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.
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.
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).
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.
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