It was a bitterly sad, almost incomprehensible event 9 July 2003 when the Apia Samoa Temple burst into flames much to the horror of those who looked on. Some wondered if they had lost their beautiful temple and place of refuge forever.
But it is often knowing the bitter that makes things sweet, and so the celebration this past weekend in Samoa around the dedication of their rebuilt temple was joyful indeed. Plans have been in the works for months to give thanks to the Lord and welcome President Hinckley.
People came some distance to see the rebuilt temple. Nearly 45,000 people, roughly the population of the larger Samoan island, Savaii, came to the open house held 7 August through 27 August.
“We hosted many people each day. Sometimes the lines would back up and we would ask the ushers and tour guides to give silent tours,” Sister Utahna Summerhays, a welfare missionary serving with her husband in the Samoa Apia mission, said.
Following the open house, the final preparation began for the cultural celebration. Each stake on the island was assigned to dance a traditional dance of the various Polynesian islands, and the groups worked for almost six months to be ready for the prophet.
After two long nights of dress rehearsals, Saturday arrived and people began to gather for the outdoor fireside and cultural celebration 5 hours early. President Hinckley was to fly in that day for a twenty-six hour visit and a very eager excitement was in the air.
“I am so excited! I just want to meet him. I am so happy today if I meet him,” Lorenzo Neria, a member of security for temple dedication and surrounding events, said.
The prophet arrived to a sunny, humid day. He was accompanied by President Monson and Elder Spender Condie, the area authority of the seventy over the Paciofic Islands and translator Iamafana Lameta, who was a local bishop on the island.
Elder Condie and his wife addressed the people, followed by President Monson. President Hinckley then spoke. His remarks were aimed at the youth of the church. Using the slogan from the 2007 South Pacific Games billboard he had seen on the island, he admonished them to “Make your dreams come true. Don’t make your nightmares come true.” He asked them to stand tall and true in a world of lowering values.
Following the fireside, the prophet and those accompanying him left for a short break. While the Samoan people set up for the celebration, the Samoan Police Band, a band with members from the Samoan Police Force, entertained the crowd.
When President Hinckley returned, he informed the islanders that he wanted to see something never before seen. The people were pleased to show him, positive they had something special planned.
The program was presented in three eras. The first era of the program highlighted some of early Samoa and also the First Vision and restoration of the church. They celebrated the era with the Samoan Lapalapa and Maulu’ulu.
The second era talked of colonial times in Samoa and the arrival of the first LDS missionaries. A large European waltz was danced by both young and old. The third era was the modern church and was celebrated by traditional dances from Hawaii, New Zealand, Tonga, Tahiti and Fiji.
For the last dance number, all dancers joined together for the traditional Samoan Sasa. The announcer was pleased to inform the prophet that never before in Samoa had such a large group of people performed the Sasa. This was something never before seen, their gift to President Hinckley.
One of the final numbers of the celebration was a medley of hymns called Carry On. During the song, all full-time missionaries from the Samoa Apia Mission marched to the front of the field. It was accompanied by the Samoa Police Band. The final song was “Ia Viia Oe Le Atua” or “We Thank Thee, Oh God, For a Prophet”, joined in by all dancers, missionaries and audience members.
Papaliitele Alema Fitisemanu was the narrator for the program, which was planned and written by Brother Webb and Sister Fitisemanu. Nine dances were prepared in all. Music for the program and dancing was provided by a band and singers on a stage on the back of the field.
The events were exciting, but only accentuated the real reason for their gatherings. In Deuteronomy 26:11, the Lord admonishes, “And thou shalt rejoice in every good thing which the Lord thy God hath given unto thee.” They gathered, gave thanks and rejoiced because the Lord had again been mindful of His children.