(The following is from the 2009 Yearbook, pgs 93-97)
The Samoan tongue has a soft, lilting sound that is gentle to the ear. However, "since many words appear as a jumble of vowels," observes Fred Wegener, "missionaries need plenty of practice (faata'ita'iga) and encouragement (faalaeiauina) to master the language."
Colorful oratory and proverbial speech play an important part in Samoan culture. Chiefs (matai) and orators (tulafale, talking chiefs) like to quote from the Bible and use elaborate language on formal occasions. The traditional courtesy of the Samoan people is particulary noteworthy in their meticulous use of formal and ceremonial language when required. Samoan has a highly developed polite "chiefly" language (tautala lelei) when speaking to or about God, chiefs, people in authority, and foreign visitors. On the other hand, for everyday conversation or when speaking of oneself, Samoan has colloquial language (tautala leaga), a less formal, more relaxed way of speaking. To avoid causing offense when discussing official and ceremonial matters or when talking about the Bible, the respectful "chiefly" form of Samoan has specially designated dignified terms. "Because politeness and respect pervade the entire language," explains Geoffrey Jackson, a member of the Governing Body who served as a missionary in Samoa, "when witnessing to others, it is important to address Samoans with the politeness usually reserved for royalty, at the same time following the humble custom of using everyday words when speaking of oneself."
"It was such a joy to go witnessing in those early years," reflects Caroline Pedro, a pioneer from Canada who married Wallace Pedro in 1960. "At nearly every home, someone was willing to talk about the Bible. Bible studies were easy to start, and whole families often sat in. Preaching in outlying villages was especially memorable. Young children usually accompanied us from house to house listening intently to our presentation. They then ran ahead to let the householder know that we were coming. They even told the householder what we were talking about and what scriptures we were using! (lol) As a result, to stay ahead of the village children, we prepared several presentations." While sharing in the witnessing work, the brothers also remained conscious of good manners and proper local protocol. (1 Corinthians 9:20-23) Former missionary Charles Pritchard, now a Branch Committee member in New Zealand, writes: "Because of the hot tropical climate, village fale (houses) have no walls, so we could easily see if someone was home. It was considered the height of bad manners to speak either while standing or before the householder had formally welcomed us. So we approached each dwelling and silently waited for the householder to notice us. He or she would then place a clean mat on the pebble floor inside the door. This was an invitation for us to remove our shoes, enter the home, and sit cross-legged on the mat." Sitting like that on the floor for long periods was a painful experience for many missionaries. Thankfully, local custom allowed them to extend their legs and feet and modestly cover them with a mat. They thus avoided pointing their uncovered feet at the householder -a gross insult to Samoans.
"Householders would formally welcome us and explain that we honored them by bringing our Bible message to their humble home," says John Rhodes, who served as a missionary in Samoa and American Samoa for 20 years. "The conversation then turned to personal matters: Where do you come from? Do you have children? Where does your family live?" (it's interesting how in many cultures it's considered rude if you don't give a full introduction about yourself and your family before proceeding into a topic of conversation) John's wife, Helen, adds: "We always addressed the householder with respectful terms normally used on formal occasions. This language of respect dignified both the householder and our Bible message." "Through these introductions," says Caroline Pedro, "we became well aquainted with the individuals and their family, and they with us. It helped us to meet their spiritual needs more effectively." Once introductions were complete, the publishers were free to present the Kingdom message. "Householders customarily listened to us for as long as we wanted to speak," recalls former missionary Robert Boies. "They would then repeat to us many of the things we had said to show us that they felt our message was important." Since people were well versed in the Bible, long discussions on Bible teachings were common. "These discussions helped to sharpen my understanding of various Bible subjects," says Caroline Pedro. Most householders readily accepted literature. In time, publishers learned to tell the difference between those who were merely curious and those who were genuinely interested in spiritual things. Many newly interested people who began attending meetings were eager to start out in the field ministry. "Samoans have a natural flair for oratory," says John Rhodes, "and many new ones could confidently express their faith to others with little or no training. Even so, we encouraged them to use published witnessing suggestions and to reason with people on the Scriptures rather than rely solely on their natural speaking abilities." Such fine training eventually produced many accomplished evangelizers.