Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Spiritual Ward Conference Experience

The Universities (Auckland University and Auckland University Technology) where the downtown Institute of Religion is located has been on holiday for two weeks and although institute classes are still taught – things have been slow.  Sister Perron and I have taught a couple extra institute classes because a couple of teachers took advantage of this slack time and took vacation. 

Monday we attended FHE with the other senior missionaries in the area office.  Sister Perron and I just seem to wander when ever and where ever we want to wander – if we can find a place where a group of Young Single Adults are gathered we gravitate there – so this is just the third time we have been with the senior missionaries.  Nice evening! 

Tuesday the institute director – Brother Soalai – walked into my “office space” and said, “This is great, Sister Perron is down there in the institute class playing the opening hymn on the piano.”  I smiled and said, “That is nothing, she is also studying the Samoan language!” Later In the afternoon Sister Perron and I walked down to Queen Street for a late lunch / early dinner before heading out to the Great South Road chapel for evening institute classes. 

Wednesday - every week - Sister Perron teaches a “Celestial Marriage” class and I teach a “Doctrine & Covenant” class.  

The week night institute classes out in the stakes were still well attended virtually unaffected by the University holiday so Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights were busy as usual.  With no prior notice we did have to teach a couple of classes that we had not planned on – seems  a couple of teachers were away with their families – but give me some time and I can “fill it with something useful and close to the original subject of study.”   

 Friday was ANZAC DAY – similar to our memorial day where Australia and New Zealand honor their war veterans.  It is a national holiday in both countries.  Sister Perron and I took a leisurely drive out through the countryside and along the ocean where we had not previously been.  We had to watch the clock pretty closely because we had to be back in Auckland for Emily’s baptism.  Emily is the Korean girl who has been taught the missionary lessons at the institute building - picture of Emily in a previous blog. 

Other than Emily’s baptism which we will treat in a paragraph or so later our biggest event on ANZAC DAY was in the town of Thames where we stopped to get some lunch.  We went into a mall to eat at the food court so we could make up our mind walking around rather than driving around.  At the food court some ladies belonging to the “Red Hat Society” were assembling for a luncheon.  We have run across this organization in Sacramento, California and many other places we have traveled.  They were so cute that Sister Perron just had to go over and visit with them and we had to take their picture.  They were happy to have their picture taken!  Photo included below.  A look at the photo will just make your day.  If not something is wrong with you! 

We were back in Auckland in time for Emily’s baptism.  Emily is a student at the University.  Four weeks ago she did not know about Jesus Christ.  As the missionaries taught her she accepted their challenge to read the Book of Mormon and it converted her to Jesus Christ and to his gospel which is having faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and enduring to the end.  She accepted a date for baptism and did not waiver; she also attended general conference while she was investigating the church.  Her parents were and are very upset with her for joining the church but they did attend her baptism.  Her father does not speak English.  At the baptism we sat by them and visited with them; Emily’s mother doing the interpretation for her husband.  They do not go to any church.  At the conclusion of the baptismal service Sister Perron handed me the Ipad and we showed Emily’s parents a picture of the Seoul Korea Temple.  Her father took the Ipad and read the address of the Temple in Seoul.  He knew exactly where it was located.  They seemed a little comforted to know their daughter had not joined some cult only found in New Zealand 

Emily was confirmed on Sunday, on Monday she walked into the Institute building by herself and signed up for two institute classes.  On Tuesday she attended her first institute class and there was a returned missionary in the class that had served his mission in Seoul, Korea.  They started visiting in Korean.  This past Friday Emily was back in the institute building with a member friend and a non-member friend who was taught the first missionary lesson.  Emily is all smiles!      

Saturday – Back to the Saturday which was the day after ANZAC day. (I kind of jumped forward to this past Friday as we talked about Emily.) We took another road trip – Sister Perron and I drive around so much we do not seem to be satisfied just sitting around the apartment when we get a day off.  We got with Elder & Sister Wallace – who came to New Zealand the same week we did but they are stuck in the area office – and have not seen much of New Zealand the four of us drove back up to the Bay of Islands and visited the Waitangi Treaty Grounds where it is beautiful and where the country of New Zealand came into existence.  We had a good day visiting and sharing stories and experiences.   

Sunday – April 27, 2014 – “One of the most spiritual experiences of our lives!” 

Every night, every morning, and before we leave our apartment we pray that we will be “guided by the Spirit” as to where we should go; we pray that we might be “given by the Spirit what we should say and do” as we interact with the young single adults, their parents and their priesthood leaders.  Our responsibility to seek for and prepare for this guidance weighs heavily on our minds.  With 12 stakes, 80 + wards and 8 separate Institute programs it would be easy for us to run from pillar to post; get caught up in a set routine and think because we were busy we were doing a good thing.  But we REALLY want to serve a mighty mission not just serve a mission.  With that in mind here is what we try to do – if we get some traction in a certain stake we try to follow-up with that stake.  For example on General Conference Sunday we attended the Waterview Stake in the morning expecting to see Emily – a Korean girl who was investigating the church and who had committed to attend conference.  Emily was not in attendance at the Waterview Stake building as expected – see previous blog – so in the afternoon Sister Perron and I decided we would go to the Tamaki Stake to attend conference and to see if we could see Elder Tibbetts – a Zone Leader and a member of our family who we had not yet met.  At the Tamaki Stake we saw Elder Tibbetts, BUT Emily came running up to Debbie, she had been brought to the Tamaki Stake building by friends instead of the Waterview Stake building.  We were guided by the Spirit to visit the Tamaki Stake. THEN immediately after the conference session was over we heard a member of the stake announce a stake YSA committee meeting which was to be held later that afternoon in the high council room.  SO WE THEN stayed and attended the Stake YSA committee meeting that we knew nothing about prior to that announcement.  THEN on the following Tuesday evening we made it a point to attend the combined stake institute where the Tamaki Stake YSA attend.  We had been to that combined stake institute 9 times previously but now we had a unique tie to the YSA from the Tamaki Stake. THEN on the following Sunday (April 27) we felt we should plan to attend three separate ward block of meetings in the Tamaki Stake – giving us three YSA Sunday School classes where we could even become closer to the YSA in that stake.  There are three buildings in the Tamaki Stake, we pondered as to which building and which wards we should attend.  As we prayed for direction we settled on attending the building where the Johnstone Ward, the Tamaki 1st Ward (Samoan), and the Tamaki 4th Ward (Tongan) met.  We did not know which ward met first but we knew the first block of meetings was at 9:00 A.M. 

We arrived at the building ten minutes early.  As we were walking into the building a Polynesian sister seeing our “black badges” asked if had come for the conference.  Sister Perron said to me, “Is it their stake conference, if it is perhaps we should go to another stake so we can attend other wards where there will be YSA Sunday School classes.”  “No this must be a ‘ward conference’ because next month all of the stakes in this area are having a combined Stake Conference that will be broadcast from Salt Lake City with general authorities presiding.”  We continued into the building where we experienced “one of the most spiritual experiences of our lives.” 

Let me preface this experience with this.  Once when Elder F. Enzio Busche, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, came to the Anaheim East Stake to preside over a stake conference when I was the stake president he commented to me, “I do not understand the mindset of the American saints. In Germany where I was raised members might not come to church every weekend but when there was a stake conference everyone would come.  Our attendance on a conference weekend was much higher than on non-conference weeks.  Here in America when there is a stake conference the saints seem to think it is a day off because generally attendance on a whole is down.”  We all know what he said is a fair representation.  THEN as a member of the stake presidency I participated in at least 134 ward conferences and have attended many more.  You have all been involved in and attended ward conferences so you have your own experiences to draw upon. 

When Sister Perron and I walked into the chapel about 10 minutes before the meeting started there was prelude music already being played.  All the choir seats on the stand were full, the congregation was all seated; the chapel was full.  We were met by a Polynesian sister who was wearing a beautiful flower corsage who escorted us to our where there were a few seats left in the chapel.  The sight before us was extraordinary.  Everyone on the stand – including those in the choir seats – had fresh flowered leis around their neck there were a few people in the congregation with flowered leis around their neck.  After Sister Perron and I took our seats in the back of the chapel – in the overflow area - a Polynesian sister brought two fresh- flower leis and placed them around our neck.  She had seen our black badges and consistent with their cultural heritage - where their elders, “older people” are respected, coupled with their respect for missionaries – we were treated with the utmost affection.  There were young missionaries and sisters in attendance but they had not been given leis.  I only point this out to show there is order and protocol in their cultures.  As I sat there tears came to my eyes and ran down my cheeks, I could feel their love and respect for their Savior; their love for each other and their love for Sister Perron and I.  As I sat there I could not help but gaze at the beautiful flower bouquets that were placed in front of the podium and across the front of the chapel.  Those fresh flowers plus the flower leis – bright yellow, bright lavender, bright red, and pure white - around the necks of everyone on the stand created a visual image which cannot be described adequately, and the beauty was accented by the sweet prelude music; it was obvious that indeed we were in a very special place.  At the front of the chapel – on each side of the choir seats – the walls were built at an angel to the congregation where projectors could be used for presentations.  On one of those walls a peaceful picture of the Savior was projected.  On cue, unannounced, the first six rows of the congregation – all Polynesian – rose and sang a prelude hymn, “Come Come Ye Saints” a powerful, moving presentation. When the Bishop stood at the podium it was an impressive sight – a tall dark Polynesian man, dressed in a dark blue suit, white shirt, bright yellow flower lei around his neck, wearing a bright pink tie. All the members of the Bishopric wore the same pink tie.  A real show of unity!   He welcomed everyone to the “Johnstone Ward Conference.”  He announced the program and then the ward choir sang the opening hymn, “Love one Another.”  When the choir stood to sing the first six rows of the congregations – from wall to wall stood.  The people on the stand in the choir seats remained seated and did not sing – momentarily confusing – but quickly I figured out those were the stake visitors seated on the stand and recognized as special visitors by their flowered leis.  I was still trying to comprehend how large the ward choir was and enjoying their music with my head bowed when all of a sudden my head jerked up and I said to Sister Perron, “this is phenomenal.”  The choir sang the hymn all the way through reverently, then it was repeated with the sisters singing – “As I have loved you” then the men in the choir repeated “As I have loved you,” the choir finished the hymn in this same fashion with both men and women singing together.    Not until you have heard a Polynesian choir where the men are such powerful, beautiful singers have you ever heard this hymn so moving.  The men in the choir were all dressed in dark suits, white shirts and as it turned out - pink ties!  The sisters wore white dresses or a white blouse and a dark skirt.  The stake presidency had been given white leis, another attention to detail.  After the sacrament they had five speakers.  ALL FIVE were individuals who had been previously assigned to bear their testimony.  These five members had all been prepared by the members of the ward and their priesthood leaders and had taken out their endowments just five days prior.  These were not missionaries or others who would “naturally” take out their endowments, these were members who had been sought out and prepared.  There was one brother and five sisters.  One Sister was in her 70’s and her husband had passed away 14 years earlier.  The brother was a husband and father of three children.   The others were mothers with families.  Each of the testimonies of these five people was heartfelt and full of love for their Father-in-Heaven and the members of the ward.  They all loved their Bishop!  This ward had PREPARED for and WORKED towards making this conference “something special.”  As the meeting progressed the Spirit was so strong that it seemed to me the walls of the building were moving in and the congregation was being surrounded by a pillar of light.  I thought to myself – the people outside of this building have no idea what is happening in here.  Then I remember thinking, the people in this building who are not in this chapel have no idea what is happening in here.  At the conclusion of their testimonies, the Bishop rose and bore a strong, short testimony!  A member of the stake presidency concluded the meeting by simply asking the people to commit themselves to reading the entire Book of Mormon within the next 90 days. The choir then closed the meeting by singing “Master the Tempest is Raging.” At the conclusion of the sacrament meeting I whispered to Sister Perron, “If I had not been here I believe this congregation might have been translated.” 

Sister Perron and I found out later – during the block – that the sacrament meeting was not the only focus of the conferences; the ward had been preparing and participating in cultural events for the entire prior month; fasting and prayer; contacting less-active members; choir practices, REALLY seeking out and preparing people for the temple; 100% visiting and home-teaching; ward activities focused on uniting ward members; the preparing of fresh flower leis, preparing floral arrangements, prayerfully selecting  the pictures to project on the wall. Sister Perron commented to one of the sisters in Relief Society what a spiritual experience attending this ward conference has been. The sister commented – just like she knew – “the Spirit has been found in paying attention to EVERY little detail.”  I told the Bishop what a great thing it was for to me to see a ward where so many people had been prepared to go to the temple. He said, we have another member who is also ready to go to the temple but he wants members of his family to go through with him and they cannot be here until June so that endowment is schedule during the first week in June.  Now that the conference sacrament meeting is over the conference is not over.  The following Tuesday evening there was a family game night and then on the following  Friday night the entire ward was having a swim party at the Otara indoor pools. The Bishop said to me, “The swim night is for the children!”  What a Zion people.   

 Sister Perron and I were guided by the Spirit to a place where we were blessed by assembling ourselves with saints who through preparation, prayer, and fasting with a purpose had called down the powers of heaven. 
We attended the Johnstone Ward Swim Party on Friday evening where we visited with the ward members as we all sat around watching the children have fun! 

The stake president as it turns out is a member of the Johnstone Ward so as our punishment for keeping the ward from being translated he asked us to  speak in the Saturday session of their upcoming stake conference.  There was also a very special bond created with a couple of our institute students who are members of the Johnstone Ward who were so very happy and excited that we came to their ward.  They expected to see us at institute but not at their ward.  Another side blessing for us – A few blogs ago we sent a picture of one of our YSA–INSTITUTE sisters who was leaving for a mission to Tahiti and is currently in the MTC in Provo.  Her father is the Bishop of the Johnstone Ward.  How great it was to meet this sweet sisters parents.  Blessings just keep coming – or I should say the blessings just keep getting bigger and BIGGER.  

I will close with a sweet moment that Sister Perron and I happened upon in the foyer of a chapel.  It must have been General Conference weekend.  There was a crowd in the foyer visiting as they were leaving the building, and in the middle of it all there was a little three year old boy just crying his eyes out!  He was standing on the floor, hanging onto his mother’s leg.  Sister Perron leaned down to see if she could find out what was the matter? His mother said, “He is very, very sad that there is no Primary class today.  He wants to go to Primary!  He does not understand why there is no class.” 

 Some of us cry to get out – the best of us cry to get in!        

 Aro ha Nui,
Elder & Sister Perron

 "We love our picture taken!"
Johnstone Ward conference...one of three beautiful flower arrangements on the front stand.

Elder and Sister Perron with a partial group of night Institute students! 
We love the crazy awesome youth!  :-)

A WWI monument to the Veterans.  We visited on Anzac Day. 
Elder Perron especially enjoyed it because 50 years ago he baptized a 70 year old WWI
veteran while on his first mission to New Zealand.

On our drive we stopped and chatted with some fishermen. 
They were having a good fishing day!   Look at that smile!

The red hat society.  We talk to everyone!

Emily's baptism.  Andrew, one if our YSA baptized her.

Emily after her baptism
My awesome companion fixed ME a wonderful Sunday dinner. 
It was so pretty I had to take a picture of it!
The leis we were given at the conference. 
They were handmade by some of the members.  They smelled so good!

The Johnstone post ward conference pool party.

Johnstone Ward Conference Relief Society Meeting. 
This lady is the Bishop's wife, sang in the choir (hence the white dress and corsage). 
We had sent earlier a picture of her daughter preparing to leave on a mission to Tahiti. 
We had just put the puzzle pieces together regarding her daughter prior to this picture being taken.

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