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Church Historian Visits Island Where the Church Entered French Polynesia

Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. stands on the trail that members built in the 1890s to cross the river in Tubuai, French Polynesia, March 2022. © 2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

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By Mary Richards, Church News

A descendant of one of the first members of the Church in French Polynesia served as a guide this month for LeGrand R. Curtis Jr., a General Authority Seventy and Church historian, and his wife, Sister Jane C. Curtis, as they visited the island of Tubuai.

Papa Titaha Temarohirani, 78, showed Elder and Sister Curtis some of the important sites around the island, reported the Church’s Pacific Newsroom. Those sites included the beach where 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. looks at the name of the old meetinghouse in Mahu, Tubuai, French Polynesia, March 2022. © 2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

Temarohirani and other descendants of the first Church members had a special lunch with the Curtises — a traditional Polynesian meal called ahi ma’a that is cooked in the ground for many hours.

Elder Curtis spoke about how Addison Pratt arrived in 1844.

“They were heading to the Sandwich Islands, but the hand of the Lord brought them here instead,” Elder Curtis said. “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. Several parts of French Polynesia soon had thriving congregations of Saints. But in 1852, government regulations forced Pratt and the others to return to the United States. In 1892, new missionaries returned and were welcomed by the faithful members still there.

The South Pacific is now home to almost 600,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The French Polynesia islands have 96 congregations, 50 Church buildings and a temple.

Pacific Newsroom reported Elder Curtis was moved as he has a personal connection to the islands: His grandfather, Alexander Curtis, served as a missionary from 1896 to 1899 in Tubuai, Tahiti and other Polynesian islands.

“I felt so honored 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.”

Elder Frédéric T. Riemer, left, Sister Jane Curtis and Elder LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. enjoy traditional food on the island of Tubuai, French Polynesia, March 2022. © 2022 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

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