News Story

Elder Serves Two Missions in Cook Islands 50 Years Apart



As a young 19-year-old Elder, Richard Attebury arrived in the Cook Islands in 1969 to spend two years serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Little did he know that during those two years he would spend 55 days traveling between 11 different islands by boat, covering 5600 kilometres.

The Cook Islands is made up of 15 small islands with 240 square kilometres of land area and 1,800,000 square kilometres of ocean. 

Elder Attebury recalls that when he shipped off for another island, he never knew how long he would be gone or when he would return. 

When traveling to the northern group of islands, the farthest of which was the island of Penrhyn, or Tonga Reva, he and his missionary companion would pack a wooden footlocker of dry food goods, hoping it would last until the arrival of the next boat. When the food ran out, they ate fish and coconuts, just like the locals. 

While on his mission, Elder Attebury learned to speak Rarotongan Maori without the aid of any formal training, which was no small feat. Currently, 78% of the people in the Cook Islands are of Maori descent and most speak both Rarotongan Maori and English. 

During his mission, the Apollo 11 spacecraft became the first manned spacecraft to land on the moon.  At the time, there was no word in the Rarotongan Maori language for rocket ship, so airplane was the closest substitute.  As such, the people couldn’t quite visualize how an airplane could fly to the moon. 

One memory that has impacted and strengthened Elder Attebury’s life and testimony was when he and his companion lived with Brother Terepai Tutae while serving on the island of Penrhyn. It had been several years since missionaries had last served there and Brother Tutae and his family were the only members of about 300 people who lived on the island. 

While serving there, Elder Attebury reviewed the church meeting minutes and discovered that Brother Tutae had consistently kept minutes of each and every Sunday School class and Sacrament Meeting (worship service) he had conducted since the last missionaries had served there. 

Elder Attebury asked him why he didn’t leave Penrhyn and go to Rarotonga, where the Church was much stronger.  He responded that if he and his family left, then "the Church" would also leave. Such was the faith and testimony of this stalwart brother.

Fast forward 50 years. After returning from his mission, Richard Attebury attended Brigham Young University, married the love of his life, Peggy Lee, and together they raised seven children. Years later, after retiring from Bechtel Marine Propulsion Corporation, he and Sister Attebury decided they wanted to serve a mission together as a couple. They filled out the necessary paperwork and were overjoyed when they learned that they were going back to the Cook Islands.

As senior missionaries, they have been serving on the island of Rarotonga for just over a year of their 23 months mission.

In describing their duties, Elder Attebury notes, "We are serving as MLS (member leader support) missionaries but the best way to describe the type of mission we are serving would be to say that we are the 'go to' senior missionary couple for whatever it takes to keep the work of the Lord moving forward in the Cook Islands. The reason I say this is because the mission office is located 1800 miles away in Auckland, New Zealand and because of the extremely wide variety of responsibilities we have." 

He continues, "We see the Mission President once every six months at District Conference. We have an excellent working relationship with the mission office staff in Auckland since a lot of what we do has to be coordinated with them, i.e., processing missionary Visas, coordinating on-island transportation for missionary transfers and exchanges, shipping items to missionaries on the outer islands (like cars), missionary flat inspections and bicycle repairs, etc.  We enjoy the variety so there is never a dull moment."

Sister Attebury adds that they also teach Bible classes at primary and high schools, join young missionaries for teaching appointments, help recent converts with new member lessons, and serve as instructors for missionary and temple preparation classes.       

Elder Attebury sums up his feelings by saying one thing that hasn’t changed over the last 50 years is that, "The people have the greatest faith, testimonies, hearts and they love you. That hasn’t changed."   

Style Guide Note:When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.