Area Presidency Attends Second-Chance Cultural Celebration following Fiji Cyclone

Contributed By Sarah Jane Weaver, Church News associate editor

  • 22 February 2016

Latter-day Saint teens perform at the Church College of Fiji on Monday, February 22.  Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

“They have painted their faces, put on their costumes. A category 5 windstorm didn’t move their faith.” —Solomoni Kaumaitotoya, president of the Lautoka Fiji Stake

SUVA, FIJI

Among all the cultural celebrations held in conjunction with temple dedications throughout the world over the past few decades, the youth in Fiji are the only ones who have performed on the eve of a temple dedication and on the day after the sacred event.

As the winds and rains of Cyclone Winston intensified here February 20, Church leaders made the difficult decision to put an early end to the Suva Fiji Temple youth cultural celebration held in the Vodafone Arena.

The necessary decision, made for the safety of the participants, came as the Fijian government implemented a mandatory curfew for everyone in Fiji.

But the youth who had been practicing dances that represent the Pacific islands of the temple district—Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands—were disappointed.

So members of the Church’s Pacific Area Presidency, who live in New Zealand, stayed in Fiji an extra day so the teens could finally have an opportunity to dance, this time on the campus of the Church College of Fiji.

The decision of the young people to perform for the Area Presidency came at great personal cost; the majority live on the west side of Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu—the area hardest hit by the cyclone.

Latter-day Saint youth from the Lautoka Fiji Stake of the Church perform at the Church College of Fiji on Monday, February 22. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Downed power lines and uprooted trees in Fiji show the strength of Cyclone Winston, which made landfall on February 20. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Latter-day Saint teens perform at the Church College of Fiji on Monday, February 22. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Cyclone Winston struck Fiji with up to 175-mile-per-hour winds in the hours between the Church’s youth temple cultural celebration and the temple rededication. The powerful category 5 storm left dozens dead, knocked out power, and destroyed entire villages.

In the storm's wake, Church leaders are assessing the needs of Latter-day Saints in Fiji and working with relief agencies in the country to provide emergency response, said Elder O. Vincent Haleck, a General Authority Seventy and First Counselor in the Church’s Pacific Area Presidency.

All missionaries—who were brought into Suva to participate in the temple rededication and cultural celebration—are safe. Elder Halek said the Church is sending welfare representatives to the islands. “We stand ready to work to try to assist where we can,” he said.

Solomoni Kaumaitotoya, president of the Lautoka Fiji Stake, said because bridges are out between Suva and the west side of Fiji’s main island, it will take longer to get the youth home. Since they had a great desire to perform for Church leaders, the young people and the area leaders postponed their trips home.

“They have painted their faces, put on their costumes,” President Kaumaitotoya said. “A category 5 windstorm didn’t move their faith.”

Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, a General Authority Seventy and Second Counselor in the Pacific Area Presidency, also spoke of the faith of Fijian members—who stayed in Suva to dance “not knowing what they will see when they go home.”

“They have their costumes on, they have smiles on their faces, for they want to participate in the rededication of the temple,” he said. “The spiritual side of their lives are more important than their temporal side.”

Youth from the Lautoka Fiji Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perform at the Church College of Fiji on Monday, February 22. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Floodwater blocks roads on Monday, February 22, after Cyclone Winston struck Fiji over the weekend. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

From left, Sister Wendy Nielsen, Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, Sister Peggy Haleck, Elder O. Vincent Haleck, and Elder Adolf J. Johansson cheer the youth in their makeup cultural celebration on February 22. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Uprooted trees in Fiji show the strength of Cyclone Winston, which made landfall on February 20. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Latter-day Saint teens perform at the Church College of Fiji on February 22. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Structures at the Church College of Fiji in Suva, Fiji, are damaged by Cyclone Winston, which struck the country Saturday, February 20, 2016. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.

Latter-day Saint teens perform at the Church College of Fiji on February 22. Photo by Sarah Jane Weaver.