The king of Tonga has accepted a formal invitation to take part in celebrations commemorating the centennial of the Church in Tonga.
A group of Church leaders, led by Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve, visited the Tongan palace May 15, and invited King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV to participate in the centennial celebration in Tonga in August. In addition to the celebration in Tonga, commemorative events will also be held in California, Hawaii and Utah, said Elder Nelson.The king was given an outline of events and invited to participate as his schedule would permit.
"He was very receptive and cordial," related Elder Nelson. "He appreciated the visit, and indicated he would be honored to participate with us.
"The purpose of our visit was also to extend our gratitude to the king for the privileges that our saints enjoy in Tonga, where we have many stakes and many thousands of members," said Elder Nelson.
Elder Nelson was accompanied by Elder James M. Paramore of the Presidency of the Seventy; Elder Benjamin B. Banks of the Seventy and a member of the Pacific Area presidency; Tevita Ka'ili, a regional representative in Tonga; and Pres. 'Isileli T. Kongaika of the Tonga Nuku'alofa Mission.
The centennial commemorates the arrival of the first missionaries in Tonga on July 15, 1891. The missionaries, Brigham Smoot and Alva J. Butler, were sent by the Samoan Mission Pres. William O. Lee.
After their arrival, the missionaries visited King Jiaoji (George) Tupou and received permission to preach. They purchased property and erected a mission home and school, and also purchased a boat to travel between islands. The first convert was Alipate, baptized July 15, 1892.
Today, Tonga has 35,000 members, some 32 percent of the total population of the island kingdom. This is the highest percentage of membership of any nation in the world. Tonga also provides more missionaries per member than any other country.
The centennial will include major celebrations in Hawaii July 5-7; in Southern California July 12-14; in northern California July 19-21; and in Utah July 20-28. The celebrations culminate Aug. 15-26 in Tonga with major events on the main island of Tongatapu, and the outer islands of Ha'apai and Vava'u.