In 1962, Claire Teriitehau, a nurse living on the island of Maupiti, just west of Bora Bora, noticed two young men in white shirts. They were the first Latter-day Saint missionaries on the island since 1899. Although she belonged to the local Protestant church, Claire felt compelled to reach out to them. She sent her boyfriend, Andre Manea, to invite the missionaries to their home. Claire and Andre were impressed with how gentle the missionaries were in their attempts to share their faith.
Claire soon began attending the missionaries’ group lessons. Because Claire and Andre were not yet married, they were unable to be baptized when a branch was first created. She joined members, however, when they sailed to Huahine to hear President Gordon B. Hinckley, then serving in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speak at a meetinghouse dedication in 1963. On the return trip, the sea became rough. Just before dawn, in the narrow passage leading to Maupiti’s lagoon, a large wave slammed the boat into the reef, throwing Claire and other passengers into the water. Tossing in the waves, Claire cried out to God. “If you will save me,” she promised, “I’ll be thy servant.” As she was clinging to the wreckage, she was thrown a life preserver. Finally, a motorized canoe came to the rescue, and she was relieved to see the familiar face of Andre pulling her aboard.
Although severely injured, Claire survived. Fifteen others, including nine women from the Maupiti Branch Relief Society, died.
Later that morning, word of the shipwreck reached Elder Hinckley in Papeete, Tahiti. He left that evening for Maupiti, traveling on an old boat loaded with food, blankets, and lumber. The scene in Maupiti was heartbreaking. “Everywhere people were crying,” Hinckley recalled. “We walked up and down the streets, holding the children whose mothers had been killed, trying to comfort the fathers.” In a priesthood blessing, Hinckley told Claire that she would be healed and one day join the Church. In July, she and Andre were married and—the following day—she was baptized. Claire served faithfully in the Church for many years.
Twenty years later, Claire had a tearful reunion with Gordon B. Hinckley when he came to dedicate the Papeete Tahiti Temple. During the dedication, Hinckley reminded listeners of the spirits joining the event from the other side of the veil, including early members, missionaries, and perhaps the women from Maupiti who had died in the shipwreck. “I hope with all my heart the husbands (of those sisters who died) are worthy to come to this house and have their beautiful wives sealed to them,” he said. In 1991, after saving for many years, relatives of those who had died in the accident made the journey to the temple together.