An Unwelcome Goodbye

I knew that this moment was coming since the beginning of my mission. I knew that at the end of my 18 months I would eventually have to say goodbye. And yet it seemed so far away. Too far away. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months. I said goodbye to friends and fellow missionaries, watching them get on their planes and leave forever. Until finally, the months had turned into a year and a half and it was my turn to get on my plane and to say goodbye to those who were staying.

Over the past few weeks I felt a sadness sink deep into my soul. Every now and then as we were sitting in lessons the thought would hit me that I was leaving, leaving these wonderful, beautiful people and I would have to fight back tears. During final farewell dinners, I tried to detach myself emotionally. It was easier and less painful. Goodbyes were often quick, tear-less occasions however internally, I was a soul filled with sadness. I refused to acknowledge my feelings and instead focused my time and energy on being busy as a coping mechanism.

My first few months in Kiribati were difficult. I yearned to be somewhere I couldn’t be- home. And now, to have come to the end of my time and to feel totally different is one of the many miracles of my mission. Kiribati has become my home and the people of Kiribati have become my family. My fellow missionaries were also a part of those people. Leaving them was like leaving part of my soul behind. These are people that I have laboured with, laboured for, served, helped, strengthened, comforted, encouraged, mourned for and mourned with. As I have done these things for them, they in turn have done the same for me. My experience was so much richer and more enjoyable because of the amazing people I met! They will forever remain in my heart and in my memory.

Saying goodbye wasn’t just to friends or family or fellow missionaries. I felt that in saying goodbye, I was saying goodbye to much more than that – a culture, customs, a way of life, an experience, a chapter in my life. I was also saying goodbye to myself. I would never again be Sister Lee, full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I would never again be the very same person that I was.

I will be forever grateful that God allowed me, such an imperfect, weak person to serve Him in such a capacity as serving as a full time missionary. To have met all those that I did meet. To have experienced all that I did experience. To have witnessed miracle after miracle each day. To have been loving tried and tested so that I could be refined. That refinement could have come in no other way. I will never regret it and will look back with love for the time that I was given to serve Him among the saints and the people of the beautiful islands of Kiribati abau ae tangiraki irou.

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Back On Tarawa

Well, it’s September and I’m back on Tarawa. Been back here now for about two months. Sister Boss and I found out that we were both leaving Christmas and it was a shock. I didn’t expect to leave that beautiful island at least for one more transfer. I felt like I was leaving my home and my family. During the three months that I was there I grew to love the members, our investigators, our friends, the place, the lifestyle. It was exactly where I needed to be at the time. I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity that I had to serve there and for all the amazing people that I met, for the experiences and the growth.

But now, I’m back on Tarawa and the timing was perfect. I was able to spend some time with some of my friends who were leaving, finishing their missions and going home. I’m currently working in the Eita 2nd and Moroni Wards and the work is going great! I’ve always heard a lot about Eita and how great it was and it’s all true. The area is special. I feel that every day as my companion and I work. I was with Sister Naivalu (from Fiji) for about a month and recently changed companions. I’m follow-up training Sister Lutui, who is actually my follow-up trainer’s (Sister Tutu’ila) child. And to make the world even smaller, Sister Lutui was a member of my SMYC (EFY) company (L-PHA) back in 2014! Yes, I feel old but I feel blessed. Working with Sister Lutui is great and she reminds me every day to look for the blessings and to be grateful. Time is counting down fast and before I know it this experience will be over so I’m choosing to be happy and make the most of it.

You’re On Fiji Time

A few months ago (April) I was told that I would be transferring from Teaoraereke, Tarawa to Tabwakea, Kiritimati Island. I was so excited but nervous but excited but still sad that I would be leaving my area, but even more excited. Kiritimati Island is the dream destination for missionaries. Ever since I arrived, it’s been a desire of mine to serve there. And it finally came true. I was told that I would be heading to my new area four days before I was due to fly out (“fly out” because in order to get to Kiritmati you fly from Tarawa to Fiji, stay over for a night and day and then fly from Fiji to Kiritmati). Those four days consisted of packing (I could only take one suitcase and had to leave one in Tarawa), saying goodbye and preparing myself for the trip to Fiji. I would be flying alone. Without a companion. By myself. In a foreign country. Alone. It was scary thinking about. I also had to come to terms with leaving my area, my investigators, the people I loved and also leaving my companion (who I had only been with for a short while – about four weeks) who I loved so much.

I did it. Monday came around and I boarded that plane, not without first saying goodbye to the two people who had become my parents while I was in Teaoraereke – Elder and Sister Olson.  Saying goodbye to them was hard. We had become so close and I didn’t want to think about the possibility that I might not be back to Tarawa to say goodbye to them once and for all before they finished their mission in October. But nevertheless, I was excited and the thrill of travelling had taken over me. I was excited for this new adventure and I was ready to leave Tarawa for the prospect of a new land, one that had been described in only positive terms. A land almost like that of the promised one to Lehi and his family.  A land with “milk and honey” or more American cargo from Hawaii.  The plane took off and I looked out of the window watching as the island paradise that I had called home this past year got smaller and smaller. I fought back tears as the reality of leaving hit me. In that moment I wanted to stay. I wanted to stay and be surrounded by familiarity – familiar places, familiar people, familiar missionaries, a familiar way of life. I continued to ponder more on these feelings and realised that around this same time last year I had begun my mission and had felt something similar. It felt like I was leaving home again.

I made a great friend on the plane. I actually forgot his name but we had a great conversation about the Book of Mormon and I was able to bear testimony of the truthfulness of the book. He was surprised that I could speak Kiribati and I was able to explain what I had been doing this past year on Tarawa and how I was able to speak his native language. He was a seaman and was returning to Japan. Many like this man, leave their families for about a year or so and return to visit, staying only for about a month. What a long time away from home for them however this is their life as they strive to provide for their families in what ways they can and making the sacrifices necessary in order to do so.

Arriving in Fiji was a nightmare. Well for me anyway. I drink a lot of water. About 3-4, 1.5L bottles every day and so by the time I had arrived and was waiting in the longest line ever, I needed to use the bathroom. However leaving the longest line ever would mean losing my place in the longest line ever. So I waited and prayed. While in line I met these two really nice YSA from Sydney, Australia. They had recently joined the Church and were in Fiji on holiday. Ned (my friend from Self-Reliance in Fiji) helped them find a motel to stay in and also helped me check in to the most amazing hotel ever, and then took us all to Burger King afterwards! It had been a year. And the taste of a Whopper after so long is something I will never forget. Burger King was Burger King. Amazing. Delicious. Delectable. By the time I got back, I was full but I wasn’t about to waste the opportunity to try the delicious food that was on offer at the 5,000 star hotel I was staying at. And the food was amazing! I felt like I was in a heaven of sorts. It was an interesting experience though, sitting in that hotel dining room surrounded my luxury and being waited on. I watched all the guests eating, talking and laughing and enjoying their night but I felt in my heart that I didn’t fit in. The food. The luxury. The service. It was all too grand for me and I felt uncomfortable. To go from a third world environment to a five star hotel was a nightmare. Some might think it’s a blessing but I felt like I didn’t belong and I yearned for the world I knew, where I felt comfortable and where I had a place. I looked around and wondered at my feelings. I was surrounded by more people of my own skin colour than I had ever been before this past year and yet their conversation, their culture and their way all felt foreign to me. I was a fish out of water.

After dessert I went back to my room and showered. It was the first time since leaving the MTC that I had a hot shower. I stayed in there for about half an hour just standing under the hot water. I had three more showers the next day. That night I went to sleep alone for the first time in a year and it was so lonely. I didn’t enjoy being alone at night at all. I usually like pillow-talk before I sleep, as my companions will attest, but no one was there to talk too. And so I improvised, eventually falling asleep to the sound of a soft hum from an electronic device attached to the wall.

The next day I was up and out and about exploring Nadi Town. I caught the bus from the bus stop right outside of the hotel. The fare was only $1.00! Arrived and headed straight for the Handicraft Market. Biggest mistake of my life. The store owners were so pushy and assured me that I was free to just look around without any pressure to purchase anything however they followed me everywhere. I was only in that area for about half an hour but by the end of it I was exhausted and wanted to get out of there as quickly as I could. As I was walking down the street these two men approached me. They began talking to me and I didn’t think anything of it. I thought that they were just members or good upstanding citizens trying to help me out. I was wrong. I had told them about my ordeal at the Handicraft Market and asked if there was another one I could visit because I really wanted to buy something from Fiji as a souvenir in remembrance of my one day there.  They suggested a store around the corner and offered to guide me. Just at that moment a nearby man who had been watching the whole interaction had stepped in and began talking with me. He introduced himself and said that he was a member of the Church. At that point the other two men walked away. The man explained that those two were cons and encouraged me to stay away from them and anyone else who might offer assistance. I realised then that I was in a different world than the one I had come from and was in transit to.  The people of Kiribati are so kind, especially to foreigners. They would never intentionally hustle tourists or anyone for that matter. I wanted to go back, back to my island home, back to a world of safety and love. I was so blessed that my friend helped me and I know that Heavenly Father was looking out for me. After that morning’s fun in Nadi Town, I was exhausted and ready to go back to my hotel to eat more delicious food and study Lehi’s dream. And that concludes my Fiji adventures.

Photo Blog 3

Photos from the last few months.

Meet “Betty”, my assistant, a.k.a. Sister Lata (who is from America and is of Samoan ethnicity). Sister Moungatonga left me a few weeks ago and went to rough it in Tarawa Ieta (she’s doing great by the way. We manage to catch up every now and then and she loves Tarawa Ieta – Tarawa Ieta is more of an outer island and one of only two that sister missionaries can serve in). She’s from Los Angeles, California and has the BEST love story ever. Seriously the best. She’s so funny and it’s been great being her companion. She is always ready and willing to carry my camera bag anywhere and everywhere. She loves being my go to girl when I’m trying to capture some shots and she even gave herself the nickname of “Betty”. It’s one of her many aliases. She’s teaching me a lot about love and kindness and every day we’re strengthening the sisterhood between us. I feel so privileged to be her companion and to get to know her.

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This is Anatita. We had started teaching him about a week ago. One day, as we were leaving a lesson we saw him sitting on his buia. He was reading a book of Bible stories. I have the same book (I got it from a member and use it to study Kiribati) and became excited. We talked with him for a little bit and we invited him to hear our message. He invited us to share it and so we hopped onto his buia and went from there. In our next appointment we taught him about The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the Prophet Joseph Smith. When sharing about the Book of Mormon he was sceptical but said that he would read it. We bore testimony of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon with everything that we could. We all shed tears, even him. He is sincerely seeking the truth, which is evident as we sit and talk with and teach him. Just recently we returned to follow up on his reading and discovered that he had already begun reading and was about to finish the Book of Alma! I was shocked. Pleasantly shocked. He’s going to Abaiang for a few weeks and will be back in the first week of May, so we’ll catch up with him then and see how he feels about the Book of Mormon.

pb1Guess who is back on Tarawa? It’s Elder Jim! He came in from the Christmas Island region and is working in Temaiku. It’s on the total opposite end of the island and I’ll only see him once in every month but it’s better than nothing. I think that’s one of the great miracles of serving a mission – the people you enter the MTC (Missionary Training Centre) with becoming your family. Elder Jim’s doing great and is still being a little heartbreaker. I catch up with Elder Tuikolovatu every now and then but haven’t seen him since Christmas. He’s on Maiana right now, which is an outer island and is doing some great work there.

pb2Sister Tuilotolava is leaving! Right now, she only has one more week left and then she finishes her mission and will head back to the friendly islands of Tonga. Time has honestly gone by so fast. I will always be grateful for all that she taught me during our time together. There were definitely hard times in Bairiki but we got through. She had a strong work ethic and always had a smile on her face despite the challenges.

My mum was kind enough to send a few things in a package and one of them were some facial cleansing masks. Oh how blessed we were that night! The next day my face felt so supple and smooth, like a newborn baby’s bottom. The only downside was that when we put them on we looked like we were characters from a horror movie. They were actually pretty scary to look at, as you can see… but worth it nevertheless.

pb6Sister Lata trying to recreate our facial cleansing masks with a tortilla.

pb5General Conference companion photo! I really enjoyed General Conference this April. I’m not sure if it was because I was more prepared and more earnest in my search for answers to the questions of my heart, but I just felt like I got so much out of it. I felt so much gratitude for the preparation of the various speakers, organisers and all those who assist in the success of this great event. Here in Kiribati, weeks before General Conference (we watch it the week after America does) translators are working so hard to translate the various talks into Kiribati for the two stakes here on Tarawa, as well as the Temaiku District (the Stake Presidencies will take the General Conference recordings to the outer islands over the next few months). It’s a pretty crazy time for them. They play General Conference in the chapel with the Kiribati translation and then have two other rooms in English. We watch both the morning and afternoon sessions one after another, with a ten minute break in between. By the end of it, all I want to do is sleep – a long, never-ending deep sleep. But it’s great and I find that I’m surprisingly more awake than I would usually be during the afternoon sessions at home.

pb7Remember Sister Ukenio? I worked with her for a few weeks in Bairiki before she was transferred to Betio. She was waiting for her visa to work in the New Zealand Wellington Mission. Well, she’s there now! If you see her around, give her some love. She’s a really sweet sister and she will be a blessing to the mission there.

pb8The Battle of Tarawa is quite a significant battle in World War Two history and this building is one of the few ruins that still exists from it. It was used as a communication centre for the Japanese. It’s actually right next to one of our chapels in Betio. A few P-Days ago Sister Lata and I caught the bus to Betio to explore. I wanted to walk up the stairs and have a little look around but there was faeces everywhere so that stopped me right away. I remember watching a few documentaries and movies about the war in the Pacific but serving here, among ruins from one of the bloodiest battles of World War Two is something else. These ruins have a rich history but now they stand more than 72 years later, as a silent reminder as people use them to defecate.

These few photos are from the Japanese barracks a few metres up the road from the communication centre.

Just so beautiful!

pb15Piggy in the bag! We visited the Atanimans (my family from Bairiki) after our visit to Betio and saw that they had a baby pig in a rice bag hanging off a branch. I only noticed it because I was standing next to it and it started to move all of a sudden, giving me a small fright.

pb16We were waiting at the chapel for one of our investigators to meet us for our lesson and I saw this man walk out of one of the rooms. I really loved his necktie and told him so. He was really grateful and saw that I was holding our phone in my hand. He told me to take a picture of him so I pulled out my camera instead. I couldn’t take it with the phone because it’s not very capable. So after I took his picture he told me to put it up on Facebook. I tried to explain that I couldn’t because I wasn’t allowed, so he told me to give it to his niece to put it up. Haha. He really wanted his picture on Facebook. I really did like his necktie though.

pb17We have a new job on Thursdays… teaching the little primary school kids. A week or so ago these little kids from our ward told us about “Taekan Te Aro” which is a time every week where various teachers from different churches come and have story time or churchy time. They asked us if we could come, well actually, they more like demanded that we come. I told them we’d think about it and get back to them. I forgot all about it until they knocked on our door Thursday morning. We ended up going and singing a few primary songs from the Church and reading the Book of Mormon Stories. They’re good kids, just a few bossy ones among them. One thing’s for sure – they’ll definitely help me learn patience.

pb20This is Kantara (our friend from Teaoraereke 2nd Ward) and his fiancé! They just got engaged. In Kiribati culture, when a woman is engaged, there’s a special ceremony where they decorate her hair with hairpins or adornments.

Photos from Easter Sunday

Meet my little friends from Church and from around. Whenever I go past their houses they always enthusiastically wave and scream out “Sisters” or “Mauri”. I know I probably shouldn’t but I love giving them little hugs and kisses every time I see them. But they’re little teases though.

pb25Sister Lee & Sister Lata

The Woman I See

A few weeks ago I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognise my own
face anymore. It has changed so much this past year and so has my
body. I became a little bit down about the extra weight I had put on
and overall unhealthy look in my skin, my eyes, my hair and my body in
general. I sat down on a chair and hung my head low. I looked down at
my feet and something began to stir within me. I saw tan lines and
mosquito bite scars and thought about all that my body had gone
through as I’ve been serving. And so came the inspiration for this
piece; this piece that I want to dedicate to the sister missionaries
serving here in Kiribati and women everywhere who may be experiencing
something similar.

Capture

“The Woman I See”

There exists a doctrine in the world that “beautiful” is tanned brown
skin, paper thin, and a face so full of make-up that you can’t see
what it’s actually made of. This doctrine seeps into magazines, movie
screens, advertisements on T.V. and every teenage girl’s dreams. And
every woman’s too.

And so there stands one, in front of some reflective glass, beholding
the face and body of a woman who has spent this year past, in a
different world where to be “beautiful” is none of those things that
seep into every teenage girl’s dreams. And every woman’s too.

And yet the old deep doctrine of the world she thought she left behind
begins to creep into her mind with its “beautiful” lies like that of
grape vines. She gets twisted and tangled, ensnared and starts to
fall; fall into the belief that she’s not beautiful, no not at all.
She has lightly tanned but fair skin, is not paper thin nor does she
cover her face with a mask of make-up every day.

A voice comes to her mind, “But you are beautiful to me,” and so she
wants to believe but cries out in agony, “Father, I cannot see.
Please, would thou help me?” Then her Father whispers to her, “Come,
my daughter I will show thee, the beauty I see, that is truly within
thee.

“See that woman standing there with the darkest brown, dry and brittle
hair. The woman with fat, sun-kissed cheeks and a curvy, well-fed
waist. The woman with scars all over her arms and unshaven legs from
tripping over her calloused feet. With fresh mosquito bites to
complement.

“The woman with lightly tanned but still fair skin, who is not paper
thin, with no face full of chemical cake to cover up her original
make. The woman who has sacrificed so much at my call to seve me
faithfully in a place that is not first world at all. The woman who
has given up her vanity in an effort to give her whole soul to me.
That is the woman I see and who is ever so beautiful to me.

“The woman with plain, torn, faded, hand-me-down clothes. The woman
who I will one day crown with a robe of righteousness as she has
honoured me throughout her diligent and faithful service and the
sacrifice of her body; that is not paper thin; that is not every
teenage girl’s dream. And every woman’s too. That is the woman I see
and who is ever so beautiful to me.

“See that woman standing there with that black badge over her chest,
with my Son’s name imprinted on it, standing out among the rest. No,
she is not perfect but one day she will be as she continues to serve
me loyally.

“And as for her body, it will one day be made perfect too and she will
finally be free of the false doctrine of beauty that exists in her
fallen world; singing a melody of gratitude and praises to me for the
wonderful, unique gift of her physical body. That is the woman I see
and who is ever so beautiful to me.”

And there that woman stands with salty tears in her eyes as she has
finally come to realise that she is beautiful inside. And out. Her
eyes were always open but they can only now see the beauty of the
woman staring back at her, ever so humbly.

There exists a doctrine in the world that “beautiful” is having tanned
brown skin, being paper thin, and wearing a face so full of make-up
that you can’t see what it’s actually made of. This doctrine is poison
and seeps into magazines, movie screens, advertisements on T.V. and
every teenage girl’s dreams. And every woman’s too.

However true beauty is none of those things that are only skin-deep.
True beauty is diversity – of all skin colours, body shapes and sizes,
and personalities. It is sacrificing vanity in an effort to serve a
loving Father in Heaven more selflessly. It is consecrating 18 months
in service of Him, as a missionary, preaching of His Beloved Son ever
so diligently. True beauty is virtue, kindness, chastity and charity
in a superficial world where it’s all about sex, fame and money,
money, money.

True beauty is there in us all if we but choose to see; that true
beauty that Heavenly Father sees in you and in me.

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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.