Monday, October 21, 2013

Dear Brielle,

Grandma and Papa are having so much fun in Tonga, and can't wait until you and your mama come to see us. We wanted to show you some of the things we have been seeing and some of the things we have been doing.

There are lots of interesting bugs in Tonga. One day I saw a praying mantis. A praying mantis is green and long, and it holds its front arms out in front of it, and it looks like it is praying. That's why they call it a praying mantis. Another day when I was walking through the trees near the beach I looked down and right on the front of my shirt was a walking stick. It surprised me and I jumped and brushed it off. I looked on the ground to see if I could find it, but I couldn't see it any more because it blended in with all the little sticks and dead leaves on the ground. A walking stick is brown and looks like a little twig. They usually sit on branches of trees or bushes. The praying mantis sits on bushes that have green leaves, and looks just like a leaf on the branch. The praying mantis and walking stick are very good at hiding themselves and it makes it hard for birds or other animals that would eat them to even find them. That's a pretty cool trick, huh? If I see anymore I'll take pictures and send them to you. Maybe Mama can find some pictures on the Internet and you can see what they look like. And when you come to Tonga we'll go see if we can find some. Won't that be fun!!!

We've seen some really big spiders. Here are pictures of two of them.
And there are little tiny black spiders that jump from spot to spot. They are very fast.

There are big butterflies like this.

And even little tiny butterflies that are purple and like to play in the grass.

Here are some pictures of a little tiny gecko that lives in our house. He's only about as long as your pointer finger. That's tiny, huh. There are some big geckos that live outside, and at night they chirp.

And here's a picture of a gecko with a blue tail we saw at the beach. 

There are really big cockroaches here, too. I took a picture so you would know what one looks like. I don't like cockroaches!!!!

At the beach we saw some little tiny white crabs that live in the sand. They are the same color as the sand and are really hard to see. Sometimes when you walk by one it will start running and then you can see them. They run really, really fast. They look like this.

And there are some tiny little green crabs that live on the rocks out in the ocean. They look like this.

Pres. Tupou told us when he was growing up he and his dad and his brothers would go to the rocks in the ocean and pick up the green crabs and just eat them. Here's a picture of Pres. Tupou eating a little green crab. I didn't want to try one.

And there are mussels that live on the rocks, too. Here's Papa eating one.......he just picked it up off the rocks, opened it, and ate it. Can you believe that? I didn't eat one.

We saw some very interesting animals that are long and skinny, kind of like a snake, but they are a kind of sea cucumber. They have tentacles near their mouth, and they crawl along the sand in the ocean, and their tentacles pick up little things to eat, and put the food in its mouth. Here are some pictures of some we saw.
This is what the mouth looks like

Here's a picture of another kind of sea cucumber. It looks similar to the kind of cucumber we buy from the store, doesn't it. I think that may be why they call it a sea cucumber...because it looks like a cucumber, but lives in the sea. What do you think?

In some of the tide pools, back in little holes, are little animals that kind of look like spiky octopus. They are very shy and only come part way out of their holds. I don't know what these animals are called. Here is a picture of one peeking out of its hole a little bit.
And here's a green and blue starfish

There are lots of shells on the beach. There are some really, teeny tiny ones that are as small as the end of your fingernail. Here's a picture of some that are that tiny.

Here's a picture of a really big shell. It's called a Giant Clam.

One day when we were walking on the beach I found this.

I don't know what it is. It kind of looks like a tooth. It would fit in the palm of your Mama's hand. I poked it with a stick because I didn't want to pick it up and it kind of felt like I was poking a balloon. What do you think this could be? You'll have to see if you can help me figure out what it is.

There are great big bats that live in Tonga. They are called Flying Foxes because they look like a little fox with wings. They fly around at night and eat the young coconuts that are growing up in the trees. They also eat bananas and mangos and other kinds of fruit. One day we were walking in a field and there were lots of bats flying above us. I took this picture of them.

We saw a cute little baby horse, too. Here's a picture of it.

And we saw lots of cows.They live in fields of coconut trees. Coconuts and cows....that's kind of funny :)

And here's a picture of a baby calf drinking milk from its mama.
And some great big bulls.

And there are lots and lots of chickens and roosters. I tried to take some pictures of some little chicks, but they are afraid of people and hide when people come near. Papa and I also saw a mama duck and some baby ducks. Here's a picture of a rooster that lives near our house. Sometimes it comes into our yard. It likes to start crowing really early in the mornings while it is still dark outside. I don't like it when it does that because it wakes me up before I want to wake up!!! Silly rooster.

And there are lots and lots of pigs. Here are some pictures of some baby pigs and their mama.

Papa and I can't wait to see you when you come to Tonga. We miss you very much. The letter you wrote to us while we lived in Wrangell, and the picture you made for us of your hands, and pictures of you and your Mama are on the front of our fridge. We like looking at the pictures of you. But, we can't wait until we get to see you in person and can show you all the fun things to see in Tonga.

Love, PapaMa

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Once upon a time.......

For the last several days I have been contemplating what I would like to include in this week's blog. I thought of a few things, but nothing seemed right, so I put off posting. And then it was Saturday, our preparation day, and it was past time to post, and I STILL didn't have anything to post about.
And then......we met a family, and I knew why I had not been able to settle upon what to include in this post earlier.  The thing I needed to blog about didn't happen until Saturday morning.

 I would like to tell you the story of this family, the 'Akau'ola's. We'll start their story in 2004, for that is when their lives changed forever.

Once upon a time........there once was a handsome young man named Siope, who met and fell in love with a beautiful young woman, Liu.  They married and began a family. One Sunday morning, after having been out most of the night with friends drinking kava, Siope was returning home when he saw a young family dressed in Sunday best. They were laughing and talking and enjoying being together as they walked to church. Siope wondered what made this family so happy. The love he and his wife had first shared when they married was fading. He was spending more and more time drinking alcohol and kava with his friends into the early morning hours, and spending the days recovering from the intoxication and catching up on his missed sleep. Liu became frustrated and wondered why he seemed to want to spend more time in these destructive activities than he did with his family.

Siope decided to follow this family and see where they went. He followed them to an LDS church building, and watched as they entered. He peered through the window and watched as families sat together, sang songs of worship, happiness radiating from their faces.

He returned home and told his wife that he knew that if they wanted their family to succeed they needed to join the Mormon church. He had felt  a conviction deep in his soul that the Lord had directed him to this church for a reason, and he knew what he must do was join himself with this church. His wife was surprised and wary. They had both been raised in very religious families, and both their fathers were priests. Liu knew if they joined the Mormon church they would be disowned. But Siope was strong in his conviction that they must become members of the LDS church.

That very day he went to the Bishop's home in his village. He knocked, and when the Bishop answered the door, he looked at Siope skeptically, because he had seen him drunk on the streets, and at the kava parties. Siope was firm in his resolve, however, and boldly told the Bishop of his desire to be baptized. The Bishop paused only briefly, then invited him into their home and began at once to teach him of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Liu was still reluctant, but watched as her husband truly became a changed man. He enjoyed spending time with their children, and his love for his wife grew. Because of these changes in him, she began taking the missionary lessons, and soon they were both baptized. And, indeed, as Liu had predicted, they were both disowned by their families.

During the first year as new members of the church, they studied about the temple and had a desire to be sealed together with their children. As the one-year anniversary of their baptism came closer, they realized that the temple in Tonga would be closed for an extended period of time undergoing renovations. They kept hearing about the wonderful blessings they would receive in the temple, and could hardly contemplate them, as their lives had been so richly blessed by simply joining the church. They said to one another, “If the blessings of the temple are so much greater than those we have received from being baptized, can you imagine how wonderful those blessings must be?” But, because of the renovations to the temple, they were going to have to wait. They did not want to wait.

They approached their Bishop and talked to him about going to the temple, but with tears in his eyes, he told them they would have to wait. The young couple looked at each other, then at the Bishop, and they said, “We will go to Hawaii to the temple.” The Bishop cried as he told them that is what he wished for them, but didn't feel he could tell them of his wishes because he knew the trip would be very expensive, and he knew they did not have enough money. When the couple had married, their parents had bought them a new car. The car was still fairly new, and was in very good shape, so they decided to sell it. They made enough money on the sale of their car that they were able to go to Hawaii, and with their children were sealed for time and all eternity.

Blessings continued to come to their family.....they both received scholarships to BYU Hawaii to further their education. The received notification of the scholarships within weeks of returning home from going to the temple. They were both teachers, having received teaching certificates in Tonga, but had a desire to get teaching degrees, which they did at BYU. After getting their degrees and returning to Tonga, they both taught at Liahona High School. By this time they had three children.

While teaching at Liahona, they became aware of children who were mistreated and no longer wanted by their parents. A couple from India who had a teenage daughter and son decided to return to Fiji to live, but decided not to take their son and daughter with them. Other children were abandoned by their parents. Some were abused and left their homes to escape the abuse. Sometimes by ones, more often by two's and three's, children began knocking on Siope's and Liu's door. And Siope and Liu decided to take them into their home, turning no one away. Their small home now holds 20 people. They have five other “adopted” children who no longer live at home, who have gone on to further their own education, or to serve missions.
Playing in the driveway
Siope and Liu knew that given love and structure, things the children were lacking in their own homes, the children would grow and blossom. And they have. Those that were not members of the church before have been baptized and have a desire to serve missions.Two sisters who had been problems at Liahona before coming to live with the Siope and Liu are now getting good grades, are happy, and no longer “problem”children.  Dipika, the young woman from India, is the first member of the church in her family. Her brother, Nikial, followed shortly after. Dipika has a desire to serve a mission to her native country after she graduates from Liahona. The five older children who no longer live at home are setting an example for those still at home -  Siu is on a mission in Texas, Toa and Leina are both attending BYU Hawaii, Milika is attending a teaching college here in Tonga, and Atu is in Salt Lake preparing to go on his mission. Siope and Liu call all of the children under their care THEIR children, and all the kids call Siope and Liu Mom and Dad.

Even with both Siope and Liu working, it is difficult to feed, cloth, and educate 18 children on a teacher's salary. But they have a desire to share what they have, both temporally and spiritually, with not only their children, but with everyone they know. To help supplement their income they make donuts. Siope was taught the recipe, which he makes each Saturday morning by hand, in their small kitchen. The children help cut out and cook them, then they take them to a local baker, or the "fae" (fair), and sell them. Their desire is to open a donut shop in town and sell donuts full time as a way to increase their income and help their children with their education and missions. Siope would run the donut shop while Liu would continue teaching.

In fact, we met this amazing family because they invited us and the Tupou's over to their home Saturday morning to sample their donuts and let them know what we thought about their plan to open up a donut shop.......the first donut shop in Tonga. The donuts were AMAZING. They had regular glazed, chocolate glazed, cinnamon glazed, a green mint glazed (which Garth dubbed Liahona donuts because Liahona's colors are white and green), and cinnamon roll donuts (they looked like cinnamon rolls, but were deep fried like donuts - YUM). Their next creation is going to be a coconut donut - can't wait!!

Siope shared with us that a few months ago, while discussing their children, they were wondering who would replace those who had already left home, and how they might go about finding said "replacements." The next day the two sisters who had been causing so much trouble for their teachers, showed up at their home asking if they could live with them, as their parents had kicked them out. Siope and Liu were amazed that the Lord had answered their prayers so quickly.

The 'Akau'ola family (names do not correspond to picture): Siope and Liu 'Akau'ola, Dipika Prasad, Nikial Prasad, Fonuamana Pifeleti, Ofeina Tupou, Sisi Tupou, Sela 'Akau'ola Matelita 'Akau'ola, Isaiah 'Akau'ola, Pakileata Aolotu, Mele Fakatou, Sepa Fakatou, Mavae Fifita, Viliheti Fifita (in the process of submitting papers for his mission), Solieti Tauataina, Ovava Toa, Heleine Vea. Children not currently living at home (and not pictured): Siu Filikitonga (serving mission in Texas), Toa Fifita (attending BYUH), Milika Laulotu (attending teaching college), Atu Tapuna (in Salt Lake preparing for his mission), Leina 'Aholelei (attending BYUH)

Meeting this family has truly been an inspiration to me. Both us and the Tupou's have a desire to help
them in their endeavors and are looking for ways to help them with small loans, etc., as they work towards opening up their donut shop. We'll certainly be helping by buying their donuts!!! Oh, goodness....there goes all my hard work, I'm afraid. But, it's all for a good cause. Are donuts bought from such a worthy enterprise calorie-less?
And making donuts is not the only way this family stays busy.  Saturdays, after making and selling their donuts, and before playing, all 18 children, along with mom and dad, do some kind of service for someone. And they go to Liu's parent's home and help "Grandma" clean the house. These children are learning to love the Savior, and to do His will, which includes being of service to others. Truly a remarkable family.
Liu shared with me that both she and her husband continue to reach out to their individual families. While Siope's family is still resistant, Liu's parents now come and pick up the children on Saturdays, take them to their home where they play with them, and on Sunday's they bring lu for their lunch. They are still not ready to join the church. But, Liu and Siope are determined to be good examples to their parents. They don't preach the gospel to their them....they exemplify the Gospel by word and deed.
My life has been blessed, and I know will continue to be blessed, because of these new friends. I am thankful Heavenly Father puts such people in my path so I can be blessed by them, and learn from them.