Thursday, October 29, 2009

Doctrine and Covenants Lesson #41 Every Member A Missionary

(D&C 1:4-5,30; 65; 109:72-74; 123:12; OH p. 116-117, 124-125)


Every missionary story is a love story, because missionary work is all about love.

"For God so loved the world,
that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believeth in him
should not perish,
but have everlasting life."
(John 3:16)

"Beloved, if God so loved us,
we ought also to love one another."
(1 John 4:11)

"And faith, hope, charity, and love,
with an eye single to the glory of God,
qualify [us] for the work."
(D&C 4:5)
This is why we do missionary work: because we love God, we love his gospel, and we love people. But senior couple missionary stories have an extra element of love: the love of the husband and wife companions for each other.

This is that kind of a love story.

My great-uncle, James Rowell Leavitt Wyatt was born in Wellsville, Utah on July 31, 1895. He didn't look like other babies; he had a large purple birthmark that covered the entire right side of his face.  He wanted to serve in the military during World War I but was turned down because of the blindness in one eye caused by the birthmark. This was a disappointment to him.  He wanted to serve a mission for the church instead, but his father would only allow one son to serve, and that honor went to my grandfather, Jim's brother. Despite this double disappointment, Uncle Jim kept a life-long goal to serve a mission one day.

He married a kind and beautiful woman, Janette Bradshaw Bailey, and had a large family, and when that family was raised, they applied for the opportunity to serve a senior mission. With great joy they received the call to serve in the Tongan Mission. The Tongan Mission was made up of many small islands in the South Pacific. Uncle Jim and Aunt Janette were assigned to the island of Niue (nee-oo-ay), a very small land mass of 12 x 18 miles (about the size of Bear Lake on the Utah/Idaho border). The island of Niue is very isolated, many miles from any major island. Now it's an exotic, although remote, travel destination, served by a weekly flight on Air New Zealand, but in those days, the early '60s, the only transportation on or off the island was by boat. The ship came once a month, and left again later the same day.

In addition to teaching the gospel, Aunt Janette taught the islanders to quilt, and to play the piano for their church meetings, and to use their native fruit to make something completely new and wonderful: banana bread! Uncle Jim and Aunt Janette loved the people of Niue, and the islanders loved them.

"Now therefore, ye are no longer strangers and foreigners,
but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God."
(Eph. 2:19)

Janette Bradshaw Bailey Wyatt & James Rowell Leavitt Wyatt
in front of a banana tree on the island of Niue, Circa 1963.

As their 18-month mission was drawing to a close, Aunt Janette was suddenly taken very ill with a heart attack. She was in severe pain.  Uncle Jim and another elder administered to her, but she got no better.  They called for the doctor, who came to their home and then rushed her to the British hospital on the island (Lord Liverpool Hospital), but they could not save Aunt Janette.  Uncle Jim held her in his arms as she suffered. Finally she relaxed in his embrace, said, "Happy birthday, Dad," and took her last breath.  He had not remembered until then that it was his birthday, July 31st, 1963.  (This was, coincidentally, the very day that I was born.  Perhaps we passed each other on the way.)

The boat had just come and gone the day before and there would be no getting on or off the island for another month. The heat of the island required a burial within 24 hours. Janette Bradshaw Bailey Wyatt was laid to rest just outside the island church the following day. Uncle Jim conducted a beautiful funeral service for her, preached a sermon, and dedicated her grave without the comfort of his children and relatives in his grief, but he had a greater comfort, for

Neither death, nor life...
shall be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."
(Romans 8:38-39)

Uncle Jim preached the gospel and served the people of Niue for the remainder of the month.

The boat finally came, and Uncle Jim began the long journey home without his beloved wife. It was a Sunday, and as they put out to sea, some of the sailors asked him to conduct a church service for them, and so he continued his missionary work as he traveled.  When Uncle Jim arrived home, his family and friends gathered around him and held a memorial service for Aunt Janette.

She remained buried on Niue for three years while the Church worked through the necessary red tape to bring her body back to the United States.  The Latter-day Saint islanders made her grave a shrine. They built a little picket fence around it so the animals wouldn't disturb it. They brought fresh flowers to the grave often. They had loved and respected Aunt Janette and they grieved her passing.

After I wrote this post, one of those children who shooed away chickens and dogs from her grave wrote to me.  His name is Joseph Pouha, and he was seven years old at the time.  He added a wonderful perspective to the story which I am including here.

Joseph Pouha with his wife and children

When the news hit the island that the Church hoped to exhume Aunt Janette's body, the nonmember islanders were aghast and opposed, for it was in violation of all cultural beliefs and practices to ever disturb a body, and even worse, to allow an outsider to do it.

The Church members had come through a period of terrible persecution, both physical and emotional, when this happened.  Joseph's mother, Vetesenelia "Foli" Pouha, one of the original 26 converts, had been baptized by cover of night, and was abused and disowned when her family found out.  Then she had been greatly persecuted again when she decided to marry a returned missionary and outsider from Tonga, Nafetalai "Feki" Pouha.  You may have seen a Hollywood movie about Feki's mission on the island of Tonga:  He was Elder John Groberg's companion in Disney's movie, The Other Side of Heaven.  (If you haven't seen the movie, do it! Or read Elder Groberg's book of the same name which is also wonderful and, of course, more accurate.)  Feki spent his adult life gaining the love and trust of the Niueans through his work in the construction arm of the government, his service in the Church, and his kindness and aid to other people, especially ministers of other religions.

Things had smoothed over until Aunt Janette's death and possible exhuming riled everyone up again.  There were heated conversations in meetings between the government, the other ministers and the LDS authorities.  Often it was shouted that digging up a grave was the work of tevolo (the devil), and the question was asked, what islander would dare to do such a thing?  The answer came from Feki Pouha.  He would be willing to do it.  And because of his stature among the people, because they knew his heart and his love, the act was no longer questioned and he was allowed to do it in peace, with no disturbance. A young elder who was serving a mission in Niue named David Huddy agreed to help. Since he was Hawaiian, he did not have the same cultural restraints as the Niueans.

Brother Pouha spent a week in preparation, instructing those who would help him, and making sure that all possible protocol was followed, and all reverence was observed.  A small white linen tent was erected around the grave in the mission home yard.  Little Joseph stood close by the tent and heard his father pronounce a priesthood blessing on the body of Sister Wyatt.  He gave charge to those present, "both on this side of the veil and legions of Aunty Wyatt's family on the other side of the veil to watch and take care that all would proceed with the will of God."

The casket was exhumed at night and transported in a box by bicycle to the ship in darkness, so that any Niueans taking passage on the ship would not be frightened by its presence.

Brother and Sister Huddy

When her body arrived back in Utah, a formal funeral was finally held, and she was re-buried in the Wellsville Cemetery.

"So being affectionately desirous of you,
we were willing to have imparted unto you,
not the gospel of God only,
but also our own souls,
because ye were dear unto us."
(1 Thess. 2:8)

James and Janette Wyatt served their long-awaited mission with faith and love and gave the ultimate sacrifice for the spreading of the gospel to the islands of the Pacific.  Feki and Foli Pouha have also served the Kingdom of God in many ways which are ever increasing.  Foli became the Church's first accredited Polynesian genealogist and also helped translate the Book of Mormon into the Niuean language.  Feki served missions to Tonga and Nieua, and together they served a mission to Hawaii.  Brother and Sister Pouha eventually moved to Utah where Feki, who had been very ill, died two weeks later.  When the government of Nieu heard of the passing of Brother Feki, they closed their offices for a week to honor the man that became their servant leader.  Their children and grandchildren are continuing their legacy and have served missions throughout the world, including Puerto Rico, Uganda, and Colorado.

My great thanks goes to Joseph Pouha and David Huddy for sharing "the rest of the story" with me.  As Brother Pouha wrote in his e-mail, "There is a Niuean saying, 'Koe tagata, koe tagata motu, ka koe nakai koe motu tu taha,' which means in English, 'Every man is an island, but not an island to himself.'  [Two beautiful islands] may seem far apart, separated by miles of water, but if someone could reach down deep and unplug the water, we will find that both islands [are] connected."  So it is with all peoples of the world, in all times, all children of the same Father.

(Source: Carolyn J. Wyatt with Jane Wyatt Salisbury [daughter], unpublished manuscript; additional contributions made by granddaughter, Suzanne (see comments below), and personal correspondence with Joseph Archie Pouha and David Huddy.


Aunt Suzanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aunt Suzanne said...

Jim and Janette are my grandparents. Thank you for sharing their story. I don't believe, however, that Jim was turned down for his first mission because of his birthmark. My understanding is that he was not turned down at all, but was obedient to his father's wishes that he stay at home and work on the farm at that time.

Aunt Suzanne said...

Janette was not the first white woman to stay on the island of Niue, but apparently she was the first LDS white woman.

Aunt Suzanne said...

There was a hospital in Niue, called Lord Liverpool Hospital, and Janette died there. She did receive medical treatment, but it was not able to save her life.

Aunt Suzanne said...

Jim was very anxious to have Janette's body brought back to the States, but it took 3 years before the Church was able to obtain all the necessary legal permissions to do so.

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

It's very fun to hear from you, Suzanne--a relative! I (obviously) thought your grandfather was wonderful. You were very blessed.

My mother, Carolyn Wyatt, had written this story down. She then called Uncle Jim's daughter Jane and read it to her over the phone to see if she had the details correct. Jane said that she did and said that as far as she knew no one had written it down and she was glad my mother did. My mom then sent her a copy.

So it sounds like she remembered it a little differently, which is always the case with stories that are written years after they happened. And, of course, Jane has passed on now.

Perhaps I should rewrite the story with the information you gave. Or I could leave it the way it is and put in a note to readers to check the comments for your notes. What do you think? I'm happy to honor your preference since it's your grandfather.

Aunt Suzanne said...

Hi Nancy,
I discussed this story with two of Jim and Janette's other daughters, Gloria and Betsey. They agreed with me that your version is accurate in most respects, but wanted these corrections to be noted. (We don't care if they are simply noted, but that is up to you.)
Betsey just passed away on 20 July 2012. It appeared to the family gathered around her bedside that her parents had come for her; at the end she was talking to her daddy.
Betsey has a long, as yet unpublished biography of her dad, Jim Wyatt. He told her many stories, which she wrote down at that time. The family hopes to finish that project in the near future.
I told Betsey about your blog, and she reminded me that Jim had registered to serve in the military during World War I. He was turned down, not because of the birthmark per se, but because of the associated blindness in one eye. (Grandpa acquired a glass eye where the birthmark had covered his own eye.) Anyway, he was very disappointed not to serve in the military, and perhaps that was the source for the confusion about being turned down for a mission.
Grandpa's father simply did not want him to go on a mission when he was young. Despite that additional disappointment, Grandpa kept the life-long goal of being able to serve one day.
Betsy also reminded me that Niue was then governed in part by the British. There was a British Commissioner on the island, and Jim and Janette became good friends with him and his wife. There were also British doctors and nurses at Lord Liverpool Hospital, which is why we said she was not the first white woman on the island.
Best wishes, and thanks again for sharing this story.

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Thank you so much, Suzanne! I think my mother went to Betsy's funeral. What a great family. I appreciate your taking the trouble of getting all the details to the story correct, and I will make the changes as soon as possible. Thanks again, cousin!

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Suzanne, our family would definitely be interested in the biography Betsey wrote. Please keep me posted. And if you would like me to note your full name (I don't know it) in the credits at the end of the story, let me know either here or in an e-mail. (

Thanks again! I love knowing that I now have the story correct. I feel a special kinship to Uncle Jim and Aunt Janette because of my birthday, which I decided to add in to the story on this go-round.

Joseph said...

I was about 7 when my dad exhumed aunty's remains on the island of Niue. my name is Joseph Archie Pouha.

Nancy Wyatt Jensen said...

Suzanne, are you still following this thread? I need to get hold of you. I have another person from Niue who wants to talk to descendants of Jim and Janette. You can e-mail me at, or reply here.