March 30, 2020
Leone Matavesi had never heard of PathwayConnect — 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. International volunteer groups arrived to provide aid. Leone coordinated several groups and was responsible for guiding them around the island. He never imagined that Jocelyn, a member of the second group to arrive, would become his wife.
Jocelyn grew up in Arizona and is a member of the Church. After she and Leone fell in love and got married, she told him about PathwayConnect and encouraged him to enroll. “I asked her if I could participate without being a member of the Church,” he said. “We tried, and I got in.”*
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.
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 alcohol, 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 and his wife is a member of the Church, they both have strong testimonies of Jesus Christ and support each other in their religious beliefs. “Every Sunday we go to [The Church of Jesus Christ] in the morning and the Catholic church in the afternoon,” he explained.
Participating in PathwayConnect also helped Leone discover talents he didn’t know he had. When he was assigned to be the lead student, he found his gift for teaching. 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 the PathwayConnect program, 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 complete PathwayConnect 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 the program last semester and is now working toward a bachelor’s degree online through BYU-Idaho. He and his wife plan 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.
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.”
How has your education through BYU-Pathway strengthened your faith in Jesus Christ? Share below!
*To participate in PathwayConnect, applicants who are not members of the Church must have a close tie to the Church, such as having a family member, friend, or other close acquaintance who is a member of the Church; actively learning about the Church; or attending church meetings. They also must meet all other PathwayConnect admission requirements.