Church historian writes book on Kalaupapa, inspired by selfless service of others

Written by: 
Brooklyn Redd

Fred Woods, author of ‘‘Kalaupapa: The Mormon experience in an Exiled Community,” brought a message of community awareness and love for one another in his devotional on April 18.

“A lot of historians that do Mormon history focus on the trail. I focus on the sail before the trail,” Woods said. “I was one of those people who was wondering, ‘Who I am? Where did I come from? Where am I going?’”

Since Woods was not raised in the LDS Church, he said his conversion began when he was younger and worked with construction workers who were members. He said they shared their testimonies and invited him to church.

Woods, now a church historian and professor at BYU, said he decided to attend church one day and felt as if he was at home. He said he attended a fireside with Harold B. Lee’s daughter, the wife of the mission president at the time, who was giving the talk.

“I was moved upon by an inspired strong desire to ask if the church was true. That night, I went home and prayed. As I prayed, I had a sacred experience and was illuminated from head to toe with the Spirit.

“I went to tell my mother who taught me about Jesus, and before I could even tell her what had happened she said, ‘You had an experience with God, haven’t you?’” Woods said he joined the Church two weeks later at the age of 20. 

Woods said he then served a mission in Australia. “A mission for me was essential in my profession, practically as a husband and father. It was a great blessing. It prepared me to hear the word of the Lord, to recognize promptings, learn to exercise faith, and put my trust in the Spirit,” he said.

After his mission, Woods taught in the church for 35 years, writing his book for part of the time. He said the book is most dear to his heart because it comes from a family of four different kinds of Christian groups and depicts the importance of loving everyone.

“My core is witnessing God lives and Jesus is the Christ. That is what moves me. I was very interested in Hawaii. Hawaii was a gathering place for the Polynesian people in 1865.

“It’s been a really rewarding opportunity to study this. We find people building up each other’s churches rather than tearing them down. I was very touched to learn that a lot of the Protestants and Catholics put more hours into building our LDS chapel than the Latter-day Saints,” Woods said.

He said he learned how to really serve the Lord with all his mind. He said the books he wrote helped him to not only serve with his mind, but also his heart.

“I often told my students at BYU, ‘It’s great to stand in a circle and hold hands and look at each other, but far better is to still hold hands but look outside the circle,” Woods said.

While waiting in line at the Aloha Center for Woods to sign her newly purchased book, Sister Mueller, a senior missionary from Utah, said, “I am fascinated with [the history of] Kalaupapa. [It was] such a touching story of incredible love, devotion, and faith.”

She said she is excited to read Woods’ new novel and learn about how she can become more aware of the community. “[Woods] obviously has a very sincere heart and truly cares about others and their history.”

Sam Clayton, a freshman from Colorado studying biomedicine, said he admires church historians and their ability to relate everything back to the gospel. “I believe there is gospel truth in every culture belief. I really admire someone who can put that time building off cultures with Christ.”

Referencing the devotional, Clayton said he learned that people are better off in their lives when they learn to do more for others than for themselves.

Woods concluded, “My job is much more than a job to me. It is about scholarship, it is about character, and it is about connecting and building bridges.”

Date Published: 
Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Last Edited: 
Tuesday, May 9, 2017