Somewhere, in the middle of the ocean, on a beautiful tropical island where the breeze can smell like flowers and the palm trees stretch toward heaven, Latter-day Saint teens are discovering the power of the scriptures.
On the island of Tahiti, a word meaning “the gathering place,” many of these young men and women are gathering every morning as early as 5:15 a.m. to study the scriptures and learn how the gospel can change their lives.
Seminary in Tahiti, as on several of the other 117 islands that make up French Polynesia, is well attended. Sure it’s a challenge to get up that early, but these youth are finding that the blessings outweigh the sacrifices.
“It isn’t easy,” says Vaitiare Timo, 17, of the Mahina Ward, Arue Tahiti Stake. “But there’s no way to escape. I have to come. I have to serve the Lord after all He’s done for me.”
Each of the youth has his or her own reasons for attending. They come to learn, to understand, to apply, to find friends, to gain daily help with life’s problems, to prepare for a mission and marriage, to be converted, to serve the Lord, to feel good, and to find safety. They’re finding out that seminary helps them accomplish all that and more.
Getting into the Scriptures
“I come to learn,” says Raymonde Chapman, 15, of the Orofero Ward, Paea Tahiti Stake, “to know more about the scriptures and the lives of the prophets. I want to understand.”
If Raymonde wants to learn more about the scriptures, seminary is the right place. It’s not uncommon to hear a seminary teacher say something like, “We try to get the students into the scriptures so that the scriptures get into the students.”
It’s obvious that these students are getting into the scriptures and that the scriptures are becoming part of them.
Eighteen-year-old Karere Teiho’s latest favorite scripture is D&C 10:5: “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work.”
“Satan is very strong,” says Karere, a member of the Mahina Ward. “Every morning before seminary I pray to receive help to be protected from temptations. It works.” He shrugs. “I’m not perfect, but so far I’ve been blessed to find the strength to resist.”
When students like Karere begin to put into practice what they’ve learned, the power of the scriptures really begins to change lives.
“Seminary helps us apply the gospel in our lives,” says Benjamin Tuahiva, 14, of the Orofero Ward. “The lives of the prophets are an example to us.”
“I liked the part where Joseph forgave his brothers,” says Benjamin’s classmate Rumia Temauri, 14, speaking about when Joseph was sold into Egypt. “It’s a good example about how to have good relationships with your family. It’s helped me.”
Sister Ariiotima Mahirava, Benjamin’s and Rumia’s seminary teacher, asks her students to learn one scripture mastery each week. On the back of each scripture mastery card is a suggestion for how the student can apply in his or her life what the scripture is teaching. Sister Mahirava challenges the students to live that personal application during the week, then share their testimonies in class of how it blessed them.
“I think the students are realizing that the gospel isn’t something you live only on Sundays,” Sister Mahirava says. “It’s neat to watch the light come on.”
The Blessings of Seminary
Seminary students in French Polynesia are grateful for the opportunity to attend seminary. They recognize the many blessings they’re receiving for their faithfulness.
“It’s such a blessing to know the Book of Mormon is the word of God,” says Karere. “It’s the keystone of our religion. It will help us be converted to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. I have come to love Them so much.”
The students have also come to appreciate the words and experiences of the prophets.
“The stories we learn about in the scriptures help us every day,” says Vaitiare. “What the prophets did then can help us today. Experiences from the lives of modern prophets help me too, especially Joseph Smith.”
“I know seminary will help me,” says Karere. “I know going every morning to learn about the gospel will help me when I go on my mission to know how to teach and how to testify.”
Finding Someone to Lean On
Not only is seminary helping to strengthen the students individually, but the students are finding strength together as well.
“There are a couple of classes that meet at the same time,” says Vaitiare. “So we get to know students from the other classes and other wards. Because most of us go to the same school, it helps us to find friends at school who are members.”
Having friends who share the same standards helps these students of the scriptures stand up for their beliefs as students at school.
“We do a lot with our friends who aren’t members,” Vaitiare says. “But sometimes it’s nice to have someone to lean on who you know believes what you do.”
Safety in the Latter Days
Vaitiare has a favorite scripture too. At least until she finds another one in her studies that helps her just as much. It’s Revelation 1:3 [Rev. 1:3]: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand.”
“The scriptures will teach us the truth if we will read them,” she says. “What the prophets say is a guide for us. If we follow the scriptures and the words of the prophets, we will be safe during these last days.”
That’s just one more reason to gather at seminary and get into the scriptures.
“Thank you for your efforts in … going to institute, going to seminary, partaking of the blessings that are to be had there, not only in the teaching of the gospel but in the society in which you can mingle. I want to say to you, look for your friends among members of the Church. Band together and strengthen one another. And when the time of temptation comes you will have someone to lean on to bless you and give you strength when you need it.” President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Words of the Living Prophet,” Liahona, Aug. 1998, 16; “Excerpts from Recent Addresses of President Gordon B. Hinckley,” Ensign, July 1997, 73 .
Seminary After Dark
On the island of Takaroa, 400 miles (600 km) northeast of Tahiti, seminary isn’t an early morning activity, but an evening one. Once each week on Wednesdays, as the sun is going down, Sister Hina Garbutt teaches her students about the restored gospel. She’s following a pattern of study established in the 1850s when Latter-day Saint missionaries first began teaching here. In fact, the seminary class meets next to a chapel built in the 1890s.
For teenagers living on Takaroa, seminary is the only formal education available. While elementary education exists, the only option for secondary students is to go to a boarding school on another island far away.
“We have only priests here among the young men,” says Tetuarere Temahaga (above), 17, of the Takaroa Second Branch, Takaroa Tuamotu District. “The deacons and teachers have all gone away to school. But the six priests and three young women who remain come to seminary. Everyone believes it’s like our school for us, and so they come. We learn a lot, and we enjoy being together. Seminary allows us to keep learning.”
Like most of the youth on Takaroa, Tetuarere works on the pearl farms. He has to get up as early as 4:30 a.m., and he spends the day diving and swimming, lifting heavy strings of oysters into boats. Others, like young women (right) Hinanui Tehina, 14, and Tapiu Tino, 15, work all day long tying oysters to nylon strings so that others can put them back in the water. That’s how the pearls are grown, and that helps keep the economy alive on Takaroa. “We are needed here,” Tapiu explains. She went to boarding school for a while but found there were a lot of negative influences, so she returned to be with her family, surrounded by those she loves.
After a long day of labor, what do teens on Takaroa do to unwind? “Not much,” laughs Tetuarere. “We watch television, although there isn’t much to watch, or we go swimming. Most of all, we go fishing. We go fishing to get food, but we go for fun too.”
Sundays and Wednesdays are especially welcome. “Sunday, of course, we go to church, and Wednesday night is seminary,” Hinanui explains. “We learn a lot about the gospel.” Tetuarere talks about one of the many principles he has studied: the importance of the temple. “You cannot go there taking with you the things of the world. It is the house of the Lord, and no unclean thing can enter there.”
In fact, one of the exciting goals for seminary students here is to save money they earn and go with other branch members to the temple in Tahiti. “We will perform baptisms for the dead,” says Hinanui. “It’s a good goal. Everything we learn in church and everything we learn in seminary points us to the house of the Lord.”