OAKLAND, Calif. With a day of testimonies, feasting and dancing, Tongan members of the Church in the San Francisco Bay area of California celebrated on Friday, Sept. 9, the 200th anniversary of the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
More than 1,200 members of the San Francisco California East (Tongan) Stake and their guests participated in the tribute at the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center in Oakland, Calif.
Presiding over the event was Elder Eric B. Shumway, an Area Seventy. Also attending were Stake President Manu Lauti and his counselors President Alekisanita Vimahi and President Solo Puta, California San Francisco Mission President Jerald L. Wagstaff and California Oakland Mission President Robert Bauman. Representing the Tongan government was Consul General Tevita Kolokihakaufisi. Among the guests were leaders of other churches in the area.
Elder Shumway, who served as a missionary and mission president in Tonga, delivered a message in the Tongan language.
He said, "We do not worship Joseph Smith. He was a servant of the Lord who was curious as to which church he should join." He then shared the account of Joseph's First Vision and chronicled the events of the restoration of the Church from its organization to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the priesthood, the building up of Nauvoo, the Prophet's martyrdom and the pioneer exodus to Salt Lake City. Joseph Smith was able to accomplish all of this in the midst of great trials and persecution, Elder Shumway said.
Elder Shumway's wife, Carolyn, also spoke. She said that she recalls her husband, while presiding over the Tonga mission, one day spoke of a charge given by President Ezra Taft Benson for the Church to "flood the earth with the Book of Mormon." Her family took the charge seriously and she showed the congregation the resulting little book containing her "flood list" of 100 names and addresses of people that they met on the streets, and at places such as shops and parties. The list led to the missionaries giving out 100 copies of the Book of Mormon during that Christmas season with their testimonies written in them.
She emphasized that the Book of Mormon was the result of the work of the Lord's humble servant Joseph Smith and expressed how grateful she and her family are to him.
The testimonies were followed by traditional Tongan feasting and faiva (dances).
Later in the evening, the celebration concluded with a stake dance, entertainment provided by about 400 youth. There were two dance groups, one doing a western line dance and the other a salsa number with flags depicting messages relating to the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
One of the youth honoring Joseph Smith with her talents was Kalolaine Vaenuku, 17. She said, "I felt honored that I was able to participate in the celebration. He was a great man whom I look up to and am very grateful for."
Niuui Tonga, 16, echoed, "I enjoyed celebrating the life of such a great prophet." He participated in the salsa presentation.