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.

Advertisements

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!

Week 5 – MTC

Malo e lelei! We finally got our travel plans! We’ll be flying from SLC to Los Angeles, then to Auckland, New Zealand. From there we take a smaller plane to Tonga. The trip is supposed to take over 24 hours of flying. Thankfully all of the Tongan missionaries are traveling together so it should be fun.

On our way back from the temple last P-day we ran into a Brother Gent who had just been released from an assignment as a missionary housing coordinator. You could tell he loved talking to missionaries. He gave us so much advice about missionary work in just ten minutes of conversation. Brother Gent was a strength training coach for football players and he made an analogy that stuck out to me: there’s no growth without opposition, just like in weightlifting. Whenever it gets hard in the mission, ask yourself what you can gain from those challenges and thank the Lord for them.

There was a rumor that Elder Holland would come speak to us for Tuesday’s devotional. Of course someone says that every week so I didn’t believe it until we found out he was in Provo for BYU Education Week. Then we noticed that the speaker wasn’t scheduled which could only mean that an Apostle was coming to speak. We arrived at choir practice before devotional just late enough that they wouldn’t make us fill up the bleachers first, so we were able to overflow into the front seats. The speaker turned out to be Sister Oscarson, the Young Women general president. We were kind of disappointed, and then Sister Oscarson jokingly apologized that she wasn’t Elder Holland. Apparently the rumor had gotten so big that even she heard about it.

Something I learned from her talk was the eternal importance of the decision to serve a mission. I had only ever thought about how serving a mission would help me in my earthly life, but her talk helped me realize the potential eternal impact a mission can have if you allow it. Elder Holland said in a 2006 MTC address that there hasn’t been a day since his mission that he hasn’t thought about it. The mission is a source of experiences, relationships, and testimony that I will draw from for eternity. Understanding this has made be even more grateful that I decided to serve.

Our investigator lessons have continued to be very successful. The first few weeks we were just worried about knowing the lessons and relevant vocabulary, but now our planning is more based on how we can best teach the investigator according to their needs and background. We’ve also been working a lot with Sister Fotu in roleplaying contacting situations. She picks a role to act and we have to approach and hopefully invite her to be taught. At first it felt really forced trying to tie in the conversation with the gospel and a lesson invitation but when I focus more on being friendly and listening sincerely it’s much more natural. Contacting is really just getting to know people well enough so that the Spirit can then help you know what to teach. I’m super excited to go meet real people in Tonga. Especially there, they love to talk about their families, which is easy to relate to the Restoration.

Hard to believe but the next time I post I’ll be in Tonga! I think I’ve fully enjoyed my time at the MTC but it’s time to move on! ‘Ofa lahi atu kiate kimoutolu! ‘Alu a!

Week 4 – MTC

We had some really great devotionals this week. On Sunday the President of UVU, Matthew Holland (also the son of Elder Holland), visited us and talked about some of the lesser-known struggles the Prophet Joseph Smith endured. When he was young, their family experienced a series of setbacks with the farm. Joseph Smith Sr. tried to export ginseng to China as a more reliable source of income, but a business partner took advantage of him and stole most of the profits. This left Joseph’s family in poverty and they had to sell the farm to pay their debts. From then on the Smith family moved constantly, experienced years of failed crops, and suffered from diseases such as the one that left Joseph Smith Jr. with an infected leg. The Restoration of the Church was not easy. The early Saints fought through persecution, famine, and disease because their faith was more important than anything else. When we sang “Oh How Lovely Was the Morning” and “Praise to the Man”, the context from Brother Holland’s history lesson made the hymns even more powerful. Overall it was a very informative and spiritually uplifting meeting.

Elder Neil Anderson visited us for our Tuesday devotional. The main theme from his talk was that “missionary work is not complex, but it is not easy”. He shared a powerful story about two Elders in Denmark who set a goal to have just one baptism by the end of one month. They found a family that for a couple weeks was progressing very well until they found a note at their door telling them to never come back. This family seemed like their only chance and to have them drop so suddenly was very discouraging. However, the Elders kept working hard until the end of the month even though the chances of even finding a new investigator were slim. Finally on the last night of the month at 11:00 PM they received a call from a man who had taken the discussions and wanted to be baptized while he lived in Pennsylvania. He had just been transferred to Denmark for work and wanted to know if he could still be baptized. I felt so happy for those Elders, even though it happened years ago and in a totally different mission. I can’t wait to experience for myself the joy of an investigator accepting baptism.

This past week I’ve been studying the scriptures Kolipoki-style, with the Tongan and English versions of the Book of Mormon side-by-side as well as a dictionary to make sure if a word translates literally or not. Studying this way has helped me so much with my vocabulary and grammar. It’s really interesting how sometimes a more archaic English word translates into something much simpler and more easily understood in Tongan. So not only does Kolipoki’s method help with learning Tongan, it makes the English scriptures easier to understand too.

On Wednesday Elder Mahe and I were preparing for one of our investigator lessons by searching for scripture verses about the Priesthood. Surprising to both of us, there was a lot more information on the Priesthood in the Bible than in the Book of Mormon. The week before we had studied the Plan of Salvation and the opposite was true; though the topic was discussed in both books, the Book of Mormon was much clearer and more detailed. The Book of Mormon does not replace the Bible; it supports and complements.  In fact, the prophets in the Book of Mormon very often back up their words with the Bible. This experience strengthened my testimony that the Bible and the Book of Mormon go hand-in-hand as testaments of Jesus Christ.

Exciting news from home! Katie and Bridger had their first child, Ezra Robert Park. I can’t wait to see him when I get back. Congratulations and good luck to my sister and brother-in-law.

Everyone in my district is so ready to start our work in Tonga! Just one more week and I’ll start packing up my bags. Toki sio!

Week 3 – MTC

1tmstx1
District 14-J with President Willes.

Another week down, only seventeen days to go!

We had our first TRC (Teaching Resource Center) on Saturday. Members, often return missionaries, volunteer to take lessons from missionaries at the MTC, and they’re instructed not to speak in English at all. Elder Mahe and I taught two RM’s who served in Tonga. After the lesson I shared with one of the Tongan instructors that I felt like I was right on the edge of being able to understand full sentences and not just recognize words. He told me the best way to understand others is to speak the language myself. At the time I could actually write sentences faster than I could speak them, so this past week I’ve focused more on speaking the language than reading and writing.

On Monday and Tuesday we said our goodbyes to the departing Malagasy, Marshallese, and Kiribati districts. Though I only knew them for a couple weeks I felt proud and glad that they finally completed their time at the MTC and could move on to serve in the real world.

When President Willes (president of our branch/zone) called me to be a zone leader, he promised me that as I served in my calling I would be blessed to not fall behind in my learning of Tongan. I have felt the effects of that promise already. The past few days I was in class about half as much because of meetings and responsibilites, but the language feels more and more comfortable. We held a zone orientation for the incoming missionaries on Wednesday night and one of the Sister Training Leaders from my district said the prayer. Later President Willes introduced himself to the new missionaries and noted that probably none of them understood the prayer but they understood the Spirit. When he said that I wondered, “Wait, wasn’t the prayer in English? Why wouldn’t they understand it?” Then I realized it had actually been in Tongan but I hear it so often now it seems as natural as English. I ended the meeting with my testimony in Tongan and President Willes remarked how good it was for only three weeks. Seeing their faces as I testified reminded me that only three weeks prior I was in their seats marveling at the previous zone leader’s Malagasy, expecting that level of mastery of the language to take me much longer. That was a pretty cool experience and another way President Willes’s promise was met, as well as the promise in D&C 46 that if we ask sincerely and obey His commandments we can receive gifts of the Spirit including the gift of tongues.

Our investigator lessons continue to improve every time. We taught the Plan of Salvation to both Elisapeti and Fisi’inaua this week. Elisapeti asked why we were teaching her about Adam and Eve from the Book of Mormon when she already knew it from the Bible. I explained that both the Bible and the Book of Mormon tell the same story, but the latter gives us more understanding of its role in the Plan of Salvation. The Book of Mormon explains the necessity of Adam and Eve transgressing God’s commandment not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, so they could progress and have children. Fisi’inaua asked why the Fall of Adam and Eve should be important to him, and though I hadn’t really thought about it before, I was able to answer that it explains our need for the Atonement – that the Fall placed everyone in an imperfect mortal state exposed to pain, disease and temptation, but that we can be redeemed by the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Originally I thought the best lessons would be those that go perfectly according to plan, but really they have been the ones in which we have a real conversation with the investigator and can answer questions we didn’t prepare for.

I’m grateful for all the support from home. Checking for letters and packages has never been so exciting before. Though there might be months at a time that I can’t receive email, I can still feel your support. ‘Alu a!

 

 

 

Week 2 – MTC

It’s P-day #3 and I’ve been in the MTC for sixteen days. Some say it flies by but I think it goes by just right. Maybe that will change when I’m about to leave.

With the Kiribati and Malagasy districts departing on Monday, a lot of leadership positions are being switched around. Elder Mahe and I are assigned to be the new zone leaders. Our duties include setting the agenda for sacrament meeting, recording branch council, interviewing district leaders, and carrying around a flip phone that can only receive calls from the front office asking us to find someone in the zone. Right now it’s not so bad but in a week we’re welcoming fifty-nine new Elders and Sisters into the zone. It will be a challenge meeting everyone and learning their names but thankfully Elder Mahe is super friendly and loves talking to new missionaries. We met with the old zone leaders in their dorm and participated in some kind of ritual where you drop a huge rubber-band ball then make your personal addition to the ball and write your name on it. They didn’t know how old it was but judging by the size it had to be at least a decade. They also gave us a bottle of bubble bath soap which we are to never use. The MTC has lots of quirky inside jokes.

The language is coming along great. We walk into lessons now with only the Tongan scriptures and a dictionary in case we can’t remember a word. Usually we can get by just asking each other. It may seem obvious but it’s so much easier to understand what the investigator is saying when you yourself are speaking your own thoughts and not memorized phrases. My main problem is that I listen especially for tense markers and pronouns to help make sense of a sentence, but these are often skipped in casual conversation. There are a few native Tongan Elders in our zone that I’ve tried speaking with and I can barely understand them because of how much slang they use. I imagine it will only get more difficult when I actually arrive in Tonga.

I can’t wait to depart but at the same time I want to hold on to the next four weeks because they’re all I get to prepare myself. I have a feeling I’ll get a big wake-up call when I land in Tonga!

‘Oku ke lava ‘o lau ‘eni? Toki sio!

 

 

Week 1 – MTC

 

Malo e lelei! It’s been one week and a couple days since I entered the MTC. A lot has happened in such a short time. We attended the Provo Temple, had Elder Bednar talk to us for Sunday devotional, met all of our amazing branch presidency, and played a lot of 4-square, but I feel impressed to go into detail on one specific story:

Since last Friday we have been teaching an investigator named Elisapeti (Tonganized version of Elizabeth). The first lesson was terrible. Elder Mahe was able to make some conversation but I could only read a few scripted lines I took from a book. We gave her a pamphlet and asked her to read it, I think. The next lesson was better, but still very scripted. I asked a couple questions and read some scriptures but couldn’t understand anything Elisapeti replied back with.

We had heard that most of the investigators were just actors, but Elisapeti seemed legit. Elder Mahe said her Tongan was really good and she seemed sincerely interested in our lessons. She must just be a good actor though because we found a Tongan hymnbook in our classroom with pictures of her wearing a missionary name tag. We laughed pretty hard about that. Unfortunately we didn’t take the third lesson so seriously because of that and it was almost as bad as the first.

On Tuesday Elisapeti walked into class and introduced herself as Sister Fotu, our new teacher. She laughed when we told her how we found out she was a fake investigator. Sister Fotu is studying social sciences at BYU to become a high school teacher and it really shows in class. She taught us grammar rules using hand gestures and had us walk outside pointing at people and describing what they were doing. She and Brother Fisher are both great teachers.

On Wednesday Sister Fotu walked in early to class and asked if we were ready to teach her “friend” Elisapeti. Elder Mahe and I had a rough sketch of what to say and ask, but no prepared script to rely on. I felt confident though and decided to bring only some vocabulary and my scriptures. We walked in, said hello and I asked if we could begin with prayer. Elder Mahe prayed and then I asked Elisapeti if she knew about the Atonement of Jesus Christ. She responded with “so-so”, so I explained that God prepared the Atonement because He loves us, and that through Christ we can repent and be made clean. Christ has suffered pains and sorrows so that He can help us overcome our trials and weaknesses. Elder Mahe read Ether 12:27, which talks about bringing our weaknesses to the Lord and turning them into strengths, then asked Elisapeti some questions which I don’t remember. Eventually he asked if she would commit to being baptized, to which she said no. However I invited her to attend church and testified that if she did, her faith and testimony would increase. She agreed. Elder Mahe and I were super happy even just for that. I then closed with a prayer where I thanked God for the Atonement and asked Him for strength and for the Holy Ghost to be with us. That was my first unscripted prayer in Tongan and as I closed, I felt the Spirit burn strongly within me. Even though my Tongan was slow and broken, and Elisapeti isn’t even a real investigator, I was so happy to be able to teach and invite her to church in a language I barely understood, but knew enough to be able to testify and invite the Spirit into our lesson.

The strength of the witness I received then reminded me of when I got home from school this last semester and emailed my stake president telling him I now desired to serve a mission. Although I had decided to serve a couple months previous, I didn’t receive a really strong witness that it was the right thing to do until I actually resumed the process of preparing my mission papers. I have learned a significant lesson from these experiences. Until you exercise faith and act, whether that be praying or submitting your mission papers, you will receive no witness that what you are doing is right. Testimony only comes from sincere, faithful action.

Hope everything is good out in the real world. Exactly one month until I leave for Tonga!