NUKU'ALOFA, Tonga Students from Liahona High School here lined the streets in front of the Nuku'alofa Tonga Temple to welcome Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve to their Pacific kingdom.
A huge banner over the street conveyed the local sentiment for the Church leader, traveling with his wife, Wendy. The banner read, "Welcome Home, Eld. and Sis. Russell M. Nelson."
During a Church News interview, Elder Nelson recalled the first time he saw the sign. "How could they capture our feelings and their feelings with such few words. 'Welcome home.' They know how we feel, and we know how they feel."
Elder Nelson, along with Elder Spencer J. Condie of the Seventy, traveled to Tonga to rededicate the Nuku'alofa Tonga Temple on Nov. 4. He first visited the country 34 years ago in 1973. At that time there were four stakes in Tonga; today that number has quadrupled to 16 stakes.
"The sweetness of these people almost defies comment, they are so anxious to be like the Lord, anxious to do His work well," he said.
The Church, Elder Nelson said, has been in Tonga since 1891, starting a long history in an unique country. "This is a country where the Sabbath is honored. There are no airplanes in and out on Sunday, for example. These Tongan folks have a great natural affinity for the message of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is easy for them to believe it and apply it in their lives."
Reflecting on the blessing of the temple to the local Church members, Elder Nelson said that each temple in the Church "stands as a symbol of our membership in the Church, a sign of our faith in life after death, and a sacred step toward eternal glory for us and our families."
Having a temple, then going without one as Tongan Latter-day Saints did from June 2006 until the temple's rededication Nov. 4, 2007 is a hardship, he said. "You can't get along without a temple for long without losing something," he said. "Young people want to get married in the temple. If the temple is closed they miss that opportunity. So this puts things back where they belong in Tonga."
Both Elder Nelson and Elder Condie expressed appreciation and delight for the cultural program Nov. 3, held in conjunction with the rededication of the temple.
"Those young people had a great time," Elder Nelson said. "Moreover, they performed with exquisite finesse. It was just a work of art."
Elder Nelson sat by Tonga's king, his Majesty George Tupou V, at the celebration. The king and other members of the royal family expressed appreciation for what the Church is doing for Tongan members, he said.
Elder Condie said he wasn't surprised by the success of the cultural event.
"There is a certain innocence about the Tongans' talents. When you have a ward choir at stake conference, it is the ward. Everyone sings."
Elder Condie recalled attending a stake conference and wondering where the hymn books were. The stake president reported that the members had taken them home. "How do you sing?" Elder Condie asked. "You will see," the stake president answered.
Tongan Latter-day Saints know the music and words to the hymns by heart, he learned. "They sing at home."
Elder Condie also reflected on the blessing that the rededicated temple will now be to the people of Tonga.
"I think this is going to be a blessing to the peace and prosperity of this great land, not just to the Latter-day Saints, but to the whole Kingdom of Tonga."
E-mail to: [email protected]