Monday, May 23, 2011

South Pacific Campaign - Day #24

Home at last.  Our flight landed in Atlanta just after 6 AM on Wednesday, but by the time we could collect our baggage and be collected by Kieth & Ann Fields, it was 8 AM when we reached Dacula.  Thankfully our return trip was slightly shorter than our departure 3 weeks ago . . . only 40 hours from Pago to Dacula.

It has been a good campaign, but exhausting.  In the past 24 days we have traveled more than 25,000 miles, most of that by the 14 different airplanes we have flown.  Jimmie spoke 3 times at the Eastern Shore lectureship, he and Ron conducted 3 Gospel meetings, Carolyn and I taught ladies classes., and we have all been incredibly busy with a variety of tasks and very little down time.  There were two major purposes of this trip - encouragement to brethren who can easily feel isolated and spreading the word about our work.  I think both objectives were met, particularly since we picked up new teachers for IBTM and new students for ICOTB both.

Thank you to all who made this campaign possible.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

South Pacific Campaign - Day #23

We made a new friend in Auckland.  The knee brace stowed in my carryon raised red flags at some but not all the airport checkpoints, as did the metal in my knee, so I grew accustomed to the extra searches that entailed.  Most of the security guards in these various airports were nice but rushed.  This one was different, possibly since the Hills and Gilberts seemed to be the only transient visitors arriving just then.  Once our guard had determined that I was not actually carrying a strange-looking gun he became very friendly, remarking that my brace reminded him of Forest Gump's.  (I had had the same thought weeks ago.)  He and Jimmie were off and running, talking about all their favorite movies.  Then later as we were sitting at one of the tables by Burger King waiting for the powers that be to decide which gate to use for our next flight, he stopped by to chat again.  It turns out that he had been part of the extra cast in one of my favorite movies, Lord of the Rings.  So now I have officially met an Orc!

The flight to California got underway about 10 PM Tuesday night, and it was excruciating.  I was impressed by the spaciousness of the Business Class we walked through as we boarded the plane, but soon realized that the airline had made up for it by getting as many seats as possible in Economy.  The flight was chock-a-block full as the Aussies say, so we were crammed tight.  And it was a bumpy ride for the next 12+ hours.  The only exception was the hour or so of the worst turbulence I had ever experienced.  As we were being jerked and bounced the flight attendants came on the intercom TWICE to apologize for the rough ride.  Then after a few more episodes that had me remembering all those airplane disaster movies that I now no longer like, even the captain came on the air.  He just wanted to assure us that the plane really was built strongly enough to withstand the stress even if the turbulence got worse.  Lovely thought.  But finally the feeling of being shaken by a dog smoothed out to more normal bumps.  We landed at LAX to learn it was now 2 in the afternoon on Tuesday.  This International Dateline thing could get just a tad confusing.

But none of us were confused by who we saw at McDonald's during our agonizingly long 7-hour layover in Los Angeles - the television evangelist Jimmy Swaggert.  I laughingly dared Jimmie to do his Swaggert impression, then rushed him out of there when he actually started it.

Carolyn managed to catch a nap at LAX.

South Pacific Campaign - Day #22

Our short hop to Apia started about 8 AM this morning with the dreaded weighing of the suitcases.  Jimmie and I both squeaked by, but Carolyn and Ron had to do some quick reshuffling between their cases.  Then we STILL had to pay for excess baggage before we could board the tiny prop plane.  International flights are allowed 50 pounds per bag, but the inter-island commuter charges if they go over 40.  Bummer!

The skies were hazy today, but I was determined to take at a few photos from the air since my camera batteries had been dead when we arrived.

The Pago Internation Airport as we left the island.  It is actually located in Tafuna, but Pago is the name everyone seems to know when you mention Samoa.

The village of Iliili.  The English home where we stayed the last week is one of these.

We had a layover of several hours on the island of Upolu in the independent nation of Samoa. . . long enough to get boring but not enough to go anywhere since the town was so far away.  Most of the wait was spent standing in lines, but we did get a lunch of fish and chips and I resumed the shopping that was interrupted our last stop in Apia.  Fortunately to Jimmie's way of thinking, there wasn't much I cared to buy.  Finally our flight left Samoa at a little after 3 on Monday afternoon.  4 hours later we landed in Auckland, New Zealand where it was then Tuesday night.

South Pacific Campaign - Day #21

Jimmie and Ron both preached this morning as we worshipped God.  Then the room was cleared for the tonai (Samoan feast).  The tables were spread with a wonderful assortment of dishes, including oka (raw fish and vegetables marinated in coconut cream), breadfruit, taro, chicken curry, and more.  I used to get requests for pudigi fai (banana pudding) when we lived here so I made a huge one early this morning.  Judging by the speed it disappeared, it is still popular.  Ron preached his last lesson this evening and our campaign work was done.  But the evening wasn't over yet.

Following the closing prayer Omeka asked Ron and Carolyn to come to the front and turn to face the crowd.  Samoans have a lovely custom of presenting gifts to guests on their departure, but the Gilberts didn't know that so they were looking a tad mystified.  Until the procession started. The ladies of the congregation (who had initially rushed outside) began coming back in one at a time.  Mariama was first and she wrapped both Ron and Carolyn in a lavalava then put an ula around their neck.

Mariama presenting the lavalava
Lamesi decided it wasn't quite right, so he taught Ron the proper way for a man to wear the traditional Samoan skirt.

The the whole process began again with Jimmie and me as sisters presented us with small tokens to remember them by. 

It truly is a heart-warming tradition - especially since each gift presented is followed by a hug and kiss.

Then more hugs and tearful goodbyes before heading back to the English home to pack.  It was our last full day in Amerika Samoa and that always brings a touch of sadness.

South Pacific Campaign - Day #20

Another gorgeous day on Tutuila - made even nicer by the fact that today was Leone's Ladies Day.  It began at 10 AM with Carolyn and me each teaching a lesson. 

Mariama, Omeka's wife, translated for me and Ianeta did the same for Carolyn.  I have known both of these beautiful ladies for 25 years or more, so it was been wonderful to get to spend some time with them again.  The classes were followed by a lovely lunch and lots of fellowship.  Then a short rest at the house and we were back again at 6 PM for another lesson, this time by Jimmie with translation by Omeka.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

South Pacific Campaign - Day #19

Jimmie and Ron had seen nothing of the island yet, so Randy & Sharon graciously offered their only working vehicle so that we could take a drive.  I have heard that a picture is worth a thousand words, so let me tell you about Tutuila.

Pago Pago harbor

Known as the Coxcombs in tourist books, but when we lived on the island our daughter Julie always called these thin rock slices The Dragon's Back

Fatu ma Futi

The open-air market

Downtown Fagatago

A large meeting fale.

Fales built on Utelei Beach

The end of the road.  Tutuila has one main road that goes from end to end of the island but not all the way around.  When you get to here you have to turn around and go back.

South Pacific Campaign - Day #18

Thursday was a repeat of Wednesday as far as our schedule, but any day that starts with a fresh papaya breakfast and brilliant blue skies just has to be good.  Jimmie preached the evening's lesson on Esau's Bad Bargains.

Jimmie with Omeka, the preacher at the Leone Church of Christ. 

South Pacific Campaign - Day #17

We stayed with the English family while on Tutuila.  Randy and Sharon, missionaries originally from Arkansas, came to Samoa while Jimmie and I lived and worked there full-time, and they have been dear to us since.  I remember how impressed I was by Sharon's courage then because she happened to be 6 months pregnant with their first child when they arrived.  Now 22 years and 4 more children later they are still in Samoa. 

Randy & Sharon with Garrett and Aaron (who are now away at college), Austin, Noah and Cassie

In addition to Randy's work in various island nations he also began a radio station a few years ago to promote the Lord's church on Tutuila.  Now he is about to get another, more powerful station operating that will reach the other Samoan islands.  He has been building a new broadcast studio behind his house so Jimmie and Ron worked each morning to assist him.  Rocco and Debbie Pierce, missionaries who have been here working with the English family for 4 years, live right next door so we also enjoyed getting to know them.

Rocco and Debbie with their son Robert

But while the guys were hard at work with some good old-fashioned manual labor, the girls played.  That's how it should be, isn't it?  Sharon and Debbie took Carolyn and me on a drive to see some of the island.  It is still just as incredibly beautiful as I remembered it.

Unfortunately, everything was not perfect in paradise.  All 4 of our campaign party was now fighting coughs and colds.  (Jimmie drank that nasty stuff given him in New Zealand and was the closest to being well.)  And a disturbing problem required quite a bit of Jimmie's time and attention throughout this week.  But the Gospel meeting at Leone was wonderful.  It began on Wendesday evening with 72 listening to Ron's sermon on Lessons We Learn About Death.  Then more heard it the next morning as it aired on the radio during te morning commute to work.

South Pacific Campaign Note

Blogspot was doing some kind of maintenance for a few days so it wasn't possible to post any blogs.  We just returned home so I will try catch up ASAP.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

South Pacific Campaign - Day #16

This was our first day on this campaign that we were not either traveling or teaching, or both.  A little extra sleep at the English house was very welcome this morning!  But we still had a very full day.  Jimmie and Ron went with Omeka Malila, the preacher for the Leone congregation that we will be working with this coming week, to visit some brethren.  Us girls - Carolyn, Sharon & Cassie English, Debbie Pierce and me - took a drive to do a few errands and shopping.  It is amazing the things that are available on the island now that were completely unheard of when Jimmie and I lived here with our daughter, Julie.  Of course, that was 20 years ago but it still is surprising to me.  They even have a large warehouse store that is like Sams Club where you can buy in bulk.  

Besides preaching and conducting Gospel campaigns around the South Pacific, Randy English and Rocco Pierce work together operating a radio station here on Tutuila. KULA 95.1 FM broadcasts world news at the top of each hour, but the rest of the time is devoted to religious programs.  So Randy plans to record the lessons each evening of the Gospel meeting, but also soon had Ron started on recording additional sermons for the radio.  By this evening he was on the air.

Randy and Sharon had invited some of the brethren at the Leone congregation to a spaghetti dinner tonight.  Then we got word that Lomiga, Tala and children were leaving the island on a military flight bound for Hawaii.  (Since Seone was in the ROTC the Army has been working closely with the family to help them through this.)  Dinner was put on hold as we all headed to the airport to see them off.  So everyone was hungry by the time we got back, but it was well worth the wait.  When Omeka learned during this morning's visits that Jimmie was longing for palusami (Jimmie's favorite food - taro leaves filled with onions and coconut cream then baked in the underground oven) he went home and fired up the umu to make some.

Friday, May 13, 2011

South Pacific Campaign - Day #15

Today was Monday . . . again.  The International Date Line makes for some interesting travel in this part of the world.  But there just always seemed to be something very wrong with having two Mondays in the week.

It had been 20 years since Jimmie or I had been in Western Samoa.  They've even changed the name of the country since we've visited.  Now it is simply called Samoa.  The changes are huge.  The first one I noticed last night was that they now drive on the left side of the road, just like New Zealand.  The second was how much the town had spread out.  We never even got close to the old harbor area where we used to walk along the water's edge to the open-air market for fresh fruit and vegetables that we couldn't get at home in American Samoa.  This morning the long taxi ride to the airport showed us that the long, lonely stretch of sand and palm trees that we remembered lining the coast is now filled with houses, stores and people. 

We arrived at Faleolo for our short flight to Pago and started all the details for checking in.  First, there's the weighing in - first our bags and then US.  This flight between the 2 Samoan islands is still the only ones I have ever been on where they make the passengers step up on the scale and then assign their seats according to weight.  But it's a small plane so I guess balance is important.  Then we went to the desk to pay the departure tax, followed by completing 2 sets of customs paperwork, one for Samoa and the other for Amerika Samoa.  FINALLY, everything was done and I wandered up to the second floor of the building to browse the handcrafts for sale there.  Suddenly, Jimmie dashed up to get me.  He just happened to glance at the boarding pass handed him by the airline agent and noticed that the departure time had been moved up by a full hour.  We had to go NOW!

Arriving in American Samoa is always like coming home for Jimmie and me.  There are chages each time, but the essentials are the same.  We were greeted by the smiling faces of dear friends from long ago, as well as new friends.  Unfortunately, we were also greeted with disturbing news.  The most heart-breaking was that the Leone congregation had just been touched by tragedy.  Seone, a faithful young Christian who was attending college in Hawaii, disappeared into the sea on Saturday as he was kyaking with friends.  His body was recovered on Sunday evening ending all hope that he might have survived.  Naturally his parents, Lomiga and Tala, were devastated.  Carolyn and I went with Sharon English and Debbie Pierce, missionaries here in Samoa, to take the family some food and our condolences.  As parents we never expect to be faced with the death of our children.  Please keep this family in your prayers.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

South Pacific Campaign - Day #14

Heavy rains woke us during the night so Mt. Taranaki made good on its promise.  This morning thick fog delayed flights out of New Plymouth, including our own for a little while.  But it also provided the largest, most amazing rainbow I had ever seen.  Juricz Blackman, who was driving us to the airport, asked if I had seen a round rainbow.  I had never even heard of a round rainbow.  She said those could be seen from the air so naturally I kept watch from my window seat.  Just before reaching Auckland I spotted one.  The sun reflecting off the airplane created a perfectly round rainbow on the clouds below us.  Very cool!

After a long, fairly uneventful Monday of airports and planes we arrived in Apia, Samoa . . . on Sunday night.  We are only 80 miles from our next destination but there are no connecting flights tonight so we cleared customs and boarded the shuttle bus into Apia.  The motel bed Jimmie had booked for us was a welcome sight.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

South Pacific Campaign - Day #13

We saw sunshine today!  Still no mountain - that elusive Mt. Taranaki was completely enveloped in clouds which means that rain is coming according to a local saying.  But at least the skies overhead were blue for a change.

Ron preached two lessons this Sunday morning, followed by an absolutely wonderful fellowship meal, and then Carolyn taught the ladies class right after that.  Jimmie conducted a men's class this evening . . . and that concluded our work in New Zealand for this campaign.  Back at the house we repacked our suitcases and got ready for another early morning departure.

South Pacific Campaign - New Zealand Pictures

Rain and heavily overcast skies have kept us from taking many pictures so we were thrilled to see some sunshine today.

The marquee at the New Plymouth congregation

New Plymouth Church of Christ

A view from downtown New Plymouth

You can't come to New Zealand and not see sheep - there are more sheep than people here.

We still haven't seen the full mountain, but drove up on Mt.Taranaki on our way to the Pipers yesterday.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

South Pacific Campaign - Day #12

The steady rain of yesterday turned into a deluge during the night, then back into a sopping wet drizzle today with frequent showers coming heavier.  It's now Saturday so we were really hoping to see a bit of the area, but that wasn't happening today.  The wet skies were also not conducive to having a laundry day - but after almost two weeks of travel we were out of clothes so laundry was a MUST.  We soon had it hanging from every available rafter in the garage (our hosts have a washer but no dryer which seems the norm here) . . . but we had little hope of it drying anytime soon.  Laundry hung there before going to Palmerston was still damp.  So when Steve Blackman jump-started the van's battery this morning and got us mobile again, Ron & Carolyn bundled up all the clothes and went in search of a laundromat. 

Jimmie is now battling the same cold symptoms that I am trying to get over so a day of rest was in order for him since he is scheduled to preach again tonight.  We had evening tea with Glenn and Sue Piper and when she heard Jimmie coughing she brought out some herbal medicine that she said would do the trick.  Jimmie said it was a whole new level of "bad tasting"!  (I somehow managed to stay very quiet just then.)  But it cleared his throat almost instantly so he is still taking it.

I have not mentioned our hosts here in New Plymouth, Allan and Venna Fowell

We actually haven't seen them since leaving Hobart since Allan is now holding a Gospel meeting in Tasmania, but they graciously gave us use of their home and van so we have been very comfortable.  Until last night.  When we arrived in New Zealand we were warned that we did not have a key to one particular lock on the door.  Somehow that just happened to be the lock that got engaged when we left the house this evening.  What a sinking feeling to be standing out in the rain and wind and realize you are locked out.  After Jimmie and Ron finally gave up that they were not going to be able to find another way in we went in search of a telephone at one of the few stores still open.  Steve Blackman came to our rescue for the second time today.  Thank you, Steve!

Friday, May 6, 2011

South Pacific Campaign - Day #11

It was time for another round of good-byes again this morning.  That is the  #2 worst thing about campaigns - getting sick far from home would definitely be #1.  But the Odonells have been wonderful hosts and took good care of all of us.   I'm just sorry that I spent so much time sleeping that I didn't get a chance to know them better because they have 4 of the sweetest kids you would ever want to meet.  I hope we get to see them again when they come to the States in the fall.

Kent and Rachel Odonnell with Chloe, Ethan, Michael & Phoebe

The drive back to New Plymouth was in the rain again so we still didn't get to see the mountain that's on all the post cards, Mt. Taranaki.  That's a shame because the pictures I've seen are pretty amazing.  We did pause at the coast long enough for me to snap a picture of a black sand beach littered with drift wood that I found interesting. 
But the gorgeous countryside we passed with cows and sheep often perched on steep green slopes was encased in too much haze to be photogenic today.

We stopped at a McDonald's in Waganui for a bathroom/coffee break and Ron got a surprise.  He ordered coffee with cream expecting a packet of whitener with the same paper cup of black coffee that Jimmie had just walked away with.  Instead he was told that they would have to bring it to the table.  A few minutes later a huge china cup arrived that had a floating mountain of whipped cream on top.  The look on Ron's face was definitely worth the extra cost!

We arrived in New Plymouth and started retracing our steps back to the car rental agency . . . and that's when our GPS had a glitch.  Ron had been doing the navigational duties while Jimmie drove and you would think that coming back would be easy.  But Ron quickly realized that the google maps printed by the car dealer to get us to Palmerston did NOT include the section of New Plymouth we were coming back to.  We wandered about for 45 minutes or so with Jimmie making U-turns and Ron "recalculating!"  Finally, sitting at an intersection where we had been at least 4 times, Jimmie just happened to spot the name on a billboard and zipped right in.  The agency was hidden in behind a carlot and not visible from the main road. 

The New Plymouth gospel meeting began tonight with Jimmie doing the preaching.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

South Pacific Campaign - Day #10

I still feel lousy, but it is a slightly less lousy than yesterday. Thankfully, the rest of the crew is healthy and able to enjoy the fellowship of the wonderful brethren in Palmerston North. Tonight Carolyn taught the ladies while the men talked about IBTM.

South Pacific Campaign - Day #9

Okay, so I'm officially sick.  I coughed so much during the night that my ribs are actually sore, and neither Jimmie nor I got any sleep.  He headed to the chemist shop first thing this morning and bought a bag full of cold pills, head spray and some liquid echinnasea.  Ron contributed an antibiotic that he always takes on campaign.  Hopefully these will put me right again.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

South Pacific Campaign - Day #8

The plan today was to drive from New Plymouth to Palmerston North with the first gospel meeting scheduled to begin there tonight.  Allan Fowell had loaned us his van since he is still in Tasmania for a gospel meeting there, so we loaded up this morning all set to go.  Only nothing happened when Jimmie turned the key.  Apparently the battery on the van was dead.  The next few hours were spent trying to figure out how to fix the situation.  Carolyn and I let the guys handle it - she did laundry and I took a much-needed nap.  Finally, Kent ODonnell, in Palmerston North, got in touch with Rod Kyle in New Plymouth.  Rod took us to a car-rental place and we got hooked up with some wheels.  Unfortunately, it was then almost 4 in the afternoon, the drive to Palmerston North was said to be between 3 and 4 hours, and the gospel meeting was starting at 7.  But the brethren said they would just sing until we got there.  Fortunately, they didn't have to sing for long.  We rolled up to the building just 10 minutes late. 

I have to brag on Jimmie for just a moment.  I have to say that starting off in a car where all the controls are in the wrong place, driving roads where the oncoming traffic is on the wrong side, and a steady rain making visibility less than perfect - that would have made me more than a shade stressed.  But Jimmie handled it like a pro.  He said the only difference between driving here and in Africa was that he didn't have to watch out for bicycles and chickens here, so this was easier.  The countryside we were able to see before darkness fell was incredibly beautiful.

South Pacific Campaign - Day #7

We were at the airport this morning at 5AM for our flight to Melbourne, so it was another long, weary day of travel.  The worst bit was in Auckland.  Our flight across the Tasman Sea had been a little late in arriving so by the time we had cleared customs and immigration we had less than 1 hour before our connection to New Plymouth.  We still had sufficient time, until the Air New Zealand transfer desk refused to take our checked baggage.  Apparently any time they have less than an hour to do their job, the job becomes yours so we had to cart ALL of our baggage to the domestic terminal and check in again there.  Standing outside waiting for a transfer bus was not fun since it was raining at the time.  But amazingly we made the flight since it had also been delayed, and we reached New Plymouth only a few minutes late.  A quick bite of supper provided by the sweet ladies of the congregation, and Carolyn and I were on to the evening ladies class.  I taught, but I'm afraid I was not at my best form.  I fought a sore throat all day and by the third airplane ride today my ears were so closed that I couldn't even hear myself speak this evening.  When we got back to our home for the evening I assigned the Internet students who had enrolled since I was last able to get online and headed to bed - a mere 23 hours after getting up this morning.

South Pacific Campaign - Tasmania Photos

The Eastern Shore Church of Christ building

The Open Forum Saturday afternoon
The speakers at the lectureship
Gary & Helyn Young.  Gary is the director of the lectureship and Helyn stays very busy behind the scenes.
Our marvelous hosts, Garrett & Kate Leitch
Our campaign partners, Ron & Carolyn Gilbert
A view of the harbor at Hobart, Tasmania
The bridge crossing the harbor
The overlook at Mt. Nelson
You can't visit Tasmania without seeing at least one Tassie Devil.  Kate drove some of us out to a wild life park during our afternoon break on Sunday to see some of the local critters.

Old Man Emu - our grandson has loved the song since Jimmie's trip here last year so we HAD to have a picture of an emu!
We missed a very important event in America today.  Our grandson turned 5.  Happy Birthday, Cole!!!  Hope you had a fantastic day!