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Laie lifers share the legacy of the Lord’s pu’uhonua, a little Zion in the making

On a cloudy Independence Day under the cover of pavilions, the Laie community gathered to enjoy heaping scoops of ice cream while listening to the Laie Days devotional.

Auntie Kela Miller is a lifelong Laie community member and the secretary of the Laie Community Association. The LCA hosted the Laie Day’s festivities and are modeled after the organization that started the original Hukilau, which Miller explained is the celebration that inspired the establishment of the Polynesian Cultural Center.

She shared her thoughts with “great pride and honor” on stage, recounting past memories of growing up in Laie in the 1950s. She overviewed the historical highlights that made Laie the pu’uhonua, or place of refuge, it is. “A pu’uhonua was a place where you would be safe,” she said. “No matter what you did outside, if you came to Laie, you were safe.”

Enoch Shek, a senior from Hong Kong studying TESOL education, listened to the devotional. He said he enjoys living in a deemed “place of refuge.” From the temple to the PCC, Laie is a special place to study, Shek said. “Studying at BYU–Hawaii has been a huge blessing, and I wanted to remind myself of how special this place is.”

He said Laie used to be only plantations. “They didn’t have anything over here. They had a hard time even finding water in Laie. It’s really amazing how the Lord had a vision for the people to build a community over here.”

Miller further described the condition the first Hawaiian saints faced when they were called to gather in Laie. “There was no water. There was no grass. It was like a sand dune you see at Kahuku golf course.”

The paradise we know as Laie was what they considered a desert, explained Miller, but the saints obeyed the call to move. She shared, “They were told if they listened, Laie would be beautiful.”

Miller explained they brought their plants and trees, and the birds and bees followed. “The trees started to grow, and the flowers started to bloom.”

Laie community members attending the devotional sitting at picnic tables and on camp chairs under a black canopy with golden lights over their heads.
Laie community members gather to be spiritually fed together.

Nelson Leung, a junior from Singapore studying hospitality and tourism management, attended the event too. He said he admires the saints who built Laie from a desert to a paradise despite the challenge. “It’s great to hear everyone's testimonies of this land and to see how they love God.”

He said the Hawaiian saints said, “Let’s make this sand wonderful, like Zion. It’s wonderful to be here in this place with these students. The people here really sacrificed a lot to build this little Zion.”

Riley Moffat, a retired BYUH librarian and historian, spoke on stage of the Zion community created by the saints that live here. “We’re on that road [to Zion],” he pronounced, “and we’ve been told by these prophets of God there is no other place in the world where there is a better situation to make that Zion community happen. May we work our hardest to fulfill President McKay’s vision of what this place can become.”

Shek said he thinks the Lord has created other Zions similar to Laie in Asia and across the world. “Maybe [they are] not very specific communities like Laie, but [in] different church buildings, different wards and different branches,” he said. “They’re in China, in Singapore, in Malaysia, in Japan or even in Hong Kong. I think the Lord has built these communities all around the world.”

A family, consisting of a mother, father, daughter and grandparents sit at a picnic table in Sunday clothes watching the devotional. The daughter is leaned against the father and his arm is around her.
A Laie family enjoys the devotional together.

When Moffat took the stage at the Laie Days celebration, he shared about his “love affair” with Laie, which began 55 years ago when he attended the Church College of Hawaii. He called these the “good ole days” when people would swim in the Beauty Hole, the only pool of water in town, serve in the Hukilau and watch 65¢ movies in Kahuku.

Miller said she enjoyed many of the same pastimes as Moffat back in the day. She explained she was one of the first hula dancers at the PCC. “Laie was the place where all the hula came from,” she said. From Laie came many other signature Hawaiian traditions like the shaka and the steel guitar, she added.

“I am grateful for my heritage,” said Miller. “I am grateful they left a legacy that we, as ohana, can continue.”

Listeners at the devotional were welcomed with live prelude music by Misi Boy Uluave and listened to speakers and testimonies from prominent community members Junior Niutupuivaha, David Betham, Moa Mahe, Vic Fonoimoana and Laie Hawaii North Stake President Kevin Schlag. A musical number by Lupe Funaki and Eddie Maiava and some impromptu singing and stretching kept the audience engaged under the cloudy, evening sky.