Monday, December 28, 2015
This is the bombshell letter of insane news.
First, I have some surprising news, and some crazy news and I'm not sure which is which.
Elder Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve is coming to the Vanuatu Port Vila Mission at the end of January, about the time you get this letter (I hope).
Now for the other news, there has been some emergency in Port Vila, (I don't know what), and I am reopening a new area, Whitegrass, in Tanna. At the same time, I'm training a new missionary (at the moment, all I know about him is he's American). I will begin both of these assignments next week, halfway through my second transfer (8 weeks into my mission). Dad will know what that means.
My mission has suddenly taken a turn. I'm nervous, really nervous, but I'm putting my full trust in my Father in Heaven, and I know that He needs me to do this, and also that He will help me and make it possible to do this. I now know a LOT of scripture references to show that, but I'll stick with 1 Nephi 3:7; 1 Nephi 17:3; 1 Nephi 17:50; D&C 5:34.
I have a lot of work to do. I don't know what you can do from the other side of the world, but I'll be grateful for anything, especially prayers and support.
I love you.
Elda Isaac Van Wagenen
Monday, December 21, 2015
I hope you get this before Christmas. I still don't know how quickly mail travels from here to home.
I'm doing really well. Life in a village is... interesting. Up until now, we had only stayed in Whitesands for a night or two at a time, which felt a little like camping, and I never learned what the lifestyle is really like. Having now lived in a village for over a week, I've learned a little of what it's like (We stay in the Yemakal village in the Whitesands area). People don't have really much of anything, but they have more freedom than even in the US. They can literallly do anything they like. They have no laws, other than what the chiefs tell them to do, but they don't need them. Their lives have settled into a routine of accomplishing whatever needs to be done, then waiting for the next need to appear, whether it's harvesting the gardens, fixing/ building a hut, cooking food when they get hungry, going to church (everyone goes to one church or another), and so on. The chiefs step in only when something big happens, like death, or anything that would cause a celebration. Then they direct the village through traditional customs, and life continues.
There are a number of investigators in the Whitesands area. Many people are very receptive to the Gospel. They easily accept taking a lesson from us, and often let us return for another. They also accept everything we teach, and usually keep commitments. I think the fact that the Gospel focuses on families really helps, because they have very strong family values in Vanuatu.
We just finished my first transfer, and half the Tanna district was transferred (3 missionaries). I still have Elder Tauraa as my companion. We leave for Vila in 2 days for Christmas. It sounds like I may only get 30 minutes of phone call time!?
Elder Isaac Van Wagenen
Monday, December 14, 2015
I'm back in Tanna, and we're staying in Whitesands until Christmas, when we will fly to Port Vila for a Christmas party with the mission president. I will be staying in a village in Whitesands, which is on the other side of the island from Lenekal, near the volcano, and far from any computer or internet source, which means two weeks of no emailing. I was lucky enough to send this letter, I don't know if you'll hear from me until Christmas. I should be able to call on Christmas, but I don't know when. I might call on Christmas day here, or where you are, which means either the 24th or 25th your time, and it could be at any time on those days. I'll try to call during the day in Arizona, but we'll see what happens. You may even have to call me. When I get to Port Vila I'll try to find out more, then I'll try to contact you before the call. I really don't know how it will work in a 3rd world country on the other side of the world. I just hope it does work out.
Anyway, Whitesands is great! the area is beautiful, and the people are some of the nicest of a country of nice people. My companion baptized 14 people here before I arrived (he's been in this area awhile). I'm living in a hut, in a real village, and it feels surreal. I'm getting pictures, and I'll send them when I can.
I love you all!
Elder Isaac Van Wagenen
Friday, December 4, 2015
This week has been a little slow. I've learned what life is like for an office elder. Transfers are coming up, so things are a little crazy here, especially since we're expecting 30 new missionaries, and housing still needs to be taken care of, but it sounds like everything will work out well. President Granger has given me the job of collecting pictures of recent converts and creating a slideshow that will run continuously in the office.
The office just got a piano! This has really been great for me, because Tanna doesn't have any pianos, and when I've been here in Port Vila, I could only play piano when whoever is hosting me took me to the stake center. Now I can practise whenever it's not being used and when I don't have any work to do (which is surprisingly often, for not having an assigned role as an office elder).
The mission is very geared towards proselytizing. The people are very receptive to the Gospel, and just meeting investigators lets me feel the Spirit that I'm sure they are feeling. The language is... coming. I am learning it really fast, for a language. I feel like it is more of a coded English than a language, but I'm still struggling to follow topics in conversation. It sounds like people understand me when I speak, though.
I don't really know what is different about a Vanuatu Christmas. The decorations have come up during the time I've been in Port Vila, and all of them have been the generic Santa Claus and Christmas tree decorations. I think it's funny that all the decorations are covered in snow, while here in the southern hemisphere it's technically summer.
Technology is about the same as in the US, just not as common. Even back in Tanna's villages I met people with smart phones, just not everyone. One thing that has really interested me, is that some of the people in those villages have never left their homes. They are able to make everything they need, and can find food in the nearby jungle. Every village I've seen has at least one person that has been to town, and sometimes Port Vila, but some have never left their home village.
The missionaries get one phone per companionship, but they are all the Nokia pre-flip phones. That is about all the technology missionaries have, other than cameras and flash drives.
My companion is from Tahiti, and he has been a member his whole life. I don't really know him very well personally because we have trouble communicating. He doesn't know English very well, and I barely know Bislama. His native languages are Tahitan and French, neither of which I can speak.
I feel like time is moving really fast, as if two or three days pass here in the time one would back home. It still feels like I arrived in the mission field last week. I don't know how long it feels like for you, but time is definitely moving faster than it should. Maybe it's because I'm on a mission. Maybe it's because the lifestyle here is so laid back, almost lazy. Maybe it's both, I don't know. As far as normal everyday life, so far, there hasn't really been any 'normal' yet, between exchanges, coming to Port Vila, and my involvement with the results of the car accident. Once life settles into a 'normal', I'll focus on the 'normal' in Vanuatu.
I hear Vanuatu know how to celebrate, but I havn't seen that for myself yet. For Christmas the Mission President wants all the missionaries in the Efate Zone (my zone) to be at the mission home for a party, so I don't think I'll see how they celebrate Christmas.
Well, that's about it for now, I'll hopefully have more for next pday, whenever that may be! Please feel free to keep asking me questions so I know what to write home!
Elder Van Wagenen
Here's pictures of my chapel in Tanna, as well as a few others!
Friday, November 27, 2015
The other missionaries in the crash are mostly ok. One was injured badly and had to be sent home. The other three are fine, it sounds like, but apparently the driver was having a really difficult time. I have not met any of them.
That's about all I know.
[Answers to questions from the family:]
I've only seen three different religions here: Jehovah Witness, Presbyterian, and of course, LDS. In Tanna, women wear dresses, and men wear lavalavas. My list of things I want to get so far are lavalavas and these leaf mats they have. I haven't seen any exotic animals, because they are on the northern islands. Tanna has dogs, chickens, cows, horses, and pigs, and that is literally all the wildlife on the entire island. Well, and these small tan lizards that chirp. And bugs. Native dress: I've seen some colored feathers tied to a stick that is supposed to go in your hair indian-style. I have one, but I doubt it will survive 2 years. There are moths, mosquitoes, and ants. The rats stay in the walls of the house, and my feet are safe from them. Thanksgiving: I didn't even know it happened. I thought it was next week.
Monday, November 23, 2015
I will be trying to send letters, but I do not know if any will arrive, because this is a third world country and mail to the US often doesn't reach it's destination, I've heard.
Tanna is roughly 40 km by 80 km, I don't know how that converts to miles. There are 5 branches in Tanna, and each has about 100-150 members. My companion is Elder Tauraa, from Tahiti,and the district leader of Tanna, and we are the only companionship in the district with a vehicle, this old Land Cruiser. There are 6 missionaries in Tanna, myself, Elders Tauraa, Dafolo, and Ngateau, and Sisters Norton and Lape.
I live in a house, not a hut, but occasionally my companion and I go to outer villages and sleep in huts there. Some of the villages live close to the volcano, which is apparently the longest active volcano in the world. I went on an exchange with Elder Ngateau in Saet Siwi, which is the closest proselyting area to the volcano. We couldn't go outside very much, because the ash from the volcano was ruining our white shirts But that's ok, it was one of my 5 long-sleeve white shirts, which I will never wear again. I only needed long-sleeve shirts for baptisms, and I haven't worn any of the other 4. But that also means I only have 5 short-sleeve shirts for the week, before I can do laundry again.
I can send some pictures with this computer!! I had to lower the quality so the internet could upload them, but I think they should still be ok.
Transfers are by 12 seater planes, regardless of which island you go to. I've only used one to come to Tanna, but I'll use one again to go up to Efate (Port Vila) for zone conference December 8-9.
Friday, November 20, 2015
I've had an ...extreme introduction to my mission. It isn't at all what I expected. It has been difficult, already the hardest experience I've ever had, by far. But, it has NOT been a bad experience. Vanuatu is completely different from home, in every possible way. I could go on for hours about the differences, but there isn't any space here. First, obviously, is the surroundings. I can't even begin to describe them! There are plants I have never imagined, like the giant Banyan trees. And, there's so much vegetation! The lifestyle is completely different. For missionaries, life at 'home' feels bare. The sun rises around 5:00 am and sets around 6:00 pm, becoming full night by 6:30. The people follow the sun's schedule, so missionaries wake up after everyone is at school and work, and we're the last to go to sleep. Food is extremely bland and has strange textures, and is mostly vegetables I've never heard of like manioc, and taro root.
The people are very different as well, smiling and waving at every person they see, and shaking hands with everyone they meet, every time they meet them. I'm having some trouble with Bislama. I expect that after only two weeks, but my issues are with the language itself. I don't understand how it functions in real use. For example, the words 'to', 'at', 'in', and 'the' in English are all one word in Bislama: 'lo'. Also, while it is technically a written language, there is no set spelling. Everyone just makes up their own spelling.
I've been through a lot as well. The everyday lifestyle was difficult, but I've gotten used to it. I think the hardest part is laundry. I always have my laundry bag full, even after I wash some clothes, and I struggle to find clean clothes to wear every day. I have to do laundry by hand, and it's harder than you would think.
One thing that is fascinating for me is the volcano. It is the world's longest erupting volcano, but the eruption is so small it never leaves the top. Eventually we plan on going to the top and looking in to see the lava. I went on an exchange near that volcano, and living close to it is difficult because the falling ash ruins our white shirts when we proselyte.
Some of the people live far from any drivable roads and we occasionally have to trek through an hour or two (barefoot) of jungle and some of the steepest valleys I've ever seen, just to give one or two 20 minute lessons, then go back. I've only done it once so far, but I think it will happen more. We've stayed overnight in somes villages, meeting the people and helping me learn Bislama. I absolutely love the people. Most are very uneducated, and act like children. Most who are educated are very religious, LDS and otherwise. Everyone wants to hear the gospel, and Elder Tauraa and I have over a hundred investigators. My companion is the district leader of Tanna, and the only one with a car for the district, so we cover 3 of the 5 proselyting areas. I have already led the lesson with two investigators who have already had their baptismal interviews. Teaching the people here is unique. We show them pictures and ask them what is in those pictures, then teach what those pictues show. Many people can't read. I have been on an exchange to an area called Saet Siwi, near the volcano and with the most vegetation, and the most primitive people on Tanna, which is one of the most primitive islands on Tanna.
One of our investigators asked us for a blessing of healing my second day here. She was nine months pregnant. The next day she gave birth. When Elder Tauraa and I heard, we went to visit her and her 'husband' in the hospital. They let Elder Tauraa name the baby. I say 'husband' because by their culture, they are married. Legally they aren't. They along with 4 other couples were going to be married on the 21st of November, but an emergency has postponed the weddings for another week.
Missionaries from Vanuatu are often called to the Vanuatu Port Vila mission, and simply serve on islands they don't live on. The cause of the emergency was one of these missionaries. First of all I want to explain to you that I am fine. I did not know the missionary. He was from Tanna, where I am. He lived in Saet Siwi. he was serving in Santo, one of Vanuatu's northern islands. The missionary in Santo got into a car crash involving 4 other missionaries. 3 are fine. 1 is in the hospital. The Elder from Saet Siwi did not live though. The mission president will be returning to Tanna with the missionary's body the day those couples would have been married.
As I said, these weeks have been exteme. All of this has happened in two weeks. I'm sorry I didn't get to email home last p day. We couldn't get ahold of a computer to use. Please make sure mom know that. Pictures are still a problem. Last time I almost had a way to send them, but the internet is too slow here to upload. I'm going to try making lower quality copies of some pictures and see if those will send. I don't get much time to email home on good days because even then we only have one laptop to share between the whole district in one day, so please don't panic too much if I miss an email here and there while I'm in Tanna.
I've realized that the only time I'll be wearing my long sleeve shirts is when we are baptizing, so the number of white shirts I have is essentially cut in half. If you could send me 2 or 3 short sleeve shirts, that would be incredible, but I can do without if I need to. Bislama is already effecting my spelling, so I may come home illiterate. Most people can't pronounce Van Wagenen. They call me 'Elda Van'
I love you and the family so much!
Monday, November 9, 2015
Tanna is so dusty. You wouldn't expect that from a tropical island, but that is how it is, probably both from the cyclone and drought. The food here is different, but most of it is good. There are these 'breakfast crackers' everyone eats, and they are literally extra thick saltine crackers, without the salt. I don't like them, but it's really all we can get for breakfast. The most common meal we eat is a mix of noodles and chicken on top of rice. They give me so much that the food is a pile that covers the entire plate, and I can't finish it.
I flew to Tanna, and the airport is very different from anything I have ever seen. There is no security. There is a max weight limit for each person, and the scale you normally put your luggage on is for both you and your luggage. The airline, Air Vanuatu, uses mostly 18 seat airplanes that are almost the size of a car.
We have a family home evening family that we meet with for FHE. Tonight, I give the lesson. They are a great family.
Elder Van Wagenen
Sunday, November 8, 2015
My P day has finally settled on Monday, so I get another today. Tanna is extremely different from Efate, Port Vila. The largest town is one dirt road, with shops on one side and ocean on the other. Water only runs from 6 am to 10 am each day, so that is when we have to shower and collect the days water. There are no washing machines, so all laundry must be done by hand.
The people are even nicer and happier than in Vanuatu, but almost no one speaks English. Everyone speaks Bislama, so I can't do anything until I learn the language. I am learning faster than I thought, and in one day I've already learned more Bislama than two years of high school Spanish...
That's about all for now, as I just had a *P day two days ago.
Elder Van Wagenen
(Mom's note: *P day = Preparation day. The day for missionaries to do chores like laundry, shopping, and other activities like write home, go sight seeing, play sports, etc.)
Friday, November 6, 2015
Yesterday, I went on a split with Elder 'Iloa and Elder Jeffries. They are great missionaries. Their area is the Pango village just outside of Port Vila, so I got my first taste of what its like outside the city. I can't even begin to describe the countryside. anytime I looked at it, I just wanted to scream and let out the emotions that it's sheer beauty was building inside me. There are trees three, maybe four times bigger than I have ever seen in my life, and so much green, I thought the color would burn. We met an investigator, an old lady who talks fast, and is about as sweet as anyone I have ever met. She wants to be baptized, but we need to help her husband agree first. Her testimony is powerful, and as she gave it I could feel the Spirit even though I had no idea what she said, but I heard her say Joseph Smith, Papa God, Jisus Kraes, and made a face to face gesture. One of the people we went to talk to could only be reached by walking through a certain patch of beach, that was so thin it was the size of a path, with light blue ocean on one side and thick, dark green jungle on the other. The sand was white and I thought it was covered in rocks until I realized none of them were rocks, but white chunks of coral, worn and smoothed by the water. I had dinner with these elders, too. It was a dinner appointment at a member's home. We had laplap and fish head. Laplap is made from a giant fruit that is sliced into the general size and shape of a slice of bread, then baked.
On the trip to Vanuatu, I met a lot of people. One of them was interested in the church, and he and I spoke about almost everything from the trip to San Francisco. I met a new convert, a member visiting former couple missionaries, and a member who wanted to buy us dinner.
I leave for Tanna on Sunday now, tomorrow, and my p-days will start to become more regular. I've been hearing many different things about Tanna, but here are some that I'm certain about: Tanna is one of the poorest islands in Vanuatu, and was hit the hardest by Cyclone Pam, the cyclone that went through back in March. Those combined with the huge drought here means that Tanna is having a lot of trouble. There is almost no food growing there, water is scarce, and buildings are still in ruins. Missionaries are giving huge amounts of service there, and there are only three sets of missionaries, two sets of elders, and one set of sisters. It has an active volcano that is a huge tourist attraction, but the volcano causes massive earthquakes somewhat regularly. Because of the lifestyle of the people there, the earthquakes don't really have any effect other than feeling them, so that should be interesting.
That's about all for now. I still can't get pictures. I may have to just send the sd card home when its filled up and hope it makes it, but I'll keep trying to find a way to send them.
Elder Van Wagenen
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
I'm in Vanuatu! SO much has happened since I got on the first airplane. I have permission to send home a quick email. My first area will be Tahna, an outer island with an active volcano. They don't have computers on that island, so I'll be writing home while I'm there. (But you should keep checking your email)
Everything went fine with travel, but I already have some interesting stories I can write in my journal.
Sunday, November 1, 2015
Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Hey! Wow, It's been an entire week!
There isn't any way for me to send pictures right now, because the sd slot in the computer is broken from being used by so many missionaries, but I can probably send them at the mission home from Vanuatu.
So far, I have pictures of my district (there are seven of us, all elders, 2 going to Colorado Springs, 2 to Hawaii, and us), my name tag, my travel plan, the elders in my zone, the Provo temple, and the sisters in my zone.