Temple in Tahiti emanates a lasting influence for good

In the early years, the Papeete Tahiti Temple was no more than a faint hope in the hearts of faithful French Polynesian members.

Those members sacrificed much to travel to New Zealand and gain the blessings of the temple, according to leaders in the South Pacific. They earned a reputation at the New Zealand Temple for their devotion to temple work.They rejoiced as a temple for Tahiti was announced, constructed and dedicated. Today, 11 years after the temple doors opened in 1983, it has become a great influence in the lives of the Latter-day Saints here, according to Pres. C. Jay Larson.

Pres. Larson is among those who see clearly the progress of the members. He served a mission to Tahiti in 1950-52, returned as mission president in 1981-84, and since 1992 has been temple president. "The temple has elevated the spirituality of the members," he said, noting that its influence is ever changing centuries-old traditions.

The temple has also become somewhat of a landmark, with its blue tile roof and spire that rise through the leafy palms. Going to the temple is a favorite, frequent activity for many members.

"Since the temple was dedicated, we've had a 50 percent increase in the number of temple marriages," Pres. Larson said. "Now a lot of the young people qualify for temple marriage. They prepare for the temple."

One Polynesian tradition that is changing is the occasional practice of children being given to uncles and aunts to rear. "Members have learned that they have the responsibility for their own children."

Modesty and morality are also emphasized in temple preparation. "With that, spirituality comes naturally," said Pres. Larson. "This has helped the members become better citizens and has been a great influence from many standpoints in strengthening families."

He said some of the strongest influences in temple preparation are the teachings of the Church Educational System.

"Seminary and institute are exceptionally good to prepare youth for the temple," he said. "The teachers instruct them in tithing and chastity, and are a factor in preparing youth for temple marriages."

Many excursions come to the temple from the outer islands, said Pres. Larson. The patrons live in the temple housing and stay for a week or so. A number of ordinance workers are from the outer islands. Most ordinance workers in the temple speak Tahitian, and serve older members, but younger members also come who prefer French. So some temple workers are learning to speak French.

He said the recent celebration of the 150th anniversary of the missionaries coming to French Polynesia stimulated members to do more in all phases of the gospel. "This helped the members to realize who they really are, and it contributed to temple attendance."

Another factor that contributes to temple work is the family history center located on the temple grounds. The center is a resource for the entire French Polynesia for local records. A former missionary couple, Elder Lloyd G. and Sister Gayla McClellan, did much to establish the center.

Several years ago, a fire burned the building housing government records. These records were charred and soaked. It was the Relief Society sisters who salvaged the soaked papers, separating the sheets and drying them on the floor. These records were later alphabetized and filmed. The center now has some 1,400 rolls of film, which include many of the civil records of French Polynesia, and others that pertain to Fiji, the Cook Islands and Kiribati.

Now, many residents come to the center to prove their heirship to property, and trace their family trees.

Members also have done considerable family history research. At one time, up to 40 percent of the names at the temple were submitted from local sources.

The directors of the Family History Center are Elder David G. and Sister Georgia Anne Pope of the Durango Colorado Stake. Elder Pope is a former missionary to Tahiti. The Popes left an auto parts business to serve a mission and are learning to speak French.

"Everyone here is so patient," said Sister Pope. "If we say something wrong, people just smile and correct us." The Popes handle the main center, one in Raiataia and another in Tubuai. They maintain the microfilm machines, teach research methods, and encourage members to use the facilities available to them.

One of the families who knows and prizes its ancestry is that of Pres. Rie Mariteragi of the Papeete Tahiti Stake. Pres. Mariteragi traces his Church roots to converts baptized by Benjamin Grouard, one of the first missionaries to French Polynesia about a century and a half ago.

He and his wife, Hilda, members of the Heiri Ward, are parents of eight children. The family has been heavily involved in the commemoration of the 150th anniverary of missionaries coming to French Polynesia.

"I have been a father first and then a Church leader," Pres. Mariteragi said. "I have been sustained by my wife and children. We have prayed a lot for success. We are heavily indebted to our Heavenly Father; we owe Him a lot. We are grateful for our parents who joined the Church. The Lord is always there to help us progress in our capacity to work for Him."

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