Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. (Jeremiah 1:5)
For several generations, Mata`afa Fohe’s family have served the Tongan royal family. Mata`afa’s grandfather was the best friend of Queen Salote’s husband, Prince Tungi. After the Prince died, this service to the royal family continued through Mata`afa’s father, Tevita.
As the Fohe children grew, they regularly attended Wesleyan Methodist Church but Mata`afa later felt his parents had not really understood that Jesus wanted a personal relationship with them. At 13, he was sent away to board at Tupou College. He was a bright student, but got into all kinds of trouble and this led to him being expelled. An initially repentant Mata`afa worked to pass his exams externally but soon after he returned to his prodigal lifestyle.
When Mata`afa was 21, he saw a group of people going into a new church. He had heard these people were so fervent that they cried when they prayed and so he slipped in to the hall and sat at the back. When the appeal for people to come forward and accept Jesus, someone invited Mata`afa to go forward. That was the moment he met Jesus Christ. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and the joy of the Lord.
The next morning, Mata`afa went and told his parents that he had received Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour. His father grabbed a bush knife and angrily chased after his son, yelling, ‘I am going to kill you today! Who are you to come and preach to us when we have been Christians long before you were born?’ Mata`afa was very upset and left straight away. Months later, his mother begged him to come home, which he did, spending most of his time in a hut on the family’s farm, reading his Bible. Then, one night, he dreamed that he was flying into Heaven to meet his Lord. What began as great joy ended as a nightmare because he looked back and saw his family members had been left behind. From that moment on, Mata`afa had a great passion for evangelism and he didn’t want anyone to be left behind.
From 1969 to 1971, Mata`afa studied at the South Pacific Bible School in Fiji and after graduating, he gained a scholarship to Northwest University of the Assemblies of God in Kirkland, Washington, USA.
But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God. My times are in your hands.’
Carolyn Jean Hochstatter was born in Seattle, Washington, in 1955. When she was three, her family moved to Valdez, Alaska, as Assembly of God missionaries. At a young age Jeannie, as she was called, found it natural to mix with children from different cultures. When she was six, she reached out to Jesus, trusting him as her Saviour. She knew from then that God was calling her to be a missionary and she told God that she was willing to do any kind of missionary work, except planting churches. She knew that churches were planted at great sacrifice but didn’t realise just how great a sacrifice that could be until her father was shot and killed when she was 17. (Psalm 31:14-15)
Her mother moved back to Washington with the three younger children, but Jeannie stayed in Alaska to finish her last year of high school. During this time, Jeannie felt unwanted and although she questioned the value of her life, she clung to the assurance of God’s calling and her knowledge that he would look after her. Looking for a church to attend, Jeannie found one 40 miles away. It was through the love and prayers of this church family that Jeannie began to understand the healing power of love. The following September, Jeannie left Alaska for Northwest University of the Assemblies of God.
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:29)
Mata`afa had been at Northwest College for over a year when Jeannie arrived. She remembers standing at the back of the class when a college student with jeans that were too tight, an old-fashioned briefcase, and a smile that spread from ear to ear paused in the doorway. A distinct voice spoke in Jeannie’s chest: ‘This is the man for your life.’ ‘No!’ she replied emphatically, but she was curious—who was this not-so-tall, dark stranger?
Mata`afa was required to earn a B average to keep his scholarship. He had left the required maths credits for as long as possible and so asked a friendly young student who was doing well to tutor him. Jeannie helped Mata`afa with maths, then with chemistry and literature. Gradually, Mata`afa fell in love with Jeannie. He graduated with a BA in Biblical Literature, and Jeannie with her Associate of Arts Degree on 1 June 1975. Six days later, they were married in Kenny Lake, Alaska.
It was always Mata`afa’s dream to return to minister in Tonga. For the next three years, he worked to save money and by the time the Fohes left for Tonga in 1978, they had two daughters. The couple built a large house in Fua`amotu, with the intention that they would one day hold small church services there. It was Mata`afa’s father who began calling Jeannie, ‘Kalo’ (derived from Carolyn). The couple then returned to the US for five years, where their son was born. When they returned to Tonga in 1983, the Fohes built a general store which Kalo managed as well as home schooling the three children, while Mata`afa farmed.
In 1986, the Fohe family joined The Salvation Army’s leaders from New Zealand in a prayer meeting to launch the Army’s work in Tonga. The Fohes became soldiers (Salvation Army members) and in 1989, Mata`afa became a regional envoy in The Salvation Army, assisting the officer in charge of the Army’s work in Tonga. He also planted a corps at Fua`amotu, with services held in his and Kalo’s home. In 1990, Kalo was asked to tutor the youngest children of the Tongan king.
While they were in New Zealand in 1993, God spoke to Mata`afa and Kalo saying ‘Close the shop!’ This was because it was the couple’s store that was standing in the way of them applying to become officers. They decided that they would be obedient to God and became territorial envoys in charge of the Fua’amotu Corps. In January 1994, the Fohes were appointed corps officers of Nuku`alofa Corps. Word got around that if young people needed a place to live, then Mata`afa and Kalo’s home was open to them. With sometimes as many as 23 mouths to feed, the couple recognised God’s hand of provision each and every day. After four years, the Vaini Plant received its own officers and the Fohes moved to Nuku`alofa, where Kalo worked on a three-year curriculum for primary, junior and high school levels that was translated into Tongan; she regards this as her most valued work.
In January 2005, the Fohes were appointed to New Zealand, and began seven years of service as corps officers at Otahuhu Corps. Their work was once again very demanding, as the Fohes ministered in multi-cultural South Auckland., but they have been very grateful for the many wonderful church members and volunteers who assisted with the load.
Mata`afa and Kalo retire this month, grateful to God for the wonderful opportunities he has given them to love and serve others in the name of Christ. ‘To God be the glory!’ is their retirement prayer.
By Kalo Fohe (abridged from War Cry, 28 January 2012, p5-7)
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