Since the call of Joseph Smith’s younger brother Samuel as the first missionary of the Church in 1830, more than a million missionaries have been called and sent to preach the gospel to the nations of the earth, said Elder James J. Hamula during his Feb. 12 lecture titled “To Every Nation, Kindred, Tongue and People.”
Together, these missionaries have been fulfilling the Lord’s mandate found in Doctrine and Covenants 133: “Send forth the elders of my church unto the nations which are afar off; unto the islands of the sea; send forth unto foreign lands; call upon all nations, And this gospel shall be preached unto every nation, and kindred, and tongue and people” (vs. 8, 37).
Today, there are more than 84,000 full-time missionaries speaking more than 170 languages and proselytizing in more than 176 nations of the earth.
Elder Hamula was the first speaker in this year’s lecture series — titled “Pioneers in Every Land” — organized by the Church History Library and convenes monthly in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. The purpose of this year’s lecture series “is to share stories of the men and women from all over the world who — with great faith, sacrifice and perseverance — preached or embraced the restored gospel, built the restored Church and, in so doing, inspired others to do likewise. We call such people ‘pioneers’ — people who open and prepare a new way for others to go.”
Elder Hamula focused his remarks on stories of “pioneers” in the Pacific, where he served for five years as Area President on assignment as a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
Starting with the outset of the Restoration, Elder Hamula related the story of Addison Pratt who was called in Nauvoo, Illinois, in May 1843 to go to the islands in the Pacific. He left behind his wife, Louisa, and their four children and traveled to the island of Tubuai, located 350 miles south of Tahiti. Within a year, he had baptized 60 people and organized the Tubuai Branch. As Elder Pratt labored in the Pacific, Louisa endured the expulsion of the Saints from Nauvoo, the deprivations of Winter Quarters and the migration to Salt Lake City.
On June 28, 1844, Louisa wrote of her sorrow over the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. “I rushed into my garden, when the news was confirmed, and poured out my soul in such bitterness as I had never felt before.”
On the same day, an ocean away, Elder Pratt wrote in his journal of a man, Pa’amah, who had been violently ill with a fever. Elder Pratt administered to him and “in an hour [he was well] and we spent the evening singing and conversing.”
“Think of the significance of this,” Elder Hamula said. “As some sought to kill Mormonism by killing the prophet and his brother, the work of salvation was continuing with a Mormon missionary exercising the power of the priesthood vested in him from the Lord through His prophet, a world away.”
Eventually, Elder Pratt traveled to Salt Lake City where he was reunited with his family. After two years, he, Louisa and their daughters returned to Tubuai to tend to a growing Church.
Today, there are eight stakes, a mission, a temple and many multi-generational, devoted Church families in French Polynesia, many of whom can trace their family histories back to Tubuai and other islands where the Pratts and other missionaries labored.
“I doubt that Addison and Louisa Pratt could have appreciated what fruit their labors would yield,” Elder Hamula said.
He then shared the more modern example of Iotua Tune, whose “pioneer-like faith” helped build the Church in Kiribati — one of the most “remote, least visited and most impoverished nations on earth.” As recent as the early 1970s, there were no known members of the Church there.
Brother Tune was raised on the small island of Kuria in Kiribati. As a young man, he broke his hip, which became infected, playing soccer. While in the hospital, he overheard the doctor telling his family he would not survive. Iotua promised the Lord, “If you allow me to live, I will be a missionary all my life and serve God.” Eventually, he was healed and attended the Church’s Liahona High School in Tonga. While there, he accepted the gospel and was baptized.
Brother Tune was called to be among the first missionaries to serve in Kiribati, and he and his wife were the first couple from Kiribati to receive the blessings of the temple. He has served as a stake president, as the principal of the Church’s Moroni High School, as a Church Educational System director and as manager of the Church’s Service Center in Kiribati.
Today there are more than 14,000 members in two stakes and several districts in Kiribati.
“Brother and Sister Tune are a powerful force for good in Kiribati, where the Church and missionary work are prospering,” said Elder Hamula. “The future of the Church in Kiribati is bright, largely due to the faith, sacrifice and perseverance of Brother Tune and his wonderful wife and family.”
Elder Hamula also shared the experience of Lio Isaia whose “pioneer-like faith” has helped grow the Church in Savai’i, Samoa. In 1996, when he attempted to get permission to build a chapel, he was met with great opposition and persecution.
Despite severe hardships, Brother Isaia forgave all his persecutors. In fact, one of the men later joined the Church and Brother Isaia called him to serve as a counselor as he served as branch president.
Three years ago, Brother Lio Isaia was called and sustained as president of the newly created Savai’i Samoa Pu’apu’a Stake.
In the five years Elder Hamula and his wife, Joyce, lived in the Pacific, he traversed the far reaches of the area, pushing into regions that had never been visited by a General Authority — from first-world nations such as Australia and New Zealand, to third-world world nations such as Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati.
“In doing so, I came to know that there is no place in this world — no matter how small or remote it may be — that is beyond the redeeming interest, love and grace of our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son.”