“A Temple Culture,” Global Histories: French Polynesia (2018)
“A Temple Culture,” Global Histories: French Polynesia
The Laie Hawaii Temple was dedicated in 1919. French Polynesian Saints, excited to have a temple in the Pacific, began preparing for temple worship. Members sold food, dived for pearls, and weaved various items to save money for the 4,450-km (2,765-mi) journey, but the cost made the journey seem impossible despite their best efforts to save.
When a new temple in Hamilton, New Zealand, was announced in the 1950s, members found ways to reduce their costs by making the journey as a group. At the time, the Tahitian Mission owned a large schooner, named Paraita in honor of Addison Pratt. The schooner was used to transport members, missionaries, and Church leaders from island to island. Mission leaders decided to convert the cargo hold of the ship to berths to enable members to sail to Hawaii or New Zealand at a more reasonable cost. Hoping to be sealed, the Wong family made and sold sausages to fund the trip. All 17 children joined their father, Pao Sing, in the effort. Early each morning, Pao Sing loaded his bike with several baskets and pedaled to the market. By 1959 the Wongs and six of their children, together with other Saints, were finally ready to sail to the temple. Six more of their children would eventually make the trip to the temple to be sealed.
Shortly before their departure in 1959, however, Church President David O. McKay sent word advising the Saints not to make the journey. With some reluctance, members and leaders accepted the counsel, and the excursion was cancelled. Within the week, a leaking pipe was found on the Paraita. Over the coming months, it became clear the ship needed to be retired.
In 1963, McKay called Thomas R. Stone, who had helped translate temple ceremonies into Tahitian, to preside over the Tahitian Mission. Before Stone and his wife, Diane, left Salt Lake City, McKay told them their first priority should be to organize a temple trip from the nation’s newly completed airport.
In December 1963, more than 60 members from French Polynesia flew to New Zealand. The members traveled in two groups, and the second group arrived at the temple just before midnight on Christmas Eve. Temple workers arrived early on Christmas morning so the group could participate in the first temple ordinances performed in Tahitian. The Saints spent nearly every waking hour in the temple until they returned home on January 5, 1964.
Over the next two decades, hundreds of members from French Polynesia participated in similar temple trips until a temple in Papeete was dedicated in October 1983. With a temple now in their midst, the Saints continue to sacrifice their time and energy to perform temple ordinances. In October 2003, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Papeete Tahiti Temple, every endowed member of the Paea Tahiti Stake participated in at least one ordinance during 14 consecutive hours of temple work.