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By Jim Civale
“Happy New Year!” The greeting felt forced as
2019 gave way to 2020. You see, months before
the COVID-19 pandemic turned the world
upside down, a measles epidemic had already
done so to our two tiny island
nations in the South Pacific.

Samoa and American Samoa
were in crisis as young lives
were lost daily for weeks on
end. Lockdowns and school
closures reached us months
before becoming, sadly,
familiar around the world.

Our school year runs from Jim & Emi Civale
January to December, so
this meant graduation ceremonies were
unceremoniously canceled. As Christmas
approached, the only bells ringing were the
village calls to prayer as yet another child was
laid to rest and another family sang dirges
instead of carols. In our two countries whose
combined population is only about the size of
Buffalo, New York, or Madison, Wisconsin,
everyone knew someone who had lost a child
or children. As our televisions, radios, and
social media broadcasted non-stop updates
and commentary, our conversations were
consumed with the latest counts and gravest
accounts of disease and death.

As a missionary overseeing two churches,
one in Samoa and the other in American
Samoa, I had already become accustomed to
the logistically challenging bi-weekly trips
between the two works—two hours by car, an
hour by ferry, another by car, and 45 minutes
20 to fly to the next country. It was always a full,
exhausting day, starting with that 3:00 a.m.

alarm in order to catch the 6:00 a.m. ferry.

Now, with the measles epidemic raging,
regulations were changing
minute-by-minute. I needed
this medical clearance from
that clinic—no, wait; they are
requiring a new one from the
main hospital in the capital.

Do I have enough time to
run and get it and be back
in time for my plane? Then
the rush back to the airport
and the temperature checks
and extra forms to fill and
waiting on the ones ahead of us trying to argue
their way through the latest restrictions.

By mid-January, though, things were returning
to normal. Not for everyone, of course, as
many continued to grieve, but flights and
ferries were back on regular schedules. As long
as we carried our official immunization cards
and did not have a fever, we could travel back
and forth freely. Schools could re-open for the
new school year. Churches could congregate.

Overseas visitors were welcome. A sense of
normalcy, at least to some degree, had returned.

Little did we know how brief it would be. All
I know in retrospect is that God opened the
window just wide enough for a very important
event in the life of our church in Asau village
on the island of Savai`i in Samoa and for a very
fruitful Bible distribution project on the island
of Tutuila in American Samoa.

For over a year, we had been planning the