Tuesday, February 17, 2015

True Faith - Anand and Santhi Vakapalli

My brother and the wonderful love of his life, Nancy are visiting us this week.  We are so happy to have them here.  It's been quite honestly, a fun and food fest. It just proves the fact that more people should come and visit - because life here is absolutely fabulous!

We've been to the museum, the Dole Pineapple Factory, swimming at the Hukilau, walking the sands of Pipeline, and Ken and Nancy will be making their second visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center today, after they try out snorkeling at Turtle Bay.  I won't list out the gluttony of food we've been eating.  Sufficient to say I have had to exercise very hard not to gain any weight.

I will convey one experience from this week.  I try to hard to learn the words for "hello" in each of the six languages of the Polyensian villages here.

So, in full view of Ken and Nancy, I saunter up to the workers in the Tongan Village .

"Bula Vinaka," I shout out confidently

"Malo e lelei," they growl back in a unified voice that sounded so much more like "you are a dopey American" than it could ever convey 'hello.'

Yep, Sister Jones strikes again.  Just for clarity, "Bula Vinaka" worked much better as a greeting when we entered the Fijian Village.



Anand Kumar Vakapalli is a student at BYU-H from Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, India.
As a teenager, he started taking gospel lessons from the LDS missionaries along with some friends.  He didn’t take it seriously at first, but in a while, he felt moved by what he heard and was baptized and joined the Church.

When the time came, he applied to go on a mission.  He was assigned to serve in India.  India has strict rules about proselytizing missionaries from other countries.  Most missionaries are therefore native to the country.

Before starting his mission, Anand needed to go to the temple to obtain his endowments.  The closest temple was in Philippines.  His endowments were given in a language he didn’t know, so he did not understand what was said. He had to utilize his faith to know that he had been provided with sacred covenants and promises. Upon returning to India, he began his mission – traveling by commuter train, or bus or by walking many, many miles. Little by little, his faith grew.  Service to others became a matter of great importance to him. 

After his mission, he married Santhi in 2007, a young woman he had been arranged to marry since he was a young child.  She was a graduate of Andhra University with a Master’s degree in Chemistry.  Her father was a Christian Pastor.  He did not believe in Anand’s religion.  Neither did Santhi.  It was very difficult.  She did not want to hear about the Church.  She had been advised not to listen by her family.  This lasted for a couple of years.  Then she agreed to attend Church.  She listened to the missionaries.  She loved what she heard and she decided to be baptized and join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Because of her conversion, her father was ostracized and eventually released from his ministry.

In 2010, after much prayer and effort, Anand was accepted to Brigham Young University – Hawaii.  He, Santhi and their son, Daivik, came to Hawaii with much faith and little else.  Anand is pursuing a degree in Information Technology.  He feels that he will be able to return to his homeland with an education that will support his family and allow him to positively lead and support his community.  Santhi teaches chemistry classes in BYUH and is volunteering to develop a way to convert biodiesel Glycerin into soap.

Life is not easy, and it may never be easy.  The Lord has called upon this family to sacrifice more than many of us could fathom, but thru their sacrifice, their examples have affected and inspired so many already.  Anand’s parents have joined the church.  Santhi’s parents and sister have taken some of the discussions. Anand and Santhi’s faithful prayers and missionary outreach touch our hearts and moves us forward in our work.

The Vakapallis’ were able to fulfill a cherished dream to be sealed together as a family for eternity on June 7, 2013.  Their love of the temple is best illustrated in the following story:

When the Vakapallis first moved to Laie to attend school, they were placed in a very small apartment unit with a promise that they would be moved into a larger one as soon as one became available.  When that time came, they felt like they would have to say no simply because they could not afford it.  They walked into the apartment knowing that they were going to have to turn it down.  When they turned around to leave, they saw thru the door a perfect view of the La’ie Temple.  Most of the apartments do not have this amazing view.  They knew that they must have this blessing in their lives.  Their reverence for the temple is manifested every evening as they gather around their doorway to say family prayers in full view of a Temple of the Lord, which they recognize to be one of the greatest blessings members have on the earth today.  Their apartment may be small and humble, but when given an opportunity to move to even an even larger apartment, they would not give up their precious temple view.

We love Anand and Santhi Vakapalli not only for their friendship, their support and their generous hearts, nor because Santhi is truly one of the best Indian chef’s we've ever met, but most of all because of their faith, sacrifice and joy in serving the Lord and sharing His love.

They are unique and special, but then again, their example of faith is repeated over and over again with the students we meet.  We have so many joys here in La’ie, but the families that we meet, work with and worship with are the greatest joy of all.  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Adventures in Hula Dancing

Elder Jones has been attending his one week scuba diving course each evening.  I thought to myself, "Self, you are going to go do all the things you've not wanted to drag the husband to this week".  Except that I haven't gotten the taxes done.  So I stayed home each night to get the paperwork together.  Maybe not the MOST fun I've ever had, but a necessary evil.

Still, I wanted to accomplish something fun this week...so I went to my first hula lesson - well, not a lesson, really.  It's a hula group - referred to as Halau Hula o Kekela   This is the exact group that I posted pics of a couple of weeks ago.

I was invited to go by a sister missionary I work with.  I thought it sounded wonderful!  I love watching the hula - it is a beautiful and expressive dance - not anything like what you see in cheesy old movies.  It is a graceful love story set to music.

So I signed up.  Wednesday nights.  One hour.

I received a text from Kekela herself the night before.  Come at 6:30, it said.

So the next evening I arrived at 6:30.  Turns out it started at 6:00.  Oops, typo!

Lovely women were well into the session.  "Jump right in" I was told.  Uhmmm, they were already dancing to a fully choreographed piece.  About 15 beautiful Hawaiian women who clearly knew what they were doing, and about 4 overwhelmed newbies making up the back row.  I joined the newbies (yep, they were all Haole's, like me.)  Haole = mainlander/outsider/let's try to be patient with this person.

I liked the back row, so was happy to hang out there.  Except that somehow I got pushed into the second row to 'fill in a hole'.  These second-rowers knew their stuff.

And so, I immediately became a:
"fish out of water"

In this particular piece, we were using puili sticks.  These are sticks made from bamboo split at the end so that when you tap them together they go "chunkkkkkk" and when you tap them on your shoulders, they go "chussssh".

So off I go, following the pros as best I could.  "Chunk, chusssh, chunk, chunk, chunk"....all the while, moving one's feet in a graceful heel to toe movement.  Ah.....lovely.  "Chunk, chusssshhhh, chunk, chunk, chunk."  Stepping over here, "chunk".  Stepping over there, "chusssh".  Forward, back, "chunk, chusssh, chunk"........and TURN!

Meanwhile, I'm trying not to trip over my awesomely huge feet.

"Okay, ladies.  In this section we need to bend our knees and go LOWWWW"

Meanwhile, I'm trying not to land on my butt.

"Now we go diagonal.  To the left.  Now to the right"

Meanwhile, I'm trying not to panic as my feet go sorta left and sorta right and "thunk, creak, splat."

"Okay, ladies, wave your sticks over your head in a clockwise motion.  Elegant, ladies - be ELEGANT!"

They looked elegant.  I looked like an elephant (is that close enough?)

"Okay, my dears....during this portion I need you to get really tight...pack it in.  Become ONE in the dance."

I move in.  Really tight.

Meanwhile, those sticks are chunking and chusshing right past my face.  I find myself ducking against my will as my need for self preservation seems to be winning over any unity the group may be feeling.

AND.........perchunk!  Sticks from each woman slaps against their neighbor's stick in this amazing move of coordination and dexterity - except for mine.  I'm covering my head like I'm taking refuge in a foxhole.

I think to myself.....this is craziness, I'm going to try to slide my way back into the Haole line in the back row.

"Get CLOSER" hisses my elegant neighbor.

I close my eyes and move in next to her - trying so very hard not to chop her ear off.

It's about then that it dawns on me.

I'm living an I Love Lucy episode.  You know, the type where Lucy wants so badly to be a part of Ricky's dance troupe that she finds a way to sneak in to the show - and tries her best to blend while -in reality - she sticks out like a neon sign.

Yep, I'm Lucy.

So, I decided to wear my mantle with pride.  Lucy always made the most awkward situation fun, so I decided I would too.

Big smile, prance, dance and "CHUNKKKKKKKKK!!!!"

Can't wait until next week!


To finish up the storyline....husband had an equally - nay - far more rewarding experience.  He has seen the underwater world in all it's glory and says he is now HOOKED!

Right now he's off looking at expensive scuba diving equipment.

Yayyyyyyy!!!!!! (uh, wait......)



There is a current low level hula-a-ba-lo gaining some momentum in town regarding a new dress code facing students for the upcoming "Culture Night" which will be held on campus.

Dress codes.  On a church campus.  Imagine my shock.

I need to be careful - because I am, by nature, a rebel for many causes.  But I've also learned that I really don't know it all.  In fact, compared to Heavenly Father, I don't know anything.

So what I am discussing here is not a dress code, as important as this issue may seem at the moment.  Because issues come and go.  There will always be issues.  We will always be on one side of them or another.  People will disagree.  People will stand up and voice their opinions and concerns.

What I want to address here is how we behave when facing these challenges.  Who are we, deep inside?  What voice do we use?  What results do we seek?  Do we work to stir up contention, or do we seek resolution?

Facebook is a wonderful place to share your personal thoughts....but remember, flip comments can be shared, argued and twisted by others.  Many others.  In many ways.  What you say can, and will influence your friends, and your friends' friends.  So again I ask, "What voice are YOU using?"

There is such a thing as 'righteous indignation', but when you revert to name calling, emotional (vs. fact based) arguments and unsubstantiated accusations, you lose your mantel of 'righteous' and simply revert to indignant.  There is no glory in it.  There is no valor.  There is no trust.  There is no faith.  When you sacrifice civility, you have already lost any argument that can be made.

Elder Marvin J. Aston:

"There is a tendency among too many in our society, young and old, to knock the establishment, knock the community, and knock the neighbors. There is a certain growing segment of society who would rather knock than kneel, rather knock than negotiate, or rather knock than know."

So, I encourage our beautiful, passionate students, concerned community members and campus leadership to discuss, share and reflect.  But in the end, show the respect to others that you demand for yourself.  Because this university is dedicated to the Lord of Heaven and Earth, I challenge anyone and everyone to have faith that Heavenly Father is here, ready to guide and support.  And when we find resolution, it will be HIS resolution, or it will not happen.