Hawaiian Saints on the Big Island

    “Hawaiian Saints on the Big Island,” Ensign, July 1999, 78–79

    Hawaiian Saints on the Big Island

    When Church officials presented their proposal for a new temple to Hawaii’s Kailua Village Planning and Design Committee, more than 250 faithful Church members and friends showed up at the meeting in their Sunday best. The committee members were astonished at the support the proposal had generated, and the proposal passed easily. The temple groundbreaking was held 13 March 1999.

    For many years, Saints on the island of Hawaii, called the Big Island, had to sacrifice to attend the Laie Hawaii Temple on the island of Oahu. “It cost approximately $500 for a couple to visit the temple,” says John Sakamaki, president of the Hilo Hawaii Stake. “A new temple on the Big Island will be a great blessing to members both economically and spiritually.”

    Philip A. Harris, president of the Kona Hawaii Stake, agrees. “This is one of the most significant events to happen on the Big Island,” he says. “The temple will bless all people in the area with its presence.”

    The history of the Church in the Hawaiian Islands dates back to 1850, when the first Latter-day Saint missionaries arrived in Honolulu on the island of Oahu. Missionaries went on to explore neighboring islands, including the Big Island, hoping to spread the good news of the restored gospel. Most of Hawaii’s anglo population rejected the message, but native Hawaiians were more receptive.

    Most of the native converts on the Big Island were fishermen and small farming families. Pioneering missionaries helped establish more than two dozen tiny branches throughout the Big Island, wherever there were enough converts to worship together and study the restored gospel message.

    Joseph Borges, age 81, a member of the Hilo Hawaii Stake, recalls that early members of the Church loved the Lord, loved the gospel, and possessed strong testimonies. For 10 years Brother Borges was president of the Keaukaha Branch and was the first bishop when it became a ward.

    Shirley Keakealani, from the tiny ranching community of Puuanahulu, says that for many years missionaries in the Kalaoa Branch, North Kona District, would trudge over lava beds and gravel roads—a distance of some 20 miles—to visit Saints in this community. “They were humble missionaries, and we had so much aloha [warm regard] for them,” she says. She recalls that her aunt Hattie Sanford opened her home for Church services and later donated a piece of property where the first Puuanahulu meetinghouse was built.

    Today there are two stakes on the island: the Hilo Hawaii Stake, with six wards and one branch and a total membership of 3,400, and the Kona Hawaii Stake, with eight wards and 3,000 members. New converts are being baptized at a steady rate through the efforts of faithful, energetic full-time and member missionaries.

    One convert, Ben Utrera of Kailua-Kona, says that prior to discovering the LDS faith he had been attending another church but realized something was missing. One Sunday he happened to drive near the Kona stake center, where Kona’s stake conference was being held. Curious, he parked his car and walked into the building, where he was met by Richard Hunt of the Honomakau Ward, who invited him in and answered some of his questions. Later that day Brother Utrera was introduced to the full-time missionaries, and two months later he was baptized. “I believe I was led by the Spirit to the Church,” he says. “I have never been so happy. I have a strong testimony, and I pray that I can motivate my family to enjoy the blessings of the restored gospel.”

    Many Latter-day Saint families in both the Hilo and the Kona stakes have diligently been applying the gospel in their lives. The Junichi and Shirley Nakamoto family of the Kealakekua Ward, Kona stake, are examples of parents who are rearing their children in love and righteousness. Brother Nakamoto is a poultry farmer, and their seven children have worked on the farm to earn enough money to support themselves in school. To date, five of the children have served missions, four have been married in the temple, and all have graduated from or are enrolled in college. The four boys in the family are Eagle Scouts. When asked about the reason for his family’s success, Brother Nakamoto paraphrases a statement from the Prophet Joseph Smith: “We teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves.”

    Members of the Hilo and Kona stakes continue to reap the blessings the gospel brings into their lives as they eagerly await the completion of their new temple. Their examples of diligence and faith inspire those around them and help the Church thrive on the island of Hawaii.

    [photo] The Kona Hawaii Stake Center. The Kona Hawaii Stake and the Hilo Hawaii Stake encompass the island of Hawaii. (Photo by Doug Green.)

    [photo] Carol Lightner and her sister, Shirley Keakealani, Kona First Ward members. (Photo by Doug Green.)

    [photo] John Sakamaki, president of the Hilo Hawaii Stake, with his wife, Ann