Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Long Climb

I guess if you were back packing into a high- mountain-lake you would start your adventure excitedly anticipating the beauty that is up there.  The climb proves difficult at times and you grow tired but on the upward climb you pass “thru the woods and forest glades… and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.”  How invigorating!  Then back to the climb - higher and higher.  The climb proves difficult but when you are almost completely exhausted you come to a vista; looking “down from lofty mountain grandeur” you “hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze; then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, how great thou art.”  Energized - back to the climb, the lake is just over the next hill, and then perhaps just around the next corner.  Finally arriving, camp is set up and everyone settles in – “I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,” His “power thru out the universe displayed. Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee, how great thou art!” Having paid the price but feeling blessed we settle in to enjoy the experience, knowing God’s hand is in the beauty that we see and feel.

I guess the previous paragraph kind of describes the first six months of our mission.  We have worked hard; attending three ward blocks of meetings virtually every Sunday so we could meet the YSA by being in their Sunday school classes and also meet the various bishops and introduce ourselves – there are 83 wards.  Monday through Friday we are at the institute in the city on the university campus teaching classes, being around the students visiting and helping them create social opportunities.  Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights we are at institute classes in the 12 stakes in metropolitan Auckland.  On many Friday and Saturday nights we are often at YSA dances; during the day on Saturday we often go to a beach party or go to the temple with ward or stake YSA groups; always some activity going on.   We attended various ward and stake YSA committee meetings.  Having a black missionary badge and having plenty of church experience I am not shy so Sister Perron and I just show up and are lovingly accepted.  We attend regional YSA committee meetings which are made up of members of stake presidencies, stake YSA advisors and special guests – we just started going – the first time after we had been here only 8 days.  We invite ourselves to YSA family home evenings.  We have set up an Institute student council, started special activities at the institute. Through all of this activity we spent a lot of time silently OBSERVING what was working and what was not working; we resolved we would be a high energy, low maintenance, resource for priesthood leaders.  We desire to be dump trucks that haul heavy loads away from stake presidents, not dump more stuff on them.  Our desire is to solve problems not just point them out!  We have climbed a big mountain!  We are well known by all the stake presidents, many bishops and virtually all of the active YSA.  We have received more than we have given.   We have been refreshed over and over again all along the way by these great people, they love us – or tolerate us – and shower us with love and affection.  Not because of us but because they love the Lord and we are His servants.    

 Our Father-in-Heaven also loves us.  We were blessed when we first arrived in New Zealand.  Our next door neighbor – in our apartment complex – and also serving as fellow senior missionaries was Elder & Sister Reynolds.  Along with their area welfare assignment, Elder Reynolds was the executive secretary to the Area Presidency.   Noticing our hard work and listening to our stories, Elder Reynolds said, “I think I can get you an appointment with Elder Pearson the member of the Area Presidency who has responsibility for the Young Single Adults in the Pacific Area… if you would like to visit with him.”   “Yes, please try and set that up!”  We were informed that a meeting had been set up.  I think that was when the climb started getting steep very fast.  We spent many late night hours praying, fasting and preparing for this meeting, pulling from our OBSERVATIONS preparing RECOMMENDATIONS.  The meeting with Elder Pearson I would describe as one of those high vista points where one looks “down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze” because as we left the meeting our souls wanted to sing “my Savior God… how great thou art.”   

Elder Pearson did not take as presented our recommendations.  We discussed parts of the Pacific Area where these ideas were far ahead of the capacity of the church organization in some of the islands but he said for the “rock pile where you are chipping away” meaning Auckland, these ideas have some value.  He recommended that we get in touch with Elder Coward the Area Seventy over the Auckland Coordinating Council and present the ideas to him, they are worth pursuing.  Said he would be happy to write a letter to Elder Coward introducing us.  No, we will make contact with him.  With that encouragement the climb got still steeper.  We felt we had observed, read the Handbook over and over, prayed, fasted and had some recommendations of value and had now been encouraged by a member of the Area Presidency.  We spent many more sleepless nights fleshing out the proposals.  When our recommendations were quite polished and prepared for presentation - not by chance but what we now consider divine intervention – we ran into Elder Coward at a sacrament meeting we both attended.  Elder Coward was trying to depart out the side door of the chapel after the meeting and just happened to run into us.  We shook hands and Elder Perron said, “We need to set up a time to meet with you.”   Elder Coward said, “Do you have five minutes now?” The five minutes turned into forty five minutes.  Elder Coward quickly evaluated us, determined we might have some ideas of worth and asked us to send him an e-mail with bullet points outlining our proposals.  Time was spent summarizing the proposals into bullet-points and the e-mail was sent with the full proposals as attachments.  A day later we got an e-mail back letting us know he liked the proposals, asked us to make some revisions which we did and sent them back.  He sent an e-mail back with a copy to his executive secretary telling us we were on the agenda to make a presentation to the stake presidents on September 14th at the coordinating council where he meets with all of his stake presidents. 

Elder Perron started organizing and creating a power-point presentation for the Coordinating Council Meeting and writing the training curriculum, putting dates together, and implementing a pilot program in the Papatoetoe 1st Ward.  September 14th arrived and we made our presentation. 

The next day we received an e-mail from Elder Coward:  “Elder and Sister Perron, Thank you very much for the excellent presentation yesterday at our coordinating council.  It was very well received.  Many thanks.” That was on Monday.  On Tuesday the Stake President from the Whangarei stake called and wanted us to come up and speak in the YSA Session of stake conference.  Ten minutes later the stake president from the Otara Stake called and wanted us to make a presentation to all of his bishops on the coming Sunday.  At institute on Tuesday evening the stake president from the Papatoetoe stake told us he had instructed his bishops to call an Assistant Ward Clerk Young Single Adult which was included as part of our recommendations.  The Tamaki Stake President called and wanted us to make a presentation to all of his bishops on the Sunday next.  The stake president from the Kaikohe stake called as calendared us to speak to all of his bishops on November 9th.  It is nice being in the top of the mountain enjoying the efforts of the climb.  NOW THE EFFORTS OF OUR MISSION WILL BE VERY FOCUSED.  We will run; we will work endlessly on rescue, retention and registration.  Our day to day routine will not change, just get busier but we are now linked arm in arm with all of the priesthood leaders.  What a mission it has been AND what a mission it will be for the remainder of this assignment!  The Lord loves His children – even us.  WE LOVE THESE GREAT PEOPLE!   

Sister Perron will finish this blog from her points of view: 

 Anyway back to Elder and Sister Reynolds….their last day in New Zealand was Thursday, September 25th.   We picked them up at the Area Office at 1:00 PM to take them to the airport.   We were there early about 12:30 but they were not ready to go.  Being faithful missionaries they stayed right up to 1:00 PM.  Elder Reynolds was finishing up some paperwork on the computer.  Sister Reynolds was still saying some tearful good-byes.  Finally Elder Reynolds was ready and three or four more hugs goodbye to people in the office as they left the building.  It made me sad already for the day when we will have to say “good-bye”.    We finally got to take them to our favorite restaurant in Ponsonby called Cezanne’s for lunch.  We took our time and enjoyed this quaint little place.  Their plane did not leave until 7:00 PM but they wanted to be to the airport between 3:30 – 4:00 PM.    After lunch we drove up to “One Tree Hill” - they had not been up there.  It was a bit windy and cloudy so the view was not as good as other days, but still beautiful.  They were happy to mark that off of their to-do-list.  We then headed to the airport and got there about 3:30 pm.   We hugged and said our good-byes with hope that we will actually take the time to see each other again when we get home.  We have surely loved these good people! 

One of the students told us we needed to go shopping at Otahuhu, (a town here in greater Auckland) if we wanted some native clothing.  So on one of our really slow days at institute – during spring break – we slipped away and went to the market.  It reminded me of the clothing district in Los Angeles.  Not near as big but we did find some lava lava’s for both Elder Perron and I with nice Polynesian designs.  It was fun!   It was quite an experience!  I actually want to go back and look for one more thing. 

On Sunday the 14th we were so fortunate as to present our thoughts, ideas, and proposed initiatives to the Area Coordinating Council with all 12 Stake Presidents, Elder Coward, and President Balli, our Mission President in attendance.  Our proposal was well received.   The Spirit was strong with all these faithful men in attendance.  After our presentation we were privileged to linger a little longer while they discussed some YSA issues and to see if anyone had questions for us.   We felt very blessed to be asked to present and to be in attendance.   Elder Perron spent hours preparing for the presentation and in my opinion he did a grand job!

On Thursday the 18th we attended our second missionary zone conference.  Last time most of the senior missionaries all attended to the same zone conference.  This time they separated us and spread us out so we attended different zone conferences.  We attended the Manakau zone conference with two or three other senior couples at the Manakau stake center in Mangere. One of our delightful missionaries that used to be a zone leader and would come to the Institute to teach YSA investigators at times is now one of the Assistants to the Mission President.  It was fun to watch him help out and he and the other assistant also presented a portion of the meeting using Family History as a tool to teach and bring investigators into the church.   They presented the pamphlet called “Me and my Family.”    

President Bali talked about the Lord hastening the work.  He each asked each of us to ponder these questions…”’How do you feel the Lord has invited me to participate in this hastening of the work?” and; “What do I need to do personally to keep pace with this hastening?” – some thing for all of us to ask ourselves. 

On this day I was having a hard time keeping my mind on what was being said.  Our daughter, Brooke had gone on vacation to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico and was there when the eye of Hurricane Odile passed directly over Cabo San Lucas.  We heard from them in the wee hours of the morning - after the hurricane had struck - that they had survived and that there was a lot of damage. They had not been able to get away from their hotel so did not know just how bad things really were but reported the bottom floor of their hotel had water waist deep.  Cell service went down shortly after that and we had not heard from her for four days.  At lunch time – at the zone conference – Elder Perron and I found a quiet room and he gave me a blessing to try and calm my troubled nerves.  He told me to have faith in the Lord and trust that he was taking care of our daughter – better care than we could.   Our zone conference ended at 3:00 pm.  I checked my phone immediately after the closing prayer and I had received a text from Brooke timed at 2:56 – just before our meeting closed – that said, “Mom we just landed in Tijuana. Call you when we get into San Diego.”  Relief!   I cried with joy!   We felt we had just cashed in on one of our blessings of serving a mission.   That was one of many blessings we feel we have received from our loving Heavenly Father watching over and blessing our children while we serve.   I wish I could write them all, but they are personal and dear to our heart. 

On Saturday, the 20th the 12 Stake LDS Share Expo was held at the Redoubt Stake Center.  Jonathan Johnson the founder and president of The More Good Foundation and two of his people came from Utah to attend.   We had fifty YSA trainers there and ready to assist and train anyone on eight different social media platforms – they helped people learn how to share the gospel through social media.  At each platform booth (Face book, Pinterest, Twitter, Google +, Instagram, YouTube, Blogging, and Church websites) they gave the members a card with three assignments to share the gospel that evening on that particular platform.  Once they completed the card they got a lolly -which is candy;  Then on to another booth and another platform.  After five platforms - 15 tasks they got a chocolate bar as a reward.  Just keeping things fun!  During the day from 12-3:00 pm it was for families.  From 5 to 8:00 pm it was for Young Single Adults.   The total of missionary social media shares that day was 2,128.   It was a good day!   The trainers came at 8:00 am that morning to set up.  They did not leave until after 9:00 pm.  It was a long day too!   But everyone was happy and felt we had done a good thing in sharing the gospel without any shame. 

The following Sunday was probably one of our busiest days since we have been on our mission.  We left our apartment at 7:00 A.M. to be at a Ward YSA Committee meeting at Papatoetoe 1st Ward which began at 8:00 A.M.  We are seeing success in this ward with these meetings.   There is unity between the committee members.   All committee members were in attendance.   The YSA rolls are being cleaned up and members being transferred that are no longer there and members that have been lost are being found.   Less active members are being reached out too with love and acceptance, and an invitation to come back.  A list of 95 YSA is now at 65 YSA with about 24 of those being active.  Brother Michael Vea , the new Assistant Ward Clerk Young Single Adult told us of two experiences he had the previous week.  He JUST HAPPENED to run into two YSA on his list while he was out trying to find them.  None of us feel that it was just a coincidence.  We feel like Brother Vea had some divine intervention.   He is a diligent faithful young man.  He does not have his driver’s license - he has a car but not a driver’s license for New Zealand – so he rides his bike to work, to all the meetings he attends, to church, to Institute.  He has such a strong testimony and he is so faithful and reliable.  He strengthens our testimony and is an example to us. 

We left this meeting and went directly to Otara Stake where we met with the stake presidency and the bishops.  Here Elder Perron presented his Recommendation for Rescue, Retention and Registration – institute – as pertaining to the YSA.   The presentation was well received and I think we will be seeing much more training for us to do from these meetings as new Assistant Ward Clerks Young Single Adult – which are to be YSA returned missionaries are called in these wards.    Our hope is to present this at all 12 Stakes in Elder Coward’s Area.  We are hoping to get all the wards and stakes in unity helping us help them rescue the many young single adults that are inactive.  We have 7,400 YSA in the metropolitan area and 2,500 are active.  This number is too mind-boggling for Elder Perron and I to handle.  It will take all of us working together and working hard to make a difference and “save the rising generation” that will be leading this church in the future.  I do not think this is a problem just here in New Zealand.  I think this is a problem worldwide.  The young adults from age 16 to 25 years of age are the largest age group joining the church today.  Young adults from that same age group are the largest group also falling away from the church today.   We all need to beware of our responsibility to help save and prepare the “Rising Generation.”  As President Monson asks all of us, “Who is the last person you rescued?”  Our dear prophet is a prime example of reaching out to the ONE! 

After this meeting we headed for Whangarei, which is about 2 hours north, where we had been asked to speak at a YSA Devotional following their Stake conference.   I always get way more out of these meetings than I give.  Also speaking at that devotional was President and Sister Going, Hamilton Temple President and Matron; President and Sister Balli, Auckland Mission President and his wife.  What a pleasure to be in their presence and hear them speak!  After this meeting the YSA handed each of three speaking couples – who had traveled to speak to them a boxed lunch to eat on our way home.   How sweet was that!  And I was getting pretty hungry so I really enjoyed it!  That was just so thoughtful and kind!  We get to hang out and meet the nicest people!

After this meeting we traveled the 2 hours home and went directly to a Regional Young Single Adult Committee meeting that was held at 5:00 PM with members of the stake presidencies, YSA leaders and advisors in the Auckland region.  These are always informative meetings and we don’t want to miss them.

After this meeting we had an hour with nothing to do but we were forty minutes from home so we just sat in on an informal meeting with the couple heading-up the 2015 National YSA Convention being held here in February.  It’s a really big affair and I get tired just hearing all the things everybody on the committee is responsible for and what they are in charge of getting done!  Finally at 7:00 PM the 2015 National YSA Convention committee meeting got underway with all the members in attendance.  They all deserve a great big GOLD star when this is all done! 

Finally at about 9:30 PM we got home.  Yeah….I was a little tired!  I went right to bed and slept like a baby!

Our cooking class this week was really fun!  Two of the students taught the class how to make Sushi.  Each student made their own sushi roll.  Even Elder Perron and I made AND ate a sushi roll.  Pictures below to see what a fun time we had! 

On the Saturday the 27th we attended our first Beach party of the summer.  It’s not really summer yet but everyone is wishing for summer to arrive!  The Papatoetoe Stake YSA had a beach party and BBQ.  They had a lot of fun with games, hiking, and food!   I was pretty cold so you will see me wrapped up in a blanket!  It was windy that day and the weather did not cooperate for a beach party but that does not deter the Kiwi’s here.  They are outdoors no matter what the weather and enjoy life to the fullest!

On Sunday the 28th – yesterday – we were invited to the Tamaki Stake Presidency / Bishop’s Meeting.  This is the most extra-ordinary stake.  Every meeting we attend with them our hearts are so touched.   The Spirit is always so strong there.  These men magnify their callings. In our meeting with them I have never heard the song - “The Spirit of God” - sang so beautifully by nine men.  They had the volume and beauty of a whole congregation as they sang a-cappella with exquisiteness amplifying their rich voices praising their Lord.  They passed the sacrament as many of the Bishops were missing their ward sacrament meetings to attend their quarterly training.  It was so special to have a counselor in the stake presidency bless the sacrament and the Stake President pass it.   President Lavea offered the sacrament to me.  I was deeply touched.  Elder Perron gave his presentation and it was received with enthusiasm.  I pray the Lord will bless this area as they implement these programs and focus on the rescue, retention and institute registration of the young single adults - “Save the Rising Generation.”  

We love our mission.  We love the young single adults of New Zealand and of the world.  We pray for blessings upon this great land and upon our own.  We testify of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon.  We are thankful for the atonement of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ.   We are thankful for a loving and kind Heavenly Father.  We are looking forward to General Conference and the teachings of Latter-day prophets.  We are happy and busy trying to serve a mighty mission.   We pray God will bless you in all your righteous desires.   

Aroha Nui,

Elder and Sister Perron 
Brooke, survivor of Hurricane Odile, smiling pretty, happy to be in San Diego and have a shower, thankful to put on make up, and order in pizza!  Life is good and she is feeling blessed!

Zone conference.  President Balli teaching.

 Some of the trainers getting ready for the LDS Share Expo

Sister Perron and Kaiawhi, my dear friend and one of our key trainers

Some more of our trainers. Dominic, Irae, Simone, and Manu.  Love these guys!

Hatu, the Director of the Area LDS Publishing Services and Sister Brereton

Elder Coward

Elder Coward and Elder Perron.  As Elder Coward told him after our first meeting with him, " Let's link arms and go forward."   And that is just what we have tried to do.  Elder Perron has a special fondness for Elder Coward. They work well together. 

And is Bob one of our favorite people?  We might just bring him home with us.  Lol

I don't know what all these hand signs mean??

Lots of "selfies".  :-)

Conway.  We love Conway.  You will see him in all the "Haka's". Front and center!   He is one of our key trainers too.  We will cry when we come home and have to say goodbye to him.   There's many we will cry   about when we say goodbye.  We are not even close and we are already sad about it. 

Elder Perron and Raven

Ephriam, one of the four key trainers, is beat!  Still hours to go!  :-)
All of our trainers together
More "selfies"!  :-)

Dantzel Tiakia, Sister Perron, Manako Nemaia, and Hatu.  These Institute students are both his nieces.   He was so happy that we knew his nieces and that we were good friends with them. 
He was a proud uncle that day!
Lei, Me, and Maria.  Lei is Brother Soloai's daughter.  Brother Soloai is the Institute Director that we work most directly with here on our mission.   Maria is a Stake YSA leader that is so shy!  I live to tease with her.  We have a lot of good laughs together.  Lei helps teach my Institute music class she can sing very well and can play about anything on the piano.  And she teases me all the time!!   :-)

Who gave the lolly bowl to Dave?   I think he thought it was Halloween.  He was passing out candy to everyone!  He forgot they were suppose to earn it!   Dave and Ephriam.

How many missionary shares on social media we did that night. Yes!!

A picture these guys shared with me.  A little bit of Tongan cultural tradition.  This was the day of the birthday celebration for their one -year -old niece.  The uncles wear these ta'o gala outfits.  The oldest Uncle Tom will hold the niece for pictures.  He is older than his twin brother by six minutes.  They will just sit in these outfits in the front of the room at the party and be honored and in honor of their niece.   They will not eat at the festivity until all have eaten. They had a small birthday party for their niece, there was only 100 people invited.  In photo:  Chris's mother, Dave, Chris, Tom, and another one of their aunties.  This picture becomes more valuable to the niece as she grows up because she sees her uncles who were there for her and cares about her, and loves her, and who will watch over her throughout her life.  In our tradition a father will traditionally give away a bride ( his daughter) to the groom.  In Tongan tradition an Uncle will give away the bride.  Usually the oldest uncle.     I love the Tongan traditions!  They are so family oriented with deep roots.

Papatoetoe 1st Ward YSA pilot program with YSA assistant clerk.  Ward YSA committee meeting is fully staffed and all in attendance. We are seeing progress!  Michael Vea is closest to the camera on far right. 

Our picnic lunch prepared for us by the YSA in the Whangarei Stake after we spoke at their Stake devotional. They were too kind to us!

 On the way home God smiled upon us with this beautiful rainbow.

Loni and Emma preparing rice for the Sushi cooking class.
We are ready for the rest of the students to arrive!  manako, Emma, me, and loni.  I love these girls!  Loni makes us laugh so hard.  She is so full of life and so funny!

And all the students have arrived.  Getting ready to make their own sushi roll.

I guess I thought Dave needed some more rice.  Hahaha

Wow!  Even Elder Perron is making a sushi roll.  I seem to remember somewhere in my life him telling me and the kids he would NEVER eat sushi.   Lol. However this is not raw fish sushi.  It is teriyaki chicken and tuna.  We , both Elder Perron and I, quite liked our home made sushi roll! 

Elder Perron and my favorite little restaurant.  Good-bye to our dear friends the Reynolds. 
Lunch before we took them to the airport.

Papatoetoe beach party!  Me in the background in a blanket!

Hey!  It's cold but it's a fun beach party!

Someone just got a fun text!  :-).  And I'm not the only one with a blanket!

These guys are tough!  I thought they might be the All Blacks rugby team!

Always more than enough food!

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