The maturing of the Church in Fiji is found in many places throughout this island in the western South Pacific. One is in the village of Vatutu, in the shade of a frangipani tree where Malakai Idro and his wife, Losalini, often gather with family members.
Sitting on a mat spread on the ground near their house, they enjoy conversing together. Topics often are about the Church, the scriptures and missionaries who have served in villages near Nadi. Nearby stands a small tin shed, nondescript in appearance but of tremendous significance in the development of the Church here."That used to be our chapel," said Brother Idro, who was ordained as patriarch of the Lautoka Fiji Stake in August 1997. The little building, measuring 12-feet-or-so by about 10-feet, started out as a carpenter's tool shed for constructing an LDS meetinghouse in the village during the mid-1980s. However, village leaders objected to the proposed building and refused to grant permission for it to be constructed. When the Church builders left, members began meeting in the shed. Priesthood and auxiliary classes met under the shade of trees. Eventually, membership outgrew the shed. The Idros now walk about an hour or ride horseback to Church at the Korotabu Branch, which has about 200 members.
The Idros harbor no negative feelings toward fellow villagers who are unable to accept the gospel. In fact, Brother Idro was not happy when the first member of his family was baptized in 1974. That year, he said, their son, Solomone, went to live with relatives in the village of Narewa. The relatives, the Munis, were members of the Church. Solomone, then 16, went to meetings with them for two months. "I felt that I wanted to become a member, too. The missionaries taught me the gospel," he said.
After he was baptized and returned home, his father would not allow him to go to Church. "I had to find an excuse to leave home on Sundays so I could attend the meetings," Solomone said.
He said he looked up to the full-time missionaries and tried to do everything he could to help them. He served as a district missionary from 1975-1977 before he was called to serve as a full-time missionary.
Being called as a missionary was the realization of a dream, but he knew his father would not approve. "I didn't know what to do," he said. "I finally told my mother that I was going to Suva to be a missionary. She said, `You can't ask your father for money.' On the morning that I left home, she made me some roti (a type of bread) and gave me money for bus fare to Suva.
"I had the clothes I was wearing, and one pair of pants, a white shirt and a tie. I didn't have a suitcase, so I put my clothes in a cardboard carton and walked to the bus stop. The road to Suva was very bad; it took the bus about 12 hours to get there. There were two rest stops. Everybody got off to buy food. I didn't have any money, so I ate the roti that my mother had made."
Solomone laughs when he recalls his arrival in Suva and his meeting with missionaries there. "I got off the bus with my cardboard carton, waiting for the mission office elders to come get me," he said. "I saw them walking toward me, but they were looking all around. I finally called out,
Here I am, elders!' From the way they looked at me I knew I wasn't what they had been expecting. One of them asked,Where is your suitcase?' I held up my cardboard carton. I think they thought somebody had made a mistake!
"At the mission home, Pres. Kenneth M. Palmer took me into his office and interviewed me. After we had talked for a long time, he asked, `Do you really want to serve a mission?' I told him I wanted to be a missionary more than anything. I explained everything to him and what the gospel meant to me. It was quite an emotional interview. He shed a few tears for me, and then sent me out with his assistants with money to buy me some clothes."
As Solomone told the story of his mission, other family members kept saying, "Tell about the five dollars!" Brother Idro smiled at the mention of "the five dollars."
Solomone resumed the story: "After I had been gone from home for a few days, my father asked my mother, `Where did you say Solomone went? To Suva? What's he doing in Suva?' He realized that I was serving a full-time mission and would not be coming home for nearly two years. After I had been in Suva a little while, my father sent me five dollars. I was thrilled. If it had been a thousand dollars, I couldn't have been happier. When I saw the five dollars, I knew that he had accepted me as a member of the Church and as a missionary."
Later, Solomone became an assistant to the mission president. When he was assigned to drive some equipment to Nadi for the missionaries, he received permission from the mission president to go to his parents and challenge them to be baptized. "I had asked the missionary sisters who were serving in Nadi to teach my family," he said. "I wanted to challenge them to baptism myself. You can imagine what it was like when I returned home: I left home in old clothes, carrying a cardboard carton and returned wearing dark pants, a white shirt and a tie, driving a nice van."
"He was so handsome!" Sister Idro said.
"My father didn't recognize me!"
"But," interjected Brother Idro, "I was so proud of him when I realized who he was!"
Solomone, his companion and the two missionaries who had been teaching his family met with them in an emotion-filled discussion. "I challenged my father to be baptized, and he accepted," he said. "Missionaries had been teaching him for two months. My father was a teacher, who had taught the Bible. I was concerned that he wouldn't accept me as a teacher, so I had prayed to know how to teach him. As the missionaries taught the discussion and I challenged him that day, the Spirit was so powerful that he could not deny it. I baptized my father, my mother, three older sisters and one brother in the Nawaka River that runs here beside our village. Two younger sisters and two younger brothers were baptized later."
After he completed his mission and returned home, Solomone went to visit relatives in the next town, where he met Veniana Valamalua.
"I had been to Suva and had been taught by missionaries," she said. "I went to Church there and got the feeling, `If this Church comes across my life again, I will join it.' Meeting Solomone was something of an accident. When I found out he was a member of the Church, I sensed he was the right man for me."
She was soon baptized. They married in Nadi in 1979, and went to the Tonga Temple in 1987. They have five children.
One of the highlights of their life was going to see President Gordon B. Hinckley when he spoke in Suva Oct. 15, 1997. "It was so wonderful to see and hear the prophet," he said. "As we waited for the meeting to start, I saw a lot of people I baptized. That was exciting. It was like being a missionary again."