Week 50 – Hoi

Week 50? What the heck!? Fun fact, my assignment says that my mission ends exactly a year from now.

Here’s the letter I just wrote to my mission president:

Dear President Tui’one,

First off I’m grateful for the assignment to train. It is definitely an opportunity to grow, for both the trainer and the trainee. Elder ‘Eukaliti is coming along really well. One thing we have been focusing on is effectively using study time. We usually use companionship study time to roleplay lessons we’re going to teach that day. I used to dislike roleplaying but I know how helpful it is now. Last district meeting we roleplayed Lesson 1 and it seemed like everyone was immediately happy with the experience. I plan on us doing a roleplay every week for district meeting.

Speaking of district meeting, I also set some district goals which everyone agreed to, which are (in the next two weeks) to reach: 5 baptisms, 10 baptismal dates, 15 investigators attending sacrament meeting, and 40 new investigators. We discussed the new goals that you set (2 baptisms, 7 baptismal dates, 7 investigators attending sacrament meeting, and 20 new investigators, per companionship per week) and I asked if we’d be able to reach them this week. My point was that I don’t think we’ll be able to this week, next week or maybe even not for a few months, but there will be a time that we achieve those goals if we work from where we’re at right now and build up the missionary work in our wards. In fact I’d be ecstatic if I could reach those numbers in just one week of my entire mission. I don’t know if those numbers are a goal, a vision, or an expectation but either way the only thing we can promise is how hard we’ll work and how obedient we’ll be. Everything else depends on the members, the investigators, and the Lord. I don’t mean to sound like I’m lecturing; really I’m lecturing myself on things I’m sure you have much more experience with than I.

The only question I have is on the gap between 7 baptismal dates and 2 baptisms. 5 investigators who accept the baptismal invitation but then don’t get baptized seems like a lot. Personally I wouldn’t want to commit so many people to a baptism they’re not actually going to follow through with. I guess the question is, is it always better for the investigator for us to set a baptismal date if it is unlikely they will actually get baptized? Is the significance of the baptismal invitation weakened if we extend it liberally to those who will accept but very likely not follow through?

I think I just realized while writing that maybe the method of my baptismal invitation is what needs fixing. If the invitation is not to be “baptized on this date” but to “prepare to be worthy to be baptized on this date”, then that is an invitation I want to give to everyone. Now the seemingly high number of baptismal dates compared to baptisms makes sense to me.

Thanks for all your service, President. Ofa atu.

Personal revelation is an amazing thing. I also just understood for the first time why humility is necessary for having the Spirit as a constant companion. If we always think our ideas are the best for us, then there’s no room for the Holy Ghost to suggest things that run counter to what we naturally think is right.

Another thing I want to touch on is journal writing. I think it’s so incredible how a lot of what we now consider scripture, started off as just a letter or a journal entry. The initial perception of scripture is that it is the word of God, which is literally true in many cases but just as often it is records and personal histories which an authorized prophet, like Mormon, was inspired to include into a collection of writings which would later become accepted as scripture. Not only are the sermons of mature prophets like King Benjamin inserted but also the recollections of those like Nephi and Alma from their pre-prophetic times, when they were weak and vulnerable and often made mistakes (Nephi breaking his bow, Alma the Elder as a priest of the wicked king Noah, Alma the Younger and the sons of Mosiah persecuting the church). When we write in our journals, I believe we can consider it our personal scriptures. That doesn’t mean that everything we write in them in true and inspired by the Holy Ghost, but like the early experiences of the prophets I mentioned before, they recognized their faults and their false beliefs. They were able to grow out of those experiences and apparently we can learn something too from reading them because we have them today canonized as scripture. Like scripture, our journals become more valuable as time passes. I recently went back and read some old blog posts, which was definitely an enlightening experience. The older entries seem to enrich the more recent ones as they provide a basis for comparison. That is why I believe and recommend the prophetic counsel to keep a journal, so we can have our own personal scriptures to study and benefit from just as we do with the standard works. Start one today if you have not already, and write even when it seems like there is nothing worth remembering, or record old memories from the past. I really regret having not written much in my journal before because it’s so unsatisfying relying just on memory.

Have a fantastic week. Ofa atu kamoutolu.

Week 49 – Hoi

Yep, I’m training. My son’s name is Elder ‘Eukaliti (even Tongans have a hard time saying it) from Nukunuku, and he’s just waiting here until he can go to his assigned mission in Papua New Guinea. To be honest the first day or two was kind of stressful, which reminded me of when I was being trained. The whole week before I had been going between areas while I waited for my new companion and busy with ward and stake programs. Then Thursday hit, I got my new comp and the work was kind of dead after being left untouched for a week. No appointments set up for the first couple days, which I felt bad about because I remember being disappointed when the same thing happened to me when I met my trainer. I think the main stress of training is that usually you and your comp rely on each other to make a whole working companionship but now it feels almost like I’m the whole companionship by myself. Of course the goal of training is to bring your trainee up to a level that they can do everything on their own and you’re back to a normal companionship. I used to think training a palangi would be easier back when the language barrier was stronger but now I’m so thankful to train a Tongan because he’s already comfortable in his own culture. I’d hate to deal with a palangi like me when I was being trained, unable to speak and always getting sick, haha.

On Saturday all of the missionaries in Tonga had a meeting with Elder John H. Groberg, or more popularly known as Kolipoki. He and his wife shared some experiences from when he was serving as mission president about fifty years ago. Most of Elder Groberg’s talk was in Tongan which was really cool to listen to. For probably not speaking it all of the time he still sounded almost like an old native Tongan, especially the way he expressed with his hands and voice while telling a story. Elder Groberg is an amazing example of hard work and obedience.

This weekend was also stake conference and all the speakers were just great. Elder O’Riordan from Australia came to preside and spoke at every session. Something he said that benefited me was that our invitation to others outside of the church is simple: Come bring the faith that you already have and we will add to it and make it stronger. This Church is the only one with the fullness of the gospel as established by Jesus Christ. Anyone who joins this Church will experience an increase in faith and happiness. President Tui’one also attended our stake conference and shared a story about how the Book of Mormon even helped his 10-year-old son be content with moving from New Zealand to Tonga. The Book of Mormon has the answers not just to the big questions in life but also the small daily problems we encounter. That is why we are counseled to read it every day.

Happy American Father’s Day! Ofa lahi atu ki he’eku tamai!

 

Week 48 – Hoi

Another week, another P-day. Also another transfer but I’m still not sure what’s going on because I haven’t been told who my new companion is, which probably means I’ll be training someone. Elder Nuki left on Thursday right after Mele’s baptism to replace another Elder who just finished. We didn’t know until that day he would be leaving but I guess we were inspired when we set Mele’s baptismal date, haha. He’s going to go be a zone leader somewhere else so I guess that means I’m district leader since the other Elders in the district are fairly new.

This week I was thinking about the influence that we have on other people, even if we don’t realize it. I feel like a lot of times as missionaries we look at the big list of things we need to do, tackle them one at a time as best we can, then move on to the next thing. At the end of the day you look back at what you did and mostly it’s an analysis of your own performance, how your teaching was or what you could have done better. I think what triggered me thinking about all this is our recent convert Mele. Every time she sees us she gets super happy and asks if we’ll come over tomorrow. To me it feels like all we did was teach a few lessons but for Mele it means so much more. As missionaries we have the opportunity to help change people’s lives for good. Off the mission it would be pretty amazing helping just one person convert. On the mission we do it all the time without even realizing and I want to be better at recognizing those moments, otherwise they might go unnoticed and unappreciated except by the person being converted.

That’s all for this week. Ofa atu.

 

Week 47 – Hoi

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Nuki and I at a family home evening. That’s my lou’akau bag in front of me which I traded for with another missionary.

This week we moved to the MQ in Hoi while the zone leaders took over Lapaha. President wants them in a town near the center of the zone so that’s why we made the switch. Now we only have one ward in a fairly small area. I like the change because before we didn’t get to work as much in Hoi because of the distance but now we can focus completely on this area. We really want to meet all the less-actives and at least get to know them, if not bring them back to church. I’ve been working on a map of the town using the satellite image from Google Maps to trace all the roads and houses. Then I just ask the kids to identify each house on the map, since everyone knows everyone here, and cross-check those names with the ward directory. Nobody can hide from us!

On Saturday we met a couple new investigators. Actually we had met one of them before, a lady named ‘Ofa, who talked to us on the street about two months ago because she found out we had visited her brother who lives out in the farmland. She asked if we could all go visit him together sometime because she’s worried about his kids and grandkids not going to church. She also said she had a question for us but didn’t tell us right then. The visit to her brother never worked out but we talked to her a couple other times on the street. Then on Saturday we decided to visit the house just to ask what her question was. Surprisingly we ended up talking for over an hour with her and her daughter about various subjects she was curious about. They are both Pentecost and their knowledge of the Bible is impressive. Thankfully ours is decent too so we had a really interesting conversation on LDS beliefs and how they compare with the Bible. I love talking to people like them who are well-read in the scriptures and listen respectfully with an open mind, not just trying to bash us. By the end we were just having a good time and even laughing when the daughter kept calling out her mom for going off-topic. Even if they remain strong in their current faith I am happy just to discuss our beliefs and start friendly relationships with people of other faiths. On the other hand we had a not-so-good experience with another church. One of our investigators told us this week we could no longer visit them because they had been reported by their congregation for allowing us in their home. They have a calling in their church and the pastor threatened to release them if we kept visiting. It’s sad that some churches imprison their members in such a way.

That’s all for this week. ‘Ofa atu!

Week 46 – Lapaha

This week definitely saw some tender mercies. When we visited our investigator Leini she had just gotten off the phone with her dad and told us she wants to get baptized on June 17th. Her parents are already members but went less-active, however while in New Zealand the missionaries there have been working with them. We already knew Leini was going to get baptized but I was starting to have some doubts. Her parents get back on the 16th so she wants to get baptized the next day. Hopefully I’ll get to stay here to witness that happy reunion.

Another miracle was that we visited one of our members, Lupe, and she said there’s someone who told her she wants to get baptized. Lupe set it up for her to sleep over that night so they could talk and the next morning we went to go meet her. Mele is 78 and was actually already baptized in Vava’u when she was in her twenties but fell away a while after. Since it’s so long ago we’ll have to check if she has a baptismal record. I am just so happy that we can help someone return to church. She said her house feels like a prison because her children and grandchildren hate the Church and don’t give her the freedom to choose where she worships. She attended church on Sunday with Lupe and received a very warm welcome.

While we were getting to know Mele, Lupe told us a miracle of her own that she experienced. For a very long time she was allergic to manioke, lamb, and fish. Whenever she ate any of these she immediately got sick. This made it difficult for her to be accommodated, even at home. At the beginning of last year she asked the Lord to heal her of this allergy and promised to read the Book of Mormon twice that year. One night in September she finished reading the Book of Mormon the second time that year. The next morning at breakfast she ate a few kumala but was still hungry. Only manioke was left, so she told her daughter to pass her some. Her daughter was shocked because she knew it would make her sick. Lupe insisted and her daughter started to cry because she felt like she would be killing her mom. Lupe ate the manioke and was completely fine. Later that day they went to a restaurant in town and Lupe told her daughter to order some kale sipi (lamb curry) for her. Again, Lupe was unaffected by the food, and the same thing occurred for the fish. I was amazed by the faith that Lupe exemplified in this story. I learned that the Lord can make strong all kinds of weaknesses.

Monday through Wednesday was stormy almost the whole time so we mostly stayed inside the MQ. Here’s a kind of funny story. On Tuesday while we were staying inside we got a text asking if we were going to go teach our investigator Siaosi because he had been waiting for an hour for us to come. We were just baffled because we didn’t know the person who texted us, we never set up a time to go teach him, and outside it looked like a hurricane. Everyone knows we don’t have a car so it would be a 20-minute walk to get there. We thought about what to do, and even suspected it might be a prank, but finally decided to ask the neighbors to take us there. When we got to the house it seemed like nobody was there but we heard someone doing tutu (hitting the bark of a certain tree with a mallet against a log to flatten it and make tapa cloth) so we checked out the back and it was just the mom of the household where Siaosi is staying. We asked her about him and she said he went to town. Now we were really confused and figured it really was a prank, so we got a ride back home. Eventually we found out that the person who texted us is Siaosi’s girlfriend, and he actually was waiting for us but we went to the wrong Siaosi. We have two investigators named Siaosi. The only thing still strange is that she told us we were late to an appointment we never set, and expected us to go out during a huge storm! The good part of the story is that Siaosi’s girlfriend is an RM and a strong member in another ward so it’s not just us trying to convert him.

It seems to be a pattern in my mission and probably in life that when we endure trials the Lord blesses us. Some trials may seemingly go unrewarded until after this life but very often I have seen immediate blessings after passing successfully through the climax of a difficult week or month. Often the challenge is still present but we are gifted with the understanding or perspective to remain content and move forward.

Have a great week. Ofa atu.

 

Week 45 – Lapaha

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Elder Hirinuki, Siliva, and I. Almost a year ago Siliva’s son Atu had dinner at our home in North Carolina. He promised that if I ever worked in his village his family would roast me a pig. Lapaha is pretty close, so Siliva came and delivered on the promise with some manioke, lu and puaka tunu.

Another so-so week. Nuki and I were pretty tired physically, mentally, and emotionally by the end of the week. Letdown after letdown just kept piling up. Lots of scheduled appointments fell through.

We were going through the ward directory with the ward secretary so we could be more familiar with the less-active families. It was depressing to see how many people were strong members in the past but have since gone backwards. If every family in the ward were active almost the whole town would be at church on Sunday. It makes me wonder how we’re supposed to do missionary work when everyone except strong opposers have already been baptized. I do believe it’s important to help strengthen less-active members because they bridge the gap between the active members and nonmembers. Often times it feels like fruitless work though as people lie to us, ignore us, or show absolutely no desire to change, even when they know what is true and right. Half the ward is angry at the bishop for this or that reason, and I don’t know what to say because maybe they really were dealt with unjustly. I wouldn’t know unless I asked the bishop himself, but it seems like a waste of time to get involved in matters like that. I sympathize, on a much lower scale, with the Prophet Joseph Smith when he said:

“I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen.”

So how do you reactivate someone who believes in everything we teach, but might have a legitimate reason to be at conflict with the bishop? And how do you know when it’s time to stop allocating time to a family because nothing we say will change them? If the home and visiting teaching was strong then we wouldn’t have to worry about that, but it’s not. If we don’t work with the less-actives then the investigators we teach have nobody to associate with or rely on, and will most likely turn into just another name on the directory and worsen the problem.

This week our message has been stronger and to-the-point. When we visited a less-active family I shared a message based on Alma 9:23 which says:

23 And now behold I say unto you, that if this people, who have received so many blessings from the hand of the Lord, should transgress contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have, I say unto you that if this be the case, that if they should fall into transgression, it would be far more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them.

The Lamanites who did not know the truth were more easily forgiven by the Lord than the Nephites who knew the gospel but rebelled against it. There are so many people in the world who haven’t had the opportunity to hear the gospel. Those of us who have heard and gained a testimony of its truth must keep the commandments or it certainly will not be well with us.

When we taught our investigator Uinipola I asked him in the beginning of the discussion what he thinks about what we have shared in the past. He said it is all true. Then I asked why he hasn’t joined the Church yet. His response was a familiar one: “We all believe and pray to the same guy, right?” I thought for a second and said “No, we don’t. For example we believe that the Godhead is three different personages.” Then we went on to reexplain that we believe this Church is the same one that Jesus established during his ministry and how he empowered and authorized his Apostles with the Priesthood so that the doctrines and ordinances of the gospel would be kept unchanged. But after the Apostles were all killed, various churches sprang up with different beliefs and ordinances from the way Jesus taught them. Then I pointed to the doctrine of infant baptism. Catholics believe that people should be baptized in their infancy while we believe that baptism should not be performed until the age of eight, when a child understands right and wrong and is able to sin. Is it possible for both to be true? Can there be two truths? He paused for a while, then said no. Hallelujah! Someone finally got in their head the most basic essential principle. There is only one truth. If two opposing ideas are present, either only one is true and the other false, or both are false. Of course everyone already knows this but the mind will come up with all kinds of excuses to avoid the discomfort of discovering a paradox in one’s thinking.

After the lesson I asked my companion and myself if the Spirit was present in our discussion. I fully believe I was led by the Spirit to say what I did. In fact I had no idea what we were going to teach until we sat down. The only reason I was unsure was because our message was stronger than usual and did not closely follow any of the Preach My Gospel lessons. I believe the Spirit is both the Comforter and the Discomforter. There is nothing cozy about repentance, but the Holy Ghost stirs us to make changes in our lives when God reveals our inadequacies.

To be honest I am kind of tired of working in this area, but it’s not like people are much different anywhere else. At the same time I am nowhere near giving up on the people I’ve grown to love here, and feel a stronger motivation to get something out of this transfer. Funny how pain is usually self-inflicted. When your desire is to work hard, don’t be surprised when it hurts. Another thing about pain is that it’s always humorous given a little time. Even just reading back on this post makes me laugh and throws a lens on my difficulties which makes them feel more manageable. Hopefully those of you reading can sense the humor too. I don’t want to depress anyone.

I love missionary work, and I love how it’s tough sometimes. If converting to this gospel and staying strong your whole life was easy I’d be a little more wary about if it was true. Lots of people slip down the slide and out of this church but nobody accidentally slips up the other way. All of this only strengthens my testimony that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is the only church led personally by our Savior Jesus Christ, through modern-day prophets who receive the word of God through revelation. Jesus was a cause of stark division while he was on the earth and quite appropriately his Church is exactly the same. The other day I was wondering if the woman caught in adultery did as Jesus said and sinned no more, or if she returned and continued in her sin. Though it would be sad, the latter would not lessen Christ’s power. When members of the Church fall into temptation that does not make it any less true. It only testifies to the power of the adversary and the weakness of man.

Hope my dad appreciates this post for Father’s Day. Sorry it couldn’t be more cheerful, haha. ‘Oua aupito e fo’i ‘i he ngaue. ‘Ofa atu.

Week 44 – Lapaha

This blog post is basically my letter to president, with some minor changes. I might continue doing this because it saves time and lets you guys know how the work is going:

This week was alright. Having zone conference on Monday kind of threw us off a bit because we accidentally planned a bunch of stuff for Tuesday. Then on Wednesday we went on a great comp exchange with a couple RMs to go teach an investigator, but that feel through so we split up and visited less-actives instead. It was the first time since I worked in Talihau that I had done an exchange like that, and I loved it.

We also revisited a new investigator from last week named Uinipola, a 65-year-old Catholic man. At the beginning of the lesson, I asked him what he remembered from what we shared last week. He responded, “Repentance.” Both Elder Hirinuki and I were pleasantly surprised because a large portion of our message had been on repentance and the power of the Atonement. Just to give you some background, he and his buddy were drinking beer the first time we came, so maybe our message really hit hard. I am thankful for that second lesson because I felt led by the Spirit to say a couple things I had never said before in a lesson. First I touched on how wonderful it is that the Lord didn’t choose an educated, wealthy, or influential man, but a humble fourteen-year-old boy to begin the restoration of His Church. Second, at the end of the lesson Elder Hirinuki asked if he had any questions and he responded “no”, then I asked, “Is there anything we shared that you don’t believe in?” His response was “No, I understand everything.” It was comforting to hear. Now we just have to extend the baptismal invitation and find out what, if anything, is holding him back.

On Thursday Elder Moala, one of the zone leaders, came to our area so we fit in a couple hours in our schedule so he could visit his dad’s family in Hoi. It turned out pretty useful actually because we visited two non-member homes we have never been to, and two less-active homes. Literally every other appointment that day fell through and that was kind of the pattern set for the next two days as well.

On Friday we visited three houses that we planned to contact in our weekly planning. We got one new investigator from the first house, and hopefully we’ll get to teach her family too, and set an appointment to visit the second house another day. The third house wasn’t interested but we found out the lady there used to attend a ward in New Zealand and all her kids were baptized, just not her. We will try and find someone to get acquainted with her. There are lots of houses like these that I often feel like we should visit so this week we will try to contact them all.

Saturday was another less-productive day but we asked the bishop to go with us to a recent convert’s house, and he actually accepted. We visited him, our investigator Falekaono, and a couple less-actives to invite them to church. I was really happy with how that turned out because Falekaono really opened up like we had never seen before. He is still struggling with the Word of Wisdom but I have faith in him. I don’t know if he’ll be baptized this transfer, next, or a year from now but I’m sure it will happen.

We have a couple investigators that are fairly certain to get baptized. Leini is basically already a strong member, she’s just waiting for her member parents to return from New Zealand in June so they can be there when she gets baptized. I’ve thought about suggesting that she consider not waiting, since baptism and confirmation are so important to her spiritual growth, but I don’t know if that would be appropriate because I feel like my personal drive to get baptisms might be at play. Another investigator named Siaosi is married to a member here and they just moved from Popua to live at the wife’s family’s house in Talasiu. We started teaching him but the wife’s dad asked us if we could hold off for a bit while they teach him little by little how to pray, study the scriptures, go to church, things like that. Siaosi’s dad is a British man and nonreligious so he never went to church growing up. I am confident he well get baptized, maybe next month. He was super nice and sincerely interested the first time we taught him. I think his learning the gospel by living with a member family will be a very beneficial foundation which we will later add upon with the missionary lessons.

As I think about how we can make sure this next week is more productive than the last, all I can think of is that we just need to be more fakapotopoto (wise, clever) with our daily planning. We usually have a backup plan for at least every hour but those are liable to fall through and cause more time wasted walking around then maybe we should just knock doors around the area where our dropped appointment was scheduled. We also need to use the phone more to try and ask investigators when they’re available rather than walking all the way there just to find our they’re gone. Our effort is good, we just need to be smarter.

Of course, Happy Mother’s Day, although I think it’s officially over in America. Hope everyone had a good one. ‘Ofa atu.