Everyone came out to the airport again when we left Saturday evening, April 10, 2010.
Saipan has gorgeous white-sand beaches. It's got perfect weather year-round, spectacular views of land and sea. While the economy may leave much to be desired, the laid-back quality of life can't be beat. Yet, you can find beaches, great weather and views and the good life at any one of dozens of tropical paradises from the Caribbean to the South Pacific (and a lot of them will likely have better paint jobs to boot). That's not why we were sad to leave Saipan, and it's not why we went back.
From the moment we started planning to return, the motivation was the people. The kids at our old school, of course, who we were returning to minister to. But also colleagues, church members, and others in the community who we counted as dear friends. These people more than all the tropical trappings have made Saipan dear to us.
That priority really informed our trip. Rather than pack our schedule with multiple must-sees to various island sites, we kept our itinerary light. The mornings were devoted to the school--four week of prayer talks each day(two at the elementary for the younger and older students, two at the preschool), giving the teachers a break and teaching a class for them, helping out around the school office. The afternoons and evenings were primarily for the people. We did a few classic Saipan activities--I went diving, Babs got a massage, we both went to the Mandi. But there were many island highlights we decided to forgo--Mt. Tapochau, P.I.C., pretty much all of the northern end of the island--to make room for the people.
Of course we got to spend tons of time with our former colleagues Amy Foote and Angie Perez--we were staying in their house! Amy is the interim principal of the school, and Angie does public relations for the school. They were kind, generous, and patient hosts and tolerated our rather messy invasion of their home graciously. They always took time to play with the Feller and we enjoyed spending time with them. But there were so many others to see in our short time on Saipan.
Herewith, an overview of our wonderful week in Saipan, as defined by the people we spent time with:
Sabbath, April 3, 2010--Church Family, Piersons, and Lacortes
Our first day in Saipan, a Sabbath, dawned beautiful and bright. We made it to Sabbath School and church where we saw a lot of our beloved church family. It was nice to drop in on the English language Sabbath School class in the clinic lobby and to chat with friends before the main service. I spoke for church, and I was amazed by how small our church seemed compared to the huge Ephesus SDA Church we've grown used to. I could see each face in the congregation and recognized almost every one.
After church we enjoyed a delicious Sabbath lunch at the Piersons. We went home for a little jet-lag recovery nap, before going over to the Lacorte's for a classic Saturday night of karaoke! Unfortunately, I was still a bit worn out from the jet lag and only sang one song, my signature number "Heartbreak Hotel." I also failed to take many pictures that night. Still it was a fun time with the Lacorte family.
The Maycocks and Piersons including the newest additions, Elijah and Shylah. Sabbath, April 3, 2010
At the Lacorte house Saturday night for food, fun, and karaoke! Incidentally, the man in the blue cap flipping through the songbook is Mike Berglund flipping, the new principal of the Saipan SDA School. He'll be moving out to Saipan with his family this summer. He's a great guy (and a solid karaoke belter too) and I know he'll do a great job! Of course we love that his brother is married to Barbara's sister! It makes us feel like the school is still "in the family" so to speak.
Sunday, April 4, 2010--Mike Stafford & the Piersons, Virle & Joeie, Jessica Lee (via Skype)
Easter Sunday was a relatively quiet day. I got up early to go diving with Ken and Mike at Lau Lau Bay. It was a great dive and we saw a lot of fish (see upcoming blog for pictures). After the dive we returned to the clinic housing compound where we socialized with Crystal, Ken's Mom, and Shylah before Ken dropped me off back at the teacher's housing. Babs, the Feller, and I had a nice lunch at Coffee Care and then Barbara shopped while Elijah slept and I worked on my classwork for my Master's degree. When the Feller woke up we went over to visit with Virle and Joeie. While there, Jessica Lee called up on Skype and we chatted with her for awhile. When Barbara returned, the three of us went out again for a little while, but turned in early.
Monday, April 5, 2010--Dr. Ada, "Little Sister" and the Lacorte girls, REAL Christian Theater
I didn't see Dr. Ada, but the Feller and Babs did when they took him into see her. He'd developed a pretty bad cough on the flight over and we wanted to be sure it wasn't serious. I remained at the school presenting my first week of prayer talk. "Little Sister," Feller, and I had lunch at Spicy Thai before I took him home for his nap. In the late afternoon, we went to the beach for a little bit with "Little Sister", "J", and "Ji" before going to REAL rehearsal.
The Little Feller with his first doctor, Dr. Ada. It was a happy visit especially since it turned out his cough wasn't serious.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010--The Piersons, the Sawyers, Lorraine Pinaula
Tuesday evening we went out with our "Stepchildren", the people from our Marriage Encounter "Steps Along the Journey." We had a great time catching up at a new restaurant in Garapan called Shennanigans. The only person missing was Scott, Lorraine's husband who is still in Guam.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010--The Staffords, the Sawyers, Girlie, Edna and the Bible Study Group.
Wednesday afternoon after our school duties and the Feller's nap we spent some time catching up with Andrea Stafford and the kids. Our boy had a blast finding mangos and tropical flowers in the Stafford's fenced in backyard with the Stafford kids. Not long before sunset, we left the Staffords and drove to the beach where we met up with Mark Sawyer. Mark and I did the tank swim together, while Babs stayed with the Feller in the shallows. Eventually, Brittany showed up as well to socialize with them until we got back from our swim. Mark and Brittany are expecting their first little one in just a few weeks!
That evening after our son was in bed, I went over to Girlie and Edna's apartment (right next door in what used to be the pastor's house) and helped some of the SDA school students make peach cobbler for their hot lunch the next day. While the cobbler bubbled in the oven we had a little Bible study just like the ones we used to have last year.
Mark and Brittany Sawyer at the beach. Wednesday, April 7, 2010.
Thursday, April 8, 2010--The Quinns: Russ, Kanae, and Harley
By Thursday, we were beginning to feel the time crunch as our brief time on Saipan began to wind down. Some of the things we'd hoped to do weren't going to get done, and some of the people we'd hoped to see like former student Mei Yan Jin and good friends Rex and Clarie Kosack we were going to miss. Babs and I had originally planned to take our son to the SDA Child Development Center in the afternoon and spend some time at the Mandi. In the end, Babs went ahead to the Mandi while I stayed back at the house with the Feller while he napped. We decided it was important to try to keep his schedule as consistent as possible, as the combination of jet lag and a constant barrage of unremembered people and places was already making him a little more anxious and fussy than usual. When he woke up, I took him to the elementary school where he stayed with "Little Sister", Angie, and new friend, student missionary Cyndi Rearick. I zipped up north to the Mandi and got in about an hour of luxury before we rushed back to the school to pick up the Feller and head over to the Quinns for supper.
It was great to see the Quinns again. The Feller warmed right up to Russ and Kanae, and especially their dog, Harley, who was about as energetic as he was was. I was a little worried about him tearing through their house in the manner he usually does these days, but to my relief the Quinns were very understanding. Harley's tendency to run around, get into things, and make a mess were about the same as the Feller's so the Quinns were used to it already when we arrived! We spent a good portion of the evening chasing our little ones around and warning them away from things. For their perspective on our get-together and some more photos check out their blog here.
On the Quinn's patio with the two little ones.
Russ is great with kids!
Russ and Kanae with the Feller.
Friday, April 9, 2010--The Kids, Virle and Joeie, the Staffords, Megan, and SDA teachers
Friday after the week of prayer meetings were done was a mad rush in a packed car to make the ferry to Managaha. We took a group of our former students, "Little Sister" and "Luke" who were making the most of their remaining time in Saipan too, plus "J", "Ji", "Luke's" friend, and another student, to our favorite piece of island paradise for a couple of hours. We had a pizza lunch under a tree on the beach and then spent some time lolling in the warm water and playing in the sand. It was a perfect afternoon, and I think we all wished it could have lasted longer.
But we were on the three o' clock ferry and back to Saipan, where we raced around doing some last minute souvenir shopping before heading over to the Staffords for sundown worship and a haystack supper. The wonderful feeling of family we had that Friday night inspired me to want to start something similar on Friday nights at our house here in America. It occured to me that there was no reason that we couldn't create a little bit of island-style community in the American midwest. It will be tough with a toddler's bedtime schedule, but I really want to make it happen.
Me with the kids at Managaha. Friday, April 9, 2010
Babs with the kids on the ferry ride back from Managaha.
The Stafford Family.
Here's a video from the Friday night haystack and vespers gathering at the Staffords. Included as a bonus--my debut as a guitar player. Listen closely and you'll hear me playing a halting version of "Father, I Adore You." It's nothing noteworthy, but I still felt pretty proud of myself!
Sabbath, April 10, 2010--Church Family, School Family, Former Students, Ricardo and Gina Rankin and kids, John Moreno, Paulo Restauro and his son.
Our last day in Saipan. The time had gone by too quickly and all of us were feeling the first ache of sadness at leaving all our friends again so soon. The one source of solace was the plans we were already hatching for our next visit--either next summer or the one following is the tenative plan.
Still, we needed a little bit of guidance in prioritizing our time. While our first Sabbath was relaxing and peaceful as Sabbath should be, our last Sabbath was beginning on a stressful and strained note. The time had gotten away from us and we found ourselves faced with a decision. I wanted to Coffee Care one more time, for breakfast, while Babs had wanted to stay at home to eat and then go to Sabbath School (she, after all had been to Coffee Care three times already that week with various Saipan friends while I'd only been once). We vacilliated back and forth trying to decide what to do. When we got in the car it was already close to 9:30 and I knew that if we went ahead with our plan to go to Coffee Care we would be late for Sabbath School. Babs and I debated in the car as we drove. Should we try to go to Coffee Care anyway and be late for Sabbath School? Should we try to eat somewhere else, or just turn around and go back to Amy's house and eat there (in which case we'd still be late for Sabbath School). After all ,the Feller hadn't eaten either and we couldn't very well let our little boy go without his breakfast could we? We didn't know what to do.
And then a still, small voice spoke:
"Church," it said.
No, it wasn't God (or maybe it was.. . .). It was our son. "Church!" he cried again with more determination this time. "Church!" The Feller was demanding that he be taken to church, breakfast or no breakfast. At first we chalked it up to a cute coincidence, but he kept up a steady litany of demands for church as we cruised along Beach Road. "He wants to go to church," I shrugged to Babs as I turned on to Quartermaster Road towards the church. Babs was exasperated, I was hungry, and yet both of us felt like maybe we ought to listen to our son (and readers who have already been frowning at the fact that we were even considering going out to eat on Sabbath are probably now nodding your heads in vindication). We pulled into the church potluck still debating whether we should go get something to eat. At this point, perhaps sensing our continuing vacillation, the Feller began to cry, insisting, "Church, church!" What were we going to do? The boy wanted to go to church.
And so we went to church. The Feller was happy and so were we. It was so restful to sit in the sanctuary for the simple Sabbath School program, to chat with some of our friends who we might not have otherwise seen, and to attend the cradle roll class with our son. This is what we had truly needed--food for the soul rather than belly. I guess the Feller knew! Out of the mouths of babes indeed. . .
Babs and I with Eric and Yvette Mahinay after Sabbath School, April 10, 2010. They are expecting their third child!
Babs and I with Myla's mom, Linda Capilitan after Sabbath School.
After Sabbath School, we drove back over to the school where some of the school staff were hosting a Youth Church service; I was scheduled to preach. God continued to lavish His blessings on us there. The song service was uplifting and worshipful. I was moved almost to tears during our theme song, "Mighty to Save", not just by the powerful lyrics and moving melody but by the people that walked into the little school cafeteria as we sang. It seemed in an abundant show of grace, God was bringing all kinds of people I'd thought we'd missed in to join us in worship that morning. Eric Mahinay, who I'd only seen briefly when I stopped in at the Hardt Eye Clinic during the week, Paulo Restauro and his little boy who is only a month and a half older than our son, Ricardo Rankin and his children--we've known Ricardo and his wife Gina since we first moved to Saipan in the late ninties. They live on Tinian now and I had not expected to see them at all. John Moreno was there as well as the Beachcomber. Several of our former students now in high school were there too. As I got up to speak that morning I felt full with the goodness of God.
Two pals reunited--they're only six weeks apart in age, and have shared a lot of milestones. They even shared their baby shower. (Here's an interesting coincidence: Our son has the exact same shirt as Paulo's boy is wearing!)
Awww. . .
Babs with an SDA School parent and her daughter. The parent, Michelle, came to the Youth Church service just to see Babs!
After the service we went back to the church for potluck where we continued to enjoy the fellowship of our church family. After that, it was back to Amy's house for the Feller's nap. Which brought me to perhaps the only low point in an otherwise mountain high trip. I packed up my bags fairly quickly and when the Feller awoke, I found us quite suddenly at loose ends. Babs was still packing, and the two of us were wandering the compound yard--one of the Feller's favorite activities that week was to "Walk!" and "Pet! Dog!" He always wanted to be outside with Kimo, Amy's dog Geisha, and Jesco. And so I followed him around as he happily trotted after the dogs, and I felt suddenly alone. With only hours left till we'd fly away once again, I was left without what had come to be the centerpiece of our return home--people. Virle, Joeie, and Angie were at branch Sabbath School. Amy was out at the Grotto with JohnMo, "Little Sister", "J", and the rest. I thought about trying to meet up with them, but couldn't reach Amy on her cell--not surprising as reception is typically poor at the north end of the island.
And so the precious minutes ticked by--just me and my son on a beautiful, tropical Sabbath afternoon. Which wasn't really so bad--I just regretted that I'd missed time with people that I might not see again for a long time.
Our family and Virle with the Wabol clan. It was so great to see them!
Babs and the Feller with Venus, the Feller's first babysitter at the church potluck, Sabbath, April 10, 2010.
Eventually, Virle and company returned from Branch Sabbath school and we hung out with them for awhile. Myla and Derek came by to take pictures with their son and ours. It turned out to be a pleasant afternoon and evening. We gathered at Spicy Thai for one Last Saipan Supper and then drove to the airport.
Late Sabbath afteroon, April 10, 2010, the Feller hangs with Myla's son, who is about a year older than him.
One of our former SDA school students. Her parents own the best Thai food joint in the world, Spicy Thai. She goes to another school now, but we still claim her. Once an SDA student, always an SDA student!
Three of these girls read a "last chance to see the Maycocks" status update I posted on Facebook about an hour before we went to the airport and rushed over to see us for a few minutes before we left. All three are former students of ours that now attend other schools.
This time there was no Long Walk. I rejoiced that there were no leis draped around our necks this time. You give leis to those who are going away for good, not those who will be back soon. And indeed, we hope to visit our island home and the people we love again soon. We've mused over the idea of reversing our old pattern. In the past we lived in Saipan but visited the States once a year. Perhaps, God-willing, we might be able to turn that around--living in the States but going home once a year. Of course we also know that, Saipan being the transient place that it is, whenever we next return, some of the people who are there now won't be there anymore. As the years pass our connection to Saipan--the people--will grow more and more tenuous. It is the nature of life in this world. Our connections are brief and fleeting--we take them for granted and then before we know it they are gone.
It makes me homesick for the only place where we'll ever really be Home--a place that is defined not by it's golden streets or sea of glass but by the people that will be there, especially the One who created us all. There will be no more goodbyes and we will spend eternity in joyous fellowship. Saipan is nice and all--but that. . .that's Paradise.