Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Planes, trains and .....well, planes and boats!

It's been a very interesting week this week. We are learning about Tongan travel. When we were here in 2010 Chatham Air was the airline used for domestic travel. They left this year - not sure why. I'm not sure of all the players or all of the politics involved, but the current domestic airline company is having troubles. They can't get enough pilots. And some of the planes they purchased from China are not flyable, so the church won't allow missionaries to fly on those flights. It's all very confusing. And really hard to get anywhere.

Here's what happened this week. Elder Meurs, one of our area authorities, needed to go to Ha'apai for a district conference this weekend. Pres. and Sister Tupou were going to go with him. Their plan was to go to Vava'u earlier in the week, have a zone conference, and train the new trainers so they would be ready for their new companions we were sending to them (14 brand new missionaries straight from the MTC were waiting to go to Vava'u, but couldn't until their trainers got trained), come home, and then meet up with Elder Meurs in Ha'apai on Friday, Sept 20, have district conference, then fly home Monday Sept 23. We started working on the flights 2-1/2 weeks ago.....a chartered flight, not a regularly scheduled flight. We got word the chartered flight was a go. Then.......it all just fell apart. Looking back, the last two weeks were chaos at its very best. Every day it was something different...the charter was a go, the charter was canceled, the charter flight got moved to a different day, the times of the regularly scheduled flights changed....actually changed. By hours!!!! It was amazing. We were told there were seats available and we made reservations, only to find that we didn't have reservations after all. It was crazy!!

So....we finally had confirmed seats on a regular flight to Ha'apai leaving Friday afternoon at 2:30, Sept 20. Then we got word that arrangements for a charter flight leaving Friday morning was a go. Yeah!!!!!! That meant Pres. and Sis. Tupou, two assistants, and two new zone leaders were ALL going to be able to make it to Ha'apai. We were all so relieved. And exhausted!! No one had gone to Vava'u, however. The zone conference and trainer training were postponed by a week, because we couldn't get anyone to Vava'u. And all those 14 elders waiting to go to Vava'u were still stuck on Tongatapu, waiting until their trainers got trained. Thursday night, Sept 19, Elder Napa'a, one of the assistants, called and said he'd been checking email, and there was an email (this is Thursday night!!! The email got sent at 8:00 pm) that the they couldn't get our people to Ha'apai on the charter flight - it had been canceled. Again!!! But, there were two tickets on the 2:30 flight...for Pres. and Sister Tupou. We still weren't sure how we were going to get the assistants, and a new zone leader, to Ha'apai. We thought about it, decided there was nothing we could do late at night, so we went to bed and resolved to see if we could straighten things out Friday morning.

Friday morning there's an email letting us know that the 2:30 flight had been changed to 1:30. A little later we got an email saying it had been changed to 12:30, and there was only one seat available. It's still a little hazy as to what happened....we think the 2:30 flight got canceled, a new flight for 12:30 was created...and in that whole process, we lost our reservations, and there was only one seat available. AND......then we got word that they had rescheduled the 2:30 flight!!! We are having trouble keeping up.

And, here's how it all got resolved. Pres. Tupou took the seat on the 12:30 flight, Sister Tupou went
standby on the 2:30 flight, and luckily was able to get on. But what to do about the poor
assistants and new zone leaders. Fortunately, the mission owns three boats. One is stationed in Ha'apai and two are in Vava'u. Or the other way around. I can never remember. Anyway.....we called the boat captain, who happens to be the district president in Ha'apai, and had him come from Ha'apai to Tongatapu (it took him three hours), made arrangements for two 50-gallon barrels of fuel to be delivered to the dock in Tongatapu, got the assistants and two new zone leaders to the dock, the boat fueled up, the missionaries, captain and his deck hands fed, and they were off. This was about 3:00 in the afternoon.
Standing around while refueling
This is how we refuel boats in Tonga

Phew.....a HUGE sigh of relief. There is a big rock break wall on the outside of the wharf. We caught just a glimpse of the boat over the break wall.......and then nothing. It had stopped. Oh no!!! What else could go wrong? We waited. About 10 minutes later the boat comes around the corner of the break wall, and it's going slow! Questions flew through our mind. What was wrong? Were they having trouble with the engine? Was someone hurt? And then.....behind the boat was a small (VERY small) sail boat with three people in it, and only oars for propulsion. Our fearless, kind, and thoughtful missionaries and boat captain had done their good deed for the day and had towed in this poor sail boat. The three tourists aboard the sail boat were a bit embarassed, but I'm sure they were happy to be back near dry land, and not having to row anymore. Once the row boat was freed from the Molonai (the name of our boat), the missionaries were off. Man, that boat can go!!
Eating "Kentucky Fried" and manioke before leaving
Waving good-bye

We understand that the missionaries had an adventure getting from Tongatapu to Pangai (the major town on Lifuka - one of the main islans in the Ha'apai island group). They had to stop and spend the night in Ha'afeva (an island just south of Lifuka). It took them two hours to get to Ha'afeva, and the next morning another two hours to get to Pangai on Lifuka because of strong head winds and very bumpy water. But, they all made it safely and were so excited
Off they go
to have been able to ride in the church's boat. Then they all went to Lulunga (a small island
And back again...Good Samaritans
group within the larger island group of
Ha'apai) for district conference. And I guess that was quite a ride. Poor Sister Tupou got soaked by water coming over board...and she was in the cabin!!!

I suppose everything's well that ends well, though. New counselors were called into the district presidency, everyone arrived back safely to Tongatapu. Well......it's Wednesday, and the assistants STILL aren't back. We were able to get Pres. and Sister Tupou to Vava'u today for zone meeting and trainer training, but they were only going to have a few hours in which to do the training because.....you guessed it.....the flights changed!! The poor assistants ended up catching the ferry as it stopped in Ha'apai on its way to Vava'u.

Missionaries going to Vava'u - and friends
Waiting to board the ferry

We put our 14 new elders on the ferry Monday night. The ferry was due into Ha'apai yesterday morning at 8:00, but as of 11:00 it still wasn't there. That means the missionaries were probably on the ferry for 24 hours, instead of 18. But, they're in Vava'u!!!! But, the assistants still can't get back. We have them scheduled on a flight tomorrow at noon. We're hoping they make it.

Boarding the ferry
Oh, no........Just got a call from Sister Tupou in Vava'u. The plane on which they were to return to Tongatapu has had mechanical problems. They are having to fly in a part, which is coming by a small plane which can't fly after dark, and of course.....it's not getting to Vava'u until dark! So, their one-day up and back trip has turned into an overnight trip. The joys of Tonga travel!!!
doing homework at the waterfront
While we were at the wharf putting the assistants and the two new zone leaders on the church boat, there were about eight boys, approximately 10 to 12 years old, jumping off the dock into the water, about a 10-12 foot drop. They were teasing each other and pretending to push each other off the dock, and then they would show their bravery by slowly extending one foot over the water, and then finally dropping feet first into the water. I stood a ways back and started taking pictures with my phone (I can't believe I didn't have my camera with me....when will I learn to always carry it with me?

I had taken several pictures when the two boys closest to me looked my way and saw me taking the pictures. Everyone jumped up and said, "One more, one more." Then they were literally jumping off the wharf, turn to face me as the leapt into the air, and pose for the camera. Then they'd all climb back up to the top and say, "One more, one more." I took
"stepping" off the dock
some more pictures while they jumped and posed. Then I showed them the pictures I'd taken. They loved seeing themselves, and they had to all jump just "one more" time....again. "One more" must mean something different here in Tonga :) It was great fun interacting with them. They were so cute.

Another great highlight this week was meeting Sisters Tauelangi and Akau'ola. Sister Akau'ola has only been in Tonga for one transfer (six weeks). Sister Tauenlangi is her trainer. They have infectious smiles and laughs, and are so enthusiastic about being missionaries. And they have such faith.
They told us about a man they saw sitting on the side of the street - an old man - 92 years old. They felt they should go talk with him. He did not want to talk to them about the gospel, so they just bore their testimony to him, and left. They heard later that this man tried to ignore what they had told him. But, he couldn't sleep at night because their message kept coming into his thoughts, keeping him up at nights, and he couldn't think of anything else. After several days he decided he could not ignore the message any more, and he was taught by the missionaries and was baptized. They told us of another man they had been teaching for several weeks, but he kept putting them off when they asked him about getting baptized. He had felt the spirit and believed the gospel to be true, but was resistant to getting baptized. So, they decided one day a week they were going to fast for him. After four weeks they received a call from him and he committed to being baptized. I am going to try to be more committed and faithful like these two sisters. Because with God we can do anything. "I believe....help thou mine unbelief." These sisters are helping my "unbelief."

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