An island welcome - First trip to Melanesian isle

President Hinckley's visit to Vanuatu is appreciated

PORT VILA, Vanuatu — More members than anyone had ever seen before on this island assembled June 19 for the biggest event in local Church history — the visit of President Gordon B. Hinckley.

Some 2,212 members gathered from throughout this island chain made famous in the musical "South Pacific," which endeared to the English-speaking world the peaceful inhabitants, spectacular scenery and pidgin dialect of Bislama.

In the largest Church meetinghouse on the island, they filled classrooms, sat outside the chapel where they could catch a glimpse of their leader through louvered windows, and clustered around the doorways and on the lawn.

"I was surprised to see all these people," said pioneer member Tony Mahit, who joined the Church in 1981 when only a handful of families met in a home. From several of Vanuatu's islands came more than half the Church's local population of about 2,100. And this didn't include 400 members on the island of Tanna who were unable to attend.

President Hinckley and his wife, Marjorie, walked into the meetinghouse on bright yarn-fringed woven mats placed in their honor, and were given shell necklaces. They were seated on a stand wreathed in tropical lilies of oranges and reds.

The following day, members would recall exactly where they stood when the Church leader walked past. One little girl, Edwina Basil, 6, announced next morning to her parents that she was staying home from school because she had shaken hands with the prophet.

"He called me sweetheart," she said, and her parents indulged her desire.

She was not alone in choosing to make a holiday of the historic event. The following night a priesthood commemoration and feast were held with some 600-800 people eating under an awning in an adjacent field.

The unexpected blessing of the prophet's visit was illustrated by Simon Peter Leowia, a venerated leader from Pentacost now living on the island of Santo, who, when told President Hinckley was coming, said, "We will see him on the satellite." (Please see article on page 8 about members from Santo.)

"No, he is coming in person."

"Then we will see him on television."

"He is coming to Vanuatu. You will see him in person."

"You mean," said Brother Peter, "we will see his whole body?"

"President Hinckley has given us a blessing," said President Paul G. Hilliman of the Port Vila District. "The lights are on in Vanuatu. We will achieve good things."

Rested, pleased with the opportunity to be in Vanuatu, President Hinckley met with priesthood leaders and a few government dignitaries before leaving for the evening meeting. As he arrived at the meetinghouse, accompanied by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve and his wife, Barbara, and Elder Ronald D. Halverson of the Seventy, president of the Pacific Islands Area and his wife, Linda, who also spoke, the congregation was in rapt attention. They had been in their chairs for two hours, and many had been waiting outside the meetinghouse most of the afternoon.

As he stood to speak, President Hinckley looked over the congregation where the Church has been established only about two decades. "My dear beloved brothers and sisters, what a great pleasure, what a great privilege and opportunity to be here," he said.

He explained that in planning the trip, he and his secretary looked at a map of the South Pacific to see where he hadn't been, "and there was Vanuatu."

" 'We've never been there, and no Church president has ever been there,' " he said. " 'We'll go to Vanuatu.' "

During this tour, the Church president dedicated the Brisbane Australia Temple and spoke at member meetings in Hobart, Tasmania; Christchurch, New Zealand; Port Vila; and Christmas Island; and spoke at graduation ceremonies at BYU-Hawaii. He also visited Hamilton, New Zealand.

To government leaders attending in Port Vila, he said, "We hope our people are good citizens, that they are a credit to this nation."

He paid tribute to the Church's missionaries. "What a marvelous and wonderful work this is that will cause men and women to leave their homes and go out wherever they are called, to bless the lives of people across the earth. We don't have very many members here, but that number will grow."

He said the Church is "here to do good. We are not here to cause trouble of any kind."

He reminded members that the Lord expects each of them to become acquainted with Him. Every man and woman in the Church should be able to stand and say that "I know God our Eternal Father lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer of the world."

"I heard tonight that some of you who are here came from a neighboring island and one woman did not have enough money to come. She would have had to sell the roof off her house if she was to come. And her fellow Church members said 'No, don't you sell the roof off your head. We will work together,' . . . and so she is here tonight."

The Lord also expects members to serve in whatever capacity they are asked, he said.

"We think we are inadequate to do the work when we are asked, but the Lord blesses us and magnifies us and makes us equal to the responsibility as we fulfill our callings," he said. Men should honor their priesthood, to be able to "speak and act in the name of Jesus Christ as His servant" and "not indulge in evil things of any kind" including immorality, or wife or child abuse.

Children, he said, are Heavenly Father's children "as well as your children."

"Hold your children dear to you," he continued. "They are the most precious possession you have."

President Hinckley strongly encouraged parents to educate their children.

"Knowledge is an eternal thing and we have an opportunity and obligation to try to acquire it. . . . Get all the education you can."

He encouraged members to pay their tithing, which is "a matter of faith." He said he was satisfied that the Lord would pour out a blessing upon faithful tithe payers, and "I can testify that He keeps His promises."

He concluded, "My dear brothers and sisters, I love you. I love the people of this Church, regardless of where they live and how they look, as long as they walk in faith."

"I will probably never come back here again. When you get my age, you don't even buy green bananas. But I want to keep going as long as I can, to meet with people like you."

In his remarks, Elder Perry spoke of the restoration of the gospel after "the power [of the priesthood] was taken from the earth" in the early Church, requiring a restoration. Telling of the Restoration, he said, "the gospel will be on the earth continuously until the end of time, the final dispensation of the world."

Members of the Church, he said, have been instructed to "heed the voice of the prophet, for his words would be the same as if the Savior Himself were speaking unto mankind."

"So we are not left on earth to stumble and fall; we have a guide ship to follow. . . . My counsel to you tonight is to be steadfast in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I promise you that if you do, the Lord will bless you."

Elder Halverson spoke of the gospel as a "hard saying" as noted in John 6:48-69, when many "walked no more with him." But the Savior's apostles, who had received a spiritual witness of the Savior's divine role, stayed with Him

"Brothers and sisters, we must make those kinds of decisions in our lives," said Elder Halverson. "We must be willing to pay our tithes and to honor our priesthood.

"We must be willing to separate ourselves from cultural issues that may be in conflict with the gospel of Jesus Christ."


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