"God knows your circumstances and your faith," Elder F. Michael Watson this week reassured Samoans impacted by a recent, devastating cyclone.
Elder 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 [22-24 December].
He was accompanied by his wife, Jolene Watson, in their visit of a nation which is still recovering from the effects of Cyclone Evan.
Deeply concerned by reports received by the Church's Pacific Area Presidency, Elder Watson said, “I came to find out what is happening here.
Shortly after the Watsons' arrival, they spent the day visiting the entire island of Upolu. In each of the several towns and villages visited, Elder Watson offered words of love and comfort to people who have lost homes, property, crops and livelihoods due to the cyclone.
He commended the local Latter-day Saint leaders who had made an assessment of the needs of the members and had already blessed the lives of many through the Church’s Welfare efforts in caring for the needy.
Elder Douglas W. Jessop, an Area Seventy for the Church, and President and Sister Leota, of the Samoa Apia Mission, along with Elder and Sister Rotz, Public Affairs missionaries, accompanied the Watsons.
The group first visited the Magiagi area of Apia, where the Church’s meetinghouse still housed 300 people displaced by the storm. According to local leaders, two-thirds of the people were members of other faiths.
While there, Sister Watson offered words of comfort to the mothers and children who had lost everything. She witnessed firsthand family members watching over their elderly parents. Elder Watson also thanked the local Latter-day Saints for providing emergency assistance to those who so urgently needed it, especially the distribution of fresh water.
Elder Watson and the others then hiked down the hill into the small valley where the Vaisigalo River had overflowed during the storm. The flooding which occurred had damaged or completely destroyed most homes.
Heading upstream they encountered Mrs. Fauali and her friend, Mrs. Kalemeli. They recounted how, at the peak of the storm, family members had to carry their invalid father and small children through the rising water, then make a difficult climb over a large metal water pipeline, and up the side of the ravine to safety.
The Watsons met others with equally courageous stories to share. "These brave souls are greatly concerned for their families," Elder Watson said.
Having a desire to also check on the full-time missionaries, the group found about 20 Latter-day Saint missionaries, 14 of them having just arrived in the mission field.
"These marvellous young people are giving of themselves out of love for God and their fellow men," Elder Watson said. "They are helping families cut up tree trunks and limbs; they are removing branches, mud and other debris blown down by the high winds or washed down by the flooding river." The young missionaries were being assisted by several senior missionaries from the Church’s Service Center in Pesega.
"The efforts of all the missionaries and the members of the Church in assisting their friends and neighbours have not gone unnoticed by government authorities and the people of Samoa," said Elder Watson.
Leaving Magiagi the group visited a heavily damaged area on the south side of Upolu. They stopped at the Church's Safaatoa Ward meetinghouse which had received extensive damage. Traveling east along the coast they saw downed power lines and destroyed or damaged homes and churches.
After being advised that most of Samoa’s crops have been destroyed, Elder Watson noted, "This means that food supply will be short-lived and replanting will take time with the harvest perhaps a year away."
While a few areas were relatively unscathed, in Elder Watson's words, “It is worse than I expected, even in the area of Sauniatu. Except for those who have a generator, the entire island is without power."
Elder Watson stopped to visit Sifa Pulini and his wife Ponesu who had been baptised by Elder Don Erekson, a missionary in Samoa some 45 years earlier. Brother Pulini, now in his 80's, was being assisted by his son, Uliafa in repairing the roof of their house that had been blown off by high winds.
Two of the full-time missionaries who lived in a Fale owned by the Pulini’s were also assisting the family. Elder Watson said he "was delighted to see that everyone was unhurt and still strong in the faith."
The journey circled along the coastline back to Apia, taking the remainder of the day.
In Apia they learned that the Church's Apia Samoa Temple received minor water damage through a window seal during the cyclone. Several trees on the temple grounds and at other Church facilities were either uprooted or had branches broken off in the storm.
Some of the homes and trees in the Latter-day Saint community near the temple and Church school in Pesega were also damaged.
On Saturday evening, Elder Watson spoke to the Latter-day Saint senior missionary couples living in Samoa. According to one participant, Elder Christopher Rotz, "Elder Watson bolstered our spirits and thanked us for our service to those in need."
On Sunday, the Watsons spoke at Church services in four different congregations: Lotopa, Moto’otua, Navu, and Letogo. In each meeting Elder Watson expressed his love for the Latter-day Saints and all of the people of Samoa.
"My heart is heavy as I witness the destruction here," he told one congregation, "but I am greatly encouraged by your faith and spirit."
“Look around you, you have each other. You may not have much of a Christmas this year but you have your family.”
He concluded each meeting with the following words from Alma 7:27 in The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ: “And now, may the peace of God rest upon you, and upon your houses and lands, and upon your flocks and herds, and all that you possess, your women and your children, according to your faith and good works, from this time forth and forever.”
Later that evening Elder and Sister Watson, Elder Jessop and President and Sister Leota attended an evening of Christmas music performed by the youth of the Apia West Stake. The cyclone had disrupted several rehearsals but any thoughts of cancelling were put aside.
As concluding speaker, Elder Watson encouraged the youth to read and study the scriptures and to prepare themselves to be witnesses for the Saviour. He then bore his personal witness of the divinity of Jesus Christ.