Elder D. Todd’s Christofferson’s recent travels to three countries in the Pacific Area offered the apostle a glimpse of three stages of Church development: beginning, emerging and established.
In the Solomon Islands, he witnessed an island nation still taking its maiden steps in the gospel.
The islands of Samoa (including the U.S. Territory of American Samoa), continue to emerge and grow as Latter-day Saints embrace principles of spiritual and temporal self-reliance.
Meanwhile, the well-established congregations in New Zealand remain a proven power in an area of the Church defined by it geographical vastness and diversity.
The Pacific Area “is continuing to develop,” Elder Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said of his assignment there Jan. 21-31. “I was encouraged; we’re heading in the right direction. The corps of leaders in the area — both men and women — is getting stronger each year.”
Sister Katherine Christofferson accompanied her husband to the Pacific Area. The Christoffersons were also joined at various stops in their travels by the Pacific Area Presidency — Elder Kevin W. Pearson, Elder O. Vincent Haleck and Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, along with their wives, Sister June Pearson, Sister Peggy Ann Haleck and Sister Wendy Nielsen.
Elder Christofferson’s travels began in American Samoa, marking his first visit to the Samoas. In an interview with the Church News, he noted Samoa’s long and rich Church history that stretches back to the 19th-century.
“Initially, those who joined the Church were expelled from their villages and had no place to live,” he said.
Since then, the Church has become both visible and influential in Samoa. The island nation has one of the highest concentrations of Latter-day Saints anywhere in the world, with about one in three Samoans being Mormons.
“Our people are well known in Samoa — we have had members serving in all levels of government,” he said.
On Jan. 21, Elder Christofferson was met at the airport by the territory’s lieutenant governor, Mr. Lemanu Peleti Mauga. Elder Christofferson presided over a priesthood leadership conference for stake presidents, bishops and other local priesthood leaders serving in American Samoa.
Later he traveled to Samoa for additional meetings with priesthood leaders, members and missionaries.
“We had priesthood leadership trainings on all three islands (Tutuila, Savaii and Upolu),” he said. “It gave us an opportunity to be in person with local leaders from a total of 25 stakes.”
He also presided at a Jan. 24 conference of the Upolu Samoa Aleisa Stake.
In Samoa and throughout his travels, Elder Christofferson and the other visiting Brethren focused their instruction and counsel on key gospel principles — including missionary work, observing the Sabbath, temple work and family history and temporal and spiritual self-reliance.
The Church’s Perpetual Education Fund continues to make strides in several regions in the Pacific Area. The program, said Elder Christofferson, “is helping people set up their own businesses and receive training in [employable] trades.”
The apostle concluded his time in Samoa with meetings with the Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi and, later, with a group of missionaries from the Samoa Apia Mission.
Elder Christofferson’s visit to the Solomon Islands was the first by a member of the Twelve since Elder James E. Faust dedicated the country in 1987. There in the capital city of Honiara Elder Christofferson counseled with members and missionaries, was interviewed by local media and visited with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare.
“He is a devout Christian and was anxious for our prayers,” Elder Christofferson said.
Prime Minister Sogavare expressed appreciation for the Church’s humanitarian efforts in his country and discussed the Perpetual Education Fund. He also told Elder Christofferson that he had read James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ twice and was impressed by its divine teachings.
Elder Christofferson concluded his Pacific Area travels in New Zealand.
The Church has long enjoyed a rich, stable presence in that island country. More than 100,000 Mormons call New Zealand home and the New Zealand Temple — the first temple in the Southern Hemisphere — remains a beloved local edifice.
On Jan. 30, Elder Christofferson met with missionaries from Auckland and Hamilton. “That meeting was really a high point,” he said. “There was a great spirit.”
Latter-day Saints from four Hamilton stakes also gathered that evening for a special member meeting.
The visting Brethren also visited the temple and site of the former Church College of New Zealand where construction of an expanded stake center is underway.
[email protected] @JNSwensen