Saturday, 30 April 2016

Hello friends and family.  Today I am going to share our week in Tonga with you.

Friday, April 15, 2016 we left Auckland on New Zealand Air on a 777 airplane.  They had only been flying this big plane to Tonga for two weeks and only on Fridays. It was a very nice plane and comfortable flight.  We arrived in Tonga at 1:30 p.m. and Elder and Sister Clarkson, our Education Specialist missionaries, met us at the airport.  We had never met face to face so it was nice to meet them and get to know them better.  It was a beautiful, clear, warm day.

They took us to house number two on the Liahona campus.  The houses here are very much like what our houses were when we lived and served in Samoa.  We unpacked, walked around campus and talked to our ITEP and TVET missionaries and gave them the treats we had brought.  We also visited with the Liahona High School counselors that I had worked so closely with for those eight months that we were both ITEP and Education Specialist Coordinators.  It was so nice to see everyone again.

Friday we just walked around the Liahona campus and met up with people and found out what our schedule was for the week.  They have some interesting trees on campus.  That evening we went to dinner with Verna, our Self-Reliance Manager, and then had movie night with the senior missionaries.
Saturday morning we got up early and flew on this smaller plane to the Island of Vava'u.  It was about an hour flight.  We arrived in Vava'u at 9:00 a.m and Elder and Sister Edwards picked us up.  They took us to the stake center where we spoke to three different groups for an hour and a half each about Self-Reliance Through Education.
We took a 40 minute lunch break and had some fish and chips.  This was the view from the restaurant where we ate and looked out into the harbor.  We wish we could have had a little more time here to explore and snorkel.  This is where the big cruise ships come in.

Elder and Sister Edwards in their TVET office.  I went and did some work with them while Reed did the last devotional.  They are the only (Palagi) senior missionaries on the whole island of Vava'u so they were very glad to see us and talk about things that they needed help with. Really good people.
Reed, Nada and Verna (our Self-Reliance Manager for Tonga) in front of Saineha High School.  This is the church owned school on Vava'u
We flew out on the last plane leaving the island at 4:30 p.m.  They left a little early trying to beat the storm that came in as we took off.  They just turned this airport into an international airport in the last two weeks.  They now receive direct flights from Fiji twice a week.

There are around 170 different islands that make up Tonga.  We were amazed as we looked down from the plane at all the different islands we could see.
You can see all the coconut trees as we flew over Tongatapu, the main island, where we are staying in Tonga.  You can also see how flat it is.  This is amazing to us.
That evening we went to a really good Chinese restaurant with some of the senior missionary couples.
Sunday we went to a stake conference where Elder Dudfield, the Area Seventy from Melbourne, spoke and then we had lunch with him, the stake leaders, and quite a few of the senior missionaries.  That evening we did a devotional for Verna's stake.  It went well.  Another great day.  The weather here in Tonga is so much cooler and less humid than we ever had the whole time we served in Samoa.  This is very enjoyable weather.

Monday morning, April 18, 2016, we walked over to Liahona High School where we spoke to the entire student body of around 1100 students.  The devotional began at 8:30 a.m. and Reed spoke until 9:15 about the Doctrine of Education, how to read text and the importance of study groups.  By the time the devotional started the entire stage was full and all the sides on the floor.

Two students came up and presented us with these leis and tied them on us as we were the guest speakers. The principal, Fehi is sitting next to Nada and the vice-principal sitting next to Reed.
When we finished with the devotional we headed to the Self-Reliance Center and worked with our missionaries there.  Alice (Self-Reliance Specialist), Elder Tafuna (Church Service Missionary), Elder and Sister Clarkson (Education Specialist Missionaries), Reed, Sister and Elder Funaki (Church Service Missionaries), Joyce (Volunteer) and Verna (Self-Reliance Manager).  We trained for three hours with them on the new booklet Reed has written.  It is about what parents can do in their homes to help their students be more successful in school.  We also talked about scholarships and Mum's Pre-schools.  Later we had dinner with Elder and Sister Rodmacher and then went to an interesting art lecture for family home evening.

Tuesday, April 19th we went to Havelu Middle School and met with Nia, the principal there.  In their conference room they have this beautiful Tapa.  Reed walked through all the classrooms with Nia to help her see what kind of instructional material needed to be on the bulletin boards and other language suggestions.  Nia felt it was very useful.

Verna and Nada in front of Havelu Middle School after visiting all the classrooms.

Verna took us on a little driving tour to see some of the island.  This is the palace where the King and Queen of Tonga live.
A close up of the top of the palace. The current King is the brother of the previous one and is called King George Tupou the 6th.  Verna said they are lovely people and you can see them around at different functions.  They have 2 sons (Princes) one of them joined the LDS Church last May, and one daughter (Princess).
This is the Wesleyan church where the King and Queen attend. Wesleyan is Methodist and is the religion of the royal family.
This is the cemetery where all the Kings of Tonga are buried.

She then took us to visit Brother Fehoko who is a Master Carver.  Of course, Reed had to buy a carving.  It is a mom and baby whale carved from cow bone mounted on some wood.  His wife fixed my pearls that I bought in Tonga last May that I have never worn because I did not like how long they were or the clasp. I love them now.  He and his wife will be the new mission president in Lae, Papua New Guinea beginning July 1st.  Very nice couple.

This is another palace.  The King's brother lives here.  You cannot get closer than the gate but we drove past this almost every day when we headed into town.

Tuesday afternoon we headed back to Havelu Middle School to do an inservice with the principals, counsellors and English teachers from all three of the middle schools.  We arrived just as school was getting out.
Reed talking about the 2016 Area Plan and how important study groups are and helping them with tips about supporting the students English better.  Also, he talked to them about the new booklet he is writing of what parents can do in their homes to support school success.   He asked them what they would like parents to do to help their students be more successful in their classes.  A lot of them suggested the same things Reed has already thought of but a couple of new ideas were brought up.
These are the counsellors, principals and English teachers at the three middle schools on Tongatapu.
This is the view we looked at each  morning as we walked out the door.  It is the entrance to the Liahona Campus.

Every morning we heard this drum beat so I went out to see what was going on.  These people, a couple houses up the street from house #2, were practicing for some kind of performance. 
Tuesday evening we attended the English group Verna is conducting to help these young people headed to BYUH.  They do a 20 minute My Foundation discussion from the Self-Reliance materials first and then the next hour and a half is all about English language support.  They had Reed teach and talk to them about reading informational texts, study groups, how to take more effective notes and the importance of getting into study groups.  It was a fun evening.  Most of them really need this English language support and skills.
Wednesday, April 20, 2016 we headed to Pakilou Middle School to speak to their student body.  I usually speak about five minutes telling them a little about us and why we are here serving this kind of mission and then Reed takes the rest of the time.  This student body comes from more rural parts of the island.
The students taking notes when Reed asked them to.

This is the view from the Self-Reliance Service Center.  Beautiful!

Wednesday after talking to the students at Pakilou we went to the Liahona Service Center to speak with all the service center managers about the Education Initiative and the parenting for school success booklet.  It was an interesting meeting.
Wednesday afternoon we had dinner with Joella and Lui Wolfgramm.  They are serving in Tonga as temple missionaries.  They live in temple housing across the street from the temple.  Reed and Lui serviced in Melbourne on their first missions in 1970.  It has been fun to reunite with them so far away.  We had some great sweet and sour swordfish for dinner.  They are such a positive couple.

While walking back to our house we walked past this field where a big group of YM/YW were learning a dance to perform for the 100 year celebration of when the first mission president arrived. I think they said it would be in August.

Nada at the entrance of the Liahona school campus.

Wednesday evening we spoke at a devotional in the Tonga West Stake about Education to parents and leaders.
Thursday morning, April 21, 2016, we walked across the street and spoke to the Liahona Middle School student body.  They are such cute young people.  We wish they could always have that wonderful light in their eyes.  All the church schools in Tonga have green and white uniforms.

Moana is the Liahona Middle School Counselor but for right now is acting as principal.  She and her husband will be leaving in June to be the mission president in Zambia Lusaka, Africa.  They presented us with these beautiful leis before we starting speaking.  They are so generous and respectful.  We walked around to all the classrooms with Moana and talked about what should be on the walls so the teachers can teach to them and review information and how the rooms are set up.  Hopefully all this information will help the principals be better instructional leaders and support the learning of the students better.

After we finished at Liahona Middle School we headed back to Pakilou Middle School to walk through all the classrooms with Tamaline, the principal.  We went back to her office and Reed showed her where to get information of tier two and tier three word helps on the Pacific Area Webpage and other language helps.  She is a new principal this year and really wants to do a good job.  She just finished her Master Degree.
We went back to the SR Center and worked with our missionaries there on Returned Missionary Scholarships and how to fill out and send their monthly reports.  We said good-bye to some of them since we won't see them tomorrow.
Thursday evening we attended two BYU-Idaho Pathway groups.  Verna is leading the discussion for this group who are in their second semester.

Reed took a detour between the two groups and ran over to get a night picture of the Tongan Temple.  It is right next to the Liahona campus so we saw it every day and night.  It is very beautiful.  We did not have enough time this trip to attend a session.

Elder and Sister Clarkson leading the new BYU-Idaho Pathway group.  They are running five groups all together with 105 students.  Great program!

Friday, April 22, 2016.  Reed speaking to the student body at Havelu Middle School about the Doctrines of Education.  They presented us with very fancy leis before we began speaking.  Sister Radmacher (ITEP missionary), Verna and Nia (the principal) listening and taking notes.

The student leaders wanted to take a picture with us when the devotional was over.  We said good-bye to Elder and Sister Clarkson as we were going with Verna on a little tour, lunch and then to the airport.  It was very nice to spend time with the Clarkson's and get to know them better.

Verna took us out to the Mapu'a 'a Vaea Blowholes.  They are all around this coastline as far as you can see in either direction.  We were here during low tide so they were not real powerful but still very impressive.  The weather was beautiful today and the colors of the water were fantastic.  We spent about 45 minutes just talking and enjoying this beautiful site.

Verna and Nada with the blowholes going off behind them.  Verna said sometimes they come clear up to where we are standing and you can get pretty wet.
Reed and Nada with their beautiful leis and the gorgeous ocean behind them.  We could have stayed for much longer but we had to get going.

We met up with the Service Center  Manager, Garrick Parr and his wife, at Café Escape for lunch.  We met Garrick when he worked at the Area Office in New Zealand so it was nice to visit with him.  We ate at this café three different times while we were here.  Very clean, good food and one of Verna's favourite places to eat.  We felt very comfortable eating here.  We ate something different every time and were never disappointed.
Verna took us to the airport at 12:40 p.m.   We said our good-byes to her and to Tonga.  We felt a little sad to leave.  We boarded the 777 at 2:20 and headed back to New Zealand. 
What a wonderful experience this has been for us to be with the saints in Tonga.  Tonga is a beautiful country and the people are very kind and loving.  We worked hard and hope that we were able to make a difference to the schools and stakes regarding the importance of education.

We feel so blessed to be able to serve a mission.  We have been to many wonderful places and met many faithful, hard working, diligent saints.  It is so nice to know that wherever we go there are always good people who are trying to do what is right, who want to learn and be better.  That we are all trying to be more like our Father in Heaven and are grateful for those who are willing to share their time and talents to help us improve our lives and stay on the path.

We know the Gospel is true and are so grateful for this small part we are blessed to help with in supporting the Lord's work in the Pacific Area. We love you all.

Until next time, love Elder and Sister Spencer
(aka Reed and Nada, Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa)

Saturday, 9 April 2016

On Thursday, March 24, 2016 Reed, Elder and Sister Wilkins and I flew to Nelson on the South Island of New Zealand for an Easter Break.  The Area Office closed down for four days so we decided to do a trip to the South Island before the Wilkins go home in April.  As we arrived at the airport Elder Wilkins received a text that the road between Nelson and Tata Beach (which is where we are staying) had been closed because of  severe rains the day before.  It had caused flooding and some parts of the road had mudslides.  We checked the weather and it was clear now so we decided to take our chances and hope the road would be cleared by the time we arrived.

We flew on Jet Star into the Nelson Airport.  We rented a car and began our two hour drive to Golden Bay. It was clear skies and very warm.  The road had been cleared so we were glad we did not cancel.
As we drove out of Nelson we had to drive over a big mountain range on a very windy road.  There were beautiful orchards all along the main road.  There were a lot of apple orchards, also kiwi fruit, grape vineyards and hops.
This is the view of Golden Bay from the holiday house we have rented.  Beautiful!  You can see why they call it Golden Bay when the sun shines on the beach and mountains.

This is the deck and kitchen area of the holiday house.
 This is the view from our bedroom.
Friday morning sunrise.  Reed and I got up and went for a walk on the beach. 
This is the view of the house from the beach.  It was about a two minute walk from the house to the beach.
As we walked along the beach there were these interesting birds.  They are Spotted Shags.  Their eyes were an interesting color and they have a little tuft on their heads.
 Every morning as we walked they were gathered in this same spot.  Then they would fly off four or five at a time and would skim the water.
 The sun coming up in the bay.
Reed on Tata Beach.  The sailboat you can see in the distance in front of the big rock or small island was anchored there the whole five days we were there.  The air was a little brisk but nice for walking.

Later in the morning we got in the car and headed to Te Waikoropupu Springs.  It is a lake created by natural springs.  They used to let scuba divers dive here but not any more.  There are signs that say do not touch, drink or get in the water.  It is supposed to be one of the cleanest springs in the world.  You could see way down into the water.  The water was so clear and such a pretty, clean color.

From the picture above and the water behind Nada you can see how clear and clean the water is and the colors were so vibrant.  It was a nice walk.

The city of Totara was right by the springs.  Reed loved all these different shapes and colored mailboxes.

We then headed to Wharariki Beach to climb on the sand dunes and walk the beach.
As we climbed up and down the sand dunes we commented about how much fun it would be to have our children and grandchildren here.  It would be fun to slide, jump and just play in the sand.  We saw some families doing that.
The clouds were beautiful above the Tasman Sea.
As Reed walked around some of the rock outcroppings there were these really neat caves.  I did not go because the waves kept coming in and out and I did not want to get all wet.

Another cave which was a little drier.  Reed went into the caves and took the pictures looking out.
This picture is from the water looking back at the rocks with the cave.

Reed with a beautiful rock formation out in the Tasman Sea.  There were two very visible arches and then around the side on the other rock is another arch but it was hard to capture.  It was beautiful here.  We could have spent all day just exploring.  The weather was so nice.

We went on another little hike to Cape Farewell.  We just love these hills and mountains.  The terracing on these mountains is from the sheep grazing.
Nada hiking on the hills above Cape Farewell.
Cape Farewell.  The cliffs here are white and the hole in the rock was interesting.  Beautiful land. 

Farewell Spit.  This is the most northern part of the south island.  You have to take tours to go out any farther and they told us they were not running this weekend because of the high tides.
A lot of time when you hike to different lookouts and peaks you have to walk through flocks of sheep.  They just move out of your way.
This is looking at Golden Bay from the Abel Tasman Monument.  He was the ships captain that first discovered this bay.
The tide changes 4 to 5 metres here.  Twice every day as we drove past this part of the bay if the tide was out it was way out and you could walk for a very long way.  When the tide was in it was almost to the road.  Very interesting.

This is the pool at our holiday house.  Reed wanted to take a swim when we got back.  He said it was a little brisk but nice.  We had a great day and saw some beautiful country.  We enjoyed a quiet evening watching the sunset and visiting.

Saturday, March 26, 2016 we walked on the beach and then headed to Canaan Downs to Harwoods Hole.  We had to hike through this fabulous forest.  The pictures just do not do it justice.  It had such a great feeling and was one of the best forests we have ever been in.  They filmed some of The Lord of the Rings movies here.

There was this very cool lake here.  Great reflections.  It was just so interesting to be here.
Reed climbed to the very top to the lookout point and this was the view.  He could not see into the cave from here just lots of granite rocks.
This was looking down into Harwoods Hole.  It was a little scary.  There were no rails, or safety features of any kind.  Just a sign to watch your footing and children.  There was nothing between the granite rocks and the hole.  I was a little nervous and did not go right up to the edge.  Reed did, of course.
The lichen, ferns, moss and colors were just so fabulous in here.  We had to drive on a very narrow, gravel road for quite a ways to get into this place and out.  Another glorious day.

Sunday, March 27, 2016 Easter Sunday.  What a beautiful sunrise.  We drove two hours to Nelson to attend church.

This is the church building in Nelson.  It is still a branch.  We enjoyed Sacrament, Sunday School and Relief Society and Priesthood meetings.  We met a lot of very nice people and they were very friendly. It is nice to know no matter where you are you can always find a church and meet with wonderful Saints. 

We drove the 2 hours back to Tata Beach and had a very quiet, relaxing, enjoyable Easter Sabbath Day.  We are so grateful for the Atonement and the Resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

On Monday, March 28, 2016 we got up and drove over to Abel Tasman Park to catch a water taxi at Totaranui Beach.

 We decided we wanted to be out on the water and be able to see the beaches, mountains and islands from the water instead of from the land.  We definitely saw places we could not see without hiking for days during this trip.  It took us 45 minutes by water taxi to get to Marahau City and took us much longer than that by car.  He just went flat out to get us there.
The boat skipper did take us by a couple of different islands that we could not see by car.  There were a lot of people kayaking today.
He stopped and let us see the seals on this island.  Some of them were swimming and some sunning.  We saw quite a few of them by the different islands as we passed them.
We had lunch in Marahau at the only café.  Quite a few people park their cars here and then take the water taxis to the remote islands and get dropped off to camp and hike.  We just walked along the waterfront and enjoyed some beautiful weather and good food until it was time to catch the water taxi back.
They use these tractors to pull the boat trailers.  They just drive the boats up onto the trailer from the water and then they drive you to the building where they unload and then reload the boats and take you back to the water.   Pretty interesting. 
When we were here on Saturday, exploring, these boats were sitting on dry ground when the tide was out.  Today the tide is in so there is plenty of water.  This is the bay at Marahau City.
On the trip back to Totaranui Beach the skipper gave us more of a tour.  First top was Split Apple Rock. 

Tonga Arches.  We did not see these going over but coming back he took us into this little bay and we saw them.  Beautiful.  He had to make a couple of stops to drop hikers off at different islands on the ride back to our car.

We went farther out into the ocean and guess what we saw?  Orca Whales.  Oh my they were magnificent.  You can see how close they were to this sail boat. 
This whale went right under our little boat.  It was a thrill.  We saw eight of them and watched them for about half an hour.
This was truly the highlight of our day.  They just swam around us and then we chased them a bit.  We had some young German hikers on the boat and they were so excited.  Another wonderful day in Golden Bay.  We went back to the house and I walked the beach while Reed did a little snorkelling.  He saw more here in the water than he has seen at any other place that he has snorkelled in New Zealand.  We fixed dinner, enjoyed the sunset and cleaned up things because we have to leave in the morning.  This has been a wonderful Easter Weekend!


We left our wonderful holiday house at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday the 29th and headed back to Nelson.  I will not miss the windy road but the scenery has been beautiful and it has been a great holiday.  We had to drive through this tunnel every time we went to and from the house.  It was such a beautiful area. 
This is the entire Nelson Airport.  We had so much fun.  We have really enjoyed being able to travel with Elder and Sister Wilkins.  This will be our last adventure together.  They go home in April  We will really miss them.  They have been the couple we have gotten closest to and every trip we have taken has been with them.
We flew back to Auckland, went to work for a few hours and then spent the evening getting unpacked and laundry done.
We feel so bleseds that we were able to see this beautiful part of New Zealand.  We are amazed that everywhere we go it is just so beautiful

We feel blessed that we were able to enjoy this time that the office was closed in such a fun way.  We love our mission and being able to serve.  We work hard and have learned so much.  We have also learned to take advantage of the days we have free to explore and learn as much about this country as we can.  We love the Gospel.  We are grateful at this time of year for our Savior and all he has done for us so we can live again.  We love him and we love all of you.  We are looking forward to General Conference next weekend.

Until next time, love Elder and Sister Spencer (aka Reed and Nada)