Sister Nai is a Somoan woman who was born in New Zealand and grew up in Sydney, Australia. “I love Rugby! My favorite Rugby team is the New Zealand All Blacks. My Australian friends would not like that declaration, but it is my connection to the land I was born in.”
Sister Nai grew up in a Samoan ward in Sydney with about 150 people who regularly attend. Their ward used to meet in a school hall but eventually a meetinghouse was built by the church. They speak both Samoan and English in her home ward.
When asked about how she feels about living a religion whose roots came from across the globe Sister Nai said, “All of my family and friends are first-, second- and third-generation converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, so we cannot say that we have Pioneer ancestors who crossed the plains, but we still feel a connection to the early Church pioneers. The gospel has brought us so many blessings to our lives. None of us have pioneer ancestry but we are so grateful for the people who sacrificed so that the gospel could be brought to us.”
Sister Nai explained that in Australia the Joseph Smith story can feel far removed for some. The fact that over 100 years ago an American boy prayed to know which of all churches was correct and then he was answered by a visitation by God the Father and Jesus Christ can seem distant at times in Australian culture. But after meeting faithful Latter Day Saints, Sister Nai said, the testimony of Joseph Smith becomes more real to people.
Sister Nai explains, “We hold to our values and morals but we aren’t weird. They see us not drinking beer at the summer barbecue and recognize there is something we hold firm to. Meeting us takes away the mystique of the Joseph Smith’s First Vision. Our lives are the testimony of the reality of the Joseph Smith story.”
Sister Nai was one of only two Mormon youth at her high school. “I prayed to Heavenly Father that I could do it all, have the full high school experience and keep my standards. I can see now how Heavenly Father let that happen. He brought certain people into my life that let me live the gospel and take all the opportunities that were available to a Samoan Mormon girl. I was able to participate in the the Youth Round Table in my area. That meant I was able to participate in the development of government initiatives for youth in Australia. We were working on family and youth related issues as well as identity issues up until the time I got my mission call. It was wonderful to learn from this experience that we as youth had that power. Nothing could hold us back.”
When asked about why she decided to serve a mission for the Mormon church Sister Nai replied, “It was an answer to prayer. I was doing it all. Everything that I wanted was happening all at the same time. I was happy but still felt a nagging that there was something else I needed to do. When I received my answer to prayer and found out that serving a Mission was something Heavenly Father wanted me to do I made my plans and it has been a fantastic time.”
Two weeks prior to being interviewed for this portrait, a woman named Adrianne whom Sister Nai was teaching was baptized. She had been investigating the Church for three years. Her husband was already a member of the Church but Adrianne wanted to find out for herself. After three years of study Adrianne said, “This is where I found peace. This is where my relationship with Jesus Christ will be strengthened.” These are the experiences that make missionary life sweet for Sister Nai and others who spend time as missionaries — to see people find the peace and joy of the gospel.
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