“Tahitian Pearls,” Tambuli, June 1994, 14
Young Latter-day Saints on the outer islands of French Polynesia wanted to hold a youth conference. But they faced some challenges.
Challenge 1: Location. The islands are far apart, with no regular lines of communication or transportation between them.
Challenge 2: Law. The government requires any youth gathering to comply with approved standards, including supervision by a state-certified director.
Challenge 3: Food. Little edible food grows in the crushed coral soil of the atolls. The diet is based on fish, coconuts, and whatever is shipped from Tahiti.
Challenge 4: Water. There are no rivers or lakes. Rain provides the only source of drinking water.
Challenge 5: Lodging. There are no dormitories, barracks, or even hotels on the outer islands. Where would people stay?
Faced with so many obstacles, it might have been tempting to give up. But the Saints here knew that if they had faith, God would help them find answers. They continued planning their conference. And soon, solutions were found.
Solution 1: Stay close to home. Conference planners decided to hold several small conferences at local levels. This would allow youth groups to gather without lengthy travel or a lot of expense. The first conference was held on Takaroa, one of seventy-seven islands in the Tuamotu Archipelago. Takaroa is a stronghold for the Church in the area—270 of its 396 inhabitants are Latter-day Saints.
Solution 2: Find a willing supervisor. Brother Stanley Brodien, executive secretary in the Paea Tahiti Stake, was the answer. A school psychologist, he spends summer vacations organizing youth gatherings, summer camps, and outings. He already had the proper government certification and was happy to supervise the conference.
Solutions 3, 4, and 5: Use local resources. Takaroa had been blessed with an abundance of rain. Storage tanks were full and could supply needed water. Some food had to be brought along in coolers, but a baker from the nearby island of Manihi, branch president Pitori Faura, provided bread, and local members helped the youth catch fish and gather coconuts as needed. As for lodging, most of the youth stayed in homes with members. Some of the young men brought tents and camped on the beach.
And now, the conference! Most of the seventy LDS youth from the three islands attending the Tuamotu North Youth Conference are involved either directly or indirectly in the pearl industry. The youth are highly skilled in tasks like skin diving and scuba diving, which are required for pearl cultivation.
But besides the pearl farms, the focal point of the island of Takaroa is the century-old LDS chapel, built from coral, with its hand-painted moldings, red tin roof, and bell tower stretching ninety feet above bedrock. It is larger and taller than any other building on the island, symbolic of the Church’s importance in the small community, and a perfect place for the youth to gather.
After their arrival, some aboard a fishing vessel, some by speed boat, the youth were divided into four groups, each with a mixture of participants from various age levels and from the three islands of Takaroa, Manihi, and Takapoto. The youth chose Book of Mormon names for their groups: Ether, Nephi, Mormon—and a popular hero in these islands, Hagoth.
Cynthia Tufariua of Takaroa said, “At first I wasn’t excited about not being with my friends, but after the first day, I thought it was great to get to know kids from the other islands.”
Eric Hio of Manihi said, “I’ve never seen this many Mormons together in one spot.”
Set an example of service. The shining moment of the conference came in the form of service. Except for one very rainy morning, the youth spent several hours each day cleaning different areas of the island—picking up trash, cutting weeds and bushes, removing rocks, hauling away garbage. During the conference, they cleaned beaches along the dock area and tidied up the village cemetery, the church grounds and building, and the local soccer field, which had become little more than a garbage dump and an eyesore.
Mani Terooatea is a Laurel from Takaroa home on vacation from Japan, where she has been studying the technique of pearl grafting (placing tiny pieces of mussel shells inside oysters in order to cultivate pearls). Mani said, “It was super to clean up the field, to see everyone working side by side. It didn’t take long, and I’m glad we could leave the place cleaner than we found it.” Mani brought along a friend who is a member of another faith. The friend, Hina Dexter, developed a new appreciation for Latter-day Saints, as did several other non-LDS participants.
Start with the scriptures. Each morning started with individual scripture study, followed by breakfast and a devotional. Then came the service projects, followed by sports and group activities, including island games such as “The Crab and the Coconut Trees,” “The Dog and the Thongs,” and “The Thief and the Pearl.” To cool off after a hard day of work and play, the youth found that a dip in the pristine lagoon waters among some of the most beautiful coral gardens in the world, myriads of brightly colored tropical fish, and curious but harmless reef sharks, provided a refreshing change of pace.
Besides morning scripture study and devotionals, two firesides and a home evening emphasized spiritual topics such as faith, standards, scripture study, goal setting, enduring to the end, striving for excellence, mission preparation, and seminary attendance. One speaker gave a brief history of the Church in French Polynesia, speaking of sacrifices made by early missionaries and members and challenging the youth to be willing to make similar sacrifices to share the gospel.
End with a testimony meeting. As the conference closed, young people expressed gratitude for new bonds of friendship, strengthened testimonies, and their renewed desire to know and serve the Savior. One young man who had not been very active in the Church expressed his newly gained desire to serve a mission: “I want to get my life in order so I can share with other people the testimony I felt growing during this conference. I want to spread the joy the gospel brings.”
Like a pearl. The youth conference taught the outer islanders another thing as well. They saw that with patience, challenges can be turned into blessings. It reminded them of the black pearls they grow in their lagoons. A little bit of mussel shell is an irritant. But with time and care, the oyster transforms it into a thing of beauty.