Friends in Vava‘u

“Friends in Vava‘u,” Liahona, June 2002, 26

Friends in Vava‘u

Ifoni Tapueluelu was a little lonely. He was the only boy in a family of sisters. His sisters were growing up and developing other friends and interests. He needed a friend.

One day Ifoni, then about age 13, was swimming near the bridge on the beautiful island of Vava‘u, one of a group of northern islands in the nation of Tonga. Other children were swimming there too, and Ifoni noticed a boy—Peter—who was alone and looking just about as lonely as Ifoni felt. Ifoni saw Peter and thought, He doesn’t have a friend, but he needs one. And I need a friend. Soon they were inseparable—except when Ifoni went to church.

The island of Vava‘u has three stakes and dozens of wards and branches. Ifoni is one of many members in Tonga who have grown up in the Church. He was baptized at age eight, and as a deacon he faithfully attended his ward meetings, performed his duties, and attended activities.

His new friend, Peter McLean, had already had some hard things happen to him. His father had died, lost at sea while fishing. Peter; his sisters, Lilika and Lei; and his mother, Hainite, were left alone. Peter admits that he struggled. His aunt had persuaded him to attend Saineha High School, the LDS-sponsored school, but he felt out of place and skipped classes regularly. The principal and teachers were patient and kept encouraging him to return. Then he met Ifoni, and his life began to change.

As Peter and Ifoni became closer, Ifoni naturally invited Peter to do everything he was doing—going to Mutual, participating in seminary, and attending Sunday meetings. At first Peter knew virtually nothing about the Church. But he had a good friend who was eager to teach him.

Ifoni had a solid testimony reinforced by some rather miraculous events in his childhood. At eight, while he was playing at sword fighting with a very real and very sharp machete, Ifoni’s eye was cut and damaged. The doctor said he would never see with that eye again. His father and his bishop gave him a priesthood blessing, asking, if it was the Lord’s will, that his eye be healed. Three months later, sight returned to his eye, even though the scar remains. He was also nearly electrocuted when electricity was first brought to his family’s village. Again he was given a priesthood blessing, and his life was preserved. Now, as a teen, he has no doubts about the power of the priesthood. “When I received the Aaronic Priesthood,” Ifoni says, “my mother encouraged me to stay faithful to the Lord’s power. It’s so important to stay clean and be worthy of the Aaronic Priesthood.”

And Ifoni knew that Peter needed the same blessings in his life.

Peter liked going to Mutual activities, but he didn’t always want to go to church on Sundays. “Every Sunday Ifoni would stand outside the house and wait for me,” Peter says. “He didn’t give up.”

Then Peter’s testimony began to grow. Seminary was a great help. “One day the teacher explained about how to resist Satan and endure the trials that come every day,” Peter says. “Doctrine and Covenants 10:5 talks about praying hard so you can resist temptation. That scripture always stays in my mind.”

Now, as 17-year-olds, Ifoni and Peter are looking forward to serving missions. And they will be great missionaries. They see possibilities where others see difficulties. For example, more than half the 15,000 people in Vava‘u are Church members, Peter points out. Then he asks, “Don’t you think it is possible to help the other half join the Church?” Immediately, there seem to be obstacles to such a widespread conversion. But one look at the faces of Peter and Ifoni stops such doubts. They have faith. And with such faith, anything is possible.

While they prepare to serve missions, their bishop has called them both to be assistant ward clerks in the Neiafu Fourth Ward, Neiafu Vava‘u Tonga West Stake. In that calling they are asked to spend 15 hours each week at the meetinghouse updating records and taking care of the grounds.

Peter and Ifoni see the gospel as a great force in their lives and in the lives of the people of Vava‘u. And they look forward to the day when, dressed in missionary attire, they will spend their time spreading the gospel.

Peter explains that a scripture he learned in seminary has become his own prayer:

“We ask thee, Holy Father, that thy servants may go forth from this house armed with thy power, and that thy name may be upon them, and thy glory be round about them, and thine angels have charge over them;

“And from this place they may bear exceedingly great and glorious tidings, in truth, unto the ends of the earth, that they may know that this is thy work, and that thou hast put forth thy hand, to fulfil that which thou hast spoken by the mouths of the prophets” (D&C 109:22–23).

Not too surprisingly, Ifoni’s favorite scripture is about helping others. It is Doctrine and Covenants 81:5–6, where the Lord says to be faithful and “lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.”

And that is exactly what Ifoni did when he saw someone in need of a friend. His friendship changed the course of Peter’s life. And the result? Two friends, both stronger in the gospel than they would have been separately.

Photography by Janet Thomas

Peter McLean (left) found a great friend in Ifoni Tapueluelu. Their friendship has led both to strong testimonies of the gospel.

Left: Ifoni is dressed in his uniform from Saineha High School. Right: Both Peter and Ifoni serve as assistant ward clerks.

Peter and his mother, Hainite, on the porch of their home.

Peter (right), Ifoni (middle), and their good friend Lopeti stop for a moment on the dock in the beautiful harbor of Vava‘u.