Transfers came in yesterday and I’m… staying in Talihau! Elder Hopoate is moving to Ha’apai on a little motu called Ha’afeva. Apparently it’s a 45-minute boat ride just to the main islands of Ha’apai so he’s as much in the middle of nowhere as you can get. My new comp is Elder Kau. I wanted a Tongan comp and I got one. It should be a bit of a refiner’s fire for me having to speak mostly Tongan but I want that experience. I don’t have much to talk about this week but I should next week once I meet my new comp! Ofa lahi atu.
I had a lot of cool experiences this week. First was Tavina’s baptism on Tuesday. In the moment it felt like a disaster though. First I slipped getting into the font, then she didn’t know where to grab my arm so a member of the bishopric had to help us get our hands positioned. Also the water level was so low I almost had to lay her down in the water. It was definitely embarrassing in the moment but I got over it pretty quick. Even if it wasn’t perfect, the ordinance was performed and that was all that mattered to me.
Before we left our MQ for the baptism I said a quick prayer thanking Heavenly Father for all the opportunities I’ve had to teach and share the gospel and now to perform the ordinance of baptism, and asked that I’d receive a witness of the truth of it. On the bus ride to the chapel I definitely felt that confirmation through the Holy Ghost. It’s funny, I think Heavenly Father knew I’d mess up and just feel embarrassed during the actual baptism so He gave me that witness beforehand instead.
Another cool experience was witnessing at the Toula sisters’ baptism. I got called up suddenly and didn’t know why, but then I realized they wanted me to help witness. After the baptism one of the sisters told me “You are a representative of Jesus Christ”. From that I gained a better understanding of the significance of my calling and the importance of staying worthy to the title of ‘Elder’.
Last thing, I had my first companion exchange on Thursday/Friday. The rule here is senior comps go together and junior comps go together, so I got paired with an elder only a transfer behind me, meaning he just arrived from the MTC five weeks ago. We taught two successful lessons together in his area, and I led both of them. It was evidence to me of how much I’ve grown and improved in my first twelve weeks, even though it might not seem like it day-to-day. Thanks to my trainer Elder Hopoate for doing such a good job.
We haven’t taken pictures in forever but I finally posted some. Tau toki sio uike ka ha’u.
Man, so much happened this week it’s hard to know where to start. When the members heard about the zone baptism they worked super hard to find someone for us. We started teaching Tavina, a 9-year-old girl in a part-member family. Two of her siblings are already baptized and active in the church but she and the oldest aren’t. Their father, who went inactive and rejoined Siasi Uesiliana, doesn’t want his whole family converting, especially since he’s always gone serving as governor of Niua and can’t meet with us in person. We’ve gotten pretty close with the family over the past month and visit them often but whenever we tried teaching the kids their mother Lekina said to wait until her husband Ioane returned from Niua. She has always been willing for us to teach but without Ioane’s approval it’s difficult.
However at the beginning of this week the town officer Siaosi started asking Lekina about having Tavina baptized and she agreed as long as Ioane gave permission. Fortunately both Elder Hopoate and President Makai were in the same Tongan ward in America with Ofa, Ioane’s oldest brother. In Tonga the oldest brother has a lot of influence over the family, especially when the parents are passed away, so the Makais contacted Ofa about the situation. On Thursday afternoon right when we finished fasting the Makais drove by and handed us an email from Ofa giving permission to baptize Tavina. Now we had two days to get her ready for baptism. Thankfully she has heard the lessons before from the previous missionaries and gone to sacrament meeting a few times so that’s why we were able to set up a baptismal date so soon.
On Friday Elder Hopoate started calling around seeing if anyone else in the zone had a baptism ready for Saturday, and that’s when we found out the zone baptism was cancelled. The goal which we had worried so much over and which made us question at one point if we failed as missionaries if we couldn’t reach it, was now cancelled, but it was pretty funny because even though we finally had someone ready we weren’t disappointed one bit. We changed the baptismal date to this Tuesday and we got more time to prepare Tavina for the baptismal interview. Crazy how it all worked out.
While all that was going on we had three vilohoas which resulted in tons of new investigators and contacts. We finally got serious about our tukituki (door-knocking) and so much came from it. Everyone who has let us in to teach has been the best investigator you could ask for. They are sincerely interested in the message, follow up on commitments and are willing to meet often. That has been the biggest blessings I’ve noticed this week, just how promising all our new investigators seem.
We also had three service opportunities (‘ngaue ofa’ in Tongan, which sort of translates to ‘work of love’). On Wednesday all of the Vava’u missionaries got together and built an aa puaka (pig fence) for an elderly lady. We had a lot of fun chopping down trees with a hele pelu (machete). On Friday we did the same thing for one our kaingalotu (congregation) and then on Saturday there was a stake service cleaning up the police and fire station. Honestly Elder Hopoate and I were pretty pooped after this week. We really amped up the workload and the blessings from that and fasting were almost overwhelming.
In case anyone’s wondering, I’ve probably gained 10 pounds since arriving in Tonga, and it’s definitely not all muscle, haha. Nobody has called me fat yet so that’s good (Note: Tongans love joking about each other’s weight).
This week was one of the best but also somewhat frustrating. On Wednesday we had a zone meeting in which we were all sort of reprimanded because the baptismal numbers in Vava’u were way behind the other islands. It resulted with the zone leaders setting up a zone baptismal date at the stake center and everyone feeling super motivated to meet that goal. We thought our investigator Nane was a pretty sure baptism and we had already set a date with her but at the beginning of the week she left to go visit someone on another island in Vava’u. It sounded like she would only be there for a few days but by the end of the week we found out she was possibly moving there indefinitely. We’re still confident she’ll get baptized at some point but it’s still disappointing to have her leave right when she seemed ready.
Our second closest investigator to baptism is a boy named Viliame. We taught him all the lessons and he wants to be baptized but we need permission first since he’s a minor. However his parents are in New Zealand and his grandpa who lives in the same house is the head minister for the Wesleyan Church in Vava’u. So it’s pretty unlikely anyone else living there will approve Viliame’s baptism. I got back to normal healthwise this week so we got a lot of work done but our lack of an investigator for the zone baptismal date makes it hard to feel like we were successful this week.
If at least something good has come from these circumstances it’s that I am more willing to fast than I was in the past. We fasted on Friday so we could find someone for the zone baptism, but it seemed like we just got offered more food because the members could tell we were hungry by our faces. I know that fasting really does show God your commitment to the work, and that blessings do come from it, but I also think the work you do beforehand is extremely important. It would be unfair to expect miracles to come from fasting when you haven’t already shown your commitment through your daily efforts. This week I hope to see the blessings that come from hard work combined with sincere prayer and fasting.
Oku ou ilo oku mo’ui hoku Huhu’i. Ofa lahi atu.
My body finally caught up with me this week. It started on the Wednesday before last, I felt really tired on our way home and fell asleep immediately when we arrived. The next day started okay but around noon that same exhaustion returned. As the days passed I felt tired more often and started eating less. It peaked on Tuesday night when I had to be on the toilet constantly and threw up twice. The next few days we stayed at home so I could recover. I developed an irritating cough during that time and pretty much completely lost my appetite for Tongan food. That was one of the more frustrating things because when I came in I adjusted super quickly to the food and ate a lot of everything. The past few days it’s felt like I’ve had to relearn to like Tongan food.
Right now I still have the cough and sometimes feel tired but I think I should be fully recovered in the next couple days. I feel blessed to have rarely struggled with my health in the past because this is definitely the longest sickness I’ve endured. And it feels even longer as a missionary because you’re stuck unable to do anything except study the whole time. After a while I could sense that my spiritual desire to work had dimmed. I started worrying that once my body returned to normal, that desire might not return quite as automatically. Just yesterday though we were blessed with two new investigators out of nowhere, and combined with our gradual return to getting out and talking to people, my spiritual desire is back and stronger than before.
Today we had a zone P-day and hiked Mt. Talau. The night before we slept at the zone leaders’ MQ which was fun. We woke up at 4:30 so we could reach the peak by sunrise. The hike was pretty hard still being sick but on the way down I felt a lot better, almost as if the exercise had helped my cough. The view was amazing being able to see almost all of Vava’u. I don’t have pictures but hopefully I can get some from the other missionaries for next week.
I love serving here. It is the greatest blessing of my life to have been called here. The Tongan people have taught me a lot. They are incredibly unselfish and have the closest families I’ve ever seen. Everyone is friendly with everyone. When they show their love it is purposeful and sincere. I didn’t expect to be changed much by the culture but I can already tell at the end of two years I will return a different person. There are too many good qualities in Tongan life to not come back a little kinder and wiser.
Ofa lahi atu kiate kimoutolu.
General conference was great! I want to share some thoughts I had. We listened to the Saturday sessions in English and the Sunday sessions in Tongan, so most of my comments are from Saturday, haha:
- “Let us remember that our children and grandchildren measure our love by how much devoted time we give them.” – Elder Hales. This quote was so enlightening to me because I had never considered that children measure, subconsciously at least, the love their parents show them. When I become a parent I want to live this principle and set aside time devoted to my children.
- Elder Craig C. Christensen’s talk was on Joseph Smith, the first prophet of the Church. At some point during his talk I had an interesting thought – immediately after the First Vision, those who believed Joseph Smith such as his family and friends had a testimony of his divine calling as prophet before they had a testimony of the Book of Mormon. Usually it is taught that one must gain a testimony of the Book of Mormon, then a testimony of Joseph Smith and the restoration of the Church will naturally follow. It could only be planned by God that Joseph was born into the family he was, because of how readily they showed their faith and believed the boy who would need so much support bringing about the restoration of the Church.
- “Clayton M. Christensen, who has impressive experience as a member missionary, states that “over the past twenty years, we have observed no correlation between the depth of a relationship and the probability that a person will be interested in learning about the gospel.” – Elder Dallin H. Oaks. Elder Hopoate and I are still puzzled by this statement but we’re determined to understand how its meaning applies to our missionary work. Some of our best work comes from working with less-actives and nonmembers close to our members.
Ko ia pe kuo u ma’u ke pehe atu kimoutolu.
First transfer completed! Today we planted siaine (bananas) around our MQ. We already had a lot clumped behind the house so we removed some and planted them around the house. To plant them you just move the existing tree into a hole and cut it down so it can regrow. The little shoots coming out the top grew there in just a few hours. Not sure how long siaine takes to grow but someone will get a ton of bananas somewhere down the road.
Elder Hopoate and I were exploring in ‘Utungake when we found a large house that was under construction and looked abandoned. We took a break in the shade there and after a while a man walked out on the porch and said he was the chief of police in Vava’u. That kind of scared us at first but then he invited us inside. He said it was a blessing to have us there and expressed his appreciation for our work. Even though he isn’t a Mormon he appreciates our work with the youth especially and can see the difference the Church makes in their lives. He also talked a lot about his children and his parents. While we talked, mostly in English, it seemed so clear to me how to naturally introduce the message of the gospel into the conversation, but I didn’t because I was worried Elder Hopoate already had something in mind to share and that he could do it better than I could. Nothing else happened for the rest of the conversation so before we left I gave him a pamphlet which felt forced and less effective than if I had just spoken up earlier.
It’s hard trying to figure out if it’s always better to share the gospel on your first meeting with someone or to wait until they trust you enough to be more receptive to the message. Elder Hopoate and I talked about it after and concluded that anytime we feel prompted to speak we should just go ahead and say it. When we rely on the Spirit to know when to speak we can spend more time listening to the needs of the person than thinking how to shift the conversation to the gospel. I’m not perfect at it now but it’s something I experienced in the MTC when we roleplayed street contacting with our teachers. If you really listen to what someone is saying the words you should speak come more naturally.
Ofa atu, kuo u loto pe ke tuku kiate kimoutolu ae Otua ki he taimi ke tau toe fetaulaki.