Almost four decades ago, President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke to a worldwide general conference audience about participating in dedications of temples in Samoa and Tonga weeks earlier.
The joy resulting from those historic experiences among “the wonderful Saints of Polynesia” was evident in his voice.
“Through ancient prophets the Lord promised that in the latter days he would remember his people upon the isles of the sea,” he said. “We have witnessed a marvelous fulfillment of these promises where today, among these loving and gracious people, we have scores of congregations, strong and flourishing schools to bless them with the benefits of education, and now beautiful temples of the Lord in which they may receive blessings to be found nowhere else.”
President Hinckley’s awareness of God’s hand in the South Pacific in 1983 is consistent with seers throughout time.
Millennia ago, the ancient prophet Nephi recorded these divine words: “Know ye not that I, the Lord your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea … . And I bring forth my word unto the children of men, yea, even upon all the nations of the earth?” (2 Nephi 29:7).
And just weeks ago, small gatherings scattered across distant Kiribati and Vanuatu rejoiced and wept when a latter-day prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, announced plans to build temples on their small island nations.
“These members are amongst the most temple-isolated in the world, and that means for most they attend the temple just once in their lives,” wrote Elder Ian S. Ardern, a General Authority Seventy who presides over the Pacific Area. “To become regular temple attendees is a blessing many have prayed for over many years — so little wonder there was a silent ‘cheer of delight’ on hearing the announcement from President Nelson.
“As strong as they are in their testimonies, they will become even stronger through their regular temple attendance.”
When President Hinckley spoke at that 1983 general conference, the Saints of Polynesia were witnessing history. For the first time in Church history, two temples were dedicated within a week’s time: the Apia Samoa Temple on Aug. 5 and the Nuku’alofa Tonga Temple on Aug. 9.
Now consider what’s happening “upon the isles of the sea” in 2020.
Temples are under construction in Yigo, Guam, and the Filipino communities of Manila and Urdaneta. Meanwhile, plans have been announced to build temples in three additional Philippines regions — Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro and Davao — along with Neiafu, Tonga; Pago Pago, American Samoa; and Papua New Guinea.
Unlike temples built in recent years in major destination cities such as, say, Rome or Philadelphia, the future temples in the small Pacific island nations will be patronized almost exclusively by local residents.
No matter. For the Lord’s people of the isles, they know they are remembered. Prophecies are being realized.
“Our hearts were full of joy and excitement up to a point that almost all who heard [the temple announcements] had tears and thankfulness of heart,” said Tarawa Kiribati East Stake President Banririe Benati Nenebwati.
“I know that the Lord is mindful of His people in the isles of the sea and the revelation to erect His holy house in our country affirms that the will of the Lord, which has been prophesied in the holy scriptures, will soon be fulfilled once we literally see the temple being erected on our beautiful shores.”
The temple enthusiasm in President Nenebwati’s island nation is being felt beyond the Latter-day Saints.
“Now there are many people who are now investigating the Church and wish to be taught of the blessings of the temple and are seeking to be part of it,” he said. “The Lord is truly hastening his work in the gathering of Israel in my beautiful nation of Kiribati.”
Adolf J. Johannson was recently released as an Area Seventy. In his duties, he presided over many regions of the South Pacific. He knows well the struggles that most the members living on the islands must endure to travel to temples in other countries dotted across that vast area of the globe.
“The temples in Kiribati and Vanuatu will stand as beacons and a realization of the fullness of the gospel in these island nations,” Johannson told the Church News. “The members will not have to travel such a long way to Fiji or the nearest temple… This is a blessing that is being realized because of the faithfulness of the members. Not only the members of today, but those who had come before.”
Vanuatu Port Vila Mission President J. Benoit Duquette treasures an email he received from a district president serving in a remote area of the country:
“We thank our Heavenly Father for the great and wonderful blessing of having a temple here in Vanuatu. This is a great opportunity for the children of God in this small nation to prepare to meet Him and be with Him again. … The Lord is using His prophets to meet the needs and realize the destiny of His children.”
Vanuatu native Nia Lani calls plans to build a temple in her country “a tender mercy.”
“The people of Vanuatu have been longing to have a temple, and this an answer to our prayers,” she said. “The sacrifices that the members have [made] together to get this far is a great blessing and [the temple] will be a blessing to generations yet to come.”
President Adney Reid of the Pago Pago American Samoa West Stake added the members of his congregation and across the Pacific are proven “temple people.” For decades, many have seized opportunities to travel to the temple, often at great personal cost.
Now a temple will one day be a short drive for him and his fellow Pago Pago Latter-day Saints.
“The Lord has seen the faithfulness of His children in the Pacific,” said President Reid, “and the sacrifices they are willing to make to get to the temple.”