Sarah Jane Weaver: What the construction of temples in 2020 teaches about hope

In May 2000, armed rebels took a group of government leaders hostage in Fiji.

In the days that followed, businesses in the Pacific island nation were looted and significant parts of downtown Suva burned. The military declared martial law. Rebels held the deposed prime minister and other members of parliament hostage.

Still on June 18, 2000, just days shy of his 90th birthday, President Gordon B. Hinckley flew to Fiji for a three-and-a-half-hour stop. He made his way to the temple with what others in his traveling party would later describe as a “courageous willingness.”

Elder Quentin L. Cook, then president of the Pacific Islands Area who accompanied President Hinckley, called the dedication — the only one since the original Nauvoo Temple that has been held in such private and difficult circumstances — “simple and spiritual.”

Elder Taniela B. Wakolo, a General Authority Seventy, would later say that Latter-day Saints in Fiji immediately felt the influence of the temple. “We started to see the blessing to the land” immediately following the dedication, he said. It was “a significant sign that God loves Fiji and all its people.”

As did the Saints in Fiji in 2000, Latter-day Saints today — another time of difficulty — can find great hope in our temples.

Amid this challenging time when the COVID-19 pandemic has limited temple worship, the Church broke ground for 21 new temples. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in a recent Church News interview that even as the Church is gradually reopening the temples, “temple construction has not stopped. …

“Obviously there were some construction disruptions because of the pandemic, but relatively few of the temples are behind schedule. I find that to be miraculous. All over the world the construction of temples has moved forward in a remarkable way.

“So, yes, there have been some real challenges,” concluded Elder Bednar, “but ‘no unhallowed hand can stop this work from progressing.’”

Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé recently shared a similar sentiment with the Church News.

“Although the doors of most of our temples have been closed for almost a year, the Church is building more new temples than ever before,” he wrote. “This paradox fills me with great hope and joy!

“As a Presiding Bishopric, we are currently leading 63 temple construction projects and 8 renovation projects across the world. This may feel overwhelming at times. Our teams need to find adequate sites, draw architectural plans, build temples, then keep them in good condition—and this may be done anywhere in the world, even in the most remote or sensitive places.

“Fortunately, in recent years quality and pace of construction have been greatly improved thanks to seasoned and highly-consecrated teams (they are truly my heroes!), the use of standard plans, and enhanced purchasing and construction techniques.

“I bear witness that the hand of the Lord is guiding each of these projects. Whether small or large, simple or elaborate, each of these sacred buildings is ‘the House of the Lord’ — a place of peace and revelation where we may draw closer to God and feel of His presence.”

The Suva Fiji Temple, seen as Tropical Cyclone Winston hits the the island nation on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016.
The Suva Fiji Temple, seen as Tropical Cyclone Winston hits the the island nation on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016. Credit: Sarah Jane Weaver

On Feb. 21, 2016, just one day before the scheduled rededication of the Suva Fiji Temple, Cyclone Winston struck the Pacific island nation.

The powerful Category 5 storm knocked out power, and destroyed entire villages as it made landfall along the north coast of Fiji’s largest, most populous island, Viti Levu.

Government curfews, power outages and downed trees on roads prevented many Fijian Church members — who could not participate in the first dedication because of political unrest — from participating in the scheduled temple rededication.

Still, as President Hinckley did years earlier, President Henry B. Eyring, then first counselor in the First Presidency, weathered the storm with Fijian Latter-day Saints with courageous willingness and offered a dedicatory prayer on the temple and the people of Fiji.

In similar fashion, large numbers of members throughout the world could not participate in the 21 groundbreakings held in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, with those events and the promise of a temple, hope spread.

Elder Adolf J. Johansson, an Area Seventy in Fiji, said as Cyclone Winston approached Fiji in 2016, he felt a “peaceful calm, a spiritual feeling that everything would work out OK and that the sun would shine” on Fiji. As strong winds raced across the nation, “you could feel the tension in the air,” he said. But the members were not afraid. “Peace defined this whole experience.”

Elder Johansson said it was important to the Latter-day Saints in the temple district that the rededication go on in spite of the storm — just as temple construction continues worldwide now, in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. “You cannot stop the work of the Lord,” Elder Johansson said. “You cannot.”