Sunday, September 13, 2015

Day 8 in Tonga - Sabbath on the Island of OFU

On Sunday we were invited to attend District Conference on the tiny island of Ofu.  This was one of the areas where Brother Piatau had spent his mission as a young elder over 20 years ago and he had not been back since, so he was very excited to go.

We met at the harbour early that morning and waited for the church boat to take us.  It was a lovely ride over, requiring us to wade out just a bit when we got off the boat to make our way to the shore.


Our ride to church
The church is just one room with a wrap around porch.  Restrooms are in a separate structure out back next to the water cistern.  Chairs are set up for the adults and older youth.  A woven mat is rolled out at the front of the room for the primary children to sit on.  The chapel was built after Brother Piatau ended his time serving there.  He and his companion had helped to clear the land where it was built.   Seeing the dense thickness of the bush, we could only imagine the effort that had required, being done only with spades and bush knives.

Ofu Chapel

Church yard surrounded by thick bush

Members coming to church
The Stake President's boat in distance bringing leaders to conference

As we have found everywhere throughout the islands, the singing among these people was absolutely stunning.  There are no hymn books or accompaniment – yet the congregation belts out the most amazing harmonies, each person knowing their parts.  It was like listening to angels sing.

All the services and conversation were in Tongan, of course, so we had a bit of a challenge following what was being said.  However, we had attended a Tongan ward in Auckland at the beginning of our mission, so the basic pattern of it all was familiar to us.

After the Sacrament meeting ended the children and youth went outside for their separate meetings.  The adults turned their chairs to face the other end of the room for Sunday School.  When that ended the women went outside to gather under a tree for Relief Society while the men stayed in for Priesthood meeting.   While the language and setting were different, we knew we were getting the very same lessons that were being taught back in Auckland and in the United States.  We felt very at home worshiping with our Tongan brothers and sisters.

Ofu Relief Society
A mother fixing her daughter's hair for church.  This image made me smile, recognizing how mothers all over the world had so much in common through their faith and their love of their family

 At the close of the meeting there was a grand feast which had been prepared by some of the women while the rest of us were in our meetings.  There was so much food!  There were large platters of fried chicken, sausages and open fire roasted pig.  Next came raw fish in coconut cream, baked fish (bones and all …. We were told to eat it like sunflower seeds – suck down the good stuff and spit out the hard stuff.  I sampled enough to be polite and passed on the rest.)  There was taro, potatoe salad, octopus, and other traditional foods.  Dessert was a bread of some kind soaked in pudding.  The whole village turned out for the feed – members and non members alike.  Several short speeches were given during the meal expressing appreciation.  

Preparing the roasting fire

Cutting the pigs - a few good whacks with the machete does the job!

At the District Conference there had been a change in leadership and the Stake President had given a rousing talk encouraging the members to give their full support to the new District President.  So there were lots of tender feelings among the outgoing leader and his wife who had given many years of service to that congregation and the humble acceptance of the newly called man and his family.
Stake President - in dark jacket - to his right are the outgoing Dist. Pres and new Dist. Pres;
 Not sure who man is on left
We had time for a short walk  between when church ended and when the feast began.  We were again overwhelmed by the beauty.  

One of the things that impressed me was seeing how the homes there were using solar panels to bring power to them.  Another example of the way these people were blending their very traditional island life with some of the benefits of modern technology.

The tide had shifted a bit during the time we were on the island, so when it came time to go our boat was now sitting in a bit deeper water than when we arrived.  (Also the rope that had secured it to a tree on shore had been undone, so it looked like it had drifted out a bit).  We got onto the Stake President’s boat which was able to come right up to shore and put a ramp down for us.  He then ferried us out to where our boat was and we got to jump to it….a bit unsettling to say the least, but we all made it across without anyone getting wet.

We took a longer way back to Vava’u as we had someone to drop off on the other side of the island.  We got a great view of the many little islands in the chain and some of the nice sailboats and yahts that were enjoying the protected bay.

The colors of the water were mezmerizing…going from brilliant turquoise  to cobalt.  It was so clear we could see for many fathoms down, watching starfish, morish idols, and other little fish swimming below.  There were so many tiny little islands with gorgeous white sand beaches, we couldn't help but dream of the possibility of coming back here one day on a real holiday when we might have time to explore them.  

It was another incredible day.  Our time in Ofu was not something we had expected, but it was just one more of the sweet mission opportunities we were blessed with.

We got back to campus in time to rest a bit before going out for our evening training.  We   met at the Neiafu Tonga Stake Center in Kameli village where we trained new stake leaders and ward consultants.  Their stake had been reorganized the previous June, so most were new to their callings and were eager to hear any training we could give them.  The spirit was so strong throughout this training and we really felt connected with the members there.

We had plenty to eat earlier in the day at the big feast, but the members at that training wanted to be sure we were well cared for.  They had a pizza brought to our apartment after the training which was very thoughtful - and yummy!  This was just one more example of the generosity of spirit we continually found among these good people.

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