A Story of Faith and Devotion
Lio Isaia of the Samalaeulu Branch, on the island of Savaii, Samoa, is a very humble man, almost shy, who does not talk about this miraculous experience with many people because, he says, “It is very sacred to me.”
It began in February of 1996. His father had donated property to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to build a chapel. The village Matais (chiefs) had previously forbidden other churches from being established in their village. Lio went to these chiefs, talked with them and received permission to build a church to house the small branch which had been established.
When construction began, the Matais rescinded their permission and told Brother Isaia that the chapel could not be built, nor could anyone worship there. He quietly suggested that the construction should continue as planned. After a few weeks, word was sent to Lio that if the construction continued, the villagers would take matters into their own hands. Members of the branch were frightened and worried about what would happen to them, but Lio told them the Lord would protect them, and they were not to worry.
Soon word came that the young men in the village were coming to harm the branch members. Lio told the branch members to leave the village and stay with other family members because it was only him the Matais wanted.
It was a beautiful clear day when Lio arose, showered, dressed in his Sunday suit and waited patiently in his fale on that fateful day. His five brothers came to his home that morning, to defend him if need be. He told them to return to their families because there would be no fight, and they should not worry about anything.
Young men from the village arrived mid-afternoon at Lio's home. They told him to denounce the Church, or they would take him before the village council. When he refused, they threw him to the ground, tied his hands and feet, and took him to the centre of the village. The Matais told Lio that the “Mormon” Church was not welcome in their village; he must renounce his membership; and that he must forget his desires to build the chapel, or he would be killed.
Lio once again told them this was the Lord's Church, and he knew the Lord would protect him. He said, “I felt continual peace throughout the entire ordeal, even when I was thrown to the ground and bound.” The young village men carried him like an animal and placed him on the ground in the centre of a pile of wood. Then they positioned themselves around the circle of wood with lit torches in their hands.
While all this was going on, dark rain clouds formed above them. Lio was given one last chance to change his mind, but again he expressed his firm faith in his Heavenly Father. The young men lit the wood...and Lio felt the fire's heat. Suddenly there was a brilliant flash of lightening, and a loud clap of thunder which frightened all the villagers; the people backed away from him. A heavy downpour put the fire out.
At first no one moved; then the young men tried to relight the fire, but the heavy rain prevented them from doing so. The downpour caused much confusion and people ran for cover. Lio's oldest daughter, Sefulua'i, who had been hiding nearby, went to give her father encouragement and untie his ropes, but the young men grabbed her and pulled her away.
Lio was left on the ground for two hours while it continued to rain; pools of water formed around him. Then, at 6:00 p.m. the police arrived with Lio's wife who had gone to the police station in Tuasivi to get help when Lio was forcefully taken to the village square.
Lio was taken to the police station and encouraged to press charges, but he declined saying, “I forgive them. All I want is to be able to have our chapel built, and to be able to worship God as we desire.” Things quietened down for the next two months; then construction continued on the chapel.
Then, one night, the village Matais ordered Lio's house to be burned, and for his family's plantation to be destroyed. Lio and his family – which included his children, his siblings and their families, and his elderly father – were banished from their village and forced to move to the outskirts of the capital city, Apia, situated on the island of Upolu. There they sought legal intervention.
The High Court of Samoa finally ruled in Lio's favour, and he and his family were allowed to return to Savaii, and their village, Samalaeulu.
The three years they spent away from their home had been difficult for the Isaia family. However, when they returned they found things had completely changed in the village. Many of the villagers had joined the Church and they welcomed Lio and his family back. He was given a high-ranking Matai title, and became a much respected Matai in his village. He now lives peacefully with his neighbours, who often approach him on the street, shake his hand, and acknowledge his faith and devotion to his Heavenly Father and the Church.
Lio says he has forgiven everyone, even those men who collected the firewood and tried to burn him on that terrible day. In fact, one of those men joined the Church later, and was called to serve as a counsellor to Branch President Isaia; Lio served faithfully as the Branch President for eleven years.
Great emotion swept across Lio's face as he recalled how his father – a small, poor, humble farmer – stood unwaveringly by his side, loved him fully and supported him during those trying years when they were not permitted to return to their village.
On 18 March 2012, Elder F. Michael Watson of the Seventy presided at the conference where Brother Lio Isaia was sustained as the President of the newly created Pu'apu'a Savaii Samoa Stake.
PHOTO CREDIT: Image courtesy of Elder F. Michael Watson and used with permission.