PAPEETE, Tahiti In the final moments of a cultural event to celebrate the rededication of the Papeete Tahiti Temple, thousands of returned missionaries marching to the anthem "Called to Serve" encircled the field of a large stadium.
Illustrating the moving forward of the Church in this island nation, the missionaries hoisted flags representing the nations of their service and their great international influence.
Then a replica of the Tahiti temple rose among them. Thousands of children, youth and young adults surrounded the temple. Families dressed in white and the new temple presidency moved across the field to the temple.
The message was clear: The temple is once again the central focus of Latter-day Saints in Tahiti.
For the past 23 years the temple has strengthened Tahitian individuals and families, blessed the missionary efforts and unified the Church in French Polynesia. Now, in preparation for its rededication after being closed and renovated, an estimated 10,000 Latter-day Saints celebrated the blessing of the temple being returned to them.
"It was an amazing moment," said Bishop Henry Perry of the Taravao 1st Ward, Papeete Tahiti Stake. "It is a time to demonstrate our faith and our love for the prophet and the apostles. It is a moment to testify to others of the Church."
The program began with Tahitian children performing traditional song and dance. A choir of 400 dressed in white, young men and young women and, finally, young adults also performed. Most had been practicing since July and had sewn their own costumes.
"We are youth of the Church," they sang at the end of their performance. "We will proclaim the gospel of God. May Heavenly Father help us that peace and love will stay in our land of Tahiti."
A highlight of the event for many Church members was a surprise visit by Sabrina Laughlin, a popular Tahitian performer who is not a member of the Church, but who participated in the program.
Alphonse Perry composed eight songs for the event. The program was a tribute to the Church, the prophet and the temple, he said.
Children, including Leilani Peron of the Taravao 1st Ward, were excited to participate. Each expressed a desire to perform for an apostle. All wanted to be part of the temple rededication.
New temple president, Thomas R. Stone, served as a full-time missionary in Tahiti from 1955-1957. He returned in 1963 to serve as mission president. When he arrived in 1963 there were no wards or stakes in French Polynesia and no members had been to the temple.
To see an entire stadium filled with children and youth from six stakes and three districts, celebrating 23 years of temple attendance, illustrated the marching forward of the Church in Tahiti, he said.
Many members traveled long distances to attend the event and rededication. A group of 360 members rented a boat to travel from Moorea Island, arriving at 1 p.m. for the 6 p.m. program. And 28 members flew in from the Cook Islands located 400 miles southwest of French Polynesia, said Anthony Antonia.
Last year, he said, the Cook Islands were reassigned to the Tahiti mission. "This is the reason why we wanted to be here," he said.
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