President Dieter F. Uchtdorf arrived in the Samoas Nov. 7 to deliver messages of encouragement and hope and promise to multitudes of resilient members who will forever feel the pain exacted by a recent deadly earthquake and tsunami.
The second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made his first trip to American Samoa and Samoa (formerly Western Samoa) as part of the first leg of his extensive, multi-nation tour through the Pacific Islands. President Uchtdorf was accompanied by his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf. They met with Mormon missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and thousands of members throughout the Samoas, sharing words of sympathy and encouragement to the many still reeling from the historic disaster.
The Uchtdorfs also toured the eastern coastline of the Samoan island of Upolu that suffered severe damage in the tsunami. Remembering what he witnessed, President Uchtdorf noted the power of faith amid the devastating destruction.
“The damage was great, but while it is terrible to see the destruction the force of nature can cause, the force of faith is definitely greater than the force of nature,” he said.
Local Mormon Church leaders said the members were inspired and lifted by President and Sister Uchtdorf’s time in the Samoas.
“President Uchtdorf’s visit was wonderful,” said Samoa Apia Mission President O. Vincent Haleck Jr. “His [messages] focused on finding hope for the future and moving beyond the tragedy. It was about looking forward.”
Soon after the Sept. 29 earthquake and subsequent tsunami struck the Samoas and regions of Tonga, the Church responded with humanitarian aid to assist victims of all backgrounds. Those efforts would be supplemented by an air shipment out of Salt Lake City replete with 150,000 pounds of relief supplies. While the Church’s efforts to provide temporal assistance is ongoing, the Uchtdorfs’ visit represented a mission of spiritual assistance. Thousands crammed into stake centers to hear their counsel, while hundreds more gathered at meetinghouses in other regions of the islands to participate in the meetings via closed circuit broadcasts.
“What an awesome experience it was,” said Sister Peggy Ann Haleck.
President Uchtdorf’s first meeting on arrival in American Samoa on Nov. 7 was with the missionaries serving in that U.S. territory. He spoke of their sacred duties to share the message of the gospel with the Samoan people.
“President Uchtdorf told the missionaries that they had been called by a prophet to teach the gospel,” President Haleck said.
Later that evening, President Uchtdorf presided at a meeting for members throughout American Samoa. An estimated 2,000 people gathered in the stake center where the meeting was held with many others viewing the proceedings in Church buildings in various parts of the small island.
On Sunday, Nov. 8, President and Sister Uchtdorf traveled to Western Samoa. They were welcomed at the airport outside Apia by the stake presidents of Samoa and their wives. A choir of Primary children also performed songs for their guests.
Touring the devastated regions of the Upolu coastline was a sobering experience for President Uchtdorf. Counted among the 143 Samoan tsunami fatalities were 25 Mormon Church members, with 10 from one ward and eight from another. The local Upolu Samoa East Stake was gathered for a stake conference when the Uchtdorfs arrived. There, President Uchtdorf expressed love and sympathy for the affected members on behalf of President Thomas S. Monson and the First Presidency.
“You could see the members there were spiritually uplifted — you could see it in their faces,” said Pesega Samoa Stake President Sapele Faalogo, who traveled with the Uchtdorfs to the coastline.
Later that day, President and Sister Uchtdorf toured the Apia Samoa Temple before meeting with missionaries serving in Western Samoa.
The Uchtdorfs concluded their time in Samoa with a member-meeting at the Church-owned school in Pesega. Once again, members living in outlying regions of the Samoan islands were able to participate through a closed circuit broadcast. President and Sister Uchtdorf were joined at the gathering by Samoa’s acting prime minister, Tuila’epa Sailele Malielegaoi, along with the nation’s head of state, His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese, who expressed gratitude for the Church’s ongoing support and President Uchtdorf’s inspiring visit.
Sister Uchtdorf spoke to the members and missionaries at each stop. She commented on the warmth that she enjoyed in the presence of the Samoan members, adding she felt “at home on the island.”
President Faalogo said lives were brightened in Samoa during the Uchtdorfs’ visit.
“[Their visit] was very comforting for the people — not just for the members, but also those who are not members of our Church,” he said. “It was a spiritual lift to be able to hear their condolences and messages of comfort for those who have been affected by this great loss.”
Before leaving Samoa on Sept. 9, President and Sister Uchtdorf visited the head of state at his residence. There His Highness received condolences on behalf of the Church and again gave thanks for the Church’s temporal and spiritual assistance in the aftermath of the disaster. The official noted that the Church’s contributions were the first to arrive from any church or large organization.
President and Sister Uchtdorf’s visit to the Samoas received positive coverage in both the local print and broadcast media. They are continuing their visit in the Pacific islands, with stops in Fiji, Tonga and Tahiti.
Meanwhile, the recovery continues in disaster-weary sections of Samoa. Clean-up efforts are ongoing and members who lost their homes are working to rebuild. Missionary work has also resumed in full.
“We have missionaries back in all the affected areas and we’re teaching the gospel,” said President Haleck.