How members in the Pacific helped Elder Soares feel ‘closer to the Savior’

Elder Soares taught, interacted and worshipped with congregations in Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji March 10-19

After traveling to four countries in the Pacific Area earlier this month, one of the things Elder Ulisses Soares said he will never forget is the singing. 

Having taught, interacted and worshipped with congregations in Australia, New Zealand, Tonga and Fiji, the member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said he was repeatedly touched listening to Latter-day Saints express their love for the Lord through song. “It was amazing,” he told the Church News.

Each congregation “sang with heart,” agreed Elder Patrick Kearon of the Presidency of the Seventy, who accompanied Elder Soares. “They sang with such energy, and that in itself is uplifting. That brings joy to the singer and those who might hear.”

The way that Church members and leaders sang — with enthusiasm, harmony and joy — was symbolic of their other behaviors and interactions, Elder Kearon said. “It was just wonderful to feel the tangible, visible joy of the members who are living so faithfully.”

Youth and children from the Liahona stake perform the Tongan traditional dance Laakalaka to the hymn “Joseph Smith’s First Vision” for Elder Ulisses Soares and Sister Rosana Soares at Liahona High School on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Connecting with the members, seeing their faith and their love, helped Elder Soares feel “closer to the Savior,” he said. “It was a marvelous experience in every way.”

Throughout his ministry March 10-19, Elder Soares was joined by his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, as well as members of the Pacific Area presidency and their wives at various times: Elder K. Brett Nattress and Sister Shawna Nattress, Elder Peter Meurs and Sister Maxine Meurs, and Elder Taniela Wakolo and Sister Anita Wakolo. Sister Jennifer Kearon also traveled with her husband, Elder Kearon.

Sydney, Australia

Elder Soares began in Sydney, Australia, which he also had visited last May. “I feel like I am at home, among friends,” Elder Soares said last year of his time in Australia

Following this latest trip, he described the harbor-front city as filled with energy and life and the Church there as well-established with fourth- and fifth-generation Latter-day Saints. “You can see the strength of the generations of leaders who are remaining in the country and helping to establish the Lord’s kingdom in that beautiful part of the world and blessing the lives of the generations that are coming,” Elder Soares noted.

Elder Ulisses Soares greets young people at a devotional in Sydney, Australia, on March 10, 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

While in Sydney, the Apostle conducted leadership instruction and devotionals for both youth and young single adults. Elder Robert Simpson, an Area Seventy, also participated.

“Our goal was to help them to connect to the Savior and recognize the beauty that the gospel brings into their lives,” Elder Soares told the Church News.

One young attendee, Shylla Ofanoa, told the Church’s Pacific Newsroom, “Hearing the words of Elder and Sister Soares, Elder and Sister Nattress, and Elder and Sister Simpson showed me the importance of aligning myself with Christ and my role as a young adult to stand witness of the gospel and its truths always.”

Auckland, New Zealand

Elder K. Brett Nattress and his wife, Sister Shawna Nattress, greet members during a sacrament meeting in the Sunset Road meetinghouse on Auckland’s North Shore in New Zealand on Sunday, March 12, 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Aetearoa, the Maori name for New Zealand, also has strong fifth- and sixth-generation members of the Church. “I was really impressed by the deep strength we found in those countries,” Elder Soares said. “They are full of good, wonderful people.”

On Sunday, March 12, the Soareses with the Meurses and the Kearons with the Nattresses attended separate sacrament meetings with local members in Auckland.

Elder and Sister Soares focused their teachings on the importance of renewing their covenants with the Lord through weekly partaking of the sacrament. “When we honor our covenants with the Lord we can experience even more abundantly the guidance of the Holy Ghost to help us lead our life to the Savior,” Elder Soares said.  

Church member Kim Jonilaye Thomson attended the sacrament meeting with Elder Kearon. After having seven strokes, she has difficulty getting dressed, so she woke at 4 a.m. to make sure she could arrive at the meetinghouse by 9 a.m. 

Elder Patrick Kearon greets members during a sacrament meeting in the Sunset Road meetinghouse on Auckland’s North Shore in New Zealand on Sunday, March 12, 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Thomson told the Church’s Pacific Newsroom she felt especially blessed that she was greeted personally by both Elder Kearon and Elder Nattress. She said she felt her burdens lifted by the joy and the Spirit she felt during the worship service.

Another congregant, Jennifer Larsen, said, “The reminder that Jesus is our healer is just what I needed to hear today.”

Twin sisters, Emily and Elise Cuff, 15, spoke with emotion about the meeting. “I had a really tough week, and I felt spiritually down,” Emily said. “Being here today made my testimony stronger, and I feel like my relationship with my Savior is back on track. I felt the Spirit so strongly today.”


In preparation for Elder Soares’ arrival to the island nation on Tuesday, March 14, Tongan Church members gathered to clean up the main road. Wearing yellow Helping Hands vests and wielding rakes, the group gathered trash and debris.

Elder and Sister Soares’ flight was delayed several times and didn’t arrive until after 9 p.m. As the Church leaders drove along the main road on their way to the Church’s Liahona High School campus, they passed several Latter-day Saint meetinghouses — a sign of the growth of the Church there — and outside each were Latter-day Saints waving and holding signs with words of welcome. 

Then when they arrived at Liahona High, some Relief Society sisters presented a traditional Tongan dance. “That is an expression of their love for the Lord,” Elder Soares said. “We felt so welcomed.”

While in Tonga, Elder Soares participated in youth and young adult devotionals and met with missionaries and local Church leaders. In every meeting, Elder Soares said, he was struck by how reverent and attentive the members were. 

Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks to young adults during a devotional in Tonga on March 15, 2023.

“The members here understood a representative of the Lord had come to Tonga,” the president of the Nuku’alofa Tonga Stake, President Tevita Hikila, told the Church News. 

Elder Soares’ visit marked the first time an Apostle had come to Tonga since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when the nation closed its borders. “I am sure he blessed this nation,” President Hikila said.

Another highlight of the trip was meeting with the Tongan Prime Minister Hu’akavemeiliku Siaosi Sovaleni in his offices in the capital city of Nuku’alofa, Elder Soares said.

“We could see how much goodness that man has in his heart.” The two discussed collaboration in humanitarian work and education. “He is very interested in developing the future generation,” Elder Soares said.

Elder Ulisses Soares presents a gift from the Church of a statue of a family to Tonga Prime Minister Hu’akavemeiliku Siaosi Sovaleni
Elder Ulisses Soares presents a gift from the Church of a statue of a family to Tonga’s Honorable Prime Minister Hu’akavemeiliku Siaosi Sovaleni following a meeting held at the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday, March 16, 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
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On March 16, Elder and Sister Soares and Elder and Sister Kearon traveled to Fiji, where they conducted devotionals with youth and young adults and with local Church leaders from Fiji and other Pacific islands.

During the youth devotional, Elder Soares and Elder Kearon answered questions submitted in advance. From their “deep, interesting” questions, Elder Soares said he was able to see where their hearts are. “[The youth] want to be close to the Savior. They want to overcome the adversities of our day, and they want to do what is right.”

He added, “It was a very, very sweet experience to visit with the youth.”

Elder Ulisses Soares and Sister Rosana Soares and Elder Patrick Kearon and Sister Jennifer Kearon watch a cultural performance from youth at the Liahona High School in Tonga, on March 16, 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

President Adrian Yee, president of the Lautoka Fiji Stake, noted what a blessing it was for the Fijian youth and young adults to participate in the devotionals. “His message of connecting with the Savior was appropriate to face the very challenges of today.”

Elder Soares’ counsel in the meeting with local leaders to be joyful was “a great reminder,” President Yee continued. Following the Church leaders’ visit, President Yee extended the Apostle’s invitation during stake conference the next weekend. “We need strong covenant people who live the gospel, people who can be strengthened through adversity and people who can overcome temptation,” President Yee said. “What a blessing to be guided by an Apostle of the Lord right here in our home of Fiji.”

With the leadership meetings conducted in each country, Elder Soares was able to meet with every stake president in the Pacific Area. Not one was missing.

“I could see the strength of this area through the leadership that we met,” Elder Soares said. 

Based on members’ and leaders’ questions, based on their faith and the Spirit the visiting leaders felt, Elder Soares said, “I can see a brilliant future of the Church in these nations. I hope I can go back someday to see how the gospel continues to bless the lives of all these great people in the Pacific Islands.”

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