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Thursday, February 14, 2013


Kava trees as they grow.


The Tongan farmer looked at the visiting Paalangi.  “This is kava.  Kava is a royal crop, Brother.  I have more than 200 acres of it growing on my plantation.  This is how I shall provide an education for my children and for my grandchildren, from the sale of kava. We make juice from the roots.  Will you honor me by trying some?”

Squeezing the juice from kava roots.

The Paalangi looked long at the Tongan.  “Brother Vai, I have never seen kava before.  But I have just had a prompting from the Holy Ghost that kava is not good for the body. I shall not drink any today.  Still, I thank you for your invitation, and your good will.”

Dried kava roots

 The Paalangi left, and Brother Vai sat down to think.  Then he stood, and thought some more.  And then he walked, and thought some more.  Much, much later that night, he went to bed.

 The next morning, Brother Vai called his plantation workers together.  "We will uproot every kava tree on this plantation,” he said, stunning his workers.  “I will not grow kava any more.”

The workers would not confront their employer, but later they complained among themselves.  "He can't be serious!" said one.  "The other plantation owners will say he's gone mad," said another.  "What is he thinking?  He will have no money, and we will have no jobs!" protested a third.  Still, they obeyed their employer.  He was firm; every kava tree had to go.  

Many weeks later, the last of the kava trees was removed from the ground.  The workers watched in amazement as every tree was chopped up for firewood, and the valuable root systems burned.  Now that the job was finished, the plantation owner explained himself to his staff.

“I trust this Paalangi who came to our plantation.  I know in my heart he is a man of God. I know that he is inspired of God, and I trust his judgment based upon that inspiration.  He was the one who told me that kava is not good for the body.  I will not grow anything that is harmful to anyone’s body.  I will apply in my life the principles that I know are true; and one of those principles is to never harm another person.”

The workers now understood why Brother Vai had chosen to uproot his crops.  But how would he pay them?  How would they manage a plantation with no crops?

A banana grove.
Brother Vai started over.  He had banana trees, and bananas would always sell.  They would plant more banana trees.  Little by little, more crops were added: mangoes, melons, pineapples, root crops – and sooner than any of the workers had expected, the plantation was filled with beneficial vegetables and fruits.  And Brother Vai never let any workers go – they managed together.  The plantation thrived as never before; the weather seemed to support every planting, every harvest, and the workers came to understand the value of applying their faith in both word and deed.

This is what kava drink looks like.  It used to be used only
in ceremonies,but now is popularly used as a pastime.

I was told this story by the grandson of Brother Vai, whose entire family uses this story to teach each other the value of trusting in our leaders.  I don’t know who the Paalangi in the story was; it doesn’t matter.   What matters is that Brother Vai perceived the inspiration of a leader, and trusted enough in that inspiration to take the drastic step of destroying his own crops and then replacing them, without knowing for himself the reason.  (It is now common knowledge that kava is a mild hallucinogenic, is addictive, and can cause severe liver damage.)  Brother Vai , his children and grandchildren are strong, contributing members of the Church here in Tonga, and provide leadership in many wards and branches.  It is our pleasure to know and work with a few members of this family.  

Monday, February 11, 2013


In the last two weeks, six people whom I love have died.  I write this not for sympathy, but just for perspective.  I know that at my age I should begin to expect death to visit my circle, but the cumulative effect of six deaths in so short a time has made me much more distracted from my duties than I wanted to be.

Let me say here that I do not despair for those who died.  I have a strong conviction that we are eternal beings, that death is the crossing of a river into a new life in a better place.  And I am convinced that one day I will see these friends again, and we will experience a joy that I cannot yet express.  But that doesn’t mean it’s easy when you’re the one left behind, and my heart breaks for the families of my dead friends.  

Three of these recent deaths were not totally unexpected; these friends had been battling diseases, one for years, the others for only a short time, but in those cases death was acceptable, since it was seen as a relief from the pain that a terminal illness brings, and release from suffering.  In fact, one friend’s last few months were absolutely inspirational:  he purchased for a smaller home for his wife, one she could keep up without him, he got her a new puppy, since they were both dog lovers, he spent Christmas with all of his children and grandchildren, spending time with each one individually, and he expended what energy he had in service to others – helping a friend paint his shutters, or doing some home repairs for another friend.   He truly set his house in order before he left.

The other three deaths have been shocking, mostly because those who died were relatively young – anywhere from 27 to 53.  Two of these deaths have been here in Tonga – a young father collapsed in his front yard, and died en route to the hospital, and the brother of one of our teachers lost his battle with an infection at the hospital.  I attended both funerals, and found comfort in the feelings communicated there, both in word and music.  And as the days go by, I try to find little moments to succor the family members, when they will allow me to do so.  These Tongans are saints in every sense of the word – they bear tragedy with such dignity and faith that I feel selfish expressing my next point.

The hardest part about being so far away from my other friends is that I can’t be there to throw my arms around them.  I am sad because at this distance, I am really of no help.  I can’t be there to walk into a kitchen and just do the dishes.  I can’t be there to take the kids for an afternoon.  I can’t be there to bring them a warm loaf of bread and a shoulder to cry on.  I can’t be there to spend time telling “remember when” stories.  I can’t be there to share a moment with them, to lend them what strength I may have, to offer my love through my actions.  When I came to serve this mission, I thought I knew what sacrifices I would be making.  Surprise.  Now the sacrifice comes in not being able to serve those I’d want to serve in their time of need.

But since I am here serving, I will ask the Lord to give my blessings to those I can’t reach right now.  So Mele, Ana Tema, Sally, Mel, Jody, Robert, please know that you will get the blessings you need to help you adjust to the holes in your hearts.  The holes will not heal in this life, but I am familiar enough with death to say that you get used to the holes being there.  

I know from my own experience that prayer – heartfelt, fervent prayer – is effective.  So I assure you that you are all in my prayers.   I am absolutely sure that we will met Tevita, Simi, Harold, Jim, Richard and Kathleen again; I know with every fiber of my being that we continue on after this life, that our Father in Heaven will bring us home again.  My prayers will be that all of us who lose loved ones will have the patience, the endurance, the acceptance, and the determination to live the rest of our lives so that we are worthy to greet our family members when we finally cross that grand river.