Sunday, November 17, 2013

Samoa in Church History



From this April 1975 talk by Elder Loren C. Dunn:
I had the honor . . . of being assigned to visit the Samoa Apia Mission and attend some stake conferences in that country. I found the missionaries all well and the work progressing. One afternoon following our meeting, the mission president, Patrick Peters—who is a native Samoan—said, 'Elder Dunn, there is something I’d like to show you.' We drove a few miles from the mission home and climbed the brow of a small hill to a place that was isolated by palm trees and other tropical vegetation. I suddenly realized that we were in a very old graveyard. At the center of this graveyard was a plot that was surrounded by a cement wall low enough to step over. President and Sister Peters told me this was where some of the first missionaries in Samoa were buried. There were eight graves.
The thing that struck my interest was that out of the eight graves, four represented children under the age of two and one was a twenty-one-year-old wife and mother. What role could these have possibly played in missionary work in Samoa?
During the next two days, when time would permit, I searched the history of the mission for an answer. While I was unable to gather information on all of the eight, I did discover the following.
In the early days of the Church it was common for young married couples to be called on missions and some of these young couples were called to Samoa. The first person to be buried in that plot was Sister Katie Eliza Hale Merrill. She and her husband had only been on a mission for three months when she took sick and gave birth to a premature child. The child died the next day. The history says the following: “An hour after the death of the child, the mother called Sister Lee (wife of the mission president) to her bedside and, after thanking her for waiting on her during the sickness, said that she was ‘going to die’ that she ‘could not stay because they had come for her.’ She then talked with her husband, kissed him goodbye, and all was over. The mother and baby boy were buried in one coffin.” After his mission, Brother Merrill took the remains of his wife and infant son back to Utah for burial.
Elder Thomas H. Hilton and Sister Sarah M. Hilton were serving on a mission in Samoa, where they lost three of their children, between 1891 and 1894. Little Jeanette lived less than a year, George Emmett for only seven days, and Thomas Harold for a year and a half.
Of the death of Thomas Harold the record says: “On Sunday the 11th, he was not feeling very well. . . . For two days following he appeared to be improving, but on the morning of the 14th, his mother again became concerned about his welfare. From then until his death, on March 17, 1894, everything that loving hands could do was done for his recovery, but he grew rapidly worse. . . .
'Oh how loath we all were to believe that it was so! How sad to see our dear sister again bereft, and her so far from dear parents and friends who she has left for the gospel’s sake.
'Thomas Harold Hilton was about one and a half years old, a beautiful little boy and very dearly beloved by all the missionaries, as well as the natives who knew him. Much sympathy is felt for the bereaved parents and the blessings of the Lord are invoked upon them.'
At twenty-nine, Ransom Stevens was president of the Samoa Mission when stricken with typhoid fever, which was complicated by a heart problem. He died on April 23, 1894.
His widow, Sister Annie D. Stevens, started for home by steamer on May 23. She reached Ogden on Sunday, June 10, where she was met by President Joseph F. Smith and Elder Franklin D. Richards. On June 11, she had an interview with the First Presidency in Salt Lake City and then went on to her home in Fairview, Sanpete County, arriving at 6:00 P.M.
The history states, 'The greetings by her friends were necessarily brief for Sister Stevens was ill and had to retire to bed early, and at 11 P.M., five hours after her arrival home, she gave birth to a nice boy.' She had gone through the whole ordeal in the advance stages of pregnancy.
Another entry was Friday, March 2, 1900, 'Little Loi Roberts was given up to die by Dr. Stuttaford at the sanatorium [in Apia]. The patient little sufferer was administered to daily, and each time he would get relief. … His parents [Elder and Sister E. T. Roberts] were untiring in their efforts to allay pain and sufferings.'
Saturday, March 3, 'Little Loi died at the sanatorium in Apia in the morning, making another sad day in the history of the mission.' Small wonder that the tombstone contained the words, 'Rest sweet Loi, rest.' He was one and a half years old.
And that brings us to Elder William A. Moody and his bride, Adelia Moody. They were called on a mission from Thatcher, Graham County, Arizona, arriving in Samoa in November 1894. They must have had the same hopes and aspirations of any young couple just starting out. She gave birth to an eight-pound daughter on May 3, 1895. Three weeks later she passed away. The daughter, little Hazel Moody, was taken care of by local Saints while her father continued his mission. Finally, one year later we read the following about a steamer leaving for the United States, whose passengers included four returning elders and 'also Elder Moody’s daughter, Hazel, one-year-old, who will be delivered to loving relatives in Zion.'
A price has been paid for the establishment of the gospel of Jesus Christ in the land of Samoa. It is interesting to note that much of that price was paid by little children. I suspect that there are many obscure cemeteries in many of the nations of the world similar to that little plot in Samoa. They are a mute witness to the trials and suffering that went into the beginnings of missionary work in this dispensation.
Image credit: http://wellingtonnewzealandmission.blogspot.com/2012/04/pacific-area-interim-mission-presidents.html

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