Because their incomes were meager and their resources were often stretched, many sacrificed much for these temple excursions. A faithful member sold his home in order to take his family to be sealed in the New Zealand Temple. Other sacrifices were less dramatic but, nevertheless, were acts of great faith and love. No price was too high to pay for the blessings of the temple.
We moved a step closer to our own temple and hope turned into optimism when President Gordon B. Hinckley, during his visit to Fiji in October 1997, declared to the members how we can qualify ourselves for the blessings of a temple in Fiji. President Hinckley asked who in the congregation would like to have a temple here. All of us — packed in a sports stadium — excitedly raised our hands.
The congregation was touched and received this welcome message with warmth and joy. Everywhere I went I sensed a different mood and felt the elevated spirits of the members following the prophet's visit. The discussions and thoughts centered around the temple and President Hinckley's message.
The moment everyone had been waiting and praying for came on April 5, 1998, during general conference when President Hinckley announced that a temple would be built in Fiji. Telephone calls, e-mails and faxes converged on Fiji with this glorious announcement from relatives, friends and well-wishers from abroad who were also basking in the joy of this historic announcement.
Since then, this excitement, as I can determine, has picked up momentum. Family history centers have been set up in our four stakes and they are recording increased patronage by members. They are staffed by dedicated volunteer advisers, led by Elder Royden G. and Sister Karen T. Hill (serving in the Fiji Suva Mission). They are working to facilitate members in their family history research work.
The spirit of the work is infectious. Like many others, my family has been caught up in this spirit. We have set aside one day during the week when we can do our research.
My testimony of and interest in temple work has roots to my childhood days, starting in the village school where we lived on one of the northern islands in the Fiji group. At age 12, I was prepared to leave my family to pursue further education on another island hundreds of miles away. My father's encouraging words and my desire to be a provider as the oldest in a family of seven were great sources of strength and motivation during that difficult period.
I recall vividly the teary farewell in 1965 when my family and the whole village came to say goodbye. I stood alone on the deck of the government vessel, Tui Taveuni,with huge lumps in my throat, trying desperately to catch the last glimpse of my home and village before everything disappeared in the horizon.
My thoughts were centered on my family and how I would do whatever it took to earn my family's love and respect. I realized how very powerless I was and how much I depended upon the Lord. I thought about how very fragile life is and that there was a possibility that I would not see my family again.
According to my former church's beliefs, everything is lost when we die.
I struggled with this continually for years until I found the truth and was baptized in 1973. Six years of secondary education had ended. I had completed my training at a police academy, and I was beginning what was to become a promising career with the police department on another island. It was here that I made contact with the members and missionaries of the Church. And it was here that my life changed and it has never been the same since.
My six-year quest regarding the family was finally put to rest. The restored gospel and the priesthood, modern prophets, the Book of Mormon, temples as they relate to the salvation of the family were as pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, which, after years of searching, miraculously came into my possession. It was a period of much learning and growth, a time of refinement and great joy.
After five years of police service, I accepted a call to serve a full-time mission among my people in Fiji. In addition to those I helped rescue were my parents and six siblings. This was the greatest moment for our family in that we can be united both in this life and also in the next. My three younger brothers, Waisea, Joseva and Marika, followed me into the mission field and were successful missionaries.
Following my mission, I married my sweetheart, Irene, and we were sealed for time and eternity in the New Zealand Temple. This was a moment we had both looked forward to.
We returned to the New Zealand Temple a year later with a group of Fijian Saints to perform vicarious works for our departed ancestors. Many other groups have visited the temples of the Lord in increasing numbers. After the dedication of the Nuka'alofa Tonga Temple, more members from Fiji have been able to go there for their temple blessings because it is closer and less demanding financially — until the time we have our temple.
As one who has seen the growth of the Church in Fiji, I can attest to the fact that the growth and the strength of the Church are in direct proportion to the heed and obedience that members place upon their temple and family history responsibilities. Personally, I am indebted to the Lord for the special blessings of the temple. It has enriched my life and that of my family. My parents have both passed on, but we are comforted with the assurance that we will meet them again.
Meli U. Lesuma is country director of the Church Educational System in Fiji.