Ellie was asked by our bishop to share her experiences with HEFY this summer. I was so glad he did, and that she was willing, because it gave her the opportunity to reflect on all of it’s goodness…
This summer I went on a humanitarian trip with HEFY to Tonga, that stands for Humanitarian Experience for Youth. They go to 19 different countries and build homes, schools, orphanages and other much-needed facilities in impoverished countries. The expeditions are 2.5 weeks long. There are typically 24 people per trip. On my trip we had 19 builders (I was one of them) 7 boys and 12 girls. We also had 2 parent leaders, a mom and dad and two trip leaders from HEFY.
In Tonga, our project was to build a house from start to finish for a family in our Tongan ward that needed one. We had 8 days on the worksite. The first day we showed up to work, all we had was a piece of land, shovels, a bathtub, a pile of rocks, bags of cement, cinder blocks and 4 Tongan men to help and teach us.
The first day was really hard. When we showed up it was pouring rain. We were all so excited to get to work but under the conditions, it was hard to believe that we were going to make it work. Usually when it rains, the groups aren’t able to work, but our trip coordinator in Tonga found tarps for us to dig and work under. Even with the miracle of tarps, we still got drenched and completely covered in mud from head to toe. At the end of the day, we were all so exhausted, we had trench foot, and I was the most sore I have ever been. Even though it was such a hard day, it felt so amazing to be working and serving.
Everyday we showed up to the worksite so excited and happy to make more progress on our house. We were building it for a woman named Kafy and her five kids in our ward. It was so cool to see how excited they were to finally have a home. Whenever it would get hard on the worksite, thinking about these kids finally having somewhere to go home to, made it so easy. Kafy and her family have never had a house. They just hop around in other families home to stay, with her 5 children. Kafy’s husband works in New Zealand to support them. He stays there for a few months at a time to work.
One aspect of HEFY I didn’t anticipate was how much love we felt from the people. They immediately took us in, and we became a part of their family. We spent almost every night in ward members homes or at ward activities. These families didn’t have much at all. The homes were about the size of my living room and they have cement floors with mats and little furniture. Every time we went into a family’s home, it was a highlight of my day. We would play games and sing and we would be laughing and joking the whole time. We had so much fun with everyone in our ward. After two weeks I felt like I had known them my whole life. They were so selfless and caring towards us. I thought I was coming to Tonga to build a house, but we left with so much more than we gave. It sounds stupid to say that the gospel is so strong in Tonga, because it’s the same wherever to go, but it really was so much stronger when we were serving and applying the gospel principals to our life. It was so amazing to see Christ’s gospel in action.
One day on the worksite, I was mixing cement with shovels in a broken bathtub (which wasn’t easy) with a few other kids and a Tongan worker named Sam. One of the girls said, we are definitely going to have muscles when we go home. Sam said, “no you won’t have muscles, you will go home with a testimony.”
Our Bishop told me a story about his son. His son was going to school and he saw a Palangi on the street. Palangi is the Tongan word for caucasian people. Our Bishops son said, Dad, I love when the palangi’s come, it makes me feel so safe. I feel like its so cool that the Tongan people have so much respect for us and seriously just love everyone like their family. I realized that even though these people thought we were the angels, they were showing us an example of what angels are really like.
President Russell M Nelson said, “Do we believe in angels? Yes! We believe in angels! Heavenly messengers- seen and unseen; and earthly angels who know whom to Servehelp and how to help.”
The theme for HEFY this year was What were you born to do. One morning we woke up before going to work to watch the sunrise. We went out to the ocean and sat on the rocks and our whole group bore our testimony about why we came on this trip. Everyone had found an answer for the question “what were you born to do”. It was cool because none of us knew each other before coming to Tonga. We were all from different places and had different lives, but we all came together on the same trip. We realized that we were all sent to Tonga to change each others lives and even with different backgrounds, we all needed the same thing. It wasn’t just a coincidence that we came together.
Pres Nelson “The Lord has more in mind for you than you have in mind for yourself! As you love him and keep his commandments, great rewards even unimaginable achievements may be yours.”
I know that heavenly father has a plan for us. I am so grateful that I could serve his people in Tonga and learn so much from them. I know that the gospel is true and that serving the lord brings so much happiness.