A touch of a prophet's hand changed the life of Rodolphe Etienne Tua.
Brother Tua and his wife, Marie Hana Teura Tua, are well-known in Tahiti for their tireless missionary work that has included pioneering the Church in the Marquesas Islands of French Polynesia. The Tuas are presently serving their third full-time mission at the family history center at the Papeete Tahiti Temple.The Tuas were introduced to the Church through the missionary efforts of an LDS cousin of Brother Tua's. In the 1970s, Rodolphe Tua began searching for a church that would satisfy his spiritual yearnings. He looked into various local churches but found no satisfaction.
In 1976, an area conference was held in Tahiti, and President Spencer W. Kimball was the presiding officer. Brother Tua's cousin invited him to attend the conference. After the conference, when Rodolphe Tua set about to leave, a friend noticed that President Kimball stood among the people to shake hands. The friend asked the investigator to meet the prophet, but he was shy. Sister Tua described what happened next.
"Rodolphe was leaving when a friend grabbed him by the belt and persuaded him to meet President Kimball. President Kimball shook his hand and then pulled Rodolphe to him and hugged Rodolphe. President Kimball then said, `The Lord has a lot of work for you here.'
"My heart felt really warm," recalled Brother Tua. "As a non-member, I didn't know what caused that. I felt something special."
He later accepted an invitation to attend Church. When given a copy of the Doctrine and Covenants, he read it late into the night and felt the Spirit bearing witness of its truths.
Brother Tua immediately began his first missionary work as he invited his wife to attend services with him. She, too, gained a testimony and they were baptized July 10, 1976. A year later they were sealed in the New Zealand Temple. Three of their nine children were also baptized.
They soon found what President Kimball had been referring to when he said "a lot of work" awaited. They served in many capacities including giving people rides to Church and teaching early morning seminary. In 1989, the Tuas were called on a mission to help introduce the gospel in the Marquesas Islands.
The Marquesas, northeast of Tahiti, are culturally distinct from the rest of French Polynesia. Previous efforts by missionaries in 1961 in the six islands had been unsuccessful. Refused hospitality, missionaries had camped on the beach and found their own food. After three months, they returned to Tahiti.
Missionaries continued the effort in the 1980s but found little success.
Then in 1989, Tahiti Papeete mission Pres. Yves R. Perrin was able to rent quarters for the missionaries on the island of Hiva Oa. Missionaries of Marquesian ancestry were also sent to other islands.
When they arrived, they discovered an LDS woman - a Tahitian married to a non-member Marquesian - who had prayed for missionaries to come. The woman, Ziella Vivish O'Conner, recalled that when she heard Mormons arrived, "I rushed to the dock . . . but my hopes were dashed when I couldn't see any young men in white shirts and ties. However, when I spotted a couple wearing black name tags, I realized my prayers had been answered. Even more incredible, I recognized Elder Tua from my youth when he drove Church members to and from meetings." (Seasons of Faith and Courage, p. 314.)
The Tuas began teaching the Robert O'Connor family from the Book of Mormon. However, outside of the O'Connor family, no one welcomed the missionaries. No one spoke to them. Without a car, the couple walked everywhere they went.
"It was very discouraging," said Sister Tua.
However, they found ways to help. "We did welfare service projects," said Sister Tua. "We helped them feed their animals - pigs chickens, goats, cows and horses. We helped them pick up copra. We went fishing to get food. I began teaching English classes. I made cakes and brownies."
Eventually attitudes toward them changed and teaching opportunities developed. Four large families, including the O'Connors, were baptized. On Oct. 12, 1991, a branch with 26 members had been created. Brother O'Conner was called as its president.
Pres. Perrin noticed the change the gospel had made in the lives of the family.
"Since becoming members, they have been blessed with bountiful harvests and flocks. . . . Most surprising was how much Brother O'Conner's priesthood responsibility has changed him. . . . Now he is dynamic and self-confident."
Their next assignment was to the island of Rurutu in the Austral Islands, which had 19 active members. By the time they'd completed that assignment, the branch had grown to 70 members.
After their return to Tahiti, the Tuas accepted a second mission call. They were sent to Tahaa Island in the Leeward Islands, which then had a single, struggling ward. After their service, membership increased and two additional branches were created. The couple also served on the island of Mangareva in the Gambier Islands.
"We do what we can do, and we do it with the Spirit of the Lord," said Sister Tua. "The Tahitian people have lots of faith, and the new generation is much easier to work with. As we preach the gospel, we often talk about the temple and eternal life and eternal families. This gives investigators another perspective of the Church."
She told of a recent missionary experience. A young couple from Noumea, New Caledonia, arrived in Papeete. They were wearing shorts and had no other possessions, no employment and no family. The Tuas explained the gospel and how temple work could be done for their ancestors. They helped the couple become established. Four months later, the couple was baptized. The husband found a job and bought property. They have since been sealed in the temple.
"The gospel softens a hard life," said Sister Tua. "And the temple gives us as missionaries much more strength to serve."