Filipe Saafi of Tonga made some poor choices, but now he’s focused on giving his best to God.
I’m 23 and work as The Salvation Army’s regional youth and children’s worker in Tonga.
When I was young I was a good boy, obedient to my parents and attending the Wesleyan Methodist Church with them every week. But it didn’t mean anything to me.
Starting high school away from my village of Talasiu was my first experience of peer pressure. I started smoking, drinking and even taking drugs, just to fit in with the older boys. In primary school I had been among the brightest, but now my studies started to suffer.
I hate looking back on this time because I hurt my mum so much. I’d come home drunk and sometimes I’d get angry and throw things. I’d hear her crying and praying for me at night and I saw I had lost the respect of my community. But I didn’t know how to change things.
At Easter 2008, my mum and sister went away to an Easter camp, but I was too sick. My friends invited me to parties, but I said no because I was sick.
Then I heard music coming from The Salvation Army hall across the road. I’d been to some youth things at The Salvation Army there before—but only for the food. They were having an Easter camp there, with lots of people staying on the property.
I ended up watching the movie The Passion of the Christ at The Salvation Army. I could see myself in the crowd as Jesus was dying. I didn’t know I was crying until I felt the hands of people on me as they prayed for me.
That was on Good Friday. On Easter Sunday I went back. There were lots of thoughts and memories going through my head, and I was still worried about what my friends would think of me if I got serious about following Jesus. But then the corps officer preached about the women going to Jesus’ empty tomb and the angels asking them: ‘Why are you looking for life in the place of death?’ That really spoke to me, and I opened my heart to God for the first time.
I knew it would be hard for me to stand against my friends, but the corps officer told me, ‘If you want to change your life, you must change the people you are with!’
After a while, I decided to drop out of school to focus more on God. I worked in The Salvation Army’s garden and cleaned their toilets, and while I did that I would be praying. I’d tell God, ‘Even though the corps officer is not around and not checking what I am doing, I believe you are watching … and I am doing this for you!’ Because I knew God was faithful to me, I wanted to be faithful to God.
After a while, people in The Salvation Army encouraged me to go back to school. It was hard studying when I was two years behind, but I prayed that same prayer: that I would do my best for God. I passed two years of study and graduated.
Today, I tell other young people about the importance of study, because I believe that’s the key to a good future. I also challenge them to make good decisions and to live their lives for God.
By Filipe Saafi (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 23 July 2016, pp 9
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