Well there are so many things here that are different than at home and food is definitely one of them! I don’t have much to say- the video sums it up 🙂
‘It’s okay, just breath deeply and go to sleep.’ I felt a giant spider scamper across my arm and a cockroach tickle my forehead as it made it’s way over my face. This was going to be a loooong week. There were a lot, and I mean A LOT of bugs here.
We had decided to take the family camping because well we didn’t have anywhere to live so that made it an easy decision. When we originally were planning to come to Vanuatu we thought we would just stay for 4 months. But the time came and went so quickly and everyone was enjoying our trip so thoroughly that nobody wanted to go home. We spent a few thousand dollars, changed our plane tickets, bought more travel insurance and extended our visa. It seemed expensive, but truthfully the price was so small in comparison to the gigantic return on investment. For once in a long time our family was really content and everybody felt it and nobody wanted to let it go.
When we changed our tickets from 4 months to 12 months we needed to find a new place to stay and went camping between rentals. It’s not like I had any camping equipment so we chose a place that had tents and beds already in them. It was magical. Beach tents on the ocean, the breeze and the ocean and the birds.
We spent endless hours walking, swimming, playing with birds, roasting hotdogs, laughing and chatting around the fire. Everything was really fantastic. But there was more in store for our family.
The kids and Eric were walking down the beach when they found a path that led to a village through the bush. They ended up buying some island potatoes from them but when it was time to go home the entire village full of children followed them. For the next few hours they played soccer in the field.
At dinner time I called my kids for dinner and my kids as well as at least another 10 kids showed up. For the next four days and nights these beautiful village kids showed up at our tents at 6am, stayed around the fire laughing and singing with us and sharing our meals. Pretty soon I wasn’t cooking for 10 I was cooking for 20. I was running out of food, and you’ll see in the video the creative ways that we found to keep eating as there wasn’t a store in a million miles from us. We gathered coconuts, ate island potatoes and even collected sea urchins when the tide was low and roasted them over the fire! #gross
This group of sparkly eyed, brown skinned, big smiled children joined us for movie night cramming everyone into one small tent to gather around the little computer screen and watch Moana and home videos with us.
They followed us to the waterfalls when we went hiking and were waiting for us till well past dark every night if we ever ventured out anywhere. At the end of every night Eric would load up the truck with everyone and drive them home. It was sometimes 10 or 11 o’clock at night when kids were sprawled out all over each other exhausted from hours of playing. Some nights they just walked themselves home dissappearing into the blackness without a sound.
The BEST most beautiful part of the entire camping trip was the morning that we were to leave. At 6am we heard noises outside. The mommas, the dads and the children from the village were all there.
They came up and showered us with shell leis, necklaces, fruit, potatoes and a woven mat. The momma’s said to me “you fed our pikininis everyday and now that makes you their momma too, so we bring you presents” Everyone cried as we left this magical bit of paradise and said goodbye to our new friends. It was truly an amazing, fantastic, unforgettable experience and I now have ALOT of new children!
Watch the videos to join in the magic and it truly was magical!
I felt ashamed to admit that I didn’t know if I would even recognize him when I saw him. He looked so ordinary but something in my heart leapt when he came towards me with a smile and his hands outstretched and I could feel that he was not ordinary at all. This was an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, a specially chosen witness of our Savior and I was shaking his hand and kissing his wife. There were a thousand wonderful, brilliant things that I wanted to say but overwhelmed with the beauty of it my mind went blank.
“Hi” was all I got out. That was lame….The fact that I was here at all was a miracle and I felt so blessed to even have this chance. We found out last week that Elder Stevenson would be coming to visit Vanuatu.
Just like in ancient times when Jesus Christ had 12 apostles on the earth, Elder Stevenson is one of 12 specially chosen apostles of Jesus Christ on the earth today.
It’s been 8 years since an apostle of the church had come to Vanuatu so this was really special that we were getting this chance. It was planned that everyone would get to see him and listen to him speak during two planned meetings. One meeting for youth on Tuesday and one meeting for youth on Wednesday. None of us knew that he was going to be here today. The only reason I was even at the airport was because it was the day that my niece and nephew were leaving. They had flown in last month from Canada to visit us and now we had to say goodbye.
Ethan is 18 and just received his mission call which is waiting in an envelope at home for him unopened. Both my niece and nephew were devastated when they found out that they had to leave 1 day before an apostle arrived.
Because flights out of Vanuatu are all considered international you have to arrive at the airport 3 hours prior to departure. We didn’t really think this was a set in stone rule but learned the hard way a couple weeks ago when we dropped off a family member just 1 hour prior to departure and their plane had left them! This time we knew we had to come exactly on time. Our strategy was to check them in early and then spend time together walking around, taking pictures and hanging out until they really had to leave. Everything was going smoothly after the check in, but we couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something more going on. We noticed lots of shiny white cars, large men in suits and groups of dancers gathering around a particular area. It wasn’t too hard to guess that this must all be in preparation of Elder Stevensons arrival. He must be flying in on the flight that Ethan and Talia were flying out on. Suddenly we were feeling very excited.
There was a small group of specially invited church leaders and their spouses behind the ‘Do Not Enter, VIP Exit Only’ sign. They were all dressed in their brightly coloured island dresses with fresh flower leis lined up nicely ready to greet the apostle. The men wore their best white shirts and ties some of them even had on suits despite the hot weather. We were on the outside looking in through the glass. Trying to stay back far enough that nobody noticed us but still hoping to catch a glimpse of the apostle. There were 9 of all together. My four daughters, four nephews and one niece. Unfortunately they were not dressed in anything other than what we wore everyday. Island t-shirts, cut off jean shorts and bare feet, of course they had bare feet. I at least had shoes on but was still wearing the grubby clothes that I had worked in all day. Gross, this was awkward. We briefly considered that we shouldn’t be standing around waiting to see an apostle in these clothes, but figuring that the kids flight would arrive before we actually got to see Elder Stevenson and knowing that we would probably have to leave anyways, we thought it couldn’t hurt.
We waited and waited and waited and still no sign of anybody. We weren’t worried about the flight yet because we were just around the corner for where they would have to leave and we kept checking in to make sure they hadn’t begun boarding. Because the airport is so small there isn’t anything fancy like boarding announcements or computer screens displaying flights. The airport only fits one airplane anyways so you know that everyone there is for your flight. . We even took pictures with the dancers to pass time.
The kids and I were hopeful that eventually if we waited long enough we’d get to see Elder Stevenson. Feeling so self conscious about our presence there in the first place I lined up the kids a dozen times telling them if they stood just right or looked nice enough maybe Elder Stevenson would notice them and at the very least look at them and smile. But after an hour of waiting it was seeming less and less likely that we would even get to see him.
Just as we starting to feel discouraged and preparing to leave, people started to gather around a little closer and excited chatter spread throughout the group. Naturally we also leaned forward taking a few steps closer. We were nearly up to the outside of the glass now with a great view of the door that the apostle was supposed to be coming out of.
We must have looked eager, or desperate or something because totally unexpectedly one of the sharp men in suits approached us and asked “would you like to see Elder Stevenson”, He gestured behind the glass that separated us from everybody else as though he was inviting us to come in. I was sure I must not have understood him correctly and shook my head ‘no’. He asked again and I quietly explained how kind it was of him to offer but we weren’t invited, and even if we had been we certainly weren’t dressed appropriately to join the beautifully groomed, specially chosen group waiting to welcome a representative of Jesus Christ.
The friendly man who I assumed was a body guard was gentle and kind as he insisted that ‘just this once’ it would be okay to not be dressed properly or have an invitation. I refused again, with a little less resolve and then finally the third time not wanting to be rude I thanked him and timidly entered through the glass gateway with my entourage of 8 very excited youth.
Together we stood in the growing circle of welcomers. I looked around at the adult women in their island dresses, smiling and giggling like little girls as they waited. I saw full grown men with their arms folded reverently in front of them and husbands and wives standing next to each other holding hands, waiting together in happy anticipation. The feeling was electric, the spirit was so present and I was so happy that I had been at just the right place and time to be allowed to be here. Maybe Ethan and Talia really would get this chance, something that happens once in a lifetime to shake the hand of an Apostle of God. I felt peace. I knew this wasn’t what we had planned, the situation wasn’t ideal, but I knew it was meant to be an it was okay. Nearly out of nowhere the feeling of peace left me and another feeling replaced it. This thought was louder, stronger, more persistent.
I looked down at my blue knockoff Adidas sport shorts that were splitting apart at the seems. Honestly and truly splitting apart. My shoes were too big for me, my hair was messy and my old t-shirt was a dirty. What was I thinking? I was suddenly humiliated, I knew I didn’t belong here. I needed to get out and quick. I tried to tell all the kids that we all should leave, and we weren’t dressed properly but they wouldn’t listen to me as they stayed firmly planted in their spots. I quietly edged my way towards the door and snuck back outside.
Phewph…Feeling much more comfortable, I relaxed as I looked onward from the outside hoping to go unnoticed. Only a few minutes had passed when a nice looking, well dressed gentleman with a camera came and stood beside me. He didn’t say anything for a few minutes but then softly asked why I wasn’t standing with my kids and the others inside. I was embarrassed as I explained that I was not prepared to meet an apostle in the clothes I was wearing and felt quite out of place. He turned to me with a knowing smile and said “ You go back there” he gestured to an empty spot in the line up, “you can’t miss this chance to shake his hand, and if I know anything about the brethren of the Church it’s that they certainly don’t care what clothes people are wearing, they’d much rather be in jeans and t-shirts themselves”. He was right. I did not want to miss this chance to shake his hand, in fact with all my heart I wanted it. Since the moment I found out that Elder Stevenson was coming to visit I had hoped that we might get a chance to meet him. I thanked my new photographer friend for his encouragement and took my place again amongst the other excited Saints inside. The knowledge that Satan wants us alone in the dark and Jesus wants us together in light struck my heart. I was meant to be in the light with all these God fearing, beautiful people around me. It isn’t my shoes, or my clothes or even my sins for that matter that define who I am it is my heart. And with all my heart wanted to be in the light.Ethan, my nephew came to stand beside me, he whispered “Aunty, is it time yet, when do we have to leave for our flight” oh ya, their flight. I had forgotten about that. I knew we were already cutting it close.
“Boarding closes at 4:05”, I told him as I looked down at my phone, it was 4:03. My heart fell, it was too late for him, he needed to leave.
“Ethan, you’re going to have to go without meeting him,” I whispered urgently.
“Are you kidding me? No way, I’d rather miss my flight than miss meeting the apostle”. Why was I not surprised. Since his birth Ethan has been incorrigible, impossible, and terrible at taking no for an answer. I turned to argue with him, but just at that moment the doors opened and there was a hushed silence that fell over the crowd. There he was. Elder Stevenson came out the doors. (I was happy to know that I did recognize him) And at first he looked so ordinary but the closer he came the more I felt a spirit of absolute truth whisper to me that he was not ordinary. He was showered in leis and kisses and with a warm smile and enthusiastic energy he went around the whole group shaking each persons hand, asking them their names, who they were and what they did.
I had just overheard Ethan whisper to his cousin that he was excited but scared to go on a mission. Elder Stevenson grabbed Ethan’s hand in a firm handshake and said “Ahh, Ethan, I hear you’re going on a mission, is that right?”
Ethan’s surprise at being called by name registered on his face immediately as he turned to answer Elder Stevenson. Turns out one of the reporters that had been taking pictures and visiting with Ethan beforehand had told Elder Stevenson that there was a young man just flying home to open his mission call with his family. The contagious smile that gets Ethan out of all kinds of trouble spread across his face as he responded enthusiastically “yes I am!”. Elder Stevenson asked all kinds of questions as he visited with the kids as though there was nothing better to be doing in the world. I couldn’t stop the tears. A feeling of love and peace was just all around this man.
After Elder Stevenson and his wife moved on I looked down at my phone. 4:20- shoot, I had to get those kids out of there. Their plane would be leaving in minutes and if they weren’t on the flight I knew my sister would hate me forever. I grabbed the kids, and their bags and raced passed the crowds. There was literally nobody there, it was completely empty. We flew down the sidewalk and through the airport, there was literally nobody there. The lobby was completely devoid of people. Oops. We gave our last kisses and hugs and shoved our niece and nephew through the security gate.
As we were walking away thinking about everything I suddenly heard a pounding on the security glass beside me. I was already outside the airport, but apparently I was actually on the other side of the security gate. I looked through the darkly tinted glass and saw Ethan. “Aunty Becky” he was mouthing the words “ They won’t let me on the plane, I didn’t wear shoes.” SERIOUSLY??? That was just like my nephew… I ran back down the sidewalk and through the tiny airport as quickly as I could, I took off my shoes and threw them as hard as I could through the security door. Ethan caught them with a silly grin, slipped them on his feet and disappeared around the corner.
After a 30 hour trip home, and surrounded by his 10 siblings, mom and dad and a couple of friends, Ethan got everyone on a Facebook live video where he opened his mission call and read aloud to us:
“Dear Elder Pedersen,
You are nearby called to serve as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You are assigned to labor in the California Rancho Cucamonga Mission…”
What a beautiful beginning to two years of service 🙂
We all wore our best island dresses as we headed out to our activity. By the time we arrived there was just enough light to make out the bunches of fresh flowers hanging from strings that were criss crossed across the outdoor cement pad. Several long extension cords ran across the yard and out onto the street bringing enough electricity for one small light and the portable stereo that was blasting the island music. We had all been invited to an island dance in the village of Mele for our Friday night church activity.
It took us a while to find the house in the first place and of course we were the only ones besides Sister Davidson that arrived in a vehicle. When we did arrive the table was covered in plates piled high with unidentifiable food, and woman and children were chatting and laughing on blankets on the ground. There was three kinds of watered down juice- red, yellow and blue. There was only two cups which everyone shared for about an hour until a stack of disposable ones were retrieved and brought out.
Naomi and I chuckled as we danced in the dark with the women and children as a very inappropriate song came on for the 5th time- I’m pretty sure they didn’t know what it meant 🙂
The dance was lots of fun, and the kids were delighted at being invited to a special event just for them. I made a little video and thought I’d share it with you- please excuse the terrible lighting, the whole event was too authentic to not post about.
Thanks for reading my blog, xoxo
It was Saturday night and there were too many- way too many kids to give them all showers. 12 kids, 2 adults. My brother and sister are off to Japan and I was watching all their lovely children. I just knew that the gas tank would definitely not last through 14 showers and even if it did last it would simply cost too much to use the shower for every. single. person.
Naturally everyones first thought was the bathing river. We pass it everyday. The problem was easy to solve. When my teenagers first suggested it I was adamantly opposed to it. I would not be seen bathing 12 kids in the local bathing river. After about 10 minutes of convincing I realized that the only thing stopping me was my pride (and the thought that my big sister Denna would find out). And honestly, who wants pride? The local bathing river was great fun and I’m certain that we’ll be doing frequently now that we’ve discovered all it’s virtues 🙂
It’s Friday night and we can here the beating of drums from across the water. If you look carefully you can also see the lights spinning around in the distance. We’ve already been 5 times but it never gets old. We decide to load up the older kids and we pile in the truck with their cousins and aunties and drive down the road. It takes less than 10 minutes to drive to the Beach Bar where there is a free fire show every Friday night. It’s the same place we go for $10 pizzas and an outdoor movie on Tuesday nights but nobody ever gets tired of watching.
I promise myself this time that I’ll just enjoy the show without filming any of it. After all the sure sign of a tourist is taking out their fancy phones and videotaped EVERYTHING…sigh. It was too tempting. The sparks fly and the entire sky feels likes its lit up with music, people and fire. It’s actually very exciting and the crowd goes wild. I have officially resisted for as long as I possibly can before I pull out my phone and take a few minutes of fire dancing filming. Now that I’ve made a little movie the whole thing is off my chest and I won’t have to film it next time 🙂 The Fire Dancing Show in Port Vila Vanuatu is AWESOME!
Today we packed up all the kids, grabbed some fruit, towels and swim gear and visited a beach. It’s the same thing we’ve done a hundred times since we’ve been here. But I saw something different that really spoke to my heart.
Once we arrived at a beach hidden down some random jungle road and the as the minutes turned into hours I pinpointed what I love about living somewhere warm. There are simply so many things to do OUTSIDE! I MISS BEING OUTSIDE! I really think God created a beautiful earth for us to enjoy, but when i’m stuck inside for 8 months of the year it’s depressing!
Being on the beach today everyone just played together. It didn’t matter their age differences or interests. There wasn’t this impending feeling like winter is coming and all the fun is going to soon be over. In fact we are right in the middle of winter and we just barely graduated from sheets to thin blankets at night, everyone still jumping in the ocean for night time swims and walking around in their swimsuits. Ahhh 🙂
Oh, I also have to confess how much I love the endless CREATIVITY of kids that are home-schooled. A pile of rocks and sea glass quickly turns into an ocean and landing pad for a new game and kids of all ages laugh and play together. I know that lots of kids that aren’t home-schooled are awesomely creative, but I am a bit biased towards all these fantastic peeps who joined me for One Day in Paradise today and they all happened to be home-schooled so sorry for the brag 🙂
The oldest girls took a hike through the jungle with a group of their cousins and local friends. All the locals knew that the plant was to be avoided but they forgot to tell my girls. Two of the girls ended up falling down and getting covered in a tropical stinging plant #should’vewornlongershorts. The sting lasts from a week to a month and the only remedy is to find the plant that stung you and crack open it’s stem, spreading the sap on the sting. Here’s the report!
37 years ago today, the combined governments of both England and France agreed to give Vanuatu its independence. (How generous, right?) Vanuatu does not take it’s independence lightly. It’s been non-stop parties for the last 7 days. (Trust me, I know, I’ve been at all of them) Music, Dancing, Kakai (food), Wrestling, pig wrestling, Karate, Soccer, Basketball, Boxing, Singing. There is an never ending list of talents that are on display for the 8 days celebration. It goes from early into the morning each day to early into the morning the next day. Live music ends somewhere between 3:00-4:00am and then starts again between 6:00-8:00am. The entire thing is broadcast via 6 massive speakers. You don’t even have to be anywhere NEAR the celebrations to HEAR the celebrations!!
Entire villages show up to enjoy the festivities and little children and old grandmas share woven grass mats that are strewn across the field for days on end. It’s quite a site!
Because of all the celebrations, our local church leaders asked each group of saints to meet as early as possible, so that families would be able to participate in the community celebrations for the day. Our branch chose 7:30. Yes that’s 7:30 AM! Did you even know that you were allowed to meet for church at that time?! There weren’t as many people as usual this morning at church. LOL. But for those of us that were there it was a treat. Sister King gave talk that was really special.
She talked about a story that she heard last week from president Basille (he’s the leader of the local church branch we attend). President Basille said that 44 years ago there was no Mormon church on any of the islands of Vanuatu.
Missionary work began in Vanuatu in 1974 after several Latter-day Saint Tongan families moved there. Elder Harman Rector Jr., of the Seventy (one of the highest governing bodies of the Church) and President Davis visited Port Vila in April 1974 to determine the possibility of assigning full-time missionaries to the island. Elder Rector felt it was essential that the area receive missionaries”
After prayerfully considering the possibility of sending full time missionaries to Vanuatu, the church leaders determined that that is exactly what God wanted. They gave the assignment to an LDS French ambassador to come to Vanuatu and meet with both governments to ask permission for the Mormon Church to send missionaries. When the LDS ambassador arrived in Vanuatu his meeting with the English government went well and they agreed to allow missionaries. However, the meeting with the French government did not go so well. The government official representing the French government was rude and disrespectful to the LDS man telling him that there was absolutely no way that missionaries would be allowed to preach in Vanuatu. Discouraged, the LDS ambassador went home and reported to the church that they would not be able to send missionaries to Vanuatu.
Several months later the French LDS ambassador was back in Vanuatu on business of his own. As he was finishing up his business he felt like he must go and visit the French government official again. He wondered at this feeling due to the very rude way he had been treated last time, however, determined to follow this prompting he made an appointment to meet with him.
To the LDS ambassadors great surprise the French official was overjoyed to see him. He was very kind and welcoming and invited him to sit down with him for lunch where they could talk. After just a few minutes of visiting the French official gave his official invitation for the Mormon church to invite missionaries to come to Vanuatu.
The LDS ambassador was stunned by this sudden change in attitude. He finally had the courage to ask the French official “Why are you allowing us to have missionaries in Vanuatu?” The official replied “When I last left Vanuatu I had to walk to work everyday. Each day I passed a beautiful church building that said ‘The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’. The people were always smiling and saying hello to me. They planted gardens and made the area clean. They had many activities and were always respectful, getting involved and helping out in the community, making it a better place to live. Every time I saw people go in or out of that building they were filled with a special light and happiness that I’ve never seen anywhere else. If we have missionaries in Vanuatu will they do that here as well?” The LDS ambassador assured the French official that they would do that here and ever since then missionaries have been allowed in Vanuatu. Isn’t that such a beautiful story?
There hasn’t been a Sunday that goes by that at least one or two or three people are getting baptised. Our little branch on the island of Efate is growing faster than we can fit inside the building. On the other islands the church is welcomed with open arms as well. One man I met on the beach last week explained one reason why this is the case.
Jacob’s family was from Tanna- they knew Nathaniel’s mother (that’s my nephew). He said that after Cyclone Pam (an absolutely devastating cyclone that flattened the island) there was many aid organizations that came in to help our their island, but there was one that came first and left last. They wore yellow t-shirts and they delivered shipments of food, water, money and supplies. They not only rebuilt the houses of their own members but they rebuilt the houses of entire villages. Now, whenever someone finds out that someone is from the Mormon the church, they kiss them and hug them and thank them. And many, many people have joined the church because of that.
Of course our goal is not for people to join our church, our goal is to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and allow it to change hearts and lives in others as it has in us.
Watching the way Vanuatu celebrates their independence humbles me. These island people are truly, emphatically, and deeply grateful for their independence. They know that the only way to be truly free is to be with God, and they are. And so today, because church was over so soon, do you know what the entire island is doing? They are raising their flag together, and singing their anthem together, eating together and then they are going to listen to 10 hours of preaching together. Yes, that’s the activities for the entire island. Every store is closed and every family is on their mat in the big field. And it doesn’t matter which church you belong to because today everyone is together worshiping God through those same 6 big speakers that have been blasting out music for the last week.
True independence comes from knowing who you are. True independence comes from recognizing that every man is and every woman is your brother and sister and that Pappa God really is our Father, all of us. God doesn’t see as Mormons or Catholics or Muslims, or as black men or white men, he sees us as His children. The message from the preacher in park today was that as brothers and sisters we need each other. And we need to be our best selves, so instead of focusing on the mistakes from yesterday or last year we need to take care of being the best that we can be today and unite in our respect and honor of God.
Happy Sabbath 🙂