Over 10,000 members and friends of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gathered in Papeete, French Polynesia May 23-24 to celebrate the 170th anniversary of the Church’s presence in the Pacific area.
Elder James J. Hamula, Pacific Area President of the Church, and French Polynesian President Gaston Flosse were special guests at the celebrations. Joining them were other Latter-day Saint leaders, government officials, local mayors and other civic representatives.
On Friday evening a 400-member choir joined with over 700 youth performers as they celebrated, through song and dance, the April 1844 arrival of the first Mormon missionaries and the subsequent establishment and growth of the Church in the Pacific region.
A highlight of the evening occurred when all 700 performers gathered on the stadium grass where Elder Hamula and President Flosse came down out of the stands to congratulate the youth with handshakes, as thousands of spectators spontaneously lit up mobile phones and flashlights in a show of appreciation for a job well done.
On Saturday morning, hundreds of Church members re-enacted the 1,000 mile march of the first Mormon pioneers across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains of North America into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 – in what is now called the state of Utah, United States. Participants dressed in pioneer costumes, pulled pioneer handcarts, sang and danced, and engaged in pioneer games, such as stick pull and handcart races.
In addition to the pioneer re-enactment, games, and activities, there were workshops and presentations illustrating self-reliance principles such as recycling, food storage, and growing nutritious food, as well as skills of local members in making clothes, preparing food, and creating handicrafts.
Elder Hamula said, “The first missionaries to the Pacific could not possibly have imagined what fruit their efforts would bear in time. What started as a small branch of converts on an isolated island has grown today to a Church consisting of hundreds of thousands people throughout the Pacific region. Similarly, we today cannot fully imagine what the Church will yet become in the years ahead. But if we are faithful in our day as the first missionaries and early members of the Church were in their day, we can be sure the future of the Church will be extraordinarily bright.”
“From the first missionaries and early members of the Church in the Pacific, we have inherited a legacy of faith, testimony, and sacrifice. We are obligated to pass that legacy of faith, testimony and sacrifice on to succeeding generations by living in our time the gospel of Jesus Christ with all of our heart, might, mind and strength. Doing so will inspire others to join us in our pioneer journey into the future.”
Saturday evening Elder and Sister Hamula spoke at a special devotional meeting that celebrated not only the thousands of missionaries that have come to French Polynesia in the last 170 years, but the thousands of missionaries that have been called from French Polynesia during that time to serve full-time missions around the world.
Although President Flosse originally planned to attend only Friday evening’s celebration, he joined Elder Hamula at the Saturday evening devotional where he was invited to share some remarks.
President Flosse said how thankful he was for the Church’s contribution to French Polynesian society. “The family is the foundation of our society,” he said. “You focus on and strengthen families, and thus contribute mightily to the strengthening of our society. I do not know where we would be without your Church.” The Church’s 23,000 members in French Polynesia constitute about 10% of the country’s population.
Following the devotional, guests in the stadium were treated to a parade with hundreds of past and current Mormon missionaries carrying flags representing the countries where they served. The full impact of missionary work in the islands was felt when all missionaries currently serving in French Polynesia and all French Polynesians who are preparing to leave on their missions joined in the parade.
The two-day celebration was summed up during Elder Hamula’s closing remarks. “It was love that motivated God to send us his Son. It was love that motivated God’s Son to send His missionaries to every corner of the earth to proclaim His gospel. And it has been love that motivated the thousands of missionaries that have come to these islands and left these islands to serve elsewhere through the years. That love has been evident in these celebrations, and may that same love continue to motivate and inspire us in all the days ahead as we pursue the work of salvation in these latter days.”
Today there are approximately 23,000 Latter-day Saints in 85 congregations throughout French Polynesia. There are close to half a million members of the Church in the South Pacific, part of a worldwide membership of over 15 million.