Elder John H. Groberg, an Emeritus General Authority of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whose mission to Tonga was dramatized in the film “The Other Side of Heaven,” spoke at a musical fireside presented by the BYU-Idaho Polynesian Cultural Association.
His wife Jean Groberg, also depicted in the movie, was in attendance.
The meeting began shortly after 6 p.m. in the Hyrum Manwaring Student Center Ballroom with the congregation singing “Redeemer of Israel.” Members of the Association sang original songs and hymns and shared testimonies. Many of the hymns and testimonies were partially presented in Samoan and Tongan.
Elder Groberg began by thanking the singers.
“I think that not only is the song of the righteous a prayer to be answered, but I think it’s a strength,” Elder Groberg said. “As many of you know, a lot of the brethren have said that when you’re faced with temptations [you should] start humming a hymn. It can do marvels.”
He said that those at BYU-Idaho are blessed.
“Not only is it important to be surrounded by music, especially hymns of praise, but it’s important to be surrounded by people with testimonies and desires to do what is right,” Groberg said. “How blessed you are to be here at BYU-Idaho, where you are surrounded by people who try.”
He said he loved the Polynesian people and recounted his connections with the nations there.
“I want to express my love to all of you, most of whom are descendants of people I have known,” Groberg said. “I don’t know most of you personally, but in a way I do because I knew your parents or your grandparents or even your great-grandparents and I can see that influence for good in you. And I want to charge all of you … to carry on that beautiful testimony-laden heritage that you have.”
He said the Spirit of God holds people together when times are tough and that all people came to earth to develop greater faith.
“If we want to be part of something that is held together, we must develop greater faith in the Lord Jesus Christ,” he said. “The main reason we’re here on this earth is to develop deeper and stronger faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Groberg said his message was focused on three Christlike attributes: obedience, gratitude and trust in the Lord. He presented three clips from “The Other Side of Heaven” in order to illustrate the points of his message.
He illustrated the point of obedience with a clip where the young Elder Groberg explains why he must remain chaste until marriage in spite of social pressure.
Christopher Gorham, playing the young Elder Groberg in the clip, tells a Polynesian woman he was waiting to marry his true love back home, Jean. The real-life Elder Groberg and his wife held hands during the presentation of the clip.
“If you’re determined to keep the Lord’s commandments, you’ll figure out a way out of [problems],” Groberg said after the clip.
Sister Groberg said the experiences shown in the movie were generally accurate but were occasionally condensed for dramatic purposes. She said she sent him a photograph as shown in the movie but that he did not have it until the day after he spoke with the woman.
“[The photograph] had taken months to get there and [Elder Groberg] knew instantly it would help the woman understand the principle he was trying to explain,” Sister Groberg said. “So the picture had its own mission. I had no idea that it would have a purpose like that.”
Sister Groberg said the incident strengthened her testimony of the Lord’s guiding hand in our lives.
“So much of our life, we don’t really know the purposes or plans of the Lord but we know what the Lord has for us but we know he wants our eternal happiness,” Sister Groberg said.
Elder Groberg illustrated the point of gratitude with a clip where Feki, the young Elder Groberg’s companion, tells how the blessings he received when his family accepted the gospel.
“Even though he didn’t know the discussions, [Feki] was a wonderful, wonderful person,” Elder Groberg said. “He had deep gratitude for the gospel.”
Elder Groberg said the gospel brings blessings we cannot have without it.
“The gospel can do things that all the wisdom of [the world] cannot,” Elder Groberg said. “I deeply appreciate the work of counselors, psychologists and sociologist and those that do so much good in so many ways. I know the Lord helps them … but I want you to know that there is nothing more powerful than the gospel of Jesus Christ in changing hearts and in changing minds.”
He illustrated the point of trusting the Lord with a clip showing the young Elder Groberg nearly drowning after his boat capsized in a storm.
“I started to sink for what may well have been the last time,” Elder Groberg said, recalling the experience. “I was praying all the time. I think I had complete trust in the Lord. I remember thinking ‘Well, if this is the end that means it is the Lord’s will.’ I didn’t want it; I was fighting it, but I was reconciled.”
He said the memory of Jean helped him survive the storm and that he decided to marry Jean while swimming in the storm.
Elder and Sister Groberg then opened the meeting for questions. After several questions from the congregation, the meeting concluded with a hymn.
Elder Groberg served his mission in Tonga and nearby islands from 1954-1957. He married Jean Sabin soon after and they have 11 children. He has served as a General Authority since 1976 and became an Emeritus General Authority following his release from the First Quorum of the Seventy in 2005.
Elder Groberg wrote an autobiographical account of his mission to Tonga titled “In the Eye of the Storm.” The 2001 movie starring Christopher Gorham and Anne Hathaway was based on the book, which was later renamed after the movie.