A Pioneer’s Journey in Papua New Guinea
Elder Robert Snow and Sister Theone Snow
In the early 1960's Vaiba Rome, a young boy whose family were steadfast members of the London Missionary Society Church in Papua New Guinea, had his first experience with the power of prayer when his heart-felt prayer was answered in a time of great need, as he decided to collect coconuts for the family.
The best coconuts were in the tallest trees and he clambered up to collect both dry and green coconuts. While he was up high a strong wind arose, causing the coconut palm to swing and sway violently. Rome clung on tightly, realising that it would be difficult and dangerous to climb back down. Frightened, he decided to pray to his Heavenly Father for guidance and help. After several minutes of praying a peace came over him and he knew that he would be protected. He safely descended to the ground, and the experience became the beginning of a deep trust in his Heavenly Father.
Thus began Rome's preparation to become one of the pioneers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Papua New Guinea, and an important leader and protector of the faith.
Years after the above event, in 1980, Rome was living with his wife, Mauveri, and three children at the 2 Mile settlement in Port Moresby. Elder Douglas Campbell and his wife, a missionary couple from the USA visited the settlement. This missionary couple had found that the best way to meet the adults was to first become acquainted with the children and as a result, they would often have several children holding their hands, as they all walked through the settlement. Sister Mauveri, like all caring mothers, wanted to know more about these people who had befriended her children, so she started talking to them. This led to both Rome and Mauveri being taught the gospel and, soon after, being baptised members of the Church.
Rome was hungry for knowledge about the Gospel and made a practice of studying the scriptures every night. He found guidance and direction as he read and pondered the Doctrine and Covenants. About four months after his baptism, as he was studying the Bible and reading about Jesus Christ and the atonement and how the people treated the Saviour up to His crucifixion, the sweetest feeling came over him. Rome received a personal witness of the Saviour and His love for him. The experience was so intense that Rome states: “I cried like a little child, feeling the suffering the Saviour had to go through for us. I hid myself from my wife so that she would not see me crying”.
With his testimony burning in his bosom, Rome wanted to share this with his parents, so he returned to their village to tell them about the gospel. Although his parents were active London Mission Society members, they listened to Rome's message and were touched by the Spirit. They were baptised, together with Rome's uncles and auntie, and soon after his three brothers and sister all joined the Church as well.
After their baptisms, there was a change in attitude towards them from the rest of the villagers, who became angry with them and would shout outside Rome's parent's home during sacrament meetings, and throw stones at the building. The persecutions continued, with villagers breaking into the home and smashing cupboards and other possessions. They threatened to shoot Rome and his parents. They placed logs across the road to members from attending meetings. Although some of the early converts succumbed to the persecution and left the Church out of fear, Rome and his immediate and extended family became closely bonded together knowing that they had the precious gift of the restored Gospel which was more precious than life itself.
When Rome joined the Church there were about twenty members attending sacrament meetings at the Red Cross building at 3 Mile, a suburb of Port Moresby. He willingly accepted callings to serve and in 1985, while serving as a teacher in Primary, he was called to serve as the Branch President of the Port Moresby Branch, which began a lifetime of faithful Church service. In 1990 he was called as the District President, following which he became the first Papua New Guinean Stake President in 1999.
Rome has had his testimony strengthened by many spiritual experiences during his years of leadership in the Church. His desire to serve his Heavenly Father has not dimmed or wavered with time. He continues to serve as a Counsellor to the Mission President and has an extremely important role of providing security for the Church. He is the Port Moresby's version of Helaman or Moroni as he protects the members, Church facilities, and all visiting Church leaders who come to Papua New Guinea to help in its growth. Many of these visits are to members who live in very remote places.
Rome has a maintained a strong testimony and often expresses his appreciation for the people with whom he has had the pleasure to associate with over the past thirty years. He has felt their influence through their dedication, sacrifice, and vision, not only for himself and his wife, but for all their children and grandchildren.
The Church has grown rapidly during this time of Rome's membership and service. From the previously mentioned twenty initial members, the Church has grown to include two stakes, twelve districts and one mission in 2011. The membership growth is averaging over 2500 a year as a result of missionary efforts. The opportunity for so many wonderful people in Papua New Guinea to hear the word of God would not have been possible without the strength and courage of pioneers such as Rome and his family.
The wonderful saints of Papua New Guinea have prospered and thrived as they have followed the teachings of the Saviour and many are great examples of the gospel in action in their communities and villages. They are indeed a light unto the people of Papua New Guinea.
(Rome and Mauveri are the parents of eight children: seven daughters and one son. Three daughters, Vami, Renagi and Diane, have served missions in Australia and New Zealand, and Elder Rome Jr. is currently serving a mission in Fiji.)