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Monday, August 29, 2016

Centennial Celebration of the LDS Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission 2016

We were invited to join with past Mission Presidents of the Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission to celebrate 100 years since it began. This was a great opportunity to meet with our returned missionaries who still resided in Tonga with their families. The celebration was scheduled from 8-14 August 2016.

We lived in Tonga from 1974-1977 and again from 1982-1992. Isileli Tupou worked at Church Schools Tonga and then he served as Missionary President the last three years we were there. We had arrived in Tonga with our daughter Liana Olivia and then welcomed Robert James who was born in the Viola Hospital in Tonga. When we left toget more schooling at BYU Provo, we added Joel Aholelei, and then Jacob Manuia Epikopo who was born in American Samoa when we lived there for two years before returned to Tonga. Many of our missionaries remember our children and asked about them. 

Our flight itinerary to Tonga included San Francisco, New Zealand and then Tonga. It was quite a long trip. When we arrived in Tonga August 4, 2016, it was a beautiful evening. I was mesmerized by the vibrant stars since there were few lights to detract from them. We were greeted by several of our missionaries who had been waiting a few hours since the flight was late. They brought leis and very cheerful countenances. 

As we drove from the airport I noticed a field of solar panels. This was new since I had been there last. Also, many of village shops are now run by Chinese. 

The committee from our mission reunion group had prepared a place for us to stay at Liahona High School in house 25. This was next door to where we lived nearly 42 years earlier. We had an assigned driver, Elder Sione Teputepu who did us a big favor, and we were given a car to use during our stay by one of our missionaries who is now a Noble of the Realm. Fakatou Fifita. Others in our reunion committee included Mele Teputepu, Maile Muti and Saia Neiufi, Mele Fonua Funaki, Andy Lui, Saipalesi Melani Foster, Lisiate Tupola and Vini (Alvin) and Mokihana Sika. We are so grateful for their many hours of preparation and many others that helped make us comfortable. Annette Tuifua and Alipate Taufa provided us all with reunion t-shirts that everyone enjoyed. 

Upon our arrival to our temporary home, we found the missionaries had stocked it well with food and other necessities. We were surprised the next morning to hear the pouring rain. It continued for three days to where it was nearly flooding. Of course, it did not stop the festivities that had been planned for months. In Tonga it is considered a blessing from God when it rains for an occasion. Many had prayed for relief from a recent drought and here it was. I believe it rained more in one morning than it had during all of spring and summer in Utah.

The next morning was the Sabbath Day and church. We joined President Saia Neiufi and Maile Muti at one of his wards in Matahau. It started with Relief Society and ended with Sacrament meeting. Isi was asked to bless a baby he just met and shared his testimony. I had a difficult time staying awake due to jet lag. I noticed the roosters crowing during church. Roads had huge potholes in them the further we got  away from the capital, Nuku’alofa, which were reminiscent of when we first arrived in Tonga in 1974. All stores close on Sunday. Our missionaries made sure we had delicious and nutritious food to eat since we had just arrived and had no chance to shop. We enjoyed young coconut, papaya, oranges, apples and milo with fresh bread and anchor butter. We used transformers and adapters for our electronics. 

Sunday evening, the 7th of August, we had a wonderful fireside with our missionaries together with President and Sis Uasila’a who served after us. Uasila’as were more light hearted in their presentation and the missionaries were enjoying a fun time. Isi asked our missionaries to share tender mercies from their mission. Many of our missionaries shared spiritual experiences they had had. Isi challenged them to record their testimony of the Savior and share it with their children. He also challenged them to write the tender mercies stories as part of their family history. We spent lots of time taking photos with our missionaries and met many of their family members.

Monday, the 8th of August we were invited by President and Sister Neiufi to lunch at The Wave in Ma’ufanga by the old Tonga Service Center (PBO). A Centennial Memorial Monument Dedication was planned at 3:00 pm at Tatakamotonga. We arrived in a light rain right before the King and Queen arrived. All the other leaders were seated under tents and I imagined a smirk or two. We set the pattern for the rest of the festivities. We arrived just before the royalty.

Viliami Toluta’u had prepared a beautiful monument that was unveiled after presentation talks were given by Eric B. Shumway and Viliami. There was a Choir that sang Hallelujah and the dedicatory prayer was given by Elder ‘Aisake K. Tukuafu, Member of the Seventy. There were cultural dances and some of the attendees got “mafana” and joined in. A lady with a large umbrella smashed it to smithereens and a lady laid in the mud for Prince Ata to stand on her. Because he didn’t want to hurt her, he refrained, but other people stood on her! We met some of our friends, Riley Moffat, Sione and Tita Tafuna, John Mannering, Faite Niutupuivaha and many other of our returned missionaries. 

After we returned home from Tatakamotonga I discovered that I had been bitten by fleas. When we first lived in Tonga I would usually return from the small villages with flea bites that are way worse than mosquito bites. The animals (pigs and dogs) carry the fleas and for some reason, they find their way under my clothes. So I was miserably itchy during the next few days. Out came the cortisone cream and antihistamines I had come prepared with.

In the evening we took our own mission reunion committee to an Italian Restaurant The Italian for dinner to express our gratitude for all their work. We enjoyed pizza and delicious entrees while sharing funny stories. When Isi went to pay for the food, it had already been taken care of.  We never found out who paid for it.

During our short stay, I noticed that nearly everyone had phones and of course they loved taking pictures with them. I inquired where they got them and most had been sent from relatives overseas. There were no iPhones, but mostly Samsung for which they purchased sim cards and used them until they ran out. 

Another change from when we lived in Tonga was the number of foreign missionaries. There were many more palangi missionaries including sisters. We had only been allowed ten palangi elders at a time and no sisters. The palangi sisters also parted their hair and braided it as is the tradition. 

Tuesday, the 9th of August, there was a Cultural Presentation at the Royal Palace. I decided to stay home and rest. Isi said they stood out in the rain most of the time while presentations were made to the monarch. Later, they were invited into the palace and got to talk to the King and Queen. Isi spoke with Queen Nanasipau’u.

Our Mission Reunion Committee had planned a dance at the Havelu Cultural Hall. We arrived to find them still decorating, and it was fun watching them blowing up balloons teasing each other. The first part of the get-together, Isi invited any one of our missionaries who wanted to share m missionary experiences to come up. So many wonderful stories were recalled. Afterward, the dance began and others not in our mission joined in the dance and soon it became very full of merry makers. Some were dressed in Tongan attire and some in the latest Western fashions. We met many more of our missionaries who had not come to other events. Because of the humidity, my hair suffered during our trip. Even though I would iron it down, it frizzed back up quickly. There was an older couple at the dance who we discovered were the parents of one of our missionaries, Elder Eukaliti. His father would get “mafana” and “get down” on the dance floor. His wife would often sit down and he would just continue on dancing. We had way too many pictures taken with our missionaries, friends, and relatives, and had a grand time. 

On Wednesday, the 10th of August, we traveled to the market in Nuku’alofa. It had changed very much since I left in 1992. It now has a roof covering the large area. There is one section for handicrafts and one for the produce. There were Chinese selling their vegetables and some I didn’t recognize at all. We searched for souvenirs for our grandchildren and ate fish and chips at 3 Men’s Fast-food. We also explored a few new shops on the main road and Isi bought some new sandals. 

As part of the Centennial Celebration, there was a Youth Cultural Event at the Teufaiva Stadium. Again, we arrived right before the King and Queen. I felt very underdressed, but it was a bit cold and still rainy when we arrived. I felt very self-conscious, feeling judged by the other leader's wives, but I survived the ordeal. Somehow we seemed like the only uninformed former mission presidents and it was an unwelcome frustration to me.

Everyone stood and sang the National Anthem. The police escort arrived, followed by motorcycles and then a big black van from which the King and Queen emerged with the Royal Guards shielding them from the rain with their umbrellas. We sat just to the right of the royal entourage. We had all been praying for a break in the rain for the event. Fortunately, it did stop completely for the two hours while youth from the LDS Stakes presented dances from Polynesia, including Ancient Tonga, Tahiti, Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa, Fiji and present-day Tonga. It was sort of like Polynesian Cultural Center only the whole rugby field was covered. It was very impressive and the costumes were beautiful. Several of the dancers sat in puddles of water, especially during the Samoan section. It began to rain again when the presentation was finished.

On Thursday, the eleventh of August we arose to blue skies. We took the opportunity to walk around Liahona High School. There was a Centennial Luncheon at LHS in the backfield. The rain had let up but they had large tents erected to protect us. The Royal Family attended again so nearly everything revolved around them. The stakes had been assigned to feed all the visitors. I enjoyed lupulu and other delicious traditional food. All went well until I suffered from bouts of diarrhea for the next couple of days. I guess I’m not used to the local food anymore. There was special entertainment provided including a tau’olunga by one of the current Mission President’s (Tuione) daughter who is related to Isi. The committee asked that the wives of the Mission Presidents dance, so I pretended to know what I was doing and ended it with a bow. Isi gave a Vote of Thanks to the Centennial Committee in Tongan and he did a great job according to the leaders. 

We had a little time to walk around as evening approached. I noticed there were flying foxes (bats) landing in the avocado tree behind our old home. We took many pictures around Liahona Campus where we had lived for 10 years. One inconvenience we had while we were there was the lack of Wi-fi. It used to be available at the school as well as the chapels. The locals would stand around those places just to have access to the Wi-fi until it got very expensive for the church. Some would even break into the chapels to use it. So they cut it off. To communicate with my family, I had to go into the LHS office and ask them to connect my phone so I could send a message. Thankfully they allowed us to a couple of times.

On Friday, 12th of August, we went early to the temple with our missionaries. One whole session and an earlier one were filled with our stalwart RMs. I had taken several of our family names and the temple returned them to us all finished. What a great blessing it was! Then we took pictures and later had a lunch at the Nauvoo Cultural Hall. Many of our missionaries shared stories and memories from our mission who didn’t get a chance on the previous Sunday at the fireside. There was great food provided by our missionaries, and we had a grand time. Some of our missionaries played ping pong and we met several of their spouses and children. We were presented with a beautiful picture of Christ, the temple, and the school, which commemorated 100 years of the mission in Tonga. It was made out of 2-dimensional tapa. We felt very humbled and grateful.

Later that evening, we attended a Centennial Ball which was held in the same place as the feast. The field was decorated with gold balloons and there was an elegantly decorated stage for the former mission presidents and other dignitaries. Music was provided by a live band as well as a DJ. Many guests were decked out in beautiful ball gowns. The Grand March began as each couple paraded around the circle until all were included. At the interval, each mission president and wife were called up and presented with intricate leis. I noticed that we were on the left side of the middle which meant we are amongst the older set of missionaries. They had one dance just for former mission presidents and wives. We met some of the ones we had not personally met before. We were excited to see Lani Folau at the dance. She had been our devoted helper during our mission and we were so happy to see her. The night was perfect as we danced under the stars. 

Saturday the 13th August was a free day. We returned to town again for site seeing. There is a park with playground equipment that was packed with children. Much construction is going on and I saw the first crane in Tonga near the Treasury. Langa Fonua Handicraft Store beaconed to me and I bought some more souvenirs. We went to a gas station to fill the car. They still pump your gas in Tonga, but it is very expensive and you have to pay cash. When we returned to our lodging, we did some washing. There was a washing machine on the back porch and then we hung our clothes on a clothesline in the sun. Mele and Sione Teputepu came to teach Isi how to make lungou’a. They stayed and visited for quite some time while it cooked and we ended up with a yummy dessert.

Isi’s father built a little house for Lu'isa in Kahoua and we went to check on it. There is a family living in it who are from the Pasi family. They had a picture of Pokileti Pasi with her parents and Isi. They allowed us to come in and check the condition of the house. There were many holes in the ceiling and walls. They said when it rains it comes through and they catch it in buckets. The house needs a lot of work to make it more livable. Two pieces of furniture, a large bookcase, as well as a round table my parents gave us are still in the house. The family are doing their best to take care of it, but it is nearly beyond repair. 

As evening approached, we drove around Matangiake, which is across from Liahona High School. We ran into the Naeata family and Sione Tafuna who is building a new home there. There is a large tower which belongs to the Tonga Communications. We witnessed an incredible sunset which started out gold and then progressed to bright red. It was breathtaking. As we returned, we noticed the large fields near the Nauvoo Chapel being used for rugby and volleyball.

Sunday morning we attended President Alvin (Vini) Sika’s stake (Isi’s cousin). He had let us know that morning that we would be speaking. I was tired and quite nervous. I went on temporary strike and had decided not to wear the expected Tongan attire. Prince Ata was seated at the sacrament table and most people that spoke bowed to him as they went up or acknowledged him at the beginning of their talk (although it was not expected since he joined the church). The theme of the conference was “Family” and I decided to share something about my mostly Tongan granddaughter Ileina who often reminds us to pray. Most people in the church in Tonga know of her great-grandfather Pres. Paletu’a. Then I told about the loving decision made by our son, Joel and his wife Meilani to welcome Lily Ruth into our family. We have all received many blessings and lessons of charity she brought with her. Afterwards, we had many more photos taken. We met a missionary couple from England who work with the Pathway program.

The Stake provided an elegant lunch for the visitors. They served cordon bleu and mushroom steak with all the fixings. Then each of the mission presidents stood to express their appreciation for the occasion. Elder and Sister Makai from Spanish Fork were at the luncheon. They know Janet (my sister) and Ned as well as Liana (my daughter) and Siope. 

I was exhausted and took a nap. Then we drove to the Centennial Devotional in the Havelu Stake Center where we had been earlier that day. A video of Elder John H. Groberg was played since he was unable to attend due to illness. He expressed his love for the Royal Family for their support of the coming of the LDS church and its growth over the 100 years. Then other former mission presidents who currently reside in Tonga spoke as well as Pres. Butler who is related one of the first missionaries who brought the church to Tonga and Pres. Shumway who holds a royal title, Faivaola.

I discovered my first large cockroach when we returned home. I didn’t run and scream like when I first arrived in Tonga, but flattened it and took a picture, poor thing. My reflexes had gotten pretty good over the years living in the islands. I had expected to see many more insects during our stay, but was quite pleased we had not. 

The week had gone by so fast and it was time to leave. Many of our missionaries met us at the airport. It was a happy but sad time knowing we were leaving them. More fun pictures were taken and gratitude expressed for all they had done for us. Isi personally thanked Honorable Fakatou Fifita (Lord Tu’ilakepa), who had been the chair of the reunion committee and made sure all the activities were carried out. Thank you to all who made our mission reunion a very memorable one.