Friday, November 27, 2015

Car Accident

The accident wasn't even near me.  Tanna is one of the southernmost islands in Vanuatu, and Santo, where the crash occurred, is one of the northern islands.  Many missionaries from Vanuatu are called to Vanuatu, and don't serve on their home island.  Elder Benry was one of those, and his home island was Tanna.  When the crash happened, the mission president had just arrived on Tanna, and my companion and I were his transportation, so I was one of the first to know.  I also participated in the funeral and burial of Elder Benry.  His family isn't LDS, so it was a traditional funeral, with lots of wailing and strange customs.

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


Isaac's first photos of Tanna and it's local Volcano. 

Finally back!

I'm really sorry that I couldn't write home last pday.  I did not have a computer.  The island may have some access to the internet, but missionaries do not always have access to the computers, as we have to try to borrow one from a person or company each week.  I know yesterday was pday for me, and I missed getting a computer again, but we can write home today because we have a computer and the car is getting the tires replaced, which should take a couple hours.  We can email until then.

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

Snail Mail Letter!

I don't know when you'll get this letter, if you get it at all. Mail here is that spotty.

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 update

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

Tanna No Caveman

Tanna has internet! I can send emails!

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

Ready for Tanna

Vanuatu is incredible!!  Really, I can't believe there is a place on earth like this.  The people are so happy and nice.  They wave to everyone in the street and many like to shake the missionaries' hands.  Most of the past week, I've been in the mission office, but we go out often, learning the city and simply being seen by the people.  There are always missionaries in the office, sort of on standby, because occasionally people will come by and ask for a lesson.  I stay in the zone leaders' house, not the mission home.  I've only been there once, and it reminds me of the French man's home in 'South Pacific'.

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

Made it!

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

Elder Van Wagenen and companions at the airport

Getting ready to leave on the first leg of the trip to Vanuatu. First to San Francisco, then to New Zealand, then to Nadi (Fiji), then to Vanuatu. He'll arrive Nov 3rd, and miss out on Nov 2nd entirely!