Joseph Freeman was a Holiness preacher when the U.S. Army stationed him in Hawaii. He made what turned out to be a life-changing decision to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center. Not only would he change his religion, but he would meet his future wife.
Joseph: There was a tour of going to the Polynesian Cultural Center. So, I took that tour. It was free, and they provided a bus as well as the tickets to go in. So, I went on that tour. That’s when I met the Mormons. I was quite surprised, because I had met one Mormon, who gave me a Book of Mormon, back in Louisiana. He wanted to argue about the Church being true, and I didn’t want to argue about it. So, he gave me the book, and I just took it with me, I hadn’t read it. Now, here I was at the Cultural Center, and I met Mormon people. I was thinking that Mormons wore these tall black hats and looked like the Amish and looked like Brigham Young, because I checked out a book when I was in high school, about Mormons and it talked about Brigham Young as being a great colonizer. I knew just a little bit about the Amish people and Mennonites, and they still look like the picture of Brigham Young. So, I was expecting Mormons to look like that. But there were no horses and buggies out there, just a few Cadillacs in the parking lot. Everybody looked like everyone else.
Joseph: But here I was walking around on the tour talking to these people. I was really surprised at how nice they were to me, because this is a time that there had been marching. Martin Luther King had been killed in 1968. A lot of white people and black people didn’t see eye to eye. We were having culture classes, race classes, taught in the military. We would sit out in the sun four hours in the morning, just listening to somebody lecture about black and white relationships. I don’t know where they even got all that material to talk. But there we were, it was mandatory classes, because they were trying to break down those problems between black and white people and Spanish people.
Joseph: Somewhere that morning, I met a young girl with big brown eyes. I said “Talofa.” I knew she was Samoan. She turned around, amazed that I could speak any of her language. We started talking. We talked probably five or 10 minutes. Then at the end of the day, it was near time for me to leave, probably four or five o’clock. I missed my bus, and I decided to catch a regular bus back. I talked to that young girl again. We spent two hours talking. She shared with me her testimony of Joseph Smith, and the Church. She had just completed a mission in our own country, to Samoa. So, as we talked, I was interested. I was interested, probably more in her, than I was in the Church. But I enjoyed going to church anywhere. So I was willing to listen to whatever she had to say about her religion. Then the next two or three weeks, I went back to the Cultural Center to try to find her. I couldn’t. She was a student, so she had different hours. I didn’t understand that. I thought she was just working the same thing every day. But a friend of hers took my phone number, which was a military number, and gave it to her. A few days later, she called me. So, this is almost a month later. We talked for the next two weeks over the phone. She told me about blacks and the priesthood, and the church position.
GT: You couldn’t have the priesthood back then.
Joseph: That’s right.
GT: So, this is 1972?
Joseph: It was 1972-73. Yeah, ‘73. So, at this point, after talking for a couple of weeks, I asked her about going out. She accepted. We went out on a date. I think we went to a movie the first night. I had borrowed a car from a friend. No, maybe at that point, I had bought a car. Yes. I had a little Mustang. We started dating. It was very difficult dating this young girl because everyone was telling her she shouldn’t date a black guy, because I couldn’t hold a priesthood. People told her, “Your children will not be born in the covenant. You can’t be sealed in the temple. Even baptisms for the dead, you can’t even have it that way.” So it was kind of disappointing, in a way. But I still loved her. She didn’t know what to do with that situation. She went to her Bishop. He told her, “Well, I think you shouldn’t date the guy.” She went to her mission president. He said, “I will fix your papers, and I’ll send you to school in New Zealand, you can get away from that guy.” Then she went to the Stake President, which was President Milo.
GT: She must have really liked you.
Joseph: I think, a little bit, anyway.
Joseph: Now the Stake President was Samoan. I think he was the first Samoan Stake President in Hawaii. His area covered like from Wahiawa, all the way Kaneai, which is quite a large area. Probably there’s 10 or 15 stakes in that area now.
GT: So, you’re on the island of Oahu. Is that right?
Joseph: Yes, that’s right, the main island. But he told her, he said,” What does your heart tell you to do? What does your heart tell you?” She had to really think about it.
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