Shining moment: Prayer lifeline

It was a patrol boat that found four thin, dehydrated young men off the coast of Tonga and towed their fishing boat to safety, but it was the prayers and fasting of loved ones that sustained them while they were lost 21 days at sea.

Fishing in the azure blue waters of the Pacific Ocean is one of the guarded pleasures of life for many in Tonga. So it wasn't unusual that four teenage friends and a father of one of the young men would plan a four-day fishing trip to catch food for their families.They were friends with much in common, including their ties to the Church. Hakau Fukofuka, 17, and Nafe Siola'a, 17, were born into the Church. Mosese Latu, 18, joined the Church a year ago. Viliami Fifita, 17, was the only non-member in the foursome. He attended seminary, but somehow, never got baptized.

Their first day fishing was routine on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 1997. But Wednesday morning, after turning off the engine to fish, Captain Fukofuka, Hakau's father, was unable to re-start the engine. By Thursday morning, all electrical power was gone.

By Friday, a faint outline of the distant shore could still be seen, but the small anchor could no longer keep the boat from drifting farther out to sea. By Saturday, no islands were visible.

During the second week, the last of the coconuts they had brought with them had been shared. Water was rationed to one cup each morning. They ate raw fish. Rain brought temporary relief, but the water was soon gone. Prayer proved to be their greatest lifeline.

"Many times I prayed," said Viliami. "I thought we were all going to die."

Three weeks later, on Feb. 28, the government Marine patrol ship towed them into the harbor at Nuku'alofa where they were greeted by seminary teacher Luseane Heufanga Matelau and a van full of early-morning seminary class members. "Our class fasted, and prayed every day for their safety," she said.

Their prayers were matched by those in the Fo'ui Ward, Nuku'alofa Tonga West Stake. "All the families in the ward were asked to fast and pray," said Bishop Saione Laloni. "I knew that somehow, sometime, they would be rescued."

It was during these three weeks of earnest prayers that Viliami gained his testimony. Later, on the same day as their rescue, he was baptized.

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