What Muslims and Latter-day Saints in the Pacific taught Sister Eubank and Sister Craven about ministering

In Fiji, the word “Bula” — meaning “life” — is often used as a greeting to express one’s wishes for another’s good health and quality of life. The phrase “Ni sa bula vinaka” translates to “wishing you good health and happiness,” explained Sister Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, after returning from an October visit to the Pacific Area of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Wanting to emphasize the importance of ministering in “a higher and holier way,” as President Russell M. Nelson has recently called upon members to do, Sister Eubank and Sister Becky Craven, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, took it upon themselves to modify the traditional greeting a bit while meeting with members in Fiji.

“We talked about how ministering is more than just being a friend,” Sister Eubank said. “It’s not just wishing people life and smiling at them — it’s helping them along the path to eternal life.” 

With that in mind, Sister Eubank said they changed the phrase to say, “Ni sa bula tawamudu,” or “wishing you eternal life.”

Sister Sharon Eubank greets members from the Port Moresby Papua New Guinea Stake and the Gerehu and Rigo districts in Papua New Guinea during a visit to the Pacific Area in October 2019.
Sister Sharon Eubank greets members from the Port Moresby Papua New Guinea Stake and the Gerehu and Rigo districts in Papua New Guinea during a visit to the Pacific Area in October 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

The modified greeting is a reminder of the responsibility members have, as ministering brothers and sisters, to help one another “progress to find eternal life.” That’s what ministering looks like in a practical sense, Sister Eubank explained. It’s about finding what people need to progress on the covenant path and then helping them meet those needs.

During their time in the Pacific, the women leaders made stops in Brisbane, Australia; Papua New Guinea; New Zealand and Fiji from Oct. 19 – 27.  In each country they visited, Sister Eubank and Sister Craven said they were impressed by the urgency with which the Saints are working to help gather Israel through temple work and service to one another. Throughout their travels, the women leaders were accompanied by Sister Craven’s husband, Brother Ron Craven, as well as members of the Pacific Area presidency and Area Seventies.

“The people of the Pacific have a long, healthy tradition of membership in the Church,” Sister Eubank said. “But this is the time when the temples are coming to them … and it’s really a fulfillment of the gathering of the isles of the sea and prophecies from the Book of Mormon.”

Sister Craven added: “They are feeling the gathering happen and they are excited to be part of it. They feel a real sense of urgency to do their part in the gathering.”

Preparing for the temple

In Papua New Guinea, the women leaders’ visit was dominated by preparation for the temple that was announced by President Russell M. Nelson during October general conference.

“The members there felt very emotional that the Lord has chosen them to have a temple and they want to be worthy of it,” Sister Eubank said. The people recognize the need to prepare to serve as temple workers and are gathering family names and records to prepare for the time when they can perform the ordinances, she noted. 

Sister Becky Craven, center right, poses with a group of women following a devotional in Fiji. Sister Craven visited Fiji with Sister Sharon Eubank during a trip to the Pacific Area in October 2019.
Sister Becky Craven, center right, poses with a group of women following a devotional in Fiji. Sister Craven visited Fiji with Sister Sharon Eubank during a trip to the Pacific Area in October 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Sister Craven added that others they met with are working to encourage family members and friends who have become less active to start coming back to Church and preparing for the temple. They understand that the temple will not only bless their families, but their country as well, Sister Craven said.

Saints in the Pacific help each other, reaching out and across their familial boundaries, Sister Craven explained. 

“They really are a community of Saints, literally brothers and sisters, whether they’re related or not,” she said. “I felt that everywhere we went in the Pacific. They really do look out for each other and they really love each other.”

And that love carries beyond the borders of the Pacific, Sister Craven said, noting how welcomed she and Sister Eubank felt by the Saints and how often the Saints expressed their love for the prophet and Church leaders around the world.

Sister Becky Craven visits with a group of young women in Fiji during a trip to the Pacific Area in October 2019.
Sister Becky Craven visits with a group of young women in Fiji during a trip to the Pacific Area in October 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Speaking of the power of having the women leaders visit the Pacific and Fiji in particular, Elder Kazuhiko Yamashita of the Pacific Area presidency said, “I learned and confirmed again that sisters are so important to move forward our sacred work of salvation. As President Nelson said, we can’t gather of Israel without sisters. Priesthood leaders should utilize those wonderful sisters more effectively.”

Together, the women leaders emphasized the Principles of Gospel Leadership by focusing on three key principles of participating in councils, ministering to others and teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, Elder Yamashita said. 

“They asked many questions, but also they were listening to sisters’ voices with love,” he said. “I was so impressed by their attitude … It was a great example.”

A willingness to follow the prophet

Sharing some examples of how members in the Pacific are following the counsel of the prophet and Church leaders, Sister Eubank and Sister Craven spoke of two similar experiences they had in visiting with members in their homes in Christchurch, New Zealand. 

In one of the homes Sister Eubank visited, the family had a large blackboard in their living room on which was written their “Come, Follow Me” lesson for the day.

Impressed by the prominence of the board and the dedication to the “Come, Follow Me” lessons as a central part of the family’s daily life, Sister Eubank asked who in the family had made the lessons a priority. She said she was surprised to learn that the grandmother and the youngest of four boys in the family were the ones planning and implementing the family lessons each week.

Sister Becky Craven, center, and her husband, Brother Ron Craven, second left, pose with a Latter-day Saint family in Christchurch, New Zealand, during a ministering visit to the family's home during Sister Craven's trip to the Pacific Area in October 2019.
Sister Becky Craven, center, and her husband, Brother Ron Craven, second left, pose with a Latter-day Saint family in Christchurch, New Zealand, during a ministering visit to the family’s home during Sister Craven’s trip to the Pacific Area in October 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

It was a wonderful moment to see the excitement of that grandmother and grandson working together to bring the family closer to each other and to God, Sister Eubank said. 

Similarly, Sister Craven visited a home where four youth in the family were proud to show her the new sticky notes board they had put together in their laundry room. Together, the youth had created a board listing the four areas of growth that the new Children and Youth program will focus on as well as personal goals for each of the children under those four areas. 

“They weren’t waiting for further instruction,” said Sister Craven, noting the excitement of the youth to follow the direction of the prophet. “They heard what the prophet and President (M. Russell) Ballard said and they were just going to go for it. Walking into that home, there was no question that they were following the Savior. They were doing whatever it took to follow with the prophet and were trying to implement everything they heard in general conference. It was really quite a sweet experience.”

Ministering beyond borders of faith

During their visit to Christchurch, New Zealand, Sister Eubank and Sister Craven had the opportunity to visit Al Noor Mosque — one of the two mosques affected by the March 15 terrorist attacks in Christchurch

Facilitating their visit was Dr. Hafsa Ahmed, the founder of the Lady Khadija Charitable Trust, an organization that serves Muslim communities in Christchurch. Ahmed has been working with Sister Noeline Odgers, public affairs director for the Church of Jesus Christ in Christchurch, to help build more positive interfaith relationships in their community.

Following the visit of Sister Eubank and Sister Craven to Al Noor Mosquee, Ahmed shared her gratitude for their visit and the continuing relationships between the Church and the Muslim communities in Christchurch.

“It was an absolute delight and honor to meet both Sister Eubank and Sister Craven,” Ahmed told the Church News in an email. “Their visit was so important towards building stronger relationships between both the faiths and identifying more opportunities for collaboration. The visit to the mosque to offer their condolences was really appreciated.” 

From left, Sister Sharon Eubank, Dr. Hafsa Ahmed, Sister Becky Craven and Sister Noeline Odgers pose for a photo together after touring through the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in October 2019.
From left, Sister Sharon Eubank, Dr. Hafsa Ahmed, Sister Becky Craven and Sister Noeline Odgers pose for a photo together after touring through the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, in October 2019. Credit: Lincoln Reid

Although Ahmed is a member of a neighboring mosque in Christchurch, Sister Eubank explained that Ahmed has been working closely with the mosques affected by the March 15 attacks to respond to the needs of the families affected by the attacks.

The “Boxes of Love” project, which organized food goods for families following the attacks was one of the first projects Ahmed and Odgers worked together on. Since that time, they have continued to develop an interfaith alliance to benefit their community. 

“Hafsa and I are different in age, culture, life experience and religious beliefs,” Odgers said. But such differences are both compatible and complementary, and when brought together they create great ministering experiences, vision and strength.

As Odgers explained it, she and Ahmed have one important thing in common: God comes first in their lives and they are are striving to love their neighbors as He does. 

“I believe that God has placed her in my life so we could minister, as we have to our Muslim community,” Odgers said. Together, they are working to break down barriers of diversity, looking for common ground and using those commonalities to enrich rather than destroy. 

“It is important for these collaborations across faiths to occur as we stand at a time in humanity where hate is becoming prevalent,” Ahmed said. “By strengthening our relationships towards the common goal of spreading peace and love we become part of the solution. The key is to work at all levels and interfaith collaboration provides us with a perfect platform to do this by sharing brotherhood and sisterhood.”

For Sister Eubank and Sister Craven, their experience visiting the mosque was equally important for understanding and strengthening the bonds between the two faiths.  

To stand in the rooms of the mosque where people gave their lives for their faith was a sacred experience, Sister Craven said. 

“You could feel the love of God and you could feel a sense of peace,” she said. “For me, there was a real sense of honor to have been allowed to be in those rooms. You can feel that it’s a holy place. They worship God there and you could feel their testimonies of God.”

After being greeted by a group of women at the doors of the mosque prior to touring through, Sister Eubank said she was impressed by the time and care that the women took to learn about the commonalities of faith between Muslims and members of the Church of Jesus Christ.

“They had done a lot of research about us,” Sister Eubank said. “One of the women that received us said: ‘As Latter-day Saints, you believe in modesty, you don’t drink alcohol, you give your tithes and you fast regularly. She listed all of these things that that Latter-day Saints and people of Islam have in common and I really appreciated that. She was looking for common ground with us.”

Sister Sharon Eubank greets a member in Papua New Guinea during a visit to the Pacific Area in October 2019.
Sister Sharon Eubank greets a member in Papua New Guinea during a visit to the Pacific Area in October 2019. Credit: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

And after having the chance to observe the developing friendship of Ahmed and Odgers during her visit to the mosque, Sister Eubank commented on how powerful the commonalities and friendships of women can be.

“I was really struck watching the two of them,” Sister Eubank said, “and I wondered how many problems get solved in the world because of the friendship of two women. Two women that are very different and come from different backgrounds, but they connect and develop their own friendship and it solves problems.”

When women realize that there are others like them, living in different circumstances, but worrying about the same things, they can find strength in one another, Sister Craven added, and that’s powerful.