Editor's note: Deseret News reporter Tad Walch is in the South Pacific reporting on the impact of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the current trip of the faith's leader, President Russell M. Nelson, in six island nations.
APIA, Samoa — Despite an outdoor field venue drenched by two weeks of rain and a forecast calling for a 90 percent chance of more rainfall during the event, 10,000 people — 5 percent of the nation’s population — are expected to attend a devotional address here on Saturday night by President Russell M. Nelson, leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
National attention has focused for days on the visit by the head of an international religion that claims 82,000 members among Samoa’s total population of 201,000. When President Nelson arrives here on Saturday afternoon, he will immediately visit Samoa’s honorable head of state, Tuimaleali'ifano Va'aletoa Sualauvi II.
Preparations for his visit turned the vast field on the church campus that includes the Apia Samoa Temple into a frenzy of activity on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Volunteers set up 10,000 chairs, workers erected tents to cover 6,000 of them, contractors installed a sound system and temporary lighting and carpenters built a stage for the speakers and risers for a choir.
In the middle of the flurry of work on Thursday afternoon stood a defiant Elder Meliula Fata, who said the rain would either stop or Samoan church members would cope. Elder Fata is a native Samoan who moved to New Zealand but returned to Samoa when church leaders called him to be an Area Seventy. His service will end this summer. Hosting President Nelson is one of his final major projects.
“No worries at all,” he said. “I’m not worried about our guest, because he will be under a tent and the VIPs will be under a tent. I think the rain will stop, but if it doesn’t, it’s only two hours under rain for those outside the tents. That’s no problem for Samoa. It’s not New Zealand. It won’t be cold. If it rains, it will still be warm.”
The original plan for the event was to hold it in the gym on the church campus, but the gym holds only 800 to 900 people. Thousands more wanted to come. Church leaders distributed 10,000 free tickets, but if the weather is nice they expect that hundreds more may line the fence around the campus to listen and try to see the man they revere as a prophet of God.
The last Latter-day Saint prophet to visit Samoa was President Gordon B. Hinckley, who dedicated the temple on the campus in 2005.
Elder Ian S. Ardern, a General Authority Seventy and member the church’s Pacific Area Presidency, said President Nelson’s visit will reduce the 5,300-mile distance between Apia and church headquarters in Salt Lake City in the minds of Samoans.
“They're not forgotten,” he said. “They are members of the church, and the prophet has come to see them. It'll warm their hearts. They're going to love it. If it pours with rain in Samoa, they won't care one little bit. They'll sit there and listen, because they treasure a prophet.”
The church campus covers 40 to 50 acres, Elder Fata estimated. In addition to the temple, the gym and the fields, the campus includes the headquarters of the Samoa Apia Mission, a middle school and a high school, a distribution center for church materials, offices for the church’s Self-Reliance, Welfare and Humanitarian departments, a meetinghouse and outdoor basketball and tennis courts.1 comment on this story
One church member who hopes it won’t rain is Fa’au’uga Neemia, 25, who used one of the church’s Perpetual Education Fund loans to earn a bachelor’s degree at the National University of Samoa last month.
“It’s a great blessing to have President Nelson stand on the campus before members of all of Samoa’s congregations,” Neemia said. The event will be broadcast to all of the nation’s 20 stakes, church units that in Samoa comprise a total of 158 congregations.
Neemia thought about what she would do if it does rain.
“I may bring spare clothes,” she said with a smile.