This story, titled “The Open Grave – A story of faith” was published in the Church News on 16 May 1948. Accompanying the article written by Mrs. Leon F. Liddell was a photograph of the Eti Teo family posed with Elder Harold B. Lee.
Eti Te’o, a chief from the village of Mapusaga, Samoa, recounted the following story of faith, as related by Sister Liddell:
At eighteen he (Eti Te’o) was living in the village of Pago Pago helping to translate the Doctrine and Covenants into Samoan. A friend of his named George came to the village to work as a carpenter. After about three months he became very sick and was taken to the Navy Hospital where he stayed six months. He grew steadily worse and one morning asked his uncle to send for the Mormon elders to administer to him or he would die. His uncle refused, saying it could do no good since not even the doctors had been able to help him. George then called the nurse and begged her, saying, ‘If I die, send a note to the elders and have my body taken to the mission home.’ At 7:30 that night, George died. Eti recalled:
The next morning, I was passing the hospital on my way to work when the nurse called to me. She was crying when she told me what had happened. I immediately took the news to Brother Lopati at the mission home and he asked me to go behind the home and start digging a grave for George. I had dug to a depth of about 3 feet when he came to me and said, “Put back the shovel – we are going to the hospital to see George.”
It was now 10 o’clock in the morning. I could not understand why he wanted to go to the hospital, but I put the shovel back and went with him.
George was laying in an outer room where the dead were kept and as we passed the room, I could see ‘lagomea’ (flies that cover dead bodies) all over the windows and I was angry with Brother Lopati.
“Don’t you think we will disgrace the Church by doing this?”, I questioned. But he went right on into the hospital. We were not allowed to enter the room where George lay – both the nurse and doctor told us that if we entered the room we would be sent to jail.
Brother Lopati sent for his wife and two other elders and after kneeling in prayer they signed a paper, one by one, signifying that they would willingly go to jail after entering George’s room.
I could not bring myself to sign the paper. I did not want to go to jail. Brother Lopati then came by my side and told me that he had been given a patriarchal blessing that if he lived right he would have power to raise the dead. He also said that they must wait for me – that it was urgent for me to witness this event.
It was 12 o’clock noon when I finally signed the paper and we all went in beside George’s bed. Brother Lopati unwrapped the gauze from his face and we all knelt by his bedside.
I remember only three words he spoke as he laid his hands on the boy’s head. They were, “George, come back.” He added a few more sentences and when he said, “Amen”, George sneezed and began to breathe. His first words were, “I would like a cup of rice.” Then he sat up and began talking. “I heard your voice from a long distance,” he said to Brother Lopati.
I ran from the room, shaking all over. Running down the halls I kept saying, almost hysterically, “George wants a cup of rice!” over and over again. I rushed into Dr. Lane’s office without knocking and could only say, “George wants a cup of rice!” Dr. Lane hurried back with me and when he saw George sitting up talking, he was speechless. He could not say a word for a long time, then he slowly walked over to the bedside to examine George and in a few minutes he stated that the boy was normal and his heart action perfect.
Turning to Brother Lopati he said, “No one but God could have done that.” He asked us to come to his house later and we stayed there all the rest of the day answering his questions. He joined the Church in due time, as did several other hospital workers.
Now, 23 years later, George is in good health and lives in the village of Aua, Samoa, but his story will not be forgotten. The open grave is still there in back of the mission home near where I live. I keep it just as I left it that day. I want my children and grandchildren to see it and know this story.
L. Brent Goates, Modern-day miracles: From the files of President Harold B. Lee, Covenant Communications, American Fork, 1996, p. 36-38. See also: The Church News, May 16, 1948, p. 3.