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Finding Faith in Fiji

Leone traveled 12 hours each way to attend his weekly gatherings and learn more about Jesus Christ

Leone sitting on a boat

Leone Matavesi had never heard of BYU-Pathway Worldwide — or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for that matter — before Tropical Cyclone Winston, a Category 5 storm, hit Fiji in February 2016.

The cyclone severely damaged many areas, including Leone’s home island of Vanua Levu. Several international volunteer groups arrived to provide aid, and Leone was responsible for guiding them around the island. In the second group, a member of the Church told him about BYU-Pathway and encouraged him to enroll.

Leone walking on the beach
Leone walking on the beach

“I asked I could participate without being a member of the Church,” he said. As soon as he learned he could, he enrolled.

Once Leone was accepted, he faced a new challenge. At the time, virtual gatherings were not available in his area, so he needed to attend the weekly gatherings in Suva — a city on a completely different island.

Leone’s commute required great sacrifice and dedication. He traveled 12 hours each way to attend the gatherings. “I left home around 4:00 a.m. to catch the bus and travel to the other part of the island,” he explained. “Then I caught the ferry across the sea for six to eight hours and then a second bus that took another two to three hours.” Leone would attend the gathering on Thursday, stay at his sister’s home in Suva that night, then return to Vanua Levu on Friday.

Leone under water scuba diving
Leone is a scuba diving instructor and enjoys diving in his free time.

The commute was long, but it was worth it to Leone to receive an education. In addition to learning important academic and career skills, he looked forward to increasing his faith in Christ.

“Listening to people in my classes talking about [Jesus Christ], it got to me. It made me really want to know more. That interest made me keep trying and wanting to move forward,” he said.

In fact, learning more about the Savior completely transformed Leone. “I used to go out, drink, and party every night,” he said. “Once I came to know more about Jesus Christ, it just made me see that all those things were a waste. It really changed me.”

Although Leone is Catholic, participating in BYU-Pathway helped Leone strengthen his faith in Jesus Christ and discover new talents. When he was assigned to be the lead student in his PathwayConnect gathering, he found his gift for teaching.

Person underwater in scuba gear surrounded by fish
Leone scuba diving

He said, “I was kind of scared, but after a few minutes, I was totally okay, and I was just teaching and listening at the same time. It made me feel that I want to do it more.”

Leone has followed through with that desire by sharing his knowledge with others. “After class I would come home, gather my friends around, and start sharing [what I was learning] with them,” he said.

This led to discussions about BYU-Pathway, and Leone encouraged his friends to apply. He said, “[I want them to] learn what I have learned and experienced in PathwayConnect — these good things.”

Leone believes anybody can participate in BYU-Pathway if they are willing to work hard. “I left school about 15–16 years ago,” he said, “and coming back really challenged me.”

He completed PathwayConnect last semester and is now working toward a bachelor’s degree online through BYU-Idaho. He hopes to move to the United States so he can attend on campus.

Don’t you ever lose hope. Just hold on and have faith in yourself. You can do it.

Leone and a group of people in water with scuba gear
Leone giving scuba lessons

To current or future BYU-Pathway students, Leone says, “Don’t you ever lose hope. Just hold on and have faith in yourself. You can do it; you can finish it. You never know what’s really inside of you.”

Leone’s life has been blessed and his faith has increased through his educational experiences. “BYU-Pathway is a place where you can find peace and happiness,” he promised. “You’ll find yourself happy like you’ve never been happy before.”