In Your Mind and In Your Heart

1 Photo credit: Liti Ete’aki
“Faith-strengthening art by service missionary, Sister Ata”. Photo credit: Sister Setaita Ata

Nia has always followed her heart. With every life decision, after prayerfully considering her options, she trusts her feelings to guide her to the right choice.

“You know why it is important to listen to your heart?” She explains, “because that’s how God talks to us, through the Holy Spirit.”

Etina Nunia Ete’aki (nee Palu) grew up in the Free Wesleyan Church of Tonga, where her father was a prominent leader, but they had many friends and relatives who were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One notable friend often visited their home in Houma, Tongatapu, to share meals and have long, lively discussions with Nia’s father. This friend was Eric B. Shumway, who at the time was serving as the president of the Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Shumway had recently received a chiefly Tongan title, and Nia’s father was helping him to understand the role.

Although her father stayed devoted to his own faith, he never refused an invitation to visit Elder Shumway’s church. Nia remembers attending sacrament meetings with him and quietly observing how the Latter-day Saints worshipped. They made such an impression on her that it influenced the direction of her life. 

“'My family is your family,' says Nia Ete’aki of Houma, Nukualofa in Tonga”. Photo credit: Liti Ete’aki

After her studies, Nia became a teacher at Queen Salote College, which is run by the Free Wesleyan Church. She was in her early twenties and began to think seriously about getting married, but something niggled her.

“I thought my future husband cannot be a drinker or a smoker,” Nia says, “and because of my job, I thought that if I needed to work, my husband should be willing to care for our children.”

Thoughts of marriage weighed heavily on Nia’s mind. Then one day she received a strong prompting: she needed a new job.

“I just knew in my heart that I had to teach at Liahona,” she said, knowing it was the local high school run by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Typically, active members of the Church are employed to teach at Liahona, but the feeling was so strong that Nia was not discouraged. She asked her uncle, a well-known member of the Church in Tonga, to help with her application, and soon after it was submitted, Nia got the job. 

Less than a month later, she joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints then met her eternal companion almost immediately; they served as male and female reps for the Nuku’alofa Tonga Ha'akame Stake Young Single Adults organisation. 

“'My family is your family,' says Nia Ete’aki of Houma, Nukualofa in Tonga”. Photo credit: Liti Ete’aki

It’s been over 25 years since Nia followed her heart to Liahona. Along with a great career, the decision led her to the Church, a loving marriage and four beautiful children – three of whom have served missions so far and have prepared for marriage in the temple.

“The temple is a special blessing of this Church,” Nia said after the recent passing of her beloved husband. “Our family was sealed in the temple for time and all eternity.” The comfort of knowing she will be with him again is another blessing of this Church. “I know that my husband went first to prepare our home for us,” she smiles.

Today, Nia’s promptings are strengthened by the guidance of her patriarchal blessing. Her blessing called her to the gathering of Israel, and Nia has seen promises fulfilled as she has become a leader in her family and the local community.

These days, Nia magnifies her calling by hosting – and feeding – New Zealand temple patrons who visit the Nuku’alofa Tonga Temple while their own temple is under renovation. “I do this because I know they sacrifice their time and money to come to Tonga to worship in the House of the Lord. In fact,' she adds, “If anyone needs to come to the temple in Tonga, don’t worry if you don’t know anyone here or you’re not sure where to stay, just come. My family is your family. We will take care of you.”

She also does it because, “when you feel the Spirit in your heart,” she says, “you know you have a work to do, and nothing can stop you.”