In a quick-paced succession of activities and meetings that left one little time to savor the tranquility of life on a South Pacific island, the 100th anniversary of the Church in Samoa was commemorated June 13-26.
The celebration was held pm three islands: Tutuila in American Samoa, and Savai'i and Upolu in Western Samoa. Included were fireside testimonials, devotional meetings and a regional conferece; traditional dances and songs; canoe races and other athletic contests, and parades. (See related article and photos on pages 8-9. An additional report is planned for the July 9 Church News. An earlier article on the history of the Church in Samoa and chronology of significant events were published in the June 11 edition.)President Thomas S. Monson, secound counselor in the First Presidency, presided over the last segment of meetings and activities, which were held in Apia, on Upolu, while earlier events on Tutuila and Savai'i were under the direction of Elder James E. Faust of the Council of the Twelve and Elder John Sonnenberg of the First Quorum of the Seventy and president of the Pacific Area.
Two monuments recently commissioned and funded by returned missionaries and "friends of Samoa" were unveiled as part of the celebration. On June 20, Elder Faust unveiled a monument on the grounds of a stake meetinghouse at Mapusaga, American Samoa. On June 24, President Monson unveiled the other monument in front of Church offices next to the temple in Pesega, a village near Apia in Western Samoa.
Government and civic leaders attended devotional services, one held in the gymnasium of what was formerly a Church-owned school near Pago Pago, American Samoa, and the other in a park in Apia, Western Samoa.
Gratitude for the blessings of the gospel and service by missionaries dominated the anniversary proceedings. Several dozen former missionaries from North America returned to Samoa, hoping to show spouses, children and grandchildren where they had served and to catch a glimpse of and savor the spirit of the work in this part of the world.
President Monson was among those who returned and reminisced about past experiences in Samoa. From 1965-68, while serving in the Council of the Twelve, he supervised the missions of the South Pacific and became acquainted with many faithful members in the Samoan islands.
In a devotional service in Apia Park on June 24, he referred to the Polynesians' faith, their abiding love, and particular gifts the Lord has bestowed upon them: the gifts of faith, of song, of love, of obedience and of gratitude.
He spoke of a visit years ago to Sauniatu, a picturesque LDS settlement nestled in the crater of an extinct volcano. There, he had met with small children at the Church school and, near the conclusion of the meeting, had felt prompted to shake hands with each child. But when he looked at his watch, he thought the time was too short to do so. However, he told the teacher his desire. The teacher said something in Samoan to the children, and they smiled brightly. After shaking hands with each child, he spoke with the teacher, who told him the children had prayed fervently that an apostle would visit their village and shake their hands.
He spoke of the first authorized missionaries - Elder Joseph Dean and his wife, Florence - who came to Samoa, arriving on the island of Anunu'u on June 21, 1888.
He referred to the difficulties of early missionaries, some of whom died.
"Remember, the Lord said, 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,'" said President Monson.
Later on Friday, June 24, President Monson spoke at the unveiling of the monument in Pesega.
"It is my prayer that we would be true to the traditions of missionaries who have served in Samoa, and those traditions include love of God and love of fellowman, loyalty to the Church, obedience to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the desire to follow the prophet of God in these last days," said President Monson.
"In addition to the traditions that missionaries have and you display, how wonderful would it be if we would give a gift - even a pledge to the missionaries who served long ago. We should honor those missionaries who have gone before us by living our lives in worthiness, to keep all of Heavenly Father's commandments and by showing love for Him by our actions."
He concluded his remarks, saying: "This is our day of history. This is our day to serve the Lord so we may follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before. Let the 100 years in which we live be just as glorious and honorable as the 100 years that have just concluded."
At the general session of regional conferece on Sunday, June 26, President Monson spoke further of the "gifts of Polynesia." He said some may wonder why the people of Polynesia are so bounteously blessed and why missionaries always retain in their hearts a love for the islands and their people. The answer is found, he said, in scripture: "Know ye not that I, the Lord Your God, have created all men, and that I remember those who are upon the isles of the sea. . ." and, "Great are the promises of the Lord unto them who are upon the isles of the sea." (2 Ne. 29:7; 2 Ne. 10:21.)
President Monson said, "The past is behind - honor it. The future is ahead - prepare for it. The present is here - live in it."
President Monson conveyed to all assembled the love of the First Presidency and urged the people to "be true and faithful, and keep the Lord's commandments."
Elder Faust, who presided over and addressed devotional services on Tutuila and Savai'i, said many references were made to the missionaries who came to Samoa and died while serving the Lord here. "But what of all who have come, and what have they taken back?" he asked in his address on Tutuila. "They have taken home kava sticks and coconuts and tapa cloths, but they also have taken home much more. I'm sure missionaries here learned much about faith, commitment and devotion, and went home filled with stories of the outpouring of the Spirit. Those stories have blessed their lives."
He spoke of increasing missionary work done by local members, mentioning there are only a few missionaries from North America now serving in Samoa.
In a meeting on Savai'i, Elder Faust said of the 100th anniversary events, "We have not come just to hold meetings; we have come to rejoice in waiting on the Lord."
In the Savai'i meeting, Elder Sonnenberg looked out over a congregation of about 1,500, most of whom had walked many miles to attend the meeting or had ridden on crowded, hot buses. "During one phase of missionary work on Savai'i, missionaries walked 88 miles, talked to 1,851 people and baptized three people. Now look at all these members. Those early missionaries were able to see that the worth of a soul is great," he said.
He spoke of Elder Joseph Dean's efforts to fellowship early converts. At one point, Elder Dean was asked if he would consider expanding the work beyong the island of Anunu'u. Elder Dean explained he felt he should not "leave the 40 souls on this island. My policy has been to labor as hard to keep a member as to get a new one, and not to spread my wings over more eggs than I can keep warm."
Elder Sonnenberg said the first meetinghouse had a thatched roof, and had posts from breadfruit and coconut trees; the floor was of pebbles and volcanic rock. That building was in great contrast to the modern building, where an overflow congregation of members gatherd for the centennial devotional on Savai'i.