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.