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Sunday, July 21, 2013

THE LAST DAY

As I sat in the room where Liahona Middle School was holding their awards assembly, I smiled as one of the students I knew was recognized for academic excellence.  But I heard a longer version of his name, and leaned over to ask the principal for his whole name.  “Taumoe’anga (Tow –moh-ay-ahngah),” she said quietly.  “It means fights with shark.

As I considered this information, I knew what thought I would share with the gathered students.  We had been honored at the assembly too, for helping with some of the student programs as well as working with the teachers, and it was our last working day in Tonga.

Taumoe’anga is a slight young man who at age 13 serves in the deacons’ quorum presidency of our ward at Liahona.  He often sits on the stand right behind the bishopric, becoming the bishop’s messenger as needed during Sacrament meeting.  He has a shy manner but a ready smile, and I have watched him work very hard in his classes.  But what impresses me most about this young man is his resolve.  He shows great determination to serve.  I have watched him pick up hymnals after our meetings when nearly all the other Aaronic Priesthood holders have left the little room we use as our chapel.  He regularly helps stack the plastic chairs that serve as our chapel seats.  And nearly every week, he waits outside the bishop’s office for further assignments, after services have ended.  Not your usual 13-year old.

Moe, as I have known him, accepted his award, shook my husband’s hand (Jim was the honored guest asked to congratulate this group of students) and went back to his seat.  After all students were recognized (70% of these students made honor roll this quarter), Jim and I were asked to say a few words. 

Jim urged the students to find ways to serve others, their friends, their teachers, as they grow older.  He paraphrased a prophet’s words that “through service we lose ourselves and when we lose ourselves, we grow.”

Then came my turn.  I called Moe forward.  Turning him to the audience of about 500 people, I repeated his full name:  Taumoe’anga.  “In English, his name translates to ‘fights with sharks.’  Is that right, Moe?”  Moe nodded in agreement.  “This name was a gift from your parents and your auntie, right Moe?”  Again came the confirming nod.

I turned to the audience.  “What a wonderful gift to give a child – a name that means fights with sharks.  I am sure that because of this name, Moe has made sure he is strong.  He doesn’t need to be strong physically, because he may never actually encounter a physical shark.  But he, like every one of us, has to fight with spiritual sharks.”  I paused, and noted many nodding heads in the audience.  “Taumoe’anga has been given the strength and the mission of living up to his name.  Are we living up to our own names?”

I looked over the audience.  Many of these Tongan children had been given English names, or Tongan versions of English names.  “For those of you named Mele – Mary – the name Mary means pure.  If your name is Lisiate (Richard, in English), your name means strong king.  If your name is Viliami (William), your name means that you desire to protect others.  If your name is Siosi’ana (Susan), your name represents both your royal birth and the beauty of a white lily.  What will you do today to live up to your name?  What will you do tomorrow to live the meaning of your name?  How will you use your name to accomplish your mission on this earth?”

Well, as they say, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  Time for me to reflect and answer those questions for myself.  And that’s one more lesson learned.

This is the last story from our mission.  Thank you for your love in reading and responding to this blog. We have returned to the States.  We were released as full-time missionaries on Wednesday, July 17th, and will be spending the next month visiting friends and family before we leave the U.S. for our job in Kazakhstan.  If you haven't heard that bit of news, please go to beaszokanotes.blogspot.com.   





Wednesday, July 3, 2013

ONE MIRACLE AT A TIME

Elder Makasini, a young Tongan American, sat stunned in his seat.  Who would have thought he would ever have the chance to keep his promise to Elder Hamala?

Months before, when Elder Makasini first received his mission call to leave his home in California and travel to Tonga to preach the gospel, one of the full-time missionaries in his ward had pulled him aside.  Elder Hamala, who had grown up in Tonga and was serving his own mission in California, told him very earnestly, “I need you to make me a promise.

“Promise me that if you ever get to Maufanga, and you find my mother, you will bear your testimony to her,” he requested.  “She’s a devoted Catholic, but she’ll listen to you, and maybe your testimony will touch her heart.”

Elder Makasini promised he would do that.  But time went by and Elder Makasini served in other villages in Tonga, and forgot his agreement with Elder Hamala.  Then one day he went on a companion exchange with another missionary, and a couple of ward leaders each took a young full-time missionary to visit the homes of less-active and part-member families.  Elder Makasini found himself in the home of a widow.  “My Tongan is still not very good,” Elder Makasini admits.  “But about 15 minutes into the conversation, I realized that this woman’s name was Hamala, and that she had a son who was a member of the Church.” 

Elder Makasini turned to Mrs. Hamala, and asked, “Is your son serving a mission right now?  In California?”  Both answers were yes.  “I know your son.  And he asked me to bear my testimony to you if I ever met you.  Would you allow me to do that?”  Again, the answer was yes, as a mother who missed her own son dearly listened to the words of a stranger, explaining to her why her own son left her for two years, why Elder Makasini had left his own family in California to come to Tonga, and the importance of the message he brought to her.  

Reflecting on the experience, Elder Makasini shares, “I knew the Spirit was strong that night.  I felt it, and I hoped that she felt it.  I bore my testimony, we all wept, and that was the end of the visit.”

Fast forward about 5 months.  Elder Makasini now serves in an area that includes the Nuku’alofa Temple, and was walking along the sidewalk across the street from the temple one day when he heard a voice call out, “Makasini!  Makasini!”  The voice belonged to Elder Hamala. They ran to each other and embraced.

“Hey, I didn’t know you were home!”
“Just got home a couple of weeks ago.  How’s your Tongan?”
“Oh, bad, really bad.  But I keep trying.”
“That’s good.  You’ll get it.  Keep trying.”
“Hey, I found your mom a few months ago, and bore my testimony to her.”
“I know.”
“Really? What, did she tell you about it?”
“That and more.”
“Well, tell me about her.  Where is she now?”

Elder Hamala pointed his thumb over his shoulder at the temple.  “She’s in there, doing some baptisms for the dead.  She was baptized months ago.”

Elder Makasini and Hamala embraced once more, this time out of sheer gratitude for the power of the Holy Ghost, which had carried Elder Makasini’s words to the heart of Elder Hamala’s mother.  She in turn recognized the power of that witness, and acted upon it.  One miracle at a time, the Lord’s work continues here in Tonga.