Our Most Challenging Missionary Assignment So Far
Several months ago we were given the assignment to coordinate all aspects of a 3 day 'Law and Religion' Conference to take place in Samoa. So before we knew it we were on our way to Samoa to meet with our team there and begin to coordinate our organizational efforts. After about 9 days, we came back to New Zealand and continued our work via emails, and conference calls, then returned to Samoa for 10 additional days, to complete final arrangements and follow through with the conference. Here was a part of our task list to oversee and complete with our team: design, print and send out invitations and informational flyer (take photos for flyer); advertise in local media; secure venue; prepare venue with traditional decorations, floral arrangements, etc.; set up for 150 people, seating, discussion tables, podium, head table, audio-visual equipment, name tags, place tags; hire caterer to provide food for 150 to include lunch, morning & afternoon 'teas' for 2 full days of conference, and arrange 2 special sit down dinners, including entertainment, for guest speakers and His Highness, Head of State of Samoa; make sure proper protocol is adhered to since His Highness will be attending and providing the key note address; coordinate hotel accommodations and flights for speakers coming from Europe, the United States, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji and others; purchase gifts for speakers; arrange transportation from airport to hotel and from hotel to conference venue; coordinate program; collect and compile bios for all presenters and distinguished guests; print program and bios; prepare and distribute 150 packets with program and other conference information to attendees; be the go-to people to resolve problems, handle last minute tasks or requests; be the conference 'greeters' and 'gophers'; take photos of the event and follow up with articles for media.
And to add an additional challenge, we had to accomplish it all in a foreign country and culture that we don't understand, trying to learn the nuances and subtleties, and at times working with people with limited English skills, (although most Samoans in these academic circles speak excellent English). PLUS, we had no previous skills or experience as event planners. We compiled 'Run Sheets' and lists upon lists of all that needed to be done, and lived in fear that we would forget something important. Luckily we had a group of people who were more than willing to help and advise.
And after a very long, exhausting and fulfilling 10 days, the result was a very successful event that brought together influential leaders to meet, talk, and begin to bridge differences, something that has not happened in the past. An immediate outcome of these efforts is that Elder Hamula has been invited to return to Samoa next week for additional one on one meetings with key people.
Why would the Church be involved in such an endeavor? To get a great overview and without mentioning specific situations, please read Elder Hamula's remarks in the previous post.
Here are a few of the hundreds of photos I took of where we were and who we were with:
This is Aggie Greys Hotel in Apia, Samoa, where we stayed along with all our out of country guests. It is a hotel with a long history and has welcomed most of the distinguished visitors to Samoa for many years. (This photo was taken just before sunset.)
Beautiful Lofi was our contact with the hotel, and she worked tirelessly to make sure our guests were met at the airport with leis, presented with gift fruit bowls in their rooms, and did everything to make sure we were comfortable and well taken care of.
One of two special dinners for our presenters and special guests.
Here is Elder Hamula visiting with His Highness, the Head of State and special guest at our dinners and the conference.
Our guests were fed well!
George Hunt, part of our Samoa Public Affairs team, and Elder McKinley, missionary from SLC whose assignment is to assist the Pacific area legal counsel. He and Sister McKinley have an office close to ours. He was excited to be in Samoa and have a chance to wear his lavalava!
The beautiful fale on the National University of Samoa campus where the conference was held. Jeff is checking out the venue and discussing what preparations needed to be done.
Part of every important event are beautiful floral arrangements of tropical flowers and ferns.
After speakers and conference attendees are present and in their places, His Highness, Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta'isi Efi, Samoa Head of State arrives with his body guard.
He is welcomed by a close friend and one of our Public Affairs representatives in Samoa, Tupuola Sola Siaosi Hunt, (who is a high ranking Matai (chief), and luckily for us, he goes by 'George'!) His Highness is looking right at me while I am taking his picture and I was a bit nervous, half expecting his body guard to tell me that was not allowed, but he didn't.
Samoan protocol says that His Highness must have a special chair and table in the front where he can view the proceedings. On the first day of the conference he brought his wife, and she is sitting in a similar chair just out of the left frame. (As you can tell, the fale was a photographer's nightmare. It was very dark on the inside, and very bright outside. I couldn't use a flash, so most everyone is dark, and it didn't help that most were dark skinned as well.)
His Highness reading his key note address.
His Highness reading his key note address.
Answering questions after his address.
Giving his closing remarks at the end of the conference.
And my favorite photo...............
Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Ta'isi Efi
I turned around just in time to snap Jeff shaking hands with His Highness.
The media interviewing His Highness during a break.
Paul Morris, Professor of Inter-religious Understanding and Relations in NZ and the Pacific, Victoria University, NZ.
W. Cole Durham, Director, International Center for Law and Religion Studies, Brigham Young University.
Elder James J. Hamula, Pacific Area President, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
'Aisea Taumoepeau, former Attorney General and Minister of Justice in Tonga, spoke about Tonga being A Christian country. As part of his powerpoint presentation he talked about the following law in their country's constitution:
I found it fascinating that an entire country feels it is important to keep the Sabbath Day holy and that any agreement or contract entered into on a Sunday shall be null and void.
Distinguished panel of local church leaders. Taimalie Sapele Fa'alogo, President of the Pesega Samoa Stake, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is speaking on the right.
Letuimanu'asina Dr. Emma Kruse Va'ai, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, National University of Samoa.
Dr. Va'ai with Alisi and 'Aisea Taumoepeau, both are former Attorneys General and Ministers of Justice in Tonga.
Craig Christensen, area legal counsel for the Church, conference attendee, and Lynda Newland, Senior Lecturer, University of the South Pacific, Fiji.
Brenda Heather-Latu, former Attorney General of Samoa, and our legal consultant in Samoa. She is not a member of the Church but her views on religious diversity and religious freedom coincides with what the Church is trying to accomplish.
Mark Moors, our National Director of Public Affairs in Samoa.
Chairman of the National Council of Churches in Samoa. There are three main churches recognized in Samoa. Many other churches have a presence there, but are not allowed in the Council. Even though the LDS church membership is around 30% of the entire population, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not have representation on the Council.
Taufa Vakatale, former Deputy Prime Minister of Fiji.
(she was so tiny you could hardly see her behind the podium.)
President Fa'alogo, Brenda Heather-Latu, and Jeff.
Dr. Maureen Sier, Inter-faith Development Officer for the Equality Department of the Scottish Parliament.
Panel discussion with leaders of various churches with a presence in Samoa.
Discussion groups became animated as participants discussed opposing views of how to handle the diversity of religious beliefs in the Pacific.
There was time for presenters and attendees to mix and mingle and develop valuable relationships......
P.S. After a few days to recover and recuperate, we will be back in the office preparing for another conference of a different type to be held in Melbourne, Australia! Did we mention that missions are great fun???