Shared from the 5/13/2017 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette eEdition

State’s Mormon mission leader promoted


Mission President of Arkansas Taniela Wakolo (right) stands with his wife, Anita Wakolo, (left) and their daughter, Jasmin, at a state mission office. Taniela Wakolo has been called by the church to be a general authority seventy, a position held by fewer than 100 people in the church worldwide.

For Mission President of Arkansas Taniela Wakolo, the decision to join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1994 began with a question from two of the church’s members.

What would you name a grocery store?

“I said, ‘Don’t you think it’s logical that because it’s a grocery store I would call it The Wakolo Family Grocery Store?’” Wakolo said. “They said immediately, ‘Don’t you think the church needed to be named after its owner?’”

“I thought about that,” Wakolo said. “I thought about a few of the churches that I had belonged to and thought truly that the church needed to be named after its owner. [The church] is named after Jesus Christ, because he is the owner. And that was it for me.”

Wakolo, who has served as the church’s state mission president for nearly three years, has been called to the position of general authority seventy, among the church’s highest ranks. It was announced April 1 at the church’s 187th annual General Conference in Salt Lake City.

As one of 89 general authority seventies worldwide, Wakolo will serve in an ecclesiastical and administrative capacity for an undetermined amount of time. He also will have the authority to organize and lead the church under the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the church’s highest rank — the three that hold the title of First Presidency. The two ranks comprising 15 members are believed to be prophets and seers of God.

The position of general authority seventy is a relatively new one in terms of semantics. In years past, church members serving at this level belonged to either the First or Second Quorum of the Seventy — the number 70 coming from the New Testament’s Book of Luke, in which Jesus invited 70 men to leave in pairs to preach the gospel as special witnesses of Jesus Christ, and prepare people for his arrival. In 2015, the church ceased distinguishing between the two quorums and began referring to all quorum members as general authority seventies.

After growing up and marrying in Fiji, Wakolo served in roles within the church including institute teacher, branch president and stake president. He was called in 2014 to preside over the state’s seven stakes, a geographical territory that encompasses Arkansas and the western edge of Tennessee. As a role that would necessitate near-daily trips across Arkansas and into Tennessee, it required moving to the United States, a change that Sister Renee Carr, public affairs representative, said Wakolo and his family handled well.

“He was the warm, bubbly person right from the get-go,” Carr said.

Sister Pat Hartzell, a mission secretary, arrived midway during Wakolo’s term in Arkansas. She credited Wakolo and his family for having already adjusted well to life in the states when she came to North Little Rock as a missionary with her husband, who also serves in the North Little Rock stake office.

“From the time we got here he always showed lots of love for everybody,” Hartzell said. “I don’t feel like he had any judgment for anybody. In fact, a year ago when we went to [the] Toad Suck [Festival], we were all watching the frog races and he’s out there talking to people and sharing the gospel.

“So he’s a true missionary, disciple of Jesus Christ, loves the Lord, is wanting to serve him. Whatever the Lord wants him to do, he is willing to do.”

For nearly three years, Wakolo has supervised approximately 165 missionaries, 10 couples and seven retired couples, with all three groups serving as missionaries around the world.

In July, Wakolo, his wife, Anita, and 13-year-old daughter will return to Fiji for a few weeks to spend time with their families, which will include their 20-yearold son who is interning as a carpenter at one of the island’s hotels. Then it’s off to church headquarters in Salt Lake City, where on Aug. 1 Wakolo will begin a period of training that will last at least a year.

It was announced Monday that Wakolo’s first assignment also will be at church headquarters; he and his family will reside in Sandy, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City.

Wakolo, 49, was one of six people called to be a general authority seventy this year, and the announcement was made at the church’s annual general conference April 1.

Hartzell said the announcement that Wakolo had been called to become a general authority seventy was a surprise to everyone, including the couple’s children. Wakolo and his wife had known about the new calling since March — incidentally, that was the same month the church celebrated its Relief Society’s 175th anniversary — but had to wait to share the news.

Wakolo said his immediate reaction was a mix of emotions: surprise, a feeling of being overwhelmed and a feeling of being incapable for the new calling.

“But it came through my dedication and loyalty to the savior Jesus Christ and I have vouched that I will never turn down any calling,” Wakolo said. “And every calling that has been extended to me, I always feel incapable. It was a very humble experience, and also an honor to know that you are trusted by God and his servants.”

Like Hartzell, Carr also spoke of Wakolo’s presence and personality when considering Wakolo’s suitability to be a general authority seventy.

“Pres. Wakolo radiates love, which makes him an especially effective witness of the Savior,” Carr wrote in an email. “Pres. Wakolo has distinguished himself as a good leader as he directed the work of young missionaries and couple missionaries over the past three years in the Arkansas Little Rock Mission. … We’ve come to know and love Pres. Wakolo over the past three years and I have great respect for his work ethic. … I’m happy we’ll still be able to know about Pres. Wakolo as he continues serving, now throughout the world as a General Authority. He is a force for good!”

Looking back on his time as mission president, Wakolo said it has been a great time and a great experience and that he has been amazed by his missionaries’ willingness to devote up to two years of their lives to serving others in the name of Jesus Christ around the world.

Wakolo also reflected on how the nature of the people he came across during his time in Arkansas shaped his experience.

“Can you imagine coming from a teeny island in the Pacific to come and serve in the United States?” he said. “It’s a big change for us, but it was a good change. The hospitality in the South is so genuine, it’s just amazing. And that made our service a really enjoyable one. [The people] believe in Christ, they love Jesus Christ. It is a great thing.”

Wakolo will be succeeded as mission president by Norman Hansen of Chehalis, Wash., who arrives in Arkansas with his wife and five children later this year.

See this article in the e-Edition Here