The serendipitous moment that taught me the true value of the gospel of Jesus Christ

In November of 2007, I traveled to Tonga to cover the rededication of the Nuku’alofa Tonga Temple.

When I reached the Pacific island nation, I waited in line and received a rental car and a temporary Tongan driver license. The woman told me to drive on the left side of the road, instead of the right. She said some roads would be dirt and that it would rain hard.

“Can you please give me a map?” I asked. She didn’t have a map and offered directions instead. I walked away from the rental car desk and stood in the middle of the small airport. I wanted to cry.

“What am I doing here?” I thought.

Then a man welcomed me to Tonga and introduced himself. He was President Eric B. Shumway, the new temple president.

He looked me right in the eyes and asked, “Have you ever heard the word ‘serendipity?’ ”

I didn’t answer.

Things in Tonga may not go as you expect they should, he said. But if you don’t get upset, if you have a good attitude, if you will be patient, you will come across unexpected treasures and they will be beautiful and wonderful.

Things in Tonga did not go as I expected they should. I did not have a phone or Internet connection in my room. The building had no food services. The refrigerator across the hall started beeping at 3 a.m. — every night. Outside my room, I quickly noticed the absence of other things. There were few prominent road signs and no fast food restaurants.

But I found things far greater. The members hung bananas outside my room. They helped me use a computer at the Church’s administrative offices on the campus of the Church’s high school. They invited me into their homes for dinner. One night I attended a traditional Tongan feast on the beach. We ate roasted pig, umu pit-cooked chicken, delicious fruit and seaweed-wrapped spam.

Then the group walked to the water to witness a baptism of a mother and her daughters. Elder Sione M. Fineanganofo, an Area Seventy in Tonga, stood by my side. “We have everything in Tonga,” he said, watching the baptism.

I looked at him in surprise. I could think of plenty of things in Tonga that I thought I needed but were not available to me.

“What?” I said.

“We are blessed here in Tonga,” he elaborated. “There is a chapel in almost every village in Tonga. We have the temple. We have a mission. What else do we need? We have everything in Tonga.”

This was the serendipitous moment President Shumway promised would come, the moment I learned the true value of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the faithful Church members in Tonga and across the globe.

That’s what I know now that I didn’t know before I visited the “friendly Islands.” I started my trip looking for a road map of Nuku’alofa, and I found something far greater — a road map for life.

I too live in a place where missionaries teach the gospel of Jesus Christ, where we learn about the great plan of happiness in dedicated chapels and where we can tap into the blessings of eternity in the temple.

Elder Fineanganofo’s wisdom is part of a rich spiritual heritage that began in Tonga 50 years before Latter-day Saint missionaries first visited the South Pacific nation in 1891.

Wanting to protect his land from Western colonization in 1839, Tonga’s Christian King George Tupou I offered a prayer: “O, God the Father, I give unto you my land and my people and all generations of people who follow after me. I offer them all to be protected by heaven.”

Tongan legend tells of the king bending down, picking up soil and tossing it in the air as a symbolic act of conveying his land to God.

The significance of the moment still lingered when I visited the South Pacific paradise in 2007. It is a philosophy that influenced the lives of President Shumway, Elder Fineanganofo and all of us who, with the Saints of Tonga, commit our lives to God.

In so doing, we receive everything we need.