IT FEELS SURREAL THAT I NOW LIVE THE LIFE I LIVE – TURNING TO CHRIST

Life Is What We Make Of It

Hello Everyone! I feel inspired and honoured to have received an invitation to share my story with you all. I hope and pray my story will bless someone’s life, help someone who is struggling and to ensure that you are not alone in your journey – I hope I can be of comfort to you.

Sometimes change seems so far away or it seems like life will always remain the same. I have come to know and witness that life is what we make of it. If we want to see change, we need to be the change for our surroundings to be impacted. In my personal life, I have judged, I have cried, I have upset others, I have struggled, I’ve been hurt, I’ve felt joy and pain, I’ve felt invisible and unheard, I’ve loved, I’ve fought, I’ve won and I’ve lost. These are the things that have collectively made me who I am today – as a mother, daughter, wife, sister, friend and a woman.

My name is Rukshana Afu (Nee Ahmed). I much prefer Shana for short. My first and maiden name is Arabic, I was born a Muslim to a Fijian Indian father and Samoan mother. My mother was born a Methodist, she moved to New Zealand from Samoa met my dad, married him and converted to Islam. I was born in Auckland, New Zealand and 6 years later my brother was born.

Vulnerability and Rawness

Before I begin, I want to touch base on how difficult it is for me to share this part of my life and open up about my upbringing, as it is a past I have buried away for a long time – which not many people know about. But for my story to make sense – it means I need to show some level of vulnerability and bring out the rawness of what I have been through. What you are about to read is in no way throwing ‘shade’ on my parents and the way we lived our lives in our respective household. What you are about to read is my story, a story that is a living testimony about CHANGE AND BELIEVING in the good and that by having faith in Christ, things CAN work out for the better.

My Dad Loved Alcohol, My Mum Catered to [His] Parties

Growing up my family went through particular stages in life – my dad loved alcohol and partied every weekend, my mum would cater to these parties till the end of the night, where she would suffer from domestic violence. I was so young at the time but remember every scene like it happened yesterday. That life was so hard as I would dread the weekend and dreaded the sight of alcohol being brought home by dad. Fast forward through childhood, it got to a point where mum and I packed our bags while dad was at work and ran away to a women’s’ refuge. As a young girl, this foreign place was scary to live in and I could not comprehend why we would always sneak away from dad.

Although the feelings I felt towards him in how he acted towards mum or get crazy when he was drunk, was in fear, I still loved dad. Mum, having little to no support from family, caved in would return to dad over and over again. Things never changed until dad received a diagnosis that instilled fear in him of losing his life. This illness intended for him to discontinue drinking and to change his whole lifestyle. What a day this was for me! On top of the feelings of fear, sadness and anxiety towards Dad’s diagnosis, secretly, I was overjoyed with happiness as this meant, that he would quit alcohol and I would not have to worry so much about mum.

I Was Young and Explored New Things

Things took a turn very quickly and religion entered our home. Dad started praying 5 times a day so when he started, so did my family. We began to pray as a family, we took part in Ramadan and fasted from sunrise to sunset during the 30 days, we also attended Sunday school to learn Arabic, there I was taught how to read Arabic. I also came to know Allah through prayer and I always believed there was a higher power. I didn’t really understand though, the foundation of why we prayed the way we did or why we ate halal food or the basics of Islam – my dad never gave me a clear explanation of these beliefs but instead, said ‘this is the way we have to live’.

Mum taught me about modesty and dressing up properly in front of my elders and I went through a phase where I wanted to permanently wear the hijab around my head. During this phase however, I witnessed a-lot of the way dad treated mum and things didn’t change at home when it came to dad being controlling. There were countless events that took place that made me rebel against the religion and against my family. I blamed religion for the way my dad was. This was very wrong from my part. The actions of a man should never dictate the faith he belongs too. I was very young, ignorant and vulnerable and I began to dislike my faith. I started to explore new things and drink alcohol, snuck out of home to attend parties and also ran away from home to be with a boy. Amongst my home life, I was also heavily bullied to the point where I ate my lunch in the toilets. I kept this from my parents as I didn’t want them to know that something was wrong nor to have them worry about me, so I endured in the pain of bullying. I became friends with a different circle of friends which then came peer pressure to wag school and drink alcohol whilst in school uniform. I did everything and anything to fit in with this group so I could feel like I belong somewhere. I then dropped out of school as I was about to be suspended for unlawful activities outside of school in uniform and I got myself a full time job and started studying at a course. During this stage, religion was out of my life completely and I was hardly ever home. If I wasn’t at course I was at work and If I wasn’t at work, I’d be in someone’s garage getting drunk and wasting my life away.

I Questioned Sione ‘Why Would you Go to Church? on Sunday When You Drink on Saturday?

Sione then came into my life during this rebellious stage and he was no better of an influence to me. Probably not the type of boy you would want to take home to meet the parents. He dressed and lived a life of a street gangbanger. A tall Tongan boy, with his shirt that almost covered his knees. I fell in love very quickly and left home to be with him. Being together was not a good mix as we both partied and drank almost everyday, smoked substances that were illegal and he was jobless so I was his main income provider. Mum and dad were not happy with my choices but accepted him because of me. I actually wish I had photos of the impression Sione made on my parents face when they first met him.

Sione and I lived together in his family home and whilst living there I found out that his whole family were church members. He then told me that he was indeed a Mormon. I was invited to church on several occasions by his mother but declined every time. My faith of being Muslim in my heart stood strong and I knew to never to step foot in a Christian church. I also questioned Sione and asked ‘why would you go to Church on a Sunday when you drink on a Saturday’? I didn’t understand the hypocrisy behind this since I’m the type of person who sees things black and white, there is no grey area in my perception. He answered in a Christ-like way asking me to never judge anyone. I still did though.

Sione and I were not ready to live the way our families wanted us to live, as with force, comes rebellion. So we blocked everyone out and lived our lives happily, although we thought this was happiness at the time.

We were 18/19 years old at the time and I felt very independent in my life. We had our own car, our own flat, new jobs to get us by, I felt like I was on top of the world!

Just Like That, I Felt Like My Whole World Was Crashing Down

I found out I was pregnant. Sione was excited whereas I, on the other hand was very unhappy. I kept having these feelings of the reality that I am still young and how life was going so good and now having a baby thrown into the mix will put all of us out. I was purely, devastated! When I told mum she jumped with joy, however her response was a confirmation to me that this baby could be a blessing in our lives.

During the first months of pregnancy, Sione got himself into a bit of trouble with the law and was put on trial for sentencing. He was being charged for grevious bodily harm and was looking at jail time. This was definitely the hardest time of my life, not knowing whether my boyfriend, who is about to be a father to my baby, will be entering prison and will miss out on everything. Prior to Sione I had never step foot in a police station or courthouse so this life was very new to me. I found myself praying a lot. Praying for help. I prayed in so many different ways, with no set beginning or end. I just spoke and cried. As I became heavier in pregnancy, I became more in tune and wanted to return to being strong in the Islam religion. This was the only faith that drew comfort for me; but this didn’t move anywhere for me as I had little to no support.

Miracles happened and Sione was set free on bail with no jail time but instead a sentence to be served on home detention. I felt so relieved! I felt happy that my prayers were answered and only felt gratitude towards God.

Aliyah is Born, Our Whole World Changed

Aliyah was born a few months later in 2008, we instantly became young parents and our whole world changed.

Religion was a taboo topic between Sione and I when Aliyah was born. Sione really wanted a baby blessing with his family and my family wanted to have a small Muslim ceremonial prayer gathering with their family. It became very overwhelming for me and affected my wellbeing as a mother. I became slightly depressed and could not bond with my baby and just cried everyday. I didn’t want to upset Sione and his family or upset my family, so I chose to have neither and asked to never speak of religion again.

It was very hard having my parents in one ear and Sione in the other when it came to Aliyah’s upbringing with church. I think my parents felt like they had a much bigger say because of my relationship with Sione. Sione served his time with home detention but quickly went back to his old ways with his friends on the weekends. I felt like I was re-living my childhood all over again, except this time, I’m the mum, awake at 3am, waiting for a call to find out where he is, with a crying baby on my lap. There were a number of times where he wouldn’t come home and I would pack my daughter in the car in the middle of the night, drop her to my parents and go out to search for him hoping he hasn’t landed himself in the gutter hurt somewhere or locked up again. My parents were not okay with this way of living and always supported me in making the right decisions to fit myself and Aliyah. They were not happy with Sione’s actions but he was still considered their son so they didn’t have much of a say. I always told my family and friends the good about him and always held onto that even through the tough times. Despite all this I saw the potential in Sione, that one day I knew he would rise above all of this and become a family orientated man in our home.

I knew if I wanted to see change, it only started with me. Sione was still having his fun in life and I was mellowing in my depression of feeling so alone at home. I needed something or someone to rescue me from my own misery.

Conversion – I asked Sione to Take Us All To Church, I Felt Like I was Home.

One day I asked Sione to take us all to church. We lived in West Auckland at the time and found a small chapel up the road from us, we knew no one in our area as all of Sione’s friends and family who are members, resided in South Auckland. We attended the first hour of church at the Lincoln Road Chapel and we were overwhelmed by all the smiling faces that greeted us before we left the chapel. They all wanted to know who we were and what we were all about. I’ve never felt so welcomed in my life. I felt like I was home.

I know if it wasn’t for a welcoming experience so warm and loving, I wouldn’t have felt a feeling to attend church again the next Sunday. I was so excited when it came to Sunday every week, I felt like I was meeting family on a weekly basis.

Many people asked me why I didn’t go back to Islam and for a long time it was difficult for me to answer that question, because deep down I didn’t know how too, without hurting loved ones around me who were Muslim. However after much contemplating I now know why, and it has come down to my upbringing. I saw a huge division between man and woman for a long time, in my own household, in other families and then I saw it begin to happen in my own relationship. I didn’t want that. I also received no support or encouragement to go back to Islam. I felt alone. I felt uneducated and I felt I needed more answers. I didn’t have the best examples around me. When I came to know about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I loved the concept of families being united and man and woman being equal.

Sione Began to Work on Himself

After having missionaries over and being around his older brothers’ influence, Sione began to work on himself. I too was working on myself but was unsure of what to anticipate in the end, after all I was happy with just attending church on Sunday. I was asked by a missionary to set a baptismal date. I hesitated at first and answered ‘I had no date and I don’t think I want to be baptised’. In addition to my answer, my parents had no idea that I was attending LDS church, so being baptised was out of the question. I kept this from my parents purely because conversion out of Islam is frowned upon in the family. I didn’t want to put my parents through that shame and especially with the way I had treated them in the past with my rebellious ways, I didn’t want to put them through more misery.

I was then asked to pray about it.

So I did.

I prayed and prayed and received a warm feeling about it and knew I had to do it. I knew I needed to be impulsive in my decision making, so we told everyone that we were planning for a marriage and baptism in a few months! It was a very exciting time for us, the more we planned the more joy we felt, the more that feeling confirmed with us that this was the right thing to do. I worked up the courage to tell my mum first and invited her to our event. She declined the invitation as soon as I told her that it was in the “Mormon” church. I felt strong when she said she wouldn’t support me, I told her this is the one thing I think that will make me happy.

Sione and I Worked as a Team

Sione and I worked as a team towards this date. He needed to quit both smoking and drinking and I worked on repentance and getting myself spiritually ready for my big day. The struggle and opposition was so real. It was a hard journey to get to that date, we had several knock backs and all sorts of trials entering our lives. At one point I didn’t think I would get baptised, I questioned it because it was all becoming so hard, but I fought through the opposition and made it to the end. And all of a sudden when you think you can’t see the light at the end of that dark tunnel, you see a glimmer of light shine through and know that everything is going to be alright.

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Team Work makes the Dream Work  – Thee Faithful Shana and husband Sione

Married and Sione Baptised Me. I Couldn’t Contain My Tears.

We both cleaned ourselves up, Sione received his Aaronic priesthood, we were married lawfully as husband and wife and Sione baptised me into a covenant, an experience I am forever grateful for. Pure and light is what I felt straight after my baptism. I couldn’t contain my tears. I had no family there but I did not feel alone. I felt rich with happiness and I gained a strong testimony of prayer. My prayers were finally being answered.

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Thee Beautiful Shana and Sione, both in white, at her Baptism!

Enduring to the End – Blessings after Blessings. Sealed For All Time and Eternity.

We set sail and moved to Australia to live. Blessing after blessing has come to Sione and I since choosing this path of becoming a member. My parents have now accepted my decision of becoming a member and have started respecting Sundays as our Sabbath. Dad likes seeing this change in us especially in Sione. We’ve worked hard spiritually together and as a result, a year and half later we were sealed in the Brisbane Temple for time and all eternity. What a blessing this was for our family! We were then blessed to have an addition to our family, our son Isaac. We have been blessed beyond measure!

As I take a moment to reflect and to allow all these events sink in after re-visiting every corner in my life. I cant help but feel thankful for our freedom of choice, our free agency. It feels surreal that I now live the life I live. I had a choice in all my doings in my life and I managed to find the right path, I managed to find the iron rod. My relationship with Sione is a lot stronger and the bond between myself and my parents is on a respectful level filled with so much love for each other. The church has taught me the meaning behind forgiveness. My dad has changed a lot from the man he once was, Dad and I are closer now than ever and despite what I went through with dad during childhood, it is now all stories for me, I have moved on and have forgiven him for the way he treated us. When forgiveness is in play the feeling of peace comes through… I love the quote by Quentin L Cook, he mentions – “The Saviour is the source of true peace. Even with the trials of life, because of the Saviour’s atonement and His grace, righteous living will be rewarded with personal peace”. This personal peace has helped me come to terms with a lot of my past and current issues. With all the negatives that took place in my life,  I look back now with a different perspective, I cant help but look at my journey in a positive light. I have lived through so many dark periods in my journey and I truly believe that the Lord never puts us through anything we cannot handle. If anything, my past has guided me to where I stand today.

Currently I still fall at times, I live a very imperfect life and unfortunately I have carried a lot of my defence emotions into my current relationships that sometimes cause me to build a wall up so I don’t need to face any dramas. Building a wall can also offend many around me, so I am trying my best at all times to be the better me, to be more Christ-like and to always find that peace.

Church Callings & Profession

I currently serve in our Stake Public Affairs Team as an Interfaith Specialist. This calling has helped me understand about all the religions around the world, and how we are ONE in everything we do. My calling helps build bridges between our church and other churches. We have worked closely with the Islamic faith and built a very close bond with some beautiful men and women. This calling has helped me understand the Islamic religion properly which has brought so much respect to my heart for this faith. My dad loves listening to my stories that I tell him when I meet with other Muslims in our community, I can sense a level of pride when I tell him these stories which has also opened his mind and his heart to understanding Christianity.

Another area that I feel successful in is in my work. I currently work part time in a clinic called The Medical Sanctuary. I have also endured in some educational courses and have broaden my horizon in the birthing industry as a birth and bereavement doula, an infant massage instructor and hypnobirthing educator. Deep down I have always had a passion in helping people with holistic health, and with my birth stories with our 1st and 2nd child, it has driven me to start my own business in helping women have a holistic experience with birth because birth is such a beautiful thing. I know with my knowledge in the gospel and my passion for families combined, I can genuinely serve these families who need all the love, support and comfort. My story and business can be found at Inspired Birth Co on Facebook and official website at www.inspiredbirth.co

Testimony to Me as a Mother that I Am Doing Something Right

Recently my husband baptised my 8 year old in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, my husband and I were so proud of our girl. It was a very emotional day for us and also a very special moment for us. I can testify with our examples and the standards we live, rub off on our children. We are creating a better generation for our children with our own actions. Aliyah has always mentioned how much she wants to go and see the temple, and that she will be going in one day. This is only a testimony to me that as a mother, I am doing something right.

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The Beautiful Afu Family – Sealed outside Brisbane Australia Temple

I Am So Proud To Be A Member Of This Gospel.

I have weaved my way through a life that is now just a memory for me. I don’t tell myself often enough, but I should really give myself credit for the strength I’ve held in walking a day in my shoes. I know all of us out there are going through something tough right now, and you all need to give yourselves that credit too, we all need to be a little bit kinder to ourselves, and I know and testify when life gets too hard to stand – you have to kneel.

Thank you for allowing me to be raw and for allowing me to dig deep. I pray this finds you well and that my life story will only inspire you to make the change that you want to see in your life.

Love Shana x

Moved by Shana’s inspiring story, I asked Shana if she can share few tips to our readers who are currently facing similar situations, these are her words.

  1. Never lose faith in the one you love. When people around me questioned my relationship with Sione and threw remarks in about him not being able to change. It made me believe in him more. I believe that everyone can change. We all change as we grow older and wiser. All we need is the right guidance to make better choices.
  2. Allow for mistakes to happen. I’ve learnt in my journey that making mistakes is okay. I mentioned how grateful I am for our free agency. With free agency it allows us to freely make the decision to what we think is best in our life at the time & then to learn from the choice we made whether it be good or bad. Agency is to act with accountability and responsibility for our actions. Like President Thomas S Monson quoted ‘may we choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong’.
  3. And lastly, pray always. Always pray! My testimony of prayer is strong. You may think He’s not listening during our time of trial, but He is! It may be the last thing on our mind to do when we feel sad, upset or full of anger, but I promise you, with prayer comes peace. And when there is peace in your heart, you will feel a relief overcome you and your burdens lifted slowly. You will feel comforted by the spirit and reassured that everything will be okay. Your perspective will change. It begins with us, the way we view the trial. If we look at things differently with lighter eyes as oppose to viewing it through the oppositions eyes, the trial may seem too hard to bear. Instead of asking in our prayers – why does this have to happen to me? Why me? Change the intention of your question to what am I to learn from this current experience? I promise you that you will be blessed with Heavenly fathers guidance through trials. Never lose hope!

I have learnt that through Christ’s love we can see our family’s divine potential. This is what has helped me with my past and current experiences.

With all the trials that Sione and I have faced, I am often asked on how we were able to make it on the other end? How did we handle the temptation of anger, worldly surroundings and separation? My consistent answer is that we turned to Christ and He cared for us; He never left us alone in our trials. A scripture I refer to with this is found in Mosiah 14:4 – my Saviour truly did carry our sorrows for us.

On that beautiful note – I want to share my feelings on the Atonement. The Atonement has made and left a deep and meaningful impact in my life. Oh how much I love the Atonement of Jesus Christ! He loves us so much that He gave up His own life for us. Because of the Atonement we can repent of our sins, be forgiven and become clean and pure. Christ is my perfect example and my inspiration in all things. He taught us how to serve one another. He taught us how to treat one another with kindness, and He taught us how to become better.

It is never too late to start serving one another and living our lives with Christ as the center. This month we celebrate Christ. We celebrate love, we celebrate forgiveness, we celebrate light & positivity and we celebrate family.

I’m really excited about Christmas this year. We are so excited to lose ourselves in the service of others and to be surrounded by love.

Do the same this Christmas, replace hate with love and give rather than expect to receive. When you do, take note on how you feel and grab that with two hands and run with it. Merry Christmas!

Alofa Atu, With Love

Shana

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Thee Inspiring Shana, with her awesome husband Sione and beautiful kids Aliyah and Isaac, Bless their most beautiful hearts!

PACIFIC LDS WOMEN Wishes you all a Very Merry Christmas and Prosperous New 2017

CHOOSE YE THIS DAY WHOM YE WILL SERVE

From A Young Age, I Quickly Learnt To Put God First

Hello everyone! My name is Ana Sualu Saulala. Just a few fun facts about me. I am Tongan with a bit of Swedish and German. My parents come from an island called Vava’u. I was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand and grew up in Avondale. I went to Rosebank Primary, Avondale Intermediate, and Avondale College. I have two brothers and one sister. I am the eldest, but I am also the shortest and occasionally get mistaken as the youngest. I love all sports, especially volleyball. I’m scared of spiders, especially the tiny ones. My favourite colour is blue and my favourite ice-cream flavour is jelly tip.

I was born and raised in the gospel. My dad has always been a member of the church, but my mum was a convert in her teens. So far, all members of my family have served full-time missions and the youngest is currently serving in Tonga. When I was young, my mum always reminded my siblings and I what mattered most to her. She didn’t care if we were rich or poor, what mattered to her was that we stayed in the church. My dad has always been very missionary minded and was often called to be the ward mission leader when I was growing up. I remember going on weekly visits as a family to homes of less active and part member families. What has always been important to my parents became very important to me. From a very young age, I quickly learned to put God first in all that I did.

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The Beautiful Saulala Family

Learn To Love The Challenges Of Life

My story begins from the moment I decided to serve a mission. Truth be told, I never wanted to serve a mission. I thought I was going to finish school, get married and live happily ever after. But, when the prompting came to serve a mission, I couldn’t deny it. It was the best decision I ever made for my life. When I returned from the mission in 2014, I was reluctant to return back to finish my university studies, but the Lord prompted me several times to go back. So, I resumed my studies in 2015. It was the best decision I ever made for my life. After serving a mission, I felt I had a better sense of direction with what I wanted from a career. I knew I enjoyed problem-solving and working in teams. Before the first semester, I attended a courses and careers day to figure out what I should major in for my commerce degree.  While waiting to chat to someone at a stall, I was approached by the dean of the business school who offered me some help. At the time I didn’t know who he was until a lady near me pointed it out. His advice that day gave me the direction I needed and has led me to where I am today. A major in operations and supply chain management taught me how businesses operate and how these processes can be improved. Reflecting on the decisions I have made thus far in my life, has helped me come to understand that the Lord will always lead you to where He needs you to be.

I’ll be honest, it has not always been sunshine and roses for me. There have been hard days. Sometimes those days last longer than a week, a month or even several months. I have come to understand that when it gets hard, focus on who you are becoming through the process. One of my role models is Gary Wilkinson. He was a former NZ Breaker basketball player and is also a convert to the church. I remember him speaking at a fireside once after he had retired from his basketball career. He said that basketball wasn’t all that he had to do in life. He really wanted to be a judge and is currently studying towards achieving this goal. His example really inspired me to keep improving and sincerely seeking to reach my full potential. One thing he said at that fireside, which has always stayed with me, is to “learn to love the challenges of life.” This always reminds me to keep things in its proper perspective and understand that our challenges can quickly be overcome when we have a positive attitude. My first District Leader would often share this quote from Elder David A. Bednar when days got tough on the mission, “a day without problems, is a day wasted.” This reminded me that not every day will be perfect. However, I did come to learn that a perfect day for me, was when I knew and could feel the Lord guiding my companion and I throughout the day to be where He needed us to be.

My journey thus far in life has always been motivated by a desire to please God and do all that He requires of me. As we sincerely seek to serve the Lord, He will help us reach our full potential. I remember when I failed my first year accounting paper, I was devastated!!! I had to retake the paper in order to move onto stage two. When I did pass the paper, I learned a very important lesson that year. I failed because I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t believe that I could do it. Sometimes we can rob ourselves of the success that we could have simply because we think we cannot do it, therefore, we don’t even try. How did I come to believe in myself? I knew that I was a child of God and that He loved me, but something else motivated me too. I’m not married yet, but I hope to be one day. My biggest motivation for everything I am doing now with my life is my future family. I want to be the kind of mother that can provide for the needs of my future children and enable them to seize every opportunity they want to take their journey through life. I don’t want them to miss out. I also want to be the kind of wife that is loving and supportive of my future husband. Heavenly Father loves us and He wants us to be happy. He has a plan for each of our lives and that plan is eternal. We are all children of God. Our success is His priority. Our decisions determine our destiny. Jesus Christ is truly the Saviour of the world. He will lead us safely home to our Heavenly Father. As we follow Him daily, we will not only bring salvation to our own lives and to lives of our families, but also to the lives of those around us.

Feel Good Period Enterprise

Since returning to university studies I took the opportunity to participate in Velocity. This is the University of Auckland entrepreneurship program. Velocity aims to educate students and staff in the entrepreneurial mind-set. Since participating in 2015, I wanted to be a part of the Velocity team in order to encourage more Maori and Pacific Island students to participate in the program. I joined the team as the Education Lead.

As well as studying full-time, I am also a part of a social enterprise called Feel Good Period. We found that some girls were missing out on school because they didn’t have access to sanitary products. Feel Good Period is a social enterprise that seeks to solve this problem and also address the stigma around talking about menstruation. We regard the topic with great sensitivity and respect, but we also didn’t want women and especially young girls to feel insecure about the changes their body goes through. Feel Good Period provides education, security, and confidence for girls.

The idea stemmed out of a university assignment that my friend did. The initial idea, however, focussed on getting better access to sanitary products for homeless women. We found that most people couldn’t really see the social impact that the access would have for homeless women and by impact I mean the long term effect. It would be nice to help them get better access but it would not bring them out of poverty. Although we cannot solve this problem right now for homeless women, we do intend to revisit this issue. So, this is where we pivoted and found girls we could help in school. Feel Good Period sells first-time period care packs for girls just about to start on their periods. Each pack that is purchased, another pack of sanitary products will be donated to a girl who needs it so they can go to school.

The Feel Good Period name was inspired by the desire to help every woman feel good, period! Essentially we want everyone to feel good, whether it be through contribution or receiving the contribution. We want people to feel good. We plan to run our first pilot in 2017 with schools to carefully monitor our progress. We’ve received support through Velocity and other organizations that are getting on board with Feel Good Period. It’s all very exciting and inspiring.

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The incredible Ana Saulala and her Feel Good Period Team!

I think that whatever you choose to do in life, be passionate about it. Understand and remember that Heavenly Father has a plan for you. Be anxiously engaged in a good cause (D&C 58:26-27). We all have the ability to make things happen. My dad recently asked me what blessings I received from serving the Lord. He taught me that the blessing that comes from serving the Lord is being able to serve Him more. When we seek to serve Him, we will be blessed with His spirit and He will inspire us. We will be constantly pondering how we can serve more.

What 3 tips would you give to our young female Polynesian career oriented who are struggling to balance work, career, school, church callings and family commitments?

Hmmm this is a hard question. Had to really reflect on my past experiences that have helped me get to where I am now. I’ve numbered the 3 tips and just added a little background on how I decided on those 3.

  1. Put the Lord first in all that you do. Ask Him what He needs you to do.

I remember in a temple interview, I asked the interviewer how he found the balance with his church calling. I was surprised that his answer wasn’t putting his calling first. He explained that at that time he needed to prioritize work so he could support his growing family. That didn’t mean he forgot the Lord. He was able to fulfill his calling as well as support his family. Never forget the Lord.

  1. Focus on what matters most. When it gets hard, focus on what you’re becoming.

For example, if you’re finding it hard to do your visiting teaching because you’re shy or don’t know how to approach it just focus on who you will become through the process i.e. how can I help this person simply by reaching out to them to let them know I am there or how can I be strengthened in my own trials as I help someone else overcome theirs or how can I become a better person? It’s often a case of forgetting yourself and getting to work. Which is sometimes easier said than done, but the Lord blesses us so much when we do. We are spiritual beings on a mortal journey. Another example could be when we are required to forgive and apologize. As we sincerely seek to follow the example of Jesus Christ by choosing to live as He did, we will find the peace that we are looking for.

  1. Keep the Word of Wisdom as closely as you can. This includes sleeping early and waking up early. If you take care of your body, your body will take care of you.

I made it a goal to run 30 days consecutively. I have run 11 days now but did take 2 days rest because I got sick. Set your goal and stick with it. You’ll surprise yourself.

relief-society

In addition to Ana’s business enterprise, educational pursuits, and personal commitments, she currently serves as 2nd Counselor in the Relief Society Presidency for Auckland YSA 2nd Ward, New Zealand, Bless her beautiful heart!

I HAVE NEVER DOUBTED THE INTRINSIC AND EXTRINSIC PROMPTINGS I RECIEVE

I am one of 11 children

My name is Yasmin Mahina Filiotama Gago and I am 28 year old Samoan/Hawaiian from Las Vegas, Nevada. I currently serve as the Principal of Quest Preparatory Academy’s middle and high schools. I earned my BS from BYU-Hawaii, where I played basketball; MA from Dakota Wesleyan University, where I served as a women’s basketball graduate assistant; and finishing my Doctorate degree through Creighton University. I am one of 11 children to Yasmin Hannemann and Sam Gago; I am the fifth oldest of seven girls and four boys. I am the first in my family to graduate with a college and terminal degree. In 2011, I started Polywide Sports, a non-profit company that assists Polynesian student-athletes in college placement. The company was initially started as a thesis project for my Masters degree, that turned into a company over night. Outside of work and school, I spend most of my time immersed in serving those around me. I love playing basketball any opportunity I get.

What I love most about the gospel is the Plan of Salvation. I lost a sister and grandma within a month of each other, and the easiest way I got through it was understanding the Plan of Salvation.

How has education helped you better understand your role as a Polynesian Women? Who/what have been major factors when choosing to further your education? In what ways has the gospel given you reassurance that education was the right thing to do at this point in your life?

Basketball was my out of the statistics that said I was not supposed to “make it”; a college degree was the finished product. I never imagined that basketball would somehow lead me to the position I am in today.  My educational experiences have helped to shape my integrity and self-worth, knowing at the end of the day, it was me against the world. I never wanted to rely on anyone dictate how my life would be lived. I wanted to be the only person who decided the outcome of this life. As a Polynesian woman, I knew it was my duty to be an example to those around me from similar backgrounds. My family and the Polynesian community have always been major factors in continuing my education. In a workforce where I am labelled a minority, I wanted to be the one who broke the stereotypes that have coincided with Polynesians and women, for years. I wanted young Polynesian adults to emulate my example and know that we are all very capable of finishing a collegiate program. Although I am inactive in the Church, I have never doubted the intrinsic and extrinsic promptings I receive on a daily basis. In my line of work, all the decisions that I make will affect hundreds of people. Prayer and faith in my judgement have always guided me in the decision-making process and understanding that I was put in this position for a reason.

Featured Image above: Mahina Gago with her beautiful mother Yasmin Hannemann

You educate a man; you educate a manYou

MARRIED HIM, AGAINST ALL ODDS

Kia Ora Sisters of all Nations! My Name is Rachael Fata (nee Haerewa).  Just to introduce myself and to give a little bit of my background:  I am first and foremost a Wife to a Loving, Hardworking and strong Priesthood Holder, a Mother to a vivacious, energetic and beautiful little boy and of course a Daughter, Sister, Aunty, Cousin, Neice, etc etc to a very large family – that’s not limited to blood relatives either!  I am 5th Generation LDS on my mother’s side and 2nd Generation LDS on my father’s side. I love how the Gospel in its simplest form teaches us to change and be adaptable to any situation – with this knowledge I know that I have the ability to tackle challenges face on and know that whether I succeed or fail, Heavenly Father still loves and trusts me to fulfil my role here on earth. I have seen Gods hand bless my life and the lives of others as I make my way through this journey.

As I was pondering what to share with you wonderful people, the spirit strongly impressed upon my heart to share my journey of marrying “My Love”. My aim and hope of sharing my experiences are to help strengthen ones testimony in the tender mercies which our Heavenly Father so freely offers to ALL his children no matter what background they are from and to have a firm resolve in following the promptings of the Holy Ghost.

I was taught from a very young age to Keep the Commandments, follow the Prophets counsel and to give service freely.  My entire childhood I remember the many Sundays travelling around the stake with mum and dad as they fulfilled their responsibilities as Stake Relief Society Presidents, Stake Young Women’s Presidents, High Council Members, Stake Presidency callings to name a few – they were always very diligent in making sure that they served to the best of their abilities with what little we had – and if that meant taking us with them, then so be it.  Growing up I remember always having what we needed, we never ever went without – although we didn’t have the flashiest clothes, or the latest gadgets, my parents worked long hours to make sure we had what we needed.  I love and respect my parents for their faithful examples.  I also learnt from a young age that when one is born into privilege, with that comes certain responsibilities and obligations – as I matured and grew in the gospel, my parents lovingly sheltered us, in the best way they knew how from the outside world – my ideals and paradigms were very gospel orientated, which directed my views and outlooks solely towards attaining the goals of a Good Education, Solid Career & Eternal Marriage and to achieve them in that order (I’m a very determined person and nothing was going to deviate my course).

Please don’t get me wrong – there have been many ups and downs towards attaining these goals.  As I set the platform for the rest of my story, I pray that there will be no misconceptions against my loved ones, because they did the best job raising me with the knowledge that they had, with this in mind – too every down in my life there has been twice as many ups.

So, from my introduction hopefully you have been able to establish that I am from a very staunch Latter-day Saint upbringing, As well as Gospel teachings my parents were adamant that we get a good education – I had mild dyslexia as a child, so, I was never the best in school, I was always the student that did “just” enough to scrap through, I was…you can say…mediocre in my learning and excellent in my “efforts” lol. Fast forwarding a number of years – in a nutshell, I graduated my senior year at Church College, moved to my cousins in Sydney, lived the single life in the city of bright lights and after a year I moved home to start my degree in Exercise & Sports Science. After a year of studies I had a strong desire to serve a mission – So, true to form…I did. I returned home honourably after 18months of service in the Australia Brisbane Mission and a week after finishing I moved back to Brisbane and worked for another 2 years prior to returning home to finish my degree that I started before my mission – shux back-n-forth, back-n-forth I know – you would’ve thought I was made of money at this point – not really lol!

Anyway – full-time study during the day and full-time working at nights was pretty much my life for the next two years until I completed my degree.  During my studying and work hours I met new people – people I didn’t like and people I liked a lot – my (not then) husband was part of the group that I DIDN’T like….huh? You say….don’t worry the feeling was mutual at this time…however, The Lord works in mysterious ways.  He & I worked at Foodstuffs Coldstorage, He was a selector (labourer) & I was the computer girl (Data Entry)…he was the loud Samoan on the pump trucks & I was the stuck up Maori girl in the computer room. It wasn’t until I was introduced to him outside of work at his Muay Thai Gym that I saw a very very different side to him. I’d like to think at this time he saw a very different side to me hahaha.  So, for a number of months he was my Personal Trainer from which our friendship and mutual respect for each other grew.

Thee Beautiful Rachael with her awesome husband at Graduation Ceremony

My husband’s background – he was born and raised in Mangere, South Auckland, at the tender age of 10yrs he found his father dead in the lounge from a Heart Attack and within months he witnessed his mother slowly die from Breast Cancer, prior to her dying the family took her to Samoa, where her body now rests.  After being bounced from relative to relative, being involved with the King Cobras, alcohol, drugs & coming in and out of Juvenile detention – the decision was made that he would stay with his Uncle in Mt Roskill who was a Prestigious Minister in the PIC church.  He had suffered the loss of his parents, being taken away from his siblings & the turmoil that comes with no stable home – there was nothing that really fazed him now that he was grown – you could say when he met me he was somewhat hardened to life’s goodness.

Reeling forward – we dated for four years – the first couple of years we were the best of friends, joint at the hip, two peas in a pod…as mentioned earlier with every up there was a down – the first couple of years opened my eyes to a very ugly side of those closest to me – My parents didn’t acknowledge him, they didn’t even speak to him when they were in the same room – this happened on a number of occasions, they often said I was too good for him, they questioned my morality & virtue, they questioned my judgements and tried everything to push him away.  Their words “we only want the best for you” and in the same breathe “we have spoken to another guys family who we think would be better suited for you”.  WHAAAAT THE HECK!!! No way!! Anyway, the following two years I coped a whole lot of flack from people that have known me since I was knee high – our Bishop at the time encouraged Civil Marriage to protect my virtue – I refused solidly and said “No, Bishop! Ive told Eddie, Temple or nothing” – which made me more determined to stay with him and see where our journey would take us.  At this time of confusion and bitterness, I found solace in my best friends that I lived with & my siblings, they were my greatest support and all the confidence I needed at a very pivotal time in my life.  They kept me strong & kept me solidly grounded in the gospel.  However, What The Doubters didn’t know was that I had prayed & fasted and received my own revelation that he would be the one to kneel over the alter with me, this came to me in a dream and I held this close to my heart and trusted my every prompting from the Holy Ghost that amidst the darkness there will be light.

And, Yes…in The Lords time there was “Light”…Eddie on his own accord chose to get baptised, and against all odds, a year later we were married and sealed in the Hamilton, New Zealand Temple. In others eyes he may not have been what they wanted for me, but, in Heavenly Fathers eyes, he was exactly what I needed.  We have now been married for 4years, I am a qualified Teacher, my husband runs a successful Muay Thai Gym, we have a beautiful little boy, we are now “LIVING” and making “OUR” dreams become a reality.

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Powerhouse Couple – The Fata’s

I testify that Heavenly Fathers tender mercies are offered freely to ALL his children no matter what background they are from, the spirit led two VERY different souls from VERY different backgrounds together.  His journey to me, and my journey to him we have now discovered was definitely meant to BE.  As mentioned earlier, I needed him, just as much as he needed me – I truly know that If we have a firm resolve in following the promptings of the Holy Ghost, He will only guide our path to TRUE happiness irrespective of who, or what the odds are. May Heavenly Fathers blessings and tender mercies be upon you all.

 

 

 

 

IMMEASURABLY BLESSED THROUGH KNOWING, LIVING & LOVING THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST!

Bula sisters! My name is Fine Paongo and I am Fijian/Tongan. I’m a proud aunty to 6 active nephews who are just full of life and can’t wait to meet more that are on the way yay!! My family consist of 4 girls and 3 boys, I stand as the 6th child. I absolutely love each of my siblings because we’re so different and though we benefit from each other differences, we also have similarities. One similarity in particular is that we absolutely love and extremely grateful to be members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We know it, We live it, We love it!

My Teachers from the Beginning – We Know It!

Parents.jpgFine’s beautiful and most loving parents. She loves and appreciates them so much!

Words cannot measure or describe how deep my love is for my parents. They have been my teachers from the beginning and they continue to teach with love and without failure. My dear father, who I miss and think about every single day, was a man who taught and led by example. He fathered many, not just to his children but everyone who he came in contact with. He always gave 200 percent (because 100 percent wasn’t enough. He always doubled the effort and sacrifice). When the time came for him to talk, it was always direct. He didn’t care how strong or harshful he sounded because it wasn’t words of his own but words that the Lord wanted us to hear through his thunderous voice. Sometimes in life we need that one person that’ll put us right back into our place. Even when we think about letting go of one hand from the iron rod, Dad made sure both hands are holding on tight. He was always giving that extra push and strength.

Among the many great counsels given by my Father, one that stood out was a simple yet powerful counsel, a reminder to “Always put the Lord first”. On my way to work I came across an elderly woman who was stuck standing outside her car, struggling to make a step towards her house. I found out she went into surgery and was released from the hospital that day. As I helped her and her husband safely inside their home, the elderly man turned around and softly uttered these words “If only there were more good people like you in this world. Thank you young lady”. As I stood in the rain, processing what just happened, my mind reflected on Jesus Christ, who ministered perfectly during His earthly reign. The Lord knows and is aware how busy life can get with each of us, yet he is always providing missionary opportunities along the way, not to burden us but because He knows how many lives we can bless through our service or perhaps He is testing our willingness to act and serve. We may not know how much of a difference it makes in a stranger’s life when we cater to the needs of our brothers and sisters. One thing I do know, is that when we put the Lord first, we reflect our identity as Disciples of Christ.

Now is the Time to Recognize and Act – We Live it!

“A Journey to a thousand miles begins with a step of faith”. The choice to serve a mission began within the walls of a primary room in Pilkington Rd chapel, Auckland, New Zealand. I can recall singing familiar songs like “I Want to Be a Missionary” and “We’ll Bring the World His Truth.” I wouldn’t say I received revelation in primary but in that very primary room, sitting next to the piano was where I felt and developed a desire to do missionary work. As my desire to serve a full time mission grew, my challenges seemed to get more difficult, hard to bear and I started to lose focus on my mission goal. I received an email from my sister, Sister Paongo who is currently serving in Australia Sydney South who said the following:

“CHANGE! What you feel is always different to what Heavenly Father feels. What you want for you is always different to what He wants for you. Sis, Heavenly Father’s will is what you should be seeking after and how do you know that? Through prayer! Do you pray enough for help to progress towards Heavenly Fathers will? To know his plan for you? Get on your knees and ask what his will is and be sincere about it. When you receive an answer WORK ON IT!”

I knew what I had to do but I was too distracted by other things, things that I thought was good for me at the time, but wasn’t in the end. I realize that the challenge isn’t just about trying to keep up with work and making choices, but it is recognizing the Holy Ghost in our lives and acting upon it every day. My trials have helped me to rely and trust more on the Lord because it is He who is our guiding light in the dark, it is He that has provided a way for us to return and dwell in the presence of our Father in heaven again. When the Lord brings you to a hard point in life, he does help you get through it. We just got to do our part and continue believing and living the gospel. We weren’t promised that the journey was gonna be easy but it’ll be worth it. On Fathers Day morning, I opened up my mission call at Dads grave with the company of my family. It read “Dear Sister Paongo. You are hereby called to serve as a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”. Reading that first sentence was worth persevering through the tough trials and getting me to where the Lord wants me to be. I couldn’t be any more excited and happy to serve an honorable mission. We can endure with the guidance and love from the Lord, its possible with God. (Alma 36:3)

Fine's call at Father's Grave

Thee beautiful Fine opening her mission call with her Daddy! Fine’s Facebook post read: Happy Father’s day dad! Glad I was able to read you my mission call this special morning and thanks for holding up the rain. The bestest gift anybody can give to their father. I’M SO EXCITED!!!!

Because my parents love the Lord, my love for God has strengthened – We Love it!

My parents have never missed a stake temple trip. They love the temple so much they have my siblings and I join them for trips down to Hamilton. When I was young, before my parents entered the house of the Lord, my mother would always invite my siblings and I to touch the temple before going to the dairy or touring around CCNZ. Of course the invite was acted upon but I didn’t seem to understand why? Why would mum and dad want us to touch the temple first before doing other things? The answer wasn’t clear to me then but now I have realized that just as much as the Lord has reached out and touched my life, I made baptismal covenants to always remember him and I promised, as it is written and sung in the primary hymn book “I’ll go inside someday.”

On the 15th of August 2015 I fulfilled this promise. I was privileged to humbly go inside to receive my own endowment, my heart was filled with so much gratitude and joy. It was no ordinary day. It was a day where I reflected upon the teachings of my parents and how their immense love for the Lord has illuminated the way for my siblings and I to go inside someday. Just from a small but a meaningful act to simply touch the temple led each of my siblings and I to enter the temple. Whether being inside or out on Temple grounds, it is comforting to know the temple is a place where families can be eternal, where families are forever.

The gospel is a wonderful thing and what a privilege it is to be a part of it. It is simple. It is beautiful. We all have weaknesses and imperfections but is why the gospel has been restored to this earth so that we can have peace and joy in this life, and one day become like Jesus Christ, by knowing, living and loving the doctrines and teachings found within.

missionary tag

This February, thee incredible Fine will wear her own badge and serve a mission in the England London South Mission. PACIFIC LDS WOMEN wishes Fine all the very best! Fine is a blessing to everyone she meets, no doubt she will be will be a blessing to the people of England and most importantly, to her two Fathers above!  

Main Feature above: Thee beautiful Paongo Family!

 

 

 

 

I CHOSE TO FOLLOW THE PATH OF THE DISCIPLE, AND I DID NOT DO IT BY MYSELF

 My Identity

Sitting in one of the pews in Saione, The Free Wesleyan Church chapel in Tonga, I listened intently to the preacher as he spoke movingly about the gospel in a language that I barely understood at the time. I turned to my grandpa and asked him, “Where do I go for primary after this?” My grandpa was confused, but little did he know that his oldest granddaughter was naïve to the fact that there were other religions than the one she had grown up knowing – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I thought everyone was a member of this wonderful church! However, at the age of 10, this perception would change as I had just barely moved to Tonga with my two younger sisters from the U.S. and that move has been one of the most pivotal moments in my life.

My name is Rosalie Paluleleva Mapa Vaka and I was born in California, but raised in the friendly islands of Tonga. As a Tongan, stating who we are, the villages we are from, and our familial ties is a way to help others tie their own connections to you. On this earth, I was born of Sione Panuve Mapa, son of Penisimani Latuselu Mapa and Tuavava’u Mataele, and Litia Tu’ipulotu, daughter of Sio Talakai Tu’ipulotu and Leasiliva Langi. I have two younger sisters, Gladys Akuarina & Angelica Lili Leasiliva. The origination of my ancestors trace back to many villages in Tonga from Kolofo’ou, Tongatapu to Hihifo, Niuatoputapu, from Fasi-moe-Afi to Tatakamotonga, from Felemea, Ha’apai to Neiafu, Vava’u and many more. I married my high school sweetheart, ‘Unaloto Vaka, son of Sioeli and Mele Taufa Vaka, from Fata’ulua Niuafo’ou, and we are so blessed to have our one year old daughter, Halena Faatasiga Vaka, born in Kailua, Hawaii. However, with all of the places and people my genealogy can connect to, I believe the most important part of my identity is knowing that I am a daughter of a loving Heavenly Father, the creator of this universe. Every person that I meet is my brother or my sister because we are all children of God.

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Thee Beautiful Mapa Family. Rosalie with her loving parents and siblings

Move to Tonga

When my parents made the decision to have my sisters and I move to Tonga to live with my maternal extended family, there were a lot of adjustments that we had to make. We had to get used to the weather, the mosquitoes, the roosters crowing at random times throughout the day, cultural protocol, a foreign language (to a Tongan? Yup.), living without my parents, wearing school uniforms, cold showers, and having none of the luxuries that we had when living in the U.S. I LOVED it all and I still call Tonga my home. However, living there put me in a situation where I had to strengthen my own testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because my mother’s side of the family that I was living with were not members of the church.

Although we lived with family who were not members of our faith, I am still forever grateful for the strong faith that they did have in our Savior Jesus Christ. This has served as a strong foundation in my life as I continue to strengthen my testimony in the truths of the restored gospel. We may not have worshipped the same or believed in necessarily the same things, but they taught me (especially my handicapped aunty, Akulina Lahi, who had raised me) that with God, all things are possible.

Oblivious, Our Own Choice

Like my opening scenario, I was oblivious to the fact that there were other religions. I thought everyone went on a mission. I assumed that all children went to primary, and the youth enjoyed going to youth dances and activities. Boy, was it a surprise as I would later learn through my own experience that this was definitely not the case. In fact, I would learn that even some hated the religion I belonged to and I would be taunted for having faith in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Some of these lessons I would eventually learn at home.

As you can imagine, there were struggles as I tried to grow my own testimony because the only members at home were my sisters and I. I was 10, my sister Lina was 8, and my youngest sister, Angelica, was 4. My parents were living in the U.S. and the choice to do all that was required of us by our faith, was just that, of our own choice. We were not forced to go to our own church (in fact we were encouraged to go to the Wesleyan church in the beginning). We were not reprimanded if we drank tea or coffee. And at times, to choose to follow the principles of the gospel and to attend activities was met with resistance.

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Thee beautiful Mapa Sisters with their baby cousin in Tonga

Fortunately, my father’s oldest sister, Tupou’ahau, was still living in Tonga and took us to a small english speaking branch – Nuku’alofa 10th Branch. This is where my testimony would gain root and continue growing. It was a small branch, but I remember every testimony meeting all the children would race to the front to bear their testimony. Each testimony was pretty much the same, but they all bore testimony of the sweet and simple truths of the gospel. The truths that would form the foundation of my own testimony. These primary children were such great examples to me.

I Could Have Easily Chosen to Follow my Extended Family

Later on as my aunt moved to the U.S., my sisters and I would continue to go to church by ourselves. Someone at home would drop us off and pick us up after 3 hours. As I look back to these fond memories, tears fill my eyes as I remember us three girls sitting on the pews by ourselves every Sunday. I will forever be grateful for the wonderful members of that branch who welcomed us and made us feel at home every time we would come to church.

Eventually, with the help of my parents, my grandpa and my aunts supported us more willingly in our church activity. There was a mutual respect and understanding between us although they did not fully understand why we had so many activities and long hours of church. I know that they only wanted what they thought was best for us. I am so grateful for my parents that although they lived far away from us, their influence was still present in our lives. They built a strong foundation for my sisters and I before we moved to Tonga by teaching us the simple truths of the gospel. I love them and I am so grateful for all that they have done for me.

I could have easily chosen to follow my extended family to their church every Sunday. It would have been easier for me to just not resist when I was told I could not go to an activity or easier to not have to deal with the tension I felt when I first started early morning seminary. But instead, as it says in the scriptures, the power was within me to be an agent unto myself (D&C 58:28). I chose to follow the path of the disciple. But I did not do it by myself. The Lord provided friends and family along this path to be “His Hands” to help me along the way. As I planted the seed of faith, I felt as Alma described, the gospel enlarged my soul, enlightened my understanding, and was delicious to me (Alma 32: 28).

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Rosalie’s beautiful mom, sisters, cousins and aunties who raised her. The picture was taken in Tonga.

He Knew the Desires of My Heart

I testify that the promise of Nephi is true; that that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them (1 Nephi 3:7). If you don’t believe me, then do as Jesus directs, “do his will, [ then you] shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). The Lord provided a way for me to keep his commandments as he knew the desires of my heart. He blessed me with increased faith and confidence in the gospel as I did his will to know whether the doctrine and ordinances of the gospel were true. I knew that going to church brought blessings, because I went to church. I knew that seminary was a program inspired of God, because I went to seminary. I knew the scriptures were true, because I actually read it with real intent.

Each and every one of us will have to carry our own oil and our own lamps in preparation for the second coming. We cannot spiritually live on “borrowed light”. My testimony did not come as a result of an amazing spiritual manifestation overnight. I had to fill my testimony lamp with drops of oil daily. I acquired oil by choosing to go to church on Sunday.  I acquired oil by choosing to read the scriptures. I acquired oil by choosing to pray both morning and night. I filled my lamp by repenting daily and by choosing to do the small and simple things, every single day. Not just once a week, but daily. We cannot think that brushing our teeth once a week is going to prevent our teeth from decaying. We have to brush daily! It’s the same as living the gospel of Jesus Christ. Remember the words of Alma, “O my [daughter], do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever” (Alma 37:46).

Regardless of your circumstances, choose to follow the Savior Jesus Christ by doing the small and simple things or the Sunday School answers of the gospel. Choose to be like the Savior Jesus Christ by choosing kindness, forgiveness, service, and charity. Remember, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” (Lao Tzu). Take it one step at a time on your journey towards eternal life, but also remember to be kind to yourself because we still have a lifetime of learning. I love how President Uchtdorf puts it, “God is fully aware that you and I are not perfect. Let me add: God is also fully aware that the people you think are perfect are not.” The Lord loves us. He wants us to come home. Choose to look to God and live.

Life Now

My little family currently resides in La’ie, Hawaii where my husband is pursuing his Bachelor’s in Social Work. I served a mission in the Texas Houston East Mission from 2009-2011. My husband served his mission in the California San Francisco/Oakland mission around the same time. We were sealed for all time and eternity on June 15th, 2013 and had our beautiful baby girl one year later. In 2014, I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Accounting from Brigham Young University – Hawaii. The struggle is real as a student, but the blessings poured upon us are even more real! By doing the small and simple things, we see the Lord’s tender mercies daily. My heart is so full. ❤

Featured Image Above: The beautiful Rosalie with her awesome husband Unaloto and gorgeous girl Halena, infront of the Laie, Temple, Hawaii

SIMPLE YET POWERFUL, PRAY!

A bit about myself

According to my birth certificate you would call me by that name and I would not respond because about a month old my parents decided to call me Heta, Heta Helu then – Heta Pohiva now.  No, it is not a nickname but there is a cultural belief that when I got sick as an infant it had something to do with the name I was given.  I have eleven siblings who are married except for four.  Two who are not married by choice and two who are not considered of wed age.  If you want to know how things were growing up it was like if you give an excuse to stay from church, mom would say – “if you are not dying, you can still go to church”.  That is how Tema and ‘Iteni Helu raised us.  Mother’s LDS upbringing mixed with father’s army/scout background.  That answer haunts me every time not only when I decide to stay from church but also when I lack to say my daily prayers, scripture reading, etc.  So I grew up feeling that all this was routine, little did I know my parents were only building a foundation of where to turn when I felt the only option was to drift further away from the Lord.  I came to appreciate these routines as I gained a personal testimony of my own in preparation to serve a mission in the Nuku’alofa Tonga Mission from February 2010 to August 2011 and later have a family of my own in 2013 with my husband, Sione Pohiva, a month after graduating from Brigham Young University – Hawaii in Accounting.

My love for the gospel

My life has experienced the consequences of dating at a young age, choosing to forego my young women standards for less, and all in all causing much sorrow to my family and friends who only wanted the best for me.  Looking back on those rebellious choices with the understanding of the gospel I have now, it has helped me to accept whatever battle I face and to fight with all the faith I have in Christ to conquer.  Once you understand the gospel your love for it grows.  For me, would be because it enables me to become a better person today than yesterday.  Though it cannot rewind time yet it erases those mistakes all through the atoning sacrifice of the Lord, Jesus Christ.  I love how everything is centered on Christ.  Yes, from those routines I dreaded as a child to every aspect of life around me.

My Miracle Baby

At first I called him my miracle baby but as he grew I came to think that one word that describes him best is – Heavenly!  That is my Viliami Sitauti Sebastian Pohiva.  After three months of being married and was still not pregnant, my husband and I thought that we lucked out on becoming parents.  We all know the first question someone asks newly weds – is there a bun in the oven? How many months are you now?  I somehow felt the pressure of not being pregnant while my husband made sure I did not feel insecure about it.  I brushed it off by saying oh, the oven is broken right now or I would say we cannot have two babies at one time, when my husband decides to grow up our baby will come.  Six months into our marriage we were extremely happy when we found out we were expecting.  Just as we settled into married life and survived each day with each other, the Lord saw it fit for us to become parents.

Sebastian 2

Sebastian, What a fighter!

The night we almost lost him

As I was ending week 33 of my pregnancy Sitauti Sebastian decided it was time to come.  Sunday November 23rd 2014, he made his unexpected arrival weighing 2.2kg.  I also consider him my thanksgiving baby.  Just as easy as it was for me during pregnancy so was it for delivery.  He was out an hour after the time we arrived.  It was so easy I told my husband that night that I am ready for number two, I know right?  I thought I had passed the hard part of womanhood yet I guess having a preemie in Tonga was not as smooth sailing as I thought.  We stayed back in the hospital to make sure his weight came up to 2.5kg which according to my calculation that would take three days but actually took almost three weeks.  He only had minor jaundice but nothing major as to his organs or anything, merely just his weight to go up.  When my husband and I decided to formula feed him we got discharged.  The very next day we got admitted back to the hospital because of some kind of diarrhoea severe for his age along with constant vomiting after every feed.  That went on throughout the first night and then the next evening we almost lost our Sitauti Sebastian due to some series of apnoea and I guess just not being able to withstand all the fluids he was losing.  I remember crying for him to not leave me to my husband calming me down and looking me in the eyes and saying to be prepared to let him go.  I just had him three weeks ago, he cannot leave me that soon.

Commitment to the Lord

Here I was drowned in misery and where did I turn?  I turned to the Lord.  This was exactly where my parents had taught me to turn no matter what situation I may be in.  The doctors still wanted me try breastfeeding to avoid any unseen germs no matter how clean we boiled his bottles.  That did not stop me from fasting for my son and surely it was paid off as he started to recover immediately after we ended our fast.  Almost losing my son had changed my feeling towards others.  The tender mercy the Lord had shown me I started to show others.  I may still tend to forget but once I see my son, I am reminded to stay faithful, serve my callings diligently, attend church activities and what is required of me.  I may slack but I cannot back out on the Lord when He needs me.   I cannot choose to weaken my testimony of the gospel because it was my testimony of the gospel that had built a faith strong enough to help me conquer the most devastating battle I could ever imagine in life.

Five things I would say

I can come up with more than five things to say to a sister who may face the same battle of losing or almost losing a child.  However I want to say one thing, simple yet so powerful in many ways – PRAY!  I felt like I was running a prayer marathon like them old mission days.  But what I was praying for earnestly was different. Imagine a hand over your shoulder with a smile,.I would simply say to:

Pray for comfort

During this time, your thoughts are everywhere.  I am grateful for my husband’s calm attitude throughout this time.  Somehow the Lord comforted him to comfort me to not be confused between what the Lord wanted and the doctor’s advice.  I would be the one who would just say yes to whatever the doctor advised.  As baby was improving with his feeding my husband felt they were feeding him too much as baby could not hold it in his stomach.  He told the nurse what he thought while I kept saying, this is what the doctor said just listen to them.  After reporting to the doctor, the nurse said my husband was right.  I am grateful for the doctors and nurses that cared so much for my son, but do not let your frustration lead you to follow their orders and not the Lord’s.  If you are not comforted you will be torn between what you want and the Lord’s will.  It may lead to giving the doctor’s the okay to operate when you were prompted not to give the okay.

Pray for understanding

I saw this as a test of my faith.  So my prayers started to change to ask to understand that whatever happens that it is the Lord’s will.  To understand that the Lord still loved me despite the pain I was feeling. When we have a clear understanding of what is happening to us, we accept the outcome peacefully.  It prevents us from blaming the Lord, blaming others, and most importantly blaming ourselves.  I am grateful the Lord gave me understanding that avoided me from blaming myself or my husband saying that this is because we did this we did that rather we looked at things positively.

Pray for strength

All the frustration, crying, and sleep deprived days will drain your energy.  You start to lose your appetite to eat or even be happy.  Pray for strength to keep moving forward.  The Lord truly does lighten our burden when those that are heavy laden come unto Him (Matt 11:28-30).  As I prayed for strength, I was strengthened spiritually and physically.

Pray for happiness

Though you are in the hospital because of your child, do not forget those that are around you.  We were in the hospital during festive season; thank goodness they discharged us Christmas eve.  But during this time my sister ‘Alisi and brother Alioth was visiting to celebrate dad’s 75th birthday.  I was much too focused on the tragedy neglecting how I should be happy that my sister and brother were visiting or even my husband being supportive and his family’s joy over my father in law’s election and government win.  Was too sad to appreciate the outpouring messages from family and friends near and far, those who visited personally to comfort and show support.  Talk about being Mr Scrooge of Christmas Season.  Do not miss out on the happy things that are happening around you.  They lighten the load of sadness weighing on your heart.

Lastly, pray for gratitude

Whether you are in the hospital for two days with no improvement, be grateful.  It is like what my brother always says when I tell him I am starting my diet for the millionth time – “it doesn’t happen overnight sis.”  Your healing may take weeks or months or not at all, be grateful for what you are going through; because it is transforming you into the person the Lord wants you to be.  The Lord is showing you how to appreciate black and white days so that when you have those colourful days you will cherish every moment.  Be grateful no matter the outcome because your life will be changed for the best not only for yourself but how you react to others and future situations.  As the late Gordon B. Hinckley said so is my prayer – “Let the spirit of thanksgiving guide your days and nights.”

Sitauti Sebastian Today

Sebastian Today

He has a warm welcome in his smile that draws others to him.  My husband and I watch him sleep with amazement at how much he has grown from that 2.2kg infant who did not reach 2.5kg till he was a month old, and couldn’t stabilize food in his stomach till he was two months and has not ceased to grow.  He definitely does not get his looks from either one of us as he is just too darn cute to be ours.  I just say he gets it from his grannies.  Sione speaks highly of our son like he is a new topic of the day, every day.  He drools nonstop as he goes through calm teething.  He has difficulty trying to sit up straight as his baby beer belly keeps him unbalanced.  He has become the turning point when we are to make wrong choices or when we slack.  His immune system is really good to him as he has been our little international baby traveller since two months.  He turns eight months in a week and we are blessed to have smile in our hearts by his presence.  My dear sisters, whatever situation you are in right now – it is where the Lord wants you to be because he wants you to become a better, why not “best” person you can be.

Featured Image Above: Thee beautiful Heta with her husband

A GREATER LOVE OF CHRIST FOR CONQUERING DEATH AND MAKING THE PLAN POSSIBLE

My name is Keisha Keala Fea’feaga (Moea’i) Funaki. I am half Samoan, raised in Hawaii, married to a Tongan, and shake like a Tahitian (I wish).  I am the youngest and only daughter of Judith and Harvey Moea’i. I am eternally sealed to a humble and loving man named Tevita Funaki Jr, and together we have two funny and active children. My son, Lopiseni, is two and is currently fascinated with the Whip Nae Nae and playing pogs. My daughter, Liliola, will be turning one at the end of August.  She enjoys eating, climbing, and irritating her brother.

I have lived in Laie, Hawaii all of my life so I have been raised to appreciate and love all Polynesian cultures. All of the major events of my life have happened in this small town I call home. From attending BYU-Hawaii, to dancing at the Polynesian Cultural Center where I met my husband, being sealed in the Laie Temple, and now working as a 6th grade teacher at Laie Elementary School. The only place I have grown spiritually outside of Laie, is Guatemala. I am a return missionary of the Guatemala City Central mission, and I will forever love and be grateful for all of those who I have been blessed to know while on my mission.

I was presented with this opportunity to share an experience in my life that has helped me to recognize God’s love for me. I have chosen a very personal topic that I hold very sacred; but after praying I know that now is the right time to share. I know many will be able to relate, but it is my hope that at least one person will be able to recognize more of how our Heavenly Father truly loves and looks after his daughters.

One of the most difficult things about living this life, is living without a life. Sooner or later everyone will be challenged to deal with the death of a loved one. For me it came much sooner than I thought. When challenged with this problem, many choose to blame God and question his love. It took me many years to finally recognize that my father’s death wasn’t just a sudden event. I realized that my Heavenly Father had prepared me for that big event, and helped me get through it until I was strong enough to stand on my own. I am writing this experience as a daughter who lost a parent; I know it is different feeling if you are a wife who lost a husband, or a mother who lost a child. I believe that in those situations, Heavenly Father will do the same. Prepare you for it, and help you get through it.

The relationship between my father and I was a funny one

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My brothers and I had a close relationship with our dad. He was the funny dad with the not so appropriate humor. He would call in sick, to pull me out of school just so we could spend time together (all behind my mom’s back). Our nightly routine consisted of late night rides to 7-11 and joking/teasing ourselves and others. All the fun happened at night because during the day he juggled three jobs to provide for our family. Well, I had just turned sixteen and those rebellious hormones started acting up. I remember my dad being so concerned about me and my future. He would openly express how much he wanted me to stay close to home and go to college at BYUH. He even started to question me to see if I had a desire to serve a mission. Even marriage came up! At that time I didn’t even want to discuss marriage. I could tell all of these things were bothering my dad, but I didn’t know why.

Though I always knew my dad had a testimony, I had never really heard him express it out loud. I never really knew my dad’s spiritual side, and because of his busy schedule we weren’t necessarily raised doing the typical Mormon things. It just so happened that my dad was newly called to be my Sunday school teacher. I had never seen my dad prepare so much to teach gospel doctrine, let alone study the scriptures. I thought my Sunday school class would consist of field trips to McDonalds, but it didn’t. My dad was serious. His lessons consisted of doctrine and testimony and it was weird for me. One lesson that I remember the most is when he talked about the Plan of Salvation. I had never seen my dad cry before. Even my friends were shocked. He was crying because he had likened the Plan of Salvation to an airport. He said to imagine your whole family is going on a trip and they all have a plane ticket in their hand. Then he teared up saying what if everyone in your family had a ticket going to a different destination. Then I realized, he was crying because he feared that even though our family was sealed, it was a possibility that we wouldn’t all end up at the same place (kingdom).

These were all ways that Heavenly Father prepared me for the biggest challenge of my life. A few weeks before my dad’s death I was also challenged with prompted questions by the Spirit. “ What would you do if your dad died?” During those moments I honestly saw myself being a rebellious teen, not caring about the consequences of my actions. Then reality hit….

It was the first day of my sophomore year in high school. I came home from seminary because my dad said he wanted to take me to school. I was happy because I didn’t want to be the oldest person catching the bus. When I got home I could see that my dad wasn’t feeling well. He struggled to sit up in bed and he couldn’t gather enough energy to get himself ready. As I seen him struggle I told him not to worry. I told him to stay home and rest and that I didn’t mind catching the bus. At that time the spirit tried to prompt me to let me know something was wrong, but I was caught up with the excitement of it being my first day at school.

While at school I had a terrible feeling during lunch time like something was wrong. Of course I brushed it off and kept laughing and joking with friends. I was in my last class and school was there was only ten more minutes of school left. The phone rang and my teacher told me my aunty was waiting for me at the office. As soon as I left my class that terrible feeling came again. I began to cry as I walked to the office. I couldn’t understand why I was crying. I was clueless as to what had happened but I knew it wasn’t good. My aunty kept reassuring me that everything would be fine, but I had no clue as to who or what she was talking about. On our way to the hospital there was a special moment that I will forever remember.  Through the spirit, I was asked a question. It came as a very vivid thought, almost as if Heavenly Father was asking for my permission. My answer to the question was “yes, if you need him, you can take him. I will be fine.”

Soon enough I found myself telling Heavenly Father, “ I lied, I’m not fine! Can I have him back.” It was just too hard to bear.  My testimony at that time wasn’t even a testimony at all. I had nothing to lean on for strength. My mom was weak. My siblings were busy mourning and dealing with funeral arrangements. Though I did not have my own real testimony at that time, I definitely started to grow one. I recall laying on my dad’s bed being so emotionally, spiritually, and physically weak that I couldn’t put together the strength to even lift a finger. I literally had to wiggle my body to the edge of the bed to where I was in the perfect position to pray. I begged Heavenly Father to give me strength so that I could be strong for my mom. Not a minute later I found myself standing, tear-less and full of energy. I could no longer cry. I was overwhelmed with comfort. I was happy. I had no doubts about where my dad was. For the very first time, I had acknowledged that I am nothing on my own, and that I needed help. It’s amazing how a testimony always starts with a simple prayer.

From that moment I knew Heavenly Father loved me and that He had tried to prepare me for this trial. But He didn’t stop there. He continued to bless me. During high school there were times where I wanted to give up being the minority and follow the majority. Drinking, running away, and all those other teenage temptations were all there. There were times where I felt alone and there were times where I felt like my earthly father  was watching me and making sure I wouldn’t do anything dumb. Even college seemed to be laid out for me. School was paid for through scholarships, and dating left me terrible experiences that made me eager and excited to go on my mission. It was like everything my dad had talked about previous to his death was coming true. He even set me up with the perfect man to be my husband who made up for all of my weaknesses; a spiritual and worthy priesthood holder who was raised with a solid foundation in the gospel. It wasn’t until I was sealed in the temple with my husband that I realized that I was now strong enough to be on my own. My father’s priesthood was now released from me, and I was under my husband’s priesthood authority and responsibility. Since that moment life hasn’t been so easy, but I can honestly say that I have never been so strong.

Losing a loved one is probably the hardest trial we will ever go through in our lives, but it is necessary to go through those experiences to better understand the love our Heavenly Father has for us. At least now I better understand how difficult it was for Heavenly Father to be separated from us, and how hard it was for him to allow the atonement of Christ to happen. I also have a greater appreciation and understanding of The Plan of Salvation and a greater love of Christ for conquering death and making The Plan possible. I know Heavenly Father truly does love us. As our Father he has many rules for us because he wants us to be safe and happy. He gives us consequences that sometimes are overwhelming to bear, but he forgives us when we apologize (repent).  He gives us experiences that teach us and help us to become stronger. Sometimes it feels like tough love, but no other love can compare.

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Thee beautiful Keisha with her incredible dad, Harvey Moea’i.

Featured Image: Keisha with her awesome hubby Tevita and their handsome boys.

WHAT A PRIVILEGE IT WAS TO SERVE HER

My name is Melissa Te’o. I have 3 older brothers who blessed me with gorgeous nieces and the handsomest nephews. I live with my awesome extended family, who have always felt like immediate ones. Bringing the new total of siblings to, 2 sisters and 5 brothers and more nieces and nephews and an aunty and uncle that love me as much as my own parents did. I am not a writer. I don’t enjoy writing. So, please, be kind to my literacy skills. I was asked to share a trial that our Pacific sisters could relate to, so I’m hopeful that this will help you in any way.

A change of scenery was exactly what I needed after my dad’s funeral, so I moved to Hamilton to study at Waikato. After my first semester, my mum asked me to move home. She had fallen pretty ill and needed me to come home. That made me so mad! One semester? Really? I have 3 brothers! Can’t they do it?

But I moved home & then I got over it.

Months after moving back home I sat with my mum and told her that I was preparing to serve a full-time mission. My desire was unmistakably there. I could see myself in the field, working miracles, helping the fallen and I was excited. She supported me and said, “Well, let’s get to work”.

More months passed and we sat down again. In the same lounge that I announced my desire to serve, she asked me to hold off on my plans, because she needed me home. She had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I cried. Of course for my mum, but partially, and selfishly I was angry at my circumstance. Why me? Why did “I” have to stay home? What about my brothers? I knew I needed to serve a mission. But I stayed back.

Mum in red and Aunty Lupe

Melissa’s beautiful mother in red and Aunty Lupe

My mum got worse each day. Eventually, she couldn’t move in and out of bed. I recall one rough day where she had an accident and with a timid voice, told me that she had just wet the bed. She cried as I changed her. “I’m sorry Lisa,” she’d say over her tears. In retrospect, feeling sorry for me wasn’t the complete reason for her tears that day. Dignity. A woman that had devoted her God-given energy and time to looking after her children and husband, was now unable to do something trivial and petty for herself. A chore we think only parents do for their children, not the other way around. “You will be blessed” she made sure I knew this before she left me. And I have been and continue to be – tenfold a millions times over!

Honour. What a privilege it was to serve her. Please, don’t pity us. We were blessed to go through what we did. Not everyone gets that kind of opportunity. Besides how to be strong, I developed the traits Heavenly Father blesses every woman with; patience, tolerance, long-suffering, love and compassion in bucketloads.  Why me and not my brothers? Better question, why you? As Pacific women we are taught to care for our people in our families and community. We are more tender and gentle compared to our Pacific brothers. So we need not wait for such an extreme event to show compassion. Small actions do add up. Show them you love them now! Today! Not tomorrow! It’s our duty and responsibility. It’s how I was taught to make a home, a home. Thankfully, I was able to learn in such a unique way my responsibility is to care for the “people” in my life. That is my responsibility as a daughter, future wife, future mother, as a woman.

By the way, I was right about one thing, I do need to serve a proselyting mission. It just wasn’t then 😉

Alofa atu!

Lords timetable

PACIFIC LDS WOMEN wishes Melissa Teo all the best as she serves the Lord, reporting to Missionary Training Center on Friday 27th August, 2015.

Featured Image Above: Thee beautiful Melissa Teo