Elder Andersen Travels throughout the Pacific, Meets Archbishop of Brisbane

Contributed By Rachel Sterzer, Church News staff writer

  • 13 June 2016

 Elder Neil L. Andersen, second from left, speaks with Stacey and Junior Fiu while walking the grounds of the Brisbane Australia Temple with the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, the Most Reverend Mark Coleridge, left, on Saturday, May 14.

Within his apostolic ministry, Elder Neil L. Andersen has traveled to the far-flung corners of the earth. His calling to “go into all the world” to preach the gospel has taken him to many lands, including the various isles of the sea. But a recent trip to conduct an area review of the Pacific took him to a few places he’s never been before—Brisbane, Australia, and the Cook Islands.

Elder Andersen and Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy, who accompanied Elder Andersen to the Pacific May 13–22, met with the Church News to discuss their travels.

In this latest trip, Elder Andersen said he and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, experienced a mix of languages, cultures, and geographies—from modern cities to remote islands.

Elder Andersen, right, and the Pacific Area Presidency—from left, Elder Kevin W. Pearson, Elder S. Gifford Nielsen, and Elder O. Vincent Haleck—teach priesthood leaders during a meeting in Brisbane on May 14.

In a Facebook post while on his trip, Elder Andersen noted the “impressive downtown skyline” and the many parks and forest that encompass the area around Brisbane. Situated among the bends of the Brisbane River in southeast Australia, this “beautiful” city is “a center of strength for the Church,” he told the Church News upon his return.

While in Brisbane, Elder and Sister Andersen, Elder Robbins, and the Pacific Area Presidency—General Authority Seventies Elder Kevin W. Pearson, Elder O. Vincent Haleck, and Elder S. Gifford Nielsen—participated in stake, youth, and young single adult conferences; a mission presidents’ seminar; and a missionary meeting. Elder Andersen also conducted priesthood leadership conferences.

Children dance as part of a cultural celebration on the island of Mangaia in the Cook Islands on May 20. Elder Neil L. Andersen visited the remote island while conducting an area review of the Pacific.

Elder Andersen spoke of the “sacred testimony and teaching” that resulted from meeting with the missionaries and mission presidents of the Pacific Area. As he looked out over the missionaries, who come from 25 countries, he thought, “This is the way the Lord’s kingdom will look during the Second Coming”—every race, color, and nationality but “all complete and devoted disciples of Jesus Christ.”

During the mission presidents’ seminar, Elder and Sister Andersen were overjoyed to be reunited with Pierre and Brigitte Bize, whom they first met when Elder Andersen served as a mission president in France. Now 27 years later, President Bize and his wife are serving as he presides over the Tahiti Papeete Mission. “It was a reunion of great happiness, as all our reunions will be as we meet our loyal and devoted friends who share our faith in Jesus Christ,” Elder Andersen said.

Elder Andersen also met with the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, the Most Reverend Mark Coleridge. The archbishop joined Elder Andersen; Elder Robbins; Elder Pearson; Elder Keith P. Walker, an Area Seventy; and President Robert W. Cowan, president of the Brisbane Australia Temple, for a walk around the grounds of the Brisbane Australia Temple, which overlooks the Brisbane River.

While there they met Stacey Vaoga and Junior Fiu, who had been sealed earlier in the day and had returned to take photos with their wedding party.

Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles greets young men while visiting the Cook Islands as part of his recent visit to the Pacific Area May 13–22.

“We explained to the archbishop about the standards of worthiness to be married in the temple,” Elder Andersen said, “the need for discipleship and faith. He was moved by the goodness of the couple.”

In a gesture of “genuine kindness” and goodwill, the archbishop expressed a blessing for Sister Fiu on the steps of the temple.

“I told [Sister Fiu] later, ‘You are probably the only woman in the world who has ever received a Catholic blessing on the steps of the house of the Lord,’” Elder Andersen said.

From left: Robert Malcolm Cowan, Brisbane Temple president; Elder Keith P. Walker, Area Seventy; Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy; Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, the Most Reverend Mark Coleridge; Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; and Elder Kevin W. Pearson, General Authority Seventy and President of the Pacific Area, on the grounds of the Brisbane Australia Temple on Saturday, May 14.

From Brisbane, Elder and Sister Andersen continued on to the Cook Islands, a collection of 15 islands located northeast of New Zealand.

Elder and Sister Andersen met with members and missionaries on the islands of Rarotonga and Mangaia. Although both islands are small—roughly 20 square miles—like others of the Cook Islands, they are fringed in coral reef and draw a large tourist population. The first missionaries visited the island of Mangaia in 1955, and Elder Andersen became the first member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to set foot on its shores.

Many civic, community, and other religious leaders came to welcome the visiting Apostle as a special guest during a cultural celebration presented by the members there.

“It was wonderful to see the pastors of other churches, the people of very different persuasions, rejoicing with the Saints there in the visit of a member of the Twelve,” Elder Andersen said.

Many women there wore crowns of flowers on their heads and presented Sister Andersen with “an especially beautiful” array of flowers.

Elder Neil L. Andersen and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, speak during the Avarua Cook Islands District Conference on Sunday, May 22.

In his remarks, Elder Andersen noted the many references to crowns found in the scriptures—a “crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8), a “crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4), a “crown of life” (James 1:12), and a “crown of eternal life” (D&C 20:14). Most important, he spoke of the crown of thorns (see Matthew 27:29) and “how much the Savior had done for each of us—whether in large populous centers or in a very remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.”

Elder Neil L. Andersen and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, meet with members and leaders during the Avarua Cook Islands District Conference on Sunday, May 22.

With Rarotonga being roughly 32 kilometers in circumference, “it’s hard to be late,” Elder Andersen said with a smile. Despite its relative isolation, “the Church is well planted there,” Elder Andersen said. “These are people of great faith.”

While Elder Andersen traveled to the Cook Islands, Elder Robbins journeyed to New Caledonia, “a hidden gem in the Pacific.” The island nation is an archipelago and special collectivity of France located east of Australia.

While the Church in places like Brisbane has been operating for five or six generations, it is in its infancy in New Caledonia. Because of that, members there are pillars of strength for the Church. “They are just constantly serving,” Elder Robbins said.

Elder Andersen expressed his love for the many members he met during his travels and for their “testimony and strength.”

Elder Robbins added that no matter where he goes in the world, he feels an “immediate connection” and love for the Saints. “You share the deepest, most cherished things in life so that you immediately understand each other in the deepest way,” he said.

Close to 1,400 youth and young adults gather to listen to remarks given by Elder Neil L. Andersen during a special conference held in Brisbane, Australia, on Sunday, May 15.

Elder Andersen speaks during the Logan Stake Conference in Australia on May 15.

Elder Andersen greets members attending the Logan Stake Conference in Australia on May 15.

Elder Andersen greets a member following the Logan Stake Conference in Australia on May 15.

Elder Andersen and Elder Robbins and their wives and the Area Presidency pose with couples attending a mission presidents’ seminar on May 16.

On the island of Mangaia, many civic, community, and other religious leaders came to welcome Elder and Sister Andersen as special guests during a cultural celebration presented by the members there May 20.

Elder and Sister Andersen met with members and missionaries on the islands of Rarotonga and Mangaia.

Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder O. Vincent Haleck of the Area Presidency greet members attending a stake meeting in New Caledonia.

Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder O. Vincent Haleck of the Area Presidency attend a stake meeting in New Caledonia.