“The Laie Hawaii Temple: A Century of Gathering,” Ensign, October 2019
One of the great missions of the Church of Jesus Christ in the latter days is to provide temple blessings to the people of the world, both the living and the dead. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “the object of gathering the … people of God in any age of the world … was to build unto the Lord a house whereby He could reveal unto His people the ordinances of His house.”1
At the dawn of the 20th century, only four operating temples were found on the earth, all located in Utah. Thus, physical gathering to Utah was the primary means of receiving access to temple blessings. In 1919, that changed. On November 27, 1919, President Heber J. Grant (1856–1945) dedicated the Laie Hawaii Temple. This marked a historic turning point in the Restoration as temple blessings became available to many nations.
In many respects, the Laie Hawaii Temple was the first international temple. It immediately served members from Hawaii, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, Japan, and Australia. As the Church continued to grow throughout the Pacific and Asia, the number of countries blessed by this temple continued to increase.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of this important milestone in the gathering of Israel on both sides of the veil.
The islands of Samoa lie about 2,500 miles (4,023 km) from Hawaii. In 1919, John Q. Adams, the mission president in Samoa, said, “Upon the completion of the temple at Laie, our people seemed to be seized with an intense desire to accumulate enough of this world’s goods to go to the temple.” Aulelio Anae, for example, had served as a missionary without pay for 20 years. Because of his years of sacrifice, he didn’t have enough money to travel to Hawaii. So Brother Anae sold everything he owned and managed to scrape together U.S.$600 or $700.2 Brother Anae and other Samoans sacrificed all they could to move to Laie during the 1920s.
One family, the Leotas, arrived in Hawaii on New Year’s Day 1923. Seven-year-old Vailine Leota remembered, “Our first [view] of the temple … was the most beautiful sight.”3 Just two weeks later, Vailine’s parents, Aivao and Matala, received their endowments and were sealed as a couple, and their children were sealed to them. The Leotas served faithfully in the house of the Lord for 50 years and were buried “near the temple they loved so much.”4 Today, hundreds of their faithful descendants live throughout Hawaii.
While many members in the Pacific left their homelands and immigrated to Hawaii, many wards and branches from various nations organized group trips, called excursions, to the temple. This spiritual form of gathering provided a way for Church members to travel to receive temple ordinances and then return home to build the Church in their own nations.
At the dedication, President Grant prayed for the Lord to open the way for Saints in New Zealand and all the Pacific Islands and to secure their genealogies so they could come to the temple and become saviors to their ancestors.
Temple excursions began with a group of Maori Saints in New Zealand just six months after the dedication. Though 5,000 miles (8,045 km) away from Hawaii, these Saints rejoiced at the news of the dedication.
Waimate and Heeni Anaru yearned to be part of the first group to travel to the temple. Yet the task seemed impossible because of the family’s poverty and the required cost of 1,200 New Zealand pounds for the trip—a hefty sum. They would need a miracle.
For years, the Anaru family followed the prophet’s counsel and gathered their genealogical records. Those records then sat in stacks while the Anarus waited for a miracle to occur. Their son, Wiwini, knew of his parents’ faith: “Mother never ever despaired that she would [not] someday kneel with Father at a temple altar.”
A miracle did occur. Waimate won a contract from the New Zealand government for a large land-development project. His income from this project provided sufficient cash paid in advance to cover the cost of the trip to Hawaii. Waimate and Heeni overcame their fear of ocean travel and journeyed to Hawaii with a group of 14 Saints in May 1920. They received their endowments and were sealed. The impossible had happened.
The Anarus’ story is just one among thousands about Latter-day Saints who traveled to the Laie Hawaii Temple to receive ordinances and claim the promises offered by the Lord in His house. This required great sacrifice, but it produced stronger Saints who returned to their homelands prepared to lead the Church.5
The Church’s efforts to create modern Laie continued to bless Latter-day Saints throughout the Pacific. In the 1950s and 1960s, missionaries from Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, New Zealand, Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Fiji, and North America were called to lend their cultural talents and building skills to help construct the Church College of Hawaii (now Brigham Young University–Hawaii), the Polynesian Cultural Center, and a new temple visitors’ center. Forty-seven missionaries from Tonga and Samoa received their temple ordinances on May 3, 1960—an example of the spiritual blessings that accompanied their temporal work.6
One missionary, Matte Teʻo, was severely burned before leaving Samoa, but he came to Hawaii anyway. Doctors feared his charred hand might need to be amputated. Many of his fellow missionaries prayed for him. While in the temple, Brother Teʻo cried out to the Lord, “Touch this hand.” “Fix this hand so I can help whatever little bit I can.” He began to heal immediately. Today his hand bears no scar. He now serves as a sealer in the Laie Hawaii Temple and says, “This temple … has a powerful influence throughout these communities not only here, but throughout the Pacific.”7
Following the Second World War and the reestablishment of the Church in Japan, Saints there organized the first Asian temple excursion. In 1965 a plane full of 165 devoted Saints traveled from Tokyo to Hawaii to receive temple ordinances. This trip produced incredible strength for the Church in Japan. Ninety-five percent of these members remained active in the Church. Five later became temple presidents in their homeland, including Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi, the first General Authority from Japan.8
In 1970 a group of Korean members traveled to Laie. Choi Wook Whan, a branch president, said, “We went to the temple and it opened our minds and awakened to us how we can receive salvation. The eternal plan became real; our testimonies have been strengthened so much it is hard to explain. What a great blessing it is for the people of Korea to have the opportunity of attending the temple.”9
When temple ordinances become available to a nation, they bring the Lord’s blessings not only to those living in that country but also to those from that nation now on the other side of the veil. This blessing has been felt by members in Asian countries, where their culture has meticulously recorded genealogy for centuries.
Kwai Shoon Lung’s parents migrated from China to Hawaii. He was born in Kauai in 1894 and baptized in 1944 on his 50th birthday. Brother Lung taught family history at church and told his class, “I had a vision one night in which I saw many of my dead kindred beckoning me to work for them.” Three days later he received his genealogy from his aunt in China: 22 pages in Chinese script revealing his ancestry back to AD 1221. Together with his son Glenn and daughter-in-law Julina, they have completed thousands of ordinances in the temple for their family. Glenn and Julina Lung later served faithfully as president and matron of the Laie Hawaii Temple from 2001 to 2004.10
Michie Eguchi came to Hawaii from Japan in the early 1900s and brought with her a silk Japanese scroll. Her granddaughter Kanani Casey served a mission in Japan and later discovered that her grandmother’s scroll traced her family’s ancestry back almost a thousand years.
In 2013, Kanani’s house burned to the ground. She and her family lost nearly everything in the fire. They had stored their genealogy in plastic tubs underneath their bed. After the fire, they went back to the house, only to find a mountain of ash and soot.
“The only thing that I really hoped to find was the copy of the scroll with its translations and history,” Kanani said. “I was reassured that all the temple work had already been done for my Japanese ancestors, but the copy of the scroll was so precious to me.”
As Kanani and her husband, Billy, waded through the ashes, they eventually found a blue plastic bag. Inside the bag, they found the copy of the scroll, along with translations and a family history book, amazingly still intact. The scroll was just a little burned around the edges, but it was the only thing in their bedroom that survived.
Kanani feels the Lord preserved the scroll “for the benefit of my posterity as a testament of His love for us and to show the importance of doing family history and temple work.”11
The blessings of the Laie Hawaii Temple have also been extended to those who have gathered to Laie to receive higher education. Since the 1950s, tens of thousands of students have come to what is now BYU–Hawaii from throughout Polynesia and Asia. Many of these students have performed baptisms for the dead and served as temple ordinance workers. The Laie temple has helped students develop a love for family history and temple work and has blessed them to be better prepared to serve when temples come to their homelands.
Choon Chua James, originally from Singapore, came to BYU–Hawaii in the 1970s with her sister. Both of them married men from other countries in 1978. Sister James reflected, “Our marriage in the Laie temple brought two converts and two cultures together for time and all eternity—the beginning of what we hope will be a long legacy of temple blessings in our family. Ours are just two of the many hundreds of eternal marriages involving BYU–Hawaii students that have been performed in the Laie temple, perhaps one of its greatest legacies over the past sixty years of the university’s existence.”12
Situated in the crossroads of the Pacific between the Americas and Asia, the Laie Hawaii Temple has opened the door of temple blessings to many nations. Thus, the gathering of Israel became primarily a spiritual gathering as members are able to receive temple blessings and then return to build the Church in their native lands. This opportunity has aided the expansion of the restored gospel to many cultures and peoples on both sides of the veil.
As we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Laie Hawaii Temple, we are privileged to witness a milestone in the Restoration and a fulfillment of the prophecy of the prophet Jacob in the Book of Mormon: “Great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea” (2 Nephi 10:21).