LDS Church’s growing presence in Hawaii

Credit: Photo by Ku'ulei Akina
Credit: Photo by Ku'ulei Akina
Credit: Photo by Brittany Price
Credit: Photo by Ku'ulei Akina
Credit: Photo by Taylor Moyes
Credit: Photo by Ethan Lee
Credit: Kara McMurray, Photo by Ethan Lee
Credit: Photo by Ethan Lee
Credit: Photo by Ethan Lee
Credit: Photo by Ethan Lee
Credit: Photo by Ku'ulei Akina
Credit: Photo by Ethan Lee


Sunset Beach on Oahu’s North Shore has long been home to some of the world’s best surfers, best waves and some of the world’s premier surfing competitions. Now it is also the home to a growing presence of Latter-day Saints in Hawaii.

Last September, the Sunset Beach YSA Branch was officially formed from the Laie YSA 4th Ward and the Laie YSA 13th Ward (recently renamed the Lanihuli YSA Ward) in the Laie Hawaii YSA 1st Stake. In just 10 months, the branch has gone from fewer than 20 people to more than 90 as a result of the numerous outreach efforts of all the branch members.

The first meeting for the newly formed branch was held on Sept. 8, 2013, on the BYU-Hawaii campus. It was a day that branch clerk Roman Pearl admitted was “pretty discouraging.”

“[It was] hard to get people there. I was still doubtful in the beginning,” he said. “But we stuck with it and developed more faith.”

Three months after the first meeting, the small branch secured a new meeting location — a recreation center right on Sunset Beach, in the middle of all the surfers and tourists flocking to the beach to catch the waves. Brother Pearl said the area has “the most beautiful beaches [and] most beautiful waves. It draws people from all over the world.” With that, though, the area has bars, clubs and lots of parties.

Ken Krebs, a member of the stake high council, said, “Although this area is beautiful, the reputation was that this area was a surfer’s dream and nightly party place. … My kids’ LDS friends in neighboring villages were told they could not come to our side to visit or play.”

However, the area is proving to be just what the tiny branch needed to grow and create the missionary mindset of the branch. “It has been a huge advantage to open up the dialogue [with the locals],” said Beau Nobmann, second counselor in the branch presidency. “They built that building not too long ago; us being there and occupying that building and participating in the community has helped unify the local community.”

Branch mission leader Nathaniel Breedlove describes the location as “the sweet spot of all sweet spots” for any activity, and Marvelyn Santeco, Relief Society president, said they “definitely use the area to [their] advantage” with surfing, bonfires, barbecues, slip n’ slides and pool parties.

Activities are also used as a way to reach out to less-active members. Sister Santeco described the branch as a “rescue branch” and said the members call everyone they can for activities and go to doors with sacrament meeting announcements as invitations. Because of the activities that put them in the community and the outreach efforts of the branch members, Brother Breedlove said, “When someone comes to Church, that’s the easy part.”

Brother Pearl said it’s been neat to see so many young single adults come back to Church. “We’ve had less-active members that were gone, far gone, but we’ve had them come back and be super strong and super happy,” he said.

“I’ve just seen miracles from people that haven’t been active in ages to now getting callings and being excited to go to the temple,” said Brother Breedlove.

The branch has also grown with the addition of the family members of the branch presidency. After approval from the stake president, the YSA branch was able to form a Primary, complete with a Primary presidency, teachers, music leader and pianist, for the 10 sons of the branch presidency, ranging in ages from 2-10.

There have also been many experiences that have shaped the spirit and atmosphere of the branch. One of those was a tragedy that brought many of the members together.

On Nov. 13, 2013 — just over two months after the branch was formed — one of the branch members, Kirk Passmore, went missing after a surfing accident. Branch members quickly came together to pray and offer support and encouragement for his family and his girlfriend, Taylor Moyes. Many of them joined search and rescue crews to help look for him in the ocean.

President Lee described the time as a “unifying experience” that showed the love the branch members have for each other. It was a time for members of the branch to “come together and feel the strength of the branch family,” he said. Brother Passmore’s body was never recovered.

Another such experience happened during their first branch conference on April 27. During Sunday School, members heard a loud bang, and many rushed outside to see what had happened. A woman riding a moped had been hit head on by a Dodge Ram truck. She was lying unconscious in the street, surrounded by blood. Stake president Art Hanneman said he thought she was dead. But the stake patriarch, Eddie Solia, and President Hanneman gave her a priesthood blessing.

“As soon as we said ‘amen’ she [regained consciousness],” said President Hanneman. “She started to cry and wanted to sit up.”

Branch member Krystalee Krey, who teaches Primary in the branch, said she visited the woman in the hospital two days after the accident and asked her if she believed in miracles. “She said, ‘Now I do. I never imagined something like this would happen to me. I want to come to your church and thank everyone.’ There’s no doubt in my mind that the power of the priesthood saved this young girl’s life, and I am very grateful to have witnessed a modern-day miracle.”

Branch President Ethan Lee noted that the branch initially had better attendance at the weekly home evening activity than at sacrament meetings, but with so many people moving to Sunset Beach and so many people being reactivated, the branch continues to grow.

Brittany Price of the Sunset Beach YSA Branch in the Laie YSA 1st Stake contributed to this report.

Brittany Price of the Sunset Beach YSA Branch in the Laie YSA 1st Stake contributed to this report.

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