The day after Cyclone Evan left Samoa, missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints went to work helping families all over the island of Upolu dig out from its devastating destruction.
President Johnny Leota, head of the Church's Samoa Apia Mission, suspended a planned Christmas missionary conference in Apia and directed his 73 Upolu missionaries to remain in their assigned villages and help the people.
Their numbers increased when fourteen new missionaries arrived on Tuesday, 18 December, and promptly took off their white shirts and ties, set down their scriptures, put on yellow 'Mormon Helping Hands' vests and went to work.
They began in the Matautu area of Apia where the Vaisigolo River had overflowed its banks and washed mud, trees and trash into homes and yards already lashed by high winds, heavy rains and falling trees.
Their only days off have been Sunday, when they attended church, and on Christmas Day. Today they are back at it in the mud and hot sun.
One of the missionaries, Elder Duke from Heber, Utah said of the new missionaries, “They are all pretty tired but they don’t complain. They are excited to go out and serve.”
He added, “They don’t need to be told what to do. They just go out and do it.”
They cleaned up the home of an older couple who lived alone and had no family nearby to help.
They then walked a dusty mile to the home of Mrs. Wilson. Her yard was filled with mud, tree limbs and broken lumber. Some helped dismantle rafters and ceiling joists in a part of the house that had become unstable.
Others removed debris and trash from her yard, piling it up for later removal, while sorting out pieces of lumber that might be reused for rebuilding or repairs.
Sister Taula, one of the new missionaries, wore a hat, broad smile and pearl earrings. She said, “I work so hard and feel the Lord’s care. I feel no pain, only good and energetic.”
Over the past three days the missionaries have moved their efforts to the Magiagi area where the clog of trees and other barriers makes it impossible for heavy equipment to get in.
They have cut up trees, cleared out branches and debris, cleaned out the inside of houses, when possible, and tried to help in whatever way they could.
The missionaries have been helping people of all faiths. Another missionary, Elder Malaga, recounts that an elderly woman who thought the missionaries were from her church, asked for their help. When they showed up to work, she realized her mistake and was surprised when he told her that it did not matter and said, “We’re here to help. What do you want us to do?”
Elder Malaga went on to explain that the Samoan word for missionary is “faife’autala’i” and that the word tala’I means to preach, but the word faife’au means one who does what he is asked or assigned to do or one who does work. “This is our purpose. This is what we do as missionaries.”
When asked where home was, the missionaries responded with answers like Utah, California, New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, American Samoa and Samoa itself. They had left their families to spend two years sharing their testimonies of Jesus Christ. Today they were doing that by giving service.