Wednesday, February 27, 2013


27 February, 2013

Ten days is too long to go between blogs.  A lot has happened since the last entry, but there has not been a lot of time to write.  I’ll start with the weather.  Things are really dry around here.  When we first arrived we noticed a lot of cactus-type plants everywhere.  We wondered why they seemed to get along so well.  It is because things are dry here.  When it rains it really comes down hard, but that only lasts a few minutes.
Cruise ship through the rain

Then the sun comes out and the humidity goes up.  Right now the hillsides are rather brown and dormant because of the combination of dry and hot.  It is winter in the northern hemisphere, so I suppose the flora are taking this opportunity to rest and rebuild before the spring and summer hit.

Joshua, Jurmaine, Kelvin, Kendrew
We had a major event this past weekend.  Four young men in our little branch were ordained elders.  Two of them are going on missions soon, the third will be a little later, and the oldest is finishing his chemo for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  The four have variously been called as a counselor in the branch presidency, counselor in the elders’ quorum presidency, secretary to the EQ, and branch clerk.  I have the role of training them, sort of like a stake high counselor would do with new ward officers.  In my other life I served as a ward clerk for 5 years.  I enjoyed that calling tremendously and I became quite familiar with the Church’s MLS software.  Now I am using that experience to help train the new clerk.  It is nice to see the leadership spots all filled now.  The Tortola Branch is in the best shape it has been in for a long time.  That is mainly because we have faithful tithe-paying priesthood holders who are rising to the needs.  Change is inevitable and always challenging.  Now there are more to help with the changes.

It is interesting to see how the program works out here.  We have two young men out on missions.  They will come back and get married.  One of them is probably going to marry the young woman in the branch who served a mission in the Philippines.  The other will have to find his own.  One of the women in the branch told us about how she and her husband got together.  They are from Guyana, where Suan was raised in the Church.  She said she could see that there were not enough eligible young men in the Church, so she picked out one to train.  She got him into the Church and she keeps him active.  He is a good man, one of the counsellors in the elders’ quorum presidency, and they have a very active little 3-year old daughter. They went to the temple in October and had their marriage sealed.  Suan is the seminary teacher and she is a terrific role model for the youth in the branch.  She would be one of the leaders in any ward in the Church.  So would her husband.
Goats outside our apartment
Neighborhood WiFi Zone
So things are moving along.  We have a couple of young people who have made some bad decisions and have become enslaved to some things that need to be changed.  I have been given the assignment to help them through the Church version of the Twelve Step Program.  Our friends Elder and Sister Peterson are trying to get a group started on St Thomas.  George has a master’s degree in social work and has had tremendous experience with the 12 step program.  I have a copy of the manual and Elder Peterson as an advisor.

This program is inspired.  As I have read it I realize that is really simply a program to help people repent and change.  I think every one of us ought to at least read through the steps.  The first step is to admit there is a problem, and that I, the owner, am helpless to make the change without help from a higher power.  In the LDS program that higher power is the Savior and his Atonement. I think every one of would benefit from admitting that we are incapable of becoming free from the power of Satan and the destructive practices we engage in without help from Jesus.  Are we addicted?  Well we sure seem to make the same mistakes a lot of times, and we sure seem to enjoy wallowing in the mire of sin.  Even Paul and Nephi lamented that they were entrapped “in the sins which so easily do beset me” and their “wretched” state because of the destructive effect of sin.  They both expressed hopelessness without the release that comes from repenting and receiving forgiveness from the Savior.  I believe the greatest gift we as missionaries can offer to our friends in and out of the Church is the hope and freedom that come from following the five points of the Doctrine of Christ identified in 2 Nephi 31.

So here are the 12 steps:
  1. Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addictions (sins) and that your life has become unmanageable.
  2. Come to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health.
  3. Decide to turn your will and your life over to the care of God the Eternal Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.
  4. Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself.
  5. Admit to yourself, to your Heavenly Father in the name of Jesus Christ, to proper priesthood authority, and to another person the exact nature of your wrongs.
  6. Become entirely ready to have God remove all your character weaknesses.
  7. Humbly ask Heavenly Father to remove your shortcomings.
  8. Make a written list of all persons you have harmed and become willing to make restitution to them.
  9. Wherever possible, make direct restitution to all persons you have harmed.
  10. Continue to take personal inventory, and when you are wrong promptly admit it.
  11. Seek through prayer and meditation to know the Lord’s will and to have the power to carry it out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, share this message with others and practice these principles in all you do.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Wedding

This past week we had another big event.  One of the ladies in our little branch has been living with a man for 15 years.  The two oldest kids were baptized last October, but the two younger ones and their dad are not yet members.  Well, they decided they should get married, and Natasha wanted to have a ceremony at the church.  Our church authorities do not have the legal authority to perform marriages in the BVI, so they had the legal ceremony at Josiah’s Bay on Thursday.  It was mainly for family and close friends, so of course we were invited.  The setting was lovely and the occasion was special.  Then we held a ceremony and reception at the church meeting place on Saturday afternoon.  It was a fitting celebration with about 60 people attending.  President Kalama actually took them through the Church's civil wedding ceremony, having them recite the vows found in the Handbook.  It was very nice.
The branch members love to have a party
Sister Terry Hill, our snowbird from Canada who comes down here every winter, is a terrific cook and loves to entertain huge crowds of people.  
Joshua 18, Frankie 13, Josie 15.  Great kids.
She purchased the food and fixed the meal for all the guests.  She involved two of her neighbors in the effort and enlisted the young people in the branch to serve the dinner.  It was a tremendous success 
Kaylee is a 3 year-old fireball.  She and Mia would have a ball together.
from every point of view.

Marcus is actually the chief bailiff for the BVI court system.  Elder Tower, a retired judge from San Diego, has become friends with Marcus and he informed me that the chief bailiff is a very important office.  
Cutting the Cake

He has not allowed the two younger kids, Marcus and Selena, to be baptized yet because he doesn’t think they are ready.  They are ready, but we will all wait patiently for his permission.  Meanwhile, Marcus and Natasha are now legally and lawfully married.  

They actually asked me to make a few remarks.  Here is the text of what I said.  

I am honored to be asked to make a few remarks.  Perhaps it is because I am the elder statesman here.  In two weeks we will celebrate our 40th anniversary.  What we have learned could occupy many hours of discussion.  But not today.

When a marriage takes place, a new individual is created--a family.  The family unit thus created is bigger than either of the individual participants, and it is bigger than the sum of the two together.  Before marriage, two people are simply two people. They can make promises and arrangements with each other any way they choose, but they are still just two individuals.  When God is brought into and kept a part of the new unit, then it has God’s blessing.  The question we all collectively and individually must ask constantly is simply this:  Do I want to do this God’s way and have God’s blessing, or do I want to do it man’s way?  Remember that the natural man is an enemy to God, so man’s way, the way of the world, will be blessed by someone less than God.  Is that what we want?  

The family is the most important unit in heaven and on earth.  Congratulations to you both, Natasha and Marcus, as you embark on the journey of strengthening this new family unit.  

Marriage is a contract, but it a covenant relationship even more than it is a contractual relationship.  In the covenant we make promises to each other, and to God.  In front of God and witnesses we promise to be faithful, loyal, and true to each other. We sign the official papers to signify that we are willing to abide by the terms set forth.  There are three places where we might put our focus.

  1. We might focus on our selves. We might come to a marriage with the idea of what it can do for me.  How do I benefit from this relationship?  How will this arrangement prosper and bless me?  What will I get out of this investment?  If this remains the focus for long the marriage is in trouble.
2.    We might focus on the other person.  What can I do to improve the life and situation of my beloved? How can I make her feel special?  In what ways is my spouse better because of this union? 

3.    We might focus on the role of God in this covenant relationship.  A marriage is a union between two people, but we must never forget that God desires to be a part of every marriage, every family relationship.  It is not just between two people, it is also between those people and God.  There is a relationship of each individual with God. In addition, there is also a relationship of the new entity, the family unit thus created,  with God.  

Marriage and the resulting family unit are intended to last forever, throughout all eternity.  The way has been revealed and the authority has been restored to make that eternal unit possible.  Almost as important in God’s eyes, however, is the sacredness and seriousness  of that relationship in mortality.  In the LDS Church we talk of being sealed for Time and Eternity.  We must not forget that Time is part of Eternity.  I believe that if we take care of Time, Eternity will usually take care of itself.  

Joseph Smith said, “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”  Marriage is ordained of God, and he recognizes the authority of the laws of the land. We cannot receive the blessings of eternity unless we obey the laws that apply to mortality.  When a man and a woman are married by the authority of the law of the land, that marriage is recognized by God for the period of time when that law is in effect.  In other words, we believe that God recognizes civil marriage for as long as the mortal life of the participants endures.

In considering the purpose of life, the Prophet Joseph Smith said: "Happiness is the object and design of our existence; and will be the end thereof, if we pursue the path that leads to it; and this path is virtue, uprightness, faithfulness, holiness, and keeping all the commandments of God" (HC 5:134–35).

When I was a lot younger and leaner I enjoyed hiking in the mountains of my home land.  The trails would lead to breath-taking views of peaks and valleys.  The view was always worthy of the effort to get there.  Inevitably there were junctions and forks in the trails where I was required to decide which way I would go. All trails do not lead everywhere.  We are all free to choose which path we follow, but we cannot choose a path without choosing the result of that path--the territory we pass through as well as the destination.  We cannot pick up one end of the stick without picking up the other end also.

On the way home each day I see a church sign announcing the coming Sunday’s sermon.  This week the sign says Our God Is a Covenant-keeping God.  Our God truly is a covenant-keeping God.  He remembers his promises.  We must also remember that God’s stated mission is about us.  In Moses 1:39 God said:  This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.  We can be totally confident that this statement is true.  God’s whole purpose is to assist us in returning to him to receive all that he desires to give us, even Eternal Life.  To this end he has given us the roadmap of laws and commandments.  Happiness will be the result of obedience.  Misery will be the result of disobedience.  It  really is that simple.

I pray, we all pray, that God will bless you in your marriage.  Counsel together.  Learn from your children even as you teach them.  May you lead in righteousness with patience and love.  May you follow in humility.  

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Puerto Rico Conference

Sometimes it is hard to write.  I don’t know that this is equal to writer’s block, but it takes a lot of effort.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone is reading what I write.  Oh well, maybe somebody will read it someday.  I think this is probably how everybody who ever kept a journal has felt.  I do know how much I enjoy reading my ancestors’ journals and my kids’ blogs, so I will keep trying.
Puerto Rico stake center
Last weekend Gaye and I went to Puerto Rico for a conference.  Elder Neil L Andersen of The Twelve and President Ronald Rasband of The Seventy were there with their wives.  
Rasband's, Alvarado's, Andersen's
Also attending were two of the area presidency and their wives. Add in President and Sister Alvarado and there were plenty of high-powered speakers for a weekend.  We were not disappointed.  We met the other senior couples from The Islands and had a meeting with every missionary on Puerto Rico attending.  I must admit that one of the high points was when everyone stood and sang the mission song.
We are on the left side, third row back.
I didn’t know the words or the tune, but that didn’t matter.  The emotional and spiritual power of the moment made singing very difficult for this old guy.  The message was that we never stand alone when we stand with God.  It made the hair on my neck stand up and water run down my face.

We stayed with our friends George and Sharon Peterson.  Actually Gaye and I took the ferry to St Thomas on Thursday, stayed at their apartment, then flew to San Juan Friday morning.  That was aboard Cape Air.  
Co-pilot in front of Gaye
The planes carry eight passengers plus a crew of two, or of one.  Often one of the passengers will be sitting in the co-pilot seat.  The passengers are told where to sit based on weight.  They put me over the wing.  Hmmm.
Stowing Baggage

We never got above 1500 feet and every little disturbance in the air was transmitted to the plane. It is good that we don’t get motion sickness.  The return trip was in reverse order.  We went that way because of a mixup with tickets.  When we first got here we were given some Cape Air commuter tickets to put in a safe place to be used when we would be brought back into the mission office.  I put them in a safe place.  I just don’t remember where that place is, so we had to go through St Thomas because it cost significantly less that way.  Some day those little tickets will show up and we will frame them.

Because there were so many missionaries coming in who would need transportation from the airport and around the city to the various conference sites, the office asked us to rent a vehicle.  It was at our own expense, but I found a good deal for a mini van for the whole weekend.  Splitting the cost with the Peterson’s made it very reasonable, and it gave us freedom to come and go as we wanted.  That made it all worthwhile.  

We were housed at the apartment of Ed and Julie Collazo, a pair of senior missionaries.  They are from Puerto Rico but moved to Utah 30 years ago.  What an experience we had with them!  They are a whirlwind of enthusiasm and activity.  He said they are active, not passive, missionaries.
Elder and Sister Collazo
Elder Collazo carries a backpack full of copies of the Book of Mormon with him so he will have enough to give one to the people he meets.  He keeps his baptism clothing with him in the car so he will be prepared.  I could go on for a long time, but suffice it to say that we enjoyed our experience with them immensely.  

We took a little trip up into El Yunque National Forest.  That is up on the highest peak on Puerto Rico and is a tropical rain forest.  It was fun to go there, way up in the clouds, to see the waterfalls and feel the cool mountain breeze, and to hear the little coqui frogs chirp away.  The frogs are the unofficial mascot of Puerto Rico.  About the size of a thumb nail, they stay hidden from sight but send out their clear two-note call all night. Just hearing them sing is the essence of the Puerto Rico experience.  

We also spent Sunday night at the Ritz Carleton hotel near Old San Juan. By the way, we got a super rate for the hotel.  Normally around $600 per night per room, we got it for $125 because the branch president in St Thomas works for the hotel chain.  It was a nice room in a lovely hotel right on the beach. The conference was over at noon, so we drove out there to check in, but we were too early for check-in so we found a Chili’s for some lunch.  The young man who served our meals accepted an invitation to have someone call on him from the Church.  We sent his name to Elder Collazo.  Then we drove to Old San Juan.
Old San Juan is where the first settlement was founded.  Columbus discovered Puerto Rico (from the European view of history) on his second voyage.  
El Murro Fortress

Later the Spanish established a strong fortress at the entrance into the harbor and defended it against efforts of the British and the Dutch over the next hundred years.  It is now a national historic site, very well preserved and a popular attraction to locals and visitors.  In front of the fort is a huge field of grass that is now used by hundreds of people to fly kites.  With a constant breeze blowing from the east it is an ideal kite-flying venue.  There was actually a kite festival scheduled for February 17.  That would be quite a sight.

Monday morning we got up and went to the beach.  The others hopped into the hot tub but I was just sitting on the side, when Elder Andersen and his wife strolled past on the beach for a morning walk.  They are a cute couple.  Those authorities who travel constantly throughout the world have a huge responsibility. Their main role is to keep the doctrine pure, according to President Hinckley.  I am beginning to understand more acutely what that means.

Our branch president has been away for three weeks with his family.  They are originally from Hawaii and Cook Islands but ended up here because of very good employment.  They returned to Hawaii to take their two oldest girls through the temple as they get ready to go on their missions.  Hina, the youngest of the two older girls, was dropped off at the Provo MTC on their way back to Tortola. Hina is going to Ventura California Mission, Spanish speaking.  The oldest daughter, Hail’a, stayed in Hawaii to work for a few weeks before she enters the Provo MTC in April on her way to Quezon Philippines Mission.  We managed to make arrangements for the Kalama family to use our van while they were in Utah, so some of our kids had the opportunity to meet them.  It all worked out great for everybody.  Isn’t it fun to be able to do something significant for somebody else!  It is good to have them back.  

While they have been gone the members have looked to me for instruction and doctrine.  I am comfortable with my experience and my ability to assist them, but I have no authority beyond being an advisor.  That is how it should be.  I am understanding better what it means to be a member and leader support missionary.  Our job is to assist and train the local leaders to get along just fine without us.  Along the way we form deep and strong bonds of friendship and brotherhood.  In that process our lives are raised to a new level.  When we finally depart this mortal sphere we will leave everything that is of this world here.  I checked.  There are no U-Haul trucks going to heaven.  But we do get to take the most important things with us, including experiences and relationships.  I suspect the other stuff will continue to diminish in importance anyway.  We should invest our time and effort in areas of life that will cross the divide.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Lost Lambs

63.February 2, 2013

I thought the biggest predator on the island is the occasional feral cat.  Yesterday Gaye and I saw a weasel.  I haven’t seen one of those for years, but there it was right by the road, very much alive.  I imagine weasels would do very well here with the abundance of chickens and rats.  Good for them.

I saw a little lamb beside the road.  There are bunches of sheep and goats along the roadside here on the island.  They seem to just wander at will, eating whatever they like.  The goats are often seen climbing up the very steep rocky hillsides.  The sheep seem to like the flatter places.  Goats tails go up, but sheep tails go down.  That is the fast way to tell which is which.  Plus the goats often have horns and the sheep never do.

Anyway, I saw a little lamb dead along side the road.  It was very small, probably not very old.  Lambs tend to wander sometimes, and when they do they always get into trouble.  Little goats wander, too.  I saw a goat with its horns tangled up in a fence.  When we came back past that spot, though, it was not there any more.  Maybe somebody helped it.  But little lambs always get into trouble when they wander.  If somebody is not there to find it and bring it back, then sometimes the trouble they get into is really bad.  That is what happened to this little lamb.

We have many wandering lambs on the island.  I stopped in at the local hardware store to get some drain baskets for our kitchen sink.  The store had a section of plumbing fixtures so I went there first.  The pleasant young woman who was over that section offered to help me.  I told her what I needed and she told me to follow her.  As we walked to where the baskets were she started a conversation with me.  

“Are you new here, Elder Patterson?” she asked as she read my name tag.

“We have been here a couple of months.  Do you know about us?”

“Yes, I used to go to your church.”

“Why did you stop coming?”

By then we were at the place in the store and she was distracted by another customer.  She helped him and came back.  

“I was too busy.  I just couldn’t work it in.  The Kalama’s know me.  I know Alicia.  (Alicia is a member of the branch, originally from Australia.)”

I asked her name.  “Patricia, are you a member of the Church?”

“Not really.”

It was time to break off the conversation.  She was working and I was distracting her from her job.  I told her I would like to see her again.  She said I would be welcome to visit her any time at the store, in the plumbing section.  I told her that it was a pleasure talking with her.  She said, “And for me, too.”

How did this lamb get lost?  The next day I saw Alicia at the church, so I sat down with her to get some history while Gaye was teaching her daughter the keyboarding lesson.  I asked her if she knows Patricia.  She responded strongly in the affirmative.  “So what is the history there?” I asked.  “Is she a member or was she an investigator?”

“She is a baptized member.  She used to come all the time.  She had a job at a car dealership that required her to keep her phone with her on Sunday.  They would text her when they had a problem.  Sometimes she would get texts in church and she would have to respond to them.  Somebody told her to stop receiving text messages in church.  She quit coming because she needed to keep her job. (Patricia is from Guyana, of course.)  I invite her to come back every time I see her, which is often, but she hasn’t been for about 2 years.  She now has a guy living with her.  It isn’t going anywhere, but she enjoys the company.  (Patricia is 30, divorced, no kids, no other family here. Her dad recently died and she could not even go home to his funeral.)”

“Do you think she would respond to some attention and an invitation to come back?”

“She might.  She is a wonderful person.”

So yesterday afternoon Gaye and I went to the hardware store to ask a plumbing question.  Well, that was at least part of the reason we went there.  She smiled when she saw us come through the door.  Gaye was not with me last time, so I introduced them to each other.  We sat down at the desk in her section and had a short conversation.  I told her I had talked to Alicia about her history with the Church.  I told her that if she comes to church nobody will tell her to not use her phone.  (I would like to tell everybody to not use their phones in church, but that is not the first thing I would tell them.  We have to start somewhere.)  I told her that we will look for her and take good care of her.  We had a nice visit for a few minutes, told her that we love her and that Heavenly Father loves her.  She said she has gone to another church.  I asked her how she felt about that.  She said it is not the same.  I asked if she remembered how she felt when she worshipped with the Saints.  She lowered her eyes and said she missed that.  

My parting words to her were, “We love you and we invite you to come back.  And I am not going to go away, so you might as well do it.  I will just gently push you a little.”

Patricia smiled.

Stay tuned.