It had been an exciting visit, the first one ever made to Samoa by an apostle. Long rowboats decorated with colorful garlands of vines and flowers had met the boat when David O. McKay and Hugh J. Cannon arrived. A Mormon band greeted the rowboats at the wharf and proudly escorted the visitors to a circle where all the chiefs of the island waited to welcome them with speeches and the kava drink ceremony. Then a great feast was enjoyed under a coconut leaf canopy, and many people brought their children and their sick ones to be blessed.
During the next week meetings had been held on the various islands, and now the last morning was to be spent with the children in their school at Sauniatu.
This was May 31, 1921—thirty years before David O. McKay became president of the Church—but he often referred to the day as one of the most memorable of his life. That night he wrote about it in his diary:
“As we came out of the school, we found the people standing in double column from our door out across the lawn to the street.
“Finally, the last little boy crowding around had pressed our hands, so with tear-bedimmed eyes, we walked slowly toward the stream beyond which our horses were waiting. The band on the porch played ‘Tofa, My Feleni’ and the people stood waving their farewell. Before we were ready to start, they gathered around us again, eager to have one more handshake.
“As we rode slowly away, the band leading, the people followed as if they just would not yield to parting. We had gone perhaps a quarter of a mile ahead of them, when I felt impressed to say, ‘I think we should return and leave our blessing with them here in this beautiful grove.’
“As we approached the sobbing crowd, I could not help thrilling with the scene!
“Hanging my folded umbrella on an overhanging limb of a kopoc tree, I dismounted. The sobs of the people were louder than my voice when I began the prayer, but they became more subdued as I continued and their Amene was distinct and impressive at the close.
“Oh, I never will forget you, Samoa e le galo atu.”
Some who were present testified that as the inspired words of the blessing to the people were spoken, a halo of brightness rested upon Elder McKay, and although many in the group could not understand English, they knew what had been said before the Samoan translation was given.
The next year a monument to mark the spot of this event was dedicated on which was written:
“Apostle David O. McKay Stood Just Across the River
And Pronounced a Memorable Apostolic Blessing
Upon the Assembled Sauniatu Saints
A Fitting Climax to a Perfect Visit …”
* * *
Foi had helped her friends prepare for the special ceremony honoring the twelve-year-old students at the school. She knew that during the ceremony all of the girls would become members of the church that had established the school.
The girls had washed and ironed their white dresses and had gathered flowers to decorate the chapel. Now in the hot humid kitchen they laughed and talked together as they finished preparing refreshments.
Only Foi was quiet. Several of the girls tried to make her a part of their excitement, but Foi could manage only a small smile. Her thoughts were with her parents, who had promised to send for her. But the lonely years had gone by, and she had not heard from either of them. Unless she took part in the ceremony that night, she could not remain at the school—but something within her made it seem impossible for her to join the church of the school.
Foi had often tried to put together fragments of her memories and assure herself that someday she would be reunited with her family now living in a Samoan village far from the school. But few people ever left that village and strangers seldom visited it.
Once, however, two young men came to her fala. They said they were missionaries, and they taught the people in her village. Even though she had been only a little girl, Foi remembered the good feeling that had come to her as she listened to these young men and heard about their Church. She longed to have that feeling again. But severe storms had come soon after their visit, and the elders had not returned before Foi had been sent to the school.
Maybe it is the memory of those missionaries that makes me feel as I do, Foi thought.
For months she had prayed that she would know what to do before the night came for the membership meeting. Now the night of the meeting was nearly here, and she was still undecided. She had tried to tell her teachers that she was not ready to become a member of their church, but they had only laughed at her. “You are already past twelve,” they said. “You will never see your people again. It is time you became one of us.”
The girls finished their work in the kitchen and left. Only Foi lingered. She bowed her head and murmured a prayer that she might know what to do. When she looked up, two young men were at the door.
“We are looking for Foi Frost,” they said. “We are Mormon missionaries. Her family has joined our church and sent us to take her back to her people.”