Within his apostolic ministry, Elder Neil L. Andersen has traveled to the far-flung corners of the earth. His calling to “go into all the world” to preach the gospel has taken him to many lands including the various isles of the sea. But a recent trip to conduct an area review of the Pacific took him to a few places he’s never been before — Brisbane, Australia, and the Cook Islands.
Elder Andersen and Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy, who accompanied Elder Andersen to the Pacific May 13-22, met with the Church News to discuss their travels.
In this latest trip, Elder Andersen said he and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, experienced a mix of languages, cultures and geographies — from modern cities to remote islands.
In a Facebook post while on his trip, Elder Andersen noted the “impressive downtown skyline” and the many parks and forest that encompass the area around Brisbane. Situated among the bends of the Brisbane River in northeast Australia, this “beautiful” city is “a center of strength for the Church,” he told the Church News upon his return.
While in Brisbane, Elder and Sister Andersen, Elder Robbins and the Pacific Area presidency — General Authority Seventies Elder Kevin W. Pearson, Elder O. Vincent Haleck and Elder S. Gifford Nielsen — participated in stake, youth and young single adult conferences, a mission presidents’ seminar and missionary meeting. Elder Andersen also conducted priesthood leadership conferences.
Elder Andersen spoke of the “sacred testimony and teaching” that resulted from meeting with the missionaries and mission presidents of the Pacific Area. As he looked out over the missionaries, who come from 25 countries, he thought, “This is the way the Lord’s Kingdom will look during the Second Coming.” Every race, color and nationality but “all complete and devoted disciples of Jesus Christ.”
During the mission presidents’ seminar, Elder and Sister Andersen were overjoyed to be reunited with Pierre and Brigitte Bize who they first met when Elder Andersen served as a mission president in France. Now 27 years later, President Bize and his wife are serving as he presides over the Tahiti Papeete Mission. “It was a reunion of great happiness as all our reunions will be as we meet our loyal and devoted friends who share our faith in Jesus Christ,” Elder Andersen said.
Elder Andersen also met with the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, the Most Reverend Mark Coleridge. The archbishop joined Elder Andersen; Elder Robbins; Elder Pearson; Elder Keith P. Walker, an Area Seventy; and President Robert W. Cowan, president of the Brisbane Australia Temple, for a walk around the grounds of the Brisbane Australia Temple which overlooks the Brisbane River.
While there they met Stacey Vaoga and Junior Fiu who had been sealed earlier in the day and had returned to take photos with their wedding party.
“We explained to the archbishop about the standards of worthiness to be married in the temple,” Elder Andersen said, “the need for discipleship and faith. He was moved by the goodness of the couple.”
In a gesture of “genuine kindness” and goodwill, the archbishop expressed a blessing for Sister Fiu on the steps of the temple.
“I told [Sister Fiu] later, ‘You are probably the only woman in the world who has ever received a Catholic blessing on the steps of the House of the Lord,’ ” Elder Andersen said.
From Brisbane, Elder and Sister Andersen continued on to the Cook Islands, a collection of 15 islands located northeast of New Zealand.
Elder and Sister Andersen met with members and missionaries on the islands of Rarotonga and Mangaia. Although both islands are small — roughly 20 square miles — like others of the Cook Islands, they are fringed in coral reef and draw a large tourist population. The first missionaries visited the island of Mangaia in 1955, and Elder Andersen became the first member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to set foot on its shores.
Many civic, community and other religious leaders came to welcome the visiting Apostle as a special guest during a cultural celebration presented by the members there.
“It was wonderful to see the pastors of other churches, the people of very different persuasions, rejoicing with the Saints there in the visit of a member of the Twelve,” Elder Andersen said.
Many women there wore crowns of flowers on their heads and presented Sister Andersen with “an especially beautiful” array of flowers.
In his remarks, Elder Andersen noted the many references to crowns found in the scriptures — a crown of righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8), a crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4), a crown of life (James 1:12), and a crown of eternal life (Doctrine and Covenants 20:14). Most important, he spoke of the crown of thorns (Matthew 27:29) and “how much the Savior had done for each of us — whether in large populous centers or in a very remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”
With Rarotonga being roughly 32 kilometers in circumference, “it’s hard to be late,” Elder Andersen said with a smile. Despite its relative isolation, “the Church is well planted there,” Elder Andersen said. “These are people of great faith.”
While Elder Andersen traveled to the Cook Islands, Elder Robbins journeyed to New Caledonia, “a hidden gem in the Pacific.” The island nation is an archipelago and special collectivity of France located east of Australia.
While the Church in places like Brisbane has been operating for five or six generations, it is in its infancy in New Caledonia. Because of that, members there are pillars of strength for the Church. “They are just constantly serving,” Elder Robbins said.
Elder Andersen expressed his love for the many members he met during his travels and for their “testimony and strength.”
Elder Robbins added that no matter where he goes in the world, he feels an “immediate connection” and love for the Saints. “You share the deepest most cherished things in life so that you immediately understand each other in the deepest way,” he said.