What a beautiful Christmas day it is here. Tonga is so lovely, with a flavor of old Hawaii in the 1930's according the the Sings and the Heimulis. There are "take away" outdoor markets along the sides of the roads. You walk up to the shack, look through the metal grate, point to what you want and buy it with Tongan money. Electricity is very expensive here and so is everything...gas is $6 a gallon. We'll enjoy a beach picnic later this afternoon and evening with the elders and sisters in the mission office as well as the senior missionaries in our complex--the Garretts, the Sings, the Woods, and the Heimulis. Sister Garrett (from LDS hospital) is a medical nurse missionary and Brother Garrett helps the young missionaries with their needs including transportation.
President and Sister McMurray and their teenage son and daughter as well as the Sings warmly greeted us at the airport when we arrived. We had dinner with them in a little cottage nook after we got settled. A Sunday evening Christmas dinner was held at Pres. and Sister McMurray's home for all the Senior couples including those who work at the temple. We recognized many from the Friendly Islands church video. The McMurrays have 6 girls and 7 boys, all living on the mainland except Danny and Michelle. Michelle is 16 and will be going to BYU Provo in April.
Our stake president is 'Inoke Kupu who is also the CE country director. We spent Monday in a couples missionary conference with Pres. Kupu and his wife Moana. (He is on the friendly islands video). He said there 584 missionaries in the South Pacific. The Tongans are all so welcoming! Later that evening Pres. and Sister McMurray joined us with their son and daughter. We all went to the Kaati'ine Restaurant for elegant dining outdoor and overlooking the sea. Their specialty is swordfish.
We couples went on a tour of the islands with Elder and Sister Thompson on Christmas Eve day. A coral reef protects the entire perimeter of the island allowing for some sandy beaches for play and shell collecting. Oh, my, the blow holes are a sight to behold. Small cemeteries are everywhere decorated with beautiful homeade quilt displays and flowers for those who have passed away. One beautiful shore indicates where Captain Cook arrived. The islanders planned to eat him, but his life was saved because the chiefs couldn't figure out how to kill him. Elder Sing said the Hawaiians were cannibals, too, and when he landed on their island they killed him. They respected him enough not to eat him and instead wrapped him in leaves and gave him to the crew. Then they killed the crew and ate them! :) Words can't express the beauty and quaintness of this place. We saw pigs wandering in the bay and exotic flowers are everywhere.
The layout here has the feel of the BYU-Hawaii campus setting only on a smaller scale. Liahona High school is 61 years old and the beacon of the South Pacific. The island is like a foot and Liahona is in the heel The Liahona high school facility, the temple, and our duplex apartments are all in the same complex. Streets are narrow and more like a single land. We have an avocado tree in the back yard and picked some yesterday. They are huge!
We are the 3rd duplex apartment on our lane which lies between the temple and the Liahona high school. In fact, the temple fence is about 150 feet from our back yard. Scented plumeria flowers bloom in some of the yards. There are beautiful blossoming trees everywhere including what many the islanders call Christmas trees because they are covered with red blossoms. The temple is a jewel that brightens the skies in the night.
It will be a very busy time for us after Christmas. We'll be teaching and training constantly at Pakilau Middle School and Havela Middle School on this island and a school at Eua. Teachers are back on Jan. 6 and school begins on the 12. We will fly to Eua in 6 minutes rather than take the two hour boat ride. Even the Tongans say that is the deepest part of the ocean and the sea is wild there.