Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Capturing Perfection - Carl and Nalani Fonoimoana

Carl and Nalani Fonoimoana are favorites here at the Polynesian Cultural Center. Carl is of Samoan/Tongan descent. Nalani’s heritage is old town Laie, born and raised. Their love story is inspiring and beautiful, and Carl would be happy to tell you all about it. Nalani, on the other hand, is far too humble for such things. She would rather do what she does best; share the blessings of talented hands and a loving heart.

Carl has been a powerhouse throughout his lifetime. He served his first mission in Samoa, and later served as the Samoan Temple President. He has also worked in administration at the PCC as well as far too many church callings to possibly list here. Much of their lives have been split between their homes in California, Oahu and wherever the Lord has called them to serve. 

Their latest assignment has been to come back and work at the Mission Settlement, an area we consider the heart of PCC. Even with the fact that Carl just recently turned 80, they accepted the call and moved back to the island. 

Every morning they walk through the back gate, hand in hand, past the lagoon and over to their stations in the Settlement. Carl plays the ukulele and tells stories. Nalani sits with her latest piece of handiwork, answering questions and being beautiful – the type of beauty that draws you to her side simply to bask in it.

Just this March, we had a professional photoshoot at PCC. Pictures were taken of our landmarks, buildings and merchandise. It was so much fun, playing dress up with the beautiful models and selecting and arranging our best items from the stores. Our goal was to create pictures that represented our Polynesian paradise with grace, humor and heart - and yes, to sell some products. 

The Mission Statement of the Center begins with the words "The Polynesian Cultural Center is a unique treasure created to share with the world the cultures, diversity and spirit of the nations of Polynesia." 

We who work here know where that treasure lies. It is in the hearts of our staff and volunteers. There are so many of our colleagues that radiate this precious spirit. But, for me, no more so than this humble little couple sitting on the front porch of our chapel inviting guests to rest for a moment while they share a story and a song. "Welcome to paradise," they seem to say. "Welcome home."

Could our photographers capture such a moment? It turns out that the answer is yes. Better than I could even imagine.

Within the next week we will place one of those pictures on our merchandise website, Shop! Polynesia. This particular shot focuses on Nalani hand-stitching a quilt. Towards the left you will catch a glimpse of Carl’s ukulele. If you listen carefully, maybe you will hear him singing a sweet Hawaiian love song to his bride. It seems to have captured that perfect moment we are all seeking. 

But a moment is the most you can ever expect from perfection and now, the Funiomoana's world has tilted.

A few weeks ago it became clear that all was not well with Nalani. Her shoulder began hurting and grew progressively worse. We received word that she has been diagnosed with cancer. It has been difficult to reconcile. It may not be unexpected, but when you love your colleagues as much as we all love the Fonoimoana’s, we cannot help but pray for a miracle. Now, don't get me wrong. If I were a betting gal, my money would definitely be on Nalani, but no one would say life is a bowl of cherries right now.

Nalani has been in and out of the hospital, balancing her medications, getting further tests and obtaining the rest and nourishment she needs. She gets frustrated. She has things to do, people to serve. She wants to shake this off and get back to work.  

Our department had a decision to make. We are sensitive to the needs and feelings of the Funoimoana family. Yet, to not share this beautiful portrait seems like such a waste. How could we not use it? So, out of respect, I went to visit Nalani, show her the artwork and again seek her approval.

When Elder Jones and I entered, she was sitting on the couch, surrounded by family, cared for like the queen she is.  Two granddaughters greeted us at the door, graceful little teen-angels who sat us down and quickly brought out refreshments. Then they quietly stepped back to allow us some time and space - patiently watching for any opportunity to serve. It dawned on me that this is the true definition of ohana - which means far more than the simple translation of family. In absolute terms, ohana is the connecting cord of eternal lineage binding hearts together while honoring and serving one another with respect and love.  

On the PCC campus, one of our luaus is called Hale Ohana, which roughly translates into The House of Family. It is a place our guests come to have a great meal and wonderful entertainment. 

But now I had the opportunity to experience true Ohana inside a sweet little home where love transcends mortal limitations. The miracle of it all filled my heart to overflowing.

She took some time to study the photo, I think, perhaps reliving that perfect moment once more. "Yes," she replied. "You have our permission to use the picture." 

A photographer's skill is not in creating perfection, but in capturing it. Nalani and Carl are the true artists here. They took the cord given to them from faithful parents and wove a net that they cast out across the seas, binding thousands of hearts to them through love, service and example. How truly humbling it is to have this opportunity to share them with you. and marriage under the revealed plan of the Lord are not like the rose that withers with the passing of summer. Rather, they are eternal, as surely as the God of heaven is eternal.                                                                                         Gordon B Hinckley

Monday, May 4, 2015

Because I Have Been Given Much - Samoa and Me

For those of you who friend us on Facebook, it will come as no surprise that I, Sister Jones, jumped on an airplane and vacated, just for a few days, the mission I love so well. No, I didn't go AWOL. I went to be with my baby, who was having a baby. I was extremely blessed because the circumstances warranted it and my mission president whole-heartedly agreed.

I spent 10 days cleaning, sewing, cooking and playing with one of the cutest little granddaughters ever!

McKinnley Rene Marrott
Equally wonderful, I got to see Mike, Havilah and the Jones kids AND Veronica flew out all the way from the East Coast for 48 hours just to see me. It was just the balm I needed. I love my family so very much. They are and will always be the reason for my existence and the lights of my life. So proud with how well they are doing and how wonderful they've all turned out - I have the greatest family!

Ronan, Gareth and Ruth Ellen dancing Tahitian for me!
Veronica and I

So, with that, let me introduce you to our newest family member:

Rayland Michael Marrott
Born 23 hours AFTER I had to's true. But I was able to fulfill exactly what was needed and Rayland's daddy was able to be home for the birth, so all is quite well and I am happy.

Upon my return, I was able to jump right back into Island life. So much to do! So much fun doing it!

This Saturday was the Samoan Devotional at PCC. Each of the represented islands holds a yearly devotional. It always entails breakfast, singing, and the students representing the village sharing their faith and experience.


Our first speaker shared an amazing story of his family's conversion in Samoa.  His father was actually told that he must deny this new faith or be killed. He refused. So the village came and took him away. The young man then simply said that he was miraculously spared and that his father's experience has been a source of great faith building on the island. It was later in the presentation, when the elders from the island spoke, that we learned how he was spared. The religious leaders built a fire and told him again, to deny his faith or be killed. Again, he refused and bore his testimony that this was the true church and that he could not and would not deny his faith. The fire was built and started. As they prepared to burn him alive, a rainstorm came out long enough to put out the fire. He was spared because they could see that God did not want him killed. What an inspiration!

A beautiful young lady spoke next. She came to BYU-H when she was 26. She had a career as a teacher back in Samoa. But her mother told her of this wonderful place to come and get an education. She is about to graduate, and she feels that these last 3 years have been one of her greatest blessings. The Island Manager had expressed such love for her and her gentle spirit. You could see it as she spoke. And then she sang the sweetest, purest version of "Nearer My God To Thee". It was just amazing.

The final student, who we actually know from our ward, is majoring in math. He is a great and confident speaker. He talked about the amount of faith and humility it took to get to this point especially because he had previously been expelled from BYUH for making a very poor error in judgment. He recognized that he had to decide whether he was going to be immovable or repentant. He is a man of great intelligence and he knew that he had to improve his own circumstances if he was ever to be a success in the world. This young man grew up in the humblest of circumstances in his aunts and uncle's home. They had no electricity or running water. He worked hard before and after school. He did his homework by the very dim light of a kerosene lantern. Yet still he graduated at the top of his class. But the thing that makes this man's future so bright is not his great intelligence. It is his amazing humility and desire for improvement. Ultimately, he wisely learned that it's not perfection, but the desire to leave behind imperfection that brings about the security and joy he seeks for him and his family.

We are so richly blessed to be here. We are learning so much and are being so humbled by these great examples.