Week 41/42/43 – Lapaha

Internet’s been down for a while and we had zone conference yesterday so P-day got switched to today. Elder Hirinuki and I are staying in Lapaha, thank goodness. Sometimes people stay in the same area for eight months, sometimes just one month so transfers are always uncertain. Hopefully I stay here a good while because I love the work here.

We have a big teaching pool of around ten investigators but many times we don’t teach all of them in a week because they’re busy or not at home. We have an even bigger list of about twenty people we want to start teaching – either referrals from members, family members of investigators, or certain houses we feel like we should knock. Then there’s a huge list of less-active members we keep track of. That is pretty much how the work goes here. In one week we try to teach all our investigators at least once, contact as many potential investigators as we can, and visit the less-active members.

The progress is slow but significant in this area. In just one transfer we got acquainted with almost all the active and less-active members of both wards and we’re even familiar with many nonmember families. A lot of times we get to know two different people but don’t find out until later that they’re closely related, which is often funny. It seems like everyone is related to each other here, which is fairly true for most villages in Tonga anyway.

We haven’t had any baptisms yet but sometimes I think it might be because we haven’t invited enough people to be baptized. Preach My Gospel says something like “there is power in the simple invitation to make sacred covenants with the Lord that often persuades the investigator to accept”. A lot of times we want to wait until the third lesson to extend the baptismal invitation but really it’s appropriate in any lesson, or whenever the Spirit guides you to do it. I’ve been thinking recently about how I usually want someone to come to church once before they accept the baptismal invitation but maybe making that commitment is the motivation they need to leave their current church and join the one true Church.

Hope everything is good back home. Don’t worry about me, I’m in the best place on earth. Ofa lahi atu.

Week 40 – Lapaha

We woke up around 3:00 am a few nights ago to the barking of dogs right outside our room. They were so loud it was impossible to go back to sleep so we went outside to check it out. The lady that owns the property we live on was poking a long pole into the bushes with the dogs barking next to her. Turns out the gate was left open and a pig got inside the fence, then ran into the bushes after the dogs scared it. The funny part was the pig must’ve been in such shock it didn’t budge even with the lady jabbing him in the head. Eventually it escaped the bush but fled to an even farther corner of the fence. Emelita picked up a big rock and chucked it square at the pig’s head. It squealed but didn’t give up. Then the dogs ran over and each locked on to an ear, spinning the pig in circles while it squealed like crazy. It was hard not to bust out laughing. This went on for another half hour trying to get the dogs away from the pig so it could finally leave. Thankfully it started raining and the dogs got bored so we went back to sleep. Now the owners chain up the gate every night haha.

The work is still going awesome. We had a couple not-so-successful days at the beginning of last week and I told Elder Hirinuki my enthusiasm for the area was starting to wear off. But then the last few days the work was super productive and I told him nevermind, I love this area again.

That’s all for this week. Happy Easter!

Week 38/39 – Lapaha

General conference is over! My brain was pooped after listening to all sessions in Tongan but I still learned a lot. Elder Joaquin Costa’s talk was awesome for investigators and recent converts. Elder Oaks’ talk was helpful for knowing how we should teach the Godhead. There were a lot of talks that applied greatly to missionaries, especially Elder Palmer’s, about helping a disobedient missionary feel God’s love for him.

We talked to a less-active member a few days ago that got me thinking about humility. What can I do to be more humble? I couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t seem forced. Of all Christlike attributes humility is probably the least likely to develop just from “fake it until you make it”. While I was listening to conference the answer came to me: work. The work is what pushes you to your limit and forces you to recognize your weakness and reach out for strength. Prayer is the way we show childlike submission to Heavenly Father and admit that we need His help in order to accomplish the work. I still struggle to find the desire to pray sometimes. But as I think of the vision God has for me as a missionary, I feel a stronger need to ask for strength and counsel. For a long time I saw prayer as a duty but it is really a gift. Matthew 7:7 –

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

The Lord promises us that any righteous desire of ours will be given, if we just pray and ask for it. I believe that is how we can become more humble, by first recognizing that we can never live up to God’s vision for us without Him, then simply asking for His help.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to preach the gospel. Christ’s teaching is true: when you lose your life in the service of others, that is when you will find it. I am without a doubt the happiest now than I ever was before the mission. It is scary to think that someday the badge will come off, but thankfully God always calls us to some other work. Tau toki sio, eh!

Week 37 – Lapaha

Malo e lelei! ‘Oku ou fiefia ‘i homou lau ‘eku ki’i “blog”.

My new comp’s name is Elder Hirinuki, or just Nuki because that’s easier for people to say. He’s from Auckland, New Zealand and he’s quarter Maori, quarter Polish, quarter Cook Island, and quarter Niue. Everyone thinks he’s Tongan though which is funny when we meet people. If we’re together for long I might accidentally pick up his Kiwi accent because it’s pretty contagious.

This new area I’m working in is enormous. It’s actually two areas combined because there used to be Sisters working in Hoi/Talasiu but we cover that too now. If we walked from one corner to the other it’d probably take over an hour, which wouldn’t really be that big if we had a car but it means we have to leave extra time in between appointments just to travel back and forth. If we plan well then we should be able to get everything done in one town and then move on to the next one.

This was definitely one of the best if not the best week of my mission so far. As my comp always says, this area is “gangster”, and we met tons of really cool people. Yesterday Elder Nuki said “I think we made someone cry every day this week”. It was a good kind of crying though because we had some really sincere conversations with members, less-actives, and nonmembers alike. There are a few people I want to share with you guys:

First is our taki faifekau, or ward mission leader. He is a recent convert from less than two years ago. On Saturday morning we went to his house to see if we could go around with him meeting some ward members. He said he was about to go to town but we ended up talking with him for almost an hour and a half. This guy is the perfect example of a convert and what every missionary hopes their converts will turn into. His testimony is solid and he is extremely humble. When my comp asked if there was anything we could help him with all he asked is that when we go back home we remember his family in our prayers and he will do the same for us. His neighborhood is all Catholic, except him and his family. He described it like being a sheep among wolves, but I told him that means his area will be the best place for us to work. He’s 30-something so he didn’t get the opportunity to serve a mission but if he had converted earlier he would have gone immediately and wishes he had grown up in the church like I did. He said he was surprised when the bishop called him to be the ward mission leader but now he takes that seriously as his chance to be a missionary. I am super excited to work together with him in Lapaha. His Catholic background will help us reach out to the mostly Catholic population here.

Another person is Leini, a lady whose husband is already a member and served a mission. She started taking the lessons from the missionaries before us and we continued by teaching the Plan of Salvation to her and her husband. It didn’t take long to figure out she already knew almost everything about the lesson. She asked an important question, “What if I would rather live in the Terrestial Kingdom so I can be with my family?”. I hadn’t really thought of an answer to that before but I responded by saying “Our Heavenly Father’s love for us and our love for him is much greater than the love within earthly families, but we just don’t remember it. That’s why it’s important that we all try to go to the Celestial Kingdom, so we can reunite with our Heavenly Parents.” At the end of the lesson she bore her testimony, which the husband said she was preparing for when she gets confirmed a member of the Church. The only thing they’re waiting for is her parents to get back from vacation in New Zealand. She asked that we include all the little details and scriptures to back them up in our lessons so her testimony can be mature when she gets baptized. Her husband said one time he found her asleep in bed with the Book of Mormon under her head like a pillow. He joked saying he thought she was doing it to scare away the devil like some people do with the Bible, but no she was actually reading it. Hopefully I will still be here when she gets baptized.

The last person I want to talk about is a Catholic man who we found while knocking doors. He was getting a haircut and told us to go sit on a concrete block while we waited for him to finish. At first he was telling us all kinds of directions to the area since we were new. Eventually we started the lesson. His understanding of prophets was really good. When Elder Nuki asked if he thought we needed a prophet today, he said yes, very much. When I asked him what he thought the role of the Apostles was, he said to testify of Christ and help the prophets. We were both really surprised to hear how similar his understanding was to ours, especially Elder Nuki because he was Catholic for a while. We explained the Priesthood super well, talked about how Peter held the keys to the Church and how the Apostles ordained new Apostles to the work in the same way that Jesus had ordained them. Then we got to Joseph Smith and the First Vision. We asked what he knew about Joseph Smith and he said he was the prophet that founded the Mormon church. I could tell he was surprised to learn about the First Vision and it really held his interest. We talked about how the Priesthood was restored to Joseph Smith, then discussed the role of the Book of Mormon. I feel really good about this investigator. We just taught him the Plan of Salvation earlier today and my feeling is the same. After explaining the Fall of Adam and Eve we asked if he thought it was necessary for them to eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and he replied saying “Yes, them eating part of the fruit was part of God’s plan because he knew beforehand how they would act” Again I was shocked because his understanding was exactly the same as ours, though I thought most of Christianity believed that if they hadn’t eaten the fruit, we would all be living in a paradise world today without sin. Then he asked what would happen if they hadn’t eaten the fruit, and I explained my belief that the adversary is also part of God’s plan, and that He knew Satan would succeed in tempting Eve. Our investigator also seemed to already have an understanding of the three kingdoms of glory. It was one of the most interesting discussions I’ve ever had with an investigator. When we asked about his reading the Book of Mormon he said he hadn’t started yet but he meant to, and that his wife had started reading on her own. We asked if we could meet and teach his family and he agreed for us to come on Wednesday. I feel incredibly good about him and I think it’s a good sign for our work to come in this area.

No offense to my Tongan companions in the past but having a non-Tongan comp is exactly what I needed this transfer. I have an equal part now in every conversation and lesson, and the language has improved incredibly. The last couple lessons I haven’t felt at all limited by the language in expressing myself. I’m so thankful that I finally feel content with my grasp of the language considering how long I’ve been out.

This was a long post but I needed to write more about the work than I usually do. I’m not sure what I thought my blog would turn into when I started but it’s become sort of a journal for my thoughts and experiences which I think will be valuable when I look back on the mission. Thank you to my parents for suggesting that I make a blog. Ofa lahi atu, tau toki sio he uike ka ha’u.

Week 36 – Lapaha

Transfers were yesterday! I left Fasi and am now working in Lapaha in the Hahake Zone, or the east side of Tonga. My new companion is Elder Hirinuki, and he’s also new to the area so once again I’m coming into a whitewashed area. That’s not bad though, it means we both have no previous expectations for the area so we’ll start working hard from the get-go.

Something I’ve been thinking about recently is my relationships with my companions. I feel like your relationship with your companion is actually the most “normal” one you have with someone on the mission and best reflects your commitment to follow Jesus Christ. It’s pretty easy trying to set a good example and serve the people living in your area. The true test is when you come home and it’s just you and your comp. When you return to “normal you” mode, will a different person come out of hiding or are you really the person you show to everyone else? I think the way you act around just your comp is closest to how you were before the mission, but also reflects how you will act after the mission. There have been times where I’ve been angry at my companion but tried to stay happy around everyone else, but it just doesn’t work. I can’t be selectively angry at one person and love everybody else. I think this has helped me understand the meaning of Christlike love, which has no respect for persons and is sent out equally to all people. Christlike love is more like a state of being than the way you treat someone, and it is based on your connection to the Spirit.

There was one time my comp and I were walking to an appointment, and the whole time I was mad about something my comp had said just before we left. The whole time I was planning how I would take control of the lesson and teach how I thought the lesson should be taught instead of teaching as an equal companionship. By the end of our walk I realized I needed to do the hard thing and forgive my comp so I could be spiritually prepared to teach. When I brought it up, my comp didn’t even realize what he had said annoyed me and asked, “Was that why you didn’t talk the whole way here?” We said a quick prayer, then went inside and taught a great lesson. Man, sometimes we get mad over the dumbest stuff, haha! I believe that even though the people closest to us can be the hardest to serve and forgive, if we are to be true disciples of Christ then we must be impartial and exhibit Christlike love and mercy to everyone. Otherwise the Holy Ghost will not be present when we need the strength to preach and testify.

It was really satisfying finishing off the last transfer with two baptisms and now I’m excited to work in a new area. I should have a lot to report on next week. Ofa atu!

 

 

Week 35 – Fasi

Right now I’m at the mission office while Elder Teutau is fixing some refrigerators for President. It’s refreshing to see the temple right across the street.

The language has been way better this week. Something I’ve realized is that if I just pretend I’m already fluent in the language, it tends to come out more easily. I almost always realize when I make a mistake, and I used to think native speakers listening could pick out all those mistakes and fix them like my own mind often does when I speak. So from now on, I’m not “saisai pe” at Tongan, or even “sai pe”, but “‘osi poto lelei”. Sometimes a little pride is good for people who constantly find fault in themselves. Nobody got anywhere thinking they were unqualified for the job. For some people, myself included, I think it’s confidence-boosting to think of ourselves as a little farther ahead than we really are so we more readily accept opportunities that help us actually grow to that state. For others it might work better to think they’re always behind the curve and need to catch up. It just depends for each person on what they’ve learned about themselves.

We have two baptisms this Saturday. They’re a brother and sister, Keuli and ‘Ana. They used to live in America but their parents sent them to Tonga to live with their aunt. Keuli is really cool, he’s always super interested in the lesson and really tries sincerely to answer our questions (We always ask our investigators questions to help them start to wonder for themselves about the answers. Sometimes this is really necessary because Tonga is such a paradise so it’s easy not to think too deeply about the questions of life).

Transfers are next week. I have a feeling we’ll both be staying here but if not, I feel good about the work I’ve done in this area. If I go to Niua, don’t expect any blog posts for a while. Just kidding. Ofa lahi atu.

Week 34

This week has been great because we found a lot of new investigators. We were able to teach one lesson to a huge family. There must have been ten adults in the house, plus a bunch of little kids. Some were members, some not. We kind of focused on Semisi during the lesson because he’s the head of the house. He’s probably in his late sixties, has some siblings who are members, and already knows a lot about the Church. We gave a short message in which I focused on the Book of Mormon.

Some missionaries here shy away from talking about the Book of Mormon and try to impress investigators with their knowledge of the Bible, but recently I have felt a stronger need and desire to share the message of the Book of Mormon. Sometimes we take the Book of Mormon for granted and view it simply as an indicator that Joseph Smith was divinely authorized and inspired, and so the Church he restored must be true. I know the Book of Mormon is more than that. It truly is the keystone of our religion, not only because of the doctrines it sets forth but because of its power to produce faith and conversion. Anyone who has not read the Book of Mormon and personally received a witness of its truth cannot testify of it with power. When I testify of the Book of Mormon I can feel the Holy Ghost witness to myself and others that it is true.

I am always happy when someone wants to be baptized. But honestly it is so much better when someone has the desire to read the Book of Mormon. I know my teaching will never have 100% success in converting someone but the promise of the Book of Mormon’s power to convert is an absolute guarantee. If you read the Book of Mormon, pray sincerely, and ask God if it is true, you WILL receive the answer. I have no doubt about that. That’s why I’d rather have someone read the Book of Mormon than agree to be baptized.

Hopefully Semisi and his family will have taken our invitation seriously when we return. Nothing would make me happier. ‘Osi ‘osi e taimi ke faitohi, ofa atu.