O’ua la’u kano ka’e la’u lava

“Don’t count the pain. Count what you have accomplished.”

(What I learned in Sacrament meeting today.) Li’e, a warrior from the village of Ko’ula on Vava’u, said this as he lay wounded after battle. His men had just successfully defended his village on Vava’u from an invasion by natives from Ha ‘api.


(This is not a photo of Li ‘e. He lived a few hundred years ago. This is actually our friend Peni Tonga, who I think looks like Moses must have, flip-flops and all, just before he parted the Red Sea.)


Pangaimotu Island Resort


Pangaimotu is an island just a mile from Nuku ‘alofa. It is accessible by boat, or by kayak.


The first Jesuit missionaries to visit Tongatapu established a Catholic church on the island (for safety) 175 years ago.


We caught the boat at 11 a.m., and arrived at the resort at about 11:10 a.m.. It was roughly the same time-frame as the flight from Tongatapu to Eua (which is 7 minutes).


When we got back to the dock after our walk, we had lunch at Big Momma’s Café.  The boat ride and lunch cost $25.00 (U.S.).


We brought Peni Toga and his children with us. None of them had been there before.


Dorothy Tonga told me it had been one of her dreams to visit the island.


Dorothy has been volunteering in the clinic for the past couple of weeks.


We took snorkeling gear. We didn’t use it, but the Tongas loved it! There isn’t any coral – it is a sandy bottom.


This beach goes all the way around the island. (We walked all the way around in about an hour.)


There were about 100 people at the resort, but we met only two on our walk.


There are a dozen other motus dotting the horizon. There is a boat that takes people on a dinner cruise through these islands. We are going to do it in a couple of weeks.


That’s the resort in the background, and the mainland in the distance.


The water temperature is probably in the low eighties. You could almost walk to the other motus.


There isn’t much of a tide – but we hit it just right. At high tide, this beach is covered.


The ship reminded me of the Tyee.


We had great weather, but later in the day (after we’d returned to Liahona), it POURED RAIN!


A “friend” showed up at lunch-time to share my fish and chips. My necklace symbolizes “Mana” or positive energy; the life-force. Whenever I wear this particular necklace, I can feel the power of Mana. I believe that’s what attracted the cat to me, because normally I would give off negative energy in its presence.



The unspoiled South Pacific!


Sione (Nelson) told his dad that coming to the island was the best Christmas present he could ever receive. He is learning to climb the coconut tree. The old Tongans talk about the Copra Economy in the old days. When the market collapsed, it really devastated many island economies. There has been a resurgence, though, because of the demand for coconut oil. Tongan farmers are getting 25 cents to 40 cents per coconut.  There are A LOT of coconuts in Tonga!


Peni used this palm front to shield himself from the sun. He didn’t want to burn. All of the Tongans who were swimming at the resort were fully clothed, and some took umbrellas into the water.






Mom has done a very commendable job of getting her feet wet. (up to her thighs, this trip!)


It was “refreshing.”


Mom and Becky Kapp took a stroll down the beach (with the sunken ship just off the resort, in the background. That’s the mainland in the distance.) There is no development on the island, other than Big Momma’s. Nothing remains of the original church that was built by the Jesuits.


Birthday Party – Tongan Style


On Wednesday, December 27, we were invited by our assistant Pauline to accompany her after the clinic closed (at noon) to a birthday party of a friend, at the Liku’alofa Resort, near the western tip of the island, on the Sunset Coast.


This is Pauline. She speaks real good English.


Her father is the vice-principal at Liahona High School.


Liku ‘alofa Beach is not too far from Liahona.  (Actually, nothing is very far from Liahona, as it turns out.)

We went, not realizing that it would be a full-blown Tongan feast, celebrating the 21st birthday of the family’s only daughter.We were surprised to find a couple of hundred people gathered for the celebration. We were the only Palangi, and although we weren’t singled-out, we were given a table at the front of the banquet hall, right next to the stage.

They had roasted 16  pigs for the occasion.  (So much for the “Nine Cow Woman.”)

Many of the women were wearing the Ta’ovala, (apron), a traditional woven mat. The Ta’ovala is worn to show respect. It is held in place by the kiekie. (When men are wearing the tupelo, they hold their ta’ovala in place with the kafa (braided rope).

There was a buffet meal, followed by singing and dancing.

The tapa cloths were for ceremonial dancing, after the meal. Kukui nut oil,or coconut oil, on the skin of the dancers is symbolic of virginity. The party went on for about three hours. After the buffet, there was music, dancing, and many speeches (in Tongan). It was an amazing experience, and we felt very fortunate to have been included in the celebration.

The tapa cloths are then given to the young lady (as a future wedding present).


It is great that we are beginning to see patients outside of the clinic, with whom we are making friends. One has a pastry shop in Niku ‘alofa!

IMG_6033This cheesecake was delicious!


He also gives us free ice cream cones.

Mapu’a a Vaea Blowholes – at Sunset

At Mapu’a a Vaea, on the west coast of the island, there are hundreds of blowholes in the limestone/coral along a 5 kilometer stretch of coastline. When there is a strong swell, they can spurt up to 90 feet in the air.


When we arrived at the Blowholes, the clouds were amazing. It took us a second or two to spot the moon peeking at us from behind them.


It’s a great spot to watch the sunset, and it’s only a 10 minute drive from Liahona.







Where is Tonga, anyway?



Nuku ‘alofa, Tonga lies at a latitude of 21 degrees south (1,452 miles south of the equator), and 175 degrees west (which puts it almost exactly half way around the world from Greenwich, England.)


Locations around the globe that lie at this latitude include Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Madagascar, in Africa, and the islands of Reunion and New Caledonia in the Pacific.


Tonga lies just north of the latitude of Raratonga, French Polynesia, and the Cook Islands. It is in what is characterized as “the remote South Pacific.” The nearest landfall is Fiji, 464 miles away.  Then, Samoa at 551 miles, then the Cook Islands at 995 miles, and New Zealand at a distance of 1,239 miles. Tahiti is 1,690 miles away, Australia is 2,228 miles away, Honolulu, Hawaii is 3,144 miles away, and Los Angeles, California is 5,333 miles away. Spokane, Washington is 5,946 miles away, as the crow flies.

Tonga Motto

“God and Tonga are My Inheritance”


Kilisimasi Fiefia from Tonga!


I left the lights on the tree to contribute to the festive atmosphere.


Traditional crepes for breakfast, complete with yoghurt and whipped cream!


Of course, a pig for Christmas dinner.


We drove out to the tip of the island, to the Abel Tasman landing site.


It was hot and muggy, as we hiked through the bush, and then along the shore.


I kept saying, “Just a little closer. Just a little closer. This is going to be a great photo!”



We met a friend along the path to the beach, who dropped in to say malo a lelei (hello!) (Typical Tongan =  very large.)


Then, we made our way by car down from the tip of the island, to Kanokupolo Beach, Otuhaka Beach, and Kolovai Beach (all collectively referred to as “Surfer’s Beach.” These are the western beaches, facing Australia – just 2,228 miles away).


There were a few scattered “resorts” on this stretch of coastline. Very basic fales renting for a hundred dollars (U.S.) per night. But they are right on the beach.


At the end of the day we were hoping for a great sunset – but were disappointed. 😦     Typically, the Tongans were all swimming in their clothes. When all is said and done,  it didn’t feel a whole lot like Christmas, but it was a good day, nevertheless. 🙂







Christmas Eve in Nuku ‘alofa

At some time, each of us has probably has an experience that touches our souls and causes us to reconsider all that is of value to us. We pause to think of where we spend our time, our energy, and our money. We think more deeply about how we serve and help others and where we place our priorities. In moments of reflection, we set aside our daily concerns and self-absorption and look more deeply at what should be the defining and motivating aspects in our lives.

Tonight about thirty of us piled into our large, white Liahona bus and spent the evening on a Light The World mission, so to speak.  Among us were the senior missionaries who are serving here from various places in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. We come in various sizes and shapes, ages and skin colors, but we are all here because we feel we have been called to serve. We also were joined by a Pedodontist from Helena, Montana, his wife and three sons, and his dental assistant, who is staying with us in our home. They are here for two weeks volunteering in the clinic.  Penni Tonga, whom we’ve mentioned before, his wife Silvia, and their daughter Dorothy also came along, and added their beautiful voices to our caroling.

Our first stop was half an hour east of us. When we pulled up to the tiny white home (about the size of our family room) we were greeted by the mother and five children.  One, in his early teens has severe mental and physical challenges and just recently learned how to walk. He reminded me of a little feral animal in his movements, but he had a big and loving smile. Mostly he did a crab-like crawl to get around.  This family basically lived off the grid and in the bush for many years.  The father had left them to face life on their own and without his support.

When we arrived, they all came out to greet us, and right away were presented with two big boxes of food and goodies.  Sister Va’enuku, (who is Tongan herself) had made a beautiful Christmas cake. She and her husband (who are service missionaries) had told us about the conditions that had brought them to the place they live now. It is a story born of tragedy, poverty and sadness, but it now has the light of promise.  The Red Cross built them their little one room home, which is on land owned by the mother’s uncle.  They now have a place where they can be safe and protected.

We sang songs to them, and finished by joining together in singing Silent Night in Tongan.  Penni and Dorothy played the ukulele, and Silvia sang a beautiful harmony.  I thought we were an angel choir. Tears of gratitude were shed both by us, and by them.  It was a sacred experience for every one there.  As we left the neighborhood we drove by the remnants of a dwelling made of sticks where the family had last lived. They had been chased away by neighbors who destroyed their home. All that remained of had once been a little shelter was a pile of wood and sheet metal.

Our next stop was at the end of a dirt road.  There was a “tree house” about six feet above the ground, with a ladder going up to it. This was home of a young pregnant woman in her early twenties. Off to the side, was a corrugated metal shack where a family of seven lives. The roof was propped up by large sticks. Unlike many other properties, this little home was immaculate and we could see inside the one room, to a bed, and mats rolled up on the floor. They had swept the dirt outside with a Tonga Broom (which is made of coconut fronds and serves to sweep anything up at all, inside our out, and looks somewhat like a witches’ broom)

Outside was a cooking shelter and a big spotted pig and her babies.  When the father and mother came out with their children, my heart just leapt.  Everyone was so clean and their girls’ hair had been washed and braided.  The children were beautiful.  Again we sang, and left them with boxes of Christmas foods and treats. This time I simply couldn’t contain myself. The tears just sprang to my eyes. We hugged and kissed and exchanged our love, each in our own language.

The feelings I had during those moments were mixed.  I felt joy that we are here and able to be of some little bit of help to all who come and see us, but at the same time I was completely overwhelmed by the level of need that we saw. Sometimes those feelings just well up in my heart and I feel so small and insignificant.  When we sang Silent Night with them there was such a feeling of joy and love amongst us that our differences became almost nothing.  I felt like we were truly brothers and sisters of a loving Father and that we were exactly where we belonged at that very moment.

Both Dad and I were not able to put into words our feelings as we got on the bus.  There was a quiet reverence as we drove away and on to our next family.  Christmas was burning brightly in our hearts.

Our last stop was at Semisi Finau’s home.  His wife, who is Palangi, is in Spokane visiting her mother during the holidays, and he is home alone with his six children.  Semisi is a biomedical engineer who is the one responsible for helping our clinic to stay running.  Without him, we would literally be dead in the water.  At his home, we sang again, and presented the children with presents, which had been brought from the U.S. by our volunteer couple.  Mindy had made old fashioned monkey sock dolls for the younger girls.  You should have seen their little faces light up when they opened their bags.  When we met a bit later for root beer floats, they were still playing with them as though they had been given the most beautiful gifts in the world. (This is a culture where it is not unusual for children to receive a balloon for Christmas.)

While we enjoyed root beer floats together, back at Liahona, we watched all the Light the World Videos. (You can see them on the LDS.org web site). It was a wonderful conclusion to an extremely beautiful evening where we all were touched more than we ever could have imagined.

One last bit of sharing.  Yesterday, as we came home from town and errands, we drove along our bypass road and saw a group of women waving their arms and joyfully smiling and beckoning us to stop.  I would have driven on as we had much to do, but Dad wisely stopped.  Right in front of us was a large banner about 6 x 9 feet that someone had painted with the words “Light the World”.  On the nearby fence was a sign saying, “Everything here is free today”.It turns out that the Relief Society of the local ward had organized a give away and had collected clothing and items to be shared with anyone in need.  They had been making delicious donuts all morning and were happily sharing those and the donated items with whomever stopped by.  We accepted a donut and took pictures (of course) of the happy girls and their mothers. What an amazing example of love and service was being shown here. Mothers were teaching their daughters how they should be sharing and loving, and furthermore showing them that there is great joy to be felt as they do these things.  No matter how meager our means or how simple our lives, and gifts, there is a way we can share and show our gratitude.

All of us in our missionary “family” have been taught much more than you can imagine while we have served here. We see joy and happiness that is so pure and true. Tongans may have almost nothing, but most are radiant and positive, and certainly a most thankful people.

It is a blessing without measure to be here among them.