What the Cross Means to Me

30 11 2013

By Mark Scherer, World Church historian

In 2009 I had the honor of visiting members in Papeete, Tahiti. This was my second visit as church historian. As people left my class in the Tarona Congregation sanctuary, a young boy ran up to me and enthusiastically pointed to the ceiling.

A panel that fell from this part of the ceiling played a role in the history of the Tarona Congregation in Tahiti.

A panel that fell from part of the ceiling played a role in the history of the Tarona Congregation in Tahiti.

He spoke French, and I could not understand him. At first I thought he had seen a small lizard in the rafters and wanted me to see it, too. My translator said the boy was telling how a heavy ceiling panel had fallen during a similar class. His well-known story was about Elder Taiura Piehi.

In January 1969, Taiura fell asleep on his couch. He dreamed that a personage told him “his work is finished.” After he awoke he told his wife, Adele, and her brother, “A spirit has come to tell me that my work is finished. I know that I am going to die. Here is how it will happen: Your eyes will not see it, but someone else will come and tell you. That’s how you will learn of it.”

Family members and friends tried to dissuade Taiura from such notions, suggesting he just had a bad dream. But Taiura knew what he saw, clearly understood the message, and rejected their rationalizing. No one slept well that night.

Over the next several days Taiura did chores that needed completion before his passing. He did painting and carpenter work, and he reminisced with neighbors about good times. In his farewells he expressed the joys of witnessing and missionary service in the outer islands. He shared stories about those he baptized, those he ordained, and of the churches he helped to build.

On Saturday, January 18, Taiura attended a district conference at Tarona. Adele was unable to join him. Everyone knew where Taiura would sit—always in his pew at the rear of the sanctuary. However, on this day he unexpectedly moved toward the front and sat in a pew just behind the Graffeo family.

While he quietly listened, a sudden movement from the ceiling caught his eye. Two heavy wooden panels dislodged from the tall ceiling. One landed in the center aisle. As the other fell, Taiura lunged forward to protect the Graffeo family.

Judy Graffeo received lacerations, was rushed to a nearby clinic, and then was released. Taiura was hospitalized with a crushed skull. To his visitors, Taiura testified that his accident was the result of God’s love and not revenge. Then, on Wednesday morning, January 22, 1969, Taiura died, thus fulfilling his dream.

This event creates an existential crisis for me because the details do not fit neatly into the many years of my secular education in the historical discipline. Normally I would approach this account with healthy skepticism. But everyone in the sanctuary that day and all those who visited Taiura’s hospital room and heard his testimony authenticated exactly what happened.

Veracity is beyond question. So I strongly hold to my computer-generated e-mail signature: “Willing to search for truth beyond reason but not against it.”

Both the meaning of the cross and Taiura Piehi’s story affirm that there most certainly is “truth beyond reason.”



One response

30 11 2013
William RAISER

Mark, Thanks for sharing this experience. Here we see the real Community in action — with love across time and space.

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