Apostle Linda Booth, director of Communications, recently visited with Mareva M. Arnaud Tchong, who at World Conference was ordained as an apostle. Here are excerpts from their conversation:
Linda: Mareva, your voice has already brought great blessings to the Council of Twelve, as well as the World Church Leadership Council. We want to learn more about you. You were raised in Tahiti. Was your family a member of Community of Christ? Tell us about growing up.
Mareva: I was adopted by a couple that didn’t have any children. It’s through this adoption that I came into the church. From my earliest years of childhood my adoptive father was a pastor missionary, and my mother was a housewife and a convert to the church. So I’ve always been immersed in church activities surrounded by my family. I participated in many activities. I practically grew up in my home congregation.
Linda: In congregational life, family is very important. And in French Polynesia family is highly valued. Tell us about your immediate family—your husband and your three daughters—as well as your extended family.
Mareva: I’d like to start by talking about my adoption. I can’t talk about my family without talking about my parents. My mother is still alive. She lives with us, and she’s a discreet woman—a great woman and extremely helpful.
She and my father didn’t have any children, so they adopted me the moment I came into the world. Even though teachings of the day put in place by former missionaries from long ago discouraged adoption, my parents didn’t obey this. That’s how I came into this church, and that’s how I was able to help do something new.
My father was an only child, and through adoption I am, too. That’s why I kept my name, Tchong, with my married name, Arnaud. I am the last to have that name, and I thought it was important to keep this part of my heritage up to the very end.
My husband is named Munanui. He is wonderful, kind, helpful, and very patient. He supports me tremendously in my mission and in our family life. We have three daughters and… a wonderful grandbaby who has blessed us with a new way of understanding love and our family. It has completely transformed our lives.
And in Polynesia…when we talk about family, it’s a family that includes uncles, nephews, cousins, so it’s a larger family. It’s more like a whole people, bigger than the traditional family we’re used to talking about.
Linda: And it’s what we would call sacred community. In the Western culture, it’s very, very sacred. And that culture I experienced was very generous and very hospitable—welcoming. Tell us how being raised in that culture created within you that sense of generosity and hospitality.
Mareva: Polynesians are of a hospitable and very welcoming nature. In the church, our ancestors, our teachers, our parents—they taught us well. They didn’t teach us with words, but they taught us by way of example how we should be filled with respect, filled with love, always full of energy.
When we talk about the Polynesian people it’s about welcome and hospitality, which is only natural. And with this enthusiasm there’s always music. There’s always laughing and an abundance of food so everyone can be filled.
There’s also this feeling in the church that our leaders, our pastors, the people in charge, are representatives, and we want to help with the mission. We can’t take their place, and we can’t always do what they do. But through this love, this hospitality, this generosity—it’s our way to show just how much we want to take away their burden or contribute in our own way to lighten their load and make sure their mission is successful.
All of this, well, it’s just natural. It’s in the Polynesian blood, and it’s particularly ingrained in the culture of this church.
Linda: Mareva, you talked about being in the heart of those people. You have also served in several ministry roles, most recently the mission center president for French Polynesia. How have those roles helped you prepare to serve as an apostle?
Mareva: I would never have thought to one day receive a call to be an apostle. But it’s more than just the jobs that were given to me in the past; it’s the fact that I sat with the children in the choir when I was little. It’s the fact that I played and participated in the sports league in the church because we had a sports league that organized handball for the youth. It’s the fact that I was able to sing and knew territories to accompany the missionaries with the young-adult choir.
All of this is what shaped me. It’s what enriched me. I’ve been active in the church since I was a child, but my greatest strength has been the choir. I wasn’t really diligent during the classes; they really didn’t interest me. But, one day, I came here to the World Conference with the young adults from my congregation. It was during one of the caucuses with the Africans and other French-speakers that I was transformed or touched by the Spirit, telling me my work—a really stable job that I liked—telling me I couldn’t limit myself to this because it wasn’t real life.
It was nice, but there were other things to see. There were other things to accomplish. So I came back home and decided to quit my job, volunteer for the church, and, most importantly, to stay close to my children.
And that’s why President Etienne Faana asked me to start spending more time in the Bishop’s Office and at the Ministerial Education Center. And then I took over the Ministerial Education Center, and it was Art Smith who trained me.
And then President Emile Teihotaata asked me if I could be his adviser. I became his adviser and vice president, and after that I set up the conflict-resolution ministry there.
During the same time period I was called—everything happened at the same time—to be a pastor of the congregation and then finally president of the mission center. I also agreed to be the financial officer. So it’s been quite a journey, and a whole path has trained me for the call I have now. But I could never have predicted the Lord had sent me on this path to come here and to be able to be his disciple as an apostle.
Linda: Mareva, it’s obvious from your ministry the Holy Spirit has been blessing you on this journey and preparing you to serve as an apostle in Community of Christ. I praise God for that. And I ask for your prayers for Mareva as she continues to follow God and loves the people in God’s stead.