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Monday, August 20, 2012

FAREWELLS AND MIRACLES


We have had the pleasure of working with Elder and Sister Sanders, a senior missionary couple who accepted a humanitarian assignment here in Tonga.  Last March, we were a bit amazed (but not really surprised) when these two volunteered to take on a second assignment, that of inspecting, supplying and maintaining the 50+ little buildings called missionary quarters, where the young missionaries live here.  

Elder Sanders always wanted to get up-close and personal.
 Here he is inspecting a village water tank.
Sister Sanders knew better than to try to climb the
water tank ladder in a long skirt!

Well, the bad news is that Elder Sanders has developed some serious medical issues, and they have been sent home to Washington State.  There is a hole in our hearts, but we know that because of the events that have happened in the last week, the Lord has more in mind for this fine man and his wonderful wife.

Because of the limited medical care here in Tonga, the area supervisors flew Elder and Sister Sanders to New Zealand for a hospital stay and screening, to diagnose his trouble.  Our mission nurse, Sister Johnston, had been trying to get Elder Sanders to New Zealand for weeks, but he kept postponing the trip because of this project or that.  But when Elder Johnston got an abscess that would not respond to antibiotics, he was put on an urgent evacuation to New Zealand, and the mission president told Elder Sanders (and his wife) to go, too.  Tickets were purchased Friday evening for the flight to Auckland Saturday morning.

One of their few days off, at the beach.
While waiting in the airport in Tonga, the four missionaries met an LDS American couple who explained they had brought their adopted child, Tongan by birth, to meet his birth mother and experience some of the culture that was his heritage.  A pleasant conversation ensued, then everyone got on the plane and thought nothing more of the encounter.  They should have.

Arriving late in the evening, the missionaries decided to wait until morning to arrange treatment.  The next morning they found themselves at a nearby hospital emergency room, and the admitting doctor tried to explain that patients were not admitted on Sundays.  Then the supervising doctor came in to see what was going on.  The supervisor was, of course, the man the missionaries had met in the airport.  Turns out he works at three different hospitals, and “just happened” to be on duty at this particular hospital that morning.  Both men were quickly screened, and Elder Sanders was admitted as an inpatient. Miracle #1: check.

That evening, Elder Johnston found his abscess had begun draining.  This abscess, which had been in danger of going systemic and causing serious bodily harm within hours, simply began draining, once Elder Sanders was admitted. Miracle #2: check.

Elder Sanders’ prognosis is good.  The specialist in New Zealand has a brother who is exactly the kind of doctor Elder Sanders needs; and he just “happens” to practice in Elder Sanders’ hometown.  The Sanders, who started their journey home on Monday, had two appointments with doctors before they even got on the plane, and medical coverage assured from the Church.   Miracle #3: check.

The Sanders live in a rural area, and with the coming recovery period, Sister Sanders worried that because of the needs of their home, Elder Sanders would ignore doctors’ counsel to limit his activities.  Elder Sanders is a worker; he cannot sit for any length of time – he needs to be up and doing.  But Sister Sanders is very aware that in order for her husband to heal completely, he has to follow medical advice and avoid strenuous activity for three months.  Not easy for a man who has worked his own land and been a plumber for 40 years. 

Besides, before coming out on their mission, the Sanders rented out their house, and the contract is not up for another nine months.  Where would they live?

A couple of friends emailed the Sanders telling them they were going to travel to their daughter’s home, that they would be gone up to a year.  The Sanders looked at each other, smiled, and emailed a message:  do you want renters while you’re gone?  The return message began:  “The key is in the garage, the truck is ready to go, the cupboards are pretty empty – do you want our son to shop before you get here?”   And because these friends understand the power of pets during recuperation, they left their border collie behind, to stay with the Sanders.  Miracle #4: check.

Those are not all the miracles, but you get the idea.  The Lord takes care of His missionaries.  I believed that before, but now, with this experience, I have first-hand knowledge.  And Elder Sanders is not surprised.  He told us: “Why shouldn’t we expect miracles?  We’re out here doing what the Lord wants us to do.  We’re out here obeying our leaders, doing our best, and serving the people the way the Lord would serve them, if He were here.  So why should we be surprised when miracles happen?”

I am grateful for the faith and the faithfulness of those beside whom I serve.  It is hard on us to see the Sanders leave, but we trust that the Lord will continue to be mindful of this senior missionary, that his recovery may be complete, that he will be able to serve in other ways during the rest of his time here on earth.  And our friendship, our fellowship together, will continue to grow and develop.  Our paths may divide, but our hearts will remain entwined.  And we will continue to expect miracles.

The Sanders and our mission president and his wife.  



Sunday, August 12, 2012

LAND OF WONDERS


Seems a man from Texas came to Tonga some years back, curious to compare farming techniques.  After spending a day on a Tongan “plantation”, the word for farm here, the Texan wanted to impress the Tongan with the difference in scale.  “This has been a wonderful experience,” said the Texan.  “But I want you to understand, it takes me an entire day to drive the perimeter of my ranch.”   The Tongan raised his eyebrows twice in acknowledgement.  “Oh yes,” said the Tongan, “I had a car like that once.”  (No offense intended, my Texan friends!)

Tonga is tiny, but it has its share of wonders.  And some of them are absolutely jaw-dropping. This tiny island nation, spread out over miles and miles of ocean, has many delights for the eyes, ears, noses, taste buds and fingers for those who will take the time to notice.

Let me remind you that if you added up all land of the 177 islands and islets that make up Tonga, you’d add up to a little more than four Districts of Columbia.  I live on the “big” island of Tongatapu, all 100 square miles of it – the size of DC and Arlington, Virginia put together. I have not seen all that this island has to offer, by any means.  But I have been awed by what I have seen.

To the east of Tonga, under the water, lies the Tonga trench, the second deepest point in the Pacific.  The sea floor here is the northeast juncture of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates, and the Pacific plate is being driven beneath the Australian plate in a process called subduction.  Because of this process, there is frequent seismic activity in the area – we just had a 5.9 earthquake last week.  There are even underwater volcanoes being swallowed in this process.  I have been fascinated with the research going on that is documenting this dramatic event.  Here's a link to a news report from last November:




And we can visit the blowholes just minutes from our apartment and office, and be treated to a marvelous display each morning and evening.  From July to October, humpback whales frequent these waters, calving, nursing and tending their young.  We can see the whale spouts and flukes as these magnificent creatures surface, and now and then we are treated to a breach, when the whales jump out of the water, seemingly for the simple joy of doing it.  Mothers spend between 3 and 4 months here helping their babies grow, before they return to the Antarctic waters rich in krill, their main food supply.  The baby whales nurse and grow tremendously during these few months, but the mothers do not even feed.  Wow.  My biggest frustration is that the whales are always a few seconds ahead of my camera!


Closeup of a blossom cluster

My favorite perfume on the islands is the frangipani tree.  Even when this tree drops its leaves for the dormant season (I can hardly call it winter here), it keeps blooming, and the  palm-sized blossoms, either pink or yellow with white, have a gentle aroma that just makes me smile.
This tree is about 10 feet high, and loaded with pink blossoms.



This island of Tongatapu is proof to me that God has a sense of humor.  Even though this island is only 30 miles end to end, there are five different kinds of potato that grow here.  And one of them grows on a tree!  From “millimeter potatoes” that I grew up calling new potatoes to purple sweet potatoes to breadfruit (youth basketball-sized globes that indeed grow on trees) to the two-foot long “ufi” (OOO-fee), like in the picture.  Tongans can always get their starch, to go with their “lu”, corned beef wrapped in a thick, spinach-like leaf – a favorite at most family gatherings. Garden vegetables here are quite pricey, but you can always feed your family a kind of potato, and fill those empty stomachs. 


This is a screen capture of a Google Earth image.  
The Pigeon’s Doorway, or Hufangalupe in Tongan, is what happens when water, wind and erosion combine on the face of a cliff.  What looks like a sinkhole from the air is actually a chasm carved by the waves, with a natural bridge of rock and soil over a huge opening where the ocean rushes in.  

Low tide under the natural bridge formed by
 the rocks that  the waves can't reach.
The limestone cliffs are over 100 feet tall at the ocean’s edge, and even on the calmest day the waves crash with a humbling energy against the rocks. The volume is impressive; you have to walk away from the cliffs’ edge a good ways before you can talk to each other. 


Free-range pigs - a common sight here!
And everywhere, everywhere, are the birds, the fruit bats called flying foxes, the crickets that chirp every night year round, the varieties of floating jewels called dragonflies, the timid dogs and cats that scavenge for food, the free-roaming sows and piglets filing across the street – Tonga is a wondrous experience for me.  Can you blame me for wanting to stay forever?