During a recent trip to Utah to visit leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the prime minister of Tonga also made a stop at Brigham Young University, meeting with head football coach Kalani Sitake and some of his players and professional golfer Tony Finau.
Siaosi Sovaleni, his wife, first lady Madame Fiona Sovaleni, and other dignitaries from Tonga were hosted for a Monday, Oct. 4, dinner at BYU in Provo, Utah, that included Church, university, athletics and community leaders.
“It was definitely an honor for me and the players and staff to visit with the prime minister,” said Sitake, adding they were humbled the Tonga leader would include BYU on his itinerary. “It was important for us that we could meet with him and be able to show him our respect and what life is like for the Tongans here living in the States.”
While in Salt Lake City Oct. 1-5, Sovaleni met with Elder Ulisses Soares and Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and other general authorities and attended October 2022 general conference in the Conference Center. He also toured the Family History Library, where he was briefed on the library and its work, including the collection of family records and the digitization of official civil documents.
At BYU, the prime minister, his wife and the delegation also toured some of the university facilities. At the dinner, they were joined by three General Authority Seventies — Elder K. Brett Nattress, Elder Taniela B. Wakolo and Elder Vaiangina Sikahema. Elder Nattress is president of the Church’s Pacific Area and Elder Wakolo one of his counselors.
Elder Sikahema invited Sitake — both are natives of Nuku’alofa, the capital and largest city in the Kingdom of Tonga — to express some thoughts at the dinner, along with Finau, who is of Tongan heritage.
“We were able to share our experiences and our upbringing with him and how we carry on our Tongan culture,” Sitake said. “I thought it was really cool for myself and for Tony Finau to express to him that the roots of our success began with our Tongan heritage.”
Elder Sikahema recounted how Finau bore his testimony of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon and the living prophets and apostles who had spoken at the weekend’s general conference.
“He said, ‘Mr. Prime Minister, you have gotten tours of the buildings at Church headquarters and here at BYU and our facilities,’” said Elder Sikahema, recounting Finau’s message. “’Those buildings are wonderful, and they were paid for by consecrated funds from the members of this Church.’”
Finau continued: “But they do not adequately represent members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is our lives that we hope are best representative of our faith. Through your short time here, I implore you to listen closely and feel the spirit of the people that you’ve met here.”
Players and staff of the football team presented each member of the Tongan party with a bag of gear and items from the BYU football program and from Finau and his sponsors.
“Kalani said, ‘I don’t know what they call it in Tonga,’” Elder Sikahema said, “’but here we call it swag — swag bags. And there’s enough here for everybody.’”