From the first humble school that missionaries established on Vava‘u in 1907, Church schools have played an important role in the lives of Tongan Latter-day Saints. By 1921 mission president Vernon Coombs called Church schools “a most potent factor in spreading the work of the Lord in these islands.” In the late 1940s, many Tongans served as labor missionaries to help build a new secondary school building. The opening of Liahona College (later Liahona High School) in 1952 proved to be a great strength to the Church as countless Tongans educated at the school went on to serve full-time missions and lead lives of service in communities throughout the islands.
Among those graduates was Pita Foliaki Hopoate. Pita had struggled with tests as a child, and his primary school exam grades would not normally have qualified him for entrance into Tonga’s secondary schools. When he met with the principal of Liahona High School, however, he was asked only one question: “My boy, do you really want to learn?” When he replied that he did, the principal said, “Your desire to learn qualifies you for entrance.”
“I fasted every Wednesday and prayed earnestly for help,” Pita recalled. In what seemed a miracle to him, he was successful in school. After serving a mission, Pita worked in the Church Educational System, helping offer both knowledge and faith to another generation of learners. He saw the positive effects of Church schools across Tonga after being called in 1980 as president of the Tonga Nuku‘alofa Mission.