I was born in the tiny coral islands of Tokelau in 1954, the sixth of 10 children and with a disability that has made it hard to walk my whole life. Our family always had some connection with the Seventh-day Adventist Church so I attended for much of my growing-up years, especially when we moved to Samoa and later to New Zealand.
But at age 19 I wanted my independence. I had a job as an assistant carpenter with a local council in Auckland so I moved out of home and, away from the influence of my family, I stopped attending church.
A year after my baptism I awoke one morning from a dream and Tokelau was on my mind—I had the strong sense that God had answered my prayer and that the islands of my birth were where He wanted me to go.
For the next 30 years I worked hard, despite injuring my back quite seriously in 1993. By that time I’d moved to Sydney and been living there for 14 years. There were many times when I’d walk past an Adventist church and think I’d visit . . . one day.
In 2002, two things happened that pushed me towards God. Firstly, my mother died in New Zealand. I tried to get home to be with her but she passed away before I arrived. Her death broke my heart. My mother’s last words to me over the phone before saying goodbye were: “Son, Jesus never left you—walk with Him.”
The second thing was my medical condition. My back injury had become worse and I was falling over and damaging it further. I had to stop work and start surviving off a disability pension.
The doctors became quite concerned. Four years later I found myself lying inside an MRI machine for a medical scan, not knowing what would happen to me—if my injury could be fixed or if I would end up unable to walk. I prayed: “Thank you for looking after me all these years. Lord, my life is in Your hands. If I die, I’m not complaining; but if I live I will come back to You.” It was a promise and my first prayer since 1973.
After a successful operation and five weeks in hospital, still recovering and on crutches, I hobbled into the Woollahra Adventist Church in Sydney. I received a warm welcome and soon after started Bible studies before my baptism on December 9, 2006.
After that I found myself praying continuously—I couldn’t thank God enough for what He had done for me. But I had a repeated request: “Father, I want to work for You and I want to be a part of Your team.” A year after my baptism I awoke one morning from a dream and Tokelau was on my mind—I had the strong sense that God had answered my prayer and that the islands of my birth were where He wanted me to go.
Untouched paradise: The Seventh-day Adventist Church has yet to establish a presence in Tokelau.
It was a 27-hour boat ride through open ocean from Samoa to Tokelau. This was my first time back in 47 years and I was worried that I might have forgotten my island traditions. The locals were cautious towards me and it was a short visit. But I managed to see a long-lost friend on another atoll before I left. When I arrived he was sitting by the wharf, intoxicated and staring at the stars. He must have recognised me by the way I walked because he yelled out, “Lilo! Is that you?” He embraced me and started to cry. “I didn’t think you’d make it here.”
“My brother, Jesus brought me here for you to know His love,” I told him. The next day he visited me, sober this time. We prayed together and discussed the Bible. I left a copy of Steps to Christ and Desire of Ages with him.
I’ve visited Tokelau every year since then. God has opened up opportunities to reach people with the gospel during my travels and has blessed me with the support of Global Mission, the It Is Written Oceania (IIWO) ministry and Church leaders in both Samoas-Tokelau and the South Pacific Division. The Council of Elders on Tokelau’s main island, Fakaofo, has formally agreed to receive any assistance IIWO can provide and has also approved the installation of HopeChannel. We are building relationships with many of the Tokelau locals and plan to run a health seminar early next year. I pray that one day a church will be planted on these islands so that God’s kingdom can grow.
According to General Conference statistics, Tokelau is the last unreached country in the South Pacific Division.