At La Sierra University for SM Orientation with the new crew: L to R: Me, Babs, Monica, Tammy, Heidi, and Flo. August 2005.
Our eighth year in Saipan was one of change, one of growth. With our continued involvement in the Worldwide Marriage Encounter (M.E.) community on Saipan, Babs and I were continuing to grow outward. REAL Christian Theater had a year of remarkable growth. After a season of growing pains, REAL would have one of it's best seasons ever in 2005-2006. That year also witnessed the changing of the guard at the Saipan SDA Clinic. There were vital staffing changes at the school as well. This would be the end of one era for Tin Tin and Vince and the beginning of a new chapter for Virle. Yes, this year was all about growth and change.
Oh and one more thing that was growing out in 2005 and 2006: My hair!
Babs and I "made our weekend", as we say in M.E. jargon, in 2003, if memory serves me correctly. This weekend of marriage enrichment revolutionized our marriage, and also changed our lives in other ways as well. After attending the weekend, where the attention was almost exclusively on one another and our own relationship, Marriage Encounter broaden to include the family of other couples committed to the lifework of strengthening their marriages. We attended the weekend follow-up, Steps Along the Journey. Steps was ten nights of study, discussion, and sharing on key principles for keeping your marriage strong. It was through Steps that we became friends with the Kosacks, Brian & Hozumi Redd, Fred & Frances Hill, and David & Mara Khorram. Later, we went through the Steps series again as co-facilitators with Rex and Clarie and got to know Tyce & Angie Mister, Rob & Joy Carrouth, and Tony & Susan Satur (who incidentally are the parents of one of my long-time students Nei Satur). Through Steeper Steps, a couple of extra nights focusing on the topics of anger and forgiveness in relationships, we came to know and love the Quinns as well. Beyond all that we helped out with the regularly scheduled Marriage Encounter weekends and through that got to know countless others on our island. Marriage Encounter was a vital element in our growing out into the community.
Some of the Marriage Encounter community at the 2006 Valentines Ball.
By 2005, we were ready for the next challenge-facilitating the ten-night Steps Along our Journey on our own. Our first group started up in early 2006 and finished up near the end of the school year. One night each week or so Herb & Dora and John and Marissa came over to our home and together we learned more about the keys to a strong marriage through discussion and dialogue, learned from each other's experiences through sharing and came to be good friends.
Our M.E. steps group, Dora and Herb Taitingfong on the left, John & Marissa Guerrero standing. May 2006.
REAL Christian Theater
After working out the bugs from the previous season, REAL finally recovered it's stride in '05-'06. For the first time in a few years, the team was back at full strength--a dozen members; most of them older, experienced actors with several years of stage experience with REAL under their belts. This was a committed, passionate, and skilled team ready to tackle some big projects. And tackle them we did. Instead of easing into the season as we usually did, with a long rehearsal and skill-building time and then a show of short skits, we started the year off with a major full-length production, the Brett Hadley play Per Chance to Dream.
Student director Aya Sato, now a high school senior, was slated to direct and on this project Aya truly came into her own. Aya had been a student director since her sophomore year, but this was her first major production. She rose to the challenge--I remember being somewhat awestruck when this usually softspoken, petite little Japanese girl sat the team down after one of the early rehearsals and pulled out a notebook with a few pages of directorial notes. Overnight, it seemed, Aya had developed the confidence, scrutinizing eye, and commanding presence to helm a major production. I was so proud of her.
Per Chance was no joke, let me tell you. Every single person on the team was in it (except for Aya, and trust me, she was plenty busy), plus a good half dozen extras who had the thankless task of sitting perfectly still for two hours wearing spooky white masks. I have to give major props to Tammy, Tin Tin, Heidi, Vince, Florian, Babs, among others who helped us out in those roles. There was a set to be built, including a second stage, music and choreography, and close to 50 pages of dialogue including large selections from William Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe. To top it all off, this was a thematically heavy play with an emotionally demanding lead role, and highly charged, abstract climax. Keisha Paez, the star of the play, had her work cut out for her. But she gave her all--which was par for the course for her--as did everyone else, and under Aya's skilled direction the whole, sprawling production came together in one of most powerful plays REAL Christian Theater ever produced. Its powerful message of God's unconditional acceptance of us as we are moved us as much as it moved our audiences. To this day, it is probably my favorite REAL project ever.
Aya Sato, in the white t-shirt, director of Per Chance to Dream backstage with actors Seung Oh and Raneeza Cano. Don't let that shy giggle fool you. She owned this production.
Per Chance actors Adrian, Vince Asanuma, Masa Yoshida, and our star, Keisha Paez.
But this team didn't stop there. We also mounted our biggest dinner show fundraiser ever, a project that found our sound, light, and props tech, John Moreno also acting and cooking hamburgers and fries for about a hundred people. After that production, John withdrew from the team citing personal reasons, but I think flat out exhaustion was probably as much the cause as anything else. Still JohnMo was a vital reason for the team's successes that season and we were saddened that he couldn't be with us for the capstone of an incredible year in drama--the team's third tour to Palau.
John "JohnMo" Moreno as "Uncle Phil."
This tour lived up to and exceeded every dream and expectation I've ever had for REAL, and I can promise you that every member of REAL that was with us on that trip will never forget that weekend. You can read all about it right here, as the Journal had just come online a few months earlier. Over four entries, I cover the prelude to the performances, a whirlwhind Friday of performances, and a grand finale Saturday night highlighted by an incredible sense of God's presence. Even our "fun day" in the Rock Islands on the last day of the tour was miraculous. It's lengthy, but when you have the time, give it a read. You'll be amazed by how God showed up in Palau on that tour.
REAL performing in Palau in 2006.
The 2005-2006 REAL team at the airport in the Palau at the end of an epic tour.
Change is in the Air
You may not realize it, but the Saipan Seventh-day Adventist Dental Clinic is an important part of the success of the Saipan SDA School. The clinic's faithful support over the years has helped keep the school thriving. We've been lucky to have had supportive, involved clinic directors over the years. In 2005, one great clinic director, Dr. Richard Ludders, departed and another, Dr. Ken Pierson arrived. Dr. Ludders and I came to be great friends and I was sad to see him go. Lucky for me, I gained another good friend in Ken.
Hanging with Big Boyz--Outgoing clinic director Dr. Richard Ludders whose chief pastime was golf and incoming clinic director Dr. Ken Pierson, whose chief pastime is scuba diving.
"J" , a sixth grader at the time, says goodbye two of her best pals, the Ludders twin daughters.
I'll never forget walking into church the Piersons' first Sabbath in Saipan, and seeing this woman with the blonde hair and saying to Babs, "I don't know why, but the woman really reminds me of my friend Chandra Maloney from high school." Imagine my amazement when it turned out that Crystal Pierson was, in fact, Chandra's cousin. We hit it off with Ken and Crystal from the get-go and they've been great friends of ours and great friends of the school ever since.
Ken & Crystal, during their first week in Saipan, with Dr. Ludders and other clinic staff. September 2005.
That year also saw the end of an era at the school as well. After seven years of service, Tin Tin Win left the SDA School, as did five year vet Vince Asanuma. Tin Tin anchored the 3rd/4th grade for all but the first year she was in Saipan, and Vince taught kindergarten and later 1st/2nd grade. Both women brought deep commitment, passion, and genuine love for God and for their kids to their work. Though there was some tension at the time that both of them left, I know God worked mightily through them during their time at SDA and my memories of them will always be good ones. I owe Vince an especially important change in my personal life. It was Vince that got me into running. From those after-work runs on the beach pathway with Vince (and occasioanlly Monica, JohnMo, and Tin Tin--but always Vince), I've come to the point where I'm getting ready to run my first marathon in San Francisco in two weeks. And you can bet, that when I start that first mile of the twenty-six, I'll be thinking of Vince, without whom I would never have run this far.
As the era of Tin Tin and Vince came to end, the era of a new school stalwart began--that of the indomitable and indispensable Virleshay Gayatin. Over the years we've been in Saipan we've seen many office managers/accountants come and go: Melissa Sell, like family for two years. Dori Talon, calm and steady for another two. Short-lived Amanda Larson. And the evervescent Sweet who was with us from 2003 to 2005. But Virle would log more years than any of the others and eventually become the absolute backbone of the school.
People think it's a big deal that Babs and I left. Let me tell you, the day Virle takes the long walk--now that will be a big deal. But in 2005, Virle wasn't yet the Backbone--she was a newbie, fresh-faced and excited. I know it's hard to imagine now, but Virle was part of the tight coterie of the first-year staff members you see every year in Saipan. Monica, Heidi, Tammy, and Virle--the four of them were thick as thieves that first year, living over at the Benavente apartments and doing everything together. Things changed later in the year when our sole male teacher, Florian "FloJo" Diehl departed the scene sooner than had been planned. Monica and Heidi moved into what is now Virle and Joeie's house. Tammy moved in with Tin Tin and Virle stayed at Benavente with another new staff member that had just arrived and who would come to be Virle's close friend, Joeie Verona.
Virle with two students and another new teacher, Joeie, during Spirit Week.
It was Virle's first year, one I'm sure she'll never forget. She didn't know then that she was destined to become an SDA legend. She just knew she was there to do her best for the school and for God. And that's what she's still doing today.
Dear Monica with Indhira Singeo on tour with REAL
Surprise birthday party for Heidi Stahlnecker, from L to R: Me, Monica Cardenas-Ortiz, JohnMo, Heidi, Florian Diehl, Tin Tin Win, and Tammy Morris. Babs was off-island on an administrative trip at the time. (I think Virle took the photo).
Mon & Vince in character as little old ladies for Uncle Phil's Diner. They were best buds that year.
We had a good team that year--tender-hearted Monica Cardenas taught kindergarten and co-directed with REAL Christian Theater. Heidi Stahlnecker, fun and always sincere, worked down at the preschool. Tammy Morris, gentle and quiet (except at the dentist, I've been told) worked on growing our developing ESL program. FloJo brought his best efforts and a sincere heart in the short time he was with us before it became clear he had to grow in a different direction. Together we all grew up and grew out.
Babs introduces the Fab Four to the church on their first Sabbath in Saipan--Virle, Tammy, Monica, and Heidi.
Change is in the Hair
I think everybody oughta grow their hair long at least once. I cut my hair for the last time just before our 8th grade class trip to Thailand in March 2005. My locks would not see a razor for more than two years after that. My ever-lengthing hair drew peals of laughter from Holly Delacruz in the fall of 2006, vaguely disapproving glances from some of the folks at the Mission, and eventually compliments and a funny kind of cool factor from the younger generation. Though I doubt I'll ever grow it again, I'm glad I had long hair for awhile and I do miss it sometimes.
Fall, 2005 with my 7th-9th graders
Valentines Day, 2006 at a Marriage Encounter Valentines Ball.
Early Spring 2006 at the REAL dinner show, Uncle Phil's Diner. I played the DJ.
Spring 2006 with my first running buddy, Vince Asanuma.
All grown out in Palau