News Release

Walking in the Footsteps of the First Latter-day Saints in French Polynesia

Church Historian visits island where it all began

Nearly 180 years ago, missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in French Polynesia and began the Church’s progress in the Pacific. Today the membership of the Church in the South Pacific is approaching 600,000.

Last week, Church Historian, Elder LeGrand R. Curtis, Jr. and his wife Jane C. Curtis, visited the island of Tubuai where the Church first began in the South Pacific. Tubuai is about 600 kilometres south of Pape’ete.

Elder Curtis recounted the story of Addison Pratt who arrived in 1844.

“They were heading to the Sandwich Islands, but the hand of the Lord brought them here instead. Even though they did not know the language, the people, the culture or the environment, the generous and benevolent people of Tubuai welcomed them and they were able to move forward with teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Many people joined the Church and soon there were thriving congregations in several parts of French Polynesia. However, in 1852, government regulations forced Addison Pratt and the others to return to the United States. In 1892, new missionaries returned and were welcomed by the faithful members still there. Today in French Polynesia, there are 96 congregations, 50 Church buildings and a temple.

Elder and Sister Curtis had an eventful stay in Tubuai. They were greeted by Papa Titaha Temarohirani, 78, one of the direct descendants of the first members of the Church in French Polynesia.

He served as a guide for Elder and Sister Curtis as they visited the island and went to important sites including the beach where the missionaries first landed, the site of the first coconut palm meeting house, the river where the first baptisms were performed and the first chapel building in Mahu.

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. stands on the trail that members built in the 1890s to cross the river. French Polynesia, March 20222022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

A special lunch was organized for them with more of the descendants of the first Church members, who wanted them to experience a traditional Polynesian meal called Ahi ma’a which is cooked in the ground for many hours.

Elder Curtis told the members in Tubuai that those of them who descend from the first converts on the island should be appreciative of those convert ancestors, but they should be welcoming to all of those who have joined the Church over the years, including the most recent converts.

Elder Curtis was very moved as he has a personal connection to these islands: his grandfather, Alexander Curtis, served as a missionary from 1896 to 1899 in Tubuai, Tahiti and other Polynesian islands.

“I felt so honoured to stand where the early converts and missionaries, including my grandfather, stood,” said Elder Curtis. “I am so grateful for his keeping a journal. Because he wrote his story, I can picture him as a young missionary here in Tahiti. I can read about all the things he did and how he grew spiritually. If he hadn’t done that, I would never have known any of that and the love he had for the Polynesian people.”

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