News Story

Church Leaders Visit Samoa

Elder F. Michael Watson of the First Quorum of the Seventy and Pacific Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints visited Samoa this past weekend.  Elder Watson was travelling with his wife, Sister Jolene Watson and two leaders of Latter-day Saint auxiliary organizations.

Sister Linda K. Burton is the general president of the Relief Society, one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the world; and Sister Rosemary M. Wixom is general president of the Church’s organization for children, the Primary. Sister Burton’s and Sister Wixom’s husbands accompanied them.

The visitors were in Samoa Saturday to Monday, 23-25 February 2013. Also travelling with the group was Elder Fonoti Jessop, a Samoan and Area Seventy [Church leader] for Samoa.

Sister Burton said they came to Samoa to learn, counsel, and share with the Samoan people.

Of their visit Sister Wixom said, “Let me tell you what I’ve seen.  I have seen beautiful children.  I have seen parents who love their children.  I have seen, and even been inside your fales (homes). I have never seen such structures; they’re so open and so inviting.  I have seen people who love to sing.  I have seen people who are very happy.”

Their visit began with a trip to the Fagalii Cemetery where several early Latter-day Saint missionaries, wives and children are buried. The visitors listened intently to stories of the lives and sacrifices made by some of those early members of the Church.

Sister Burton read aloud a letter written in 1921 to Sarah Hilton, who lost all three of her children while serving with her husband in Samoa. The letter was signed by Elder David O. McKay who had visited Samoa.  He later became President of the Church.

“As I looked at those three little graves, I tried to imagine the scenes through which you passed during your young motherhood here in old Samoa. As I did so, the little headstones became monuments not only to the little babes sleeping beneath them, but also to a mother’s faith and devotion to the eternal principles of truth and life. Your three little ones, Sister Hilton, in silence most eloquent and effective, have continued to carry on your noble missionary work begun nearly 30 years ago, and they will continue as long as there are gentle hands to care for their last earthly resting place.”

At times Sister Burton’s voice filled and slowed with emotion. As she concluded she softly added, “What a sacred spot.  What a beautiful spot.”

The visitors met the Misa Family in the village of Salelesi. They chatted with an elderly grandmother, parents, teenagers, and young children in their fale which had been severely damaged by Cyclone Evan in December 2012. As they sang primary songs with the children, the adults and youth soon joined in.

They stopped at the Poia family farm in Solaua, in the hills above the village of Lufilufi where the family raises food on their small plot of rocky ground.  They are growing new strains of disease resistant taro. Only the children were at home. Elder and Sister Watson had visited the home on another occasion.

Sister Wixom and Sister Burton talked together under the tin roof over what used to be an extension to their home. The roof of the main part of the house had been blown completely away by the high winds of the cyclone.

When asked what she enjoyed in school, the 16-year-old daughter, who was watching the children that day said, “I like chemistry and one day I want to be a doctor.”  A 14-year-old said she likes her career class in school. 

The journey continued further into the mountains, reaching the village of Sauniatu where the Church operates a school.  “This is amazing,” Sister Burton said as Brett Macdonald and President Neria of the Upolu Samoa North Stake led the group on a tour of the Sauniatu Bishop’s Garden.

Targeting Samoan agricultural and health problems, those involved with the garden project search for solutions that can be found in native materials, easily available and affordable to the local people. They also share their knowledge by bringing small groups of farmers and others to the village to show them what they have learned, and teach them similar methods of growing food in small places applicable to families living in urban areas or on small plots of land.

Of interest was the ‘Tippy Tap,’ (more formally called the Tu mama sanitation system), a system for washing hands when no piped water is available.  Tippy Taps can be placed near toilets or the kitchen. The only materials required are some kind of plastic jug, a few pieces of wood, and a short pieced of string.

“What a great idea!” exclaimed Sister Wixom. 

In Samoa and similar island nations, fifty percent of hospitalizations of children are caused by lack of sanitation practices such as washing hands.

Training on producing natural fertilizers for the soil from chicken or fish is also provided at the facility.

In response to this questions raised by Sister Burton, “Are there ways you can share this information with people who cannot visit Sauniatu?” and “Is this something that could work in Papua New Guinea or the Solomon Islands?” and “How can we help?”

The group observed demonstrations of traditional ways to prepare and cook food such as the shredding and straining of coconut, cooking with an umu (Samoan style oven made from heated rocks covered with banana and taro leaves), and scraping the bark off the taro root.   

Macdonald explained that lessons are taught about nutrition in native foods. He commented that the original Polynesian diet, before the introduction of Western foods, was among the healthiest in the world.

The demonstration farm shows that it is possible to get healthy, well-balanced meals for an entire family from a small plot of ground. Showing a picture of a large group of Samoans from 1921 he pointed out that none of them were overweight or underweight.

Theory was put into practice as the visitors were fed a lunch of taro, palusami, sapasui, papaya, coconut, pineapple, all grown locally. Those at the farm have also experimented with recipes, and have come up with a new version of palusami (a Samoan favourite food, commonly eaten with taro) with extra vegetables added to the coconut cream filling.

To those who have made this happen and available to others, Elder Watson referenced the fact that this was welfare in action and would be the means to provide help for the poor and needy.

On Saturday evening [23 February] and then again on Sunday [24 February, Elder Watson, Sister Burton and Sister Wixom spoke with local leaders from several Samoan stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Elder Watson referenced the direction given by the Prophet Joseph Smith to women of the Church on March 17, 1842 when he said, “I now turn the key to you in the name of God, and this society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time - this is the beginning of better days to this society.”   

He said that the effort of the Relief Society is to relieve the poor and to save souls.  With respect to youth, Samoan Church leaders were encouraged, along with parents, to "train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22: 6)."  Elder Watson indicated that it was President Spencer W. Kimball who added:  “And if he departs, he will probably return if he is brought up in the right way.”

One participant, Fila Toma, said, “I enjoyed the whole meeting, especially the part about how to counsel with women and sisters, and even counseling as couples or counseling with our children.”

Monday at a special devotional meeting at the Church College of Samoa in Pesega, Sister Burton encouraged students to get a good education.  “The smartest people are the ones who ask good questions,” she counselled.

Sister Wixom reminded students that, “God knows your name. You are important to him.” 

Elder Watson noted a banner in the assembly room which read, “Make the most of it” and counselled the students to do just that. He quoted a poem which he had learned in his early years, “If you can’t be a highway then just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. It isn’t by size that you win or fail, but be the best of whatever you are.”  He concluded that the First Presidency and Quorum of The Twelve Apostles pray for you.

On Monday, the Honourable Tolofuaivalelei Falemole Leiataua, Samoan Minister of Women, Community and Social Development; Leituala Kuiniselani Toelupe Tago-Elisara, CEO of the same ministry; and Afoafouvale Johnny Moors, Associate Minister of Works, Transport and Infrastructure and also a Member of Parliament, attended a luncheon with Elder and Sister Watson, and other Church leaders.

They discussed mutual concerns for women, children, and welfare as they shared a meal together. Also attending the lunch were Samoan Latter-day Saint leaders Elder Fonoti Jessop and President Sapele Fa’alogo.

An emergency kit (also called a 72 hour kit), containing items that would be useful in a time of disaster, was presented to the government representatives at the conclusion of the lunch. 

Elder Watson said the Church encourages its member to be prepared. He referred to Cyclone Evan and the immediate needs of shelter, drinking water, and food of which the Church was the initial responder.


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