From left: Lt-Col Jenny Carey, Silila Alao, Rev. Afamasaga Mautofu Fuimaono, Samoan PM Tuila’epa Dr Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, Lt-Col Rod Carey
Almost 34 years after The Salvation Army initially made contact with Samoan officials, a weekend of official opening celebrations took place in the capital city of Apia, on Saturday 4 August 2018.
More than 100 people packed into The Salvation Army’s leased complex in Moto’otua to kick off events on Friday night, with a vibrant and passionate prayer meeting. Waitakere Corps’ Samoan Worship team, under the leadership of Ano Lo Tam, set the tone of the night with a beautiful mix of bicultural worship.
‘Nothing significant happens in the kingdom of God without prayer—it’s our native ear,’ said Regional Leader Lieutenant-Colonel Rod Carey. Drawing from Elijah’s declaration of faith to Ahab, who said ‘I hear the sound of heavy rain’ (1 Kings 18:41), Rod spoke of the importance of humility, the significance of faith and the power of persistence.
Regional Leader Lieutenant-Colonel Jenny Carey led the first of two segments of prayer, inviting people to offer prayers of praise and thanksgiving. It became quickly evident to those from New Zealand that Samoan people love to pray and it was fantastic to hear such gratefulness to God being expressed.
The Salvation Army New Zealand’s national choir, SpiritSong, began their weekend of ministry with ‘I Have Seen the Glory’, before Levaopolo Tiava’asue from the Waitemata Health Board spoke, saying: ‘We are so proud that your service is now here in Samoa.’ He commended Aukusitino and Natalie Senio—the addictions services team—saying, ‘They are young leaders of the Pacific who believe in God.’
‘Don’t be afraid—be faithful’ he told the couple, ‘God is the beginning of everything.’
Colonel Heather Rodwell led a responsive reading, and planting team officer Captain Miriama Simanu led prayers of petition and intercession. ‘This is the mission of The Salvation Army—those who are left behind by society,’ reminded Miriama.
The prayers reflected a genuine love for God and those who are the most marginalised in society. ‘[God put] your heart in our heart. Bring those in prison, or hospital, those families that are separated by things beyond our understanding,’ prayed one.
‘This would be a weekend of breaking chains—that we would be your hands and feet—every knee will bow and every tongue confess,’ prayed another.
The Samoan Tourism Authority Fale provided a perfect setting on Saturday morning for the official opening ceremony. Guests included Honourable Prime Minister Tuila’epa Dr Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, territorial leaders Commissioners Andy and Yvonne Westrupp, and leaders of local churches, as well as over 200 others.
The Waitakere Corps team provided worship music. As everyone sang ‘How Great is our God’, there was a real sense of celebration in the air. Many present knew of the long journey towards this moment.
In his address, the Samoan Prime Minister congratulated The Salvation Army for the milestone, and recalled his first meeting with Rod and Jenny about whether the Army would be welcome in Samoa. ‘My immediate response was to consider commencing soon, as I felt in my spirit, that this was another door opened by the Lord to fulfil his will for Samoa.’
He spoke of God being the foundation of Samoa: ‘When the first missionaries arrived and began their work in Samoa in 1830 led by John Williams, there was a revival in this land. This led to complete transformation from our traditional belief in gods, to serving and worshipping the Almighty God … Recent signs and the spread of the evangelical movement in Samoa, strongly suggest that there is another revival looming for our country.’
In his response, the Territorial Commander began by announcing that General André Cox had not only approved the official opening, but a name change for our territory. There were loud cheers when he announced the name would be the New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa Territory.
‘I want to thank the Prime Minister and the government of Samoa, the leaders of our sister churches for your warm welcome, unusual kindness and liberal assistance towards us establishing our work here. We promise that we will return your goodwill with staying true to our mission of caring for people, transforming lives and reforming society by God’s power,’ said Andy.
Rod continued by giving special thanks to the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for providing significant funding over five years for the addictions programme, and acknowledged the planting team for their pioneering work.
A significant moment in the celebrations was when Brother Silila Alao from Otahuhu Corps was honoured. Invited to the platform to resounding applause, Silia was awarded a Territorial Certificate of Appreciation, acknowledging his ‘faithful service to The Salvation Army and the people of Samoa’. For over 27 years, Silila had consistently asked Rod—who had been Corps Officer at Otahuhu—‘Why doesn’t The Salvation Army start in Samoa?’ Like the persistent widow in Luke 18, he didn’t give up.
Everyone shared in a beautiful afternoon tea and an enormous cake featuring the Red Shield at the conclusion of the service.
The evening concert was an incredible night of singing, dancing and the celebration of Samoan culture—which included the Apia Protestant Church Choir and Fa’atoia EFKS Youth Cultural Group, as well as SpiritSong and Waitakere Corps.
Our executive leaders were invited to join the women from Waitakere in a cultural dance and did their best to follow along, with encouragement from the crowd. Jaws dropped as the young men from the cultural group performed a high-energy, body slapping dance that was stunning to watch. The performance shifted onto the grass area for the fire dancers who wowed the crowds as they spun their flaming sticks around in a breath-taking display.
Sunday morning began with another prayer meeting led by Jenny and Miriama. It was another passion-filled time of intercession and thanksgiving to God for what has already taken place and what is to come.
Over 140 people gathered for the worship service and a highlight for many was the Samoa Salvation Army singing group—people who have already made the Army their spiritual home. It was wonderful to see such a range of people including many children and young people.
Halfway through Lolagi Phillip’s testimony, the electricity went out across the city and without skipping a beat, he continued sharing of the life-transforming power of Jesus. The rest of the service continued without electricity, and a few quick adjustments to the meeting meant that SpiritSong sang a beautiful unaccompanied song, ‘At the Foot of the Cross’.
Andy spoke on the parable of the Good Samaritan and what real love looks like. He challenged everyone that ‘God is after a love that lasts, not more religion’. He also posed the question: ‘What would our lives look like if we did actually love our neighbour as ourselves?’
He gave people an invitation to respond by way of coming forward for prayer and asked if there was anyone that needed to forgive someone else, any relationships that needed restoring. Our love of God is demonstrated by how we love others.
A number of people responded and a time of prayer and ministry took place before we sang a final song and Jenny gave the benediction. SpiritSong sang to conclude the service, surrounding the congregation and singing ‘Go In Peace’.
Throughout the weekend many local people shared with visitors from New Zealand the impact the Army is already having, and their excitement around the addictions work and church community being developed.
God is moving mightily in Samoa and we thank him for opening doors of opportunity, his provisions for the work so far and his promises for the future.