He builds airstrips on remote islands: His career is opportunity to serve others; he often finds isolated members

Philipe David knows about isolation - he experiences it in large doses as he builds airstrips on remote islands. The airstrips are literally links to the outside world.

In the process he also occasionally finds members who are isolated from the Church and invites them back into fellowship. Few of the small islands, spread out for a thousand miles, have any Church organization.Brother David of the Lotus Branch, Paea Tahiti Stake, is an airstrip technician for the Civil Aviation Department of French Polynesia. During his career, he's built and repaired dozens of airstrips on the four island groups and the 100 islands spread over 1.5 million square miles of the South Pacific. Included among the sites where he has built and repaired landing strips are the islands of Anaa, Makemo, Faaite, Tatakoto, Puka Puka and Takapoto. The latter island has an airstrip across one corner, with surf lapping at both ends.

The people who live on these islands have radio contact with the outside, but until the landing strips are built they have only boats to rely on for any medical help or transportation.

As Brother David builds an airstrip, he, too, experiences the sense of vast distance that comes from being on a tiny island of a wide ocean.

"My life in the Church gives me real support," said the convert of 18 years. "I thank God I have been sealed in the temple. This allows me to see the eternal purposes of life and strengthens my faith."

He said that he's met a number of members in the islands. Generally, they are women from other islands where the Church is established who have married local residents. Under such circumstances, few retain ties with the Church.

"If you don't have a testimony, it is impossible to resist leaving the Church in these circumstances," he said. "It is very hard for local LDS residents if the Church is not there as a permanent structure. They soon become isolated from others if they don't have the same religion."

Typically, he arrives at an island by speedboat that unloads him and his luggage and then leaves into the horizon. Building materials usually have arrived previously by boat.

He looks for natural features where an airstrip can be built that runs parallel with the prevailing wind. He tries to select a place where few coconut trees are standing.

But he has to work with what the island offers. While some islands are volcanic in origin and more or less round with adequate space for landing strips, others are coral in origin. Although these coral islands may be miles long, they may also be only a few hundred yards wide.

Brother David contacts the local villagers and hires workers to begin the project. "You have to live with them so you can't afford to ask too much of them," he explained. "But they are grand people, who help as much as they can."

After working hours, he reads books and Church literature. He also gets a close-up view of local problems. One of the most serious of these is youth who have little to do. Drugs and alcohol can be overwhelming temptations to them.

On some islands he's helped build soccer fields and started games to keep the young people involved in activities. "I have many opportunities to serve," he said. He acts as nurse, schoolteacher, letter writer and coach.

"And of course," he adds, "I invite people into the gospel."

In previous years, Brother David and his wife, Laura, stayed on the islands with their five children. The children kept up with their studies through correspondence. However, as the children grew older, the Davids moved to Paea, Tahiti, for the children to attend secondary schools. Because of recent health concerns, Sister David is unable to travel with him as before.

In 1991, the Davids went to the island of Puka Puka on the outskirts of the Tuamotu archipelago. When they arrived, they were offered a large and beautiful home. However, Sister David chose a small, sturdy home instead. Later that year a cyclone destroyed most of the homes on the island including the large one. The Davids' home survived, along with the family's food storage.

"We helped others with our food storage," he said. "Many of the population of 120 lived in our home, which was about 300 square feet."

He said the island people have been very supportive of his efforts.

Because of the great service an airstrip provides an island, "It's not hard to go to help the people," he said.

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