Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Tale of Tuliana

. . . and we thought we were shopping for a stove/oven.  Blaring Indian music almost kept us from walking into an appliance store that first day in Ba back in mid-October.  We were determined to find an electric unit which apparently does not exist in Fiji.  Had we not been warmly greeted by a great Fijian smile with an offer to assist us in the search, we might have given up.  But there was Tuliana, a 19-year old sales assistant who, though new to her job, brought her natural gregarious personality to help us adjust our "American" expectations to a Fijian reality -- "there are no electric cookers!"
Tuliana Lewaseni
As we were signing papers and making arrangements to have it delivered to our flat, we realized we would need help obtaining a gas line and getting it all hooked up.  Tuli offered, "Don't people in your church help each other with things like that?"  Hmmm, I guess they just might do that  IF we knew any of them here in Ba. She went on to say she had some relatives who were members of the LDS church and that she had visited church before.  Being very new to this ourselves, we sprung into action, " Tuliana, would you be willing to let us share a message about our church?"  "Sure", she responded.  What?  Really?  Did we understand you correctly?  And then we added an invitation to attend church the next Sunday as well.  Too simple, too perfect, too easy, buy a gas cooker and meet our first investigator who has now become a dear friend.

People frequently move around and live with other family members here and it's no big deal for either party. This was the case for Tuliana, she was living with her sister, Olivia and family.  Directions to her home meant nothing to us at this point in time since Ba was a completely new location for us.  We carefully followed the landmarks: bus stop, two little stores, tall coconut trees and very steep rocky road.  There we found Tuliana waiting and her married sister had prepared an amazing assortment of treats to welcome us with.  Such gracious hospitality.
Olivia & her children with Aunti Tuliana at our first meeting
Thinking Tuli was the only one interested we shared our message with her and then scheduled a return appointment.  She wanted to walk us back to our car and on the way we inquired if her sister might be interested in learning as well.  Tuliana responded, "Actually, she does want to learn, she just didn't know if she was invited!" Later we learned that Olivia just "felt something special" when we were there and was drawn to it.

And so began our weekly teaching appointments with two sisters we've grown to love, and they have grown to love the gospel.  Along the way we've had setbacks in scheduled meetings with unexpected work conflicts, injuries, flood, missed rendevouz locations, holidays, etc.  However, each meeting has brought heart to heart sharing of mind and soul and there's never a shortage of jokes and laughter.  On the day we taught them the "Word of Wisdom" (health code advising against the use of alcohol, tea, coffee, drugs, etc.), we asked Tuli if giving these things up would be difficult.  "No," she replied, and then received a big scowl and small punch in the side from Olivia who protested that they all would be hard!  For the most part though, they have loved the teachings we've shared.  After we had taught them about the "Plan of Happiness" (where we came from, why we are on the earth, and what happens after death), we asked how they felt about these truths.  Tuli answered: "We have never heard these things before -- but we like them." In fact, she came to like them so well that many weeks we'd find that Tuli had invited a friend or two to join us for the lessons.

Not long after going to Fall #7, Tuli expressed her desire to be baptized on her 20th birthday (March 6th), and become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Olivia felt similarly but her Muslim husband is not supportive of the idea.  She shared that she has fasted and prayed for his change of heart but as yet things remain the same. They have been partners through this spiritual journey and Olivia was right by her side on this special day for Tuli.
On the morning of her baptism, Annie sent a text message wishing her a happy birthday and asked how she was doing.  Tuli texted back: "Wel, wat greater gift cn  be than babtised on yor birthday anywayz its a wonderful morning. i like the weather i told Oli i wish it rains ths morning n it did.  we just see the rainbow, am so happy" (guess text talk has made it to Fiji!).
Baptismal day on the banks of Namosau Creek

Off to the "changing room"
What a great day for all of us!  Tuli is an endless reservoir of wit, humor, and joy and we have loved our relationship with her.  We were looking forward to the next Sunday worship service when she would be confirmed a member of the Church and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost but just before then she called to explain that she wouldn't be coming until the following Sunday.  Concerned, we asked what the problem was.  She shared that unbeknownst to us she had been serving as the "youth captain" (sort of a youth minister), and treasurer of her Methodist congregation and she agreed with her parents that she should attend the Methodist Church that Sunday to formally resign her position and explain why she was leaving.  We hadn't known that her new-found faith would come at such a cost but we had complete confidence in her and she shared that the meeting went well and she was now prepared to move forward.  Last Sunday she was confirmed and was called (appointed) to be a Sunday School teacher of the 12-18 year-old youth.  This Sunday she has been asked to speak in church.  She'll do great and we're sure the kids will come to treasure her as we have.

Guess we weren't really shopping for a stove that day after all.  We were on the Lord's errand and He was in charge -- a fact for which we have become profoundly grateful.


Ditto Family said...

What a special post!!! This will be a day that you will never forget. How wonderful to have been instrumental in Tuli's baptism! Awesome way to celebrate a birthday!

Matt said...

What a wonderful post!

melida said...

The lord works in wonderful ways. That is so great.:)

emily a. said...

No better way to celebrate her birthday. You both have such a way of making everyone feel so special.

Marilyn Correa said...

What a wonderful experience! Thank you for sharing the story of such an awesome young adult. It is great to see you having an enjoyable mission for our Lord!

MamaBear said...

What a sweet story!

Megan and Ben said...

Her smile says more than words ever could. What a great post and story. March 6th is my sister's bday too. What a bday to remember.
Thanks for sharing.

Ken said...

Inspirational! Keep up the good work!

Running Rinnes said...

What a wonderful story!

sixmoores said...

Thanks for sharing such a sweet story. It's exactly what I needed to hear today. I am so glad that you love the people there so much!