A tutor for 'Moana'
Minister for Church of Christ in American Samoa spends a week serving Disney's newest star.
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Erik Tryggestad | Christian Chronicle
I got a little emotional when I saw "Moana" with my family last month.

"Moana" stars voice actors Auli'i Cravalho as Moana and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Maui. (DISNEY)
Disney's latest animated feature, which follows a young woman on a journey across ancient Polynesia, brought back memories of my own journey there this summer. I was honored to be the keynote speaker for the South Pacific Lectures in American Samoa. On the way I made stops in Australia (where I reported on a pair of second-generation missionaries) and the nation of Samoa (where I met minister Mika Laufili and learned about his efforts to bring the Gospel to his homeland).

When I finally reached American Samoa (which required a trip backward through time) I was hosted by David Willis, a minister and elder of the Lupelele Church of Christ in American Samoa, and his wife, Danna. Also staying in their home was a great group of believers from the Twin City Church of Christ in Festus, Mo., who hosted a weeklong youth camp. 

A view of American Samoa from my tour with Tia Misa. (PHOTO BY ERIK TRYGGESTAD)
The whole island is like one big family. After I preached my first sermon, I asked David to stop at a grocery store so I could stock up on essentials (Mello Yello and coffee creamer). The woman behind me at the register told me she enjoyed my sermon — and then paid for my stuff. Later in the week, another elder, Tia Misa, and his wife took me on a tour of the gorgeous island. (I learned that the elder, whose name actually is Malala, got the nickname "Tia" from one of my all-time favorite people — the dearly departed missionary Tom Tune.)Island living: Sharing the Gospel in American SamoaMonths later, as I watched Moana skip across a trio of blowholes on the shore of her village, the sights and sounds of the Samoas came flooding back. I was surprised by the film's breathtaking visuals. 

I was surprised again, just a few days ago, when I saw a Facebook photo of David and Danna Willis with Auli'i Cravalho, the teenage Hawaiian actress who voices Moana. When Cravalho and the film's directors visited the nation of Samoa for the film's premiere recently, David Willis served as the actress' private tutor. 

David Willis takes turn steering the Gaualofa, a double-hulled canoe similar to one featured in the film "Moana," with actress Auli'i Cravalho and directors John Musker and Ron Clements. (PHOTO PROVIDED) 

Both Willises are teachers at Pacific Horizons School, a private school in American Samoa founded by church members Lynn and Mara Ashley. Cravalho, a 16-year-old high school junior, had to complete a certain amount of schooling each day during the visit, David Willis said.

In addition to working with Cravalho, David Willis spent time with "Moana" directors John Musker and Ron Clements, plus several Samoans who were involved in the film's background and development. 

In Samoa "the movie was received with great excitement," David Willis said. "You knew when tears of joy and shouts of pride were witnessed during the opening of the movie, that it was going to be a big success.

"There were several places in the movie that received more laughter and greater responses than anywhere else the movie had premiered. This was due to the fact that the viewers in other places could not appreciate some aspects of the movie to its fullest unless they had visited the South Pacific and witnessed some of the cultural aspects displayed in the movie themselves."

I'm so happy that my friends got to have this experience. I pray that their work will continue to bless souls in the Samoas.

Here's my favorite song from the movie:

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