Pilgrims cross paths in Salt Lake City

Alex Grardel stands with Harevaa, right, and Apiatara Tehiarii, left, two elders from Tubuai. The only time they had left their island prior to this visit to the United States was to take their nine children to visit the Latter Day Saint temple in New Zealand. (Alex Grardel)
LISTEN: Alex Grardel tells the story of his hitchhiking adventure across the United States and his search for people on pilgrimages. In Utah, he meets a group of pilgrims from Tahiti with their own story to tell. (Joseph Carson)

Alex Grardel says there is a pilgrim within all of us.

Grardel has been hitchhiking across the United States since September, searching for pilgrims and pilgrimages. He’s been to Kurt Cobain’s house, Bruce Lee’s grave, Wounded Knee and the Walden Pond. There are still many places on his list.

A chance stopover in Salt Lake City introduced him to one group on a very special pilgrimage: a group of French Polynesian Latter-day Saints leaving their island to attend The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ General Conference in Salt Lake City for the first time.

A group of Latter-day Saint from Tubuai stand in front of the Salt Lake City temple. (Alex Grardel)

In 1844, their island of Tubuai became the first foreign language branch and first foreign language speaking mission in the Church. The saints who Grardel met are the descendants of those earliest converts to the Church. Some have never left their island before.

Steve Thomsen, a BYU professor who met Grardel in Salt Lake City, said, “(It’s the) 175th anniversary of one of the most significant events in the early history of the Church, and Alex just happened to walk into our group.”

Follow the rest of Grardel’s travels on Instagram (@alexgrardel) or on his website www.americanpilgrimages.com.

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