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Samoa: Word fell on fertile ground

Those early Christian missionaries certainly did an impressive job in Samoa. Christianity remains the backbone and strength of the Samoan culture - every village has at least one church and sometimes up to four, with about 10 denominations represented across the islands.

Samoa's motto says: "Samoa is founded on God" and the locals' strong religious beliefs are etched everywhere in day-to-day life.

Christianity was informally introduced to the islands by travellers in the late 1700s. When Methodist missionary Peter Turner arrived there in 1828 he discovered there were already Methodists on the islands.

Methodists had established a mission in Tonga and the religion had spread to Samoa.

John Williams of the London Missionary Society arrived at Sapapalii on his ship Messenger of Peace in 1830 with eight teachers. Hymn and prayer books were then printed in Samoan and in 1848 the first Samoan version of the New Testament was published. This was followed by the Old Testament in Samoan seven years later.

In 1848 two French Catholic priests established followers in the village of Sale'aula and this has been followed by many other denominations.

And the missionary work continues - young Mormons regularly cross the islands on their bikes - fully rigged out in their usual sartorial splendour.

Church attendance is very high - some estimate up to 95 per cent of the Samoan people are regular churchgoers. Sundays on the islands are special, with the locals seen walking to and from their churches - often wearing white to represent purity and clutching their Bible.

I slipped into one of these services at a church in Fagali'i-Tai, about 5km east of Apia. There didn't seem to be any strict timetable of worship and people seemed to be arriving at all different times, but I got lots of big Samoan smiles of welcome.



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