By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, Nov. 15) – A combined territorial church service in response to the increase in youth suicides in American Samoa is scheduled to start tomorrow at 9:30am.

Lead by Rev. Max Poe Haleck, president of the Assembly of God Church in the Territory, the service will be held at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Tafuna and the organizers of this first type of service calls on the community to come together to offer prayers.

Authorities say six youths have killed themselves in American Samoa in the past month. Neighboring Samoa is believed to have one of the highest suicide rates in the world as the demands of a traditional culture clash with exposure to Western culture.

All congregations have been asked to not have their normal Sunday morning services but to come together for a territorial day of prayer seeking repentance and to ask for God's guidance on how to combat the suicide problem.

However, To'asavili / Samoa News learned yesterday that many individuals churches will hold their regular morning services tomorrow.

The territorial church service was the first agenda agreed upon by a Task Force established last week Friday during a meeting at the Governor's Conference Room, where community and church leaders plus government representatives came together to find long term solutions to the current crisis.

It was agreed during the meeting that there will be no choirs because of the mixture of faiths involved, but common hymns will be selected to encourage the participation of everyone at the service.

Some participants at the meeting were concern that by inviting specific choirs to perform hymns, it may end up becoming a competition among them, taking away the spirit and the purpose of the service.

It was also agreed upon that Pastor Haleck will lead the service and youths will take part in the majority of the program such as Bible reading and prayers.

Head of the Methodist Church in American Samoa, Rev. Avei Taulafo is scheduled to deliver the sermon, according to a tentative program.

All religious organizations in the Territory have been invited and the public are encourage to attend the service.

During last Friday's meeting, Rev. Haleck acknowledged the need to carry out tomorrow's service but he said that "we must also conquer the spirit of evil, by letting God be first, which is also our motto".

"Maybe this is a test for us to wake up and identify the problem," he said of the increase in suicides.

Lt. Governor Aitofele Sunia said at the meeting that the sadness and sorrows faced by the families of the suicide victims is being felt by everyone.

So far there are eight suicide deaths this year, with four last month and two consecutive deaths in the beginning of November, the highest number of suicides in such a short period of time.

Before heading off-island for several meetings, Governor Togiola Tulafono told the community gathering last Friday, that the high incidence of youth suicide is not just a concern of the victims' families but for the entire community of American Samoa.

Togiola told To'asavili / Samoa News this week from Los Angeles that, "I intend to stay on top of this and try to find how we can avoid any further suicides between now and the New Year."

"Then I intend to renew the focus to make it a continuing effort to disseminate the information necessary so the children will know that there is help and where and how to call to get that help," he added.

The media's help has been sought to disseminate such information and KVZK-TV has been carrying this week programs suicide prevention, the cause of it and how to identity it early before it occurs.

After tomorrow's service, the Department of Youth and Women's Affairs, under the direction of Mrs. Fiasili Haleck will hold a non-denominational youth service on Nov. 23rd at Lee Auditorium, which was planned before the territorial church service.

The tentative program includes a candlelight service for the parents and families of the suicide victims. A complete program will be available on Monday.

November 19, 2003

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