How we baptized a whole village

“Tupou pronounced Too-Poe”

Tanner Tupou is about as “Aussie, good’ay mate” as they come, and was sure he’d receive a mission call to his home country of Australia. Having lived their his whole life, he assured himself that his local knowledge and love for the people guaranteed him a mission call to a big city congregation with an air conditioned Toyota corolla. “This was going to be a familiar experience”, he thought.

He couldn’t have been more wrong.

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Tanner pre-mission, enjoying Sydney life

On opening his ‘call letter’ he read out “You are hearby called to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day saints. You are assigned to labor in the…”

His eyes scanned the mission name before reading it aloud. He was already filled with disappointment as he read the words “The Fiji Suva Mission, with assignment to Vanuatu” His family and friends erupted into cheering. This is supposed to be one of the most exciting moments for a Latter Day Saint, but Tanner just couldn’t relate.

“I never wanted to serve anywhere but Australia, I couldn’t imagine anything worse than mosquito ridden survival treks and third world living in the blistering sun. I had hoped that my craziest mission experience would be riding a push bike in a suit”.    

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Despite his lack of enthusiasm, he accepted the call and arrived in Vanuatu just after Cyclone Yasi. (Having been set-apart as a missionary) Elder Tupou said, “On exiting the plane, the extreme humidity and heat was no welcome party, but I knew this would be my home for the next two years, so I had to get used to it and make the best of it”.

Elder Tupou quickly learned that the church in Vanuatu very different to his large ward in Sydney. “Often we would be running a small branch or helping to build, something or other, this was a pioneering mission in a district, not a stake, and just as I thought, no air-conditioning, but I got used to it”.

The moment he’d adapted to living in Vanuatu, he was transferred to the even smaller island of Tanna, I know… “Tanner in Tanna”. (I think that should be his book title) This island contained just six missionaries, who looked after 4 branches.

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Not long after arriving, he heard a knock on the apartment door. Standing there was a tall, shoeless, Ni Vanuatu (local) man. “Missionaries, my name is Issac and I am the unit leader for Green Point” he said.

The missionaries had vaguely heard of “Green Point” and knew that no one had visited there for possibly five years. It was a good two hour drive, described by Elder Tupou as “a mountainous and rugged dirt road that looked like the filming location for an off-road truck commercial”.

Issac had walked twelve hours to ask the missionaries for some relief aid. The recent cyclone had destroyed villagers crops and homes. He only wanted a few bags of rice and some tarpaulin.

The missionaries immediately called the office couple back in Vanuatu who told the them to go out to Green Point and assess the situation. “We had no idea what we’d find, as exciting as it was, we were covered three branches, there was plenty of work for us to do closer to home”. 

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Photo of a different day out to Green Point 

That Sunday they took an off road vehicle out to the village. They were amazed at what they saw. Issac greeted them and lead them to church. “He took us to a bamboo structure with a palm leaf roof, we expected to see about three or four people”. Instead they were greeted by a ninety person strong congregation of half baptised members to investigators. It was totally surreal, I couldn’t figure out how they’d grown to this extent without missionaries” said Elder Tupou. 

vanuatu45  Siting in the chapel

Village 

Some of the Green Point members

“When Issac started church, I was worried he’d stray from church guidelines, it had been about fives years since he’d had contact with church leaders. I didn’t even know if he’d received any training. I honestly expected to hear some false doctrine and see some strange practices. But I decided to let it play out and just observe”.

Issac started the meeting and everything seemed pretty much ok. He announced the sacrament and the only five people there with smart shirts stood up and took their places. “It was so humbling to see these men in worn, off-white shirts, clearly given to them by former missionaries, the reverence in that shelter was unmistakable”.

Issac then carefully reached into his pocket and pulled out a worn piece of paper neatly folded in four. He handed it to the brethren in the white shirts. It was the sacrament prayer, written by missionaries more than five years previously.

Elder Tupou said, “When I saw that piece of paper, I felt the spirit confirm how special these people were to God. When I heard them singing the sacrament hymn, ’There is a Green Hill far way” I couldn’t hold back the tears”.   

old paper

Issac knew he couldn’t take tithes, but saw that people needed to help, so he implemented home and visiting teaching programs, where members visited each other regularly across the whole region, assessing needs, teaching lessons and collecting and distributing food donations for the widows and struggling families. He’d created a “Bishop’s store house”. Everyone visited a someone, member/ non-member, every week.     

The missionaries left totally overwhelmed by their experience. They returned with food, shelter resources and started teaching members of the congregation who had been faithful for years, waiting for missionaries to come to baptise them. Elder Tupou baptised over forty people in less than one month. “They were some of the most prepared, well taught people I’d ever met. I will never forget those baptismal services”.

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Isaac received training and became their first branch president. Now the branch is filled with members who hold callings in every branch auxiliary. Isaac’s son just recently left as the branch’s first, full time serving missionary.

Elder Tupou feels strongly that “Some missionaries might think that when they leave an area, it’s all going to crumble without their support. This was not the case for Green Point, as in many other places around the world. Most missionaries won’t see the impact they make straight away, but imagine those Elders who donated a few white shirts and wrote the sacrament prayer on a piece of paper. Their impact will be felt for generations”.

By the end of his mission, Elder Tupou couldn’t relate with his former ‘city loving Australian’ self. On his last day in Vanuatu he arrived at the airport to a surprise party made up of eighty converts and many of his former missionary companions. As they sent him off to a chorus of singing, Elder Tupou, through tear soaked eyes realised that his life had been changed forever. The love he’d gained for these people extended far beyond anything he’d felt before. Elder Tupou ,once an unenthusiastic arrival, now had to be reminded by the pilot to board the plane.

If you loved that, check out 20 Inspiring Mission Photos: Here

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20 Responses

  1. makarini.tewhata@gmail.com'
    MAKARINI TE WHATA

    I just love reading the stories of missionaries they get to see the influence that they have on people the love they share and the service that they do for those that are willing to make that change in their lives, not only what they do affects the people also change in themselves gives the missionaries strength spiritually, mentally and physically. you can feel the love when you read these stories because from the missionaries these stories are true and first hand accounts. they could be in the heaviest populated area where there are large sky scrapers or they could be in the densest of forest. much love.

    Reply
  2. midgetaylor143@gmail.com'
    Sister King

    You brought tears to my eyes as I read your experiences. Bless your heart. When I got my call to serve in the Salt Lake City North Mission, I was shocked that anyone would be called to Church Headquarters. Back then, I thought prophets walked above the ground. LOL. I had told Father I would be willing to go serve in a leaper colony for the rest of my life, to show Him how grateful I was for all He had done for me. Since my mission ended (1990) I have stayed, as I see why I was brought here. I have worked with the best of the best and served the people whom Father brought me to serve. Such joy, I can not express. I’m sure you understand exactly how I feel. I hope you keep up the good work until we both meet at the feet of the Savior. Hugs, until then.

    Reply
    • Zinagood1@gmail.com'
      Zina Goodwin

      I served as a CES missionary in Suva, Fiji and this story melted my heart. These people are so full of faith. They sing harmoniously with no accompanient. I love them all dearly.

      Reply
  3. moi2u@msn.com'
    Sandy

    Wow–an amazing story! Talk about ‘golden’ investigators! Doesn’t get more ‘golden’ that that! And I thought my missionary experience in New England was awesome! God bless these [former] full-time missionaries and those who went before them to prepare the way.

    Reply
  4. lulu@davisbroker.net'
    Lulu Davis

    Loved this article on the elders who baptized a whole tribe! What an amazing story of faith and perseverance! Mahalo. (Thank you.)

    Reply
  5. sherman_kirk@yahoo.com'
    Sherman

    It would have been nice to have learned his companions name and where he was from. Was Elder Tupoi the Yoonly one who Baptized or did they each Baptize 40?
    It’s a wonderful story and very touching. I wish you and your companion the very best.

    Reply
  6. crazycoach9@hotmail.com'
    Patsy Brock

    maybe its just me seeing this but if you look down in the water to the left of the elder in the 1st baptism picture you can see the face of Jesus. What an inspiration!

    Reply
  7. Laurieloodles@hotmail.com'
    Laurie Dykes-Martinez

    What a beautiful and faith building story. This brought tears to my eyes! What faith those people had! What a perfect example of what missionaries can do with the help of our Savior and the Holy Ghost! I loved this story!

    Reply
  8. Gugu.c.hlophe@gmail.com'
    Gugu Cynthia Hlophe

    I’m really touched and humbled by this story. Just to think how much the missionaries work so tirelesly all over the world bringing souls to Jesus. Tears feel my eyes when I imagine those guys who served sacrament wearing those fading white shirts. Thanks to that missionary who brought this story. I’m also encouraged to be as faithful as those people in that ireland. It just reminds me of that city which was taken to heaven with all its people. Thanks to our leaders who provide relief to all those who are in need.

    Reply
  9. rockiefieeiki@gmail.com'
    Rockie

    My brother just got back from serving the Vanuatu Mission. He was just like Tanner living the life in the city then got a call of a question face saying where’s this place at? He came home with a huge love for the people in Vanuatu and love to continually serve others. His pictures where so awesome!

    Reply
  10. breadmakermom@hotmail.com'
    Karen

    The part of the story that struck me was the people of Green Point. I feel like they
    could be compared with the people in 3 Nephi. Such faith and spirituality.
    How many of us would be so patient waiting on the Lord? I hope to be like them
    when I “grow up”.

    Reply
  11. simonracek26@gmail.com'
    Simon

    I almost had tears in my eyes when I heard it. Walking for 12 hours to get help for his fellow saints and then doing Lord’s work for five years without any support from other missionaries and without making mistakes or changes to the ordinances. I feel blessed to read this story. If only I had half of their faith.

    Reply
  12. warleen@msn.com'
    Arleen

    My father, Wilbur Coombs Woolf, was the president of the Fiji Mission in the middle 1980’s. He loved the Fijian people and would have loved reading this story.

    Reply
  13. aiilafo@gmail.com'
    Kaleopa

    Amazing members of the church with strong faith and beliefs in our Savior Jesus Christ and His gospel. I was a missionary in Samoa in 1976-1978 and they too have strong testimonies of the gospel. This story by Elder Tupou reminds me of how my own family had joined the church back in the 60s. I was just a little boy at the time. My dad was a minister of the other Christian faith, but after one whole day of him being taught by the missionaries, he believed all that he was taught and told the missionaries that he is ready to be baptized. Our whole family was baptized in 1965. I am eternally grateful to my dad for excepting the gospel. We are an eternal family and we remain strong in the faith.

    Reply
  14. Gospel Culture VS Global Culture- LDS Blogs

    […] As the church service began, the congregation sang “There is a Green Hill Far Away”, a well-loved sacrament hymn. Then, the branch leader took a carefully folded sheet of paper from his shirt pocket and gave it to a man who was to bless the sacrament. It was the sacrament prayer, carefully written by the last missionaries to visit the branch five years before.  You can find the entire story here. […]

    Reply

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