“Saints in Hilo, Hawaii, Focus on Temple Work,” Ensign, May 1987, 105–6
At ninety-one, Brother Akima AhHee can recall the days when all Church talks and Sunday School lessons on the Big Island were given in Hawaiian. Today, almost all teaching is done in English, but the greeting, “Aloha,” continues to precede each sacrament talk.
The Big Island of Hawaii first became a stake on 15 December 1968. Today, the Hilo Hawaii Stake covers the eastern half of the island, stretching one hundred miles from north to south, and includes Ka’u Ward, the southernmost ward in the United States. The island maintains a rural atmosphere with a population numbering only 107,000. It boasts a land area of 4,034 square miles, which is more than twice the size of all the other Hawaiian Islands combined.
The Hilo stake now has seven wards and one branch to serve some 2,400 members. The Kona stake to the west has six wards and just under 2,200 members.
William Meyers, a stake patriarch, recalls his first days in the Church in 1940. “I became a branch president only a few months after my baptism. We noticed how adversity brought the Saints out in greater numbers. During the war the chapels were full. After the tidal wave of 1946 that destroyed so much of Hilo, there was another big return to activity.”
AhKui Aina, ninety, remembers well that tidal wave of 1946: “Our home was near the sea, and a huge wave came 150 feet inland, taking our home and little girl with it. We never found a trace of our little girl.” AhKui, now great-grandfather to seventy-eight great-grandchildren, has been no stranger to tragedy, but he insists, “My testimony of the gospel and temple work gives me hope and comfort.”
Temple work is an ever-recurring theme in the talks, firesides, and conversations of Hilo Stake members. When Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve set apart stake president Sanford K. Okura three years ago, he counseled him to concentrate on a few concerns rather than scattering efforts in many areas. Following that counsel, the stake has chosen temple worship as a major focus, believing that when spirituality increases, all other aspects of Church service also improve. This has apparently taken effect, as the number of convert baptisms in the stake in 1986 was 50 percent greater than in the previous year.
The Hawaii Temple is a 200-mile overseas flight from Hilo to Honolulu, and another hour by car to Laie. The airfare, car rental, and hotel costs are a considerable expense for the modest incomes of Hilo stake members. Yet some forty to fifty members travel together for a two- or three-day temple excursion almost every month.
Leroy Alip, the high council adviser on genealogy and temple work, exemplifies the dedication of the Hilo stake members. He rises at 3:30 every morning to deliver newspapers before going to his job as a County Parks and Recreation supervisor. “This extra income is earmarked solely for temple trips,” he explains. “This way we can go often without hurting the family budget.”
Because of that kind of commitment, temple president Arthur Haycock teases, “Hilo stake is wearing out our carpets!” In the last six months of 1986, Hilo members performed 1,423 endowments in addition to many baptisms and sealings for their own family file. The trend continues as the first three months of 1987 mark an increase of endowment work nearly four times that which was done by Hilo members in the first quarter of 1986.
Part of the reason for this increase in activity is the effort by stake and ward leaders to make sure a member’s first visit to the temple is a positive experience. For example, first-time temple patrons are accompanied on their special day by their priesthood leaders and friends. “Our desire is to help our members feel so much love and spirituality during their first temple experience that they will want to return again and again,” President Okura explains.
President Okura says that “in addition to the usual temple preparation seminars and interviews, members are prepared with counseling and firesides to lift them spiritually before and after their temple experience. Temple teachings are kept sacred, but the glorious possibilities of temple attendance are presented to enhance their understanding and enjoyment.”
Youth have also caught the spirit of genealogy and temple work. John McBride, second counselor in the stake presidency, said, “The young men and women are preparing for their Youth Conference this summer by researching their family lines and submitting names for temple ordinances. For this year’s conference we plan two days of temple baptisms—one day for family names and the other day for the usual temple file names.”
Geoliette Bargamento, a Laurel from the Ainaola Ward, said, “We are fasting and praying to keep ourselves worthy to enter the temple and to help in our research. Last year’s trip to the temple changed our lives. It’s hard to wait to be back in the temple again.”
Hilo stake members have found that temple attendance has many rewards, some very personal. President Kenneth Fuchigami, first counselor in the stake presidency, encourages members, “When you are besieged or depressed, run to the temple. Run in attitude when you cannot go in actuality.” A “temple attitude,” he says, sustains many members through difficult trials. Beatrice Toutai, whose 14-year-old son Salesi is battling bone cancer, says, “Receiving my endowment in January has given me a peace and spiritual strength I never thought possible.”
Allison Mayeda, secretary to the stake Young Women presidency, was baptized just a year ago. She had worked in several LDS homes. “I felt the spirit in those homes and started asking questions almost in spite of myself,” she says. Now after receiving her endowment she affirms, “This past year has been filled with challenges, but I’m so grateful because without those challenges I wouldn’t have been prepared to go to the temple.”
Members in Hilo frequently hug when they meet and express their love for one another. “We dream of the day when we can serve the Lord in a temple of our own right here on the Big Island,” says stake Relief Society president Daisy Naihe. “We know it is the place of highest learning, joining heaven and earth.”
Correspondent: Nancy Okura, stake public communications director for the Hilo Hawaii Stake.