New Meetinghouse Financing Policy Considers Tithing Faithfulness
The First Presidency has announced a new Churchwide policy on the construction, acquisition, operations, and maintenance of Church meetinghouses and meetinghouse sites. In describing the new policy, President Gordon B. Hinckley indicated that its purpose is not to emphasize buildings, but to lay the spiritual foundation for increased obedience and faithfulness in order to receive the full blessings of the Lord. The policy takes into consideration the faithfulness of members in paying tithing.
Effective immediately, Church units must meet certain requirements before approval is granted for construction or acquisition of new meetinghouses; local participation in the total cost will not exceed 4 percent, with remaining construction costs financed from general Church funds. This percentage is much lower than in the past.
All building operation and maintenance costs arising from normal use (except utilities) will be paid by the Church beginning July 1. Currently, expenses are shared by local units and Church headquarters.
Thus, beginning July 1, local units will have responsibility for funding all costs of meetinghouse utilities. Explaining the policy, president Gordon B. Hinckley noted that “these costs will include such items as heat, light, water, and sewer services. The cost of utilities is based on use. These are expenses over which local officers have at least some measure of control. We hope that they will not become so penurious in exercising such control that our buildings will not be comfortably heated or cooled as the case may be, and that they will be kept lighted when necessary. However, when the people of a ward realize that they have the responsibility for paying such utilities they will be inclined to be more careful about leaving lights burning and such similar matters.”
Previously, to qualify for a new meetinghouse, three requirements were to be met: an established number of members attending sacrament meeting; determination of need for a meetinghouse; and submission of an approved construction master plan. The new policy calls for the fulfillment of two additional requirements: achievement of a prescribed level of unit tithing faithfulness; and being current and complete in statistical and financial reporting, as well as current in remitting tithing and fast offerings.
The tithing faithfulness requirement is determined by projecting the percentage of adult full-tithe payers in a stake or mission. Such a projection is based on the percentage of adult males who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood. Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve explained that “we have found that when we know the percentage of adult males who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood, we can accurately estimate the activity level of a unit. We have, therefore, developed a method to determine a tithing faithfulness level we can expect Church units to achieve. In simple terms it is, the larger the percentage of Melchizedek Priesthood holders there are in a unit, the higher the expected percentage of full-tithe payers a unit will have.”
Minimum tithing faithfulness requirements for each unit were established as a result of the review and analysis of 1,335 stakes and 187 missions of the Church.
The second added requirement, that of providing current and complete statistical and financial reports, is the basis upon which the tithing faithfulness standards are established.
The new program provides for local unit participation in labor and/or cash. However, no loans for the cash portion will be made by Church headquarters. “Debt will not be a part of the building program of the Church,” explained Elder Perry. “If a unit intends to use cash for all or part of its local share, the cash must be raised in advance of making application for a project.”
The new policy for financing meetinghouses is not applicable to welfare projects, temples, seminaries and institutes of the Church, according to Elder Perry.
The following questions and answers have been prepared to help further explain the new policy on construction, operation, and maintenance of meetinghouses.
Q. What reports will be used to determine the tithing faithfulness standards?
A. The annual tithing and donation status report will be used to determine the percentage of adults who pay a full tithing. The total number of adults as well as the number of Melchizedek Priesthood holders will be determined from the annual member and statistical report.
Q. How often will the tithing faithfulness standards be updated?
A. Once each year. This will be done by approximately July 1 after all year-end reports have been received and annual calculations have been completed.
A unit that does not presently meet the tithing faithfulness standard will be required to qualify during the current calendar year in order to be eligible July 1 of the next year.
Q. What happens if we already have a building started, approved under the old ratio formula?
A. All existing loans for construction or acquisition of meetinghouses beyond the amount required by the new ratio will be canceled.
Q. Does this mean if we’ve paid more than the new ratio requires then we’ll receive a refund?
A. No. Amounts already contributed in excess of the adjusted local share will be used in the general Church building fund. This fund will be used to further the building program of the Church.
Q. If we have on hand, in savings or checking accounts, funds which have been raised for building or acquiring a new site or a meetinghouse, what happens to these funds?
A. All contributions that have been accumulated for prospective meetinghouse projects will be donated to the general Church building fund at this time. When the projects for which these funds have been raised are approved, a credit toward future local shares will be allowed for a two-year period.
Q. How many projects can our stake or mission have going on at the same time?
A. Except in the United States and Canada, units will be allowed to have two projects in process at any one time. In the United States and Canada only one project will be authorized at one time. A project is considered to be a full-size meetinghouse or several smaller projects that in total do not exceed the cost of a full-size meetinghouse. A unit, therefore, may have several small projects under way at a time.
Q. Occasionally Church property is sold. Do the local units share in the proceeds from the sale?
A. The proceeds will no longer be shared with local units, but rather go into the general building fund to be used in constructing much-needed facilities throughout the world.
Q. Since the Church will be responsible for operation and maintenance costs other than for utilities, does that mean the Church now will pay 100 percent of the custodian’s salary, whereas before it was shared between the local unit and Church headquarters?
Q. Who pays for furnishings and equipment?
A. The costs for the initial complement of necessary furnishings and equipment will be shared on the approved construction or acquisition ratio, which will be 4 percent or less.
However, the costs for replacement of furnishings and equipment that are not part of the structure, such as appliances, chairs, desks and library equipment, etc., for which Church participation is authorized, will require 50 percent local participation.
Q. What is the advantage of having the local units responsible for 100 percent of the cost of meetinghouse utilities?
A. Because local units can best control some of the major cost elements of operating meetinghouses, we believe substantial cost reductions are possible through conservation and wise use of utilities. Simple measures such as turning off unneeded lights, reducing temperatures of unoccupied buildings, and turning off air-conditioning units when they are not required can result in direct savings. Savings resulting from energy conservation will accrue to the financial benefit of local units.
Q. What happens if the building, furniture or equipment is damaged because of abuse?
A. In this case, the local unit is responsible for 100 percent of the cost of repairing or replacing.
Q. If a building is damaged or destroyed by a disaster, such as fire, flood or earthquake, who is responsible for its replacement?
A. In the repair or replacement of such buildings, the local share will be on the same basis as in the construction of a new building; that is, not more that 4 percent.
Q. How is it determined which costs the Church pays for and which costs the local units will pay?
A. Generally speaking, costs that the local units have the ability to control will be their responsibility. Costs that maintain the meetinghouse at the appropriate maintenance level will be the responsibility of the Church.
Missionary Length of Service for Young, Single Elders Reduced to 18 Months
Single young men accepting mission calls will now serve eighteen months instead of two years, the First Presidency announced in an April 2 leadership meeting with Regional Representatives.
In speaking for the First Presidency, President Gordon B. Hinckley said that “much consideration has been given to the term of service for young men in the mission field. Costs of maintaining missionaries have risen dramatically. Many of our families face extremely heavy economic pressures. The problem is aggravated by the fact that more and more young men are being called from lands outside the United States and Canada, many of them from lands where rates of inflation have been extremely high and have taken a serious toll in the real incomes of people.”
He added that in a number of areas young men are subject to “regulations which preclude extended absence from school or apprenticeship programs”; likewise, military requirements in some countries prohibit two-year absences to fill missions.
“It is hoped,” said President Hinckley, “that improved training will better qualify [the missionaries] to work more productively when they arrive in the field. It is likewise anticipated that this shortened term will make it possible for many to go who cannot go under present circumstances. This will extend the opportunity for missionary service to an enlarged body of our young men.”
The new term of service will be effective immediately for those who are now being called on missions. President Hinckley explained that young men now serving will be affected in the following ways: “Elders who have served for twelve months or more will be consulted on an individual basis to determine their release dates. Those missionaries who desire to stay the full term for which they were called will be permitted to do so. Those who wish to be released between eighteen and twenty-four months of service may be released on a schedule that best suits their plans and the operation of the mission. All other elders will be released when they have completed eighteen months of service. This will mean that the term for single elders will be the same as that for young single sisters.”
The Church presently has more than twenty-nine thousand missionaries assigned to 188 missions throughout the world; most are single men ages nineteen and over. Single women missionaries will continue to serve eighteen-month missions; older couples may serve six, twelve, or eighteen months, depending on their individual circumstances.
Death Takes Lucile Reading, Managing Editor of Friend
Sister Lucile Cardon Reading, managing editor of the Friend since its inception in 1971, died unexpectedly at her home in Centerville, Utah, on 22 March 1982. She was 72.
In addition to her work at the Friend, Sister Reading was widely known for her devoted service in the Church and her commitment to civic responsibility. “I want you all to know,” said son James C. Reading during graveside services, “that my mother knew the gospel was true with every fiber of her being, and lived a testimony of it every day of her life.” She served as a member of the Primary General Board for eight years and as second counselor in the general presidency of the Primary from 1963 to 1970. Other Church service included ward and stake callings in the Relief Society, MIA, Sunday School, Primary, and the Young Adult program.
She was particularly loved in Centerville for her tireless devotion to the children and youth of that small community. Friends remember her as a warm, empathetic woman who loved nature.
At the time of her death, Sister Reading was serving her third term as president of the Davis County Board of Education. She had also been actively involved with a number of community organizations, among them the South Davis Welfare Council, the Utah State Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Utah Division of the American Cancer Society. She was a member of the Board of Trustees of the Primary Children’s Hospital for several years.
Four New Temples to Be Built
Plans for the construction of four new Latter-day Saint temples were announced by the First Presidency on Wednesday preceding general conference. The temples will be located in Boise, Idaho; Denver, Colorado; Guayaquil, Ecuador; and Taipei, Taiwan.
With the beginning of construction of these temples, there will be forty-one temples of the Church across the world, either in operation or under construction.
“We have met earlier with Church representatives from the temple districts indicated,” announced the First Presidency, “and all have signified their great interest and their enthusiasm about these undertakings, and their desire to marshal the resources of the areas for which they have responsibility.
“We regard it as a most significant thing in terms of the people of those areas and as a part of the program of the Church to take the temples to the people rather than asking them to travel so far to come to temples of the Church.”
The newly standardized temple plan calls for some 15,000 square feet in temples built in the United States. Areas with smaller Church populations will construct the 10,000-square-foot model, comparable to the size of a ward meetinghouse.
A tentative construction timetable for the temples calls for architectural planning and adaptation to the sites during this year, with actual construction in 1983. Tentative completion dates are projected for late 1983 or early 1984.
Church Members Receive Counsel on Political Participation
Counsel regarding the involvement of Church members in political activities was given by President Gordon B. Hinckley, counselor in the First Presidency in an April 2, meeting of Regional Representatives. His remarks summarized the Church’s attitude toward institutional involvement:
“The Church has now reached a strength and stature widely recognized and appreciated. Scarcely a week passes that we are not importuned to lend our voice and strength to one cause or another of significance on a state, national, or international level.
“It is frequently tempting to do so. But we must restrain ourselves lest we become diverted from the great central mission of the Church given us by the Lord, and in so doing weaken the strength of the organization and our people to causes that are not related to that mission. Of course, there are occasionally great issues with overtiding moral implications in which we properly should be involved, but the decision regarding such involvement as an institution, in contrast with individual involvement, must rest with the First Presidency.
“We should encourage our people to be involved as citizens in matters which concern them and their families. Our people have been taught correct principles, and they are in a position to govern themselves in such involvement. But we must be extremely careful about involving the institutional Church. …
“In the heat of political campaigns it is difficult for some Church officers to resist the blandishments of campaign workers to give political endorsement to particular candidates or parties. I recognize a very delicate and sensitive situation when I say this. As individuals, our people, including local leaders, are free to act as citizens, but they must act with great care lest there be a public perception that they are acting as Church officers.
“As has been said many times in the past, Church premises must not be used for political gatherings, nor should announcements be made in Church meetings that might be construed as favoring one candidate or party. It is proper for Church officers to encourage members of the Church to participate in mass meetings and to vote at the polls, but always without designating any preference for party or candidate.
“Church printing facilities should not be used for the publication of literature for political purposes.
“At times the temptation is great, particularly when the issues appear so clearly drawn as to indicate that in a particular area the resources of the local Church organization ought to be exerted in behalf of a candidate who patently stands for those principles which are compatible with the doctrine and standards of the Church. However, the temptation must be resisted.”
A Legacy of Love, Hope, Sisterhood
“To stir our imaginations … gladden our hearts … prick our consciences … sharpen our vision … lift our spirits … express love … affirm the possibilities realized by women in all walks of life—these are the opportunities for all who have chosen to share in A Tribute to Women.” (Program notes, Legacy Banquet, March 26.)
March was a month of superlatives for women of the Church. In Salt Lake City, the general Church leadership of the Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society organizations joined their efforts to produce “A Tribute to Women: The Legacy—Remembered and Renewed.” It was a gracious, invigorating, month-long compliment to the multiple dimensions of Latter-day Saint womanhood. And it was meant to be repeated in wards and stakes throughout the Church.
The events themselves added up to a stunning display of virtuosity across much of human experience:
Legacy Lectures. Between March 15 and 19, hundreds of women heard fourteen selected lecturers explore the personal and public challenges of being a twentieth-century Latter-day Saint woman. Women, prominent in their fields of endeavor, addressed such varied topics as community service, homemaking, arts and letters, history, music, education, science, medicine, and the interrelationship of body, mind, and spirit. They came from Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Utah, Missouri, Pennsylvania—all with differing backgrounds and perspectives, but each with a commitment to truth and gospel living. Their collective attitude was perhaps best expressed by Elaine Shaw Sorensen of Layton, Utah, a doctoral student, mother, and homemaker, whose address was titled “The Educated Woman within Us.”
“Within each woman,” she said, “is the capacity for striving for improvement and the freedom to choose her own path. … Our challenge is to choose a path that will offer to each of us the assurance that our chosen course of life is acceptable and according to the will of God.”
As a final lecture in the series, Sister Camilla Kimball spoke to a large audience in the auditorium of the Church Office Building. “A legacy,” she said, “is something handed down from the past, an inheritance.” After relating stories from the lives of her noble ancestors, she acknowledged that “I have gratefully received my legacy and have sought to make use of it. I would like to be like my parents. I cannot be greater than they, because they were among the best of God’s children on this earth, but I want to be enough like them so that I can be with them forever. And often, when I pass the pictures of my father and mother on the dresser in our bedroom, I say, ‘Oh my, it’ll be good to see you, mother and dad. I hope it isn’t long. I look forward with real anticipation to the time when we shall be reunited.’ Some days the time seems alluringly short. Other days I count up all the things I still have to do and pray for a little more time.”
Sarah M. Kimball Nauvoo Dedication. Earlier in the month, on March 11, Church leaders dedicated the restored Nauvoo home of Sarah M. Kimball, where the idea of a women’s society first took shape. (See accompanying news article describing the week’s activities in Nauvoo.)
Legacy Concerts. Gifted Latter-day Saint performing artists took center stage as they appeared in concert on March 17, 19, and 25 in Salt Lake City; Oakland and Los Angeles, California; and Dallas, Texas. A total of fifty-nine women (some as young as eleven), all professionally acclaimed for their musical gifts, moved audiences with the variety of their musical accomplishments. Piano, harp, violin, flute, voice, cello, bassoon, organ, the lithe figure of a prima ballerina—all expertly maneuvered through the intricacies of sensitive artistic expression. Performances at each location attracted large crowds of members and nonmembers alike. The Salt Lake City program included selections by women of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and other locations followed suit by organizing impressive women’s choirs for concert performance.
Clare Johnson, a gifted organist, spearheaded the Los Angeles Concert. “I see these events,” she said, “as a renewal of the Latter-day Saint musical tradition. We have always had outstanding musicians in the Church—especially the women—and they have been recognized by the world, but not always within the Church. These Legacy concerts have been a major step toward realizing the depth of musicianship our women have to offer.”
And there are women—many of them—in the Church whose hands are busily engaged in the creation of fine works of art. When the call went out from Salt Lake City for artistic works to be exhibited during the Legacy events, more than 400 Utah painters and sculptors made submissions.
Departmental Exhibits and Walking Tour. If you were in Salt Lake City during the Legacy events, perhaps you took an afternoon to follow the handpainted, light-plum colored signs through the Church Office Building for a look at colorful, informative displays in virtually every area of Church endeavor, from missionary work to genealogy and temples to Church publications to displays by the Sunday School, Primary, Activities Committee, and the Young Women. Historical vignettes in the auditorium and noon-time presentations by visiting musical groups completed the fare. (Who can stand dry-eyed while fifty beaming, freshly scrubbed youngsters sing their repertoire of favorite Primary songs?)
The Legacy signs also pointed the way along a self-guided walking tour of several central-city locations: Promised Valley Playhouse, Mormon Handicraft Gift Shop, the historic Beehive and Lion Houses, the Relief Society Building, Temple Square, and the Deseret Gymnasium. Those taking the tour were treated to demonstrations of everything from quiche-making to quilting to aerobic exercise.
Relief Society 140th Anniversary Open House. “We planned for 2,000 visitors that day. We had 10,000.” A little breathless at the memory, Sister Marjorie Nelson, who chaired the event, added that, “even with wall-to-wall people, it was all peace and a spirit of happiness” during the March 17 open house, complete with birthday cake, held in the Relief Society Building to celebrate that organization’s 140-years-ago beginning.
In addition to the building’s full complement of demonstrations and exhibits, descendants of each of the Relief Society’s general presidents—beginning with Gracia Denning, a great-great granddaughter of Emma and Joseph Smith—gave brief presentations based on the lives of their prominent forebears.
Other events included in the Legacy series were March 21 Church-wide sacrament meetings honoring women, supervised by Sister Jeanene Stringham of the Young Women’s General Board; and a March 24 Women’s History Symposium at Brigham Young University, highlighting women and events in the history of the Young Women’s organization.
Thousands of women—some very young, some not so young—crowded the Church Office Building’s spacious lobby between 11:00 A.M. and 3:00 P.M. on Saturday, March 27, as the general presidents of the Primary, Young Women, and Relief Society greeted visitors. It was a time of warmth, friendliness, and shared vision—from live background piano music, played in turn by women of varying ages, to the excellent sampling of international foods prepared by sisters from five different countries. The presidencies seemed never to tire of meeting and greeting. “And the tears, the smiles, the hugs,” said Young Women’s president Elaine Cannon. “I believe those young women really caught the vision, and now they will go forth with the torch.”
“Altogether;” mused Sister Cannon, “it has been a great purging, a great lifting, a great sanctioning and refining influence. Every experience you have in the Church is marvelous; but I can’t think of any deeper strengthening to my testimony that the Lord not only lives, but that he cares about the details.”
A General Women’s Meeting on the evening of March 27 was the culminating event of A Tribute to Women. The program, a moving blend of pretaped narrated segments, live addresses, and musical numbers, reminded women of the legacy of love extended to them by the Savior. The value of growth, adversity, and an appreciation for the great diversity of womanhood were themes addressed in prerecorded interviews with dozens of women. Live speakers were Dwan J. Young, Primary general president; Elaine A. Cannon, Young Women general president; Barbara B. Smith, Relief Society general president; and Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. (These addresses are published in this issue of the Ensign.)
Sister Margaret Smoot, a television newscaster and a member of the Relief Society General Board, chaired the committee responsible for producing the women’s program. “Generally speaking,” she said, “a production of this kind would take between six months and a year to pull together. We were able to do it in two and one-half months.”
Altogether, the Legacy events proceeded through the month in tasteful, first-class fashion. But perhaps the real “legacy” behind the “Legacy” was a certain spiritual dimension, manifest in the selfless dedication of those who set an example for women throughout the Church—women who now, following the pattern established at Church headquarters, will produce Legacy events in their own wards and stakes this year. “You’ll find,” said Sister Cannon, “that they will do it wonderfully—and in some places, it will be even grander than it was here.” Guidelines for planning Legacy events and videotapes of the General Women’s Meeting have been distributed to all Regional Representatives for use in wards and stakes.
(Audio and video tapes of the Salt Lake Legacy lectures are now available from the Relief Society, 76 North Main Street, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150. Cost is $2.50 per audio cassette, $26.00 per video cassette. Video cassettes may be rented for $10. The concerts and selected other presentations have also been taped. Those interested in using these tapes may contact the general offices of the Relief Society, Primary, or Young Women in Salt Lake City.)
“Everything went far beyond our expectations,” said Dwan J. Young, general Primary president. “Doors were opened. The response of wards and talented individuals was unanimous—‘Yes, we’ll do it—whatever you want us to do.’ It was a testimony to me that our message was true.”
Barbara B. Smith, general president of the Relief Society, spoke of her hopes for the Legacy experience.
“We believe the diversity of the events has helped us all to renew our awareness of the great numbers of things women are doing, and to refocus our attention on the limitless potential of each life. We must stretch our minds, our hearts, and our souls so that we can make meaningful contributions to all with whom we share this life.”
Sarah M. Kimball’s Nauvoo Home Is Dedicated
Sarah M. Kimball would have been proud. LDS women came from Utah, Missouri, Illinois, and Iowa to visit Sarah’s small frame home in Nauvoo, Illinois, where on 11 March 1842 she proposed the idea for a Ladies Relief Society. At the dedication of the home 140 years later, women toured the restored home, attended dedication ceremonies, and celebrated the 140th anniversary of the Relief Society.
Elder Dean L. Larsen of the Presidency of the First Quorum of the Seventy gave the dedicatory prayer for the home, and general Relief Society president Barbara B. Smith conducted the dedication service, giving a report on the Relief Society’s tradition of service and the organization’s current status.
The day’s activities highlighted the small beginnings of the Relief Society, its growth, and its influence in the lives of LDS women today.
Nauvoo was buzzing with activities the day of the dedication. Dramatic sketches about early Nauvoo were presented at the restored cultural hall, which still maintains its early Nauvoo atmosphere.
Historical presentations were given at the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center. Douglas H. Smith (husband of President Barbara B. Smith) spoke about the westward trek of the Saints from Nauvoo.
A soup and salad supper was given in the afternoon at the Nauvoo Ward, and it was an interstate effort. The salad was made by sisters from Davenport, Iowa. Homemade bread was brought by sisters from Peoria, Illinois. Soup was prepared by sisters in Nauvoo. Sisters from Champagne, Illinois, furnished ice cream. And each of the seventeen participating stakes from all three states brought birthday cakes to celebrate the 140th anniversary of the Relief Society.
Tables for the supper were beautifully set with china and decorated with floral arrangments. While visitors waited to be fed supper, musical excerpts from Because of Elizabeth were performed.
Tours of the Sarah Kimball home were given throughout the afternoon. Elizabeth E. Simmons and Oma E. Wilcox did the research for and procuring of antiques for the restored home.
“We really felt guided in our work of furnishing the home,” said Sister Wilcox. “We visited many, many shops looking for pieces from around 1845 that might have been similar to something used by Sarah Kimball.”
The restored home has a warm feel to it, with a bright orange and red ingrain carpet in the parlor by the fireplace, baskets of apples scenting the home, woodwork painted in warm colors authentic to Sarah Kimball’s time, and even letters sitting on the writing desk in the parlor. The upstairs bedrooms are light and airy, comfortably furnished with feather ticks for the beds and beautiful spreads and quilts.
The dedication service itself was attended by about six hundred people, among them several descendants of Sarah Kimball. Prelude music was performed by a women’s string ensemble from the St. Louis Missouri Stake. In the dedicatory prayer, Elder Dean L. Larsen noted that “We have seen the effect of the turning of the key in behalf of women, and we rejoice in the consequences of this inspired action.”
President Barbara B. Smith and her two counselors, Marian R. Boyer and Shirley W. Thomas, each spoke at the service. Sister Boyer spoke about the graciousness of Sarah Kimball, and of the home that she created for her family. Sister Thomas spoke about Sarah Kimball’s many contributions to community matters, and how Sarah Kimball was known especially for being a woman of charity.
The Relief Society’s role in the history of the Church and at present was the topic of Sister Smith’s talk.
“There are some remarkable actions associated with the gift of Relief Society,” said Sister Smith. “Our 140-year report reminds us today of so many things that have been done by the sisters of Relief Society to relieve suffering.
“Here in Nauvoo the society was organized. It was organized for the express purpose of making the ministering to the poor more effective. It was charged with the responsibility of encouraging its members individually and collectively to look to the wants of the poor and search out the objects of charity and minister to their wants. It was given the responsibility of strengthening the virtues of the community, watching over one another, gaining instruction, and teaching women duties toward one another, toward family members, toward husbands.
“This organization offers relief from spiritual and intellectual ignorance, relief from poverty and suffering, relief from sorrow and loneliness, relief from the evils of the world, relief from cynicism and doubt,” said Sister Smith.
“But most important is the continuing gift of discernment which the inspiration of heaven provides to us through Relief Society. We can see more dearly today than ever before how great the challenge is for us to build strong homes and provide loving care for the children who come to our care. It really is not now and never has been a question of either a rich and full life for women or a strong and loving home. A Relief Society home must meet the challenge of both positions.”
Tonga Cyclone Brings Destruction, Strengthens Faith
The Tongans have a word for the wind-and-water maelstrom that slammed into their chain of islands just about two months ago—afa. Comparable to a major hurricane or cyclone, the fierce tropical storm pummeled many of the islands with 172-mile-per-hour winds and surging tidal waves on March 2.
Cyclone Isaac, as it was named, raged in a southwesterly direction through the three main island groups of Tonga. Hardest hit was the Ha‘apai group, where more than 90 percent of the people’s homes were leveled. It was the worst cyclone in nearly half a century.
There are over twenty-thousand members of the Church in Tonga, making approximately one in five Tongans a Latter-day Saint. Within hours of Isaac’s departure, the status of Saints on the large island of Tongatapu had been determined. Word came from the Vava‘u and Ha‘apai island groups within a few days. No Latter-day Saints died in the storm, although some were injured. (Miraculously, only six of Tonga’s 100,000 population lost their lives in the disaster.) And Church members—even those who had lost everything but the clothes they were wearing—expressed gratitude for Heavenly Father’s protecting influence.
Several of the islands were totally devastated. On them, few buildings were left standing. Elder John H. Groberg of the First Quorum of the Seventy, who had earlier served as a missionary and a mission president in Tonga, toured the islands on special assignment from the First Presidency. “Great damage was done to public buildings, schools, churches, and houses,” he reported. Our members’ houses suffered along with the rest of the population; but our chapels just stood out like beacons—and did not fall. Some were damaged, some had roofs ripped off; but none was leveled.” Between twenty and thirty LDS chapels were directly in the path of the storm. “Nearly all of the population of some villages took refuge in our chapels, as they were the only buildings left standing. Our temple site and our schools received very minor damage.”
The Church has moved immediately to provide the stricken Saints with food, clothing, and housing materials. Flour, rice, sugar, canned beef, and fish have been shipped from Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii, and Samoa; clothing from Deseret Industries will meet the needs of some 4,000 members who were left destitute in the wake of the storm. Tents and building materials have also been made available; and, said Elder Groberg, “The people down there are working very hard to help themselves. I’m really proud of the priesthood leaders and the way they have organized. Even the government is looking to them now. They’re already helping each other to rebuild their homes.” Church members and nonmembers alike, he said, are sharing supplies and helping one another.
Elder Groberg visited with the King of Tonga, who was very pleased with the Church’s concern for Tonga and its willingness to help.
Tonga Nuku‘alofa Mission President Pita Hopoate, his wife Lani, and their six children (ages four months to eight years) had a narrow brush with personal tragedy during the storm’s fury. Their mission home at Sopu is located near the sea in one of the hardest-hit areas of Tongatapu, and was severely damaged by the fierce tidal wave.
Sister Hopoate recorded the day’s events in her journal. She described her initial terror as the sea began rising around their home; then, “Suddenly I heard the back door burst open and knew the ocean had come into the house.”
The president, his family, and a group of sister missionaries took refuge atop a water tank in the garage; their oldest son had been injured by a flying piece of glass, a three-year-old daughter nearly drowned when the surging water separated her from the main group. Safe for the moment with her family atop the water tank, Sister Hopoate recorded that she “changed the children into dry clothes and made them lie down and keep warm.”
“President kept watching the ocean rise and come in ’till it was only two inches below the window sill and the wind still strong when we gathered together again for our last prayer, leaving our lives in God’s hands,” she reported. “After the prayer, I felt calm and did not pay attention to the water rising.
“After a while, President opened the door and we witnessed God’s blessing upon us as the water was gone and nothing but gravel was left outside.”
The Hopoates have taken temporary residence in the mission office.
Elder Groberg described the general feeling of Church members in Tonga as one of faith, acceptance, optimism, and gratitude for the preservation of their lives. “We can learn from the faith of those people,” he said. “Their attitude is basically this, as they have expressed it: ‘It’s our hurricane, let us get the blessings from it. The Lord sent it to us for a purpose, and we’ll just live with it.’ Some of them, of course, are pretty discouraged. But generally they’re determined to make it a positive experience.”
Elder and Sister Anthony B. Balukoff from San Diego, California, are welfare missionaries to Tonga and serve as the mission center couple. Sister Balukoff commented on the same faith and determination as she wrote, a few days following the storm: “After viewing the damage we feel it is a miracle that our lives and all our Church buildings are spared. We marvel at the smiles on the beautiful Tongan faces and thrill to the sounds of hammers putting the world together again. By Sunday afternoon [March 7] when we were again in the Hihifo area, the yards were spotlessly clean of every broken tree and fallen leaf, salvaged building parts and interiors were neatly piled or drying on fences or stubs of trees, and the people were observing the Sabbath day as is their custom and the law of their land. … We love these people even more after watching their courage in the face of disaster.”