The call to serve could not have come at a more inconvenient time.
In 2008, my dad passed away. Since my dad wasn’t with me anymore, I felt numb and a bit lost. I needed a change of scenery so I moved to Hamilton to study at Waikato University. I had dreams of becoming an occupational therapist because I saw how therapy helped my mum when she was sick.
However, after my first semester my mum asked me to move back home. She had fallen pretty ill and needed me. Really? I have three brothers! Why can't they do it? That made me so mad!
Months after moving back, I sat with mum and told her I was preparing to serve a full-time mission. I could see myself in the field, working miracles and helping people. I was excited. She supported me and said, “Well, let’s get to work.'
More months passed and we sat down again. In the same lounge where I announced my desire to serve, she asked me to hold off on my plans because she needed me home. She had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I cried. Of course for my mum, but partially, and selfishly I was angry at my circumstances. Why me? Why did I have to stay home? What about my brothers?
My mum got worse every day. Eventually, she couldn’t move. I recall one rough day where she had an accident and with a timid voice, asked me for help. “I’m sorry Lisa,” she said through her tears. In retrospect, feeling sorry for me wasn’t the complete reason for her tears that day. Dignity. A woman who had devoted her God-given energy and time to looking after her children and husband, was now unable to take care of herself. A chore we usually think of parents doing for their children, not the other way around. “You will be blessed” — mum made sure I knew this before she left me.
After my mum passed away, I moved in and out of family homes, trying to find my new home. I began attending university again in 2010. I was in my second year of study when I felt the Lord calling me and bringing back into my heart and mind the thoughts and feelings of wanting to serve a mission.
I had many sleepless nights thinking about my mission. The biggest roadblock was finances and my prayers became more desperate and I wondered where the Lord had gone. Though it didn’t miraculously rain money, another miracle occurred when the Fitisemanu family helped pay for my mission expenses. In 2015, I was called to serve in the Samoa Apia Mission, under the direction of President Arthur Hannemann and Sister Margaret Hannemann.
It was in Manu'a, an isolated island with about 500 people, where I met Leva'aia Levao. Leva'aia was deaf and partially blind. Because of diabetes, she had her right leg amputated.
We taught her the gospel of Jesus Christ and her faith became strong. However, she faced persecution. People would mock her, rip up her study notes and tell her she was foolish to listen to kids. But her desire to follow the Savior, repent and be baptized into His church never wavered. Leva'aia was baptized and was excited about the gospel. She would always say, 'E moni le tusi! Ou te le iloa se isi tala e fai atu, e moni!”
Her example and radiating light of the Saviour attracted many others to investigate and also follow Jesus Christ and be baptized, including her husband and three children.
As I look back on my mission, I can see the times when the Lord strengthened me, lifted and carried me. Each trial teaching me over and over again, it's not about me. I learned in many different ways that I was nothing but through Him, I was blessed to witness many miracles.
What a beautiful cause to be a part of this work of the Saviour in helping His children. It's never about us and I love that when I made it about others, the Lord molded me into someone my parents would have wanted me to become.
Honour. What a privilege and honour it was to serve my mum. I developed the traits Heavenly Father blesses women with; patience, tolerance, long-suffering, love and compassion in bucket loads. Why me and not my brothers? Perhaps as women, we are taught to be more tender and gentle. But we need not wait for such an extreme event to show compassion.
You will be blessed. It was a promise my mum gave me before she passed way. She was right. I have been and continue to be blessed– tenfold and a millions times over.
Melissa Te'o served in the Samoa Apia mission from July 2015-February 2017.
She is currently in the Ashlynne Ave ward in Papatoetoe.
Loving the people