Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Nakawakawa Branch

As we traveled around the island of Vana Levu, we kept hearing stories about a very special branch up in one of the mountain villages.   
It was said to be the fastest growing LDS church unit in Fiji.   

People spoke about meetings with 10, 20, sometimes 30 investigators.  Some of those inquiring about the church were said to walk for miles to come find out about this group that had been meeting in a tent,  teaching of a new religion.  After the membership outgrew that primitive shelter, they banded together to build their own church.  They cut down one of the local mahogany trees and planed it into boards with a chainsaw.  With the help of some village boys and a few service missionaries, they cleared a site on the mountaintop and built themselves a chapel.

While the building was very basic, it had one of the most beautiful views of any LDS chapel, situated as it was high up in the mountains of one of the most remote areas of the island.


   The congregation at Nakawakawa had been meeting together for just two years and gained new members nearly every month.  When investigators were ready to commit to joining the church, they were baptized in the nearby river.

1st Counselor Brother Nawele showed us the river where he was baptized
after telling us his conversion story.

This congregation was so new that all the leaders were learning their roles step by step as they embraced the gospel.  They were formally organized as an independent branch the day we were in Savusavu.   The following week we had an opportunity to go visit the new branch  for ourselves.

We had quite a long journey to get there.   We headed out from Labasa at 6:00 AM.  For the first few hours the road was paved.  But about half way there we shifted to a bumpy gravel road , and then that gave way to nothing ore that rutted dirt with several rivers to cross on small, precarious bridges.

Road to Nakawakawa Branch

After about five hour travel from Labasa, we arrived at Nakawakawa Branch and met the newly appointed Branch President, Pita Vakalala.

Bro. Senikuriciri and President Vakalala meet
President Vakalala was a quiet, very humble man with powerful faith.  I learned part of his story from his counselor.  Although born in Fiji, Pita's family had emigrated to the USA when he was a very young boy.  He had grown up in Salt Lake City, with all the modern conveniences and perils that city life has to offer.  Although his parents were strong members of the church, Pita was a very rebellious youth.  He fell in with the street gangs.  Then, as a young adult, he was arrested and deported back to Fiji.   

At first Pita was devastated by the abrupt change in his life.  Instead of fast food, movies, and modern life, he was thrown back to traditioanl village culture, eating primarily fish and taro.  He became very discouraged.  He went through a painful, dark period as he came to terms with the consequences of his choices.  He finally recognized that the only path for him to reclaim his life was to repent of all his sins and turn his life over to God.   Once his heart was turned, he made up his mind he would go to his father's village in Nakawakawa and teach the people there the gospel.  It has largely been through his powerful testimony that this congregation has been established.

A few of the members of Nakawakawa Branch who came to our Family History training

  We were literally on top of a mountain MANY miles from any sort of town. But through the miracle of technology we were able to get online with our Vodophoone Flashnet dongle and bring up the online program FamilySearch.org to teach the people how to build family trees and record stories of their ancestors.  We also were able to help three people submit family names for temple work. It seemed like a true miracle that we were able to accomplish this in such a remote place.

Then Elder Bennett said to President Vakalala, "this has been a wonderful opportunity.  It sure would be nice if we could actually print out the forms so the people could have them now to look forward to taking them to the temple."  President Vakalala said he would be right back.  He took off in his truck and came back about 20 minutes later with a printer and a generator.  We hooked it all up and before we knew it, we were printing out the Family Ordinance Requests. Everything worked perfectly.  These were the first ever family file names for the temple from their newly organized branch.

We showed President Vakalala how to sign on as a helper so he could continue to work with the members after we left. We also helped him get his Patriarchal blessing online and showed him how to add photos to FamilySearch.   We absolutely loved the reaction of this shy, reserved man when he saw the pictures he uploaded appear for the first time.

There is NO DOUBT in our minds we had angels among us as we worked together teaching both the doctrine of eternal families and the tools for how to bring it about.  We had never felt so much love and faith and willingness to do whatever the Lord may ask as I have among these humble people. It was an amazing day.  We were very honored to spend time with President Pita  Vakalala,  1st Counselor Brother Nawele  and 2nd counselor  Bro Tomasi.  Hearing their conversion stories and learning of the history of the branch was very inspiring.

Afterward we joined them for a meal before heading back on another long, bumpy ride back to Labasa.

Today was a very good day.  We will add these experiences to an ever growing list of our mission miracles.

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