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Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Saturday morning.  About a hundred men and women are gathered in a chapel to receive instruction that will help them better serve their own congregations.  To set the stage for the instruction, a young teenaged girl named Salote (Sah-loh-teh)is presented to the audience, to sing a solo.  Salote bears the disfigurement of a childhood accident, and has vision in only one eye.  She is obviously frightened by the prospect of performing in front of so many adults, most of whom she has never met. She stands at the microphone,  trying to collect herself, and the recorded accompaniment begins. 

She fights back tears.  Wiping her face, she is able to get out only a few words before her voice chokes, and she purses her lips, making them white with the effort to control her emotions.  Taking a deep breath, she sings another phrase, only to choke again on her fear, while more tears flow.  The recorded accompaniment continues without her.

We all watch, sympathetic to her fear.  But one woman takes action.  Moapa (Mah-oh-pah), one of the leaders for teenaged girls in our area, rises and walks over to Salote.  She hands Salote a tissue, with which Salote wipes her tears.  Standing behind the girl, Maopa wraps her arms around Salote’s waist, hugging the 13-year old to her. As she does this, she seems to send strength into Salote, who sings with a voice growing in surety as she continues.  Our focus is drawn back to Salote, and we are engaged in her performance.

As she sings about her faith in the Savior, the words Salote sings turn the moment from sweet to profound: “He knows I can do hard things….I know He is standing with me…” Those of us privileged to be present are witnesses to a defining moment as precious as any emerald.  Tears flow down many cheeks in the chapel, and our understanding is enlarged.  The words of Salote’s message sink deeply into our hearts.  As she finishes her song, Salote turns around and she and Maopa embrace.  The audience takes a collective breath, savoring this treasure of an experience. 

But that’s not the end of the story.  That afternoon, I visited with Maopa, and she told me.

Some months previous, Maopa had heard this young girl perform for a very familiar, small audience.  Salote, it turns out, has endured a great deal of teasing about her appearance during her short life, and her self-esteem has suffered greatly.  She began singing, and the sweet quality of her voice has helped her find at least one area in her life in which she can be accepted.

Having had some voice training herself, Maopa offered to give the child singing lessons.  They only had a few lessons together.  Trying to demonstrate how to breathe properly, Maopa invited Salote to come feel her abdomen while she inhaled.  The two of them worked together, first Salote with her hands on Maopa’s generous belly, then Maopa with her hands on Salote’s slender waist.  As they worked together on the physical requirements of singing, Maopa spoke to Salote of the mental and emotional elements, urging her to concentrate on communicating her message when she sang, and using her breathing to stay calm.  The physical connection they created became an emotional one, with the older, more experienced singer creating strength in the younger novice.   

Salote proved herself an excellent student, sharing and improving her talent in performance.  But this time, something was different.  Perhaps Salote could see the large collection of people in her audience this time.  She had performed for larger audiences, but they were farther away from her than in this chapel.  Perhaps Salote had not performed in a while, or perhaps she was just experiencing the self-doubt that plagues most 13-year olds. 

Whatever it was, the combination of Salote’s youth, nervousness and determined persistence, combined with Maopa’s loving, silent support, provided a cherished moment in Christlike behavior.  “He knows I can do hard things…I know He is standing with me.”  Well, Jesus Christ wasn’t there in person, but his servant was, and it was an honor to share that emerald moment.  

Friday, January 20, 2012

Salt Water Therapy

I knew, when I broke my ankle back in September, that it would be a while before I was ready to declare myself healed.  That was the third time I had broken my right ankle, in just about the same place, and true to form, I tore up ligaments and tendons and everything.  Well, the ankle isn’t back to whatever normal used to be, but it’s getting there, thanks to what I call my salt water therapy – swimming.
Approaching a beach resort by boat.  Jealous yet?

One of the other senior missionaries
getting into the water.
Now before you shake your finger at me and tell me missionaries aren’t supposed to go swimming, let me explain. “Senior” missionaries like me have a lot fewer restrictions on them, and one of our privileges is the freedom to go swimming – six days a week, if we choose (even though we wouldn’t do it on Sunday, there’s a law in Tonga that closes businesses and sports on Sundays – planes don’t even fly!).  But since most of the sandy beaches are a bit further away, we usually wait until Saturday morning to go swimming.

If you look at the colors of the water, you can tell where it's deep (more blue) or shallow (more green).
Let me remind you that Tonga, at least our main island of Tongatapu (which means “sacred world”), is a coral island.  That means lots of reefs around, and not a lot of sand.  Not a problem when the tide is coming in, but pretty strong when the tide is going out.  And because there is a precipitous drop along the ocean floor just the other side of the bordering reefs, the waters can be rough with just a few moments’ notice.  You can stand on a reef that is above the sea during low tide, and the open-ocean side of the reef may drop off 200 feet only a paddle or two away from you.  So we stay inside the reef, and close to shore.

An artificial reef and a playground - kids climb up on the point and jump off into the water!

But when we find a calm moment to explore, the rewards are worth it.  There are hulks of old ships dotting the reefs, cast up beyond a reef during a storm, or pierced by a reef and sunk against it.  Many of them have prows that rise above the surface, and provide local landmarks (“Look out past the blue wreck, and you can see that heron…”) and every one of them has served as an artificial reef, becoming a home for small shoreline sea creatures like angelfish and hermit crabs.  

And when we’re swimming and see an old truck tire encrusted with coral, we’re amazed at how the ocean systems seem to recycle everything – anything that’s on the bottom becomes a home for some creature.  This coral formation was very near that tire – found the coral again, when I went back for the camera, but couldn’t find the tire!   

When the clouds hide the sun, everything underwater takes on a green hue, but it’s still pretty.   And this was one of about a dozen fish like it – I have no idea of the English name of the fish, but I remember the Hawaiian name, just because it’s so long: humu-humu-nuku-nuku-apu-a’a. Glad I finally got to see one up close and in person!

But when the sun comes out, the colors are amazing.   The amount of life in these shallow waters is overwhelming – and fascinating.   (I can’t take credit for this picture – one of the other senior missionaries has a real underwater camera, not just a generic case over a regular camera.)

Well, when we get tired of the water, there’s always the beach.  Just crash, like this guy, who will remain unidentified to all except those who love him best.  Cool breeze, shade and sun as you wish – do we really have to leave?  

You can see that the "sand" is crushed coral, on our beaches.
And when you want to go for a walk, there’s a million things to look at.  Shellhunters can find sand dollars (even ones still filled with sand!), little conch shells with spidery extensions, and bits of broken coral along the beaches.  We’re allowed to take the shells home, but we’re asked to leave the coral, since it’s what builds the beach.  Every senior missionary home has a seashell display!

Maui is one of these faces, but I haven't found out which one yet.
He's also a demi-god in Hawaii.
Tongan legend tells of a mythical figure named Maui who was given a great fishhook, and while fishing with the hook, snagged it on something tremendous.  He tugged and pulled for hours, thinking it was a huge fish.   Finally he brought it to the surface, and found it was something even better than a fish – the island of Tongatapu.   My favorite thing about this legend is that it is pretty close to the scientific theory of how tectonic forces pushed the coral up above the surface of the sea – but Maui’s hook gives an easier explanation to this island’s relative similarity to a column rather than a pyramid.  

Whether Maui or tectonic forces shaped this island, it’s a wonderful place to be.  And the salt water therapy? I’m kind of hoping it takes another 20 months to have its full effect.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Simple, not easy.  That would describe our assignment here.  We’re simply here to be representatives for BYU-Hawaii.  But completing that assignment isn’t easy. 

Our little office - very basic, but sufficient.

It starts out easy.  Start the day catching up on emails, to find out who’s needing what.  We need to contact professors at BYU-Hawaii, to get their input about the courses we’re facilitating, courses those professors have designed.  If there are particulars about the courses, the professors will give them to us via email.

Then a young man comes into the office and wants to apply for admission to BYU-Hawaii.  So Jim spends about 15 minutes asking questions, to see if this young man is actually qualified for admission.  He has graduated from “Form Seven”, roughly equivalent to  13th grade here in the high schools .  BTW, those schools are called “colleges” in the South Pacific – gotta watch our choice of words!  You want to go on to higher education, you go to university, not college.

Anyway, the young man is qualified.  So he gets introduced to the online application – eight different sections, totaling about 12 hours of work.  Not easy.  Jim sits with him for about an hour, until he’s gotten most questions answered on Parts One and Two.  By then, the kid has the idea.  Then Jim gives the kid two sections of the application on paper – the financials and a work-study application, and the approval from the kid’s bishop (minister).  These both can be done online too, but most people over 30 are not comfortable with computers here, and the internet is pretty unreliable, so bishops usually ask for a piece of paper.  When the forms are completed, the young man will bring them back to Jim, he’ll scan them and vouch for their authenticity, and email them to the admissions department at BYU-Hawaii.

This young woman is awaiting acceptance from BYU-H.
This is how she was congratulated by family and friends
for serving as a full-time missionary in Arizona.  Just a few leis!

Okay.  On to the next task, preparing the courses to teach.  We are in the business of teaching teachers how to teach.  This is different from the way the course is taught at BYU-H, because the campus students have not been in the classroom yet.  Here, we have teachers who have been in the classroom for years, so the perspective is very different.  But preparing for the courses takes up the bulk of our day – we have to adjust the professor’s syllabus and objectives to meet the needs of these teachers, and that’s a challenge.  Power Point makes it easy to keep the class flowing, and it provides a visual for teachers as well.  Plus, when I can hand teachers a page of the slides, then they can put more effort into participating in the class, and less effort to taking notes, and still succeed.

That’s the next task, actually teaching the classes, after school hours during the school year, or in “intensive” courses during summer breaks.  (We are just starting our second round of intensives – 3 semester hours of credit in two weeks means 45 hours of class time plus another 90 hours of homework.  Whew!) Beginning in February, we will teach classes 2 hours a day, twice a week, from 4 to 6 pm.  Jim will supervise 4 teachers who are getting their “student” teaching done, and I will probably be teaching a test preparation course one day a week.  That one’s still in the planning stage.
Jim and I both feel that in order for these teachers to see the value of a teaching strategy, we need to practice it in our classes.  So instead of just talking about a strategy, we have them do it.  Jim’s teachers recently made presentations about supporting students with special needs while they modeled special needs behaviors themselves– OCD, ADHD, physical and mental issues. It was a real eye-opener for them, and for Jim.  It was also hilarious – one teacher, modeling OCD, kept pulling single hairs off another teacher’s sleeve, while the second was modeling mild autism.  The pair kept everyone entertained to the point that we almost missed the good information in their presentation!

Teachers working on a project
In teaching my course on reading in all subject areas, teachers researched a famous historical or current figure in their subject area  - the Algebra-Trig teacher chose Pythagorus, the business teacher chose Donald Trump, and the computer teacher chose Mark Zuckerberg.  They created complex “body biographies” – body-shaped posters that teach about those people with quotes, images, patterns and designs, so students in their classrooms will have some informal opportunities to read in that subject area.  Of course, when you have an art teacher in the class, there’s no contest as to whose poster is going to have the most visual impact even without color printers – especially when he chooses to make a body biography of Pablo Picasso!

It’s an interesting challenge, finding ways to support teachers in reaching all students, when that has not been the philosophy here.  The education system here in Tonga is very British, very European, which means that it’s slightly elitist.  The smart kids, the ones who are very book-oriented, do well, and the rest are left to struggle on their own. Teachers here are very good at teaching in the classic “I will lecture and you will take notes” style, but structuring classes with true cooperative activities, long-term projects, and assessments other than written tests are still pretty new ideas.  We have 21 months left to help teachers find ways to apply these “education for all” concepts in their classrooms. 

The LDS Church schools use the slogan “Rescue the One.”  Jim and I have made it our goal to show teachers how rescuing the one student is done in the classroom on a daily basis.  We honestly feel that everything we’ve done in our lives – all the places we’ve lived, all the cultures we’ve shared in, all the success and failure we’ve experienced – it has all prepared us for this assignment.  We are frankly humbled by that realization, and more determined than ever to do our very best here.  Keep us in your prayers.