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What I learned from Tongan Latter-day Saints about how to endure

NUKU‘ALOFA, Tonga — One question troubled me as I sat under the cloudy, wet and windy skies here, huddled next to the organ and choir. The devotional — the sixth on President Russell M. Nelson’s nine-day, seven-nation Pacific Ministry Tour last month — had drawn Tonga’s most faithful Latter-day Saints to the Teufaiva Sports Stadium.

A protective awning overhead did not prevent the soft rain — fueled by wind — from hitting me. Like many of the 6,600 Latter-day Saints at the venue, I was soaked to the skin under my rain poncho. And despite my best efforts, rain drops continued to hit my notebook, blurring the ink.

“When is the Lord going to stop the rain?” I questioned.

Days earlier, the expected rain had fallen on Latter-day Saints at a similar gathering in Samoa — making soggier the thousands of people already damp from the smothering humidity. But during the opening hymn, the rain had stopped.

Attendees sit in the rain during a devotional in Tonga on May 23, 2019.
Attendees sit in the rain during a devotional in Tonga on May 23, 2019. Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In Fiji, just 24 hours before the expected devotional, torrential rain and wind had hit the city. Local Church members weren’t able to build the stage for the devotional until that morning. Still, brilliant colors painted the clear sky during the devotional as the sun set on the stadium.

In Samoa, Fiji and Tonga President Nelson had thanked each congregation for the faith that made the meetings possible.

But even with the elements tempered in Tonga, I wanted more. I wanted the rain to stop and the clouds to clear.

Read all the stories from the Pacific Tour here.

Then I heard the prophet speak.

“You know what it is to be in deep water and rough water,” he told the Tongan members. “As you go through rough water and face challenges of life, hold on to the iron rod of the gospel.”

And then I had my answer.

Sometimes our faith stops the rain. Most often, however, our faith gives us the power to endure the storm.

That is what I know now that I didn’t know before sitting in the rain with the 6,600 faith-filled Latter-day Saints in Tonga.

After the meeting, Sister Susan Gong — who with her husband, Elder Gerrit W. Gong, accompanied President Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, on the tour — spoke of what she learned during the meeting.

Of the “dignified Tongan Saints,” Sister Gong said, “When we start the meetings, the rain slows down or stops, but they were there in the rain for two hours waiting for this to happen, waiting to see the prophet and hear what he had to say to them.”

Elder Gong spoke of the members’ “tremendous faith.”

“They came prepared. They had fasted. They had prayed. They had gone to the temple. They wanted to be spiritually ready for what was coming.”

And then they sat in the rain to hear it.

While my husband Clinton and I are not currently facing life’s typhoons, we have often wished things could be easier. As we raise children, go to work, fulfill our Church responsibilities and care for aging parents, we often lament the rain water that seems — despite our best efforts — to hit and blur the ink on our theoretical notebooks.

During the Pacific Ministry Tour, President Nelson addressed 94,510 members, flew 17,844 miles and called upon kings, presidents and prime ministers. He also spent just a few minutes with Mateo Lautaimi, a widower whose house was destroyed last year in Cyclone Gita. Before the meeting in Tonga, President Nelson embraced the single father of three young daughters and whispered something to him. Lautaimi said the prophet counseled him to live the gospel and to stay true.

In essence, President Nelson told Lautaimi to muster his great faith and continue to use it to weather life’s storms.

When I think of our prophet and the Pacific, I will think of a celebration in Tahiti that honored 175 years of missionary work among the islands of the sea. The Church was established in French Polynesia “before the pioneers ever got to Utah,” said President Nelson.

I will think of the sweet Samoan members who lined the streets for 18 miles with “welcome home” signs that signaled a tender greeting. President Nelson had his driver slow and rolled down the windows in the van to acknowledge the sweet welcome.

I will think of the powerful strains of the Fijian farewell song, “Isa Lei,” which filled Ratu Cakobau Park as President Nelson waved goodbye. “It has been very, very difficult,” Elder Adolf J. Johansson, an Area Seventy in Fiji, said of planning the event. But as Elder Johansson promised the great fruits of their efforts were realized when we heard the congregation sing.

I will remember how President Nelson stood arm in arm with Dr. Mustafa Farouk, the president of the Islamic Associations of New Zealand, after announcing a $100,000 donation from the Church to help rebuild and renovate mosques damaged two months earlier in a deadly attack. As he left the reception that day, President Nelson told mosque victim Ahmed Jahangir — just released from the hospital — that he would pray for him and his doctors.

And I will think of a capacity congregation of 8,000 listening to their prophet testify of the Book of Mormon while visiting Sydney, Australia — an increasingly secular city. In the city where 30 percent of the population reported in the 2016 census that they are not religious, President Nelson made a profound promise. “If you want to be happy, choose the way of the Lord,” he said.

But mostly I will think of the dignified Tongan Saints, already wet after waiting for two hours in torrential rain to hear the prophet. Instead of stopping the rain, their great faith sustained them as they weathered the storm.

“You are precious to us and to the Lord,” President Nelson told them. “He has special feelings for His covenant people on the isles of the sea.”

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