Church Is Celebrating 150 Years in Laie, Hawaii, and Its Legacy of Faith
Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer
“Somehow with God’s blessing, beginning with almost nothing, all those small, humble, individual efforts have grown into this temple, this university, this cultural center.” —Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve
More than 160 years after the first missionary arrived in Honolulu, Hawaii, wards and stakes—along with two temples—now dot the islands of Hawaii. Generations of families continue to move forward in faith as they draw from the legacy of their ancestors, the Church’s own pacific pioneers.
Now, 150 years after Laie became the “gathering place” for Church members living in Hawaii, the little town located on Oahu’s North Shore still serves as a gathering place for members of the Church around the world.
In honor of 150 years of the Church being in Laie, local congregations and the community have come together for a celebration—through song and dance and other events—honoring the faithful Saints who settled in the area.
In an evening devotional on November 1 in the Cannon Activities Center at BYU–Hawaii, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Katherine Christofferson, along with many local Church members, shared the history of the land and the faith of the people who settled there.
What began years ago as a place of refuge and gathering for the Latter-day Saints has become a town of learning—both secular and spiritual—with a university and temple at the center of it all.
Sharing some of the history of Laie, Elder Christofferson spoke of the faith of the people in the area—both who have gone before and who are now living in Hawaii—and how that faithfulness of members has helped build up the kingdom of God in the islands of the Pacific.
“The last 150 years have been a story of economic struggle and survival and of spiritual labor and sacrifice,” he said. “Laie has grown from a plantation to a community of Saints. Kings and queens, a president of the United States, and Apostles of the Lord have visited here and have praised the children, the families, the order, the beauty, and the spirit of Laie.”
Recognizing many apostles and prophets have shared testimony of the blessings and favors of heaven bestowed upon Laie, Elder Christofferson spoke of the growth in chapels and schools and building a university and even a temple in the area.
What began with the arrival of missionaries in Honolulu in December of 1850 grew into a few branches and later, with the purchase in January 1865 of Thomas T. Dougherty’s 6,000-acre plantation called “Laie,” has turned into a “safe place to gather” for the last 150 years.
President Joseph F. Smith (who served three missions to Hawaii) dedicated the Laie temple site on June 1, 1915, but he did not live to see the temple’s completion. President Heber J. Grant dedicated the temple on Thanksgiving day, 1919, and since that dedication, the temple has gone through two renovations and rededications.
As Church members started to gather in the area, a sister missionary established two schools in Laie. In 1921, then-Elder David O. McKay foresaw a university, and three decades later, on February 12, 1955, President David O. McKay broke ground for the Church College of Hawaii—what would later become Brigham Young University–Hawaii.
“With the dedication of the Polynesian Cultural Center in 1963, little Laie has become a world crossroads visited by millions from all parts of the earth,” said Elder Christofferson.
Recognizing the struggles that can often accompany growth, Elder Christofferson spoke of the great faith and perseverance of the members who made the area into the gathering place it is today.
“Those who went before and built up the Church and kingdom of God in these islands were not perfect,” Elder Christofferson taught. “Not all their decisions were the right ones or bore the fruit that was expected. What is most significant, however, is that so many of them persevered. They rose up each day and went to work. They prayed and worked some more. When they needed to, they repented and began again.
I Hemolele, the chapel that served Laie for almost 60 years (1887). Photo courtesy of BYU–Hawaii Archives and Special Collections.
“They loved and taught their children and each other’s children. They reached out to others with the gospel of Jesus Christ. They endured disappointment and poverty and hardship. But they also enjoyed life with luaus and swimming and dancing and telling stories and laughing. Those who were called to lead did their best to feed the Lord’s sheep, and the people kept faith with the Lord and their leaders.”
Just as pioneers packed their wagons and moved forward in faith, so have the “pioneers” of the Pacific.
“In the same way, here in Laie, the gathering place, and across the islands, the faithful labors of pioneers in each generation over the last 150 years have produced miraculous fruit,” he said. “Somehow with God’s blessing, beginning with almost nothing, all those small, humble, individual efforts have grown into this temple, this university, this cultural center.”
Laie Hawaii Temple in 1920. Photo courtesy of BYU–Hawaii Archives and Special Collections.
Elder Christofferson spoke of millions who are blessed by the influence of those who lived, studied, served, and worshipped in Laie.
“May we be resolved to measure to our duties and opportunities in our time and season as those who have gone before measure to theirs. Let us take inspiration from them and their legacy and join their spiritual aristocracy, not by any right of inheritance, but by serving the Lord as they did and by being true to all that is entrusted to us by God as they were.”
Sister Christofferson shared some of her connections to Laie, as well as elements of the history of Laie. It was through “small and simple things” the town was able to grow into something wonderful, she said.
President David O. McKay breaking ground (1955). Photo courtesy of BYU–Hawaii Archives and Special Collections.
Not only has Laie become a place for Church members, it is a place where millions of people visit the Polynesian Cultural Center. As people visit, they feel something special, Sister Christofferson said.
“They come, they feel it—you know what it is,” she said.
The devotional included a video sharing experiences and the testimony of some of the local Church members. Visit the website laie150.org to learn more about the celebratory events and history of Laie.
An aerial shot of Polynesian Culture Center (1963). Photo courtesy of BYU–Hawaii Archives and Special Collections.