PORT VILA, Vanuatu — In June 2000, on the 10th anniversary of their marriage, Katimal and Mariella Kaun, and their daughters, Raizza and Leizan, were sealed in the Fiji Suva Temple.
The Kauns are examples of the many families in this archipelago nation who have been strengthened by the Church, and now strengthen the Church. Once known as New Hebrides, Vanuatu, with about 2,000 members, dots the west South Pacific about two-thirds of the way between Hawaii and Australia.
The Kauns' joyous sealing event contrasted sharply to a marriage that only a few years earlier, before they joined the Church, was all but over. Brother and Sister Kaun, anchors for the Church in Port Vila, said gospel principles saved their marriage. At that time, the prospect of their daughters being reared by both loving parents was remote.
"My concern was for the two little girls we had," explained Katimal Kaun, a college-educated administrator for UNICEF.
He said that after four years of marriage, "Love was not there any more. We were faithful, but we had no more feelings for each other. I prayed to Heavenly Father to find a way that these little girls could be taken care of. But I did not expect we would come together again."
He experienced a sense of peace through prayer, and knew there must be a way, somewhere. Two months later, his younger brother who had joined the Church brought in missionaries "to help us understand marriage, eternal marriage."
As the missionaries taught, she sat alone on one side of the room, he alone on the other side. After the lesson, the missionaries "spent three hours answering questions."
Couple missionaries met with them to help resolve their differences, and they were given a manual, "Achieving a Celestial Marriage."
"I just knew there would be a marvelous change take place," he said. "After the fourth or fifth lesson, we were sitting together again."
They were baptized on the same day, March 7, 1997, and "we both began to strive to keep the covenants we made during baptism," he said. Within a few months, he was serving in the branch presidency, then as branch president, then as district president's counselor. He is now president of the Port Vila 1st Branch. Sister Kaun, a business owner, is director of public affairs for the Church in Vanuatu.
The Kauns, said President Paul G. Hilliman of the Port Vila Vanuatu District, are among a select group of about a fourth of the 2,000 members in the district who have gone to the temple.
"Going to the temple in Hamilton (New Zealand) or Fiji is expensive," he said. "But the more they go to the temple, the more it changes them. (Members) come to realize that the temple is an important place."
He said a trip to New Zealand costs about 70,000 vatu, or U.S. $500; to Fiji 54,000 vatu or $385; this in a country where a typical monthly income is 8,400 vatu or $60.
"The cost of living is high while wages are low," he said. "A family really has to sacrifice to go to the temple." He said groups are beginning to make temple trips. Still, "some have very low wages and they sacrifice everything at home" to make the trip.
About a year ago some of the pioneer members made the trip and were sealed in the Suva Fiji Temple. They had been saving for several years and they were grateful for the privilege of going to the temple.
Among them were pioneer members Lina and Joel Busai, who had been three years earlier. "They were very happy to go to the temple; they were just crying," he said. Sister Lina Busai died last September.
Another challenge for members is to understand the programs of the Church, he said. The ni-Vanuatu, as citizens here are called, members enjoy teaching, but when they receive a calling, they consider it a career and don't like to be released.
"I have seen progress in the past two years," he said.
Teaching them to pay tithing is high on his priorities. He appreciated the visit of President Gordon B. Hinckley in June of 2003. "His message about tithing lifted us. We see big progress in tithing. People have improved so much. Our goal is to become a stake," he said. "One important thing is for all the saints to be working together and we are very unified, ready to work."
He joined the Church in 1981 and within two weeks the young accountant became branch clerk. He and his wife, May, are the parents of eight children. The oldest served in the California Fresno Mission and was married in the temple in New Zealand. Another is preparing to serve a mission.
But it is not just his children who are missionary minded. As a seminary teacher, he is pleased with the progress of seminary students. He said he has seen many of his students serve missions and go on to university study.
Among his students was Fred Massing, the first missionary from Vanuatu. Now serving as district clerk, Brother Massing was baptized in 1983. When he proposed a mission to them, his parents were opposed. They thought he would join the white people and never come back. He promised to return and his parents relented.
As his service began, the government banned all foreign missionaries so Elder Massing and his companion, Elder Timothy Proveau, were companions in their homeland for 24 months. During that time they baptized some 40 people, including the family members who had opposed their mission.
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