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Picturing history: Ha'alaufuli chapel site, Tonga

The first Latter-day Saint missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to labor in the Kingdom of Tonga arrived in July 1891. Elders Brigham Smoot and Alva John Butler sailed from their mission in Samoa to open the work in Tonga as a district of the Samoan Mission.

Because of the small number of converts, the Tongan District was closed in April 1897. Missionaries serving in Tonga were sent back to continue their missionary labors in Samoa.

Riley M. Moffat, BYU-Hawaii (left), professor Fred E. Woods, BYU (center), and Kapilon Savou view the historical plaques at the site of the Haalaufuli chapel in Vava'u, Tonga. | Kenneth Mays

On June 13, 1907, the Tongan Islands were again opened as a district of the Samoan Mission when Elders Heber McKay and William Facer arrived in Neiafu, the largest settlement in Vava’u (the northern cluster of islands).

A year later, Elder Facer started a school in the village of Ha’alaufuli, also in Vava’u. He subsequently baptized some 75 people and a branch was organized there in 1909. According to Riley Moffat, past president of the Mormon Pacific Historical Society, the first chapel in Tonga, a wooden one, was constructed and dedicated in 1912. The Ha’alaufuli chapel was remodeled and dedicated in 1938.

Headstone marks the site where Elder Victor Lee, of Afton, Wyoming, was buried across the street from the site of the Haalaufuli chapel in Vava'u, Tonga. Elder Lee died during his missionary service in 1932. | Kenneth Mays

Across the street from the chapel site is a cemetery where Elder Victor Lee of Afton, Wyoming, is buried. Elder Lee died while serving in 1932. Moffat notes that Ha’alaufuli became a stronghold of the church in Vava’u (see Riley M. Moffat's "LDS Church History Sites in the Kingdom of Tonga" in Mormon Historical Studies, Spring & Fall 2016, Vol. 17,).

LDS Church President David O. McKay visited the site in 1955 during his tour of the South Pacific. Presently, the chapel site is vacant, but there stands a collection of four historical plaques that tell the story.

The last 50 years have seen remarkable growth of the LDS Church in the Kingdom of Tonga. Tonga has the highest per capita of Latter-day Saints of any nation on earth, according to the country page on