Malo tau ma’u ahoni!
Last Saturday we had our departure farewell. First the departing missionaries recited the First Vision in their languages and then we sang hymns from all of our zone’s languages. The Tongan hymn, Folofola mai a Sisu, was saved best for last, of course. Everyone in our zone knew and sung it all the time.
The next day we sent off the Samoan districts, and then Monday afternoon we finally got on the bus and left the MTC. A bunch of Elder Mahe’s relatives were at the Salt Lake airport to say goodbye and hand over some luggage which they had kept so Elder Mahe would be forced to see them before he left. Elder Mahe was kind of annoyed but I thought it was pretty funny. We took our first plane to LAX, then boarded the Air New Zealand plane to Auckland. It was pretty huge, ten seats and two aisles wide. The flight took almost thirteen hours. Since we were flying against Earth’s revolution it was night the whole time, which was weird but I slept through most of it anyway. We arrived at the Auckland airport, explored there a bit, then took our final flight to Tonga.
Landing in Tonga it felt like my mission had finally started. We got our luggage and met President and Sister Tuione for the first time. They took us to the mission office, where we received our tupenus (traditional kilt-like cloth that wraps around the legs) and our pa’anga (Tongan money). They gave us a few hours to drop off our luggage and chill before going to the Nuku’alofa Temple. That really surprised me, I didn’t think we’d get to go so soon but the temple is actually right across from the mission office, and Liahona High School is just down the road as well. Altogether the new intake for the Misiona Tonga is 35 missionaries, 15 of us from the Provo MTC and 20 from the New Zealand MTC. Apparently that’s the biggest anyone’s seen.
The next morning we ate breakfast at President’s house then walked over to the chapel to meet our trainers. The AP’s called out trainers’ names, then their trainee and area. It was exciting but also pretty nerve-wracking waiting to see who we’d be stuck with for our first six weeks. My name wasn’t called until the very end, because I and three others wouldn’t meet our trainers that day. Instead of serving in Tongatapu, we are assigned to Vava’u, the most northern island group of Tonga. I was super excited to receive that assignment. From what I saw and heard at the MTC, Vava’u was the one place I really wanted to work in and now I’d be going there for my first transfer.
Everyone but two from my MTC zone left the next day, so it was bittersweet knowing I’d be serving in my dream location but having to send off all the friends I made in the past six weeks. The few of us left waited until Saturday morning to take a small plane to Vava’u. Elder Hopoate, my new trainer, met me at the airport and we got a ride to our MQ (missionary quarters). Our area is pretty small. It consists of just two villages, Talihau and Utungake, on a small island connected to the rest of Vava’u by one bridge. The walk between the two villages is about 20-30 minutes so we get some good exercise every day. The people here are mostly either Momonga (Mormon), Wesleyan, or Seventh Day Adventist. Talihau is actually somewhat physically divided by religion. The LDS members all live on a different side of the village than the other religions.
Even though our area is small and many people are already strong in their religion, I can see a lot of potential and I’m excited to get to work. Elder Hopoate and I spent almost three hours last night just doing our weekly planning and discussing our potential investigators. The people here are very religious; it’s often just family history and tradition that keeps them stuck in their current faith. It was a bit of a shock being completely immersed in the language but I think I’m coping well. Most of the adults know some English and the kids are surprisingly fluent, so when I can’t express myself in Tongan they can still understand me. On the first day I could barely understand anyone with how fast they speak but I can already see some progress.
So much has happened since I last wrote and I feel like I’ve missed a lot but I’m sure things will get cleared up as I keep writing. To end I’ll share 3 Nephi 5:13, which we recite every time we leave the MQ:
Behold, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I have been called of him to declare his word among his people, that they might have everlasting life.
I can’t wait to go make some experiences to share next week. Ofa lahi atu, tau toki sio!