LDS Church News

Legacy of faith continues in Pacific Area, visit from Elder Nelson and Elder Andersen

Published: Tuesday, March 11 2014 8:30 a.m. MDT

Sister Kathy Andersen and Elder Neil L. Andersen greet members during their recent visit to Tonga.

Photo courtesy of the Pacific Area

The LDS Church’s rich past in the Pacific Islands may surprise all but the most astute students of Mormon history.

Missionaries first arrived in French Polynesia in 1844 on assignment from the Prophet Joseph Smith himself. There they shared the message of the gospel three years before the Mormon Pioneers began settling the Salt Lake Valley.

The Pacific Area has become a true power in the church in the 169 years since the arrival of those first missionaries. Almost a half-million members live in the region, belonging to more than 100 stakes. Ten temples dot the area map, stretching from Perth, Australia, to Papeete, Tahiti.

The men, women and children living in the islands of the Pacific “have a natural affinity for things of spiritual worth,” said Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “They love the scriptures and they love to sing — they worship through music. They love the temple and are a covenant people.”

Elder Nelson recently returned from an extended visit (Feb. 12-24) to the Pacific Area. His wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, accompanied him in his travels. Also participating in the area visit was his fellow apostle, Elder Neil L. Andersen, and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen. Elder Tad R. Callister of the Presidency of the Seventy, and his wife, Sister Kathy Callister, also made stops to various nations in the area.

The visiting Brethren conducted a Feb. 21 review of the Pacific Area at its headquarters in Auckland, New Zealand. They also presided, often individually, over several priesthood leadership training conferences, missionary conferences, youth devotionals, cultural celebrations, Relief Society meetings, Young Single Adult devotionals and stake conferences in a variety of countries and territories — including New Zealand, Australia, Tahiti, Fiji, New Caledonia, Tonga and Papua New Guinea.

They were assisted in their various assignments by the Pacific Area Presidency: Elder James J. Hamula, Elder Kevin W. Pearson and Elder O. Vincent Haleck, along with their wives, Sister Joyce Hamula, Sister June Pearson and Sister Peggy Haleck. Several Area Seventies also participated in the tour’s many gatherings.

In all, tens of thousands of members from across the South Pacific received counsel and direction from Elder Nelson, Elder Andersen, Elder Callister and the other General Authorities and their wives during a pivotal “time of hastening” being felt across the globe. The members were taught the importance of sharing the gospel, working closely with the missionaries and preparing their families for the temple.

It is common for members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles to visit with national leaders during their various assignments around the world. During the recent Pacific Area tour, the government leaders often came to them — an indicator of the warmth and respect felt for the church in the Pacific.

On Feb. 23, Elder Nelson presided over the Papeete Tahiti Stake Conference. Counted among the more than 1,100 in attendance were French Polynesian President Gaston Flosse and Papeete Mayor Michel Buillard.

“With the president and the mayor were four rows of government leaders and their companions — it was an amazing sign of support and gratitude for the church,” said Elder Nelson.

In a private conversation, President Flosse told Elder Nelson that French Polynesia needs more Latter-day Saints.

“The president said, ‘Our young people need the teachings of your church and we are grateful for what you are doing for our country,#8217;&#8221&; he recalled.