PNG Prime Minister gets "Aloha!" at BYU - Hawaii
Peter O'Neill, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, recently paid an official visit to the campus of Brigham Young University-Hawaii. Students from his country performed music and dance for the delegation.
Prime Minister O'Neill spoke in response, saying his visit was in part due to encouragement by former PNG Health Minister Zibe Sasa, whose son graduated from BYU-Hawaii. He complemented the University and praised the PNG students for being ambassadors for their homeland.
BYU-Hawaii is associated with its parent institution in Provo, Utah. Both are owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU is the largest private university in the United States.
About twenty PNG students, attired in business dress, met the Prime Minister and his wife, telling their name, their village and province, and their area of study. During their dignified singing of a national song, many, including Madam Babao, shed tears.
The male PNG students, still in suits and ties, then performed a traditional war dance originating from the Prime Minister's village.
After fielding questions from the audience, Mr. O'Neill commended the students on the depth of their questions, which, he said, were more difficult than those he receives in Parliament. The Prime Minister's wife commented that the disillusionment she had about Mormons, from misinformed sources, had been replaced by a greater understanding and respect for the Church.
Dirk Smibert, Church host, spoke to the gathering about the history of the Church in PNG, the value the Church places on education, and the work opportunities provided by BYU that help students pay their tuition.
At the La'ie Temple, the group enjoyed a video presentation on the University, the Polynesian Cultural Centre, and the building of the temple. Two sister missionaries outlined for them the restoration of the Gospel and the blessings of temples.
Before returning to his vehicle, the PM told Dirk Smibert, “Please come and pay me a visit.”
The PNG students were pleased at the PM's interest in them. One student said, “I come from a poor settlement. I would never have dreamt that one day I would be overseas at a university and personally meet our Prime Minister.”
“Being here today made me feel that when I return to PNG,” said another, “I want to make a difference.”
Also in the official party were Ambassador to U.S. Mr Evan Paki and Gideon Oli, Deputy to PM Chief of Staff. BYU-Hawaii Vice President, Max Checketts officiated. Hawaiian students chanted a welcome as the guests received leis. Police vehicles escorted the motorcade, and US Secret Service provided security.