The obscure landing in 1888 of a missionary couple by a longboat in rough seas was the beginning of a century of the Church in Samoa, which will be celebrated by two weeks of festivities this month.
The festivities will involve many of the islands' approximately 40,000 members, church leaders, about 100 returned missionaries and their wives from the U.S. mainland, and friends of islanders, according to members of the Samoa Centennial Committee.The June 14-26 events will include dedication of monuments honoring the missionary arrival on June 21, 1888, a centennial conference, regional conference, parade, centennial ball and pageant, and sports competition, as well as songs, dancing and feasting.
The two monuments will be placed at the Malaeimi stake center on Tutuila in American Samoa and at a stake center near Pesega on Upolu in Western Samoa.
Participants will have an opportunity to have their testimonies and expressions of love and appreciation for the gospel placed in time capsules that will be sealed inside the monuments, said James S. Winegar of the committee.
The time capsules are four feet long, and each is capable of holding up to 50,000 testimonies, said Winegar. "This is the largest known effort of this kind ever undertaken," he said. Plans call for the time capsules to be opened at the bicentennial of the Church in Samoa in 2088. He said the monuments are being paid for by donations of former missionaries and friends.
Plaques on the monuments will commemorate the arrival a century ago of Elder Joseph H. Dean, his wife and 4-month-old son.
In late June 1888, seas were rough when Elder Dean and his family were lowered over the side of a mail ship, arriving from Hawaii, into a small longboat (rowboat) just off the coast of Tutuila. Their destination was the tiny island of Aunu'u, a few miles to the west.
Because of the high seas, Joseph and Florence Dean, who had been serving as missionaries in Hawaii since June 1887, were forced to spend three nights on Tutuila. Finally, after a 2 1/2-week voyage they put ashore on Aunu'u.
The calling of Elder Dean to go to the Sandwich (Hawaii), Society, Navigator (Samoa) islands, "or any other groups of islands that the Spirit might dictate through the authorities," is recalled by R. Lanier Britsch in his book, Unto the Islands of the Sea.
"The records do not reveal what else, if anything, was said by the leaders of the Church to Elder Dean about Samoa. But it is evident from his journals that Elder Dean was interested in Samoa and the possibility of going there," Britsch wrote.
By July 3, 1888, Elder Dean had performed 16 baptisms, including that of Samuel Manoa, a faithful Hawaiian who had long been serving in Samoa folowing an unauthorized mission calling. Work was soon expanded to include occasional visits to Tutuila, where Elder Dean baptized the daughter of a Samoan judge on July 21.
More missionaries arrived on Oct. 10, 1888. Elder Dean's good friend William O. Lee answered a call to serve in Samoa with his wife, Louisa, as did Elders Edward J. Wood and Aldelbert Beesley.
The first Church meetinghouse was dedicated Oct. 28, 1888, during the first conference in Samoa. Of the 56 people who attended the conference, 35 were baptized members. Among them was Pologa, "the very first Samoan missionary to serve in a wondrous succession of powerful missionaries from Samoa," wrote R. Carl Harris, a former mission president to Samoa, in the Samoa Apia Mission History - 1888-1983.
In June 1889, more American elders arrived, only to discover the missionaries and Samoan people were suffering from a famine, resulting from a devastating hurricane that hit the island in March of that year.
Britsch wrote: "June 1889 marked the end of the first year of the Samoan Mission. By this time the missionaries had experienced almost every problem Samoa could offer. They had endured [civil] war, famine, a hurricane, and tropical storms.
"They had suffered sickness, apostasy, days in open boats, and storms at sea. Rumors had been circulated against them, and Protestant ministers had used both newspapers and their pulpits to republish the old lies about Joseph Smith and the Latter-day Saints. The elders' housing was inferior to their homes in Zion, and living conditions resembled a perpetual camping trip.
"Nevertheless, the elders were in excellent spirits and eager to spread the gospel throughout the islands."
And spread it did. In 1890, Elders Dean, Wood, and George E. McCune extended missionary work to Savai'i, the largest island of the Samoan group, and now part of Western Samoa. By the time incoming missionaries brought Elder Dean notice of his release on July 13, 1890, the Church in Samoa included 124 people, counting children of baptized members.
By the end of 1898, the first decade of missionary work, 1,139 islanders had joined the Church, the harvest of the labors of 122 missionaries sent from North America, and several Samoan elders.
In the following decades, a steady stream of missionaries from the United States contributed to conversions. In the 1920s, membership was sufficient to justify the purchase of several plantations. The plantations helped provide for church schools that were also established.
The 1950s brought many advancements to the islands. Labor missionaries were called to erect meetinghouses. In 1955, President David O. McKay make his historic visit to Samoa. Also during that year, local district presidencies were organized, and proselyting time and effectiveness of missionaries were substantially increased.
The first stake in Samoa was created in 1962, and by 1974, the entire islands were covered by stakes. The Apia Samoa Temple was announced in 1977 and dedicated in 1983.
The temple brought even closer the dream that motivated missionaries during their many years of arduous work - that of bringing salvation to Samoan families.
Significant events in Samoa
June 21, 1888 - Elder Joseph Dean and family arrived to officially open missioanry work; first baptisms, meetings followed.
Nov. 10, 1900 - Samoan Mission Pres. William Sears began translating the Book of Mormon.
May 11, 1916 - Tongan Mission was divided from Samoan Mission.
June 9, 1938 - Apostle George Albert Smith and Rufus K. Hardy arrived in Samoa for the 50-year Jubilee conference, which was held June 18.
Oct. 14, 1940 - North American missionaries were called home because of threatening war conditions. Pres. Wilford W. Emery and Samoan missionaries carried on the work.
Feb. 2, 1946 - Missionaries returned after the war.
July 1, 1953 - First labor missionaries were set apart.
Dec. 5, 1953 - Apostle LeGrand Richards dedicated new Pesega School, a Church-owned and -operated institution.
March 18, 1962 - The first stake in Samoa was created under the direction of Elder Mark E. Petersen of the Council of the Twelve. Percy J. Rivers was called as president of Apia Stake.
June 2, 1974 - Samoa became first country to be fully covered with stakes.
July 1, 1974 - Patrick Peters became first Samoan called to preside over the Samoa Apia Mission.
Feb. 17, 1976 - President Spencer W. Kimball presided over the first Area Conference in Pesega on the island of Upolu; 11 General Authorities attended.
Feb. 19, 1981 - President Spencer W. Kimball broke ground and dedicated the site for the Apia Samoa Temple, located at Pesega.
Aug. 5, 1983 - Apia Samoa Temple was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley.