Week 12 – Talihau/’Utungake

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.

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Week 11 – Talihau/’Utungake

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.

Week 10 – Talihau/’Utungake

Kai kuli! I finally ate dog this week. It tastes pretty good, kind of like a mix of horse, turtle, and rat. Just kidding, I don’t know how to describe it.

Elder Hopoate was sick all week so we stayed at home most of the time. At first it was kind of frustrating but it was nice having so much time to study. I read the first three books of Moses, and when Elder Hopoate wasn’t sleeping we listened to talks.

I don’t have a lot to talk about because we didn’t get to work much but I’ll share something I learned from my studies:

A large part of Exodus describes the many plagues that afflicted the Egyptians because Pharaoh wouldn’t allow the Israelites to leave. After enduring hail and fire, locusts, thick darkness, etc., the last plague sent by the Lord is described in Exodus 12:29-31.

29 And it came to pass, that at midnight the Lord smote all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle.

30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he, and all his servants, and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt; for there was not a house where there was not one dead.

31 And he called for Moses and Aaron by night, and said, Rise up, and get you forth from among my people,both ye and the children of Israel; and go, serve the Lord,as ye have said.

From the Ensign magazine I read a talk by President Boyd K. Packer given in the 185th General Conference. This is my favorite quote from it:

“The commandment to multiply and replenish the earth has never been rescinded. It is essential to the plan of redemption and is the source of human happiness. Through the righteous exercise of this power, we may come close to our Father in Heaven and experience a fullness of joy, even godhood. The power of procreation is not an incidental part of the plan; it is the plan of happiness; it is the key to happiness.”

The plague that finally broke Pharaoh was the slaying of all the firstborn of the Egyptians, including his own firstborn son. Pharaoh’s perspective is a tragic one. As President Packer says, the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth is the source of human happiness and joy. Pharaoh could harden his heart against the many other plagues that afflicted his people, but understandably could not endure the death of their firstborn sons who had likely brought them so much joy.

After pondering the perspective of Pharaoh after losing his firstborn son, I thought of the symbolism between the Passover and Christ. I gained a greater understanding and appreciation of the sacrifice that Heavenly Father made by allowing His Only Begotten Jesus Christ to endure the infinite suffering of the Atonement. It’s difficult to fully comprehend but I wonder if it was like Pharaoh losing his son but to an infinite extent of sadness.

It’s nice to get back to work this week. Thanks for reading and ofa atu.

 

Week 9 – Talihau/’Utungake

This week we saw a lot more success with working with the members. We went on a vilahoa (companion exchange) with two soon-to-be missionaries. First we roleplayed the lesson we’d be teaching for an hour, then went doorknocking at the homes of people we thought were nonmembers or less-active. Knocking doors in Tonga is just going up to someone’s home and yelling out their name or a greeting. If they don’t feel like talking to you then they just act like they didn’t hear you, even though it’s obvious you know they can. Usually people are friendly though and invite you inside. We taught three mamalohis this way, using the TTIP method (teach, testify, invite, promised blessings) which we learned from Elder Letoa, the Area Seventy that spoke at stake conference two weeks ago. First you teach a lesson, testify of its truthfulness, invite them to act, then promise the blessings that will come from following through on that invitation. Since there were four of us we each took one step, and as a result our lessons turned out really well

Another thing we started doing is asking members to set up lessons for us after their fafanga. One night we taught four teenage boys, and we didn’t even find out until later that two were mamalohi and two were nonmembers. Just from the efforts of the members in Talihau we got four new investigators this week. I’m excited to keep getting closer with the members because while we are the master teachers, they really are the master finders.

The whole week Elder Hopoate and I must’ve had some kind of stomach bug because we didn’t feel too great. Hopoate has a pretty bad fever but I’m mostly fine now other than some fakalele (literally translates to “runny”; figure it out). While we nofo api’d (stayed at home) I finished the Book of Mormon and started the Old Testament. Going to read all four standard works straight through in English, then start studying from the Tongan scriptures.

Something I learned while reading in Genesis, in the account of God commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac:

And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.

Immediately I thought of Christ carrying the wooden cross to Golgotha. There’s a footnote in my scriptures which takes you to John 19:17.

16 Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him away.

17 And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha.

Then the story continues in Genesis:

And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for burnt offering?

And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

The first time I read verse 8 I interpreted it as Abraham saying that God himself will provide a lamb. Then I reread the verse and understood Abraham as saying that God will provide himself as a lamb. Then in verses 9-10:

And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

Based on the verse it doesn’t seem like Abraham had to struggle binding Isaac to the altar. Isaac accepted his father’s command and offered himself willingly. The parallels to Christ and His Atonement are exceptionally clear. As I’m reading the Old Testament I’ve found it testifies of Christ just as much as the New Testament and Book of Mormon.

At zone conference President Tui’one promised us that if we get eight baptisms in a month we get to fly to Tongatapu and go to the temple. Elder Hopoate hasn’t been in forever and really misses the temple, so we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us! Hopefully I’ll have some baptisms to report in the next few weeks. Ofa atu!

Week 8 – Talihau/’Utungake

My other suitcase finally arrived. I had to leave one behind in Tongatapu because I didn’t know about the weight limits for luggage on the plane. They said they’d get my suitcase on that Wednesday’s ferry to Vava’u but it didn’t come until the Wednesday after that. So yeah, I had to wear the same clothes for a week and a half because I didn’t have time to repack at the airport and I decided I’d rather have my books, pillow and toiletries. Still not sure I made the right choice on that one, but it’s nice finally having everything.

Since we’re trying to work with less-actives more we asked the pisope (bishop) in Talihau how many members are in the ward here. His response was about 800, which blew us away. There’s probably not even half that number of people living in the village. We assumed there must be a lot of records that haven’t transferred to other wards, and a lot more people who have been baptized than we thought. Yesterday we got the actual number, which is more like 190, from the ward clerk. We still have a lot of work to do with less-actives, although it’s not quite so bad as what pisope led us to believe. I’m pretty sure he just made up a number to get us to leave, haha.

One of the things Elder Letoa talked about last week, and I think he cited it from a talk by Elder Bednar, was about how the homes of less-actives are golden for missionary work. Last week we found our investigator Senalita, and then this week we found another investigator, her friend, in the same house. Her name is Lavinia and while we talked to Senalita she started asking a lot of questions about the temple, the Word of Wisdom, Joseph Smith, etc. After a while Senalita left to take care of the kids and we realized Lavinia was the one we needed to focus on. So though we came with the intention of giving Senalita a copy of the Book of Mormon, we found a new investigator who needed the same message. I think as we keep focusing on these “golden homes” of less-actives, we’ll keep finding new people to teach. It makes sense too, usually if someone here is less-active it’s because they have family and friends in another church, so by visiting their homes we’re more likely to meet nonmembers.

To quote Amaleki in Omni 1:30 – “And I make an end of my speaking.”

 

Week 7 – Talihau/’Utungake

The internet is kind of slow this week so no pictures this time.

Tuesday was my first full day and it was a pretty good start. We had a zone meeting with President and Sister Makai, who started out as just couple missionaries. President Makai became 2nd counselor to Mission President Tuione recently though. It’s hard for President Tuione to be everywhere he’s needed since the islands are pretty far apart, so President Makai was assigned to preside over Vava’u, Ha’apai, and Niua. He and Sister Makai are a hardworking couple and I look forward to working more with them.

After zone meeting we did some street contacting, which is pretty much just walking on the road saying hello to the same people every day. We decided to stop at the house we thought one of our potential investigators lived in. He wasn’t there but a lady named Senalita was. Elder Hopoate talked with her outside for a while and asked if he could share a poupou fakalaumalie (spiritual thought). She declined, saying she was already a member of Siasi Tonga, but she and Elder Hopoate kept talking for a while. After a while I felt prompted to ask if I could share a message to practice my Tongan, so I did and surprisingly she laughed and invited us inside. I had a verse picked out from the Doctrine and Covenants so I introduced it as revelation from the Lord to the prophet Joseph Smith. Her smile dropped noticeably after that, which was pretty funny. We were told in the MTC that nonmembers in Tonga are familiar with the name Joseph Smith, in a bad way, but I felt like it was better to be bold in that instance. I shared the verse, bore my testimony of Jesus Christ, and expressed my gratitude for the opportunity to share His message. We kept talking and found out she has tons of Mormon relatives but her husband has a calling in Siasi Tonga. She said we could come back and talk about scriptures whenever. It was pretty cool getting a new investigator for my first time.

It rained all of Wednesday which pushed our plans to the next day, but it rained then too. I was a bit frustrated because sometimes it wasn’t raining very hard, but when it rains here the towns just go inactive. Everyone that isn’t at work or school just sleeps inside or does lalanga (weaving) in big groups which is a hard approach for teaching. Another thing is that once it gets dark, all you can really do is hang out with members or go home early because people think you’re crazy if you try to go around contacting at night. I guess I learned that I can’t force the people to follow my schedule., but I should compromise and adapt mine to theirs.

This weekend was our stake conference and luckily we were able to attend all of the sessions. The Area Seventy Elder Leota attended and spoke at every meeting. The vision the First Presidency gave him to share with the stake was that every family be worthy to be sealed in the temple. Their main concern is that right now there’s a huge number of less-actives and potential Melchizedek Priesthood holders. He promised to us the missionaries that if we want baptisms, we need to focus on the less-actives, because they have so many connections to nonmembers. Elder Leota also talked about the importance of inviting people to act. He shared a story of how he once invited a young man to serve a mission, knowing nothing about him. Later they saw him on his mission and found out he wasn’t a member when they invited him but he immediately took the steps necessary to serve. Then they met him again after his mission and he told them his whole family had been baptized. Crazy how great the consequences can be from just one invitation.

Some funny/interesting things about Tonga:

  • There are pigs and dogs literally everywhere. Most people have fences to keep them out of the yard but they pretty much roam the whole rest of the village. Even though they walk around freely they all have owners who know which pigs and dogs are theirs. It’s funny because both animals are treated the same, you almost never see people playing with dogs. I feel like I was prepared to serve here because I never had a pet dog growing up, so I have no reservations about eating one. Sadly it hasn’t happened yet because I think they save the dogs for when there’s famine.
  • There’s barely any road safety here. If you want to go somewhere you just wait for a truck to come by and hop in the back with like ten other people. Nobody waits for animals to cross the road and sometimes they jokingly try running into them. You’d think the animals would learn but they still love hanging out on the street.
  • There are basketball courts at almost every church building but nobody here plays basketball. Instead they get used for volleyball. Every night around 5:00 people start playing volleyball until it’s too dark to see. Sometimes we join in but the guys here are super good. I’ll have to keep practicing with the younger kids.
  • The food is pretty good, but honestly I miss American food. Vegetables just don’t exist here and there’s only white bread. The best meal is probably moa (chicken) with luu (leaf that tastes like spinach). Sometimes fafanga isn’t lava (our member-provided meals don’t happen) and we buy loaves of bread and kapapulu (canned beef) from the store. I can’t really complain about the food though because whenever we do eat, we eat a ton.

I love being a missionary here and can’t imagine serving anywhere else. Tonga is a beautiful place with amazing people.

Week 6 – MTC/Tongatapu/Vava’u

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. 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!