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Tuesday, June 25, 2013


What follows is a story provided to me by one of our teachers.  I know there are many arguments out there about the value of education, but when you start from nothing, the value is hard to discount.  Here is Mo's story:

I grew up on a small island of about 500 people.  The island is only 3 miles by 5 miles.  It was hard for me to see the importance of education.  How could I use education in my daily life on this island?  What I saw was that I could raise pigs, chickens, cows to eat, grow root crops, vegetables and fruits, and go fishing any time I wanted.  However, every day I went to my small elementary school, and my mom told me to study hard so I could have a better life, and life would be much  easier for me.

Pigs range freely on all the islands of Tonga.

A field prepared for planting taro, a root crop.

A bull resting.

Bringing lobster to a feast.
 No one need starve in Tonga.

Her counsel and her loving wishes for a better life for me really touched my heart, yet I saw no reason to gain a better education since no one in my family has any education.  The only person with any education was the teacher.  I was not sure what education she had, but I thought she had to have some kind of training.

I looked at my immediate family.  None of them had finished high school.  There seemed to be no reason for me to have an education.  If all of my siblings and my parents could survive without education, then so could I.  I did not bother to ask whether or not their life was easy.  Everything seemed okay without education.  So I went to school just to make my mom happy, and just to play with my friends.  I did not see any future in an education.

Somehow, I made it into high school.  I was suspended and dropped out, but I never told my parents.  To this day, they do not know anything about it.  I came to the main island to live with my older sister, and when I was suspended, I told my parents that I wanted to transfer from the government school to the Church school.  But I was unmotivated.  I had been suspended because I did not want to go to school.  Still, I did not want to hurt my parents’ feelings.

I recall my conversation with my parents.  They shared with me their sadness at the report of an older brother of mine who dropped out of school.  I thought at that moment that I had to change, to make my parents proud and happy instead of sad.  So I went back to school and graduated.  I thought that I had finished all the education I would ever need.

This statue, called "Education", stands
in front of Liahona High School.
Then I went on a mission.  I saw the “big picture” – that life without education is a lot harder than life with education.  I was excited to go back to school after my mission.  I was very grateful that I had completed high school and could attend college.

Now I have a Bachelor’s degree, and I would love to further my education when possible.  I think of my immediate family and my extended family back on the island – it’s really hard to see the purpose of education when life is all about raising pigs, cutting down coconuts, fishing and harvesting root crops.  I am the only one in my family with a college degree.  My relatives have not seen the big picture.  They do not appreciate how education makes a difference in your life.  Education may not be that important on a little island, but when you leave that island, life will be very hard without an education.

I live an easy life because of education.  My older brothers and sisters sacrifice every day just to survive, working their crops and trying to sell to other people who have no money to buy anything.  I have no regrets about going to school and college, but I know that my siblings regret the choice they made to drop out of school.  I know for a fact that they push their children to get as much schooling as possible, but just like me, their children see no purpose for education.  I try to help them by comparing my life and my siblings’ lives, so they can understand how much easier my life is than their parents’ lives.  Sometimes I feel like it’s working.  I hope they will start a revolution for prosperity, and put an end to our non-education family.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


This is what the highway looked like all the way from 
the airport to the palace last year, when the former 
king's body was returned to Tonga.
The culture in Tonga is all about respecting those of superior rank, whether that means parents, the royal family, government leaders, church leaders, or even students who have been given particular titles.  Commoners defer to the nobility here, and everyone defers to the royal family.  Children are expected to show respect for all adults – and like the Navajo tribe of the American Southwest, that includes NOT making eye contact when being spoken to directly.  So when the Protestant minister calls upon a family, they all sit in their home never looking at the minister.  Coming from my background of non-verbal and verbal communication levels, that habit has been hard for me to accept.  Fortunately, it’s okay for Palangis to look at people – even the king – so I haven’t been thrown in jail or anything for looking at someone at the wrong time!

Okay, a little more explanation, then the story.  Students called “Prefects” here help out like student government officers in the U.S., but there are also offices of Head Boy, Head Girl, and Student Body President.  And these officers are shown the same kind of respect by other students that adult leaders are shown by the general population – unless their teachers decide to change the culture.

The Liahona flag and uniform - two white stripes on a 
field of green.  The two stripes remind students to learn 
by study and also by faith.

That is exactly what is happening here at Liahona.  In their Seminary (religion) classes, teachers have been helping students model themselves after Jesus Christ, who was a leader by being a servant.  In fact, the teachers have named the leadership model the Servant Leader.  Time after time, students have been taught about how Jesus Christ healed the lame and blind, patiently taught and explained principles of power, and led by example in serving others.  Here is a story about how one student put those stories into practice.

Most student gatherings in Tonga look like this, with leaders and speakers on a raised stand in a gymnasium, and students on plastic chairs.  Multipurpose areas are the norm here.

Malakai (Malachi) was the student body president at Liahona, and he, along with several other student 
government officers, attended a leadership conference for all the high schools on the main island of Tongatapu.  One of the prefects from another (Protestant) school invited Malakai to eat lunch with his student body presidency, so Malakai took with him the Head Boy and one of the male prefects.  Instead of sitting down first, Malakai got the box lunches for his two assistants, opened them and handed each of them a fork and a napkin.  He happened to look over at the two assistants across the table – the ones from the other high school – and saw the confusion on their faces, as they brought their president his lunch, fork and napkin.  During the lunch, one of them reached with a napkin to brush some food off their president’s chin.  Malakai smiled, took his napkin, and reached over to one of his assistants to brush his chin, again noting the confused expressions on all three faces on the other side of the table.  When they finished eating, one of the assistants on the other side of the table collected the empty boxes and forks, napkins, and soda cans, and took everything to the trash, while his president remained seated.  But it was Malakai who stood up, collected everything from his own side of the table, and put it in the trash. 
Some of the food was prepared by other students.
 Finally, the other boys could stand it no longer.  “Do you not teach respect at Liahona?” they asked. All three Liahona boys assured them that respect was an important part of their learning.  “But Malakai, why did you stand to take the rubbish to the trash?  Why was it you who opened the napkins for your assistants, and laid those napkins in their laps?  Why did you get their food, and wipe their faces?” 

Malakai smiled.  This was his opportunity.  “Do you remember how the Lord Jesus Christ taught us to lead?” he asked.  “Do you remember how he led others?”  The other boys, well-schooled in the New Testament, recited examples of Jesus teaching quietly, healing people and doing good to others.   Then Malakai taught them: “Jesus was a leader by example.  When he washed his disciples’ feet, he was teaching them to serve.  When he healed the sick, he was showing us how to serve.  When he answered the same questions over and over without becoming impatient, he was showing us how to serve. I want to be a Servant Leader like Jesus Christ, so I try to follow his example of showing respect to all of God’s children.”

The other boys had no reply.

The Church schools here in the Pacific have been challenged to be the agents of change in their cultures.  This story, at the very least, illustrates one moment of change.

Saturday, June 1, 2013


A holiday is coming up here in Tonga.  June 4th is Emancipation Day.  This marks two important milestones in this country’s history, and most Tongans regard it with the same kind of attitude that Americans have for Independence Day.

Okay, to give you a feeling for the reason it’s called “Emancipation Day” I need to give you something of a history lesson.  This little tiny country is the ONLY country in the South Pacific never to have been colonized by any European power, although there was a treaty of protection between Tonga and Great Britain that was valid from 1900 through 1970.  Today, Tonga operates independently, but in partnership with other nations.  For example, there are Tongan soldiers serving in U.S. and British units in Afghanistan.  There are agreements in place with Australia and New Zealand for Tongans to pursue higher education there.  And so on…

Tonga's first King, who took the Christian name
of George, after King George III of England
The first modern king of Tonga, King George Tupou I (the current king is George Tupou VI) came to power after civil wars had split the islands in the 1780s.  He was crowned king of one island group, then fought wars to unite all the island groups, and reigned as  king of all Tonga from 1845 until his death in 1893 (reportedly at age 100!).  He did some remarkable things, and is still revered in this country.
King George Tupou I also had this modest
palace built. It is still used today.

Before he was king of a United Tonga, this warrior king abolished the system of serfdom that had defined Tonga for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years.  He emancipated the lowest echelons of Tongans from obliged servitude to those born into positions of nobility or royalty. It took until 1862 for this law to be in force in all 176 islands, but every Tongan “commoner” was emancipated.  Then he took the unprecedented step of writing into law the allowance for every Tongan male to have land to work.  Every Tongan male, at age 16, is entitled to rent-for-life a plot of bush land (away from the village, similar to the 18th century practice in the U.S.) for a nominal fee, in order to provide food for his family.  Each male Tongan was also given the right to a smaller plot of land for a village home.  Today, the land is limited, and plots of land are not as big as they used to be, but many families still work the land rented to them by the King:

A more mature King
 George Tupou I

George took this step because he had been baptized a Christian in 1831. And this Christian perspective caused him to take one more step that no other reigning king in recent history has done: he consecrated his land and people to God.  His words, translated into English, are “God, our Father, I give you my land and my people, and all generations of people who follow after me.”  He went on to beg the protection of God for his people, the waters, and the creatures of Tonga and its waters.  Is it any wonder that Tonga has received special protection?  Is it any wonder that this country is one of the few left on earth where all businesses are closed on Sunday, in honor of the Sabbath?  Is it any wonder that Tonga’s people love the Lord?  Their king consecrated them to God’s keeping, to God’s service. 

Tonga's Queen and Queen Mother
The reigning king of Tonga

The kings (and one queen) since George Tupou the first have used a royal seal, upon which is printed, “God and Tonga are my inheritance.”  Not “my God-given right”, not “my kingdom”, but “my inheritance.”  They are keenly aware that their position is a stewardship.  The current king and queen are working to bring a higher standard of living to Tonga through improved health and educational resources.  This tiny country, consecrated to God for more than a century and a half, has more than a few things to teach the rest of us. Call it Emancipation Day, call it Consecration Day, call it Tonga’s national day – I call it a lesson for the rest of us.