Mother delights in deceased son's homecoming

After a seven-month wait, the body of the late Elder Antonio Schwenke, arrived in Samoa on Friday afternoon, giving his family a final chance to mourn his passing together and achieve closure.

The news brought tears of joy to his distraught mother, Debra Etei Schwenke, who said she has been praying for his son's return since she was informed about his passing.

His remains arrived today at around 2pm in a specially chartered flight.

His body was transported to Ligaliga's funeral to await his funeral services on Monday next week. 

Meanwhile, the missionary's relatives are banned from getting close to the coffin due to Ministry of Health restrictions related to the state of emergency. 

"I'm just grateful, thank you Lord for your never-ending love and support. Finally, my baby is home," Mrs. Schwenke said. 

"Nothing else matters now that my son is home and despite the circumstances, he's home."

The return of his body was confirmed by the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saint’s Pacific Area Seventy, Sapele Fa’alogo, in response to questions by the Samoa Observer. 

But further questions sent via email for further information did not receive responses by press time.

The young missionary died in Sierra Leone in March this year from medical complications, which he developed after he was diagnosed with malaria. He died before Samoa declared its COVID-19 lockdown.

During a previous interview with the Samoa Observer, Mrs. Schwenke, of Vaoala, said she was overwhelmed by the support of her relatives and overseas members of the church in offering to conduct her son’s funeral and burial overseas where it’s closer.

However, she was determined to bring him home so they could give him a proper burial.

“I know it’s been too long but everyone’s doing their job in trying to get our son back in our hands,” she said. “Of course there are times when we feel weak but we’re more confident and optimistic that our son should be back to Samoa, even if it’s next year or the year after that.”

“I believe my son should be back to where he came from as a first-time missionary and that’s Samoa as well as his family,” she added.

"Friends of the church also offered to handle his funeral and bury his body at one of the church's cemeteries overseas but I want his body home. As I said, even if it’ll take another year or two, I’ll wait patiently for his return.”

A senior member of the church, Laura Dedrickson Harper on social media joyfully rejoiced in a post, of the approved return of Elder Schwenke’s remains to Samoa.

“We rejoice at the news that Elder Schwenke’s body will be flown this week to his beloved Samoa. His family and friends have waited months for clearance and for borders to allow movement,” she said.

“We love and admire them for their faith and fortitude in such challenging times. We know Elder Schwenke continues his missionary assignment —this time beyond the veil. How grateful we are for the glorious message of the Restoration and the plan of salvation made possible through our Saviour Jesus Christ.

“To the Schwenke Family—we love you. We pray for you! We thank our Heavenly Father for the opportunity to know Elder Schwenke and for the privilege of serving with him. His testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and his amazing joyful smile will be in our hearts forever!”

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