Vai's View: Mission president changed lots of lives

Published: Monday, Dec. 6 2010 10:15 a.m. MST

In the fall of 2005, I took my family to France for vacation. We stayed in Paris but the highlight for me was taking my children to Com Robert, where we walked the cobblestone streets of the quaint little village where Parry Greenwood was hidden by the French Resistance in 1944.

Then, we drove to Normandy and stood silently at the endless rows of white crosses as far as the eye can see, in every direction you turned, in a panoramic view. We walked Utah beach as our guide related stories of D-Day when the Allied Forces stormed these shores on June 6, 1944 and thousands of troops lost their lives. When the guide mentioned the young men, not much older than my teenage sons, were carrying packs weighing approximately 150 pounds, it dawned on me that my boys weighed about that much. So, I instructed them to piggyback each other and attempt to negotiate the beach toward the cement pillbox machine gun nests still present on the hill.

They couldn't.

So, we sat there on the sand quietly contemplating the enormous sacrifice and courage it took to do what they did.

From that setting, emerged the kind of man that came to the South Dakota Rapid City Mission in 1982 to lead us.

Parry Greenwood didn't just lead us, he taught and showed us how to think and do things outside the box.

When we went to the airport to drop off and pick up missionaries, he insisted on taking three of us Polynesian elders – Elder Isileli Tausinga, a cousin of mine from Salt Lake, Elder Richard Crawford from New Zealand, and myself. He instructed us to do the "Haka" war chant in the middle of the terminal. As people gathered, he had other missionaries tell people that we came from distant lands with a message that changed our lives. When we finished the "Haka," we each sang a verse of "I Am A Child of God" in our native language, which often included a Spanish-speaking missionary, a Samoan and a Hawaiian.

Growing up in a Tongan home, there were things my parents just didn't know to teach me. Culturally, I didn't learn to eat a meal with more than one fork or the etiquette of opening and holding doors for a woman.

The Greenwoods often had us missionaries in small groups to dinner in their home. President Greenwood always had us elders into his den and instructed us before we entered the dining room. "Elders," he would say, "what I'm about to teach you will someday prove as valuable as anything you learn on your mission, primarily because it may make the difference in the kind of woman you marry."

He taught us, then expected us to follow his lead. When we entered the dining room, we stood behind our assigned seats. When Sister Greenwood entered, President Greenwood pulled her chair back and if an elder happened to be seated next to a sister, he was to do the same. After the women were seated, we took our seats. Sister Greenwood instructed us that we were to begin with the outside fork and work our way in. Our glass was to the right, the dinner roll was to the left. Take a square of butter for your roll and butter only what you bite. Napkins on laps. Elbows off the table. He initiated gospel conversations that were lively and instructive. If a woman at the table excused herself from the room, we men all stood. When she returned, we stood. We learned to open doors, help with a woman's coat, offer our jackets if the room was cool.

It was the Parry Greenwood and SDRCM way.

Because of his experience as a fighter pilot, President Greenwood demanded we protect each other at all cost. We were to keep our companions within eye's view at all times. To this day, I get annoyed when I see missionaries in the chapel by themselves while their companion is down the hallway.

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