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Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News
D. Kurt Graham, the director of the Church History Museum, left, stands with His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi of Samoa and Elder Ben Banks after a visit to the LDS Church's Church History Museum in Salt Lake Cit Monday, Sept. 12, 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY — For His Highness Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, the Head of State of Samoa, a mid-September trip to Salt Lake City is all about family.

First, there were the extended family members with whom he shared Sunday brunch, renewing acquaintances and making familial connections. And then there was the work he is doing in Utah on behalf of that broad and expansive family back home in Samoa, about whom he worries like a father worries about his children.

"We are like the Mormons," he said at the start of a brief tour of the LDS Church's Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City. "Wherever we see Samoans, we see family."

His desire to take care of that family is what brings him to Utah this week. Two years ago the LDS Church was one of the first organizations to come to Samoa with humanitarian aid in the wake of the a devastating tsunami that left 192 members of his Samoan "family" dead. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the church's First Presidency visited the island nation less than two months after the tsunami. During his visit he met with Tupua, who expressed his thanks on behalf of the Samoan people.

"I was so impressed with how quickly the Mormon Church responded to our need, and I was impressed by such amazing humanity," His Highness said. "We are a small country, we are far away from others. It has been a learning thing for us to see that we are part of a much bigger family, with others who will help us when we are in need. We are very grateful for what was done."

President Uchtdorf invited the Head of State to visit church headquarters in Utah so he could see firsthand how such a response is possible. And so he and his wife, Her Highness Masiofo Filifilia Tamasese, are here this week to tour LDS humanitarian facilities and to offer their personal thanks to those who provided so much help to Samoa in 2009.

They are also here to learn.

Monday morning, for example, they visited Welfare Square and the church's Humanitarian Center, accompanied by Elder Ben B. Banks, emeritus general authority and director of LDS Church Hosting. Wearing comfortable shoes and clothing, the soft-spoken Tupua was inspired by what he saw.

"I boned up before coming, so I was somewhat aware of the facilities that you have here," Tupua said. "But to actually see how it is all put together, how they do these things, it moved me deeply. I see the face of God, both in the faces of the people doing this humanitarian work, and in the work itself."

He referred to Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "The Bridge at San Luis Rey," and the book's conclusion that "there is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning."

"That's what it's about: love," Tupua said. "That is the only bridge that will bring a lasting solution to the world's problems. I can't imagine anyone who would see what I saw this morning and not be moved by the love that is so evident in the humanitarian work the church is doing."

And that's what he is hoping to learn so he can take it back to Samoa with him. "I want to learn about this source of love that motivates a community to do so much good in the world," he said. "I respond to this. I want to be like that, and I want our people to be like that."

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In addition to his exploration of LDS Church humanitarian efforts, the Samoan Head of State and his wife will join the Samoan community of Utah County for a "fiafia" celebration at Utah Valley University on Tuesday. On Wednesday they will meet with the LDS Church First Presidency. Two speaking engagements at Utah universities wrap up the week: on Thursday morning at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute Forum, and on Friday afternoon as part of BYU's Kennedy Center Lecture series. In both cases he will be speaking about Samoa-US relations.

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com