All Jammed Up On Our Preparation Day

Right Side View from the Traffic Jam
Right Side View from the Traffic Jam
Today was our Preparation Day. It isn’t usually on a Tuesday, but due to other scheduling issues, our schedule is different this week but goes back to normal next week. As a result, after the “Visitors’ Center Training Meeting” (VCTM) at 7:30am this morning, we headed south to Honolulu. The plan was to go to Dillards and Walmart. Nina was looking for a couple of lighter-fabric tops now the the much warmer weather is setting in. She also needed a good rice cooker and an iron.

The road south along the coast is a two-lane road for most of the 25 miles to the outskirts of Honolulu. The speed limits range from 25mph to 45mph with most of the drive at 35mph. Even then we seldom can drive at those speeds as the natives are in no hurry to get anywhere. I’m sure this is a trait we’ll pick up…. (wry grin)! Going down the traffic was very light and we were at the first mall in just under an hour. The Windward Mall is a large, two-story mall anchored by Macy’s, Sears, and Sports Authority. No Dillards. We poked around a bit, discovered a Ruby Tuesday restaurant, and had lunch. There wasn’t anything on the menu that resembled the Ruby Tuesday menu in Pocatello, Idaho.

Left Side View from the Traffic Jam
Left Side View from the Traffic Jam
Nina was able to find a nice top at Macy’s, the first thing she’s ever bought in a Macy’s store. Google said there was a Dillards further in town in Waikiki. We set the GPS and drove another 30 minutes in somewhat heavy traffic to a very large, upscale mall. There was no Dillards! But, there was a very nice Barnes and Noble book store where she was able to pick up some origami paper and I found a nice map of Oahu that we can put up on the wall in our apartment. Hopefully we can start to recognize some of the place names that are so familiar to people who have lived here forever.

A few blocks from this mall was a huge Walmart with a three-story parking garage. It was absolutely mobbed with people. But, we found the right rice cooker, a nice iron, and several other needed items. The shopping trip was reasonably successful. So, we headed back north.

We didn’t get far when very heavy traffic came to a crawl. It took almost an hour to go ten miles and then traffic came to a complete halt. An ambulance, a couple of fire trucks, and a tow truck made their way past us. For another hour, nothing moved, except a few folks who turned around and went back towards Honolulu. When we got moving again, it was another slow crawl all the way to Laie. We arrived at our home just before 6pm when, under normal circumstances, we would have been home before 4pm. We never did see the accident. We were happy to see our front door! While we were stopped, I took a couple of pictures, one to the right and one to the left.

The ocean was to the right. If one got in a boat and sailed from where I took this picture, the next landfall would be in Central America. To the left were the mountains. The interior of Oahu is very rugged mountains. A little further to the north of where I took this picture is where Jurassic Park was filmed. The mountain sides are very steep and we’re told that beautiful waterfalls show up after a heavy rainstorm. None were visible today, though. The rugged mountains suggest that Hawaii is relatively new as far as geographic age goes as rain and winds haven’t yet smoothed them out, similar to what has happened to the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern United States.

So, now that we’ve had dinner and I’ve posted a blog entry, it’s time to do some cleaning in our apartment. Tomorrow I have the assignment to inspect all of the sister missionary apartments. There’s a checklist that I follow and deduct points when there is an issue. Two of the sister missionaries stopped by our home a few minutes ago to say hello and sing a hymn to us on their way home to eat dinner (a member in the area was delivering dinner to them). They were positive that their pad will be the cleanest and spiffiest of all the apartments. They’re very good missionaries, so I have little doubt that their expectation will prove true.

Nina just asked if there is a Hobby Lobby somewhere here in Oahu. I told here that I didn’t know, but that I wasn’t ready to go exploring in the Honolulu area anytime soon. I’ve been jammed up enough for a month. Oh… wait a minute. This is the last day of the month!

Life is grand!

My Best Qualification: Taking Pictures!

View From the Front Door of the Temple
View From the Front Door of the Temple
What is the most common sound we hear from our home? Roosters. Crowing. Feral chickens everywhere. It’s amazing to me how many chickens roam the countryside.

We’ve finished a whole week at the Visitors’ Center (I wrote it a couple of times as “Visitor’s Center” but then saw the words across the top of the building and along the side entrance. It’s “Visitors’ Center”, plural possessive. I’m repenting…). It has been a fun, interesting, tiring, happy week. And, to top it off, we’ve got 97 more weeks just like this one coming up. One of the visitors yesterday suggested that being here was kind of like going to heaven without dying. I resemble that remark.

So, how does the Laie Hawaii Temple Visitors’ Center work? Differently than I had imagined, and more fun than I had thought. The Center is open from 9am until 8pm every day, including Sundays. There are a few days in the year that the Center is closed, but the list is out in the car and I’m too tired to go get it. There are three couples assigned to the Center and currently 22 sister missionaries.

Elder and Sister Priday are the Center Directors. They’re called by the First Presidency, attend a special training in January along with new MTC presidents and serve for two years. They’ll be here until mid-January next year. Elder and Sister Jensen and Nina and I are the other two senior missionary sets. The Jensen’s are also here until mid-January next year. We’ll be here until mid-February of 2017. While the Center Director is associated with the Mission, they are not under the direction of the Mission. On the other hand, The Jensen’s and us are missionaries under the direction of the Hawaii Honolulu Mission assigned to the Visitors’ Center. It’s possible (but not likely) that the Mission President could change our assignment.

Laie Temple Sunset
Laie Temple Sunset
Sunday we are at the Visitor’s Center from 9am until 11:30am. Elder and Sister Priday go to Church at 8am and relieve us at 11:30am so we can go to our Ward (the Laie 3rd Ward) at noon. Elder and sister Jensen attend their ward at 11am (I think) and relieve Elder and Sister Priday that afternoon and close the Center at 8pm. This Sunday schedule remains the same for at least the rest of this year.

The weekday schedules vary, and change around every six weeks when mission transfers happen. The next transfer is on April 8th. On this rotation, Nina and I open the Center at 9am on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings and work until 2:30pm. We have Thursday as our Preparation Day. We work at the Center on Friday and Saturday afternoons from 2:30pm and close the Center at 8pm.

Each week, usually on Monday mornings, there is a Visitors’ Center Training Meeting at 7:30am. All of the missionaries assigned to the Center attend this training meeting. There are always enough things to talk about and discuss to use up the hour and a half before the Center opens at 9am. For instance, the Church has just released a new Easter video “Because He Lives” along with a complete campaign including advertisements, social media, and special firesides. This included setting up a new display in the Center which is getting a lot of attention. This topic generated a lot of discussion at our last training meeting.

Laie Tram Tour
Laie Tram Tour
One very important component of each afternoon is the Laie City Tram Tours. These trams originate at the Polynesian Cultural Center and make several stops around town, including at BYU-Hawaii and the Visitors’ Center. Two sister missionaries are on the tram giving those riding the tram color commentary. When the tram stops at the Visitors’ Center, they help guide the guests onto the grounds and into the Center. Most stop at the fountain, however, to take pictures. The missionaries and I greet them and offer to take their pictures. Most everyone wants to have a picture taken and are quite willing to put expensive cameras and phones (mostly phones) into my hands to take a picture. That’s my best qualification after one week … I know how to operate the camera on a half-dozen different brands of smart phones. And, so far, I haven’t boggled any of them. We do have insurance, however, should something bad happen!

The tram tours are every twenty minutes starting at 3pm and ending at 7pm. The earlier trams are pretty light, but the later ones average around 35 people. Sometimes there are enough people that two trams are running starting at 6pm. We can get really busy when that happens. It’s a fun busy, however, visiting with people, learning where they’re from and what they’ve enjoyed in Hawaii, and answering questions. The most often asked question is whether or not we have any bathrooms (we do). The second most asked question is about the Temple. So far I haven’t encountered anyone who has been negative or discourteous. I’m sure it happens, though.

Today we were on the evening shift and closed the Center at 8pm. Then it’s back to our house, get a quick and easy bite to eat, relax a bit, write in our blogs, or do email. Then off to bed to get ready for another fun-filled day!

Life is pleasantly tired today.

Internet and Preparation Day

Laie Hawaii Temple
Laie Hawaii Temple
The Oceana Time-Warner Cable installer arrived this morning just after 8 am. It turns out that he’s the bishop of the Laie Fourth Ward. We are assigned to the Third Ward. He was delightful and did a great job of cleaning up the wiring mess from a previous installation done several years ago and now we have fast wifi and internet (most of the time). It seems a bit “bursty”, but it’s still much better than what we’ve been using for the past several months: campground wifi and my Verizon hotspot when that wasn’t available. Along with the Internet came 27 TV channels. We haven’t turned the TV on, so I’ve no idea what those channels consist of. Perhaps we’ll see a baseball or football game or two. No other reason to turn the TV on!

Today was also our “preparation day”. That’s the day to clean the apartment, do the laundry, wash the car (if needed), and do the shopping. So we drove down to the north side of Honolulu, renewed our Costco membership, and stocked up with a number of items from there. We then stopped at a Walmart for a few items. The drive down and back took a little over a hour each way, so this isn’t a trip we’ll make very often.

Our Home
Our Home
We have a very nice one-bedroom house to live in that includes a garage. The garage triples as a place to put our car (pictured), a place to fix bicycles (there’s one with a broken headlight but she hasn’t brought the bike over to me, yet), and a place for the sister missionaries who have a car to wash and vacuum their car. There are eleven sets of sister missionaries. Most are on bicycles. Four companionships have a car (and bicycles). I can see where a bicycle would be very handy to have. We may have to splurge in a month or so.

Our home has a nice living room which opens into a small dining room and kitchen. Down the hallway to the right is a laundry room on the left with a washer and dryer, our bedroom on the right (the windows between the garage and the front door), and goes into the bathroom, complete with a bathtub / shower. There are two air conditioners, one in the window of the front room and the other in the window of our bedroom. So far we haven’t needed to turn either of them on, although the day before yesterday got quite warm. A rain shower fortunately cooled things down a bit as we were going to bed.

Temple From Our Front Yard
Temple From Our Front Yard
The Laie Temple is just to the south of us across an open field and a large parking lot. This is also the view out the window over our small table. Mail is delivered six days a week around 4:30 pm. Our address is:

55-113 Lanihuli Street
Laie, HI 96762

And, of course, cards, letters, boxes of chocolate, etc. are welcome.

The Visitors’ Center is just east of the Temple (to the left and just out of the frame in the previous picture). While we can walk to the Center, we usually have stuff we’re carrying back and forth so we usually drive. The Center is quite popular, particularly now that the water features have been refurbished and are working again. The whole area in front of the Center has been completely redone, so the whole area was under construction from last August until the day before we arrived. The Temple is visible from a distance and lots of people stop to take pictures and most come inside the Center. In the afternoons from 3pm until 7pm the Church runs a Laie Tram Tour every twenty minutes. A pair of sister missionaries ride the tram which starts at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC), goes through the downtown area, through BYU-Hawaii campus, and the Visitors’ Center before returning to the PCC. The sister missionaries are tour guides on the trams which make three or four stops (including the Visitors’ Center). Most of the folks on the tram come inside the center as well, after standing around the fountains taking pictures.

Laie Temple Visitors' Center
Laie Temple Visitors’ Center
One of my very important duties is to be outside around the fountains as well, volunteering to take pictures of people and groups. That is very well received and makes it possible to get acquainted and learn a bit about the guests. I get lots of questions, mostly about Temples, why we build them and what we do inside of them. An often-asked question is whether or not they can go inside the building. I tell them “yes, you can … after you are baptized a member and remain in good standing for a year.” In the week we’ve been here I’ve visited with people for all over Asia, including quite a few from mainland China (which gives my limited Chinese a workout). We also have many visitors from Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. We try to have sister missionaries on each shift who speak Chinese, Korean, and Japanese.

Well, the bed is calling. We have an early day tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Life is excellent.

Sixty Percent Chance of Rain and Tomorrow We Get Real Internet!

My little ‘mifi’ hotspot will use up it’s data quota sometime tomorrow at this rate. Ten gigabytes for $80 dollars. It’s amazing to me how fast we can use up 10gb of data. Tomorrow we should have 30mb down and 5mb up with ‘unlimited’ data. I’ll be interested to see what the contract actually says.

We’ve had a number of partly cloudy days. Yesterday was the first mostly sunny day since we’ve been here (six days, now). I’m convinced that it will rain this afternoon, though. To be as green and lush as everything is here on Oahu’s north shore, we should have a lot more rain than we’ve seen so far.

Tomorrow is our “preparation day”, called P-day for short, so we have the entire day free. Having the Internet installed is the highest priority followed closely by doing our laundry. We also plan to drive south to Honolulu to do a little shopping. There are very limited shopping options here in Laie. So, much more tomorrow!

Life is very good!

A Quick Catch-up While Waiting for Real Internet

We’re in our sixth day at the Laie Hawaii Temple Visitor’s Center (if I write and say this enough times, it’ll flow off the pen/tongue…). The job is neither difficult nor complex. It’s just plain, outright fun. While at the Center my day mainly consists of greeting people who come to the Center and taking pictures for them of their group. The grounds are beautiful and the temple sits majestically on the hill making for a great backdrop. Helping take pictures is a very effective way to open a conversation about the Temple and about the Church in general. Most are then interested to come inside and see what else we have to offer.

Oceanic Time-Warner Cable will be here on Thursday morning between 7:30 am and 9:30 am (with a guarantee that removes the installation charge if they aren’t there within the scheduled time) to install our Internet along with basic cable TV. The printer did not survive the travel across the ocean … HP Support determined that the carriage mechanism for the print head is damaged. Another printer is on it’s way. So, at the moment we have (expensive) hot-spot Internet and no printer. By week’s end that should all change. All but one of the boxes that we shipped over from Pocatello have been delivered (the ham radio has arrived). The main living area looks like home. We’re definitely getting settled in!

Check out Nina’s blog at http://seashellsandseaglass.wordpress.com/ for more details.

Life is great!

Overwhelmed and Loving Every Minute Of It!

Laie Hawaii Temple at Night
Laie Hawaii Temple at Night
We’ve made it through the first thirty hours in Hawaii! It has been an incredible day. And, as it comes to a close, I just have to say to everyone else, just suck it up. I get to do this every day for the next 23 months….

Just kidding, though (maybe).

The picture was taken earlier this evening just after dark. It’d been better if I’d taken it about a half-hour earlier, so stay tuned: better pictures to come. It is a beautiful sight. The Laie Temple is in the background and the lights on the temple are illuminating a bit of the sky. The fountains in the foreground look almost like fire! The visitor’s center is to the right and out of sight of this picture. The building to the left houses the Church’s Distribution Center and the Family History Library.

We were given the day to get settled, so we spent the early morning getting unpacked, trying to figure out where to put everything, and making a list of what we needed to buy. We met with the Laie Temple Visitor’s Center Director, Elder Priday and his wife at 10:15 for an orientation. They then drove us around the area to show us some of the places we’d need to know, such as shopping, drug stores, markets, and restaurants.

After that, Nina and I had lunch with good friends Richard Clark and his wife Corrine (I hope that’s how it’s spelled … if not, my apologies). Richard and I were colleagues a number of years ago in Japan and Colorado Springs. They were here for a wedding in their family at the Laie Temple and their schedule worked out that we could get together for a few minutes. They’re great people and it was just delightful to catch up with them on all that has gone on with their lives and families.

We spent an hour at the Visitor’s Center around 2:30 this afternoon for more orientation and then went shopping. Stuff is not cheap here in Hawaii! Most of what we bought today, however, were one-time purchases, such as a rice cooker, a Brita water filter, some pots and pans, and such. Some food items are very inexpensive, like fruit, and other things are pretty expensive, like milk. There are, however, two food stores in the area so we’ll soon figure out where to buy different items to make the best use of our money.

Then we were back at the Center from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm to go through the closing process. There are two shifts at the Center. One goes from 9 am until 2:30 pm. The other goes from 2:30 pm until 8 pm when the Center closes. There is a short overlap at 2:30. Our schedule has us working the afternoon shift on Saturday, the morning shift on Sunday and Monday, the afternoon shift on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. We have Thursdays off. Every six weeks the schedules flip and then we have Wednesdays off.

During our assigned shifts, Nina manages the front desk and kind of orchestrates what goes on inside of the Center. My job has to do with managing what goes on outside the Center and greeting people as they arrive. There are about 24 young sister missionaries that conduct the tours and do most of the interaction with the visitors. They are also assigned to be in the Center on either the morning or afternoon shifts, but not necessarily on the same schedule that Nina and I are on. That means that during the week we’ll work at one time or another with all of the sister missionaries.

And these sister missionaries are a diverse and delightful group. They come from (East) Germany, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Beijing, and the Philippines (and I’ve probably missed a couple of countries) as well as all across the United States. When they’re not on assignment at the Center, they do regular proselyting work in assigned areas. They are fun, excited, young, vivacious, and sweet. I’m so happy that I don’t have to keep up with them!

So, now I have all kinds of things new to write about. More tomorrow!

Life is glorious.

Reality Is Kicking In….

We’re currently 1,392 miles away from Honolulu with just over three hours and ten minutes to go before landing. This’ll get uploaded to the blog sometime much later this evening after we get to our apartment and put some things away.

We had breakfast at the Mission Training Center and then met our driver at 7:30 am this morning. We were the only ones going to the airport. By 9 we were through security and headed to gate C6 to wait for the flight to Honolulu. Security was a breeze … the best security experience I’ve had since this whole security theater was implemented. The TSA Precheck process makes getting through security quite easy in exchange for revealing a whole bunch of personal information. I think it’s worth it. No taking off shoes, no pulling out computers and other stuff, no emptying pockets. My new knees, of course, set off the machine resulting in a quick pat down that was, for the first time, non-intrusive.

Our very good friends Paul and Rosalie were also at the Salt Lake Airport trying to get on a standby flight to Florida. They were having to wait … and possibly won’t get out until a red-eye flight late tonight … so they stopped over to our gate and we visited until we boarded the airplane (update: two days later and they still haven’t gotten out on a flight).

The flight is completely full (again, not unusual). Nina and I are in aisle seats kind of across from each other. She’s got a rather bulky guy sitting next to her by the window. I’ve got a young kid in the middle seat beside me. While there are a few people that look like native Hawaiians, I’m pretty sure most people on this flight are headed on some kind of grand vacation adventure. For sure, we’re headed to a grand adventure, but it won’t be vacation!

There is another missionary couple on this flight. These folks are going to the Laie Temple as trainers. They’ve been in Salt Lake City at the Salt Lake Temple for three days of training. Temple missionaries don’t go through the MTC, but their training sounds pretty interesting as well. I expect we’ll see them from time to time and get to know them a bit better (update: their apartment is directly across the street from us).

So, we’re leaving the training environment behind and getting out into the real world of the LDS Church Visitor’s Centers. At this moment all I know is that an Elder Johansen is picking us up at the airport and taking us up to Laie and our apartment. Hopefully there’ll be some additional instructions, like where to be and at what time tomorrow morning! I think it’s about 1 1/2 hour drive from the airport to Laie, meaning that we won’t be to our apartment any earlier than 6 this evening Hawaii time … which is four hours (during the summer) earlier than Salt Lake City.

The flight is just over half done. The total flight time was 6:29 and there’s three hours left. There isn’t much to do, of course. I’m listening to some classical music while I write this. I finished Ben Bova’s book “New Earth” earlier in the flight. I’ve other reading material available, maybe later. I might even try to get a bit of shut-eye. I haven’t had a really good night’s sleep since we got to the MTC.

Much Later….

We arrived in Honolulu. On time. All the luggage arrived! No issues at all. Elder Johansen was waiting for us and off we went to Laie. It was a long drive. The speed limits are between 25 and 45 mph on two-lane roads with plenty of traffic. Everything we’ve heard about the traffic in and around Honolulu is absolutely correct. We got to our apartment just as the missionary couple we’re relieving were leaving to go to the airport to fly back to Salt Lake City. It was good to have a few minutes with them for a turnover. Then, we were mobbed with young sister missionaries! They are so delightful. We crashed just after 9pm … which was just after 1 am Salt Lake time … making for a very long, exciting day.

Tomorrow everything starts!

Training Completed. One Day to Wrap Up!

Visit to Temple Square
Visit to Temple Square
Today we finished up all of the training activities. The schedule called for the training to continue into tomorrow (Wednesday) through noon. However, most of our group are couples going to Nauvoo, Illinois to the Church’s historical site. They needed to be in Nauvoo by Friday afternoon, so today was a longer day to give those folks an extra half-day to make that trip. So, we’ve essentially got a completely free day tomorrow! That means I can sleep in perhaps all the way to 7 am…. It hasn’t worked sleeping all the way to 6 am since we got here, so I’ve little confidence in “sleeping in” tomorrow, either.

On Monday we went as a group to Temple Square and spent a couple of hours with young sister missionaries as they showed us what they do with their days working in the Temple Square Visitor’s Center. It became clear very quickly that there is plenty to do … and there are a number of new capabilities that have been put in place taking advantage of technology.

I’ll get a little religious….

The LDS Church’s visitor’s centers (and there are a couple dozen of them around the world) have been set up for a couple of key purposes. First, of course, is to help members of the Mormon Church to learn more about their heritage, history, and doctrine and anyone else to become acquainted with the Church’s doctrine and history. Secondly, many are at locations with significant historical significance and these centers have the further responsibility to preserve, protect, and teach about this heritage.

At the historical sites, such as Nauvoo, Illinois and Independence, Missouri about half of the visitors are members of the LDS Church. At the other centers, most of which are located near a Mormon Temple, about 65% are not members and are curious about the Mormons. As we greet and spend time with these visitors, some will want to know more about what we believe. Others have questions about specific doctrines and teachings (and mis-information) about the Church. In the past, these folks could fill out a request for information which would be sent in the mail to Salt Lake City where it would get sorted out by the area where the person lived, forwarded to the LDS Mission in that area, and finally given to a couple of young missionaries so they could visit the person and fulfill the request.

This process would usually take anywhere from four to six weeks before the missionaries made the visit. By that time the interest had often waned or the question forgotten. Now, the person can give us their email address and we can carry on an electronic conversation with them in the meantime until the local missionaries can take up the process. Further, Salt Lake is no longer the clearing house. The referral goes directly (and electronically) to the local missionaries, significantly reducing the lag time.

While we were at Temple Square I had the chance to observe a couple of young sister missionaries on the computer talking (in Chinese … I actually understood a bit of the conversation!) using Skype with a person they had met on Temple Square a couple of weeks before. They were having a fun conversation! On the computer screen were all kinds of resources available to the missionaries … short video clips, quotations, pictures, Bible and other scripture references, and such that they could easily “find, click, and send” as the conversation proceeded. Being a bit of a geek, I was really impressed with this capability! All of the missionaries at the visitor’s centers have time scheduled for them to be able to follow up with people they’ve met and talked with previously. Both Nina and I are quite comfortable with this technology and I’m really looking forward to being trained and starting to incorporate this technology into our missionary work.

Also, some folks reading this may be familiar with mormon.org. This is a website that has lots of information about the LDS Church, including hundreds of “I Am a Mormon” profiles put up by members of the Church. One capability is that people can search for members that meet certain criteria (such as a single mother raising young children who is a member of the Church), read their stories and, if interested, make email contact with them.

On the main page, on the top right, is a “chat” icon. Clicking on that icon will start up a chat session with a missionary (young, or possibly a senior missionary like us) at one of these Temple Visitor’s Centers. There, through the chat capability, questions can be asked, concerns shared, and serious discussions held. This will also be part of our missionary experience at the Laie Hawaii Temple Visitor’s Center. I’m thinking this could be really interesting and a lot of fun! You don’t even have to go to a visitor’s center to be able to “chat” with someone at the center. This is pretty cool stuff.

So, Thursday morning at 7:30 am we leave the Missionary Training Center for the Salt Lake Airport. We fly out at noon on a direct Delta flight to Honolulu arriving about 3 pm Honolulu time (Hawaii is currently four hours earlier than in Salt Lake City … so 3 pm in Honolulu is 7 pm in Salt Lake City). Elder Johansen, a senior missionary in the Honolulu Hawaii Mission, will pick us up and drive us the hour and a half north to Laie, Hawaii to our apartment. Friday morning we’ll start the next phase of this Grand Adventure … and start learning about our assignment and the associated technology.

We’re ready to be on our way! Life is grand!!