In 1962 there was one bulldozer in all of Samoa. It belonged to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church used it to clear land before places of worship and other church facilities were constructed.
The Church was young in Samoa in 1962, but it had been growing for a hundred years. Mormon missionaries first arrived in the Samoan islands in the 1860's.
1962 was a watershed year for Samoan Latter-day Saints. The first stake of the Church in Samoa was organized in Apia on 18 March of that year. This event closely followed Samoa's independence from New Zealand on 1 January 1962.
Responding to requests from the Samoan government to clear land for the construction of new schools, Church leaders made the bulldozer available to assist. In order to help the people and government of Samoa over the longer term, the Church donated the bulldozer to the government.
Both the nation of Samoa and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have grown over the last 50 years since that gift was offered. The Church and its members have been there every step of the way, says Pacific Area President of the Church, Elder James J. Hamula. "Our members have been contributing, along with other faith groups, to the building of strong families and communities."
Among the contributions to Samoa over the last 50 years, from the Church and its members, are scores of humanitarian and welfare projects. These include donations of school supplies, the construction of clean water facilities, medical and dental aid, and disaster relief.
After 2009's catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that claimed 192 lives and that devastated many coastal villages, Latter-day Saints quickly stepped in. Partnering with Islamic Relief Worldwide, the Church sent a 747 loaded with water, food, medical supplies and other emergency aid. Mormons worked side by side with others to rebuild homes (fales) and villages.
In 2011 Samoa Head of State His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese visited Salt Lake City and the headquarters facilities of the Church.
After visiting the Church's Humanitarian Centre, speaking of the Latter-day Saints' response to the 2009 tsunami, he told the Deseret News: "I was so impressed with how quickly the Mormon Church responded to our need, and I was impressed by such amazing humanity."
"We are a small country," he added, "we are far away from others. It has been a learning thing for us to see that we are part of a much bigger family, with others who will help us when we are in need. We are very grateful for what was done."
"To actually see how it is all put together, how they do these things, it moved me deeply. I see the face of God, both in the faces of the people doing this humanitarian work, and in the work itself," the Head of State said.
The Church continues to identify welfare and humanitarian needs in Samoa, and organise people and resources to make a difference. One such project is the ‘Bishop's Garden.’ Located in the beautiful village of Sauniatu, the facility opens the door to Samoans of all faiths to receive training on how to grow more nutritious food in family lots.
Bishop's Garden director, Sam Williams, says they are helping and strengthening families through food production and nutrition.
Samoa is a nation of faith. Visit any village on Sunday and you will find people going to church, singing in church choirs, helping one another. Religion is a part of everyday life for most Samoans.
Speaking of the need for all Samoans to understand and respect each other’s beliefs, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese told participants at a conference on religious diversity at National University of Samoa in April 2012: "We need the miraculous power of God to be present within us as we dialogue on how best to manage cultural and religious diversity in our region."
He went on, quoting Hans Kung, "There will be no peace among the nations without peace among the religions; and there will be no peace among the religions without dialogue and cooperation among the religions and civilizations."
The Head of State then said, "This is as much true for the village as it is for the world."
In that spirit of interfaith understanding and respect, a national prayer service was held this week in Samoa. Two members of the Pacific Area Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder James J. Hamula and Elder Kevin W. Pearson represented the Church, alongside faith and government leaders from across Samoa, and ambassadors and other dignitaries from overseas.
On Friday (2 June) around 350 Latter-day Saints joined with other Samoans to march in an independence celebration parade through the streets of Apia.
Under blue skies, organizations, schools, local churches, and international organizations took part in the parade. These organizations gathered as early as 3:00am just to be first in line to parade for dignitaries from many countries including Germany, China, USA, Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific nations.
Streets of Apia were blocked as a result of people making their way to the opening ceremony held at the government grounds at Mulinu'u, Apia.
Latter-day Saint students entertained the tens of thousands of onlookers with their marching band, and presented the overseas guests with leis.
Tomorrow night Elders Hamula and Pearson will speak to Latter-day Saints and guests in a special meeting to mark the 50th anniversary of the first stake as well as 50 years of national independence. The proceedings will be beamed via satellite to Latter-day Saint chapels across the nation.
An earlier meeting was held on the actual date of the 50th anniversary of the organization of the first stake, on 18 March 2012. Elder F. Michael Watson of the 1st Quorum of the Seventy and Pacific Area Presidency presided at that gathering.
Looking ahead, Latter-day Saints in Samoa aim to continue to serve and strengthen their families, villages and nation. The Church's influence will grow, according to Elder Hamula. Over the last four weeks, he says, "Over 300 Samoan Latter-day Saint men have been or will be ordained elders in the Church."
"We are growing wonderfully as a Church here, and we are growing in our families and personal lives as we seek to follow the teachings and example of Jesus Christ."
There are over 50,000 Samoan Latter-day Saints who worship in 134 congregations. Tens of thousands more Samoan Latter-day Saints live overseas in places like New Zealand, Australia and the USA.
Samoan young men and women, and retired couples, serve as missionaries for the Church. Some are asked to serve in Samoa, but many are assigned overseas.
Last month, one such young missionary, Elder Etimani Faiese from Apia and serving as a missionary in San Jose California, saved a man from drowning in a lake.
"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Samoa is here for good," Elder Hamula said.