Saturday, August 31, 2013

'Oku ma 'i Tonga!!!

We are finally in Tonga! We've been Internet-less, wireless-less except for in the mission office which is pretty slow and doesn't always work, but, it is great to be here!! We jumped right into things, too. We arrived Saturday night, Aug 24 at about 8:00 and reluctantly dragged ourselves away from President and Sister Tupou's and off to bed after 11:00. We had so many things to talk about that it was difficult to leave and go to bed. Then it was off to church in 'Utulau first thing Sunday morning. It was their ward conference, and the stake president asked if we would speak. Yikes! So, we each bore a short testimony - in  Tongan :) I still can't think in Tongan very well, so I had to write my testimony out and read it. Hopefully soon we will be able to speak better Tongan. I told the missionaries they can only speak Tongan to me when they come into the office. My lea fakatonga is si'isi'i, but I'm going to work on it.

I need to back up to last week. We spent four days in office training. We had great teachers, and learned lots. There are definitely some challenges here in Tonga because we don't have high speed internet access yet, but are working on that. We're working hard to try to implement the things we learned. Garth already met with a stake president about the key indicators the church follows, and he is very excited to use those indicators to help the people in his stake "bring others to Christ."

Our office class
Ryan and Wesley - our wonderful shuttle drivers who drove us each day to the MTC

Our office teachers - Sis Fairbanks, Bro Free, Bro Chauncey, Bro Clark

After we left the MTC Thursday afternoon, we drove to Salt Lake and met Sarah, Lyle and Jana Williams, little Sarah, Biffy and Thatcher at the airport. We got to spend a little bit of time with them before going through security. One last good-bye. Thank goodness for Google Hangouts!!!!
Garth, Lyle, Jana, Biffy, Sarah. Little Sarah and Thatcher are in front.
After saying good-bye we flew from Salt Lake to Los Angeles, then overnighted to Auckland. We arrived early in the morning. We got some good tips of things to do from Brother Gardner, our Tongan tutor, who served in New Zealand, as well as a flight attendant on Air New Zealand. We ended up taking the bus to downtown Auckland, caught the ferry to Devonport, and spent most of the day there walking around. The architecture is Victorian, and even though the huge city of Auckland is a short 10-minute ferry ride away, it was like driving into the country. We tried meat pies (delicious!!!) and some New Zealand chocolate from a little chocolate store that made their own chocolate (SOOOO good!!!). We tried to find a KFC because we were told New Zealand has the best KFC, but we couldn't find one. So, whenever we get back to New Zealand we will find a KFC. We loved Devonport. Maybe we'll move there?!?
Landing in Devonport...foggy morning

Boats anchored up outside of Devonport

Looking from Devonport towards Auckland with the Sky Tower peeking through the fog

Looking out to sea from atop North Head

Auckland from Devonport

Now, back to Tonga....Today is only that right? I'm sure we've been here longer than three days. We are madly trying to keep up. Monday we got acquainted with the rest of the office staff. They are great. There has been no office couple here since January. The assistants and Sister Mitchell, the mission nurse, have been holding things together and doing a fantastic job. They didn't have the benefit of the training Garth and I had in Provo. Elder and Sister Maile are here, but they haven't been here very long, either. They've only been here about a month. So, we're all learning together. The assistants are great...Elder Napa'a and Elder Toki. Although Elder Toki goes home in a week and a half. We will miss him.

Tuesday afternoon we had three elders come from the New Zealand MTC. They will only be here temporarily. They are waiting for visas to come so they can go to their assigned missions in Australia, Solomon Islands, and New Zealand. Sept 10 we will get 33 new missionaries! Fourteen are coming from the MTC in Provo, and the rest from the MTC in New Zealand. We're still working on finding housing for them all. This will be the largest group of missionaries they've ever had come in at one time. The next largest group was 11, who arrived last month. We live in exciting times!!

Tuesday afternoon we got to Hangout with everyone but Tyler, who was sick. I'm not sure if I'm buying that. I'm going to give him a really hard time for not hanging out with his mom and dad who are half a world away!!! Hangouts are always an adventure with Brielle. We just sit back and watch the entertainment. Next time we'll remember to bring popcorn, too :)

On Tuesday evenings the radio station broadcasts a message from the church. Pres. Tupou does one week a month and stake presidents take turns doing the other weeks of the month. Sister Tupou informed me Saturday night that she and I would be singing for the broadcast this Tuesday. So, we practiced a couple of times, and recorded Tuesday afternoon and the broadcast played at 5:30 Tuesday the entire kingdom of Tonga!! Scary!!! We recruited wonderful Sister Meyers to play for us. Great accompanists are hard to find, and she is one of the best. The mission is doing a musical fireside this Sunday night, and she is going to play for us to sing again. She's also going to play for President and Sister Tupou and Elder Hamblin and I to sing a quartet. Sister Tupou and I are also going to play a piano duet. Whew......I'm tired thinking about it. Elder Haleck is also coming in today and will be here through Friday. Not sure how much practice time we're going to get in. Saying lots and lots of prayers!!! After leaving Tongatapu Elder Haleck is going to Vava'u where he will divide a stake this weekend. That will make three stakes in Vava'u. The church continues to grow in Tonga. We're excited we can be a part of these exciting times.

Loving Tonga!!!!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A visit by an apostle

What a wonderful week we had this past week. We spent the entire week studying Preach My Gospel. What an amazing experience that was. Tuesday, the second day of our training, they had us meet with investigators.....for an entire 45 minutes! That was, to say the least, a bit intimidating. We learned that the people were real people, and the circumstances which brought them to talk with the missionaries (us) were real. Their experiences may have happened a long time ago, or could be current, but they were real. The trainers did not immediately throw us into the pit, but prepared us by doing role plays with us. Can I just say right now that I DO NOT like role plays. Never have. Probably never will.

Our district: Sis/Elder Rowley, Sis Kamarath, me, Garth, Sis Bray, Sis Allred, Elder/Sis Davis

Our fearless district leader - Elder Rowley, and Sis Rowley

Our morning teachers -  Sis Tholl and Sis Bateman
Our afternoon teachers - Bro Sillitoe and Bro Pearson

But, I learned something amazing happens when you role play using real experiences and real people. And when you discuss spiritual things. When you invite the spirit, He comes!! I have always known the Holy Ghost testifies of truth – I have felt the truth of things confirmed to me many times. But usually when I have purposefully asked in prayer. I didn't think I would feel the spirit so strongly during a role play. But it happened over and over. Each time we sought the spirit He was there. It was a most remarkable experience. One I will never forget.

Tuesday night we went the MTC fireside. You have to be a missionary at the MTC in order to be able to attend. We decided to sing in the MTC choir, so practiced for an hour before the fireside (we had a fabulous conductor – Bro. Egget (sp?). We sang Jesus Once of Humble Birth, which is one of my favorite hymns. It was a beautiful arrangement. The choir was 1000 voices strong – all young elders and sisters, with a few old people like us mixed in. It was such fun singing with all those young people. Their enthusiasm is contagious.

The women's section of the choir
The men's section of the choir, and looking down at the podium
The speaker for the fireside is not announced until just before he/she enters the auditorium. Oh, yea....the firesides are held at the Marriott Center because there are too many missionaries now to hold the firesides in the MTC auditorium. The prelude music is sung by all in attendance....hymns...and the words are shown on a giant screen on the far side of the basketball court and also on the JumboTron. Do they have a JumboTron at BYU??? I'm not sure. Anyway..... So, we're singing the prelude hymns, and who should walk in, but Elder Richard G. Scott. I love that man. He called Garth to be a stake president. We love that man so much. 

Elder Scott gave a wonderful message. I took good notes :) There were a few things that really stood out to me. Shortly after beginning he said that those who had been called to speak a foreign language had an extra burden, that they would be asked to do things they had never done before, so they should pray for the gift of tongues. He said the language would come through faith, study, and use of the language. Through faith and the gift of tongues they would be able to learn more quickly. He said, “I invoke a blessing on those who have a need to learn the language.”

Near the end of his message he said, “with Apostolic authority I pronounce a blessing on those learning a new language,” and blessed us with the gift of tongues.

Wow!!! We were overwhelmed with feelings of humility and thankfulness. If anyone needs help with the language, it is me. So, Garth and I are going to do what Elder Scott said to do: study, speak Tongan, and exercise our faith!!! I know if we do those things we will learn the language and be able to speak it, hopefully, like a Native by the time we come home.

At the end of Elder Scott's talk he looked out over the audience and told us all he loved us. And as he walked off the stage he stopped numerous times, waved, blew kisses, and said, “I love the missionaries. I love you.” Just before he was out of sight he stopped, cupped his hands around his mouth, and very loudly called out, “I love you.” A few voices from the audience quietly responded with an “I love you” in return, then a few more joined in until the voices of the entire congregation reverberated throughout the Marriott Center. The great love that Elder Scott feels for the missionaries was clearly felt by all in attendance. I hope he felt our love for him in return.
Tongan sisters who were sitting behind me in the choir

Another highlight of this past week was watching as 940 new elders and sisters arrived at the MTC Wednesday. The MTC has 100 missionaries scheduled to arrive every 15 minutes. The new missionaries arrive through the front door, are assigned to a host/hostess, are checked in and are on their way to receive their missionary packets which include handbooks, name tags, etc., orient to the campus, etc., and the next batch of 100 is ushered in the front doors. It's an amazing process to watch. By Wednesday afternoon they're off and running.

We had a great weekend, too. We spent Saturday with the Hollist family at a reunion in Layton, which was lots of fun; Monday evening with Bill and his family at Kim's family reunion at Heber Valley Camp (very beautiful, and lots of good food), and the weekend with Ashley, Tyler and Sarah. 
Thomas Grover headstone in foreground, Hollist family graves behind surrounded by family members - Farmington Cemetary
We said good-bye Tyler, but get to see Ashley a little bit next week as she is staying in Provo for another week, and we'll get to see Sarah when she comes to see us off at the Salt Lake airport next week. Lots of good-byes to other family members and friends. It is hard to say good-bye, but we're excited to be helping with the Lord's work in Tonga, and can't wait until we get there.
Family picture in Layton - missing Joanna and Brielle

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Say What????

Last week we completed our one and only week of Language Immersion. What an amazing week. Eight hours a day of nothing but language study. Here's a sampling of how our day would go:

Up at 6:30 (Yes, I really was getting up at 6:30). Get ready and eat breakfast.

8:00 study buddy for an hour. Our study buddies were great. We had a sister from Provo who came in two mornings. She would leave her husband with her four small children ages 6, 4, 2 and six months to come help us (I know, can you believe it? Just to help us!). She let us record her reading 'Uluaki Tohi 'a Nifai 1 (1st book of Nephi, chapter 1) so we could listen to what it was REALLY supposed to sound like. Robert is from Hawaii. He learned Hawaiian from his grandmother, Japanese on his mission, and Tongan from his Tongan friends. He helped us so much with pronunciation and pronouns and practice speaking. I think we read the first chapter of 1 Nephi at least a dozen times with Robert, practicing our pronunciation and phrasing. He came in two days in a row and spent HOURS with us each day. There was Haini who helped us learn more about Tongan culture. And Mele who is from Texas!! She Skyped with us.



9:00 to 11:00 we spent with our tutor or with one of two JMTC teachers (that's Junior Missionary Training Center as opposed to Senior MTC – we're not sure we like being called seniors yet). Jordan Gardner was our tutor who Skyped with us before we even got to Utah, and crazy enough, we found out that he is the son of one of my good friends from high school, Clark Gardner. What are the odds? Mosese grew up in Tonga and helped us a great deal, as did Bro. Maikolo (Michael) who served his mission in Tonga and got home from his mission the first of this year. He loved Tonga so much he went back for a visit in July! We loved talking to Bro. Maikolo because he served in 'Utulau, which is where the Tupou's are from. He knew our dear friends Lupeni and Fusi and Lutini and Mele, and Meki and Tono, all the kids and grandkids. It was so fun catching up on what our friends from 'Utulau had been doing since we saw them last. Bro. Maikolo not only spent the time he was scheduled to be with us, but came in on his P-day and helped us. He and Robert worked us hard!! It was great!

                                           Jordan Gardner

                                           Bro. Maikolo


11:00 to 11:30 was supposed to be personal study time, but we often used this time to continue working with our helpers. We would often work until noon. But we didn't complain. We needed all the study time we could get.

1:00 to 3:00 was study time with Jordan or Mosese or Maikolo.

3:00 to 4:30 was generally personal study time, but half of the days we continued working with either Maikolo or Robert. We usually weren't done by 4:30 and would work a little longer. One day we got kicked out at 5:15, having learned they had to lock the building at 5:00. We would have worked longer if they would have let us.

We'd have a quick dinner and then evenings were spent doing last minute shopping, studying in our hotel room, and trying to get to bed by 10:00. But one night we did go to dinner with Jordan, his wife and his parents. It was great seeing Clark again and meeting Jordan's wife (in person :) ) and Clark's wife. It was nice to see that Clark was still the same Clark I knew in high school. What a wonderful bunch of friends we had in high school!! We had a great time. The evening went by too quickly.

The week rushed by. We wished we could have done Language Immersion for several more weeks, but because our mission president wants us to get to Tonga as quickly as we can, and we strive to be obedient (well, Garth is really the obedient one – I'm working on it), we limited our time in Language Immersion so as soon as we are finished at the MTC we can be on our way to Tonga.

We loved all of our study buddies and teachers. We were sad when the week was over because we knew we wouldn't get to see them again. Our feelings were bittersweet having to say good-bye to so many people we had grown to love, but looking forward to our time in the MTC.

Well, that's our first week in Utah. Next week Preach My Gospel training at the MTC, then office training the following week. Then it's off to Tonga!!!! We can't wait!!!