Miracles Do Happen

President Ezra Taft Benson said, "Obedience brings blessings, exact obedience brings miracles." 

Two of our zone leaders were traveling home after a disappointing encounter with an investigator. They passed some little boys playing by the side of the road. Just as they passed, Elder Moon stopped the car. His companion, Elder Poutoa, asked why he had stopped. Elder Moon had no explanation other than just knowing he needed to do so. They sat for a moment wondering and then noticed near the side of the road a six year old boy lying in the grass, eyes wide open, staring at them. They hurried out of the car and as they approached they could see that he was holding an electrical wire that had fallen from a nearby electrical pole. His face was ashen and he was struggling for breath. Elder Poutoa attempted twice to remove the wire from his hand, but received an electrical shock. The boy's brother stood nearby crying and begging for the little boy to get up. His sister soon arrived and pulled him by the feet. As she drug him along the ground, the wire slipped through his hand. She began to shake him and pound on his chest. There was no response. Other family members gathered. The Elders suggested that the only way to possibly save him was to get him to the hospital. They put him in the van along with his grandfather and began the long journey into town. A few minutes into the trip, Elder Moon suggested that Elder Poutoa give him a priesthood blessing. Elder Poutoa at first hesitated, questioning his own faith. He finally asked the grandfather for permission; this family is not of our faith. As Elder Poutoa blessed this little boy, he took his first breath. Remarkably, he stayed just one night in the hospital. The severe burn on his hand is the only physical sign of his frightening and life-threatening experience. Elder Poutoa said seeing the little boy a few days later smiling and playing brought great joy, a deep sense of gratitude, and an undeniable witness that God's priesthood is a power to bring about miracles.

When I asked Elder Poutoa what he had said in the blessing he pondered for several minutes. The only thing he remembers saying is "Lord, let us see thy tender mercies." They certainly were witness to His tender mercies on an island in the middle of the Pacific away from modern medical facilities and support.  

Elder Moon and Elder Poutoa are the kind of missionaries who can call down the powers of heaven. They obey with exactness and laid claim to President Benson's promise. Through their worthiness and the power of the priesthood, a child was saved and a family witnessed God's love for them. How grateful and blessed the people of Samoa are by their dedicated service. Alofa tele atu Elder Moon and Elder Poutoa.

Tofa Soifua

We said good-bye to our first group of missionaries this past week. We wish them well and thank them for their service. They take home with them increased testimony and memories of faith-building experiences. They will be missed.

Front row, left to right: Elder Uri, Elder Leamanaia, Elder Sianava
Back row, left to right: Elder Brunt, Elder Asuao, Sister Ta'anoa, Sister Satele, Sister Tunai, Sister Ioane, Sister Tuigamala, Elder Kaio, Elder Moon

We said good-bye to one of our assistants, Elder Brunt. He truly was an angel and life-saver. We quickly grew to love him. He has a calm, but firm nature. His humility and devotion are remarkable. He has influenced the mission and the missionaries for good. He has been a noble missionary. President Tolman commented after his final interview with Elder Brunt, "I want to be like him."  He and his beautiful smile will be greatly missed. It was difficult to say good-bye. 

We welcome our new assistant, Elder Shepherd. He brings a perspective of dedicated and obedient service. We look forward to his leadership and vision for the mission!

This is what happens when two missionaries serve the Lord together. The scripture from John 15:13 came to mind as I watched them say good-bye. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."

A Week of Firsts

Last Sunday evening, we were invited to attend a stake fireside. It was in celebration of the great efforts of the members and missionaries to share the gospel with their friends and families. The Upolu West Stake has worked hard during this first part of 2014.  Their stake baptism goal for this year is 90. As of the end of June, they have brought 65 people into the gospel. Last year, over 100 new converts entered the waters of baptism far exceeding their goal. President Mulipola is a great leader with great vision. Upolu West Stake stands as an example to all of us of doing as the Savior asked when he commissioned us to "feed my sheep." They clearly understand and are devoted to helping the Lord hasten His work. It was truly an honor to be among faithful Saints dedicated to His work and in His way. Many of us often think that there isn't missionary work to be done in our local area because we live among so many members. Fortunately,  President Mulipola doesn't see it that way. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints represent 30% of the total population of Samoa.

President Mulipola and his "army of saints" reminded me of the story of the stripling warriors found in the book of Alma. After a particularly difficult battle, Helaman immediately gave orders to his men to search through the dead for those who are wounded and to dress their wounds. Not one of the stripling warriors was lost because their brothers sought them out and bound up their wounds. We don't fight a physical battle, but we are fighting a battle for the souls of men. There are those among us who lie among the dying, needing their wounds bound. There are those who need rescuing. Let us do better; let us search out those who need the love of God in their lives; let us seek to share the gospel as the good Saints in Upolu West Stake have done.

President Mulipola (center), his two counselors, and their wives

We also welcomed our first two missionaries. Elder Davis and Elder Tafeaga. Elder Davis came from the States and traveled two and one-half days to get here. His plane from Salt Lake City was delayed, which caused him to miss his connection in Los Angeles. A family helped him find a hotel and a family friend helped him to get to the airport the next day. His original flight plan out of Los Angeles was to fly to Auckland, New Zealand and then to Apia, Samoa. The plane was heavy, so they stopped in Fiji to fuel and then on to New Zealand. To top it all off, his luggage did not arrive with him. (It has since come.) And through it all, he maintained a positive outlook. He expressed that he knows everything happens for a reason. Elder Tageaga comes from here in Samoa. He went to the MTC in New Zealand, where it is winter. He had never before experienced a cold winter so was thrilled to be back to the comfort of the heat and humidity.

As I listened to Elder Davis's story of the difficulty of getting here, I thought of a quote that my son, Brett, shared with us right before we departed for Samoa. We, like Elder Davis, had several difficult challenges just prior to leaving.

"Every great work, every big accomplishment, has been brought into manifestation through holding to the vision, and often just before the big achievement, comes apparent failure and discouragement." Florence Scovel Shinn

Both of these new Elders brought with them an amazing spirit of enthusiasm and hope. They will do great things for this mission and the people of Samoa.

Elder Davis

Elder Tafeaga

Another first this week was spending time with two new Trainers. These young men have been given the task and sacred responsibility of training Elder Davis and Elder Tafeaga. Elder Evans and Elder Fawcett will influence these two new missionaries for the rest of their lives. They will be held in great honor and respect as Elder Davis and Elder Tafeaga look back on their mission experience.

"One of the greatest expressions of trust given to a missionary is to receive the assignment as a trainer for a new missionary. A missionary's first companion will have a profound, lasting influence on the development of the missionary's attitude and habits. Only outstanding missionaries should serve as trainers."   Adapted from the Mission President's Handbook, pg. 48.

Elder Ballard taught "training is [an assignment] that requires the most trust from [the mission president] and blessings of the Lord." We are ever so grateful these two missionaries have prepared themselves to receive the assignment to train. We hold them in great esteem.

We learn something valuable with each new first experience. These missionaries are incredibly patient with our lack of experience. They each have blessed our lives and taught us something of great importance. It is a remarkable experience to watch them carry on in the work of the Lord despite challenging odds. They inspire us!

First Trip Into Yesterday

We traveled to American Samoa this week to meet with the two zones that are there. What an amazing group of missionaries. We had a few minutes (just a few) to spend with them individually. Once again, we heard amazing stories of faith and devotion. We had hoped that we would have lots of time to visit because we thought we were staying for a night. The air service is difficult right now. There are usually two planes flying and one of them is currently not operational.

The international dateline splits the mission. Samoa (where the mission office is located) is a day ahead of the USA, so that means that American Samoa is a day behind us.  It was quite the experience to fly into yesterday. President Tolman has always wanted to time travel.  Well, he got his wish yesterday. It makes planning a bit crazy; I am pretty sure I won't ever really know what day of the week it is! Also, we drive on opposite sides of the road and it is a different currency. Our mission may be unique in that way. We are one mission although domestic and foreign with two different time zones. Makes your head spin, doesn't it?

We also have met each of the senior missionaries serving here. They are incredible people who have left home and family to serve the Lord. We are truly blessed by their service. The office and the mission simply could not operate without them. We got an email from the missionary department today informing us that there is a severe shortage of senior couples worldwide. The hastening of His work cannot go on without the incredible support of our senior missionaries. So, if you are a "senior," and have a desire to serve, please fan that flame and come to paradise and spend some time helping the kingdom grow!

We spent some time teaching and learning with the missionaries in our zone conferences. President Tolman's training was different every time. He has a great ability to teach to the immediate needs. I, on the other hand, like to have more of a plan. I am sure there will be times over the next three years that I will not have the normal preparation time that I like, but this time I enjoyed the journey as I thought about and pondered on the first verse of the Book of Mormon. Nephi declares that he is highly favored of the Lord. I wondered what it means to be highly favored. Doesn't God love all of us equally? I believe He does, but Nephi's statement gives insight into a different relationship with God. I came to understand that we determine whether or not we are favored. Elder Bednar talked about a companion term--chosen--in General Conference 2005.  He stated, "God does not have a list of favorites to which we must hope our names will someday be added. He does not limit "the chosen" to a restricted few. Rather, it is our hearts and our aspirations and our obedience which definitively determine whether we are counted as one of God's chosen."

Nephi tells us his life has been full of trial and affliction. We cannot expect that if we are favored we will have a life of ease. It seems quite the opposite is true if we look at others who have also been favored--Mary, Daniel, Paul, Lehi, and certainly Jesus Christ. To be made fit to be favored we must go through a refining process and that process is not without pain. "I have refined thee. I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." And yet, Nephi states the miraculous blessings of being favored and there are many others throughout scripture. I invite you to search them out. Don't miss the ones listed in the very first verse of the Book of Mormon.

These missionaries are favored of the Lord. I know this because they have made and keep sacred covenants. They have sacrificed unspeakable things to be here and they have consecrated two years of their lives to the Lord doing His work. They serve as He served and love as He loved.

Consider how your life might be different if you started to see yourself as favored of God. What might you do differently? Would you be more dependent on God; more sensitive to His will? Would your influence be greater and wider?

May I invite you to look at the pattern of your life. Are you living a life that brings you closer to the Savior on a daily basis? Are you becoming more Christ-like? Are you allowing the love of the Savior to guide you through this mortal journey?

As we live a life favored of the Lord the blessings are never-ending--enjoying His mysteries, responding to His call, finding joy in His service, feeling of His love.

Being favored takes courage and a whole lot of faith. We witness it daily as we serve with God's favored.

A Busy and Amazing Week ...

We have finished our first Mission Leadership Council and the Zone Conferences on Upolu and Savai'i. What a joy it has been to meet with the missionaries. We are working hard to get to know each missionary and their stories. We were able to meet with each one individually in Savai'i yesterday. We head to Tutuila (American Samoa) later this week to complete two Zone Conferences there and meet with each missionary. There are ten zones in the mission and 204 missionaries.  We also met with the senior couples. Each missionary, whether young or older, brings something remarkable to this work. We have heard some incredible stories of sacrifice and consecration. As we have met with each missionary, we have asked him/her so share with us something important that has been learned while serving here in Samoa. Following are some of the responses--

"It is a blessing to learn how to offer the gospel to others. I have learned how to love and be humble."
"I have learned that obedience is the key to having the spirit and making the work easy."
"I have learned patience and honesty."
"The mission has taught me how to draw nearer to God."
"I have learned to love all kinds of different people."
"I was a tough guy before my mission; I have learned to be gentle."
"This mission experience has taught me where to find true happiness."
"I have seen many miracles on my mission. I know that if I work hard, the miracles will come."
"The trials of my mission have taught me how to solve problems and have strengthened my testimony."
"I have learned what it means to really pray."
"I have learned to not fear."

We have heard courageous stories of conversion. More than one of these missionaries was disowned by their family after joining the church. One missionary helped bring his entire family back to the church and bring his extended family into the church. Many are converts themselves. Many have witnessed the death of a family member, many have worked to cover the entire cost of their mission, some have given up college scholarships to be here; all have sacrificed something and have consecrated their lives to the Lord for two years.  How inspiring they are!

Following are pictures from the Mission Leadership Council and the eight Zone Conferences from this past week. I am sorry for the poor quality of one of the pictures and I am sorry for my crazy hair; there simply is no controlling it in this humidity. Each one of these missionaries is deeply loved by God. We have felt that witness over and over as we have looked into their faces.

I cannot end this post without expressing gratitude for our two amazing assistants, Elder Brunt from Australia and Elder Si'ilata from Hawaii. We would have been lost without them. They have worked tirelessly to develop our schedule and make arrangements for each of our meetings and interviews. They are incredibly gracious and respectful, full of the spirit, and willing to work to exhaustion. We see God working in our lives through the service of these two remarkable missionaries. We immediately liked them and within a day loved them. They both return home fairly soon; it will be devastating to see them go.

Elder Si'ilata and Elder Brunt
Mission Leadership Council

Following are the zones from Upolu.

Following are the zones from Savai'i.