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My Conversion Story

Updated on January 24, 2017
elayne001 profile image

Ruth, aka Elayne Kongaika, was raised in the orchard town of Orem, Utah. She married a Polynesian boy (Tongan) and has had many adventures.

Personal photo
Personal photo | Source


I was born and raised in Utah. When I was 21, I met my husband at a dance. He and his cousins were talking and laughing. They behaved out of character in comparison to the rest of the revelers. I was curious about them.

Timpanogus Mountain near my home in Orem, Utah  Personal photo REK
Timpanogus Mountain near my home in Orem, Utah Personal photo REK

Paradym Shift

Having been married right out of high school to an abusive and faithless husband, my life did a 180 degree turn the minute I touched the shoulder of one of the dark-skinned gentlemen at the dance. I remember saying, "Do you mind me asking where you are from?" He answered that he was from Tonga. I ignorantly asked him where Tonga was. He said it was near Hawaii. I was more familiar with Hawaii, but not Tonga. I had not been out of the continental United States at that time and was not the best at geography, obviously.

A markertongatapu, tonga -
Tongatapu, Tonga
get directions

Totally Different Personalities

I was a loner, having gotten myself to the dance in my own car. The group of Tongans came all together and rejoiced in being together. They were not concerned about the laughter and loud foreign language they conversed in. In fact, they seemed to enjoy making a spectacle of themselves.

I suspect I should have been more cautious, but I was not aware that just a few years earlier, marrying another race was against the law. All I knew is that I was attracted to him and that he was very kind to me. We were of the same religion, and that meant a great deal to me. Even today, after 45 years being married, people still looked shocked when they see us together. I am tired of it. We have four beautiful and wonderful children and twelve grandchildren.

My dear husband and I
My dear husband and I

True Conversion

When we are young, we usually rely on our parents to tell us which religion to be active in. I dutifully followed my family to the Mormon Church (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). I can't say that I was truly converted. Our family did not have the usual family prayers, family home evening (only occasionally), and attended church, although we rarely participated in the monthly fasting required to help the poor.

We come from pioneer people on both sides of the family who gave everything for the Mormon Church. following the teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young the prophets. Many of my ancestors were polygamists and lived Zion-type lives. On the other hand, our little family including my mother, father, brother and I are not nearly as devoted.

Our first baby Family Photo REK
Our first baby Family Photo REK

My husband's family

Although we were raised thousands of miles apart, my husband's family were also members of the Mormon Church. However, they were very devoted. They also had polygamist ancestors, although they called it "common law" then. His father, in particular, was very strict in reading the scriptures daily, praying as a family, and they sold everything they owned to be able to travel to the New Zealand Temple to be sealed as a family for eternity. The family had attended LDS Church Schools and dedicated their lives to the missionaries and sharing what little they had with others.

Not long after we were married, we attended a "fireside" (a gathering where there is usually a speaker and refreshments). Elder John H. Groberg was the special guest. He spoke directly to the Tongans and told them they needed to return to Tonga to help their people. This thought had not come up in our conversations while we were dating or getting married. I just assumed we would stay and finish his schooling and live forever in Utah or the states. Wrong!

My husband was determined thereafter to make our way to Tonga. I thought it sounded like a fine adventure, so naively agreed. As soon as he graduated from BYU-Provo, we left the home I had known for my first 21 years and traveled with our oldest child who was six months old to live in Tonga and help in whatever way we could in Tonga.

My two beautiful babies in Tonga  Personal photo REK
My two beautiful babies in Tonga Personal photo REK

Life was not at all what I had expected in Tonga. We landed on a grass runway, most of the roads were not paved, there were coconut tree groves everywhere, no automatic washing machines, or any other conveniences that I was used to. It rained nearly every day. My new baby suffered from the heat and cloth diapers. I tried to be a trouper and get along with everyone and everything.

I had gotten pregnant on the way down, perhaps in Fiji. So we added another cute little baby (this time a boy). After a while, I became a bit used to the routine, although it felt more like we were camping out every day rather than living a normal life. In a few months, both of my little babies became very ill with thrush in their mouths. I took them to the "hospital" to get some medicine for them. It didn't work! I sought help from other medical doctors, but they were unable to supply a formula that would help get rid of the sores all over the inside of my two babies little mouths. They were unable to eat or sleep and cried almost constantly. For two weeks, I struggled to know what to do for them and had very little sleep myself.

Our four children  Family photo REK
Our four children Family photo REK

Miracle

I asked for a Priesthood blessing for my babies and prayed constantly for them. Just when it looked like they might succumb to the horrible infection, my husband's mother offered to take them to a lady in the village that knew about herbs that could help them. I somewhat reluctantly gave her the babies and prayed they would be okay. I was totally exhausted. The lady asked my husband to bring several Tongan herbs and plants and make a mixture that was poured inside my babies mouths. It stung their gums very badly and they screamed in pain. However, it did the trick. In about three days, they were able to eat and sleep.

Then it was my turn to be sick. I could not get out of bed without being dizzy and having flu-like symptoms. I had a copy of the Book of Mormon and decided to read it cover to cover (which I had never done despite the fact I took seminary). Joseph Smith's testimony told of him seeing God and Jesus Christ and I felt a strong confirmation of the truthfulness of his story. As I continued to read, I felt that conviction over and over and knew it was the word of God.

I know I was in the extremity of my existence, but will not deny what I read and felt. The whole thing was to me evidence of God's love and caring for me. We ended up living in Tonga for 13 years. My husband served as the Mission President to the Tonga Nuku'alofa Mission. We added two more sons. My children were blessed to be associated with the fine missionaries on a daily basis and all have a deep love for Tonga. We have been blessed by following the advice of Elder Groberg at that fireside so long ago.

© 2017 Elayne

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