On October 19, 1853, Jonathan Nāpela and a group of missionaries sailed to Lāna‘i, following Brigham Young’s written counsel to find a place where Hawaiian Saints could “collect in peace” and “prepare themselves for gathering to this continent when the way shall open.” After a promising trip, the group boarded the boat back to Maui. The channel was rough, though, and missionaries grew dangerously seasick on the slow, oar-powered voyage—until Nāpela rose and prayed for wind to speed their journey. After his prayer, the wind soon picked up, bringing them quickly and safely to port.
At the time, converts often lived their faith by gathering to Utah to help build Zion. But because diseases introduced through trade had devastated local populations, Hawai‘i’s government restricted emigration. In 1854 a few Hawaiian Saints built their own Zion on Lāna‘i’s Palawai Basin instead. Just like pioneers on the plains, captains were called to lead small groups (see Doctrine and Covenants 136): Kimo Pelio for those from Wailuku, Keolanui for those from Kula, and Deacon Leiula for those from Lāna‘i. Like Saints in Utah, these pioneers faced dry weather and pests. They also faced a challenge when American missionaries were called away in 1858 and when Walter Murray Gibson arrived as their replacement in 1861.
Initially Gibson brought new energy to settlement efforts on Lāna‘i and even called Kimo Pelio and Samuela Manoa as the Church’s first missionaries to Samoa. Over time, however, many Saints grew concerned by Gibson’s actions. For example, Gibson charged a fee for membership certificates—and larger fees for priesthood certificates. He ordained only those who paid and sometimes excommunicated members who refused to donate money to help buy land on Lāna‘i. A group of Saints, led by Solomona, Puoanui, Holoa, Hoopiiaina, Kaawa, and Mak‘uakani, finally wrote to a former missionary with their concerns.
In 1864 Church authorities arrived to investigate. After finding Gibson guilty and unrepentant, they excommunicated him. Hawaiian Saints who had followed Gibson were left to make sense of what had happened. “We were deceived and led away by Gibson’s cunning words,” Jonathan Nāpela said, “but we are now undeceived, therefore let us renew our covenants and be faithful.”
After Gibson refused to transfer the title to lands he had purchased with Church members’ money, a new gathering place—Lā‘ie on O‘ahu—was chosen in 1865. This site was better: Saints could fish and grow their own kalo while also working together on Church-managed efforts like growing sugar cane. Maintaining a balance between the needs of the community and the pressures of a changing economy often proved difficult, but Saints and missionaries did their best to maintain a unique culture in Lā‘ie so that their own Zion could be “a refuge from the storm” (Doctrine and Covenants 115:6).