I honestly have to say, the best thing about going on a trip with AYS is that it is with members of my church. Every night we had a devotional given by one of the kids and we had multiple group prayers a day. We also had the opportunity to go to church both Sundays, teach Family Home Evening in the members' homes both Mondays, go to mutual once, attend a fireside, see some missionaries, go to a stake dance (a multi-stake celebration of the 10th anniversary of the temple), and go to the Suva, Fiji temple. All of these things were such wonderful experiences and absolutely were blessings.
The first thing 100% church related was actually going to church. As the bus pulled up, we saw the sign on the side of every LDS church building. It reads:
THE CHURCH OF
OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS
Standard, right? It just wasn't on the side of the building, it was on the outside of a wall and next to a gate. I do realize that this occurs in places besides Fiji, and even within the U.S., but it certainly is not commonplace in Provo, nestled comfortably within Happy Valley. We all unloaded the bus and began the long trek up the hill. (For those of you who attend the same seminary building as me, I liken this hill to the seminary hill.)
Please note, the view of the hill is taken from the top. Personally, I love that the church building was on top of this hill. I think it's a nice reminder of why we go to church. It's a chance to rise above day to day life, and the world in general, and recommit ourselves to the Lord. What better way to depict this than a hill of considerable size preceding the building?
When we first arrived to the chapel, we thought we were late. And seeing as how the congregation was singing, can you blame us? As it turns out, a little girl had just been baptized that morning! She was just beaming. What a way to start off church.
The little girl on the right was the one that was baptized.
When sacrament started we realized that, instead of the full on organ and piano set that we have at home, they had a little keyboard. No one in the ward knew how to play, so Amanda was kind enough to play for us. (We learned that bobby pins work nicely to hold the pages down.) Their hymn books were limited, so most of the members just sang the hymns from memory - with a few tweaks of their very own.
After sacrament meeting came Sunday School. We sang an opening hymn, which was new and rather enjoyable. It was so fun to be able to see kids my same age living and learning the same truths that I do back home.
Young Women was wonderful. In their ward, the girl who leads the theme stands up and says the whole thing first, then invites everyone to join. I'm not entirely sure why, maybe it was because I was so far away from home, but I thought more about the actual words that time around. It really hit me that I am a daughter of my Heavenly Father who loves me, and that I love Him. That He knew exactly where I was at that time, and what I was doing. He knows what I am striving for, and He wants to help me to achieve these things. What a blessing to have this knowledge.
The second week went about the same as the first. I gave a talk and sang a song in a Multi-Stake Fireside, conducted the hymns in sacrament meeting and had the chance to visit Primary for the last bit. Those kids sure know how to get the lacrimal glands going. Once again, the ward doesn't usually have members to play the piano for them, so it was a big deal when Anna could play the Primary songs for them. They sang all 9 verses of "Follow the Prophet" at the top of their lungs. It doesn't matter where you go, Primary kids are just the same.
As a matter of fact, members of the church are the same everywhere. Coming to church was just like coming home - even though I was almost as far away from it as I could get. It doesn't matter that we live in different countries with different lifestyles, we are all striving to become the very best that we can, and allowing the Lord to make up the difference.
Family Home Evenings were so fun. The first go-around was just absolutely hilarious. I was partnered with Kaiana. As we prepared for the lesson, we eventually settled on the topic of Helaman 5:12 - the rock of our Redeemer. What's really cool is that the oldest daughter, a returned missionary, thought that she was going to be teaching the lesson and prepared a lesson on the exact same thing. She helped us out a lot.
Once we finished the lesson, we were supposed to play games with the families until the bus came around again to get us. Kaiana and I brought candy and cards, but this sister had a better idea. Ever heard of the game Flour Tower? Prime. Basically, you make a tower out of flour by smooshing it all together. Then you put a cookie on top of it. Then you all take turns cutting away pieces of the flour tower with a butter knife. Kinda like Jenga, whoever cuts the piece that makes the tower crumble loses. But it doesn't end there. When you lose, you have to pick up the cookie only using your mouth. It gets pretty entertaining.
Even better, Kaiana felt that he could for sure beat me. So, he challenged me to a game. We decided to play under the condition that whoever lost would have to walk onto the bus with a face full of flour. Guess who won?
Our second FHE family was really fun too. We taught a mom and a daughter, made prayer rocks, and played "Last Card" for a while. It was really fun to be able to get to know these two sisters and hear about what their lives are like.
On the Thursday that we had set aside to go to the temple, it was incredibly rainy. Rain means mud. Mud means dangerous working conditions. We had had a few incidents the day before, so instead of leaving work early as the original plan had it, we didn't go into the village at all that day. We rearranged our schedule a bit, and put our shopping in Suva instead of...wherever else it was supposed to be. While we were all our shopping, we ran into some missionaries!
It was so exciting to see these guys. Some of them had just come out, one was on his way home within the month, and most of them had developed a Fijian accent - including the missionary from Idaho.
The temple was an amazing experience. It was quite a battle to get me in there, too. My mom and I realized that I had left my recommend at home when I was sitting in the SLC airport. Close, but no cigar. From what I understand, the week preceding our temple trip was mass chaos as they tried almost everything to get through to the Suva temple. They tried everything, and nothing was working. But eventually, somehow, someway, they got through to each other long enough to take care of everything, and I was in.
In the end, it doesn't matter where in the world I am. Church will always be a home away from home, and the members will be my family away from my family.