Jim and I chose to come to Tonga. We continue to choose to be here. We choose to work in education. We choose to strive with these teachers, to help them make progress in becoming more effective teachers. We choose to work with some very humble people, people who don’t need material items in order to choose to be happy themselves. We choose to struggle to understand these people whose social habits are so different, who mature at different rates, who come to expect very different things of themselves than do most middle-class Americans. And we continue to choose to learn from these people, to listen to them, to try to understand their viewpoints, so that we can be effective in our work with them.
But there is another missionary couple working here in Tonga who did not volunteer for this country. They simply put in their application with the comment “send us where we are needed.” Elder and Sister Bean are a humble, loving, considerate pair of people who would blossom anywhere they were planted, but there is a design apparent in their assignment here.
Some years back, Elder Bean’s father Eugene, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, got to the point where he needed a companion caregiver in his home. The family hired a ‘Ofa, a young mother who happened to be Tongan, to come live with Eugene. She brought her young children with her, and was paid to attend to Eugene’s needs. The experience of having young children in his home made Eugene’s last years very sweet; there were days when he didn’t know the woman and her children, but he didn’t care, for he had people around him to offer his love to, and to receive their love in return. The bond between Eugene and this young family grew very strong.
In time, Eugene passed away, and in his memory, ‘Ofa gave the family a gift; a very warm mink blanket. Elder and Sister Bean took the generous gift, and placed it across the guest bed in the basement bedroom, where its warmth would be appreciated. The blanket became known as the ‘Ofa blanket – along with being her name, ‘ofa is the Tongan word for love.. The blanket became a favorite both of the Bean’s small grandchildren and their adult children, and was prized by all in the family.
The Beans filled out their mission application, and were called to serve here in Tonga. Smiling at the memory of their association with the young Tongan mother, they looked forward to serving others like her. But when they got to their little apartment here at Liahona, they had one more surprise. The ‘ofa blanket was spread across their bed.
No, it wasn’t the exact same blanket, but it was the twin of the one that had represented the love of a Tongan family for Eugene. Now Elder and Sister Bean have a sweet reminder of the hearts of the Tongans in their home here, and that reminder has strengthened their commitment to serve.
Another senior missionary, in her parting message to us last Sunday night, counseled us that “a lot of Palangi people try to change Tonga. You won’t change Tonga, but Tonga will change you.” The longer I am here, the truer that statement becomes. We thought we had chosen Tonga, but perhaps, just perhaps, like the Beans, Tonga chose us.