How two girls lost in the Samoan jungle led to one man’s conversion

After nearly 60 years, Latter-day Saint sisters Anita Card and Marie Card Hansen learned the unexpected good that came from their teenage misadventure

In 1965, two Latter-day Saint teenagers from Utah, Aaronita “Anita” Card and her younger sister, Marie Card Hansen, became lost in the jungles of American Samoa. 

While the details of their experience being lost and found in treacherous terrain is story enough, the two recently learned, close to 60 years later, how the Lord brought about unexpected good from their misadventure.

“It just goes to show how merciful Heavenly Father is and how much He’s in the details,” Hansen told the Church News.

Adventures in American Samoa

Anita Card and Hansen agree that their mother, Bonita “Bonnie” Card, had an adventurous soul.

Which is why the mother of eight — whose children were ages 2 to 17 at the time — happily agreed to move her brood from the desert terrain of Utah to the humid jungle of American Samoa.

Fortunately, Bonnie Card also instilled that venturesome spirit into her children. Instead of being resentful that their father, Aaron Card, had accepted an offer to teach at the Church’s Mapusaga High School campus on Tutuila island, Anita, then age 17, and Marie, 15, looked at the dramatic change in their own high school experience with a sense of eager anticipation.

“I was ready for an adventure,” Anita Card recalled.

“We were all excited,” Hansen added.

Map of the Samoan Islands | Peter Hermes Furian - stock.adob

As a family, the Cards enjoyed hiking, camping and exploring the mountain ranges of Utah. So when a few Samoan friends invited Anita and Marie on a short hike to a nearby waterfall soon after their arrival, the teenagers jumped at the chance.

The next week, the two — who considered themselves fairly confident hikers — decided to head to the waterfall again, this time on their own. 

They set out on the trail, but the Samoan tropical forests are thick with ferns, vines and underbrush. The previous week’s excursion had taken roughly two hours round trip, so when many hours passed and they were still zigzagging through the jungle chasing water sounds, the sisters realized they had missed the trail. They were lost. And expecting a short jaunt, they had not packed water, food or gear. 

“So we did what we did in our Utah mountains, which is to get to higher ground so you can see where you’re at, get your bearings and then go from there,” Hansen said.

However, the higher they got, the denser the vegetation became. At one point, the sisters lost track of each other. “We discovered very rapidly that it didn’t take very many feet to not only not see each other but not to hear each other,” Hansen said. 

She hollered Anita’s name, Hansen said, until she heard her voice and they continued to call to each other until they found one another again. “We stayed really close after that.”

Losing contact with Anita was the only time she felt panicked during the ordeal, Hansen said.

Part of their lack of fear was due to ignorance, Anita Card explained. It wasn’t until later that they learned about wild boar, deep fissures in the volcanic ground hidden by undergrowth and other dangers. “People just didn’t go hiking up in those mountains.”

Eventually, they made their way to a ridge where the jungle thinned enough that they could see. On one side of the ridge they spotted their school campus far off in the distance. On the other side of the ridge just below them was a village. 

A photo of Vatia Bay in Tutuila Island in American Samoa shows the dense tropical forest. | Jerry Ginsberg/Danita Delimont -

By then, the sun was low in the sky. They decided they better try to reach the village. Before trying to scramble down the cliff face using vines, the sisters said a prayer. 

“We prayed for two things: We prayed for protection for us, and peace for our parents,” who they knew would be worried sick, Hansen recalled. 

In subsequent retellings of that day, the sisters would learn that prayer was answered. Their parents were blessed with calm, even as they scoured the jungle with search parties for their lost daughters. 

Anita and Marie paced back and forth along the ridge — which they later discovered was the edge of a volcanic chimney — before they got a feeling that it was OK to try to descend from one spot.

Hansen said the experience reminds her of something out of a movie. They began grabbing vines and tugging on them to make sure they could hold their weight and then began inching down the cliff. The foliage was too thick to see the bottom.

When they safely reached the ground, they saw it was the only possible spot where the vines were long enough to reach the bottom. “The rest of it was just sheer.” 

Unexpected friendships

The tired, hungry and bedraggled young women trudged into the remote village of Fagasa. 

Anita Card recalled children darting in and out of fales, or Samoan huts, but nobody approached them except a young woman about their age named Lonise, who spoke some English.

Lonise led them to the village phone, where they tried to call their parents, but both their mom and dad were out with the search parties, and at that time there was only a phone at the school, not in their home. 

Marie Card, left, and Anita Card, right, pose with Lonise in the village of Fagasa, circa 1965. | Courtesy Marie Card Hansen

After climbing over, under and through the Samoan flora and fauna and then rappelling jungle-style from vines, the girls were grimy and mud-caked. Lonise gave them lavalava to wear, helped them take a bucket shower and loaned them clothes. She then arranged for her brothers to drive them back to Mapusaga. 

Hansen described the road leading into Fagasa as more of jeep trail than an actual road, but they got a glimpse of how far they’d wandered. It took an hour on the rocky, uneven trail to reach the main town and then another hour on the windy, coastal highway to reach Mapusaga. 

The boys dropped them off at the gate of their school campus. Their parents were still out searching, but the girls soon heard drums booming in the distance and learned the drums were the signaling system for the searchers.

“We met many interesting expressions on people’s faces,” Hansen recalled of their return.

Although the girls were embarrassed by the incident, there were a few silver linings.

After some of the excitement had blown over, Aaron and Bonnie Card took the girls with them back to Fagasa to return the clothes they had been loaned and to thank Lonise and her family for their help.

Up to that point, Fagasa had not been friendly toward the Church. The year prior, the village had driven out the one Church member who lived there and chased away the missionaries. “So to have us members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints come into their village, I’m sure it was with mixed feelings on their part knowing who we were,” Hansen said.

The visit went well, however, and the Cards were invited back a few times, including to a village celebration. A friendship developed. During one of their visits, Aaron Card discovered that one of Lonise’s brothers was not attending school, so the school teacher invited the young man to attend the Church high school in Mapusaga. 

Later that year, the missionaries were allowed back into the village. “We thought, ‘OK, that was one good thing that came from [our experience] was the missionaries were allowed back,’” Hansen said.

Lost or sent?

For 55 years, that’s where the Card family thought the story ended. 

In 2019, Anita Card and Hansen were serving a temple mission in Laie, Hawaii. One day, Anita Card, who was serving as an ordinance worker, met the temple recorder, Max Purcell, in the lunchroom. As the two chatted, they made the connection of Mapusaga High School, which Purcell had also attended.

“I laughed and I told him, ‘Oh, yeah, I’m one of the the lost Palagi girls,’” Anita Card said. (Palagi is a Samoan word used to describe non-Samoans or foreigners of European or American descent.)

Purcell looked shocked, Anita Card said, and told her, “I know that story.”

Purcell’s friend, Mamao Tua, had joined the Church as a result of “two lost Palagi girls,” and he would want to talk to them. 

When Tua, who now lives in Utah, answered Anita Card’s telephone call, “he was just so gracious and had such gratitude,” she said.

Tua was Lonise’s brother who had been invited to attend the Church school. Because of the Card family visits to his village, he was allowed to finish school there. However, he faced challenges with transportation and persecution and struggled to learn English. 

During his senior year, when he turned 18, he was baptized against his family’s wishes. The day he graduated, he bought a one-way ticket to California. Eventually he married, raised a family and settled in Utah. Today, he and his family strive to be faithful members of the Church.

According to Tua, the sisters were not lost, they were sent so that he could learn about the gospel.

In 2020, the pandemic sent both sisters home prematurely from their service missions. While in Utah, both Anita Card and Hansen met up with Tua. 

Hansen called the experience of meeting Tua and learning about his life a “tenderizer.”

“For me, it was an emotional, tender mercy to see how the Lord puts things in place to reach out to His children who will hear Him,” Hansen said. 

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