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For the first time in nearly 30 years, Latter-day Saints from remote island organize temple trip

Members of a Church branch in Niue, a small, remote island country in the South Pacific, traveled 1,500 miles to the New Zealand temple in January

Those familiar with the remote island nation of Niue (pronounced nee-oo-ay) might be surprised to find there are options for attending a Latter-day Saint service there on a Sunday. 

Despite being only roughly 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) and having a total population of around 1,700, the coral atoll is home to two Latter-day Saint branches.

With their far-flung island several hundred miles away from the nearest temple, Church members there experience the blessing of temple worship infrequently, at best. 

This past month, however, a group of Niuean youth and individuals from the Lakepa-Toi Branch were able to travel the 2,484 kilometers, or about 1,500 miles, to the Hamilton New Zealand Temple — the first branch temple trip in 27 years.

“It was great to see so many of our branch members … doing sacred work for those who have passed on,” Branch President Timothy Wilson told the Church’s Pacific Newsroom.

“We felt so close to our Savior Jesus Christ in the temple. It was spiritually uplifting for me, for the members of the branch who have been away from the temple for so long, and for our youth who were experiencing the temple for the first time,” President Wilson said.

A long journey

For being one of the smallest countries, Niue is one of the largest raised coral atolls in the world. Its coastline is made of rugged, steep limestone cliffs, and it is known for its fossilized coral forests, rock pools and isolation.

It rests in a triangle between Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands, with the nearest land mass — Tonga — about 375 miles (604 kilometers) away.

| Church News graphic

As a sign of its isolation, in 2020 Niue became the first country in the world to be named a Dark Sky Place, where the darkness of the night sky is relatively free of interference from artificial light and ideal for stargazing.

Since Tonga is nearest, some might expect Niue’s congregations to be part of the Nuku’alofa Tonga Temple district, but there are no direct flights to Tonga nor Samoa. Niue’s small airport currently services one flight per week offered by Air New Zealand, so travel to anywhere else requires a connection in New Zealand first.

As a result, both the Lakepa-Toi Branch and Alofi Branch in Niue are part of the Hamilton New Zealand Temple district, and affording the airfare is difficult.

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The last temple trip for the branch was in 1996. Prior to January, none of the adult members had attended the temple in 10 years, while none of the youth on the island had ever seen a temple in person.

The January 2023 trip came as a result of much prayer and fasting and effort as individuals and families strived to save and raise funds, reported the Church’s Pacific Newsroom.

One of the branch’s goals for 2022 was for members to obtain a current temple recommend, which all of the youth accomplished.

The group also prepared by participating in family history research and gathering the names of deceased loved ones who needed temple ordinances.

The Jackson family from the island of Niue poses for a photo outside the Hamilton New Zealand Temple after being sealed together as a family in January 2023. | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The miracle of a temple trip

Eleven of the branch’s youth plus several youth leaders and a few other members arrived in New Zealand and were housed and fed by local members. While in Hamilton, they attended church, toured the Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Center and learned of the first missionaries to Niue before participating in three baptismal sessions where they performed the baptisms and confirmations for 120 of their deceased ancestors.

One of the youth leaders was also able to receive his own endowment, and one family was sealed.

The 11 youth also attended a For the Strength of Youth conference in Auckland, New Zealand.

Mereoni, 13, attended with her sister, Karis, and her grandmother, Tapu Pihigia.

“When I walked up to the front of the temple, I felt as if all my troubles and cares disappeared,” Mereoni said. “I felt peace.”

Pihigia added, “My granddaughters have not stopped talking about the trip since they have returned home. We will never forget this trip to the temple.”

President Alan Leuluai, a member of the New Zealand Auckland Mission presidency, also met with the Niuean youth while they were in New Zealand and counseled them to “remember the feelings [they] felt in the temple.”

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