Life of missionary celebrated despite early burial

The family of a missionary of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Elder Antonio Schwenke, reminisced about his life and service to God and his church during a funeral service Vaoala on Friday. 

Elder Schwenke died in Sierra Leone in March, from medical complications, which he developed after he was diagnosed with malaria. The coronavirus pandemic lockdown delayed the arrival of his body until last Friday.

Although the family had planned a final farewell, the Government state of emergency rules dictated that he had to be buried upon arrival and that happened last Saturday.

Still, on Friday at the L.D.S church in Vaoala, families, friends and church members gathered to honour his memory.

Among them was the deceased man's twin brother, Elder Francis Schwenke, who was also a missionary in Africa and had just arrived back into the country.

Like his brother, Elder Francis Schwenke shared the same dream of becoming a missionary which is why they both served in the same region. 

They attended school together at Pesega Middle School before moving to Avele College. 

In 2017, the deceased revealed during a family meeting his dream to become a missionary, which was a sentiment that his twin brother also shared. 

After graduating in 2018 to gain entry to the N.U.S., the duo were adamant they wanted to become missionaries in Africa so education was placed on the back burner.

Their mother, Debra Etei Schwenke, said her son Elder Francis was struggling with loss of his brother. The family was still coming to terms with the death, she said.

“They’ve been doing everything together since childhood and they even shared the same dream," Debra said.

“It’s the most difficult goodbye amongst everyone’s as they shared the closest and fondest bond and that’s why I love them so much.”

Despite not having the body of Elder Antonio Schwenke during the service on Friday, the mother said they felt the gathering brought a sense of closure for everyone involved.

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