplished. She’s an exemplary missionary and I know that she will serve her fellow missionaries with all of her heart.

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The Zone Leaders announced Transfers on Wednesday and they happened that Friday. They didn’t know what time it would all be happening so they told us to be ready for anything and at anytime. I really wanted to see Kaeua and her family before I left Bairiki. Kaeua was one of the first people that I had witnessed being baptised when I got to Kiribati and I have developed a great love for her and for her family during my time in Bairiki. I knew that if there was one family I wanted to see on my last morning before I left, it would be them. Sister Tutu’ila, Sister Ukenio (who is waiting for her visa to serve in the New Zealand Wellington Mission) and I all went to their house that morning and ended up having breakfast with them. It was a great way to say “see you later” and meant so much to me. I love this family so much.

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So leaving Bairiki literally broke my heart. I was so depressed haha. Really, I was so sad. I thought that I would at least be able to spend Christmas there. I had even prayed, asking God if I could stay in Bairiki for Christmas. Bairiki is my first love. Being in Teaoraereke was a struggle. I just kept thinking about all of my families and friends that I had made in Bairiki and found myself wishing to be back there. However I knew that I needed to accept that Teaoraereke is where the Lord wanted me and so I tried to push away those thoughts. On Christmas Eve a miracle happened, well it was a miracle to me anyway. We happened to see Taubo and Kiribwa in our area. They were visiting family in the area. They told us that their family would be getting together that night to celebrate Christmas. We (Sisters Heni, Beria, Boss and I – Heni and Boss are now companions) didn’t have a dinner appointment and so we asked if we could have dinner with them. Later on that night, we went to their house and spent Christmas Eve with them. My heart felt so full of gratitude that Heavenly Father would bless me to have been able to see one of my investigators from Bairiki and to be able to spend Christmas Eve with them! We had rice, fish and chicken. We ate in a house that was made out of wood and pieces of metal. There were no decorations or lights or a Christmas tree. There weren’t any presents. Rain was falling and people gathered at the Catholic Church next door (literally like 2 metres away). But spending Christmas Eve with that family and in that way was one of the best experiences of my mission thus far. In the humblest of circumstances is sometimes where we are able to feel the greatest abundance of the Spirit. What was revealed me to that night was what truly mattered most – family!

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This photo was taken on Christmas morning! It’s me trying to use the phone at Teaoraereke which didn’t actually work. But I did get to call my family using phones at Eita. Some missionaries were able to Skype their families which was fun because we’d then Skype-bomb their calls. Their families were so lovely though and always wanted to see us. Not sure how the missionaries felt though hahaha. Being away from family is hard period. But being away from family and friends especially at Christmas so TOUGH! But I am so grateful that I was able to talk with my family through a telephone call.

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On the way to our Christmas lunch! All of the missionaries serving in Kiribati were brought in to Tarawa, which is the main island, for the Mission Tour with President Haleck. It was so awesome being able to see everyone again! Missionaries are sent to so many different outer islands and only ever come back to the main island if they are transferring or for medical reasons. It was definitely a highlight being able to see them all again!

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This is Violet! The Olsons (who are currently serving as the Self-Reliance missionaries here in Kiribati and who also work closely with Renee Solomon and Dean Westerlund #ShoutOuts) children came to visit them for Christmas and this is their daughter. She’s the cutest little girl and has a real sassy attitude. Kevin, the Olsons’ son, is a dentist so while he was here he volunteered at the local hospital. I was able to accompany one of the sister missionaries there and it was a real eye opening experience. Let’s just say, you don’t to get sick and have to go there.

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One of the greatest blessings from these past few weeks was being able to see Sister Baldwin again! She was transferred to Christmas Island a few months ago and is going to finish her mission there so we didn’t think that we would be able to see each other again. But as soon as we did, we stuck to each other like glue. Every opportunity we could, we would be together. I love her so much. She is definitely one of the greatest friends I’ve made since being on my mission. When I first came to Kiribati she was one of the STL’s and always gave me much needed encouragement and love. She’s almost finished and I’m about to die from missing her so much. She’s definitely a kindred spirit!

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Introducing… Sister Moungatonga! So I gave birth a few Fridays ago. I didn’t know that I was training Sister Moungatonga until a few days after Transfers were announced. Sister Mavae told me and I was so surprised and so happy. I know Sister Moungatonga from the YSA in New Zealand. I met her a couple of years ago while we were both studying and attending Institute in Auckland City.

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So for New Years Eve President Haleck and President Larkin along with all of the missionaries were invited to President Taneti Mamau’s (who is the president of Kiribati) house in celebration of the Mission Tour. Stupidly, I forgot to bring the camera battery for my DSLR and almost cried because of all the events I wanted to take photos at, it was this one. But luckily for us Elder Berends let us take a few photos on one of his cameras.

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Elder Jim looked so handsome that I just had to share this photo! I was so proud of my little Micronesian brother. Elder Jim has come so far and I’m just the proudest big sister. It was actually so funny because one of the elders had cut his hair for the event and had given him a few designs on the back of his head so he tried using his sunglasses to cover them throughout the night. I kept trying to tell him that he should just take them off and that no one even cared. I think he kept them on until it got dark enough.

And that’s a wrap guys! As you can see Sister Lee’s social skills are still thriving.

Just Sister Lee, doing her thing..

Let’s face it, we mostly just love seeing photos right!? So here they are..

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Elder Hoskins let me cut his hair! Haha It’s the second time I’ve cut hair and I did a better job than the first (shout out to Elder Berends for being my first victim). The great thing about serving here is that the elders get so desperate for a hair cut that they seem to ask me to cut their hair hahaha.

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So one day as we were biking to one of our lessons we saw a dead pig on the beach. We felt sorry for it and pulled it in from the water and left it on the beach. Then on the way home we thought it was sad that Stewart (that’s the name that we gave him) was lying there getting fried under the Kiribati sun, so we dragged him back out into the ocean haha. When I say “we” I really just mean “me”. Tutu was taking pictures and just watching.

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We visited our number one helper, Kaeua and her family. While we were there she was having a bath in the ocean and was playing on this log thing. I told her to jump off it a few times so I could get a good photo and she obliged. I just remember how nice it was to be with her and her family that afternoon, talking with them and catching up. Sometimes we just need a little rest every now and then and we need to be in the moment! I’m never ever going to be here again having this very experience so it’s moments like these that help me to remember to treasure my time.

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At the end of our Saturday we set off to try and set appointments and visit a few people that we had missed. We happened to stop by Taubo and Kiribwa’s house and saw her and her sister washing clothes. They looked exhausted so we offered our services. It was the best. I’m useless and they kept laughing at how uesless I was (probably cause I had just finished bragging about how good I was – all for laughs of course) but it felt good just to really try to help. We love Kiribwa and were so happy to help her.

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Teabwaabwa’s daughter came back off her mission last week (served in the Philippines Cayaun Mission). Nei Ane had asked us to dance. Sister Tutu killed it with her Tongan and Samoan dances. She’s so good. I watched her with so much pride and did the cheeehooo for her, cos you know how I’m secretly Tongan? Kiribwa had sewn these beautiful dresses for us for the occasion! We even showered before we went haha.

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Another funny story! At the back of Taubo and Kiribwa’s house live these wee little piggies. I told Imwakurite (their daughter) to catch one so I could take a photo with it. She started running after them and I tried to help to but they’re so fast. Anyways, so these other little kids started helping us. One of them ended up catching one and then it started crying (the piglet) and the mumma pig started chasing us. We ran and started laughing. Luckily for us the pig was tied up haha. The whole time Sister Tutu’ila kept going on about how it was animal cruelty. Long story short, my little friend gave me the pig to hold and we took the photo. Shout out to my friends pictured here! All cred to them for the capturing of the piglet. Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in the capturing of this photo.

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Ok so Elder Emor (who is from Micronesia) found this crab at the chapel the other day and picks it up and jumps in the van. A few hours later he loses it in the van and we all think that it fell out but aren’t really sure. A few days later we’re all in the van and all of a sudden one of the sisters scream and everyone is jumping over everyone, trying to escape. Haha we found the crab again. It had miraculously survived that whole time. Elder Emor picks up the crab (and looks at it like it’s his child) and then starts playing with it. All of a sudden he breaks off the pincer and everyone’s like “nooo don’t do it!” Two minutes later I noticed that he didn’t have the crab in his hand anymore and I asked him where it was. He started smiling like the little evil man he is and laughs. Then I was like oi he dropped the crab. Nek minnit, the crab is running all over the van and everyone’s screaming. I ended up picking it up and giving it back to Elder Emor. The rest of the elders were dying laughing. It was so hilarious. Then, yes there’s more, Elder Emor puts it in this empty paint tin he found at the elders’ house and leaves it in the car while we all go to lunch. We came back only to find that the crab had died. These missionaries are cray!

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So this photo is when Sister Heni and I were trying to unpick Sister Beria’s dress because this lady had taken it in but it was too small. This was about 5 minutes before the Zone Leaders showed up to take us to District Meeting haha. We got the skills to pay the bills.

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It’s the People!!

For a while now I’ve really wanted to share a few thoughts, feelings and experiences all about those we’ve taught and are currently teaching, the members in the ward and the missionaries I serve alongside. Over the years I’ve heard so many returned missionaries (no doubt you have too) claim that their missions were the best out of them all. I’ve pondered on that and have realised just what makes a mission “the best” for the missionary – it’s the people! These are a few of the people that have become my family these past four months in Kiribati and have made my mission truly the best!

thumbnail_p1020753 Teabwaabwa & Nei Ane

When I first met Teabwaabwa I didn’t really like him. During lessons he would constantly tease and play around. At that stage I was still way too uptight and serious and thought he was wasting our time. Anyways fast forward to now and my feelings have completely changed since those first few times. I have so much love for this man. He has overcome so much to get to where he is. We have been teaching him ever since I arrived in Kiribati and altogether, missionaries have been teaching him for almost a year. His wife, Nei Ane, is a member however she is not a citizen of Kiribati. Coupled with that is the fact that they aren’t married and so before Teabwaabwa can be baptised, Nei Ane must obtain citizenship and then they must be married. The process of Nei Ane obtaining citizenship has been slow and is still very much a work in progress however in my opinion it’s been a great refining process for all involved, including myself. Faith has been fortified and perspectives enlarged. Teabwaabwa’s like the angry old man that we all live next to who spends his time sleeping, eating, lying down on his buia playing candy crush or something similar, fishing, cruising around on his bike with his snap back, harassing small children and playing cards in the mwaneaba (in particular a card game called “Sorry”). Every time our bikes need fixing he fixes them. Yes, he complains and almost dies from lung exhaustion, huffing and puffing, but he does it nevertheless. He also tries to teach us big Kiribati words that we can use to make us look smart. His wife, Nei Ane, makes a savoury treat called mwakerukeru (which is like a thin, super thin, dough that is deep fried) every day and sells it to the children that live around her house for 10cents a pop. We’ve helped her a few times for service. When I say help, I mean I’ve just sat down and entertained them all with my stories and personality while they work. One time Teabwaabwa and I played checkers (he waaaaasted me of course but I just pretended it was because I hadn’t played in a while but really…) and while we were playing he made this little baby cry by telling him to go away. The baby just stood there crying and crying and crying. Teabwaabwa just went back to playing checkers. On another day for our lunch break, we went to their house to play cards, you know as you do. I didn’t know it until the end of the game but he and I were supposed to be partners. He kept getting mad at me during the game but I just thought he was getting jealous because I was winning as old men do. Meanwhile Nei Ane is laughing her head off and I don’t know why. I was so lost. In the end Teabwaabwa and I ended up winning which is all that really matters. It was the most hilarious game of cards I’ve ever played.

thumbnail_p1020752 Taubo & Kiribwa

We began teaching Imwakurite (who is Taubo and Kiribwa’s daughter) a few months ago. She is one of the smartest young women I know. After she got baptised she would walk to Church by herself every Sunday. Taubo and Kiribwa saw her example and from there, told us that they wanted to hear our message. They wanted to learn more and support Imwakurite in her spiritual journey. Taubo is amazing! He has a problem with the Word of Wisdom (which he is still working through), with cigarettes in particular. When we first taught him about the Word of Wisdom he admitted that he would consume about 20 cigarettes each day. That was a few weeks ago. In a short amount of time he was cut that down to 5! If that’s not a miracle then I don’t know what is. Each time we would commit him to decrease the amount of cigarettes he consumed, he was up for the challenge. Kiribwa and Imwakurite were always there to watch him (most times like hawks) and support him. A few times after lessons they would pull out freshly cooked fish for us to eat accompanied with either rice or donuts. Taubo loves eating donuts with fish. One time they didn’t have any donuts and so they told Taubo’s brother to go and buy some. He had just come back from buying salt which made us feel so bad. We jokingly said that he probably hates us for making him go out and work and buy donuts when all he wants to do is watch the soccer games that were on (their house is right across from the soccer field in Bairiki). Two weeks ago when we visited them they told us that the fishermen they hire had gone missing. They loved him like family and were so sad. We began praying for them and encouraged them to do so as well. A week went by without any word. Taubo went with a few officials to try and find them by air but no luck. Kiribati officials had asked the New Zealand Coastguard to help. We taught Taubo and Kiribwa about fasting and encouraged them to fast. Kiribwa had taken on the challenge and the family were continuing to pray for the lost fishermen. Each time we would meet them for lessons we would try and share a message of comfort and faith but we could feel their sadness. Last week we stopped in to say hello and Kiribwa told us that the New Zealand Coastguard had found the fishermen in Marshall Islands waters! What a miracle and what a testimony building experience for Taubo and Kiribwa about prayer and fasting. We were so happy to hear that they were found safe and all were healthy, hungry but healthy. We left their home feeling so much joy. An hour or so later as we were biking to Nanikai we saw Taubo and Kiribwa drive past. We waved and as we did so we saw a head pop out of the car window and wave at us. It was one of the lost fisherman. I’ll never forget his bright smile and enthusiastic wave. His face was full of utter joy.

thumbnail_p1020610 Neiman

Neiman is probably one of the most unexpected investigators we’ve found. During our first lesson with her, we invited her to be baptised but she declined admitting that her mother was a member of the KPC (Kiribati Protestant Church) and she was afraid to be baptised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as her mother would be upset with her. She however, still wanted to continue having lessons with us. I was a little perplexed at how she didn’t want to be baptised for fear of her mother but still wanted to continue having lessons. I admittedly, was sceptical at how much she would progress. As the lessons went on she began asking us to pray for her. We could see that her desire to be baptised was increasing. At one stage we felt inspired to teach her about fasting. We taught her the lesson and committed her to fast along with us to help her with the barriers she was facing to being baptised. We were supposed to fast on a Saturday night but had a dinner appointment so we would have opened our fast late in the night. We told Neiman (which was on Wednesday) and she told us we should just fast right then and there. And so we did. We came back the next day, all three of us with grumbling stomachs, to have our lesson and close our fast. At the end of the lesson we invited her to baptised and she said yes. She said that she knew that the Book of Mormon was true and she knew that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was Christ’s church. We all wept with joy and felt our souls fill with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. She’s going to be baptised in a few weeks and I know for sure that it’ll be one of the most memorable experiences of her life. One thing I love about Neiman is that every time we bring her a treat she gets so excited. She loves lollies and chocolate and even told us a few times not to give any to her daughter but to give it to her instead haha.

 thumbnail_p1020734Mwarua

We first met Mwarua when his younger cousin Ioio referred him to us. She didn’t know that he had already been baptised in Kuria, which is an outer island, and was so upset with herself when she found out in our first lesson with them. We tried to assure her that it was fine and we appreciated her efforts. We continued teaching Mwarua anyway because he had recently been baptised and hadn’t completed his lessons. In such a short amount of time we became really good friends with him. He is so funny and constantly makes us laugh. A few times we’ve tried to teach him a few phrases in English such as: “Oh my gosh!” and “What the heck.” We always crack up after he says because he sounds a little bit fobby. What I love most about Mwarua is the emphasis and importance he places on our lessons. Whenever we schedule lessons he always tries his best to be there. If he forgets or is busy he’s always so apologetic. He is so good at cleaning and washing clothes (a lot of Kiribati men clean and wash). He’s also a really great cook. The few times we’ve had dinner with him and his family him and his cousin have cooked all of the food. We always tell them that their wives are going to be so blessed!

thumbnail_p1020851 Jojo

We’ve been teaching Jojo ever since I arrived here in Kiribati. What I admire about Jojo is his desire to live a righteous life despite his personal circumstances that seem to be working against him. The house he lives in usually gets visited by police every now and then as we’d be teaching a lesson. At first I just thought that police would come and visit people’s homes in Kiribati looking for drugs and illegally made alcohol but then I realised that I only saw them come through this particular house and realised there was probably a reason. Drunk people always greet and farewell us as we come and go from our lessons with Jojo. A few times some drunk men have tried to touch us but they’ve been so drunk that it’s easy to dodge them. I just laugh a little to myself and accept it as all part of the experience. One time a drunk man actually stroked Sister Tutu’ila’s cheek. She felt so violated afterwards. It was so hilarious. Jojo and his family are so good though. Whenever they see that we are coming they always make sure that we aren’t in any real danger. Jojo is one of the kindest people I have met. He has such a soft, sweet spirit. He’s quite quiet but we have become good friends over the past couple of months. I know that there is so much going on in his life but despite that, he tries his very best to keep his covenants and live the gospel as best as he can. Through his example I have learnt a lot.

thumbnail_p1050170 Kaeua

Oh my goodness, where do I start with Kaeua! I think she was the very first investigator that I had met when I came to Kiribati. She has the most beautiful smile and the sweetest personality. She truly has a heart of GOLD. We’ve nicknamed her the “tia ngare” because she laughs all day every day. Her laugh is the type of laugh where when you hear it, it makes you want to laugh as well. When we were still teaching her she would always have crackers or donuts with cordial (sweetened water) waiting for us after lessons. My favourite memory with Kaeua was when she accompanied us to a lesson with Boobu. It was our last lesson with him because he was leaving for an outer island the following day. We arrived at his house only to discover that he was drunk. He began calling my name to which I quickly made a swift exit. We all left and then started debriefing. Sister Tuilotolava and I were speaking in English trying to make sense of what just happened. Meanwhile Kaeua not understanding what we were talking about, began asking us if we could roam around on the bikes now that we didn’t have a lesson to teach. We both looked at her as if she was crazy. It was about 8:30pm at night and we needed to get her home. Apart from her hilarious personality she is one of the most friendliest people I have met. She always fellowships investigators and new converts. She is always inviting people to activities and getting involved. She has taught me what it really means to be a missionary.

thumbnail_p1040303 Taarea

One of my most treasured experiences with Taarea occurred the day after he was baptised. We were talking with him and asking him how he felt about his baptism. He told us that when he was baptised he felt Heavenly Father forgive his sins. He’s so young but the way he thinks and feels is that of someone older. Before and after Taarea was baptised he got involved with the Primary in the ward. One of the proudest moments of my mission was walking up to the chapel and seeing Taarea lead members of Primary in a practice for their performance. He stood with such confidence and power. I know that as he continues on in his discipleship he will be a great leader in the Church and in his family. I feel so privileged to have been a part of his journey.

thumbnail_p1050824 Aukitino

Kaeua, Taarea and Aukitino are all siblings. We had taught Kaeua first and then Taarea. After Taarea was baptised Aukitino had expressed that he wanted to hear our message and be baptised also. At first he was shy and didn’t have many friends. During lessons it was hard to get him to open up to us and share his thoughts or some of his struggles. Little by little he’s improved and now he’s so comfortable and open with us. He struggled to read the Book of Mormon. We’d constantly try to get him to read and would read with him also but on his own, he just didn’t. During one lesson, Sister Tuilotolava had shared a scripture which seemed to make something stir within him. Each time we would follow up with him from that point on he would always report that he read the Book of Mormon each day. To see the change within him has been a most rewarding experience indeed. Just like his siblings, his soft, sweet spirit and friendliness has increased my love for him.

thumbnail_p1050639 Tebwateki

When we first met Tebwateki he was working as a security guard at the chapel. We would teach him every day that he worked. What I saw very early on was how well he kept his scriptures and the lesson pamphlets we would give him. When he would pull them out for lessons he would do so with the greatest care. Tebwateki understood the importance of scriptures and how we should care for them. It was such a treasure to see especially after seeing dust covered and torn Books of Mormon all of the time. During lessons with Tebwateki what I appreciated was his concentration and focus. When we would teach him, he was always engaged in the lessons, trying his best to understand what was being taught. There was one time where I was just struggling so bad, feeling so discouraged with the language and feeling as though I couldn’t communicate or fulfil my purpose as a missionary but Tebwateki’s concentration and slight nods of encouragement helped me to continue on and to keep pressing forward.

 thumbnail_p1020690Boobai

One day as we were biking to an appointment we passed by a store and some guys were saying hello. One of them shouted out to us that he had a referral. We stopped and started talking with them. The man told us that his friend wanted to take lessons. We asked who his friend was and there popped out Boobai with a smile on his face and a wave of his hand. From there we began our friendship with him. He was only available to be taught on weekends because he would study during the week and then work part time on week nights. One of the great blessings was hearing that he wanted to go on a mission. He lives with a friend who served in Fiji and had recently married in the temple. One night his friend had shared a few mission experiences with him and from there Boobai’s desire to serve grew. A few weeks ago we had dinner with him and his family and he had prepared a spiritual thought to share. I felt so much pride as he shared his spiritual thought and could imagine him in a year or so, with a white shirt on and a badge on his chest as a missionary sharing spiritual thoughts with those he is teaching.

thumbnail_p1020005 Utiata

During one of our early lessons with Utiata we taught him about the prophet and the role of the prophet. I’ll always remember the question he had asked afterwards. He wanted to know if the prophet created people and then placed them on the earth. We all laughed and tried to then teach him more about the prophet without getting into a human reproduction lesson. He’s always had really great questions about what we’ve taught him. It’s something I’ve enjoyed since teaching him. A great miracle we’ve seen with Utiata is how much his reading and comprehension has improved since reading from the Book of Mormon with him. A few times we’ve been out and about going from one appointment to another and we’ve seen Utiata cruising around on his bike all over Bairiki, sometimes with Taarea on the front or on the back. Those two are really great friends. They are constantly together. One time Utiata wanted to come out with us to another lesson so bad but we told him that he couldn’t because it was late at night and if he got hurt, we would get into trouble (luckily he didn’t come because it was the same night that Boobu was drunk). He looked so down and it almost seemed as though he was going to cry. We tried our best to reassure him that he could come out with us the next day which seemed to satisfy him.

Higher Ground

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On preparation day we decided to go to Betio Wharf. This is where freight, cargo and large passenger boats dock. The water is this beautiful blue colour and it just makes you want to jump in. It’s the most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. We spent some time walking around the wharf watching a few kids fish and taking photos on one of the fishing boats. While on our way back to the van I thought it would be cool to climb down this massive rock/concrete formations for a picture right next to the beautiful blue water. My intentions were completely innocent. All I wanted and all I focused on was how awesome the photo would be. I was so determined to get it that I didn’t consider anything else. I began the descent cautiously, making sure not to fall through any of the large cracks. Very carefully I would place my feet here and there, holding onto rocks for support. I was very conscious of the fact that should I fall I would very easily break a bone and more than likely be sent home to recover. This was not what I wanted indeed. Very quickly, but carefully I made it to the bottom of the rocks. I crouched down, waiting for the other missionaries to make the descent. As I was crouching down, trying to get closer to the water I suddenly felt myself slipping. Within a few seconds I felt that my lower body was wet and was in the water. Immediately I scrambled to get hold of the rock that was nearest to me in an effort to pull myself out of the water. I tried to regain my footing but my I kept slipping on the moss that I hadn’t before seen. Panic and fear started to grip me. Desperately I tried but my attempts seemed to be in vain. The fear I felt in that moment was a different type of fear. I didn’t fear falling into the water and drowning for I knew that I was a competent swimmer. What I feared was falling into the water period. I knew that it was against mission rules for missionaries to swim and more than anything I didn’t want to fall into the water completely and have to swim in any way at all. I guess the fear in a way was a fear of sin. My companion and another missionary heard my panic and very quickly made their way down to help me. I managed to regain my footing and with their help I was pulled out of the water. We took the photo but the feeling wasn’t as sweet as I had imagined it would be. My desire to take the photo had all but left me after what had happened. All I wanted was to get up and onto higher ground where safety would be found. I managed to climb back up the rocks and onto solid, non-slippery ground. Relief consumed me. My companion and the other missionary then pointed out that I was bleeding. I looked down at my legs and noticed that I had a few scratches and cuts here and there. I then noticed pain coming from my hands and looked down to see that there were a few scratches also.

A few weeks before hand President Larkin had shared a parable about three carriage drivers being interviewed for a position. The interviewer asked the first carriage driver how close he thought he could get to the side of the cliff. The driver responded that he thought he could get fairly close. When asked the same question the second carriage driver said that he could get so close to the side of the cliff that the edge of the wheel would be on the edge of the cliff itself. The interviewer then asked the third carriage driver the same question as the first two before him. The driver responded, saying that he didn’t know how close he could get to the side of the cliff and wanted to stay as far away from the edge as possible. The third carriage driver was the one who got the position.
My experience as well as the parable of the carriage drivers can be likened to sin. Our attitudes shouldn’t be that of the first and second carriage drivers. We shouldn’t push the boundaries to see how close we can get to edge. Instead we should stay as far away from sin as we can, choosing to be like the third carriage driver. Likewise with myself, instead of getting as close to the water as I could I should have stayed up on top – on higher, safer ground. I thought I was safe, not seeing the slippery moss that was waiting to loose my footing and eventually cause me to slip. Foolish is the individual who thinks they can get as close to sin as they can without eventually sinning themselves. Sin may seem enticing to us, perhaps as enticing as the beautiful blue water was to me or the idea of good photo. But where sin lies, there is nothing to be found other than misery and heartache. There is so much to learn from my experience as well as the parable of the carriage driver! But perhaps the lesson I loved most was what I learnt about repentance. We may sin and we may make mistakes. In fact, we do it every day. But there’s a promise, that we can choose to repent and choose to climb back up, onto safer, higher ground. There are always people there to help us as my companion and another missionary had helped me. Through the repentance process, yes, there may be a few scratches and cuts and we may need to recover for that path is not an easy one to take but the feeling of godly forgiveness is incomparable. As we repent and choose to come unto Jesus Christ He truly does help us and heal us. The promise is there for all who choose the path of repentance but we have to choose it.
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Food is Life.

A lot of people have asked what the food is like here so I thought I’d share a little bit about my diet.

For breakfast I have Weet-Bix. I used to eat this back in New Zealand anyway so it wasn’t a major transition. I began eating it with milk (when I say milk I really just mean milk powder and water). Every now and then we’d get bananas so I’d throw a couple in there too. Now when I can get it, I use soy milk, which I actually really love. Normal cow’s milk is expensive and only comes in cardboard cartons, not in a plastic or glass bottle like at home. Most times though, because we’re poor I’ll heat up some water in the microwave and put my Weet-Bix in, allowing it to soak up the water. It looks like baby food but I’m not fussed. Obviously I have preferences to eat it with soy milk and bananas but when you learn to make do and just appreciate what you have.

Lunches are a little bit of a mix. If we have left overs we’ll eat that. Otherwise I’ll have a peanut butter sandwich. Sometimes I’ll have donuts and bananas with peanut butter. Or other days it could be rice, sweet corn (from a can) and peanut butter. As you can tell, I eat a lot of peanut butter. When I first came I just ate the peanut butter from the store (which is actually from China) and thought it tasted fine. But we got given some Skippy peanut butter (I think it’s an American brand of peanut butter) and now, everything else tastes disgusting.

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For dinner it’s whatever we’re given. Most nights we have dinner appointments. Every meal is served with rice. We could have tapioca, pumpkin, battered and fried fish rounds, noodles, corned beef, spam, octopus, fish and chicken (cooked in a variety of ways). Vegetables are hard to source here. And the ones found are so expensive. I never ever thought that I would miss fresh fruit and vegetables so much in my life. As you might guess, we eat a lot of bananas for nutrients. It’s major blessing when members give us a bunch of bananas. They only last for about week because we eat so many!

Also, most times we’re given cordial (sweetened water) to drink. I prefer drinking water that hasn’t been sweetened but Kiribati people love sugar in everything they eat and drink. That was probably the hardest thing to adjust to – consuming so much sugar in food and especially drink but I just drink small amounts at appointments and then gulp down a whole bottle of water afterwards. Speaking of water. We’re encouraged not to drink water that hasn’t been filtered but it’s rude if you don’t drink what people have prepared so we just drink whatever they give us. At home though there is a water filter system and we use that. It was a huge change not being able to drink straight from the tap but I’m used to it now.