“Members Blessed for Faith in Face of Disasters,” Ensign, Nov. 2009, 127–28
Latter-day Saints in the Samoan Islands, which experienced substantial destruction caused by an earthquake and ensuing tsunami, momentarily set aside personal or family concerns of a temporal nature in order to meet spiritual needs during general conference.
The magnitude-8.0 quake struck about 120 miles (190 km) southeast of Apia, Samoa, on September 29, 2009—only a few days before general conference. The quake and subsequent tsunami—with four waves around 15 feet (5 m) high—killed more than 180 people in the Pacific, all but 9 of them on the Samoan Islands.
In spite of the disaster, which left at least 26 Church members dead, and the recovery efforts that followed, Latter-day Saints were richly rewarded for making time to participate in general conference by radio, television, or satellite.
Eni F. H. Faleomavaega, a member of the Church who serves as a delegate to the United States Congress from the U.S. territory of American Samoa, said the Saints drew strength from participating in conference in the midst of the crisis. “There was a sense of assurance hearing from the prophet … during a time of life or death,” he said.
The members’ ability to receive, in their native tongue, that reassurance from modern-day prophets was thanks in large measure to a team of translators who suffered their own losses during the disaster.
Assigned to provide live interpretation from the islands for the first time rather than from Salt Lake City, the translation team had a choice to make after the disaster struck. The team could turn interpretation over to Salt Lake City on short notice so that they could tend to the needs of friends and family affected by the quake, or they could fulfill their assignment.
Aliitasi Talataina, the translation supervisor and interpretation coordinator, said she felt an impression that there were many who could tend to the physical needs of the people or bury the dead but that “this is what the Lord would have us do [for] the living and generations to come.”
Because a disaster management team took over the service center where the interpretation equipment had been set up, the team had to find a facility that had the digital telephone lines and other technical requirements necessary to provide remote, simultaneous translation.
Sister Talataina said the team’s faith was like Nephi’s in that they said, “Even if we [had] to do this under a tree, we [would] go and do” (see 1 Nephi 3:7).
With the Lord’s help they found a location, and the necessary equipment was transferred, set up, and tested in the few days prior to conference.
“We felt the hand of the Lord in accomplishing what we were commanded,” Sister Talataina said.
Because of the team’s efforts, when conference began, members who took time from the massive cleanup effort to participate in the proceedings were able to hear and understand the Lord’s message for them.