The Laie Hawaii Temple was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 27, 1919. This year the temple celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Church Historian Clinton D. Christensen compiled a book filled with stories about the Laie Hawaii Temple, as told by the Hawaiian Latter-day Saints. We will be sharing excerpts of these stories throughout the year, leading up to the 100th year anniversary in November.
“The stories began decades before Lāʻie, Oʻahu, became the gathering place where a temple would be dedicated in 1919. The first ten elders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who waded onto the shores of the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi in 1850 brought with them their witness and story of the priesthood power found in modern temples.
“Today, we think of Lāʻie as the gathering place for Hawaiʻi, but a group of Hawaiians journeyed to Utah to receive temple blessings and eventually started a colony called Iosepa named after Joseph F. Smith. From 1889 to 1917, Iosepa was the home for two hundred Polynesians. They gave up their isles of paradise to live in the harsh West Desert of Utah.
“Countless descendants honor these Iosepa Saints. One who remembers today is Sister Lynette Akiona Valdez, currently a stake history specialist in the Hilo Hawaii Stake. ‘We cannot forget the sacrifices and faithfulness of the early Saints who left their island homes and settled in Iosepa to be close to the temple. Whether they were from Hawaiʻi, Samoa, or another South Pacific Island, these Saints marked the beginnings of temple participation for our people. Leaving everything behind to be ‘close’ to the temple, where they had to walk 150 miles round-trip to attend temple sessions, I dare say that there is the beginning of the Laie Temple.’
“The sacrifice of the Hawaiian Saints was keenly felt and acknowledged by President Joseph F. Smith, who visited his friends in Iosepa many times, served an additional mission to Hawaiʻi in the 1880s and traveled to the islands later in life. President Smith personally observed how thousands of Hawaiians became Latter-day Saints in the almost five decades from his mission in 1855 to when he became Church president in 1901. He also knew of the thousands of Hawaiians that had died of diseases in the nineteenth century. He believed many waited in the spirit world, having been taught the restored gospel, but needed a temple for exalting ordinances to be performed on their behalf.
“President Smith watched tenderly like a father over the Hawaiian people, seeing the maturing of the Saints and the Church there.
“President Smith also knew stalwarts like David Keola Kailimai, who were leaving Hawaiʻi and coming to Iosepa. In 1913, Keola sold all of his land and belongings to purchase passageway for his family on a boat to California and make the land trek to Utah, arriving in August 1913. He was sealed to his wife and hanai (adopted) son, David, in the Salt Lake Temple, but he only stayed in Utah for three months. President Joseph F. Smith told him, ‘Keola, you go home. A temple is going to be built soon in Hawaiʻi. I need for you to go home and help build it.’
“Kailimai returned to the Big Island with only three dollars to his name and started again. He moved forward the cause of the temple in two ways. First, he served as a missionary on the islands working with others like mission president Samuel Woolley to build in the hearts of the Saints a greater desire to be prepared and worthy for a temple. This included paying tithing and keeping the commandments. Secondly, Kailimai worked hard. Again they prospered. He and his wife decided in 1915 to return to the temple in Salt Lake after saving a thousand dollars. When President Smith announced the Hawaii Temple in October 1915, they donated the money toward the building of the temple. At the time of the temple’s dedication, David Keola Kailimai was privileged to offer the benediction at the first session on November 27, 1919.”
Jonathan Napela joined the Church in 1852
“On Maui, one of the earliest converts was Jonathan Napela, taught by George Q. Cannon. Napela knew of temples, ancient Hawaiian temples, whose foundations still exist in parts of the islands.”
Napela was baptized as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1852.
“… As Napela helped Cannon translate the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian, he learned about a new purpose for temples.
“… Napela was a temple pioneer for the Hawaiians. In 1869, exercising great faith and determination, he traveled from Maui to California and then to Utah Territory. Jonathan Napela met with Brigham Young and received his temple ordinances in the Endowment House on August 2, 1869, the first Hawaiian to receive temple blessings. His testimony was shared with the Saints when he returned home to the islands, sparking the desire for others to go to the temples in Utah.
“Napela also worked hard to keep the promises to follow Christ made in the temple. One decision changed his life forever and showed his Christian dedication. To assist his wife Kitty, who was diagnosed with Hansen’s disease (called leprosy at the time) and exiled to Kalaupapa on the island of Molokaʻi, Napela made the sacrifice to join her. Ironically, he would also contract the disease and die before his wife on August 6, 1879, almost ten years exactly after receiving his endowment in Utah. Years later, Jonathan and Kitty would be posthumously sealed or married eternally as husband and wife in the Laie Hawaii Temple.”
For the full stories, read “Stories of the Temple in Laie: Hundredth Anniversary,” set to be published later this year.