Building an LDS meetinghouse on the remote South Pacific tropical island of Tarawa, one of the 33 islands of the nation of Kiribati, may test a builder's imagination.
All the building materials must be brought to the island where the only natural resources are coral, palm trees and perhaps a little soil.But this was the challenge that faced Andrew Witte, area construction manager for Australia/Papua New Guinea/New Zealand/South Pacific.
To accomplish the project he visited the island with architect Graham Sully. Decisions were made to design a simple, but attractive, all-wood edifice. The building was to blend with the natural surroundings and would be ventilated by the sea breezes.
With the design approved, the prefabricated structure was set up on the Church complex parking lot near the temple at Sydney, Australia.
"We invited the area president, John Sonnenberg, and Bishop Henry B. Eyring of the Presiding Bishopric to inspect the building," Witte explained.
A devotional meeting was held by the priesthood leaders. "There was a good spirit," said Witte. "It was a wonderful meeting, and everybody liked the building."
Workers then disassembled the building, packed it in land-sea containers and shipped it to Tarawa, which was formerly one of the Gilbert Islands. Tarawa is now the capital of Kiribati (pronounced Kiri-BAHS), which spreads over more than 3 million square miles in the Pacific.
When several land-sea containers arrived recently at Tarawa, Church members were pleased to know that their meetinghouse was inside. Bill Meixher has the responsibility of supervising the construction of the building, which will measure 50 feet by 24 feet when completed. When more space is needed, a second unit will be sent, and the two will be connected by a walkway.
A feeling of satisfaction was reflected in Witte, who has spent his life in construction. He came from a family of builders.
"I was born in Holland a seventh-generation builder," he explained, "and my son will be the eighth. We loved our country, but the time came in 1964 when we thought it was getting too crowded, so we looked for some country with more room. We decided to move to Australia.
"I was a technical director of a construction company, but I left my job and country and with our family of five children came to Australia. We went to the Blue Mountains, to Orange, about 300 kilometers from Sydney. I soon found work and we set about building our own home. We were not members of the Church then."
In a way it was the beautiful new home that introduced the missionaries and the Church to the Witte family.
"We were just moving into the new house," he recalled. "The boxes were still stacked in the front room when the missionaries came by. It is interesting that I had been reading about the American Indians, and one of the missionaries was an Indian from Idaho."
This captured the interest of Witte, and soon a flannel board was brought out and the teaching began, including information about the Indian people and Christ in ancient America.
The elders invited the Wittes to come to Church on Sunday. Their excuse was that they couldn't because they were moving into the new house. "We will come and help you on Saturday," was the missionaries' response.
"I really didn't think they would show up," Witte said. "But at 6 a.m. they were at the house and they really worked. At the end of the project, they said, `See you at Church.' I couldn't get out of it and we received a wonderful welcome. That was in 1967."
The teaching continued and soon the family was baptized, and received callings in the Church. Witte was called to the Sunday School presidency, and there has been Church activity ever since.