Monday, December 28, 2015

Snail Mail Letter Dec 28, 2015

My Family:

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.

Your missionary,
Elda Isaac Van Wagenen

Monday, December 21, 2015

Snail Mail letter Dec 21, 2015

My family:

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

front and back of a 200 vatu bill worth about $2

Monday, December 14, 2015

Snail Mail letter Dec 14, 2015

My family:

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

Wan Narafala Update

Well, I'm still in Port Vila, living with the office missionaries, so I get another office pday (Saturday).  The mission president has decided to just keep me here until after zone conference, which is Wednesday and Thursday next week.

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!