French Polynesians Celebrate Sesquicentennial of Church’s Presence

“French Polynesians Celebrate Sesquicentennial of Church’s Presence,” Ensign, Aug. 1994, 75–76

French Polynesians Celebrate Sesquicentennial of Church’s Presence

For twelve busy days, Church members in French Polynesia celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Church there. They were joined by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve, who presided over the event; Elder Rulon G. Craven of the Seventy, president of the Pacific Area; and many other Church, community, and government leaders.

From April 30 to May 11, conferences, cultural events, firesides, and programs were held on the four major island groups that make up French Polynesia: Tahiti, Tubuai, Takaroa, and Taiatea.

Addison Pratt, Benjamin Grouard, and Noah Rogers were the first missionaries in French Polynesia; they arrived on the island of Tubuai in April 1844. Elder Rogers returned to the United States after a few months, but Elders Pratt and Grouard stayed, creating a wave of missionary work that has now reached its seventh generation.

Today, French Polynesia has nearly fourteen thousand members in four stakes and three districts; a temple; area offices; and a strong culture that blends Polynesian, French, Chinese, and other nationalities in a united gospel effort.

Those cultural influences were strongly felt during the nearly two weeks of celebration. Bright, colorful costumes, music, dancing, and tasty food were in abundance as Church members expressed their joy and gratitude for the gospel in their lives. Elder Nelson and other leaders spoke at numerous celebratory activities, often heavily bedecked with flower leis and shell necklaces.

In events on Tubuai, the first island where missionaries preached, Church members performed ancient musical numbers and shared stories of the early missionaries.

The largest conference was held in the Papeete stake center on May 8. (Earlier in the day, Elder Nelson dedicated the islands for the preaching of the gospel; see accompanying story.) Two sessions, one conducted in French and one in Tahitian, were held. Elder Nelson spoke for nearly an hour, challenging members to increase their numbers and righteousness. He told the members that “the most important pages of history are being written right now.” He also challenged them to provide missionaries for their own islands as well as for other French-speaking countries.

The sesquicentennial activities were covered extensively by television, radio, and newspapers. The biggest event connected with the Church in French Polynesia, the sesquicentennial generated much favorable coverage, report local public affairs personnel.

In addition, many former missionaries and mission presidents returned to the islands for the celebration and to reflect on the growth of the Church in their former field of service.

Government leaders were heavily involved in the sesquicentennial celebration, attending meetings and participating in many activities. One of the greatest government recognitions came in the form of a postage stamp bearing a picture of the Papeete Tahiti Temple. The stamp sold out soon after it was issued. However, additional copies were soon available.

Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve is greeted with leis by joyous Church members celebrating the Church’s 150th birthday in French Polynesia. (Photo by John Hart, courtesy of Church News.)