Bringing the Good News to Samoa
THE mention of Samoa may bring to your mind visions of a Polynesian paradise: blue skies rimmed with puff-ball clouds, aqua-blue seas and palm trees gently waved by perfumed South Pacific breezes. And, indeed, Samoa is all of that for beauty, located as it is in the heart of Polynesia.
To find Samoa on the map, fix your eye on Hawaii and then draw an imaginary line to New Zealand. A little more than halfway, you will be able to locate the Samoan group of islands. The entire chain of islands stretches about 290 miles (470 kilometers). Western Samoa has a population of about 160,000 people on 1,140 square miles (2,953 square kilometers) of land, whereas American Samoa has about 30,000 people, with a total land area of only 76 square miles (197 square kilometers).
IN WESTERN SAMOA
Western Samoa clings more tenaciously to the ancient customs than does American Samoa, which, to an extent, is “modernized.” Modern views clash at times with the ancient Samoan laws and way of life, so that change is slow—but sure. Some are dissatisfied with change, others are happy about it.
Teaching the Bible to the people of Samoa has been hard work. Not that the Samoans are disinterested in the Bible. They are glad to hear its message. But there are problems in traveling between the scattered islands, and in arranging to spend the desired time with individuals. Also, until recently it has been difficult to get permission for missionaries to enter Western Samoa.
In the early 1950’s John Croxford, of England, stayed in Samoa for a short time, acquainting the people with the Bible’s “good news of the kingdom.” Thus, when Ronald and Olive Sellars, a married couple from Australia, arrived in Western Samoa in May 1953, they found some people interested in Bible study. Later, some families from New Zealand and Australia decided to move in, on government or business contract work, to help the local Witnesses in reaching the people with the “good news.” All of these have contributed greatly to the spread of the “good news.”
AMERICAN SAMOA AND THE “GOOD NEWS”
American Samoa is made up of six small, picturesque mountainous islands. The people, like those of Western Samoa, are very outgoing, hospitable and have a love of life.
In the spring of 1938, when the Watch Tower Society’s president, J. F. Rutherford, and his party were returning from his public activity in Australia, they put in port in American Samoa and brought ashore pieces of the Society’s literature. Then in 1952, a young woman from Fiji, Lydia Pedro, visited her relatives in American Samoa. She explained many things about the “good news” but was able to remain only a short time. Then, in 1954, Ronald and Olive Sellars moved in from Western Samoa. Being successful in getting a permit to remain, they started right away to help others to appreciate the Kingdom good news.
In the following year, 1955, two missionary couples, Gordon and Patricia Scott and Paul and Frances Evans, arrived from the United States. They traveled by ship to Hawaii and on to Fiji, then to Western Samoa by ocean freighter. From Western Samoa they caught a boat named the “Sulimoni.” It was a small interisland vessel about 40 feet (12 meters) in length. Many refer to these vessels as “chicken and pig boats.” At first the missionaries wondered about the reason for this, but after the eight-hour voyage to American Samoa among the livestock that the people carry with them on such trips, they realized how fitting the term really is.
A big help in promoting interest in Bible study was the movie “The New World Society in Action.” This film dealt with a history of the modern-day preaching activity of Jehovah’s Witnesses in many lands of the earth. The local Witnesses borrowed a portable power plant from the government and assembled, in sections, an eight-by-eight-foot (2.5-by-2.5-meter) screen. They piled this, together with the projector and other needed equipment, on Ron Sellars’ old army jeep and set out to show this film in as many places as possible in the islands.
At 15 showings of the film in various localities there was an attendance of 3,227. When the missionaries later called at the homes in the area, the people would ask if they were of the same religion as the one represented in the film. After receiving an affirmative answer, they would really pay close attention to what the missionaries had to say.
WRESTLING WITH THE LANGUAGE
In the process of learning a language many humorous and sometimes embarrassing mistakes are made. One missionary tried asking an elderly native, in Samoan, “How is your wife?” The native replied in English, “But I don’t have a beard.” Then he went on to explain that the words for wife and beard are spelled the same in Samoan but must be pronounced differently. Just a slight inflection of the voice and you find yourself in an awkward situation.
Another missionary, with a Samoan companion, made a trip to visit a family in the village of Afono. The woman of the house asked if they wanted something to eat, this being a kind custom of the people. The missionary replied as she always did in her home country, “Thank you,” but in Samoan. The woman went away and never returned with food. Knowing something was amiss, the missionary asked her Samoan partner what she had said wrong. The partner told her that when you say, “Thank you,” to an invitation to eat, you mean you don’t want anything. Needless to say, the missionary did not make that mistake again.
BUILDING FOR EXPANSION
In 1967, a congregation of 28 Witnesses on Tutuila Island in American Samoa decided to build a meeting hall. One member of the congregation provided a 30-year lease on a piece of land. However, a big problem was encountered. The land was below sea level. But this obstacle was surmounted when everyone, men and women and even the younger ones, pitched in to fill the land. With only one pickup truck in the congregation, it was a slow and hard job. But in three months the work was accomplished and construction could go ahead. With the completion of this beautiful new hall, seating 130 people, the many interested people can meet together in comfort.
A missionary home was added to this hall, and, more recently, on the island of Savaii, over in Western Samoa, another missionary home has been erected. The bringers of the “good news” are there to stay! All together there are now three missionary homes and four meeting places, known as “Kingdom Halls,” in all of Samoa.
A real bond of love unites the missionaries and the Samoan Witnesses, and the Samoan people in general are openhearted and interested in God’s Word. There is much work yet to be done in reaching and helping all who desire to learn the “good news.” Just as the Macedonian call once went out to Paul the apostle, so the invitation is extended today: ‘Step over into Samoa and help us.’—Acts 16:9.