Sunday, June 25, 2017

Watch out! Watch out! Watch out!

Since my hearing is so bad even with my new super duper state of the art hearing aids (shameless plug for the Hearing and Balance Center in SLC), there are occasionally some interesting things that happen.  I feel bad for Lepeka as she frequently has to repeat herself or interpret something for me.  I really appreciate how patient she is with my hearing loss and I try hard to listen so as not to just get into the habit of saying, "What?"

We were just pulling onto one of the main roads in Pea when I heard her say, "Watch out! Watch out! Watch out!"  So naturally, I slammed on the brakes.  She looked at me wondering why I had done that so I told her what I thought she had said.  It turns out she was just pronouncing one of the missionaries last names.  Elder Vakautakakala will forever now be know to us as Elder Watch out watch out watch out!

I thought you might be interested in getting a feel for the relative size of the main island in Tonga (Tongatapu) compared to the Salt Lake Valley.  It is approximately 24 miles long and a few miles across depending on location (maybe 3-5 miles).   I know some of you are thinking it looks like a wicked dogleg on a par 5 hole.  This isn't the best representation of the actual shape of Tongatapu as the island looks more like an elf shoe (see below), as mentioned in previous blogs, but this shows a good representation of the the relative size and orientation.  It's a fun website if you are into that kind of thing.  You can overlay almost any map (countries or states) to get an idea of the relative sizes of countries and states etc.  (click here or go to  

Here's the actual map for reference as well (as close to the same scale as I can get it).  The capital city of Nuku'alofa is about midway along the North side of the island and is the largest city in Tonga.  We average driving about 100 Km per day as we take care of the medical needs of the missionaries and go from meetinghouse to meetinghouse working with the technology.  There are 13 stakes on this island.  There are 6 stakes covering the rest of Tonga (soon to be 7).  We live at the yellow star on the map to the left (Liahona) right by the Temple.

L>R, Lepeka, Sister Ve'ehala (Tonga)
Sister Walter (Hawaii)
 We frequently take missionaries to appointments in the evenings that almost always conflict with their fafonga (supper in this case).  Since we never know for sure how long we are going to be we have them cancel their fafanga and we take them to eat.  That way we are sure they don't miss out on eating supper.

The view from our table in Little Italy
The view from our table in Little Italy
as the mission leaders arrived.

We took these two sisters to an appointment and afterward they wanted to go to Little Italy (an Italian restaurant in Nuku'alofa).  We went in and as soon as we ordered our Pizza, the entire mission leadership on Tongatapu shows up.  They are gathered for a meeting in the morning and the President brought them here for dinner.  I'm not sure the Sisters wanted to share their special dining experience with a group of rowdy leaders but we still enjoyed our dinner and then took them home.

Three Generation hair styling party.
We also ran across this LDS family in Matahau  grooming each other and thought it was a neat 3 generation shot with the family pets nearby (or dinner as the case may be).  They were having such a great time.  There was also a little boy nearby eating a lollie but we didn't get him in the photo.  They gave Lepeka permission to take the photo and post it n our blog.  It is so typical to see families enjoying their time together.

This is a photo of a couple of
small piglets (maybe 8-9 inches
in length).  We see them spotted
in almost any color.  They always
bring a smile as they trot around
everywhere usual nearby mama.
We've seen litters of 10 or so
scampering everywhere.
Not much more to report this week.  Just a few more shots of little piglets that  roam the island everywhere.  All sizes, markings and colors imaginable.  The spotted ones are very different than any I have ever seen in the U.S. and you have a wide variety within each litter.

Six more little piglets running free
in Sopu.  Fences are built to keep
the animals out (not in).  Dogs, pigs
and chickens run free.  It's very
common to have them cross the road
in front of you.  Cows are often tied
to a tree so they keep them more
under control.

One of the beaches on the Eastern shoreline of Tongatapu
This is along the Southern shoreline south of the airport

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Kolopeki is back in Tonga

Missionary Flippers (or Flip-flops to us).
I don't want to hear about wearing out
a pair of Doc Martin's.  At least they
have good foot and arch support.
I suppose since we have been in Tonga now for 5 months now we can officially provide the following observations.

Young Elders and Sisters in Tonga are AWESOME!  Now that is an over used word in today's lingo so I want you to know I am using it in the vernacular of yesteryear when awesome really did mean AWESOME!   I am constantly amazed at their commitment to the Lord and to preaching the Gospel as well as their dedication and willingness to serve their fellowman.  They constantly look for ways to serve from major service projects to simple acts of kindness.

They work through the challenges of working closely with a hoa (companion) not with just a different personality but often times from an entirely different culture.  We have many missionaries from Tonga who serve close to family and friends but always strive to keep the rules.  We have missionaries from Europe, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, and the islands of Fiji, Kirabati, and Hawaii just to mention a few.  This can lead to some interesting differences but they always do their best to work through them.

Kapa pulu is often on the typical
breakfast menu
Missionaries are fed twice a day, breakfast and dinner, by the locals in the area they are serving.  This is called fafanga, a typical breakfast might be a loaf of bread with some butter or canned spaghetti and a bottle of Fanta.  At dinner time they may receive some of the following:  a can of kapa pulu (canned corned beef), some Lu (leaf of Taro plant), Moa (chicken), Ika (fish), Manioke (tapioca root), Ufi (yam) and lots of Taro (potato like root only drier), Laise (rice) and (noodles).   They also have no way to heat anything up or cook anything in their MQs.  Most MQs have filtered water for drinking but we often note that the bottle is empty.  When Megan was serving in Guatemala she said that she could drink the local water but then you'd have to call her Elder.  I suppose that happens here more than we know but we do encourage them to drink bottled or filtered water.

The locals are always willing to share and to give the missionaries their best.  I have tried everything above now but the missionaries also get served horse, dog and bat meat on occasion.  Most of them graciously accept and try the food.  I'm not sure I'm up to the horse, dog and bat yet but my defenses are weakening and we still have 18 months to go ...  who knows?

They also walk all day long .... in flippers!  No one ever complains (at least to us)  In fact, even the flippers in the photo were still in use.  We told the young Elder (from the US) that he needed to get some new ones.  He just smiled and said he would.  We always offer to give them a ride when we see them walking down the road but they seldom accept as their schedules are built around walking.  We have given a ride to missionaries at 6:00 pm headed to the next town (about 3K away) going to a meeting and then would be walking back home later that night.  This is after walking all day ... and again, in flippers.  I drive most places with limited walking and my feet are always tired at the end of the day.

Elder and Sister Groberg after the devotional.
Today is the day we met Kolopeki (Elder Groberg ... think "The Other Side of Heaven").  He has been in Tonga for close to a week but went to the outer islands first.  I can't help but think of the impact this one man has had on the nation of Tonga.  Now I know there are many others who have served faithfully here who also deserve credit but in any case, his impact was huge.  I suppose partly because of the movie, everyone here knows him and is excited that he is visiting.  We were fortunate as today was his birthday (June 17, 1934) and we got to sing Happy Birthday to Kolopeki Tongan style.  It was a rousing rendition followed by Happy Long Life to you (sung to the tune of Happy Birthday).

We had a great conference both Sister and Elder Groberg spoke and gave great messages.  Sister Groberg spoke about the many changes that have occurred since they served here as the mission president some 50 years ago and how each missionary should do their best to maintain the beauty found in Tonga.  Elder Groberg spoke a little bit in English and the rest was in Tongan.  He talked about some of his mission experiences and how important it is to stay close to God and to listen to the Spirit.  We actually understood some of the Tongan.  We are learning it word by word, phrase by phrase.  Not like the young missionaries who seem to learn it instantly.

On a lighter note, Lepeka and I watched the movie "The Other Side of Heaven" shortly after we received our mission call last year and decided that was probably not the best endorsement of Tonga for new missionaries to watch.  We did enjoy the movie but it did give us cause to pause and think about ... well ...  "The Other Side of Heaven".

I'm not going to try and list all of the missionaries but you may see yours somewhere here
360 degrees of missionaries shown in these two photos from the plaza panorama style (after Elder Groberg's devotional)
More than half of the population of Tonga are members of the Church.  I think membership is listed at around 66,000 (regular attendance numbers are much lower) and total population around 110,000.  There are 19 (soon to be 20) LDS Stakes and 141 Wards and Branches (my unofficial count) and meetinghouses (official church buildings) on 7 different islands not including meetings that may occur in member houses on small islands.

Missionaries in the chapel just prior to the Elder Groberg devotional.
This is just the missionaries from serving on Tongatapu and 'Eau

My attempt at a selfie trying to capture Elder Groberg in the background
Photo bombed by the infamous Lepeka and Elder Enos (Hawaii)
It's okay ... she's a keeper!
We're to the right of the flagpole (2nd row-ish)

Sunday, June 11, 2017

We Smile From The Heart

Fire dance show from 'Oholei
Polynesian Fire dance.  'Oholei cow!  I hope the video clips work as it was incredible to watch.  We have a few really good ones that I'll add to youtube and provide links in one of our future blogs.

The Blow-pops continue to be a hit with the missionaries.  We also pass them out to some of the local kids when it seems appropriate (with parental approval of course).

The two young kids that wait for
Blow-pops at Pelehake.  Lepeka was 
able to get them to smile and wave at
us but this was the better photo.
We have one house in Pelehake that is right next to the MQ at the end of the road.  There is a little girl and boy who seem to be on the lookout for us now and whenever we visit the missionaries, they are always standing out by the road when we leave hoping to get a blow-pop.  Their shy smiles win us over every time.  They were having a family party earlier this week and even though it was dark, we had a whole group of kids come out to greet us.  They now know our name and say, " Thank you Elder and Sister Kapp" (it's a good thing we had just opened a new box so we were ready).

Fire Dance at 'Ololei resort Friday, June 9, 2017
This week Lepeka and I were able to attend one of the many programs on the island designed around the Tongan culture.  Food, music, and dancing were provided for an evening of fun and entertainment.  There is a resort on the east side of the island that we have heard many good things about and a group of six senior couples as well as some of dental volunteers who come here to work and serve for 2 weeks to two months.  In all our group totalled about 16.  The host made it a point to say thank you to all of the visitors to the island and left a good explanation of the happy sentiment we see so everywhere when he stated, "We smile from the heart".  There is nothing fake about the Tongans love for others and they do truly smile from the heart.  A good lesson for me.

Since it was the dentist's wife that called and made the arrangements for our group, she mentioned to them that we had some dentist volunteers that were here for a couple of weeks that wanted to see the show.  As we arrived the announced us as a group of dentists from America who were here for two weeks and how grateful they were that they could get their teeth fixed for free.  I guess it is true that we are known by those we associate with.

The band for the pre-dinner show.
We started the evening out by listening to a band play some good old Tonga ukulele music like, "Spanish Eyes, and Can't Help Falling In Love".  Lepeka and I enjoyed the music as we arrived about 1 1/2 hours early (the music started at 6:30pm and the dinner at 8:00 pm) we thought it would be fun to get there and just relax and listen.  The others in our group arrived later just prior to dinner.  We are always a sight in our white shirts and ties especially when we are in a group.

As dinnertime approached, our host started his prayer for the evening with a Tongan song of thanks and then prayed for the evening (in Tongan and English).  He described how Christianity runs through the country of Tonga and how grateful he is for the Savior.  He said the he teaches his children about God but doesn't teach them about religion.

I think it is sad that so many do not understand that religion is the way we learn, the way we strengthen and exhibit our faith in God.  Many have come to think that the understanding of man is higher (or more accurate) than the teachings of God and think that with the discoveries of science, we now understand more and need Him less.  It is so easy to see that the world really needs the teachings of Christ so much more now than at any time in Earth's history. 

You can see the bamboo stalks that are
used as plates (we did have a fork to
eat with).
Our dinner for the evening was all typical Tongan food. They had 14 different dishes prepared for us as well as a banana stalk plate (see photos).  We have tried most of the local foods now with few exceptions (we'll leave the dog, horse and bat for others).  Most of the food is pretty good and some of it is very good.  We eat regularly at some of the local restaurants.  I am even developing a taste for laise (rice).  Becky wishes they had better lettuce for salads but we have found some here and there.  I don't miss the salads since they've never been on my favorites list.  Dandelions, leaves and grass should be reserved for the animals.  I do my part by only eating animals that are vegetarians (beef, chicken, pork).

Ika Lolo'o and Lo'i Kaloa
Fresh fish and coconut cream
and marinated clams
Talo and Salati Vesitipolo
Taro (root) and Green Salad

Faikakai and Meleni
Bread Pudding and Watermelon

 Ota Ika (raw fish) and Lu and kapapulu
Corned beef cooked in Talo leaves
and coconut cream

Puaka (whole roasted pit)
head and all.  We didn't get
a shot after it was unwrapped.
A better shot of the saladi vesitipolo

Puaka and Moa are the big meats here (pork and chicken).   You can click on the photos to get a better view of the food.  All in all we had a great evening culminated by the fire dancers.

He said when he first stated the restaurant in 2005, he hired professional fire dancers from Nuku'alofa but as they continued they wanted more money so he told his grandsons they were now going to be the fire dancers and they had a few days to learn.  He would teach them what he could but told them if they got burned, they didn't have enough faith.  Then he said, "I will pray for you".  

All-in-all we had a great night with lots of fun, laughter and good food.   Wish you could have been there with us.

The missionaries continue to amaze us with their Spirit and their willingness to serve.  Nothing major on the missionary health front as all are doing well with a few minor bumps and bruises here and there.

Thanks to all of you who send us email.  We love to hear about you and your families and we do answer them all and appreciate so much you thinking of us here in Tonga!

Ofa lahi 'atu!        (we love you)                                                                                                                    


From the Fire dance

more from the Fire dance

more from the Fire dance

final still shot from the Fire dance

Saturday, June 3, 2017


Even our new Bishop is thinking
about us in Tonga.  Bishop Reed's
version of Tonga.  Love it!
(900 North chalk-art - woot!)
We were able to spend some more time teaching some of the locals computer classes this week.  We are now working with several Stake Technology Specialists as we train them in some of the details of what they need to know.  We are also teaching an artist, a couple of farmers and someone who works in some type of land resource management for Tonga.  It is a pretty wide spectrum of computer knowledge just with this small group so we end up spending a lot of one-on-one time with them.  One of the farmers is a ward clerk and wants to help his ward better utilize technology in teaching so it fits in nicely with my focus.  We will feature the artist in one of our future blogs with a link to his website so you can see some of his work.

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week we figured we saw over 60 missionaries for one reason or another.  Not because they were all sick or injured, we were helping do some of the office tasks as they are down a few couples and really needed some help delivering funds and supplies.  It was a pretty hectic couple of long days but we really love everything we're doing here ... especially meeting and talking with the missionaries.  They are so uplifting to be around.

Real map of Tongatapu (for next time Bishop Reed) clipped
from Google Maps.  Nuku'alofa is the Capital City, we are
located in Liahona (see the star on the map .. that's us)
I thought I'd take this week to focus a little bit on Tongan culture and society.  I have found it to be a breath of fresh air coming from our North American society of entitlement, narcissism, and general selfishness.  Now I am not trying to trash our society as there are also so many great things about it but as I look from a different perspective here those are the things that jump out at me.

The four main values of Tongan Society are:
  1. Faka’apa’apa (Respect – let’s see Aretha put that to music)
  2. Lototo  (Humility)
  3. Tauhi va  (maintaining good relationships)
  4. Mamahi’I me’a  (Loyalty)
These value are taught to their children (and others) mostly by example and learned by observation. 

Many of us (myself included prior to coming here) think of Tongan as great and ferocious warriors.  we see them battle on the football field (especially those of us close to BYU and UTAH sports).  We see the dynamic haka's performed by many (its origin is actually Māori not Tongan).  We have found the opposite to be true.  The values listed above seem to permeate every member and facet of their society.

The following excerpt (blue text) is taken from Wikipedia and condensed:

Men and women hold unique roles in Tongan society. A man usually holds the power and is considered the head of his household. However, a man has an obligation to care for his sister and her children. 

In Tongan families your paternal aunt is the highest-ranking member and is referred to as mehekitanga or Fahu.  Men hold power and women hold rank.  In ancient Tonga one would inherit titles, land and people from their mother, after Christianity this was changed to mainly inheriting from ones father.  Until recently it was Tapu (taboo) for any male that has passed puberty to be in the same room with his sister or girl cousins alone.  This was done under the notion of respect or faka'apa'apa. 

Other key members of Tongan kinship are the 'Ulumotu'a or the oldest male in ones extended family on your father's side, they are usually called upon to be in charge of funerals and other family events.  They do not out rank a Fahu but they have power to direct events.  Also noteworthy is all of your maternal aunts are called your mothers, likewise you paternal uncles are your fathers.  Your cousins on either side are called your brothers or sisters.  Similarly if you are female and your sisters children are called your children also because you are a mother to them.  Same applies if you are a male and your brothers children will refer to you as a father.

I think this helps explain why everyone seems to be brothers and sisters aunts and Uncles, or cousins here.  Every time you mention someone you always hear, "That's my sister", or something like that.  At first we thought it was just because the families are large.  Now we know that yes they are large but the actual relationship might not be exactly as we think of them.

I have provided a diagram of the family ranking in Tonga to help visualize (that still may not help but it's the best I can do).  In my family (since all of my father's aunts have passed on) the ranking family member would be Janice Kapp Perry our Fahu.  So if you want to be famous in Tonga, you just tell them that JKP is your Fahu (kind of like in Utah or any other gathering of Mormons).  

It has been our experience that they live the four values listed above.  They treat us with the utmost respect.   They are very humble people who genuinely love one another.  They are open and genuinely friendly and they are very loyal.  We hope they feel of our love and respect for them as well.  We are doing our best to emulate their good qualities and make them a permanent part of our personalities.

I have added a few more Faith promoting stories to our blog that can be found by clicking here and, for family members who may be interested, I have finally been able to find a few minutes to finish converting the "Ruth Saunders Kapp's poetry collection to text.  You can view that collection by clicking here.  There are over 400 poems she kept in her book (I'm sure she has more elsewhere too).   I hope you have as much fun reading them as I did.  We did our best to proofread but if you find something needs correcting please let me know so I can fix it (including credits).

Ofa lahi 'atu from Tonga!

Auditorium (gymnasium or whatever) on campus at Liahona High School
Many of the large meetings are held here including Stake conferences.

View of the airport from the Domestic terminal.  Many of the smaller planes
that fly from island to island land on the grass rather than the runway.
Entrance to the domestic terminal.  Road is on the left.

One of the many interesting trees seen from the backroads of Tonga.

Tree at the domestic terminal at the airport.  These are some really interesting trees.
I have posted a few photos of these types of trees before.  The branches hang down
and if the get to the ground they develop roots and become new trunks supporting
the entire tree.

Also at the airport.  The canopy from these trees can be huge.