“I Always Said You Would Come Again”
In 1852, the missionaries who had brought the gospel to Tubuai, Tahiti, and the Tuamotus Islands left the islands under pressure from the newly established French colonial government. During their rule, French authorities often restricted religious freedom, and they banned Latter-day Saint meetings for many years.
Determined to keep the faith, the Saints often ignored these restrictions. In one case on Anaa, a police officer raided a meeting and raised his sword to strike down a woman who refused to stop praying. Members resisted, killing the officer and a priest who had accompanied him. As a result, five Saints were executed without trial, and many more were sentenced to hard labor.
In spite of these difficulties, the Saints quietly established local “Zions” as their centers of worship on several islands. Their leaders, however, were frequently arrested when trying to preach. When ordered to stop teaching, one elder named Tihoni told officials he “would prefer to have his throat cut rather than forsake his religion,” and he was ultimately permitted to continue his work.
Restrictions on religious freedom were lifted in the 1860s. Years of isolation and persecution had left the Latter-day Saint communities on the islands divided into factions. In the 1870s, missionaries from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints stopped in the islands, and many members accepted their leadership. Others, however, maintained a distinctive Latter-day Saint identity. Saints on Anaa, for example, established a Relief Society, an organization unique to the Church, by 1881. Many converts who had personally known the early missionaries looked forward to the day when representatives from Church headquarters in Utah would come again.
In 1892, after 40 long years, that day came. Two missionaries from the Samoan Mission arrived in French Polynesia, followed by newly called mission president James S. Brown, who had served in the islands as a young man. A blind elderly woman named Tehuatehiapa was among those who welcomed the missionaries. “I always said you would come again!” she told them. “The Lord has brought you and prolonged my life until you came. I rejoice exceedingly at the mercies of the Lord.”