Vai's View: Vai's View: Philadelphia temple groundbreaking was a day to remember

Published: Friday, Sept. 23 2011 11:09 a.m. MDT

It took them six years because three children had come along and it was important that we were together for those ordinances.

As a 5-year-old boy in 1967, I accompanied two younger siblings along with my parents and a dozen other families on a trip to the New Zealand temple. It was a long, arduous, three-day journey. The first day, we sailed by boat from Tonga to Suva, Fiji, sleeping on the boat where ever we could find space. Families with young children, such as ours, were allowed and encouraged to huddle closer to the middle of the ship to avoid being swept overboard.

When we arrived in Suva, the capital city, we were warmly greeted by Fijian Saints who fed and housed us for the evening. However, in the middle of the night, we were roused from bed for the three-hour bus ride to the other side of the island, where the international airport is located. The drive took us on a mountainous, one-lane road to the city of Nadi, where we flew to Auckland, New Zealand. From Auckland, we boarded buses for the two-hour drive south to Hamilton, where the temple is located.

It wasn't until I was much older that I understood the sacrifice my parents made to get us to New Zealand. They had saved for years but as the trip drew closer, they were still short, so they started selling everything, including produce from our garden. I remember my mother's grateful prayers for how bounteous our crops were that particular season. I remember the floor of our little thatched-roof home filled with watermelons and people milling around our one-room hut thumping melons while my parents watched pensively, hoping for a sale. They made enough for our trip with exactly $15 pa'anga or dollars to spare for pocket money; that's the equivalent of about $5 or $6 American dollars. My mother told me we returned from New Zealand with the same $15 pa'anga because of the generosity of family members and Saints in New Zealand.

I cannot discount the role their sacrifice played in the way our lives unfolded in the 40-plus years that followed that seminal event in 1967.

All three of us children are college graduates from prestigious American universities; my siblings even have graduate degrees. We all served missions for the Church and we've married in the temple, without having to marry civilly first or traveling great distances at great personal expense, as my parents did. Our children have served missions in Asia, Europe and the South Pacific. More of my parents' grandchildren will serve missions in the coming year; they're in college, marrying in the temple and starting their own families. I don't know if Mom and Dad had any idea what lay ahead of them when they took us to New Zealand and later immigrated to the U.S.

How blessed we are to be on these hallowed grounds, where the Founding Fathers of this great nation lived and toiled.

Today, as we gather to celebrate this historic event, I know that those who signed the Declaration of Independence and those who drafted the Constitution mere blocks from here are smiling upon us. So are modern and ancient prophets: "Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments.

"And let us arise, and go up to Bethel (which was a hallowed or holy place); and I will make there an altar unto God ..." (Gen. 35: 2-3)

Today, so few of us have to make the kinds of sacrifices that my parents made. But temple worship does require some sacrifice on our part — perhaps even giving up the "strange gods" that may afflict us such as immorality or addiction.

I pray that we will find the courage to do so.

I close with a play on the words of a popular ad campaign: I'm an immigrant and a naturalized citizen. I'm a Tongan-American.

I'm a sportscaster. A columnist. A father, husband and brand new grandfather. I'm a BYU Cougar. I'm a Philadelphian ... and I'm a Mormon.

In the sacred name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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