January 2, 2017
Wow! I have absolutely no clue where to start. So much has happened this past week. All of the Kiribati-region missionaries came to the main island of Tarawa for Christmas and a conference with Elder Haleck, a visiting General Authority. 90 missionaries on one tiny island made for a crazy week, but it has also been one of the best and most rewarding weeks of my mission.
I learned I am getting transferred from being a Zone Leader on Tarawa to an outer island off of Christmas Island called Fanning Island or "Tabuaeran" in Kiribati. Missionaries have only recently been permanently assigned there because its airport was just finished this year. I will be the fourth elder to stay permanently. My companion will be Elder Murri. He’s from Utah and an Alta High School graduate. He has only been out about three months, but he is the man. I’m super excited.
Because of the extreme distance from here to Fanning Island (and it’s the only route), I took a three-hour plane ride from Tarawa to Nadi, Fiji today. I am currently staying at a hotel in Fiji (where I had my first hot shower since the MTC) waiting to catch a four-hour red eye flight tomorrow night to Christmas Island before catching a small plane for a one-hour flight to Fanning Island the following day. To give you a little bit of an idea where Fanning is, it is located about 1200 miles directly south of Hawaii. The work is AMAZING and I’m so excited to get there and get to work. There is a strong branch there of 80 members (many of whom came there from other Kiribati islands). We will be living in a stick hut with no running water and nothing but a solar panel for electricity and we will communicate by radio.
Leaving Tarawa today was hard, but I was so grateful for members who came to the airport and showered me with gifts before I left. Although leaving was hard, it’s comforting to know that I could get to see Tarawa again before I finish my time.
This past week was incredibly busy. We had three marriages and five baptisms in the busiest week of the year. We honestly had the most beautiful baptismal service with great member support. I was so grateful for the service. We had a family get baptized--Tony and Tiebo were the most beautiful family. The Lord answered my prayer a month ago when I prayed and had faith that we could baptize a family before we left Buota. He led us to them--the most golden family I’ve ever taught. They were taught, married and baptized in less than a month. I am so grateful. We also baptized Taakoa's wife, completing that family. Remember Mikaere, the security guard who we almost dropped? He made such big changes and was baptized. The bigger miracle? His newly married wife, Kamoia, changed her mind and has come to church two weeks in a row and asked when she can be baptized. She used to run away when we would go to their house. Picture how that looked when President Haleck came to church in Buota and saw those beautiful recent converts receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost.
Elder Haleck of the Seventy visited our mission this past week. It was so awesome to be so close to him and to interact with him. We met him at the conference and then he came to church in our branch in Buota. We also had a leadership meeting with him. He is such a humble man.
The highlight of last week is when all of the missionaries were invited, along with President Haleck and our mission president, President Larkin, to the home of the President of Kiribati to have dinner with him on New Year’s Eve. We went to his house and watched authentic Kiribati dancing while sitting next to the ocean sipping cold drinks that were being served to us. We all met the President and danced and had a great time eating and enjoying the Kiribati culture. Definitely a first for missionaries in this mission... Our baptisms and that experience made for one of—if not the best—days of my mission.
I’m so grateful to be here and to be serving. Change is hard but there is absolutely no growth without change. I know who I am, where I’m from, and where I’m going. I couldn’t ask for much more. I’m so excited for this next and possibly the final chapter in my mission. I love you guys and I hope to hear from you soon!
Mission Leadership Council following their leadership meeting with President and Sister Haleck. Zach is in the middle of the back row.
Zach at the airport in Tarawa waiting for his flight to Fiji.