Ziella Kahiti Vivish O’Connor, born and raised in the LDS Church in Tahiti, said the journey of being the first and only member when she moved to the French Polynesian island of Marquesas was not always easy.
She said she moved away from Tahiti when she met her husband, Robert Peirre Haaiiau O’Connor. She then had to move into his house in the Marquesas. Because he was not a member of the church at the time, Ziella O’Connor became the only member in the entire country, a situation she said made her feel alone.
Even though there weren’t any other members around, she said she kept her principles and continued to carry her scriptures and a hymn book with her. She said she stayed faithful to the Lord. “I prayed all the time to overcome [my trials] and stay active,” she said.
Ziella O’Connor said throughout the years she always talked to her husband, who was Catholic at the time, about the gospel and how it was not right for their children to be baptized at such a young age.
He told her if the church came to their island one day, then he would join. Holding him to his commitment, Ziella O’Connor kept her hopes high and dreamed someday she would be able to attend church again, but this time with her family.
According to her, it took 10 years until her husband accepted the gospel and allowed their children to be baptized. After their baptisms, they became the first LDS family of the Marquesas.
About his conversion story, Robert O’Connor said, “Seeing the kids growing up, I asked Heavenly Father, ‘How am I going to teach those kids?’" He said seven years later a missionary couple came to the island and answered his question.
Acting on his promise, he said he began investigating the church with the senior couple in 1989 and then decided to get baptized. He said when missionaries from other churches visited him before, he did not have a good feeling. “But something was different about the LDS senior couple,” he said.
Ziella O’Connor said, “We first started a little group as a family and little by little people began to join the church.” She said they started with their family of 10 and today there are now 124 members in the Marquesas Islands. She said it’s a blessing being the first member and being able to witness the growth of the church.
Her daughter, Shirley Tekura O’Connor Tovey, a coordinator of Student Leadership Activities and Service and an instructor of French and EIL, said her father was the bishop for over 20 years and is now the district president while his son is his first counselor.
Tovey said because her mother did not give up and kept her faith, there is now a branch, members, and a church building on the island. “Because of my mother’s faith, endurance, and since bringing my dad into the church, it is a testimony to me and to my family that the church is true.”
Sheeba O’ Connor, a freshman majoring in TESOL, gave another example of her mother’s character. She said one day when she was 12 years old, her mother brought home a homeless person to stay with them. “She went to the store to buy some clothes, soap, and food for him. My parents paid for his ticket to go back to France and a ticket to France is so expensive. He stayed with us for about six months.
“Every morning at 5:30 we would read the scriptures and he saw how our family is, which seemed to impress him. After 10 years, he returned to visit our family again and was baptized into the church. He said, ‘I remember what you told me and I wanted to learn more.’”
Sheeba O’Connor continued, “My mom is my hero. She loves Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ so much. She does everything to help, love, and serve people around her. I love her so much and it is a blessing and a privilege to be her daughter.”
Robert O’Connor said his wife’s faith is like metal. It’s strong and cannot be broken. He said he hopes all six islands will eventually have a chapel since there is only one chapel in the entire country.