“Inosi’s Golden Book,” Ensign, Aug. 1991, 65
“If you don’t like the missionaries, just tell them,” Maryann Naga begged her husband, Inosi. “They are human beings, too. Don’t keep making appointments you won’t keep.”
It had been nearly a year since Inosi had first met Latter-day Saint missionaries, and for almost that long Maryann had made excuses to the elders while her husband avoided their appointments. But Maryann’s pleading didn’t move Inosi; he didn’t want to hear the missionaries’ message. He just didn’t know how to send them away tactfully.
Inosi Naga, private secretary to Fiji’s minister of agriculture, had seen the missionaries one day as he walked through the streets of Nausori, Fiji, on his lunch hour. He didn’t want to accept the book they offered him, but they were so persistent that he finally agreed. “This is a golden book,” they said. When the missionaries tried to set up a meeting with him, he told them that his home was far away—he really lived nearby—and that he was too busy to see them at his office. Then he introduced the elders to his brother-in-law, who happened to walk by, and quickly slipped away.
Two weeks later, Inosi was shocked to find those same two elders at his door; his brother-in-law had given them his address. Inosi invited the missionaries to stay for dinner, “but inside I was saying, Go away, go away,” he remembers.
After that, the missionaries returned regularly. On nights when Inosi knew they were coming, he didn’t come home until he was sure they had left.
Looking back, Inosi says his attitude began to change in April 1974, when Maryann gave birth to a baby boy who lived only a day. Losing his son made Inosi think seriously about God and religion. So when two new missionaries came to the Naga home during the second week of June, Inosi was ready to listen. After one of the elders learned that the family had been meeting with the missionaries for more than a year, he challenged them to be baptized.
Maryann couldn’t believe what she had heard. “I was afraid that this was another one of his ‘appointments,’” she says. “But when I asked him directly, I could see from his face that he was telling the truth.”
Maryann was elated. “I knew this would be the biggest change for our family,” she remembers.
The missionaries taught the Nagas every day that week, and the couple were baptized on 14 June 1974.
Soon after the Nagas joined the Church, their branch president encouraged the family to prepare to go to the temple. “Every time he spoke of the temple, he had tears in his eyes,” remembers Brother Naga. “And every time I saw that, I said to myself, It must be true. His testimony penetrates to my soul.”
Maryann and Inosi accepted the challenge. But they had no savings. How could they manage the trip financially? The couple decided that their family could quit eating beef and stop drinking cocoa and milo (a cereal drink). Instead, they would eat bele (a vegetable similar to spinach) and tinned fish and drink lemon-leaf tea; they would put away the money they saved on food and use it to travel to the temple. When they told their four young daughters of their plan, “they loved the idea,” remembers Brother Naga. “And they reminded us of our goal continually.”
About that time, Inosi and Maryann moved their family to Suva. They had lived in furnished quarters in Nausori, so they had no furniture for their new home; they spread mats on the floor on which they slept and ate. Some friends and family members ridiculed them. “They thought that since I was a civil servant, I should be able to afford nice things,” says Brother Naga. “But we wanted to save our money for the temple trip.”
In October 1976, directors of the Church Educational System offered Inosi a job as coordinator of the seminary program in Fiji. He hesitated to accept the position until Joseph Sokia, director of the Church Educational System in Fiji, told him, “If you accept the seminary job, you will have the chance to change the lives of our young people.”
That touched Inosi. He remembered that his district president had asked him once in an interview whether he would be willing to work full-time for the Church if he was needed. Inosi had said he would. Now was the time to keep that commitment.
Leaving government employment after twelve years was hard; Inosi lost his leave, his pension, his government benefits, and his opportunities for overseas travel. “But I knew I needed to go,” he says. Some of Inosi’s extended family and some people of his village were frustrated with his decision. They were proud of Inosi’s government position and told him he was making a mistake. But Maryann supported him, telling him, “Wherever you take us, we will follow.”
When Inosi resigned from his job, he asked to be paid for the leave that was due to him rather than taking the days off. Because her husband would have to travel frequently in his new assignment, Maryann also resigned from her job and asked to be paid for the leave that she had earned. When the couple added that money to what they had already saved, they found it was enough to take them and their daughters to the temple.
“When we got on the plane,” Brother Naga says, “I had 102 New Zealand dollars in my pocket. That was all our money. We didn’t know how we were going to pay our living expenses for the two weeks we would be in New Zealand.”
But Church members met the Nagas at the airport, arranged for lodging in a member’s home, and provided food and transportation.
“After we came back from the temple, the Lord blessed us,” Brother Naga says. “Not only were we able to buy furniture, we were able to extend our house.”
On 12 June 1983, Elder Howard W. Hunter created the Suva Fiji Stake and called Inosi as its first president. “I didn’t know what to say, because I think there were men who were more capable of fulfilling the calling,” he remembers. “But I am grateful to have been able to serve my brothers and sisters on this island. It has been a great privilege and opportunity.”
Shortly afterward, President Naga was interviewed to be associate area director of the Church Educational System. When he declined because he did not feel he had the proper education or qualifications to serve well in that position, his supervisor, Robert Perrington, disagreed. “I’ve been sitting up all night thinking about this,” he said. “At four o’clock this morning your name came clearly to me.”
President Naga went home to consult his wife. After the couple prayed for some time, Maryann said, “You go back and tell Brother Perrington that if the Brethren want you to do it, you will do it.”
President Naga has been blessed as he carries out his responsibilities. “When the Lord calls you to a position,” he says, “he provides a way for you to fulfill it.”
Now, eight years later, Inosi Naga oversees the Church Educational System in Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, and Tuvalu. He was recently released as stake president. Maryann is ward Primary president, and the six Naga children—Ana, twenty-one; Emily, nineteen; Keresi, seventeen; Vilimaina, fourteen; Leua, twelve; and Inosi, eight—are growing up knowing the strength that the gospel can bring to a family.
In the few short years since Inosi Naga received that book from the missionaries, his life and those of his family have been changed eternally. The elders were right—the book was golden.