Hospitality and Sanctuary on Tupuài

25 01 2013

BY SUSAN OXLEY, Council of Twelve Apostles

Our church movement in French Polynesia began with an act of hospitality.

Forced to make an unexpected stop in their voyage, missionary Addison Pratt and his companions disembarked on Tupuài (Tubuai in English) in April 1844. A Polynesian woman named Tehinaarii invited them into her home. She gave food, housing, and much-needed assistance.

When the others left for Tahiti, Pratt stayed to share the gospel. His missionary outreach resulted in 50 baptisms within a few months and the establishment of the first congregation in what then was called the “Society Islands.” On land where Polynesians built a home for Pratt, he erected a commemorative stone celebrating his arrival.

Today, three congregations make their home on Tupuài: Manate (Manasseh), Tara (Sara), and Jerusalema Api (New Jerusalem). Descendants of Tehinaarii are among the prominent leaders of the church. Members remember and celebrate that first act of hospitality—even during the harshest of times.

The Tupuài members of Community of Christ are welcoming with song, food, and stories of invitation and witness.

In February 2011, Hurricane Oli hit Tupuài full force. In the last three generations, no storm had caused as much damage. When the residents emerged from the storm shelters, homes were gone or damaged, roofs were missing, and household contents ranging from refrigerators to children’s toys were piled haphazardly against buildings and felled trees.

Water and sand were pushed against the foundation of the Manate Community of Christ building, but it was not damaged. It stood as a bulwark against the storm, protecting the home of a non-member who lived directly behind the church. Among members, the protection offered in that natural disaster became a symbol, reminding them Community of Christ provides sanctuary to all people.

Nearby, the home of Hatai and his wife, Mata, was roofless, windowless, waterlogged, and full of sand. Hatai is confined to a wheelchair because of diabetes and leg disease. Rebuilding their home seemed impossible.

Mata, a Community of Christ member, tells with pride of the legacy of faith, invitation, and hospitality she inherited from her recently deceased mother. Mata and Hatai often have provided housing and meals to residents and off-island visitors. They do so with a joy and comfort well-known among all members of the community. But after the storm, it appeared their days of offering hospitality had ended.

The day following the hurricane, however, a group of people showed up and went to work. They soon rebuilt, cleaned, and repaired the home. After finishing, they moved on, tackling another home. But in the evening, they returned—to enjoy a hot meal, showers, and fellowship at the home of Hatai and Mata.

During the next weeks of hard labor and construction, they always found a welcome there at the end of the day. The legacy of hospitality lives on, blessing others.



One response

25 01 2013

Together in the spirit of love, compassion and generosity we find joy in life regardless of the circumstances…

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