Island, Part II
Flourishing Church and Petition for Expulsion
by Terry Bohle Montague
All Rights Reserved
Some portions of this article have been excerpted from Niue of Polynesia, Savage Island's First Latter-day Saint Missionaries by Robert Maurice Goodman
I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do. - Nephi
THE BLUE BELL SHINES
With the baptism of 42 in the Amanau Cave and the blessing of the 16 children of Makefu, the work gained momentum. The Elders looked on The Blue Bell with new eyes and saw they must turn their efforts to providing a more reverent meeting place where their new members and investigators could more abundantly experience the Spirit.
First, they decided to paint the rusted metal roof, but the only paint they found was a rusty brown-red. Nevertheless, they proceeded and enlisted the help of some of the young men in Alofi who accomplished the task in short order.
Finding paint for the body of The Blue Bell, 30x30 feet of rusted, corrugated iron panels, proved a little harder. Because most of the buildings on Niue had thatched roofs and walls of lime plaster, there was little need for paint on the island and little to be had.
The missionaries went to Commissioner Larsen, who allowed them one gallon of aluminum paint. As the Elders and the young men painted, they added a little kerosene to extend the paint, hoping there would be enough to coat the building. To their great surprise, the paint lasted. They stepped back from their work and looked on with delight. The Blue Bell stood completely painted and shining silver in the sun.
Elder Goodman said, "We called that paint bucket our little miracle."
In October, Elder Basil E. DeWitt came to Niue so Elder Goodman could travel to Fiji to receive medical attention for his recurring boils. Elder DeWitt, in his mid-sixties, delighted the Niueans with his artwork. He told stories and taught as he painted scenes on canvas, walls, even pillow cases, and coconut hulls.
Elder DeWitt also proved himself a good general handyman and carpenter. He and Elder Christensen finished painting The Blue Bell's interior and then the two missionaries, as well as a dozen other men, went into the jungle with axes and two-man crosscut saws.
They hauled the logs to the government saw mill and cut them into lumber. For five weeks, under the direction of Elder DeWitt, missionaries and members built, planed, and painted 18 benches, a rostrum, a stand, and a sacrament table.
"How beautiful it looked," said Elder Goodman. "Our members were delighted to have a more formal atmosphere for worship services."
THE CHURCH GROWS
Elder DeWitt left the island in January as interest in the gospel continued to increase. After one meeting, Elder Christensen taught pioneer-type square dancing, while Elder Goodman accompanied on his guitar. Within a few minutes, the number of dancers doubled to about 80. The Niueans enjoyed the dancing for two hours until a hailstorm of rocks scattered the group.
As the missionaries had more opportunities to teach, the stoning also increased, sometimes disrupting cottage meetings. Yet, in January, 20 more people were baptized, bringing the number of members to 86.
The missionaries felt the Lord blessed their efforts and delighted in the progress they made. Elder Christensen recorded in his journal that since the day he had arrived, six months earlier, the missionaries held 255 meetings and biked 65 miles a week.
In that same journal, Elder Christensen noted another stoning, this one while the missionaries left a meeting in the village of Lakepa. One stone skimmed along Elder Christensen's head but did not injure him. Another struck him on the side of his foot and caused the Elder some discomfort for several days. But Elder Christensen recorded, "Oh well, it's not every missionary that gets rocks thrown at them."
Early in 1953, the missionaries, as well as several Niuean members journeyed to the north part of the island, to the tiny village of Toi, a settlement they had not yet approached with a missionary message.
As they usually did, the missionaries and members laid out their palm leaf mats and kerosene lamps. The group sang a hymn and followed it with prayer. Curiosity brought out about 50 of the villagers, who lingered to hear the message. Elder Goodman felt the people received the gospel message and the missionaries earned some new friends.
But, several days later, when they made a return visit, the situation had changed. The missionaries laid out their mats and lamps and began the meeting. No one came from the huts. The missionaries saw children peeking at them from behind coconut trees, but none of the villagers appeared. At last, puzzled, the group folded up their mats and left.
They had gone several hundred yards on the path back through the jungle when they encountered a four-foot high barricade of tree branches. Then, from behind and around the missionaries, they heard the sounds of shouting, obviously meant to frighten them. They turned and saw natives hurriedly building another barricade behind them, while others set fire to the jungle alongside the path.
The flames spread and grew, but the missionaries felt no alarm. They knew the Lord accompanied and protected them. After a few minutes, the barricade in front of the group burnt down enough to allow them to jump over it and continue back to Alofi, which they did with no further problem.
The missionaries considered what they should do about preaching in Toi. They knew the villagers of Toi felt the spirit of the message the missionaries brought. The Elders knew the ambush on the path from Toi had been inspired by the adversary. They also knew the Lord would protect them. In faith, the missionaries decided to return.
Once again, they entered the village, laid out their woven mats and kerosene lamps and began the hymn. A couple of the villagers came out and sat down, ready to listen. Several more appeared, and then more until almost everyone in the village had formed a circle around the missionaries. Delighted, the missionaries delivered their message to the people of Toi.
As time went on, all the villagers of Toi were baptized. They even built their own thatched meeting place, a humble shelter of about 12x15 feet where the missionaries came to teach.
Elder Goodman said, "To me, it became a monument of their faith. Though not officially dedicated by a priesthood holder, it was a sacred place to us all. We loved going there. We loved being with those dear people of Toi."
A PETITION FOR EXPULSION
As Church membership neared one hundred, the island's other church drafted a petition and delivered it to the New Zealand Parliament. The petition requested that since the Mormon missionaries had created a disturbance on Niue, they should be removed from the island. A flurry of letters to the editor appeared in the Auckland Star, some accusing the Elders of breaking the peace on the island by creating dissension among the natives. More neutral writers decried religious monopolies and urged tolerance. And members wrote, reminding New Zealanders the missionaries taught in Niue with the government's full approval. Mission President Sidney J. Ottley wrote, "We shall continue in our present course with the lion's boldness."
Later, the assistant secretary of Island Territories of New Zealand went to Niue and met with Commissioner Larsen as well as several Niuean Saints.
Elder Christensen's journal stated, "The Assistant Secretary to the Island Territories was very pleased with the Church here on Niue. He assured the brethren and sisters that the Church would not have to leave Niue."
Elder Goodman wrote, "The efforts of the adversary still goes on. We accept those efforts as another testimony of the truthfulness of our work." He went on to note, "We might never have achieved success in Niue without help from Commissioner Larsen. He was, indeed, a good friend to the Church."
Because of the increasing membership on Niue, two other Elders, Thomas E. Slade and Harold L. Bailey came to the island. With two companionships, the total number of teaching sessions increased and, when they enlisted the help of Niuean members, their teaching opportunities multiplied. The missionaries continued holding the activities the islanders had come to enjoy. Volleyball, baseball, American football, boxing, square dancing, and singing.
Elder Slade commented the missionaries kept busy from morning until night, averaging sixteen meetings a week in six different villages, riding ten miles a day on their bikes.
With a first year's anniversary coming up, Elder Christensen noted, the missionaries on Niue had held 460 meetings. Elder Goodman wrote, "We knew that the Lord wanted this work to go forward, so we gave it all we had. In turn, He blessed us far beyond our humble efforts - and far beyond our mortal understanding. For this we were deeply grateful."
Neither of the two new Elders escaped paying a price for their assignment to Niue, however. Elder Slade developed boils and Elder Bailey had a brush with coral that caused an infection and, later, blood poisoning. Both Elders recovered from those trials and continued teaching.
A TEST IN TOI
As a smaller and poorer village, Toi could not support a pastor of the island's main religion. When the news of the LDS missionaries' presence in Toi reached the head minister, he planned meetings in Toi to persuade the villagers not to listen to the missionaries and to drive them out. The meetings were scheduled for 6:00 a.m., 9:00 a.m., and 2:00 p.m.
When Elders Christensen and Bailey heard of the meetings, they made plans of their own. The evening before the meetings scheduled by the pastors, the Elders and several Niuean members went to Toi to hold a party. They thought to continue the party late into the night with singing, dancing, and games so the villagers would not feel like getting up early to hear the pastors' messages. The missionaries also planned messages to strengthen the villagers of Toi in their new testimonies.
The missionaries need not have worried. Elder Goodman wrote, "The pastors' efforts had little or no effect on the dear Saints of Toi. They exercised their new faith in God and again demonstrated the wonderful Niuean quality of courage. It is little wonder that Toi became known as the 'Mormon village'."
A MURDER IN PARADISE
At 2:30, the morning of Sunday, August 16, 1953, Elders Goodman and Bailey were awakened by a Niuean who worked for the government. He brought the news that the Resident Commissioner, Cecil Larsen, had been attacked and murdered. The messenger also told the Elders the attackers had threatened to kill all the palagi (whites) on the island and the missionaries should come with him to a place where they would be protected. Horrified, the Elders dressed and followed the messenger.
Elder Slade recorded, "About the most horrible thing that I have ever seen or heard of was the sudden murder of our resident commissioner; the good Mr. C. H. (Cecil) Larsen. Mr. Larsen was attacked while in bed asleep and brutally chopped to death with a big native bush knife. Mr. Larsen's wife was also seriously injured. She is in the Niue hospital now with severe lacerations."
Elder Goodman wrote, "We went to a house with a wide vista around its perimeter. The women and children were gathered inside. We younger men stood guard outside.
"When it became light, we went up to the Larsen home, where we found a terrible scene. Mr. Larsen's body had been placed in a body bag, which was in a wooden box in the hall. The bedroom was a horrible scene with blood everywhere.
"Mr. Archie Jacobson, who worked for the administration, was the only person at the Larsen's home when we arrived. He explained that six prisoners had broken out of the prison farm. Three of them, armed with big bush knives, headed for Mr. Larsen's home, which was only a short distance away. After cutting the telephone line, they entered the home and went directly into the bedroom, where Commissioner and Mrs. Larsen were asleep. They surrounded the bed and started hacking away at Mr. Larsen.
"Mrs. Larsen had jumped out of bed and began defending herself by raising her arms against the bush knives. She also began yelling and screaming loudly. Her screams probably saved her life and the lives of her children, because the attackers were scared away.
"Mr. Larsen lived only one hour after the attack. He was able to tell the doctor who his attackers were. Mrs. Larsen received many life-threatening wounds. Her arms were broken in four places, and she had a wound on her forehead. Their daughter, Thelma, was all right, as was their young son, Billy, who had run down the hill to Alofi to sound the alarm."
Because there were no embalming facilities or funeral homes on the island, Cecil Larsen's body was buried that afternoon in the royal plot next to Niue's last king, Togia.
Efforts then turned to capturing Larsen's killers, identified as Suka, Folitolu, and Tamaeli.
Elder Christensen wrote in his journal,
"17 August 1953. There are so many caves on the island as well as thick brush and plenty of food that these killers could stay in the bush for a long time and never be found. It's not going to be easy to find them. But, they will probably want some cooked food and a smoke, so they'll more than likely give themselves up I hope they are caught soon. It sure makes a guy nervous when he knows he is wanted by some killers.
"This morning a search party for each village went out looking for the three murderers of Mr. Larsen. Search parties were out all day and found no signs of them at all. I went over to the 'batch' (bachelors' quarters for the European government workers) as soon as it got dark. Again, I was up for most of the night keeping watch. They are really after all the palagis. Mrs. Larsen's condition is improving a little today.
"18 August 1953. My birthday today. I am 22 years old. The search continues again today for Tamaeli, Suka, and Folitolu. Someone thought they saw them at Liku. So trucks took all the Alofi men up to Liku to search for them. Some had guns, some clubs, many had bush knives, so they were ready to hunt. At the end of the day, there was no sign of them. So tonight, I went over to the 'batch' to keep watch again.
"19 August 1953. No sign of the murderers yet. A woman from Hakupu was in the bush getting food and said she saw Suka. He asked if she had any cigarettes. He frightened her so she ran back to the village. All the people were brought over to the Hakupu area. They looked all day for them but couldn't find them. Mrs. Larsen has been improving quite a bit.
"20 August 1953. I had been up most all of the night on guard duty. I had just gone to bed when Mr. Empin got me out of bed. He said the three murderers of Mr. Larsen had been caught and are now in the village of Fatiau.
"The constable at Fatiau was having one last look around his village before getting some sleep when one of the prisoners, Suka, came out of the bush. He yelled at the constable, calling him by name, saying, 'Don't shoot and don't be afraid. We want to have a talk with you.' As soon as he said this, Folitolu and Tamaeli came out of the bush. They had no bush knives on them. In fact, all they had in their hands was a Bible that Folitol was holding. He was the pastor of the group, of all things.
"The weather here on Niue has been very cold the last couple of weeks, really too cold to be a tropical island. Apparently, these men had been so cold and chased around so much these past four days that they couldn't take it any longer. Also, one of the main reasons for the surrender was for a smoke. They said they couldn't go on any farther without having a cigarette. This was the first thing they asked for when they got into the constable's home."
Elder Goodman wrote of that day, "It felt good to get back home in our own beds and get a good night's sleep. However, before going to bed that evening, Elder Christensen, Elder Slade, and I biked out to Avatele for a meeting. It was the first meeting we'd had for almost a week."
The three accused killers of Cecil Hector Larsen were tried, convicted of the murder, and sentenced to life in prison.
In October 1953, the Niueans of six villages held a daylong party for Elder H. Thayne Christensen who would be leaving the island. Because of delayed paperwork, Elder Christensen served 36 months in the New Zealand Mission, spending the last fourteen on Niue. Later, he commented, "I didn't mind at all."
By November 1953, Elder Robert Goodman had served a two-year mission plus a six-month extension. Eighteen of those months were on the island of Niue. By that time, about 200 Niueans had accepted the gospel and been baptized. Boys and men worthy to receive the priesthood were ordained and island women accepted callings in the Primary, MIA, and Sunday School.
Elder Goodman wrote, "It was difficult to leave those faithful, loving people of Niue and those loyal, selfless missionaries.
"'Monuina e fenoga!' (Blessings on the voyage!), they cried.
"As I climbed aboard the lighter to go out to the ship, all the great memories of that wonderful rugged island began to play across my mind. I thought, 'What a great adventure, what a great opportunity, what a wonderful blessing!'
"As the ship pulled way, I was at the rails watching, with at large lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, until I could see Niue Island no more. 'Mutolu kia (Good-bye)! Until we meet again!'"
died three months after leaving Niue.
In the tiny village of Toi, the Church has built one of only three chapels on the island.
Independence from New Zealand came to Niue in 1974. Many Niueans, worried theisland's new status would affect their New Zealander citizenship, immigrated to New
Niue, the 1952 population of 5,000 people has dwindled to approximately
2,100 today. Church membership on the island is about 280. In
New Zealand, 700 Niueans are members of the Church.
Robert M. Goodman returned to the United States and attended Brigham Young University and Virginia Commonwealth University. He married Shirley Motschman. They have seven children and 18 grandchildren. Their son, Kels', feature film, Handcart, was released on October 11, 2002. Currently, Bob and Shirley live in Powhatan, Virginia.
Brother Goodman made his living as a real estate developer, broker and syndicator, and is the author of The Income Stream: A Simplified Guide to Real Estate Investment Analysis. He has also been an instructor with the National Association of Realtors.
Brother Goodman served his community as city commissioner in Harrington, Texas, and President of the Chamber of Commerce in South Padre Island, Texas.
in the Church have included Stake Young Men's President, Bishop's
Counselor, Bishop, Stake President's Counselor, and Stake President.
Currently, he serves as President of the Powhatan Branch in Richmond,
In November 2000, Bob and Shirley traveled to Niue. During a party held in their honor, Bob came face-to-face with one of the missionaries' stone-throwers, a sister who later converted to the Church.
Bob wrote, "With obvious deep anguish, she bore her beautiful testimony and expressed sincere sorrow for having been one who threw rocks at us. She asked for forgiveness which she promptly received with a big hug."
Former Elders Slade, Goodman and Christensen
The Church will celebrate its Jubilee year on the Island of Niue from December 13 through the 22 of 2002. During the celebration, a plaque will be mounted at the Amanau Cave, commemorating the first baptisms on the island.
Letters, Robert M. Goodman, September, October 2002
Niue of Polynesia, Savage Island's First Latter-day Saint Missionaries, by Robert Maurice Goodman, due to be released in October 2002
© 2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.