After years of sending student missionaries to Micronesia, it was finally my turn to see firsthand what it means to “visit” the islands of the South Pacific. My first flight out of Hawaii would be to the Marshall Islands, then the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), continuing on to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), followed by Guam, and finally to Palau. As I began my island hopping, I was pleasantly surprised to see that United Airlines kept bumping me up to first class…which was kind of neat since I normally don’t experience anything better than Economy Plus seating. My goal on this trip was to experience the islands’ cultures, learn as much as possible within my brief visits, and to discover some of their challenges and connect with leadership at each stop. These acquired experiences would be invaluable as I recruit volunteers.
On each island, I stayed two to three days. In the Republic of the Marshall Islands, I first visited Majuro, home of the largest SDA school in Micronesia. Then I flew to Ebeye, which included a secluded island paradise pronounced “Goojigoo” – which is a twelve-mile round trip by bicycle. Flying through FSM, I briefly touched down on the states of Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Chuuk, but due to unforeseen restrictions brought on by the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, I was not able to deplane. But from my window, I gazed in awe at the plush greenery over tropical rainforests; breathtaking.
My trip continued on to the U.S. Territories of Guam and Saipan, with all of their rich history and majestic mountains. Guam’s Mount Lamlam, because it borders the Mariana Trench, is said to be the tallest mountain in the world; a mile and a half taller than Mount Everest. It just happens to be mostly underwater. Saipan has Suicide Cliff, where many died during World War II, and Guam has Two Lovers Point, an island-style "Romeo and Juliet" story. Solemnity and romance — became two words separated by a short island hop.
I also toured the Guam Seventh-Day Adventist Clinic -- whose name I did not quite understand. To say it is just a “clinic“is to say Mount Everest is just a speed bump. The medical clinic includes dental, optical, obstetrics, urgent care, physical therapy, and other services. Later, I stood in the middle of the gigantic Adventist World Radio (AWR) antennas. When they are broadcasting, they can reach all the way around the planet, emitting so much microwave energy that, if you stand in a certain place, you would turn into fried chicken within two minutes and your brain will melt like Jell-O. (Okay, it’s a guy thing.) Finally, I was able to visit Palau, with its Rock Islands, which I will personally call “the floating mountains” of Palau, sorry “Avatar”.
Each island has its own majesty, its own sublime eloquence…it is a mountain, it is the blue (and I mean, blue) sea, it is the crashing waves, the history, the romance. And oh, did I mention the people? They call it “Yokweh”. I got a double dose of it in Ebeye…a “yokweh, yokweh” welcome/farewell celebration. One night, when they found out I was coming for a short visit, the community prepared a grand feast, just for me; they prepared an elaborate musical production, just for me; and the elders honored me with their welcome speeches. Then I heard their voices soaring like the island breeze; singing in harmonies with an island pitch perfected by centuries of music lore. And the crowning moment of all, literally, was when they danced in a line, and as they sang, placed precious, homemade, jewelry on my neck and a flowery crown on my head. They said the crown was for my wife, but I went and got another one for her. I fought back the tears (not a guy thing). “Yokweh, yokweh,” they call it. I call it “First Class” island hospitality. It is the soul of these islands and of anyone who dares to come and live there.
Our brave student missionaries (my heroes, as I’ve called them for almost 15 years), come to these beautiful islands to teach, to do hard work (and I mean, hard, island work), like clearing fields, building facilities, reaching the world…one island at a time…one student and one family, at a time. And I see the change in them as well. The teachers, the staff, the principals, and the leadership of the Guam-Micronesia Mission took such very good care of this weary traveler. I have never said “Thank you” so many times…and really meant it! They took time, lots of it, out of their very busy day to make sure I was taken care of. How can people be so kind? It is the love of God in them, for sure, and perhaps, the people of Micronesia. Of course, I took lots of pictures and ate good food. Okay, lots of good food. And in how many places can you say, “I’ve seen a spectacular sunrise,” then stay in the same spot, and in the evening turn around and say, “I just saw a spectacular sunset.” They call it the island hopper, but it is much, much more. Thank you, people of Micronesia. Your hospitality and your island beauty was all, well,… first class.