“Pacific Members and Heads of State Welcome President Hinckley,” Ensign, Jan. 1998, 74–77
President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke to about 52,000 members in Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, and French Polynesia who were gathered in more than 10 meetings during a 10–17 October 1997 trip to the Pacific. He also met with four heads of state of the five nations or territories he visited. In addition to these activities, he delivered the keynote address at the Pioneers in the Pacific conference in Laie, Hawaii. He was accompanied by his wife, Marjorie; Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Elisa; and Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone of the Seventy, President of the Pacific Area, and his wife, Merlene.
Pioneers in the Pacific
President Hinckley began his trip activities on 10 October by offering remarks and a dedicatory prayer at the unveiling of a statue of President George Q. Cannon (1827–1901), a counselor in the First Presidency, and Jonathan Napela, a Hawaiian judge. These pioneers of the Church in Hawaii together translated the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian. The statue was sculpted by Viliami Toluta’u and is located on the BYU—Hawaii Campus.
“In the turbulent and difficult times of the establishment of the work in these islands,” President Hinckley said, “these two men stood strong and tall. Their coming together was an inspired thing. There isn’t any doubt in my mind that the Lord brought them together for His great eternal purposes.”
Recalling that George Q. Cannon came to Hawaii with several other young missionaries, President Hinckley said: “Most of the others went home discouraged. But George Q. Cannon said, ‘I came here to do the Lord’s work, and I will not leave it until I have completed my mission.’ And in the course of that mission, he met this wonderful Hawaiian native, a man of tremendous capacity and great strength who proved to have courage and vision and faith.”
The next day, after enjoying a musical production performed by more than 300 local children in Laie, Hawaii, President Hinckley addressed some 8,000 listeners on the final day of the Pioneers in the Pacific conference (see story on page 77). He spoke of the commitment of the early Hawaiian pioneers, a people “who had nothing, who lived off the land as it were. … They were poor, but they were faithful.” President Hinckley rejoiced to see their progeny be able to celebrate their forebears’ early efforts on this “very significant occasion when you honor in your way this great pioneer year.”
President Hinckley began Sunday, 12 October, by speaking to about 4,000 members on the Samoan island of Savai’i, where he was greeted by Samoan prime minister Tofilau Eti Alesana. He then made the 20-minute flight to the island of Upolu, where he met with full-time missionaries and addressed about 10,000 members in Apia.
“I was thrilled and happy to have been here,” said Brother Lisona Tumanuvao after hearing President Hinckley speak. “It is a blessing to all of us.” Brother Tumanuvao’s wife, Faapale, with whom he serves as an ordinance worker in the Apia Samoa Temple, said, “It was a blessing to have my whole family see and hear the prophet.”
On 14 October President Hinckley flew to Pago Pago, American Samoa, where he spoke to about 8,000 members in the new Veterans Memorial Stadium. Also in attendance were about 100 members of other faiths, mostly local government officials and business executives, who were seated under a tent near President Hinckley. The 90-minute program was broadcast live on radio and rebroadcast on prime-time television later that evening.
Before the meeting began, Senator Tuana’itaua Tuia, a Church member and prominent lawmaker, read a legislative tribute to President Hinckley, welcoming him to the shores of American Samoa and commending him for his long, distinguished, and dedicated service. The governor of American Samoa, Tau’ese Sunia, then presented the document to President Hinckley and said, “I am grateful that there are Latter-day Saints in American Samoa, that there are such people like you.”
President Hinckley’s remarks focused on what is expected of Church members, including treating each other as brothers and sisters, teaching children the gospel, observing the laws of God and the land, and loving and nurturing spouses and children. “If you live the gospel teachings and walk in the ways of the Lord,” President Hinckley said, “you will receive blessings. You will always have a roof over your heads, clothing on your backs, and food on the table.”
Dr. Sili Satua, chief of staff for the governor of American Samoa, expressed how impressed he was with President Hinckley and Church members. “There is unity in the Church, from young ones to the older ones. The strength of the family is felt and seen.
So much respect for mothers. Your leader has so much love for the people and God. I could feel it.”
President Hinckley crossed the international date line on his way to Nuku‘alofa, Tonga, where he met with King Taufa‘ahau Topou IV on the afternoon of 14 October. He subsequently met with missionaries and spoke to more than 11,000 people gathered on a sports field at Church-owned Liahona High School. Dignitaries in attendance included the prime minister’s wife, the acting prime minister and his wife, the speaker of the parliament, and representatives from other religions.
“My message to you today is to live the gospel,” President Hinckley said. “Cultivate in your hearts a testimony and a love for God, your Eternal Father. We sing, ‘I am a child of God.’ That isn’t just a figment, a poetic figment—that is the living truth. There is something of divinity within each of us, my brothers and sisters, that needs cultivation, that needs to come to the surface, that needs to find expression.”
After hearing President Hinckley, Church member Saane Kongaika said: “I was so excited! My heart cried when the prophet spoke about living the gospel because although I try, sometimes I fall short of the mark. But he gives me the strength to go on trying. I am the only one who can make me live the gospel.”
On the morning of 15 October, after a night interrupted by an earthquake that caused shaking but no serious damage, President Hinckley flew to Vava’u, Tonga, to address about 2,200 people at a sports field. “You men who hold the priesthood of God, are you living worthy of it?” President Hinckley asked. “Are you living in such a way that the power of the Almighty may be expressed through you? Are you the kind of husband that you ought to be to your wife? Do you speak to her with kindness, respect, and love?”
President Hinckley flew to Suva, Fiji, on the afternoon of 15 October, where he spoke to about 5,000 members gathered in a stadium and later met with missionaries. A choir of 400 students from Church-owned technical and primary schools performed in the stadium.
“We are building a different kind of temple, in that it will be much smaller,” President Hinckley said, referring to the new small-temple design announced in October 1997 general conference. “We are trying to take the temple to the people, instead of having the people go great distances to the temple.”
Prominent businessman Raghubar Singh commented, “This afternoon’s meeting was very educational. It’s like we’ve come out of the darkness into the light. He is more than a king—he is truly a prophet.”
Crossing back over the international date line, President Hinckley arrived in Papeete, Tahiti, on the afternoon of 15 October. The Church leader was greeted with songs, speeches, and leis by French Polynesian president Gaston Flosse and other dignitaries. Later he met with missionaries, and that evening he spoke to about 7,000 members.
In his remarks, President Hinckley expressed joy at seeing in the congregation Sister Claire Manea, one of those who survived the 1963 sinking of the Manuia, a boat that was taking Church members back to Maupiti after the dedication of a meetinghouse on the island of Huahine, which President Hinckley had dedicated.
After resting overnight in Honolulu, Hawaii, President Hinckley arrived home in Salt Lake City on 17 October, having again fulfilled his desire “to get out and see you, look into your faces, share my testimony with you, and speak to you words of appreciation and respect for all you do as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”