Samoan sinner saved: Elder in American Samoa shares his conversion, vision
That wasn’t his plan. In fact, the only reason he left his home on the island of American Samoa on that Sunday in June 1986 was to give his wife and children a ride to church in the pouring rain.
His wife, Seipua, had invited him to worship many times. Repeatedly, he declined. But as they pulled up to the Leone Church of Christ, missionary Robert Martin asked Misa to join them.
“I said, ‘I can’t come in because I don’t have a proper shirt,’” Misa said. But the missionary insisted. So Misa sat on the back row and listened. Soon, he was “cut to the heart” and felt as if Jesus was calling him to repent of his wrongdoings. He responded to the invitation and was baptized.
When the family returned home, Misa’s father-in-law asked the children, “Why is your father wet?” The kids told their grandfather what happened.
“And I heard him say, ‘Well, how could he be baptized? He’s a drunkard. He’s a sinner,’” Misa said. “And I thought, ‘Those are challenging words.’ But I kept silent.”
Twenty-four years after his baptism, soft-spoken, 70-year-old Misa says he is still a sinner — though he’s no longer a drunkard. He’s also an elder of the Tafuna Church of Christ.
FAITH-BUILDING AND CHURCH-PLANTING
American Samoa, a small group of islands in the South Pacific with a population of about 65,000, is an unincorporated territory of the United States.
Misa grew up in the Independent State of Samoa, another island group west of American Samoa with its own government. He first came to American Samoa in the 1970s.
Missionaries helped plant the first Churches of Christ in American Samoa in the 1960s. Today the territory has four congregations with a combined membership of about 250, said David Willis, a missionary who has served as minister for the Tafuna church since 2005.
Misa said his wife’s Christian example played a significant role in his conversion. But church leadership is not a role he envisioned in the days after his baptism. He grew up in the Congregational Christian Church but rarely attended or studied Scripture.
Martin, the missionary who invited him into the church, gave Misa a Bible and studied with him. Martin challenged him to help serve communion.
“I was shaky a little bit of the time,” Misa said.
Later, Martin encouraged Misa to preach a sermon.
Misa and his wife helped launch the Tafuna church in 1994. Their first meeting place was the home of Lynn Ashley, a lawyer from the U.S. mainland.
As Misa’s faith has grown, so has his role in Samoan culture, Ashley said.
“Both Tia and Pua are ‘matai’ (chiefs) in their families,” Ashley said, “and Tia was often called on by his employers to serve as ‘tulafale’ (orator chief) on ceremonial occasions. Or he would be called on as a ‘faifeau’ (minister) to lead prayers on those same occasions.”
In 2000, the Tafuna church gave Misa a new role. He and Ashley became the church’s first elders.
Today, Misa serves a congregation of about 80 souls that meets in a rented building. Christians of American and Samoan descent worship together in English and the Samoan language. The church has purchased land and plans to build a facility.
Misa, a retired forester who worked for a university in American Samoa, is an expert in agriculture and Samoan culture, said Patrick Adam, a Samoan-born Christian who has known Misa’s family for more than 10 years.
“But his passion is the knowledge he has of God’s word,” said Adam, who also described Misa’s wife as “a wonderful lady.”
“She is the constant reminder to Misa that she is right there, walking and working with him to advance the cause of Christ,” Adam said.
The Tafuna church sponsors an annual South Pacific Lectureship, attended by Christians from western Samoa, New Zealand, the U.S. and other locales.
During the five-day lectureship, Misa translates from English to Samoan — and, occasionally, vice-versa.
Kent Hartman, a missionary in residence at Oklahoma Christian University in Oklahoma City, spoke at the lectureship in 2009. Misa translated.
“I was worn out with one lesson, and he was doing at least three,” Hartman said. “And he really did a great job.”
Ashley described his fellow elder as “a great Bible teacher and preacher, as well as translator.” And his wife “is one of the best at inviting people to come to church,” he added.
“In our ‘Cross-cultural’ congregation, they help us understand one another — not just the words, but also the cultural points of view.”
Adam, who now serves as minister for the Twin City Church of Christ in Festus, Mo., said that one of Misa’s greatest strengths is his sense of fairness.
When conflicts arise in the church, “Misa will not take sides,” Adam said. “He sides with the Lord and, subsequently, the truth.”
FROM MOCKER TO BROTHER IN CHRIST
In American Samoa, many Christian converts move to other nations for jobs, Ashley said. Often, the church’s young people leave home after high school and don’t return.
“Even though we have converted quite a few, it is very difficult to grow a congregation,” Ashley said.
Though growth is slow, Misa said he has seen the Gospel penetrate the hearts of Samoans over time.
For years after Misa’s conversion, his father-in-law looked at him with “the face of mockery — laughing at me when I go to church,” he said. But Misa continued to attend. Eventually, his father-in-law started asking him difficult questions about the Bible, and Misa answered.
“Finally, one day he said, ‘Son, I see you going to church, and we are left out,’” Misa said. Soon after, his father- and mother-in-law were baptized.
Misa said that his dream for the church is to see young Samoan Christians become evangelists, “hammering the pulpit for the Word of God.”
He hopes that the Tafuna church will one day have a building that will accommodate from 250 to 300 members, and he prays that the church will outgrow it.
“We are doing the groundwork for other people to come,” he said.
FOR MORE INFORMATION, see tafunachurchofchrist.webs.com.