This place will really test your commitment! To anything. It will surface all your frustrations and force you to deal with them head on, and often times at every angle. Our group of seven consists of go-getters, ambitious thinkers, goal-driven humans. This place is THE polar opposite. This last week really had most of us ready to up and leave; the unmet expectations, the students’ attitudes, the non-stop smell of ramen mixed with Kool-Aid, the lack of wifi, unclear vision and settling with the fact that we are most likely the ones to just “buy the rakes.” The next group just may till the ground, the group after will hopefully plant seeds, and the following groups will perhaps see progress and change starting to take place. We had a group powwow on Thursday and hashed out our frustrations and made a list of the things we can and cannot control about our situation. It has been a six-week, daily and hourly mental struggle to try and let go of all the the things we cannot control. We often ask each other, “how did this happen?” and now share that thought by just a look that we’re all too familiar with. What we were told we would be doing vs. our current reality are so far from each other. We’ve received insight from the ones who have the vision, but we were also told us high school teachers are more or less fillers and not part of the ultimate vision. We feel deceived, but at times blessed, when we dig deep down. It’s a mental rollercoaster. We’ve now coined the phrase, “we’ve been Chuuked.” During our powwow, we also brainstormed some solutions to the things we can control, in hopes of keeping our sanity levels in check, as well as giving ourselves some sort of evidence to something changing and improving. The seasons don’t even change, so one must create their own way of seeing any form of progress here.
Months ago, my parents and I booked flights to Germany for around Thanksgiving, and this has been a very bright light at the end of the tunnel. Our group also has the month of December off and it’s has been a daily decision I’ve weighed on wether or not I will be coming back in January to teach next semester. Most days I think there’s no way. Every once in a while something small happens where I think that I just might survive to next May. The thing is, we don’t want to just grit our teeth, white knuckle each day and barely endure this. We want to find and feel joy and fulfillment while being here, but some things have to change!
We had the opportunity of meeting the Guam Micronesia Mission President and his wife on Thursday evening. They shared with us some fantastic wisdom they’ve gleaned from being here two years already. They helped us feel like we weren’t crazy as they shared their experiences of having similar feelings of wanting to not be here initially as well, and let us know they could sense our frustration. Bless their listening ears. They lifted our spirits and offered some wise counsel in how to work within rather than against this culture.
One thing is for sure, we can count on this place being inconsistent. The culture is setup to cause even the smallest request, process or errand to take hours or days… MUCH longer than necessary. It’s no wonder that many of the natives here don’t even try or if they do put forth effort, they give up easily. Any hurdle or resistance, they’re out. They’re dependent on others, they wait for handouts. That’s what Micronesia is to the United States. There is a compact. The US is allowed to use space in the Pacific for military purposes, and in return, the US gives Micronesia $80 million dollars to use towards education, healthcare and military, however, the US determines exactly how those funds can and cannot be used. Due to corrupt leaders, Micronesia is outvoted before even given the opportunity to vote and the entire area greatly suffers, especially the state of Chuuk. Homes are made out of shipping containers and scrap tin; the types of food that are imported are limited in variety and nutritional value, and are quite expensive, nearly double the prices in America; and it’s no wonder that most educated folks leave with no hopes of returning. The US has failed on many occasions in holding up their end of the bargain, and in 2023, the compact ends, leaving the struggling to be abandoned. The combination of the unfulfilled commitments by the US with the lazy and we’ll-just-wait-for handouts-attitude, equates to a long road of struggle for the FSM.
Sister missionaries hadn’t served on our island of Weno in over 20 years. A year ago, a few were asked to serve on this island until two apostles came to visit in June and told the Mission President they didn’t feel comfortable having sister missionaries here. The next day, they were gone. We’ve been told where we are is one of the hardest areas to serve in the mission. Two months later, our group of five females and two males show up. On behalf of the local church members and missionary work here, we came at the perfect time. In regards to our initiatives at the schools, we feel as though we were put here prematurely. Finding a balance sure messes with your head and heart, on the daily.
After meeting with President and Sister Zarbock, I began experiencing a mental shift. I not only needed this shift, but I’ve really wanted it. It has and will require a lot of mental strength to not fall back where I was, but I am now fully committed to coming back in January and staying to May; not through gritting my teeth, trying to fight an entire culture on my own, or even white knuckling it, but by loving this place and the people. It will be a process, but it’s coming. Although it’s only been 48 hours, this paradigm shift has made me feel like I’m starting to become me again, in Chuuk. To add to the process story of last week’s blog, it only took me two weeks, three locations of wifi connections, six online attempts and a visit to the airport to finally book my roundtrip ticket.
Sister Francis and I facilitated our monthly Seminary and Institute training this Saturday, and taught the importance of involving the students in the teaching/learning process by inviting them to share, explain and testify, rather than the teacher reading directly from the manual. I was inspired with the thoughts and experiences that were shared by the teachers. They balance a lot. They have their own families, many of them work, they have multiple callings and also teach Seminary or Institute. When I talked about areas for improvement that we see from our visits last month, instead of focusing on the fact that teachers aren’t showing up, students aren’t showing up and classes being cancelled, even when they know we’re coming to visit, I took a different angle of thanking them for all they are doing!
So many times we are quick to judge based on missed expectations we see. Take the time to think about the factors that you don’t see that hold someone back from being able to do something. Guaranteed, frustrations await, but I’m choosing to try and look for the factors in the mix that I am unable to see rather than focusing on things not progressing.
“Don’t lower your expectations, just reset them.” (Sister Zarbock)