September 11th, 2001 began as any other day in the mission field. At 6:30 am, my alarm went off. I hopped into the shower, dressed, and was studying the scriptures by 7:00 am. After a bit, Elder L. and I decided to go to a small store located around the corner from where we lived to buy some milk and cookies.
We arrived at the store unaware that anything important was happening in our distant homeland, the conditions in Samoa are that idyllic. I perused the aisles until I found myself near an open doorway leading into the store owner’s home. From within the next room, I heard a seemingly disjointed and unconnected series of words: America, terrorist attack, World Trade Center, etc.
None of it made any sense to me. My interest piqued, I peeked my head through the door to catch some more of the report. The shop owner’s son beckoned me to enter. I did so and was confronted by a most confusing image on the TV screen: the World Trade Center towers, clearly on fire, belching thick, black smoke into the sky above.
The anchorperson (I cannot remember if it was a man or women) was saying something about the towers having collapsed. I said to myself, They haven’t collapsed; I can see them right there. I knew that the Empire State Building had once been hit by an airplane; surely the twin towers could withstand the impact of a jet liner.
Then the report switched to a video of the towers’ collapse. A wave of shock coursed through my body and I suddenly burst into tears. My slow descent into the chair behind me mirrored the collapse of the first tower. I watched as the second tower fell and soon Elder L. joined me in viewing the tragic news.
We walked to our flat, then made our way to the home of the family slated to make us breakfast that morning. Before we arrived, a mission van pulled up and Elder H., a man in his mid-sixties from my hometown area, instructed us that Salt Lake City had issued instructions for all missionaries to remove their nametags—obvious indicators that we were affiliated with an America-based church—and to remain in their living quarters until further instructions were given.
Elder L. and I took all this very seriously. We went to the home of our breakfast appointment and explained, in broken Samoan—partly because of our greenness, partly because of the emotion—that we needed to forgo the meal and return to our flat. At the time, the thought hadn’t occurred to us that we were, in fact, in the safest place on earth; that no one in all of Samoa would ever dream of harming a missionary, or any other American for that matter. We only knew our orders and risked offending the family by refusing their generosity.
We spent three days indoors and seven days without our black nametags. Once, when we could go back outside, we were mistaken for Jehovah’s Witnesses because we were dressed in slacks, white shirts, and ties, but our signature symbol as Mormon missionaries was gone.
The most difficult part about witnessing such a horrific tragedy was being so far away from family. If I hadn’t yet experienced homesickness (which I had a little), then this plunged me into an acute yearning to go home and get on with life while the world was still semi-sane.
Fortunately, our wise mission president counseled Elder L. and I to work harder and get the Church members to assist us. We did and found ourselves as busy as we’d ever be. Thus our minds were taken off the pain of what we had witnessed and of being so far away from home. Our sorrows were literally swallowed up in a hope in Jesus Christ, whose message we sought to share with all we could.