The scene from the beach just outside Nuku’alofa, Tonga, was beautiful. One at a time, a mother and her daughters — all dressed in white — waded into the ocean to enter the waters of baptism. Full-time missionaries, local members and a Church News reporter looked on.
Watching the family, a local priesthood leader spoke about the woman and the great blessings now available to her and her daughters.
“We have everything we need in Tonga,” he told the Church News reporter.
The reporter looked at the priesthood leader. There were plenty of things she thought they needed in Tonga, including fast food restaurants and big box stores, to name just a few.
The patient priesthood leader repeated himself. “We have everything we need in Tonga,” he said.
It was obvious the reporter didn’t understand, so he elaborated.
“We have missionaries to teach the gospel, we have meetinghouses where people can learn and grow in the Church of Jesus Christ, and we have a temple where they can receive all the blessings of exaltation,” he said.
Looking at the beautiful baptismal scene below, the reporter realized the priesthood leader’s great wisdom.
“The Church continues to grow, as it has since being organized over 179 years ago,” said President Thomas S. Monson in the October 2009 general conference. “It is changing the lives of more and more people every year and is spreading far and wide over the earth as our missionary force seeks out those who are looking for the truths which are found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
To put it another way: More Latter-day Saints than ever before have “everything they need.”
There are now 51,736 missionaries serving in 340 missions throughout the world, according to the 2011 Church Almanac. In addition, the Church has 28,424 wards and branches that gather in meetinghouses across the globe. And temple building continues at a remarkable pace; there are currently 134 dedicated temples, with another 23 announced or under construction.
That number is so remarkable that currently 83 percent of Church members worldwide live within 200 miles (320 km) of a temple, noted President Monson. That means four out of every five Latter-day Saints can travel via ground transportation to a temple in three to four hours. In essence, they can visit a temple and return home on the same day.
“We desire that as many members as possible have an opportunity to attend the temple without having to travel inordinate distances,” President Monson said.
Perhaps the greatest example of temples blessing the lives of members can be found in Central and South America, where the past decade has brought a prolific and ongoing period of temple building (Church News, “Era of Temple Building,” Sept. 11, 2010). At the beginning of 1999, temples were in operation in only six Latin American cities: Sao Paulo, Brazil; Santiago, Chile; Mexico City, Mexico; Guatemala City, Guatemala; Lima, Peru; and Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Today there are 30 dedicated temples in Latin America, with eight more announced or under construction. Twelve temples dot Mexico and a temple is functioning in every Spanish-speaking nation in South America. The Sao Paulo Brazil Temple, opened in 1978, was Latin America’s first temple. Today there are four other temples in Brazil with plans to build others in Fortaleza and Manuas.
Even the island nations of the Caribbean have been blessed. The Church did not exist in the Dominican Republic in the mid-1970s, but today a temple stands in that nation.
President Wilford Woodruff spoke of a meeting in which the Prophet Joseph Smith prophesied of the Church’s growth. The meeting was in “a small house, perhaps 14 feet square. But it held the whole of the Priesthood of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were then in the town of Kirtland, and who had gathered together to go off in Zion’s camp.”
After several of the men had borne their testimonies of the work, the Prophet said: “Brethren I have been very much edified and instructed in your testimonies here tonight, but I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it. … It is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America — it will fill the world” (Lesson 9: “The Only True and Living Church,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual).
The Church has indeed filled the world and continues to grow.
The grand blessings of Church membership were felt by the little family entering the waters of baptism on the beach in the Pacific island nation of Tonga and by those who looked on.
It was a wise priesthood leader who articulated exactly what Church growth meant to the family and other Latter-day Saints in Tonga — that they had the opportunity to hear the gospel, grow in the Church and ultimately receive all the blessings of the temple.
He also taught each of us an important lesson: We should never take for granted the profound, yet simple, blessings of the gospel.
For those of us who have the opportunity to hear the gospel, grow in the Church and attend the temple, we should never forget: We have everything we need.