Doing Well in Wellington

by Janet Thomas

Associate Editor

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    Doing things right keeps the young women of the Wellington New Zealand Stake afloat.

    Everyone in New Zealand has heard the story of how people from Pacific islands left their homes and paddled south in search of a new land. It wasn’t all that long ago, just over 500 years, when the great migration arrived at the two large islands that form the main part of New Zealand.

    It must have been quite a sight—long, narrow canoes, battling the surf, approaching the shores. Today, all Maoris in New Zealand trace their roots to the crews of those canoes. How would you feel knowing everything your family owned was packed in a canoe? How would you feel knowing the only thing keeping you moving in that big ocean was your ability to paddle?

    Some of the young women of the Wellington New Zealand Stake got a chance to check out how their ancestors must have felt—paddling a mile in their canoes so to speak. Stake leaders arranged for them to try paddling some of the long, narrow, unstable canoes, much like those from hundreds of years ago, in the Wellington Harbor. It was an experience that dampened their spirits and everything they had on.

    “We sunk. We had to get out and turn the canoes over,” said Leah Schwenke, 16, of the Wellington Ward, describing that day. “It’s hard. You have to get the rhythm right. Some of the girls are paddling to one rhythm, and the others are paddling to another. And the rest stand on the shore and laugh at you.”

    Learning how to work together is essential in paddling a canoe, but the togetherness learned in dumping a swamped canoe, or earning their Young Womanhood Recognition, or living the gospel principles are things that set modern-day New Zealand young women apart from their peers. Tracy Matuauto, 14, Titahi Bay Ward, said, “The hard thing about being a teenager is the peer pressure to smoke and drink. The Church helps us with those decisions.” And by supporting each other, the young women find strength in pulling together.

    The Wellington Stake has a rich heritage of Church history. Over a hundred years ago, many types of missionaries came to New Zealand, all claiming to have the truth. People had a dilemma much like Joseph Smith’s. Which of the churches was true? When the LDS missionaries came, many recognized the truth in the restored gospel and were baptized. The first branch of the Church in the Wellington area was created in 1887 at Porirua. Now there are heaps of cousins in the Wellington Stake. Ask any group of young people how many can trace their family back to the pioneer members of the Church in New Zealand, and you’ll get plenty of hands.

    And the youth in Wellington have a rich cultural heritage. New Zealand was claimed by the English, but the Maoris were never conquered. They signed a famous treaty that allowed two cultures to live together peacefully. “That’s what I really like about New Zealand. We have a lot of different cultures here,” said Leah Schwenke. “Everyone is always proud of what country they come from. There are all these multi-cultural groups you can join.”

    No matter where they live or where they have come from, LDS teens all over the world have one thing in common. There comes a time when young people must decide for themselves, must gain a testimony of their own, about whether the things they are being taught at church are true.

    Some of the young women in New Zealand have some advice about developing a testimony of your own. “If someone asked me about gaining a testimony,” said Cheryl Eden, 13, of the Tawa Ward, “I’d tell them to pray about it. You’ll probably get a warm feeling, and you’ll know it. That’s where you start.”

    Veronica Purcell, 16, of the Wellington West Ward, continued with the advice. “If you feel it is right, that’s a part of testimony. I know the Church is true because I can feel it within me. Then from there you can learn that Joseph Smith was a true prophet and that Jesus Christ does love us.”

    The young women of the Wellington Stake are talking about things that are important to them in a special place—the marae. A marae is a meeting place, a group of buildings used for family reunions, for political meetings, for special 21st birthday celebrations, for funerals, for any type of get-together that would involve a large number of the community. The most striking building is the ancestral meetinghouse. It has beautiful carvings both outside and inside. The ancestral meetinghouse is called by the name of the ancestor, in this case, Toarangatira. He was the ancestor that the Maori families in this community are related to. It is also the name of the tribe.

    The building itself is symbolic of his body. The top is his head. The covered porch is his arms and hands, welcoming you!. As you step through the door, it is as if you are cradled in his bosom in peace and security. The beams and supports are his backbone and ribs. The Maoris have never worshipped their ancestors, but they are respectful and reverent in the building that reminds them of him.

    The panels in the ancestral meetinghouse have wonderful meanings in the patterns of the weavings. The panel around the door is woven in such a way that the white strands look like seabirds, flying information. As Wellington Stake Young Women president Janet Katene explains, “A lot of our people have moved away from this community. This panel is to remind them to be like the seabirds. After a journey that takes you away, come back to be refreshed and feel of our love and get strength to go again. Don’t forget us. There is always a people here who will remember you.”

    What a nice thing to know if you are a young person in the Wellington Stake—you always have a place to return to where you will be embraced in the arms of your ancestors, a place where you belong and where people love you.

    Part of this earth life is to learn eternal truths. Perhaps the young people in the Wellington Stake have learned one they can share with the rest of the world: We all belong to one great family; we all have a place where we belong and a Father who will embrace us in his arms as we return to feel of his love.

    Speaking like a Kiwi

    New Zealand

    North America


    New Zealander



    metal road

    gravel road









    panel beater

    body shop





    muck around

    goof off








    casual clothes instead of school uniforms






    cool, radical, great



    back to front




    flat out

    very fast or busy


    high school










    good weather

    take away (food)

    take out (food)




    hamburger meat

    luncheon sausage



    fish and chips


    alcoholic drink

    Photography by Janet Thomas and still lifes by Peggy Jellinghausen

    In Maori culture, stylized fishhooks represent wisdom and love of learning, carved panels preserve history, and canoes evoke respect for the past.

    At the nation’s capitol in Wellington, the girls demonstrate the zest for life common to LDS teens everywhere. (Below) Veronica Purcell of the Wellington West Ward.

    The marae, including the ornate ancestral home, is a place for important events such as 21st birthdays and family reunions. (Left) Ornaments of jadelike green stone are popular.

    Picturesque homes cover the steep hillsides around the Wellington Harbor. (Below, top to bottom) Malae Tapusoa and Theresa Leniu, Porirua East Ward; Leah Schwenke, Wellington Ward.