Young Men Leader Visits Pacific Island Nations

Contributed By Jason Swensen, Church News staff writer

  • 30 December 2015

From left, Brother Stephen W. Owen, Brother Brian K. Ashton, and Elder O. Vincent Haleck enjoy an early morning seminary class with youth in Vanuatu.  Photo courtesy of Stephen Owen.

Article Highlights

  • Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men general president, visited young men, their leaders, and other members in New Zealand, Vanuatu, and Fiji.
  • Brother Owen said he was reminded that the priesthood can bless and change lives.
  • Look out for one another, he taught. Build relationships, and strengthen each member of the quorum.

Brother Stephen W. Owen, Young Men general president, recently traveled far from Church headquarters to several island nations in the Pacific Area to be with young men and their advisers.

The trip marked his first foreign assignment since being called as Young Men general president. His visits to New Zealand, Vanuatu, and Fiji offered him opportunities to experience different cultures and get to know the people of the Pacific.

But he was also reminded on his travels of a global gospel truth: the priesthood can bless and change the lives of young men—and their friends and families.

He returned home uplifted, hopeful, and blessed with a sharper understanding “of the [Pacific Area] cultures and what it’s like to live in that part of the world.”

Brother Owen was joined in his travels to the three Pacific nations by Elder O. Vincent Haleck of the Seventy and First Counselor in the Pacific Area Presidency, along with Brother Brian K. Ashton, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency. They participated in a variety of meetings and devotionals with youth groups both large and small.

In New Zealand, Brother Owen—along with Brother Ashton and Elder S. Gifford Nielsen of the Seventy and Pacific Area Presidency—participated in a devotional for young men and their advisers. The event was broadcast to gatherings of young men and their leaders across New Zealand.

In his remarks, Brother Owen reminded the young men of the influence they can have in the lives of others. Look out for one another, he taught. Build relationships, and strengthen each member of the quorum.

The youth leader also witnessed the power that the priesthood can have in a home.

He and a local stake president visited the home of a single mother and her three teenage children. The oldest was an 18-year-old young man. He told Brother Owen that he held the Melchizedek Priesthood but did not know how to give a priesthood blessing.

Brother Owen taught the young man about priesthood blessings. The young man was later able to place his hands on his mother's head and give her a priesthood blessing. He reported to Brother Owen that the experience filled their home with peace and love.

In Vanuatu, Elder Haleck, Brother Owen, and Brother Ashton witnessed the unity that the gospel offers. They visited with seminary students, shook dozens of hands at a youth devotional, and offered counsel and support to priesthood and youth leaders.

“The members in Vanuatu were so wonderful, kind, and loving,” Brother Owen said.

Vanuatu is still recovering from a devastating cyclone that hit the tiny island nation last March. Countless families lost their homes, and many more were left without food or water. The Church provided immediate assistance, and members throughout the Pacific Area worked together to offer ongoing relief to the Vanuatu members and their neighbors.

The three Church leaders visited some of the ongoing rebuilding projects, witnessing evidence that life is slowly returning to normal.

“Seminary is a huge blessing for the Vanuatu youth,” Brother Owen added.

He and Elder Haleck and Brother Ashton visited an early morning seminary class taught by a young woman who is a returned missionary. The students loved the scriptures and learning together.

In his meetings with the Vanuatu youth leaders, Brother Owen taught key principles that are applicable in Aaronic Priesthood quorums anywhere in the world.

“First, be with the young men,” he said. “Second, teach them to lead and how to teach. And third, teach them the doctrine.”

The Pacific Area tour concluded in Fiji, where the visiting brethren met with stake and district presidents, hosted focus groups, and worshipped in Sabbath day meetings.

Brother Owen said he and his travel companions found many teaching opportunities in Fiji. “But it was also a time for us to learn and develop.”

As in many areas of the Church, the Fijian priesthood leaders are working diligently to help their young men mature from young deacons to seasoned priests ready to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood and answer full-time mission calls.

Brother Owen was encouraged to see many of the deacons, teachers, and priests in Fiji being mentored by returned missionaries.

“A returned missionary can really make a difference in the lives of young men,” he said.

From left in front, Brother Brian K. Ashton, Elder O. Vincent Haleck, and Brother Stephen W. Owen meet with priesthood leaders in Fiji. Photo courtesy of Stephen Owen.