Latter-day Saints in Fiji Weather Storm, Difficulties to Welcome President Nelson

Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News editor

  • 22 May 2019

President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Gong, hold fans with their names on them at a devotional at Ratu Cakobau Park stadium in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Article Highlights

  • President Nelson asked Fijian Saints to study the scriptures, pay their tithing, and serve in the temple.

NAUSORI, Fiji

Strong strains of the Fijian farewell song “Isa Lei” filled Ratu Cakobau Park as President Russell M. Nelson waved to more than 4,000 Latter-day Saints gathered here for a devotional on Wednesday, May 22.

Behind him, a tapa cloth quilt—hung as a backdrop to the podium—declared what the tender song had already communicated: “THE PROPHET PRESIDENT RUSSELL M. NELSON.”

Brilliant colors painted the sky during the song, as the sun set on the stadium. Just 24 hours earlier, torrential rain and wind had hit the city. Local Church members weren’t able to build the stage for the devotional until that morning.

“It has been very, very difficult,” Elder Adolf J. Johansson, an Area Seventy in Fiji, said of planning the event.

In addition to the weather, local Church leaders had been struggling to find a way for aircraft to land in Suva. President Nelson’s party flew on a twin-engine prop plane from the international transportation hub city of Nadi across the island to the small airport in Nausori, near Suva.

Even finding a venue that fit the needs was difficult, Elder Johansson said.

But, he promised, the visitors to Fiji would feel something on the Pacific island nation that they won’t feel anywhere else. “You will feel that when you hear the choir sing,” he said.

The devotional—the fifth stop on President Nelson’s nine-day, seven-nation Pacific Ministry Tour—was broadcast to meetinghouses across Fiji.

Mareca Tuibetua attends a devotional in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Children wave flags at a devotional at Ratu Cakobau Park stadium in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Kicking off the tour with a devotional in Kona, Hawaii, President Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson—traveling with Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Gong—visited Apia, Samoa; Sydney, Australia; and Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand. After leaving Fiji, they flew to Nuku’alofa, Tonga, and will complete the trip on May 24 in Papeete, Tahiti.

The Church has more than 21,000 members, four stakes, a mission, and a temple in Fiji. The Suva Fiji Temple has become a symbol of hope and light in the country where mariners look to the temple’s light to guide them into harbor.

As had been his pattern at other locations, President Nelson offered an address unique to Fiji, often referred to as the gateway or hub of the South Pacific because of its central location. The nation is made up of 320 islands, which were isolated from the outside world for centuries.

During his 35-minute address, President Nelson asked the Fijian Latter-day Saints to study the scriptures, pay their tithing, and serve in the temple. The rain stopped as President Nelson’s plane landed in Nausori. “Thank you for your great faith,” he told the congregation. “I wondered if you could do it and you did. You turned off the rain.”

President Russell M. Nelson speaks during a devotional in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Of the beautiful salusalu, or leis, presented to the official party, President Nelson added. “I feel like I have been wrapped in love.”

Bringing new insight to the phrase “follow the prophet,” President Nelson invited all the children in the congregation to stand and led them in singing “I Am a Child of God.” President Nelson’s voice blended with the singing of the children.

“You can tell your grandchildren one day that you sang for the prophet,” he said.

During his remarks, President Nelson noted that there is a reason for many things: “What is the reason for the city of Suva? What is the purposed of the ocean? More important, what is the purpose of our Heavenly Father? He said, ‘What I want most of all is for My children to be immortal and have the gift of eternal life.’”

Closing, President Nelson promised, “The Lord will open the heavens and pour out blessings.”

President Russell M. Nelson speaks the sun sets during a devotional in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

How wonderful, added Sister Nelson, it is “to know that we truly are brothers and sisters. We love you already.”

These are glorious days, but they are also days filled with turmoil and heartache, said Sister Nelson during her remarks. “Can you think of one thing in your life that you wish were different? Can you think of one question you wish you could have answered?”

She invited the congregation to write down a question and then kneel in prayer. Express gratitude for the scriptures, share the question, and “ask Heavenly Father to be with you as you read.”

Then, she said, open the scriptures anywhere and read until you have the answer. “Does that seem to simple? To simple to even try? It is my testimony ... that you won’t have to read very far.”

Sister Wendy Nelson speaks during a devotional in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Sister Gong said Fiji reminded her of the Garden of Eden, telling the congregation their ancestors have great courage to sail to such a beautiful island.

“Have you noticed that people who have a lot of things are grateful for very little, and people with very little are grateful for a lot of things,” she said.

She encouraged the congregation to be grateful—always.

Elder Gong added, “We feel your love for your Heavenly Father and we feel God’s love for you.”

Elder Gong asked the congregation to put on the armor of God.

“When we have the armor of God, we can make decisions that bless us today,” he said.

Using Nephi and his bow as an example, Elder Gong explained: “If you want to make an arrow that shoots straight, you need to start with a straight stick.”

The Lord asks members of his Church to exercise great faith. “No task is too big or too small for the Lord,” he said.

Elder Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a devotional in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

The first Latter-day Saint missionaries did not arrive in Fiji until 1954; a mission was created on the Pacific paradise in 1971. President Spencer W. Kimball—accompanied by then Dr. Russell M. Nelson—visited Fiji in 1976.

President Gordon B. Hinckley announced a temple for Fiji in 1998. Amid political unrest, however, the Suva Fiji Temple was originally dedicated on June 18, 2000, in a private service by President Hinckley.

The temple was renovated and rededicated in April 2016. However, the worst tropical storm to ever make landfall in Fiji hit in the hours before the dedication. Government curfews, power outages, and downed trees prevented many Fijian members from participating in the meeting, during which President Henry B. Eyring, then the First Counselor in the First Presidency, offered a dedicatory prayer on the temple and the people of Fiji.

During her remarks, Sister Peggy Haleck—wife of Elder O. Vincent Haleck, a General Authority Seventy and President of Church’s Pacific Area—said Latter-day Saints can learn from the Fijian members’ examples and expressions of pure faith, following both the temple dedication and rededication.

Members did not complain, but expressed gratitude for the temple, she said. “Today I pray that you will feel that same stillness and trust in God as we are taught by the prophet.”

Elder Haleck asked the members to be grateful for the Suva Fiji Temple. Quoting President Nelson he said, “My dear brothers and sisters, construction of these temples may not change your life, but your time in the temple surely will.”

President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, and Elder Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Gong, wave goodbye to attendees after a devotional in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

President Russell M. Nelson and other general authorities leave the airplane in the rain prior to a devotional at Ratu Cakobau Park stadium in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

President Russell M. Nelson waves to attendees after a devotional at Ratu Cakobau Park stadium in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, walk to the stand during a devotional at Ratu Cakobau stadium in Nausori, Fiji on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, wave to attendees prior to a devotional at Ratu Cakobau Park stadium in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Attendees listen during a devotional at Ratu Cakobau stadium in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

The choir sings during a devotional at Ratu Cakobau Park stadium in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Milika Taito smiles during a devotional in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

A family watches President Russell M. Nelson speak during a devotional at Ratu Cakobau Park stadium in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Jis Eseta DiLoi listens to President Russell M. Nelson speaking during a devotional at Ratu Cakobau Park stadium in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

An attendee listens during a devotional at Ratu Cakobau Park stadium in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Varanisese Turua holds her daughter Etta Liahona Noa during a devotional at Ratu Cakobau Park stadium in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Julie Gaunavinalea and her son Sau bow their heads during the prayer during a devotional at Ratu Cakobau Park stadium in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Crystal Rabukara gathers water during a devotional at Ratu Cakobau stadium in Nausori, Fiji on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Attendees listen as the sun sets during a devotional at Ratu Cakobau stadium in Nausori, Fiji on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Kaveni and Ilivema Ulunikoyo lisgen with their daughter Wainikiti to a devotional in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Attendees wave as President Russell M. Nelson leaves after a devotional in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Choir members hold a sign as President Russell M. Nelson leaves after a devotional in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Attendees wave as President Russell M. Nelson leaves after a devotional in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

An aerial view of the Fiji coastline on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

An aerial view of the Fiji coastline on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

An aerial of the Fiji coastline on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

Clouds darken the evening sky during a devotional featuring President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, in Nausori, Fiji on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.

School girls walk home in Nausori, Fiji, on May 22, 2019. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News.