By Lila Bringhurst
Friday, May 18, was a day that began like so many others for Elder Etimani Faiese. He arose at 6:25 a.m., studied his scriptures and got ready for the day. Because he and his companion, Elder James Maughn, were participating in a pilot program called JustServe they were scheduled to spend several hours doing community service.
Dressed in “P-day” work clothes of T-shirts and jeans, they headed for Lake Cunningham near Capitol Expressway and Tully Road in San Jose. They spent the morning with two sister missionaries, trimming bushes and cleaning an area near the lake. Elder Faiese was blowing leaves and debris when the blower ran out of gas, so he headed back to refill it.
Along the way he passed a man who was standing on a rock at the edge of the lake. He heard a sound, turned around and saw that the man was standing in the water. “Are you OK?” he asked. The man didn’t reply, so he hurried on, assuming the man must be fishing. A few minutes later he returned and saw that the man was far out in the lake, waving his arms.
“Are you OK?” he asked again, louder this time. When the man responded with a feeble “Help!” Elder Faiese pulled off his shoes and emptied his pockets. He hesitated because he was about to break a mission rule: no missionaries allowed in the water. Then he waded in and began to swim.
While growing up in Apia, the capital city of Samoa on Upolu Island, Faiese loved to swim and spent most of his time on the beach. The youngest of Taoso Antonio le Misio and the late Sialuma Faiese’s six children, he had left his tropical homeland to serve a two-year mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in California. His was a family of boxers. He played volleyball so hard at the Missionary Training Center that he broke an ankle. Soon he would be struggling for his life.
As he approached the drowning man, he noticed that the middle aged Asian man’s eyes were filled with terror and his mouth was filled with water. The man suddenly jumped on Faiese’s back and held tightly around his neck. Faiese was in trouble. He couldn’t swim with the man on his back and he couldn’t communicate with him.
“Then I remembered those long ago Scouting lessons,” said Faiese. “I tugged hard to get him off my back and then pulled him under my left arm, clutching him there while I swam back to shore with my right arm.”
On shore a passer-by noticed the struggle and helped get the man up to the walkway.
“I saw that the guy wasn’t breathing. Then I remembered another Scouting lesson,” Elder Faiese recalled. “I laid him down and turned him on his side. Water came gushing out of his mouth.”
The other man used Elder Faiese’s cell phone to call 911 and soon help arrived.
“I was wet and freezing. My companion came to check on me about the time the ambulance left,” said Faiese. “I had only been gone for a little while, but so much had happened! We went home, I changed my clothes and soon we were working at another service project.”
That evening the reality that he had saved a life hit home. Because he had decided to serve a mission, he had been in the right place at the right time, with the strength and skills he needed. A day that had started out so routinely had been, in fact, a day like no other.