Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yapese Lessons

We've now taught our final Seminary class for this semester, and had one of our best classes yet. We have noticed that though they all speak English quite well, they always pray in Yapese or one of the outer Island dialects. If they pray in Yapese, the outer Islanders can't understand, and if they pray in an outer island language, the Yapese can't understand... and then there is us.. we can't understand either one! We asked the students if they wanted to learn to pray in English and they were eager to learn, so we have scheduled that for the new year and agreed that if they learned to pray in English, we'd learn to pray in Yapese! (little did I know what we were getting ourselves into!)

So this morning a couple of the younger missionaries came over to help us learn how to pray in Yapese. First, I wrote out a very simple prayer that might be appropriate to use when we begin Seminary class and I had them translate what I had written into Yapese. FYI, there are 45 letters in the Yapese alphabet, and 16 are vowels. The letter 'd' is pronounced as a hard "th" sound (as in 'mother') unless there are two d's in the word -- in which case the first occurance of d is pronounced like our d. (so 'gadad' is pronounced ga-dath... remember to make the 'th' hard... (like mother)... not soft (like moth)

The letter combination of 'ng' (which occurs a lot) is pronounced like the ng in 'song'. So now we get a word like 'danga' (which is pronounced 'th(hard) ong ah'). Danga means "no"

The translation is written out below. The bold line is Yapese. Yapese sentence structure is quite different from what we are used to, so the line in italics is a direct translation of the Yapese phrase... and the third line of each phrase (if there is a substantial difference from the direct translation) is the original phrase as I wrote it in English. I find the direct translation back to English to be very interesting.

Chitamangmaed nu tharmiy
Our Father in heaven

Kamagar romaed ko gubin e pitowath kom pii' ngomaed
Thanks that is ours for all blessings you (past tense) give to us
We thank thee for the many blessings we enjoy

Wenig ngom ni ngam towathnograed pistudent rog
Please to you that you will bless them, students that are mine.
We ask thee for thy blessings upon our Seminary Students.

Gomad ba yog e pit'ney
We presently say these things
We say these things

Udaken e fithingan Yesus Kristus, Amen
Through the name that is His, Jesus Christ, Amen
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen

We are having a great time here. Adjusting rapidly to the heat and the culture. This is going to be a very different but very good Christmas. We will not be cooking turkey this year, but we are gathering with a couple of other families at one of the beaches and will be eating turtle! (I know! I know!... and it is just gross the methods used to kill the turtle too... but it is a traditional Yap feast... and probably the only time in our lives we'll actually be able to try it)

Merry Christmas to you all!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Headline News from Yap

Banana Fright

Dec 17, 2009 (YAP) A local missionary couple was frightened by a massive SMOOOOSh sound outside their apartment windows late last night. Arming themselves with a fly swatter and nail clippers (the only weapons of any consequence that they have in their possession) they proceeded gingerly onto their back porch to investigate, only to find that they had been blessed with a load of fresh bananas delivered right onto their doorstep courtesy of mother nature. The couple seems to have recovered from the incident quickly as their apartment is now filled with the aroma of fresh made banana bread! Elder Sheppard has refused comment as he continues to digest the evidence.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Sunday in Thol

With it being so very hot here, and humid as well, we find it difficult to believe that Christmas even happens here...but lights are up around the island and some of the stores (close to 50 of them ...which is another story) have Christmas decorations and gift items to purchase. One store even has a Christmas greeting banner painted on the outside wall ...the full length of the building. What they are going to do with it after the New Year will be interesting to see...maybe they will paint over it again and do a Valentine's or Easter is an interesting place.

As for the 'store story'...there are some main stores in the town of Colonia and then there are little "corner stores" all over the island and it is important to remember that the island is only 15 miles long. Most of the stores have no signage so unless you know where they are you would not likely find them. Many of the residents of the island who live outside of town do not have cars and having the little stores in their neighborhoods is helpful. As a result every village has one! ...and now that we know what they look like we are noticing them more often. They mostly carry the same things with the occasional unique offerings...we have our favourites already and know where to go for specific things. Leigh has been doing some repairs to the furniture in the apartment ..younger missionaries lived here before we did...and one of the local hardware stores has become Leigh's favourite. There is an employee at the hardware store...a nice young fellow...who has adopted Leigh and takes care of him whenever he goes there.
Right now the stores are getting ready to clear out a lot of their stock so there are quite a few good deals. We were told that their stocks normally get pretty low between shipments (every 2-3 weeks or so) so we were encouraged to get some storage on hand and now, apparently, is the time to do that. Before Christmas the stores are well stocked in readiness for the season...with a greater variety than we are being spoiled. Once the new year comes the stocks dwindle and we could discover the shortages that we have been preparing for. So, for now we will enjoy the plenty...such as it is!

We attended the smaller Thol Branch recently and found a few faithful souls waiting for the others to arrive (13 people...including us and two young Elders) sweet sister was quietly reading her Yapese scriptures and one of the young boys was somewhere else in the small open air chapel singing hymns to his heart's content. I think it was the sweetest prelude music I have ever heard! It was testimony meeting and nearly everyone bore their testimony...most in the Yapese language or one of the Outer Island we could only understand the spirit of what they were saying. They have one young woman attending, Francy, who is one of our seminary students, and she takes care of the music. That means she is responsible for choosing the hymns and finding them on the portable keyboard they use for the music and everyone just starts singing when the music starts. She and I are going to be doing a class next Sunday during Sunday School time...for the whole branch...about conducting the singing...that way she will have trained people to assist her. We are both looking forward to it.

Thol Chapel

The Relief Society President was away, so Relief Society (the church's organization for women) started out very quiet as the few sisters present sat on the floor in the Relief Society room (the locals are actually quite comfortable sitting on the floor and do so in their own homes.) waiting for some instruction. The one and only counselor was present so with some encouragement she started the meeting with a song and prayer. Then she looked at me and asked me to teach. I was kind of expecting that, but still silently prayed for direction. I had with me a map of Yap and a map of my birthplace; Malcolm Island, which is about the same size as Yap. I laid both maps out on the floor and for the next few minutes we discovered we had quite a few things in was delightful! Then recalling an insight recorded in my study journal from a few days before, I taught a lesson about sustaining the root structure of our spiritual trees...planted when each of us were baptized...and nourished so our branches would flourish and blossom while the fruit grows sweet. The counselor, Sister Francesca, is the oldest sister on Yap, both in age and length of membership...she joined the church in 1987. She became the stalwart example of a strong spiritual tree...firmly rooted and sustained. It was an amazing experience to listen, as the lesson progressed, to Francy translating the lesson into an Outer Island language to clarify things for her mother while Sister Martina translated into Yapese for her mother and another sister. I was thrilled to see understanding in their eyes and heads nodding in agreement. I believe the lesson was an opportunity for the Lord to recognize sweet Sister Francesca for her long term diligence and enduring faithfulness, meanwhile the rest of us had understood each other and were edified and rejoiced together.

Sister Francesca

Sister Francesca who had been driven to church has difficulty walking long distances so we gave her a ride home...actually, we only got her somewhat closer to her home, as the roadway to her home had turned to mud and water filled potholes...our car would not have made it! She hugged me and then stood in the roadway until we had turned around and then waved us off.

Fruit trees across road from Chapel

After the meetings we hung around outside for a bit, enjoying each other's company. The Branch president, President Ravino, explained a bit about the fruit bearing trees on the property and the roadway. Each tree and large plant that bears fruit on the island belongs to someone...and no one takes from trees that belong to someone else. The church property and the roadway have trees that belong to the orange tree, papaya tree, passion fruit tree, banana tree and several others I can't recall.

Volcanic Ash Road to Chapel

Sister Francesca, Elder Abubo, Elder Sorenson, Sam and fruit

The boy in the blue shirt in a previous picture climbed up the orange tree to get us a few oranges and they picked up the ripe passion fruit from the ground for us and the Elders. President Ravino also cut down a bunch of bananas that he would take to a family in need. It was a delightful day!

Myself, Francy, Sister Martina and Sam

Monday, December 14, 2009

Our Address

I wanted to put this in a sidebar, but have no idea how to do that...
so... for those of you who have been asking, here is our mailing address.
(They don't have street addresses in Yap)

Elder & Sister Sheppard
PO Box 456
Colonia, Yap, FSM

Now... that comes directly to Yap, but not many people (including Travel Agents :-) know where Yap is, so you may have trouble getting postage rates, etc. If you prefer, you can send mail to the following address which is the same rate as anywhere else in the USA... particularly if you are in the US, this is just like sending mail, packages, flat rate boxes, etc to any other US address. Guam will forward the mail to us at whatever address we happen to be at at the time.

Micronesia Guam Mission
PO Box 21749 GMF
Barrigada, Guam

Our Students

These are our terrific students! Just look at those beautiful faces! They look after Winona and I very well, and for the most part, they at least pretend to be interested in what we have to say! We currently have classes with them Mon, Wed, and Friday afternoons. Starting in January, classes will be held every weekday, and we will be holding one or two classes a week for the 18-30 year old single adults.

Clockwise from the upper left we have Leahna, Jestine, Francy, Juanita, Alvina, and Chrystle. We have a couple of boys attending but so far, they have been "unavailable" at picture taking time. They are all great students, and wonderful to work with.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Anniversary Pics

Click pictures to enlarge
We were not alone!

Insurance guy?

Mother Nature's garden

Hmmm ... I wonder why they call this Blue Lagoon?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Anniversary in Paradise

32 years ago today Winona and I got married on a sunny day in Cardston Alberta. It was 40 below zero! Today we are celebrating our anniversary on a Tropical Island. It is 130 degrees warmer than it was on our wedding day.

To celebrate, I booked us a room at the coolest hotel you've ever seen. We'll post some of our own pictures of it when we get a chance, but for now, take a look at their website:

We feel like the Swiss Family Robinson.

And just as importantly... a very Happy Birthday to Janaya who was born on our first Anniversary! Interesting thing is that this is the first time that her Birthday is starting just as our Anniversary is ending. (International Date Line thing!).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Reflections in the wee hours of the AM

It's 4am Sunday morning in Yap. I get up in the wee hours for a couple of reasons... the main reason being that I am awake (duh) and I learned some time ago that I can either toss and turn for the rest of the night, or, I can get up and do something useful during my attacks of insomnia. Generally, I get tired enough to go back to sleep just about the time it is time to get up. Then I go to church... and I have no problem with insomnia anymore! (read into that whatever you like!)

Another reason I get up is because the Internet on the Island works best at this time of the morning. I think every user in Yap shares the same router... the evenings are impossibly slow.

And finally, the plane to Palau takes off from Yap at 4:00am and it is a lot of fun to listen to every dog on Yap howl at the roar overhead. The roar of the jet engines lasts for 30 seconds... the howl of the dogs carries on for 10 minutes as each dog across the island takes its cue from the neighbouring dogs. Then the roosters start to crow. (The roosters here have no sense of time).

I just finished chatting online with my kids. (Its 10AM Saturday for David in Washington State and 1:00 Saturday afternoon for Janaya in Virginia.). Janaya tells me its snowing in Virginia... I have to say, I'm having a hard time realizing that Christmas is only a couple of weeks away. It just doesn't feel like Christmas. Christmas carols don't feel the same with the air conditioning on and the noise of ceiling fans whirring overhead.

Yesterday, as we were bouncing over some gigantic potholes into some of the villages deep in the jungles of northern Yap, it was a surreal experience. The ocean in the distance was a dozen shades ranging from brilliant green to bright blue and white. The jungle had thinned, so the palms, and coconut trees, and lower vegetation looked like they had been planted by a superb gardener. The dirt road was only wide enough for one car and wound its way around the trees and vegetation, and was meant for a vehicle with much better suspension than ours. Torrential rains do amazing things to dirt roads. I turned to Winona and asked "did you ever think in your wildest imagination that we would ever be bouncing along a dirt road in the middle of a tropical jungle in the middle of a little island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with nothing to worry about except getting a flat?" She had to admit that she had never really imagined that... (read into that what you like, too!)

Realize that this Island is only 15 miles long, and yet there are people who live in the villages on the north end of the Island who have never travelled to the south end. Many have never left their village. Each village has a store. There is no reason to travel to a store in another village! Good point, actually. Those that live in the South of the Island have a different Yapese accent than those that live in the North. (15 miles away). Winona and I can't hear the difference, but those who know the language well can tell what part of the Island you are from by the accent.

Well its almost time to get up, so I'm beginning to get a little sleepy. Merry Christmas to you all... (that seems so weird!) .. I think I'll go stick my head in the freezer.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Home Sweet Home

This is our street, and below is our apartment and our car. The two doors are both ours... one is the front door, the other is the back but no one has told us yet which is which.


I need to make it clear that we have only been here a little over a week so we are not yet acclimatized.... but we are starting to have fun with the heat and humidity. To give you an idea...the humidity makes it such that steam forms on the outside of our apartment windows, and our car windows. We tried to drive around town a little tonight, but had to keep the windshield wipers on. No, it wasn't raining, but the steam was forming so fast on the outside of the windshield that we couldn't see unless we kept the wipers going. If we put something from the fridge onto the counter, it is quickly covered in condensation which soon forms a pool of water on and around the object... often drenching any papers, books, or cloths we may have left nearby. I get a kick out of watching steam rise from my fingertips as I drink from a bottle of water straight from the fridge. Butter is kept in the fridge but becomes spreadable in a matter of a seconds once removed from the fridge.

Last night, the bed spread was so damp that we put it in the dryer prior to going to bed. During the time it was in the dryer, the sheets started getting damp.

I sweat all the time.. It was bad enough back home... now, I am just a gushing fountain. I am certain that I drink close to 4 quarts of water a day just to replenish what I lose through my pores. If you covered me with grass seed, I'm sure I'd become the world's first living Chia Pet. I cut up one of my T-shirts into rags and carry a piece around on my shoulder wherever I go. It sounds totally gross, so I apologize, but otherwise I drip everywhere. Winona kicked me out of the room the other day, because she was trying to sweep the floor, and I was getting the floor wet! I have to position myself carefully so I don't drip on the books I am reading, the food I am cooking, the dishes I am washing, (Ok... so I don't do the dishes... but if I did...)

I made the mistake of making myself a hot Neo-Citran one night before going to bed. (For my US friends, Neo-Citran is a hot lemon flavored cold medicine only available in Canada... ha!ha! Susan... you missed one!) With a hot drink in me, I quickly discovered sweat was gushing out of the top of my head, and dripping down my face and off the end of my nose and chin. It was flowing off my eyebrows and into my eyes, so I could no longer see. It was an incredible experience... totally gross for those watching I am sure.. (and you reading), but quite fascinating for me!

Well, enough on humidity... next time we'll talk about lizards!

Friday, November 27, 2009


I have been sending dozens of email messages and getting no replies. It would appear that many/most/all of our messages are showing up as SPAM... please be sure to check you junk mail folders... I will be resending some of the lost emails from a secure server to see if that makes a difference, but I suspect that my email provider simply has this part of the world flagged as a suspicious source.

US Thanksgiving in Yap

Humbling experiences today. We thought we were going to be joining the younger missionaries and a member family to share a "Thanksgiving" spaghetti dinner that the missionaries were preparing. On arrival we discovered that they had already eaten their own dinners and then had each contributed the materials for creating a Spaghetti with Spam dinner, and some Corn Bread, and a few deserts for a needy family on the Island. We were each given assignments in the preparation of the meal and it was packed up in tin-foil containers to keep it hot while we travelled.

It took about an hour or so to prepare the dinner, so it was dark and well past 7:30PM when we left to deliver it. Winona & I followed the other missionaries to the southern tip of the Island where they pulled out a few flashlights and we began a trek in total blackness into the thick foliage. After about 100 feet, we came upon a family with 5 kids (the youngest of which was 6 months old) all sitting on a smooth wooden platform ... probably 16 feet square, and raised a few inches above the ground with flat rocks placed as necessary to level it. There were no walls, but a steel roof was held up by 8 poles... one at each of the four corners and another about half way between the corner poles. It looked precarious. I leaned against one of the poles for support as I watched the scene unfold and could tell that the structure was actually remarkably solid. A couple of Kerosene lamps sitting on the platform provided a dim light by which we could all see each other. In the distance and to my right and closer to the actual "house" I could see an open fire which was obviously used as the kitchen, and then a thatch-roofed hut which I presume was the sleeping area. The kids all seemed happy and well behaved. The dinner trays (wrapped in tin foil) that the missionaries had provided were placed on the platform and left for after our departure. Introductions and greetings were exchanged, and we played briefly with two brand new kittens who were trying desperately to get to the Spaghetti. The baby was awake and played happily in its mother's arms. Mother protected her baby very carefully.

Sister Pikula later confirmed that this was pretty typical living quarters for the Yapese. This family was particularly poor, but their home was typical. It was an eye opener. The Elders frequently (usually) teach in outdoor "rooms" deep in the jungles just like this one. There is nothing at the street to indicate the presence of a home. Just a narrow path winding its way into the forest. When approaching the home they let out a Hoo Hoo sound and the family either welcomes them in, or tells whoever is approaching to go away!

We returned briefly to the Zone Leaders apartment and enjoyed Elder Walpole's Apple Crisp and Ice Cream and some Root Beer. It was a great Thanksgiving! Certainly our most memorable.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Yap... we arrive at last.

With signs and banners to welcome us, we arrive at Yap (well, once we get through customs!). The local church members and the missionaries already serving here wait patiently while we wait for our bags to clear customs. Once we realized that the signs and the people waiting were for us it was hard to hold back the tears.

The missionaries helped us with our bags and drove us to our apartment, which was actually in a lot better condition than we had expected. They had done an incredible job of cleaning the apartment, putting some eggs, bacon, butter, milk and a few essential items in the fridge, along with baking us some corn bread and taco soup for dinner the next day (Sunday). The apartment was spotless. The tile floor was glimmering, and the bedroom air conditioner had brought the temperature in our bedroom to an inviting cool temperature. The furniture was nicely arranged and provided very comfortable surroundings considering that this was an apartment made of concrete (as is most housing in Yap --- termites eat anything made of wood.)

It was about 9:30 at night when we arrived in Yap, so we had no idea what the area we were travelling in looked like. When we awoke in the morning, this is what we saw out our window:

We are indeed in the middle of a "Survivor" series! Sorry the picture isn't larger as it truly is magnificent foliage. In the picture are several banana trees, coconut trees, papaya and avocado... and probably lots of others. Of course, actually getting to those fruits is a different story!

Flight to Guam

With our flight being delayed for two hours, we ended up arriving in Guam at about 10PM... which was 4:00 AM for our Utah adjusted biological clock! Our mind was a little fuzzy by the time we got picked up by the Mission President and his wife and a very energetic group of Senior missionaries who seemed so excited to greet us. Most of it was a blurr to us as jet lag was definitely having its effect by this point in our journey.

As we ventured outside the airport, the humidity and heat hit us. There was a pretty hefty wind blowing which helped temper the heat a bit, but this was reminiscent of our week in Branson, Missouri. My glasses quickly fogged over (much like my mind had!) and I was led by the hand to the waiting car. Luckily, we were transported to the Mission President's home and were quickly escorted to our air-conditioned bedroom. We took some gravol to help reduce the buzz in our heads and induce some much needed sl... zzzzzzz

Our Day in Paradise

We got to spend 24 hours in Hawaii on our way to Guam. The weather was fantastic! We tried to make the most of it by meeting friends for dinner and then attending the evening show at the Polynesian Cultural Center. The next morning we got up early and took the shot below while eating a BK breakfast croissant on the beach. We then continued on and drove completely around the island of Oahu before heading to the airport for our flight to Guam. Once at the airport, we found out that our flight had been delayed 2 hours. Rats... two more hours we could have spent site-seeing!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

SLC Airport

We are sitting in Salt Lake City airport waiting for our boarding announcement. Since they have a very efficient check-in and security system in SLC we got through security much quicker than we expected -- so our departure is still an hour away

We were up at 6AM in order to get our final packing done, weigh our luggage, clean our room, get some breakfast and say our goodbyes. We were accompanied by two young Sister Missionaries from Pakistan who pretty much adopted us, and by a couple from England who we just fell in love with. What a great time it has been. The English couple leave for Trinidad on Friday, and the Pakistan girls are at the Mission Training Center learning English until Jan 6. It was an emotional departure!

We will be arriving in Hawaii at 3:30 PM and will be spending 24 hours there. We have rented a car and will meet up with Patti Hartford (friend from Nanaimo) who has picked up tickets to the Polynesian Cultural Center for us. We fall back three hours getting to Hawaii, (it will be 6:30 Mountain Time when we arrive), so our evening activities in Hawaii will likely keep us up well past our normal bedtime. However... it will simply ease us into our inevitable jet-lag by the time we get to Guam which is pretty much a half-day switch from our normal schedule.

I need a nap. :-)

Saturday, November 14, 2009


We've had a fantastic time these past two weeks. Winona and I are still here until Tuesday morning... while nearly everyone else in the picture below has already headed off to their specific assignments throughout the world. Some are simply travelling a few miles up the road, while others are on their way to Burma, Mongolia, Brazil, Poland, Russia, Dominican Republic, Guyana, South Africa, Kenya, Japan, Hawaii, Switzerland, Puerto Rico... oh, and Yap! It amazing how much of the world just this week's group of Senior Couples is covering. We've said goodbye to so many, and the chances of seeing very many of these couples again is pretty slim. This is the "hard part" of all this.

The sadness is offset somewhat by the anticipation of our own departure on Tuesday. We fly to Hawaii first. We have arranged a car rental and will meet up with Patti Hartford (a good friend living in Hawaii). She has arranged tickets to the Polynesian Cultural Center on Tuesday night for us. We then fly out Wednesday afternoon, arriving in Guam on Thursday evening! (That International Date Line thing!!) So does that mean we'll be a day younger than the local residents or will we be a day older than we actually are?

We'll be able to let you know what today is going to be like before it happens! Hey cool... I just realized that Christmas this year will come a day earlier for us! Be sure and get those packages to the Post Office early!

Monday, November 9, 2009

This is all of the Senior Couple Missionaries that arrived at the Missionary Training Center the same day that we did. (Nov 2, 2009). We have become great friends with many of them. There are an additional 2200 of the younger missionaries here as well, and they treat us like gold. It really has been a wonderful week
Click the photo to enlarge. We are way in the back.

Mandatory Map Photo

Yap is here somewhere!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Guam or Bust

Wow… our first week at the Mission Training Center (MTC) is already done! It has been a full week… in more ways than one! Full, fun and fattening! If we don’t get to Guam soon we just may bust! We have one more week of training in our special assignment with the Church Education System before we take our flight to Guam.

It has been wonderful to be here, surrounded by younger missionaries from all around the world going to places all over the world. The hallways are a buzz of many languages as the missionaries practice their new linguistic skills. Our mission is an English speaking mission, however, each of the islands has its own language and those having spent time there say many locals do not speak English very well. So we will try to tie our tongues around the local language when we get there… it should be fun.