When Lynette and I flew into Honolulu on Sunday afternoon we were surprised to find out that our checked bags would have to be picked up at baggage claim during our 16-hour layover in Hawaii (instead being directly routed to Truk-our final destination). The bags would then have to be rechecked in the morning before our 5:30 flight.
We had only rented a small car for a few hours so I asked the airport personnel at what time we could check our bags in for the “island hopper” to Chuuk. She said the airport opened at 4:15 am. I told her we had a flight to Majuro at 5:25 and she said be at the airport right at 4:15. So we did.
When I went to the ticket counter to check in I was informed that the flight was closed and that we should have come earlier. I explained what I had been told but was told the airport opens only for the Majuro flight at 2:30. She then looked at the next flight out (flights to Chuuk are only on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday). She said we could fly out Weds and arrive in Chuuk Thursday.
I was extremely disappointed and frustrated! I had been planning this trip for years and needed every single day we had in Truk to be able to visit all the people in the plan. Lynette, the eternal optimist, made me laugh when she reminded me we were together in Hawaii for three days—there were a lot worse scenarios. But this trip was about going back to my old mission and meeting people I haven’t seen in some 25 years. So we decided to make the most of our situation.
As a side note: I will probably say Truk and Chuuk (Trukese or Chuukese) interchangeably throughout this so I will explain that right off. When I lived in Truk in the 80’s it was known as Truk but the local people called it Chuuk among themselves. It means mountain. The Truk Islands are the top of mountains that have been slowly sinking in the ocean for thousands of years. Anyway when I was there the islands were a Trust Territory of the United States. Which means that we would protect them if some other country came along to attack them. Also if there was a bad storm or disaster we would assist them. In 1995 they became their own country, The Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). In the FSM there are four states: Yap, Truk (Chuuk officially), Pohnpei, and Kosrae.
One of the individuals that I had on my list to find was Hans Willander. He was someone that was taught the missionary discussions and baptized while I was serving in Truk. After his baptism he wanted to take the gospel to his home island, Tol. Hans was the Lt. Governor of Truk and as such lived on the main island, Moen, in the Truk Lagoon most of the time. I was asked to be one of the missionaries to open the island of Tol (village of Nechocho) to the gospel. Hans and his wife Sechia became very close friends to us and allowed us to stay in one of the bedrooms in their home while we built a missionary home. Hans was an amazing person. He had a personal library in his home (something I had never seen before or after during my time in Truk) with books from all different subjects. He had an international certificate of leadership of training from Harvard proudly displayed on his wall. This was no ordinary man! Now as a member of the church he became a quick leader. He invited all his friends to listen to us missionaries. We taught from sun up to sundown for the whole eleven months I was there (building our house in whatever spare time we had—with help also on the building from missionaries from near by islands). We quickly had around 100 members of the church and formed a branch of the church in Nechocho. Hans completed the translation of the Book of Mormon (the printed copy of the Trukese edition arrived 6 weeks before the end of my missionary service in Truk) and in about 1994 he came to Salt Lake City to translate the sacred temple ceremony into Chuukese. After our meeting in Salt Lake City we lost contact for 18 years. During that time I heard rumors that he may have moved away from Truk but had no idea where he was.
About 3 weeks before our trip back to Truk I was looking through our local Utah Valley newspaper which sometimes will list missionaries that are coming and going on missions in our area. It is rare to hear of someone going to the Micronesia Guam Mission because it is a smaller mission of the church. However on Memorial Day weekend I saw that there was a missionary from Provo who had just returned from the Micronesia Guam Mission. I saw his parents name and looked them up in the phone book. There are many island groups that missionaries serve in in the mission so I was surprised to find that their son served in Chuuk. I spoke with him about Tol and asked how the work was going there and to my surprise he informed me there was no missionary work going on at all there. He gave me the email address (I can hardly believe this possible on such a remote island) of the missionary couple serving in Chuuk. Through a series of emails I have been asking questions and getting answers in preparation for our travels. They did not know of Hans or his family. Later, after some of their inquires, I received the sad news that Hans had left the church and had moved to Hawaii and was rumored to be in poor health. I was so sad for a couple of weeks to know that my efforts as a missionary had this result. In my mind over the 25 years that had passed Nechocho was nearing the stage of having a temple constructed soon! I was glad to have this shock of reality behind me prior to my arrival in Truk.
So with a few extra day unexpected days in Hawaii my wife suggested that this delay would be completely worth it if we could find Hans and his wife. We made it our day’s quest! I searched the internet in our hotel room for Hans. I did find a Hans Williander that lived in Kaneohe with a Honolulu post office box with no address or phone number but that was it. I then called a former mission companion, Jack Damuni, who is a high school teacher on Maui. He always claimed himself to be the “King of Laie” and knows Oahu like no other. We I explained our situation and he suggested that we drive over to Kaneohe and look for a red and white stroiped truck with people selling malasadas (which are deep fried sugar donuts with no hole). He said there were always Trukese people working these trucks. He said through “coconut wireless” (the local connections J) they could help us locate Hans. So we set out on our journey. Before we left our hotel we said a prayer together that we could find and talk to Hans before the evening was over!
We stopped by the Hawaii Honolulu Mission office and asked a mission couple (Elder and Sister Smiley from Lehi, UT) about any potential contacts with Chuukese members or Hans in particular. They didn’t have any but showed us their library of church materials in several island languages. After showing us a copy of the Trukese Book of Mormon we informed them that we were trying to locate the person who actually translated the Book of Mormon into Trukese, Hans Williander. The only help they could offer was the name and phone number of the stake president of the Kaneohe Stake.
We drove on the Likelike highway to the windward side of the island to Kaneohe to the mall where Damuni mentioned the donut truck would be. We drove around for a while but never located it. I was about to abandon the idea and call the stake president (which I did with no results). Lynette however asked a couple of people in the parking lot if they knew where the truck was. The first said it was usually right where we were looking but not there today. The second was a security guard who pulled out her cell phone (with their number already in her phone) and found out that there were two trucks selling today and the nearest one was in Hawaii Kai near a Costco.
We drove around the island and located the truck. We walked up to the truck and ordered a half dozen malasadas. I spoke some Trukese to the girl selling them to me and she responded and asked how I knew her language. She was from Paata and her name was Davely but had lived in Hawaii all but the first two years of her life. We talked for a while and then I explained I was dentist going to Truk to help them but missed our flight and was on a quest to find Hans Williander. She said she knew that he was living in Hawaii and that as a matter of fact she was with Hans’ daughter at a family funeral gathering the night before. I asked her if she could try to find out where he lived and we exchanged phone numbers so this could happen. She was very busy making sales. We stuck around there for a bit but felt like we were interrupting her work.
We went over to the near by Costco to look for some things we needed and try some samples (our lunch). As we were getting some samples (we almost skipped this particular row but after passing it went back) two of the ladies serving samples were talking and I realized I could understand them. Although I may have been able to recognize Trukese people from other islanders at one time I no longer have that skill—they all look the same now. I asked in Chuukese if they were form Chuuk. They were surprised and we talked for a while. Their names were Rensi and Fumi. They both were from Dublon. I told them I used to live there as a missionary for 4 months.
Fumi was about to go on break so I told her I had some pictures from when I lived there. I ran to the car and brought in the iPad. Trukese people love to see pictures of themselves—especially the older ones. It is a real novelty! As we looked through the pictures I had a picture of Fumi’s father and she teared up with joy. She said he was 90 years old now. We talked for a while and then I explained that I was looking for Hans. She said she knew where he lived and that her cousin even knew the exact apartment. She said she worked until 5:15 and then would board the bus to get a ride to her home but would meet us at a local McDonalds. We made a plan that we would pick her up at 5:15 and drive her to Hans’ home and then give her a ride home to her family. We exchanged phone numbers.
Lynette and I return to Costco to pick up Fumi (Rensi was getting a ride home with her husband). We bought 3 boxes malasadas (donuts) and gave a box each to Rensi and Fumi. We then drove Fumi to Hans’ apartment. It was in a very poor area that was set up by the government as low-income housing.
We parked the car and then went to Fumi’s cousin’s apartment who sent out their daughter to walk us to Hans’ door. We knocked and they invited us in.
Hans looked very weak and sick and was laying on the couch. Sechia was by his side and didn’t look a day older than when I had seen her 25 years ago. It was good to see her sitting and relaxing. In all my days in Truk I rarely remember a time when Sechia wasn’t cooking, cleaning, or working. She rarely took time for herself but was always serving others. Amanita, their beautiful 16-year-old granddaughter was faithfully taking care of them both. It took them a minute to register who I was and then the reunion I have been thinking about for years began.
We spoke for a while about his health. He said he had to move to Hawaii for his medical care and has had 3 open-heart bypass surgeries in the past 5 years since he has lived in Hawaii. I pulled out the iPad and I showed them roughly 400 pictures I had taken while on Tol. Tears flowed as the saw pictures of their family and friends from a life far removed from where they are at this point in their life.
We were together for nearly 5 hours reminiscing about our times together. They were very kind to me and they loved Lynette from the second they met her (Hans had met her in SLC in 1994 but it was a first meeting for Sechia).
Hans said he no longer had any contact with the church. He didn’t even have a copy of the Book of Mormon since he left Chuuk but that he would love to have one again. He once saw the elders come by their place and he asked them to return some day but has never seen them since. When I asked about why he wasn’t in the church anymore he said that before his dad died he said his father wished they hadn’t left the protestant church. So he felt like he was honoring his father by leaving it. He told us he knew it was still true though and would like to have the missionaries visit him again.
Hans’ father was named Williander (the older Trukese people would take on their father’s name as their last name) was a retired protestant minister in Nechocho when I met him. We baptized him and after doing so had incredible success basically baptizing the majority of his old congregation. Williander passed away in 1989 and his wife Nemsi in 1991. As we talked most of the people on Nechocho that we baptized have now moved from there to Guam or Hawaii because there was no source of income and they needed jobs in the new way of their living (not just living off the land anymore).
WeThree (their third son) showed up while we were talking. He is just visiting form Chuuk to see his aging parents. We had a great time reminiscing and looking pictures. He remembered with detail so many things I had long forgotten. He is going to be running for Lt Governor in next year’s election. WeOne (their first son) is a state senator and lives on Moen. WeTwo (their second son) passed away in 1994 (any pictures of had of him we source of many joyful tears). WeThree had a flash drive so I was able to copy all of the pictures over to his card for them to have.
As the night went on I gave Fumi a ride home. I also took WeThree to buy them some 5-gallon bottles of drinking water and helped them the best I could. As our conversations continued Hans seemed to gain more strength and was sitting up next to Sechia by the end of our conversation. They asked if I would say a prayer on their behalf before we left. It was a little difficult to try to say all that I wanted to for them with my limited remembrance of the Trukese language.
The events of this day were truly a complete answer to prayer. If I was told before that if I had to give up two days in Chuuk in exchange for meeting with Hans and Sechia in Hawaii I would have made that deal! It was a special opportunity to be a part of this miracle. We will follow up with a visit to the mission office today and take him a copy of the Book of Mormon he helped translate into Trukese later today. What a beautiful opportunity that was ours on this day!
~ By Preston Chad and Lynette Ellis~
|Us, with Chad and Lynette Ellis|