Week 77 – Hofoa

It was only three weeks but it felt like I had been in Ha’akame for ages. Transfers were on Sunday and Elder Mohulamu and I were told we were both staying so we were really excited to continue our work there. Then on Monday night we got a surprise call and now I’ve been transferred to Hofoa. My companion is Elder Takapu from California and he’s also new to the area. Whitewashing areas seems to be the card I’ve been dealt as this is the fourth time now in my mission. It’s pretty fun though with both of us having no prior expectations of the area and just getting to know tons of new people.

Being a zone leader here is already pretty different than in Liahona. Four of seven other companionships in that zone had cars because they were in leadership positions and only one of the other three were Elders so there was very little need for transportation duties. Plus we had the office in our zone so we could go pick up and drop off things anytime. The Liahona zone was unique in that aspect so now I’m getting a taste of what the job is like in the rest of the mission.

On Sunday night in Ha’akame we had a pretty amazing experience. We had an investigator who we had taught just the first lesson and were set to teach her again on Sunday. While doing our weekly planning I felt like we should skip the second lesson and go to the third, which we don’t often do but I wanted to give her the baptismal invitation so we could figure out what might be stopping her from committing to baptism. From meeting with her we learned she had already listened to multiple missionaries before, and she also picked up very quickly during our first lesson with her and asked lots of questions which showed us she was really understanding and thinking about our message. So we followed through with our plan and taught the third lesson, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and my companion invited her to be baptized. She took a five-second pause and said yes. My companion didn’t say anything and she said “I said yes!” and laughed. My companion was just too shocked to reply, haha! She then went on about the family problems she would expect to face by this choice but was still firm in her decision. She became a special witness of faith to me which I’m glad I was able to receive just before I left Ha’akame.

Looking forward to the work here in Hofoa. ‘Ofa lahi atu.

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Week 76 – Ha’akame

Malo e lelei!

Last week a senior missionary couple, the Mateaki’s, returned home to Ha’akame after serving in Papua New Guinea, where they had served previously as Mission President. Soon after came their “son”, a man named Andy who has known the Mateaki’s for fifteen years but had never visited Tonga until now. Andy is not a member of the church but is very familiar with the Church and missionaries as he served in the leadership of the police in PNG who often escorted President Mateaki around the country. Thanks to the help of Elder Mateaki we were able to start talking with Andy and have now been teaching him every day since Sunday. Andy has incredible English and so me and Elder Cox have been having fun teaching him. He is actually running for governor of Papua New Guinea next year! It’s definitely an amazing opportunity to share the gospel with him.

On Friday we had our Christmas party where all the zones in Tongatapu got together and performed the musical numbers we’ve been preparing for the past few weeks. All of the stake presidents were invited and most of them came, which was cool. Saturday we had the baptism of three long-time investigators here in Ha’akame. It was definitely the most attended baptism I have ever seen! Almost everyone from both wards came as well as family members. It was awesome to see so much support for these individuals. On Sunday I accompanied the congregation on the piano for the hymns, which was nice since I haven’t played piano in any wards since I worked in Hoi. I also had the opportunity to perform the confirmation ordinance for one of the three who were baptized. It was definitely a moment I will never forget as it was my first time confirming someone but surprisingly I wasn’t too nervous and the words of the blessing came smoothly and easily.

Merry late Christmas and a happy New Year! ‘Ofa atu.

Week 75 – Ha’akame

This week has been busy! Last Thursday Elder Mohulamu and I started working in our new area, Ha’akame, which is just a couple minutes down the road from ‘Utulau. The Sisters working there were transferred to Ha’alalo, which is the town in between Ha’akame and ‘Utulau, however their MQ was still being renovated so they occupied the MQ we were supposed to move into in Ha’akame while we slept in ‘Utulau. At the same time two more Sisters moved in to take our place in ‘Utulau while staying in Liahona. So we had kind of a crazy mini-transfer in our district in the middle of the normal 6-week transfer.

It was pretty tough receiving the news that we would be moving from ‘Utulau, mostly because we had a few investigators who were progressing really well towards baptism and because we gained lots of new investigators in the couple days prior. That feeling dissipated quickly though as we got to work in our new area and realized that the new Sisters would take good care of ‘Utulau.

When we started working in Ha’akame we planned on just visiting the members to get acquainted with them, and running the baptism of one of the investigators of the Sisters before us. We decided to wait until the next week to return to our door-knocking house-to-house method which we started in ‘Utulau. Since then though we have actually had no time to do that because the members here have been flooding us with referrals and teachings. I am grateful that the members here have such a strong desire to help the missionaries. From the past few days I have realized that missionary work is easiest when there’s lots of it to do!

That’s my update for this week. Christmas is just around the weekend! ‘Ofa atu.

Week 73-74 – ‘Utulau

Malo e lelei! The following is my weekly letter to President Tui’one. Sorry for just copying and pasting, and there’s some Tongan words in there but I don’t have much time right now to fix anything. Hopefully it gives you all some insight about how things are going.

Dear President,

This past week might have been the most important week in my mission. After MLC, Elder Mohulamu and I both knew we were falling short of what the Lord expects of us as missionaries and also as zone leaders. On Saturday we did our weekly planning and completely overhauled the way we work. The biggest changes are that we no longer visit kaingalotu during the day, except 7-9pm which is dedicated to teaching investigator lessons with members, and we also hope to visit less-actives during this time if there is nothing else planned or appointments fall through. The majority of our work the past few days has been going house to house, using the pamphlets to share a brief message of 1 or 2 principles, and then setting up a return appointment.

For a long time I have been flipping between thinking door-knocking (without sharing any principle, only asking for an opportunity to teach) is the best way, or that just visiting kaingalotu is the best way to do missionary work. Now that I have tested the Preach My Gospel way of working I can’t imagine going back. This is the way I will work for the rest of my mission because it’s effective, purpose-fulfilling, and it actually feels like work! Yes, there is some regret that it took me this long to understand this but I also feel like everything before now has prepared me to get to the point where I can have the emotional and spiritual stamina to go door-knocking day after day. Also the Mission (referring to the missionaries themselves) doesn’t help much in that it quickly instills the false idea that the way missionaries work in muli just doesn’t work in Tonga and that getting maheni with the kaingalotu is the best way to work. Even in the short time we have started working in the right way the kaingalotu have already responded and now we have at least three scheduled teaching appointments from members for the rest of this week.

Another change we have agreed on is working on Sundays. At first when we talked about that in MLC I felt conflicted because I liked resting on Sunday and felt like nonmembers would be offended by us trying to preach to them on their day of rest. This past Sunday we didn’t go door-knocking but we kept ourselves busy meeting with ward leaders and teaching lessons. After the past couple days though I am highly looking forward to the work we will be able to accomplish visiting nonmembers on Sunday. It feels like a gift I always had but only now discovered to work on Sunday. That is a whole extra day of work that I didn’t take advantage of before but which now I look forward to greatly. Resting on Sunday is definitely another Misiona Tonga tradition which needs to be eliminated.

Their are other changes we have implemented, mostly involving exact obedience. This last MLC was really impactful on both of us. I am thankful for the discussions we were able to have and the inspiration you received to teach on the things that matter most in the Mission.

Everything else written before this I had already written in my journal beforehand. We just found out a couple hours ago we are moving to Ha’akame. To be honest I feel crushed. It seems like a very specifically placed test by God that we are moving right when we found our purpose here. However after hearing the news, the thought quickly came to me that I am so glad we made this change in our work because that will make moving to Ha’akame so much easier. The work doesn’t change, only the area.

We found four new investigators on Monday and two on Tuesday. Just reporting that because I don’t know how the weekly number reports would work with a mid-week transfer. We are very optimistic about two investigators getting baptized next Saturday and possibly a third. As for our zone, everyone is doing well. We had our temple session early this morning and then did ako hiva afterwards to prepare for the Christmas fireside. We met with both our district leaders and shared with them everything we learned in MLC, and then they passed it on at their district meetings. When I met with Elder Mortensen I was able to have an interview-of-sorts too which really helped me get closer with the Liahona district. For a while we felt very disconnected from the other district so it was good to have that interview.

Hope I have written down all my thoughts which were important to share with you. If we are really moving to Ha’akame then I assure you that has no effect at all on our work and we will make sure the STLs have all the help they need to transition smoothly into ‘Utulau. Thank you for everything you do for the Mission.

‘Ofa lahi atu,
Elder Watts

Week 71-72 – ‘Utulau

Malo homou lelei!

Tonga has been going crazy the past weeks over the Rugby League World Cup. There is barely a moment where someone isn’t mentioning or screaming Mate Ma’a Tonga, which is the Tongan national team name and means “Die For Tonga”. That’s how intense Tongans are about representing their nation in sports – or anything for that matter!

Transfers were supposed to be last Sunday but President was busy attending the establishment of a new stake in Vava’u. So it was delayed to Monday, but then delayed again to this upcoming Sunday. Bit of a strange twist, but I think we are staying here in ‘Utulau anyway.

We were blessed yesterday to receive two new investigators, thanks to the work of the members here. They are two young girls who are relatives of a member of the ward. We shared the message of the Restoration and gave them both copies of the Book of Mormon to read and pray over. It had been a while since we had taught a full lesson in such a way, so I thought I might be a little rusty but it turned out to be one of the best lessons I have been in. The Spirit guided us and reminded us of what we needed to teach. I am looking forward to seeing the progress of these two.

Something I have pondered over and received more understanding of recently is how faith is not something we can obtain by ourselves but is a gift from God. Faith is not something we should ever struggle alone over; we must rely on God to give us faith when we feel that we lack it. Doubts will come naturally and are not sinful but the correct action is then to ask God for faith to overcome those doubts. I have always thought doubts were to be overcome by reasoning, which has its place, but the only permanent solution is that we must plead to God for the gift of faith.

Some have this gift naturally as described in D&C 46 –

13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

– but as 46:11 explains:

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

The conclusion that can be made is that many, maybe even most people do not naturally have faith. And since 46:26 shows that all gifts, including faith, come from God…

26 And all these gifts come from God, for the benefit of the children of God.

…then the only way they can receive faith is by asking God for it. We are given the promise in 46:30 that…

30 He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh.

I personally testify to the truth of these verses. It is hard to describe exactly how an increase in faith feels – it is simply an empowering feeling and a perceivable increase in trust and love for God that can’t be explained except that I have asked God for that gift. I have realized that this is the only sure way to maintain faith, by continually asking God.

Malo e ‘a’ahi mai ki he’eku ki’i blog ko ‘eni. Nofo aa!

Week 69-70 – ‘Utulau

Another biweekly post from Elder Watts. Last week we had stake conference, this week we had MLC and Mission Tour. Elder Cardon of the Pacific Area Presidency attended our MLC and Tuesday’s session of the mission tour, and then Elder Juan Uceda of the Presidency of the Seventy visited us today, along with Elder Halleck and Elder Tukuafu. It was a blessing to have them here sharing their insights and teaching the mission. Elder Uceda especially is an amazing speaker. His wife only speaks Spanish so there was a lady translating to Tongan for us. It was funny thinking how I hadn’t heard a language I didn’t understand in a long time (despite taking four years of Spanish class).

Elder Uceda was effective in reminding us that prayer is our source of power as missionaries, which means we also need to exhort our investigators to pray. I really connected with his words “Prayer is the doorway to spirituality”. There is no way someone can preach with power if they aren’t praying sincerely and on a constant basis. As Elder Uceda said, if we want power then we must pray, and not just say prayers.

The work is coming along fine in ‘Utulau. Our focus has been introducing people to the Book of Mormon. I think it’s Preach My Gospel which says it is the best conversion tool, along with the Holy Ghost. For me personally I also find it the most exciting and natural thing to share with people. We have even been visiting the members here and encouraging them to read the Book of Mormon. There is no better way to get inspired to share the gospel than to read the many stories of the missionary prophets in the Book of Mormon.

Hope all is well in the world! ‘Ofa lahi atu.

Week 67-68 – ‘Utulau

Malo e lelei!

President gave everyone a 90-day Book of Mormon reading challenge a while ago and today is the halfway mark. It’s been nice reading at a consistent, steady pace. Usually I’d read ten chapters in one day then get sidetracked on something else for a while but keeping with the daily chart has helped the verses really sink in. Here’s something I read a few days ago from Alma 8:

8 And it came to pass that when Alma had come to the city of Ammonihah he began to preach the word of God unto them.

9 Now Satan had gotten great hold upon the hearts of the people of the city of Ammonihah; therefore they would not hearken unto the words of Alma.

10 Nevertheless Alma labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city; that he would also grant that he might baptize them unto repentance.

Something that stuck out to me is that although the people of Ammonihah wouldn’t listen to Alma, there was still labor for him to perform. I felt reminded, even prodded by the Spirit that even though I work in a little town no larger than my own neighborhood back in America, that is no excuse to work less. When the people don’t listen, then is the time to “labor much in the spirit” and “wrestle with God in mighty prayer”. Even as a metaphor, wrestling with God doesn’t sound easy! Sometimes I miss my previous areas with multiple wards where it seemed like the work just kept flowing in but the little areas like ‘Utulau are the real crucibles.

Another thing I noticed this week during a teaching is that when an investigator asks questions, that is always a good sign! Actually I have realized that for a while but the reverse finally became clear to me: If an investigator doesn’t ask questions, that’s probably a bad sign. There are plenty of questions to be asked which we don’t answer in a single lesson. I want my teaching to be clear enough so that the investigator understands not only the details of the lesson but also why it’s important to them. Once they understand its significance to them, then they’ll start asking questions because they actually care about what they’re learning! So that’s something I’ll be working on to improve the manner of my teaching.

‘Ofa atu.