On a quiet street in the small town of Abbotsford in British Columbia, Canada, stands the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Every Sunday, the church comes abuzz with activity as the congregation comes together to hear words from the Bible, discuss community issues, study and teach youngsters, play a game of basketball, and talk on all matters of faith.
The community is often referred to as Mormons, a nickname that comes from a scripture unique to their Church called the Book of Mormon. “Lots of people use it to describe the Church and its members,” explains the official website comeuntochrist.org, adding, “In the past, we’ve embraced the term and even used it ourselves, but recently we have asked people to call the Church by its full name: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jesus is the core of our religion and beliefs.”
One of the practices they follow is that of training young people to be ‘missionaries’ or community workers in distant cities. Boys put in two years, while girls put in 18 months. They cannot choose where they will be sent – one simply signs up to a missionary, and then one goes wherever God wills it.
Since the Church is spread across the world, this period of being a missionary is one of intense personal and spiritual development for the youngsters, who are often travelling away from home for the first time in their lives. We spoke to two missionaries in Abbotsford about their journeys.
Sister Talaheu Funaki
Sister Talaheu Funaki’s parents hail from Tonga, a group of 169 islands that make up the Polynesian country in the Pacific Ocean. Talaheu was born in New Zealand, and in 2008, when she was in grade four, her family migrated to Australia for a better life.
Talaheu is the second of seven children. Her father, a painter, and her mother, who works in a nursing home, are both devout Christians, and so she was part of the Church community from a very young age.
“Initially, when we moved to Brisbane, we found it very hard to adjust after our quiet life in New Zealand,” the 20-year-old Talaheu shares, “but our lifestyle improved, and we had better career prospects so we made peace with it.”
It helped that the family continued to be part of the church in Brisbane. When she was in her late teens, she signed up to be a missionary. Her call came after she had already put in a year studying business at university. “I cried tears of joy when they told me I was going to Canada,” smiles the calm, sweet-faced Talaheu. “It was the first time I was going to travel away from home.”
It took her a while to adjust to a small town of just 140,000 people after coming from a big city of 2.5 million on the other side of the globe, not to mention the extreme difference in weather with Australia being sunny and bright most of the year, while Canada can be chilly cold.
But she is happy here, and especially cherishes the company and friendship of the other young missionaries in her church. “It is wonderful, and I feel very blessed to be here,” she smiles.
Sister Emma Fox
Born in Utah, USA, Sister Emma Fox isn’t too frazzled about having moved to her country’s northern neighbour. “Canada is not too different from America except for the weather,” says the 20-year-old friendly girl nonchalantly. One of seven siblings born to a lawyer dad and homemaker mom, Emma was “raised in the Gospel”, and was greatly influenced by the Church during her formative years.
By the time she was 18, she was already teaching kids in the primary section of the local community church in her neighbourhood. For her own higher education, she studied English and religious studies at Brigham Young University, a private research university in Provo, Utah, owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. With over 33,000 students, the University further fuelled Emma’s desire to be a missionary.
“Not everyone signs up for it,” says Emma, whose mother played an influential role in her life. A worker in a relief society, she had inculcated the value of service in all her kids, and when the eldest one, Emma, was selected to a missionary to Abbotsford, it set the bar for the other siblings to follow.
Sharing Talaheu’s views that the presence of other missionaries in their church has been a great source of support and camaraderie, Emma says, “My religion has blessed my life. I am grateful to be part of a faith-based community.”
Does she have non-religious friends outside of the church? “Oh yes,” she nods, sagely. “Lots of them. They actually respect my commitment to my faith. They think it’s pretty cool.”
First published in eShe’s December 2019 issue