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Friday, September 28, 2012


Another senior missionary in front of one
of our favorite flowering bushes.
There are seasons in Tonga, just like everywhere else.  That was one of the first lessons I had to learn - mangoes are not available year round, neither is any other fruit.  What?  The pineapples are finished?  Oh yes, this is an island, and since Tonga imports the highest proportion of food of any nation in the Pacific, we still have to wait until the next ship arrives to get the next shipment of milk, or wait for the rainy season to end to plant new tomatoes.

Keep in mind that the fence in front of the bush is about
6 feet high.  I love the way the bush just grew right
through the chain link.
The nice part about "winter" in Tonga is that you still get flowers, just different ones, like the yellow ones above or the purple ones at right.  I have no idea what most of them are called, but that doesn't keep me from enjoying their colors and their fragrances.  This purple bush at right is about 8 feet tall, and reminded me of some of the wild azaleas I used to see in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Flowers are planted purposefully, as well, and this amaryllis, which I photographed in March, finally succumbed to torrential rains in late  August.  The petals retained their delicate colors even after the blooms were on the ground.    This was in the garden of the LDS church across the street from us.

This picture at right shows the plantings in front of the mission office building - my favorite plant is the bush covered in tiny white blossoms.  Too bad the blossoms only lasted about 10 days.  But what  a wonderful fragrance!

And I love the way everything just grows together here.  In this picture there are at least five different plants sharing the same square foot of soil.  And they all seem to just thrive together.

The yellow leaves on the tops of plants are new growth -
the leaf comes first, then the chlorophyll! And yes, that's
a fallen coconut on the road.  They're everywhere.

The best plantings are in front of more established homes, where time has been the best ally to beauty.  I love this garden - this family has no other place than the front balcony to hang up clothes out of the rain, but the beauty of the front garden is not diminished by the realities of daily living.

And families are not shy about planting in front of their properties, either - this roadside fence is a simply a defining line between two gardens, rather than a boundary of property.

But the biggest winter surprise has been the amazing number of poinsettias here on this tropical island.  Red, white, and pink poinsettias are everywhere - some forming a wonderful hedge along the road, others just stretching up over other bushes (up to 8 feet in the air) and providing pops of red and white mixed in a hundred shades of green.

And then there are the giants.  This is another senior missionary hiding behind a leaf of kape (kah-pay), a root crop. A field of kape fills up a lot of space in a hurry!  And it invites certain senior missionaries to get silly...

The other giant leaves behind me are banana tree leaves.

The four of us snapped pictures, posing as Ninja Turtles and other such, but just so we could fit in some classics, here I am as the fairy queen from Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream!" Tah-dah!

The greens, reds, purples, yellows, and other colors of Tonga delight the eye and serve to remind me of the endless variety of beauty in this world.  What a wonderful place - just like so many other wonderful places on this planet.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


Imagine yourself for a moment as an 18-year old boy, named Pahulu.  You have experienced debilitating pain in every step for months, yet the doctors have no idea what is causing the pain.  You have managed to get a pair of crutches, even though they are few and far between in this country.  That helps you get around the house, but you don’t have the endurance for much more than that.

Oh, and you’re not living with your own family.  Your parents have thrown you out of your family home, because you joined the Mormon Church.  You have been taken in by Lopeti and Luseane, a generous young couple who have no children of their own, but who share their home with you and six other young adult men whose circumstances are not so different from your own.  You get wonderful love and support from everyone around your, yet your heart longs for your own family.

You long for them, but your own family feels only animosity towards you.  When Lopeti informs your parents of your undiagnosed, painful condition, their reaction is to go to the family cemetery and dig your grave.  Then when you do not die in a short time, the family turns to prayer – praying that you will suffer greatly, because of your choice of religion.  Lopeti chides your parents:  “Where is your faith?  Why do you not hope for your son to be healed?”  Your parents have no answer.  But you hang on to Lopeti’s promise to your parents: “I will stand by him and support him with all my heart no matter what happens.”

This house is typical of most Tongan homes. 
Lopeti and Luseane both work long hours for meager pay, and you try to be as independent as you can, though you know you take a lot of their time.  You watch the other young men in Lopeti’s and Luseane’s home.  Joseph rises before dawn each morning to cook food to sell, so he can finance a full-time mission for the Church.  The others, David, Jeffry, Liva, Maikolo and Ensini, do what they can to bring in some money to help defray the cost of their meals.  Lopeti and Luseane do not expect rent; this home is for all nine people, as long as it is needed.  Lopeti says, “It’s hard to be a father,” and your mind completes the sentence:  “especially trying to be a father to sons who have already been raised by someone else.”  Yes, when something gets broken in the house, all of you still stiffen in expectations of being beaten, but Luseane simply says, “Let’s get a broom and clean it up.”  You hear Lopeti say frequently that “hands are for blessing, not beating,” but it’s going to take a while longer to stop being fearful when accidents happen.  Not being beaten, not being blamed when things go wrong, is still a new experience for all of you.

The Mormon chapels in Tonga are modest, but sturdy. 

Because you don’t want to be discouraged by the malice of your birth family, you have turned off your cell phone and given it to Lopeti.  Better to have no contact than negative contact, at least for now.  Perhaps their hearts will soften in time.  And Lopeti strengthens you many times a day, reminding you to seek solace in prayer, to remain faithful and strong in the face of this adversity, to forgive your family for their ill will towards you and try to feel only love for them.  You receive a priesthood blessing at the hands of a senior missionary, which provides comfort and strength, if not healing.  Now you can find peace even in pain, because you know in your heart that you are safe here, you are protected and loved, and you will be the better for this experience.  So you smile, and your face is an expression of calm assurance, your demeanor one of acceptance and endurance.

You know that Lopeti is a man of God, for he has shared with you a dream he had some years ago.  His father also opposed Lopeti’s choice to join the Mormon Church, and died a few years before Lopeti served a mission.  In the missionary training center in Provo, Utah, Lopeti dreamed he saw his father dressed in rags and in prison. His father pleaded with him to free him:  “Only you have the power and authority to free me.”  After a long conversation with the President of the missionary training center, Lopeti went to the Provo temple and did vicarious work for his deceased father, to provide him the opportunity to choose, in the next life, which path to take.  A few nights later Lopeti dreamed of his father again, but this time his father was dressed all in white, and had tears of joy in his eyes as he held his arms out to his son, saying “thank you, thank you.”  That experience helped Lopeti build his life around serving others.  Not for the first time, you close your eyes in gratitude for Lopeti and Luseane, realizing how blessed you are to be the object of their service.  You echo the words of Lopeti’s father:  “Thank you, thank you.”

Lopeti, Luseane, with Pahulu (seated) and two of the other young men in their home. 
You smile as you think of the way Lopeti and Luseane have applied one particular scripture in their lives:  “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  (See Matthew 25:40.) And you hope you will be healed, so that you can serve in the same way that these two wonderful people do.  You hear Lopeti’s words echo in your ears: “When you see someone in need, you’ll feel the Spirit prompt you.  That may be Christ right there, waiting for you to serve Him.”  And you understand more fully how to be Christlike, because you see it around you every day.