Bearing witness at the bottom of the world
PARADISE BAY, Antarctica — When I was 13, my English…
That’s the most common question I got after my plane landed at the Pago Pago International Airport — 23-and-a-half hours before it took off.
Thirty minutes earlier — and a day later — I boarded a Polynesian Airlines flight in Apia, the capital of the Independent State of Samoa, and flew east to the island of Tutuila in American Samoa. Legally, it’s an “unincorporated and unorganized” U.S. territory. You’ll find it on the back of certain quarters from 2009. I had to show my passport to get in.
Back in Apia, when it was tomorrow (this will make sense in a minute, promise), I conducted Bible class and preached during Sunday worship with the Vaimoso Church of Christ, a group of Samoan souls who treated me like family. Their minister, Mika Laufili, and his wife, Rosa, treated me to a tour of the city and dishes of breadfruit and fish in coconut milk. (Read more about the Laufilis)
I enjoyed an amazing potluck under the church’s palm-shaded pavilion. Then one of the members, a cab driver, took me to the Fagali’i Airport. On the way, he told me how the power of the Gospel and the dedication of his Christian family delivered him from despair and alcoholism — a bit disconcerting to hear from a guy behind the wheel but also inspiring.
At the airport, I checked my bag and cleared immigration — a lady with a handwritten ledger and a stamp — just as boarding began.
Unfortunately, this was not my flight but the flight that was scheduled for an hour earlier. I had to wait for the plane to go to Pago Pago and come back to get me. It wasn’t long, however, before I was buckled in for the journey backward through time — in a twin-engine Otter turboprop.
Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean I crossed the International Date Line, the imaginary divider that denotes where one day ends and the next one begins. It’s a bit arbitrary, with hooks and curves to keep various Polynesian countries on the same day.
Samoa, in fact, was on the other side until its government decided to move the line — partly to get on the same schedule as its trading partners, including China. As a result, Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, never happened in Samoa. They jumped from Thursday to Saturday. This wasn’t nearly as confusing as Sept. 7, 2009, when, to make it easier for tourists from Australia and New Zealand, Samoan drivers all had to switch to the “British” side of the road.
When my plane touched down in Pago Pago, it was Saturday afternoon. David Willis, an elder of the Lupelele Church of Christ, picked me up. He showed me and a mission team from Missouri around the island before treating us to a dinner of more breadfruit and backyard burgers.
“I’m going to bed,” I told them. “I’m pretty tired because I had to get up early tomorrow.”
Erik Tryggestad preaching at the Lupelele Church of Christ in American Samoa.A few hours later it was Sunday — again. Before I preached for the Lupelele church, Willis presided over the Lord’s Supper. Noting my “Do I take it again?” quandary, he talked about the unique nature of the Samoan islands. In Apia, 18 hours ahead of my home church in Oklahoma, our brothers and sisters are among the first to take the bread and fruit of the vine — emblems of our Savior’s body and blood. And here in American Samoa, six hours behind Oklahoma, we are among the last to share in this memorial feast.
Between those times, the sun passes over the great expanse of Christianity — those huddled in secret, risking persecution, and those packed into megachurches with multiple Sunday services. Sinners battling addictions, saved by grace.
Yes, I took the bread and cup again, and I prayed for all the souls — in places and numbers beyond my comprehension — with whom we commune.
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