Sunday, January 12, 2014

Samoa in Church History

"I have never fasted, studied and prayed so hard, but the language does not come easy to me."

So wrote Joseph H. Merrill, early missionary to Samoa, only four and a half months into his mission.

At a mission conference on 4 October 1891, Elder Merrill was "appointed to labor with Elder Edward Wood at Saleaula on the island of Savaiʻi." They labored there together for the next three months.

Early in 1892 when Elder Wood was "released to go home . . . he was very fluent in the language," laments a depressed Elder Merrill.
I accompanied him to Fagaliʻi [Merrill writes] where he would leave for home. He asked me what he could do for me. I told him that seeing he wouldn't be using his language at home, I wished it were possible for him to leave it here with me. He assured me he would if he could.
Apparently, Elder Wood did the next best thing. "He arranged for a chief to take good care of me on my return for I was a new missionary and couldn't speak the language as yet."
On my return to Saipipi Chief Tuala took me to his home and cared for me. After dinner the chief wanted to talk about the Gospel and asked many questions. I could understand only a few words, but could not answer him intelligently. He then busied himself with making rope and fish line etc. I felt that I would give anything if I could talk to him and answer his many questions. After a long silence he looked up and said, in Samoan, 'Well, shall we talk or shall we sleep?' I understood him perfectly. My heart felt as though it would burst for joy. It seemed that I was in midair instead of sitting on the mats. Answering in Samoan I said 'We will talk.' And we did till the morning. He called me a deceiver, a falsifier. Th[e] family awoke astonished at my speaking so fluently . . . The gift of the language was given to me that night.
Elder Merrill then relates how he walked back to Saleaula from Saipipi and greeted some village children in Samoan, calling them by name. The frightened children ran away, telling their parents and another missionary, Elder Carpenter, that Merila, as they called him, "is coming and he speaks just like Mr. Wood."
They marveled at my gift of the language. It was indeed the gift of tongues. I could talk to them and explain the gospel but when they asked me about the war, I could not have the words to talk to them.
I knew now for a surety that the language would be at my command in my missionary work. I bear testimony that it came then as a Gift of Tongues, my prayers for the language were answered and indeed I had been blessed with the language as Bro. Wood used it.

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