To much of the world, New Zealand seems like a long way from everywhere. But New Zealanders don’t feel lonely. They know that their beautiful country is a wonderful place to live, even if they aren’t mentioned on the world news very often. It is an incredibly green and beautiful place, two big islands and lots of little ones grouped together, with more sheep than people. And just as sheep recognize the voice of a beloved shepherd, so young Latter-day Saint New Zealanders respond to the voice of the prophets.
Meet three talented New Zealand teenagers, for whom the gospel is an important part of life.
Watch out for Apii’s feet!
With one well-placed kick, she could knock you over.
But Apii’s feet are dangerous only when she’s competing in Tae Kwon Do tournaments. In everyday life, Tereapii Rota, sixteen, of Tokorua, New Zealand, is a bright, pleasant girl who serves her school as the representative to the board of trustees. But in her free time, she is trained by her father in the fine art of self-defense. She is so good at it that she won the junior women’s national championship in Tae Kwon Do. She was a little surprised by her success, since it was the first time she had seriously competed in a tournament. “Many of the people in the audience gave me their support,” says Apii, a little incredulously. “And I didn’t even know them.”
Apii is the oldest of six children, and she and her ten-year-old brother are the most serious about training with their father. They belong to a sports club where Apii often trains with the boys because there aren’t many women good enough to challenge her.
Although Apii spends a lot of time at the sports club, her best friends are the other Laurels in her ward. “The four of us Laurels are very close. We do everything together. It’s good to have great friends,” says Apii. “We share a lot of laughter together. We don’t see everything as being real serious.”
Laughing a little at life has made it easier for Apii and her friends to resist the temptations that come to sixteen-year-olds. “I suppose the hardest thing about being sixteen,” says Apii, “is saying no to other people. Someone asks you to a birthday party or on a trip. Mom and Dad know what’s likely to happen. So you just have to say no. Then these people try to talk you into it. You still have to say no.” But Apii and her friends have so much fun without doing anything against the standards of the Church that it is easier for them to resist being talked into going to parties they know they shouldn’t go to.
The fact that Apii is alive is part of the reason her family joined the Church. When she was eight years old, she was desperately ill with asthma. Missionaries gave her a blessing, and she was healed literally moments later. “I was really weak,” says Apii. “I couldn’t do anything. I hadn’t been able to eat or drink. As soon as the missionaries said amen, I was all right. I opened my eyes and asked for something to drink. Everybody sort of laughed because they were so relieved. I concentrated on the blessing. I knew it would make me better. I was about nine years old when we joined the Church.”
Apii has plans to continue in school. She would like to go to university and study business.
In the meantime, watch out for Apii’s flying feet.
When Romaine is playing basketball with his friends in front of his house, he just has to look up to see the temple, standing out, white against a green hill. Romaine lives almost literally in the shadow of a Latter-day Saint temple. His neighborhood is made up almost entirely of Church members. Many of his friends are members, his classmates at school are members, his teachers are members, and his school basketball team is nearly 100 percent Church members.
Romaine lives in Temple View, New Zealand, and he attends the Church College of New Zealand, which is the equivalent of a junior high school and high school. He is surrounded by Church members, but he isn’t attending just to be part of a crowd. He is deciding for himself how he will live his life—and that it will include the gospel.
Romaine, seventeen, and his teammates on the A-l basketball team from the Church College are well known nationally in New Zealand. The school had won the national schoolboy basketball championship five years in a row—until two years ago. Romaine doesn’t like to talk about it, but that year the team came in third. They had the painful experience of having to come back to school and explain the loss to the other students. They didn’t want to go through that again. The team was determined to regain the top spot. And they did. The next year, the A-1 boys’ and the girls’ basketball teams both took first place in the national basketball tournaments.
“Playing in the tournaments,” says Romaine, “we really stood out because we were Mormons. Other teams used to think we were funny because we didn’t use foul language, but still we could make them laugh.” Because they are known as the team to beat, other teams are always ready for their games against the Church College. “Everyone has their best games against us.”
Romaine has friends he met when he attended grammar school in nearby Hamilton who do not believe as he believes, but they still get along. “I’ve stuck with them,” says Romaine, “even if they’ve taken a different path. I can tell them not to do things, and they sort of listen. When I was younger, I could be influenced, but now I don’t feel any pressure from them. I don’t care if they don’t like me for telling them what to do or telling them to do the right thing.” Romaine leads instead of being led. And he has still kept his nonmember friends.
Romaine would like to pursue an athletic career, but in New Zealand, as in other countries, the top spot in basketball—playing on the national team—is not a career. Instead he plans to coach or teach. And he has learned some lessons about making decisions that will make him an even better teacher.
Her full name is Lucianne, but all her friends in Temple View call her Lucy. When she has free time, she can often be found with her sketching materials because she loves to draw.
“I used to watch my brother when I was young,” says Lucy, sixteen. “Since he is deaf, we think he is gifted with his eyes. He’s really good at drawing. I used to watch him for hours, and that’s how I got interested. He taught me how to draw.”
Lucy misses her older brother, who is now married and is living in Australia. But knowing he is happy makes her feel happy, too.
Lucy is a student at the Church College of New Zealand and is noted for her work in the arts. She’s outstanding in drawing and painting, loves music, and is an accomplished dancer.
But there is a thoughtful, introspective side to Lucy. Her family have been members of the Church during her growing up years, but she has felt the need to discover the truthfulness of the gospel for herself. “I got to the point where I needed to change from my childish faith to real knowledge,” say Lucy. “The world is too incredible to have just happened.”
If she had friends who were struggling to gain a testimony, Lucy says she would advise them, “If you just try to have a desire to know the truth, if you use gospel principles and start testing them, you can find out for yourself. The gospel is serving others. You have such a good feeling when you’re serving and following gospel principles. You should always pray and keep going; then things will come to you slowly. It doesn’t just happen. A few times you feel the Spirit really strong, but usually it comes more slowly.”
Lucy enjoys living so close to the temple. “I see a lot of people coming a long distance to go to the temple,” she says. “My heart goes out to them. It makes me appreciate living in Temple View, because sometimes we take it for granted. But when we see other people’s reactions when they come here to the temple, we know how lucky we are.”
Lucy’s artistic vision of life is a beautiful one.