He was a Presbyterian Minister who preached sermons from the Bible to his congregation for over 20 years.
And while he was a minister, he sent five out of his six sons out on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The late Faatalimaua “Moapi” Uelese is remembered as a man who didn’t waste his words or his time.
But beneath his quiet demeaner, Moapi lead an extraordinary life.
Born in Fasito’o Uta, Samoa, Moapi was called as a lay preacher for the Presbyterian Church in the 1990s. He gained his ministerial certificate and worked alongside the Reverend in his beloved faith, giving many sermons from the Bible.
He knew the Bible inside and out and lived according to its teachings, said his granddaughter Shaqaila.
“He was a man of very few words but when he spoke there was always some acknowledgement of God. He attended church every Sunday and preached many sermons,” she said.
After moving to New Zealand, his children Roy, Vinnie, Dave, Moapi, Siaosi and Mareta converted to Mormonism. Five out of six went on to serve missions.
His wife Ma Italia Uelese said they allowed their children to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because it was “good”.
“Church members don’t smoke and drink so we liked the standards of the Church and saw the difference it made in our children’s lives,” she said.
After their missions, Maopi’s sons served in leadership positions in the Church as Bishops, Stake Presidents and on the High Council.
But minister Moapi was passionate about the Presbyterian faith and refused to convert to Mormonism.
“He was not against the Church in anyway shape or form,” Shaqaila said.
“But he was really stubborn. When family members asked him and grandma to get baptized, he would reply, ‘I know the way to the heavens’. Us grandchildren always laugh about it because he was just so headstrong, but his heart softened over time.”
Years later and at the age of 78 years old, Moapi and his wife attended sacrament for the first time in a Latter-day Saint chapel, a few weeks before their son Moapi Junior would pass away.
“They sat at the back row and grandpa had his sunglasses on. Afterwards they asked my dad what he wanted from them before he passed. We thought dad would ask them to be baptized as this has been the family’s greatest desire, but he didn’t, he expressed his love for them and then they left.”
Prior to the funeral, Maopi had many sleepless nights. He would often dream of his son saying, “I love you dad”.
That left him overwhelmed and anxious, said sister Mareta.
At his son’s funeral service in Hastings, Moapi felt ‘uneasy’ and left abruptly afterwards.
That evening he met with his children in Auckland and told them “Mum and I are going to be baptized”.
“I think we were all still a bit in shock to be honest,” Shaqaila said.
“I never thought I would live to see the day that he would leave his church to join ours.”
A month after the funeral service, in November 2012 Moapi and his wife Ma Italia Uelese entered the waters of baptism. Moapi was 78 and his wife was 72.
The next day, Moapi broke the news to his congregation that he was joining the Mormon Church.
“The congregation was surprised and sad because they would miss him. He was the main man who looked after all of them. But they were all understanding because they knew all his children were Mormon,” said daughter Mareta.
And the blessings that have followed after that day have been enormous, said Shaqaila.
“Whenever I went to visit them, I could feel the Spirit was in their home,” she said.
“It strengthened my testimony to walk in and see him reading the Book of Mormon in Samoan. Grandpa would share insights from the Book of Mormon and you could tell he had a testimony of it.”
“Also, when he was baptized he put away the Fa’a Samoa traditions that were against the gospel teachings. At his funeral he requested no Fa’a Samoa. He put the gospel first before his culture and this was huge for him and the family.”
Moapi is the eldest of 11 children – all of which are baptized Mormon. They were later sealed in the temple.
Maopi passed away on the 11th February 2018, surrounded by close friends and family.
Shaqaila hopes her grandpa will be remembered as a “God fearing man filled with faith.”
“He left behind a legacy – to always trust in God and the Saviour and be willing to make sacrifices to follow them.
“When grandpa passed away he knew exactly where he was going. He was happy to go. The gospel brought him peace and assurance that when he passed away he’ll be with God and loved ones.
“Never give up hope – miracles happen.”