Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Samoan Tsunami: Aftermath

From what I've been able to read in the news and hear from friends, the death toll in the Samoan islands has reached at least 100 with a high chance that it will continue to increase as rescuers pick through the wreckage left by the tsunami that hit yesterday morning.

Now that the tsunami has come and gone, we begin the massive relief and rebuilding efforts in Samoa and American Samoa. Islands in both polities have suffered devastating losses of life and property, but many people and organizations, both on and off the islands, have already mobilized to administer relief to the Samoans.

A friend of mine, Sam Denton, said he "called the [LDS Church] headquarters and they were able to tell me that all missionaries are accounted for and OK. I also spoke with the emergency response division of the church. They advised they of course are already working on the ground in Samoa to start relief efforts. Their advise at this time was to give to the humanitarian efforts fund or donate in kind donations to Deseret [Industries]."

An official report from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints confirms that the Mormon missionaries in Samoa have all been accounted for, but "two local sister missionaries from the Tonga Nuku’alofa Mission serving on the Tongan island of Niuatoputapu, which borders Samoa," are currently missing.

Your prayers and money or in-kind donations are much appreciated. I know that this is a tough time economically for many of us. But think, if you have food and shelter, that is more than many Samoans have at this time.

One easy way to free up some funds is to fast, or abstain from food, for one or two meals and then donate at least the value of the food you would have eaten. The prophet Isaiah said that a true fast is not for the purpose of self-torment, but to administer to the relief of those who need it. He also promised that God would bless those who fasted in this manner. (See Isaiah 58:1-12)

Jesus Christ also taught, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." (See Matthew 25:31-46) Another ancient prophet reminds us that "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." (See Mosiah 2:17)

For the Samoans, this tsunami is as 9/11 or Katrina were to Americans. Our hearts go out to them. Our prayers ascend to heaven for them. But as faith is an action more than it is a mere passive belief or profession, we will administer to the Samoan people of our substance.

(All photos were taken in American Samoa. Photo Credits: Phil Murphy)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Samoan Tsunami

A large earthquake hit today off the coast of American Samoa, generating a number of tsunamis which struck both American Samoan and Samoa. Deaths have been reported from both polities, as well as significant damages to villages.

In addition to praying for the people down there, we might consider making donations to organizations that are likely to get involved in the disaster relief. Here are two likely candidates:

American Red Cross

LDS Philanthropies

If you can think of others, please let me know.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Man o' War!

Yep, this is for real. Portuguese Man o' War. A lifeguard put up this sign no more than 10 minutes after we arrived. Kailua beach is beautiful, and we hadn't been in the water yet, so we risked the jellies and went for a dip.

After we'd been in for a while I felt a stinging, burning sensation on my left hand. I instantly thought of the Man o' War warning and started looking in the water around me. Sure enough, a small Man o' War with a head about the size of a ping-pong ball and tentacles no longer than six inches was floating in the water right where I expected it to be. Fortunately, the sting was extremely mild. I didn't need any treatment, but I count myself blessed.

We've since been back to Kailua beach park, and we saw a few more Man o' Wars but none in our party were stung. We were approached, however, by a lady whose hand got stung and were able to point her in the direction of the lifeguard tower.

I guess even paradise has its downsides. Still, I'd prefer the risk of an occasional Man o' War sting to the guarantee of another stinging, biting, months-long winter on the mainland.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering 9/11

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.

(This was originally posted on 22 May 2208, as Samoa Part 16: 9/11)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hawaii Pics, Again

This beautiful flower is a member of the ginger family (Alpinia sp.), but the Samoans call it teuila. They have a festival for it in early September every year in Apia.

Another shot of our buddy, Gus.

Couldn't tell you the name of this one but it's awesome anyway. These roots belong on Dagobah.

"The solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom."
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific.

Monday, September 7, 2009

More Hawaii Pics

I'm not sure what this plant is but we liked it enough to photograph it.

Nu'uanu Pali, where King Kamehameha I fought a terribly bloody battle to secure control over O'ahu. Apparently, "more than 400 of Kalanikūpule's [Kamehameha's rival's] soldiers were driven off the edge of the cliff to their deaths 1,000 feet below" (Source). The Pali lookout provides a stunning view of the windward side of O'ahu.

This little pigeon is but one of many of its kind, each only a fourth to a third of the size of an average city pigeon. We have those too, but they aren't nearly as cool as these wee ones. The cooing of these pigeons is also very different from their larger cousins. We were on Skype with Deb's family and they could hear one cooing from outside; of course, the louvers let in a lot of sound anyway.

'Ōhi'a lehua: Anciently, "it was believed that picking lehua blossoms would cause rain" (Source). I picked one once on the Big Island, whose flower this is, and sure enough it rained before too long.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hawaii Pics

This is a view of the Honolulu skyline--Waikiki, I think--with Diamond Head as a backdrop. It's being taken from the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, or Punchbowl National Cemetery.

More of Honolulu from Punchbowl.

A Bird-of-Paradise flower. Deb took this photo. I think she did a pretty good job. It looks like the head of a bird. In paradise. Interesting.