Making Friends: Living the Gospel—Vehina and Ranitea Teihoarii of Takaroa, French Polynesia


Living the Gospel—Vehina and Ranitea Teihoarii of Takaroa, French Polynesia

Imagine living so close to the ocean that sometimes you can see whales swimming by! For Vehina and Ranitea Teihoarii, that doesn’t take any imagining at all—it just takes a little effort.

“One of the best places to watch for whales is from the tower of our church building,” says Vehina. “So we get permission, and then you have to climb up the staircase.” She explains that from the tower you can see far out to sea. “And during certain seasons of the year, there are lots of whales that go by.” Vehina, age 9, and Ranitea, age 7, used to get permission to climb the tower, because their father, Thierry Teihoarii, was the district president. He was often in the building, and liked to whale-watch with them.

The white church with the red roof, known as the Takaroa chapel, was built in 1891 by Latter-day Saints who wanted a place to worship together. As the girls climbed the stairs with their father, they would often talk about the history of the Latter-day Saints in French Polynesia. They learned, for example, that Joseph Smith sent missionaries to the islands of the Pacific Ocean in 1844, and that there were members of the Church in French Polynesia before the pioneers arrived in Utah!

Marie, the girls’ mother, points out that when he was district president, Brother Teihoarii traveled to four islands besides Takaroa to meet with members of the Church. Vehina and Ranitea loved to hear about what he did on his trips. “They begged to talk with me as soon as I came in the door,” Brother Teihoarii says. “It seems like they got to know everyone in the islands!”

The girls also love to help their mother around the house. “They see me working and come and work with me,” she says. “If they see me out planting things in the garden, they’ll come and say, ‘Do you need help, Mama? I want to come and work with you.’”

Besides working, the girls spend time dancing, playing handball, riding bicycles, swimming, and helping their grandparents who run a store where people on the island stop for snacks and sandwiches. If you ask, they’ll show you necklaces of shells, souvenirs made with pearls, and fancy hats that people on the islands make to earn money. And they love to play with their cousins, Vainaiti and Shirley, who are also members of the Church. In fact, out of 1,000 people who live in Takaroa, 380 are Latter-day Saints.

Of course the girls go to school too. And it is at school that Vehina has learned some important things about living the gospel. “We study the scriptures together every morning,” Sister Teihoarii explains. “And that has helped Vehina to read well and to express herself. She feels at ease because she’s used to reading and discussing. We know the prophet has counseled families to read the scriptures together. And we see that it will help us not only spiritually, but in our daily lives as well.”

One time when Vehina was nervous about a test at school, she said to her father, “Papa, I’d like you to give me a blessing because I’m scared.” He gave her a blessing, and she felt more confident. When she did well on the test, she remembered to say a prayer of thanks to Heavenly Father. Then she found her dad and thanked him too.

Every Sunday Vehina, Ranitea, Vainaiti, and Shirley go to their meetings in the white chapel. “Ranitea and I are sisters. Vainaiti and Shirley are sisters. But we are all sisters in the gospel,” Vehina says. All four girls like Primary because they get to sing, learn stories from the scriptures, and hear about the temple. “I want to go to the temple someday,” Ranitea says. “It’s a good place to be.”

[photos] Photography by Richard M. Romney

[photos] The Teihoarii family lives on an island where their meetinghouse is a famous landmark. Left: Vehina, cousin Vainaiti, and Ranitea are “sisters in the gospel.”

[photo] Takaroa is just a bit of land poking out of the sea, but it is a pretty place where Vehina and Ranitea are learning to live the gospel.