Sonatane Falevai is someone special. I’ve shared stories of many amazing people, but Tane (as we call him) is a step above almost anyone you’ll meet. It’s almost impossible to convey how humble, faithful, kind and hardworking this young man is.
Tane is from Tonga. He is a man of many talents. He graduated from BYU-H with a degree in Fine Arts. He is a sculpture and painter. He carves beautiful pieces at the Wood Carver’s house next to the Aotearoa Village in the Polynesian Cultural Center. He is a graphics artist for the Marketing Department. And, it just so happens, he is the star of our evening show, Hā: Breath of Life. He plays Mana. No kidding. This guy is amazing….and busy. Really, really busy.
Tane came in last week after being gone for a little over a week and told us the tale of his latest adventure.
In order to stay in the States, our foreign workers must renew their Visa from time to time. For Tongans, that needs to take place in Fiji, So Tane headed out to renew his visa. Just this December, Tane married the beautiful Lauren Benson from California. You might think he no longer needed to worry about visas. You would be wrong.
As long as I’ve worked here at the PCC, it seems like trouble brews every time one of our kids head over to Fiji to renew their paperwork. It seems that red tape, miscommunication and arbitrary decision making run rampant over there.
Turns out that Tane’s experience was no different.
“Oh my goodness,” he said, the day he returned to the office. “I didn’t think I was going to make it back.” That grabbed all of our attention (he shares an office cubby with 5 of us). We all whipped around and peppered him with millions of questions. He took a deep breath, again said “oh my goodness” and then told us the most amazing story.
When Tane got to the visa office in Fiji to renew his paperwork, he sat down at the official’s desk. The woman was reviewing the documents, and had his passport opened next to her. At one point, she lifted up a stamp – one that said “cancel” and was about to stamp it down on the front page of that passport. She was literally holding it inches from the page. Tane said he couldn’t breathe.
For some reason, she put the stamp down. She looked at him and told him that his application would not be approved. “You will need to go back home for a year or two and try again”, she told him.
“But I just got married!” he explained.
She just repeated again, “try again later.”
So Tane gathered up his paperwork and left. The miracle, of course, is that his passport did not have a big, ugly CANCEL stamp on it. But the paperwork was denied. This was a big, big problem.
Tane said that for the rest of the day – he would see people. They would talk to him. He couldn’t hear a word they said. He decided he needed some guidance, so he went to the Fiji temple – which had just completed renovation and is now open to the public before it is rededicated. He sat in the Celestial Room and poured his heart out to his Heavenly Father. He felt the need to obtain a blessing, so he asked a temple worker for help. He was determined to listen to the Lord’s instructions and to exercise his faith. He gave no background to his needs, knowing that the Lord would guide the prayer.
If he was told to go home, he would go home. I laughed as he said, with a shrug “I would feel sorry for my wife, but I will go home”. That is real faith. Not many men would be that brave.
The counsel given during the blessing told Tane to leave the island. With that input, he decided to simply get a ticket and go. He tried to avoid telling Lauren anything, knowing that it would frighten and upset her, but at one point it was the middle of the night for anyone in the US and he had to get some information from off the computer. He called her and asked her to open up a file, and then – he said – she started to cry. Clearly, the official paperwork indicated the dire situation. He did his best to reassure her that everything would be alright, and that the Lord has always taken care of them, and would do so now.
Lauren’s parents quickly obtained tickets for Tane, and he went to the airport. As he went thru Security, he said that the officer scanned his passport once. Nothing. He scanned it again, and again, and once more. No clearance. Tane said to himself “oh, this is it. I’m staying here for two years”.
“Hold on a minute,” the security officer said. I’ll just show this to my supervisor.” Tane prayed. In fact, he said, he hadn’t stopped praying for days. His great faith helped him to keep an open dialog throughout this challenge. “Please help me to get back home,” he asked Heavenly Father.
The officer came back, handed him the passport and said “there you go, have a nice flight”. Tane couldn’t believe it, but he was so grateful. He passed the first hurdle.
Tane had been on the island of Suva. He now flew to the main island, Nadi. He went thru security again. And again, once, twice, three and then four times, the passport did not clear. Off the officer went to check with his supervisor. “Oh no, I will be stuck on THIS island for two years.” But the miracle came and he was again cleared to go.
Upon arriving in LA he then had to go through Customs. As he was funneled through the lines, he saw that he would be with one of two agents. One was a younger Polynesian man. Tane thought to himself, a Poly guy would be good. But he noticed that he was taking his time with each person. The other one was a grouchy looking old fella, but, he was processing the passengers quickly. He spent the whole time in line praying and hoping that he would end up with the right one.
He ended up with the old dude. And…..he made it!
Now that Tane is back on Hawaiian soil, he has had time to reflect. He and Lauren decided that their life has been so blessed that the Lord decided that they needed to learn more about faith and patience.
Since Tane is currently, the face of the PCC, there is quite the library of photos and videos. Click on the picture below to see a fun and quick little video showcasing Tane's fireknife skills.
"There will be times when you will be frightened and discouraged. You may feel that you are defeated. The odds of obtaining victory may appear overwhelming. At times you may feel like David trying to fight Goliath. But remember--David did win! Courage is required to make an initial thrust toward one's coveted goal, but even greater courage is called for when one stumbles and must make a second effort to achieve." - Thomas S Monson, Prophet, Seer and Revelator.