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Church history moments: Feast for the soul

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Despite repeated attempts to extend visits, missionaries serving in the French Polynesia island of Tahaa in the mid-1950s were allowed short periods of stay only.

The Church was well established in the South Pacific by this time. In January 1950, a large meetinghouse and mission home had been built in Papeete, Tahiti.

Missionary work in the Pacific Islands had begun in 1843 when Joseph Smith sent missionaries. Ambrose Alexander in June 1844 was the first to be baptized.

But missionary work was hard to establish on the island of Tahaa. For many years, missionaries were granted visits for short periods.

In 1955, the governor of Tahaa extended permission for missionaries to stay six months. Elders Larson Caldwell and Joseph Childers were the first to enter. At the expiration of their permits, others were allowed to enter.

The missionaries were well received and within a short time had numerous baptisms. The membership quickly outgrew the capacity of the small dwellings they were using for meetings.

A beautiful site on the crest of the hill overlooking the two villages of Patio and Pahure was given to the Church for construction of a meetinghouse to accommodate 120 people.

Materials were shipped from Papeete, 120 miles by island schooner, then by small boat another 12 miles to the neighboring villages, and from there hauled to the building site over hand-built roads.

Local members worked long and faithfully to transport the materials.

On the day in the spring of 1955 when President Ellis V. Christensen of the Tahiti Mission dedicated the building, an estimated 250 people crowded the chapel, with another 150 people peering through windows while struggling to hear proceedings.

Governmental officials expressed their surprise and pleasure at the erection of such a beautiful building.

Following the dedication, when President Christensen gave the newly organized branch the name of Cumora, 500 people gathered for a huge feast of poi, roasted pig and chicken, taro, breadfruit and shrimp. — Shaun Stahle from Church News, May 19, 1956; 2006 Church Almanac.