Elder Oaks Optimistic about Church’s Growth in South Pacific
By Gerry Avant, Church News editor
When Elder Dallin H. Oaks traveled to the South Pacific April 16–29, he not only engaged in an apostolic ministry but also reviewed part of his family history.
The first stop on Elder Oaks’s itinerary was Samoa, which was Western Samoa when one of his great-grandfathers, Abinadi Olsen of Castle Dale, Utah, served there as a missionary from about 1895 to 1898. Elder Oaks undoubtedly met and spoke with some descendants of people his grandfather taught and baptized.
“His oldest child was my maternal grandmother,” Elder Oaks said during an interview by James Dalrymple for a segment in a Church-produced video series about the ministry of the Quorum of the Twelve.
“She told her grandchildren many stories of Grandpa Olsen’s missionary service in Samoa. When I was first privileged to come here in February of 1972, 41 years ago, it was a special thrill for me to see this country and this people.”
Joining Elder Oaks on his assignment to the South Pacific were Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Presidency of the Seventy, Bishop Gérald J. Caussé of the Presiding Bishopric, and members of the Pacific Area Presidency, each of whom is a member of the Seventy: Elder James J. Hamula, President; Elder Kevin W. Pearson, First Counselor; and Elder F. Michael Watson, Second Counselor.
The Brethren were accompanied by their wives: Sister Kristen Oaks, Sister Melanie Rasband, Sister Valerie Caussé, Sister Joyce Hamula, Sister June Pearson, and Sister Jolene Watson. They joined in addressing meetings, including special meetings for the leaders of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary.
Traveling in two different groups, their itineraries included visits and meetings in Samoa; Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand; Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, and Sydney, Australia; and Papua New Guinea. The General Authorities conducted and addressed priesthood leadership training meetings; spoke in stake conferences; met with and addressed missionaries, young single adults, and youth; and attended a program of song and dance held at the Church school in Pesega, Samoa.
One of the main purposes for Elder Oaks, Elder Rasband, and Bishop Caussé to travel was to conduct an area review at the area offices in Auckland.
“The Pacific Area is a remarkably diverse area, Elder Oaks said.
“It is composed of really three different types of Church units. There is the advanced Western Church that you have in New Zealand and Australia, for example. There is the rapidly advancing and modernizing Church in places like Samoa and Tonga. And then there is the emerging version of the Church in a place like Papua New Guinea.
“This Area Presidency has to preside over three different types of Church units. The way they use the Area Seventies and the way they administer and teach the programs of the Church have to be different in each of those three different types. That’s quite a different challenge than being in an Area Presidency in a place like Mexico where it is one nation, one culture, one language, and really one teaching method. I’ve come to appreciate in this visit the complexity of the responsibility that this Area Presidency has.”
Reflecting on his travels, Elder Oaks commented on the faithfulness of the members and the high quality of Church leadership.
“The overall impression I have as I look back on 13 days in the Pacific Area, including visits to Samoa, New Zealand, and Australia, is to reaffirm in my mind that the strength of the Church is not Church headquarters; it’s out among the people. I have seen thousands of strong Latter-day Saints keeping the commandments, making the sacrifices necessary to send sons and daughters on missions and to serve missions themselves, paying their tithing, and fulfilling the responsibilities of their Church callings.
“The Church is strong and getting stronger in the Pacific Area. We have a distance to go, especially as we expand the message of the restored gospel into areas like Papua New Guinea or Vanuatu and Kiribati, but we are strong and getting stronger, and we are growing from our centers of strength and going forward. My attitude is profoundly optimistic about the future of the Church and its capacity to bless the Saints in the Pacific Area.”