For a while now I’ve really wanted to share a few thoughts, feelings and experiences all about those we’ve taught and are currently teaching, the members in the ward and the missionaries I serve alongside. Over the years I’ve heard so many returned missionaries (no doubt you have too) claim that their missions were the best out of them all. I’ve pondered on that and have realised just what makes a mission “the best” for the missionary – it’s the people! These are a few of the people that have become my family these past four months in Kiribati and have made my mission truly the best!
Teabwaabwa & Nei Ane
When I first met Teabwaabwa I didn’t really like him. During lessons he would constantly tease and play around. At that stage I was still way too uptight and serious and thought he was wasting our time. Anyways fast forward to now and my feelings have completely changed since those first few times. I have so much love for this man. He has overcome so much to get to where he is. We have been teaching him ever since I arrived in Kiribati and altogether, missionaries have been teaching him for almost a year. His wife, Nei Ane, is a member however she is not a citizen of Kiribati. Coupled with that is the fact that they aren’t married and so before Teabwaabwa can be baptised, Nei Ane must obtain citizenship and then they must be married. The process of Nei Ane obtaining citizenship has been slow and is still very much a work in progress however in my opinion it’s been a great refining process for all involved, including myself. Faith has been fortified and perspectives enlarged. Teabwaabwa’s like the angry old man that we all live next to who spends his time sleeping, eating, lying down on his buia playing candy crush or something similar, fishing, cruising around on his bike with his snap back, harassing small children and playing cards in the mwaneaba (in particular a card game called “Sorry”). Every time our bikes need fixing he fixes them. Yes, he complains and almost dies from lung exhaustion, huffing and puffing, but he does it nevertheless. He also tries to teach us big Kiribati words that we can use to make us look smart. His wife, Nei Ane, makes a savoury treat called mwakerukeru (which is like a thin, super thin, dough that is deep fried) every day and sells it to the children that live around her house for 10cents a pop. We’ve helped her a few times for service. When I say help, I mean I’ve just sat down and entertained them all with my stories and personality while they work. One time Teabwaabwa and I played checkers (he waaaaasted me of course but I just pretended it was because I hadn’t played in a while but really…) and while we were playing he made this little baby cry by telling him to go away. The baby just stood there crying and crying and crying. Teabwaabwa just went back to playing checkers. On another day for our lunch break, we went to their house to play cards, you know as you do. I didn’t know it until the end of the game but he and I were supposed to be partners. He kept getting mad at me during the game but I just thought he was getting jealous because I was winning as old men do. Meanwhile Nei Ane is laughing her head off and I don’t know why. I was so lost. In the end Teabwaabwa and I ended up winning which is all that really matters. It was the most hilarious game of cards I’ve ever played.
Taubo & Kiribwa
We began teaching Imwakurite (who is Taubo and Kiribwa’s daughter) a few months ago. She is one of the smartest young women I know. After she got baptised she would walk to Church by herself every Sunday. Taubo and Kiribwa saw her example and from there, told us that they wanted to hear our message. They wanted to learn more and support Imwakurite in her spiritual journey. Taubo is amazing! He has a problem with the Word of Wisdom (which he is still working through), with cigarettes in particular. When we first taught him about the Word of Wisdom he admitted that he would consume about 20 cigarettes each day. That was a few weeks ago. In a short amount of time he was cut that down to 5! If that’s not a miracle then I don’t know what is. Each time we would commit him to decrease the amount of cigarettes he consumed, he was up for the challenge. Kiribwa and Imwakurite were always there to watch him (most times like hawks) and support him. A few times after lessons they would pull out freshly cooked fish for us to eat accompanied with either rice or donuts. Taubo loves eating donuts with fish. One time they didn’t have any donuts and so they told Taubo’s brother to go and buy some. He had just come back from buying salt which made us feel so bad. We jokingly said that he probably hates us for making him go out and work and buy donuts when all he wants to do is watch the soccer games that were on (their house is right across from the soccer field in Bairiki). Two weeks ago when we visited them they told us that the fishermen they hire had gone missing. They loved him like family and were so sad. We began praying for them and encouraged them to do so as well. A week went by without any word. Taubo went with a few officials to try and find them by air but no luck. Kiribati officials had asked the New Zealand Coastguard to help. We taught Taubo and Kiribwa about fasting and encouraged them to fast. Kiribwa had taken on the challenge and the family were continuing to pray for the lost fishermen. Each time we would meet them for lessons we would try and share a message of comfort and faith but we could feel their sadness. Last week we stopped in to say hello and Kiribwa told us that the New Zealand Coastguard had found the fishermen in Marshall Islands waters! What a miracle and what a testimony building experience for Taubo and Kiribwa about prayer and fasting. We were so happy to hear that they were found safe and all were healthy, hungry but healthy. We left their home feeling so much joy. An hour or so later as we were biking to Nanikai we saw Taubo and Kiribwa drive past. We waved and as we did so we saw a head pop out of the car window and wave at us. It was one of the lost fisherman. I’ll never forget his bright smile and enthusiastic wave. His face was full of utter joy.
Neiman is probably one of the most unexpected investigators we’ve found. During our first lesson with her, we invited her to be baptised but she declined admitting that her mother was a member of the KPC (Kiribati Protestant Church) and she was afraid to be baptised as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints as her mother would be upset with her. She however, still wanted to continue having lessons with us. I was a little perplexed at how she didn’t want to be baptised for fear of her mother but still wanted to continue having lessons. I admittedly, was sceptical at how much she would progress. As the lessons went on she began asking us to pray for her. We could see that her desire to be baptised was increasing. At one stage we felt inspired to teach her about fasting. We taught her the lesson and committed her to fast along with us to help her with the barriers she was facing to being baptised. We were supposed to fast on a Saturday night but had a dinner appointment so we would have opened our fast late in the night. We told Neiman (which was on Wednesday) and she told us we should just fast right then and there. And so we did. We came back the next day, all three of us with grumbling stomachs, to have our lesson and close our fast. At the end of the lesson we invited her to baptised and she said yes. She said that she knew that the Book of Mormon was true and she knew that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints was Christ’s church. We all wept with joy and felt our souls fill with the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. She’s going to be baptised in a few weeks and I know for sure that it’ll be one of the most memorable experiences of her life. One thing I love about Neiman is that every time we bring her a treat she gets so excited. She loves lollies and chocolate and even told us a few times not to give any to her daughter but to give it to her instead haha.
We first met Mwarua when his younger cousin Ioio referred him to us. She didn’t know that he had already been baptised in Kuria, which is an outer island, and was so upset with herself when she found out in our first lesson with them. We tried to assure her that it was fine and we appreciated her efforts. We continued teaching Mwarua anyway because he had recently been baptised and hadn’t completed his lessons. In such a short amount of time we became really good friends with him. He is so funny and constantly makes us laugh. A few times we’ve tried to teach him a few phrases in English such as: “Oh my gosh!” and “What the heck.” We always crack up after he says because he sounds a little bit fobby. What I love most about Mwarua is the emphasis and importance he places on our lessons. Whenever we schedule lessons he always tries his best to be there. If he forgets or is busy he’s always so apologetic. He is so good at cleaning and washing clothes (a lot of Kiribati men clean and wash). He’s also a really great cook. The few times we’ve had dinner with him and his family him and his cousin have cooked all of the food. We always tell them that their wives are going to be so blessed!
We’ve been teaching Jojo ever since I arrived here in Kiribati. What I admire about Jojo is his desire to live a righteous life despite his personal circumstances that seem to be working against him. The house he lives in usually gets visited by police every now and then as we’d be teaching a lesson. At first I just thought that police would come and visit people’s homes in Kiribati looking for drugs and illegally made alcohol but then I realised that I only saw them come through this particular house and realised there was probably a reason. Drunk people always greet and farewell us as we come and go from our lessons with Jojo. A few times some drunk men have tried to touch us but they’ve been so drunk that it’s easy to dodge them. I just laugh a little to myself and accept it as all part of the experience. One time a drunk man actually stroked Sister Tutu’ila’s cheek. She felt so violated afterwards. It was so hilarious. Jojo and his family are so good though. Whenever they see that we are coming they always make sure that we aren’t in any real danger. Jojo is one of the kindest people I have met. He has such a soft, sweet spirit. He’s quite quiet but we have become good friends over the past couple of months. I know that there is so much going on in his life but despite that, he tries his very best to keep his covenants and live the gospel as best as he can. Through his example I have learnt a lot.
Oh my goodness, where do I start with Kaeua! I think she was the very first investigator that I had met when I came to Kiribati. She has the most beautiful smile and the sweetest personality. She truly has a heart of GOLD. We’ve nicknamed her the “tia ngare” because she laughs all day every day. Her laugh is the type of laugh where when you hear it, it makes you want to laugh as well. When we were still teaching her she would always have crackers or donuts with cordial (sweetened water) waiting for us after lessons. My favourite memory with Kaeua was when she accompanied us to a lesson with Boobu. It was our last lesson with him because he was leaving for an outer island the following day. We arrived at his house only to discover that he was drunk. He began calling my name to which I quickly made a swift exit. We all left and then started debriefing. Sister Tuilotolava and I were speaking in English trying to make sense of what just happened. Meanwhile Kaeua not understanding what we were talking about, began asking us if we could roam around on the bikes now that we didn’t have a lesson to teach. We both looked at her as if she was crazy. It was about 8:30pm at night and we needed to get her home. Apart from her hilarious personality she is one of the most friendliest people I have met. She always fellowships investigators and new converts. She is always inviting people to activities and getting involved. She has taught me what it really means to be a missionary.
One of my most treasured experiences with Taarea occurred the day after he was baptised. We were talking with him and asking him how he felt about his baptism. He told us that when he was baptised he felt Heavenly Father forgive his sins. He’s so young but the way he thinks and feels is that of someone older. Before and after Taarea was baptised he got involved with the Primary in the ward. One of the proudest moments of my mission was walking up to the chapel and seeing Taarea lead members of Primary in a practice for their performance. He stood with such confidence and power. I know that as he continues on in his discipleship he will be a great leader in the Church and in his family. I feel so privileged to have been a part of his journey.
Kaeua, Taarea and Aukitino are all siblings. We had taught Kaeua first and then Taarea. After Taarea was baptised Aukitino had expressed that he wanted to hear our message and be baptised also. At first he was shy and didn’t have many friends. During lessons it was hard to get him to open up to us and share his thoughts or some of his struggles. Little by little he’s improved and now he’s so comfortable and open with us. He struggled to read the Book of Mormon. We’d constantly try to get him to read and would read with him also but on his own, he just didn’t. During one lesson, Sister Tuilotolava had shared a scripture which seemed to make something stir within him. Each time we would follow up with him from that point on he would always report that he read the Book of Mormon each day. To see the change within him has been a most rewarding experience indeed. Just like his siblings, his soft, sweet spirit and friendliness has increased my love for him.
When we first met Tebwateki he was working as a security guard at the chapel. We would teach him every day that he worked. What I saw very early on was how well he kept his scriptures and the lesson pamphlets we would give him. When he would pull them out for lessons he would do so with the greatest care. Tebwateki understood the importance of scriptures and how we should care for them. It was such a treasure to see especially after seeing dust covered and torn Books of Mormon all of the time. During lessons with Tebwateki what I appreciated was his concentration and focus. When we would teach him, he was always engaged in the lessons, trying his best to understand what was being taught. There was one time where I was just struggling so bad, feeling so discouraged with the language and feeling as though I couldn’t communicate or fulfil my purpose as a missionary but Tebwateki’s concentration and slight nods of encouragement helped me to continue on and to keep pressing forward.
One day as we were biking to an appointment we passed by a store and some guys were saying hello. One of them shouted out to us that he had a referral. We stopped and started talking with them. The man told us that his friend wanted to take lessons. We asked who his friend was and there popped out Boobai with a smile on his face and a wave of his hand. From there we began our friendship with him. He was only available to be taught on weekends because he would study during the week and then work part time on week nights. One of the great blessings was hearing that he wanted to go on a mission. He lives with a friend who served in Fiji and had recently married in the temple. One night his friend had shared a few mission experiences with him and from there Boobai’s desire to serve grew. A few weeks ago we had dinner with him and his family and he had prepared a spiritual thought to share. I felt so much pride as he shared his spiritual thought and could imagine him in a year or so, with a white shirt on and a badge on his chest as a missionary sharing spiritual thoughts with those he is teaching.