President Finau Hafoka said he and his wife, Lucy Hafoka, returned home from their mission in Papua New Guinea and began serving as temple president and matron of the Laie Hawaii Temple this August 2021.
President Hafoka blinked back tears as he spoke of his unexpected call to serve at the Laie temple. “I’m still shocked the Lord has trusted us with his temple, the most sacred place on earth.” He said it’s an honor to come home to family and friends and continue serving.
“I know this temple here is a very special temple, not only to us who live here, but also I’m sure to our Church leaders in Salt Lake, and especially to our Heavenly Father,” he said.
President Hafoka said he and his wife came to Oahu from Tonga to study at BYU–Hawaii and raised their family of seven in Kahuku. In 2018, they were called to preside over the Papua New Guinea Mission, despite neither of them ever having served missions before.
Inspiring the strength to stay
Raga Kau, a sophomore majoring in hospitality and tourism management from Papua New Guinea, said after observing how the Hafokas loved and served others in her country, she wants to be like them because “they continue to serve.” She added, “ They are willing to serve, and their service never stops.”
President Hafoka said he admires the saints in Papua New Guinea. He spoke of men and women who would walk more than four hours “through rivers and mountains to come to church.” He said he saw many people make the trek many times. “They stay for two hours, and after that they return home, [walking for] another four to five hours,” he described.
Teni Vimahi, a senior majoring in business management from Texas, is the Hafoka’s niece. Vimahi said she served a mission in California in 2019 while the Hafokas were serving in Papua New Guinea. While they served, she said she lost her grandmother and grandfather and considered going home to mourn the two devastating losses. But Vimahi said she drew strength to continue serving from President Hafoka’s example as he could not leave Papua New Guinea to attend his mother’s funeral.
While Sister Hafoka traveled to Hawaii to attend the funeral, her husband continued to serve, Vimahi said. “Being on my mission, I looked to him, seeing how strong he was and how much it took for him to not go to his own mom’s funeral,” she said. “That gave me the strength to be able to stay out on my mission.”
Vimahi said, “[President Hafoka] has always been the rock of my mom’s siblings, of her side of the family. I’ve always seen him that way. He’s just so spiritually in tune. It’s like he knows exactly what the Lord has in store for him and what the Lord wants him to do.”
Building the bridge to BYUH
Kau said President and Sister Hafoka stood as a connection between Papua New Guinea and BYUH for many Papuan students. She added President Hafoka played a massive role in getting her to BYUH.
She said her application took a long time to process, so she was losing patience and was worried her application would never go through.
Kau shared she reached out to and met with President Hafoka, who had connections at BYUH. She said he started their meeting with a specific, direct prayer.
“That prayer literally worked,” Kau added. She said a simple call from President Hafoka to BYUH Admissions accelerated her progress in coming to BYUH. “When he called them, it was like he opened up the doors,” she described. “Admissions was able to work on my papers, and they [went] through.”
She said the Hafokas regularly checked up on her and helped her complete her application. Kau explained learning she was accepted to BYUH was the “most exciting” time of her life and she was “so happy.” She continued, “The first thing I did was I emailed [the Hafokas] and told them I was accepted.”
Kau said it was important to her to attend BYUH because she wants to be able to serve the people in Papua New Guinea. “I want to go and implement what I’ve learned here and not just keep it to myself,” she said. “I want to help others, especially when it comes to leading in the Church.”
Kau said while President Hafoka served in Papua New Guinea, “He was not only there as a mission president, [but also] he was there for everyone.” She said President and Sister Hafoka helped the saints grow and find new lives and encouraged many students to go to BYUH. Even if they did not want to, President Hafoka helped them build the desire to go, she explained.
Training Papuan moms
She said the Hafokas focused a lot of their service to the Papuan saints on seeking education. She said Sister Hafoka helped start a mom’s preschool to educate children ages 8-10 who need to learn basic learning skills before they can attend public school.
Sister Hafoka said though many of the mothers have only 8th grade educations, they are “willing to learn and help their children.” They work together to volunteer and teach the children in their community a few days a week in the Church chapels and in their homes, Sister Hafoka explained.
Sister Hafoka said while in Papua New Guinea with her husband, she helped train the Papuan mothers to teach the basics, including the alphabet, numbers, colors and reading. Some classes have as many as 80 students, she said.
Sister Hafoka said she keeps in touch with the moms she trained, and the program still runs and grows today. The mothers don’t get paid, Sister Hafoka said, but “they don’t want to collect money. They want to help.”
In addition to providing free education to young Papuan children, Sister Hafoka said the preschool has been a great missionary tool. She said non-members bring their children to the preschool, and after some time have been baptized because of the mothers’ service.
Kau said it is amazing to see the Hafokas take on their new role as temple president and matron and share the same love with the people in Laie.
Laie: A place to call home
President Hafoka said he and his wife started studying at BYUH in the late ‘70s at separate times. He worked as a security guard and she as a dancer at the Polynesian Cultural Center, he explained.
He said they met in the library. “There was a place she would always go to study,” he explained. “I knew that’s where she studied, so that’s where I went.”
They were sealed in the Laie temple in 1981 when they were still BYUH students, Sister Hafoka shared. She said the temple is the Lord’s, but if they were to claim a temple as their own, it would be the Laie temple “because this is where our home is. This is where we raised our family.”
Sister Hafoka said she and her family of seven traveled from their home in Tonga to Laie to be sealed in the temple when she was 13 years old. “It’s a lot of sacrifices my parents have made to raise enough money to take all of us to the temple,” she said.
Her family converted to the Church two years previous to being sealed, she shared. “My parents were taught about the temple and they had learned families could be together forever. … We did a lot of fasting and prayer to raise enough money to take us,” Sister Hafoka said. “We’ve seen the Lord’s hand in our lives.”
President Hafoka said his family was also sealed in the Laie temple. He explained he joined the Church in high school while living with a relative in New Zealand. “My parents were so angry,” he said, adding he wrote to his family back home, but when they learned of his conversion, they would not answer him.
After he was baptized, President Hafoka said the missionaries who taught him encouraged him to attend BYUH. He was accepted, went to the University and brought his family with him to Laie. His parents and three sisters took missionary lessons, were baptized across from the PCC, and, a year later, were sealed in the temple, he explained.
President Hafoka promised students, “[In the temple, you] can receive answers, inspiration, peace, hope and comfort.” He said students have a unique opportunity to live so close to the temple in Laie. “I want them to come to the temple and take advantage of that source of heavenly strength.”
He continued, “A student who comes to the temple often will be guided and directed by the Spirit and, as a result, he or she will be a successful student even after graduation.” •