Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Our Beloved Temple Closes for Renovations

This is how the Fiji Suva Temple looks all golden in the evening sun. It greets me daily as I go to the Mission Office which faces the temple across the courtyard. You can see three views of the Pacific Ocean from the hill. 

 The temple is there as a constant amid the storms of life--leading us back to our Heavenly Father.

Inside we make sacred covenants that help direct our paths here on earth.

Eternal families begin in the temple. 
Sister Bechu and Elder Inia both served in the Fiji Suva Mission while I was serving. After they completed their missions, they were encouraged to meet by Elder and Sister McFadden who knew each of them when they served at different times on Taveuni Island. Now they are Ana and Benjamin Inia--beginning their eternal life together on 11 September 2014.

Here they are being photographed in front of the temple 
after they were sealed for time and all eternity.

Beautiful gardens provide peaceful places to meditate.

We walked around the temple a few days before it closed
and found it lovely in the early morning light.

Yes, that is a bird perched on Angel Moroni's horn.

This is my good friend Milika Kadonavatu and her two sons, Iliesa and Waisaki. Through a series of miracles, she was able to go through the temple for the first time the day before the temple closed. She was so excited! Her sons were very happy for her too. They came with her and stayed in the visitor's room while she made her covenants with the Lord. Her husband is such a good man and really supported her through this process.

Selvik Singh is from Fiji and also served in the Fiji Suva Mission. He pioneered work in the first Hindi speaking area in our mission. His lovely bride is Ragni Kumar, who also is a returned missionary. Their temple marriage was the last ordinance to be performed before the temple closed. Aren't they lovely!

The bride's parents are by the groom 
and the groom's parents are by the bride.

Beginning Monday, October 13, 2014, through December 15, 2015, the Suva Fiji Temple will be closed to accommodate an extensive renovation of the temple. Following the renovation, there will be an open house for the public and then the temple will be rededicated. The Suva Fiji Temple was the first temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Melanesia and in Fiji. It was dedicated on 18 June 2000 by President Gordon B. Hinckley. I have loved attending the temple weekly and will really miss that opportunity the last three months of my mission. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Diwali--Hindu Festival of Lights

There are a significant number of Hindus in Fiji. Diwali is one of the biggest Hindu festivals commemorated here and all over the world. It is celebrated with much fanfare, gaiety, and enthusiasm. Here is a nighttime procession that we followed when it passed our house.

Before Diwali, families spend hours making sure their homes are sparklingly clean, well-decorated and full of delicious aromas. Food is prepared for weeks in advance. Our neighbor Sarita Chandra prepared this beautiful feast including many Indian sweets which are made on the stove, not baked.

These are delicious Pera made with paneer (Indian homemade cheese), milk, sugar, and cardamom. 

  Gifts are exchanged—especially Indian sweets. 

New clothes are purchased. Here is beautiful Sarita in her new elegant sari and her beautiful home. 

Homes and shops are decorated with many small electric lights.

Rangoli, stunning folk art designs created with colored rice, sand or flower petals, are at the entrances to homes. Usually these are lotus flowers. Our neighbors, Vimal, Sarita, and their son Vineel Chandra invited us over to enjoy Diwali with them. They created this beautiful rangoli to welcome people to their home. 

It is a celebration of good over evil, light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance. Hindus in Fiji usually open their homes to other families to share in the traditional sweets and foods of Diwali in Fiji.
Here in Fiji, it is a public holiday. Traditionally it is a harvest festival because it usually falls in October or November. The exact day of the festival is determined by the position of the moon. 

“No moon day” is the perfect day to celebrate. Candles are lit to drive away the darkness. Diwali means “rows of lighted lamps.” Small earthenware oil lamps called diyas are lit in profusion around people’s homes. Here Vimal and his son Vineel light the lamps.

I couldn't get this photo to turn around.

Then they relax after decorating their home.
Last year it was on Sunday, 3 November 2013. This year it will be on Thursday, 23 October 2014. Next year it will be on 11 November 2015 and in 2016 it will fall on 30 October. It is actually a five-day festival with Diwali falling on the third day. 

Oh, and did I mention the fireworks and sparklers. Those continued for a good month after Diwali. Boom, boom, boom late at night—I felt like I was in a war zone.

Our first introduction to Hindu culture came when we attended the Fiji Hindu Society fund-raising program on October 24, 2013. It was outstanding. This woman played a unique keyboard instrument with her right hand while operating the bellows with her left hand, singing beautifully at the same time.

This man could really dance. I wish I could post the video.

Again, lighting candles is a very important part of every Diwali celebration.

The sounds this drummer could create almost effortlessly from this small drum were amazing.

These young women danced in a very unique way and their costumes were very intriguing.

Afterwards we got to meet some of the other attendees. 
This Fijian woman now lives in California. Isn’t she beautiful in her sari. 

Here are a mother and daughter in exquisite saris. 

We were surrounded with a beautiful fashion show 
of dresses (worn by unmarried young women) and saris (worn by married women).

This woman is a sister to our dear friend, Sandhiya Singh.

At the end of the Diwali season, we learned more about Diwali at one of our senior missionary Family Home Evenings. We enjoyed lamb curry and all the toppings and roti (a bread much like a tortilla).

The women enjoyed visiting with each other on one side. 

And the men conversed on the other except for two women who perhaps found their discussion more lively..

Afterwards we took a group picture. What a wonderful bunch of people devoted to serving the people of Fiji and their Savior, Jesus Christ.

Seated: Elder Collins, Sister Davis, Sister Collins, Sister Klingler, Sister Limburg, Sister Newsom (me), Sister Hogge, Sister Wells, Sister Christiansen, Sister Tennis, and Sister Whitehead.
Standing: Elder Hogge, President Davis, President Klingler, Sister and Elder Updike, Elder Whitehead, Susan and Frank Stanford (wonderful volunteers), Elder and Sister Jackson, Elder Wells, speaker, Elder Christiansen, and Elder Tennis.

Friday, August 15, 2014

October Activities and Stake Music Festival

The youth in Fiji are the strength of the Church. They are being prepared in their homes, in the schools (LDS Primary School and LDS College), and in the wards and branches to lead the church in Fiji in the future. Here are a group of them singing and playing the cup game after one of our ward activities. This is the cafeteria at the college and that is where we meet on Sundays and for activities during the week. All church buildings are used in multiple ways.

This is the gym at the college and people are leaving after an inspiring General Conference broadcast on October 12 and 13. Fiji records the conference due to time differences and members view it together one week later.

 Elder LeDoux is pointing to Vuna on Taveuni island where he will serve the last two months of his mission. He is excited to be working with the people again and not be stuck in the office. He had been Assistant to the President. Elder Palmer and Elder Checketts are now the new Assistants. Elder Palmer was one of the shortest missionaries and Elder Checketts was definitely the tallest missionary in Fiji. The Lord has a sense of humor when he puts these companionships together. They were all wonderful leaders in our mission.

 Good food makes happy missionaries. This is in the mission home. Most of these great missionaries have now returned home. I hope our paths cross again sometime in the future.

 Here are the elders after their training meeting "taking over the office". Their backpacks and scriptures are everywhere. They use the phone and the computers to conduct their missionary business. There are even bike tires to take back to their villages. Missionaries either walk, bike, or drive depending on their area and their assignment. The walking elders also use the vast bus and taxi system here in Fiji.
Here are the sisters after one of their training meetings. They love this opportunity to visit with one another. Those are photos of all our missionaries on the white board grouped by zones, districts, and areas. The sister on the right is pointing to the new missionaries who are due to arrive soon.

Okay, all you ward choir directors, eat your heart out when you see all these men in this ward choir. The Fijian men love to sing and they have beautiful voices. All the choirs sing without piano accompaniment and harmonize beautifully.

The two brethren on either side of this quartet both served in Fiji on their missions: Elder Mema'ofa and Elder Deloi. The two sisters complete this Young Single Adult quartet. 
Each ward had to furnish a quartet and a choir. This is my ward's quartet (Tamavua 2nd Ward) composed of the Veikoso sisters in the center and the Solomone sisters on either side.

Fiji Independence Day--October 10th

On October 9, 2013 we attended a party organized by the Service Center employees. The theme was Fiji Independence Day. We all enjoyed a wonderful program put on by the staff. I work with Mili (to the right) all the time. She always has that big beautiful smile on her face and is so cooperative and helpful when I have financial problems to solve for the mission.Venina and Shivi also offer service with a smile.

During the evening the Master of Ceremonies asked trivia questions about the history of Fiji. I learned so much and it was fun. The staff were very knowledgeable about their beloved Fiji. Did you know that on 10 October 1896 Fiji village chiefs ceded the island to Queen Victoria to be under British rule? Then 96 years later to the day (10 October 1970) it accepted a democratic system of constitutional parliamentary government. That independence remains a great source of pride and joy to all Fiji citizens.

We all sang the Fiji National Anthem. Here are the words:

Blessing grant oh God of nations on the isles of Fiji
As we stand united under noble banner blue.
And we honor and defend the cause of freedom ever
Onward march together God bless Fiji.

Chorus: For Fiji, ever Fiji, let our voices ring with pride.
For Fiji ever Fiji her name hail far and wide,
A land of freedom, hope and glory to endure what ever befall.
May God Bless Fiji forever more!

Blessing grant oh God of nations on the isles of Fiji.
Shores of golden sand and sunshine, happiness and song
Stand united, we of Fiji, fame and glory ever
Onward march together, God bless Fiji.

These ladies are having so much fun dancing together. There is Mili on the left. Next is Anna who is on our housekeeping staff along with Kara on the far right. Milika worked in the distribution center and now is the receptionist. The other woman handles all the utility payments for our churches and schools in Fiji. Closest to the camera are President and Sister Seru of our Suva North Stake. He is a dynamic and energetic leader. I love to hear him preach a sermon. He is passionate in leading the members of his stake in truth and righteousness.

Fun Fiji Facts

      Fiji is an island nation in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean. Its closet neighbors are Vanuatu to the west, France's New Caledonia to the southwest, New Zealand's Kermadec to the southeast, Tonga to the east, the Samoas, France's Wallis and Futuna to the northeast, and Tuvalu to the north. It is due west of the northern part of Australia. It has been inhabited since second millennium BC. The main island of the republic is named Viti Levu with the next largest island called Vanua Levu. 
     The estimated population of the country is 849,000 or about twice as many as the city of Mesa, Arizona where I come from. The total area is 7,056 square miles. In comparison, my home-state of Arizona is 114,000 square miles which is 16 times larger. Maricopa County where I live in Mesa is the 14th largest county in the U.S.A. It is 9,224 square miles or about 30% larger than all of Fiji. Fiji has a high literacy rate of 93%. Education is compulsory and free till the age of 16.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Relief Society Fair--Talent and Fun

Relief Society is an amazing worldwide organization for women 18 and over with over 29,000 units in 175 countries and 80 languages. Its goals are to increase faith and personal righteousness, strengthen families and homes, and seek out and help those in need.  

September 27, 2013--The Relief Society women of the Suva North Stake put on this fantastic fair. First they had a spiritually uplifting program and then we went from room to room to see and buy the beautiful things the sisters had created. The mats are handwoven from leaves. I have seen women spread them out on their floors when guests come. They are also spread on the ground to sit on at the park and sports events. There are lots of pretty things on display in this room pictured above.

Here I learned quickly that when I see something I like, I need to buy it right then. When I came back, most of these ties were gone. I did pick up about three of them for my grandsons.

My companion snatched up a similar large shell with a flower arrangement to decorate our flat. As I understand, no one is allowed to take these large shells off the island, so we will enjoy while we may.

This is Sister Devi and my companion to her right in the background. Sister Devi was intrigued with the display for Young Women for she has a teenage daughter named Kajel. We have enjoyed meeting with this family in their home every week. 

The art of crochet is alive and well in Fiji. I love all the colorful crocheted pieces stitched together. I am not sure whether this is a small tablecloth, a beginning of a bed spread, or a wall hanging.
My companion has ordered a tablecloth like this one pictured. It is beautiful and very detailed.

I thought the designer had created an amazing variety of jewelry pieces. Keti Balenacagu and her daughter Sai (pronounced Sy) handmade these. She was kind enough to bring them to the office and I bought several of her necklaces as gifts for my daughters and others.

Sai on the left and her mother Keti on the right are pictured here singing, so they have multiple talents. I wish you could hear their beautiful harmony. Sai recently returned from her mission in Kiribati. She is now at BYU-Hawaii. The other woman in the center is the Stake Primary President and also teaches piano at the LDS College. They all live in Lami. I imagine Keti's  daughter is holding the handwritten music.

Below is a photo of people gathering and waiting for the entertainment to begin--lots of singing and dancing. It was such a treat. I thought it was fun the way they wrapped the support columns with festive fabric.


This is a group of women and girls from the Samabula First Ward. It is an English speaking ward and so has more ethnic diversity. The front row of girls are all from Kiribati (pronounced Keer-a-bus). On 
middle row you can see an Indo-Fajian and a South Korean young woman. They all have great fun together. The bishop of this ward is from Rotuma.

These young women are all from Tamavua Second Ward --the English-speaking ward I attend. They are singing "You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone" and providing rhythm with cups and hand-clapping. The two on the far left and right are Solomone girls. Their parents met at BYU-Hawaii. Their mother is Hawaiian and their father is Rotuman. They now live in Kiribati where their father is principal of the college. The other two girls are Savaira and Amelia Veikoso. Their father is Fijian and their mother is from Tonga. The youth are so spiritually strong in Fiji.

Now these women from the Samabula Second Ward (Fijian speaking) 
know how to have fun and love to dance.

 I thought these girls had the prettiest costumes. I like their colorful patchwork skirts, the flowers in their hair, their crisp white blouses, and their pearl necklaces.
The woman dancing is Frances Ramaqa (pronounced Ray-mong-a). She is one of our piano students and is very lively and fun. She attends the Tacirua Ward which is a Fijian speaking ward. Most of them also speak English, but they like to retain their Fijian language.

These dancers are wearing wrap-around sulus.
These women of all ages in blue company T-shirts are all having a good time and are good dancers.