PAPEETE, Tahiti — After addressing a total of 94,510 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; flying 17,844 miles; and calling upon kings, presidents and prime ministers, President Russell M. Nelson completed his nine-day, seven-country Pacific Ministry Tour Friday, May 24, with a warning to local Latter-day Saints.
“There’s trouble ahead,” he said before leaving Tahiti Friday evening. “Prepare for attacks from the adversary. Please protect yourself from Satan’s traps, including harmful drugs and pornography.”
Some 10,000 Tahitian Latter-day Saints filled Stade Pater Stadium here for the devotional and 175th anniversary cultural program honoring the start of missionary work in the Pacific. The events were broadcast to meetinghouses throughout French Polynesia.
As part of the Pacific Ministry Tour, President Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson — traveling with Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Susan Gong — visited Kona, Hawaii; Apia, Samoa; Sydney, Australia; Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand; Suva, Fiji; Nuku’alofa, Tonga; and Papeete, Tahiti.
“We see evidence the Church is really coming out of obscurity here,” said President Nelson. “It is a dominant force for good.”
In a week marked by rainy and cloudy weather — tempered, said President Nelson, by the faith of local Latter-day Saints — the sun emerged Friday in Tahiti. “My feelings are gratitude and love,” said President Nelson
Rain enveloped devotionals held in Samoa, Tonga, and Fiji — slowing or stopping long enough for meetings to be held.
“I think there is tremendous faith here,” said Elder Gong.
“There is great concern and love for each other and the prophet.”
Members came early for meetings, he added. “They came prepared. They had fasted. They had prayed. They had gone to the temple. They wanted to be spiritually ready for what was coming.”
The “dignified Tongan Saints,” for example, weathered a storm while waiting for the devotional, said Sister Gong. “When we start the meetings, the rain slows down or stops, but they were there in the rain for two hours waiting for this to happen, waiting to see the prophet and hear what he had to say to them.”
On a ministering tour marked by visits with government, civic and religious leaders, President Nelson was greeted at the airport in Tahiti by French Polynesia President Edouard Fritch, who also met with President Nelson and attended the cultural celebration and devotional.
Commenting on Tahitian hospitality, President Nelson said President Fritch “was with us from the time our plane touched down until we walked out of the arena.”
President Fritch thanked Church leaders and members “for your tremendous contribution to our country. It’s a pleasure to be side by side with you all.”
Noting the 175th anniversary of the Church in French Polynesia, President Fritch added, “Happy birthday to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Joseph Smith sent missionaries to French Polynesia in 1843. They arrived in 1844 and labored in Tubuai. Even though they left the island four years later, a few faithful members remained. Work progressed; the Book of Mormon was translated into Tahitian in 1904. Another half century later, in 1955, the Church organized a French-speaking branch in Tahiti — the first French-speaking branch in the Church.
“Early, early after the restoration process began, we had our missionaries here,” said Elder Gong.
President Nelson traveled to the French Polynesia in 1994, offering a blessing on the land and the people and celebrating the sesquicentennial of the Church in Tahiti three years before Utah held a similar sesquicentennial celebration in 1997. “So our people should know that the Church was established here in French Polynesia before the pioneers ever got to Utah.”
The 175-year legacy of faith that began on the island of Tubuai continues to bless members today, said both Elder and Sister Haleck during the devotional.
“I hope we will think of the sacrifices made by our earthly ancestors of the Church on our behalf,” Elder Haleck said.
Thousands of youth, young adults and missionaries serving in French Polynesia participated in the cultural celebration — displaying bright and beautiful music and dance and singing Church hymns and Primary songs.
Being near “the prophet is really amazing,” said Heimana Pedron, a third-generation Church member in Tahiti. “I really felt the spirit. I had goose bumps when I sang for him. I am really grateful I get this blessing.”
Speaking during the devotional, Sister Nelson posed a question: “Would you like your life to be better in just 100 days?”
She challenged the members to sacrifice something for family history and temple work. “I invite each one of us for just 100 days to make a sacrifice of time to the Lord by spending a little more time with our ancestors,” she said.
President Nelson recalled his time in the South Pacific, the cherished memories and associations he has there, and said he prayed to know what to say.
Issuing a voice of warning regarding troubled times ahead, President Nelson asked the members to do two things:
- Increase faith in the Lord
- Increase the temporal and spiritual strength of families
Elder Gong said President Nelson accomplished “something magnificent” on the tour. “This has been called a Pacific Ministry Tour. I have been so deeply touched by how the prophet of God ministers to 10,000 people and a single family that is grieving over the loss of their mother. There is a sense of connection, and of covenant belonging together, that makes each one feel as though this is for them individually, for their family, and for large groups — countries — at the same time. That is a remarkable thing to feel and see.”
President Nelson came here to “be with the people in a way that brings the Lord's love, that brings the Lord's doctrine, that brings the Lord's commandments.”
Observing President Nelson is a reminder that Heavenly Father loves all of his children in all the far flung parts of the earth and in all their circumstances— even though “they are not far flung (to the members) and they are not far flung to our Father in Heaven either.”
Throughout the Pacific Ministry Tour, Latter-day Saints lined the streets, met the prophet at the airport and hung banners boldly proclaiming the words, “Welcome Home.”
“Members love the Lord and they love the Lord’s prophet and they want him to feel like he is home, and he does,” said Elder Gong.
President Nelson, who has been traveling to Pacific island nations since 1976, added: “They feel like I am part of the family, and I am.”