Saturday, September 12, 2015

Day 7 in Tonga - The Power of Pictures

On Saturday we originally had three trainings scheduled, but the evening session was cancelled as the people who would have been at that session were able to come to the earlier meeting.  Our first training at 9AM was with Neiafu West ward council.  

After the session one of the men came up to me to thank us for the training.  Since we had talked about the importance of preserving family pictures, he was excited to show a photo he had on his phone of his parents and brother who lived on the main island of Tongatapu.  I was amazed to find it was a photo I had taken at the Harbour Stake training and posted on the My Family 15 in 15 FaceBook page.  This was the only photo the young man had of his family and it was obviously very dear to him.  I felt humbled to know that our coming had made this possible.
During our break between sessions, one of the Seminary and Institue colleagues of Brother Piatau and the Stake President offered to take us for a ride to show us some of the the pretty views the island had to offer.  We saw some wonderful spots.
Elder & Sister Bennett with Brother & Sister Piatau

                             Scenes of Vava'u Beauty

You can just barely see a tall pointed volcano in the distance...this one was errupting recently. 

Stake President and his daughter  
After our drive we stopped by a cafĂ© for a quick lunch that turned out not to be so quick…so we told them to give it to us as takeaway and we ate our chicken burgers on the way back to the church for our next session.

The training at 2:00 PM was packed and everyone seemed very engaged.  Afterward there was much happy chatter as we greeted the members personally and they shared their feelings about the training.



One of the key parts of our training is talking about a commoon barrier to working with FamilySearch - unfamiliarity with (or even fear of) computers.   MANY of the island people we are teaching have never used a computer before and only a very few have internet access at home. Getting over this hurdle is a big step to getting them to create an account online.  (Add to that the very slow internet in the islands and it really is a significant challenge.)

At each training we would follow that up with telling stories about Brother Harry Vete and  Bishop Panama Leanau,  two people in our assigned ward of Auckland 2nd in the Waterview stake.   We use these two good men as examples of people who knew absolutely nothing about computers who were willing to learn how to use FamilySearch in order to complete the My Family 15 in 15 challenge.  

Bishop Leanau

This has seemed to have a very positive effect, creating new confidence among the people we are presenting to that learning how to use a computer is feasible for them.  

When we showed the slide with a photo of Brother Harry Vete and began telling his story, one of the members in that group (Brother Spencer) beamed with smiles at us.  He later told us that when he lived in New Zealand he had been Brother Vete’s home teacher for over fifteen years.   During much of that time,  Brother Vete had not been active in the church.  Brother Spencer was so pleased to know that Brother Vete is now strong in the gospel and is doing his family history work.  Brother Spencer also spoke very highly of the Auckland 2nd ward, saying he always attends there whenever he has an opportunity to visit New Zealand.  We assured him we would take his good wishes back to all the members of our ward, particularly Brother Vete.

All in all it was as pretty great day.  The trainings went very well.  The break at lunch time to see all the amazing sights of the island had our minds spinning in awe of the beauty.  The people we met were so loving, so welcoming, so appreciative to have us there.   I loved hearing their family stories!    

By this point we had adapted pretty well to doing all our teaching via interpreter.   We were learning to keep our sentences short and simple.  Sometimes the language difference was still a challenge.   For example, once when giving an example of a family story I told about my grandfather, Frank Pendley, relaying the story of how he dug tunnels through solid rock wall of Oak Creek Canyon to be able to get water to his orchard.   Well, what I had not realized at the time is there is no word for "tunnel" in the Tongan language.   Most of the islands are FLAT.  They don't have tunnels.   Poor Sister Piatau looked a bit perplexed when trying to translate that particular story to the group - finally settling on "The road under the mountain" as the closest she could think of..

Still, despite our differences of background, culture and language, we felt such a bond with these wonderful brothers and sisters from Tonga.  Sometimes I just had to pinch myself to be sure it wasn't all some wonderful dream.  We worked hard.  It wasn't always comfortable.  But our time in Tonga was definitely a real highlight of the mission.

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