During our June 2010 road trip on the U.S. mainland, my wife and I visited with our friend and fellow Laie 4th Ward member, Sister Napua Baker, who is currently serving as a senior missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the main Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Sister Baker told us she has been given a special assignment that is particularly appropriate and pleasing to her, but let her tell it in her own words:
When I first came here in October 2009, nine months ago, I was in training but I didn’t know what I was going to do. There was a Sister Barbara Robertson from the Big Island, and when I visited with her, she was working on Hawaiian royalty, which was great. Then she showed me that no one was working on the Kalaupapa records, and when I looked at that, the tears started coming down my face: I was born and raised on Molokai, and I remember Kalaupapa, and how those who had leprosy were brought in. Of course, that was in the 1950s.
I can’t be happier with my responsibility — to prepare the Kalaupapa records so that they can be accessible to families for temple work. When I first started, they didn’t know how many records they had.
Then Brother and Sister Arima came to visit, and they were looking for [Sister] Gladys Kalama, my former roommate who has since gone home. They asked me, “What are you doing?” And I told them I had just barely started. They said, “Do you know that we worked on the Kalaupapa records for two years?”
President Hawkins, who was the mission president [in Hawaii], called me and told me he had assigned them to do the records from Kalaupapa, and they had worked on them until their mission ended. I said, where are the records? “We just kept them in a safe in Honolulu, because we didn’t know what to do with them,” he said.
I went in and got Barbara, and told her, these people had worked on the Kalaupapa records; and so we coordinated with them, and now we have over 20,000 names — those who died there of leprosy, and family members. They had gathered the information, and now we’re cleaning that up so those names can be accessible online [through FamilySearch.org].
I see these names as I’m going down these records that include the records of the LDS Church: I saw Joseph F. Smith’s name. I saw David Hannemann’s name. He was a missionary on Molokai [about 1950]. He went down to Kalaupapa along with Stanley Smoot. I’m looking at who conducted the meetings, including Jack Sing — the branch president, and the mission president. My heart just melted to see the names of these faithful people, in spite of the challenges. They were so spiritually determined, that there’s no question these people are waiting.
I can’t think of a better assignment for me, even though I’m sitting at a computer all day. If you had told me that I was going to spend my mission sitting at a computer, I think I would have said I’m more of a people-person; but I love it. My heart and soul is in it.
I’m grateful to be doing this, and I’m thinking: This is what the Lord wants me to be doing, first and foremost. After this, I’m going to do another mission; and if I don’t finish this project in another year from now, I’m going to extend my mission. I’ll stay here until I’m finished.
It’s always been my dream to come on a mission, in spite of health challenges, and I can’t explain how much I love it. It’s even beyond what I expected, and my heart is so full because whatever your mission is, there’s a purpose; and when you understand that purpose, and have a testimony of it, it becomes a tremendous blessing and joy in your life.
Sister Baker explained that her first “companion,” Sister Gladys Kalama, extended her mission twice. She added that they lived in a nice two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment on the seventh floor of a building just a block or two away — where she still stays, “with a beautiful view just five minutes away, and I don’t need a car. The temple’s right across the street, and I go to church at the missionary branch in the [nearby] Joseph Smith building. I love it.”
Sister Baker also said family members visit her occasionally — “my brother Mel and his wife have been here twice already” — and she did not mind the winter weather: “It energized me, and so far summer has been very pleasant.”
She explained she starts every morning, Monday through Friday, at 7:30 with a prayer meeting or a devotional once a week, “and by 8 o’clock we’re at our assignments. That’s when the library opens. I finish at 4 o’clock, but other missionaries come in later, because the library’s open until 9 p.m. For lunch I usually go back to my apartment, but once a week I usually eat at the large cafeteria underneath the Church Office Building. That’s where most people go.”
Before we concluded our visit with Sister Baker, she asked to share one more message:
“Many times we think of missionaries as young single people — especially young men and some young women going out to serve; but today, the need for senior missionary couples and single sisters is great. Right now we have about 400 missionaries in the Family History Center, but we can have up to 800, so we’re praying for more. The need for senior missionaries is far greater than I ever imagined. I didn’t realize that when I first came, but I’ve learned it since I’ve been here.”