"It’s hard to believe that a few weeks short of a year ago my application to be a SM in Yap, FSM was approved. Everything outside of life here on Yap seems like it all happened forever ago - especially that. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that this year on Yap has been the most amazing and life changing year of my entire life!
Yap is an island all of its own. It is rich in culture, heritage, and beauty. The people here are shy for the most part and extremely quiet, but some of the most selfless and generous set of people that you could find anywhere. There are two different cultures here on Yap- the Yapese and the Outer Islanders (OI for short). Yap is the “main” island of Yap islands, but there are other outer islands that span as far as over 200 miles away from Yap where OI people live. Yapese and OI people both have many things in common, especially in appearance (everyone here has about the same shade of dark skin and black hair regardless of where they are from), the foods that they eat and prepare, and the shelters that they build called koyengs [Koi-y-A-ngs]. One automatic way that you can tell the people apart is by their clothing. OI women wear woven skirts called lava-lavas. It’s mandatory by their culture that the OI women must always wear them. They also walk around in “local” style- meaning topless. It’s completely normal to see an OI woman walking down the road on with nothing but her lava-lava, her purse woven out of banana leaves, and slippers (that’s what sandals are called here). Yapese women just wear skirts for the most part, although a few might wear pants every now-and-again, though it’s not as common. All the men (both Yapese and OI) here either wear pants or thus [th-OO-s]. Thus are essentially skirts that the men wear. The only difference between the way the Yapese & OI men wear it is that the OI men wear it more modestly whereas the Yapese men’s thus show their rears (it’s a little bit like a sumo wrestlers get-up).
The island of Yap is, hands down, the most beautiful place that I’ve ever been- and I’ve done my share of traveling. If you view Hawaii as a “tropical paradise”, then Yap is a thousand times more incredible! When I came here to Yap I had no idea that the island would be a literal jungle- but it is. Every square inch of the island that isn’t inhabited by people is full of lush, green jungle, better-than-any-postcard-you’ve-ever-seen beaches, and the most beautiful snorkeling and diving reefs that you will find in the world. The two main roads that run from the north to the south tip of the island are completely paved (though not free of mammoth potholes!), but any branch off road after that is dirt. Yap is the cleanest of all the FSM (Federated States of Micronesia) islands. There are four islands that make up FSM- Chuuk (often called “truck”), Ponhepi [p-on-eh-p-A], Majaro [Ma-jah-r-O], and Yap. The Yapese and OI here on the island are very proud of their island’s cleanliness. Each village has regular cleaning bees that all the village members are expected to participate in. There are lots of villages all throughout the island, often times many right next to each other, so it’s hard to tell where one village ends and another begins unless a local is there to tell you.
My time here on Yap has been the best experience of my life. I wish I could convey to you all the wonderful memories and times that I have had here, but I know “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” So, I’ll just share the highlights of my year with you. My absolute favorite part of being here are the kids! They are some of the cutest kids that you will ever meet! I teach 1st grade here at Yap SDA School, and it has definitely been a growing experience for me. The start of the school year was really hard for me since my kids were so shy! No matter what activities we did or questions that I would ask them, they would just sit there and look at my blankly. At first I was terrified that none of them really understood English, but after a while and learning the culture I’ve just come to realize that they were just very shy. It took me about two weeks to get them mostly out of their shy bubbles and into a routine of actively participating in an activity. Every week I still manage to find and have to explain one thing from home that my kids don’t know about, such as what a muffin or a goat are. During the end of my first quarter of school here I had a girl come into my classroom who knew less than probably 20 words of English from what I could tell, and most of the words weren’t conversational words. Helping her learn to speak English was tricky, especially since I was worried with her falling really behind in class. Thankfully God answered my prayers and she has is able to speak in complete sentences now!
To sum up my favorite memories I’ll make a quick list:
- Going to the Manta Ray hotel and jumping off the top deck of their restaurant boat with the other SM’s.
- Doing children’s branch Sabbath school on Sabbath afternoons in a nearby OI village.
- Celebrating the major holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas with not only your SM family, but all the school staff.
- Introducing my students to bubbles! J
- Going snorkeling on Christmas day and seeing manta rays.
- Doing outreach activities where we get to go to villages and talk with the people about God.
- Giving out Christmas gifts to local families in need- like operation shoe box child, only Yap style!
- The giant rainstorms that roll across the island.
- Trying all the new foods and fruits.
- Watching my students grow and improve, as well as always reminding me to slow down and laugh.
- Having your eyes opened to a new culture and a new way of life.
- Growing closer to God through the work that I’ve been doing here!
- Getting to make friends that I will have for the rest of my life! J
If anyone is interested in becoming an SM, please feel free to contact me!”
-Lauren Spickelmier, Sophomore Student Missionary on the Island of Yap