Missouri now has its first Tongan branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Trenton Branch (Tongan) was created from the Grand River Valley Ward in the Far West Missouri Stake.
The ward and branch share the hour of meetings such as Sunday School, Primary, Relief Society and elders quorum, but have separate sacrament meetings. This allows the Tongan Saints to worship in Tongan. The branch has 87 members.
The branch president is President Viliami K. Aso, who has led two other Tongan branch presidencies in other locations in the past. His first counselor is Andrew H. Fisi’italia, and his second counselor is Tevita L. Mahu’inga.
Mahu’inga was the first Tongan to reside in Trenton in northwest Missouri, near many Church historic sites. He has had a lifelong mission to find a place where Tongan youth could attend college.
When Mahu’inga left Tonga to go to the United States in 1973, his father counseled him to find a place where Tongan youth could attend college. That became his lifelong mission. When he visited Adam-ondi-Ahman the first time, he had a spiritual experience. Soon after he learned about North Central Missouri College in Trenton, 26 miles away from Adam-ondi-Ahman.
When he visited the college and spoke with leaders, he felt the close-knit college had personalized attention and the small community was a good match for Tongan families and youth. In 2022, Mahu’inga’s daughter started classes at the college, and the school held a ceremony honoring her as the first international student from Tonga.
He said he went through many trials on his journey to Trenton. “Deep in my heart, there was testimony. I just kept going,” he said. “I am looking at this now — I was prepared to do this.”
President Aso knew Mahu’inga previously, and moved to Trenton to do some work for him. He called his wife, Ana Latu Aso, in Salt Lake City, and said: “I feel a strong spirit here; I am going to stay. I think we have a mission over here.”
Ana Aso joined her husband after visiting the area. After the branch was created and President Aso was called to lead it, he said: “Now I realize why I am here. This is why the Lord wants us here. I am so grateful that the Lord knows me and wants to use me.”
President Aso hopes the branch can grow in strength and numbers and eventually become a ward. The branch presidency expects more families to move to the area by next summer.
Families are also growing — twins were just born to a Tongan couple in the branch. And the members and missionaries are working on inviting their neighbors to be baptized.
— Far West Missouri Stake communications specialist Ann Plumb contributed to this report