Wedding Photographer

Hawaiian mother finally connects with her daughter in Tonga ahead of her big wedding day

HONOLULU (KHON2) — After a massive undersea volcano erupted off the coast of Tonga on Saturday, repairing the communications cable that connects them to the rest of the world could take weeks. The eruption sent tsunami waves across the Pacific, with satellite images showing a giant ash plume rising overhead. When the news broke through the waters, all families and friends could do was watch in awe.

“I was sad, I had a stomach ache and above all I was worried because after speaking, 15 minutes later all communications were cut off,” said Maria Aquino Alexander, who lives in Pearl City. “I watched all the news, all the links and everything I could get my hands on through any media platform.”

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The 55-year-old mother last spoke to her daughter on Friday, Jan. 14 (HST), about her upcoming wedding and dress. Brandy Lauer, 27, a missionary pastor, is to marry Tevita Fifita on January 27. They live in Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, where the eruption caused waves.

“We’re all so excited about it even though we can’t be there,” Maria said. “They’ve hired the best company to do a Facebook Live, so anyone who knows them outside of Tonga can find out about their union.”

It was the third time they had spoken that day. Fifteen minutes later the evacuation notice was sent and people were told to move to higher ground. Little did they know that days would pass until they could hear each other’s voice again.

On Wednesday, January 19 (HST), the word finally came. It was only for two minutes, but that was all this mom needed.

“I would probably still be a hopeless case, but I felt so much better that I am comfortable that she is fine and safe, just like her fiancé,” said Maria who received a call from her daughter via a satellite phone.

Even when the communication lines were down, Brandy knew Mom was looking for her. Maria said her daughter was surprised at her connections and how she managed to communicate with her pastors at the Talafekau Foursquare International Church.

“She was surprised because the embassy told her that I had contacted them to find her – that’s what the mothers would do,” Maria said.

Maria took to social media where she got leads from Instagram to Washington DC and US embassies who can contact US citizens in Tonga. Through her church community, she was also able to connect with Pastor Ilisapeta Tuitupou, her daughter’s senior pastor.

Pastor Ilisapeta Tuitupou, left, and Brandy Lauer stand in the center of the church. (Courtesy of Talafekau Foursquare International Church)

Although there was still no internet access, Maria was able to speak with Brandy again on Friday, January 21 (HST), for 40 minutes about the seriousness of the situation.

“A lot of people are struggling and some stores are open, so she was able to get groceries for a non-working family,” Maria said. “His place is intact. They are cleaning the church for her wedding next week and will have lunch with just 25 people as they are now limiting gatherings.

Brandy’s wedding was originally scheduled to take place at a resort. Although it hasn’t been destroyed, there is a lot of cleaning to be done, so they decided to move it to a church.

“The resort has returned the money but is keeping the deposit and will use it for lunch for the 25 people,” Maria explained. “Services still aren’t held, so they’re just praying at home and helping others, but when church services start, that’s when they’re going to have a big party for their wedding.”

Maria has not seen her daughter in person since she moved to Tonga in February 2020 and the borders were closed soon after. Although the internet is not expected to be back in time for the big wedding day, they are hoping to establish some sort of connection.

“She’s trying to reach their photographer, if he could at least take pictures, but she can’t reach him,” Maria said.

There’s not much this mum can do about it, being over 3,000 miles away. For now, she is waiting for the phone to ring again, so she can guide her daughter through the process. As the ashes begin to disappear, Maria is grateful to the community that supported her during this difficult time.

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“I’ve received private messages to verify my situation and that of my daughter, calls and sincere support from many people I don’t even know,” she said. “I have prayer warriors from my husband, my family, my church family, Foursquare Headquarters, the United States Embassy and dear friends. Cry out to God who brought the good people and good relationships and my daughter was able to call me.